Category Archives: science fiction

Scorecard: Jurassic World – 1 Avengers Infinity War – 0

My shameless plug for science fiction

 

Here’s the lesson. Stick the landing. I enjoyed Jurassic World from the beginning, the middle, and the end. We moviegoers know what we want, and we know what we like. Movie makers often appreciate that, meaning us. Infinity War didn’t deliver. If you doubt that just check any source of viewer responses.

I don’t care about the setup for your sequel. You can give an audience an enjoyable ending and still setup the sequel at the same time. Infinity War is a comic, so I guess it falls into the category of fantasy. And don’t assume I have anything against fantasy. Bilbo and Frodo are all that and a bag of chips. Jurassic World is science fiction. I think that matters.

By developing a taste for science fiction you are enabling yourself to contemplate important issues of the day. You can engage your curiosity. You can form ethical arguments. You begin to think and act in a way that determines your future, and you can do good things for someone following in your footsteps. Science fiction perpetually compares the now with the what if. It asks this question. What would happen if we had the ability to do such and such? History has taught us that the less prepared we are for advances in technology, the more bad decisions we suffer from. Remember DDT? Shouldn’t we commit the time to consider the harm of new abilities before we make ourselves too vulnerable? Science fiction has proven to be one of the most reliable tools we have to engage in the debate.

space technology research science
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

The science in Jurassic World is cloning. Genetically modified organisms, otherwise know as dinosaurs, are brought to life by combining original ‘dino’ DNA with other animals’ filling in the missing pieces. In a fairly frightening manner, the movie weighs the possible outcomes of producing genetically modified animals for profit. I’ll borrow from one of my favorite 70’s sci-fi TV shows, the Six Million Dollar Man, which introduced us to the idea of the bionically enhanced human, who’s famous line is “We have the technology. We can make you stronger, faster, better than before.” The antagonists in the film decide to do just that when they investigate the possibility of turning a dinosaur into a military weapon.

Today we are faced with a number of staggering challenges from the technology we now, or very soon will possess. What are the right answers for whether or not we should clone animals, or humans? Who should police the internet? What are the worst consequences for us of the dark web? Can there be rules and punishments for cyber warfare and cyber espionage? Where will unchecked gene research lead us? More good than harm? Will that depend on how careful we are? Who will decide? These are a few of the necessary questions. Turn to your favorite science fiction book or movie to consider the answers.

If you have never appreciated the science fiction genre before, there are many places to go for recommendations. I will offer some suggestions. Here is my Mount Rushmore of authors.

 

reflection of cityscape in sea at night
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

 

Suggested Science Fiction

Books by or films based on the writing of
Philip K. Dick
Michael Crichton
Ray Bradbury
Robert Heinlein
Isaac Asimov

Let me give an honorable mention to Neal Stephenson, whose novel Seveneves promises to offer some of the best in science fiction movies to date. Read the book now before the first movie comes out.

Review: Golden Son by Pierce Brown

Vicarious Pleasure

Recommendation:  Must Read


What I liked.

This is a personal story.  One that explores the emotional turmoil that life’s challenges bring us.  Darrow au Andromedus is an agent of change.  A mole, a spy, a revolutionary, Darrow is innocence angered.  Driven by anger, he finds torment in the wake created by his wrath, by his folly, by his force of will.  In that wake, bystanders die; citizens, servants, slaves.  His friends die, enemies are born, vengeance is carried out, blood feuds perpetuate, and duplicity devastates those who trust.

For Darrow, whose existence is a bold lie as an infiltrator of Gold society,  cannot escape the irony that in order to find the truth that could create a better society, he must perpetuate the ultimate betrayal wrought by his dishonest manipulation.  His friends do not know him, his true identity, nor his ultimate purpose: to destroy everything they believe in, and take the privilege they know to be their right.

We see the effect it has on Darrow because in him is not the sinister power hungry tyrant.  We watch him wrestle more with the internal strife of how his actions cause others to suffer, than with the physical combat he engages in verses his external enemies personified.  To a large extent this is a study in how lies can enslave those who perpetuate them as much as they control and manipulate those deceived.  Honesty, loyalty, friendship, these are the themes given fair rendering by the author.

This is a personal story told about a public cause, for Darrow has been inspired by the actions of others.  By Eo, by Ares, by Dancer, by Virginia, and perhaps most of all by Nero.  The stakes could not be higher.  His entire civilization, billions of lives, the future of generations, entire heritages, all hinge on who wins the struggle and at what cost.  Passions run high right along with them.  So as we read along we have the experience of some vicarious pleasure, without the risk to life, limb, and everyone dear to us.

What I didn’t like.

