Author Archives: geoffhorswood

About geoffhorswood

Christian, husband, father of three, sometime missionary and current blogger.

Rebel Without An Atmosphere

Technically, motorbikes probably have limited utility in outer space. You may be dealing with lower gravity, you’re almost certainly dealing with rugged, unfriendly landforms, and there’s no air to enable your infernal combustion engine to work, so you have to use something like electric power, which just refuses to growl menacingly in that macho, Hell’s Angels kind of way. You can’t feel the wind whistling in your hair when you’re in a spacesuit and there’s no air for there to be wind in. Really, if you’re going to have wheels at all, a buggy is so much more practical.

Nonetheless, have a space motorbike.

It’s built way too low to the ground for practicality on a rugged unexplored planet, and it actually looks like it has exhausts, but work with me here.

Probably those exhausts are micro-probe launchers or something, and maybe it’s for biking on a really flat planet. Whatever.  Space bikes may be technically silly, but I’m sure some future neo-biker will make one anyway, if we ever get out there.

Anyway, I built a space scout bike, and here I am telling you how foolish an idea it is. It’s a relatively small, simple model of a kind I haven’t built all that much recently, and I’m sure others have already built the same sort of thing only better. Still, motorbikes that a minifigure can ride on aren’t the easiest things to construct without making some approximations for the sake of bricks and playability.

Not the Librarian-class…

Blacktron Liburnian-class battlecruiser: front aspect

Liburnian: (n) a light galley-type warship of the Roman Empire.

Having the Blacktron Alliance name one of their ship classes after something Roman is probably wrong. Even in my “Brightly Coloured Tyranny” alternate universe in which the Blacktron are the good guys and the Classic Space/Futuron Federation are the bad guys, the Blacktron represent the forces of freedom from tyranny, and more usually they are interpreted as forces of chaos and revolution.

Given that the Romans were the people that built Hadrian’s Wall with a castle gatehouse exactly every Roman mile whether or not it actually made sense with the terrain, the Blacktron are about as un-Roman as it gets. So maybe the name is a sophisticated irony, given that it’s named after a Roman ship type and the Romans were notoriously poor sailors.

Anyway, this is a microscale Blacktron battlecruiser of the kind I build when I’m not worrying about stud length and trying to build a SHIP. The bifurcated prow put me in mind of a pair of triremes or Ancient Greek warships mated top-to-top with the rams outward, and that’s how it got stuck with Liburnian as a class name.

Still, more aggressive-sounding than Librarian-class, right?

Blacktron Liburnian-class: front/side aspect

I don’t have a huge amount to say about this. It mirror-images almost completely top-to-bottom as well as left-to-right, which helps to give the idea that it’s designed for operating in zero-gravity. It has its armament of lasers and other cannons. I believe the twin red cones in front are spinal-mounted laser cannons, so I guess that makes the side mounts broadside guns. There are twelve smaller laser cannons mounted in four banks of three amidships, and there are four guns or missile tubes of some sort that have a rear firing arc.

That’s quite a lot of engines, and really I’d have preferred four larger ones using 2×2 dish elements in trans red, but I only have two of those and they’re being employed as sensor dishes, or perhaps something to do with the hyperdrive.

Not a massive model, but it looks pretty cool.

She Blinded Me With Science

The Classic Space proto-theme featured all kinds of non-combat land vehicles. Back then, the LEGO Group held a much harder line against violent and combative toys, and Classic Space was all about cooperation and exploration rather than the factions and fighting that characterise practically all of its modern themes (Ninjago and Nexo Knights have their conflicts, Star Wars and the Superhero lines have their good guys and bad guys, and even City has its police and criminals). So there were any number of mobile science labs and seismological research vehicles and satellite tracking stations and the like. It was what they did.

Modern Neoclassic Space creations are often a bit more warlike. Being fan creations, they don’t worry so much about Ole Kirk Christiansen’s dictum that war is not something for children’s toys, so you find Neoclassic Space and Neo-Futuron space fighters and tanks and battlecruisers and the like.

But you also find the science vehicles as well.

