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Comics Review: Serenity–Leaves on the Wind

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Comics Review: Serenity–Leaves on the Wind #1-2 by: Zack Whedon, various

Review by: Prof. Jenn

 

…and if the title of the new comic series set just a little while after the events of Serenity doesn’t make you cry, go back and watch the whole series of Firefly, then the movie. Go ahead. I’ll wait. Tragically, it won’t take long…

Also: SPOILERS if you’re not a Browncoat, so be warned.

 

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The first two issues of Dark Horse’s new series Serenity–Leaves on the Wind takes up just a little while after Serenity the movie left off: River is still odd but much stabler in her new role as pilot, Zoe is about to have her baby (and is haunted by the ghost of her beloved husband), and everyone’s favorite Firefly-class ship and its denizens is in hiding. The ‘verse is reeling from the exposure of what the Alliance had done to Miranda, and rumors (and rebellions) abound. Some of the spunkier rebels will do anything to lasso Mal and co. into joining their cause, including conscripting Jayne (who’s not still on the ship but doing who knows what when we encounter him again, though apparently money still talks when it comes to Jayne) to run Mal to ground.

The storyline is engaging of course–I mean, who hasn’t been wanting to know WHAT HAPPENS NEXT in the ‘verse–and the dialogue is written masterfully, with that same unique cadence heard in the television series. The art is what I would call “posh-comic” style: a semi-realistic look with muted colors amid the dark outlines. Overall as a sweeping statement, I would say the series is very high quality, and is shaping up to be an excellent mollifier to all of us still wanting to live in “the black.” One teensy little nitpicky thing I can mention is that sometimes the characters don’t look, well, like them. It’s a tricky balancing act, the comic based on a TV show, as I’ve been saying about the Doctor Who comics: there’s a fine line between doing actor-portraits and just portraying the character himself. In this series so far, it works most of the time, but every once in a while when we look at Mal or Simon especially we get yoinked out of our suspension of disbelief. This is a minor point, however, in light of the exciting tension and warmth of character continuing in this series. I cannot wait till #3!

Side Note: such a cute moment when Zoe reveals what her newborn daughter’s name is. That scene could have been right out of the TV show, if it had continued (/sniff).

Bottom Line: This series is highly recommended, though I would not start on it till after you’ve enjoyed Firefly in its entirety, including the movie Serenity. You’ll get spoilers and just won’t understand what’s going on unless you do.

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Comics Review: Doctor Who Skyjacks and more

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Comics Review: Doctor Who: Skyjacks Vol. 3 by various

Review by: Prof. Jenn

This is a fun TARDIS-dimension-loop story which are enjoyable because of how timey-wimey theydownload get. This is an 11th Doctor/Clara story, and we get more about the Time War, information and fun images re: the various rooms in the TARDIS, and get to hobnob with some valiant WWII soldiery. There are various references to the previous Hypothetical Gentleman storyline, but not so much they’ll get in your way if you’ve missed it.

There’s an extra, unrelated story attached to this volume called “In-Fez-Station”, which is an 11th Doctor/Amy & Rory tale which involves the Slitheen, and mind-controlling fezes. Yes, you heard me, the fezes are evil. Or at least tools for such. Really bouncy and light-hearted fun after the epic, timey-wimey feel of the longer Skyjacks story.

Bottom Line: recommended, especially for fans of the 11th Doctor.

 

Bonus Review: Dead Man’s Hand #3 by various

Now I haven’t had the pleasure of catching the first two in the Dead Man’s Hand story, so admittedly I was a tetch lost re: who’s who and what’s happening. What I can say is that this is a fun romp in the Wild West with a meta twist, referencing Westerns all over the place. It does get a tad long-winded, as all the Doctors explain his philosophy to Sondrah. But oo, look: the War Doctor actually makes an appearance!

Bottom Line: definitely only if you’ve been following the story till now. But I do recommend it.

