BLUF Review: The Last Ship, Season 2 Episode 4, “Solace”

Bottom Line Up Front:  KICKASS!  Miffed about the lack of action and new plot development last week?  Well, this one has it all, and all of it is done well.  We’re back to action-packed naval porn, and in a much more satisfying manner than in the season premiere two-parter.  This one stays on the re-watch list and would be a great entry point for new watchers this season.

 Summary:  Again, I’m playing catch-up like in the last BLUF Review, so SPOILERS ABOUND.

Ahoy! USS NATHAN JAMES is underway and en route antivirus labs in the southeastern US when intel informs them the Norfolk lab may not have just vanished. They may have gotten underway with their full lab setup and 15 docs aboard USNS SOLACE, one of the Navy hospital ships — which would be perfect for getting the cure all over the world. Cap’n Crunches, CDR Tom Chandler has the ship search for SOLACE, and they eventually find her.  Meanwhile, we get to know some new faces.  The ship’s SEALs and VBSS boarding teams / security force get augmented by some badass do-gooders: “Wolf” a Wolverine stand-in from the Australian Special Forces and Ravit, a tough but attractive butt-kicking lady from the Israeli defense force, both of which had been in Norfolk for an exchange course when the virus hit.  GUNNO is in love, but is instantly shut down, to Tex’s delightful amusement, and Sexy LT 2 notes to Sexy LT 1 that all the females are keenly aware of Wolf’s manly attributes.

They find SOLACE adrift with a pre-recorded message looping out on bridge-to-bridge and they worry they were too late.  The XO takes over and Cap’n Tom goes over with the boarding teams, including Wolf, Freckles, GUNNO, Sexy LT 1, Tex, and Ravit.  No signs of any life, they split into multiple teams, with Tex, GUNNO, and Ravit going one way, and the Skipper and the rest going the other. They find the virus labs good to go, but recently unmanned, and signs of a struggle.  Tex’s team finds bodies, plural, not dead of the virus, but all executed with shots to the head.  They are not alone.

The Skipper finds a bunch of docs and crew holed up in an operating suite, trying to save a wounded crewmember. They tell them they’ve been boarded by mercs looking for the cure, and they are killing everyone.  Both teams coordinate with NATHAN JAMES, who goes to GQ and brings guns to bear.  The mercs then make themselves known and firefights ensue. Freckles and Wolf/Wolf-man have some mutual badassery, while Ravit amply shows GUNNO and Tex how much of a take-no-prisoners-I-don’t-need-no-man kind of gal she is.  Great action here.  The lead merc, who had been in an intro scene earlier with his brother aboard an infected British submarine, challenges Chandler on who’s team is more lethal.  He is determined to kill everyone and get the cure.  Firefights and battles continue, with NATHAN JAMES’ snipers and Sexy LT 2 getting some kills in with the remotely operated 30 mm cannon.

Main Merc realizes he’s lost, and he skedaddles.  At the same time, Ravit, GUNNO, and Tex come on a tank room rigged to blow the ship, and Main Merc has the detonator!  Chandler chases the Brit merc, GUNNO takes a bullet for Ravit, and Tex + Ravit disarm all the bombs, the last of which Tex throws off the ship right as the merc triggers it.  SOLACE is saved, some bad guys and redshirts die, and Main Merc jumps into the sea . . . and never comes up.  NATHAN JAMES realizes the mercs had to come from somewhere, so they freak out and start searching for a sub. They get one SONAR hit, but then its gone and lost.

Later, Typhoid Niels is revealed to still be with the immune survivalists who hate the cure, and they are revealed to be working with the Brit sub merc force, including Main Merc and his brother.

The Goods:  THIS EPISODE KICKS ASS!  Everyone gets to play, new villains are revealed, we remain at sea and aboard ship like I like it, and somebody’s torso gets esssssploded with a 30 mm round.  The bridge chatter as they approach SOLACE is also very good.  Like I’ve always said, this show listens to its Navy tech advisors (except for whoever teaches them Engineering or tactics, because that shit is just painful).  The real hospital ships are MERCY and COMFORT, but it looks like the Navy let them film on a real one nonetheless.  Thumbs up!

The Less Goods:  I’m not sure you can use a 30 mm cannon as a sniper rifle, cathartic though it may be.  The Skipper pulls a Captain Kirk and goes with the boarding teams.  Ummmmm, no.  Also, SONAR doesn’t work or look like that.  The show also returns to its default position that positions of responsibility and importance MUST be manned by OFFICERS ONLY.  In a pinch, they draft a clueless ENS as the anti-submarine officer.  What happened to the SONAR chief or any of the petty officers?  ASWO?  Ah well, the complaints are minor, but they may be more next episode, as it looks to be an “The Enemy Below” ripoff.  I hope I don’t have to hate on their ASW as badly as I hate on their engineering understanding.

Verdict:  One of my favorites.  Great job, crew!

