Notice...

The purpose of this blog is to have a little fun. It is NOT to start arguments. I don't profess to be an expert on Sci-fi, nor do I aspire to become an expert. You are welcome to comment on any and all content you find here. If my opinion differs from yours, as far as I am concerned, it's all okay. I will never say that you are wrong because you disagree with me, and I expect the same from those that comment here. Also, my audience on the blog will include some young people. Please govern your language when posting comments.

Posts will hopefully be regular based on the movies I see, the television shows I watch, and the books I read as well as what ever strikes me as noteworthy.


***SPOILER ALERT***
Spoilers will appear here and are welcome.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

To Fire Called: A Seeker's Tale From The Golden Age Of The Solar Clipper By Nathan Lowell - Exploring New Frontiers!

To Fire Called: A Seeker’s Tale From The Golden Age Of The Solar Clipper by Nathan Lowell

Fans of Nathan Lowell’s Golden Age of the Solar Clipper series (including me) await each and every book with anticipation for another great story, and we are never disappointed when there is a new release, and often, we immediately begin badgering the author for more. This latest installment in the ongoing story of Captain Ishmael Wang, To Fire Called, takes our favorite freighter captain and his crew into unfamiliar surroundings, or at least they are to him.

For those of you that are not familiar with Dr. Lowell’s work, it is the story of Ishmael Wang, a young man of seventeen who knew where he was going until a tragic accident left him alone on a planet where he was not wanted. Ordered to leave because he had no way to support himself, he signed onto a freight hauler as a cook’s mate. He had few skills and less knowledge of what he had gotten himself into, but he had one talent that made him an almost instant celebrity on board the first ship he worked on; he knew how to make good coffee. But being able to make great coffee, the lifeblood of a happy ship, is not the only talent that Ish possesses though; he is also very good at working with and handling people.

As the years went on, he found that he was well suited for life in space and learned everything he could about ships and what makes them work. Finally went to the academy to learn to be an officer. After graduating, Ish had some rough postings, but always managed to leave a ship better than he found it. In this newest story, Ishmael is once again entering unfamiliar territory.

Ishmael, his friend Pip Carstairs, and a few other investors have started the Phoenix Freight Company with Ishmael as the captain of the only ship in the fleet, the Chernyakova. The ship is in drydock undergoing a complete refit after being discovered derelict with all hands dead onboard. As a matter of fact, Ishmael is the one who discovered and arranged for towing the ship back into port. After gathering his crew it is time to make some money to replace the large sums it took for the Chernyakova’s refit. Pip suggests that there is a lot of money to be made if they would start running in Toe Hold space.

Ishmael is used to running cargo in Confederated space where ships, officers, and stations are operated on a set of rules and regulations designed to keep everyone safe and to keep piracy out of the picture. In contrast, Toe Hold space is a place where there basically very few rules, and those rules are different at every port of call. There are some shady characters out there, and some that are not to be trusted, but there is big money to be made and Phoenix Freight needs to raise funds.

As To Fire Called is a Seeker’s Tale, everyone is looking for something, and all is not what it seems, and some are not who they seem to be on board the Chernyakova, so there are a lot of twists and turns in this story that make things quite interesting.

One of the many aspects that make this a great and compelling story is following the life of Ishmael. Owing to an incident in an earlier segment, Ish seems to have lost something, namely himself. One of the most important places on the ship, second only to the galley, is the Cabin, specifically the captain’s cabin where all of the major decisions are made. As the Chernyakova begins doing business, the officers notice that Ishmael is absent while on board, and that the Cabin isn’t a reflection of Ishmael’s personality as it has been on previous billets. He seems to be simply going through the motions as captain. He spends a lot of time in the Cabin, only goes to the bridge to stare at the stars or supervise vital ship operations, and occasionally goes to the galley for meals. He has somewhat isolated himself and the reason is that he is suffering from depression due to a loss of someone he cared a great deal about.

