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Archive for Mar, 2015

The Gift of Villainy, Part I

When I was in high school, my greatest adversary was a fellow student named Scott. I and my friends played a starship combat game called Star Fleet Battles, created by Stephen V. Cole. Star Fleet Battles was set during Star Trek: The Original Series, with some add-ons the creator made up or bolted on, such as the Kzinti. Playing SFB was some of the best times I had back then. Scott played a Klingon and played his role well. He was forever trash talking the Federation about our weakness and incompetence and how the Klingons would enslave Humanity, etc., etc., etc.. Scott taught us tactics the way Napoleon instructed his enemies, by beating our heads in repeatedly. From simple sound tactics and pre-planning to vicious, clever traps, he made us better combatants because we strove to make ourselves better in order to beat him. And eventually, I did. I won’t say I got the win-loss ratio anywhere to even but I did manage some victories. I even won one fight with a trap so clever, they changed the rules of the game.

But that’s all back story.

Years later, after I had evacuated New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina and made my way from Hendersonville, North Carolina to Decatur, Georgia to Mobile, Alabama, I discovered a game store in nearby Pensacola called Bobe’s Hobby House. A gentleman at Bobe’s decided to run a Cold War military campaign. This would be a “What if?” scenario involving NATO and Warsaw Pact force fighting in the fifties.

The background given by the gamemaster was as follows:

The time is December 1956 and the Soviets have just put down the uprising in Budapest, Hungary. Massive amounts of Hungarian refugees make their way toward the Austrian border. Border clashes erupt between Austrian border guard units and pro-Communist Hungarian motorized units as refugees attempt to cross over into Austria. As violence escalates, NATO Forces, West Germany are put on alert and are mobilized. In response, Warsaw Pact and Soviet Ground Forces, East Germany are mobilized in response to the NATO mobilization. In response to further border incursions by pro-Communist units, the Austrian government (not a member of NATO) calls on NATO countries to intervene to ‘prevent communist violation of a neutral nation.’ French and American troops are sent into reinforce Austrian border units. In response, Czech and Hungarian units move to confront NATO forces at the Hungarian border where units exchange fire with NATO forces. In response, on December 25th, 1956 Czech armoured units invade the American Occupation Zone and cross their through the Bayerischer forest on the Czech / West German border and make their way to occupy the small city of Spiegelau:

As a result of the Czech Forces committed invasion, a de facto state of war exists between NATO and the WARSAW PACT countries and World War 3 has begun.

I decided to play the Warsaw Pact forces. I wanted to give the players of Pensacola, Florida the wonderful gaming experience that Scott had given me. I wanted to give them an implacable foe that threatened all they held dear, against whom they could strive to battle with all their hearts. I wanted to share the exhilaration of both victory and defeat and provide them an entertainment experience they would remember fondly for the rest of their lives, as Scott had done for me.

I failed.

I failed miserably.

I made one crucial mistake, a critical miscalculation. I underestimated, even after the Cold War was over and the Berlin Wall a memory, just how much conservatives hate even the idea of Communism.

I thought they would just see me as playing the bad guys and if they lost, they’d work harder, read up on their military history, talk tactics over lunch with each other, and eventually, figure out a way to beat me.

They didn’t.

They were so consumed with their hatred of communism, a hatred I’d never seen anyone, right or left politically leaning, ever demonstrate against the Nazis in a World War II game, of which there are many. Prior to the modern age, in which Games Workshop’s Warhammer and Warhammer 40K are the dominant table-top miniatures combat games, World War Two was the strongest era for wargaming. I’d seen players of every stripe cheerfully fight the Nazis in one game and then play them in the next. Guys would put on their best (i.e., cheesiest) German accents and talk about how the Fatherland’s victory was inevitable and how the poor Amerikaners would be ground into the dust.

Nothing had prepared me for the anger I would see in these guys’ eyes at the thought of runaway Communist victories. And a string of runaway Warsaw Pact triumphs is what I gave them.

The rules set the game master chose for the campaign involved a “Fog of War” system: movement of units occurred on paper maps in secret until the GM decided that opposing units could see each other. If you got close enough to hear the enemy, he would say so. If you travelled out in the open where it could be reasonably assumed scouts or civilians could see you, your units were put on the open board. Otherwise, units went on the board when they first saw each other.

The American players didn’t take to the secrecy factor. That’s putting it mildly. They drove their tanks down major thoroughfares, single file, like they were heading for a Sunday picnic or a Christmas parade. My tanks kept to woods, to the outskirts of towns, moving into position unseen until it was time to strike. Time and again, I would flank the Americans before they even knew my forces were there; they would roll out in a long column, allowing me to close the trap as easily as clapping my hands shut.

