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.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Midlife Crisis Continues - Buried In Angst by David J. Pederson



Buried In Angst – 2013


After reading David J. Pederson’s first book, Angst, I knew that I would have to read the second one, Buried in Angst.  The focus of the book, a character named Angst, is a former file clerk in the Kingdom of Unsel.  As he entered midlife, he decided that there had to me more to life and magically became a knight of the kingdom with the help of a huge sword that only he could weild.  Thanks to the symbiotic relationship with Chryslaenor, the magical sword, Angst manages to save the kingdom of Unsel.  Anyone would think that that would be enough to solve a midlife crisis.  Angst should then be able to live happily ever after right?  Nope, the kingdom is once again in peril.


While angst is looking forward to a life of celebrity, telling stories in the pub, continuing to incessantly flirt with every female he sees, and settling down with his pregnant wife, Heather, there is trouble brewing out on the frontier.  An entire city has disappeared into the sea and guess who Queen Isabelle sends to find out what has happened.  Yep.  So Angst and his crew are dispatched to find out what has happened and try to figure out what to do about it.


But there are a few problems that he has to deal with.  The special relationship with Chryslaenor has been broken and Angst is slowly dying without his foci.  The princess Victoria decides to tag along to help Angst, and the biggest problem is that the elements of Erde are warring with each other as they do every 2000 years.  And if that isn’t enough, Victoria’s cousin, Alloria arrives on the scene and manages to replace Victoria as the heir apparent to the throne.


In an attempt to aid Angst and keep him from dying, Rose, a powerful warrior and strong companion to Angst, tries to bring Chryslaenor to Angst and turns up missing.


While I thought Angst had found himself facing an unsurmountable problem in the first book, it seemed even more so in this book.  The elements of Erde, earth, fire, water, and air fighting it out and humans are completely powerless to stand up to the threat, all except for Angst and his troop minus Rose.  But when he returns home, he’s going to find that things have taken a very bad turn indeed.


David proves with this second installment in this series that he is not just a flash-in-the-pan indie auther with only one hit under his belt.  The Angst series is a strong work that is a great way for someone who is not familiar with the fantasy genre (like myself) to be introduced to a new world of reading pleasure.


While Angst was great, Buried in Angst is even better as David seems to be more comfortable his writing style.  I really appreciate the language of Angst (both books), the characters speak in plain language while David’s descriptions of places, people, and foes allowed me to easily visualize the setting.  The to darkne of Buried in Angst is definitely darker than it's predecessor, but not so much so as to be outside of the established parameters and allowing the sense of humor to be lessened.  This is NOT a comedy, but there are comedic elements that help to keep the tone light and yet still allowing for a darker plot.


Angst himself, is a strong character.  While reading, I often found myself wanting to just tell him to turn around and run, but he is not only strong and honorable, not giving to temptations that would test any man’s metal.
 

I highly recommend Buried in Angst, as well as it’s prequel Angst.


I am also looking forward to the next installment of this series that David is working on now!


Well, there it is…


QaplaH’!

Monday, November 18, 2013

The Dune Saga Podcast Takes A Look At The Butlerian Jihad by Brian Herbert and Kenvin J. Anderson


The first episodes of The Dune Saga Podcast went live today.  Join David, Scott and me as we take an in-depth look at the books of the Dune universe created by Frank Herbert.  On this month's episodes, we take a look at Brian Herbert and Kevin J. Anderson's The Butlerian Jihad.  There are two episodes involved with this book, first you can listen to "Dune in Ten," a ten minute recap of the book.  Next move on to the premier episode "The Dune Saga Podcast Episode #1: The Butlerian Jihad."

Our next show will be dealing with Dune: The Machine Crusade, also by Herbert and Anderson.  Listeners are invited to read along with us and comment on the books, or on our shows.  You can do this by calling 1-888-508-4343 to leave voice-mail comments.  You can e-mail us at dunesagapodcast@gmail.com, or visit our website at dunesagapodcast.com.  You are also welcome to like us on Facebook or follow us on Twitter (@dunesagapodcast).

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Spaghetti Sci-Fi Alien Rip-Off - Alien Contamination (1980) - Silly But Fun.



Alien Contamination – 1980


Yesterday while Diane was shopping at the fabric store, I went across the mall to Best Buy and  found a couple of movies on BluRay in the cheapie bin and on the shelf, I also found a DVD called Sci-Fi Fever 20 Film Collection.  I thought that it might be fun to watch and review some older sci-fi movies.  So last night, after I finished watching Fringe, I popped in Alien Contamination from the new DVD collection.