BLUF Review: Chappie

Bottom Line Up-Front:  Most of the critics are wrong about Neil Blomkamp’s Chappie.  While not as good as I remember District 9, it is better than Elysium.  However, it is NOT what you expect from these stars, nor from the advertisements, and I think that is what is bringing its scores down so low.  This is a pretty good AI sci-fi action flick, but it subverts so many of your pre-conceptions, many end up disliking it.  I enjoyed it and it would be well worth a matinee and/or rental, though probably not a purchase on Blu-Ray.

SPOILERS ABOUND:  Chappie is set in Johannesburg, South Africa in the near future.  Jo’burg is overridden with violent crime and drug activity, so much so that the police force is heavily militarized, and the environment supports some drastic measures.  In comes Tetravaal, a tech company who has perfected an autonomous police robot to support the human cops.  They have a functional AI, but they are not “alive” or self-aware.  Within a few short months, the Scout droids designed and overseen by Dev Patel’s Deon have turned the crime situation around and everything is looking rosy for Jo’burg — as long as you’re not a gangster or a rival in the company with an alternative police droid.  Enter our first antagonist, Hugh Jackman’s Vincent, playing a fairly monomaniacal villain against his usual type.  His alternative robot, a HEAVILY armed and armored remotely-piloted ED-209-ish droid called The Moose, is the prime alternative to the Scout, but the Scout design is doing so well, Sigourney Weaver’s Michelle — Vincent and Deon’s boss — won’t spend company funds on his ugly and overpowered drone.  He thus hates Deon and consistently menaces him and looks for a way to undercut the Scout program.  Deon himself has grand plans far beyond the Scout program.  His true goal is a full artificial intelligence, a machine consciousness that can appreciate and employ abstract thought for art, music, and everything.  The problem is, Michelle doesn’t see any upside for the company for a more fully rounded AI, making Deon a victim of his own success.

Now enter the two big “problems” with Chappie:  our actual protagonists.  You see, Deon, Vincent, and Michelle only bookend the story and provide the framework for the plot.  The actual protagonists are three craven, stupid, drugged-out gangsters in the form of rap-rave duo Die Antwoord’s Ninja and Yo-landi (going by their actual stage names here) and Jose Cantillo’s Amerika.  They enter the story because they screwed up and wind up owing a brutal thug, Brandon Auret’s Hippo, around 20 million Rand (about $1.6 million) after a bad drug heist and Hippo gives them 7 days to come up with it.  The problem is, the Scouts have made it a lot harder to pull off deals or heists of that size, so they’re all gonna die.  Yo-landi, however, figures it would be easy to pull off a heist if they turned off the Scouts, hypothesizing that they probably have a remote control somewhere that can do the trick (she apparently had just seen The Phantom Menace or Avengers).  They see Deon’s picture in the paper and decide to kidnap him.

Deon makes a breakthrough and successfully compiles a conscious AI, but given Michelle’s reluctance, he decides to go behind her back and install it in a very unlucky Scout, Unit 022, which has been wrecked so many times its battery is fused to its chassis and cannot be changed or re-charged.  He steals the busted Scout, the encrypted guard-key to change its program, and his prototype AI.  As luck would have it, though, the gangsters choose that moment to car-jack him.  At their hideout, he convinces them there is no remote to kill the Scouts.  Amerika sees the busted Scout and figures it is the next best thing and orders Deon to program it to help them pull off a heist.  Not wanting to die, and desperate to see his creation live, he brings the Scout online with the new program.  Dubbed Chappie by Yo-landi, the infant-like droid is nothing like Ninja wants and he threatens to kill Deon if he can’t make it perform.  Deon promises to come back and get Chappie working better.  They let him go and Yo-landi, Amerika, and Chappie bond while Ninja seethes and plans.

This is both the most enjoyable section of the movie and the most frustrating.  It is fascinating to see Chappie “grow” and try to reconcile Deon’s brief admonishment to only do good and not commit any crimes with the trio’s reality of nothing but crime.  Nature vs. nurture.  Chappie won’t kill, but they convince him it’s okay to poke holes in people and help them go to sleep.  Chappie won’t steal, but when Ninja tells him the rich people on the street are driving cars that they stole from his Daddy and Mommy (Ninja and Yo-landi), he becomes quite adept at carjacking.  Chappie wants to do good, but Ninja explains to him that if he wants to live beyond the week he has due to his bad battery, he has to fight and help them carry off the heist.  Chappie is innocent, but he is also crafted into a dangerous gangster because of the environment he is exposed to, the reality of their “normal” lives, and his own desperate situation in the face of all the abhorrent treatment he receives at the hands of humans.

In the third act, Vincent re-emerges after scuttling the Scout program and out-ing Chappie to Michelle, who gives him free reign to bring down the rogue robot with his own monstrosity.  Pyrotechnics ensue and everything collides very satisfactorily.  But then comes the 4th act and finale no one is talking about, where many thought the movie goes off the rails.  I won’t give it away here, but I did think it followed with Chappie’s situation and the actions he takes on his own to survive, and it served to make the question of AI more profound.

