Wednesday, 23 April 2014

Chasing Round Perdition's Flames: The Official Starships Collection Issue 11; USS Reliant

And now for a quick catch up on one we missed out....Sorry. Normal service will be resumed....

I won't go into the done-to-death 'Khan!' joke, or meme, or pun, or any of that. I'll instead lay into Kirk for cheating on the Kobayashi Maru. "Got a commendation for original thinking" - no, you cheated, pure and simple. There was no need for a god complex on a technicality! ...Sorry I had to get that off my chest. Ahem, the ship then.

The Miranda Class escort/science vessel. Actually one of four variants of Miranda class Starfleet commissioned and, like the Excelsior from The Search for Spock et al, it too has seen extensive usage throughout canon Star Trek, including multiple movie appearances. It does appear these two ships slipped quickly into workhorse roles amongst the series, more than likely due to the availability of the models and the ease with which they could be filmed. Interestingly in that respect note how many times the Constitution Class refit reappeared... 

Anyway, curiously for an aging starship design, it saw combat at both the major Borg engagements (Wolf 359 and Sector 001) as well as throughout the Dominion War although generally they seem to end up a few million bits. Take the hint, Starfleet.An interesting note here, the destroyed USS Reliant does apparently make a ghostly appearance in Deep Space Nine's Tears of The Prophets. Perhaps not by name, but definitely by registry (NCC-1864).

But still, I'm digressing here. Onto Eaglemoss' metal and plastic incarnation of this infamous design.

I am pleased with it's overall detail although there are a few "structural integrity" issues that collectors familiar with the movie era ships will know all too well (flexi-nacelles). Given the reviewed releases from Eaglemoss to date, I sadly have to pay close attention to the paint job, the spelling of Federation, alien words instead of ship names, or backwards/upside down Starfleet insignia. I'm happy to report that the Reliant has none of these complications! Decal-focused it is pleasingly perfect. I especially like the detail on the overhead torpedo pod, and the view from the rear, even down to the correct external numbering of the shuttle bays. So, there you have it - nicely detailed, if a little flimsy in the nacelle area but I'm not complaining, she's a beauty and a fine addition to the fleet.

No, I will complain, I haven't bought it yet. I'll complain to my conscience for not having purchased it, because it is very eye-catching and I have an urge to try and recreate the Mutara Nebula scene - who hasn't???!!! On that note, nice to see that we have some narrative on that key sequence and just what it took to bring the destruction of the Reliant to the screen. Looking back at the refit Enterprise we could have done with a piece there on how they filmed its final moments over the Genesis Planet.

Flipping through the magazine this is a heavily documented design and movie so you won't be digging anything new up here. The pictures are crisp and you'll probably drift through until you reach the design, building and filming sections. Kudos to Eaglemoss once more in relation to these articles as they make the magazine worth picking up. A real shame that, as the collection moves through into the teens and towards the 20's, these sections are becoming less and less especially when it comes to the filming piece. Understanding the technicalities of the Real World help found these craft in the movie studio rather than the fictional void of sci-fi in space. Please, please, please make sure you give us, the fans, more of this! 

Instead though, we're now getting more character, race and story focused pieces which wasn't under the original pitch as I seem to recall from the early issues. Note here - there seems to be fluctuation in these magazines as to the content ship to ship and information dependent.

Coming back to the matter in hand, the sketches, stories and images towards the later pages are great to dive into and it is a shame we're getting less of this as it does differentiate the collection from, say, the Encyclopedia or a technical manual. It grounds the series in the Real World which is as important for fans as telling the fictional stories in which these awesome starships featured.

So, nice work, Eaglemoss, nice work and we'll almost forgive you for that shocking second issue screw-up with the Enterprise (we still haven't forgotten!). The Reliant is a must for any fan's collection. Now we're off to recreate those Mutara Nebula battles - like you aren't thinking about that too - We need warp speed in three minutes or we're all dead!!!

The Eaglemoss Official Starships Collection is available from newsagents priced £9.99 (UK) every fortnight. You can also subscribe by clicking on the link in the sidebar and head there now to secure your ships.

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Friday, 18 April 2014

Sails and Stars: The Official Starships Collection 18 & 19 (and some news)

Simply put, Eaglemoss, you've excelled yourselves.

I logged onto the Facebook page for the Collection earlier to see if subscribers had received their latest editions to find a load of comments about disappointment with the two new issues. Not a good sign and knowing they had arrived at home thanks to my Early Warning System (lunchtime call with the wife) it was a long wait until the end of the day.

Hometime and on opening the box I was not happy. I was VERY happy. 

