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Eurofurence 28 — "Cyberpunk"
Sep 18 – 21, 2024
CCH — Congress Center Hamburg


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Author Topic: EF23 - The Skies of Astar  (Read 7930 times)


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EF23 - The Skies of Astar
« on: 02.09.2017, 10:44:23 »

The Skies of Astar

Because DOPE and LSD work hard enough to deserve their own topic.

In many ways the work of a critic is easy. We risk little and... Wait, no, sorry. Wrong production.

I really liked this year’s paw-pet show for a variety of reasons. It’s not so much I couldn’t see flaws, but that I was having so much fun I didn’t care about them. Over all I’d say this takes third place behind Dreamcatchers and Year of the Rat. This is also the first time I’ve ever been tempted by a DOPE production to write fanfiction.

Taking things from the top...

The mobile phone spy-cams worked well. (Though it’s a pity only the front third or so could participate.) Cheetah’s bet with the production crew, and the ongoing laden jokes were also welcome.

The plot and setting were a major departure from last year, jumping from medieval/renaissance to early 20th century diesel-punk Astar. The opening narration and visuals raised more questions than answers, which I’m not sure the show addressed. I  assume in hindsight the burning blimp and city represented the recent war, rather than a terrible civil disaster? If so it wasn’t clear, but it was dramatic, and told us everything we need to know about the scale, achievements, and failures of this civilisation.

The first act felt slow to start, but set up a lot of dominos for later, especially the voice overs, which were an excellent and welcome return. The much telegraphed revelations about Ortha were dealt with quickly enough, with the sudden addition of explosions a nice  distraction. Things pick up on the airship as we’re suddenly dumped into a virtual police state. And again with Cal switching sides and letting Ortha go.

Air combat segment introduced us to quite the trio. Cal reinforces his role as street smart but inexperienced in combat, Florence as technically skilled but hopelessly naive, and Ortha as a combat veteran with (um...) limited formal education. Roles they will mostly maintain for the rest of the story.

Queen Idres was a nice example of Royals Who Actually Do Something, and seeing her rip Sarken’s plans to shreds literally and metaphorically was immensely satisfying. The village doctor was lots of fun too. Though I see a certain wolf puppet seems to developing a type casting problem...

The climax was satisfying, though sad in a way, with the villain broken on multiple levels, the events of the story covered up as a conspiracy, and Idres concluding that her nation is not ready for open contact. Though with the return of the airship to the Five Realms it’s going to hard to avoid unofficial diplomatic contact. And with the advances in air travel to come, and rocketry probably not that far into the future, the secret can’t be kept for ever. I smell sequel bait.

# # #

The sets were on the whole nicely decorated. Ortha was herself obviously a standout special effect. And the pre-story visuals and sound were excellent too. It is however unfortunate that some of the microphones seemed to have caught a nasty case of EF9 this year. At times other parts of the set seemed too small for the actors to hide behind. These are minor nitpicks though.

One other thing that stood out was the fighter aircraft. They looked a little unfinished. I appreciate the colour had to match the smaller models, and each other, and anything indicating the start and end of the cockpit might have made things harder for the actors, but against the highly detailed artistic backgrounds they stood out like... Well, like day-glow luminous painted aircraft. 

# # #

There were a few things about the story I found a bit confusing. Either initially or for the duration of the story. Abraham’s age somewhat came across as an informed attribute. Both Florence and her mother agree he’s old enough to be her father, but I didn’t get any sense of his age apart from that.

I take it that was not a cattle prod Cal was holding in the second scene? (If it was a stick to keep the audience away, I didn’t find that clear.) Speaking of Cal, I also got mixed messages about his relationship with Ortha prior to the start of the story. Apparently he spent a lot of time caring for her, and we are told she appreciated that, but the moment the bombs go off we are shown her treating him like an enemy rather than the only point of (relative) safety she’s known for months. Speaking of dragons, how exactly did the airship crew miss the whole dragon civilisation during the several weeks I assume they were exploring part of the Five Realms?

The exact events surrounding the death of the late Mr Harrington and the war with Vanos seemed a little inconsistent. (Though this may be imperfect character knowledge or a redrafting issues.) In particular, did Sarken kill Harrington before or after he started spreading the rumours about Vanos? But again those are mostly nitpicks.

In fact, the only real problem I had this year was with parts of Ortha’s character. As much as I liked her, and was having so much fun I didn’t care at the time - I couldn’t help but notice a few things about how she was presented, and how others interacted with her.

