Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Book Review--William Shakespeare's The Empire Striketh Back

Ian Doescher hath strucketh again! 

I finally got around to reading his book  William Shakespeare's The Empire Striketh Back, which my wife bought me for Christmas.

This time, The Empire Strikes Back gets the Shakespearian-spin treatment.

To which my feelings for Doescher's latest pastiche mirror my initial feelings towards William Shakespeare's Star Wars: Verily, A New Hope.

Illustrations by Nicolas Delort abound.

(Image from The Empire Striketh Back, page 152)

However, the author incorporated some changes in Striketh since Verily was published. 

The first change is, the role of the Chorus is reduced in favor of the panoramic action being described by one of the main characters in soliloquy form. 

The second is speaking roles were given to non-speaking "characters," primarily the Wampa, the Exogorth and yes, even the AT-ATs.

I actually learned something from this aspect of the story:  I didn't know what the giant, asteroid-dwelling space worm was called until I read this book.

The final change is the deviation from iambic pentameter by some of the characters.  Specifically, Boba Fett speaks in prose, reflecting Shakespeare's technique of representing the low-born. To reflect Yoda's speech pattern, the author utilized Haiku

The Empire Striketh Back is available on, where it's earned an average 4.7 out of 5-stars.  Since I like this book as much as I did Verily, A New Hope, I'll give this one a 4-star rating.

However, I'm not well-versed in Shakespearian verse, beyond the smattering of plays we read in high school.  So the longest 3-star rating by Phil Keeling caught my attention.  While Phil liked the book, he felt the author spent too much prose in a "did-you-get-this-Shakespearian-reference" manner.

The Empire Striketh Back also gets favorable reviews on Goodreads and Barnes & Noble.

One of the problems I had reading Shakespeare was having to flip through the plethora of footnotes explaining all the obscure facts, customs and references.  I had no such problem reading The Empire Striketh Back, because I've seen the original movie numerous times which made it easy for me to mentally visualize the story.

So this book would make a good gift to Star Wars fan familiar with Shakespeare, or a Shakespeare fan familiar with Star Wars

The full line of Shakespearian Star Wars books are, or will be, available through Quirk Books.

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Examining Current Works-in-Progress

(A self-standing magnifying glass to aid my aging eyes)

Like most wargamers, I have a lot of figures to paint and/or assemble.  As part of my "Studio Expansion," I managed to put most of the unpainted/unassembled figures into one storage bin.

(My Box O' Projects)
In addition to the boxes of Warhammer 40K figures, the box contains several pounds worth of micro-scale miniatures, ranging from fantasy and sci-fi, to World War II and modern; along with a handful of 25mm historicals.
Five years ago, I began my wretched hive project.  This now consists of several one-story buildings of scum and villainy.  Several weeks back, I stumbled across larger storage trays that will make suitable three-story buildings.

(Top edges trimmed off the storage trays from Walmart)
These buildings have now been primed and I still had some textured paint left over.  Unfortunately, the spray cans were all clogged, so I'll have to purchase new ones.
I haven't had any problems with my old non-textured paint--yet--and I resumed my 6mm terrain board terra-forming project. 
(My 6mm Terrain Board #5)
I'm currently working on the fifth board.  This is the last piece featuring the river.  After I complete this, I'll have one last piece to renovate.
(Another view of Board #5)
I'm always frustrated that my gaming projects seem to move at glacial speed, no matter how much time I have available to devote to them. 
The same goes for my writing projects.
I'm sure I'm not alone in feeling this way.
I guess you can't rush the creative process.

Friday, June 19, 2015

Bare Bones Impulse Purchases

One of the hazards of wargaming is impulse buying. 

Several weeks ago, I stumbled across some Bones Figures by Reaper Miniatures while browsing through the Game On! store I ventured in to.

I happened to like some of the figures, along with a loose assortment of D&D Miniatures they had.  So I bought them with little consideration about integrating them into my current collection.

Miniatures need to be painted and the folks at Reaper, of course, recommended their own line of paint.  During my Enfilade Final Hour Fly-By, I picked up a starter paint kit from a vendor in the process of packing.  (I'm afraid I didn't catch their company name).

While I can't remember who I bought the paint kit from, I do know the good folks and regular Enfilade attendees at Monday Knight Productions.

I can't remember an Enfilade where I didn't buy any of their 1/285th-scale buildings. 

This year was no different, and I purchased several items that caught my interest. The items pictured above included animal pens, a power generating station and a middle eastern village.

Now all I have to do is paint all this stuff...

Thursday, June 18, 2015

The Bicentennial of the Battle of Waterloo

(Image from Oceans Bridge)
The "Horse & Musket" Era is my favorite period of history.  The pinnacle of this point in time for me is the Napoleonic Wars.  Basically warfare just before the Industrial Revolution took off.