Ishmael’s officers take on the task of helping Ishmael heal and begin the process of recovering himself by making him decorate the Cabin and get back to moving about the ship. One of Ish’s qualities is that he surrounds himself with competent officers and crew and he know enough to stay out of their way and let them do their jobs, while at the same time knowing when to intervene to help solve problems. Of course, his officers know this about him and they are also aware of what the problem is, so they take care of their captain, who is very willing to take the help for the good of the ship as well as his own good.

At any rate, To Fire Called beyond Ishmael’s story gives the reader a picture of what freight hauling is about on the frontier known as Toe Hold Space. Most of the procedures in Toe Hold are the same as in Confederated space and many of the rules change as one travels from station to station picking up and delivering cargo. It makes for an engaging story that adds a new dimension to the Golden Age of the Solar Clipper series that includes some action scenes that have not appeared in earlier stories.

As always, I highly recommend To Fire Called as well as all of the tales spun by Nathan Lowell. I would advise the reader to read them in order though, starting with the first book, Quarter Share.

Well, there it is…


Qapla!

Edited by Benjamin Arrowood

Saturday, June 10, 2017

Alien: Covenant - Nothing New In This Film But Worth Seeing Anyway

Alien: Covenant

***Spoiler Alert***

Following on the heels of Prometheus, Ridley Scott brings us this second film in what is to be a trilogy of films that are slated to serve as prequels to the original Alien movie of 1979.

Following a prologue in which Peter Weyland speaks with the synthetic crewmember of the Prometheus, who promises that one day they will search for mankind’s creator together. The film moves on to a colonization ship called Covenant with over two thousand colonists and a thousand embryos aboard, all in stasis. They are bound for a remote planet known as Origae-6. All is proceeding as planned when Walter, the synthetic assigned to Covenant detects that she ship has been hit by a neutrino burst damaging the ship and killing some of the colonists. Walter orders the ship’s computer to wake the crew from stasis. During the awakening process, the captain’s stasis pod malfunctions killing him and leaving the first officer, Oram in charge.

While the crew makes repairs to the ship, a radio communication is picked up from a nearby planet. Against the protests of Daniels, the original captain’s widow, Captain Oram decides to investigate.

Leaving the Covenant, a team takes a lander down to the surface where they trace the radio transmission to an Engineer ship. While on the surface, two members of the team are infected with alien spores and become sick. Those two are then quarantined in the lander’s medical bay. It isn’t long before a creature, a Neomorph, bursts from one of the infected crew’s back and kills another member of the crew. Another crewmember attempts to shoot the Neomorph but misses and hits a tank of volatile gas causing an explosion that destroys the lander. The Neomorph survives the explosion and escapes to the planet’s surface while the other infected crewman has another such creature burst from his body.

Together, the Neomorphs attack the remaining crew of the lander and kill yet another member of the crew. The rest continue to fight until David, who has survived the failed Prometheus mission, arrives on the scene and rescues what is left of the lander’s crew. He leads them to a city full of Engineer corpses. David then explains that when he and Dr. Shaw from the Prometheus arrived in the Engineer ship they had commandeered, the black liquid bio weapon was accidentally released killing the native population, David further claimed that Shaw died when the ship crashed.

As the remaining crew tries to contact the Covenant, the remaining Neomorph attacks, killing another member of the crew. David tries to communicate with the creature and is appalled when Oram kills it. Oram then turns his weapon on David and forces him to explain that the aliens are actually the result of experiments he has been performing with the black liquid bio weapon to create a new species. David then takes Oram into an incubation chamber and tricks him into being grabbed by a facehugger and implanting an embryo in Oram. It isn’t long before a Xenomorph erupts from Oram’s chest.

While the remaining members of the lander’s crew go in search of Oram, Walter confronts David after learning that David had deliberately released the bio weapon on the Engineers. David tries to justify his actions by explaining that humans are an inferior race that should not be allowed to colonize the galaxy. Walter disagrees so David disables him and then captures crewmember Daniels and reveals that Shaw didn’t actually die from a crash, but was used by David as a test subject for his experiments. Walter manages to reactivate himself and engages David in combat while Daniels escapes and another member of the crew is attacked by a facehugger. Daniels, Walter, and the infected crewmember are rescued by another lander, but not before yet another crewmember is killed by the Xenomorph.