The Bajoran Solar-Sailor and the USS Stargazer might not be two of the more in-demand models in the collection but I do think they are two of the best replicas to date. The Equinox and the Dauntless are personal favourites but the unusual Solar Sailor is probably the most unique design that will grace the series.

For once not saucers and engines, the Solar-Sailor from Explorers is definitely one of a kind, comprising a small crew compartment and five sizeable sails. Very light and a little tempramental on the stand, there isn't anything else coming that is as different as this two man sub-light craft.  It's those extremities which are the most fragile part here - as well they should be all considering and it seems some collectors are already experiencing challenges with it remaining in one piece. Coming in as both the tallest and widest of the regular issues, the sailor just looks stunning. The paint scheme isn't over technical, mainly being brown and a slightly lighter sandy brown but it's more about the shape of the ship and it's simple, stunning recreation for the Collection. 

There are a couple of conspicuous blobs of glue where the masts attach to the main body and some excess flash on the masts themselves but I can overlook those and just marvel in the delicate form on display. I never thought it would be one of the models I would be most pleased with and yet, shockingly, it is. None of the issues we've reported and discussed previously across 17 other issues are evident and Eaglemoss should be proud of themselves as we can't see anything amiss here (famous last words). Even +Hayley Atherton was pushed to find an error in the issue 18 release.

The magazine however then reveals that some of that detail you've been marvelling at just minutes before isn't that accurate - the curved window sections on the rear of the pod are missing and the detail on the top of the pod - is less than displayed in the view images. Overall though the pages are filled with some scant detail on the plot of Explorers and background on the Bajoran system. What is excellent news in issue 18 is the six page section dedicated to the design and development of the (from memory) first ship to be 100% CGI rendered and never created as a physical model. Jim Martin's sketches are wonderful and make this a great all round package - a winner in all areas this time which will reassure those who are forking out a subscription. Good choice by the publishers to dedicate a good chunk of the magazine to the creation of this one-off solar-sailor.

My only gripe with the magazine is that while Leeta's first appearance is noted in the trivia column, there's not a mention of the first spotting of Sisko's bad-ass goatee which also debuted here. Tut tut(!)

In the same delivery comes the Constellation Class USS Stargazer (shop release date 1st May 2014). Now we've all grumbled about the Starfleet vessels so far - wonky nacelles, poor colouring, bad build quality but here we've got a success to some degree.

There's a good feel to the 13.5cm long Stargazer which features a metal upper saucer section with plastic lower saucer, nacelles and support beams. The join between the two saucer halves isn't exactly invisible but it is surprisingly structurally sound. There is a bit of spring to the quad nacelles but the aztec paint job and hull detailing more than make up for that. There is however an unforgivable sin lurking on the underside of the saucer. 

Someone decided to put the registry decals the wrong way round but significantly it's, again, screen accurate as with the bizzare "Federaion" screen-accurate error (+JamesRye thanks for noting my error!) on the side of the USS Thunderchild. In fact I nearly used a picture of the bottom of the ship as the top because the script was the wrong way round. However, I have to say I have been corrected on this point thanks to +Nils W. The model is correct to the studio filmed Stargazer which has since been relabelled as the Valkyrie and can be seen here to compare. I bow to thee, Eaglemoss, good work. It does rile a percentage of fans but it gives the collection a nice little quirk and shows that a lot of research has been done. You're getting a replica of the item that was actually used in the show not just what you think it should look like. This of course means the magazine picture is incorrect....!!! While I'm at it, how come the registry numbers are also omitted from the ends of the nacelles in every image except the ones directly from The Battle?!

And there's something else. I wish I didn't have to point it out because this is a great piece of Star Trek shipping but my nacelles are wonky. Not by much nor would you spot it from directly above or below or from a distance but straight from the back they are off...slightly...and it will bug me. I can say that in comparison to the USS Equinox from issue 15 the joins on the nacelles are pretty well finished this time; no gaps. However, considering the cost, painting work and general result it's one of the good ones and maybe we are being over critical?

As with the Solar-Sailor this was a "one-off" (although it would turn up again as the Hathaway and the Victory in the second season) and as such the detail on the mould is great however the aztec colouring could have been carried on to the nacelles and some more painting detail should have been added for the impulse engines and on the supporting pylons. On the saucer the addition of the thruster markings and sensor arrays are superb so why were these other small points ignored? It's all there in the plan views but missing from the nice chunk of starship in the box. I don't want to say that this is acceptable but just stay mindful of the cost to produce these and the numbers required however Quality once again features in our reviews. Shame. Again.

