What Does Science Fiction Want for Our World Today?

Back when my father was a kid science fiction was all about rockets to Mars, flying cars and atomic power.  The world would march forward in the same way that it had after science advanced in the generations before.  It would engineer applications for atomic power in the same way that earlier generations applied knowledge of chemistry and physics to create the internal combustion engine and airplanes.

When I was a kid science fiction had progressed to where relativity and quantum physics were assumed to be susceptible to human genius and no barriers were too tall to prevent humans from colonizing the stars, travelling through time and even traipsing into other dimensions.  Now this made for a lot of interesting stories about universes where humans could meet up with all kinds of amazing creatures and events.  But at some point, you have to wonder if the word “science” in the name science fiction should be changed to fantasy.  And that’s fine.  Having faster than light (FTL) travel opens up so many story lines for an author that it’s hard to resist.  Otherwise, we’re stuck with multi-generational ships depending on relativistic time dilation to reach the nearest stars in one or two hundred years.  Which, by the way, makes for a lot of very interesting sociological phenomena on the ship.  But anyway, you can see how FTL travel would be a very desirable pseudoscientific device.

But here we are something like a hundred years on in the “modern” science fiction timeline and we’re still engulfed in the FTL travel trope.  And we’re still nowhere near any kind of science that would lead us to believe that FTL travel is even remotely possible.  So, in my mind maybe science fiction needs to start looking at science again for inspiration for new themes.

Thinking about this, it’s not like there aren’t all sorts of scientific discoveries and avenues for new technologies that are not only possible but also exciting building blocks for science fiction stories.  In biology we have gene therapy and longevity research.  In computer science there is artificial intelligence and cybernetics.  The reality of atomic power as a replacement for fossil fuels is not really science fiction as much as fact but there are enough questions about how it will change the present world that it could provide plenty of fodder for stories.  And human exploration of the solar system is now much better understood than it was even back during the Apollo program.  Reimagining the directions that something like landing on Mars will take has already been a successful idea for one author who even saw it turned into a successful movie.

Perhaps some of this sounds a little tame for science fiction readers.  On the contrary, sticking to the reality of what it would take to put a small colony on Mars should allow a good author to engineer in plenty of human interest and adventure.  I could see how a story based on capturing and harvesting an asteroid filled with gold and platinum would make a very exciting tale.  A good author would include the part of the story that involves very rich and powerful individuals scheming to hold onto the profits from a mission that might include the most powerful nations on Earth claiming the assets as the “legacy of all mankind.”

So, this is something I’ve been thinking about lately.  Now I like space opera as much as the next guy.  I’m very comfortable with galactic empires and multiverse.  They’re great fun.  But I also think it’s time for some of the most creative writers to start adding some real science back into science fiction.

The Giant Behemoth (1959) – A Science Fiction Movie Review

Lately I’ve been adding in a spoiler alert to these reviews to spare people who don’t want the movie spoiled by my review of the plot.  I’ll skip it here because no one can care what the plot of this movie is.  Basically, this is a British copycat of the movie “The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms” which came out in 1953.  Unfortunately, the special effects (such as they are) are even less impressive than the earlier incarnation of the story.

Intrepid American scientist Steve Karnes is in Britain to warn his fellow scientists that all of the atomic bomb blasts have filled the ocean with radioactive plankton, fish and sea birds.  And that eventually this would lead to giant mutated prehistoric creatures being awakened and attacking coastal cities.  Well, he didn’t actually say that but I could read between the lines.

Sure enough a fisherman and his surprisingly pretty blonde daughter are returning from a fishing trip and while she returns to their home the old man lingers on the beach and is blasted by the eponymous giant behemoth.  Apparently, the creature not only is highly radioactive but he also possesses the ability to use his electric eel-like power as if he were a gigantic bug zapper.  Later on, the daughter and her not too smart boyfriend find the father.  He’s covered with radiation burns on his face and they arrive just in time for him to tell them that it was a “giant behemoth” before he expires.

