A Game and SGU

Free Portal for a Limited Time

Valve/Steam's terrific game Portal is absolutely free for the next few days, until May 24th. In case you're not familiar with it, Portal is a fantastic puzzle/shooting game that introduced catch phrases like "The cake is a lie" and a chilling character called GLADOS, a diabolical computer mind that is both hilarious and murderous. A sample comment from GLADOS: "That thing you burnt up isn't important to me. It's the fluid catalytic cracking unit. It made shoes for orphans. Nice job breaking it, hero."

The portal in the name refers to your ability as a player to make a hole in a surface, which will port you to another location. This game is an awful lot of fun and won meg awards the year it came out, as well as enrapturing everyone in my house who played it. With Portal two in the works Steam/Valve is releasing version one for free, because they apparently don't have quite enough addicted souls.

You can get all the details and sign up for your Steam account here: http://store.steampowered.com/freeportal

A Show That Give Me Anxiety Attacks

I go through phases where I don't watch any television at all, and then I watch a whole bunch. Right now I'm watching a bunch, including getting caught up on old series that I missed like Stargate Atlantis. One of the benefits of watching a show that's no longer on is that I'm never kept in suspense for too long. Instead of having to wait a week for part two of a cliffhanger I only have to wait a day or so, which is good for my heart. Unfortunately one of the shows that is most suspenseful is brand new and I have to wait a week between episodes.

Stargate Universe is in the middle of the second half of its first season. (The Syfy channel splits its seasons into two parts, running half, then taking a break, then bringing back the second half.) As the series begins Eli (David Blue), my favorite character, is a young man living with his mom, who is chronically ill, and playing a ton of video games. He's cracked a code that's embedded in the game and is shocked when some men appear at his doorstep to tell him the code is real and was put in the game to solve a decades old mystery. The code has to do with the last chevron on a stargate, an ancient device that creates a wormhole and allows travelers to go from stargate to stargate practically instantaneously, allowing interstellar travel in a timely fashion.

The next thing Eli knows he's leaving his mother's house and off on an adventure. One minute he's in the basement and the next he's on another world; a world that's about to be ripped apart. But before it is, the gate is dialed to the new setting and everyone has to jump through, landing in a completely unknown destination, with no opportunity to get back. There are basically two sets of people; soldiers, led by Colonel Young, and scientists, led by Rush, who is assisted by Eli. All of them are stranded in the middle of space, on an incredibly old, falling apart spaceship, a ridiculous distance from Earth.

This is a great setup for a continuing story as just about anything can happen. There is a gate on the ship, which randomly accesses various planets, where adventure and adversity await, which gives a nice choice of storylines. But there is also the overarching story of the ship itself and the fate of the people who are now traveling on it, going somewhere unknown, with shipmates they absolutely didn't choose. There is built-in conflict not just from the lack of food and water but also from the grating personalities of people who have nothing in common forced to deal with each other.

I may have mentioned this before, but one of the things that is so wonderful about science fiction is how all encompassing it is. Just about any other genre can fit under the science fiction umbrella, especially when you have the kinds of settings that SGU does. It's easy to frame a romance when strangers are thrown together. Or a mystery, when said strangers hurt each other or steal from each other. Or a medical story a la House, but even crazier since the characters are on new planets where they encounter alien germs as well as other forms of alien life. You can even do a western set in space, as we saw with the too short-lived Firefly.

John Scalzi, author of Old Man's War and other terrific books, is the creative consultant for Stargate Universe and I feel I can see his touch all over the show, although he says if he's doing his job right I won't see it, so maybe I'm fooling myself. I've read most of Scalzi's work and think there are definitely elements of his stories in SGU. If you're interested in what it means to be the creative consultant you can start with this post from the Whatever: http://whatever.scalzi.com/2009/09/30/on-being-the-stargate-universe-cre....

SGU has strong characters, fantastic, gut wrenching, suspenseful storylines and fantastic acting. Sometimes I have to pause the show to calm down because I get so worried about the characters. (Except Rush, I'm biased against him. He's my least favorite character and I don't trust him one bit.) They’ve faced hostile aliens, starvation, infection, insurrection, and being stranded on a strange planet. (The ship has its own agenda and jumps into ftl speed when it wants to, regardless of the preparedness of the crew.) If you think your heart is up to the strain you can watch the show on cable on the Syfy channel, on demand, at the Syfy website (http://www.Syfy.com/universe/), Hulu (http://www.hulu.com/stargate-universe) and probably a few other places I'm not privy to.

One-Paragraph Review

This week's one-paragraph review is from GLADOS, who writes in to say, "I cannot wait for Portal Two. It's going to be the awesomest thing ever." (Editor's note – can you trust a homicidal artificial intelligence?)Do you have a one-paragraph (or smaller) review you'd like to share? Send it in to me for consideration. You can reach me at feedback@qualitytimeweekly.com.