The magazine follows the formula, the episode/history lesson first with a great CGI image of the featured vessel but this time covering the famous Picard Maneuver. We suspected that this would be the "special feature" with the Stargazer and there's not a shot of Patrick Stewart pulling his tunic down anywhere. The design and filming sections following the plan views offer some insights behind the camera but there are some errors (I believe) in the research especially in relation to the materials used for creating the Echo Papa robot from The Arsenal of Freedom. Plus there are a couple of typos which I didn't expect to see near-20 issues in.

Adding in pieces regarding the making of the show have made this series a great read although they are irritatingly short. Experienced fans will find a note or two here that are new and for new fans unearthing information on the early years of The Next Generation will hopefully want to seek out more after reading these excerpts.

Overall this has been a great month of releases from the Eaglemoss stable and I'm very happy with the results even though I have some grumbles. I wouldn't have picked them out as highlights nor are they on my essential hit list but I have to say they are among the best examples so far produced. No pressure then on the craft following in issues 20 and 21. None at all.

So far thought the series has glaringly omitted anything to do with The Original Series - not a single entry so far although there are three from the movies with the movie refit USS Enterprise, USS Excelsior and USS Reliant. There is of course more to mine from the likes of The Next Generation and all that came after but just one perhaps from the Kirk-era (and I'm not counting the JJ-verse here).

Also the magazine has now reached Japan where it will be released through Deagostini. The same gifts will be available but I'll be darned if I can translate the site.

Sadly this month there's no new shots of any of the upcoming starships beyond the Nebula Class or magazine covers after the Xindi insectoid ship. As more become available we will update. These will take us into June but there has been some interesting news via the Facebook page - it seems that there's a survey in progress.

Subscribers who have received two deliveries already have their USS Enterprise NCC-1701-D dedication plaque but there might be the opportunity to get yourselves a larger collection with Eaglemoss looking to find out how likely you would be to purchase similar items from the NX-01, USS Enterprise's NCC-1701 and A, B, C and E versions, USS Defiant, USS Voyager and the USS Prometheus (odd choice). Priced at £14.99 they're only just above cover price and below specials cost which could be a winner. I'd go for the Defiant.

Additionally the next question asks how likely you would be to purchase the existing Haynes Owners' Workshop Manuals for the USS Enterprise and the Klingon Bird-of-Prey with additional Star Trek Starships material as Project Manager Ben Robinson also worked on those publications. You can view our review of the latter on the link and we'd recommend purchasing - but what extra could there be to add into these great books?

Get your answers in now to have your say!

Next month we have two storming arrivals to slobber over - the Klingon Vor'Cha attack cruiser and the eagerly awaited USS Enterprise NCC-1701-E. The countdown starts here and let's include a couple of sneaky shots from of the new issues to just tempt you a bit more...

The Eaglemoss Official Starships Collection is available from newsagents priced £9.99 (UK) every fortnight. You can also subscribe by clicking on the link in the sidebar and head there now to secure your ships.

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Saturday, 12 April 2014

Write It Up: Star Trek: Engage

One area we've not touched on is role-playing within the Star Trek universe - but then as if by magic we seem to have found ourselves the perfect commentator to explain what's going on. +Aoibhe Ni it's over to you...

In the past 15 years I have been imprisoned countless times by several malicious factions.

No, don’t worry, it's OK. I'm fine...

I swear.

It didn't knock a feather out of me, actually.

I have also lost my memory, lost a husband (literally, he went through a wormhole, and I haven't seen him since...), passed from one collapsing reality into a safer one where I now reside. I have had a building fall on me in the midst of a firefight, I have manipulated people to my own ends, and in turn I have been manipulated by others. I have yelled “Abandon ship!”, “Fire when ready!”, and uttered the immortal phrase, “He's dead... er, Tim...?” more times than I can count.

I have been telepathic, athletic, near death, crippled, excruciatingly shy, annoyingly outspoken, a harlot and a saint, and I have had several competing past lives. I have even been human once or twice, y'know, for a change.

I am a role-player and I get my kicks playing Star Trek: Engage.

Star Trek: Engage is new on the scene, but its roots go way back. Our founding members all played text-based RPGs since the '90's, using imagination and a love for the written word to pull adventure after adventure out of the bare bones of a story laid down by a Game Director.

Think D&D, without the dice, with a more fluid format, and played by dedicated players who are dotted across the globe, and you get the idea. But it's far more than just sitting in a chatroom while you describe your character doing the Enterprise Shuffle (though, we do love a good Star Trek-related meme...). A well-written character will take on a life of their own, and playing them week after week can bring out side-stories, character arcs and interactions you never would have expected.

