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.

Monday, June 17, 2013

Tangled Webs - A Review of Star Trek: TNG: Cold Equations: Silent Weapons by David Mack



Star Trek: The Next Generation: Cold Equations: Silent Weapons by David Allen Mack (2012)


Set just a little over four years after the events of the motion picture Nemesis, and picking up where the first book in the Cold Equations trilogy left off, this second installment is another good story by the celebrated Star Trek author, David Allen Mack.


Just to briefly recap the events of the first novel, cyberneticist Noonien Soong has transferred his memories and essence into a superior android body and goes on a quest to restart a relationship with his estranged former wife, Juliana.  He learns about Data’s death while saving Picard from Shinzon and that Data had uploaded his memories into the android B4.  Knowing that B4 would soon suffer a cascade failure as he was not designed to handle the information given him by Data, Soong sacrifices himself by uploading Data’s information into himself from B4.  Thanks to this sacrifice, Data is “reborn” in a highly advanced android body.  But not only does he Data possess his own memories, but he also has retained all of the memories and knowledge of his creator, Soong.


In the midst of this, the crew of the Enterprise discovers and destroys a Borg installation that Data’s brother, Lore, was using to create Soong-type androids.  After the Borg were destroyed, it was learned that the Breen were using the installation to create an unlimited supply of android soldiers to aid their attempt to take over the Alpha Quadrant.


Data was offered to have his commission reinstated, however he refused to go off in search of another cyberneticist named Vaslovik, also known as Flint; an immortal who spent centuries perfecting his technique to create the perfect companion for himself.  Data believes that with Vaslovik’s help, he might be able to bring Lal back into existence.  Lal was the daughter created by Data in the TNG television series who suffered a catastrophic cascade failure of her neural network.


Now we pick up with Silent Weapons.  Data is on the planet Orion working to find the whereabouts of Vaslovik.  In the meantime, the Bank of Orion is attacked by an android and an intelligence officer that is aiding Data in his search is murdered by an android.  Being that Data is the only known android on the planet, he is accused of the crime and arrested.  Using a small but powerful transmitter, Data summons Geordi La Forge aboard the Enterprise-E.  The crew of the Enterprise was currently engaged in the investigation in the disappearance of a small Starfleet patrol vessel and the two-person crew aboard.  When Picard learns of Data’s distress signal, and realizing that the patrol vessel’s crew would have ran out of air, the rescue mission had turned into a salvage mission.  Picard decides that he owes Data his life and must head to Orion to aid his former officer.
 

As the Enterprise arrives at Orion, it is discovered that another starship, the USS Atlas is already in orbit.  In no uncertain terms, Picard is informed that he and the Enterprise are not welcome and should leave immediately.  Picard soon learns that Federation President Bacco is on Orion in negotiations with representatives of the Gorn government.  Since the events in the first Cold Equations novel, the Enterprise has been under close scrutiny by the Breen. 


We learn that the Gorn government has been instructed by the Breen to drag out the talks.  At some point the president’s most trusted advisor is murdered and replaced with an android who shoots a weapon at an official reception in an apparent attempt to assassinate the Gorn and Federation leaders.  Data and La Forge capture the android and discover that it doesn’t have a positronic brain, but rather uses a telepresence system which allows it to be controlled by telepathy.  It is also determined that the Breen are behind this plot.  This gets the Gorn ambassador thinking that the Breen might be willing to sacrifice his people at the talks, so he tells the Federation president all about the duplicit nature of the talks.


The crew follows the signal that the Breen are using to control the androids but find that the controllers that send the signals have been killed.  Starfleet tracks down more androids that are being controlled by the Breen but Picard figures out that that almost everything that has happened to this point has been a ruse to divert attention from the real goal; a crashed ship that is capable of creating artificial wormholes.  Picard orders the ship destroyed.  The Breen Domo (their political and military leader) is deposed, thus apparently ending their attempt to usurp power in the Alpha Quadrant.

 With all that done, the Gorn and Federation reopen their talks on an apparently more serious note.

 Data again departs from the enterprise to continue his search for Vaslovik only to learn from his “mother,” Juliana, that Vaslovik has been abducted and his whereabouts are unknown.


