Friday, December 25, 2009

Almost as good as a gift from Santa...


Carl of Stainless Steel Droppings is hosting the Sci-Fi Experience. It will be from January through February of 2010.

You can leave links to reviews on this post about the experience.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Star Trek Vanguard: Harbinger ~David Mack

I recently read and reviewed Star Trek Vanguard: Harbinger by David Mack. It was an excellent beginning to this series. My review is here:

http://www.stainlesssteeldroppings.com/?p=1169

Monday, December 14, 2009

Chasm City ~Alastair Reynolds

Just read and reviewed Chasm City by Alastair Reynolds. EXCELLENT book. Here is my review:

http://www.stainlesssteeldroppings.com/?p=1164

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Becky's List of 42

My List of 42:

1. Star Trek (2009)
2. Genesis by Bernard Beckett
3. Science Fiction Classics, Graphic Classics #17
4. 2001 A Space Odyssey by Arthur C. Clarke
5. Under the Dome by Stephen King
6. Candor by Pam Bachorz
7.
8.
9.
10.
11.
12.
13.
14.
15.
16.
17.
18.
19.
20.
21.
22.
23.
24.
25.
26.
27.
28.
29.
30.
31.
32.
33.
34.
35.
36.
37.
38.
39.
40.
41.
42.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Want to 42 Again?


42 Challenge (for 2010)
Officially starts January 1, 2010
Officially ends December 3, 2010

Your mission--if you choose to accept it--is to read, watch, listen, and (possibly) review 42 sci-fi related items.

What counts? Short stories, novellas, novels, radio show episodes, television show episodes, movies, graphic novels, comic books, audio books, essays about science fiction, biographies about sci-fi authors, etc. Adapted or abridged works are okay as well.

Keep an ongoing list of your 42 either here on this site (just leave your email address in the comments) or on your own site (just leave a link to your list in the comments). Your list doesn't have to include links to your reviews. But it can if you like. Reviews are not required.

If you want to join the challenge, leave a comment on this post.
If you want to be able to contribute to this site, then leave your email address.
If you don't want to contribute, then that's not necessary.
If this will be your second year, and you'd like to continue on, then leave a comment to 'renew' your participation.
MY goal is to add ALL participants to the site's blog roll.
If you would like to be added to the blog roll AND your blog/site isn't linked in your profile, please leave a link to your site.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Woo-Hoo - Challenge completed!

And all through the miracle of TV!

See my recap of Warehouse 13 series 1 here.

And what I think of Fringe Series 2 so far here.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Podkayne of Mars ~Robert Heinlein

Just read and reviewed the Robert Heinlein novel, Podkayne of Mars.

Review is here if you are interested:

http://www.stainlesssteeldroppings.com/?p=1159

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Alison's 42

alisonwonderland
So Many Books, So Little Time
We're All Mad Here
(Links are to my reviews.)
  1. Stargate: SG-1, Season 2, Episode 31, "Secrets"

  2. Stargate: SG-1, Season 2, Episode 32, "Bane"

  3. Stargate: SG-1, Season 2, Episodes 33 and 34, "The Tok'ra"

  4. Stargate: SG-1, Season 2, Episode 35, "Spirits"

  5. The Host by Stephenie Meyer

  6. The Accidental Time Machine by Joe Haldeman

  7. Stargate: SG-1, Season 2, Episode 36, "Touchstone"

  8. Stargate: SG-1, Season 2, Episode 37, "The Fifth Race"

  9. Stargate: SG-1, Season 2, Episode 38, "A Matter of Time"

  10. Stargate: SG-1, Season 2, Episode 39, "Holiday"

  11. Stargate: SG-1, Season 2, Episode 40, "Serpent's Song"

  12. Stargate: SG-1, Season 2, Episode 41, "One False Step"

  13. Stargate: SG-1, Season 2, Episode 42, "Show and Tell"

  14. Stargate: SG-1, Season 2, Episode 43, "1969"

  15. Stargate: SG-1, Season 2, Episode 44, "Out of Mind (Part 1)"

  16. Stargate: Atlantis, Season 4 (20 episodes)

  17. Stargate: SG-1, Season 3 (22 episodes)

  18. Stargate: SG-1, Season 4 (22 episodes)

  19. Stargate: SG-1, Season 5 (22 episodes)

  20. Stargate: SG-1, Season 6 (22 episodes)

  21. Stargate: SG-1, Season 7 (22 episodes)

  22. InterWorld by Neil Gaiman and Michael Reaves

  23. The House of the Scorpion by Nancy Farmer

  24. Stargate: SG-1, Season 8 (20 episodes)

  25. Stargate: SG-1, Season 9 (20 episodes)

  26. Life As We Knew It by Susan Beth Pfeffer

  27. Stargate: SG-1, Season 10 (20 episodes)

  28. Stargate: The Ark of Truth

  29. Stargate: Continuum

  30. Sanctuary, Season 1 (13 episodes)

  31. WALL-E

  32. The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

  33. Unwind by Neal Shusterman

  34. When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead

  35. Stargate: Atlantis, Season 5 (20 episodes)

  36. Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins

  37. FlashForward, Season 1 (9 episodes and counting)

  38. Stargate: Universe, Season 1 (9 episodes and counting)

  39. Sanctuary, Season 2 (7 episodes and counting)

  40. Star Trek (2009)

  41. V (2009 TV series), Season 1 (4 episodes and counting)

  42. Push (2009)

Monday, November 23, 2009

Eclipse Three ~Jonathan Strahan, ed.

I just reviewed the science fiction/fantasy anthology Eclipse Three and am counting it as part of my 42 Challenge. You can find the review here:

http://www.stainlesssteeldroppings.com/?p=1154

Monday, November 16, 2009

Wrap up for rebeccavoy

I finished the 42 challenge last week - yay! Such a fun challenge.

List here.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Warehouse 13

A mid-season recap of Warehouse 13 - short thoughts on episodes 2 through 6 can be found here.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Wrap up post for Pussreboots

I've finished the challenge. Since 42 is the perfect number for this challenge I won't add any extras to my list. I will be back when the next challenge launches in December.

I had loads of fun doing the 42 Challenge. It ended up being one of my favorites.

My completed list is:


  1. The Perfect Infestation by Carol Emshwiller

  2. Seafarer's Blood by Albert E. Cowdrey

  3. Dance of Shadows by Fred Chappell

  4. All in Fun by Jerry Oltion


  5. Texas Bake Sale by Charles Coleman Finlay

  6. Beyond the Blue Event Horizon by Frederik Pohl

  7. Catalog by Eugene Mirabelli

  8. Heechee Rendezvous by Frederik Pohl

  9. The Host by Stephanie Meyer


  10. Unstrung Zither by Yoon Ha Lee

  11. Doctor Who and the War Games by Malcolm Hulke

  12. The Boy Who Would Live Forever by Frederik Pohl

  13. The Tribes of Bela by Albert E. Cowdrey

  14. Sorcerers of Majipoor by Robert Silverberg


  15. Avenger of Love by Jack Skillingstead

  16. Andreanna by S L Gilbow

  17. The Heroes of Googly-Woogly by Dalton James

  18. Stratosphere by Henry Garfield

  19. Falling Free by Lois McMaster Bujold


  20. The Price of Silence by Deborah Ross

  21. Doctor Who and the Three Doctors by Terrance Dicks

  22. The Second Ship by Richard Phillips

  23. Night Watch by Terry Pratchett

  24. Firehorn by Robert Reed


  25. Destination Moon by Georges Remi Hergé

  26. Explorers on the Moon by Georges Remi Hergé

  27. A Rebel in Time by Harry Harrison

  28. Retrograde Summer by John Varley

  29. The Yiddish Policemen's Union by Michael Chabon


  30. Paradiso Lost by Albert E. Cowdrey

  31. Adaptogenia by Wayne Wightman

  32. Spaceman by Mike O'Driscoll

  33. Simulacron-3 by Daniel F. Galouye

  34. The Art of the Dragon by Sean McMullen


  35. Miss Pickerell Goes to Mars by Ellen MacGreggor

  36. Hunchster by Matthew Hughes

  37. Robot Dreams by Sara Varon

  38. Icarus Saved from the Sky by Georges-Olivier Châteaureynaud

  39. Synarchy: Book 1: The Awakening by DCS


  40. The Others by Lawrence C. Connolly

  41. Enemies and Allies by Kevin J. Anderson

  42. A Civil Campaign by Lois McMaster Bujold

Battlestar Galactica - The Plan

Oh, Battlestar Galactica. I was so looking forward to The Plan. I mean, what's not to love - it's the BSG story, but from the point of view of the Cylons!! How could this go wrong?

Here's how - they could make it slow, and without purpose. Rather than trying to tell its own story, The Plan is basically nothing more than short scenes which could have just as easily been outtakes from previous episodes. While some of them were interesting, most of them didn't tell us anything we hadn't already learned. (Although the insight on Leoban's obsession with Kara was somewhat fascinating.) It just didn't work, and it was disappointing.

I know BSG fans are hoping for more movies like this set in the BSG universe - I know I am. But I know much of the future of the universe depends on how well The Plan is receieved. Unfortunately, after watching it, I don't hold out much hope for more.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Transition

Here's what I thought of the new Iain Banks novel Transition. Is it or isn't science fiction? Well, I'm listing it here, so guess what I think!