The fact that the game is played in a chat room once a week for an hour means you have to think on your feet while all around you the story unfolds. How would you react if suddenly faced with the Borg, for instance? Or confronted with a dying planet containing 3 billion beleaguered inhabitants? What if your Captain started to act unreasonably all of a sudden... would you risk mutiny, or stand by his side trusting that it’d all make sense in the end? What would happen if your best friend was taken hostage and you were ordered to stand down? What if your consciousness was beamed into the body of that hot chick from Astrometrics? No, actually... better not answer that last one. No-one needs to know.

In addition to the hour a week you play with your fellow crew mates, you also have the opportunity to write a duty log that is then read by your crew, and by interested players across the entire game. This can be written in any format you fancy. Some people love to write occasional flashbacks to a time before their character was on board their ship, some do short conversations with NPCs, and some even collaborate with other players mid-week and produce fantastic joint-logs. Any way you slice it, these logs are an excellent way to flesh out your character and add to a crew’s growing rapport. They're also a wonderful chance to get your character's opinions and personality across.

The point is that with Star Trek: Engage, the sky is the limit in terms of story-telling. If you can describe it, you can do it. Just... try not to describe that Astrometrics lady in too fine a detail, OK?

Currently, we have five time-slots to choose from, effectively spanning the week, and we are gearing up to add a sixth ship to our ranks. We have made sure to cater for both morning, evening and weekend players, so you’re bound to find a ship at a time that will suit you. The more we grow, the more ships we’ll launch, and as a player you’ll have a direct say in when those new ships will run. 

Right now, we have the Nova Class USS Saturn, a Prometheus Class USS Hyperion, the Intrepid Class USS Bremen (shut up, I like it…), the Nebula Class USS Hooke and a Space Station on the edge of Tzenkethi space, and we have plans in motion to add a Sovereign to that list. Each ship and station has an atmosphere of its own, and each crew works together differently, making each one unique. 

Whichever ship you choose, you will start at the rank of Cadet, with your first promotion most likely happening after the 4th week. From then on, it’s a case of gathering up promotions for quick-thinking and bravery, commendations for loyal service and dedication, or reprimands for disobeying orders. Your Starfleet career is bound to be peppered with a combination of all three, and who knows… perhaps it’ll even culminate in you being awarded your own captaincy...

In Overview from SKoST

Sounds very, very interesting don't you think? If I had the time I would be tapping away at the keyboard at every available opportunity because writing is definitely my passion and there's always a part of me that wants to define my own corner of the Star Trek universe.

Back in the 00's I used to write for the sadly long-defunct Delta Fleet which was a great experience and helped hone my fictional writing skills which had been out of practice for a few years. I had a Gorn security chief and an operative from Section 31 active on the ship but time and life took precedent (the site still exists in a very different form). The great thing with Engage is the chance to create your own character or characters in an established piece of the fictional universe. Who knows, but you could be creating people who might well end up as the stars of a future

While my experience of writing for the expanded universe was done turn-based, linking characters together over weeks or months to complete a story this sounds much more focused and organised with specific times to connect up and write a new story aboard one of the featured ships. Additionally there are blogs on the site which act as workshops to help aspiring writers develop their characters in a "realistic" manner rather than making them all super-human with Q-like abilities. Certainly makes you feel like you're not alone and there's always going to be someone around top point you in the right direction - or the wrong one depending on your character's evolution!

Star Trek: Engage hasn't been around for long but already there seems to be a good level of organisation and if you want to write - and perhaps aren't quite up to creating your own backstory, ship and setting then this is a great starting point. Even if you're not and are a fan of Star Trek and want something new to be involved in that can feed your hunger for the franchise then why not drop by and see what's going on. I'm sure you'll be most welcome.

If you want to join the adventure, Enlist Here

Want to learn more? Have a look at the handy handbook.

Your crew, and your Starfleet career awaits at Star Trek: Engage!

Thanks to Aoibhe for letting us into the Engage world.

Wednesday, 9 April 2014

Your Crew to Command: Timelines

Good news, good news - we're getting a new Star Trek game!

From the team that have developed and recently released Game of Thrones (Disruptor Beam) onto Facebook, Timelines looks set to satisfy the fan-base of every series in one, massive online hit. Second good point is that we can actually play as characters we recognise and know!

While Star Trek Online takes players beyond the end of Nemesis, Timelines will effectively allow a mix and match system from across all the different pieces of the franchise. Put Kirk in command with Dax at sciences and Worf running tactical - surely every fan's dream and perhaps one of the cons of Online. Add into that the ability to visit new planets, dangerous encounters and make tactical decisions and it's got us clammering to play it right now (bless hype, it really does blow things up to a whole new level so we can get critically disappointed).