The crew of the second lander manages to kill the Xenomorph before they dock with the Covenant, but yet another Xenomorph bursts out of the chest of the infected crew member and kills two more crew. With Walter’s help, the ship’s pilot and Daniels corner the Xenomorph in the ship’s airlock and flush it into space.

The Covenant resumes its original course to Origae-6 and the remaining crew go back into stasis. As Walter is putting Daniels back under, she realizes that Walter is actually David, but falls asleep before she can do anything about it. David then regurgitates two alien embryos and places them in stasis with the human embryos.  Then, in Walter’s name, he records a log entry stating that all members of the crew, save Daniels and the ship’s pilot, were killed by the neutrino blast.

On the downside, I found the film wholly predictable. There was really nothing new to this film and it might fit into a “this has all been done before;” same song, different verse.  I knew as soon as the members of the crew headed for the planet that most of them would die, save one or two survivors, and one of those survivors would be infected with a Xenomorph embryo that would threaten the remaining crew of the Covenant itself. Later in the film, when the two artificial lifeforms came face to face, I also knew that Walter would be replaced by David which would be revealed at the very end of the film. It is pretty much the same trope that has taken place in all of the films in the franchise.

However, that is not to say that the film is not entertaining and worth a watch, if not in the theater, at least when it comes out on BluRay. I enjoyed the film because of the performances turned in by the main characters, especially those of Michael Fassbender as David/Walter and Katherine Waterston in her Ripley-like role as Daniels “Dany” Branson.
It is no secret that the synthetic people on missions in the Alien franchise have been somewhat problematic, mostly because they had some agenda that the humans were not aware of. In the original Alien films, it was known that the corporation wanted the Xenomorphs for their value as weapons. The ship’s computer (known usually as Mother) and the synthetic worked hard to try to make sure that a creature was captured to be returned to Earth for exploitation. Failing that, the corporation sent a human in Aliens. In the case of David, I am not positive on what his motivation is. Was he programmed by the corporation to look for dangerous life, or is it a project he took on because he could?  David was quite advanced and it is mentioned in the film that Walter has been dumbed down a bit. So we have two identical appearing characters with different behaviors. This would be a challenge for any actor; be the same, but different. Fassbender pulls it off quite well. Along with that, he becomes increasingly more sinister as the film unspools.

In this franchise, any strong female character is going to be compared to Ellen Ripley. So far, we have Dr. Elizabeth Shaw, the extremely tough character from Prometheus, and now Daniels Branson, the terraforming expert aboard the Covenant. Dany Daniels is another intelligent, tough, and driven character that deserves as much respect as Ripley, but they are not the same, they are indeed their own characters.

So, while there is really not a lot new in this film, I would recommend seeing it anyway, it does answer a few questions raised in Prometheus, and raises a few more questions that I hope will be answered in the next film in this long-lived franchise. Despite the predictability of the story, it is a very good Sci-Fi Thriller and will give you a scare every now and then.

Well, there it is…

Qapla’!

Edited By Benjamin Arrowood

Friday, June 2, 2017

Guardians Of The Galaxy, Vol. 2 - It Will Make You Laugh, It Will Make You Cry, Sometimes Both At The Same Time!

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2

***Spoiler Alert***Spoiler Alert***Spoiler Alert***Spoiler Alert***

With real life poking it’s head into my business constantly for the past month, I found that I had to wait until over two weeks after the opening  to see this film (and it was well worth the wait). I managed to avoid spoilers and am happy to say that I love this film and am hoping to see it again before it leaves the theaters.