Mobile Science Station

This small Mobile Science Station is firmly in that tradition. Crewed by two white astronauts (my research into how the different suit colours were portrayed leads me to believe the white astronauts are primarily scientists whereas the red astronauts are primarily pilots and drivers), it features a bubble-canopied driver’s station and an articulated rear section with an interior laboratory and a dish antenna atop the roof.

I think one of my favourite parts of this is the round entry door to the lab module. It doesn’t fully work; you’d be hard pressed to reach in through it and extract the astronaut. But if you were minifigure-sized it shouldn’t be too much of a stretch.

Also, I finally have some red wheel elements so I can make ground vehicles that are entirely in keeping with the original prototheme. I’m sure if they’d been making the theme a half decade or so later, they’d have had wheel hubs in a colour other than red (grey, most likely), but back in 1978, LEGO wheels only existed in red and the LEGO Group of the day weren’t about to make weird-coloured wheels just for the experimental Space line.

The height difference between the front and rear sections is a little unpleasing somehow, but I think it would have looked worse if I’d elevated the driver’s cab. Maybe I should have widened the wheel base another notch or two.

20/20 hindsight. Next time….

Hammer Time

Apparently I didn’t need much of a break to be able to bounce right back into space mode. I’m calling this rather swooshy space fighter the Thor-class fighter, due to its vague resemblance to the Buck Rogers “Thunderfighter”.

It’s in many ways a pretty generic SNOT-built Classic Space space fighter, but I’m rather pleased with the variable-angle wings and the overall shape and heft of it.

There are no major greebly areas or incredible new techniques, but I just like the combination of those aggressive forward-jutting wing prongs and the smooth-yet-layered solidity of the back section behind the cockpit. I could see the Classic Space equivalent of Buck Rogers being quite happy with a ship like this.

Obviously, I don’t have a lot to say about this, but here it is. Enjoy!

The Manticore

It’s been a while since I built something that wasn’t space-related. But between my large starships and my Neoclassic Space Vic Vipers and my Blacktron space trucks I’m pretty well spaced out right now, in a manner of speaking.

Mythological creatures are another favourite thing of mine to build, as evidenced by my several dragons (like this one, this one, this one and this one). So I thought I’d have a go at a manticore.

The manticore comes to us from late Greek mythology. It was believed to inhabit Persia and India, and is described as lionlike with a tail full of sharp spikes or quills that it shoots arrowlike at its enemies.

Greek legends don’t really feature the manticore in any tales; it’s one of the few beasts Hercules didn’t encounter. In that, it’s similar to the gryphons that the Greeks believed to inhabit the Scythian steppes.

Dungeons and Dragons and its ilk have interpreted the manticore as a lion with bat wings and a scorpionlike tail, and that’s the pattern I’ve followed. Sometimes the manticore is depicted with a human head or face, but I didn’t think I could manage that without it becoming cartoony.

Hybrid creatures like this are more difficult to pull off than dragons or sea serpents. Dragons can more or less look like anything and no-one can tell you you’re wrong, unless you’re building a specific dragon like Smaug or Saphira. Also, they’re usually scaly and armoured, which is simpler in bricks than shaggy or hairy.

But hybrid creatures use the body parts of specific creatures. If you’re building a creature with a horse’s body, it had better not look like a buffalo, because everyone knows what a horse looks like and how it differs from a buffalo or a gerbil or an Apatosaurus. You have to be really on your game to pull some of this off and make it look the part.

I want to say that lions are especially tricky because of the mane. Shaggy is one of the hardest effects to achieve in LEGO bricks, and trying to get any meaningful articulation around all that bulk of hair is quite a challenge.

My manticore’s head isn’t the shaggiest lion head with the biggest, most impressive mane, but it is recogniseably a lion. It was undoubtedly the toughest part of this model to put together, and I made several adjustments and alterations until I was satisfied. Bat wings and scorpion tails are easy, even if you don’t use preformed elements for your bat wings like I did. Articulated lions that look like lions – those are hard.

The bulldog stance with those wide shoulders is slightly unpleasing, but I really do need that extra bulk to account for the mane. And if you pose the creature right, you can hide that part fairly well.