Announced as a strategy, role-playing game it won't just be available to play on your PC but also your tablet which will more than likely draw a larger audience than Online gets at the moment due to the platform flexibility. Based on what we're being told so far (which isn't much) we're going to see huge storylines in which you'll be able to make decisions to impact the outcomes. Sounds fairly standard if you ask me. Said CEO of Disruptor Beam Jon Radoff in an interview regarding the imminent project: 
Star Trek: Timelines will encompass all of these concepts, allowing you to explore the vastness of space along with your friends — letting you live out the ‘where no man has gone before’ mantra we all love — but will also allow you to make decisions that impact your future, your friends, and even the fate of the galaxy.”
Available initially at no cost, there will be a ton of in game purchases to ramp up your ship (a la Online and multiple other games) which will drain the wallet of many a hardcore fan looking to get involved. It's a big gamble digitizing your favourites and allowing them all to interact - but then risk is our business as someone once said. Taking the chance could make this a brilliant experience from start to finish.

From the perspective of the crew creation this is absolutely what many people will have wanted to do for years and will now be truly able to realise. The challenge for Disruptor Beam will be in keeping it interesting and immersive, developing exciting missions for your crew to complete and also making the stats of the characters believable. Also there's no mention of whether or not we'll be given the choice of Prime or JJ Kirk - I can see the conflicts now....

Considering the head start that Star Trek Online has with the gaming market it will be a hard battle for Timelines to win but it will provide some variety into the mix. A contrasting game to Online would make it a draw for fans, focusing more on moral dilemmas and clever situations rather than load torpedoes and blast everything in sight which, for me has led to to stay away from the Online universe thus far (although I am up for being persuaded otherwise).

For those of you who are now chomping at the bit, why not drop over to the official site here where you can follow the project on Facebook (also available on Twitter) as well as register with the potential to be involved with the beta testing of this amazing concept. Without question this will be the place to find out all the latest updates as and when they happen.

Now this announcement also made me think of something I've never ever done - pick my dream crew. So, for the first time ever I thought I'd put it down on screen. I've picked out a range of positions more in line with The Next Generation than anything else. Should raise some opinions (plus a couple of extras). Why I've never done this before I'll never know - maybe I've been in denial. Some fairly obvious choices in here with a few that will raise the odd temperature.

More detail on the upcoming game, Star Trek: Timelines, can be found in this interview with Jon Radoff on VentureBeat and this shorter article on

You can also view the announcement trailer right here... So what do you think? Is this the right way to encourage gamers into the Star Trek fold? Why not add your comments below!

Sunday, 6 April 2014

The Legend Began...Again

April 6th 2009 was the day that Star Trek fans had waited for since the closing credits of These are the Voyages in 2005.

For the first time in four years there would be new Star Trek to watch, produced and directed by Lost creator JJ Abrams - and it would be on the big screen. How could this not be good?

The 2009 movie was the ultimate game-changer in the franchise. Taking the original series crew, messing up the timeline a little bit and effectively starting from scratch with a little help from Leonard Nimoy just to remind us all that it was still Star Trek in a way. Just.

It split fans clear in two with no Neutral Zone to sit in. You loved it or you hated it. It had rebuilt the franchise or it had destroyed it overnight. As the box office receipts show (and the recent IMDB comparisons of the movies), it was no failure and we all flocked to the cinemas to experience this rebirth of an apparently flagging sci-fi epic. 

Not only has it been that long since the reboot kicked off but we've also had a sequel in that time, several graphic novel tie-ins, TV series rumours linked to it, models, figures and even a so-so game on XBox and the like.But have my opinions - or yours changed over the last five years? Have we welcomed this re-envisioning more warmly now? Did we always? Or do we still view it with the same distain and prefer to watch Threshold and Shades of Gray on endless loop?

From my point of view when I saw it I was excited, impressed and tinged with disappointment all in one go. There was no doubt that seeing the Enterprise back on the screen was the best thing in years to happen to the franchise. The music if nothing else adds such an ambiance to the movie, echoing the classic films and series - and I do listen to it a lot. It's one of the the best Star Trek soundtracks of any of the movies hands down but that's not all. Prime Spock was great, the crew were brilliant realisations of the original generation, the effects were stunning and it was a great action/adventure movie. 

That was the problem. It was an action/adventure movie and five years on I still have that issue as many fans do. It's wonderful escapism watching Chris Pine run across a frozen wasteland away from some huge CGI monster about to eat him whole, seeing the Enterprise under construction in that Star Wars homage shot or marvel at the opening sequence on the Kelvin as Thor Chris Hemsworth bids farewell to his wife and newborn son. Trouble is that the human element seems to have gone walkies. True it's updated for the more media-savvy and information-snapshot desiring modern audience but they were never going to make up the majority of the people seeing Star Trek at the flicks or buying it on DVD. 

