Monthly Archives: October 2017

Morituri te Salutant

We who are about to die…

So I built a Roman gladiator.

Well, technically gladiator denotes a warrior that fights with a gladius, or Roman short sword, and this guy is armed with a trident, but the word has come to refer to any arena fighter from the Roman era.

This type of gladiator, fighting with a trident and a weighted net, was called a retiarius. Apparently based on a type of ancient fisherman, the retiarii‘s mobile, hit-and-run style of fighting placed them towards the bottom of the various gladiatorial styles’ pecking order. The crowds apparently favoured styles that would get in close and trade blows, not hang back and jab with a spear.

Technically, retiarii didn’t wear helmets and were armed with daggers as well, but I didn’t find this out until after the model was complete. However, I probably would have taken the historical liberty of putting a helmet on my gladiator anyway; I don’t think he’d look nearly as good without his helmet.

For once I’ve made a more effective kilt or loincloth-type wrap rather than just put up with the problematic wasp-waist of balljoint connections. Between that and the knee-high boots, I’ve managed to effectively hide the balljoint connections on the legs quite well. The arms, less so. The black and grey parts are supposed to represent gauntlets, but they work only so-so. Especially the hand grasping the trident, which proved incredibly difficult to make work without being totally oversized. A Bionicle or CCBS figure hand would be just the trick here, but I don’t have one. What I’ve done is probably as good as I can manage without. Hopefully it’s not too much of a distraction.

The other hand, the one grasping the net is better. The forearm still looks a little funky, but the three fingers grasping the rigging element of the pseudo-net actually looks fairly naturally posed.

The post title, of course, is the Latin for “We who are about to die salute you”. It’s not a very seasonal creation in terms of the one celebrated by the majority at this time of year, but the first of November is All Saints, and so many of the First Century followers of Christ were put to death in the arena that it makes a sort of sense. Yeah. That’s my excuse.

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The Ring of Gyges

You may have noticed, but I find mythology a fascinating source of names for my various LEGO spaceships and mechs and rovers and whatnot. And this small starship is no different, being named the Gyges-class cruiser.

The Ring of Gyges was a magical artifact from Greek mythology, mentioned by Plato in his Republic. Purportedly owned by King Gyges of Lydia, a Greek colonial province in what is now mainland Turkey, the ring granted the power of invisibility, much like Tolkien’s One Ring did.

Given its ring-shaped drive section, it almost had to be named after some kind of mythological or fictional ring or other. Nazgul-class would work for a Blacktron vessel, but this one is in Classic Space colours, and it just doesn’t work. It was almost Nibelung-class, or Avebury-class after the British stone circle that was constructed contemporary with the Great Pyramid. I suppose the main hull of the ship is even somewhat menhir-shaped, so that would have worked quite well.

However, I seem to have formed a connection in my mind between Classic Space designs and Greco-Roman mythological names; somehow they just seem right, you know? Ergo, Gyges.

I confess to being a bit of a sucker for both ring-shaped drive sections and for vertically-oriented ships, and this is both. The Vulcan cruisers from Star Trek: Enterprise were some of the most stunningly unique vessels produced by that entire franchise, and I loved them, especially the ring-shaped warp drive unit. It made me wonder why humans had kept on producing ships with nacelle designs, if the Vulcan ring drives were capable of such superior performance. Still, this being Trek it would have been the height of weirdness if the archetypal Federation saucer-and-nacelles design were Vulcan in origin and the humans produced very different-looking ships…

The oval ring section rather reminds me of the Odyssey, heroic starship of the awesome 1980s Greek-mythology-in-space cartoon TV series Ulysses 31, except turned on its side. The rest of the ship is very different, though; more like Star WarsJedi Starfighters with their hyperdrive rings. If there are other ring-shaped starships or starships with ring-shaped drive sections out there, I’d be interested to see them. Like I said, I’m a sucker for their implicit coolness.

Gyges is probably about the same length as a World War 2 cruiser or battleship if it were Real Life, with the trans red studs all around the ring representing the stardrive. I’m suspecting it uses something like a point-to-point artificial wormhole generator or similar; mostly because most of the sci-fi I’m familiar with uses something else: Star Trek has its warp drive; Star Wars and Babylon 5 utilise hyperspace; Stargate SG-1 used point-to-point gates, and Halo has some kind of foldspace, if I recall correctly. Using wormholes as stardrives sounds both plausible and uncommon, so it’s recommended on at least two counts.

