Wednesday, June 29, 2011

In the mood for fantasy

Am in a fantasy mood today, so my imagination is drifting in that direction. He's "one of them rangers," come into the pub for a pint of old ale, and a warm hearth beside which to smoke a pipe or three. No reason ... just CG doodling.

That's the Yannis skin map, but not the Yannis face. I wanted to see what the skinmap would look like, wrapped around one of my own faces -- and it's actually pretty good. I like this character.

He's wearing the Elven Prince hair, and the Supreme Armor shirt (by Powerage), but I changed out the diffuse, opacity and displacement maps to make it look very different...

And the snowy owl is so cute. I got the prop from Content Paradise months and months ago ... they were having a sale at the time, and I got a nice swag of stuff, including the Elven trading ship you saw a few weeks ago. The bird is really lovely -- adds just the piquancy the character needed. Aragorn might have had a hawk or a falcon. Can anyone remember back as far as the 1984 fantasy, Ladyhawke? I looooved that movie. Rutger Hauer's best, I think.

The set is one tiny corner of Merlin's Medieval Tavern. The set is a whole building, it's so huge, you could stage a whole Gothic story in it ... with a lightning storm raging on the haunted moor outside, and one of the people sheltering inside is The Killer, and has a reason to kill just about everyone else! Agatha Christie meets JRR Tolkien. What a thought.

What I want to know is, where did June go? The last time I looked, it was May! Must take an hour or two off tomorrow, get out in the fresh air, under the blue sky, while it lasts. It's the middle of winter here now, and even downunder it's inclined to be gray and drizzly between now and September...

Jade, 29 June

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Jade joins the Photoshop Phlock ... uh, Flock ... uh, say what?!

Well, I guess it had to happen sooner or later ... but you wouldn't have put money on it, right? And now it's happened, you're wanting to know how and why! So here's the story...

Lately, GIMP has been misbehaving -- mostly crashing to the desktop repeatedly. As you know, GIMP is your only alternative, if you want to be able to use the .abr brushes, aka Photoshop brushes, which are such an industry standard today, they're actually just about the signature of any artist who takes art seriously. The first thing I did was to upgrade to the most recent version of GIMP (2.6.11), in the hopes that it was some incompatibility with the version I'd been using. No joy. Coming in right off a restart of the whole PC, I loaded up an .abr brush, clicked to paint a stroke, and zapp! Crash to the desktop.

So I was looking at being seriously stuck, because short of getting a new computer -- to just get rid of the Lenovo ThinkVantage system, which causes nothing but trouble right across the spectrum, and is more than likely responsible for the failure of GIMP, which works perfectly well on everyone else's systems! -- I was down to just biting the bullet at getting Photoshop...

Now, Dave has been listening to me grumbling (whinging, whining, wailing) for long enough that he took the initiative (throttled it) and went looking for something to restore peace and harmony to this part of creation. Hmmm.

The only thing I've ever had against Photoshop was the price. Photoshop Elements 9 has a "proper price" of around US$99, when sold to Americans, in America. The price in Australia is between A$145 and $355, depending on the dealer and the day. A good median price is about A$266, which is currently about US$290 --

Hold the phone right there. Let me get this straight. US customers, inside the US, pay US$99 and get a $20 cash back if they mail in a slip of paper, and meanwhile Aussies are paying US$290, and, if they're dumb enough to not shop around, anything up to US$400, for the same piece of software?

Understandable, there was no way in the world I was going to buy into this system. It's daylight robbery, no other term for it. But Dave was sick enough, tired enough, of listening to the whinging and whining every time GIMP crashes, that he got on the Internet and searched, and kept searching, till he came up with a real, legal source for real, legal copies of Photoshop Elements 9, with proper, legal key --

For A$60. As an OEM download.

Out came the credit card, and -- let the download commence! The source was Software Supreme, and the transaction went through with complete legality. The downside (there is always a downside) is that your software is streaming from the slowest servers in the known universe. It took about 20 HOURS to get the installer from a server in France. The US servers were way slower, and the mirror in Germany stopped altogether!