A ship is discovered racing into New York harbor at very high speed.  It is stopped, towed, and docked.  It is also further discovered that there appears to be no crew aboard.  A trio of investigators, led by Lt. Aris of the NYPD, enters the ship and discovers that the crew is indeed on board, but have all died horribly by being somehow eviscerated violently.  As the Aris and his two scientist companions continue to explore the ship, they find that that the ship was carrying coffee from Colombia.  One of the crates of coffee had inadvertently overturned and opened.  But what was inside wasn’t coffee; rather the cargo was some large watermelon sized green eggs.  While looking at one of the eggs that had some into contact with a heat source, it explodes depositing some kind of green slime on the scientists.  The two unfortunate investigators begin to convulse and their chest and abdomens explode spraying their entrails all over the compartment.  Fortunately for Aris, he was too far away to be hit by the slime and escapes the ship.


Next, we see Aris in a decontamination chamber run by a government agency being interrogated by Colonel Stella Holmes.  She lets Aris that since this discovery may be a threat to national security, she will be taking over the investigation at that point, but she will be requiring Aris’ help.


Scientists continue to investigate under the watchful eyes of Holmes and Aris and it is finally determined that it cannot be something that came from this world.  They determine that it must have come back with a pair of astronauts that were on a mission to Mars two years earlier.  Holmes contacts former astronaut Ian Hubbard, who is really down on his luck.  Upon returning to earth, he reported finding the eggs and was discredited and by scientists and even his own partner Astronaut Hamilton.  Holmes cannot contact Hamilton because he was allegedly killed while piloting his private plane off the Florida coast.  After explaining to Hubbard that his credibility has been restored because the eggs look exactly like some drawings he made during his mission debriefing.


Holmes, Aris, and Hubbard head for Colombia to try to discover the source of the problem.  Holmes and Aris arrive at the shipping company posing as potential buyers while Hubbard takes a private plane to survey the plantation where the coffee is supposed to be grown.  Holmes and Aris discover that Hamilton is not only still alive and running the shipping operation, but that he has also been taken over by an alien entity.  Meanwhile, Hubbard’s plane crashes on the plantation and he witnesses the eggs being harvested from the surrounding countryside.  Hubbard overcomes one of the workers pixking up the eggs and replaces him by donning his hazmat suit and weapon.


Hamilton introduces Holmes and Aris to the entity that has hypnotic powers and Aris is eaten by the entity.  Next it is Holme’s turn to become dinner, but Hubbard arrives on the scene just in time to kill Hamilton and the entity, saving the day.


This film was made on the heels of Alien and directed by Luigi Cozzi.  It is definitely a B movie and makes no attempt to be anything but that.  There are many flaws, but mostly those that don’t involve the story or the actors.


First of all, the transfer to DVD is not good.  The film is very grainy and not very well lit in many places.  The dubbing is distracting most of the time which makes it look a bit comical at times.  But the most laughable thing is the monster itself.  It was just about the cheesiest looking monster coming across as a slimy, drippy rubber muppet that is too unbelievable to be taken seriously.


The story isn’t bad though.  I actually found myself getting into it for most of the film.  The acting and direction are also not bad despite the poor and obvious dubbing that is all through the movie.  I would have liked to see smoother transitions between the scenes though.  The action starts at the beginning of the film and keeps up through most of the film with just a bit of a lag in the middle.


What really appealed to me the most was the soundtrack that was used.  The synthesizer music that was used for everything helped with the supposed high-tech feel of the beginning of the film and added to the suspense of the scenes when characters were in danger.  I had to laugh at the disco-like music used when the action went to Colombia though, it was obviously some stock music that might have fit any travel log on South America.


One thing that really needs mentioning here is the very graphic nature of the death scenes.  The director favored some very gruesome scenes of people spontaneously being eviscerated and heads exploding.  Those scenes actually looked a little to realistic and I think they were just a bit over the top than was necessary to advance the story.


Overall, this was mostly a fun film to see and, despite the graphic nature of the death scenes, enjoyable.


Well, there it is…


Qaplah’!

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Contact - In Honor Of Carl Sagan Day



Contact - 1997


As an undergraduate in college, I learned that I needed an elective course to fill my schedule.  While looking through the catalog, I found that I could take an astronomy survey course.  I already knew quite a bit from books I had read and from having watched numerous television shows and I had also purchased the complete Cosmos on VHS.  I figured that the course would be a snap.  It was.


One of the assignments the professor required was that we were to choose a book from a list provided by him.  Included on that list was Contact by Carl Sagan, which is what I chose to read.  It wasn’t long after that I learned that Contact was being made into a movie, which of course excited me.