David Mack gives us a look into the wheeling and dealing of the Typhon Pact, a conglomeration of powers that have been known to be hostile to the Federation.  Perhaps he is giving us a look into the beginnings of the breaking down of the Pact as some of its members begin striking out to advance their own agendas of power grabbing.


Silent Weapons also gives us a look into the personal lives of Picard, who tends to live a very private life.  Picard and Beverly Crusher are married in this series and have had a son, and we see how Picard is now reassessing his role in life while he struggles with the responsibilities of captaining the Enterprise, and being a father.  It would seem that he is actually thinking of taking retirement.


As it was in the case of the first Cold Equations novel, the voice of the characters is clear and Mack has them down so well that I could actually hear them as I read the book.  I am very much looking forward to the final installment of the series in which I assume Data searches for and finds Vaslovik. 

This is a good quality story that I really enjoyed and would recommend.


Podcast News


The Scifi Diner Podcast has released Conversations Episode 83.  In this episode there are further thoughts on Star Trek Into Darkness as well as talks about the Arrow finale, Once Upon a Time, and After Earth.  I have also learned that the Diner will soon be releasing an interview episode with Mike Schilling who will discuss the this year’s Shoreleave  Convention.


With the imminent opening of the new CBS series, Under The Dome, based on the novel by Stephen King, Wayne Henderson and Troy Heinritz are planning to release an episode in which they discuss the book and will discuss how aspects of the book may be included in the series, or not due to the extremely graphic nature of the novel.

Admiral Marius (Rick) at Starbase 66 is planning the release of another of his Round Table discussions on the subject of Dr. Who.  He informs me that this should be coming out quite soon, so watch for it.







As for me, I am planning to next read the next novel in the Red Mars trilogy by Kim Stanley Robinson: Green Mars.


Well, there it is…


QaplaH’

Saturday, June 15, 2013

A Review of Man of Steel - A Fresh Retelling of an Old Story



 ***The Spoiler Light Is On***

Man of Steel (2013)

Oh my, what a film.  I went into the theater with some very high expectations for this film; and was not disappointed in the slightest!  As a matter of fact, my expectations were well exceeded by this movie, and I will definitely be seeing it again before it leaves the theaters here.

I was not planning to see Man of Steel at all.  I have been repeatedly disappointed by superhero films time and again; most recently by Iron Man 3.  I had pretty much decided to give up on this particular branch of the genre, but I saw the trailer for Man of Steel earlier this spring.  The trailer looked so good that I figured I would give this one a try, and I am glad I did.

Everyone knows the basic plot of the Superman saga; Krypton is a dying planet, Jor-El sends Kal-El to Earth, where the air is less dense, and the gravity is lower, thus allowing Kal-El to have powers beyond that of mortal man.  Dubbed Superman by Daily Planet reporter Lois Lane, he faces numerous foes and defeats them in the name of “Truth, Justice and the American Way.”  The writers and director of Man of Steel do indeed preserve the basic Superman plot line, but they go for a more serious brand of movie-making focusing on the stories of the characters and their motivations.

The film opens on the planet Krypton whose population has overextended their natural resources resulting in the imminent destruction of the planet due to an unstable core.  While Jor-El meets with the ruling council of Krypton about how to save their race, General Zod enters the picture perpetrating a coup to take over.  Despite Jor-El’s appeals to Zod to focus on the problem from a scientific point of view, Zod proceeds to kill members of the council and take control.  Jor-El sees the futility of his efforts, retrieves the Codex (that which contains the genetic codes for all Kryptonians), and places it in a small spacecraft along with his naturally born son, Kal-El, and launches the craft to Earth.  Zod tries to stop the launch, but is too late.  He kills Jor-El and is captured by security forces and sentenced to a long period of imprisonment in the Phantom Zone.  Finally, Krypton explodes and releases Zod and his followers from the Phantom Zone.  They promptly go off in search of Kal-El to retrieve the Codex and revive the Kryptonite race.

