TWIN TOWERS REMEMBERANCES

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I watched the second tower fall from right across the river, nearly twenty years ago. I lived in Jersey with my then-girlfriend, and we had just flown back home from Florida about six hours earlier. We found out about the attack because her friend in Poland called and woke us up to see if she was alright.

Someone on another continent told us what was happening in our own backyard.

We saw the first building fall on TV and immediately walked to the water’s edge a few blocks away. The second building fell, creating a cloud of debris that spread across the water. So much death, so many innocent people, and all we could do watch, detached. In stunned silence, we wandered home.

You could say I grew up in the World Trade Center—my mother worked in an office on the 31st floor of the North Tower. My sister and I would go to work with her at times during the summers of our youth. My mom would take us shopping in the mall bookstore beneath the center—where eight years old me got such epic books as the Three Investigators Series, Han Solo’s at Star’s End, and the Art of the Empire Strikes Back. I remember typing my first story on a vacant typewriter there, also when I was eight—an untold tale about Greedo getting revenge on Han for blowing his arm off (instead of killing him. I had the action figure, couldn’t accept his death in the flick—but even then, Han shot first). I remember seeing the city from the top and putting a haunted mansion puzzle together on a conference room floor with my sister. I was very much enamored with the 1976 King Kong because Kong climbed “my mom’s building.” Later, most of my first dates were me taking someone to the Windows on the World bar at the Tower’s top.

The World Trade Center was a happy part of my life–as I am sure it had previously been to many who suffered that day. It was where they worked and played.

Today, I honor them by remembering the good—those happy moments a special place can create that make up a life.

Those moments I will never forget.

—Andrew E.C. Gaska, 9/11 2020

An award winning game-writer, author, designerand graphic novelist with twenty years of industry experience, Gaska is the creative force behind BLAM! Ventures. He has worked as a freelance consultant to 20th Century Fox and Rockstar Games and is the lead writer of Free League Publishing’s ALIEN Role Playing Game. In addition to being the senior development editor for Lion Forge comics and animation, he is a contributor to both their game division and their licensing team. 

Facebook: AndrewECGaska | Instagram: blamventurer | Twitter: @andrewecgaska | Portfolio: blamventures.com | WordPress: roguereviewer | Linkedin: aecgaska

REMEMBERING RICHARD HATCH AND DENNY O’NEIL

The Marriott Maquis in Atlanta, Georgia–one of the three main Dragoncon Hotels. Photo © 2019 Andrew E.C. Gaska

So, this weekend was Virtual DragonCon! As I’ve been for the past several years, I was a guest of the show, although I was only able to participate in some programming this time around (usually I am on upwards of a dozen panels). It was great being a part of Virtual Dragon Con 2020, and I look forward to returning to the physical Dragon Con next year.

This show has always held a special place for me. My first Dragon Con was as a guest of Richard Hatch, back when I first started working with him in 2003. For anyone who doesn’t know the details, this is the Battlestar Galactica Richard Hatch, not the Survivor one–and man did he hate people telling him he was “great on Survivor.” 

My relationship with Richard was complex–I had the strange circumstance of first working with and then becoming close to someone who I watched on TV as a child.

I remember once playing games at the arcade on a carnival cruise with Richard during a storm–it was one of those games where you have the pistols and are shooting at zombies coming for you. People who know me know I’m not one to “fanboy out” on someone whose work I enjoy, I understand they are people with faults and aspirations just like any of us. This time, however, I had the surreal realization that I was standing with Captain Apollo, shooting at bad guys–just as I did when I was a kid pretending I was Starbuck with Apollo at my side. Bizarre.

Richard and I became good friends over our many conventions and cruise trips together, but Dragon Con was always a special place for us. We always got together for drinks and dinners, at least one night of which would be Sear (Phil and Eva Vanermine) and the other Bennihanas (Derek Conley and The Crazy 88s).

I owe a lot to Richard, from many of the friends I’ve made in the industry to even just his infectious zeal for life. I am a better person for knowing him as I did–as a real friend.

A few years ago, Richard passed away, and I coordinated a memorial panel in his name for Dragon Con. There was standing room only–he was well-loved.

I took on the same task virtually this year for my former mentor, the late great Denny O’Neil. Denny was responsible for some of the most important Batman and Green Arrow stories ever told–and he was also the writer on the Question–my favorite “superhero” comic (if you can call the character a superhero).

Denny was my teacher in college and then insisted on tutoring me at no expense when I couldn’t afford to go to school anymore. He took me to lunch for six months on DC Comic’s dime, showed me the offices, introduced me to professionals, and even got me on the interview list for an assistant editor gig there (23-year-old me screwed up that interview, but hey, that’s life). He saw my talent and wanted me to move ahead as a writer. He believed in me. Here’s Denny O’Neil talking about his work at DC Comics during the 90s, when I first got to know him.

I hadn’t seen Denny in years, but I never would have followed the career path I did if not for him. I’m where I am because of him. I was happy to gather former associates and friends of his in the industry to talk about the man and his greatness. Panelists included:

Howard Chaykin – Writer/Artist
(American Flagg, Marvel Star Wars, Wolverine & Nick Fury)

Brian Augustyn – Writer/Editor
(Batman, the Flash, Justice League)

Andrew E.C. Gaska – Writer/Franchise Consultant
(Alien, Planet of the Apes, Predator)

Paul Levitz – Writer/Editor/DC Comics Publisher
(Legion of Superheroes, Batman, Wonder Woman)

Charles Kochman – Editorial Director
(Superman & Batman Magazine, Shazam, JLA)

Click here to check it out. Well, this is a lot longer than I planned. I’m not sure where I’m going with this, except to say I miss my friend and I miss my mentor. I love this industry, and the amazing people–fans, friends, and pros–I’ve gotten close to in it. Finally, I love these conventions that bring us all together to laugh, drink, and cry. I love Dragon Con.

I’ll just leave you with a 2013-14ish pic by Chandra Free of Richard Hatch and a VERY fat and VERY bald me (what was I thinking?), enjoying the Tiki bar at Dragon Con.