I’m sure you could build a manticore in whatever colour you liked. It is, after all, a mythical creature. But while black would certainly look good and brown would be possible, somehow red seems the only reasonable colour for it to be. I just can’t see it in blue, really.

This is another creation that needed a base to stand on. Not only does it make posing the manticore to hide that slight bulldogness about the shoulders easier, but it also just seems to complete the model. I’ve gone out of my way to not define a scale for this beastie, so there are no shrines or temples or minifigures to give you an idea of how big he is. Also I don’t know how to make a temple look recogniseably Persian. There’s a suggestion of broken Greek columns underfoot, but those could be almost any size.

Anyway, here’s my manticore. Until next time, keep calm and brick on!

Motley Devil

Arrr! Avast, ye scurvy spacedogs!

Space navies aren’t always the only agencies to field armed starships. The Star Wars universe has its smugglers with their armed freighters, and many other universes have mercenaries, privateers and outright pirates.

The inspiration for this spacegoing privateer came from me trying out different combinations of my dark blue and dark red curved shell elements, looking for different ways I might use both together. Combining them in chequered fashion, I was put in mind of a Mediaeval jester’s motley, and I thought the combination had definite possibilities.

Of course, there are very few official space navies that are going to use chequered blue and red as livery colours. Even a putative Croatian Space Service would use red and white, not blue and red. And even fewer would put up with having a warship named Motley Devil.

Therefore, a privateer.

I’m not sure whether this baby is part of a mercenary fleet, a lone-wolf privateer or an out-and-out pirate, but I’m happy to leave that much open to interpretation.

Motley Devil‘s another large vessel. What is it with me and these huge vessels? She’s not as long as Liberator, at a mere 60 studs’ length, but even if she doesn’t remotely qualify for SHIP status she’s got a more satisfyingly interesting shape.

I think my favourite part of Motley Devil is the octagonally-arranged rear hull. Combining the ring of 45-degree angle plates with the central spine was not as easy as it might have been, and I’m very happy with the way it turned out.

Another favourite part is the jaunty skull decoration on the upper hull. It serves no discernible purpose other than to look cool, but who’s to say a band of privateers wouldn’t individualise the starship that is their home?

Motley Devil is relatively well armed for a privateer; perhaps she’s more of a mercenary than a pirate. I’ve reused those cool ball mounts for the main forward guns, and utilised most of the new elements I bought with SHIP construction in mind.

Those 45-degree angle plates really aren’t designed to have anything connected through the centre of the ring like I have, so there’s a major structural weakness, and it’s an unavoidable one. Still, it makes for a cool-looking ship.

Anyway, enjoy!

Why Wait Til SHIPtember?

Those of you who’ve been following this blog will realise that I’ve been in pursuit of the ability to produce one of the 100+ stud behemoths known as a SHIP for some time now.

I’ve been incrementally coming closer to the magic number, which has seemed like the personal LEGO building equivalent of lightspeed, for several creations, from 50-stud Classic Space reboots like my take on the 6929 Starfleet Voyager to my previous personal best in the “biggest creation” steeplechase, the 74-stud Argonaut-class Explorer Ship.

And I’ve finally broken the light barrier.

LSS Liberator, my first SHIP

Given that the Argonaut was put together while my AT-AT, my 12-year-old daughter’s wonderful ship, my 13-year-old nephew’s 60-stud barge and my 6-year-old son’s four-armed Ninjago Stone Warrior mech were in existence as finished creations, I decided that we really did have enough bricks now to make a serious stab at it.

  

While ordering my nephew some special elements from Bricklink for his just-happened 13th birthday, I put in a bit of an order for myself as well, with SHIP construction in mind. But in actual fact, I didn’t even wait for his birthday when I’d promised to get out the new bricks before I started building. Well, apart from the cup-and-ball sponson mounts, with which I just couldn’t resist arming my battlecruiser.

Most of my large “shell-type” elements are dark red or dark blue, which is why so many of my large creations use those colours. But I don’t have very much else in dark red or (particularly) dark blue, certainly not for building all the superstructure-y bits of a full-on SHIP. So even though my Buck Rogers starfighter is in existence, I settled on white as a third primary superstructure colour. Red, white and blue together works as a main colour scheme even with the addition of two different greys for structural and functional parts (for the illusion of greater depth and greebliness even though my greebling has been really minimal) and gave the SHIP its name: LSS Liberator.

