Starship Troopers as an origin thread of current Wargaming

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There is no doubt that Robert Heinlein wrote a masterpiece of science fiction literature in 1959 with the publication of Starship Troopers.  It is a military science fiction novel which is told in the first-person narrative about a young soldier named Juan ‘Johnnie’ Rico and his exploits in the Mobile Infantry, a futuristic military service branch of ‘The Federation’ who are equipped with ‘powered armour’. Rico’s military career progresses from recruit to non-commissioned officer and finally to officer against the backdrop of an interstellar war between mankind and an arachnid species known as ‘the Bugs’ and also ‘the Skinnies’. Rico and the other characters discuss moral and philosophical aspects of suffrage, civic virtue, juvenile delinquency, corporal punishment, capital punishment, and war.  It is a book of two aspects.  The first being the action and technology of the Mobile Infantry and the second being the structure of The Federation.  I will not go into detail about the moral aspects of the book as it is not my purpose here but I will say that I agree with many points the book makes (not all) and secondly to say that in a social media forum setting invariably makes one suffer from Godwins Law and when posting this article I am sure I will get the same.

I recently listened to the book as an audio through my audible account and it has been years since I last turned the pages of my own paper copy.  Critics of the book have a point when they refer to the lack of a dense plot and deep characters but there is no denying the success of the book much of which was actually to Heinlein’s surprise.  I agree that the plot is very thin but I think that it actually does not matter all that much as the career and thoughts of Rico are the prime mover in the text.  The purpose of this short essay however is not to discuss the book itself but more to see its influence upon the industry where I make my living; that of miniature wargaming and science fiction wargame rules.

It cannot be argued that Starship Troopers has not had a big influence upon science fiction in terms of books, films and more which followed it.  This was in the 1960’s with The Forever War by Haldeman and also Harry Harrison’s lower brow Bill the Galactic Hero both putting their own takes on Starship Troopers.  These served to flesh out and humanise the core ideas of the original book in different directions and indeed to this day authors such as John Scalzi pattern their tales upon Heinlein and his work.  A whole generation grew up with the book and then an Avalon Hill Board Game as well as early home computer games with the setting.  But it was in 1986 for wargaming in particular that arguably the greatest combination of events EVER for science fiction wargaming occurred with the release of the seminal Aliens movie.  Aliens directed by James Cameron riffs heavily upon Starship Troopers and borrows lines and concepts from it such as the infamous ‘Bug Hunt’.  This powerful combination locked into the mind of wargamers just want a possible future would be and to this day it is one of the most reliable narratives for scenario settings including the recent Osprey book Bug Hunts by Mark Latham which is literally this combination.

While there are other powerful combinations such as that of Dune and the original Laserburn into Rogue Trader one and the Japanese Anime Mecha into Techomancy one I would say that Starship Troopers and Aliens combine into the biggest for wargaming overall.  Powered Armour features very heavily in science fiction wargaming as does chisel jawed alpha men with no deep personalities both are from this start.  An alien enemy implacable and totally unlike us has a beginning in Starship Troopers too.  In fact Yoshiyuki Tomino, the creator of the mecha anime TV series Mobile Suit Gundam (1979)  cited Starship Troopers as an important inspiration. He coined the term “mobile suit” used to name the piloted mecha from the anime series as a reference to the novel’s own ‘mobile infantry’. All You Need Is Kill by Hiroshi Sakurazaka is a newer example. In direct terms the game by Mongoose Publishing in 2005 which picked up on the 1997 movie written by Ed Neumeier and directed by Paul Verhoeven license is the biggest thing done in purely wargaming terms with Starship Troopers.  Though I enjoyed the film the movie and the game have little to do with the original book.

For Science Fiction Wargaming two core aspects of the book shine through as pioneering.  The innovation of powered armour exoskeletons used by the Mobile Infantry. Suits controlled by the wearer’s own movements, but powerfully augmented a soldier’s strength, speed, weight-carrying capacity (which allowed much heavier personal armament), and jumping ability (including jet and rocket boost assistance), and provided the wearer with improved senses (infrared vision and night vision, radar, and amplified hearing), a completely self-contained personal environment including a drug-dispensing apparatus, sophisticated communications equipment, and tactical map displays. Their powered armour made the Mobile Infantry a hybrid between an infantry unit and an armoured one.  Wargamers adore all kinds of amour in this fashion.  The other core was that of space-borne infantry. The heavily mechanised units of M.I. troops were attached to interstellar troop transport spacecraft, which then delivered them to planetary target zones, by dropping groups of Mobile Infantrymen onto the planet surface from orbit via individual re-entry capsules. The uses for such a force—ranging from smash-and-burn raids, to surgical strikes, conventional infantry warfare, and holding beachheads—and the tactics that might be employed by such soldiers are described extensively and inspire wargamers.