Flash forward to a young Clark Kent, who begins discovering his powers, but he doesn’t know what is happening to him.  He has x-ray vision and super-strength and is not sure where it is coming from or why.  After several incidents being witnessed by others, John Kent (Ckark’s human surrogate father) shows Clark the vessel he arrived on Earth in and gives him a key which unlocks the powers of devices that appear throughout the movie.   This takes place during a series of flash back and forth scenes showing how Clark grows up.  John manages to convince Clark that even though he has these special abilities, he must keep them a secret for the time being.  The final act that John demonstrates his belief in secrecy is during a tornado scene where John is unable to save himself from being killed, but he prevents Clark, who would have been more than able to save him, from doing so.  This is a very poignant scene.  There are numerous scenes showing the development of Clark Kent as he grows into the man that would become Superman.

Clark, who is acting as a worker with a military expedition in an arctic region, discovers a ship that has been buried in the ice for thousands of years.  It was put there by the people of Krypton in anticipation of their planet’s demise as an attempt to find suitable places to colonize.  This ship also becomes Superman’s Fortress of Solitude.

In the last part of the film, Zod and his followers finally discover where Kal-El is because when Kal used the key to activate his Fortress, it also inadvertently set off a distress beacon that leads Zod to Earth.  A battle ensues between Zods forces and Superman, while the U.S. Army is trying to kill ALL of the aliens, including Superman.  While downing several aircraft, Superman manages to save several soldiers including the commander of the Army forces, who decides that Superman is actually fighting to save lives and destroy Zod.

Zod separates his ship into two parts that take places at opposite points on the globe and they begin to send a pulse through the planet in an attempt to terraform the Earth into a new Krypton.  The part of the ship that is parked above Metropolis contains unborn children of Krypton, but Zod needs the Codex that is discovered to be contained in the cells of Superman.  Superman, in the meantime flies to the other side of the Earth to destroy that part of Zod’s ship while the military takes Superman’s ship that brought him to Earth to use as a bomb to destroy the piece of Zod’s ship above Metropolis.  This strategy works by creating a small singularity (black hole) that destroys the ship, and swallows up all of Zod’s forces, as well as the seeds of the new Kryptonite race.  This leaves Zod alone to face Superman in a fight to the death.  Zod tells Superman that it is going to end with either the death of himself or that of Superman.  This turns out to be prophetic because as Zod declares and begins to carry out his new mission to eradicate all life on Earth, Superman is forced to snap his neck to prevent him from starting his genocidal plans with a family.  After killing Zod, Superman falls to his knees in anguish having killed the last of his kind, other than himself.

The movie ends with Superman posing as Clark Kent, a new reporter for the Daily Planet.  Roll Credits.

There are many reasons aside from the story that has been reworked and made into a completely new retelling of the Superman saga.  First in my mind are the performances turned in by the actors, especially the lead, Henry Cavill who portrays Superman as an unassuming character who is working to learn who he is and what his purpose in life is.  Jor-El portrayed by Russell Crowe turns in a performance that is beautifully done.  He not only appears in the beginning of the film, but comes back throughout the film to help Superman learn and grow as well as try to appeal to Zod one last time, however unsuccessfully.  Kevin Costner as John Kent gives a very convincing performance as a father who really wants to guide his son right to the end, finally sacrificing himself to keep Kal-El from exposing himself and his abilities too early.  And finally, Michael Shannon as Zod was absolutely brilliant in showing that his character was not just an evil nemesis for Superman, but rather someone who was charged with preserving his race, and was driven to do his job, no matter the cost.

While the scenery through most of the movie was good, the CGI created to show the Planet Kryptonite was some of the most impressive and imaginative to date.  There is so much to see in the vistas created by the CGI team that just that first 40 minutes of that film would be worth seeing again to see what was missed the first time around.
 

If there is a weakness to Man of Steel, I would have to say that the Character of Lois Lane would be the weak link.  I just didn’t think that the writers were sure of what to do with her and she was popping up n some very unrealistic places.  Her weakest link though was at the very end of the film when she was introduced to Clark Kent coming in as a new reporter for the Daily Planet, especially after she had met with Clark’s mother, and visited with him as Clark in several places in the film.  But, this is a Superman move and Lois had to be in there somewhere.