They expected to win. I didn’t foresee that. I was trampling on this key American conceit, that the good cowboy only needed to stand his ground at high noon and face down the bad guy and he would triumph, that the West would always win against evil Communist aggression because they had John Wayne on their side. And after they lost, they got angry.

I’d been angry in my defeats by the Klingon Menace to be sure. But I focused that anger. I read naval history books. I even started reading Soviet military tactics to learn how they would have faced the US Navy during the Cold War. I learned and became a better combatant.

By comparison, my opponents in the Cold War campaign became more and more desperate and more willing to break the rules of warfare. They began by attacking a civilian train. I should point out that this campaign centred around a Czechoslovakian invasion of West Germany. So almost all the civilians and civilian property in the campaign were West German in origin. It was a West German train that NATO had derailed in the hopes of preventing its escape, I suppose.

The first game ended in a successful Warsaw Pact invasion. My medium tanks were racing across the West German countryside seeking to exploit the breach in NATO’s line.

The GM made the following post regarding the outcome:

The last game saw the invasion of the town of Spiegelau in the American Occupation Zone by the 2nd Czech Army’s 1st Armoured Division, the ‘Czech Legion’ which took the town with light casualties. Several American M-48s were recovered and sent back to the USSR for evaluation.

The advance did not stop there, however. The rest of the Czech Army, using combined operations, continued to advance behind the armoured spearhead of the 2nd Czech Army’s front capturing the cities of Deggendorf and Passau, crucial junctions in the dual spearhead to capture the German cities of Nuremburg and Munich. The NATO forces sent to stem the tide of the Warsaw Pact advance have taken their toll on the invading Communist armies. Despite moderate losses, however, the Warsaw Pact claims tens of kilometres of territory every couple of days as they push into the heart of the West.

While the Warsaw Pact Forces in Central Europe are lead by the Czech Forces, NATO units have reported no attacks by Soviet Forces in the North, Central or Southern Europe. It seems the bulk of the Soviet Forces have remained mobilized and are at Red Alert status. Lack of overt aggressive activity on behalf of the Soviets has led to a perplexing political situation at the United Nations Security Council, which is working around the clock to end the conflict. In the meantime, US NATO Forces have been redirected to Central Germany in an attempt to reinforce Nuremburg and Munich.

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Fantasy, science fiction and steampunk author Brandon Black is the editor of New Orleans By Gaslight, a first of its kind anthology of steampunk and gaslamp fantasy poetry and fiction set in Victorian-era New Orleans. Brandon is also the web content manager for the Week in Geek, New Orleans’ favourite fantasy and science fiction themed radio talk show, every Saturday at 1 pm CST on WGSO 990 AM. Click here to check out Brandon’s ever-expanding list of published works.

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Snow

When I was younger, I stood on the street waiting for a bus when the strangest thing occurred. This white powdery substance began to fall out of the clear blue sky. I stuck out my hand but it vanished as it touched me and did likewise when it touched the ground. I thought perhaps it was soot from a fire but with no residue, that seemed unlikely. It was quite puzzling; I could not wrap my head around just what this stuff was. An older gentleman who was standing at the bus stop with me began to laugh.

“You’ve been here, your whole life haven’t you?” he asked.

I nodded.

“It’s snow!” he said.

My eyes bulged and I thought, “Oh — so this is snow…”

Years of living in New Orleans and watching Christmas specials on television had led me to believe that snowflakes were fifty cent piece sized crystals with little jagged intricate points, not little dot-like motes. Hey, I was a kid and I’d never seen the stuff with my own two eyes before; what do you want…

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Fantasy, science fiction and steampunk author Brandon Black is the editor of New Orleans By Gaslight, a first of its kind anthology of steampunk and gaslamp fantasy poetry and fiction set in Victorian-era New Orleans. Brandon is also the web content manager for the Week in Geek, New Orleans’ favourite fantasy and science fiction themed radio talk show, every Saturday at 1 pm CST on WGSO 990 AM. Click here to check out Brandon’s ever-expanding list of published works.


What is Steampunk, anyway?

Perhaps you’ve seen them at a local science fiction convention such as Comic Con: people dressed in Victorian-era garb but with strange implements of wondrous science that would have never worked in the real world. These are steampunks.

The single most common question I get asked as a steampunk author is: just what is steampunk, anyway?