Patience was the key. If you just have to wait till tomorrow for your goodies in order to save about two hundred dollars, you can can do that. Actually, the download finished at about 5:00am, and by the time I got up Dave had already installed it and gotten it running. I spent the next four or five hours 1) learning the interface, which is refreshingly different, at least to me, and 2) trying to crash it, and being ever more delighted when I found out, PSE9 is so stable, nothing I can do with it, even on a PC overburdened with Lenovo's trademark stupidity, will crash it!

Soooo ... first impressions of Photoshop?

Like I said, the interface is refreshingly different, for one who has been using older software. The interface is the best thing about Photoshop -- this, and its ability to interface with all those brushes! The program does things differently from anything I'm used to; things are called by different names, so a large part of the process, for me, was figuring out where things are stowed, and what they're called, in this generation of software.

It's well worth noting that PSE9 does a lot of stuff that GIMP doesn't -- and that's fair enough, since GIMP is open source, and free! It's also worth noting that although the names and storage places of the various image editing functions has changed over the last 10 - 14 years, little else has changed. Photoshop's most stalwart aficionados will probably hate to hear this, but Micrografx Picture Publisher 10 had all those same filters and effects in 1997. (PP10 also did some things which PSE9 doesn't do ... and sure, I hear you saying, "Yeah, cheapskate, well if you paid for the full-on Photoshop instead of the cut-down version, you'd get all the bells and whistles, wouldn't you?" To which I would have to reply, "Sure, smarty-pants, but PP10 had the bells 'n whistles 12+ years ago, for US$20 -- twenty bucks, not many hundreds!)

The place where Photoshop Elements 9 flies, and shines, is in its handling of the .abr brushes. GIMP will handle these, but there are downsides: one, you can't alter the angle of rotation on any brush (which really cramps your style), and two, once a whole load of brushes is stowed in the /bushes folder, GIMP takes up to five minutes to start up and gets more and more crash prone. I guess the same crash-pronedness might have overcome PSE in earlier versions, because the brains trust at Adobe have incorporated a function letting you load brushes on the fly, only as you need them. Every time you load a new brush set, it automatically ditches the previous ones, so the program is never carrying a cumbersome overhead. Neat.

Overall, I really like the interface, which is absolutely beautiful, and I deeply appreciate the brush handling. I'm not so thrilled with Photoshop's merge modes (which I think they call something like "layer characteristics" ... it escapes me at the moment). Here, Micrografx definitely does better, and when the day comes when I lose my dear old Picture Publisher, I'm going to miss it. A lot. (It won't work on 64 bit systems, incidentally; so when I lose my present PC, Micrografx is permanently kaput.) It's interesting to discover that many effects which are easy to achieve in the old software are just not there in the new. However, I'm learning to love Photoshop's style of handling layers...

Now, I'd gotten used to working with layers in GIMP, but the GIMP interface is a lot less friendly (and in the older software we didn't use layers at all, we used an almost infinite number of floating objects in the same frame ... no need for layers). It took about three minutes for me to get the hang of PSE9's way of handling layers, and ... me like, muchly. If I had access to the old merge modes I'm used to, I'd be in heaven.

The other thing for which I'd like to tip my at to the gurus at Adobe is that I really like the pane across the foot of the active canvas, in which you can have numerous projects open at once, and toggle between them ... and then copy and paste layers out of one project into another. That's every bit as neat as the way we'd have numerous windows open, and cut and paste objects between them at whim. It's fascinating to see how today's software does the same job in a different way -- and an extremely elegant way. Kudos to Adobe.

So there you have it! I'm not going to say a word against GIMP here: the price is right (free), and the program is extremely powerful, and I am absolutely sure its failure on my PC is not due to GIMP, but to Lenovo's "ThinkVantage" system, which every day finds new and ever more mind-blowing ways to stuff up Windows Vista. Bottom line: Photoshop Elements 9 has about 95% of all the old features I've been spoiled rotten with, in Micrografx, and it handles the .abr brushes, which was the whole point of getting it. If you can find it at a good price, it comes highly recommended!