Today historians, re-enactors and wargamers celebrate the 200th Anniversary of the Battle of Waterloo.  (The dual prelude battles of Ligny and Quatre Bras occurred two days prior to today).

This final battle of the Napoleonic Wars manages to earn entry into many "most decisive battles" lists.  Not all of them to be sure, but many of them and for good reason:  It cut down Napoleon's comeback to about a hundred days (111 to be exact).

(Image:  The situation at 6 PM, from Great Military Battles)

Last year, one wargamer, Steve St. Clair, made the news for his quest to re-create the Battle of Waterloo with 250,000 six-millimeter figures.  Meanwhile, Canada's Military Museum's will be hosting a "hands-on" Waterloo Project invloving a "mere" 10,000 figures.

A more life-like project has also been underway.  With the help of re-enactors, photographer Sam Faulkner attempts to picture what the Battle of Waterloo really looked like.

There's books galore, both fiction and non-fiction, one could read, not to mention 1970 film by Dino De Laurentiis

I practically wore out my VHS tape watching this movie.  Unfortunately, according to one reviewer on IMDb, there's no plan yet to put the movie on DVD here in the US.  Which is too bad, because this would be a great moment to release it.

Despite the lack of a Waterloo DVD, there are plenty of alternatives to read, watch, re-enact, wargame, and otherwise learn about the great battle that occurred 200 years ago.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Family Emergency/Last-Minute Cross-Country Trip

I've been off-line for the past several days. My mom passed away just over a week ago.  I got "the call" from one of my sisters when I was on duty. Fortunately, the folks my wife & I worked for (WA State Emergency Management and Alaska Airlines) pulled out all the stops to send us back to my hometown of Binghamton, in Upstate NY.

We didn't make the wake, but were in time for the funeral mass at Saints John and Andrew Church.
I didn't post anything earlier for two reasons.

One, is that I was simply too busy at work and then preparing for cross-country travel. Second, I don't like broadcasting impending travel plans on social media. In fact, when we returned late Monday night, we discovered my wife's car was broken into while at the park & ride. Fortunately the thieves didn't follow-up and break into our house. (I've heard reports of crooks breaking into cars just to get the addresses of the drivers so they can break into their homes). Fortunately, our house was secure, but we weren't expecting to call-in a police report and schedule an auto-glass appointment when we got back.

But, despite the circumstances, there were a couple silver linings surrounding this trip.

The First Layer of the Silver Lining was that I had a chance to see all my siblings. Like most families, it's difficult for all of us to gather, unless it's a significant event, like weddings and funerals. The Second Layer of the Silver Lining was a chance to see most of our friends from a family that lived one house up from ours.  (Or for all intents and purposes "next door").
There are six siblings in this family and we all grew up together--and more often than not--got in trouble together. Our respective moms were friends as well. Their mom passed away 11 months ago, and the siblings still in the local area attended our mom's wake and/or funeral.

Not only were our "K-12 Friends" the last to leave the reception, but we got together the following night at their mom's house, now up for sale, in The Old Neighborhood.

We spent our time lounging in the backyard, reminiscing and catching up.  In fact, the radio station we were listening to, WAAL 99.1 ("The Whale"), is now plays classic rock.  So we heard the same songs we did during our collective childhood/adolescent years.
When I think about my youth, I like to say: We didn't just watch The Little Rascals (aka Our Gang)--we lived it!

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Studio Expansion

A lot of Life Changes has occurred on the "deck" of Stern Rake Studio these past two years. 
First, my wife's job allowed her to work from home.  Then my daughter and her boyfriend moved-in and stayed with us for over a year.  During this time, my wife moved her work station into the studio, so things have been rather cozy for us.
When my daughter and boyfriend moved out, we rented a storage/shipping container for them to take all the furniture we set aside for them.  Now we have a spare room and more open space in the garage--although still not enough to park one of our vehicles.
So Stern Rake Studio has re-expanded.
My wife re-arranged the garage, and our spare room into sitting/hobby room for both of us.  There's still enough floor space in the Sitting Room to place a portable mattress for the occasional house guest. 
The above picture is of the surviving half of my old desk underneath some shelves.  This now serves as a paint station.
Here's a few more picture's of the Studio expansion:

Paint, glue and Flocking storage:  To the left is my collection of acrylic paints in the desk drawer.  On the right is a partial view of a roll-away shelf where I store spray paint, glue and terrain flocking
In the Sitting Room:  My well-used (or abused) folding table, which I use as another work station.
The Sitting Room Closet:  Has given me additional space to store games, miniatures and terrain that were previously on a utility shelf in the garage.
Now that the Studio "deck is cleared for action," I've started chipping away my unfinished pile of metal, plastic and cardboard. 

