Monday, October 10, 2016

Flag of Coptic Egypt

This is the flag of Coptic Egypt.  It comes from a world where Islam was never founded.  One of the many consequences of this was that the Byzantine Empire continued to prosper for a number of years.  Eventually, however, tensions began to grow within the empire.  Egypt began to fell that Constantinople was giving them the short end of the stick a bit too often.  Egypt's main grievances were increased taxes and increased tensions between the Coptic and Orthodox churches.  

After a brief war Egypt was granted its independence.  Despite this Egypt retains good relations with Byzantium.  It also maintains good relations with fellow Oriental Orthodox nations Ethiopia and Armenia.  Egypt has traditionally been a hub of trade, and following its independence work began on a canal in the Sinai Peninsula.  Egypt established traditions ports in India and China.  It also established colonies in Australia, which is known as New Egypt, as well as a few minor colonies in South America.  

The wealth from its trade and colonies has made Egypt as very rich nation.  People and goods from throughout the world can be found across Egypt's cities.  Currently their something of an architectural fad based around reinterpretations of Ancient Egyptian architecture.  Egypt also has a reputation for having some of the best universities and centers of learning in the world.  It is a nation which honors its past while keeping a eye towards the future. 

The flag contains a Coptic Cross to represent Egypt's Coptic faith.  The background represents the sands of Egypt, while the blue bands stands for the waters of the Nile River.  The writing is in the Coptic Script and reads "Jesus Christ, Son of God".   

My First Publication with Alternate History Fiction Magazine

It's finally here after forever and a day.  The premier issue of Alternate History Fiction Magazine is out now on Amazon Kindle, Apple iBooks and Nook.  The print edition is available as well.  It's only $0.99 for digital and $15.49 for physical.  It contains my alternate history flash fiction story "Ghosts of Athens" as the very first entry.  So, as per usual I'm going to tell you a bit about my story.

I had intended for my previous story "Happy Dominion Day" to end up in this magazine, but due to a mix-up it wound up in The Wolfian instead.  They are both run by the same guy.  However, had the mix-up not occurred I probably would have never written "Ghosts of Athens."  This story takes place in a world where Persia conquered Greece, and by the present day Persia is still a major world power.  It follows a Greek tour guide name Fazrin who runs tours the ruins of Athens.  He meets a Roman woman named Victoria and the two muse on how history might have been if the Greeks had successfully resisted the Persians.

It is, admittedly, similar to "Happy Dominion Day" in that it features people from an alternate world hypothesizing about the history of our world.  That said, I like "Ghosts of Athens" better as I feel that it is more polished and better realized.  It is mostly alternate history, but I snuck in just a pinch of magical realism for flavor.  As usual with these situations I was paid approximately $0.00, but at least it builds reputation.

So there you go.  "Ghost of Athens" is, I would hope, a very enjoyable story.  There's also plenty of other great alternate history, steampunk, science fiction and fantasy stories in the issue.  Check out Alternate History Fiction Magazine today.  I think you're going to enjoy it.


Sunday, September 11, 2016

Flag of the United Nations Mission in Cyprus

This is the flag of the United Nations Mission in Cyprus.  It comes from a world where the United Nations took a more hard-line stance on the Turkish Invasion of Cyprus.  United Nations task forces were sent in to protect Northern Cyprus against Turkish occupation.  At the same time, additional troops were deployed to protect Cypriot independence from radical elements within Greece.  Most critical of all, the UN Mission in Cyprus received military support from the United States.  It helped that the United States pulled out of Vietnam earlier than it did in our world, and thus wasn't quite as war-weary. 

Thanks to the United Nations' intervention Cyprus is a happily united and prosperous nation.  Greece and Turkey were both put on probation following the intervention in Cyprus, but they were eventually readmitted to the UN.  The United Nation would go on to institute reforms within itself following the events in Cyprus.  The main aspect of the reforms was that only true democracies would be given a voice in the United Nations; the organization would also take a great stance to promote democracy through interventions such as the one in Cyprus.  This stance resulted in fairer treatment for Israel and action against human right violations in the Middle East. 

The flag contains the light blue and white colors of the United Nations flag.  It also contains the outline of Cyprus and the nation's name in Greek.  