Many wargame miniature producers make miniatures which borrow from Heinlein. Armoured Steel Gorillas as the novel puts it as common as ‘Power Armour’ or ‘Mobile Suits’ or ‘Battlesuits’ or ‘Dreadnoughts’ or ‘Mates’ etc giving a single man the mighty of a whole platoon of conventional troops.  I will not quote makers since there are too many and indeed some may not even realise the origin since as time moves on each subsequent generation borrows or is inspired by the last.  HALO with its ‘Spartans’, now a tabletop game by Spartan Games in the UK, owes its lineage to the Mobile Infantry in this sense.

I will say that my own creations in wargaming have been influenced by Starship Troopers though not directly up to this point.  I have made use of powered armour and of deep space transports to deliver soldiers to the warring front.  But in that I am common for this is the very crux of sci-fi to many.

In conclusion Starship Troopers is a vital thread to wargaming without which there would be a mighty big gap in both the technology commonly regarded as military for miniatures and games but also in the terminology and mindset of wargamers for the portrayal of alien life as a hive mindset.  In fact when you take out everything that came from Starship Troopers the cupboard is rather bare and barren.  The book is the origin and jumping off point for a thousand other works which lead us to now.

Thanks for your time.

GBS

Homage to Catalonia – George Orwell

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“I have the most evil memories of Spain, but I have very few bad memories of Spaniards. I only twice remember even being seriously angry with a Spaniard, and on each occasion, when I look back, I believe I was in the wrong myself.” – George Orwell.

I have been a long term reader and fan of Eric Blair (George Orwell) ever since I was a teenager.  Not the Orwell of 1984 or Animal Farm but rather the earlier man of essays and of books such as Road to Wigan Pier and Homage to Catalonia (not to mention the sublime Down and Out in Paris and London).  Time permitted me to read Homage to Catalonia over the last week during a time of great joy and a friend’s wedding celebration.  It is a book well worth reading if you are interested in several different aspects of life, politics and writing.  It is auto-biography, it is a war memoir, it is a social account and it is a man’s take upon the Spanish Civil War.  Read Orwell and learn about the workings of the world.  Here are some thoughts and if you want to get a copy of this book it is very easy (not the first edition above!) it can be had for pennies from bookshops and elsewhere as it has been in many editions.   My own is in the bin now, water damaged and smelly it was due for composting.

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Orwell went to Barcelona in 1936 to report on the Spanish Civil War. He was so struck with the progress of the workers’ revolution there, the camaraderie and the hope, that he decided this state of affairs was worth defending, and enlisted with a militia unit. His unit soon went to the front, where it stood nearly idle for several months and did little fighting. The unit returned several months later to what seemed like a different city, in the throes of inter-party fighting as the Russian-backed communists attempted to take control of the war effort. Orwell’s unit returned briefly to the front, but while he was hospitalised (due to a bullet caught in the neck,) its members were declared illegal, and he was forced to flee the country.

Most of us are more familiar with the Spanish Civil War through Hemingway’s For Whom the Bell Tolls. Unlike that novel, Homage to Catalonia paints an affectionate portrait of a brave, but naïve, effort that was doomed from the start by international intrigue. Orwell’s affable co-combatants are poorly equipped, crawling with lice, and little interested in fighting, which is lucky because they’re left on an immobile front where if the food isn’t great, the cigarette ration is at least adequate.

This book is indeed an homage, to a brief time in a small place where equality was real, but fleeting, and to the people who were there to live this hope. It also shows us the moments when Orwell became disillusioned with communism, leading to his best known works. (It may difficult for us to imagine, but we need to keep in mind that in the 1930’s, the violence and cynicism of the U.S.S.R. were still widely unknown, and there were many active communists all over the world.) Thus, this book, in addition to being highly enjoyable, is vital to understanding a mindset now remote and alien to us, and a time we mostly know nothing about.