Friday, October 9, 2009

Stargate Universe

22. Stargate Universe. Hurray, another Stargate series! And starring Robert Carlisle! Great pilot episodes - can't wait to see how it pans out. Who will be the new baddies? I think the new enemies are CGI so they should be spectacular.

Monday, October 5, 2009

19. The Handmaids Tale - Margaret Attwood. A scary future possibility.
20. Warehouse 13 - the pilot episode. This looks good. I can't wait to see how it develops.
21. I am Legend - Richard Mattheson. The film of the same name bears no resemblence at all to the book. It's almost a completely different story in fact!


Saturday, October 3, 2009

#36: Hunchster by Matthew Hughes

"Hunchster" reminds me of the "Mind Over Murder" episode from Family Guy Find out why.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Just so you know...


I'm planning on hosting the 42 challenge again in 2010. Sign ups will BEGIN on December 4, 2009. I'll post about the challenge at that time.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Monday, September 14, 2009

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Warehouse 13

It's been ages since I've posted, but here is my review of Warehouse 13's pilot episode.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Three new reviews

I now only have nine more reviews left for this year's challenge.

31. Adaptogenia by Wayne Wightman
32. Spaceman by Mike O'Driscoll
33. Simulacron-3 by Daniel F. Galouye

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Steampunk and Aliens

Here are links to my two latest 42 Challenge posts,

The Alchemy of Stone book review:

http://www.stainlesssteeldroppings.com/?p=1126

District 9 film review:

http://www.stainlesssteeldroppings.com/?p=1128

Thursday, July 23, 2009

A Monster, the Moon and Time Travel

I have finished numbers 24-27 in the form of one short story, two old comic books and a twenty-three year old novel.


  1. Firehorn by Robert Reed
  2. Destination Moon by Georges Remi Hergé
  3. Explorers on the Moon by Georges Remi Hergé
  4. A Rebel in Time by Harry Harrison

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Pashazade

The First Arabesk - read my review here

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Torchwood: Children of Earth

As one of my friends said to me at the beginning of this week: OMG, how good was that! If you want to see my reaction to all five episodes, recorded as it happened, and with no spoilers (I think, no I'm pretty sure) then you should head here.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

I've passed the halfway point

After a dry spell in my scifi reading, I'm finally in the groove again.

#20: The Price of Silence by Deborah Ross, a short story published in FSF.

#21 Doctor Who and the Three Doctors a novelization by Terrance Dicks

#22 The Second Ship by Richard Phillips

#23 Night Watch by Terry Pratchett

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Repo: The Genetic Opera

Repo: The Genetic Opera

Plot summary from IMDB.com -

In the year 2056 - the not so distant future - an epidemic of organ failures devastates the planet. Out of the tragedy, a savior emerges: GeneCo, a biotech company that offers organ transplants, for a price. Those who miss their payments are scheduled for repossession and hunted by villainous Repo Men. In a world where surgery addicts are hooked on painkilling drugs and murder is sanctioned by law, a sheltered young girl searches for the cure to her own rare disease as well as information about her family's mysterious history. After being sucked into the haunting world of GeneCo, she is unable to turn back, as all of her questions will be answered at the wildly anticipated spectacular event: The Genetic Opera.

My thoughts:

This was definitely one of the oddest movies I've ever seen. The acting was passable - the singing pretty bad, except the songs done by the fabulous Sarah Brightman. And yet, for some reason, I couldn't stop watching. I found myself strangely fascinated by Shilo and her search for the truth about her family. And, of course, Paris Hilton, who was just exactly what you'd expect. I think the filmmakers were hoping for a "Rocky Horror" -esque cult following, and I just don't think it was good enough for that. But, if you don't have anything better to do, it's not the worst movie you could spend two hours on.

To Hie from Far Cilenia by Karl Schroeder (from Metatropolis)

This is the last story in this audio collection, and it has a decidedly different tone that what came before. Instead of an actual city, this story takes place in a series of virtual cities - interactive, multiplayer game cities which future residents have chosen to abandon the real world to inhabit. There is a larger plot - Gennady, a contractor hired to find stolen plutonium, and Miranda, an anthropologist looking for her lost son, are trying to track down a shipment of plutonium believed to have been stolen by someone in one of these virtual cities. However, the exploration of the cities themselves were, to me, much more interesting than the larger story.

With the ever-growing fascination of massively multi-player online games, it is not a stretch to imagine a time when people literally abdicate their lives in the "real" world in favor of one of these online societies. The complex politics and economics of Shroeder's virtual worlds were fascinating, and I was fully engaged throughout the story.

I definitely enjoyed this anthology - in fact, it's soon to be available in print form, and I'm seriously considering making that purchase.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

#19 Falling Free by Lois McMaster Bujold

Falling Free by Lois McMaster Bujold is about Leo Graf, an engineer sent to teach at a distant space station. What he finds there ends up turning him into an activist.

His students are a genetically modified human subspecies called "quads" who have four arms instead of two arms and two legs. They are also genetically adapted to live better in the low gravity of off world living. While the have the same intelligence, personalities and hopes and desires as humanity, they are treated by the research company as property and nothing more.

Read the full post here

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

#18 Stratosphere by Henry Garfield

I'm an American. Baseball is in my blood. I don't watch the games all the time but it's probably my favorite sport and I'm a sucker for a good baseball story. "Stratosphere" by Henry Garfield takes baseball and creates a near future tale of one of those big game moments.

The hero of the story is one Joe "Stratosphere" Stromboni who is remembered by a fellow player from the Farside league. Although the details of the game aren't spelled out, Garfield gives a number of hints about how the low gravity game would be different from how it is on earth. "Stratosphere" gets his nickname from one fantastic home run that sends the ball into orbit.

Read the full post here.

#17 The Heroes of Googly Woogly by Dalton James

The space adventure that Dalton James imagines is surreal and humorous. The red and blue world of the Soodo and Soodont peoples reminds me of the off the wall space adventures from Danger Mouse.

Despite the goofiness of the planet Googley Woogley the conflict between the Soodos and Soodonts is a good starting point for discussing war, slavery and bulling with children. Like The Sneakiest Pirates the resolution isn't clean cut. With the pirates, their gold is still stolen property and now on Googley Woogley the oppressed become the oppressors, though in a less heavy handed way. In that regard, I am also reminded of The Sneetches and Other Stories by Dr. Seuss.

Read the full post here.

#16 Andreanna by S L Gilbow

Alfred Hitchcock made Mt. Rushmore the perfect location a big budget cinematic chase full of mystery and intrigue. Since North by Northwest Mt. Rushmore continues to be a popular landmark for adventures: National Treasure: Book of Secrets and Ben 10. Now S. L. Gilbow visits with his story of a homesick robot horribly damaged in an accident on the moon.

Read the full post here.

#15 Avenger of Love by Jack Skillingstead

"The Avenger of Love" in the April / May issue of Fantasy & Science Fiction is dedicated to Harlan Ellison. I haven't read enough of his work to get the connection between Skillingstead's story and Ellison's writing. Despite the gap in my reading I liked the story.

Read the full post here.

#14 Sorcerers of Majipoor by Robert Silverberg

Sorcerers of Majipoor takes place one thousand years before the start of Lord Valentine's Castle. The traditional passage from Coronal to Pontifax and the choosing of a new Coronal will be challenged when the blood heir of the soon to be Pontifax desires the throne. Though there is no written law against a blood succession it just isn't done. Until now.

Read the full review here.

#13: The Tribes of Bela by Albert E. Cowdrey

"Tribes of Bela" was the cover story for the August 2004 issue and it's set on another world four light years away named Bela. There is a small mining operation of 1,200 people and in the last couple years a few people have been found murdered. Colonel Robert Kohn has come to investigate.

Read the full review here

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Shelley's 42: 1-10 (Original Star Trek)

1. The Man Trap - “The Enterprise visits planet M-113 for a routine medical inspection of archaeologists Robert and Nancy Crater, but find that Nancy Crater has been replaced by a deadly, shape-shifting creature.”
A somewhat worthy first episode. Their flared capri pants and high-heeled boots caught my eye. Must have been a sixties thing. The monster posing as Nancy was quite the beauty.

2. Charlie X - “While traveling about the Enterprise, a dangerous young man named Charlie Evans terrorizes the crew with his unusual mental powers.”
A hormonal teenager with super powers—scary stuff. The ending was a little anticlimactic.

3. Where No Man Has Gone Before - “After the Enterprise attempts to cross the Great Barrier at the edge of the galaxy, crew members Gary Mitchell and Elizabeth Dehner develop "godlike" psychic powers which threaten the safety of the crew.”
Freaky silver eyes!! Interesting ideas about power.

4. The Naked Time - “A strange, intoxicating infection which lowers the crew's emotional inhibitions spreads throughout the Enterprise. A crew member's inebriated actions place the ship in danger, forcing Scotty to perform a hazardous and untested engineering procedure to save the ship from destruction.”
Most memorable parts—Mr. Sulu brandishing a sword and Spock getting emotional.