Liberator is a name to conjure with, if you’re a British sci-fi fan of a certain generation. The name of the advanced starship from the now-obscure TV serial Blake’s 7, the original was a fantastic trilaterally-symmetrical space battlecruiser with a mysterious pulsating green ball for an engine. And sorry, Trek, but this is the best-looking TV starship of the pre-1980s era.

Someday I’ll build that Liberator, but it won’t be today.

My own Liberator is “only” 101 studs long, and even that’s a bit of a cheat considering the forward prongs are a whopping 16 studs all by themselves, but I broke the 100-stud barrier and I didn’t use any of the large elements from my last Bricklink spree, so I can do a better job next time.

Already I’m planning larger, more ornate, better-designed SHIPs: Dark Pegasus, which will need considerably more Investment in Pieces for me to build the way it is in my head, and the privateer Motley Devil, which I plan to attempt next.

But as a first step into the world of SHIPness, Liberator‘s not too shabby, I think. At least I avoided Bix Box Syndrome and managed to come up with a marginally interesting shape for it, and did it in a reasonable colour scheme, and did it while my daughter’s ship and my Buck Rogers starfighter are sitting on the display shelf hogging bricks.

But I’ll do better next time, I promise. Even if Motley Devil doesn’t end up breaking the 100-stud barrier (which is by no means a certainty right now) my next SHIP will be better.

~~~

The LSS Liberator is a jumpdrive-equipped space battlecruiser of the human-dominated Star League. Armed with both laser and plasmatic armament, Liberator is fairly typical of medium-range League warships.

Unlike, for example, the OGEL Tetrarchy’s Stellar Legions, the Star League’s Space Defence Force employs mixed batteries of both lasers and plasma cannons rather than lasers alone. This is one of the major doctrinal differences between the LSDF and the TSL, and primarily stems from a difference in the two interstellar polities’ jumpdrives.

Laser cannons are lightspeed weapons: long-ranged and difficult to dodge effectively. However, plasma weapons are considerably more destructive for the same mass of cannon, even though they are short-ranged, STL weapons.

The Star League having better jumpdrive technology and being willing to utilise starship mass for precision jump-point calculation computers, the League Space Defence Force are more apt to attempt to jump in to a much closer range than the Tetrarchy’s Stellar Legions are able to, and close to the spatial equivalent of knife-fight range as quickly as possible.

The OGEL Tetrarchy, on the other hand, tend to stand off and open fire with larger numbers of individually less destructive long-range lasers.

Forward section showing flight bridge and laser cannons

Liberator herself has a primary armament of six heavy laser cannons mounted in individual sponsons on the forward hull, and six heavy plasma accelerators triple-mounted in dorsal turrets, each accelerator having better than five times the destructive capacity of the equivalent laser within its more limited range.

Detail of one of the dorsal plasma turrets

The secondary armament is similarly mixed, with both lasers and plasma cannons in side-mounted turrets, plus there are a number of small missile-defence lasers scattered over the hull.

Central section showing dorsal turrets, secondary turrets and ventral small craft bays

Ventrally amidships are the small craft bays. The ability of an energy-weapon-armed battlecruiser to carry fightercraft is not huge, and the ability of fighter-sized ships to carry reasonably effective weapons is necessarily limited, but Liberator is equipped to operate eight Excalibur-class space superiority fighters (too small to build at this scale).

Aft section showing engines, jump drives and flag bridge

The engine section is aft. Like all Star League vessels, LSS Liberator has two separate drive systems: the metagravity sublight drives, which utilise pseudogravitic forces to achieve a reactionless sublight drive system, and the outboard jump-point engines which generate a form of tame wormhole for point-to-point interstellar jumps.

~~~

Ill tell you something, though. They aren‘t kidding around when they talk about Seriously Huge Investments in Pieces. It’s not so much sheer quantity of elements that kills you, it’s quantity of elements of particular types in particular colours.  One more time, then, in all her glory:

LSS Liberator