Now five years on I do like it. A lot more than I used to. It's a spectacle of a movie that I now think does a lot of things right. When I saw it originally it was difficult to believe that these were the same characters because of the huge leap in technology and production since those three seasons in the 1960's. It was a visual marvel at every step that brought a faltering franchise into the present. It had to be updated to survive and that's what JJ Abrams movie does whether we like it or not. So Scotty was a little overused as comedy relief, Bones was sidelined for Uhura and the ships were a big departure from what we were used to (although still at least recognisable) but this is what Star Trek has now become. 

Abrams destruction of Romulus and Vulcan pointed to the fact we had to prepared to change and the constants that we knew from the Roddenberry-founded shows had to be adapted, altered and rethought to appeal. It is once again a sci-fi power to be reckoned with after the wildly varying standards that pervaded Enterprise over a decade ago. Updating meant there had to be sacrifices and they came no bigger than the oblieration of those two key worlds. Star Trek had become cuddly, familiar and we'd been used to watching rerun after rerun or sticking that old DVD in for 45 minutes of escapism. Abrams went for the jugular; no holds barred and Into Darkness went further than that with colossal ships, Pike dead and Khan. But that's for another day.

I had reservations over the whole Starfleet Academy set up early in the movie and Kirk's rise to captaincy is meteoric if nothing else. Fortunately that second point does get addressed in sorts during the sequel but with hindsight you can see that this is just a way to start fresh and bring the familiar crew together - something we were never privvy to in The Original Series. It's a moment we've seen in books and suggested many times over the years but someone finally had the guts to turn those rumours and suggestions into reality. It paid off and the box office receipts prove that, at least in 2009 it was all looking good. The academy is a great twist on establishing the regulars here. We watch them grow (at velocity) and forge their relationships. It's a very clear beginning, a jump point that welcomes new audiences who may never have seen the show and just like the actors or Abrams' work while ensuring that the established fans get their fix in the way that JJ wants us to.

Times change, people change and this is a new interpretation that means, if nothing else, survival. Star Trek into Darkness won't be the last we see of this crew I am certain but after that is still open for guesses. Five years on from Kirk and co's return we're still waiting to see the first encounter of their five year mission. 

In the future 2009's movie will be seen as the turning point for the franchise; the moment we realised that it could feel young again, fresh and with another 50 years of life. While I was never a total hater I had reservations but now I'm more than happy to embrace this movie as part of the Star Trek franchise, giving it a boost and providing a new, exciting edge to familiarity. Star Trek has tried, many times, to push the boundaries and in a big way, the JJ movie was pushing the boundaries of what we deemed "acceptable" within Star Trek itself. The show was always about testing the waters and here it tested the fans; it tried our understanding and beliefs on a larger scale than perhaps Roddenberry did with many of the original episodes - and it tested our loyalty. For that I now respect the movie. Star Trek was all about differences and 2009 was that in spoonfuls.

I firmly believe it's time to accept this as a firm part of the franchise and look forward to 2016. In fact, just to celebrate the fifth anniversary it's time to stick it into the DVD player one more time.

Friday, 4 April 2014

Two Little Ships, Spherical Defiance!

Both Mark and I feel we were born a few generations too late and missed out, on gadgets, collectibles, trinkets and general Star Trek memorabilia... 

How wrong were we! Since JJ Abrams' latest reboot, we have noticed a (small) resurgence in all things Trek; even from days yonder!

This could be a review about the craftsmanship, quality, aesthetics and value for money. But, we don't want to do just that. Sure, there's a hundred and one web pages out there that claim to be the bees knees on reviews about the facts, but where's the opinion? We pride ourselves on giving a true-to-life account of all our Trek goings on.

Make it so?

First up, I'd like to talk about the Sphere, which is a thing of beauty. Not only will it bounce if I drop it, it can also be used as a tennis ball! The only Eaglemoss Star Trek model that holds rights to that claim. Joking aside though, as a subscriber, it is one of my favourites. I like the not so subtle green tints to it, simple yet effective. Although simple in construction, the surface has plenty of detail to keep a Borg fan quite content. Well, content to be happy flying it around the living room making sound effects... Just wait until I get my Borg Cube!!

In Eaglemoss' defence, Borg starships are so intricate and detailed on the surface, it is virtually impossible to reproduce this intricacy on a budget. After reading through the magazine, which also contains the usual amount of fascinating not-so-known facts, that was exactly what John Eaves wanted when designing a follow up from our beloved Cube. When instructed to undertake this venture (indeed a radical departure from his previous creation - the Enterprise E), producer Rick Berman "felt that the surface detail should look really irregular, with no mathematical patterns". It also appears the instruction was given so as not to look too much like Star Wars' Death Star, success! 