Steampunk put simply is Victorian-style science fiction, fiction in the style of Jules Verne and H. G. Wells. It is a Victorian world plus, one with strange mad science and wondrous steam-driven technologies from heavier-than-air flying ships to steam-driven mechanical computers to giant, track-driven land battleships to brass-covered automatons. It’s science fiction blended with alternate history — a Victorian era of “What If?”

While steampunk may have found its origins in the science fiction writings of Jules Verne, H. G. Wells and others, writers such as William Gibson and Bruce Sterling, authors of The Difference Engine, have brought forward this style into the twenty-first century. And while much of steampunk focuses on science fiction, fantasy elements are not out of the picture either. Much of modern young adult steampunk fiction involves both vampires and magic. Boneshaker, by Cherie Priest, even includes zombies! It’s very much an ‘anything goes’ fictional genre.

The freedom and openness of the steampunk genre is built on the immense enthusiasm its fans have for dressing up and do-it-yourself costuming. While people can and do buy props and costume pieces off the internet, steampunk is much more about making your own gear and showing it off for friends and family. I believe the immense popularity of steampunk is one of the offshoots of the Harry Potter phenomenon. Harry Potter made it cool for people, young and old, to be readers and cool even to dress up publicly as their favorite characters. People in the steampunk community group together, often in costume, in local clubs called airships. Many airships have build nights in which the steampunks gather to work on their prop projects while socializing.

The openness of the genre is seen clearly visible in the wide variety of the ages of the participants. You are just as likely to see a retired couple costuming as steampunks at a local convention as you are to see high schoolers involved in it. And while rigorous debate often occurs between steampunks as to what is or is not steampunk, the community is unified in its desire that everyone should have a good time and that every effort at costuming and prop building be appreciated from the most expert and professional to the first effort of a newly steampunking child.

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Fantasy, science fiction and steampunk author Brandon Black is the editor of New Orleans By Gaslight, a first of its kind anthology of steampunk and gaslamp fantasy poetry and fiction set in Victorian-era New Orleans. Brandon is also the web content manager for the Week in Geek, New Orleans’ favourite fantasy and science fiction themed radio talk show, every Saturday at 1 pm CST on WGSO 990 AM. Click here to check out Brandon’s ever-expanding list of published works.


Ode to My Awesome Power

I was chatting with a co-worker discussing some song or other and I said it was so bad it could be used to torture angels, to which my friend said, “Cool!” I then asked him if torturing angels was something he wanted to do and he responded that it wasn’t but that it would be “bitchin’ to be so powerful that one could torture angels.” And thus inspired, I wrote the following:

Even though I never would,

I am so bitching that I could –

torture angels. Torture angels.

Even if they were to me –

bigger than, or smaller than a flea,

I’m strong enough to torture angels.

Graceful wings of feathered span,

or insectile as an ant’s –

Praise my power to torture angels.

As the shining sunset falls,

and they hide behind clouded walls,

Heaven’s children fear my power – to torture angels.

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Fantasy, science fiction and steampunk author Brandon Black is the editor of New Orleans By Gaslight, a first of its kind anthology of steampunk and gaslamp fantasy poetry and fiction set in Victorian-era New Orleans. Brandon is also the web content manager for the Week in Geek, New Orleans’ favourite fantasy and science fiction themed radio talk show, every Saturday at 1 pm CST on WGSO 990 AM. Click here to check out Brandon’s ever-expanding list of published works.


Fornifications (definition)

Fornifications

noun

1. military defenses built to protect a place from outside interference for the purpose of consensual sexual intercourse between two or more persons not married to each other

Examples:

1. “We’ve got to storm City Hall and drive out those furries before they complete their fornifications or there’ll be hell to pay!”

2. “These goggles will provide your commando team with a rudimentary vector graphic view of your surroundings.”

“This is less detail than if we just used our eyes.”

“Exactly. You’re assaulting the Tentacled God’s Sexthedral — trust me son, you don’t want to see what’s on the other side of those fornifications.”

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Fantasy, science fiction and steampunk author Brandon Black is the editor of New Orleans By Gaslight, a first of its kind anthology of steampunk and gaslamp fantasy poetry and fiction set in Victorian-era New Orleans. Brandon is also the web content manager for the Week in Geek, New Orleans’ favourite fantasy and science fiction themed radio talk show, every Saturday at 1 pm CST on WGSO 990 AM. Click here to check out Brandon’s ever-expanding list of published works.


