Sci Fi Fantasy Chess Set

Yesterday, in a slow, post-lunch work skive, I played chess against the computer. And I won.

“So what?”, you might think, but I don’t win any kind of chess game very often, let alone one played against a machine. So I felt pretty pleased with myself.

But the chess pieces themselves got me thinking. Wouldn’t it be awesome if you could choose what your digital chess pieces looked like?

So after wasting some time playing chess, I then wasted a bit more time coming up with my sci fi fantasy chess set (nothing like putting off until tomorrow what could’ve been done today).

Here’s how my fantasy chess set would look:

One set of pieces would be based on Battlestar Galactica characters and the other on Star Trek: The Next Generation characters. The BSG set was tough – I had to leave out major characters but in the end I decided to go just with those attached to the colonial fleet. Even then I had to leave out characters like Helo and Gaeta. The Star Trek ones were easier once I’d decided to go just for one series, and that was really just a toss-up between the original and TNG. But TNG has Picard so that won.

William AdamaThe BSG set:

  • King: Admiral Bill Adama
  • Queen: The Battlestar Galactica
  • Knight: Cpt. Kara Thrace (Starbuck)
  • Knight: Col. Saul Tigh
  • Bishop: President Laura Roslin
  • Bishop: Cpt. Lee Adama (Apollo)
  • Rook: Dr. Gaius Baltar
  • Rook: Chief Galen Tyrol
  • Pawns: Colonial viper pilots

Jean-luc PicardAnd the Star Trek set:

  • King: Cpt. Jean-Luc Picard
  • Queen: USS Enterprise
  • Knight: Lt. Cmdr. Data
  • Knight: Cmdr. William Riker
  • Bishop: Counselor Deanna Troi
  • Bishop: Dr. Beverley Crusher
  • Rook: Lt. Cmdr. Geordi La Forge
  • Rook: Lt. Worf
  • Pawns: Enterprise crewmen

I did toy with creating a fantasy Star Wars set but that would have been a whole ‘nother chess game……

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5 Iconic Space Ships in Sci Fi

When Space Shuttle Atlantis landed for the final time at the Kennedy Space Center yesterday morning an era ended.

Like the Saturn rockets and Lunar modules of the Apollo program, the Shuttle will now become an iconic image in the history of space flight. It was a vision of beauty – graceful, elegant but oozing power – and it must have been exhilarating to fly it.

What will the space vehicles of the future look like? Well, Hollywood has already had a think about this one and if NASA is looking for any help with its R & D, it needs look no further than some of the sci fi movies of the last forty years. Here are five of the most iconic spaceships sci fi has to offer:

Millennium Falcon 1. Millennium Falcon, Star Wars

The ship that famously made “the Kessel Run in less than twelve parsecs” is practically a museum piece itself in the sci fi genre. Bursting onto our screens more than thirty years ago, the ship was an instant hit with fans and has remained a key image of the Star Wars universe ever since.

Starship Enterprise2. USS Enterprise, Star Trek

For me, the Starship Enterprise is by far the most iconic space vessel in sci fi. Each NCC-1701 series craft is instantly recognisable to fans and non-fans alike. I can hear the theme music in my head as soon as I see the Enterprise. Can’t wait for the next movie in the rebooted franchise, due out next year.

Mothership from Close Encounters of the Third Kind3. The Mothership, Close Encounters of the Third Kind

The Devil’s Tower in Wyoming is the striking image woven throughout Close Encounters that the characters are drawn to. But they, and the audience, are awestruck not by the Tower but by the alien mothership that descends, dwarfing it almost into insignificance. Thrumming with light and sound this is still one of the most gorgeously beautiful spaceships ever imagined.

Battlestar Galactica4. The Galactica, Battlestar Galactica

The Galactica is the hub of the fleet that is home and refuge for the remains of human civilization after the Cylon attack on the colonies. Not pretty, not graceful, it is instead the beating heart of all that remains between humanity and extinction.

Ship from 2001: A Space Odyssey5. The Spaceship, 2001: A Space Odyssey

Imagery is everything in this movie. So it may be no coincidence that the spacecraft carrying astronauts Keir Dullea and Gary Lockwood to Jupiter bears a passing resemblance to a neuron.

Just as a neuron transmits the electrical and biochemical impulses that allow thought to occur, so the alien monolith transmits signals which allow human evolution to occur.
Mind-blowing, man.