I have no idea whether it’s even armed. The only obvious weapon candidates are the bar projections on the ring section and the twin cannonlike attachments on the sides of the main hull, but I’m thinking the bar projections around the ring are concerned with the wormhole drive’s functionality, and the “cannons” on the main hull just seem more like some sort of sensors or probe launcher. Probably it has at least defensive lasers, but I expect they’re too small to see at this scale.

Liberator

“Activate the force wall; clear the neutron blasters for firing”

The Liberator

Though now obscure beside better-known sci-fi like Star Wars, Star Trek and Dr Who, for a certain generation of British science fiction fans Blake’s 7 was unforgettable.

Chronicling the adventures of a band of freedom fighters with an advanced starship from which to fight, Blake’s 7 was a sort of Robin Hood in space, and the Liberator was the crew’s iconic starship.

The original Liberator. One of the most unique starships in any sci-fi TV show

Though plagued with continuity errors by comparison with Star Trek, Blake’s 7 scored over its high-budget American rival in one important respect: its characters and their conflicts.

If you were expecting a Trek-style humanist utopia of morally-advanced beings in brightly-coloured uniforms and miniskirts, Blake’s 7 had all the subtle power of a kick in the teeth. Their Federation was an all-encompassing tyranny complete with information control, kangaroo courts, penal colony planets, drugged populations and fanatical militaro-police agents using cybernetically-rebuilt “mutoid” troopers to hunt down the remaining dissidents.

And the good guys were sometimes just as bad. The eponymous revolutionary hero Roj Blake could be fanatical and sometimes callous, and would not hesitate to stoop to buying the help of organised crime in his crusade against the corrupt, oppressive Federation. His effective lieutenant Kerr Avon was possibly one of the first antiheroes on TV: a man who prided himself on being self-serving and mercenary, who would hit women (this was the 1970s. You didn’t do that) if they deserved it, and whose obsession with logic formed an interesting Dark Side counterpoint to Spock.

If Star Trek was the philosophical offspring of the 1960s’ hippie flower-power era, Blake’s 7 had more in common with the punk movement: dystopian and anarchic.

Flight deck of the Liberator, showing the original crew: (clockwise) Vila, Cally and Jenna, Gan, Avon and Blake. The hexagon of blinking lights is the flight computer, Zen.

The Liberator was a lovely ship, though. Looking from the outside as though it had been designed by angels, it was run by that peculiar British sci-fi institution: a sentient flight computer with enough personality to warrant a name. Zen – his personality matched his name – managed the ship’s flight systems and self-repair system, allowing the crew of six to effectively fight a battlecruiser that was in all probability larger than the USS Enterprise.

The engine section was a weirdly-pulsating glowing green ball, a design that makes just as much sense as the Trek universe’s warp nacelles but makes some people think the back of the ship is the front.

I’ve done the best I can with the trilateral symmetry and the sphere of the time-distort drive, but there are several details I wasn’t able to get right. The ball is technically too big, and try as I might I couldn’t get enough small green and yellow bits in to completely fill the ball.

The backs of the outer pods are square, and the wider forward sections are too short, but this is recogniseably Liberator, bane of the Federation and hope of the inhabited galaxy.

Dark Pegasus

Believe it or not, this creation was originally going to be a steampunk mech.

Her Majesty’s Aetheric Ship “Dark Pegasus”

I was inspired by the large mechs of the Ninjago Movie to build a big mech of my own with a steampunk twist, using my twin Coruscant planet elements as boilers or fuel tanks.

Alas, actually beginning to build the thing I realised that I wasn’t building remotely big enough and the planet boilers looked oversized and ridiculous.

But modifying the attachment setup I’d intended to use for the planet sections as twin boilers, I found a rather nice-looking claw-held arrangement for a single planet sphere forming under my hands. And while it wasn’t really going to work as part of a steam-mecha, it had “steam-powered space dreadnought” written all over it in large, friendly letters. And who am I to argue with Fate?