I saw the film in the theater; I bought the VHS, then the DVD, and finally the BluRay as they became available.


While watching a game and tweeting with a fellow football fan, I noticed that another friend on Twitter, Rich Piechowski (@Piech42) was tweeting quotes and quips under the hashtag  #CarlSaganDay.  Carl Sagan, astronomer, astrophysicist, cosmologist, author, science popularizer and science communicator in astronomy and natural sciences was born on November 9, 1934.  So in honor of Carl Sagan Day, I decided to rewatch the film Contact based on the novel of the same title.


Contact opens with a fantastic and realistic view of Earth apparently from low earth orbit.  There is lots of “noise” on the soundtrack that sounds like transmissions from radio, television, and telecommunications.  The camera begins to pull away from the earth and travels out of the solar system, out of the galaxy, and finally to the edge of the universe, and for most of the time the sound fades and ends as the camera passes Vega, a star in our northern sky that is about 25 light years distant from earth.  As the camera continues to pull back, we find ourselves focused on the eye of a young girl sitting at a short wave radio set sending out a CQ (seek you – armature radio speak for “if anyone is listening, please respond”).   We meet a young Ellie Arroway and her dad who is encouraging her in scientific pursuits.


The scene shifts to the Aricibo Radio Observatory in Puerto Rico where the now Dr. Arroway is involved in the dubious SETI (Search for Extra Terrestrial Intelligence) project.  Ellie and her partner Dr. Fitchner learn from Dr Drumlin, Science Advisor to the President of the United States, that their project is no longer going to be funded because it has been determined that it is a frivolous and futile activity.  Soon after, Arroway meets Palmer Joss, a renowned Christian philosopher with whom Ellie becomes romantically involved.  With her government funding pulled, Ellie goes on a quest to find private sources of funding to buy telescope time elsewhere.


In a flashback scene, Ellie’s dad dies from a heart attack while the two are preparing to watch a meteor shower.  Ellie blames herself for this because she believes that she was not able to get his medicine on time.


Ellie has been on a quest for funding for 13 months when she makes a presentation to a panel of three people with Haddin Industries.   She is apparently about to be turned down when a phone call is received by the head of the panel.  After the phone call is over, Ellie is informed that she will be granted her funding.  She buys time on the VLA (Very Large Array) radio telescope facility in New Mexico.  While conducting their research, the team learns that Dr. Drumlin is again going to shut their research down.  Ellie argues that they cannot yank her funding, but Dr. Fitchner informs her that since the VLA is owned by the U.S. government, they have control over who will be allocated time on the array, no matter where the funding for time comes from.  Ellie believes that this is more of a personal vendetta on the part of Drumlin.  Upset and discouraged, Ellie goes into the desert with her listening equipment to brood.  While re-aiming her dishes on the array, she stumbles on to a very strong signal coming from the area of Vega.  Excited, Ellie heads back to the facility and determines that this is indeed an authentic SETI signal and immediately sends word around the globe for all facilities to focus their dishes on this signal.


Very soon after Ellie’s discovery, Drumlin, National Security Advisor Michael Kitz, and a contingent of soldiers arrive on the scene in an attempt to take over operations.  Ellie’s team discovers that there is a video signal couched inside the main signal and when it is rendered, we see that the extra-terrestrials have sent back a transmission of the opening ceremonies of the 1936 Summer Olympics that were presided over by none other than Adolph Hitler.  Kitz immediately sees this as a malevolent threat and orders the facility secured and accuses Ellie of a breach of national security for blasting information over the globe.  Drumlin and Ellie explain that since the Hitler broadcast was sent, it took 26 years to arrive at Vega, and that the return signal would take another 26 years to return, therefore Hitler would mean nothing to the people returning the signal.


It is soon discovered that the message from Vega was a schematic with instructions on how to build a massive machine that would presumably transport a single astronaut to Vega to make contact with whatever civilization may exist there.  Of course, Kitz presents the idea that perhaps once the machine is built, an invading army might emerge to wreak havoc.  After due consideration it was decided to build the machine and an astronaut was to be selected.  Ellie is on the list, and Drumlin resigns his position as Science Advisor to get his name in for consideration also.  They become the two top people for taking the ride, but Ellie has a slight edge.