NON-SPOILERISH DISCUSSION:  This movie is not what you expect going in.  Hugh Jackman is a monomaniacal, former special forces type desperate to succeed with his own project at any cost.  He is not one-dimensional, but he isn’t a well-rounded hero either.  Sigourney Weaver is DEFINITELY not a Ripley-type.  She has a fairly small role as a timid, second-guessing, cover-your-own-ass corporate bureaucrat.  Neither is what you expect from these actors and knowing what they are capable of in other films may leave you wanting more.  But that’s not this movie.  Neil Blomkamp’s films involve dark-dark-dark antagonists and extremely flawed protagonists in a dirty, messy, petty world.  It was that way in District 9, in Elysium, and now in Chappie.  This movie is not Robocop, Short Circuit (1 or 2), Pinocchio, Oliver Twist, District 9, or AI, though it carries elements of them all.  Of course, if you have to name five or more movies that a story has common elements with, that doesn’t say derivative to me, that says it is an original story informed by what came before.  The special effects are great.  I believed in Chappie as a real thing, and I found his journey through life believable, even if it isn’t the good robot discovers how to be good sort of story many seem to want.  The plot goes places you aren’t expecting, but I found it a fun and interesting journey.  Do the characters make poor choices?  Yes, but guess what?  Life is often defined by poor, not well thought out choices.

And to address the biggest gripe of the movie:  Die Antwoord.  Many ping on their bad acting as the thing that kills the movie.  Would I choose a pair of rappers to lead my film?  No, but they are not as bad as people make out.  I considered them to be members of a totally separate South African gangster sub-culture, so I just accepted their mannerisms and way of speech as true-ish elements of that culture.  Was Yo-landi’s voice annoying?  Maybe a little, but I didn’t notice it by the end.  Was Ninja an asshole?  Yes, but he’s supposed to be an asshole, and he had a satisfying arc by the end.  Was Ninja an actual asshole on the set?  I’m given to believe that he probably was and won’t be getting any more acting roles because of it in future, but his main detractor — the guy that played Hippo and complained about Ninja criticizing his acting — was so over the top and an actual bad actor, that I have to take his criticisms with a bag of salt.

Best is Sharlto Copley as Chappie.  I loved his work and his growth here.  Great job and nothing left to say.

For me, I’ll see it again when it goes digital and I may end up buying it.  But don’t believe all the detractors that insist the movie match the movie they thought they’d be seeing.  Go check it out.

Con-stitutional Liberties

First, “me” business:  I finished the second half of Chapter 4 on Demi-God / Dattoo, which was a tough one because it’s a lot of technobabble justification for what comes before and after.  I may end up re-vamping or cutting most of it, but it’s on paper/pixels at least.

Finishing up the files for my launch of “The Commuter” — COMING SOOOOON!

I have finally started writing Chapter 1 of Lancers Into the Light, the sequel to A Sword Into Darkness!  If you would like to be Tuckerized/Red-Shirted/Die in a gloriously fictional manner, hit me up on Twitter, Facebook, e-mail, or in the comments below!  And you guys are gonna love Huli.

And, I hit on a couple of very nice posts about my writing!  First, there’s a nice mention for my story “Within This Horizon” from Riding the Red Horse over on Takimag.  And, pleasantly surprising, Mark Ciocco of the Kaedrin Weblog has put me among his nominees for this year’s Best Novel Hugo Award!  Thank you, Mark!  And you would all be wise to go check out his excellent blog over there.

Now, convention stuff.  Here are the updates!

  1. MystiCon, Roanoke, VA – February 27-March 1; Rejected, all full up.
  2. RavenCon, Richmond, VA – April 24-26; Rejected, but on the waiting list.  I’m probably still going.  Oughta be fun.
  3. DragonCon, Atlanta, Georgia – September 4-7 (Yeah, right, this is like San Diego Comicon East); Rejected! Their form rejection email even had .midi file of a donkey laughing at me.
  4. Capclave, Washington DC – October 9-11; Application still under review
  5. HonorCon, Raleigh, North Carolina – TBD – October 31-November 2; No response
  6. AtomaCon, Charleston, South Carolina – November 13-15; Accepted as a guest!  Waiting on a response from me as to what panels I wanna be on.  This is a long drive, but, hey, that’s what meth is for.

So, the latest travel plan/list is:

  1. ROFCon, Virginia Beach, VA – February 27-March 1; Attending just to see all the costuming and cuz it’s local.
  2. MadiCon, Harrisonburg, VA – March 13-15; Guesting!  Super small college con.  Still still thinking on it.
  3. RavenCon, Richmond, VA – April 24-26; Attending cuz it was fun last year.
  4. BaltiCon, Baltimore, MD – May 22-25; Acceptance pending, but they urged me to enter for the Compton Crook Award.  And I did! No confirmation of award eligibility yet.
  5. ConCarolinas, Concord, North Carolina – May 29-31; Guesting!
  6. LibertyCon, Chattanooga, Tennessee – June 26-28; Guesting!  I’ll be taking trucker meth to reach this one too.
  7. Con-Gregate, High Point – North Carolina, July 10-12; Guesting!
  8. Capclave, Washington DC – October 9-11; Application under review
  9. HonorCon, Raleigh, North Carolina – TBD – October 31-November 2; No response
  10. AtomaCon, Charleston, South Carolina – November 13-15; Guesting!  At this point in the year, I’ll be a full-blown trucker meth-head.