Enjoy.

—Andrew E.C. Gaska

An award winning game-writer, author, designerand graphic novelist with twenty years of industry experience, Gaska is the creative force behind BLAM! Ventures. He has worked as a freelance consultant to 20th Century Fox and Rockstar Games and is the lead writer of Free League Publishing’s ALIEN Role Playing Game. In addition to being the senior development editor for Lion Forge comics and animation, he is a contributor to both their game division and their licensing team. 

Facebook: AndrewECGaska| Instagram: blamventurer| Twitter: @andrewecgaska | Portfolioblamventures.com | WordPress: roguereviewer | Linkedin: aecgaska

All images are © their respective owners are used for the purposes of commentary or review only unless otherwise stated. All rights reserved.

EMBRACING THE NEW PORCH: A LOOK AT TOXIC FANDOM AND WHO DEFINES CANON

Let’s make this simple: You own a house. If you want to add a porch, it doesn’t matter if your neighbor—who has always loved that house—wants your house to be the way its been for 30 years without a porch. It doesn’t matter that he always felt the house should have a bay window instead. Your neighbor might think that through the Home Owner’s Association (HOA), he can stop the building of the porch—but your neighbor represents a small portion of that association or is not even part of it at all—he doesn’t make the rules. If it’s HOA approved and legal to add the porch, you add the goddamn porch.

Why? It’s your house.

Then this neighbor is screaming at your house all day, slashing your tires, and keying your car because he doesn’t like your new porch. Other people come by and compliment your new porch. Plenty of people like it so much, that they want little models of your house with the new porch on it. This neighbor loses his shit over that. He follows these people back to their homes and yells at them for liking the porch.

At the end of the day, he can rant all he wants–plenty of people appreciate the porch, and even if they didn’t–it’s still your house and you did with it what you wanted.

That’s why the owner of a franchise—Star Wars, Star Trek, etc.—decides canon. It’s their house, not the fans’.

As fans, we can not like the new porch. We can wish the porch was blue instead of brown. Maybe the porch isn’t really all that bad when we see it put in. We can at first dislike the new porch and want to ignore it—and it can grow on us later. We can hate the porch so much, we move so we don’t have to look at it anymore. Or, we can embrace the porch. None of this changes the fact that there is a porch, and the owner made it the way they wanted.

The person who owns the house owes us nothing, no matter how much we have loved that house for decades. It’s not our house, and it’s not our porch.

Admire it, ignore it, or move on.

—Andrew E.C. Gaska

An award winning game-writer, author, designerand graphic novelist with twenty years of industry experience, Gaska is the creative force behind BLAM! Ventures. He has worked as a freelance consultant to 20th Century Fox and Rockstar Games and is the lead writer of Free League Publishing’s ALIEN Role Playing Game. In addition to being the senior development editor for Lion Forge comics and animation, he is a contributor to both their game division and their licensing team. 

Facebook: AndrewECGaska | Instagram: blamventurer | Twitter: @andrewecgaska | Portfolio: blamventures.com | WordPress: roguereviewer | Linkedin: aecgaska

All images are © their respective owners are used for the purposes of commentary or review only unless otherwise stated. All rights reserved.

SUMMER AWARDS 2020

The ALIEN RPG, which I am the tone, settings, and adventure writer for, has won the 2020 Gencon ENnie Gold Award for Best Game, as well as the 2020 UK GAMES EXPO’s People’s Choice Award for Best Role-Playing Game.

Also, the ALIEN Adventure which I wrote, CHARIOT OF THE GODS, has won UK GAMES EXPO’s Best 2020 Role-Playing Adventure.

This is ALIEN’s (and my) third award so far this year.

I may be lead writer on these books, but this could never ever have happened without the amazing team at Fria LiganTomas HärenstamJoe LeFavi, Martin Gripp, and Dave Semark, not to mention Clara Fei-Fei, everyone else involved—and you—the fans who voted for ALIEN!

I’m blown away. Thank you, everyone.

—Andrew E.C. Gaska

An award winning game-writer, author, designerand graphic novelist with twenty years of industry experience, Gaska is the creative force behind BLAM! Ventures. He has worked as a freelance consultant to 20th Century Fox and Rockstar Games and is the lead writer of Free League Publishing’s ALIEN Role Playing Game. In addition to being the senior development editor for Lion Forge comics and animation, he is a contributor to both their game division and their licensing team.  

Facebook: AndrewECGaska | Instagram: blamventurer | WordPress: roguereviewer | Linkedin: aecgaska | Twitter: @andrewecgaska | Portfolio: blamventures.com 

ALIEN: COVENANT REIMAGINES A FAMILIAR EVIL AS A NEW VILLAIN FOR OUR TIMES… AND IT’S NOT THE ALIEN

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This article, replete with typos, was written by me and originally published by Slice of Sci-Fi May 26, 2017. I’ve updated it and attempted to clean it up for inclusion on this essay site.

Warning: two-year-old article is two-years-old. Two-year-old spoilers ahead.

Just in case you have been living on the barren wastes of LV-426, Alien: Covenant is the 2017 follow up to Ridley Scott’s 2012 Alien non-prequel, Prometheus. A film described by the filmmaker himself as having the DNA of Alien while being its own animal, Prometheus promised to explore the origins of the beloved Alien he first introduced to moviegoers nearly forty years earlier. Instead, it left confused viewers with more questions than answers. In contrast, Covenant is full of solutions.

Regardless, the film is somewhat puzzling in its own right. In a conscious attempt to rectify Prometheus’ conundrums, Covenant leaves almost no mystery. It is rife with exposition, and while many of the reveals are intriguing, most of them are told rather than shown to us. At the end of the film, we are still left with one question:

Why?

In Covenant, David has taken it upon himself to murder his creators, as well as their creators before them. In the process, he has taken to tinkering with the xenovirus and hybridization of the creatures that are the result of it in order to create the perfect killing machine.

But again, why?