In fact, short of the merge modes, and some of the amazing old filters, and one other key thing, PSE9 and MPP10 are just about on a par (allowing for the difference in the interface, obviously -- PP10 had the 1990s interface, for better or worse. PSE9 is simply prettier).

And what's that one key thing...?

It's just this: I would dearly love to be able to feather the edges of an object in PSE9, and no matter what I do, the program won't do it. Yes, Virginia, I've read the instructions -- even watched some of the incredibly long-winded tutorials online, and on YouTube. It comes down to this: you can configure the "refine edges" tool to your heart's content, but at the end, which you click OK, rather than putting in all the lovely effects you just designed, which show up in the preview ... well, clicking OK dumps them all, and nothing happens, the object reverts back to its boring old self! Hmmm.

I know that a number of people reading this blog are Photoshop afficionados, so -- does anyone know how to get this effect in Elements 9:

It should be so simple -- it's a four click job in PP10, and a five click job in Serif Page Plux X3. But after two days of wrestling with PSE9, no joy. Anyone?! (And no, following the instructions in the Help manual, and online, doesn't work ... and no, importing a PNG etc, and using the magic wand to select, and delete, a border which has been painted into a transparent color, won't work either. What I need is the actual, real, genuine "select object, feather edge by x-pixels, OK" routine! If anyone out there knows where PSE9 has hidden this, or what it's called, I'd be soooo grateful for a comment on this post. Thanks! I know I'm just missing something, but for the life of me, I can't see it...

Jade, 28 June

Sunday, June 26, 2011

The Freespacer rogue and the gunfighter from Marak

Hellgate again, folks ... a couple of characters who haven't visited these pages in a long time --

Sergei van Donne -- six foot six, blond, blue eyed, covered in muscles, and one of the most dangerous and notorious of the Freespacers. He was cashiered out of Fleet, where he was a fighter jockey, during the incident on the super-carrier Kiev were a big explosion destroyed the data core ... and the next time he showed up it was on a ship called the Mako, double-dealing both sides of the fence, on his way to an enormous fortune. And Ramon, a gunfighter from Marak City, who fancies Sergei something rotten, and who knows his way around the Freespacer space city of Halfway. Now, Sergei has a serious bone to pick with the shadowy villain behind much of the nastiness that's been going on in the Hellgate books, and --

One word more, and we'll be into plot spoilers! All regarding this arc of the story is revealed, and solved, in the first section of the new Hellgate book. The whole book is HUGE, and it divides itself into episodes, which makes it wonderfully convenient from an editor's point of view. I'm absolutely loving this -- which is why you're seeing so much Hellgate artwork at the moment.

You might notice, Sergei has had a bit extra work done since the last time you saw him. Mel was saying a little while ago, he'd like to see Sergei a little more "chiselled" and hollow cheeked. So some tweaks were done, and I think it's a great improvement!

Incidentally, that's the Remendado skinmap, but not the Remendado morphs. I did the face and body myself, and the Remendado skinmap really suits it. He's wearing the Mon Chevalier hair, by Neftis set to "butter," and then styled this way and that. Same kind of deal with Ramon ... that's the HZ Victor Skinmap, with face and body morphs by yours truly. He's wearing the Midnight Prince hair set to "ebony," and both of these guys are wearing eyeballs from The Eyes Have It set, which are real photographic human eyes in high-rez.

We're putting together hundreds of renders illustrating the Hellgate books, and I'll be building a monster website to carry them, and also the fee samples from the books. If you've been on Mel Keegan's website, you'll know that big sections of these books are all yours for the downloading, to whet your appetite. I think it's something like a whole novel's worth, drawn from the Hellgate books alone. What we'd like to do, when the series is complete (one book to go after this, and we're going to move mountains to have it done by Christmas) is to run the text and the artwork side by side, with "turn page" buttons, so you can settle down with your laptop and enjoy a kind of "multimedia trip" through the opening chapters of each book, before you download the epubs and read on.