Plus / PS:  I now have a supporting membership to this year’s Worldcon, so I am free to nominate stuff for the Hugo this year.  What should I be nominating?  Make your Best Novel, Novella, Novelette, Short Story, Related Work, Graphic Story, Dramatic Presentation (Long Form/Movie), Dramatic Presentation (Short Form/TV ep or short film), Editor (Long Form), Editor (Short Form), Pro Artist, Semi-Prozine, Fanzine, Fancast, or Fan Writer.  I WANT TO HEAR FROM YOU!!  So, hit me up, y’all.

Toodles!

For Your Consideration . . . .

Hello and welcome, science fiction award board members, voters, and fans!  Please enjoy the canapes and wine being passed around.  The envelopes with your individual bribes will be under your chair in the main dining room after the presentation.  AFTER the presentation, sir.  Please wait until the end.  Let’s try to maintain some decorum, shall we?

There are a HOST of science fiction awards.  There’s the ones most folks know about, like the Hugo,the Nebula, and the two different Campbell awards.  There are also about 76 other awards given out on an annual basis.  The problem is, as a newbie and an ostensibly indie one at that, I don’t know awards people or awards voters.  But I am quite proud of my success in 2014, and I’d like to think I might be able to play in the big leagues with those who know and participate in award circles like it’s second nature.  It may be childish, but unlike some who eschew awards or believe sales alone are the only reward one needs, I do want that validation from the community (and I believe that recognition can’t necessarily hurt sales either).  Is my stuff award worthy?  I dunno.  I’d like to think so.  They’ve garnered rankings, reviews, and comments equivalent to those received by nominees and winners in the past.  But my worry is that my pro-sale stories were never seen (there is a LOT of stuff published in magazines every year), and my indie stuff carries the stigma of being indie/self published crap (there’s even MORE indie stuff published every year, both masterful and . . . less so).  So, rather than campaigning, I just wanted to get a reminder out there that I do have eligible works for consideration.  And if YOU have eligible works you’d like to see get more recognition, by all means plug-away in the comments below!

Eligible Short Stories – Pro-Market Published:

1. “The Rememberists” – Daily Science Fiction, July 15, 2014 – What do you do if you cannot escape your past, if things did not go they way they should have?  Hire a rememberist!

2. “Bumped” – The Grantville Gazette Universe Annex, December 2014 – An in-love mad scientist and a tough dame share a first date, only to be interrupted by three noir-ish baddies on a heist.  Collisions ensue.

Eligible Short Stories – Semi-Pro, Small Press, and Amateur Published:

1. “Within This Horizon” – Riding the Red Horse anthology from Castalia House, December 2014 – A damaged space navy officer contends with becoming “orbital debris,” relegated to the backwards, useless, bluewater navy, and must deal with both his own dashed expectations and the bitterness of a CO in the same situation.  (for a free review copy of my story or the anthology, e-mail me, private message me, or comment below)

2. “The 1011000-100110110000011010011 Truce” – Liberty Island Magazine, Alternative Holiday Short Story Contest Grand Prize Winner, December 2014 – The shift to automated warfare may or may not save lives in the end, but you’d never see a situation like the 1914 Christmas Truce of WW-I again.  Or could you?

3. “The Gaslight Consultant” – The Writer’s Arena, Reality Bites competition, October 2014 – Who better to drive someone crazy, or make them believe they are seeing ghosts than a team that may actually be crazy (or who sees ghosts)?  NOTE:  This was not my best story of 2014, but there are absolutely some stories on The Writer’s Arena that should be considered, especially the best of the year I saw there: “Words on the Wind” by Lu Whitley, a great soft-fantasy/magic piece.

Eligible Short Stories – Independently Published:

1. “Dogcatcher Blues” – REMO collection by Thomas A. Mays, April 2014 – A disgraced soldier is ordered to carry out a terrible punishment duty, rounding up man’s worst friend on a pacified rebel planet.  But picking up this cybernetic Hellhound is more problematic than others.  Rather than fetch a simple unintelligent feral, this dog is a deserter who will do ANYTHING to avoid going back.  I could simply name any story in the REMO collection as eligible (other than the previously published “Strategic Deployment”, but this story is my favorite and I kick myself for not submitting it for pro-publication before putting it in my collection.  (for a free review copy of my story or the whole collection, e-mail me, private message me, or comment below)

Eligible Novel – Independently Published:

1. A Sword Into Darkness – Stealth Books, January 2014 – 30,000 copies sold in 2014, 349 reviews on Amazon with a 4.4 star average, 3.88 stars on Goodreads with 33 reviews and 531 ratings, and great independent reviews on a number of sites (check out the book link on the right or down below if you are on mobile).  This was my pride and joy and a financial boon in 2014.  Is it literary or award-worthy?  Like I said, I don’t know.  I do know that if you appreciate a classic style and theme, if you like smart military sci-fi space opera with respectable physics, if you love pull-em-up-by-your-bootstraps, libertarian-leaning tales of space navies or overcoming alien invasion, and if your favorites include Niven, Pournelle, Heinlein, Clancy, or Ringo, then this is a book for you to vote for.  (Again, for a free review copy, e-mail me, private message me, or leave a comment below.)

