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.

Spoilers will appear here and are welcome.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Midlife Crisis in Medieval Times - ANGST by David J. Pedersen

Angst – David J Pedersen – 2012

As far as I can remember, this is the first fantasy novel I have ever read.  As the title of my blog would indicate, I am a fan of sci-Fi.  If you are a regular reader of this blog, you know that I have been strictly sci-fi from the beginning.  So why am I reviewing a fantasy novel?  It’s just that good, that’s why.  I have weighed in on what I feel are the differences between sci-fi and fantasy in an earlier post, so I’m not going over that ground again.  I have heard and read that sci-fi and fantasy are related in that they fall under the umbrella of what is called speculative fiction.  So now I feel justified in including this review in my blog.  Oh, and I will not be changing the title of this blog to Jim’s Speculative Fiction Blog because it is too hard to say and to remember.

I met the author, David Pedersen, this past July at the OSFest 6 convention in Omaha.  It was very briefly and at a distance as he was serving as a panelist and I was in the audience.  When I got home from that con, I looked up a few of the people I met on Facebook and sent friend requests.  David was one of the people that accepted.  I had no clue that he was an author until I read some of his FB posts and thought I would give his book a try.  I am not disappointed.

Angst is a 40 year old file clerk in the kingdom of Unsel, which is currently being ruled by Queen Isabelle.  His lifelong ambition was to become a knight so he could make his mark on the world and perform great deeds and be remembered as a hero.  Just as he felt his opportunity slipping away with his “advanced” age, he found that he was able to wield a sword, but not just any sword.  His sword is called Chryslaenor and is full of power.  It is a grotesquely large and awkward looking weapon that influences Angst by making him a great warrior, but he has nothing to do but enjoy a degree of celebrity.

Among his talents is his ability to charm women of all ages and stations.  He is a hopeless flirt who uses his talent to befriend the Princess Victoria, much to the chagrin of Isabelle.

An unknown problem has halted trade between Unsel and other kingdoms and Isabelle hatches a plan to send Angst and several others on a quest to find the problem, and report his findings to the crown.  While on his travels he faces numerous seeming impossible situations.  Angst is accompanied on his adventure by several characters that add much depth to the story, including a person named Rose, who is a levelheaded powerful warrior in her own right, and seems to be the only female Angst meets that is not vulnerable to his flirtatious ways.

Poor Angst is just a man who is going through a mid-life crisis, but unlike many of us in the same situation, he has an opportunity to realize his dream of being something more than a file clerk.

One of the things that really appealed to me in this book was the tongue-in-cheek style of writing David uses for his story.  While I would not call it a comedy, it is loaded with humorous exchanges between characters and in the prose, which do not get in the way of the story.  In many instances, I found hints of language that might have been used by Douglas Adams in turns of phrases.  It was also interesting to me how the author used some wordings that I would call native to Wisconsin where he is from.

David J. Pedersen and "Rose"
The story itself moves from place to place smoothly and starts out slowly and ramps up to a breakneck pace in the last several chapters. There is no wasted space in the book as every page is filled with information that is important to the story, and descriptions of scenery, people, and unusual creatures.  It is well put together and easy to read.  One thing that I worried about was that there would be a lot of terminology that I didn’t know the meaning to, but this is not the case.  This story is accessable to any reader whether one is familiar with fantasy or not.  I am glad that Angst was my first fantasy book, it was a fun read and I give it high recommendations.

Angst is available in paperback or in electronic media.  I got mine from Amazon for the Kindle.

Well, there it is…


Friday, August 16, 2013

Fringe Backstory - A Review of Fringe: The Burning Man by Christa Faust

Fringe: The Burning Man by Christa Faust – 2013

Not long ago, I learned there were to be three novels released dealing with the Fringe universe.  I will have to admit tight off the bat here that I didn’t watch the television series as it was airing, so I was a bit of a latecomer.  I have watched most of the series, but not all.  The Burning Man is the second of the three novels following the first in the series titled The Zodiac Paradox (click the title to read my review).