Back tomorrow with The Adventure of "Photoshop Elements 9," which could also be entitled, "Jade Joins the Photoshop Flock." Hunh?! Why?! WFT?!

All shall be revealed. Tomorrow. Now, I have to write emails and catch up with people who've been waiting for letters from me for a week ... have been sick again. As you know, my health sucks, and it's been one of those weeks where it's been a struggle just to keep breathing, and post a little artwork. Down here in Aus, it's FLU SEASON. Aha! Everyone has it, or has had it, or is getting it. For me, it turned right into pleurisy, and went downhill from there. So --

Back tomorrow with the PSE9 saga!

Jade, 26 June

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Hellgate musings ... meet Tonio Teniko

As you know, Hellgate is very much on my mind right now because we're prepping the fifth book of the series for publication at this time. So I couldn't resist getting back into rendering scenes from across the whole massive story -- here's the story's resident hunk Neil Travers, on Cimarosa, which you saw at the start of the first book. My goodness, that was a loooong time ago.

I'm still designing a number of the characters (Harrison Shapiro for one), but here is a face which has just won the Mel Keegan stamp of excellence...

It could only be Tonio Teniko! The character had to have a physical beauty that was enough to knock a guy like Richard Vaurien flat ... he's also a tortured character with a nasty past of being abused while doing conscripted service in Fleet. If you know the story, you know how Barb Jazinsky took him out of an institution on Velcastra, because not only is he so beautiful, there ought to be a law against it, he's also brilliant. (Also as prickly as a cactus, but that's a whole 'nother story!) I got MK's response on this character design just yesterday, so here he is -- meet Tonio at last!

And lastly for today, a look at the Marines armor:

This one isn't my design ... it's the Sedition Solder armor from a designer whose name escapes me at the moment. Just go to DAZ and search on it, you'll find it! This design is not really all that close to the description of the Marines armor in the books, but there is no chance -- none at all -- of me learning the 3D software to actually create the armor, this side of 2015, so we've decided on a compromise.

This design as a real "bad ass" appearance, and it'll more than do to represent the armor you read about in the books...

More tomorrow! Must go now: dinner is hitting the table!

Jade, June 25

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Art for its own sake ... male nudes -- CG art imitating life

For ages I've wanted to do some simple, simple shots ... not "simple" as in, "slap something together and call it good," but in the sense of art for its own sake. Ars gratis artis. Pardon the Latin. Here's my chance -- art that's mostly for its own sake.

These male nudes are the kind of model shoot you'd be doing if you got some young hunk into the studio, set up a corner of your space with drapes, a carpet, an amphora, a plant, and a half dozen lights. Then you play the game of "101 ways to pose a naked guy so his dingletwang doesn't show!"

This is actually the same model you saw posing with his jeans on in the backstreet a week or two ago. The hair has been changed to a rich blond, but the rest of the lad remains the same. Except that he appears to have been bribed with beers, burgers and tickets to the game to lose the jeans and the boots!

The drapes are not actually drapes. I used two iterations of the M4 hooded cloak! The carpet isn't really a carpet. It's a texture slapped on a floor prop, with a displacement map added to give it a "pile." Assorted props and the lights, and you're in business. The hairdo is the Akasta hair, and the skinmap is GA Matthias.

Incidentally, I uploaded these at 800x1000 pixels, so they'll make nice pinups, if you want to download and print out! Enjoy.

Back soon, with more from Hellgate, which is very much on my mind because we're in the very final stages of prepping to publish. Whoooo!

Jade, 23 June

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

3D cyclorama magic

Once again I'm just touching base here -- with copious apologies. The last week or so has been too "interesting" ... any more fascinating than this, and --! Long story short: I've kicked the pleurisy and assorted infections, am now buried in work that's been piling up while I wasn't able to take care of it, and Dave's dad is now in the hospital!