So, we’ll see.  Chances are I won’t be remembered around awards season.  There’s just too much good stuff out there, but if you haven’t checked out mine, I think you might like it.

Plus, friends and followers of The Improbable Author, if you would like to plug your own work for award consideration, by all means let us know about it in the comments below.  I know that indie/self published shorts and novels have gotten nominations before (if rarely), and I would love to see one win, and if not mine, then another worthy indie.

Thanks!

The Last Ship, Season One – Review and Contest

So, have you felt it yet?  Do you feel it right now?  The sense that something is missing from your weekly routine, a little bit of awesome, apocalyptic, well-acted, largely accurate and respectful naval porn?

Well, I’ve been feeling it.  After a season that was either exactly as long as it needed to be (without all the fluff or pointless episodes that British series avoid with their shorter seasons, but which are endemic to American 22-24 episode seasons) or way, way too short (c’mon, you know you wanted more, as long as its the right kind of more), The Last Ship has left us.  How was the inaugural season?  Where did it soar and where did it fail?  And what’s in it for you if you care either way?

Read on!

Characters:  The Goods:  I gotta hand it to the two primary stars, Eric Dane and Rhona Mitra.  Cap’n Crunches and our Doctor Va-va-va-voom-virology were very well played, carrying considerable gravitas as well as being very easy on the eyes.  I was totally unfamiliar with Eric Dane prior to this (not a big Gray’s Anatomy watcher), but I had seen Ms. Mitra in a number of films prior to this, and was already a fan.  I think she rather classed up the whole affair.  Eric Dane played Captain Chandler as a man I’d want to follow, making him decisive, strong, and still caring for his crew.  Between the writers and his performance, we got ourselves a high quality CO.  And he did righteous anger very well. That being said, the Tom Chandler role could have been slightly more nuanced.  We did have scenes of vulnerability and doubt, but he seemed a little too good to be true sometimes, all lantern-jawed hero and never the bereft father and husband, or the CO far out of his depth having a moment of frustrated weakness where he explodes on a subordinate that simply didn’t deserve it.  But that’s a minor point.  As for Rhona, she played Dr. Rachel Scott as strong, fierce, intelligent, (a little haughty perhaps), and with both a sense of pride warring with frustration at having been doubted by her community.  I really, really appreciated that she never struck me as Denise Richards playing Dr. Christmas Jones in that excreble James Bond flick.  I believed and appreciated Rhona Mitra in her role (and she can still be my Doc anytime).

In regards to highpoints among our supporting cast, both in terms of writing and performance, my favorite was Tex (John Pyper-Ferguson), followed closely by everyone’s favorite XO, CDR Mike Slattery (Adam Baldwin).  Tex was just a joy to watch, providing some much needed comic relief while also being a badass.  Plus he had some moments of depth, vulnerability, and sorrow, especially as he began to realize his love would remain unrequited.  As for Jayne/Casey/XO Slattery, the great Adam Baldwin, I love that dude.  He played this role with much less humor and a great deal more doubt and uncertainty than I’m used to seeing from him in roles, but that was definitely the right tone to take here.  In fact, I could have done well with a lot more conflict and friction between him and Chandler.  There were moments, but they were always fleeting.  I also wish, like with Chandler, that they would have seemed more affected by the apocalypse going on around them.  Still, whether he was shooting terrorists with a 5 inch gun, or overriding his CO and continuing to look for him against orders, you knew that Slattery (the ex Chicago detective????) was the guy you wanted in your corner.

Lastly, I have to give props to our villains, Alfre Woodard, Ravil Isyanov, and Jose Zuniga.  They were all played well, with the only unfortunate point being that there was no over-arching villain as a Big Bad for the season, and they never had enough screen time.

The Less Goods:  First of all, there were no bad performances here.  That’s why this is “Less Good” than “Bad”.  But there were some roles that — whether due to their writing or the way they were played — they just bugged me and did not contribute as much as I might hope in a perfect show.  First of these is the CMC, Master Chief Jeter, played by the very good Charles Parnell.  The CMC just seemed to be too much of a saint, but instead of Jesus, he put his faith in Tom Chandler.  That’s just a bit over the top, and unlike any CMC I’ve ever met.  It got a little old, and frankly I thought it was building to a good death for him during the episode where he volunteered to have the vaccine tested upon him.  Then there is Quincy (Sam Spruell), who was just a whiney, badly manipulative, weak weasel.  As a villain he was lame.  As a protagonist, he was creepy.  Maybe that’s exactly what they wanted from him, but I just didn’t see Rachel Scott putting her faith in him.  And then we have our main points of ire:  our Two Sexy Lieutenants Being All Sexy Together.  Danny Green (Travis Van Winkle) and Kara Foster (Marissa Neitling) got better as the series went on, mostly because they were separated from one another, but every “relationship” moment was like nails on a chalkboard.  Were these characters designed to mark off some screenwriting checklist block requiring a romance?  When they were doing their jobs, they were perfectly acceptable.  When they interacted or fought or made-up, though, it was full of suck.  Sorry, guys.

