Monday, October 23, 2017

A Time to Rest

          What a great thing is this retirement business!  Having invested one's entire adult life in labors great and small, one then reaches a point where, unable to carry the burdens he or she has been asked to bear any longer, one is put out to pasture to enjoy a few good years free of alarm clocks, time clocks, rush hours, meetings, bosses, impossible projects, and unmeetable deadlines.  I never expected to retire, but I can truly say that if changing circumstances hadn't forced me into it, I would have gone to my grave not knowing what life was!  Presented here for your consideration, a few snapshots of my weekend.
          Last Fathers Day my son got me what is billed as a "steampunk blade," a short sword or long knife, as your preference decides.  The graceful blade is set off by rosewood grips and decor, there are two catch-slots in the blade to snag an enemy's knife and twist it out of his hand or snap the blade, and the hand guard makes a credible knuckle-duster if you're crowded.  If you look closely, you can see where he had "Blimprider," my sobriquet in the world of steampunk, engraved at the base of the blade.  The non-functional pistol, which is a Very-type launcher, is one of four I have received over a couple of years, and the only one without a stand, so I've been casting about for some sort of display.  The two items came together with a nice plank salvaged from an old TV stand we were showing the door, and this is the result.

           Looking at this has inspired a possible story about a meek bookish type with a secret life as some sort of goblin hunter.  Nice set of tools, I must say.
*          *          *
          My other great acquisition this weekend was XCom: UFO Defense, the greatest game ever made.  For those unfortunates who haven't had the pleasure, XCom is an old DOS game first released in 1994 for the PC.  It's available on emulator sites such as steampowered.com, and sells for a song.  The premise is that UFO abductions are real, and becoming more aggressive as a coalition of aliens prepares to invade.  You are the commander of a world-wide organization formed and funded to oppose their activities.  You decide where to put your bases for optimal coverage.  You decide what goes in them.  You hire staff, conduct research, and build new equipment, the fruit of that research.
          Once your base is up and running, and you can have up to eight, assuming you can produce the cash flow to support them, you manage every aspect from this screen while watching the radar for uninvited guests.  Here you can monitor your research, manufacturing, buy and sell equipment, and manage your all-important assault squads who will meet the invaders wherever they can be engaged.  Each soldier is rated in a number of categories, from the typical strength and stamina to accuracy with guns and grenades, morale, personal bravery, and reaction time.  You then have to compare all these factors to decide who carries the heavy gear, who scouts, who snipes, who kicks doors, and who handles the demolitions.
          With all these decisions made and your base construction underway, you will sooner rather than later sight an invader on the radar screen, and dispatch an interceptor to bring it down.  This usually succeeds (wouldn't be much of a game if it didn't), leaving you with a crashed UFO to deal with.  So you saddle up the troops, and send them off to war.  Arriving at the crash site, you'll have to find the UFO, and beat the bushes for an unknown number of little ragamuffins who are eagerly waiting to ambush you as you come off the transport.
          Sometimes you haven't shot down the UFO.  Sometimes it has landed to pursue some nefarious project, your satellite spots it on the ground, and the squad has to go break up the party with all of them healthy and fully equipped.  You'll find them on farms, in the suburbs, in cities, and out in forests, jungles, and deserts.  Oh, and on the frozen tundra at both poles.  They'll hide anywhere, in caves, storage sheds, stables, and on rooftops, and you have to ferret them all out, because the battle doesn't end until you get them all.
          One thing you can generally rely on is that at some point, you'll have to have to enter the alien craft to get the last few guys, and that never fails to be an exercise in tension.  Notice the black areas on these battle screens.  When you first arrive, the whole screen is black, except a narrow cone that you can see from the door of the transport.  Everything is hidden until you scout it.  Want to know what's behind that hedge?  Send somebody to have a look!  Their ships can range from simple scouts like this to four-level battleships that look like wedding cakes.  The aliens know every inch, and will use that knowledge to great advantage.  You can expect to have your fun meter pegged frequently, as is the case with that fellow with the yellow arrow over his head, who's just rounded a corner to come up nose to nose with a hostile Gray.  Later in the game they'll build bases that have to be found and eradicated.  Sometimes they'll send an assault team to try to eradicate your bases.  Eventually, if you're successful, you'll learn to interrogate captives and learn the location of their off-world base in the Solar System, which you have to destroy in order to win.
          But that comes much later.  As your squads battle the invaders and bring back more and more alien equipment, it needs to be researched, and the useful discoveries implemented in new and more effective gear.  Bases need to be expanded, newly developed facilities added, and all the while, the cockroaches just keep showing up to wreak more and more havoc.  Small wonder that one of the PC game magazines back in the day said, "If you don't play XCom, you aren't really a gamer, you're just some guy with a computer!"  I couldn't agree more.
*          *          *
          And that's what went on this weekend.  Two days.  And virtually every day has been a version of this for the last year and a half.  Retirement suits me.  I may be going to hell, but at least I'll have had this time in heaven!  So, how was your weekend?