The power of this book is in its indictment of the foreign press and the hypocrisy of international communism. Each did its part to muck up the war effort and betray the people it purported to defend, and Orwell explains as clearly as possible the complex international forces that wasted the war effort and opened the door to fascism in Spain.

Well worth reading and in case you wonder…the world is not so different now.  Be careful what second hand accounts you believe.

GBS

Review – Electronic Dreams How 1980s Britain Learned to Love the Computer

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Having gotten myself an Audible account and some credits I took a gander at the vast number of audio books in the purchasable range carried on the website.  This one caught my eye.  Not just as it’s title is the same as one of my good lady’s favourite ever movies but also as I was a fan of Clive Sinclair in the 1980’s…not that I knew his face or name…but I did have a ‘Speccy 48k’ and boy did I love it!  So what is Tom Lean’s book about?

How did computers invade the homes and cultural life of 1980s Britain?

Remember the ZX Spectrum? Ever have a go at programming with its stretchy rubber keys? How about the BBC Micro, Acorn Electron, or Commodore 64? Did you marvel at the immense galaxies of Elite, master digital kung-fu in Way of the Exploding Fist or lose yourself in the surreal caverns of Manic Miner?  For anyone who was a kid in the 1980s, these iconic computer brands are the stuff of legend. In Electronic Dreams, Tom Lean tells the story of how computers invaded British homes for the first time, as people set aside their worries of electronic brains and Big Brother and embraced the wonder-technology of the 1980s.

This book charts the history of the rise and fall of the home computer, the family of futuristic and quirky machines that took computing from the realm of science and science fiction to being a user-friendly domestic technology. It is a tale of unexpected consequences, when the machines that parents bought to help their kids with homework ended up giving birth to the video games industry, and of unrealised ambitions, like the ahead-of-its-time Prestel network that first put the British home online but failed to change the world.

Ultimately, it’s the story of the people who made the boom happen, the inventors and entrepreneurs like Clive Sinclair and Alan Sugar seeking new markets, bedroom programmers and computer hackers, and the millions of everyday folk who bought in to the electronic dream and let the computer into their lives.

I enjoyed the book and it expanded my knowledge greatly about the subject of micro computers but also of the social aspects of 1980’s Britain.  If you enjoyed Elite or Jet Set Willy or any of the other ground breaking computer titles of the era then you will enjoy this book.  Especially fascinating was the end of the book where the author lays out how the Raspberry Pi came into being and the Sinclair Vega too.  The world turns and turns again.  If anything Britain is more exciting now for computers and gaming in that manner than it was in the golden 1980’s.  Of course real gaming uses miniatures and books but every now and again I enjoy a game of Joust just like the next man in his late 30’s!

If you are at all interested in the subject I recommend this book and if you have some time also the excellent BBC documentary film of a few years back ‘Micromen’ which tells part of the story in a grand way.

GBS

My copy of Callsign Taranis for The Ion Age

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“This last decade has seen suffering on a scale not seen for centuries since the obliterating horror of the Aldan Crucible. In the twenty years since the murder of my father in rightful battle and following this my abduction as a child, Prydia has been aflame and never more so than in the this decade now closed. None know the true count of this conflict but it is in the billions of needless deaths. All these deaths needless and the result of the ambitions of the rebel barons and their leagues. Now, here, in the liberation of Bosworth IV we have reached the high water mark of the Leagues. They will rise no more. Edmund Bluefort, leader and lord of the League of Canlaster, is dead this very day in fair joust. With his death and the returning of this planet to freedom I send out this message across all the systems in the Precinct. Freedom is coming and the darkness will be lifted in the months and years to come. As long as it takes, you will all be liberated and returned to a worthy peace. Coming from the skies the red and white of the Prydian Army will drive out the rebel barons and their lackeys one planet, one settlement at a time. The flame that threatened to burn us all and reduce us once more to savages will be put out. Already it gutters and fails. That which has been ruined will be rebuilt and restored. Prydia is rising once more and now more than ever before we must stand united against threats that may come to us from beyond our own stars. This civil war will end!”
Princess Daphne Cyon addresses the Precinct from Zone 62 New Bosworth 4330 IC

My space opera setting just doubled in size!