5. The Enemy Within - “While beaming up from planet Alpha 177, a transporter accident splits Captain Kirk into two beings: one "good," who acts weak and indecisive; and one "evil", who acts overly aggressive and domineering. Scotty must quickly repair the transporter system to reunite the two Kirks, and to rescue the landing party trapped on the surface of the icy planet below.”
I loved this episode—except for the goofy dog with horns!

6. Mudd's Women - “The Enterprise encounters intergalactic con man Harry Mudd, who is arrested on outstanding charges while ferrying three extraordinarily beautiful women to a remote planet, destined to be wives for the miners located there. In actuality, the plain-looking women use illegal Venus drugs, which make them appear to be much more attractive than their natural appearance; after the drugs wear off, revealing Mudd's deception.”
I really didn't like this one that much.

7. What Are Little Girls Made Of? - “In search of Nurse Chapell's fiancé, renowned exobiologist Roger Korby, the Enterprise visits the icy planet Exo III, where Korby has discovered an ancient machine which allows him to duplicate any living person with an android replacement. Korby plans to use the machine to spread controlled androids throughout the Federation, and replaces Captain Kirk with such a duplicate in an effort to take over the Enterprise.”
It's obvious what the android Andrea was created for.

8. Miri - “After discovering what appears to be a duplicate of the planet Earth, Captain Kirk and his landing party find a population ravaged by a strange disease, which has two effects: children are granted extraordinarily long life, but anyone who reaches puberty (including the adult landing party) develop painful sores which eventually kill the infected. The oldest child, a girl named Miri, develops a jealous affection for Captain Kirk, and works with the other children to kidnap Janice Rand after Kirk attempts to comfort the frightened yeoman.”
An interesting episode. It's no wonder Miri has a crush on Kirk—he kind of overdoes it on being nice.

9. Dagger of the Mind - “At Tantalus V, a rehabilitation colony for the criminally insane, the inmates have taken over the asylum using a neural neutralizer, which is used to remove (or implant) memories from a subject's mind. One colony administrator, Simon van Gelder, escapes to the Enterprise, leading Captain Kirk to investigate the colony. While on the surface, Kirk is brainwashed and taken prisoner, but is helped by Dr. Helen Noel, a colleague from the Enterprise who joined him on the planet. Spock performs a mind-meld with van Gelder to counteract the effects of the neutralizer, healing his mind and allowing van Gelder to take over the colony after Kirk and Noel's rescue.”
This was a good one—I like stuff about mind control.

10. The Carbomite Maneuver - “The Enterprise find an odd, glowing cube floating in interstellar space, which must be destroyed after it begins to emit dangerous radiation. Following the cube's destruction, an immense, glowing sphere called Fesarius races to the Enterprise's location, controlled by Balok, an alien who announces that he will destroy the Enterprise in retribution. Captain Kirk manages to bluff Balok into believing the Enterprise contains a deadly substance called Corbomite, which would severely damage any attacking ship. After managing to escape the Fesarius's tractor beam, disabling the alien ship, Kirk and a landing party board the sphere, discovering the true identity of the vessel's controller.”
This one was suspenseful and a bit more complex than some of the others. The kid in the end is Clint Howard!

Monday, June 1, 2009

Utere Nihil Non Extra Quiritationem Suis by John Scalzi (from Metatropolis)

John Scalzi is one funny guy.

This is the first story in the Metatropolis anthology with a lighthearted tone, and it's a welcome break. Scalzi's story centers on Benjy, a classic brilliant slacker who put off his required job search too long and is stuck hearding genetically superior pigs in the future New Saint Louis. Doing a favor for the girl of his dreams leads him to stumble accidentally on a scheme by a group of violent outsiders to overtake New Saint Louis, and gives Benjy the chance to be a hero. And get the girl. And have a pig at his wedding.

I really liked this story. It was much more about the people who live and function as members of the establishment, which we haven't heard a lot about yet. The structure and heirarchy of New Saint Louis was quite fascinating, and I'd be interested in another story set in this location. And of course, John Scalzi and reader Alessandro Guiliani (Felix Gaeta from Battlestar Galactica) were a match made in heaven. Guiliani perfectly nailed the sarcastic tone of Benjy, and had me laughing out loud several times.

I think there is only one story left - I will be a little sad to leave this world. It's been a great ride so far.

The Red in the Sky is our Blood by Elizabeth Bear (from Metatropolis)

Boy, now things are getting really good in this anthology.

Narrated by the phenomenal Kandyse McClure (Dualla from Battlestar Galactica), Elizabeth Bear's entry tells the story of Cady, a take-no-prisoners type gal with just a few of her own secrets to keep. Cady is in hiding, with her stepdaughter, from her ex-husband, a leader in the Ukranian mafia, and one bad dude. She has built a tenuous life for herself, which she waits every day to collapse. When a stranger approaches her with too much knowledge, and a really weird offer, Cady has to decide if she can trust this new acquantaince, or if trust itself is just too risky.

Bear sets her tale in the Detroit of Stochasticity, so we are already familiar with the location, which allows us to feel instantly at home. This is my favorite of the stories so far, probably because I sympathized immediately with the feisty heroine. There is a fair amount of political rhetoric, but it didn't feel quite as obvious as in the last story, which I appreciated. Bear's group of "rebels" also seem less overtly anarchist, making them easier to like.

In case anyone has an interest in this collection, you should head over to Audible.com - they are currently offering Metatropolis FOR FREE - it's a really great deal!

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Samsara's 42

17. Revelation Space - Alastair Reynolds: An epic sci-fi novel set in the twenty-sixth century, filled with the human races but more empty of alien races and technologies than you would expect...traces are found, but where are they now and why aren't they around....?
18. Torchwood - Series three - episodes one and two....amazing! I can't wait to see how this series unfolds, so far it's quite chilling....

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Samsara's 42

16. Red Dwarf Special - Return to Earth. If you're a Red Dwarf fan, don't bother with this. Seriously.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Samsara’s 42

13. Star Trek – awesome movie! Loved it :-) Loved the renewing of the original characters. Loved the retro sci fi feel. Loved the effects.

14. Dollhouse – the series. I know it’s by Joss Whedon, but really? I just couldn’t sympathise with Eliza Dushka’s character. I felt the whole thing had been created as a vehicle for her. Not convinced.

15. Chuck – the series. A kind of daft way to spend 3/4 of an hour. I enjoyed Adam Baldwin’s character, John Casey, worth watching just for him actually! 

 

 

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Star Trek galore:)

playing "catch up" here. Two more Sookie Stackhouse books and all the Star Trek The Next Generation episodes we've watched in the last couple of weeks-Whew!

13.Book: From Dead To Worse by Charlaine Harris
14. Book: Dead And Gone by Charlaine Harris

15.Star Trek TNG "Clues"-interesting story of the crews encounter with a highly xenophobic world and the drastic choice one crewmember must make to save the crew's lives-3.5 stars

16.Star Trek TNG "First Contact"-fantastic story of how the federation secretly goes undercover on a burgeoning world on the brink of space travel to "feel out" if they are ready for "first contact" with the federation-a classic Next Gen story-5 stars.

17.Star Trek TNG "Galaxy's Child-Geordi's fateful second meeting with his holo crush Dr Leah. Sparks fly as Geordi meets his crush in "the flesh". Very good and painful to watch for poor Geordi's sake:) 4 stars.

18.Star Trek TNG- "Night Terrors"-almost feels like a Halloween or "horror" episode. OK-definately not a favorite-2.5 stars.

19.Star Trek TNG-"Identity Crisis"-great Geordi storyline! 5 stars.

20.Star Trek TNG- "The Nth Degree"-BARCLAY! Enough said-5 stars.

21.Star Trek TNG-"Qpid"-a classic! Q, Vash, and the crew as Robin Hood and his merry men? What more could you want? LOL 5 stars.

22.Star Trek TNG- "The Drumhead"-another classic! Season 4 is the best. Jean Simmons is brilliant in her portrayal as Admiral Satie! 5 stars

23.Star Trek TNG "Half A Life"-Probably one of my top five TNG episodes! I always cry with this one-5 stars!

24.Star Trek TNG-"The Host"-a goody but Crusher and Riker kissing did freak me out a bit. LOL. An interesting perspective on what "love" means-is it the physical or mental that we are most attached to? 4 stars.

25.Star Trek TNG-"The Mind's Eye"- another great Geordi storyline (which I don't think we see that much more of in following seasons)-the premise of brainwashing through his visor is intriguing-4 stars.

26.Star Trek TNG- "In Theory"-another of my favorites-great "Data in love" story. 5 stars.

27.Star Trek TNG-"Redemption, part I"-pivotal Worf story! 5 stars
28.Star Trek TNG- "Redemption, part II"- Season FIVE: loved getting Worf back on the Enterprise and of course Selah, Tasha's daughter! 5 stars.

29.Star Trek TNG- "Darmok"-love Paul Winfield but this is one of my least favorite episodes. 3 stars.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

StochastiCity by Tobias Buckell (from Metatropolis)

In the second story in the anthology Metatropolis, Tobias Buckell takes us to post-apocalyptic Detroit, where civil unrest is ripe. A security company called Edgewater keeps things under control, but radicals still find a way to make their voices heard.