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ANDROIDS DREAM OF XENOMORPHIC SHEEP

David is not only narcissistic but psychopathic to boot. His confusion over the works of Shelley and Byron show his programming is corrupted, his mind unraveled. In addition to the Engineers, he murdered Shaw and experimented with her bodydespite proclaiming his love for her and remarking repeatedly on her kindness. Murderous androids are not unknown in the Alien franchise. Ash begat Davidor is it the other way around? Additionally, the themes in Covenant mirror those of Scott’s other masterpieceBlade Runnerbut with a Shyamalan twist.

Ridley has suggested that Blade Runner and Alien might inhabit the same universe. In both franchises, human replicasin Alien machines, in Blade Runner, more organic alternativesstruggle to come to terms with their creators. In David’s case, barring permanent damage, he will live foreversomething that Blade Runner’s Roy Batty would have coveted.

It is this longevity that makes David as arrogant as he is, that makes him consider himself more god than his gods or their gods as well. David is far more than mortal. David is something far more sinister.

The Covenant’s interim captain, Oram, tells David that he saw the face of the devil at a very young age. Ironic that he then allows the devil that is David to lure him to his own demise. If the Engineer’s homeworld (or colony, it is never made clear) was indeed paradise before the xenovirus altered it, then David is indeed the serpent in the garden.

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THE DEVIL IS IN THE DETAILS

The original title for Covenant was to be Paradise Lost, named after Milton’s 17th-century epic poem. In the poem, Satan is a sinister yet somewhat sympathetic protagonist, determined to take what he considers an arrogant God down a notch. He manages to corrupt mankind, but his coup in heaven is ultimately put down by God.

In Alien: Covenant, the devil has won.

David has positioned himself as Lucifer–and he and his Xenoshis fallen angel followers–-have not only beaten god (the Engineers) but have begun the corruption of mankind as well.

Covenant is the story of Paradise Lost with another twistSatan and his hordes have already defeated god, only to find themselves trapped in the Garden of Eden. Here, it is man’s entrance into the paradise that provides Satan with his means of escape, and the chance to bring his corruption and demons to a new world.

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AN IDLE ANDROID MAKES FOR A DULL ANDROID

David, in this manner, is responsible for the entire Alien saga. We live in an age when villains often serve as protagonists, offering an alternative view on our belief systems. Like Satan in Paradise Lost, David is a fully developed and relatable figure, despite his obvious Machiavellian tendencies. Also like Satan, he offers his brother android, Walter, a choice postulated from Paradise Losteither reign in Hell or serve in Heaven. When the film ends with David in control of the Covenant, you aren’t sure if you should cheer or jeer.

Prior to the Covenant’s arrival in paradise, David wasn’t just sitting on his hands. After murdering mankind’s gods, he experimented with the Engineers’ xenovirus for a decade to create that perfect organism. It’s not an easy task. The virus created by the Engineers mutates life into obscene parodies of it, but there is no rhyme nor reason to its transformations. In Alien, the transition from egg to chestburster to adult Xeno was logical, for all its alien-ness. This is not the case with the Engineer’s black goothe creatures it creates in Covenant are very different than the random permutations in Prometheus. David appears as intrigued by the xeno-virus’ chaotic nature as the audience is perplexed by it. His experiments seem determined to make sense of and bring order to it. And despite initial appearances, the fruits of his labors are not as alien as you might hope.

alien-covenant-2017-movie-13010-1

ALIEN BESTIARY

Call them what you will–protomorphs, neomorphs, ultramorphsthe aliens appearing in Covenant are animals. They react like a rage-filled tiger and are not the cold calculating stalkers from the original three Alien films. As such, they are easier to kill. Take the film’s climactic scene of the new alien being tricked into the truck hangar on the Covenant. The beast hesitates upon entering the room. As soon as it realizes female protagonist Daniel’s location, it hisses like a rabid animal and leaps toward her in a frenzy. The alien we know from the past would have tilted its head and blended into the shadows, creating an element of fear and terror rather than shock.

Much to the die-hard fans chagrin, the alien-ness of its behavior is gone.

Behind the scenes, there is a reason for the difference in behavior. As it turns out, the way the Xeno in Covenant moves is exactly the way Ridley had originally wanted the Alien to act.

“…when Dallas first sees [the alien in the air ducts],” Scott told Cinefex, it [was going to be] standing on the roof of this giant wind tunnel, suspended upside down. Then I was going to have it roar down the tunnel toward him, running and jumping full-circle around the walls.”

They couldn’t make it workthe problem was in the limitations of the suit. There was little flexibility in the costume, and that led to the deliberate and, quite frankly, alien movements of the original Alien.

“Ridley was forced to stage around the physical awkwardness of it,” Alien writer/creator Dan O’Bannon said in an interview with Fantastic Films, “but the visual appearance of power and grace was retained, quite striking.”

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Alien screen test, 1979

One must wonder if the creature would have become as iconic had it behaved more animalistic than just odd.

From an in-universe perspective, it appears David hasn’t quite achieved his goals yethis alien still has some growing to go.

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Unlike H.R. Giger’s original biomechanical nightmare, there is no mechanical influence on any of the creatures in Prometheus and Covenant. While the final creature in the new film does have a carapace, its body appears to be all flesh and acid. Its size and position of its dorsal tubes are different than the original Xeno, as well. Nor does it have metal teeth.

It’s not the same animal.

David’s been working towards the perfect killing machine, but he isn’t there yet. One might postulate that the key to successand the creation of the Alien we all know and love, is to create a synthesis of flesh and machineif David himself must somehow meld with his creations to achieve their ultimate form.

An evil android’s work is never done.

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JUST LIKE THE CREATURES APPEARING IN THE FILM, ALIEN COVENANT IS A NEW ANIMAL

Ultimately, the answer to the question ‘why’ is a bitter drive to be a better god than God himself. It is what drove Satan in Paradise Lostthe idea that he could govern heaven better than God could. David wants to create life that destroys the life that created him.

