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.

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Ender's Game - A Review Of The Book By Orson Scott Card



Ender’s Game – Orson Scott Card (1985)

With just over a month to the release of the film, I thought that I should prepare to see it by reading the novel.

Ender’s Game is a military science fiction novel set in the not too distant future.  People from the earth have moved out into the galaxy and encountered an insectoid race called the Formics.  The people in the book refer to them mostly as “buggers.”  The buggers have already attacked twice with devastating results and it is feared that a third attack might be the end of humanity.
The political condition on earth is precarious with tensions between the Warsaw Pact nations and others set aside in light of the threat from the buggers.

The military is on a search for someone who can lead space-going forces to finally end the threat from the buggers.  They recruit children that demonstrate high mental and physical abilities to be trained in combat at the International Fleet (IF) Battle School.  Ender Wiggin, aged six years, is identified as a very special recruit by the Battle School commander Hyrum Graff.  Ender is taken from his family that includes his older brother, Peter, who had been considered for Battle school, but was eliminated for displaying sociopathic behavior, and Ender’s sister, Valentine, with whom he shares a strong bond.  Ender is the third child in his family, but the law on earth states that families are limited to having only two children.  This makes Ender a “third,” opening him up to ridicule and abuse by other students at the school.

The abusive treatment of Ender results in a confrontation between him and an older student.  Ender’s keen mind allows him to devise a way to defend himself that end in the death of another student.  Ender thought he had only wounded the other student and explains to Graff that by showing his aggression early on, he would be able to avoid future confrontations.

Battle School for Ender is a lonely place at first, but as he demonstrates is uncanny ability to come up with strategies to win battles in the zero gravity battle room.   Ender demonstrates his skill as a commander at the head of his own army and is transferred to the Command School to be trained to command his own fleet.

At the command school, Ender encounters a hero from a previous war with the buggers, Mazer Rackham.  Rackham’s job is to give Ender intense individual training.  Ender is then led into a special battle “simulation” center to command a fleet as his final exam at Command School, which actually turns out to be the final battle with the actual buggers.

One of the things that most appealed to me about this book was the focus on Ender’s character and his feelings as a young person.  One of the main messages in this story is that because of adult manipulation, adults are not to be trusted in this world.  Ender is being used by Graff and it is up to the reader to decide of the ends justify the means.  I felt that Ender was used and abused by the persons in charge of the school in a very sad and tragic way.  It would seem that the adults in the story chose children because of their ability to be manipulated so easily by adults skilled in the art of influencing them.  It is really a sad story at its core.  But that is not to say that it is not a good story.  It is fact a very good story that will hopefully translate into a great film this fall.

I also liked the simple language that the author used in the telling of Ender’s Game.  There isn’t a lot of techno babble to wade through, rather the story focuses on the characters and their development.

Over the past several years there has been much controversy centering around the author, Orson Scott Card, due to his religious beliefs, his conservative political positions, and his stand on homosexuality.  While I do not agree with many of the public positions he takes on these and other subjects, I refuse to let them get in the way of seeking what I consider good science fiction.  I have heard that many have boycotted Card’s books, and that many are planning to boycott the film that is to be released on November 1st of this year.  As I read, I kept his controversial positions in mind and didn’t detect Card taking advantage of his audience by attempting to include his views in the story.

Orson Scott Card’s Ender’s Game is a good story and worth a read for any science fiction fan.

Well, there it is…

Q’aplaH’!

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Under the Dome - The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly - A Rant on The CBS TV Series



Under the Dome – Season 1 - 2013

I am not sure when I learned about the making of the Stephen King novel, Under the Dome was going to be made into a television series, but I do remember being very excited to see it.  I was also very excited to learn that two podcasting friends, Wayne Henderson and Troy Heiritz, were planning to produce a podcast (Under The Dome Radio) to accompany the show.  Well, Under the Dome has just finished its first season and since it was touted to be a science fiction drama, I feel the need to discuss my take on what was good and what was not so good.

The Book:

I listened to the audiobook version of Under the Dome last year.  I really enjoyed it during my drives to school and back finding that I couldn’t wait to listen to it.  The story itself is a very long account of the people in the fictitious town of Chester’s Mill being trapped under a mysterious dome and how they coped with life following such a disaster that might cut a community off from the outside world.  At first, the community pulls together, but then begins to fall apart as resources become scarce.  As always, there are those who try to find ways to take advantage of the situation to grab power that they would normally not have.  Under the Dome by Stephen King was a brilliant character study that looked into the lives of several of the Mill’s residents as they either tried to help others or tried to help themselves in surviving a disaster.