Many fans should also remember the Sphere's many appearances from Voyager, however as the meticulous researchers we are, we are a little disappointed with the list of the Sphere's key appearances on both the magazine AND Memory Alpha! The episodes Dark Frontier and Endgame are quite correctly listed... but aren't we forgetting something? Child's Play anyone? Who are we to fly in the face of the official records...

Mark on the other hand feels that something is missing. After having a 20 minute discussion on the subject and nearly watching a Voyager episode to confirm this (any excuse really), I have to admit he may be right. It appears that an 'aperture' is missing. Not something that really bothers me, it's not like my Voyager model would fit inside it anyway, but Mark feels that it is worth mentioning.

So getting into the swing of this reviewing I have had a 'good look' at the Defiant, as per my instructions from Mark. My-oh-my that is one sexy starship. Not since the days of the Oberth class science cruiser have we seen such a radical departure from the norm. The first departure from the tapered nacelles in cannon Trek history. Or as Captain Sisko would have it: 
"Officially, it's an escort vessel. Unofficially, the Defiant's warship, nothing more, nothing less"

So what about the model? My first impression was, 'looks nice, bigger than I was expecting, but I can clearly see it's the Defiant'. On further examination I can see that a lot of detail is missing when compared to the actual CGI version. For example, the impulse engines... These on the model are simply holes in the aft of the ship, whereas on the images, they're clearly not. Then there's the blue tint to the hull plating, not present on many images (or on some, not as defined). The underside deserves some of our eagle-eyed focus, as in various images I've noticed two lights behind the large warhead, presumably running lights - the model seems to neglect them entirely. Maybe a model design limitation? I suppose the various discrepancies could be explained away with the fact that there were, technically, TWO Defiant ships (USS Defiant NX-74205, USS Sao Paulo NCC-75633). In addition, presumably there were many CGI versions produced throughout Deep Space Nine. With all mass-produced models, they can only work with what they've got.

My main concern (besides the usual stand issues that seem to plague this collection), is the 'anti-matter' warhead on the fore section - I appreciate that in the series this was a (never used) 'last resort' torpedo, therefore not completely nor fully attached to the main hull. But on the model it feels... well... like you could very easily snap it off and never get it back on? My good friend Mark is ashamed to admit he has dropped his once or twice, and reassures me it is the first 'piece' he checks for structural integrity!

If by now you've examined, or even overlooked these little snags, you're now onto the accompanying literature, with some very absorbing facts and figures pertaining to this little 'escort vessel'. One truly interesting piece being the early draft of First Contact. Ira Steven Behr objecting to the Defiant being destroyed, arguing it would cause problems for the Deep Space Nine writers, a fact I was not aware of until this magazine.

I imagine that this is going to be a common theme throughout the collection, how much time and detail can go into a mass produced item? Does this affect people's opinion of it? The obvious gripe here is their claim to have these models directly referenced from CGI, fresh from the CBS archives.

Looking at comments on Facebook, a lot of people are concerned with the lack of detail, but this doesn't seem to sway their decision to purchase more ships. Well it certainly hasn't affected my decision, in fact I'm currently looking to sell my other half to make way for my expanding collection.

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The Fall: The Poisoned Chalice is a Cup of Excellence

Damn you James Swallow. Damn you all the way to the Archanis system.

It took a while for The Poisoned Chalice to arrive and after the ups and downs of the first three novels in The Fall quintology I was expecting something of a loss of power here, a hiccup, the stumble, the filler.

Well I'm sorry but that just ain't the case but be warned, we might have some SPOILERS ahead so just watch out.

So why am I all Damn You James Swallow? Because I couldn't put this book down. Now unless +Carl Thomson can say otherwise with Peaceable Kingdoms which I myself have yet to read, this is the jewel in the crown as far as I'm concerned. While we've been adding question upon question through the preceding novels it seems as though we're finally getting payoff here.

Split into three clear narratives around the continuing story concerning the assassination of the UFP President Naniette Bacco and the troubles of Andoria, it could be construed that this would put a strain on the novel as a whole. Instead it only enhances the story. Riker, now promoted for a whole bunch of secret hush hush reasons to Admiral tackles the conspiracies on Earth which harks back to The Next Generation's Conspiracy and perhaps moreso Deep Space Nine's Homefront and Paradise Lost. Then there's Commander Vale heading off on her own little adventure on the Nova Class USS Lionheart and a third strand that's taking Tuvok and Nog off on another tangent. Talk about packing out a story, this has it all.