I don’t remember her saying, “I love you too” to Cal. Or how the admiration between the three seems to flow exclusively towards Ortha, and how she never commented on the moral and ethical problems that Astar poses to Home. And how it never comes up that the airship crew had good cause to keep large and dangerous animals away from a delicate and fragile airship that was their only ticket home.

Obviously as a telepathic species, you can say she wouldn’t speak her feelings but share them more directly. (If so that may be one of those things that doesn’t work as well on the stage as it does on paper.) Or maybe she doesn’t, because kidnapping, and just sees him as a friend?

I think I would have also liked a little more of Ortha’s views on Astar. They obviously find her amazing, but despite giving every impression of coming from a culture closer to the 10th than 20th century, there didn’t seem to be any reciprocation. I don’t remember any moments along the lines of “Holy fuck! Can you believe the size of that thing?! And it has no wings! How does it fly without wings?!” Or her saying “What is that?” when she tries to look at some of the high end maths that Florence probably knows, and which Ortha probably wouldn’t understand too easily.

Finally, there’s the not so small issue that dragon culture has been killing other species for hundreds of years without considering it murder, because they can’t mind-talk back. Ortha has just gotten her face rubbed in it that the majority of sapient species can’t mind-talk. This never really lead to a self-reflective “Oh shit!” moment for her. Her people seem to clearly think they’re the only people on Home. I sincerely hope they’re correct about that.

Though all of that is very consistent with someone from Ortha’s background, and someone who may be the star of the show, but is not the man character. Her role seemed to be as catalyst for others to go through character growth, and not so much experiencing it for herself.

Overall this world felt a lot more expansive to me than anything DOPE or LSD have created in the past. It almost feels like a sand-box, in that there are so many tempting story hooks, jumping off points, and loose ends that might even invite and deserve speculation of its own.

In no particular order:
*One of the children playing with Ortha knew her name. But had he been told by Ortha or one of the adults? How common is the ‘telepathy gene’?
*Unless Astar develops slower than Europe, they’re 20 to 40 years away from orbital rockets. There are no more hidden islands after that. What happens then? And will Idres’ descendants endorse her views?
*How will the dragon council (IIRC?) react to all this? Probably not as well as we would hope, given some of what Ortha said. (I’m guessing one will react particularly badly.) Given they probably won’t be able to take out any frustration on the heavily armed furries, their gaze may fall on Ortha. Especially given some of what she did may be considered legally dubious.
*What was happening on the bridge of the airship while Ortha’s brother was killed? Either of them trying to land on top would probably wreck one or more gas cells. Or flying too close could smash the propellers. It’s also very possibly this wasn’t the first time they meet a dragon – and the first one formed a bad impression by eating some crew. How much involvement did Sarken actually have in the decision, if any?
*What is Cal and Ortha's relationship now? How when she adjust to returning home, given she'll be very important to the (probably) embassy and Council, and probably won't be able to pick up her old job again.
*And in the fullness of time, how will history judge the actions of everyone involved?

These aren’t criticisms. Well built worlds should have frayed edges. And this was a well built world. One that I very much enjoyed visiting, and which was a highlight of the convention for me.

Thank to everyone involved in DOPE and LSD.

PS: I look forwards to the Ortha-Cal fan art with great anticipation.  ;D


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Re: EF23 - The Skies of Astar
« Reply #1 on: 02.09.2017, 12:50:19 »

Thank you very much for your detailed and interesting view on our show! We appreciate the time and effort you put into this, and if you like I will address the points you raised and clarify those parts of the story as they were intended. But on the other hand, maybe you prefer them to stay mysteries :-) Again, thank you for your view on The Skies of Astar!
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Re: EF23 - The Skies of Astar
« Reply #2 on: 02.09.2017, 13:44:40 »

The Skies of Astar

One other thing that stood out was the fighter aircraft. They looked a little unfinished. I appreciate the colour had to match the smaller models, and each other, and anything indicating the start and end of the cockpit might have made things harder for the actors, but against the highly detailed artistic backgrounds they stood out like... Well, like day-glow luminous painted aircraft. 

From what I've heard, the PPS crew had to deal with some problems during the making of the backdrops and such.
One crew member had a horrible accident and one of the artist had to deal with a sudden family issue. (*hugs them both*)
But instead of cancelling the whole show, they outdid themselves again and found last minute solutions.
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