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Comics review: Doctor Who Prisoners of Time

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Comics Review: Doctor Who Prisoners of Time #9-12 by various

Review by: Prof. Jenn

The Prisoners of Time storyline that continues with the recent Doctors and concludes pre-Capaldi with a twelfth issue is a fitting and compelling cap to the story up till now. What has been highly entertaining about the whole series is the dedication of one “episode” each per Doctor, with a thrilling, classic episode-like throughline for the whole thing. In general, the stories are varied enough yet coherent to the throughline that it reads like an actual series you’d find on TV. The art is also varied as per each artist, yet maintains a high quality we’ve come to expect from the Who comics and again makes us almost think we’re watching favorite episodes on TV.

#9 is of course starring the 9th Doctor (and Rose). It’s a fun megalomanaiacal villain who captures Rose both as a selfish romantic interest, and to trap the Doctor. (Incidentally, is it me or are you sick of Rose as a romantic interest?) The art is very Lichtenstein, very cinematic.

#10 stars the 10th doctor and Martha, and is a charming story set in 1950s Hollywood, where Martha is recruited as an actress. Lovely cute moments, including one where Martha declares: “I’m acquainted with Shakespeare.” Ha! Of course, it’s an alien invasion of Earth. Because you can’t have too many of those.

#11 centers around the 11th Doctor’s climactic attempts to stop Adam’s machinations through time. At this point, Adam has captured all of the Doctor’s companions and it’s finally time to put a stop to it. Wonderfully dramatic moment when the villain pontificates (as Doctor Who villains are wont to do) on why he hates the Doctor so, and poof! Who’s he in league with? The Master! Thanks SEP130396-03to the artists for making him the Delgado Master, too.

#12 is the conclusion to the whole story, which I won’t spoil, other than in #11 the Doctor was posed with a moral conundrum and in this concluding issue must solve it. What I will say, though, is that this is the Three/Five Doctors episode all Whovians fantasize about, that could never happen on television: all 11 Doctors and *all* companions facing the evil Master in an over-the-top, dramatic showdown. All of them, that is, as we knew them on TV. In comics, apparently, one can time-travel just a little better than on TV.

Bottom Line: I recommend this whole storyline, but especially had fun with the conclusion.

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Comics Review: Doctor Who Classics vol. 9

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Comics Review: Dr. Who Classics Vol. 9 [by various and sundry]

Review by: Prof. Jenn

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The ninth collection of Classic Who comics are all centered on the 7th Doctor, which is a lot of fun, as he’s not one that often gets his own spotlight in fandom or on TV these days. Many of the selections are light, comedic, and sometimes downright silly, and all read like a good classic episode, which is really what you want out of a volume like this. In general, the art is bold and colorful, the characters well drawn–it’s a matter of finding the balance between representing a fictional character and having a good dose of the actor’s likeness who played him. Some of the time this illustrated Doctor doesn’t look much at all like Sylvester McCoy, but the overall light-hearted ness of the collection makes this not such a big deal. In general, I’d recommend this collection for any classic Who fan. Here are some notes on the individual stories within vol. 9:

“Time and Tide”

This one is a very Star Trek TNG style plot: do you interfere with the clues aliens to save them, or do you leave them to their fate? It’s a sweet little tale with a lovely ending, and it’s the kind of story I’m glad is illustrated instead of on live tv, as the aliens are allowed to look really weird without the jarring effect of a dude in a rubber suit (or CGI).

“Follow that TARDIS”

A futuristic world in which there are stereotypical ’40s gangsters and Sinatra is president? Yes, please. This is such a slapstick-silly romp: what happens when two hilariously inept gangsters hijack the Doctor and his TARDIS to chase a monk through time? And one of them has a hand-held nuke? Hijinks, that’s what.

“Invaders From Gantac”

The poor Doctor just can’t seem to find Maruthea. Poor guy. This one centers around an alternate 1992 dystopia, wherein aliens have invaded London. But the aliens have got the wrong planet, and it’s up to the Doctor to convince them of this. We have an endearing hobo character in Leapy, and  his function does end up being quite important, but I’m just not sure about his effectiveness as a character. He seems more of a punch line.

“Nemesis of the Daleks”

I’ve already reviewed one of the issues in this story, and my opinion of the whole rains the same, after it’s resolution, etc. so. Yeah.

“Stairway to Heaven”

Hm. This one falls short. It’s too much a redone “Carnival of Monsters” but without the suspense.