Lastly, I’ll repeat a plea I made several times before:  Where are all the goddamn enlisted roles.  The USS NATHAN JAMES is an officer-fest, and that’s not good.  They make up only about 10% of the crew, but they make up 99% of your speaking roles.  There are stories to be told there, stories that will echo with your audience, and not just the one or two shoehorned in weak roles you did have for them.  I fully expected to have a strong antagonist among the crew for Captain Chandler, someone who realizes with the demise of the US and the Navy, they didn’t have to follow Chandler’s orders any more.  Is a mutiny story aboard a ship a trite cliche?  It can be, but it was still a chance to bring conflict and realism and more enlisted participation into the story.  We had weak officer counseling!  So where were the 10% of the crew that end up taking up 90% of your time?  Where were the fistfights and/or suicides among a crew under the stress of the end of the world?  Why was there never a fragging incident or a CO’s Mast that busted down an undisciplined crewman?  And not to be negative entirely, where were the scenes of a crewman showing up an officer, of an enlisted person being selfless, or inventive, amazing Chandler and earning his respect and gratitude?  Because that stuff, good and bad, is what happens aboard ship every single day.  But all we got was a chess-playing cook and a gunner’s mate that wanted to time out of service during an emergency.  Kinda weak sauce, writers. 

Wow, looking back at a lot of that last paragraph, there’s also a lot of points which apply equally to plot so . . . .

Plot:  The Goods and Less Goods:  The Last Ship deviates significantly from the novel of the same name, and that is to its benefit, as that source novel is quite dated and involved the hopeless situation of a nuclear war vice the threat of a viral apocalypse which allows for the crew to positively affect things.  We have all the big stakes here:  global apocalypse, a small crew on one ship against the world, pandemic, lost loved ones, a last desperate chance at a hopeful conclusion, external attacks, action, explosions, and conflict, conflict, conflict!  If the story had ever paused, or had an episode to spare, I’d suggest they could have added a decompression episode, a Sunday at sea or a Crossing the Line ceremony to show the crew letting loose a little and having some nice character moments, but maybe next season.  Like I said before, the episodes and the season were very tightly written with no extraneous eps (except for one . . . ).  The setup in the pilot was PERFECT, the conclusion was DAMN GOOD, and they kept the tension well-ratcheted for the most part, resulting in some middle-of-the-season eps that were equally amazing.  I had my favorites, as I’m sure you do, which is the gist of the contest I mentioned earlier, and more on that later. 

Were there things I would have changed?  Of course!  Continuing with what I mentioned in Character above, the show could have benefitted from a Big Bad to carry through the season instead of episodes where sometimes the only antagonist was bad fortune and there situation.  Now, many of these episodes were necessary, but if we could have had a hint of an overarching Antagonist as well, I’d have done it.  Maybe introduce Alfre Woodard earlier, make her their cheerleader at home, so when she turns out to be L’il Miss Hitler, it’s even more jarring.  Maybe give Roskov a scene or two in more episodes, even if the Russians were nowhere near the main action.  I’d also have had more incidents of desperation or interactions with other vessels, where the crew as a whole was forced to confront the deadly realities of the disease, though the episodes where that did occur were much appreciated.

Only one episode actively pissed me off, and I think you’ll know it if you’ve been reading these.  That one ep exemplified all my fears of a Navy TV show, mostly because that was the one time the writers and consultants truly failed in terms of Naval Realism.

Naval Realism:  The Goods:  They actually filmed about 85% of the series on actual US Navy destroyers, and that setting shined through.  The tech jargon was spot on for the most part.  All the pieces and parts were there and they were properly used, properly manned, and properly referred to.  This was a very respectfully crafted show, and almost reaches the high point of Naval Porn (which I consider a term of endearment).  This show (I hope) will be a good recruiting tool for the Surface Navy (which is my Navy).  I usually had a happy smile on my face while watching this show. so Thank You for almost getting everything right.

The Less Goods:  A lot of the plot tropes they used had Captain Chandler (and the XO and CMC) in the center of the action, which is ludicrous.  The Skipper doesn’t get to go on many, if any tactical away missions.  They also gave the NATHAN JAMES superpowers, allowing her to shrug off missiles, rockets, and bullets without damage, to operate over the span of entire oceans without fueling or provisioning, to hack into satellites and facilities with impunity, and to stash her helicopter in a third hangar that simply doesn’t exist.  But all of that is allowable when compared to the season’s only true stinker episode, Episode 4:  “We’ll Get There” (But you’ll probably give yourself a lobotomy before you do, so you can stand all the STUPID).  I won’t rehash it here, but I AM TOTALLY FINE IF THEY COMPLETELY RETCON HOW THE SHIP WORKS during the next engineering-centric episode, or, alternatively, if THEY NEVER AGAIN HAVE AN ENGINEERING-CENTRIC EPISODE.