I would actually say that this was three films rolled into one with the first part depicting the origins of Kal-El, the destruction of Krypton, and the story of how Zod was chastised for doing what he was born to do.  The second part is the character development, especially that of Superman.  And finally the third part that is the battle to either resurrect the Kryptonite society, or preserve the people of the Earth.

In any case, this is an outstanding movie that runs the complete gambit of emotions, is packed full of life and death, and consequences of one’s actions.  This is one of those films that I think MUST be seen in a theater on a big screen at least once.  I viewed in in 2D and didn’t see very much that would be added by seeing it in 3D, with the possible exceptions of the CGI work in the first part of the film.

As I mentioned before, I have been very disappointed in the past with superhero films, but I think that Man of Steel sets the bar pretty high.  I will go as far as to say it is the best superhero film I have ever seen.  If I may be so bold as to quote myself from a post I made to Facebook right after I arrived home: “Hey Marvel and Disney, want to know how to make a great superhero film?  See Man of Steel!  Now That’s How It’s Done.”

Well, there it is…

QaplaH’

Coming Soon to Jim's SciFi Blog, a book review and some news on my favorite podcasts.

Friday, June 7, 2013

Life on Mars - A Review of Red Mars by Kim Stanley Robinson and some Podcasting News...



Red Mars by Kim Stanley Robinson (1993)


Not long ago, I was spouting on Facebook about one of the books I was reading when fellow musician and Sci-Fi fan, Bill Truelove asked me if I had ever read Red Mars.  I had not and while I am always open to look at new things, I figured I would give it a try.  Bill gave me further advice telling me that I need to savor this book and pay close attention to the characters.  If you have not read Red Mars and think you might, please be sure to keep Bill’s advice in mind because this is no casual read.  It is a masterpiece that explores all aspects of the colonization of another planet by humans, if such a thing were ever to happen.  Red Mars is the first of three novels that deals with humans migrating to another planet and attempting to set up an entirely new society apart from earth-bound humanity.


Beginning in the year 2026, the story begins with a joint American-Russian mission to the planet Mars to see about the possibilities of colonization of the planet.  A giant ship called the Ares (I thought it was cool that the author chose the name of the Greek god of war as the name of the ship to travel to the planet that sports the Roman god of war’s name) which is constructed from spent Shuttle external fuel tanks that have been boosted into orbit rather than returned to earth for reuse as fuel tanks.  The ship’s crew is made up by the “First Hundred” people to colonize the planet.  The expedition consists of people from varying science and engineering disciplines.


The First hundred set up the first settlement on Mars using the resources that are provided by the planet itself along with the limited equipment and supplies they brought with them.  Ne the first settlement is established, the process of colonization starts as the First Hundred divide into factions that represent numerous points of view about what the eventual outcome of this effort is to be.


While there are differences of opinion as to whether the planet should be terraformed, a governmental entity known as UNOMA (United Nations Organization Mars Authority) decides that in view of the political, social, and economic conditions on Earth, terraforming should be made a reality.  Also, while governments become weaker on earth, large corporations called TransNats (short for Trans Nationals) begin to vie with each other and with the Martian colonies for the use of resources.  


As they work to thicken the atmosphere and warm up the planet, an asteroid is captured and set into synchronous orbit around Mars with the use of a long cable, thus allowing more and more people to emigrate to the planet.  As the population grows so does the unrest as many factions attempt to assert their visions of what the planet should be socially.  After a time, this leads to a rebellion against the First Hundred and they are slowly killed off.  The Asteroid is caused to crash into Mars, and this along with the use of nuclear devices causes underground caches of water to be released and flooding the planet violently.


The last of the First Hundred make their way through many perils as a result of the flooding and the torrents that accompany them.  Finally they arrive at underground caverns.


Characters


The real focus of the story is on the characters.  Within each part, there is massive character development while the author explores what makes them tick.  Some of the main characters include:


John Boone: American astronaut and the first person to step on Mars six years before the story begins.  His immortal first words as he stepped on Mars are “well, here we are.”    He is a larger than life character who has the ability to sway others to his way of thinking.