Monday, June 1, 2015

Movie Review--Marvel Movie Marathon, The "Punishing" Finale

(Image:  The Punisher Logo)
Originally, I was going to write my Marvel Movie Marathon as one blogpost.  But as I neared the end, I felt the darker, non-superhero nature of the last two movies deserved a review of their own.

 Movie #5 was...

(Image:  The Punisher 2004 movie poster)

In this origin story, mob boss Howard Saint's son gets himself killed in an FBI sting operation headed by soon-to-be-retiring Agent Frank Castle.  Saint orders his mooks to kill Frank, but his wife demands the entire Castle Clan be exterminated while attending their family reunion. Frank is left for dead, but recovers, and sets out to bring down not only his Motivational Nemesis, but his entire criminal empire.

The film deviated from the original source material in a number of ways. 

First of all Frank and his wife had two children, a son and daughter.  All of them were killed when they witnessed a mob hit.  But in this movie, Frank only had one son, but the family body-count was much higher.

Second, the action took place in Tampa, Florida, and not the Punisher's usual hunting ground of New York City.

Despite these deviations, I liked the film and thought it deserved a solid 3-star rating.

As for my final "punishing" review:  What started off as a sequel in the development stage, turned out to be the reboot known as... 

(Image:  Punisher: War Zone movie poster)

War Zone begins InMediasRes, along with returning to its New York City roots.  That is, it's been several years since Frank's was killed, which is depicted in flashback images.  Frank takes a "Ten Minute Retirement" when he learned he accidentally killed an FBI undercover agent during his one-man raid on a mob family gathering.  He's convinced to "return to duty" by his ally Microchip, he sets out to protect the widow and her daughter from the bad guys he didn't kill in the opening scene.

This movie is not for the faint-of-heart:  Mooks are mowed-down in blood-splattering droves throughout the film.

Even though Punisher: War Zone was a box-office bomb, I liked the film and rate this one as 3-stars, despite not being a date movie, or family-friendly film.

I'm not alone in my admiration for The Punisher.  Most guys who are, or have been, in the military can identify to some degree with Marvel's main vigilante.  The most notable military fan was Chris Kyle, a.k.a. American Sniper

Picking Between the Punishers:

At the risk of hedging my bets, I liked both movies in near-equal measure.

Thomas Jane did a great job of portraying Frank Castle in 2004 film.  The cunning way he waged his war against the bad guys who killed his family is known as The Batman Gambit.

On the other hand, I'm a fan of Ray Stevenson and thought he evoked more feelings into his performance in Punisher: War Zone, than perpetual vigilantism.  I thought his scenes with the widow were especially moving. 

There are actually three feature-length Punisher films available.  The one I haven't seen is the very first one, produced in 1989.

(Image:  The Punisher 1989 movie poster)
But based on the smattering of reviews I've read about this near stillborn franchise film, I feel I'd be okay skipping it.

(Image from:  Comics A Go-Go)
 In Comic Book Movie's Who Was the BEST Punisher? poll, Thomas Jane is the clear favorite (62%) with Ray Stevenson coming in a credible second (30%) and Dolph Lundgren lagging in last place (7%). 

Saturday, May 30, 2015

Marvel Movie Marathon, Part 1

(Image:  Marvel Movies)

For the past handful of days I've been binge-watching Marvel Movies.

Normally, I'd post individual movie reviews.  However, after watching half-a-dozen movies straight and being way behind on my webcomic and wargame projects, I'm feeling both overwhelmed and lazy.

So for this post I'll just write a few lines about each movie, consisting of each movie's plot synopsis, along with what I liked and where I thought the films fell short.

This post will cover the first four movies, which averaged 3.5 to 4-star ratings that I don't have any disagreements over.  My next post will cover the last two movies in this Marvel Movie Marathon.

For now, I'll start things off with:

(Image:  Guardians of the Galaxy)

In this fun flick, a ragtag bunch of misfits try to keep an artifact of doom, in the form of Infinity Stone from falling into the hands of Ronan the Accuser, who decides to defy his boss Thanos.

I loved the Awesome Mix Vol 1 soundtrack, which I've heard some say make the movie.  On the flip-side, I thought the badguys/badgirls were too melodramatic, as if they were participating in a World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) match, instead of implementing galactic conquest.

(Image: X-Men: Days of Future Past)
While the Guardians of the Galaxy are groovin' to 70s music, the mutants face extinction sometime in a Bad Future.  As the Sentinels close-in, Wolverine's consciousness is sent time travelling back to 1973, to prevent shape-shifting Mystique from assassinating the Sentinel creator.


Because Mystique gets captured and her DNA was used to create the Sentinels.

When all is said and done, Wolverine wakes up to find himself back at Professor Xavier's School for Gifted Youngsters as he did during the first X-Men movie, but is now the only one who remembers what happened.  Even the characters who were killed-off in the previous movies are "brought back to life."