The novel is not for the weak stomached or those that may be overly sensitive as King doesn’t hold back anything as far as the language used in the book, or the descriptions of the activities.  It is very graphic and carries a very dark tone.

One complaint that I have heard about the book concerns the ending.  Apparently the dome was erected by some child-like aliens that were playing around with what they considered a lower life form, much as a child would use a magnifying glass to concentrate the sun’s rays to burn insects.  To those who read the book and complained about the ending I would say that the story wasn’t about the alien children as much as it was a character study.  Only a very small part of the book at the very end was about what actually about how the dome came to be.  I would like to think that I actually got what Stephen King was communicating with his yarn.  If you decide to read or listen to the audiobook (which was and excellent performance by the reader), you should approach it from the point that the characters and not the how or why is the main point.

The Show:

Right from the very beginning, it was announced that the television production was only based on the novel, and would not be a simple visual retelling of the Under the Dome story.  After listening to it, this was obvious to me since the extremely graphic nature of the novel could not be played out word-for-word on broadcast television.  Many of the characters have the same names and personality traits as their Stephen King counterparts in the book, but there are some major differences in their stories as the show unfolds.  Many of the characters for the television series seem to have been cleaned up a bit and have had their characters made acceptable for the average viewer.  Big Jim Rennie, for instance has had his overtly hypocritical religious stripped from him for the most part.  Dale Barbara isn’t the pure heroic figure as presented in the book; he has a darker background story.  Junior Rennie is far less psychotically disturbed in the show than he was in the book.  These are just a few of the changes from the original story.  So, before the show aired, I had made up my mind to forget about the book and take the television show as a separate entity.

The Good:

Visual Effects: The visual effects used in the show are magnificent.  Right from the very beginning when the dome descends on the town, there are some sunning scenes of planes and truck crashing into the invisible barrier.  One of the most iconic scenes is when Barbie witnesses a cow being cut in half while the half inside the dome falls away to reveal the other half sticking to the outside.  Along with that are scenes of electrical discharges as people contact the dome, a storm inside the dome, and a scene as the military attempts to break the dome with a large cruise missile.

Characters: For the most part, the acting is well done, that is when the characters are well written.  For me, the best of the cast is Dean Norris as Big Jim Rennie.  He portrays the “big fish in the small pond” personage to a tee.  Here’s a guy who is totally out to better himself under the guise of caring for the community at large.  He is so well written and acted that even I watching the show have occasionally believed that he was working for the good of his community.  But nothing Big Jim does is for the betterment of anyone but himself, if others are made better off along the way, it’s okay.  But don’t try to get in his way because anyone who does either mysteriously turns up dead, or he finds a way to manipulate others into doing his dirty work for him.  For me, he is the most interesting element of the show.

Linda Esquivel portrayed by Natalie Martinez finds herself becoming the chief of police following the death of her mentor and friend.  She is a very strong female character who takes her job seriously and is obviously well trained and experienced.  With the exception of the last few episodes of the series, Linda is the only character who seems willing to stand up against Big Jim to keep law and order in the town.

Ollie Densmore appeared in five episodes of Under the Dome.  He is played brilliantly by Leon Rippy, an experienced character actor.  Ollie goes into a head-to-head conflict with Big Jim over the town’s resources.  As a farmer with a well, he sees an opportunity to snatch power away from Big Jim and run the town himself.  He believes that he has many friends in the community and recruits them to help guard his well, the only major source of water for the town for a time until Barbie destroys the well.  Ollie finds himself left out in the cold by his “friends” as one of the extras tell him “you think we were here for you?” and they head for the hills as Big Jim again gets the upper hand.
There were definitely other good things about the show, but the above were the items that really stood out for me.

The Bad:

Barbie: hero or villain?  I honestly cannot tell if Barbie is good or bad.  He is obviously ex-military and perhaps some former member of an elite combat group.  He seems to have a lot of knowledge of weapons and is very good in a fight.  He also seems to have some extensive knowledge of emergency medical procedures.  But let’s face it, he came on the scene as a collection man for some entity that wanted him to use brutal tactics.  In the very first episode, we see him burying the body of Peter Shumway, then we learn later that he killed Peter collecting a large gambling debt.  On the other hand, we see Barbie acting on numerous occasions as a “deputy” without a badge, helping to keep law and order in the town.  But that’s not all folks; more on Barbie later.

