Star Command/In the Fold: 90s Cheese

For many years I tried to find Star Command somewhere on the web.  The difficulty lay in the fact that I couldn’t actually remember the name of the damn thing.  Until recently, I had only seen it once–20 years ago.  However, thanks to the wonder of YouTube, I tracked it down and re-watched it.

I kind of liked the thing back in 1996 with the original viewing.  I feared it would become awful with two decades under my belt.  Did it?

Umm . . . yes and no.

First, a basic rundown.  Star Command is meant to be a pilot for a series on UPN.  Written by Wild Cards and Next Generation veteran Melinda M. Snodgrass, it feels a lot like a Heinlein or perhaps David Weber story.  That’s not a quality judgment, merely a thematic one.

It’s a space opera setting where humanity splinters between Terrans and colonists.  As best I can deduce, the colonies formed their own government and broke away from Terran control.  Not a new space opera concept, but not the worst I’ve seen.  Both sides claim a rare Earth-like planet while they scramble for resources and war is brewing.

The story follows the crew of a corvette named Surprise with a training crew.  The Surprise flies into the disputed system for a scouting mission but gets ambushed by the rebellious colonist government, during which the senior officers all die–and rather quickly.  The ship is crippled but managed to land on a frozen moon and fake its destruction.  This leaves the cadets to stop the five enemy cruisers with their one corvette.

The good:

The writing isn’t bad.  Plenty of time-honored science fiction novel ideas are here which rarely make it onto television or movie screens.  Cliches become cliches for good reasons.

Melinda does her best to incorporate hard science fiction elements.  The ships have lasers and missiles–instead of phasers and shields.  Radiation screws up things.  And so forth.

The acting is passable.  It won’t win any awards, but I’ve seen worse.

The setting is interesting enough I wouldn’t mind more.  It certainly feels a lot more classic sci-fi than most science fiction movies and television.

Morgan Fairchild looks pretty good in this, even though she’s in her mid-forties.

The bad:

The special effects have not aged well.  They were passable for 1996, but . . . ugh.  Computer graphics have a short shelf life and these weren’t cutting edge in 1996.

The sets look like Babylon 5 rejects.  Actually that’s unkind to Babylon 5.

The costumes are . . . well, I’m not sure what they are.  The uniforms appear to be a combination of Next Generation and something from a 1960s Heinlein space navy promotional poster.

Morgan Fairchild dies very quickly.

The ugly:

The robot in it is like Johnny 5’s retarded cousin.  I get that they were trying to have a robot that looks like a robot, as opposed to a guy in makeup, but don’t try it without a budget.  Just don’t.

Overview:

So how does it stack up with my memory?  Better in some ways but worse in others.

I’ve noticed a lot of hate in several internet spots, but I don’t quite get it.  Sure, this jalopy is rusty and clunky, but not worth the disdain.  Perhaps I enjoy it more because I can see the designs and intentions behind the flaws.  This could have been a passable series.  Suppose Babylon 5 or Next Generation had been judged solely by their pilots? (shudders)

Is it cheesy?  There’s a bit of Cheddar.

Flaws?  Goddamn right.

Bad costumes?  Yes.  However, I did enjoy the miniskirts for graduation.  However, I enjoy miniskirts for virtually any occasion.

Honestly though, I’d rather watch this than a polished turd like Independence Day or its ilk.  I’ve had worse times.

Watch it and judge for yourself.

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Warstrider Series: An Unappreciated Gem

The Warstrider series entered by consciousness way back in the early 90s.  I only became aware of it because the author, a William H. Keith Jr., wrote several Battletech books.  Those Battletech books, while game books, were so outstanding I instantly started following the Warstrider books.

They didn’t disappoint.

The series begins in the 26th century, set in a future space empire ruled by Japanese.  The empire is strongly prejudiced against non-Japanese citizens.  Despite that, the main character, Dev Cameron, joins the Imperial Military.  He does so to help the reputation of his father, who died in disgrace during Imperial service.  This death happened in connection to a war against the Xenophobes.

The Xenophobes are an alien species which dwell underground on several planets.  They tunnel easily through the earth and consume any minerals and technology they encounter.  Ignoring all attempts to communicate, the Xenophobes annihilate all other life forms.

Dev enters into battle against these foes, first as an infantryman and later as a warstrider (mech) pilot.  The series starts out as a simple military sci-fi story of rah-rah action.  It doesn’t stay that way.

First, this is the first series I read that used nanotechnology as a major plot point.  Both the humans and Xenophobes (later renamed ‘Nagas’) make extensive use of it.  The implications of nanotech are explored in war, medicine and the nature of humanity.  There is a major power creep in the series, reminiscent of E.E. “Doc” Smith’s books.  Unlike Smith’s books, however, Keith does his best to maintain a level of hard science.  He approaches nanotech, biotech, virtual reality, mental links, quantum communication and even space and time warps with scrupulous detail.

Second to that is examination of political systems and how they might work (or not work) in a space civilization.  This was my first serious encounter with the concept of classical liberalism or Libertarianism.  It was also (at the time) dealing with the U.S.’s paranoia over the growing power of Japan.  Most of the action is between the breakaway Confederation and the Hegemony/Empire, rather than against aliens.

Third, it tries to approach alien mindsets, first with the Nagas and later with other alien races encountered by humanity.  In later books it deals with the concept of humanity’s minds interlinked through technology becoming a new entity.

Finally, it’s an outstanding war story.  Keith keeps the action going even when the methods and even the concepts of warfare change beyond easy comprehension.  He also keeps the stakes personal, even when all of humanity becomes a giant “Battlemind” fighting against a robotic group mind from the center of the galaxy(!) 

Keith’s work blew me away when I read it in the 90s and hasn’t lost its punch.  The concepts are pretty crunchy, but Keith manages to give the elements to you in bite-size pieces.  The technology is also a bit prescient, I think.  The potential of nanotechnology is staggering IRL. 

Warstrider is so layered, I can’t really do it justice in a brief review.  I recommend you check it out.  It’s available on Amazon, only now it’s under another of Keith’s pen names: Ian Douglas.

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