Ridley Scott has broken new ground with Alien: Covenant. On the surface, however, it is ground that the fanbase had preferred left undisturbed. Covenant is not a horror film despite the promotional material promising that it was returning Alien to its roots. In many ways, it felt like a space adventure film that just so happened to have our favorite Xenos along for the ride. This is not necessarily a bad thing, simply an unexpected one. While there were many enjoyable moments in Covenantnotably David and his machinationsI found myself less than satisfied upon the first viewing. Once it was available for home consumption, however, I saw it in a different light. It’s not the first Alien film to delve into different genres. While the original Alien was space horror, Cameron’s follow-up was, in fact, a space action flick, the third movie was apocalyptic, the fourth a dark comedy (shudder), and Prometheus was about faith.

The beauty of the Alien saga has always been its ability to support multiple genres and Covenant is no exception. It opens up new possibilities for the Alien Universe. It may not be the Alien film we wanted, but depending on what comes next, it may be the Alien film the series needed.

—Andrew E. C. Gaska

An award winning game-writer, author, designerand graphic novelist with twenty years of industry experience, Gaska is the creative force behind BLAM! Ventures. He has worked as a freelance consultant to 20th Century Fox and Rockstar Games and is the lead writer of Free League Publishing’s ALIEN Role Playing Game. In addition to being the senior development editor for Lion Forge comics and animation, he is a contributor to both their game division and their licensing team. 

Facebook: AndrewECGaska| Instagram: blamventurer| Twitter: @andrewecgaska | Portfolioblamventures.com | WordPress: roguereviewer | Linkedin: aecgaska

All images are ©2017 20th Century Fox and are used for the purposes of commentary or review only unless otherwise stated. All rights reserved.

THREE BEST FRANCHISE NOVELS—A SHARK, A WORM, AND A LIZARD

20565010335_a4fd33fb4f_k-e1559271020858.jpgSo here’s the Thing… no seriously, here’s the Thing. Image is from the cover of Alan Dean Foster’s adaptation of John Carpenter’s the Thing. Don’t look at me like that.

I was contacted by Steven Shinder on Facebook and asked to participate in a one-a-day top ten favorite books challenge. While I won’t be posting every single day (work and all), here are three of my favorite franchise books. I’ve decided to post them here and link back to Facebook. The plan is to nominate a new person each time who will then post their top books on their page. The books are posted in no particular order, they are just three of the best genre books I’ve read. Each has had a profound effect on me and helped shape me as a writer.

Disclaimer. The purpose of this list is to encourage readers to, well, read books they might have otherwise passed on–specifically franchise fiction. As such, no favorite literary classics will be covered. Otherwise, the entire list would be full of said classics. In no way is this meant to indicate that something like V: East Coast Crisis is a better novel than, say, Catcher in the Rye or To Kill a Mocking Bird. This list is mostly an exploration of beloved franchise fiction.

10264922_662790273757730_3643788207372427732_n-e1560062898835.jpgThe Visitors are our friends.

BOOK 3. V: EAST COAST CRISIS

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Author(s). Howard Weinstein and A.C. Crispin 

This particular review—as with many others here—is just as much about the book in question as it is about the series of novels it comes from.

Exposure. On a field trip to Philadelphia in elementary school during the 1980s, one of the historic stops our teachers decided to have us visit was… a mall. It was actually more to have us catch our breaths and have some downtime after the long day of site seeingnone of which I remember. The lasting impression was that mall, and the book series I found in the little B. Dalton’s thereV.

I had been a huge fan of the Kenneth Johnson created TV series. And not only did I find one V book thereI found NINE. I called my mom from a payphone (’80s, everyone) and she reluctantly gave me permission to use the money I had been given to buy some historical souvenir to instead buy the nine books.

One of my favorite sci-fi TV series of all time, V had a human looking Nazi-like regime of aliens coming to earth in fifty massive motherships and claiming to be mankind’s friend. They offered us cures to terrible diseases and technological enhancements in exchange for the production of an environmentally safe chemical needed for their homeworld. In reality, they were rat-eating lizard people wearing fake skin who had come to steal our water and abduct humans to use as food and troops for a battle with an unseen enemy. It was an allegory for Nazi Germany and a quiet sacrifice of our ideals for the promise of a better life (something a little too relevant to today’s politics). Martial law was imposed. Scientists and their families, the only ones who could expose the Visitors, were persecuted and hunted down. Both suspected guerrilla fighters and innocent civilians were rounded up and kept in concentration camps awaiting questioningquestioning that they either came back from brainwashed and converted or did not come back from at all. And with the help of a fifth column of visitors that opposed the invasion, a small resistance grew against these alien conquerors. Mike Donovan, Juliet Parrish, Ham Tyler and their alien allies Martin and Willie faced off against the lizard armies of Diana, Lydia, Steven, Charles, and the mysterious Leader.

Good sci-fi stuff.

East Coast Crisis was not the V I was expecting. Rather than a sequel, it was a companion to the original two television miniseriesV and V the Final Battle, taking place during them but showcasing the United State’s east coast struggle rather than the TV series west. Plus, Dan Rather and Isaac Asimov are characters in it, so win-win.

Many of the V novels did not star the TV series cast but instead developed different areas of the struggle to reclaim our world from these alien invaders. I was hooked, eventually hunting down the rest of the books (there were a total of sixteen).

Lesson. Expand your universe. Novels are a fertile playground to explain and enhance a franchise. Several bizarre moments and concepts introduced in the TV series by TV writers who didn’t necessarily understand sci-fi were explained and clarified by talented sci-fi prose authors within these pages. It taught me to think of other stories that take place during the events of an established movie or novel and give the “bigger picture.” My Planet of the Apes “inbetweenquels” follow this philosophy.

Conclusion. This series did an amazing job of expanding a universe and included some top name authors. I prefer Crispin’s style to Weinstein’s, and don’t recall the tale of how they came top be co-writing this book. Independently they both are prolific sci-fi authors and have written several Star Trek novels. I recommend the entire series. You can find out more about them on the long un-updated fan site here.