“Hunger from the Ends of Time”

The art in this one is much sketchier in the outlines than the rest, and it’s very pleasing to the eye. Also, you gotta love a giant library/giant bookworm plot! I mean, this is no Vashta Nerada, but it’s still an exciting one-off monster tale of huge proportions. “Sainted geeks preserve us” is something I will say from now on.

“Train Flight”

Yay Sarah Jane! Oo and we have a terror-on-a-train story, with squicky bug-like aliens! So very fun!

Bottom Line: this is a fun, rollicking collection. Definitely recommended.

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The Walking Dead 4.01 Review

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The Walking Dead is back! This is reason enough to celebrate, but it’s even more exciting now that we have seen the premiere episode from new showrunner Scott Gimple. The season 3 finale was packed with super-intense drama, but this new season isn’t picking up directly after the showdown with the Governor at Woodsbury. Instead, it seems like a month or two has passed since the end of the Woodsbury settlement with the Woodsbury survivors blending with Rick’s group. Everyone has a role in this expanded society at the prison and it seems like things are going pretty smoothly (for once). Instead of Dictator Rick, we have a ruling council that discusses the issues facing the survivors. Additionally, the roles that people have been assigned seem to suit them. Their manufactured society is functioning well, which takes pressure off of the individuals. There are enough adults so that not everyone is needed for high-risk ventures into the outside world. Glenn and Maggie talk about the possibility of having a child and a life at the prison, now that the environment is more stable. Even Carl is doing kid things like playing, reading comic books, and talking to other children.

The two big plot points of the premiere are Daryl’s group expedition to the big Target/Walmart type shop and Rick’s encounter with a stranger in the woods. It seems like Daryl’s competence is making the group more confident in their outside world maneuvers. The group’s trip to the store for supplies seems to go really well until newcomer Bob Stookey confronts his alcoholic demons a little too harshly in the booze aisle and causes the wine rack to come crashing down on him. Unbeknownst to the survivors but knownst to us, there are a good number of walkers on the roof of the store, along with a fallen helicopter. The crash of the wine rack attracts the horde and the roof gives up, causing the walkers to fall from the sky into the store. There is lots of head squishing, skin peeling and other awesomely gory gore. The cutie that Beth was flirting with gets eaten because that’s just how it goes. The crashed helicopter on the roof finally falls into the store basically ruining the good thing the survivors had going with this seemingly fully stocked warehouse store.

Back to Rick, who is now pursuing simpler goals like becoming a good pig farmer. He is taking care of Carl and baby Judith, still healing from Lori’s loss and his temporary loss of sanity. He encounters a woman while gathering things away from the prison. She’s a lone survivor and begs Rick for help. Rick, thankfully, is a lot more hesitant to help a fellow survivor than perhaps he would have been pre-Woodsbury. I don’t know why he chooses to follow her at all, but Rick is Rick and so he demands that if the woman and her husband want to come back with him, he has to meet her husband first. Big shocker: the woman is actually crazy and was just looking to feed Rick to her now zombified husband. Rick gets away and back to the prison where he reflects on how close he came to her fate. It makes sense that Rick would take pity on the woman and let her have her wish, which was to be with her husband as a walker. She was so obsessed with her husband’s fate that she gave up living for herself – literally – she kills herself in front of Rick. Rick realizes how close he came to losing it completely in the last season, and while he still can’t seem to catch a break, he seems to be more conscious of his health and his role in the group.

What I guess will be a major plot in this upcoming season is the mysterious disease that first took the pig and then the bespectacled youth. I don’t know why there wasn’t a scene with Herschel the vet checking out the pig before it died. This disease seems to act very quickly, within a day, starting with flu-like symptoms that worsen until the infected is dead. How this disease was introduced to the prison group should be interesting. Maybe it is a tool of the Governor, who is still lurking about. Maybe it involves the CDC somehow. Either way, I predict we are going to lose a lot of friends. I also predict that some characters will be conveniently immune to this plague.

This first episode sets up a lot in its 43 minutes, from subtle exposition to new dangers to our favorite group of survivors. I appreciate the showing rather than telling that is going on in terms of more subtle storytelling. I feel like the Walking Dead has become more intellectual in just that first episode and I sincerely hope it continues the trend. Lori and Andrea are gone, Tyrese is a member of the prison (and one of my favs from the comics), Carol and Daryl have the most adorable relationship ever, and Michonne has a cool horse and more screen time. I feel like it can only get better from here.