During a final interview by an international panel to determine who the final candidate will be, Ellie is confronted with the question of what her spiritual beliefs are by Palmer Joss, who had since become a religious advisor to the president.  Ellie, an avowed atheist, explains that spiritual beliefs should not be a consideration for the selection because the Vegans contacted the people of the earth through scientific language.  A member of the panel explains that 95% of the world’s population believes in a deity of some kind, and that it would be unreasonable to send a representative to make first contact who doesn’t reflect that aspect of the majority of the population.  Drumlin, of course proclaims himself a devout believer in God and subsequently selected to take the ride.


The machine gets built and begins undergoing tests.  Under the supervision of Drumlin, the machine is started up with a dummy pilot.  During that final test, Ellie is in mission control monitoring the progress when she sees a religious fanatic on a monitor disguised as a technician and wearing an explosive vest.  Ellie tries to warn Drumlin just as the fanatic detonates his vest and destroys the machine killing Drumlin and many others.


When Ellie returns to her room, she finds a satellite telephone system over which she is contacted by S.R. Haddin who informers her that a duplicate machine was built on the Japanese island of Hokkaido.


Soon, Ellie is strapped into the seat in the duplicate machine.  Her pod is dropped and she takes a truly fantastic voyage through wormholes and winds up in a place near the center of the galaxy and is contacted by an alien in the person of her father.    The alien entity informs Ellie that humanity is indeed not alone.  Ellie says that she has many questions and if after this first contact, there will be further contact.  The entity answers that it will be far in the future before further contact takes place again.  Ellie is sent back to earth.  From her point of view, she has been away for over eighteen hours.  But from the point of view of everyone else, nothing really happened except that the pod simply dropped through the machine.


The scene moves to a congressional hearing where Ellie is trying to describe her experience, but she is confronted by Kitz who claims that it was all a hoax perpetrated by S.R. Haddin for the purpose of securing government contracts.  The hearing ends in an impasse that reaches no conclusions and Ellie and Palmer leave.  In a conversation between Kitz and his assistant, we learn that recording devices that were sent with Ellie recorded nothing but static, but it was over eighteen hours of static.


Contact is the story of a driven scientist who is willing to do whatever it takes to do what scientists are supposed to do; seek the truth of things.  Jodie Foster does an effective job of acting as someone who will not allow herself to be deterred from her pursuits very passionately.  Her performance is very convincing.  The script was very well written and I can actually hear Sagan’s voice coming through Ellie as she reads her lines for the film.  She is a character that one can really care about.  I found myself empathizing with her as Drumlin seemed to make it his personal mission to up-stage her at every turn and every time she had an opportunity to shine as an independent scientist trying to come into her own.  I also admired her as she steadfastly fought Kitz to keep her research from becoming something that the military might pervert into a national defense imperative.


The BluRay version of the film that I have has many special features that include how the opening sequence was achieved.  It took hours and hours of video rendering to put those first three minutes together and in itself was amazing to watch.


One of the most remarkable parts of the movie was the film score.  It fit very well with the action that was taking place on the film and didn’t distract. 


Probably the most tragic aspect of the film project is that Carl Sagan never got to see his story unfold on the screen as he passed away mere months before the release date.  At the end of the film, there appears a star field and at the bottom right of the screen appear the words “For Carl.”  This last before the credits run never fails to bring tears to my eyes even now after so many years.


Contact is a good film that is called science fiction, but to me it is more in the realm of speculative fiction because it is a story from Carl Sagan as he speculates on whether we are alone in the universe, how people might react if we did discover that we are not alone, and how politics and industry influence our views on the search for scientific truth.


It is difficult to describe how much Dr. Sagan spoke to me through his work, especially that of the series Cosmos.  To me, he is an iconic figure who helped me shape my philosophy on how I think about many things.  I still miss him today and am thankful for those who picked up the torch he left behind to teach us about our universe and our place in it.  People such as Lawrence Krauss, Neil Tyson, and Stephen Hawking carry on the Sagan legacy.  While they are to be credited, they still fall well short of the legacy.  Carl was the ultimate communicator on science.


Happy Birthday Carl.


Well, there it is…


QaplaH’!

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Thor: The Dark World - Marvel Gets This One Very Right!



Thor: The Dark World – 2013


Marvel pulls out all the stops on this sequel to the first Thor (2011).  The Dark World is a spectacular continuation to the Thor saga, as well as to the last film the God of Thunder appears in, Avengers (2012).


Dark World starts out with a history lesson.   Odin’s father, Bor fights a battle against the Dark Elf Malekith, who was intent on using a weapon called the Aether to bring darkness to the universe.   Bor defeats Maleketh and contains the Aether in a monolith.  With his weapon incapacitated, Maleketh, his most powerful warrior, Algrim, and several of the Dark Elves escape into suspended animation.