Show me more: A sixteen novel prose series tie-in with two fantastic TV miniseries, a season-long television series (not the best), an eighteen issue comic series from DC Comics, and a Hardcover novel direct sequel to the novelization of the original miniseries that ignores everything that came after it (huh?). Also, a reimagined reboot TV series that strayed too far from the premise.   

Available? Long out of print. Only available used on Amazon and eBay. On eBay, search for ‘V Series Novels’ or the like. A plain and simple ‘V’ will get you anything with a roman numeral five in it. Good hunting.

Nominated next for this chain letter. Kim Perrone

kapook_world-182947Just when you thought it was safe to go back in the water…

BOOK 2. JAWS 2

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Yes, this is one of the best novels I have ever read. Much better than Peter Benchley’s original. Don’t judge me. You don’t know.

“He heard the faint subway roar. He did not care. He stopped moving. He was too tired to fight his sleepiness, though the boat was only three strokes away. He would doze like a basking seal, and swim the last few feet later.

Then he was borne aloft.  He sensed his ribs, lungs, spleen, kidneys, bowels, duodenum, were being firmly squeezed together as if in some giant hydraulic press.

He felt no pain at all.”

Author. Hank Searls

Exposure. My mom had a bookshelf with “grown-up” novels in my parents’ bedroom. When I was bored and she wasn’t home, I would raid those books, looking to read something I wasn’t allowed to read.  In this manner, I was exposed to the novelizations of Alien, ET, The Shining, Christine, The Amityville Horror, Poltergeist, It, and even the Flowers in the Attic series. It was in the fourth-grade that I stumbled upon mom’s copy of Jaws 2.

I was always tentative with these horror novels. I didn’t want to scare myself, so I would pop a book open to a random page, hope for a dirty scene, read a paragraph out of context, and then decide whether or not I was going to stay away from that one. I flipped through Jaws 2 and read a vignette about an embryonic male shark struggling to survive against his equally unborn but bigger sisters who were trying to eat him in their mother’s womb.

What?

It got better. I realized that I was reading the mother shark’s point of view. She was aware of the conflict in her uterus and was driven to eat to stop her unborn children from eating each other. My nine-year-old mind was blown. This one went in my backpack and made its way to school with me.

Jaws 2 is a classic example of the old adage that the book is better than the film. Thing is, the book was based on the filmbut a version of the film that didn’t make it to the screen. The Jaws 2 movie that almost was was much darker than what we got, and that’s a topic for a future essay.  But even though this novel is based on an unshot script, Searls nonetheless owns this storythe shark’s internal musings and the in utero fight for survival is all him.

I remember pouring over the book under my desk when I was supposed to be reading textbooks in class (I’m a fast reader, so I always finished before the allotted time). The descriptions were vivid, the horror was real, and it made me look at the world in a different way. I’m paraphrasing here, but instead of saying something like, “the sun was setting,” Searls would write something to the effect of, “the sun was a lazy red ball bouncing on the horizon.” I use it to teach creative descriptors in my creative coaching sessions and on my writing panels. It inspired my future writings, and at the time it opened my eyes to new ways of looking at the world.

It also probably helped me down the road towards becoming the continuity freak I am today. In Searl’s Jaws 2, the pregnant mother shark is traveling up the gulf stream as her kind is wont to do, searching for food to satisfy her developing young. She realizes she’s come to a place she’s been before, an area of ocean where two years before a large male shark had wrestled her to the bottom, had his way with her and swam off towards a nearby island. She remembers the pain of the moment, and that her unborn offspring were in fact sired by him. Angrily, she changes course, heading towards the island in search of revenge.

Damn.

A connection between the sharks and an explanation as to why another giant great white comes to Amity. Did Searls have to do that? Nope. he did anyway. On top of that, he must have realized that another Jaws film was likely to come down the road and set up a potential hook for the inevitable sequel (the hook itself I won’t ruin for you, read the bloody book). He filled in continuity gaps in a film franchise, very much like what I now work at doing with franchises like Planet of the Apes and Alien. He made me look for answers to things that didn’t need answering.

Hank Searls ruined my life, and I love it.

Lesson. Perspective in storytelling. Sometimes a cigar is a dirty smoking shark. Or something.

Conclusion. Underrated. The most influential novel I’ve ever read. Deal with it. Then read it.

Show me more. The four movies—although I only recommend the first two. This book is technically a sequel to the original JAWS novel—not the Spielberg flick, and as such contains references that might confuse some readers—such as Hooper’s affair with Chief Brody’s wife, Ellen(!). Searls also wrote the novelization of Jaws: The Revengewhich makes that lightyears better than that film, but still can’t save it.

Available? A thousand times, yes. It’s long out of print, but you can get previously owned copies for dirt cheap on Amazon and in plenty of used book stores. I’ve got it in hardcover and paperback. I even wound up with an unedited reviewer’s copy my ex-fiancée found at a convention (see cover below). You look, you will find.

Nominated next for this chain letter. Amy Irene

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 This next book is seminal, and with the new movie franchise about to begin, it’s a good time to brush up on your Herbert…

Thewaytoedenhd0108No, not that kind of Herbert. Trek nerd.

dune-messiah.jpgThe Spice must flow.

BOOK 1. DUNE

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The cover of the edition I read in 1984. It wound up looking worse than this in my backpack.

“Fear is the mindkiller. Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration. I will face my fear. I will permit it to pass over me and through me.”

Author. Frank Herbert

Exposure. In the sixth-grade, this sci-fi nerd was given a three-book boxed set for his birthday. It wasn’t Star Wars, Star Trek, Battlestar Galactica, or even Vit was something I hadn’t been exposed to yet. It was Herbert’s masterpiece, Dune.  I didn’t see the movie out that same year, but I dove into the books. There was something called spice (Kessel?) that opened your mind to a new world of mental abilities, warring houses, strange creatures called Navigators, rebels, an empire, and a desert planet.

Oh, and there were worms. Massive monstrous behemoth worms.

The desert winds of Arrakis swept me away as young Paul Atradies outmaneuvered death and betrayal to find his strength and purpose.