This second story centers on the pre-teen and teen years of Olivia Dunham.  While going through the Cortexiphan experiments under the supervision of Dr. Walter Bishop in Jacksonville, Florida, young Olivia learns of the death of her military father.  To make ends meet, Olivia’s mother marries an abusive shady character named Randall.  Olivia and Randall never hit it off in a father/daughter relationship.

Randall earns most of his income through illegal activity.  He hooks up with a crooked cop named Toni Orsini and the two of them are planning to rob some drug dealers, but Randall has forgotten his gun at home.  When he arrives at home to get his weapon, he finds himself facing Olivia; she shoots him and Tony enters the house to see what happened.  He grabs Olivia and one of her powers is revealed as Tony has his right arm burned, and eventually has to have it amputated.  Randall is out of the picture.

While Olivia’s mother is suffering an illness, Olivia has to grow up fast, learning how to take care of the household and her little sister, Rachel.  Olivia’s mother dies and before the state can take them in as wards, Olivia receives an anonymous letter from a company that sports a 3D logo with the letter M.  In the letter are two airline tickets to Boston and the promise of full tuition scholarship for her and Rachel to attend a very fine private school.

In the meantime, Tony is always in the background and he has made it his mission to destroy Olivia because he views her as a demon with powers to cause electrical disturbances and to burn people alive, as she had done to him.  Randall goes on a killing spree that spans several states to get to Olivia.

I really enjoyed this book.  I especially liked the pacing of the story, it never slowed down and I found myself going right along with the pace.  I couldn’t put it down, and when real life forced me to quit reading, I couldn’t wait to get back to it.

Before I read the story though, I noticed that there were several very uncomplimentary reviews on the web site.  Some were actually scathingly bad reviews.  It made me a little apprehensive to read, but as usual, I don’t rely on other’s opinions to guide my own judgments.  Apparently the problem that some of the diehard Fringe fans are having is with the author’s getting some names and known backstory facts wrong.  This might bother some of the people that are very familiar with the television show.  I have read many stories that have departures from canon and found that I personally am not bothered by it.  But I also know a lot of people who feel that there should be a “bible” for movies and television shows that lay out all of the facts and precise back story, just as exists for Star Trek.  So be warned, if you are a person who wants strict canonic accuracy, you may be disappointed reading this.  On the other hand, if you are wanting to read a story that has good, developed characters, good pacing, and some vivid visualizations, and are a fan of Fringe, then you might enjoy this installment.

As far as I am concerned, canon isn’t always necessary for a good story.

I do have a warning for those that may be considering reading The Burning Man though, there are, as was in the show, some very graphic descriptions between the cover.  Many of those are in the section when Olivia escapes from the genetic research facility following when Tony disappears.  I am talking VERY graphic, to the point of rivaling a Stephen King story.  I have a pretty strong stomach for this kind of thing, but Faust’s descriptions of the people affected by experimentation being carried out in that facility made me cringe.  You have been warned.

Well, there it is…


Monday, August 12, 2013

Aliens Among Us - A Review of Dayton Ward's "From History's Shadow"

From History’s Shadow by Dayton Ward (2013)

Way back in April, Dayon Ward announced that his new novel, From History’s Shadow was to be released in July, and that it was available for pre-order.  So, it might not surprise you that I did pre-order.  Little did I realize at the time what a ride I was in for when it finally arrived on my Kindle, as promised on July 30th.  

The action in the book is ever present, so therefore I am not going to go into a lot of plot details this time.  The plot is pretty well covered on the liner notes.

I liked everything about this story.  While it is a TOS era story, the Enterprise and Crew aren’t as dominant in the story as much as one would expect, but when Kirk and company are involved, it is an intricate part of a much larger story.  

Briefly, the Enterprise is depicted in the year 2268, about a week following the events of the TOS episode Assignment Earth.  The bulk of the story is follows events surrounding Captain Jim Wainwright from the DS-9 episode, "Little Green Men," and spans over twenty years of his life and his involvement with UFO and aliens residing on Earth, and with Project Blue Book.

