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“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.


Beowulf’s Bane

Grendel-class Interceptor

A strangely-shaped little space fighter needs a strangely-shaped name, and the monster from the Anglo-Saxon epic Beowulf seemed to fit the bill. Best of all, with that name it can then be based off a space carrier mothership called Grendel’s Mother.

I’ve been concentrating on microscale ships like the Thunderbolt and the Zycon-IX recently, and it seems like I haven’t built a minifigure-scale space fighter for some time.

The Grendel-class interceptor came about almost accidentally as I played around with a triangular cockpit design. I liked the emerging result enough to put some engines and descending wings on it, and the final ship is as you see.

Though it has a Classic Space astronaut for a pilot, it’s obviously not a Classic Space creation, but that’s ok.

I envisage this as a fast orbital-based interceptor, able to dip down into the atmospheres of planets but designed to dock rather than land. With those big engines out at the craft’s extremities, I imagine it’s quite agile, but it gives the impression of not being a very forgiving craft for rookie pilots trying to manoeuvre.

I don’t have much else to say about this, but I find its unusual shape and verticality quite pleasing.

When I Consider the Heavens

I haven’t been super-public about it on this blog, but I’m a follower of Jesus and I take that seriously.

It’s not that I’m ashamed of what I believe that I’ve kept quiet; I have another blog in which I talk (at length sometimes) about faith and life as a Christ-follower from the United Kingdom now living in Texas. This blog is my LEGO blog; it really isn’t for discussions about matters of faith.

Then, too, up until now I’ve kept my LEGO-building and the expression of my faith fairly well separated.

By that, I don’t mean that I somehow become a pagan when I approach my household’s bricks. I’m a firm believer in “whatever you do… do it all to the glory of God”. Including my Benny side’s desire to Build A Spaceship.

No, what I’m referring to is that I haven’t built any creations that could be described as overtly Christian so far.

This is partly a matter of not having the minifigures. I’ve seen the stop-motion Easter Story sequences and Nativity scenes people have put together, and there’s no way I could remotely do anything like that because I don’t have any Roman soldiers, or Castle peasants that could stand in for Judean civilians, or livestock animals (beyond two black horses), or anything like that. Qui-Gon Jinn makes a questionable Jesus (and he’s the closest we come to the “generic Protestant Jesus” look around here), and I’m no better off for the Apostles or King David or Jeremiah or Abraham.

But it’s only partly a matter of minifigure availability.

In the back of my mind, I can’t get away from a certain amount of disquiet over the notion of building a MOC of the Crucifixion or another Scriptural scene, especially one with Jesus Christ in it.

I’m not going to tell you you can’t, but for me at least, I’m extremely hesitant about the implications of a poseable plastic Jesus.

You see, my Jesus isn’t poseable. He’s not someone you can flex and pose the way you want Him, much less someone you can reconstruct however you please. I don’t want to communicate that idea even secondarily, especially not in a build of one of the core events of my faith. The Deeper Magic From Before The Dawn Of Time is not something to be trivialised by building it in LEGO bricks.

And that’s what it would be, because despite every beautifully sophisticated AFOL creation and LEGO artwork using bricks as a medium, there remains a very real perception in the wider society that LEGO is a children’s toy and its creations are fundamentally trivial.

I’ll grant you that all the stop-motion LEGO Easter Story narratives and faith-based creations I’ve seen have been reverently done and come across as true expressions of faith, but I’m just iconoclastic enough to be deeply uncomfortable about doing that sort of thing myself.

But seeing as how I have neither the minifigures nor the will to build Scriptural scenes, that rather puts the kibosh on a lot of the potential expression of my Christian faith in brick form.

Or does it?

A wise woman once told me that there’s no such thing as an intrinsically Christian symbol. Crosses, fish, bread and wine… All of these have Christian associations and meanings, but they also might mean something else. A cross-shaped grave marker might represent death, not Christianity; heck, the X-Men use a cross of a sort as their symbol. Fish could be symbolic of many things, including the sea and ships or the Philistine god Dagon. Bread and wine similarly might represent simplicity, or the fellowship of friendship, or something else entirely. That’s the thing with symbols. They can be used in all sorts of ways and have all sorts of meanings.

And in the same way, it doesn’t have to be a cross or a scene from the Bible’s narrative portions to be a Christian creation expressing Biblical faith. Or in other words, it’s ok to be a bit less blatant and a bit more subtle and symbolic about it.

After all, how many times do I decry the tendency of Christian media to make the point with a sledgehammer? Jesus’ parables show us you don’t need to have labels all over everything.

Thus, this creation.

When I Consider the Heavens…

I’m calling it “When I Consider the Heavens”, an expression of wonder at the Creation and awe in the Creator that works with what I have to build with, doesn’t shout it’s message through a bullhorn unless you know the title, and works as a build independently of its symbolic meaning.

It’s not a huge leap forward in terms of technique or actual building. I’ve used all of these building techniques before including the 3/4 sphere. But metaphysically, this is an important milestone. A recognition that my LEGO building is not separate from my faith, but can be a vehicle for its expression too.

Rockin’ Out

Rock Monster

It all started with a big club-armed rock monster.

I’m afraid I kind of reverted to type for the big guy, neglecting everything I learned last time I built a mech about frames and advanced joint techniques. But in my defence, to a certain extent a silicon-based lifeform ought to be stiff and craggy, not slender and machined-looking.

And I think even with the limitations of balljoints rather than more complex built joints, I’ve achieved a properly silicareous, animated-boulder look, complete with asymmetrical body detailing and encrustations of lichen.

Having built the rock monster, though, the idea struck me to give him an electric guitar. A rock monster that digs rock music may be a bit obvious, but it’s funny obvious.