Time travel appears to be movie studios method of choice to reboot a franchise.

(Image: Captain America: The Winter Soldier)
Wolverine isn't the only fish out of temporal water.  While still getting use to life in the 21st Century, Captain America finds himself ensnared in a conspiracy.  He and Black Widow discover their employer S.H.I.E.L.D. has been thoroughly penetrated and compromised by HYDRA

In order to destroy HYDRA, our heroes and their allies are forced to bring down S.H.I.E.L.D. as well.

This movie's central theme centered on the dilemma of freedom vs. security, or who watches the watchmen? 

(Image: Thor: The Dark World)
While S.H.I.E.L.D. and HYRDA lay in ruins--for now--Thor's love-interest, Jane Foster, finds herself teleported to the dark world of Svartalfheim, accidently opens the Sealed Evil in a Can and is possessed by "The Ether."

To stop Malekith the Accursed (presumed dead) and his dark elf mooks (presumed extinct); Thor, Jane and their pals on Earth and Asgard, spring Loki from prison and attempt to thwart the impending World Wrecking Wave from braking over the Nine Realms.

I don't have any patience for recurring villains, but Loki is the most entertaining-but-exasperating of the Marvel Studios cast-pool.


I enjoyed all four movies and they did well enough at the box office that sequels are in the making.

Now all I have to do is get around to seeing the movie Avengers: Age of Ultron, along with the TV Shows Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D and Agent Carter.

Friday, May 29, 2015

A Wargame Convention's Final Hour

Even though I was scheduled to work this past Memorial Day Weekend, I still registered for this year's NHMGS Enfilade!

This years game theme was:

The problem was, I was scheduled for night shift and there was more than the usual two-man crew scheduled to work day shift.  So it was impossible for me to switch with someone, as I did a few years ago.

But my cunning plan was to catch the final moments of Enfilade to check out the games, the vendors wares and pick over the remains of our group's famous Bring & Buy (B&B).

My morning nap was longer than I anticipated, plus I needed to refuel my Jeep and grab something to eat.  During this side trek, I realized I forgot my wad-o-cash, so had to divert back home.

By the time I arrived at the Red Lion Inn (Olympia), I literally caught the final hour of Enfilade.

And I do mean literally literally.

The Registration Desk and the B&B had shut down operations.  In order to get my t-shirt I had to chase down Al, who ran Registration.  He was willing to re-reimburse me $20, but I counter offered that I'd take an Enfilade! hat instead.

While I was disappointed on missing the B&B, I managed buy some micro-scale terrain from the Monday Knights.  I also bought a bunch of latex roads to replace the ones that mysteriously turned to goop as if it came through a malfunctioning Transporter Beam.  The manager (I'm afraid I didn't get his name), was very understanding.  He assured me they're now using a different goop-resistant latex, tossed-in a couple free roads, and shaved my Road Reconstruction bill down to an even $40.

I stumbled across a Reaper Miniatures Learn to Paint Kit from another vendor in the process of packing-up.  Since I bought a handful of Reaper's Bones Miniatures, I figured I needed all the help I could get at painting them to a decent level, so I purchased the kit before it was packed away.

My Final Hour Fly-By wasn't just a shopping spree.  I met my fellow NHMGS pals Gene Anderson and Scott Murphy, and spent some time chatting with them about this year's convention.

Even if I managed to arrive earlier than I did, I knew I wasn't going to be able to participate in any gaming.  However, I figured I could make a nuisance of myself and snap some pictures of Enfilade 2016's Final Hour.

Here's a glance at my walkabout:

Down-to-the-Wire Gaming, Part 1.
Down-to-the-Wire Gaming, Part 2.
DBA Action.  But are they using Version 3.0?
Bill Vanderpool orchestrates One Last Zulu Game.
The Siege of Castle Miser, by William Clark

"Once more unto the breach, dear friends!"

Scott William's The Curse of the Mummy reaches its climax.

David J. Kapaun commands the Sails of Glory mega-game, The Glorious First of June, 1794.

Ken Cassady signalling his teammates...

..."England expects every man to do his duty."
Ships of the line exchanging broadsides.

Players take to the air in Paul Grandstaff's Check Your Six, Cold War Battles

Scott Murphy introducing gamers to the Dark Side, I mean, Star Wars Armada.
"Rebel scum" attempt to take out an Imperial Star Destroyer.

Enfilade 2016 in the Works: 

I hope everyone enjoyed Enfilade 2015!

Dave Mebust uploaded an Enfilade 2016 on Facebook a couple days ago, so you can let folks know if you're planning on attending and can even send out invites to your friends.

Hopefully, I'll be able to attend for more than an hour next year.  

However, until my work schedule is finalized, I'm in the "Maybe" Category.