A race of beings called the Certoss are convinced that if the people of the Earth learn to travel in space, they will cause the destruction of the Certoss.  The Certoss make it their mission to assure that this doesn’t happen by making sure that the people of the Earth get themselves into a nuclear war.  The US is launching a test flight of the Saturn V rocket (from "Assignment Earth"), but this test flight is actually a nuclear weapons platform.  The Certoss know that if they sabotage this rocket, it will trigger a global nuclear war.  The agents of the civilization that trained Gary Seven, as well as the crew of the Enterprise know that the Certoss and the people of Earth will have a good relationship and make have to make it their mission to be sure that the Certoss fail in their mission.  This is the main plot of the story, but there is so much more to the story.  Dayton Ward calls on his knowledge of all  the Trek episodes that are involved with alien presences on Earth.

The Roswell Incident in 1947 was actually a result of Quark, Rom, and Nog accidentally coming to earth of the past while transporting Nog to Starfleet Academy in the "Little Green Men" episode of DS-9.  In that episode, Nog tells General Rex Denning that the Ferengi are planning a full scale invasion of the Earth.  Captain Wainwright, witnesses this as an aid to the general.  Wainwright is transferred to another location soon after and becomes vigilant in monitoring alien activity, never forgetting the Ferengi threat.

Mestral, who arrives on Earth as the result of the accidental crash of a Vulcan surveyship, later decides to remain on Earth to observe.  He becomes fascinated the the people and the culture he learns about in "Carbon Creek", A small mining town in Pennsylvania, and decides that in order to get a complete picture of human culture, must travel and learn.  Eventually, he meets Wainwright, and also travels to the future to meet the Enterprise crew to assist in thwarting the Certoss plans.

Roberta Lincoln, who has begun her training as an agent under Supervisor Gary Seven, is thrust into also assisting the Enterprise crew in convincing the Certoss of their folly. Gary Seven and other agents all work to keep the Certoss at bay, and some lose their lives.

So what Dayton has done in his novel is to bring together a tapestry from the threads of several different stories in Trek lore.  I have seen all of the involved episodes, but never would have imagined how they could have been woven together so neatly.  It really speaks to the genius of the author for him to take all of the canon episodes he called on to make a story that is very coherent and logical, almost as though all of the separate stories were actually meant to be connected.

I should also mention that he calls on two other episodes not mentioned earlier in this review, those being the TOS episode Tomorrow is Yesterday in which Captain Christopher of the USAF is accidentally abducted by the Enterprise, and the Voyager two part Future’s End episodes.

I have read a lot of Star Trek novels, novellas, and short stories, and have to say that this is, in my opinion, one of the best and most enjoyable Trek stories I have ever read.

Well, there it is…


Saturday, August 10, 2013

Elysium - Political Intrigue and a Darn Good Movie

Elysium – 2013

Definition of Elysium: A place or state of perfect happiness.

Touted as the last big Sci-Fi movie of the summer, Elysium turns out to be a good film.

I have to admit, that I was a little apprehensive seeing this film after I learned that it was directed by Neill Blomkamp, who also directed District 9, a film that I started watching, but had no desire to finish after I had gotten about 45 minutes in.  I not only managed to stay with this film, but really found myself enjoying it for the story.

The story is set in two locations; a ruined earth where all the population has been left to survive as best they can, and a space station called Elysium where the rich and powerful have moved to enjoy a very high quality of life.  One theme that was prevalent throughout the film is the lack of medical care for those on the planet while everyone on Elysium has a unit in their home that will diagnose and instantly cure any malady that a citizen might suffer from.

Matt Damon stars as Max Da Costa, a former criminal type who has been paroled after serving time for car theft and armed robbery.  As a parolee, he is in Los Angeles just trying to make a living as best he can working in a robot factory.  The robots the helps to assemble are put into a chamber where they are irradiated.  The door to the chamber gets jammed by a pallet. Da Costa is sent into the chamber to clear the jam and is trapped inside as the door closes and the irradiation cycle begins.  He takes a full dose of radiation and learns that he will die in five days.