And I say that the boyfriend is not too smart because near the dead fisherman he finds a blob of pulsating glowing, pulsating slime.  So naturally he puts his hand into it and gets his own set of radiation burns.  At this point Steve Karnes and his British sidekick Professor James Bickford show up and quickly figure out that a giant prehistoric sea creature has been turned into a radioactive death trap and they bring in the British Navy.

Unfortunately, the Navy proves incompetent and various naval vessels, merchant ships, helicopters and even a passenger ferry are destroyed by the beast (mostly off-camera).  But finally, when the beast climbs onto land in London, we get to see it.  It’s a sorry looking Claymation facsimile of a sauropod.  And the animation of it walking through the London streets is almost comically bad.  It chases after a lot of not too nimble Londoners for a long time.  It zaps a bunch of people with its death ray.  It knocks some bricks out of a wall onto some other Brits and finally picks up a guy in a car in its mouth and throws it to the ground.

After this goes on for way too long Karnes and Bickford decide that what radioactivity can create, radioactivity can destroy!  They will take a radium spearhead and use a torpedo to shoot it into the creature’s head.  Apparently, this will kill it.  So, Steve gets into a crappy little submarine and voila, he shoots the behemoth and it’s all over.

But just as our heroes are congratulating each other for a job well done we hear a newscast saying that dead fish are washing up on the east coast of the United States.  Oh no, here we go again!

You’ve got to be a devotee of old monster movies to want to see this clunker.  I know War Pig is in that category so if you’re out there, this one’s for you.

Jurassic World Dominion – A Science Fiction Movie Review

I brought my two oldest grandsons to see the new Jurassic Park movie, “Jurassic World Dominion.” Based on the previous outings we all expected the movie to be full of exciting, frenetic action and very deficient in plot. But we plunked down our ducats and endured the half hour of coming attractions.

Well, they threw everything including the kitchen sink into this potboiler. They brought back Jeff Goldblum, Laura Dern and Sam Neill to reprise their characters from the original Jurassic Park film. They had some ridiculous plot about a cloned girl who was produced by parthenogenesis (virgin birth) by the granddaughter of Richard Attenborough’s character John Hammond from the first movie. Then they added an evil corporation producing giant locusts to eat up the world’s food supply to corner the market on genetically modified crops.

Then there were intrigues and kidnappings. There was Chris Pratt lassoing dinosaurs in the snow of Montana and other equally absurd scenarios. Finally, all of the good characters, old and new, band together to defeat the evil corporation and as a capstone the same small dinosaurs that ate Wayne Knight’s character Dennis Nedry in the original Jurassic Park, eat the evil CEO in this movie. What could be better than that?

Well, the movie was a hot mess. But dinosaurs are chasing people and even eating a few so what else could I ask from a Jurassic Park sequel? Afterwards, over some burgers and fries we agreed that it was ridiculous but highly satisfactory for our needs on this family movie outing.

But if someone is looking for an intelligent summer movie this is not that movie. It’s strictly an exercise in summer blockbuster sequel abuse. Well at least they must be finished with Goldblum, Dern and Neill. That at least is something.

Nick Cole Talks About Becoming An Indie Author

Nick Cole is one half of the writing team that has produces the highly successful (and highly entertaining) military science fiction series “Galaxy’s Edge.”

Nick talks about starting out as an indie writer and his run in with the big publishers.  After his initial success as an indie, the New York publishers gave him a contract but as soon as something in his next story offended their woke sensibilities they gave him an ultimatum; take it out of the story or lose his contract.  He chose the latter and has never looked back since.

There was some very good information on holding onto an audience once the first book in a series appears.  Unfortunately, the strategy he recommends is writing several books before publishing them.  This way they can be released at one month increments to keep the audience stocked in sequels when they are most receptive to purchasing another book.  Considering my slow progress it’s pretty discouraging to think I’ll have to finish three books before I can get publish anything.  Ah well.