You can read all about my latest book Callsign Taranis online on its page of the website. I am very proud of this expansion book and though it took longer than hoped or expected to chisel to a finished monolith it is now crossing the globe to all those who made the choice to order it up early. Thank you! I only wish to add some pictures here of what the book likes like internally. Its pages and their quality. We decided to get the book printed in Scotland and went for a high quality paper and bind meaning Callsign Taranis will stand up to the rigours of long term use by wargamers.  It is a thing of beauty and that is important and I think we will do this again.  It costs more and means we make less money but at the same time the customer gets a ruddy good product and we keep people in work here.  This also applied to the larger format pre-print with new cover art of the original Patrol Angis book to which this new one is the expansion sequel.

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“In Callsign Taranis you will find the expansion rules covering the use of Vehicles in play as well as Structures and other bolt on mechanics. There are also game statistics for the vehicles of the Prydian Civil War and additional skills, equipment and items for your troops. Following on from Patrol Angis is part two of the Prydian Civil War background. Also in this book is the Support Phase and the Between Games development of your forces. Rules for how to play larger games of Patrol Angis and how to generate random terrain. A bolt on section for Building your Forces with Vehicle and Mixed platoons. This and more all in a packed sixty four pages! 15mm Wargaming!”

The Ion Age is my own baby. My forth child as it were. It is by a long margin the smallest compared to Alternative Armies and 15mm.co.uk but it is growing and between myself and Sam Croes we are creating something special, something unique.

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I have made the choice that although I will not be posting much here on my own site I will be putting up short articles with my own look at some of the books and products I am involved with closely. What I have written or been impressed by. If you want to see what I am up to most every day then look to the right and follow me on Googleplus and or Facebook. My own site is for musing and mutterings beyond these.

GBS

The Quatermass Experiment – 1st Edition Paperback

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While out and about I managed to get a little steal of a book.  Its an original 1st edition print penguin from 1959 in excellent condition of The Quatermass Experiment by Nigel Kneale.  Its a script not a novel as the Quatermass Experiment was a six part ground breaking television mini-series in the 1950’s broadcast by the BBC.  For those interested in science fiction and especially British science fiction this series was vitally important for the future creation of not only Doctor Who but also films such as Alien and series like the X-Files too.

The book itself is not very impressive by modern standards.  It is very much a product of its times much like the story is.  Drab, plain and poor the book gives off an air of a time when things were grim and tight and also grey.  But it will be great fun for me to write the scripts for its been many years since I saw Victor Carroon slowly change into a monster.   I saw it on TV as a child of some ten years old back in 1980’s and its fair to say it left as big a mark on a young me as Robocop did and Aliens too but in a different way.  A creeping horror of change and alienation too.  The final cathedral scene I know almost word for word.

If you have not heard of or seen Quatermass then I suggest you do.  The book might be hard to get but the TV serial is out there and BBC4 made a single new episode in 2005 which is also very good.

I could not find another of this book for sale online at the time of writing this post but an estimate of its value compared to others of the time would be eighteen to thirty pounds.  So I am very happy and the book is an excellent aesthetic object too.

GBS

Paper Plissken is Mine!

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Its been a long search and at times a painful one but at last I own a paperback copy of the Escape from New York novel by Mike McQuay.   A close run thing (much like the Escape story itself!) with many bidders and a final price that might make you sweat but which is still less than buying a copy through a book dealer it has just arrived in the mail.  I will do a review of the book once I read it but you might ask for now..why are you interested in a novel about a film that is thirty years old?

The answer is Snake Plissken (played by Kurt Russell) the character has had a big impact on me for as long as I can remember.  Sure the film is a little ropey and in places it drags but it and its characters have real presence that many newer movies do not.   Snake is an anti-hero living in a nightmare police state future America with a military past hinted at and a fame that he does not want.  The book is meant to expand on Snake’s background and give weight to tag lines in the film.  I sure hope it does.  The novel is significant because it includes scenes that were cut out of the film, such as the Federal Reserve Depository robbery that results in Snake’s incarceration. The novel provides motivation and backstory to Snake and Hauk — both disillusioned war veterans — deepening their relationship that was only hinted at it in the film. The novel explains how Snake lost his eye during the Battle for Leningrad in World War III, how Hauk became warden of New York, and Hauk’s quest to find his crazy son who lives somewhere in the prison. The novel fleshes out the world that these characters exist in, at times presenting a future even bleaker than the one depicted in the film. The book explains that the West Coast is a no-man’s land, and the country’s population is gradually being driven crazy by nerve gas as a result of World War III.  Awesome!