Reginald is a bouncer at a local bar, and to make extra money he engages is "turking" - illegal work where each person only performs one small task, so noone knows the complete mission. One of his assignments goes wrong, and he gets caught. To his great surprise, a lawyer comes to bail him out - except the lawyer also informs him he won't get paid for the job. Determined to get his money, Reginald embarks on a journey that sees him working for both Edgewater and the radicals, and undergoing a transformation of his own.

This was another captivating story in this great anthology. Because much of the worldbuilding was done in the first story, Buckell is really able to jump right in to his narrative, introducing the engaging character Reginald, and setting a blistering pace that is sustained through much of the story. There are a few points where it seems to bog down - most specifically, when the eco-friendly message takes precedence over the actual story - but in general, this was thoroughly engaging. I can't wait to see what city I visit next!

Battlestar Galactica: Caprica

As an ardent Battlestar Galactica fan, I was more than a little apprehensive about the new series, Caprica, debuting this fall on SciFi. The first thing we heard about it said it would be little more than a night-time soap opera set in the Battlestar Universe. Yuck. Then, more details leaked out, and it started to sound a bit more promising. Then, we found out that BSG composer extraordinaire, Bear McCreary, would be composing for Caprica as well - another good sign. When I saw the pilot episode was available for early viewing from Netflix, I couldn't resist - I had to know if I would be disappointed.


I was so, so, so not disappointed!

Caprica is set 50 years before the events of Battlestar Galactica - before the first cylon war, before the devastation of the 12 colonies. It focuses on two families - the Greystones, and the Adamas - and the events that lead to the creating of the first cylons. In the pilot episode, Zoe Greystone is killed in a terrorist attack by a group promoting the one True God. Her father, devastated by her death, is astonished to learn that Zoe has created an avatar of herself - an exact copy, complete with all her thoughts, feelings, emotions, memories - that exists in a virtual world. Dr. Greystone becomes obesessed with bringing Zoe's avatar into the real world - and succeeds, althought not at all in the way he expected.

I am so excited for this series to begin. In just this first episode, they have answered many questions from the original series, as well as set the groundwork to explore a whole host of interesting issues. Eric Stoltz as Dr. Greystone is wonderful - a perfect combination of grieving father and cold scientist. The rest of the cast is equally brilliant, and of course, the score is beautiful.

This has the potential to be as excellent a series as Battlestar Galactica, which is no small feat. I am already engrossed in this new world, and can't wait for the series to kick into full gear.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

3 more added to my list

just added to my 42 list:

10. Book: All Together Dead by Charlaine Harris

11.(Movie) Wolverine: Origins-starring Hugh Jackman-this "Old School" comic fan was very pleased with the movie. Lot's of action, Jackman obviously studied up on Wolvie mannerisms and character as he did a great job, and Liev Schribers Sabretooth was A+ as well-5 stars!
12. (Movie) Star Trek-starring Chris Pine and Zachery Quinto-I loved it, my husband not so much as the time travel aspect made him feel that the "altered universe" basically "wipes out" all previous Trek storylines. I disagree, though. All in all, I felt the cast was great and I'm looking forward to the next film. 5 stars!

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Star Trek

Just saw this today, to find out what I think just go here.

Friday, May 1, 2009

#11 The Boy Who Would Live Forever

I finished up the month of April with my review of The Boy Who Would Live Forever by Fredrik Pohl.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

42 Challenge Completed

Novels
1. Last and First Men; Olaf Stapledon (1930) – 5/5
2. Ring Around the Sun; Clifford D. Simak (1952) – 2.5/5 Thanks to Dave for correcting me on the title of this novel - quite embarrassing on my behalf.
3. Atlas Shrugged; Ayn Rand (1957) – 1/5
4. Non-Stop; Brian Aldiss (1958) – 3/5
5. The Great Time Machine Hoax; Keith Laumer (1963) – 2/5
6. The Man Who Folded Himself; David Gerrold (1976) – 4/5
7. Strata; Terry Pratchett (1981) – 2/5
8. The Day the Martians Came; Frederik Pohl (1988) – 3.5/5.
9. Jumper; Stephen Gould (1995) – 5/5
10. The Sparrow; Mary Doria Russell (1996) – 4/5
11. Blade Runner 2: Edge of Human; K. W. Jeter (1996) – 4.5/5
12. Paris in the Twentieth Century; Jules Verne (1997) – 4/5
13. Reflex; Stephen Gould (2002) – 1.5/5
14. The Praxis; Walter Jon Williams (2002) – 4.5/5
15. The Sundering; Walter Jon Williams (2003) – 4.5/5
16. Conventions of War; Walter Jon Williams (2005) – 5/5
17. Evil Genius; Catherine Jinks (2005) – 4.5/5

Movies
18. The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951) – 4.5/5
19. When Worlds Collide (1951) – 1.5/5
20. The War of the Worlds (1953) – 3.5/5
21. Logan’s Run (1970) – 3.5/5
22. Spaceballs (1986) – 2/5
23. Starship Troopers (1997) – 5/5
24. The Matrix (1999) – 5/5
25. Cowboy Bebop: The Movie (2002) – 3.5/5
26. Vampire Hunter D: Bloodlust (2002) – 4.5/5
27. Donnie Darko (2002) – 4/5
28. The Matrix Reloaded (2003) – 2.5/5
29. The Matrix Revolutions (2003) – 2/5
30. Steamboy (2004) – 5/5
31. Serenity (2005) – 5/5
32. Wall-E (2008) – 3.5/5
33. They Are Among Us (2008) – 1/5
34. The Day the Earth Stood Still (2008) – 2/5
35. Watchmen (2009) Reviewed by Brideofthebookgod – 5/5

Television
36. Aeon Flux (1995) – 1.5/5
37. Firefly (2002) – 5/5
38. Children of Dune (2005) – 3.5/5
39. Terminator: Sarah Connor Chronicles Season 1 (2007) – 4.5/5

Videogames
40. Phantasy Star (1988) – 3/5
41. Ratchet and Clank (2002) – 3.5/5
42. Destroy All Humans! 2 (2004) – 4.5/5

Best Novel: A tie between "Jumper" and "Evil Genius", both YA SF novels. I would compare “Jumper” favourably to “Stars My Destination” – exciting and well fleshed-out characters and a wide variety of ideas, too. “Evil Genius” gets a nod for such an original plot – a child being taught to become an evil criminal mastermind like his father – and being so fun to read with few plot inconsistencies. “Last and First Men” is excluded because I have read it several times previously, and I don’t want to include a repeat viewing as a favourite, but it does deserve a mention anyway – vast scope, variety of ideas, and extremely challenging philosophy. Stapledon is quite underappreciated considering the works that he has produced.

Best Movie: Three-way tie between “The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951)” “Watchmen” and “Steamboy”. "The Day The Earth Stood Still" is a quiet, intelligent character movie, and some quite interesting ideas there, too. "Steamboy" is a beautifully-drawn anime that creates a cyberpunk nineteenth-century London with some challenging moral questions. "Watchmen" (which BrideOfTheBookGod reviewed, and I largely agree with what she wrote) is an violently explicit superhero movie with insightful satirical elements set in an alternate-history America. I can not compare the three movies, all of which are quite different in presentation, ideas, and scope, but all are worth watching, and not one of those movies are done justice with the single-sentence summary I have given them.

Best Television Series: “Firefly”. There’s quite a variety of storylines attempted, yet everything makes sense in the wider Firefly universe. The characters are excellent, and so is the acting. It’s exciting to watch, too. In fact, apart from the fact that I don’t have a second series to watch, I can’t think of a problem with Firefly. Why can’t all television be this good?

Best Videogame: “Destroy all Humans! 2”. You’re an alien, invading earth, wield a bunch of cool weapons and your own UFO. It’s as cool a game as it sounds, and also enjoyable for all of the references from the 1960’s, both from the world of science fiction, and wider culture.

I would also love to thank those whom went to the effort to respond to a review I made, particularly Ardsgaine, whom I had an interesting discussion about "Atlas Shrugged" with. It's quite interesting to see different people's perspectives on what I have seen, and I have some interesting recommendations, too.

Phantasy Star (1988) (Sega Master System)

I’ve decided to play a retro science fiction-fantasy game in contrast to the somewhat newer games I have played on my trusty PlayStation 2. I’ve chosen “Phantasy Star”, a role-playing game made in the late eighties exclusively for SEGA. Because I am playing this game on an emulator, I can post screens of my game to show you something of the game I am discussing, and hopefully some in-game screens can help give you a better idea of what the game is like. Or to help pretty this review up. Either way, I hope the pictures are appreciated.



The story of “Phantasy Star” is quite simple. In the opening scenes, Alis’ brother has died, and she swears revenge against the person responsible – Lassic. Apart from killing your brother, which is enough to make him a villain in any RPG, it also seems that Lassic is also an evil overlord of sorts. So you are justified in setting out to kill him, then. Obviously there are a few things that need to be done before this encounter occurs, otherwise there wouldn’t be a game to play, and this review would have already ended. Alis starts with merely a goal of revenge and a sht. sword (apparently stands for short), and needs to build herself up to take on a variety of obstacles leading up to the showdown. She enlists the help of several allies, needs to do a bunch of quests to get items, fight lots of monsters over three different worlds (forest, desert, and water) to level up and purchase special items, and do a lot of dungeon crawling, in time-old RPG fashion.
“Phantasy Star” is a strange hybrid universe of science fiction and fantasy. You have rocket ships, robots, mad scientists, ruined laboratories, all of which you encounter over three different planets in the late twenty-fourth century. The opponents you fight, and the skills you use to battle comes straight from more traditional fantasy – there are undead people, werewolves, dragons (there are always dragons in role-playing games), talking spiders and so forth, and you cast a variety of magical spells - fire, wind, cure, and so forth. It’s an odd mix, quite formulaic and doesn't always work.