A reminder, cast, crew, producers, and writers:  I’m available as a consultant, and I work CHEAP.

Contest:  So, that’s it.  I LOVED the first season of The Last Ship and can’t wait to see how the plot develops and the characters grow next season.  I can only hope they keep with the show’s central conceipt and STAY ON THE DAMN SHIP, instead of becoming a knock-off of Jericho or The Walking Dead, fighting the apocalypse upon land, with only passing references to the NATHAN JAMES.  And I want to thank you all for sticking it out and reading my reviews.  I’ve never enjoyed such high traffic on my blog before.

As a way of thanking you, since I don’t have any Last Ship  swag, I do have some sci-fi navy fun to offer.  Here’s how it goes:  Out of the season’s ten episodes, which were the best?  Give me your top 5, in order, on Twitter, Facebook, Google+, in the comments below, or via e-mail.  The first person(s) to match my list (or get closest) will win a free copy of my military sci-fi novel A Sword Into Darkness, in either e-book, trade paperbook, or audiobook (your choice)!

So, what are your top 5 episodes and why!?  Enter early and play often!  And THANK YOU ALL AGAIN.

Audible ASID – For FREE!!!

I may have mentioned it before, but I really, really, REALLY love the story I told in A Sword Into Darkness.  I get it, I’m biased, but I really did try to write the best story I could, mixing all the elements of science fiction I love together, while also offering up an homage to my favorites of the genre.  What resulted is a story that is both classic, fun, and makes you think, presenting some new twists on an old idea, a melange that is more than the sum of its parts (that’s not just me saying that, by the way).

And while I do love my book, I never experienced it fresh as a new reader until I heard Liam Owen’s narration of it, produced by Sci-Fi Publishing.  The audiobook of ASID simply MUST BE EXPERIENCED.  I adore this amazing thing, this amalgamation of my thoughts and another’s voice.  As I said in a previous post, whether you are new to the story or you enjoyed it in print already, you will love the audiobook of it all over again.  And it was so effortless enjoying it that way, I’ve been turned on to audiobooks from a number of authors and producers, enjoying them while I work, work out, or commute.

Here’s the offer, though:  Audible gave me 25 free copies of the A Sword Into Darkness audiobook, and I’m not sure who to give them out to.  I’ll be offering some up as prizes in a contest soon, but if you are a reviewer and you’d like to experience (or re-experience) ASID, drop me a line in the comments, on Twitter, Facebook, Google+, or via e-mail.  All I’d like in return is a listen and a fair shake on your review which you would then share with others.

And if you are not a reviewer, but you’d still like some audible ASID-y goodness for free, you can always start your 30-day free trial of Audible.com and get that puppy for gratis, nothing, nada, zip, ∞ times the value of what you paid. 

Links to my new ASID Gallery page can also be found at the toolbar to the right, or here.  Take care, all.

The Last Ship, Episode 10 – “No Place Like Home” Review

Noooooooooooooooooooo!

It’s over.  The season is done and DONE DAMN WELL.  How did it go out?  What bodes for the next season?  How will I ever carry on till next year?!?

Too much with that last one?  Yeah, probably.  I’ll survive and so will you (if only so we can see how this all pans out).  On to the review!

Episode Summary:  Ashore, we see that Tom Chandler’s family is all sick with the Red Flu, and Poppa Chandler decides its high time they got outta there and found some help, especially for his daughter-in-law who is the most advanced with the disease.  Aboard the NATHAN JAMES, it’s muster-for-vaccine time, and everyone is getting the shot.  We catch up with several members of the crew, the CO and Dr. Rachel Scott share a moment of victory, with Rachel sticking it to Tom (not the other way around, get your minds out of the gutter, ‘shippers).  The CMC and the XO muster key crew members and tell them that they’ll be closing the coast en route to Fort Detrick and USAMRIID (the military version of the CDC), and they’ll be close enough to shore, that they may pick up cell signals and be able to call home.

The ship closes Norfolk, and the crew tries to get calls, but no joy.  In CIC, they are trying to raise the Army on the radio, but no joy.  The folks in SSES hijack a Keyhole spy satellite from the Air Force and get shots of Fort Detrick, where they find that USAMRIID, and ONLY USAMRIID has been destroyed.  Unsure what to do next, things look bleak, but the COMMO detects a signal from Baltimore, updating daily, that actually invites the NATHAN JAMES to contact them in order to work on the vaccine if they show up.  The captain calls up the folks that sent the message and it turns out to be Mrs. Granderson, the Navigator’s mom (played WONDERFULLY by Alfre Woodard), who was some sort of high mucketymuck in the President’s security council, but she survived the demise of the government, and has partnered with the Baltimore and Maryland Police to restore order.  She invites them all to Baltimore and Chandler accepts.  Meanwhile, Quincy is having a very strained re-unification with his wife, and Tom’s Dad has forced his way into the Baltimore quarantine zone, past a bunch of warlords.