Science Fiction?  There is lots of fiction Under the Dome, but very little science.  If a show is going to be touted as a science fiction series, shouldn’t there at least be some science?  Even made up science would be a welcome addition.  As I recall, there were perhaps two instances when any real science was actually explored; first when Joe was using math to try to figure the actual size of the dome, and second when the mini dome projected the star field in the barn.  Even that second one was more of a metaphysical instance since it turned out that the dome was pointing the way for the “teen quartet” (my term for the mini dome club of Joe, Angie, Norrie, and Junior) to go to the dome and get another premonition.  In actuality, Under the dome seems more like a paranormal series than sci-fi, or perhaps even more so, a study in abnormal psychology.  Everyone seems to have some kind of baggage they are carrying around.

Linda Becomes Big Jim’s Nazi Cop: One of the worse turns in the show is how Linda, the Police Chief, stops being a strong female character who has taken it upon herself to uphold law and order during the crisis and becomes Big Jim’s lacky.  Rather than doing what a good cop would do and investigating to learn the facts, in the last few episodes she just begins to take Big Jim’s word for everything and follows his agenda of the character assassination of Barbie.  The plot hole here is that Linda has gotten to know Barbie as they worked together.  I suppose it didn’t help much when After Big Jim killed Maxine and her henchman, Barbie knocked Linda out and headed for…

Speaking of that, after Barbie cold-cocked Linda, where did he expect to go?  After all, isn’t the Dome relatively small?  

In a later episode, Big Jim dispatches Linda to track down the location of the mini dome and take it into custody.  When she finds it, she goes way out of character and begins demanding that the object be turned over to her.  I didn't even recognize Linda's character in that performance, and I was quite puzzled at her gestapo-like tactics.

Barbie and Bushie: Phil Bushie, the radio station DJ spends a lot of time exchanging knowing nods with Barbie in the early episodes of the show, almost like they know each other.  Well perhaps they share a common bond as ex-military, or at least it would seem that way, but like Linda, Phil is more than willing to accept that Barbie is a cold-blooded murderer and even offers to build the gallows that Big Jim intends to hang Barbie from.

The Ugly:

Barbie and Julia:  One of the most convoluted parts of Under the Dome is the relationship between Julia Shumway and Barbie.  In several instances, Julia seems to be pining away for her deceased husband, Peter, but as soon as Barbie comes on the scene, she invites him into her home.  Now Barbie didn’t know that Peter and Julia were married, not at least until he saw pictures of the two of them together, but then really, he killed Peter SHUMWAY and begins cohabitating with Julia SHUMWAY.  Did he go in to kill Peter without knowing what his name was?  Even after discovering that Julia was Peter’s widow, that he killed, Barbie has the conscious of a snake and begins cohabitating with Julia anyway?  Now I realize that this show is not about reality, but come on, I cannot imagine anything like this happening with someone who is supposed to be a hero!  This plot is Hamlet gone completely wrong.

And while I am thinking about that, I should like to point out that when Maxine threatened to expose Barbie to Julia as Peter’s killer, Barbie decides, nobly (?) to confess his crime to Julia.  In a very Swiss cheesed scene (with a plot hole big enough to fly a jet liner through), Julia listens patiently to Barbie’s confession and then tells him, more or less, it’s okay, just don’t lie any more.  Barbie’s punishment for offing Peter?  A night on the couch in the Shumway living room.   As my friend Hank Davis said on a call-in to Under the Dome Radio: “Where do you find a woman like that?”  Well, the answer to that, my good friend, is nowhere, except Under the Dome.

One of the biggest plot twists, or twisted plots, if you will, was that of the (thankfully) brief appearance of Maxine Seagrave.  Out of nowhere this character appears on the scene to spend two days trying to make Big Jim’s and Barbie’s life a living hell.  Apparently, she was the entity behind Barbie being a collector of gambling debts, as well as being the one who was bankrolling and distributing the drug that Big Jim was producing to “save” the town of Chester’s Mill.  She blows into town from wherever she was and opens a fight club in the concrete works and is taking loaves of bread and salt for admission; all in less than 24 hours.  She says that she is doing this so she can maintain the lifestyle that she has become accustomed to.  I can only imagine what that lifestyle must have been; not good I suspect.

Blame Barbie:  Julia Shumway is shot, Maxine’s mother is drowned, Dodie is killed and the radio station is burned, Maxine and her henchman are shot.  It’s all Barbie’s doing!  So Barbie is finally captured and the people of the town are assured that he will receive a fair trial, and then taken out to hang.  In the final scenes, Barbie has the noose around his neck, Big Jim is presiding and Junior has his hands on the lever, and a large crowd has gathered to watch the execution.  The trial was Big Jim telling them that Barbie is guilty and not one citizen of this little friendly town is going to stand up and protest a public execution.  Okay.