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Comics Review: Doctor Who Prisoners of Time V.2

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Review: Doctor Who Prisoners of Time Vol.2 by Tipton, Tipton, Bond, Ridgway, Hopgood, Langridge, et. al

Review by: Prof. Jenn

This newest collection follows a mysterious cloaked figure as he ports himself through time to snatch the companions of the 5th, 6th, 7th and 8th Doctors for some nefarious purpose known only to him. It’s a gripping opening sequence as we are walked through several panels of earlier companions, trapped and apparently sleeping, behind glass and fear for the upcoming companions’ fate while waxing nostalgic about the earlier Doctors.

The art in this collection varies widely between the various artists, as you’d imagine, but they’re all equally high quality in both story and art. Well, except for the last one in the collection.

I was delighted to see a story featuring the 8th Doctor–he doesn’t get nearly the attention he deserves in the expanded Who canon, and it was neat to see him pop up after 5-7, right in order. But the art quality of this one was too cartoony without being charming (especially after having enjoyed the previous selections), and the storyline was so cliched as to be eye-rolling.

Bottom line: It’s a great collection, the last story notwithstanding. I can’t wait to see what happens next!

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The X-Files 20th Anniversary

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Image Courtesy of SFGate

I was 11 years old when The X-Files originally aired on TV. The first episode I watched was “Squeeze,” the first ever and one of the creepiest Monster-of-the-Week episodes. I was actually way too freaked out by it to continue watching the series. A couple of years later, though, I turned into a super mature, emo, goth, Mexican teenager, so I gave it another shot and was immediately obsessed. For years, before they moved the show to the Sunday night slot, I would tell my friends I was busy every single Friday night, even when they aired repeats. I used to rent season 2 and 3 videos (yup, videos!) every so often so I could try to get my family into it. They got hooked. My brother to an annoying point, where he would pause my recorded VHS tapes to talk endlessly about those damn clones. My mom actually ended up coming with me to the theater to watch the movie. She might not want to know this, but I even used to make out to the soundtrack with my high school boyfriend. And no, I’m not embarrassed. My BBS handle was “Spooky” and, to this day, I can eat a whole bag of sunflower seeds in one sitting. Nowadays, I never fail to smile when I hear Mark Snow’s theme.

I’m not saying it’s a perfect show or the first of it’s kind. Its last season, unfortunately, is one I tell people to skip. But remember that The X-Files was on network TV, and it didn’t have the big budgets or shorter seasons Game of Thrones or Breaking Bad are lucky to have nowadays. The X-Files didn’t have all of these tools, yet it still ended up covering every single nightmarish subject imaginable. The show had it all: disturbed serial-killers, ghost apparitions in bathrooms, a deformed baby found dead after being buried alive. There were even more realistic nightmares with the mythology episodes. As I did with Q in Star Trek: TNG, anytime the Cigarette-Smoking Man showed up, I did the dance of joy because I knew this episode was going to involve more of the government conspiracy we all hoped would eventually be uncovered. As soon as Deep Throat, X or Marita Covarrubias showed up, I knew stuff was going down. Aliens! The mystery of whether or not we’re alone in this universe was fun and exciting, but I also think Chris Carter did a great job of harnessing our own paranoia over authority. Few of us really trust our government, and most of us are fearful of whether or not we’re being lied to and how much is being hidden from us. This has been and forever will be a part of life.

Finally, I have to point out that there is no TV relationship as great as Mulder and Scully’s. They were hilarious at times and had insane sexual tension, but what made them so special to me was that their love for one another was much bigger than romantic love. Their mutual friendship, loyalty and respect, that’s something that we rarely see on television between a man and a woman without sex getting in the way. Together, they went on a roller coaster journey where they continuously gained and lost faith in their own beliefs but never in each other, which is why I like to say: Trust no one. Except for your friends and family.

The truth is out there. Thanks to The X-Files for helping us try to figure it out.