So, just a couple of renders that seem to be something from an epic movie ... I'm playing with a cyclorama here. Notice the sky. That's a real photographic sky, a digital image I shot about six months ago, when a spell of hot weather broke with a bang, and the incoming weather front brought some ripped, torn, amazing skies. Dave and I shot up to the top of the hill, about a mile from here, where you get an uninterrupted view of the sky around about 320 degrees of the horizon, and I shot about 100 frames. Then one of these pictures was trimmed and slapped onto a cyclorama, which is a big curved standing prop, like a backdrop at the theater. It's not a full 180 degrees of curvature, but it has to be close to 135 degrees, so you can drive the camera around and see the sky change in the background of your shots -- without having to set up a scene inside the full-on skydome. The sky dome is fantastic, but it's also a bear to light, and if you don't have time, you probably want to look for alternatives. Obviously, just shipping in an image as a background in DAZ would be the fastest way to go, but then, it stays the same in every shot, and to the photographer's eye that looks .... ummm, wrong.

So these shots were set up using the charactes you saw last month (they're making a movie; you also saw them between takes, bluejeans and all), and said cyclorama, plus an assortment of props. They were raytraced and finished with some digital painting -- the grass and the birds, all of which was done in GIMP, with .abr brushes.

Anyway -- suffice to say, I'm alive, I survived, and with any luck at all I'll get on top of the outstanding work, and Dave's dad will be home from the hospital, and we can get back to normal. Or at least what passes for normal around here!

Jade, 22 June (Winter Solstice)

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Jarrat and Stone ... sunset in an exotic resort location

Here, and with huge pleasure, am returning to two of my all-time favorite chracters ... Jarat and Stone. We haven't seen them on the blog here for a long while, and in fact it's Hellgate I'm working on behind the scenes -- we're on the home stretch, prepping the fifth book for publication. Being back in this "universe" whets my appetite for more of it, and I can't help turning back to the NARC books which, of course, are the previous series. These stories take place about 200 years earlier than the Hellgate saga, and Hellgate is built on the foundations of the NARC novels. Um ... Jarrat and Stone. What's not to love?

Anyway, long story short -- I've been playing with a new set, The Lookout. It's an SF set, an observation deck, very nicely crafted, but hell to light. It's deceptive ... you think it'll be easy to light, but it's not. There's some kind of "double layer" effect on the viewports that's giving me all kinds of strife when I put up a space background and set some lights, where at least one light is shining onto the "glass." The problem is, some element associated with the glass is acting as a physical layer, and a shadow is being cast onto it, which makes it look (!) as if I'm casting a shadow on the space backdrop. I know, academically, it's the glass; but it just doesn't look "right."

So I decided not to use space, and to make the observation deck something like a viewing lounge in a luxury hotel. So why not put something spectacular outside, like a blazing sunset. Check. This gives the opportunity to light the set in fiery colors, which worked well.

Now, I'd originally intended to feature this set as part of a spacecraft, and stage Randy and Adam in it ... those two duelling cousins from the storyline I had going a few days ago. But halfway through setting up the scene I got a hankering to go back to either Hellgate or NARC, and since I've done quite a few Hellgate scenes lately I thought ... Jarrat and Stone. Oh, yes.

I don't recall this being a scene from any of the books, but it easily could be. Some of the books refer to a neat vacation our heroes had just taken in exotic places. So you could call this an "off-camera scene," perhaps from one of those vacations.

Jade, 19 June

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Touching base here, with some sexy SF fantasy, and a cool storyline

My apologies for vanishing on you for a few days ... as per my last blogging, I'm working my way through the process of having pleurisy, and it's faaaar from fun.

So I'm just posting a set of images I did a little while ago, while working up some ideas. They're very quick, and based around a theme...