I did not enjoy seeing Darrow go through the emotional anguish that came with each dangerous liaison, each painful decision, each hurtful act.  Perhaps I’m too sensitive.  It is part of the story.  It must be a reason why we say you have to take the good with the bad.  Or should it be the bad with the good?

I found it hard to accept that Darrow would forget about Evey and Harmony so easily, because it goes against his character. I didn’t.  The author apparently did. Along with the gift to Adrius.

What you should know.

Golden Son is part II of a trilogy and follows a few years after the conclusion of part I Red Rising.  Read it before you read Golden Son.  This is a balanced mixture of science fiction, suspense, war, and Shakespearean melodrama.  In my opinion it bends the traditional attempts to pigeonhole it into just one genre per se.  You wouldn’t enjoy this novel as much if you don’t find the fun in lines like this:

“If your heart beats like a drum,

and your leg’s a little wet,

it’s ’cause the Reaper’s come

to collect a little debt.”

Excerpt From: Brown, Pierce. “Golden Son.” Del Rey, 2015-07-07. iBooks.
Check out this book on the iBooks Store: https://itun.es/us/437DW.l

Review: Red Rising by Pierce Brown

What I liked.

A visionary future with evolved humans creating civilzations on planets and moons in Earth’s solar system.  A caste based class system of colored humans.  The Gold class reigns at the top with intellect, fear, dominance, physical force, technology, and deception.  The Red class populates the bottom with massive slave labor that sustains the wealth and power of the society.  In between these two classes lies a myriad of colors whose genetic disposition and engineering match their respective roles in the hierarchy, from soldiers to law enforcers, entertainers, etc.  This is a fairly well described and detailed conglomerate.

Within the grander tale are individual stories about well developed characters who struggle with the same issues we humans have for generations; love, hate, purpose, honor, dignity, pride, trust, selfish verses selfless, mercy, family, friendship.  This is a shortlist.  Not a simple story here.

The drama is engrossing, the characters are inspiring, their plights compelling.  This book entertains on every level.  It gives visceral justified violence while decrying the consequences to both the victors and the vanquished.  It debates the alternatives with readers sharing the anguish inside conflicted protagonists.  It gives, and it takes away.  The passion runs high throughout the story and there are no lulls.  The flawed main character Darrow is not your stereotypical reluctant hero.  He is just a bit more than the everyman in us. We recognize his self doubts, his lack of ambition, his fear.  We see him in all his human frailty accompanied by his unlimited potential.

Along Darrow’s journey we meet many a villain, those whom we at first classify and assume have but one dimension.  When our first shallow impressions prove wrong, we  are forced to rethink people we wrote off as wrong headed bad guys/girls. It is at this point when you can really begin to appreciate what Red Rising offers.

As a first book in a trilogy, there is payoff on every level.  The climax is rewarding.  The creation of a desire to read more is strong.  The expectation that you will not be disappointed is high.

What I didn’t like.

The story begins slowly, without much buildup.  The science fiction has some nice twists of future and near future technologies, particularly bioengineering.  The depth of the technological descriptions are, shall I say, Star Wars light.  I had an off and on again struggle with how some aspects of human history and development are abandoned at the expense of others.  The strong storytelling overshadows various intermittent flaws.

What you should know.

This is one of the most gender balanced fiction offerings you will find.  Women and men are intellectually and physically parallel.  They are evenly represented in the telling.  You can have Game of Thrones.  I’ll take my political intrigue with fancy weaponry and high tech gadgets any day over the fantasy of magic.  And horses too!

Recommendation:  Must Read

The message of Star Trek Beyond


Let’s look beyond the message of Star Trek and see where it finds us.  First I’ll argue that this is an entertaining blockbuster with mediocre aspirations as a science fiction standard bearer.  Will you enjoy it as time and money well spent? Yes.  Will you think twice about it as you leave the theater? No.  If you accept the premise of mediocrity then ask me, why need we look further?

My answer takes the form of a postulated question.  Did you hear the message that mankind is its own worst enemy?

SPOILER ALERT GALORE

ICYMI: Idris Elba aka Krall embodies the role of the villain as a human, albeit one who’s enhanced far beyond mortal man.  You might say he’s kind of a cross between Frankenstein’s monster and scifi Dracula.  My complements to the script makers.  There’s nothing like mining the best, most often copied material for another bite at the apple, or the neck, or the box office.  With the dollars at stake (2013’s Into Darkness more than $450 million in revenue- Beyond budget ~$185 million) would you risk original work when you can trot out tried and true formula?