@evildorina

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Book Review: About Time 7

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Book Review: About Time 7 by Tat Wood / Dorothy Ail

Review by: Prof. Jenn

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The About Time series claims to be “the most comprehensive, wide-ranging, and at times almost unnervingly detailed handbook to Doctor Who that you might ever conceivably need” (p.5). This claim is absolutely true–it’s exhaustive in its detail, backstory, commentary, critical analysis, and etc. of episode by episode. If you’re a Doctor Who fan, these are a way to bolster your nerdly knowledge (or at least solve arguments as a reference).

Volume 7 of About Time covers the very beginning of the new Who: years 2005-2006, Series 1&2. Each episode is gone through with a fine-toothed comb, one by one, with such discussion categories as: Which One Is This?, Catchphrase Counter, History, Deus ex Machina, Analysis, Continuity, and Things that Don’t Make Sense, among many others. There are also essays interspersed with the episode sections, which honestly got into a slightly annoying flip-back-and-forth-between-pieces like a magazine. It’s enlightening to know not only the TV production culture surrounding the creation of these eps, but also the actors’ backgrounds, combined with the connection of the stories and characters to the old Who. It’s a particularly nerdily useful thing when the author refers back to previous volumes so one can flip back and forth to see how monsters recur and evolve, how the Doctor has changed and yet stayed the same, between the old series and the new.

Bottom Line: I highly recommend the About Time series in general, and volume 7 is stellar in its detail.

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“Heroes of Cosplay”: SyFy’s “Toddler’s and Tiaras”?

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Heroes of Cosplay is the SyFy channel’s new series about cosplay competitions at conventions. The show follows a select few cosplayers behind the scenes of the competition into their homes, studios and their creative processes. Each episode centers on a different convention, and the cosplayers must create a new look for each competition. Cosplay, for those who might not be familiar, is short for “costume play” and it is the act of wearing a costume to portray a character from a work of fiction. These costumes are often hand made and they can cost hundreds (sometimes thousands) of dollars and hours to create. Some cosplayers like to get into character by acting like the character they’re representing. Other cosplayers merely create and wear the costumes. Either way, the cosplayers are judged on “presentation” during the competition, as well as detail and craftsmanship.

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The cosplayers the series follows are mostly professional and semi-professional costumers. Chief among them is the well-known costumer Yaya Han, who appears as a guest judge at each of the competitions in the series. She is introduced by her self-chosen title, “the Ambassador of Cosplay”, and she often shows up to give our cosplayers some (seemingly unsolicited?) advice, like a costumed fairy godmother. When I spoke with Yaya at SDCC, she stressed that the competitions were not rigged in any way to favor the competitors. Indeed, in the past two episodes, only one award has been given to any of the show’s stars (it was to Holly and Jessica for “best team” for their Dungeons and Dragons costumes). We see some of the creative process, though a lot less than I had hoped. There were some cool shots of Jesse vacuum forming his Steampunk Stormtrooper helmet, and a harrowing scene where Holly makes a head cast of Jessica to help sculpt her Tiefling horns. Most of the show focuses on (surprise) the drama and stress that goes into creating something on a too-short deadline for a competition.

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The show has stirred up controversy in the cosplay community. The initial excitement for a reality show based on cosplay and featuring some of the cosplay community’s most talented names has faded since the show first aired and has been replaced with… resentment, mostly. It’s what happens whenever an unelected elite minority is chosen to represent a population: rebellion. The show was marketed as a documentary style, and it does catalog events and interviews like a documentary, but it is basically another competition reality TV show. It was not made for cosplayers, it was made for the large, existing reality television audience. From what I have seen so far, it’s modeled pretty closely after TLC’s Toddlers and Tiaras. This isn’t a bonehead move for SyFy, since Toddlers and Tiaras is a massively popular show. It’s also not a show that was made for its subjects. I don’t know how the child-beauty-pageant-going community reacted to Toddlers and Tiaras, but I bet it wasn’t all positive.

The strange thing for me is that this is the first time I have been familiar with the work of reality TV stars before the show aired. I know some of these people, or have met them at conventions. I follow them on Twitter and Facebook. I know what some of them are really like. Watching their personalities edited to fit the reality TV model is totally fascinating. To say that the drama is all manufactured is as ridiculous as saying that everything on the show happened exactly as it seems. There is inherently drama that surrounds competitions, and cosplayers are no different. However, some of the perceived cattiness is definitely a result of editing out of context remarks together. Most of the time it’s pretty transparent.