I actually do have a plan beyond the obtaining and reading of the book and that plan is to try and get 15mm.co.uk to back my idea of more HOF codes that are suitable for the EFNY setting.  We already have the SFA which will stand in for the thuggish guards and we have HOF55 (pictured above) which will, with more packs coming this season, stand in for gangers in the prison city.  But we don’t have what I yearn for….a Snake for the nest.  A miniature like that could be put into many projects and wargaming settings.  Perhaps a Maggie and a Cabbie along with a Duke and a Hauk too.  Sometimes I get my way but with 15mm.co.uk’s customer base wanting it too…well perhaps this post will assist in that.  Email me on sales@15mm.co.uk if you are as keen as I am.  Eye Patches are cool!

GBS

Lines of Departure by Marko Kloos (Kindle) Review

Lines of Departure (Marko Kloos)

Vicious interstellar conflict with an indestructible alien species. Bloody civil war over the last habitable zones of the cosmos. Political unrest, militaristic police forces, dire threats to the Solar System…  Humanity is on the ropes, and after years of fighting a two-front war with losing odds, so is North American Defense Corps officer Andrew Grayson. He dreams of dropping out of the service one day, alongside his pilot girlfriend, but as warfare consumes entire planets and conditions on Earth deteriorate, he wonders if there will be anywhere left for them to go. After surviving a disastrous space-borne assault, Grayson is reassigned to a ship bound for a distant colony—and packed with malcontents and troublemakers. His most dangerous battle has just begun. In this sequel to the best selling Terms of Enlistment, a weary soldier must fight to prevent the downfall of his species…or bear witness to humanity’s last, fleeting breaths.

Back in late December the first book I read with my new Kindle was Terms of Enlistment by Marko Kloos.  You can read my review of it on this blog here.   I enjoyed it so much that I signed up for the pre-order option to get the sequel and it downloaded into my device on cue two weeks ago.  Now I have been so busy that I have only just now got around to reading it and I did so in two halves over some three hours.  I had been looking forward to learning what had become of the NAC, of Andrew Grayson and the Lankies.  Was it worth the wait?

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As is normal for me with my lack of free time the short answer is YES.  I enjoyed this sequel a lot.  I read it fast and with joy.  I would say you need to read the first book for it to make total sense, but you could wing it.  I will not give the plot away but there is action a plenty and though the plot is not as novel as the first book its tighter and Mr Kloos seems to have more fun with it too.  Go and seek it out if you like military sci-fi like what I do (see that professional grammer eh!).  It alternates doom laden depression with souring optimism on the part of the characters and this gives them more depth.  The Lankies are very scary if impersonal foes.   Get it from Amazon here.

I think that the author will craft a third book in the series and after the way ‘Lines of Departure’ ended I have some thoughts as to what will feature in it.  A doomed humanity, back against the wall, confined to half a solar system with an unstoppable enemy.  Seems to me that a miracle weapon will appear to deal with the seed ships and that freedom will come with a realisation of the nature of man.  After all you can’t argue with brute physics.  I am loving this hopefully now series of books.

GBS

Kindle to Datapad!


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I am not often overcome with an urge to carry out a silly joke but I did feel the urge to do so upon getting a Kindle for Festivemass.  After spotting a reduced price bright white silicon rubber cover for it I decided that if I got the cover it might well make my device look it a Datapad.  Daft I know but the children like it and it makes me smile!

You can read my review of my first Kindle read here. I will be reading more on my Datapad soon but first some DVD and print books to look over I think.

GBS

Terms of Enlistment – Marko Kloos (Kindle) review

It has been a dream of mine for a number of months to get a Kindle and be able to read all of the science fiction tales to be had through that device which are not availiable in paperback form.  Self Publishing, once the hated bastard offspring of the ‘proper publishing house’ is now in its own element.  It’s a digital age and the world has indeed changed.  I wanted to read of that change for myself and see if things ‘rejected’ by some would be good enough to entertain others.  I also know there will be a lot of let down and dross to wade through too but we can all enjoy that together.   This festive season my good lady surprised me with just such a device and once I had it set up my first port of call was to purchase the ebook Terms of Enlistment by Marko Kloos.  Having had two days off I managed to read the whole novel while attending to all the other madness of the holiday.  So aside from being my first non-paper reading experience in hand what was the book actually like?  Read on for my own review starting with a short web lifted synopsis.