The graphics are something of a mixed bag. The maps in which you traverse are decent enough, but there have been a lot of better efforts since. The maps are somewhat repetitive in the tiles they use, they are somewhat sparse, simple, and lack some of the graphical tricks used in later 2D RPG’s. The sprites don’t look great, and there is little variety in their appearance. Compared to the efforts of, for example, early Final Fantasy games and the like, the maps look somewhat ugly. Yes, they do the job, but there’s little artistry here.



The game is not entirely bad in regards to graphics – far from it actually. The game uses quite a lot of pictures, and quite a lot of effort has went in here. Speak to an NPC (a non-playable character), you get a picture of the NPC and an appropriate background. You go to battle, you get a monster on a background. The monsters are animated, which does look nice – monsters snap at you, winged creatures flap and so forth. Talking to a new character or reaching a major in-game achievement unlocks a cut-scene of sorts. Well, a montage of pictures and text, but it still looks nice. None of this is going to be serious competition against more modern games of any sort, but I have a fondness for 2D art in games, and what’s here is quite good.

But graphics are one of the least important aspects of a game. Far more important is the gameplay, and it’s quite decent, and still worth playing today if you are a fan of role-playing games. The exploration element of this RPG works quite well – here’s an objective, figure out what to do, complete the task, and learn a bit more about the story, the characters, the in-game world, and get another objective in the process. Or you can just have fun. The game can be occasionally be somewhat opaque on how you go about your objectives, and you will find yourself having to talk to people you have already talked to previously, to find that one hint that will clear up your confusion on what you need to do. If you leave the game for a few days, you’re also going to forget exactly what it is you have to do, and spend some time figuring this out. This is never an insurmountable problem, though, but would have been appreciated had the conversations been made somewhat clearer, more people doled these important hints out, or even if there were a menu screen to show your objective/s.
You’ll also have to do a lot of dungeon-crawling in “Phantasy Star”, and this is one of the better games of this example. Dungeon-crawling is where you navigate through one enclosed area within a world map, searching for treasure, a quest objective, or both, all while fighting monsters. The dungeons are done in a fake 3D style, which I’ve only ever seen in this game. No maps, only a sense of direction and inquisitiveness to find the exit, treasure and objectives. Unlike most 2D RPG’s where you look down as the omniprescent player, this will requires some thought to figure out. This is even more notable for the inclusion of the 2D pictures they use for enemies –no separate screens for battling enemies at all when navigating in a dungeon. Compared to the normal map-style dungeon that is normally given in 2D RPG’s, it’s a dramatic improvement - I wonder why it didn’t catch on, as it makes the game quite distinctive.

Navigating the world maps, or the myriad of dungeons, inevitably results in battles against monsters. Battling is simple but decent enough – your characters get a variety of weapons to equip, and several can use a variety of spells of varying uses – heal yourself, hurl magic at enemies, or do a variety of odd things in and out of battle. You can even talk to enemies, which can save you from fighting. I quite like this compared to the “attack anything that moves” that is so prevalent in nearly every single other RPG. The start of the game can be quite ruthless and unforgiving in the battles you fight, and the later areas are paced well – difficult but not insurmountable – and you can lose a character or two if you aren’t diligent in keeping your characters’ health up.
However, there are some problems with battling monsters, which become quite apparent when so much of the game is spent here. Firstly, whether you battle one, two or eight enemies, opponents will appear as a single enemy sprite, and you can’t choose which monster to aim at when fighting. It’s fine when you battle one monster, but doesn’t work well when you have to take on multiple enemies. This can be alleviated somewhat by using spells or weapons that target multiple monsters, but it makes battling groups of monsters more difficult than it needs to be. I also don’t like how variable the damage dealt is, both for monsters and your characters – sometimes characters do thirty or forty damage to an enemy, and then can’t manage five damage to that same enemy in another turn. It’s quite a difference when a tough enemy might have two hundred health.

Levelling up is an extremely simple affair – killing monsters nets you money and experience, the money goes towards kitting your party and purchasing necessary items, while experience goes towards levelling up your character. Easy enough to get understand, but there is not much depth here. I prefer something more complex, such as having to learn skills or abilities.

There are some minor things that I miss that I have gotten used to from later 2D RPG’s. You can’t sort your items. Information isn’t readily accessible for my liking – you need to visit a church to find out how much experience you need before you reach the next level, for example, and skills and items have no description, so you will be using trial-and-error to figure out their exact use. There are other niggles of a similar vein, but these are only readily apparent when you compare the game to other games of a similar nature – few of these ruin the game in of itself, but do detract from the experience slightly. And it does add up over time.

So, my impressions of the game are quite mixed. In some regards, it is quite behind later games of a similar nature. It doesn’t have the finesse and all of the features that have come to be expected of later RPG’s. Levelling is rigid and overly simplistic, you can’t sort items, there is simply not enough information shown in the game for my liking. I have other complaints, but they are of a minor nature and the game works well enough without the features, even if they might have made it slightly easier and more user-friendly.

On the other hand, the underground mazes are quite interesting, the explorative gameplay is quite good, and the plethora of 2D pictures in the game and in the battle system are quite pretty. Yes, it seems odd to praise the graphics in such an old game when games on new consoles are so detailed that they show the individual pores on someone’s face, but there’s an aesthetic pleasure that I derive from bright and colourful 2D graphics that I do not get from highly realistic, sombre 3D graphics.


It’s a challenging game, of a decent length – I’ve currently completed approximately twenty-five hours or so (it’s hard to tell without an in-game clock) and I’m still at work. There are also a huge variety of things to do and items to collect – outfitting your party with the best equipment will take some time. I found it interesting, and I quite enjoyed it overall, but it’s probably not an RPG I would introduce new-comers to, because there are better examples out there, both 2D and 3D. I would have to give it a 3/5.

Dread Empire’s Fall Trilogy; Walter Jon Williams

The Praxis (2002)
The Sundering (2003)
Conventions of War (2005)

The “Dread Empire’s Fall” trilogy starts off with the death of the last immortal Shaa, the race of which conquered the galaxy and put all of the defeated races beneath it’s yoke, imposing it’s ideals and values upon them. After the death of this race, a civil war begins between a renegade group of Naxids, and the remaining races of the alliance – including the far-future members of humanity – over whom should rule over the galaxy. I’m reviewing the three as a single story, because the only way that I really read the current crop of science fiction trilogies is all at once – I can’t really wait for a year to find out what happens in the next novel, and by this stage, I’ve forgotten most of the original story, anyway.

The narration of the story largely passes between Gareth Martinez and Caroline Sula, both of which are the main characters of the trilogy. Martinez is a provincial Peer, the equivalent of the nobility in the novel, and his family are desperately trying to claw their way up socially, through the judicious use of marriage and money. Sula is the last member of a once highly-respected Peer group, her parents having been executed when she was a child. Both encounter each other quite early in the first novel, and something of a convoluted relationship between the two develops. There are some other characters that narrate the story, particularly Lord Chen, a highly-respected peer fallen on hard times due to the war isolating his business interests, and whom is financially rescued by the Martinez family, but on the whole, the story passes between the two. The major characters are all well-fleshed out, and are all interesting to read.

I found the military SF aspect of the trilogy to be quite well done, and this series is recommendable for that alone. I quite liked how the three novels kept the reader updated on the strength of the forces of both factions, in terms of the ships that each group had. It was a simple but extremely effective way of showing how the armadas were progressing in the war. Williams also envisages a variety of methods of futuristic warfare – large, pitched battles in space, ground-based guerrilla warfare, a small raiding party, space bombardment of a planet, and so forth. The variety of battle styles does make for interesting reading, particularly since military tactics in this world is narrowly-focused, and has crystallised and stagnated under the rule of the Shaa. The warfare of both sides sometimes comes across like a stereotyped perception of England at war – there’s a refusal of military command to adapt to changing conditions in battle, command is based on social class, with only nobility able to take positions in command, and the decisions of policy makers are partially based upon the commercial interests of the voter and their acquaintances.

The story alternates between telling of the war and how the alliance is faring against the Naxids, and telling the story of how civilian society is reacting to the war. The social aspect of the trilogy, while on the whole interesting, did not always keep my interest like the military part of the trilogy did. The first book is broken up with a backstory of a character named Gredel, whom befriends Lady Sula in her adolescence. The significance of this back story is quite obvious far before the revelation occurs, and during the backstory, slows the pace of the story dramatically. The second book, midway through, suddenly becomes quite concentrated on the idea of several members of the Martinez family getting married within quite a short period. It slows the book dramatically, does not make for interesting reading, nor is the sudden blossoming of various marriages explained well. These are minor complaints in regards to the story considering how much I enjoyed the rest of the trilogy, but do need to be made.