Rock Monster Rocker

And naturally, that led to a whole rock band.

The diminutive drummer was next. With that flattened, round head he looks like he’s the same type of rock monster as the big guy. Who I decided was the bassist, because making a rock monster with enough of a mouth to make a good vocalist with the remaining dark grey elements wasn’t happening. The drumkit’s fairly simple but you get the idea, and at this scale it’s not easy to build a drumkit at all.

And lengthening the big guy’s guitar into a bass left an opening for a lead guitarist as the final member of the trio. For the rock guitarist I succumbed to the siren call of part availability and used CCBS balljoint limb struts, despite the rather artificial look of it. I was out of small trans neon yellow elements for eyes, too, so the guitarist’s eyes are pink. Maybe she’s a rock chick, I thought, and promptly built her a plant ponytail. I think she still looks craggy enough to be a living boulder, but perhaps the differences are those of gender. Der Stein; die Steinin.

Lastly, of course, a small group of knightly heavy metal fans (including a goblin and a wizard, but alas, no dwarves or elves because I don’t have any) moshing in the audience. And stage lighting. And speakers.

I had fun building, in other words. I hope you enjoy viewing.

License to Build

I have to say that coming back to building as an AFOL it took a while for me to come to terms with the presence of licensed themes.

Jurassic World. Disney sets. Simpsons minifigures. Scooby Doo. Angry Birds movie. The horrible SpongeBob in LEGO form. Even awesome franchises like the superhero universes and Star Wars.

When I contemplated all the time and pain I went through trying to make old-style hinges and trans yellow Space windscreens work for a proper X-Wing, the fact that there’s a set for that now seemed almost like a betrayal.

I probably sounded rather Grumpy Old Man about it: “Eee, lads, in my day we used a black-suited Classic astronaut holding a trans red antenna brick, and that were our Darth Vader. And we counted ourselves lucky to have a black spaceman! You young whippersnappers don’t know how good you’ve got it! You’d be better builders if you had to work it out and imagine like we did!”

Licensing? Bah!

Of course, the attitude is rather hypocritical, because I would have cheerfully strangled small furry animals to get my hands on a real X-Wing set at that age if there had been such a thing.

It didn’t help me come to terms with licencing that my inspiration initially flowed better in the direction of nonlicensed and classic themes. Classic Space was my first LEGO love, the pre-theme “theme” that really got me hooked on LEGO. Naturally as an AFOL I want to build with a Classic Space vibe.

Getting into storytelling using the LEGO Message Boards, I gravitated to non-storied, older themes or stories with only a tangential connection to LEGO. The part of storytelling I most enjoy is the worldbuilding, and there’s just less scope for that in a theme with an established story. Which includes every single licensed theme there is.

Still, I have to say that licensed sets do give you options for MOCmaking.

It’s basically impossible, for instance, to build a minifig-scale Darth Vader’s TIE Fighter or a steampunkified Batmobile without a Darth Vader or a Batman to work with. Since they exist, people want to see the real figures; a black-suited Classic Spaceman is not going to cut it as either Vader or Batman.

That led to a gradual re-evaluation and acceptance of the various licensed themes. I’m still pretty sparing in the licensed sets I’ll purchase, because licensing costs money and the Star Wars theme, for instance, are some of the most expensive ways to buy bricks when calculated on a price-per-brick basis.

I still can’t imagine willingly putting down money on a SpongeBob or Angry Birds set, just because I can’t imagine ever having a use for those minifigures.

But as my kids (and especially my son) gravitate to Star Wars and Batman and the Avengers and other things, our household stock of various licensed minifigures has grown to the point where it’s actually not unreasonable to contemplate a Star Wars-themed creation.

Licensed themes aren’t, in fact, destroying creativity. I’ll grant that a tile printed with the symbol of the Empire doesn’t lend itself all that well to a non-Star Wars build, but like balljoints or Travis bricks or pneumatic T-pieces, the sets open up possibilities. In this case, possibilities for modeling those worlds that just wouldn’t be there very well without the licensing. Who’s going to drive your replica Batmobile if there is no LEGO Batman?

So I’ve basically come to terms with licensing as a general principle of the LEGO Group’s operation. It has its downsides, particularly in the amount of time and energy the Group seem to pour into licensed themes versus nonlicensed ones, but I’m no longer feeling like my youthful not-very-good-but-using-what-was-available X-Wings and AT-ATs have been betrayed by the existence of sets for that.

I think in some ways I’d prefer it if there were proportionally a few less licensed themes, but I understand that the LEGO Group are a business and that’s where the money seems to be.

Horse de Combat

Ok, this is rather silly.  But people have made LEGO mechs piloted by frogs before, so I’m in good company.

But I don’t think I’ve ever seen a battle mech piloted by a horse before.

I  said once before that I’ve had a long-standing ambition to use the horse element in a spaceship, so perhaps this is where the inspiration came from.  But I really have no idea.  Just another of the weird ideas that pop into my head.

They’re Changing Guard at Buckingham Palace

Well, I’m back from my trip back to Dear Old Blighty, and in celebration of the event I’ve built a royal guardsman.

Complete with bearskin hat, red coat and trousers with the stripe down the sides, he doesn’t look all that happy about the prospect of guarding Her Majesty.  Maybe he’a a closet republican.

The hands would be better in either white, for white gloves, or tan for flesh tone.  But I’ve ended up with dark grey, which is buildable and can stand in for gloves.  Likewise, the sword’s a little wonky-looking; maybe one of those long sword blades with the bar attachment point would look better, but I think this works well enough.

I think my favourite part is managing to approximate the red and white cockade on the side of the hat.