Swallow has mastered all of the characters from the off. Riker is perfected and shows the resilience that we saw back in The Best of Both Worlds when realising it's down to him to sort out this god awful mess on Earth as well as start to unravel the mystery as to just who is pulling the strings and what all the fragments mean when they come together. Having Riker finally captaining his own ship was one thing but taking the step up to a desk job is another - and the question that hangs is whether or not it'll be as short as Kirk's stint. He does seem capable in this new role if not 100% at home to begin with and his interactions with Deanna, just as they were in that career conversation in The Best of Both Worlds are quite telling about his thoughts on the change in rank.

Swallow does well to maintain the interest in this line of the story and it could have become quite plodding but by dropping little asides and constantly questioning both Riker's and those around him in their actions there's always something to think about. Of the three strands this is probably the most important but not the most interesting as the stories off-world have much more of a punch. Riker in some ways is the chessmaster here. moving his pieces into play against a devious enemy. Of course a big difference in Riker now besides the rank is that he has both a wife and daughter (Deanna and Natasha) who make appearances. We see perhaps a little wisening in the admiral as it's not just about him anymore, the safety of his family is also at stake as he investigates the assassination.

Vale's story on the medical USS Lionheart has some brilliantly realised characters especially her first officer, Commander Atia and the chief medical officer who is less than human - or bipedal for that matter. While they are a good group of Guest Starrings it's the destination that proves the intrigue and when that's revealed we get to see a different aspect to the arc that's been driving this story forward. For a character I'm not very familiar with I understood her very quickly and there are certainly shades of Riker dripped into her personality as she investigates some less than reputable goings on. Anyone else who read this think they could get a few novels out of the crew of the Lionheart?

As we've discussed, so far in The Fall we've had beginnings and middles and here it seems the crew of the Titan are intergalactic caretakers sweeping up all the rubbish from across the quadrant. At times the story dives into secrecy, espionage and off-the-record meetings where those in question are in danger just from being in the same place through to all-action special operations territory that I would more imagine between the cover of a Tom Clancy novel. 

That Tuvok/Nog thread which also brings back the much underused Tom Riker (why no third episode huh?!) and is fairly key in understanding what has been happening while Admiral Riker is seeking the why aspect. The one directive they have grows and morphs as events unfold increasingly making you more unsettled as things turn out to be less than straightforward or legal. Placing such upstanding characters as Nog and Tuvok in this situation is a great move as both are men of very high standards and morals. As their story expands we can see how there are choices that have to be made and we can see to which side of the line they fall. Admittedly it's a fairly thick line  that could probably be seen from the International Space Station.

Associating with a group of mercenaries the scenes on board their suped-up transport ship are something akin to Aliens or Predator with lots of macho bonding and suggestions of ruthless, cutthroat individuals of a less than admirable past. It is a bit cliched but then in such instances these days it's very hard not to be.

Each of the threads is not what it appears at first hand and where this novel starts is a big jump from it's somewhat foreboding conclusion. Swallow has had a lot to work with here, bringing in pieces from all three of the previous novels so that those reading out of sequence can still dive in and enjoy.

I would question once again the logic of choosing to do that and have found reading the earlier books to be key in totally understanding the narrative arc. It can be done as a one-off but I wouldn't recommend it. Reading The Poisoned Chalice before reading A Ceremony of Losses would guarantee you would be handed the outcomes to a number of surprises from the book and make going back to it irrelevant. However, perhaps it's not about seeing the "answers" if you will if you don't truly understand the question and that might be the beauty of The Fall series. Throwaway references to the other titles do make you sit up and ask what have you missed especially in regards to The Crimson Shadow which I reviewed earlier this year. There's much more to the whole Cardassian/Andorian/Tzenkethi issues than we've been told before. Not bad to still be punching out some new shockers in the closing stages of a well-formulated saga.

At the time that seemed to be the weakest link but having pounded through The Poisoned Chalice that second novel looks like it is the cornerstone of the quintology, giving much more than you expected. The way in which James Swallow funnels the three stories together means that Dayton Ward has something of a big job ahead to ensure finality to The Fall. It's a well-realised novel which focuses heavily on the characters and their motivations. All are asked to work outside what would be their usual framework - their box - and come up with on-their-feet solutions on more than one occasions. Effectively their paths are marked out when they complete their own threads but this is a journey in each case that it is necessary to understand before they make their final, decisive moves in Peacable Kingdoms.

I'm sure there are bits from David R George III, Una McCormack and David Mack's efforts that I've forgotten and will play a part in the conclusion of this superb storyline. Now the threads are passed onto the fifth author and we'll be discussing the no doubt epic and explosive novel very soon.

The Poisoned Chalice is available now from Simon and Schuster priced £6.99 ISBN 9781476722221