Monday, July 18, 2016

Movie Review: The Martian

Back when I review the book The Martian by Andy Weir, I said that I hadn't seen its movie adaptation.  Well I am happy to say that I have finally gotten around to fixing that problem.  So without further ado let's take a look at Ridley Scott's adaption of The Martian.

In the not too distant future the Ares III mission to Mars has had to return Earth prematurely due to surprise dust storm.  Unfortunately, Mark Watney has been left behind because everyone assumed that he died during the storm.  Now it's going to take everything Mark's got and then some to stay alive, reestablish contact with mission control and get back to Earth.

So how well does the plot stack up to that of the book?  It does an absolutely beautiful job of preserving and replicating the book's plot.  Sure, there were a few scenes cut here and there, but that was to make things more streamlined and better fit the medium of film.  The biggest changes were to a few character.  In the book Mission Control was run by Venkat Kapoor, an Indian-American man.  In the movie we have Vincent Kapoor, who is half-Black and half-Indian.  Originally, an Indian actor had been cast in the role, but he had prior obligations in Bollywood.  So they cast Chiwetel Ejiofor at the last minute.  

In the book minor character Mindy Park was most likely Korean-American, but in the movie she's played by a white actress.  On the more subjective side, Commander Lewis isn't necessarily described as ugly per say, but it is mentioned that Beth Johansson is the good looking one of the Ares III crew.  Personally, I thought that Jessica Chastain was better looking than Kate Mara, but that's just my opinion. 

Andy Weir has even said that he cried tears of joy during the first eight minutes of the movie because he got to see his vision come to life on the big screen.  Suffice it to say, he's very happy with how the movie turned out.  There's plenty of scientists who gave this film their stamp of approval, including Neil deGrasse Tyson himself.  It's really an accomplishment when you can get Dr. Tyson onboard with your film.  The Martian is easily Ridley Scott's best film to date.  

It even made it all the way to The Oscars and was nominated for best picture. It lost, but in The Academy's defense, Spotlight is a really good movie and more than earned its award.  That being said, The Martian did very well at The Golden Globes, BAFTA and the Critic's Choice Awards.  It even won best comedy, which is weird because it isn't a comedy.  Don't get me wrong it's very lighthearted and has many moments of comedy, but I wouldn't call it a comedy per say.  It is great that so many hard science fiction films are getting the recognition they deserve as of late. 

If I had one complaint it would be that the marketing campaign really did this movie a disservice. They made the movie look much darker than it actually is.  I mean, there are serious and dramatic moments, but on the whole it's pretty lighthearted.  Though I am happy to say that the misaimed marketing didn't effect the film's success in the slightest.  

I loved the practical effects involved with this movie, especially how much of it was filmed in Jordan's Wadi Rum desert for the shots of Mars' surface.  Though there were also plenty of soundstages in Hungry.   I also loved the way music from the 1970s was incorporated into the soundtrack.  Mark probably would have screamed his head off if he ever saw this movie, but I liked it.  The special effects were also really well done.  

I haven't been talking much about the actually plot, but I really covered most of that in my review of the book, so you can always check that out.  It is a really fun movie, the science is science is rock-solid and I'm glad I got to share this movie with my family.  Seriously, do yourself a favor and go rent this movie, or buy it if you're so inclined. 

This was a somewhat short and haphazard review, but I figured I should get something out after so long.  I do intend to review more movies in the future so be on the lookout for that.  Well then, that's all for me for now.  I will see you guys next time. 

Sunday, June 5, 2016

Flag of the United American Workers Republic

This is the flag of the United American Workers Republic.  It's ties in with the map I made called Red White and Blue, but Mostly Red.  It comes from a world where Theodore Roosevelt was assassinated early into his presidency and never instigated any of his reforms.  By the 1920s and 1930s socialist and communist movements had gained considerable traction.  Thing came to ahead during the Great Depression, and before long an all-out Second Civil War had broken out.  When the dust settled and the fighting stopped the United States of America had ceased to exist.  It its place rose the United American Workers Republic.  The new nation reformed American society along socialist and communist lines.  It granted equal rights to all citizens regardless of race, gender, ethnicity and (in time) sexuality.  