Continuing to build, it was obvious fairly quickly that my limited stocks of brown weren’t up to building the size of spacegoing ironclad this was shaping up to be, so I added black into the mix.

Black and dark grey with pearl gold enhancements was the colour scheme I had in mind for the hypothetical “Dark Pegasus” SHIP I’ve been alluding to the planning of for some time now, and I just bought, among other elements, the pearl gold wings I need. Could I really pull it off? Build the SHIP I’ve been contemplating? And as a steampunk build?

Dark Pegasus wasn’t conceived as specifically a steampunk starship, but it always had a definite baroque flavour. How else was I going to get away with the massive painted Pegasus figurehead that gives it its name? But as conceived it was always fairly easily steampunkable. I decided to give it a go.

The placement of the horse element, which I’ve been wanting to use in a spaceship build for years now, moved from my original concept of a bow-mounted figurehead to a piece of decorative statuary atop the main hull. The claw-held planet element prow necessitated some redesign work, but the result is still channeling the same spirit of a large mostly-black spaceship with the sort of approach to decoration that makes a figurehead reasonable.

Many of the other design elements of my original idea find their expression here not substantially altered. The gold wings, reprising the flight membranes of the Sensei Wu dragon in black rather than white, still grace the flanks of the warship. The massive cannons of the ship’s mighty broadside are still the cup-and-ball sponson mounts I had envisaged. Various portions of the vessel still bristle with pearl gold decorative elements: gleaming brasswork enhancing the appearance and potentially the functioning of the ship.

In order to surpass the 100-stud official SHIP barrier, I needed more than just black and gold as livery colours. The dark grey and brown are structural; the latter perhaps signifying a more tarnished bronze, or even wood. Without adding too many colours, I needed to eke out my supply of black elements to achieve SHIP status.

Though I’d initially contemplated dark red as a suitably dark, barbaric addition to the colour palette for the original non-steampunk Dark Pegasus, I decided when it came to it to use dark blue instead. It’s a darker colour than dark red, and the combination worked well for Ninjago’s ghost faction. In lower light conditions it even looks like pure black.

The Revised Steampunk Version of the Dark Pegasus seems to have broken my usual habit of wanting to build a creation all in one session, too. Built over a period of most of a week, it’s all the better for it, as I took several days mentally planning various things out in order to get everything right.