In this second edition of Guardians, the entire cast is back with some notable additions. Including Kurt Russell as the god-like super-villain Ego and Sylvester Stallone as Stakar Ogord, a high ranking Ravager who has some history with Yondu. Also added to the cast this time around was Pom Klementieff as Mantis, a cohort of Ego who possesses empathetic powers.

The movie opens with Ego and an earth woman (later to be revealed as Peter Quill’s mother) spending time together. Ego shows her a seedling that he has planted on Earth that will eventually allow him to extend his consciousness there.

The Guardians we have come to know and love have made a reputation for themselves and are hired to various tasks. One such task they are performing is to protect some valuable batteries from an interdimensional monster. Their payment for these services is to take possession of Gamora’s sister, Nebula, after being caught attempting to steal the batteries herself. When Ayesha discovers that Rocket has taken some of the batteries, she sends a large number of drone ships after the Guardians which forces them to crash land on a planet.

Ego arrives on the scene and reveals himself to be Quill’s actual father. After they become acquainted,  Quill, Drax, and Gamora go to Ego’s home planet. Meanwhile, Yondu (who has been exiled from the Ravagers) is hired by Ayesha to track down and capture the Guardians. Yondu does capture rocket but is reluctant to turn Quill over to Ayesha. Yondu’s lieutenant, Taserface sees an opportunity to usurp Yondu’s leadership and with the help of Nebula, pulls off a successful mutiny. Having Rocket and Yondu imprisoned, Nebula leaves to find and kill her sister, Gamora. Groot and Kraglin, a Ravager that remains loyal to Yondu, set Rocket and Yondu free. Taserface manages to get a message to Ayesha while Yondo, and Rocket destroy the Ravager ship.

Back on Ego’s planet, we discover that Ego is a god-like being known as a Celestial and that he took human form to travel the universe to discover his purpose. We also learn that he sent Yondu to collect Quill after his mother died, but Yondu never delivered Quill to Ego, but instead kept him because he was small and able to get into places that the other Ravagers were not able to get into. Ego then begins teaching Quill how to use his Celestial powers. Meanwhile, Nebula arrives on Ego’s planet and tries to kill Gamora. Nebula fails, but she and Gamora find an uneasy reconciliation of their differences. Together, they discover a cavern with a mountain of skeletal remains. While under some hypnotic influence, Ego reveals to quill that he has planted seedlings on thousands of worlds, but that it takes two Celestials to activate their terraforming powers. He further tells quill that he impregnated thousands of women and hired Yondu to collect the children which he killed when they proved not to have the needed Celestial powers to activate the seedlings. Quill snaps out of the trance when ego further reveals that he deliberately caused the death of his mother.

The Guardians reunite on Ego’s planet, and along with Mantis, Nebula, Yondu, and Kraglin, there is a huge final battle in which a bomb made from the batteries that Rocket stole from Ayesha destroys Ego’s brain at the center of ego’s planet. As the planet is breaking up, Yondu sacrifices himself to save Quill from the destruction. With Ego no longer a threat, Nebula leaves to hunt down and kill Thanos and the Guardians hold a funeral for Yondo that is attended by dozens of Ravager ships.

During the credits, there are five scenes that include Kraglin attempting to use Yondu’s telekinetic weapon with limited success, Stakar Ogord acknowledges Yondu’s sacrifice, a teenaged Groot  displaying typical teen behavior, Ayesha creating an artificial being she calls Adam, and finally a group of Watchers walk away while their informant (Stan Lee) talks about his experiences on earth.

There are many things I love about both of the Guardians films.  I like the way the cast was chosen, almost like they were born to their parts; they play off of each other so well. The casting director has to be complimented for this. In Vol. 2 though, there was a lot of character development that added to the fun. Drax and Rocket were greatly expanded. I loved Drax’s twisted sense of humor with his laughter, he had me in stitches through the entire picture. It was also great to see that Rocket has some deep feelings although he almost never lets them show. It was a big surprise to me when he knocked Gamora out to keep her from following Yondu to help rescue Quill, then says “Sorry, I can only lose one friend today.”