Why You’d Have To Twist My Arm To Get Me To Write For The Flash

So first, let’s just get one thing out of the way. The Flash is more powerful than Superman. It used to be that Superman was considered to be as fast as the Flash, which is just, just terrible. The guy with fifty million powers, the guy who’s got so many abilities Batman has to ask him if he can detect microwaves before he himself thinks to check what’s going on in that part of the spectrum, that guy does not need to outshine the guy with ONE power at that ONE ability. And I’m glad that they resolved the whole “Superman has won foot races with the Flash” thing by having the Flash sigh and say, “Clark, those were for charity.” Moving on.

Let me tell you a story. We were playing a fantasy RPG and our characters were aboard a sailing ship. We were attacked by a dragon. The dragon lands on the deck of the ship and starts fighting us with tooth and claw. And we, the players, all look at each other, embarrased and confused. No one wants to say it but we’re all annoyed and angry. Because there’s no way a dragon would do that. The creature flew out over the sea to reach the ship. So why did it land? It could have smashed the rigging of the ship down on top of us. It could have breathed fire on the ship. It could dive into the water and tear out the bottom of the ship, leaving us all to drown or float adrift. It could have done several of these things. But landing on the ship where we can make a fight of it is the single worst combat option the dragon could choose. We all felt like the GM was coddling us as incompetent children.

So too is it with the Flash.

He’s too damned powerful and so the writers have to find ways every week to hide how powerful he is.

The way he fights is entirely so he can give his opponents the illusion of having a chance. Watch the show some time. Not only is the Flash insanely powerful with the one superpower that really matters — he has backup! He’s got a team monitoring satellites and radio and TV that speak to him directly via a commlink in his cowl. So nine times out of ten, nineteen times out of twenty, he knows his enemy’s exact location before the enemy even knows he’s on the way.

So how would you or I really deal with opponents on that basis? Well, here’s what I would do. I would run in at superspeed, find my opponent, approach him from behind and smack him across the back of the head with a stick. Pow! Bad man is down. If I were scared that might kill him, then I would run up behind him and stick a taser into the base of his spine, tie him up, wait for the cops and go home. Done.

If my opponent were a robot or an animated statue or some inanimate object that I could safely destroy, I would just run at it from behind at about mach ten with a handful of ball bearings, open my hand and either turn or stop and watch the ball bearings blow the target into kingdom come. The military has what are called Kinetic Kill Vehicles — these are missiles that have no warheads. They just smash into things so fast that simple kinetic energy annihilates the target. The Flash can turn a beignet into one.

Watch him fight on the show. He approaches at superspeed, then comes to a halt in front of the villain, standing out in the open, behind no cover, and engages the villain in conversation. I don’t have words for how stupid that is.

And no, being possessed of superspeed doesn’t automatically make you a genius but Barry Allen isn’t supposed to be an intellectual slouch. He’s supposed to be one of the best forensic scientists that anyone’s ever seen. He should have more sense than to give the bad guy a chance like that. But episode after episode after episode, he gives his opponent a fair chance because if he ran in, knocked the guy out and tied him up midair, handcuffing his opponent around the wrists and ankles before he could even hit the ground, we wouldn’t have a show. And we shouldn’t.

Don’t get me wrong. I love the Flash. I loved every appearance he made on Justice League and Justice League Unlimited. I adored Kid Flash in Young Justice. But having teams severely draws your attention away from the insane powerlevel of the speedsters. Also the threats that the Justice League faces are a lot more grave than the average Flash Rogues Gallery villain. Fighting an army of Darkseid’s parademons, sure, no problem. But Captain Cold? Captain Boomerang? You shouldn’t be able to watch an episode like that without laughing and asking how in the hell would anyone be dumb enough to think they can take down the Flash with a cold gun or a trick boomerang. And I love Boomer. He was the best part of Task Force X on Justice League. I mean, almost getting the team pinched by having seventy five cents in his pocket and setting off the metal detector rather than throw away SEVENTY FIVE CENTS!? Hilarious.

And that’s why I love the Flash and his villains. They’ve got great personality. But a whole Flash show? Ridiculous. Week after week after week. I could almost get up and go get a sandwich during these fight scenes. Almost.

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Fantasy, science fiction and steampunk author Brandon Black is the editor of New Orleans By Gaslight, a first of its kind anthology of steampunk and gaslamp fantasy poetry and fiction set in Victorian-era New Orleans. Brandon is also the web content manager for the Week in Geek, New Orleans’ favourite fantasy and science fiction themed radio talk show, every Saturday at 1 pm CST on WGSO 990 AM. Click here to check out Brandon’s ever-expanding list of published works.