The ending of the season is probably the second ugliest thing about Under the Dome.  The butterfly hatches inside the mini-dome and begins flying around.  Everywhere the butterfly touches turns black.  At the same time, the large dome is also turning black.  Then the “teen quartet” lays hands on the dome, it shatters and the butterfly crowns Julia the much awaited “monarch.”  Julia was further informed by Norrie’s mother that the done was not to keep people in, but rather to protect them.  Huh?  Then Julia takes the egg that was under the mini dome and drops it into the lake.  The much talked about pink stars appear and Big Jim who is presiding over Barbie’s execution says that it is a sign that Barbie’s impending neck tie party has been blessed by the lord, which is accepted by the crowd.  Huh?  Then the dome turns white and the show is over.  Huh?  What?

I have heard this called a cliff hanger.  Understatement?  You bet!  There are so many unfinished stories and loose threads with this series that I cannot even remember it all.  It is hard to believe that Spielberg and King are involved with this.

But the ugliest thing of all is how CBS loaded the series with seemingly unending strings of commercial interruptions.  Most of those commercials were selling other shows that were either already on, or soon to come on CBS.  At times, there was less than seven minutes of Under the Dome followed by an ad nausium number of ads.

So we are going to get another 13 episodes of Under the Dome next summer.  We can only hope that someone at CBS will take some time to watch this sad, shark jumped series and perhaps listen to those of us who aren’t willing to just accept just the label Science Fiction getting slapped on something that went from being pretty good in the beginning to a mere paranormal soap opera complete with “cliff hangers” couched in huge plot holes.

Will I be watching the second season of Under the Dome.  Most definitely.  There is way too much to laugh and make fun of that I cannot pass it up.  Along with that is the Under the Dome Radio podcast, which is fun to listen to

If you watched Under the Dome and loved it, well more power too you.  If you are accepting it as sci-fi, you need to re-examine your definition of sci-fi.  Not only isn’t it very good sci-fi, it isn’t even very good television for the thinking viewer. 

While I started really liking the show, I watched it deteriorate over the weeks into something that was barely watchable.  I also realize that I am in the minority on my assessment and am quite okay with that.

If you are looking for a more positive twist to Under the Dome, I urge you to listen to Under the Dome Radio with Troy andWayne.  They have a podcast episode for every episode of the show along with great interviews with Kevin Sizemore, Dale Raoul, and John Elvis.

Well, there it is…

Q’aplaH!

Saturday, September 21, 2013

The Beginning of the Fall - David R. George III's Star Trek: The Fall: Revelation and Dust



Star Trek: The Fall: Revelation and Dust by David R. George III


A few weeks ago, I learned about ST: The Fall series of novels thanks to a Facebook post by Dayton Ward.  I immediately went to Amazon.com and pre-ordered the entire five book series and awaited the arrival of the first of the five; Revelation and Dust.  I am finally able to take a few minutes to review this novel.  Let’s get to it, shall we?


Revelation and Dust is set following the destruction of Deep Space 9 in the ongoing conflict with the Typhon Pact.  In the novels Plagues of Night and Raise the Dawn, the destruction of DS-9 by rogue elements of the Typhon Pact is chronicled.  Revelation and Dust takes place two years after those events; the amount of time it has taken the Federation to build a new DS-9 to stand watch on the Bajoran wormhole to the Gamma Quadrant.


There would seem to be two main elements to the story; Kira, now a Vedek, takes a trip into the wormhole and a dedication ceremony for DS-9 that goes very wrong.


In Kira’s story, she encounters the Prophets, who lead her through a complete replay of Sisko’s first encounter with the prophets, and then into a story in Bajoran history outlining the oppression of a small band of rebels by a group calling themselves the Aleira.  Other than a story, there isn’t much on the reasons why the Aleira are persecuting this small band of Bajorans.  I can only assume that this will be more fleshed out in future installments.  I have my theory on where this thread may lead, and will discuss this a bit later in this post.


The other main story involves events centered around the opening of the new DS-9 space station.  Ro Laren commands the station and many of the DS-9 regulars have returned to help with the operations, including Dr. Bashier along with O’Brian and Nog acting as the chief engineers.  Sisko and Ezri Dax, both captains of starships are also on hand to participate in the dedication ceremonies.  There are a numerous other characters from various Trek novels and some new ones.


It seems that almost everyone on the new DS-9 are mostly in very solemn and contemplative moods as they remember the people who were lost in the destruction of the Cardassian DS-9 station.  There is a scene in the story where a memorial service in which all of the names of those lost are read.


Numerous dignitaries arrive on the station for the dedication which is marked by the assassination of Federation President Bacco, a much beloved character by the fans of the novels in which she appears.  A suspect is captured, but it isn’t clear that the perpetrator is actually responsible for their apparent actions; most likely this person has been influenced by, for now, unknown forces.