The most impressive character development was reserved for Yondu. While I enjoyed the character in the first Guardians movie, he wasn’t the most likable character. He kidnapped Quill and brought him into a life of thievery until he was out on his own and found a higher calling. I remember the scene in the first Guardians film when Yondu opened the orb expecting to find the Infinity Stone, but instead finding that Quill had placed a troll doll in it. At that point I couldn’t help but wonder why Yondo didn’t go off his rocker and order his crew to go after Quill to seek revenge, but instead just smiled. After seeing Vol. 2, I now realize that that smile could have very easily been punctuated with a line like “That’s my boy.”

Yondu traveled the galaxy collecting the children that Ego had sired and delivered them to their deaths. Yondu know that this was happening and decided that he would not take Quill to that fate, but instead decided to raise him as his own son. This was something I didn’t expect from the character and added a whole new dimension making Yondu a more likable character to me. I always thought he was pretty cool because of the way he controlled that arrow with his whistle commands.

The humor in this movie is incredible! There are one-off jokes and running gags that kept me laughing all the way through. I especially loved Rocket’s teasing of Taserface. That alone was worth the price of the ticket.

The soundtrack was very good with a choice of songs from the second tape that Quill opened at the end of the first film. I have to say that while I enjoyed the song selections from this film, I liked the selections in the first film better.

I enjoyed the story plot of the Guardians saving the galaxy again, but I enjoyed the subplot, the theme of family that was woven throughout the film. There were many instances where this theme was demonstrated.

Quill finds his father, Ego, a super being that starts out looking like a benevolent man with Quill’s best interests at heart, but we soon learn that there is an agenda because Ego cannot spread his influence through the universe unless he has a partner with the same powers he has. He begins teaching Quill how to use his powers, but Quill is dedicated to protecting the galaxy, not dominating it. Ego quickly turns on Quill as a result illustrating that any man can father a child, but that doesn’t necessarily make him a dad. Yondu, the being that raised Quill and kept him from being used, or killed, by ego points this out when he says, “He may have been your father Quill, but he wasn’t your daddy.” Yondu punctuates this when he is given a rocket pack and an environmental field just before he rescues Quill from the explosion that destroys Ego. Yondu uses the rocket pack to carry Quill to safety, but puts the protective field on Quill to survive exposure to space. Yondu makes the ultimate sacrifice, giving his own life for his adoptive son. I was very saddened to see Yondu die just as his character was being developed so well. Yeah, I know that the character development was a trope that happens all the time in movies where we, the audience, are set up for such emotional moments, but I am a sucker for this particular trope. At any rate, I found myself both weeping and laughing at the same time when Quill delivers his eulogy for Yondu:

“I told Gamora how when I was a kid I used to pretend David Hasselhoff was my dad. He's a singer and actor from earth, really famous guy. Yondu didn't have a talking car, but he did have a flying arrow. He didn't have a beautiful voice of an angel, but he did have the whistle of one. Both Yondu and David Hasselhoff went on kick-ass adventures and hooked up with hot women, and fought robots. I guess David Hasselhoff did kinda end up being my dad after all, only it was you, Yondu. I had a pretty cool dad. What I'm trying to say here is... sometimes, that thing you're searching for your whole life is right there by your side all along, and you don't even know it.”

Another example of the family theme was demonstrated in the Nebula/Gamora relationship. Thanos pitted the sisters against one another, most likely hoping that they would, at best, tie in combat, but when Gamora lost, Thanos would try to improve Nebula to make her more like Gamora. How many times has one seen this trope in film? “Why can’t you be more like…?” which only causes a rivalry between siblings and causes one to believe to get their parent’s approval, they have to live up to the other sibling. Nebula explains it this way:

“As a child, my father would have Gamora and me battle one another in training. Everytime, my sister prevailed. My father would replace a piece of me with machinery, claiming he wanted me to be "her equal." But she won. Again, and again, and again, never once refraining.”