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Contagion – Catch it a a Cinema Soon

Remember bird flu?

What about swine flu (a.k.a the aporkalypse)?

Or the less catchily-named S. A. R. S.?

Imagine if any of these diseases had lived up to the media hysteria and had gone on to infect millions. Steven Soderbergh’s new movie Contagion does just that, even down to having bird flu as its agent of doom. To be released later this year (just in time for the flu season – thanks, guys), the story focuses on what would happen if a deadly disease became so virulent that just about anyone who touched an infected surface came down with the illness. With a stellar ensemble cast, including Matt Damon, Gwyneth Paltrow, Laurence Fisburne, Kate Winslet, Jude Law and Marion Cotillard, to do the heavy lifting if the story becomes a little strained in places, this sounds like a promising movie to ease us into the colder days and darker nights to come. The extra frisson we’ll get every time someone sneezes next to us could be worth the ticket price alone.

There are obvious similarities with Wolfgang Peterson’s 1995 movie, Outbreak. From the starry cast (the earlier movie had Dustin Hoffman, Rene Russo, Morgan Freeman, Cuba Gooding, Jnr., Donald Sutherland and Kevin Spacey) to the race against time format. But enjoyable as Outbreak was, I think Contagion could allow more audience identification. Whereas the earlier movie puts the story in a military setting with the lead character (Hoffman) being a virologist with the US army, Contagion looks like it tells the story from the civilian point of view of both infected individuals and the medical teams who try to find solutions.

The trailer looks like it will tick every disaster/suspense movie button we’d expect (but be warned – it looks like there could be some spoilers). I think this one could well be worth a watch, if only for the cast alone.

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Zombies – Be Prepared

zombies from Shaun of the DeadIs there something we’re not being told?

I’ve been checking the straws in the wind and suspect that the zombie apocalypse may be imminent.

In May, the CDC issued some advice on what to do when the zombie attack comes. It includes some helpful information about what to include in our emergency kits (passports and driving licences. Why? Are the undead going to ID us before lunching on our brains?).

And last month, after a Freedom of Information request from a ‘concerned citizen’, Leicester City Council was forced to reveal that it was woefully unprepared for a zombie attack. Inevitably, once Leicester’s failings became known, a shambling pack of undead stumbled through the city a few days later, as they have several other major cities in the past.

And now, we can see what a zombie brain looks like. Neuroscientists Bradley Voytek and Timothy Verstynen have used their science backgrounds to produce a zombie guide that includes identifying the condition as Consciousness Deficit Hypoactivity Disorder (CDHD). (Must be careful not to confuse this with ADHD – not sure what effect Ritalin would have on a zombie; could make them worse?)

So what else can we do to prepare for the flesh-eaters? Well, there are a few books and movies that could help get us in the mood and I’ve selected a couple of my top picks.

I’ve read Max Brooks’ World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War and I think that’s a pretty good place to start as it takes the form interviews with survivors. Also recommended is Isaac Marions’s Warm Bodies, a zombie love story or zom rom.

There are a couple of books I haven’t got around to reading yet – David Wellington’s series, starting with Monster Island and Max Brooks’ other zombie title, The Zombie Survival Guide, so I’ll give these a go over the next few months.

There are three types of zombie movie to choose from here:

  • The old school slow, groaning shuffles of the Night of the Living Dead the The Walking Dead type which are always worth a watch.
  • The must faster, more intelligent attackers of the 28 Days Later type (although these are the living infected rather than the reanimated dead).
  • And then there are the comedies like Shaun of the Dead (2004) and Zombieland (2009).

So there’s plenty of zombie information to keep me going until the apocalypse arrives.

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5 Sci Fi Acts of Betrayal

Betrayal is one of the most loathsome of crimes and has a long and murky history. It even has its own price (thirty pieces of silver) and its own catchphrase (Et tu, Brute?).

But it’s part of human nature and the ignoble art of selling out your compadres and comadres will continue into the future and all other known universes if sci fi is any judge of character. Here are five low-down and dirty acts of treachery in sci fi. And not all of them are carried out by a bad person or out of self-interest…….

This being about betrayal it’s a no-brainer to realise that every one of the examples below is a major plot spoiler. So don’t read on if you can’t think of any treacherous sci fi characters – I won’t even say what the titles are ’cause that would spoil it if you haven’t seen it yet.