In modern day Asgard, Loki is imprisoned for his part in the events of the Avengers film.  At the same time, Thor leads a battle on Vanahiem to end a two year conflict and bring peace to the Nine Realms.  Meanwhile, Jane Foster has moved to London where she is investigating some strange phenomena that allows objects to disappear when dropped and the reappear repeatedly.  Jane is then teleported to another realm where she becomes infected by the Aether.


The phenomena that Jane was investigating turns out to be a rare convergence between the nine Realms that randomly opens portals allowing people and objects to pass between them.


Hemidal, the guardian of the main entrance to Asgard, alerts Thor that Jane has gone missing.  Thor finds Jane and brings her to Asgard where the Asgardian healers attempt to remove the Aether from her with no success due to powerful energy discharges from Jane whenever she is threatened.   With the return of the Aether, Malekith and his minions are reawakened and attack Asgard.  A battle ensues and Thor’s mother, Frigga is murdered.  Odin orders that no one is to enter or leave Asgard preventing Thor from going to seek revenge against Malekith.


Thor learns from Loki that there are other ways to get out of Asgard but only he knows them.  Reluctantly, Thor teams up with his brother and with the help of the Warriors Three, Thor, loki and Jane leave Asgard on a Dark Elf ship and arrive on Svartalfheim.  Loki tricks Malekith into removing the Aether from Jane, but is apparently killed in doing so.  Thor and Jane return to Earth to continue the battle with Malekith who intends to release the Aether at the center of the convergence between the Nine Realms in Grenwich.


While Thor and Malekith fight a battle that moves between the Nine realms, Jane and her team use their scientific equipment to destroy Malekith saving the universe from darkness.


There is more to the story, but you’ll have to see the film to get the big reveals that take place in the last few minutes of the movie.  Also, one should note that it is important when seeing The Dark World, one should stay through all of the closing credits as there are two “Easter eggs.”


Dark World is a slugfest of action from start to finish.  The two hours of the film went by like nothing.  One of the most endearing parts of this film as that one gets a sense, at least for most of the film, that Loki isn’t as evil as one might think.  He comes into his own as a character, and is someone that I came to care about.  Loki is also the source much of the humor in this film.  At one point, while leaving Asgard, Loki and Thor have a lengthy exchange in which Loki uses his powers of illusion to change himself and Thor into other characters.  This scene culminates with Loki changing himself into Captain America which had the audience in stitches (the house was packed, as one might expect).  It was a great cameo appearance from Chris Evans and added much to the movie because it was completely unexpected and totally off the wall.


Regular readers of this blog might recall that my main complaint for a previous Marvel film, Iron Man 3, was that it seemed like a running stand-up act for the main character.  In that film, the humor seemed forced and after a while I felt that the writers were beating me over the head with it.  Not so with Dark World; the humor in this movie is natural, fits in the story well, and is very reminiscent of how I remember it appearing in the comics I read as a young man.  Tom Hiddleston almost steals the show with his performance and is worth the price of the ticket alone.


The battle scenes are epic in proportion and are fast paced, but one can get a real sense of and appreciate how again, they are very much like what one would get if reading a comic.


I would also like to point out that there were two death scenes that I found very moving.  The first was the murder of Frigga.  While she acquitted herself well in battle, she was eventually overcome in front of her son.  Along with that was a traditional Viking funeral scene that would be worthy of a goddess and she went out with class.  I will miss her character in future films, even though she was not a major character.  Renee Russo was brilliant in this role.


Loki’s “death” scene was also quite poignant and was quite heroic for a character that has dangerous ambitions.  Hiddleston and Hemsworth played this scene perfectly.  I was also moved by this scene despite the fact that I knew that Loki cannot die because there is still so much of his story to be told.  And afterall, Loki is a trickster and wouldn’t do anything unless he benefits in some way, up to an including losing his life.  The last few minutes of the film will reveal what Loki’s real future might be as well as the future of Thor films.


Marvel Studios did this one right.  It is absolutely spectacular in every way a film should be.  Great acting, perfect casting, lots of action with a smattering of humor, and not a whole lot of mushy stuff (but there is a little of that too) all wrapped up in a great story.  Highest recommendations for Thor: The Dark World.


As a Star Trek fan, I would be remiss at not pointing out that along with Chris Hemsworth (Commander George Kirk of the USS Kelvin), another member of Trek alumni Alice Krige (Borg Queen, Star Trek: First Contact) appears briefly in two scenes as an Asgardian doctor.  It was good to see Krige back on the big screen.


Well, there it is…


Q’aplaH!