It’s about an hour long so it might be a little much for most people.  But if you’re a fledging author it might be worth your while.

 

 

 

Galaxy’s Edge – Dark Victory – A Science Fiction Book Review

I’ve got to hand it to Anspach and Cole.  The world building they are doing in the Galaxy’s Edge franchise doesn’t seem like it will ever slow down.  They’re at least fifteen books into this universe and I keep running into newer and weirder twists and turns in the history of their galaxy.  And they’re always throwing in new characters and cross-connecting old characters and advancing new plot lines.  These boys are on their game.

(Spoiler Alert – Skip down to last paragraph to avoid spoilers and read recommendation)

In this latest installment Aeson Ford (/Captain Keel/Wraith/Tyrus Rechs (imposter)) is working undercover for his old Legionnaire friend Chhun.  He gets mixed up with an investigation into Nether Ops interference into the chaotic political situation that has existed since the Legion put an end to the House of Reason.  Working with the Nether Ops agent “Honey” he infiltrates several bases of the nefarious spy agency leading up to the capture of vital intel.  Meanwhile Ford is also in search of information on his own forgotten origins in the Kill Team Ice that stretches back to the Savage Wars by means of cryosleep.

Meanwhile we discover that his crewmate Leenah was not killed when the Indelible VI was attacked by bounty hunters in the last book.  We learn how her ship was all but destroyed just as she made the jump to light speed.  The jump saved her life but left her stranded in the middle of nowhere with almost no air and no way to get help.  Through her mechanical ingenuity she rigs a signal and waits with time running out.  Meanwhile Ford’s other crewmate Garret is Lenah working with Nilo’s Black Leaf mercenaries and because he hasn’t given up on Leenah’s life, he locates her signal and convinces Nilo to go on a rescue mission.

When they get to the beacon Leenah and the ship is gone and Nilo figures out that Leenah has been captured by Gomarii slavers and they go on a mission to save her and take down the Gomarii.  During the rescue Nilo and Garret discover that the Gomarii vessel is actually a Savage hulk that contains information in its memory banks crucial to the upcoming resumption of the Savage threat to the galaxy.

Aeson Ford fabricates a plot to capture a rogue Naval Commander who has been doing the Nether Ops dirty work.  During the action Honey betrays him with her former colleagues in Nether Ops and she is killed along with the rest of the agents that Ford defeats.  When he returns to the Legion base, he learns that his old comrade Masters is in dire straits.  Instead of returning to Garret and Nilo he heads off with the legionnaires to save Masters.  But at the end of the book, we find that Nilo also has business on that same dangerous planet.

Dark Victory winds two plots together and both are done well.  The rescue of Leenah from the salvers is the more dynamic and satisfying of the subplots but taking Ford out of the action allows the secondary characters like Leenah and Garret to get their moments in the sun.  Plus, it allows Nilo and Garret to advance the information on the Savage Wars back story which will tie in with other characters that don’t figure in this book but will return soon.  Let’s face it, once you’re into the series this deep all you want to know is whether it’s still a good read.  It is.

Dune, Part 1; A Very Short Discussion of the Movie – A Science Fiction Movie Review

 

In November of 2021 Neil Dunn wrote an excellent review of Dune part 1.  Now that I’ve finally seen the movie, I can definitively say that his review was wholly accurate.  Let me qualify my comments by stating up front that I have inexplicably avoided reading the Dune books most of my life.  And now I am ready to amend that situation.

As I said this will be short.  The movie is a stylish and well-made science fiction film that uses the current state of the art in computer-generated imagery to great effect.  The battle scenes, the space ships and the creatures such as the sand worms are all impressively realistic.

The actors are very good.  With only a couple of familiar faces I was still highly impressed by the cast.  The plot was kept moving and the tension between the family dynamics and the political struggle was well done.