The ship reaches Baltimore and they are greeted by official police and Mrs. Granderson, unaware that they were almost assassinated by rival warlords that REALLY don’t like her much.  She takes an official party ashore consisting of Tom, NAV, GUNNO, the CMC, and Sexy LT 1 (though he’s earned his respect from me now, so let’s just call him Danny from now on), and a few security bubbas.  Granderson drives them past streets filled with the dying and the starving and into a cordoned off office block in the city, where things are near-pristine.  She shows off the utopia they are managing there, with working power, schools, and a whole brand-spanking-new virology lab where Rachel can mass produce the vaccine.  Tom is very appreciative, but he really wants to get started on trying to find his family.  Granderson encourages him to go, she catches up with her daughter, and Rachel is in 7th heaven.  Tex feels rejected, so he takes off, but not without giving Rachel a goodbye kiss to end all goodbye kisses.  Aboard ship, the police form up and start getting vaccinated.  Ashore, the warlords are desperate to get control of the vaccine and keep it out of Granderson’s hands.

Tom eventually reaches his dad on the radio, and they head out to rendezvous out in sick-town.  SPOILERS ABOUND FROM HERE ON OUT, so proceed with caution.  Tom and his team, with civilian security escorts, reach the spot where his dad said his family was, but they have apparently gone on to Olympia, the sports complex where the sick go for treatment.  He wants to go, but the civilians say he can’t, despite the fact that they are all vaccinated and immune now.  This devolves into a Mexican standoff that ends with Navy on their feet and the Baltimore PD minders all dead.  Granderson gets this news and starts acting a lot more sinister.  Rachel discovers that the treatment the Baltimore team has been using to slow the spread of the disease is nothing of the sort.  Instead, it is a death sentence.  She confronts Granderson, and we discover that the NAV’s mom is actually taking a page out of Hitler’s playbook and doing a little multi-ethnic cleansing in order to support her little meritocracy.  The warlords are revealed to be the sane ones, who only want to uphold the Constitution.  And the police left on NATHAN JAMES get the drop on the XO and proceed to take over the ship, since they are the only ones carrying pistols (which they use on poor Quincy).  And at Olympia, Tom finds his family and gives them their vaccines, but it is too late for his wife.  They get out of there, but the Skipper also finds out that Granderson is purposefully killing the infected and using their bodies as fuel in the power plant.  The End.  Cliffhanger!

The Goods:  This episode expanded the plot tremendously, just as I hoped with the episode before last.  The dangling plots are wrapped up, and we were given a humdinger of a cliffhanger.  Alfre Woodard is GREAT.  She underplays megalomania and the cleansing of undesirables well.  She was a very pleasant surprise here.  Eric Dane, Tex, Rhona Mitra, and Adam Baldwin all have some great moments here, but Eric Dane and Rhona Mitra get the meatiest written roles for the recurring characters.  Ms. Woodard does outshine them, however, but through no fault of their own.  I loved Tex confiding in Admiral Halsey (the dog).  I loved his arc here, where he’s going off to be Mad Max because Rachel didn’t love him back.  I also liked the dawning pangs of jealousy and regret on Rachel’s behalf.  The ‘shippers will be delighted with Tom’s wife being dead, but I felt sorry for her somewhat thankless role here.  I liked Tom’s Dad and his drive to get his family to safety.  I liked the nod to dwindling fuel resources and the need to ground their UAV and helo.   I love (and hate) the cliffhanger.  BUT MOST OF ALL, I love the last act switcheroo and really really appreciate the advertising and teasers that completely hid the resulting surprise.  Was my mind blown by the turnaround?  No, there were plenty of hints before all was revealed, but it did surprise me sufficiently, it hangs together well, and it gives Alfre Woodard a chance to be the bad guy for once.

The Less Goods:  Why is everyone queuing up on the forecastle to get vaccinated?  Shit’s WINDY up there.  Also, I was unaware a DDG’s SSES could hack into an Air Force spy satellite in order to get free spy pics (free cable and ESPN, yes . . . useful intel, no).  I have a real problem with the chubby police LT getting the drop on the XO and the whole ship.  I’m uncertain they would be allowed to roam around armed without escort, though complacency does happen, especially at home and with reasonable authority figures.  I’m wondering about Granderson’s philosophy and would like it to be better defined.  I wish the ship had been a little more central to the plot this time.  I haven’t seen the ship FIGHT in several eps now, and this is the only decent naval porn I’ve ever gotten in the modern era.  One continuous issue again bugs me, which I’ll mention here:  all speaking roles with any weight go to the officers and the CMC.  Where is the enlisted love?  Lastly, how good a fuel does a human body make?  A dried, dessicated corpse, sure, but we are wet bags of meat and juice.  Does that burn sufficiently well?  It’s not a concept I’m keen to look into, as it conjures images of the Holocaust, but the scientist in me does wonder.

So, that’s it for season 1.  The goods definitely outweigh the bads, and we are left with a fine close for the season.  Tune back here in a couple of days for a contest and a discussion on your favorite characters, moments, and episodes!  I can’t wait for season 2!