11-year-old me thought Herbert had ripped off Lucas, but later discovered George had been inspired by Frank. Later series I enjoyed that also clearly drew inspiration from Dune were Battletech and Warhammer 40K.

I had only read the first three back then and wasn’t aware there were more. On top of that, I hadn’t reread them until after the SyFy channel miniseries was released in 2000. Watching the miniseries, I found myself spouting dialogue along with the characters on the screen from a book I hadn’t picked up in 16 years.

It stayed with me.

Lesson. Philosophy.

Conclusion. Masterful. If you are a sci-fi fan and haven’t read this, son I am disappoint. Feel shame. Then pick up a copy and know bliss.

Show me more: An endless stream of sequels and prequels set int he same universefirst by Herbery himself and then by the likes of his son and Kevin J. Anderson. There are two TV miniseries, a bizarre 1980s major motion picture with Sting and Captain Picard in it, and a new movie franchise on the way.

Available? Always. Several editions over several years. Hardcover, paperback, digital, too.

Nominated next for this chain letter. Timothy Ellis

—Andrew E. C. Gaska

An author, designer, game-writer, and graphic novelist with twenty years of industry experience, Gaska is the creative force behind BLAM! Ventures and has worked as a freelance consultant to 20th Century Fox and Rockstar Games. He is the Origins Award nominated settings writer and adventure author of the ALIEN Tabletop RPG. In addition to being the Senior Development Editor for Lion Forge comics and animation, he is a contributor to both their game division and their licensing team. 

blamventures.com | Twitter: @andrewecgaska | Facebook: AndrewECGaska

All images are ©2019 their respective owners and are used for the purposes of commentary or review only unless otherwise stated. All rights reserved.

SPACE IS HELL: ALIEN TABLETOP RPG IS COMING

 

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Free League has announced an ALIEN Tabletop Role Playing Game series and I am proud to be integrally involved with this project. Free League explains my role as thus:

FROM THE FACEBOOK ANNOUNCEMENT:

The lead writer of the setting chapters is Andrew E.C. Gaska – author, senior development editor at Lion Forge Comics, and franchise consultant on ALIEN, Predator, and Planet of the Apes for 20th Century Fox.

With total attention to the minute details of the ALIEN lore from decades of movies, games, books, and comics, Drew’s work is to preserve the essence of the expanded material and bring it in line with hardcore canon, filling in gaps where needed. In addition to his setting design, Drew is the lead writer of the introductory scenario Chariot of the Gods.

For more information, sign up for Free League’s free newsletter at alien-rpg.com. The ALIEN universe is dear to my heart and I can not wait to see you clutching this massive book in one hand with your motion tracker in the other. Until then, enjoy some beautiful art from the upcoming game, as well as the official press release below.

—Andrew E. C. Gaska

An author, designer, game-writer, and graphic novelist with twenty years of industry experience, Gaska has worked as a freelance consultant to 20th Century Fox and Rockstar Games. In addition to being the Senior Development Editor for Lion Forge comics and animation, he is a contributor to both their Quillion gaming department and their licensing team. 

blamventures.com | Twitter: @andrewecgaska | Facebook: AndrewECGaska

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All images are ©2019 Martin Grip, Free League Publishing and 20th Century Fox and are used for the purposes of commentary or review only unless otherwise stated. All rights reserved.

FROM THE PRESS RELEASE:

LOS ANGELES, CA (April 26, 2019) – Forty years ago, Alien shocked and inspired the world with a horrific sci-fi universe that forever changed the genre. In celebration of its 40th anniversary, Free League Publishing has announced today that fans can soon explore that iconic universe for themselves with an official line of tabletop role-playing games.

The long-term licensing partnership with 20th Century Fox Consumer Products will kick off in late 2019, launching an ongoing tabletop RPG series drawing upon four decades of world-building within this beloved universe. Free League is renowned for its own world-building in science fiction, with their best-selling sci-fi RPG Tales from the Loop sweeping the 2017 ENnie Awards for Best Setting, Best Writing, Best Art, Best Game, and Product of the Year. Tomas Härenstam, Free League co-founder and game director of their sci-fi RPGs Tales from the Loop and Mutant: Year Zero, will oversee game design, with original artwork from esteemed artists Martin Grip, John Mullaney and Axel Torvenius.

Taking place shortly after the events of Aliens, the first RPG will propel players into the vast possibilities of the Outer Rim Frontier. From the pioneering colonists and scientists to the ever-present Company reps and Colonial Marines, the game promises a diverse range of characters and gameplay experiences far beyond the staple cat-and-mouse suspense and survival horror of the franchise.

“The Alien saga isn’t about superheroes with superior firepower,” says game director Härenstam. “It’s about placing ordinary people in extraordinary circumstances and testing the endurance of the human spirit against inhuman atrocities and impossible odds. Such a harsh yet hopeful universe has captured our imagination for 40 years with good reason, and we’re excited to explore new stories and perspectives as players must face their demons (in a true and metaphoric sense) and brave the horrors of the unknown.”

To best capture the Alien experience, the RPG will provide more than the framework for continuous, open-world campaigns. Beyond the sandbox campaign game mode, Free League is also designing a “Cinematic” mode, with pre-generated scenarios that players must complete within a single session. Emulating the dramatic arc of an Alien film, these survival challenges promise escalating stakes and fast (often brutal) gameplay where most players aren’t expected to last the night. Their first cinematic scenario, Chariot of the Gods written by sci-fi novelist Andrew E.C. Gaska (Death of the Planet of the Apes), is included in the core manual. Gaska is also the setting writer and canon consultant for the RPG series. More cinematic modules and game expansions are already in production, with direct tie-ins to Fox’s future plans for the franchise slated for 2020 and beyond.

The Fox-Free League licensing deal was brokered by Joe LeFavi of Genuine Entertainment, who will manage the license on behalf of Free League and serve as an editor on the game series. Alien is the latest in a slew of high-profile tabletop deals by LeFavi, including the master tabletop gaming license for Dune, the tabletop RPG series for Altered Carbon, and multiple brand extensions of World of Darkness.