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I don’t identify as a cosplayer, but I do consider myself part of the community. The cosplay community I know is mostly a welcoming, largely inclusive bunch that will tell you to wear whoever you want as long as you’re having fun. Cosplay competition is a very small part of the activity. You definitely do not have to have ever been judged in a competition to be considered a cosplayer. That the show is focusing on competition just makes it easy to package and market, and makes more relatable for those unfamiliar with the hobby. It kind of explains to the layman why anyone would spend the kind of time and money that our cosplayers spend creating a costume. I will tell you a secret (spoiler alert: not actually a secret), you don’t spend hundreds or thousands of dollars and hours creating something for a cash reward that might very well be less than the total cost of your costume and trip to the con. You do it because you love how you feel when you dress up as a favorite character: powerful, sexy, magical. It’s the process and the reward of a job well done. It’s the attention from children who believe you’re actually who you’re dressed up as and the “May I take a picture with you?” from excited fanboy/girls. Sadly, this is what the show is lacking so far.

We still have more to see from Heroes of Cosplay. Perhaps there are some redeeming surprises in store. The second episode aired recently and featured a couple of new faces. Heroes of Cosplay is on at 10pm on Syfy. You can find them on Facebook at (www.facebook.com/HeroesofCosplay) and on Twitter at (twitter.com/HeroesofCosplay).

 

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USS Loma Prieta and Artemis Spaceship Bridge Simulator: A Must for Star Trek Fans

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A couple of weekends ago I had the great privilege of hanging out with the crew of the USS Loma Prieta (http://usslomaprieta.org/), a Star Trek-centered science fiction fan club based out of San Francisco. I attended their Battlestations event, which was a fundraiser for the club featuring game play of the Artemis star ship bridge simulator (http://www.artemis.eochu.com/). My donation to the club got me a crew assignment on an Artemis voyage and two drink tickets!

The event was held at WeWork Labs in SF, which was a nice space and perfectly suited to the event. The space allowed for two full Artemis crews to work together and co-op a mission. There was also a set up for a training bridge to help people new to the game get acquainted with the controls. The Artemis stations are very similar to the standard Star Trek bridge stations: Captain, helm, science, weapons, engineering, and communications. Each game takes 6 players on networked computers to work together with both their consoles and their physical communications to beat the game.

The simulation is awesome. That is actually the best word to describe it. Each console UI looks very different from the rest, and the game play itself is very realistic (based on my experiences as an actual starship captain). I suppose the next step in making it even more realistic would be to sync the Artemis game with a motion simulator under the bridge to simulate ship movement and enemy hits. Each crew member has a different, yet important job. Just like a real starship voyage, the crew is conducted by the captain.

IMAG1081-1One of the missions I played had my crew protecting our space stations from enemy attacks. I manned the communications station, and shouted incoming messages to the Captain through a microphone. I also participated in the Artemis version of Star Trek‘s “Kobayashi Maru” training exercise, which if you’re familiar with Star Trek, you will know is a no-win scenario. Needless to say, we didn’t win. My crew did last 7 minutes against the enemy ships, though!

The USS Loma Prieta puts on these events periodically for the public, but they also run Artemis sims as well as other Trek-related activities at their meetings. You can follow the USS Loma Prieta on Twitter at (https://twitter.com/USSLomaPrieta) and on Facebook at (https://www.facebook.com/UssLomaPrieta) for more information about the organization and how to participate.

If you’re interested in the game but want to play at home or aren’t located in the Bay Area, you can purchase Artemis Spaceship Bridge Simulator for yourself! There is a free demo available on the Artemis website as well (http://www.artemis.eochu.com/). There are a variety of ways to set up the game and play, including remote networking. Artemis is available for Windows PC and iOS. I highly recommend picking up a copy for yourself if you are at all interested in any of the things I have described.

For the curious, here is a video from last year interviewing some of the USS Loma Prieta crew and showcasing some Artemis game play. (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V9Q2X32hZNk)

Jenn Marshall

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