The UAWR fought against Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan during World War II.  It was also a key figure in the founding of the Japanese Workers Republic, the Socialist Republic of South Korea and the People's Republic of Taiwan.  It also supported socialist revolutions in Latin America, who retain strong diplomatic ties with their Tio Samuel.  America also provided support for Iran during their socialist revolution in 1954.  America took in several Jews to Alaska during World War II, so only two million were killed in the Holocaust.  Besides the territory that the USA does in our world, the UAWR also includes the Philippines, Cuba, Panama and Liberia.

Traditionally, the United America Workers Republic has been in a Cold War against the Russian Empire and the Franco-British Union.  In more recent times, however, the three superpowers are beginning to warm up to each other, and have become more like frenemies than outright hostile. On the whole the United American Workers Republic isn't necessarily better or worse than our America, but it is very different, and someone from our world might not feel very comfortable

Monday, April 18, 2016

Flag of the Kingdom of Jerusalem

This is the flag of the Kingdom of Jerusalem.  It comes from a world where the Crusades were a success.  The Holy Land was placed under Christian control, as were Egypt and North Africa.  The Kingdom of Jerusalem frequently changed hands between various Christian kingdoms, but eventually it was established as an independent kingdom in the same manner as the Papal States.  There was a movement to have the Pope and College of Cardinals to move to Jerusalem, and for a few years they did, but it was ultimately decided that Jerusalem wasn't safe enough.  Rome remained the heart of Catholicism, but the church still has several important institutions in Jerusalem.  Similarly, the Orthodox Church has a Patriarch of Jerusalem who lives in the kingdom.

As a result of the successful Crusades many Muslims fled to West Africa.  By the present day West Africa, and Timbuktu in particular, have become the heart of Islam.  The Christian kingdoms of North Africa tend to have Christian coasts and Muslim interiors.  Jerusalem and its fellow Christian Levant kingdoms are...well, predominantly Christian.  Jerusalem comprises most of the territory that modern day Israel and Palestine consist of.

For many years Jews and Muslims have faced discrimination in Jerusalem.  Today, however, people of all religions enjoy equal protection under the law.  Jerusalem has increasingly placed effort into making amends for the past. For example, the Dome of the Rock for many years had been converted into a church, but in recent times it was converted into a secular museum where everyone is allowed to pray.  

This is reflected by the symbolism of the flag.  Christian elements are still dominate, purple and gold represent both royalty and Jesus Christ, and a cross dominates the center.  However, the cross is an equal armed Templar cross the represent the equality of all, and the Stars of David and crescent moons represent the importance of Jerusalem to Jews and Muslims as well as Christians.   

Book Review: Childhood's End by Arthur C. Clarke

What book comes to mind when you think of Arthur C. Clarke's great novel?  Some would say 2001: A Space Odyssey and others might suggest Rendezvous with Rama.  For many people, myself included, the answer is Childhood's End.  As you maybe have guess that's what we're going to be reviewing today. 

The book is told over the span of 100 years and is divided into three parts.  The first part begins when humanity is about to take its first steps into outer space.  This is stopped by the arrival of an alien race, soon dubbed The Overlords.  The Overlords come in peace and have come to save humanity of nuclear annihilation.  They are lead by a supervisor named Karellen, and they keep their true forms hidden.  Fifty years later the Overlords are reveled to be demonic looking aliens from a distant planet.  Despite their outward appearance the Overlords prove to be as good as they claim and usher in a golden age for humanity.  But why are they doing so, and just what are their true motives?

Okay, yeah, it's next to impossible to talk about Childhood's End without spoiling most of the plot.  Not that I was ever stop by spoilers before, but there you go.  But before we get into all of that I'm sure there's a few other things that we can talk about.

Childhood's End was published in 1953 and is based upon Clarke's 1950 short story "Guardian Angel".  In fact, the first third of the novel is basically a rehashing of "Guardian Angel".  It's sorts of like how 2001: A Space Odyssey is an expansion of Clarke's short story "The Sentinel".  Also, while we're on the subject, Clarke was knighted shortly before is death in 2008, so it's Sir Arthur C. Clarke to all of you.  

I listened to this book shortly after having finished Rendezvous with Rama.  I found it interesting that they're almost mirror images of each other.  Rendezvous with Rama emphasized the wonder and grandeur of its science fiction world, but was a bit lacking with regards to the human element.  It was also quite heavy on the science, but a bit light with regards to what exactly Rama was and what purpose it served.  By contrast, Childhood's End did a good job of balancing the human element with the spectacular and grandeur.  You'd better believe we get some answers to why the Overlords have come to Earth, and we'll get to the soon enough. 