Later, Nebula confronts Gamora and explains her point of view that leads to a reconciliation between the two:

“You're the one who wanted to win, but I just wanted a sister. You were all I had, but you just needed to win. Thanos pulled my eye from my head. He tore my brain from my skull, and my arm from my body... because of you!”

Parents can really mess their kids up if they are bent on galactic domination.

Whether or not a message was intended, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 is a great fun romp and a very entertaining, funny and well paced film that will have you laughing and crying both at the same time. What a great way to kick off a summer that promises to be filled with genre blockbusters.

Well, there it is…


Qaplah!

Edited by Benjamin Arrowood

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Robert Wise: The Motion Pictures By Joe Jordan - A Brilliant Book About One Of The Greatest Film Directors Of All Time!

Robert Wise: The Motion Pictures by Joe Jordan

These days, when an announcement that there is going to be a film made, one of the first judgments that is made on whether the film is going to be good or not is based on who has been chosen to direct said film. For instance, when Justin Lin was announced to be the director of the latest in the Star Trek films there was both outrage and cautious optimism on social media.  There was, however, a time when those that worked behind the camera were not so much in the public eye.

There was a time when movies were considered an art form; just as singing is heightened speech, movies were an attempt to take a story and realize it visually. That’s not meant to say that there aren't good artistic films being made today, there are.

Several weeks ago, I received an email from Joe Jordan telling me that he looked at this blog and liked what he saw. He also asked if I might be interested in reading and reviewing his new work about the films of Robert Wise. Knowing that at least two of my favorite films were directed by Mr. Wise (The Day The Earth Stood Still and Star Trek: The Motion Picture), I told him that I would be very interested in learning more about the man behind those films. I have since read the book and I’m here to say that Robert Wise: The Motion Pictures is a great work that takes an in depth look at the 40 films directed by one of the most brilliant artists in filmmaking.

Following a foreword by actor Gavin MacLeod and an introduction by Robert Wise’s nephew, Douglas E. Wise, Joe Jordan takes each film in turn and provides a brief synopsis of each followed by a detailed analysis of the aspects of the film. Many of the later films discussed also include interviews by people that worked with wise in some capacity, but mostly actors. As I read this book, it was plain to see that author Joe Jordan did some extensive homework to bring the reader a complete idea of what makes a genius film director. At the same time, the language used to provide these explanations is accessible to even the most casual film buff but are not dull as one might suspect in a work of historical significance. As I read through the book, I found that I was mesmerized and fascinated by what I read, not just for the three Science Fiction movies directed by Wise, but for all of the films covered in the book.

What I have learned is that Robert Wise was a person who knew how to handle and work with people. He had a gift for choosing talent and locations that could bring stories alive.

In the genre of Science Fiction, Wise directed three films; along with the two mentioned earlier, there was also the film adaptation of Michael Crichton’s The Andromeda Strain. Other genres explored by Wise included horror, suspense, mystery, historical drama, and crime drama. As mentioned earlier, many of the film analyses include interviews from personalities connected with the movies. Of particular interest to fans of Star Trek is the interview of Alan Dean Foster. Fans of Sci-Fi novelizations need no introduction to Foster’s work, but the interview that is connected to Star Trek: The Motion Picture is very enlightening and surprising. If you want more on that, you’ll just have to read the book.

I was surprised at how many of the films by this director I have enjoyed over the years without even realizing who the director was. Some of those include, The Desert Rats (1953), Helen of Troy (1956), Run Silent, Run Deep (1958), West Side Story (1961), The Haunting (1963), The Sound of Music (1965), The Sand Pebbles (1966), The Andromeda Strain (1971), and The Hindenburg (1975). All Great films.

Robert Wise: The Motion Pictures by Joe Jordan is available in print version and more recently is available for the Kindle!

I give my highest recommendations for Robert Wise: The Motion Pictures for being an excellent work of film history, focusing on a great man who added to the wealth of humanity through his work behind the camera.

Well, there it is…


Qaplah!

Edited by Benjamin Arrowood