About 1000 years from now, hyperspace travel depends on a special kind of people who can see, or feel, or sense, the currents of subspace. These people are priceless because they can take ships through the void, planet to planet or galaxy to galaxy. There's not many of them, so they're highly prized -- and they don't occur naturally. You find someone who has the potential to swim in hyperspace, and you "modify" them for the job. The modifieds are incredibly rare, and precious ... and in typical fashion, there's an illegal traffic in them. There's a whole wing of the Space Corps dedicated to finding them, liberating them and stamping out the trade, but in fact it gets busted from the inside by a number of the "navigators" who discover that they can reach further than hyperspace; in fact, they can reach into the incredible cybernetic systems that run everything in the year 3000. It takes a network of seven of these "navigators" to bring down the cartel that traffics in people like them...

"My gods," you're saying, "that's brilliant!" Well, it's certainly a new spin on a bunch of old ideas, but I'm not going to tell you it's my idea! It's based on THREE previous ideas, all welded together and given a new spin. If you're into Doctor Who, think back to Warrior's Gate, the story about the Time Sensitives who piloted ships through the timestreams, and there was an illegal traffic in them. (It was a Tom Baker story, and I think it might have been in the last season he did, just prior to turning into Peter Davison.) Then, think back to Wing Commander, which featured a subspecies of human who could navigate hyperspace in their heads. Uh huh. Then think back to the book, Dune, in which the navigators were "modified," or somehow mutated by ingesting spice, which let them pilot starships.

None of these prior projects featured any navigator who was female -- not one. Therefore, none of them had navigators who were nubile young women who looked fantastic swimming nekkid among the stars. But this is where CG art likes to go these days! And here's seven images featuring these remarkable folks who can swim in hyperspace (and who don't look like grizzled prospectors, or look like they're steadily mutating into sandworms!) and also reach into the realm of cybernetics and beat the cartel from the inside. Also, none of the prior projects featured anything like a Space Corps dedicated to stopping the illegal trafficking in these folks, so you'd add in a cross between La Femme Nikita and Space Police ... Roy Dupis in black leather, rescuing a bunch of drop-dead gorgeous super-women in space, in 3000AD.

Oooooh, my goodness. Can we say, "Commercial potential?"

The backgrounds are digital paintings based on Hubble photos which have been heavily worked in several ways. Then the Victoria 4.2 model was posed in freefall. Then the renders were finished with iconic overpainting in GIMP, using .abr brushes, for some interesting effects.

Now ... pills. Rest. Gak.

Jade, June 18

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Cheers to Admin at Renderosity

Full marks are being awarded to Admin at Renderosity for very smooth handling of a problem in the ordering system. I had a weird experience with the shopping cart (which is something that can happen anywhere, anytime). No difficulty picking out several items (a model; a texture set; a brush set) and putting them in the cart, but come checkout time, the cart emptied itself out. Hmmm, I thought, this is odd. So I went around and scouted up all the items and put them back in the cart, and checked out again. The order seemed to go through okay the second time around, but though the PayPal went through cleanly, the computer had emptied the cart halfway through the process, so it actually clocked up what they call an "empty order." Basically, this means the transaction shows, your account is paid up, and/but there are no download links for your goodies, because the system has no idea what you ordered! Very strange ... and oddly enough, I had the same thing happen at another online store, ordering vitamins and herbs, just a few weeks ago.

Gremlins in the system, right? Right. However, Admin was able to straighted the whole thing out at their end, as soon as they caught up with my email about it, so I now have all my goodies, and am very happy with all.

So today you're seeing one of the great brick wall textures that were on hiatus for a little while in that "empty order." Plus a couple of props from Powerage, jeans by Billy-T actually for M3, but they fit M4 too), plus the Akaste hair, and the skinmap is GA Matthias... Four lights on the scene, and raytracing turned on. Little bit of post work done in GIMP afterward -- just the weedy grasses, which were done with an .abr brush.

Tomorrow, if I'm still alive, I'm going to play with the new model -- a science fiction set that will go great as an observation deck on a spacecraft. I thought, how about put Cousin Randy on the ship, before he comes "groundside," as Mel Keegan says, to make like interesting for Cousin Adam?