Semper audax esse,
~ Jack

Saturday, October 7, 2017

Sixty-nine!

"You're as young as you feel."
                                   ~ SOME IDIOT WHO DIED YOUNG

          Today was, and still is, as it turns out, my birthday.  Having survived 69 trips around the host fireball with only a few really close calls, I feel like I've almost accomplished something.  It's next year that will be the test!
          I had a wonderful day, even considering the nap I took.  Two of my local grandkids made it over for a day of celebration, and to partake of the fabulous dinner the girls are preparing.  The granddaughters are at homecoming tonight, Venus's last and Angel's second.  Angel has to go, of course; she's one of the cheerleaders!  But my son, their dad, will be over as soon as he gets off work.  Family can't be beat!
          Breaking from the steampunk tradition of past years, there was a strong Viking theme to the presents this year.  They gave me a leather wristband with a copper battleaxe inlaid into it, a beautiful lacquered box with a Viking dragon tile set into the lid, and a shirt with a big Viking warrior holding up someone's head, and the legend, "THAT WHICH DOESN'T KILL ME...  SHOULD RUN!"  There were other things as well, but mostly what I got was love, just like always.
          Looking back over the journey, I see a life well-lived.  Some of the people I grew up with might say wasted, because I never reached the pinnacle of success.  I built plastic models for thirty-odd years.  I learned some good techniques, and presented in a few shows and competitions.  I had a set placed in the old San Diego Aerospace Museum.  I never became "America's Top Modeller," and had a photo spread in Fine Scale Modeller magazine, but you know what?  I had a good time.
          I was a wargamer for thirty years, cutting my teeth on Avalon-Hill's Gettysburg, and progressing through the hobby right up through the same company's Squad Leader.  I lost more games than I won, but some of those wins were spectacular, and made it all worthwhile.  I''ve led the Army of Northern Virginia up Cemetery Hill, the Afrika Korps across the Sahara, and ships of both sides into the dangerous waters around Midway, and I have to say that, win or lose, I wouldn't trade those experiences for anything.
          I've been an author of various forms and at various levels for 59 of those years.  I never achieved the success of a Stephen King or a J.K. Rowling, but I have books for sale on Amazon, and strangers have bought them and reviewed them favorably.  To me, that's success, and just the right amount.  I've proven I can do this thing that I love, and do it well, yet haven't had to give up any substantial portion of my personal life or private time.  Perfect!
          For fifty years I worked, nearly all of it in service to America, first in the Navy, then as a civilian employee of the Navy.  I am proud to say that I was loyal to my country when it was cool to burn draft cards.  Again, not the huge career that would cause you to find my name in the history books, but I always gave my best, and my only regret is that I couldn't do better.
          Most importantly, for over forty years I have been a husband and father.  I had to fight a street gang for my children, and a horrible, debilitating disease for my wife.  Together, we succeeded.  My children are successful members of society, and my wife is the respected matriarch of an extended family that spans half a continent.  You can do a lot worse than that.
          So here I am, not famous, not rich, not noteworthy for any particular accomplishment, yet I stand here proud and say I have had a very good life.  There have been heartbreaks, there have been setbacks, there have been tragedies, as there are in all lives, but we have met them all with courage and a sense of humor and perspective, and we have persevered and triumphed.  One thing I've learned through it all is that tomorrow's going to be another day, and all you have to do is be there to enjoy it.
          I could go on like this for hours, but a nice monologue slides into a boring sermon with startling suddenness, and I've made my point.  Be honorable, courageous, and seek the joy in all things, and though your life may not be perfect, you'll find plenty to appreciate.  Now that you all know the Great Cosmic Secret, go forth and conquer!  I'll see you next week.

All the best in all things always,
~ Jack