For more news and previews on the Alien RPG series, visit alien-rpg.com. Then follow Free League Publishing on Twitter and Facebook, where fans can discover art and gameplay development ahead of the game’s release.

15.Scenario Locations

ABOUT 20TH CENTURY FOX CONSUMER PRODUCTS

20th Century Fox Consumer Products licenses and markets properties worldwide on behalf of 20th Century Fox Film, 20th Century Fox Television and FX Networks, as well as third party lines. The division is aligned with 20th Century Fox Television, the flagship studio leading the industry in supplying award-winning and blockbuster primetime television programming and entertainment content and 20th Century Fox Film, one of the world’s largest producers and distributors of motion pictures throughout the world. For more information on all Alien products and activities, go to www.AlienUniverse.com.

ABOUT FREE LEAGUE PUBLISHING

Free League is a critically acclaimed Swedish publisher of speculative fiction, dedicated to publishing award-winning tabletop role-playing games, board games, and art books set in strange and wondrous worlds. Our best-selling RPG Tales from the Loop swept the 2017 ENnie Awards, winning five Gold ENnies for Best Setting, Best Writing, Best Art, Best Game, and Product of the Year. The game is inspired by a series of iconic art books published by Free League – Tales from the Loop, Things from the Flood, and The Electric State – exploring artist Simon Stålenhag’s original sci-fi universe soon to be realized in the upcoming TV series from Amazon Studios. Most recently, our fantasy RPG Forbidden Lands became the 3rd most successful RPG Kickstarter of 2017 and dubbed one of the best RPGs of 2018. Other tabletop work includes the post-apocalyptic RPG Mutant: Year Zero, the sci-fi RPG Coriolis – The Third Horizon, the fantasy RPG Symbaroum, and the Crusader Kings board game. To learn more, visit freeleaguepublishing.com.

ABOUT GENUINE ENTERTAINMENT

Genuine Entertainment is an award-winning producer and paladin in genre entertainment, specializing in strategic licensing for entertainment franchises and fandoms that demand quality and authenticity in equal measure. It’s our mission to build brands by building worlds and fan communities, making meaningful contributions with premium content and consumer products that extend brands into new markets and genuinely connect with fans across multiple categories. Recent collaborations include such genre greats as Alien, Altered Carbon, Avengers: Infinity War, Blade Runner 2049, Dune, Game of Thrones, and World of Darkness. For more, visit: www.genuineent.com.

ABOUT ANDREW E.C. GASKA

With over two decades of experience in the comics and video game industries, author Andrew E.C. Gaska is the Senior Development Editor at Lion Forge Comics and Animation. He is the founder/creative director of the guerrilla integrated-media studio BLAM! Ventures and a freelance franchise consultant to 20TH CENTURY FOX, writing series bibles for the legacy franchises of ALIEN, Predator, and Planet of the Apes. He served as a visual consultant to Rockstar Games on GTA and all other releases. His written works include Space: 1999, HAWKEN, Buck Rogers in the 25th Century, and the new novel Death of the Planet of the Apes. For more info visit blamventures.com.

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SELF-IDENTITY AND SHAME IN A POST ENDGAME WORLD

17--russo-brueder-reagieren-auf-die-spoiler-panik---16-9---spoton-article-719655Thor is about to do a very bad, bad, thing.

WARNING 1: IF YOU HAVEN’T SEEN AVENGERS: ENDGAME YET, MOVE ON. THERE ARE CHARACTER SPECIFIC SPOILERS IN THIS VERY PERSONAL COMMENTARY.

I have body dysmorphia.

For years I was pushing 280lbs.

Most of that was due to a pain and depression medication I was taking for seven years. Cymbalta can cause extreme weight gain and its not something you can just stop taking without the risk of seizures. It took me five months of sweats and night terrors to get off of it. Within those five months, I dropped from 275lbs to 196lbs. A few months later I was down to 185lbs. I went from XXL to a Medium.

I looked in the mirror after dropping all that weight and saw a whale. Keep in mind I have overweight friends and don’t look at them that way. I don’t take lightly to people fat-shaming people and I can tell you I would be devastated if someone did it to me. But this was different. This was me, and all I saw was fat.

I fat-shamed myself.

I didn’t register the weight loss. l thought I looked terrible. I didn’t. It took me a while to adjust to that. It took other people telling me all the time for me to finally see it.

Since then I’ve fluctuated a little.  At 196lbs I feel my best—but would sometimes still see a fat person in the mirror.

Since moving to St. Louis from Pensacola and having, to quote Captain Kirk, “no beach to walk on,” (points if you get the double meaning of the reference), I’ve moved back up to 220lbs. Something to do with being in an office setting and there being donuts. Lots and lots of donuts. I’m now somewhere between a large and a medium, with a Large looking a little too big and a Medium making me look like a plump sausage.

bca482d7-9b6c-4561-b64a-efabeac49948_4.6830efcb7a3b157ecc72bbb5734d4002Damn you, Unicorn Donuts. Damn you all to hell.

People tell me I still look great, but I don’t feel my best, and long to see that 196 on the scale again. It’s something I am very sensitive about. 

WARNING 2: HERE COME THE SPOILERS

Now, for Avengers: Endgame. In the film, Thor can’t accept that he failed to stop Thanos from wiping out half the life in the universe. He then kills the man in cold blood, gives up on being a superhero and on leading his people, sinks into depression, and becomes an alcoholic.

Oh, and he gets fat.

He gets very, very, fat.

Recently I read an article or two accusing Endgame of fat-shaming Thor. These reviewers accused the audience of mocking Thor for being overweight and went as far as to say Marvel encouraged this with lingering shots of Thor’s belly.

I’m going to go with no on this one.

What we saw with Thor wasn’t fat-shaming. Quite simply, Thorsomeone who prides himself for being at the height of physical fitnesshad let himself go.