Frank Chalmers:  Head of the American contingent and rival in many ways to Boone.  Chalmers is responsible for the assassination of Boone.

Nadia Chernyshevski: A very talented engineer who is responsible for much of the infrastructural improvements on the planet’s surface.  She avoids conflicts and concentrates on work.


Arkady Bogdanov: A mechanical engineer and anarchist.  He leads the team that engineers Phobos and is considered by many to be a trouble maker.


Sax Russell: Leader of the movement to terraform Mars.


Ann Clayborne: A geologist who, in direct opposition to Sax, advocates leaving Mars the way it was  when people first landed.

These are by no means all of the characters, but these are among the most important.


Themes


Many of the themes in the book are the same as the ones that we face today, and have faced throughout history.  One theme that stands out is the conflict of whether to adapt the planet to human habitation or whether to make humans adapt to the environment.  Indeed, environmentalism is a theme that is very present today in our own lives.  So if we do somehow find the means to travel to Mars and begin colonization, do we have the right to change an entire planet to suit our needs?  Assuming that there is no indigenous life already on the planet, should we, if we are able to, make the atmosphere thicker, release large quantities of water by crashing asteroids into the planet and melting the polar ice cap?  I don’t see why not, but when I consider the factors such as the way Mars is constantly bombarded with radiation because of the lack of a magnetic field such as we enjoy on the Earth, it would seem impossible for that reason alone.


Also, if Mars were to be colonized, where would the seat of government lie?  Would the Red Planet be governed from Millions of miles away, or would the people who colonize mars decide what sort of government, if any they want.  I think Robinson hits the nail on the head when he speculated that corporate influences would do their best to make every attempt to have their say on what happens to with the exploitation of the resources on another planet.  There would eventually be a revolution by the people on the planet to exert their independence, just as colonists did in our own American history.


In any case, Red Mars is a good story, no matter where you fall in the philosophical spectrum.  It will give one cause to think, but this is not a book to be read quickly.  The author doesn’t lay everything out for the reader to simply digest; one has to think while reading this book.  The science is well researched, the characters are well developed, and there is every element that makes a good story that a reader can relate to.


Podcasting News


In my last several posts, I have neglected to plug my friends and their Sci-Fi podcasts that are very good and fun to listen to.  With the recent release of Star Trek Into Darkness in theaters, Trek fans are debating the issues, and so are the podcasters.


On the most recent release of the Scifi Diner Podcast, Scott, Miles, and M are joined by David Moulton from the Lancast Podcast, and myself for a review as well as a debate of many points of the movie we liked, and some points that gave us trouble.  Later we are joined by Troy Heinritz pops in live with his list of Trek movies and justifications for his favorite to least favorite.  Also chiming in on the discussion with recorded remarks is Colin from the Trek News and Views podcast.  Mary the Televixen also checks in with some very astute remarks.


Another good discussion of the latest incarnation of Star Trek is from Trek News and Views.  Colin and friends discuss many aspects of the film including the logic of why certain things are done.  This podcast is sure to cause you to rethink taking Into Darkness at face value.


Starbase 66 with Rick, Kennedy, Unkk, and special guest Rich from the Simply Syndicated Podcasting Network discuss Into Darkness.  They look at the film from an intellectual point of view, but there are a lot of laughs as you listen to this.  It was especially fun to listen as Rich, who seemed ready to say that it was the best film ever rethinks as the plot holes and incongruities were presented.  I was also privileged to have my recorded remarks included in this show.

Finally, I would like to promote a new podcast that has just been started built around the upcoming mini series presentation of Stephen King's Under The Dome.  My friends Wayne Henderson and Troy Heinritz are hosting the Under The Dome Radio Podcast centering around the miniseries to begin airing on CBS on June 24th.  Here's your chance to get in on the ground floor and follow along as the show airs.  The first episode is out; a fifteen minute introduction of what to expect from Under the Dome.


So, read Red Mars and listen to podcasts.  Both are great entertainment.

 Well, there it is…


I am Kahless…


Q’aplaH!