While I enjoyed this story myself, it is not one that I think the casual Trekkie would really enjoy.  There isn’t a lot of fast moving action in Revelation and Dust, as a matter of fact, it is a very slow moving and plodding read that may put some fans off.  On Amazon, it has received mixed reviews, some quite scathing in nature, with the major complaint being the slowness of how the story unfolds.  There are also numerous complaints on the apparent nature that this novel reads like it is mostly exposition.


These complaints are valid, but only to a point.  Yes, most of the book is expositional in nature, but after all, it is the first installment in a five-part series of novels.  The endings of the stories are very open-ended and, again, I attribute this to the other four novelists having planned the story out and the threads will be picked up in future installments.


David R. George III
In spite of the dubious reviews I read on Amazon (after I read the book), I liked this opening of the new series and am greatly looking forward to the next four as they are released in the coming months.  I don’t need explosions and constant action in a story to hold my attention, rather the promise of an interesting story arc is what held my attention while I read this.  I would recommend this story to those with the patience to stick with it, or at least wait for a while until all of the books have been made public.


My theories…


I have two theories on the direction that the future novels will take.  First, the Kira story would seem to be the Prophets are revealing historical visions to her to prepare her to become Bajor’s next Kai.   Second, the title “The Fall” leads me to think that perhaps we are going to finally see the end of the Typhon Pact as a major adversary of Federation interests.  One reason for this is that some factions of the Pact have already been questioning their involvement in the organization, and on some occasions, there have been major disputes between the various members of the Pact over who is in charge.  I seem  also to remember a story line in which the Romulans feel that they will eventually become the ruling body of the Typhon Pact, and their arrogance will contribute to the eventual fall.

Future novels in the series will include…


  • The Crimson Shadow by Una McCormack (September 24, 2013 – TNG & DS-9)

  • A Ceremony of Losses by David Mack (October 29, 2013 – USS Aventine & DS-9)

  • The Poisoned Chalice by James Swallow (November 26, 2013 – Titan)

  • Peaceable Kingdoms by Dayton Ward (December 31, 2013 – TNG)



Well, there it is…


Q’aplaH’!

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Gemini Force 1 - An Opportunity For Sci-Fi Fans



Gerry Anderson's Gemini Force 1 Kickstarter Campaign.

A few days ago, I received a follow request from Gerry Anderson MBE.  I followed back just out of curiosity.  Not long after, I received a tweet and it contained a request for help in promoting a Kickstarter project.  After finally realizing and remembering who Gerry Anderson was, I am more than happy to pass this on to you.

For those of you who may not know, Gerry Anderson was a British television and film producer that pioneered a style called Supermarionation, or the use of marionettes and miniatures to produce television series during the 1960’s.  There is a large list of shows to his credit that were in this style, but I mostly remember one called Stingray.
 
Stingray was a science fiction adventure series that I looked forward to seeing every day when I was young.  It was about an agency charged with keeping the oceans safe against evil forces.  Here is the pilot episode in full from YouTube.


Even though this is a very old show, one can see that the production was of high quality and I think it still holds up today.  This is part 1 of three parts.  The rest is available on YouTube.

Another very excellent show produced by Gerry Anderson was one that more of us should remember, or perhaps have discovered since its production.  Space 1999 starred Martin Landau and Barbara Bain.  This was another quality show in which due to a catastrophe, the Moon is hurtled out of Earth’s orbit.  The people on Moon Base Alpha, a permanent research facility on the moon, have to find ways to survive as the distance between the two bodies increases.  Here is the pilot episode of Space 1999…

 
Again, another quality show using live actors.

So what’s happening now?  Well, Jamie Anderson, son of the late Gerry Anderson, is looking to produce a new project based on one of his father’s ideas for a series called Gemini Force 1.  This concept was developed and written by Gerry Anderson between 2008 and 2011 with some work done in 2012 before Gerry succumbed to Alzheimer’s.  Jamie is now looking to Kickstarter to help him see his father’s work come to fruition in a series of books that later might be further developed into a television show or feature film.

In this video, Jamie explains…


The total amount the project needs to get sufficient funding is $38,000.  They have already collected over $15,000 with the funding opportunity closing on October 5, 2013.

If you cannot help financially with this project, it would equally valuable to help this project by boosting the signal.  Check out the Kickstarter post, share it with friends on whatever social media you can.  Talk to people about the project, blog about it.  This is a Sci-Fi project that fans can get behind and truly be a part of.

For complete details, click HERE to go to the Kickstarter page.

Well, there it is…

QaplaH’!