And when our esteemed thespian, see Beasts of No Nation, asks as to his motivation, director Justin Lin’s reply; why you’re a disgruntled employee!  Talk about going postal.  And Krall delivers the mail with a rare combination.  Can you say spider and bee fetish?  His base of operations is a planet surrounded by nebula where spaceships maroon while their crews become entangled in a web-like comatose state which he uses to extract from them what he needs.  The product here is not honey but hate.  His forces, however, do swarm like no hive you’d ever want to stumble across. The Federation is nonplussed to wield any technology that can withstand Krall’s weaponry.

Here I suggest is where the message digs it’s foundation.  When we lift the lid on his coffin we discover Krall was heretofore our model citizen, warrior, officer and gentleman.  What happened was that the Federation took the highly trained and experienced combat veteran and gave him a civilian job, having ended all wars and the need for his old ways.  It has been thirteen years since numbered American soldiers have faced a two front war; one in Iraq and another in the minds of those afflicted with PTSD and other related issues.  Whether or not American combat veterans have experienced being more prone to violence once returned home, the message on screen was clear.  Captain Edison struggled with the loss of his military identity.  He faced a consequence of being rewarded for his sacrifice and bravery with being lost in space.  He was left behind.  Forgotten.  Edison was ultimately left for dead with little or no sign that his employers cared about either him, his subordinates, or his service.  As time passed his mental state deteriorated, eventually creating the fertile soil from which Krall emerged.

The direct line conclusion from the path  laid out by Beyond is that societies bare the risks associated with placing soldiers in harms way.  The results could reveal themselves long after the damage has been done.

I, or shall I say the filmmakers, offer you more messages than these.

The story’s overall theme that is revisited throughout hammers home one mantra.  Families and friends who commit to unite will strive together and reach their potential to overcome whatever obstacles arise.

The danger that often occurs is when we forget this belief and sabotage it through self destructive decisions.  Chris Pine’s Kirk does just that when the unending, unconquerable, infinite space defeats his sense of adventure, his desire to be challenged, and his dream of achievement.  The subject of his failure: purpose.  Zachary Quinto’s Spock takes a different route to reach the same end.  Grief, perhaps the strongest manifestation of what causes us to question ourselves, to the point we completely derail, is this half human’s Achilles heel as well. He chooses to abandon his celestial family to serve what he thinks is his ethnic responsibility to the fatherland, or what’s left of it.

The biggest reason why 13 films and 37 years of the Star Trek saga resonate with moviegoers is the bond that built the original Gene Roddenberry TV creation.  Beyond is on target with this piece and Karl Urban’s McCoy delivers the glue gun.  The series explored not outer space so much as it did the relationship between Kirk, Spock, and McCoy.  Their journey through the ups and downs of complex and conflicted emotions had more to do with their survival than any technological techniques they mastered.

McCoy reminds Spock why they mean so much to each other and why it matters.  When they bring that message back to Kirk, he takes his exercise of trust, inspiration, and leadership to another level seeing Uhura, Scott, Sulu and Chekov prove once again that their place is on the Enterprise and his home is with them.

This is the best part of the science fiction Beyond offers.  There is nothing new here.  That is the basis for my grade of C.  Star Trek gets a pass from me because it is a production that keeps the genre alive though it falls short of advancing it.  I hail science fiction because I see it as the best genre for bringing together the moral and ethical dilemmas within the human condition as they intersect with apocalyptic aspects of advanced technology.  The more we role play these hypothetical scenarios the more time we will have to consider them before we have to deal with them in our reality.  Are we ready to face global warming?

So I salute Star Trek Beyond.  Beyond’s success bridges the gap between great science fiction movies of the past…Blade Runner, 12 Monkeys, The Matrix…and the next great scifi story which will take a rightful place in cinematic history.  As for the Star Trek franchise I offer only these words: Live long and prosper.

Movie Review: Ex Machina

It took Ex Machina for me to break a hiatus. While it entertains as well as it provokes thought and dialogue, this film strikes that delicate balance which every great science fiction seeks to achieve.

Graphic Policy

ex_machinadAn artificial intelligence dealing with emotions is something we all have seen before! Films like Ridley Scott‘s Blade Runner and Spielberg‘s AI are the ones which come to mind at 1st & most recently in Wally Pfister‘s directorial- flop, Transcendence. Yet, in my opinion this film stands all together in a different arena. Unlike others this film is more of a dialogue-driven psychological thriller that slowly works it’s way under your skin. This serves the story well, cramping up the tension as an age old Sci-fi plot-point emerges (as covered by the trailer): how will a sentient machine feel about having its plug pulled. The film has a simple story dealing with a deeply complex and philosophical topic: namely what makes humans human, you know the feelings & emotions. The story follows Caleb (Domhnall Gleeson), an employee at BlueBook, the world’s ‘leading search engine’…

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