On the whole, the “Dread Empire’s Fall” trilogy is excellent military SF. There’s a variety of ways in which futuristic war is waged, the characters are quite interesting and well-fleshed out, and so is the society the characters live in. There is a variety of perspectives of the war, focusing on a lone, individual fighter and scaling up to commanding a fleet of warriors, and tactical command itself, and the perspectives add variety to the story.

The Praxis – 4.5/5
The Sundering – 4.5/5
Conventions of War – 5/5

Saturday, April 25, 2009

4 Star Trek Episodes

Just added 4 Star Trek The Next Generation Episodes to my list. We are going through season by season-currently we're in Season 4:

6.Star Trek TNG "The Lost"-another overarching bratty Deanna Troi story: 2.5 stars
7.Star Trek TNG "Data's Day"-one of my favorites, gotta love Data and O'Brien's Wedding, and I believe the first appearance of Spot?-5 stars.
8. Star Trek TNG "The Wounded"-1st Cardassian's! Great story-5 stars
9.Star Trek TNG "The Devil's Due"-another fantastic story-a classic!-5 stars

The Host, Unstrung Zither and the War Games

I haven't been keeping up with my updates for this challenge. Instead, I've been having fun reading and writing reviews for it. In the last week or so I've written three reviews.

The Host by Stephanie Meyer
In 1955 The Body Snatchers by Jack Finney was published. A year later Invasion of the Body Snatchers hit movie theaters. In 1978 Finney rewrote the novel and fleshed it out from novella length to a full length novel. There have been a number of film versions and homages. The most recent take on the story is The Host by Stephanie Meyer. Read the rest of the post.

Unstrung Zither by Yoon Ha Lee
In the introduction before the story, Gordon Van Gelder explains that Yoon Ha Lee lists Anne McCaffrey and Orson Scott Card as two influences in in her writing (p. 40). Having not read any of Card I can't speak to his influences but I can see McCaffrey in the music and dragons of "Unstrung Zither." Read the rest of the post.

Doctor Who and the War Games by Malcolm Hulke
Doctor Who and the War Games is a novelization of the last ten episode serial of "The War Games"(1969) to be filmed in black and white and the last regular appearance of the second Doctor. The novel takes about 250 minutes worth of story and boils it down to 143 pages. What's left is a quick but thought provoking look at war while providing some glimpses at the truth behind the Doctor. Read the rest of the post.

These three posts bring my total up to 11. Only 31 to go!

Thursday, April 16, 2009

In the Forests of the Night by Jay Lake

In the Forests of the Night by Jay Lake is the first short story in the anthology Metatropolis, available from Audible.com.

We are introduced to the world of Cascadiopolis, a city in the America of the future, where wars have decimated the landscape. The America of Metatropolis is so different as to be almost unrecognizable. Big cities are gone. In their place are other collections of people - in this case, a heavily armed encampment of "green freaks". Their camp is seriously guarded, and no one gets in - or out - without a challenge.

So when a mysterious man named Tygre appears in the midst of the camp, people are unsettled. And when Tygre starts to draw a crowd of followers, the unsettledness turns into hostility. Meanwhile, an assassin hired by a mysterious outsider also gains entrance into the camp, and as emotions run high, her mission becomes clear - kill the newcomer.

In the Forests of the Night is a great start to this anthology. Jay Lake does an incredible job of world-building in a fairly short time, and his story is mysterious and intense, which kept me enthralled throughout. Michael Hogan was a good choice to read this one - his grizzled voice matched perfectly with the embattled characters. I'm definitely hooked on this collection, and can't wait to listen to chapter 2!

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Knowing

My review of Knowing, starring Nicolas Cage, can be found here.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Planet of the Dead

My review of the newest Dr Who episode, the beginning of the end of David Tennant's run, can be found here.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Monsters vs Aliens

My review of Monster vs Aliens can be found here.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Ring Around the World; Clifford D. Simak (1952)

Jay Vickers, an author of some fame, is currently living in a world going through a strange industrial revolution. A company seems to be manufacturing products which are going to last forever, and this apparently has industry quite worried – if goods don’t become used and break down, then they can’t manufacture anything, and no one will have work. But that same company is also manufacturing artificial food, and distributing it for free to those whom do not have work. An industrialist asks Jay to investigate, and Jay says… no, actually. But he eventually goes and investigates anyway.

In some ways, it’s quite pulpy SF. The characters are poorly fleshed out. It is unmistakeably made in the 1950’s firmly in mind - a few gadgets have been added to take the story in the future, but the people carry the same values, the same ideas, the same tastes and prejudices as the fifties, and only what is needed plot-wise is updated. There are a lot of coincidences in this novel. I really do mean a lot. Vickers does question the occurrence of these for us, and although there is some explanation provided, I really cannot accept the inclusion of so many plot coincidences that are required to make this story work.

In other ways, the story is quite odd, in a pleasant way, and reminiscent of Philip K Dick, although Dick began his work several years after this novel. Vickers finds out that his knowledge about the world in which he lives, and what he believes he knows about himself, are quite, quite wrong, and what the world he actually lives in does make for interesting reading. Simak has his own metaphysical ideas about the world, like Dick. There’s also a undercurrent of paranoia running through the book, like Dick. The inclusion of these makes the book far less about whizzy gadgets, which does help detract from the pulpy nature of the book.

It’s the first Simak book that I have read, though, and if there is any fan of Simak reading this, I would be interested to know if this book is indicative of how the author wrote, and if it is, what his best book in a similar vein might be. This novel often reads like badly-written pulp-SF. Although but flashes of Dickian-style ideas do make the book more interesting, in this novel, Simak never manages to achieve what Dick does in his best works, or even his good works. 2.5/5.

Last and First Men; Olaf Stapledon (1930)

I happen to belong to a group that does group reads of a variety of SF books (see here), and we happen to have picked “Last and First Men” for this current read. I consider myself quite fortunate, because it is one of my favourite novels, and I need little excuse to reread this book. “Last and First Men” is philosophical treaty of the future history of the human race, extending over the next two thousand million years, and Stapledon covers a gamut of ideas in this time, which I will discuss in a moment.

To be honest, the first part of the book is not nearly as good as the rest of the book, and Stapledon anticipated as much when penning his prelude to the novel. The first part of the novel has Stapledon attempting to extrapolate from the start of the twentieth century, and some of these predictions dated quite quickly. Germany is a pacifist nation, we never achieve space flight. However, predictions that Russia’s communistic ideals are preserved by China, the world is purchased with American money, and saturated with American culture, seem to be far more accurate.

But it is also a prediction of a future that has not come yet, and it makes for extremely interesting even today – poison gas and biological agents killing entire nations, the creation of a world-wide religious movement based on energy, a world under the sway of the twin powers of America and China, becoming increasingly mechanized and less intelligent, and approaching world-wide disaster.

All of what I have mentioned is probably what you would expect from better examples of old SF – a mix of dated and prescient predictions, and some interesting ideas that still read well today. More difficult are Stapledon’s attempts to classify different countries and races with their own unique characteristics, and the generalisation of all minor characters (there are no major characters at all) as having the characteristics inherent of their country. I don’t think Stapledon was being racist at all, because he is far from flattering of his descriptions of America, Europe, and his home country of England, but it can be painfully dated reading at times

After the fall of the First Men, which makes for extremely interesting reading and is even more relevant today than in the 1930's, the book is far more relevant – Stapledon pulls out for a larger perspective of the world considered as a whole, and discusses a gamut of ideas about what events might occur in our future, and how they affect us socially and philosophically. Stapledon writes about organic giant brains as sentient super-computers, the repopulation of a near-dead Earth,, a society eking out an existence in a world depleted of metals and resources, the effects of a plethora of social policies on the general world-wide population, and a host of other ideas that I really should leave you the opportunity to discover should you find a copy of this book.

Stapledon never spends more than a chapter or two on each idea or concept, so if you aren’t terribly excited by a particular idea, a completely different idea will come up. Although it sounds like you would only get the most cursory of examinations of any subject, it’s all you really need to be able to consider the social or psychological ramifications of each. And although some of his ideas have been often dealt with in other novels, Stapledon attaches an interesting philosophical idea, a moral quandary, or a social idea or so forth makes it feel fresh and extremely interesting.

I also enjoy Stapledon’s writing style – it’s detached, clinical and impersonal, an anthropological study of our present and future, constantly cycling between the birth and death of civilisations. Technology is barely described, only so far as we need to understand the overarching story of the progression of humanity, and something of the mental outlook of varied races that exist along the stage.

The start of “Last and First Men” is somewhat dated, as much old SF tends to be, and does drag the book down somewhat. The rest of the book, with the rare mention of an old science term, does not feel dated at all. The plethora of ideas that Stapledon considers, quite a few of which are extremely original, and all of which are dealt with in an intelligent and challenging way, as well as his detached writing style, makes this a must-read book. 5/5.

Steamboy (2004)

In an alternate steampunk history of 1866, James Steam’s father and grandfather have developed a device called a “steam ball”. It contains high-pressure, high density pure water, and is capable of delivering power at a rate unrivalled by any other power source, and there are quite a few people out to use the steam ball for their own nefarious ends. The activities concerning the steamball take place in the lead-up to London’s Science Fair of 1866.