At 106 studs (39 3/4 inches or 101cm) long, Dark Pegasus is my second official SHIP and my first in the steampunk genre. Apparently even in Steampunk I’m still Benny enough that my impulse is to Build A Spaceship.

~~~

Propelled by three aetheric propellers and armed with a variety of heatray weapons, space howitzers and long guns, HMS Dark Pegasus is one of the Minotaur-class fleet flagships of Her Majesty’s Royal Space Navy. Each one decorated with a massive painted steel statue of its namesake, the seven ships of the class serve as flag vessels of the seven principal fleets of the RSN, cowing their adversaries as much with the spectacle of their impressive visual design as with shells and heatrays.

Dark Pegasus’ navy blue trim on her space-black RSN hull paint signifies that she is the flagship of the Sixth Fleet, based in the Uranian planetary sphere and headquartered in Her Majesty’s spacedock in orbit around the moon Oberon.

The underslung shiplike structure is a heavy landing-craft for use on the chill, oily seas of Oberon, enabling supplies and personnel to be easily transferred between the Fleet and the surface.

Most of the Uranian moons have some sort of liquid surface [OOC: at least in the altered reality of this steampunk-space universe], so the maritime form of ship’s boat is the customary type in the Sixth Fleet.

The ball-like structure at the prow of the vessel is often assumed to be decorative, like the similar globe atop the central hull, but in fact both are useful equipment: nodes of the ship’s sphere-penetrating Bassenfeldt drive allowing the ship to pass the aetheric barriers between the orbital spheres of the Sun’s family of planets.

LEGOtiel

Readers of my other blog may remember that our household recently acquired a cockatiel.

Chewie likes LEGO. Specifically, Chewie likes to chew all the tiny elements that look like brightly-coloured food.

Initially we thought Chewie was a boy bird, but a couple of weeks ago she started laying eggs. So she’s a Chewbeaka, not a Chewbacca.

Apparently tiels kept as pets will normally lay eggs a couple of times a year even without a male bird to fertilise them, but they say you have to let them sit on the eggs for around 21 days otherwise they’ll keep on laying trying to replace the lost eggs, and that’s bad for their health.

Anyway, wanting to build something that wasn’t a spaceship I was casting around for something to build when those long grey rotor blade elements caught my eye and made me think of tail feathers.

LEGO Chewie doesn’t look nearly as good from the front, somehow, but I’m unsure what I can do about it. I think it’s that the head is too wide, or possibly the body is too small relative to the head, but from the side it looks fine. Judicious selection of camera angles and you’ll never know. Shhh!

The wings move quite a bit but they aren’t the most stable or robust design, so they have a tendency to fall off. All hail AFOL building techniques. The head moves… incrementally. There’s a balljoint in there, but the visual requirements of building a cockatiel necessitated an extremely restricted amount of movement.

If I had any light yellow, a cockatiel build would have been the perfect place to use it, but I don’t. Even using regular bright yellow would have meant a very different, studdier and more angular build, but thankfully cockatiels are variable enough in plumage that the LEGOtiel is still basically accurate.

Stand By Ion Control…

The giant Rebel ion cannon of planet Hoth was iconic enough that it got a Ralph McQuarrie painting all to itself. Not bad for less than two minutes of screen time in The Empire Strikes Back.

It occurred to me that the cup-and-ball cannon mounts might make a pretty good microscale version of the Star Destroyer-disabling planetary defence cannon. All that was needed was to enclose it somehow in an ice-carved turret.

I think 2×3 wing elements might have worked better for the enclosing turret, but I don’t have enough of those in white, and any other colour would look silly.

Even with all the white in use on my Ice Planet battle fleet, I still had enough left over to build a small baseplate and surround. And I put some transparent bricks together to simulate its firing, too.

This isn’t a huge or complex model, and I’m too impatient to wait for a Bricklink order of 2×3 left wings to make it look better. The toothed elements aren’t too bad; at least they add to the icy look.

Anyway, here it is. Enjoy.

Into the Mesozoic…

I have no idea why Stegosaurus is my favourite dinosaur.

I mean, I love my heroes to be men and women of wit and skill rather than sheer mindless brawn. The mentor/wise counsel type characters are often personal favourites. How does that work to then turn around and love a dinosaur that has a brain about the size of a chicken mcnugget?

I suspect it’s my general liking for misunderstood creatures. The sloth, the warthog (so ugly it’s cute), the weasel (lithe grace combined with unparalleled ferocity)…

The Stegosaurus seems to fit right in with that.

(Hey! I just realised that this spellchecker knows the word “Stegosaurus”! That’s pretty cool!)

It’s been theorised that since the Stegosaurs’ bony back plates were attached to the skin rather than jointed to the skeleton, that they might have been far more mobile than previously suspected. It’s currently a controversial theory, as I gather, but I must say I rather like the idea that the plates might have folded down to protect the creature’s back and sides in combat.

Computer reconstructions of the Stegosaurs also show that they had far more flexibility in their vertebral columns and tails than most other dinosaurs – an adaptation for swinging that thagomizer around? Yes, there’s a specific word for the stegosaurs’ clusters of tail spikes. Because they’re that awesome.

So, extreme flexibility, special weapons, origami armour – this is sounding more and more like a sort of dinosaur Ninja.

I can respect that. You should, too.

And as for the small brain, maybe it just didn’t need a large one for its lifestyle. It’s a herbivore. How much brain does it take to sneak up on a tree fern? Dinosaurs are supposed to be related to birds, and avians seem to be quite capable enough even with tiny brains. No-one messes with an ostrich, and that’s a pea-brain.

~~~

So I built a Stegosaurus. The tail’s not nearly as flexible as it ought to be, and the legs are a little chunky, but I actually managed to stagger the plates a bit. And they’ll fold down over the back for that origami armour look.

Only Stegosaurus itself of all the stegosaurs has its back plates staggered. In every other member of the family they’re neatly paired. I have no clue why that is.