Read Neil’s review for a more in-depth and authoritative look at the story.   But as a new comer to the Dune universe I will gladly recommend this film to all fans of science fiction and more generally, to anyone who likes a good adventure film.

Galaxy’s Edge – Legacies – A Science Fiction Book Review

Before I proceed to the review a quick note.  It’s been over a year since the last review in this series.  The explanation is a puzzling fact.  I buy the paperback version of books and for some reason Legacies never came out in paperback.  I’ve checked and the subsequent books in the series are now available in paperback but Legacies never was.  So recently I gave up and bought the hardcover version.  What can I say, I’m a creature of habit.  Anyway, welcome back.

Legacies rejoins the story with Aeson Ford, aka Aeson Keel, aka Wraith and now aka Tyrus Rechs in search of Prisma, the young woman who has found herself embedded in the conflict between a confusing array of sides.  From the previous volumes in the series, she has seen Goth Sullus destroy her family in his quest to convert the Galactic Republic into a personal weapon against lurking threats and she has been swept along by Tyrus Rechs and Aeson Keel and discovered that she has mysterious powers that somehow make her important in the conflicts still to come.

In this book we will follow separate stories involving Prisma and Keel as they struggle to survive in a galaxy filled with confusing threats.  Prisma is aboard a war machine left over from the Savage Wars, a device that replays historic battles to evaluate alternate strategies to some mysterious end.  Keel goes under cover as Tyrus Rechs to find out who has put a price on his head and why.  And these two seemingly unrelated threads are slowly woven into one fabric.  Truths are revealed about Aeson Ford’s father and Tyrus Rechs and Goth Sullus that go back to the beginning of the Savage Wars and maybe beyond.

The book shifts back and forth between the two main narratives and then adds another plot line from the past.  This leads to some whiplash for the reader from time to time but the writing is quite well done and it kept my interest throughout.  Anspach and Cole have a very complex world-building project going on in this series.  In this volume, they provide origin information on the Cybar, Aeson Ford and links with the Savage Wars plot lines that expand a great deal on what I knew about the story previously.  And any hope of finishing this series in less than a million volumes has flown out the window.  But I’m happily resigned to my fate.

Highly recommended for all fans of the series.  Year two of the series is barreling along on hyperdrive.

The Fly (1958) – A Science Fiction Movie Review

(Spoiler Alert – Skip down to last paragraph to avoid spoilers and read recommendation)

Andre and François Delambre are two brothers who own a technology company.  Andre is a genius and he is working on a teleportation machine.  He shows it to his wife Helene but she notes that the machine still has some problems.  When Andre thinks the machine is perfected, he tries to teleport his cat but it disappears.  Finally, after much work, he shows his wife that it can teleport a guinea pig successfully.  Next, he plans to teleport himself.

The next day Andre’s little son catches a fly with a white head in the garden with his butterfly net.  Helene makes him release it.  When Andre does not appear for dinner Helene goes down to his laboratory.  But the door is locked and Helene finds a typewritten letter from Andre saying his experiment has gone awry.  A fly entered into the chamber and during the teleportation the fly got a human arm and head and Andre got the head and leg of a fly.  He could still think like a human but he was finding his mind slipping away.  He tells Helene to catch the fly so that he can go through the teleporter with it and hopefully return to normal.  They catch the fly but it escapes again.  Andre despairs and tells Helene (through writing on a blackboard) that he will destroy his dangerous machine and his notes.  And he wants to die so he tells Helene to assist him by crushing his head and arm in the hydraulic press in his lab to destroy the evidence of his horrible accident.  She agrees.  After helping her husband to suicide she calls her brother-in-law François (played by Vincent Price) who calls police inspector Charas.  When they arrive, Helene tells them how she killed her husband.  Later on, after much coaxing she tells them the story of the fly.  But they assume she has gone mad.  Inspector Charas gets a warrant for her arrest for murder.  But just before she is taken away Andre’s son tells François that he has found the fly in a spider’s web.  François calls Charas to the web and they see the fly with its human head and hand and hear it cry for help as the spider comes to devour it.  Charas crushes the spider and its victim with a rock and is horrified by the reality of Helene’s story.  Charas and François figure a story involving Andre’s suicide to protect Helene.  The movie ends with François assuming the guardianship over Andre’s wife and son.