Steamboy is an animated feature, and the animation itself is stunning. It’s apparently quite technically-advanced for an animated movie, but I’m not experienced enough to comment. All I can say is that it appears that quite a lot of effort has went into every single part of this movie – the characters, the machinery, the backgrounds (quite definitely the backgrounds). I know that I say that the animation is excellent for every Japanese animated film that I have reviewed on here, but the simple sketches by American animators cannot compare to the detail and artistry displayed by Japanese animation so far. Perhaps it is because only the best-selling anime gets an English translation, but I can still appreciate the difference in the skill between the two styles.

The plot itself is not overly complex. It’s a contest between two different parties whom want the steam ball for their own uses, and the personal progression of James, who learns something of the world during the film. There’s an extremely interesting debate on the ethics, proper use and direction of science and scientific research, and plenty of good steampunk-based technology. I wish I could discuss what I liked (particularly the major steampunk creation of focus of the movie), but I don’t want to be the one that spoils the movie for those whom haven’t watched it. Considered in a less high-brow manner, there’s the huge steampunk creation that I don’t want to ruin for those whom haven’t seen it yet, and quite a variety of action scenes, including a huge battle that manages to destroy half of London, the Tower Bridge, and the massive glass building of the Science Fair. Nice.

There are a few niggles with the movie that I could point out. I didn’t really like the heiress Scarlett. She acts far too dim-witted and helpless for my liking. Yes, it’s the 19th century, and women were taught to behave in such a deplorable manner, but I still don’t have to like seeing it in a movie. Although the end of the movie addressed what happens as a result of the revelation of the steampunk-based inventions, and attempts to extrapolate the future from this, I didn’t think that the ending of the movie was explicit enough about the fate of Scarlett or James. There are some minor coincidences and inconsistencies that I will ignore. But all of those aspects are trivial complaints, and quite easily glossed over considering how much I enjoyed the rest of the movie.

“Steamboy” is an excellent animated movie. Actually, it’s an excellent movie, regardless of the fact that it is animated or not – don’t think I am making any allowances on the method used to create the movie at all. There’s quite a lot of action, some great ideas on the developments of steampunk technology, and an excellent debate on the morality of scientific research here. I highly recommended “Steamboy”. 5/5.

Evil Genius, Catherine Jinks (2005)

Cadel Piggott has gotten into trouble with his recent work which has involved hacking into computers. The police have recommended that Cadel attend sessions with renowned psychologist, Thaddeus Roth, whom has some quite unconventional ideas about what to do with Cadel – teach him to be more like his father, Phineas Darkkon, an evil genius whom had plans to completely change the world. Obviously his adopted parents need to pay some more attention to Cadel than what they currently do, then.

It’s been quite a while since I’ve read a book as engrossing as this. It’s not because it’s particularly well-written, or that it has beautiful, well-realised characters, or that there are astoundingly intelligent and challenging social or moral ideas here. It’s that the main idea of this is such a hoot – it’s about the son of an evil genius unwittingly working his way in his father’s footsteps, and Jinks manages to fully keep attention throughout the entire book, and manages to do so much with such an engrossing central idea.

Jinks sets up what seems to me to be the typical YA SF teenage protagonist here, but does it quite well. Cadel is extremely intelligent compared to his peers, being a genius and all, but is socially isolated from them – he is not concerned with what they are concerned with, and his interests are completely different to theirs. He also uses his intellect to get his comeuppance against those whom cause problems for him. And although it’s been done numerous times before, such as in Ender’s Game, this sort of character works for me. I don’t know if it works because the general YA SF reader, and myself, can identify with Cadel in some regard, or that the reader wants to read about people that are of above average intellect. Either way, I particularly liked the character of Cadel.

I suppose if I were feeling somewhat more jaded, or had not enjoyed myself so much, that I could find some plot holes to snigger about, point out the coincidences in the book (of which there are few, and it’s the only reason I would mark the book down), or just be a jerk about the entire experience and point out how unrealistic the whole idea of evil geniuses trying to take over the world are. But it’s been quite a while since I have had so much fun reading a book. Sometimes it is nice to read something simple and fun, a nice change from the ponderous and complex brick-thick science fiction that seems to the current trend in SF, and that’s how I would recommend this book 4.5/5.

When Worlds Collide (1951)

A star and it’s planet is hurtling towards earth, signalling doom to life as we know it. In an attempt to save a portion of humanity, a private group attempts to build a rocket to fly to this new planet.

Some parts of this movie are enjoyable enough. I liked it when the movie examines how people react to the news that the world will end, and the government’s response afterwards, although I felt that the movie did not concentrate on this for long enough. The idea for a private company to construct a rocket to the planet was an interesting idea, although it’s initial premises were quite flawed. I also enjoyed the idea of the rich, wheelchair-bound man financing the trip to pay for a berth on the ship. So, there is the occasional interesting idea here.

The characters and actors in the movie are serviceable, although I do have some questions about their skills. The acting is slightly ham-like at times, but nothing too unbearable. However, the tribulations of the main characters did not terribly interest me at all, nor did the love triangle that occurred in the movie.

The special effects are quite mixed, here. The incoming star looks decent enough, there is some nice model-work for the tidal destruction scenes, and a few other things look passably decent. On the other hand, there is some laugably poor special effects, too, that ruin any goodwill that might be generated from the good efforts prior to this. I’d suspect this of being a spoof of some sort if the movie had a more humorous script – poorly-painted backgrounds, bad models, particularly of the rocket and it’s surrounding area.

There are a plethora of problems with this movie, though, that far outweigh any positives that I might find. There are glaring scientific problems – there is a huge presumption that the incoming planet has breathable air and water, as one easy example. Yes, this is questioned briefly, but you know that they are going to be able to survive. I think that the movie would have been far more interesting with an “everyone dies” ending when they reach this alien planet, but that is just because I think it would have been a good tonic against the cheerful ending that the majority of apocalyptic stories foist on it’s viewers, but that's just my opinion. The science for the space part is laughable, even for my admittedly basic knowledge of physics in space – no weightlessness, there’s fire in space, and the ship still needs to use fuel to propel itself forward in space when it is a trip that will only last a few minutes. The set-up explanation for why the rockets have to be built privately do not work, either – everyone except the few doomsayers calculate the incoming trajectory of the star wrong, and that does not make any sense at all. The movie is also badly dated – the concerns regarding whether the rocket would actually work belong in the decade this movie was made, and do not stand up at all.

“When Worlds Collide” is occasionally decent, but time has not been kind to this movie at all – scientific inaccuracies are aplenty, the special effects greatly vary in quality, there are some huge problems with the premises of the movie itself, and future technology has badly dated this movie. 1.5/5.

Aeon Flux (1995)

“Aeon Flux.” It’s an animated show, created by MTV in the mid-nineties, and stars Aeon Flux. If you have watched the movie of the same name, also created by MTV, you might think you know what to expect – a stylish movie with little substance behind it. However, the television series is somewhat different. It attempts to be intelligent, but most of these attempts come of as nothing more than pretentious and incoherent ramblings. However, several times in the series, put forward something both original and surprising. Yes, I wrote the words original and surprising for an MTV show. I’ll be getting to that in a moment.

Aeon Flux is a terrorist capable of performing superhuman feats, such as long-distance sharpshooting, aerobatic tricks, or whatever is required to progress the story forward. Why she is capable of all of these things, like much of the rest of the show, is not really explained or examined. It’s mainly an excuse for Aeon to do cool things, wear a variety of cool leather outfits that leave little to the imagination, and get into a variety of fights. Against Aeon is Trevor Goodchild, the evil fellow of the series. He’s bent on forcing the rest of the world to be good, using a variety of contrived artificial means to do so. Aeon wants everyone to be able to make their own choices. The entire series is about the conflict between the two, and the over-arching conflict between being forced to be good, and choice, even if this choice is not beneficial. However, there is little that is new nothing new in this regard.

There are a plethora of problems that deserve discussion. When the stories attempt to be anything more than the contrived conflict between Aeon and Trevor, make little sense. It’s odd to say the least; I don’t see why an MTV show would be unclear in what it is saying, and I don’t think it is because it is a show trying to be subtle or multi-faceted. Some of the episodes lack clarity in their resolution, too - one episode has Aeon trapped in some paralysing goo, unable to move, yet is completely free of this problem without any explanation as to how she escaped in the next episode. Consistency and logic are both major problems for this series. The love-hate relationship between Trevor Goodchild and Aeon Flux makes no sense whatsoever. Trevor is either coming up with some dastardly complex scheme to capture Aeon Flux, fighting her, or attempt to make out with her, and a somewhat similar trio of thoughts are on Aeon’s mind. Their feelings towards each other are somewhat confused, but not as confused as I was when trying to figure out some of the shows in the series.

However, it’s not a complete loss as a series. The animation is not overly bad, although it lacks the artistry and detail of some of the better animated shows that I have seen. In a superficial manner, it is somewhat exciting – there are plenty of fights waged in a variety of ways, lots of gunfire, lots of explosions, and all of that silliness. And, if animated soft porn appeals, Aeon usually manages to sleep with at least one character in each episode.

