RIP Christopher Tolkien

Word came out today that Christopher Tolkien, son of J.R.R. Tolkien, passed away. For storytellers and world builders, Christopher is the one known for organizing his dad’s notes over the past many years into the History of Middle Earth. He and his work will be missed.

Night

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Thursday was the latest session of the VA OT Creative Writing group I’m participating in. I’ve missed a few sessions because of issues mentioned in a previous post. The writing prompt for the day was “Night”. This is what I came up with.

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We own the night.

For as long as there have been commando and special operations units, that’s been the unofficial slogan for all of them. Between the advantage of blending into the shadows and the weakness of human eyesight at night, quiet professionals work behind the scenes and usually minus the headlines. The inventions of infrared and night-vision systems produced greater advantages for the warriors who live in a world mostly colored by blacks, greys, and fluorescent green.

When the U.S. Space Command (USSC) stood up, it was only a matter of time before the first “ground” units were created, and, of course, since space is one endless night, they were spec ops from U.S. Special Operations Command (USSOCOM). The days of the large and clunky, but deadly and almost silent helicopters yielded to the slightly larger and more agile, but even deadlier, and actually silent drop ships as bases of operations shifted from static forward operating bases on the surface of Earth to the mobile Sheppard-class battle cruiser space ships operating beyond the asteroid belt.

While ground troop units now include non-special ops forces (sof), the sof units still hold the status of first in, last out, no matter where USSC deploys.

When the Aldrin, the newest of the Sheppard-class battle cruisers, ventured out towards Saturn, part of its unit component was two spec ops teams and their specially designed Artemis-class drop ships. When the Aldrin disappeared from the Sol System, while taking a shortcut over Saturn’s northern pole, enroute to an emergency on the moon Titan, on the non-Earth-side of the planet, it took with it the first two Artemis-class drop ships.

What was to be the first operational deployment of the military’s newest toy, instead became the USSC’s biggest nightmare. Worse, details returning from observatories, satellites, and other operational ships in the area display and describe an event not one observer believes their eyes on.

As the Aldrin passed over Saturn’s north pole, the hexagon previously believed to be a storm, much like the infamous red circle on Jupiter, turned into the base of some kind of hexagon-shaped box that formed around the Aldrin before filling with a purplish cloud. When the cloud cleared, the Aldrin was gone.

The USSC eggheads are still trying to come up with a theory to explain what the observers and camera systems recorded. Some say the ship’s destroyed. Others say the ship’s moved somewhere else. Either way, they’re lacking evidence to support either theory as no trace remains of the Aldrin within the Sol System.

In the meantime, USSC has twenty-four hours to come up with a way to explain to SOCOM how its newest assets are lost in space.

Roadside Picnic by Arkady and Boris Strugatsky

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Note:
I will avoid spoilers here and request that any comments remain spoiler free as well.
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The Russian scifi novel Roadside Picnic by Arkady and Boris Strugatsky is one of those books that kept showing up on lists of recommended books but I kept putting it off for some reason. Recently, it kept showing up in references and cross-references so I finally decided to pick it up and read it.

When dealing with non-English scifi, there’s always the question of which version or translation should you read. Luckily for me, I found and discuss here is the 2012 Olena Bormashenko English translation which Boris refers to in his “Afterword” as “completely restored and returned to the author’s version” (209).

Roadside Picnic is about the aftermath of alien visits to Earth and what happens as people try to make sense of the things that get left behind after they leave. The title and concept is best described by one of the characters:

A picnic. Imagine: a forest, a country road, a meadow. A car pulls off the road into the meadow and unloads young men, bottles, picnic baskets, girls, transistor radios, cameras… A fire is lit, tents are pitched, music is played. And in the morning they leave. The animals, birds, and insects that were watching the whole night in horror crawl out of their shelters. And what do they see? An oil spill, a gasoline puddle, old spark plugs and oil filters strewn about… Scattered rags, burnt-out bulbs, someone has dropped a monkey wrench. The wheels have tracked mud from some godforsaken swamp… and of course, there are remains for the campfire, apple cores, candy wrappers, tins, bottles, someone’s handkerchief, someone’s penknife, old ragged newspapers, coins, wilted flowers from another meadow… (131-2).

Of course, in this description, the aliens are the picnickers and the humans are the ants.

Specifically, Roadside Picnic follows the story of Red Schuhart, a stalker, who goes intot he visitation zones and brings back artifacts to sell. The story is told over a sequence of four period’s of Red’s life and primarily deals with the actions and consequences of messing with things we don’t understand.

Other themes that stick out are: The irony of jobs and statuses. When Red works for scientific institutes, he’s a hero and paid employee; when he works for the benefit of his own family, he’s a criminal and punished. Mutations and the dead returned to life, but not in the zombie and monster sense, and the impact on the families involved And the moral dilemma faced by those who recover the artifacts weighed against the knowledge that they might be used for weapons.

This book should definitely be on your must read list if you’re a scifi fan, post-apocalyptic/dystopian fan, or have an interest in scifi that doesn’t originate from U.S. and U.K. origins. The fact that this book, published in the Soviet era of Russia, has messages for our modern world, should push this one closer to the top of your to-be-read list.

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Note:
I again request that any comments remain spoiler free.
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We Are Mayhem by Michael Moreci

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Note:
I will avoid spoilers here and request that any comments remain spoiler free as well.
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We Are Mayhem (WAM) by Michael Moreci is what results when a Star Wars (SW) fan and writer of SW and Battlestar Galactica, and other comic book series offers his own take on the space opera. It is the second novel in the Black Star Renegades series picking up after the events of the first novel, Black Star Renegades (BSR).

Since it is a follow up to, picks up almost immediately after, and refers to events from BSR, I highly recommend reading the first one before venturing into this one. However, don’t view this as a task to be filled, BSR is a great story in its own right.

All of the elements that make SW fans love the films exist in these two books. There are plenty of nods to the originals, including a “I don’t have a good feeling about this” or two for good measure. However, it doesn’t feel like you’re rereading SW. The story in BSR and WAM is definitely a new tale and offers a new take on the space opera sub-genre.

I highly recommend this novel, and i9ts predecessor, to all fans of space opera, military scifi, and Star Wars. Though set in a galaxy a far, far away, it still feels like home.

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Note:
I again request that any comments remain spoiler free.
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The Redemption of Time by Baoshu

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Note:
I will avoid spoilers here and request that any comments remain spoiler free as well.
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It’s a rare thing when a work of fan fiction turns out to be as high quality a work as the originals. It’s even rarer when a work of fan fiction becomes official canon, an official sequel to one of the great series of scifi to hit the world scene, and all with the endorsement of the author of the original series. That’s exactly what Baoshu has accomplished with his novel The Redemption of Time (TRoT).

Baoshu’s novel is the latest sequel to Cixin Liu’s The Remembrance of Earth’s Past (TRoEP) trilogy, picking up after the events of Liu’s Death’s End. Baoshu’s work was an entirely new encounter for me and this novel is something special.

Baoshu’s status as a fan of Liu is evident with TRoT being a sequel to Liu’s work and also bridging two of Liu’s works TRoEP and Ball Lightning, both mentioned in previous posts here: TRoEP and BL. In addition to the references to the four previous Liu books, Baoshu demonstrates his status as a scifi fan by also working in a few tips of the hat to Robert Heinlein and Douglas Adams into the mix.

I recommend this book to anyone who’s a fan of Cixin Liu’s The Remembrances of Earth’s Past. However, I also recommend reading both the TRoEP trilogy and BL before reading this one, since events from both factor significantly into the story here.

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Note:
I again request that any comments remain spoiler free.
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