I saw this movie as a child on tv.  And then, as now, the big scene in this movie is the spider web scene.  The pathetic little voice coming out of the haggard face of the fly is horrifying as we see the enormously magnified head of the spider come closer and closer to the poor trapped fly.  The other notable scene is where Helene pulls off the hood hiding Andre’s head and we see his repulsive fly face.  It’s kind of hard to see it.  It seemed out of focus but it was reasonably hideous and Helene screams to very good effect.  The only decent acting was done by the police inspector.  The rest of the cast acted their lines but no Academy Awards were earned.  Vincent Price gave his usual over the top delivery.  One surprise for me was that the actor who played Andre was David Hedison and I recognized him as the captain on the 1960’s television series “Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea” about a US Navy submarine that was always bumping into giant squid and other under sea monsters.  This movie is for connoisseurs of campy giant insect sci-fi films.  It’s not as good as “Them!” but it’s still fun for fans of this type of movie.

Star Trek – The Original Series – Complete Series Review – Season 3 Episode 24 – Turnabout Intruder

Great Caesar’s ghost!

If there had been no other reason to cancel the Star Trek series, this episode, in and of itself, would provide that rationale.  But it is the last episode so here we go.

Kirk, Spock and McCoy, the holy trinity of landing parties, arrive at planet blah, blah, blah where Dr. Janice Lester, an old flame of Kirk’s from his Starfleet Academy days, is sick with radiation poisoning.  Dr. Coleman, her private physician,  informs McCoy that she needs space medicine or something.  But when they leave Kirk alone with Janice to tend to a patient who’s already dead, Janice shoots Kirk with a petite phaser that she had hidden in her purse.  Then she drags him to a wall full of lights and standing next to him pushes a button that exchanges their personalities.  Now Janice in Kirk’s body (JIKB) carries Kirk in Janice’s body (KIJB) over to the bed and starts strangling KIJB with a stylish pastel scarf.  But the others return before JIKB can get the job done.  Coleman is in cahoots with JIKB and is given medical authority over KIJB by JIKB, much to the chagrin of McCoy who feels his authority has been trampled on as ship’s physician.

Coleman keeps KIJB sedated to keep up the charade but KIJB fools dim-witted Nurse Chapel into leaving the room and smashes a drinking glass that the sedative was in, to provide a tool to cut through her restraints.  But JIKB happens to see KIJB running by and punches her out, which raises eyebrows on both McCoy and Spock.  And as you know both characters love raising their eyebrows.  At this point everyone in the crew has noted the highly emotional, annoying and sometimes hysterical actions of JIKB.  Spock is so suspicious that he interviews KIJB in the holding cell.  And he uses the Vulcan mind meld and learns the truth of the personality transfer.  When Spock acts on this knowledge he is accused by JIKB of mutiny and is court-martialed.  JIKB’s bearing and words during the trail soon raise doubts in the minds of all the officers.  When Scotty and McCoy discuss in the corridor outside the trial the outcome if Spock is acquitted Scotty states clearly that they will have to commit mutiny.  But they were recorded secretly by JIKB.  Now Spock, McCoy and Scotty are declared mutineers by JIKB and he declares that they will be executed.  Sulu shouts out that the death penalty is forbidden and JIKB flips out and has a hissy fit.  Now Sulu and Chekov as the most senior remaining officers decide to defy JIKB and when this occurs on the Bridge JIKB spazzes out and we see the personalities reverse for a brief moment before reversing again.