In many ways, it is simply a ‘fish out of water’ scenario. Facebook friend Patrick Izzo says, “It’s finding humor in seeing our character the opposite of what we know him to be. It’s a little like Ant-Man in Civil War. No one laughed when he shrunk, but when he became Giant-Man it was pretty funny because it was the opposite of what we were used to.”

Size MattersSize-shaming. Also, yes, I know this isn’t a shot from Civil War. Thank you for pointing that out.

While Thor’s problems run a bit deeper, the Ant-Man comparison is a good call. The goofy but lovable Scott Lang is often in over his head and outside of his element. We laugh at his ineptnessbut we aren’t incompetence-shaming. Scott is us in a superhero world. He’s relatable. He is a regular dude who is going to pull through anyway and we love seeing heroes with flaws.

That’s what it was about. We aren’t used to seeing Thor like he is in Endgame. Even though his role in both Ragnarok and Infinity War have shown that Marvel wants to break the status quo and take the character in new directions, we never would have expected them to take Thor this far. He is now more relatable than ever before. It was funny to think of a superhero—a god, no less—who usually keeps himself at peak performance no longer caring about that and living a sedentary life. 

THE TIP OF THE SCALE

As I stated above, Thor was also in the depths of depression, something myself and many close to me suffer from. He couldn’t handle his failures. Was this depression-shaming, and were his drinking binges alcoholic-shaming?

No.

All this was only funny because it was Thor not being the god of thunder we were used to—someone who was cocky and arrogant about his looks, powers, and physique. He was at a crossroads. It was funny because we knew he was going to overcome what was plaguing him. And interestingly enough, in the end, he stayed overweight except for when he transformed into his super-self.  After that, he went back to his out-of-shape self, something that was a bold and welcome move on Marvel’s part. 

REDEMPTION

Thor struggled to be what the others wanted him to be and couldn’t handle that. He was accepted by his mother regardless of his appearance and redeemed when he realized he didn’t need to be anything but himself, whatever that entailed. She didn’t even draw attention to his weight (which I assure you is atypical for someone’s mother when facing her unexpectantly expanding offspring). The Thor who joins the Guardians of the Galaxy at the end of the film is an amalgam of the god who let himself go and the hero who craves a new adventure. He is a changed man.

tenor

WHO’S SHAMING WHO? 

I am a self-proclaimed social justice warrior. Comic books and sci-fi taught me diversity, honor, and to do the right thing. Gene Roddenberry, George Lucas, Larry Hama, and Dennis O’Neil were amongst my guides. I believe we must fight for people to be accepted for their character and who they are rather than judging them by sex, race, creed, preference, or appearance.

But part of me has to wonder if some of us are taking things too personally. Conversely, part of me has to wonder if we are being taken advantage of here. I wonder if articles accusing popular films of insensitivity are simply designed to rile us up and to bait clicks. 

The movie was made by Disney, people. They are sensitive to inclusiveness. I have to believe that very few in the audience would have laughed at an overweight character just for being overweight. Certainly, no character in the film was laughing at Thor for being fat. They were shocked to find him as he was, felt pity for his despair and downward spiral to the bottom of the bottle, and tried to rally him to become a hero once more. They also gave him a few steady doses of reality. Dealing with all these flaws, comical or not, worked because it was someone we knew this wasn’t the norm for.

Someone like Thor.

Maybe I’m wrong, but to me, it showed that these heroes are human as well—even if they are gods. It was funny, it was heartfelt, and it was a highlight of the character’s journey.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have a box of donuts to throw out.

—Andrew E. C. Gaska

An author, designer, game-writer, and graphic novelist with twenty years of industry experience, Gaska has worked as a freelance consultant to 20th Century Fox and Rockstar Games. In addition to being the Senior Development Editor for Lion Forge comics and animation, he is a contributor to both their Quillion gaming department and their licensing team. 

blamventures.com | Twitter: @andrewecgaska | Facebook: AndrewECGaska

All images are ©2019 Marvel Studios and are used for the purposes of commentary or review only unless otherwise stated. All rights reserved.

 

LV 4.26 ALIEN DAY

Happy Chest Burstday.

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The Big four-oh.

1979-2019

An author, designer, game-writer, and graphic novelist with twenty years of industry experience, Andrew E.C. Gaska is the creative force behind BLAM! Ventures and has worked as a freelance consultant to 20th Century Fox and Rockstar Games. In addition to being the Senior Development Editor for Lion Forge comics and animation, he is a contributor to both their game division and their licensing team. 

blamventures.com | Twitter: @andrewecgaska | Facebook: AndrewECGaska

All images are ©2019 20th Century Fox and are used for the purposes of commentary or review only unless otherwise stated. All rights reserved.

 

Watch a Chariot of the Gods Playthrough by Web DM Plays

Attention, Marines! This is a special presentation of the preorder adventure of the Alien RPG by Fria Ligan. It was supposed to be a one shot, but, well, just watch it. But be careful….they mostly come at night…mostly Please like, subscribe, comment & share! DM – Rudy – http://www.twitter.com/RudyBasso Lysa – http://www.twitter.com/mercyfuldm Jim – http://www.twitter.com/therealjimdavis Pruitt – http://www.twitter.com/jpruinc Travis – http://www.twitter.com/producertrav Play better D&D! Subscribe to our Wednesday videos: http://youtube.com/webdm Get the Web DM Podcast – http://bit.ly/2g49sUV Facebook – http://bit.ly/2oGKLOg Twitter – https://twitter.com/WebDMshow

Thanks for playing!

—Andrew E. C. Gaska

An author, designer, game-writer, and graphic novelist with twenty years of industry experience, Gaska is the creative force behind BLAM! Ventures and has worked as a freelance consultant to 20th Century Fox and Rockstar Games. In addition to being the Senior Development Editor for Lion Forge comics and animation, he is a contributor to both their game division and their licensing team. 

blamventures.com | Twitter: @andrewecgaska | Facebook: AndrewECGaska

All images are ©2017 20th Century Fox and are used for the purposes of commentary or review only unless otherwise stated. All rights reserved.