In the meantime, people from the planet try to get to Elysium for a chance at a better life and/or to cure diseases that cannot be cured on earth.  Three shuttles that are dispatched by a futuristic coyote named Spider, loaded with “illegals” are fired upon at the orders of Jessica Delacourt, the person in charge of security on Elysium.  Elysium has no weapons of its own and so Delacourt has her hired henchman, Kruger fire missiles from earth, destroying two of the three shuttles.  The people of the shuttle that makes it through lands and the people on board are either killed or captured by robotic police, but one person does manage to get her daughter treated on one of the scanning machines.  President Patel (played by Faran Tahir – Capt. Robau from Star Trek 2009) is displeased with the way that Delacourt handled the situation and threatens to fire her and insists that she no longer use Kruger’s services.

As a result of the sanctions imposed by the president, Delacourt decides to stage a coup and asks the programmer of the Elysium station to write a subroutine to re-boot the system on Elysium so she can take over as president and preserve the idyllic conditions the way she sees fit.  The programmer, John Carlyle sets to work on his reboot program.

Back on earth, Da Costa seeks Spider’s help to get to Elysium to be cured of his radiation poisoning.  Spider agrees, but it comes with a price.  Spider tells Da Costa that he is to take get the programs that include passwords from Carlyle by uploading them into his own head.  Da Costa Agrees.

Carlyle writes the subroutine that will reboot Elysium, and uploads it into his own brain and leaves for Elysium.  Da Costa shoots down Carlyle’s shuttle and steals the information and learns that he has gotten more than he has bargained for.

Knowing what has been taken from Carlyle, Delacourt reinstates and directs Kruger to kill Da costa, but to make sure that nothing happens to his brain, because in effect, Da Costa now carries the key to complete control over Elysium.

Kruger searches and finds a childhood friend of Da Costa’s, Frey, and her daughter who is dying from leukemia.   Da Costa gives himself up to Kruger and all head for Elysium.   Delacourt is killed by Kruger, and decides that he is going to be in charge of the station, but Da Costa dispatches him.  The program is uploaded to the Elysium computers, and the reboot happens.  Da Costa dies as a result of the upload, but Frey’s daughter is cured because Spider inputs that everyone, including those on earth are to be considered citizens of Elysium.

I heard many say that this film is way too predictable to be good.  While I agree that the ultimate outcome of the film is predictable (everyone knows that Da Costa is going to be successful) it is the way in which he achieves success not for himself, but for all of the people.   I also thought that there was enough mis-direction in the story to make sure that this wasn’t predictable as to how Da Costa would become the hero of the film.

Matt Damon turned his usual fine performance as the action/adventure hero.  Jodie Foster played her part as the cold-calculating power hungry executive quite well also.  The rest of the main cast fulfilled their parts adequately.  I particularly enjoyed Tahir’s performance as the president, however short, he did come across as being quite, well, presidential.  I would really like to see him in more roles with better developed characters as he seems to have some good acting chops.  I was also impressed with Sharlto Copley’s performance as the tough as nails, merciless, and cruel Kruger.  He was very convincing in his role and was the one character that I loved to hate in the film.

The visuals in this film were well done as the space station actually looked real whenever it was pictured.  There was never offered any explanation on how the atmosphere was maintained on the inside surface of the wheel, but that wouldn’t have been necessary to the story, it is just one of the questions that came to mind as I watched this.

Elysium definitely has an undercurrent of social and political commentary, but we are not beaten over the head with it as the story unfolds.  Blomkamp is said to have claimed that his purpose in telling this story was to convey a message of the future speaking to the present.  While showing how class structure in the future might determine the dispensation of medical care was very present in the film, it doesn’t play as a political statement, but just as a part of the story.  I also found it interesting that the Los Angeles of the future was almost entirely made up of people of Hispanic descent, while all of those on Elysium were causations.  I am wondering is perhaps if other parts of Blomkamp’s vision of the future don’t have concentrations of other races in other regions; I didn’t notice any large Asian or African-American representation in this film, with the exception of Faran Tahir in his role as president.

Elysium most definitely earns its ‘R’ rating for the use of hard language and a few quite bloody violent scenes.  Despite this, it is a well-acted, well directed story that unfolds logically and with very little stopping of action to prevent the story moving forward.

Well, there it is…