Now JIKB freaks out and runs down to Coleman and says he’s afraid he’ll lose the Kirk body.  Coleman tells JIKB that he must kill KIJB right away to prevent permanent reversion.  But when they go down to do this KIJB attacks Coleman and suddenly the reversion happens spontaneously.  Now we have Kirk and Janice back in their own bodies and she wails and moans about losing the Enterprise and being just a poor weak woman being discriminated against by strong cruel men.  Kirk says some incoherent things about coulda, woulda, shoulda and the thing mercifully ends.

Just to put it right out there this episode broke the Shatner Mockery Index Meter so it gets an 11 for that.  JIKB snapping at everyone in the crew and behaving like a refugee from the tenth-grade mean-girl’s lunch-table is something to behold.  It makes me wonder if Shatner was given a course of estrogen injections before the filming began.  But my favorite scene is where Spock informs JIKB on the bridge that the same star course he had ordered could be made in less time by going faster.  She flounces off the bridge with her nose in the air.  In other words, he was attacking her driving skills.  Well, what can I say?  It’s finally over.  Free at last.  Free at last.

Score:  4   //   11

Note:  this is the last episode.  When I have recovered sufficiently from the strain, I intend to do some follow-up posts on the whole series, but not right now.  Oh, the pain, the pain.

Star Trek – The Original Series – Complete Series Review – Season 3 Episode 23 – All Our Yesterdays

Kirk, Spock and McCoy visit planet blah, blah, blah that is about to be destroyed by its sun going nova.  The whole population has used a time machine to escape into the past.  But one librarian is sticking around to handle any late arrivals.  He tries to convince the Enterprise crew to use the time machine to escape.  Kirk accidentally goes through the portal and ends up in an analog of 17th century England.  And McCoy and Spock follow him and end up in an Ice Age hellhole.

Kirk is accused of witchcraft when he is heard talking to Spock and McCoy when they are in a different time through the portal.  He finds a fellow time traveler and convinces him to help him escape back to the future.  When he gets back, he has to violently convince the librarian to help him find Spock and McCoy.

Meanwhile Spock and McCoy are found by another time traveler.  It is a woman named Zarabeth who has been sentenced to the Ice Age prison by an evil dictator.  But because they are now 5,000 years in the past, Spock reverts to the emotional condition his ancestors existed in at that time.  He becomes quite belligerent when McCoy calls him a pointy eared Vulcan.  And, of course, he falls in love with the pretty woman (played by very pretty and very young Mariette Hartley) in the skimpy cavegirl outfit.  When McCoy accuses Zarabeth of lying about whether McCoy and Spock can get back to the future Spock becomes enraged and starts choking McCoy.  McCoy brings this to Spock’s attention and he realizes that he is acting like a primitive.  Zarabeth clarifies that she knows she can never return to the future alive but she doesn’t know whether Spock and McCoy can.

The two men decide to try to find the way back and with just minutes to go before nova Kirk has the librarian open the path to the Ice Age time portal.  After Spock paws at Zarabeth for a few moments Kirk successfully urges the two men to return.  McCoy talks to Spock about how he feels about leaving Zarabeth in the past and Spock says some Vulcan jazz about her being dead and buried but it sounds more like bitterness than lack of emotion.  The librarian quickly makes his escape to his own time destination and the Enterprise beams the landing party back just in time to escape the nova.

This is a pretty good episode.  Sure, it’s silly and set up as a thriller with the clock running out on the nova.  But the story moves along and watching Leonard Nimoy act almost like a human being is amusing.  I especially liked when he had McCoy by the windpipe.  Even Kirk avoided his usual histrionics.  And the funny little bald librarian provides some humor to the proceedings with his bureaucratic fussiness.  And Mariette Hartley is a charming looking woman and did the best she could do with the lines she was given.

With the series all but over and faced with the reality of transgender Kirk in the final episode I feel extremely generous.  I’m going to award this episode with a 8 // 2.