At the start of the review, I said that occasionally, “Aeon Flux” actually does something surprising and original. I’m not joking. “Episode 2: Thanatophobia” had an excellent ending – quite a few seemingly irrelevant scenes in the show had built up to the conclusion. In fact, after watching that show, I had wondered if my dismissive initial impressions of the show were correct. “Episode 6: Demiurge” had eternal villain Trevor Goodchild trying to use the powers of a God to control people’s behaviour. It’s a good idea, although it was not particularly well-delivered. “Episode 9: Chronophasia” has Aeon Flux continually looping back to a particular point in time, trying to tackle a difficult situation. The story was quite difficult to follow, like every other show in the series, but the confusion felt that it actually belonged to this episode. Although the occurrence of these good ideas warrant discussion, they are poorly delivered, poorly executed, and far too sporadic to save the series from being rubbish, for the most part.

For the most part, “Aeon Flux” looks cool, but there’s little inside – MTV apparently knows something about style over substance. In spite of the occasional attempt towards intelligent ideas, for the most part, the series fails. I can’t recommend the series at all, which is sad to say when it seems that with more work (a lot more), it could have been both an intelligent and exciting show. 1.5/5.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

#8: Heechee Rendezvous


I've finished the third and original final book of the Heechee Saga by Frederik Pohl. It didn't wow me as much as Gateway but I'm still enjoying the series.

You can read my review and see how I compare it to Futurama and Ghost in the Shell: SAC on my blog

Monday, March 30, 2009

Cowboy Bebop: The Movie (2002)

On Mars in the late twenty-first century, a terrorist destroys a tanker truck, killing quite a few people, and releasing a biological weapon that the authorities cannot identify, which infects hundreds of people. A group of Cowboys, or bounty hunters, try to track down the terrorist, a huge reward as incentive, but things get quite complicated. As bounty hunting terrorists normally does.

Cowboy Bebop is an anime, or Japanese animation, and the animation style is quite good. Everything, from characters to backgrounds to vehicles is done with a lot of care and attention to detail. I wish as much care was done with American animation, but that’s irrelevant to this review. More important than animation detail and style is that much of the silliness present in anime is not here. In this story type, it’s great, considering the seriousness of the plot itself.

The world that Cowboy Bebop depicts is quite interesting. It’s a melting pot of a variety of cultures. There are some things that are unquestionably Arabic, then Asian, then English or American, but is also combined with unquestionably futuristic technologies. That the story takes place on Mars in less than a century is somewhat questionable, particularly given the backgrounds and scenery of the movie, but it’s a minor point, and may well be explained in the television series that this was based upon.

The plot, on the main part, is quite full of action, as you might expect with a group of bounty hunters, but isn’t too unintelligent, either, which is appreciated. Although some of the ideas aren’t overly original, it’s done differently enough to make the movie interesting in that regard. Although there are some plot aspects in the movie which don’t quite make sense when examined too closely, for the most part, they aren’t too large or too numerous, and I will be getting to the exceptions later.

What really annoyed me about this movie, though, was the presence of the young girl and her super-intelligent dog. The girl switches between being extremely silly and frivolous in a way that only anime will attempt, and suddenly act quite serious, intelligent, and grown-up. I know that children can act quite silly at times, and extremely silly children are a staple of anime, but she is far too much to put up with in a movie with such a serious theme. But my complaints about the girl are nothing in comparison to the dog. The dog can apparently analyse complex strategy games better than it’s human players, recognise individuals on a computer screen from poorly-drawn pictures, pick up and track a single scent in an entire city, and other such sillinesses that makes him the most unrealistically-portrayed dog I have ever encountered in any story. I include Tintin’s dog, Snowy, in this statement. And the fact that only the girl understands the dog… No, the movie would have been far better off without the two.

So, “Cowboy Bebop” is a movie with a decent plot and decent ideas, and is animated quite well, but plot coincidences and some extremely poor characters and let it down badly. 3.5/5.

Anansi Boys; Neil Gaiman (2005)

Charlie Nancy has found out his father has died, and has to sort out the funeral arrangements. After the funeral, Charlie has to sort out his father’s affects, and finds out that his father was a God – Anansi the trickster god, no less – and that he has a brother whom has inherited his father’s abilities. After Charlie’s brother arrives for a visit, Charlie’s life is dramatically turned upside down, and Charlie needs to sort out the problems that his brother has wrought on him.

The first thing that I will say is that I enjoyed reading “Anansi Boys”. It’s got an original central idea – what if the traditional gods were alive today? How would they act? How would they influence the world in which we live? The writing is decent, and I enjoyed the occasional attempt at humour, too – it’s not a comedy by any means, but does raise a smile or two.

My enjoyment of the book expressed, there are more than a few problems with this book, which do spoil my enjoyment greatly. While the first book in the series, “American Gods” utilised a plethora of gods from a variety of mythologies, and looked at the effects they had on society as a whole, this book mainly concentrates on one god, his two sons, and a few individuals whom are acquainted with the god in question. Occasionally, another god might pop up to help progress the story, but there is quite a lack of gods at work. In fact, the story feels somewhat, well, pedestrian. With all of the things that a god might get up to in today’s society, Gaiman has his going on a nightclub crawl, charming women, and doing other similar mundane acts. Surely a god or demi-god would come up with some better ideas, especially a trickster god?

Another problem is that the book is riddled with coincidences, all of which are required to progress the book forward. In particular, the convergence of all of the main characters on a small island through a variety of different reasons needs a great deal more explanation than what was given, and strains credulity, but there are many other coincidences that were introduced. Yes, you could probably resolve one or two coincidences with some hand-waving, saying “Gods are at work, you know, don’t question it at all.” However, the coincidences are never explained, nor examined, not even an attempt to distract the reader with a theological question regarding the coincidences, which would have been somewhat appropriate given the storyline. They just happen, and we are meant to believe this. Or perhaps gloss over it.

“Anansi boys” is an enjoyable book, but it’s a disappointment in quite a few ways, and doesn’t bear a close examination afterwards. It’s an interesting and entertaining idea, certainly, and the writing enjoyable enough, but huge coincidences and a failure to realise the potential of the central concept does detract from the story greatly. 3/5.

Firefly – The Complete Series (2003)

I haven’t watched too much SF television until recently, but “Firefly” has shown me what SF television can be at it’s best. It’s quite original, contains a variety of storylines while progressing through the over-arching storyline, looks great, has excellent characters, excellent acting, and is extremely consistent, both logically and scientifically. The only thing more that I could ask for is a second series, I suppose.

Firefly is about Malcolm Reynolds, the captain of the starship Serenity. With the assistance of the crew, Reynolds undertakes a variety of jobs, some legal, some less so, in order to keep the ship running, fuelled, and the crew are paid a percentage of the takings.

All of that sounds pedestrian enough – it’s definitely not the first time that I have seen the rogue spaceship captain idea used in a story before. Whedon, however, manages to take this story to a variety of settings, and makes it all fit within the universe he creates for Firefly. So, one story might be a story taken from the wild-west, the next a medical mystery, a heist story, a horror, or a space opera. All of these stories fit into the universe that Whedon has devised, one of uneven technology and social power, beneath the shell of a newly-formed alliance covering all of the colonised worlds, with some people less welcoming of this intrusion than others. All of these shows help progress the overall storyline forward, and all of these are consistent with what we know about the universe that this is set in from other stories. Although it sounds like it shouldn’t work at all, it definitely does.

The cast of characters in this show is excellent, and the acting equally good. They are all actual characters, not mere vessels to propel a story forward. In fact, part of the story is the relationships between the crew members, but the story is not annoyingly angst-ridden, either. To single any particular character out is more a question of the characters whom I enjoyed the most, rather than whom was the most proficient actor.

A particularly important point that often gets missed in the SF television that I have watched previously is consistency, and the stories are actually written with this consideration in mind. Science doesn’t get ignored here for the sake of story; in fact, science plays an integral part of the story. Technologies that were part of the story in one episode make a reappearance in a future episode. It’s small points like this that elevate this series far above other SF television shows that I have watched before this. Without spoiling any episode, the spacecraft even breaks down in one episode. No one sabotages it, no one neglects maintenance or leaves their toolbox in there to break it, or any other equally outlandish explanation like that; the spacecraft just breaks down because stuff breaks down. I’m sure anyone whom has sat on the side of the road, smoke billowing from their car engine would appreciate that episode.

Probably the only criticism of this series that I could make is that it does not feel complete. Part of the story for some characters is missing. There are a few questions surrounding the character of the Shepherd that are never explained satisfactorily, for example, and there are quite a few questions surrounding the character River, particularly questions that arise from the last episode. There are some minor plot points that aren’t tied up. However, since there is only a single series, as far as I am aware, I don’t get these questions answered. I have watched the movie “Serenity” earlier this year, before I began the 42 Challenge, and will watch it again soon to see if I appreciate it more having watched the television series. Regardless of the movie based upon the subject material of the series, “Firefly” feels like it should have been concluded in a second series, at the very least. It definitely does not detract from how much I enjoyed this series, but needs to be noted for a balanced and fair review.

Incompleteness aside, Firefly is an excellent television series. I won’t single out any particular show in the series to watch over another, because it has a progressive storyline, and you’ll get the most out of the series should you watch the series in the order it was aired. The storylines are extremely varied, yet conform quite well to the larger storyline of the series. The characters and their actors are great. The series is logically and scientifically consistent. It all looks quite good, too. I have some minor problems with the lack of closure of the series, but it’s a minor complaint against all that I enjoyed about this series. 5/5.