If I'm still alive! The Kreeping Krudd has turned to pleurisy, which for me it does every second or third winter, almost without fail. Have been lucky for a couple of years, and this was way past due, so ... not complaining, just wheezing, gasping, and generally looking like I've had one too many Pan Galactic Gargle Blasters. (Yeah, just watched Hitch Hikers' Guide on dvd -- the original BBC series, not the movie; and you would be amazed how surreal it all is, when you're running a fever!)

Jade, 15 May

Monday, June 13, 2011

The plot thickens ...

Remember the plot I was spinning the other day, about the industrial crew trying to negotiate for the mining rights to the lodestone that makes wizardry work on a planet in the back of beyond, and the sorcerers' guild won't have a bar of it? Well, the plot thickens!

Meet the LaCoste cousins. Third or fourth cousins, a lot alike and a lot different. There's the bad boy, and the good boy. As usual, the bad boy is a lot more interesting, a well as devilishly charming. Imagine Johnny Depp in skin tight shiny black leather ... he's the ultimate bad boy, Randolph -- Randy for short. He was bored out of his gourd with the goody two shoes environment on his homeworld by the time he was 19, and when a crew of independent prospectors happened by, he ran away to space with them. (Mel Keegan would call this a Freespacer crew, and I'm going to borrow that term. It's drawn from the Hellgate books, and it refers to human industries and activities way beyond the settled, colonized and organized frontier. Kind of like the Old West, before the railroad and telegraph, where the law was what you could get away with, till somebody bigger and tougher bopped you to bring you right back into line!)

So here's Randy, who ran away to space eight years ago, when the Freespacers came by the first time ... and here's the good boy, Adam, who ... didn't. He went to college, joined the Guard and got to be a Captain by following orders and doing all that boring stuff about being in charge, and being a slave to honor. Now, it's a safe bet that Randy and Adam have a history. Just what that history is, I leave to your own imagination -- but you knooooooow it doesn't run along the lines of pruning begonias and taking library books to unfortunate old ladies in the hospital!

Now, eight years ago, when the Freespacer crew negotiated with the Sorcerers' Guild to get the mining rights to the lodestone, and were told "No!!" in no uncertain terms, they pushed off like good chaps and took this for an answer. But in the years since Randy's been with them, he also has risen to the rank of Captain ... and the station has nothing to do with the Palace Guard. The Freespacers are back, and they want those mining rights --

But to get them, Randy needs to go through Great Uncle Damon, the Grand Poo Bah of the Guild, who is also Adam's Great Uncle, and through Great Aunt Jocasta, who is the Chairperson of the Scryers' Association, Inc., who is also Adam's Great Aunt. Now, Damon and Jocasta would have their butlers toss Randy straight through the door (without opening it first), much less listen to a word he says. But they love Adam, who's always been such a good boy. So Randy figures, he can used Adam to get to the Oldsters...

But Adam isn't having any of this. And --

"Oh, no you don't, Randolf, you're not going to weasel your way around me like that!"

"Like what?" Randy demands innocently, though he's already sprawled out nekkid among the myriad plants in Aunt Drusilla's solarium...

Did I say, the plot thickened?!

The Guard costume started out red and I decided to change it to blue ... I think blue works better on Adam. But the black leather Freespacer costume looks fantastic on Randy, so that'll work just fine.

If I were actually writing the story, I'd have all kinds of comedic situations where the two have to swap costumes and pretend to be each other to get out of trouble, and somewhere along the line, Adam would get a yen to run away to space, and Randy would come around to being "good" and wind up in charge of the city guard --

Now, I'm not saying this situation would last for long! But imagine this:

There you go, there's the cover to this rib-tickler of a science fiction cum fantasy romp with a gay element ... as if Douglas Adams and Oscar Wilde co-wrote an SF script for Johnny Depp and Ben Barns.

Whooooo ... now, there's an idea!

Jade, 13 June
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