I really liked the point of view the novel portrayed.  We see the benevolent alien invasion from the perspectives ranging from a world leaders to average people.  It goes back to what I said about Clarke doing a good job of balancing the human element with the fantastical.  We even get to see certain parts from the Overlords' point of view.  

Now we get into the really spoilery stuff.  So turn away if you don't like that sort of thing.  Okay, so why did the Overlords come to Earth?  They are servants of an entity known as The Overmind.  I can best describe the Overmind as the collective consciousness of several sentient beings.  Apparently, after a species advances to a certain point they transcend their physical bodies and become one with the Overmind.  The Overlords' job is to help usher in that next step in evolution.  The Overlords do this because they are an evolutionary dead-end and can never be one with the Overmind.  

When I first read this book I assumed that humanity joined the Overmind because of something the Overlords did.  Then, a few days later, I finally got it.  Humanity evolving to join the Overmind was a naturally occurring process.  Had the Overlords not intervened when they did their would have been a nuclear war and the Last Generation would have been killed before they were even born.  The Overlords merely kept things peaceful so that evolution could take its natural course.  

The Overmind itself has kind of a supernatural vibe to it.  In fact, there's even a scene where character play with a ouija board.  Though they acknowledge that they might just be seeing what they want to see.  Karellen and his fellow Overlords reaserch quite a bit into psychics and the occult.  They call it humanity's attempt to understand the Overmind, though remark that it's tangled up in quite a bit of mysticism and other such nonsense.  Clarke, being an atheist, didn't intend for the Overlords to have an religious undertones.  In fact, the Overlords pretty much disprove all religions save for Buddhism.  Clarke did, however, write Childhood's End back when he still believed in the supernatural.  In later years Clarke would grow a bit embarrassed because of this.  

Oh, and why do the Overlords look so demonic?  Well it's not that they look like demons, but that demons look like them.  Humanity had vision of them that came from the future.  They were associated with the end of times, because that's what they helped usher in.  The end of humanity's existence as a separate entity from the Overmind.  As a side note, they only kind of vaguely look like demons.  Remember, they're the product of a different evolutionary history than that of life on Earth.  Also, their home planet has lower gravity than Earth so they use their wings to fly everywhere. 

Being the classic it is, Childhood's End has proved extremely influential among other works of science fiction.  Works which reference or homage Childhood's End include, but are not limited to: Neon Genesis Evangelion, Independence Day, Stargate SG-1, Xenogears, the Genesis song "Watchers of the Skies" and Pink Floyd actually wrote a titled "Childhood's End".   

For those of you who prefer audiobooks there is an audio version narrated by Eric Michael Summerer.  It also includes and introduction by award winning author Robert J. Sawyer.  Robert is one of my favorite science fiction writers, and it's always a joy to hear from him.  When talking about how great Childhood's End is he made a really interesting point.  He said that perhaps humanity's childhood will end when we stop hoping for men from the sky to save us and instead work to save ourselves.  It's a powerful statement and certain make great food for thought.

As you probably know SYFY, formerly known as The Sci-Fi Channel, created a miniseries adaptation of Childhood's End.  I haven't seen it yet, but I plan.  So expect a review of that sometime soon.  The miniseries is part of the reason I finally got around to listening to the book.  As I ranted in my World War Z review, I simply cannot stand tie-in covers.  I know this may seem petty, but with physically books if you don't like the cover you can just buy a copy with a cover more to your liking.  You don't have that option with audiobooks.  You get one cover, take it or leave it, and if it changes to the movie tie-in you're out of luck.  

Thankfully, Childhood's End has avoided this fate.  Plus it's not like Audible always switches to the movie tie-in.  I'm forever thankful The Lightning Thief and The Sea of Monsters dodged that bullet.  Still, it's always something you have to worry about in these situations.  Better safe than sorry is all I'm saying.

Still, even without all of that I still probably would have listened to the book around this time.  It was on my to-read list for a while.  It's a classic science fiction novel, and I think it's Clarke's personal best.  As a bonus tidbit, it won the 2004 Retro Hugo Award for Best Novel.  It's well respect for a reason, so check it out for yourself.  

Well that about does it for me from now.  I will see you guys next time.