The year is 2108, and the North American Commonwealth is bursting at the seams. For welfare rats like Andrew Grayson, there are only two ways out of the crime-ridden and filthy welfare tenements, where you’re restricted to 2,000 calories of badly flavored soy every day. You can hope to win the lottery and draw a ticket on a colony ship settling off-world, or you can join the service. With the colony lottery a pipe dream, Andrew chooses to enlist in the armed forces for a shot at real food, a retirement bonus, and maybe a ticket off Earth. But as he starts a career of supposed privilege, he soon learns that the good food and decent health care come at a steep price . . . and that the settled galaxy holds far greater dangers than military bureaucrats or the gangs that rule the slums.

I began by reading the ‘free sample’ offered on Amazon and this got my attention.  A few pages about Andrew Grayson, a street rat, a potential pointless hoodlum in waiting whose life is going nowhere.  His only chance to get out of the PRC is the army.  The book divides into three main parts and these are firstly the slums and military training, secondly military action on Earth and thirdly adventure among the colonies and a change of pace.  I don’t want to spoil the tale so I will keep it short and loose.  I thought I was reading one novel when I began and another when I finished and do you know what it was bloody good all the way through.  I could complain about typo’s and some editing (the gods know I get them too despite a lot of editing so sod that, it was not enough to spoil the story to any degree) and I could mention the boiler house dialogue in places (some reviewers did but to be honest it made me smile, I like this kind of character speak).  I will mention that the whole book is written in first person perspective and this is no mean feat believe me.  The author does this well and the character grows throughout the novel and you can tell by his mannerisms.   It is military science fiction and the combat scenes work well.  The technology is evident but not overpowering.  Infodumping is there but this is not a problem especially for first person narration.   Characters were well drawn and sparse where needed but rounded where required.  It kept me focused on it.   In short a novel that deserves success and will impress those who want action with a little social-economic thought too.

My opinions were actually mirrored in several of the reviews I read after typing this blog post and that made me laugh.  I will not hide the fact that I should and I could write a novel that would be good for fans of this genre but seriously folks take a dump or get off the can.  Snippy comments by those jade green with envy over another’s success (always success not talent remember that) on forums is just sad.  I tend to avoid comments and leave it with a blog review.

You can read an interview with Marko Kloos on Writers & Artists.  Well worth a read for me as it actually validated my thoughts on self publishing through Amazon to Kindle for the talented writers.  Lastly it also informed me of the authors new work Lines of Departure which is due out late January 2014; its been picked up by an Amazon inprint 47North so in  a way Mr Kloos is no longer self publishing!  Evident to this see below for the new (not designed by the author himself).  He has arrived!

If you like Military Science Fiction then give this a volley of shots.  Its a tungsten flechette of action packed fun that will lift you out of any crummy government apartment in the NAC for a few hours.  I have pre-ordered the sequel this afternoon.

GBS

50 Years for Who?

Today is the day, across all the multi-verses today is the day.  I have listen to, watched, recorded and sat the dark late at night to see all of the multitude of BBC programmes on TV and Radio to celebrate the 50th Anniversary of Doctor Who.  I could dribble on about the programme and about the books, the gifts and gadgets and the other items across the years that have form a part of my life from this mighty science fiction show.  But I won’t.  I will just say that since I was a wee lad its been a part of me.  I have gone to exhibitions, met the cast, got autographs and that is saying something.  I waited with the rest of my generation through the long 1990’s for it to return and it did in time for my own children.

From the brand new (tonight!) to the very oldest in flickering black and white Dr Who is a programme unlike any other on television.  Its fans and devotees among the best of Humanity (those I have met anyway) and its lore so diverse that it has covered more ground than any other science fiction series.  It has tackled issues wide and far.

Best Doctor….

So tune in tonight and if you are not in Great Britain then I feel sorry for you this time.  License Fee is worth it today!

GBS