But if you think you know who I may be talking about, read on. You have been warned….

Warning: Plot Spoilers Ahead!!



Cypher in The Matrix1. Cypher (Joe Pantoliano), The Matrix

Cypher was never going to be noble character – snarky, jealous and with dodgy facial hair – he’s the least likeable crew member on the Nebuchadnezzar. But then, in exchange for the illusory but vivid steak’n’redwine-filled existence of the matrix, he betrays Morpheus, Neo and the rest of the crew to Agent Smith. And in so doing becomes a worthless piece of shit who really should have taken the blue pill. But he gets his comeuppance in the form of an enraged Tank.

Carter Burke in Aliens

2. Carter Burke (Paul Reiser), Aliens

Where to start with this weasel of a character? First he sends a bunch of colonists out to the Alien planet without warning them what’s in store for them, then he gets Ripley to agree to go with the marine expedition to investigate said colonists, who are now missing, by promising her that his plan is to destroy the aliens when he really wants them to produce a bioweapon. And worst of all, as a treacherous finale, he traps Newt and Ripley in a lab with a couple of face-huggers in an attempt ‘impregnate’ them so he can smuggle a couple of aliens back to Earth.
Oh, and he disses Hicks.

This guy’s depths don’t even have a bottom and you find yourself cheering the aliens on when they get hold of him.

Ellen Tigh in Battlestar Galactica

3. Ellen Tigh (Kate Vernon), Battlestar Galactica

To paraphrase Bryan Adams, everything Ellen does, she does it for him.

 ‘Him’ being husband Col. Saul Tigh (Michael Hogan). Desperate to keep Saul, now leader of the human resistance on New Caprica, from being thrown back into the Cylon prison, Ellen collaborates with the occupying Cylons and betrays the resistance. People get killed. As does Ellen, at the hands of Saul, in what is the end to a storyline that is grim and sad rather than evil and  despicable.

Harold Lauder in The Stand

4. Harold Lauder (Corin Nemec), The Stand

Harold Emery Lauder is an awkward, spotty teenager with delusions of superiority and an unrequited crush on Frannie Goldsmith. You should feel sorry for him but his character is so slimy and repellant, you don’t. With his vengeful little mantra, “every dog has his day” playing in his head, he engineers the downfall of Mother Abigail’s good guys and defects to the dark side. Only things don’t go entirely to plan and he ends up dying in a ditch like the worm he is.

Lando Calrissian in Star Wars V: The Empire Strikes Back

5. Lando Calrissian (Billy Dee Williams), Star Wars V: The Empire Strikes Back

Like Ellen Tigh above, Lando commits his act of betrayal out of slightly nobler motives than naked self-interest. Threatened with the take-over of Cloud City if he doesn’t co-operate, he hands over Han Solo (Harrison Ford) to Darth Vader.

Indulging in his own bit of treachery, Vader then goes back on his agreement and so manages to create another opponent as Lando returns to the good side, helps the others escape and sets of to rescue Han. The force is again strong.

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Reasons To Be Cheerful – Adaptations

Following on from last week’s look at movie prequels in production, this week I’m making a list of books I’m gonna read before the adaptations hit the screens.

Some of my friends prefer to watch the movie first. They like to let the director’s take on the story wash over them without their preconceptions in the way. But for me, it’s the book first every time if I can manage it. There are details and back story in a book that film makers can’t possibly shoe-horn into a two-hour movie without plot-dragging levels of exposition. Also, if the movie is anything less than good (Dune) or the ending is changed to meet some lame test-screening results (I Am Legend), you won’t be put off the story forever.

So which books have I read and which do I need to get started on this year?

Cloud AtlasI think the most intriguing movie coming up will be Cloud Atlas. To be directed by Tom Tykwer and the Wachowskis, this is the adaptation of David Mitchell’s 2004 book by the same name. A friend lent me this book last year and it just sat on the shelf for months – the cover just wasn’t inspiring me to pick it up (shallow, I know, but there it is). I finally got around to reading it a couple of weeks ago and I’m glad I did as it’s a terrific novel. Set in different times and places, only two of the six separate but linked stories are ‘science fiction’ but don’t let that put you off; every story is great. For me, ‘An Orison of Sonmi-451’ is easily the stand-out tale, exploring a “fabricant’s” nature and experience in the future world. But each story has its own, equally thought-provoking, questions to ask of the reader.

Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, Susan Sarandon, Hugo Weaving, Jim Broadbent and Ben Whishaw will star in the movie. All are apparently taking on multiple roles. Some commentators have been luke-warm on this idea but I think it could work well and will help to connect each tale further. Definitely one to watch out for with this level of star directing and acting talent involved.

RobopocalypseRobopocalypse by robotocist Daniel H. Wilson is the book I’m currently reading. The story is a narration by a survivor of a war between robots and humans. Archos, an artificial intelligence, turns against humans and uses robots to attack them. I’m only a few chapters in at the moment but it’s shaping up to be a great read with lots of dark and grisly apocalyptic-type stuff.

The movie looks like it’s coming out in 2013. So no rush there then but the director is Steven Spielberg so the wait’ll be worth it. No cast names yet but with this director it’s bound to be stellar. Maybe even another role for Tom Cruise? After all, he has been in Spielberg sci fi movies before (War of the Worlds, Minority Report).

A couple of other books I’ve read that are being filmed are Warm Bodies by Isaac Marion and World War Z by Max Brooks. Both are zombie stories and are different but good (zombie romance and first-person narratives of the zombie war respectively).

World War Z, due out in 2012, with Marc Forster directing and Brad Pitt starring looks to be the more commercial of the two stories. But who knows? Maybe Warm Bodies, a zombie Romeo and human Juliet, will strike a chord. Directed by Jonathan Levine and starring Nicholas Hoult, it’s also due out in 2012.

But this still leaves a whole stack of books I need to read and some will be easier to get through than others:

  • Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card. No idea who will direct or star but it’s in development. A book I’ve always meant to get around reading.
  • John Carter of Mars by Edgar Rice Burroughs. The movie John Carter, directed by Andrew Stanton, is due out in 2012 and will star Willem Dafoe and Thomas Hayden Church. I’ve got a feeling this one will feel very dated but I’ll give it a go.
  • Old Man’s War by John Scalzi. A space war story which looks promising. The movie, to be directed by Wolfgang Peterson, should be spectacular if it gets off the ground.


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Reasons To Be Cheerful – Prequels

As we approach the mid-point of 2011 I’m thinking about which movies I’m looking forward to in the coming months. And there seem to be a good few prequels, sequels, etc. in the pipeline. Now I love prequels but I need to prepare for them, go back and revisit the rest of the stuff in that particular universe. Which can take time. So I’m gonna start now and be ready for at least some of them when they’re (finally) made and released.

  • PrometheusRidley Scott’s new movie Prometheus promises to be something special. Little official information is out there but leaks and hints suggest that it is either another story set in the Alien universe or the prequel to Alien. Either way, with actors like Guy Pearce, Idris Elba, Noomi Rapace and Charlize Theron starring and Scott directing it is something to get excited about.
  • Battlestar Galactica: Blood and Chrome

    I don’t need much excuse to rewatch anything to do with the re-booted Battlestar Galactica. Unlike some, I’m a big fan of the series, the stand-alone movie, The Plan, and the spin-off Caprica. So this prequel series, about William Adama during the first Cylon War era, is near the top of my must-see list.
  • The ThingJohn Carpenter’s 1982 movie is set in a remote Antarctic science station where the crew, including Kurt Russell’s helicopter pilot R. J. MacReady, become trapped with a lethal alien entity that can disguise itself as anything it has previously killed. Full of darkness, paranoia and fear, this is a nigh-on perfect sci fi horror classic.The new movie, wisely, will not be a remake of Carpenter’s movie, itself already a remake of the earlier 1951 version, which was an adaptation of a story by John W. Campbell. Instead it’s a prequel but, confusingly, will still keep the same title as the earlier movies. (Hey, all the good prequel titles had already been taken, OK? If they can’t have The Thing Begins, The Thing: First Class, Rise of The Thing or Episode 1: The Thingwhat’s the point trying to think of something else?)In Carpenter’s movie, the opening scene shows a dog streaking across the ice, being fired on from a helicopter. Dog reaches the safety of MacReady’s station but the outcome for the Norwegians in the helicopter isn’t so rosy. The new movie, starring Mary Elizabeth Winstead (Die Hard 4) as a palaeontologist who joins the Norwegian team in the Antarctic, tells the story of the events leading up to this scene. So here’s the opening scenes from Carpenter’s movie to remind you just how good it is and how good the movie should aspire to be.
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