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.

Sunday, December 28, 2014

The Garden - What Happens When Artificial Intelligence Gets The Upper Hand

Recently, I was contacted by Dimitri Iyudin to help promote a new short film project he is writing entitled The Garden.  While I know very little about the film, I have watched the teasers, read the press release, and find that I am intrigued by this project.  I find it interesting that someone can tell a complete story in less than 20 minutes and have enjoyed watching several short film projects in the past few months.

Well, rather than me telling you what it is about, here is the press release about The Garden...

New York City, December 1, 2014

Earlier this year during a science event at the MIT Elon Musk said that “with artificial intelligence we’re summoning the demon.” Coming from anyone else, such fear mongering would’ve been dismissed as just another tech guru being cute. But Musk—a visionary who co-founded PayPal and Tesla Motors, and who now runs SpaceX—has street cred.

Musk’s prescient proclamation inspired a couple—in life and in cinema—to ponder: how does the ceaseless advent of technology shape and guide our lives and are we truly going to innovate ourselves extinct? Having worked on two feature films framed by visions of haywire environment of the future, Natalia and Dmitry Iyudin decided to write a short movie about a post-singularity world ruled by rogue AI.

The story is set in 2089 when Earth is a hostile place for humans who by then are an out-of-date concept. The only way to survive is to integrate into AI constructs at The Garden and live pain-free forever. Yet Luc—a rebellious ballerina—would rather die than conform. But when she meets an odd robot Azul, the idea of integrating into a better version of herself suddenly sounds tempting.

What’s unique about the story is that it’s a hybrid of dark humor, thriller, and sleek technology, told from a female perspective with a fierce teenage ballerina as a protagonist. And yet, the film has a universal appeal with its themes of defiance against a totalitarian regime and a life-affirming right to artistic expression, free of dogmas and censorship.

“The message of The Garden is that in order to stay real, we have to accept our own imperfections,” Polish-American director Natalia Iyudin says. “It’s a story about discovering your true self and fighting for personal freedom no matter what.” Natalia’s previous work includes shorts and music videos that screened worldwide from Oberhausen and Feminale in Germany to San Francisco, New Orleans, and Seoul.

Natalia is a New York City based video editor and curator. She’s worked with MoMA, National Gallery of Art, Sony Pictures Classics, PBS, Film Society of Lincoln Center, ESSENCE Magazine, and MTV. She’s also a member of the Film Fatales collective, alongside award-winning directors Gillian Robespierre, Josephine Decker, Anja Marquardt, Eliza Hittman, and Leah Meyerhoff.

The Garden is collaboration between Natalia and writer Dmitry Iyudin (The Russian Heart), award-winning director Bartek Kulas (Millhaven), DP Kamil Plocki (Fourth Dimension), and producers Marta Harasymowicz (Go East Films), Zoe Couacaud, Heather Hollingsworth, and Hypatia Porter, as well as a Production Designer Javiera Varas (Dallas Buyers Club, The Dawn of The Planet of the Apes). The film is scheduled to start production in early March.

Currently, The Garden is in the fundraising stage on KickStarter.  Take a look, see what you think, and consider helping to fund this project.

You may also follow this project on Facebook as well as on Twitter.


Well, there it is


Friday, November 28, 2014

The Heretic - Great First Novel from Lucas Bale

The Heretic by Lucas Bale
Book I - Beyond The Wall Series

It was a surprise to me when author Lucas Bale messaged me on Twitter and asked me if I would read and review his book The Heretic, not only that, but he offered to give me the book if I agreed!  So I thought, what the heck, I'll give it a shot.  I am always looking for something new to read, and I have had some very good luck reading works from new authors.

If you are also someone who appreciates reading aspiring authors first efforts, I would have to say that this is one that is very much worth a look.

The Heretic revolves around two major characters.  First is a smuggler named Shepherd.  Shepherd has a ship called the Soteria in which he moves cargo around by flying through wormholes that are called "tunnels" in the vernacular of the universe that Bale has created. While making a delivery to the planet Herse, which is under the jurisdiction of someone, or someones called the Magistratus. The other character at the center of the story is a young man named Jordi, who is a resident of Herse.  The lives of these two people come together in a relationship that finds them dependent on each other through a series of incidents that surround another character called Preacher.

Jordi lives in a village that is harbouring one such Preacher. Preachers talk about a place that has long since disappeared where humanity originated, thrived, and finally declined.  This is against the edict of the Magistratus who demands loyalty to him, or them alone in their New Republic.  One night, a group of Peacekeepers enter the village looking for the Preacher.  Jordi manages to escape the fate of being brutally murdered by the Peacekeepers along with a few refugees that flee into the forest.

All Shepherd wants is to be paid for his job and be on his way, but his ship is detained and a powerful government official known as a Consul is coming to Herse.

Shepherd, Jordi, and the Preacher find that they have to depend on each other to do their part in getting themselves, and the survivors of the village off the planet before the Consul arrives make life even more difficult.

Heretic starts out with action that doesn't slow down until the last chapter, which is reserved for setting up Bale's next book in the Beyond the Wall series, Defiance. I appreciated the book's pace because even though the action never lets up, it doesn't go so fast that one need wonder what happened.  It is all there.  One can read this story in a single, or maybe two sittings.

I also liked the setting for the book. It would seem that, in this universe, technology has advanced as far as space travel is concerned, but everything else is pretty well low tech.  The use of projectile weapons is prevalent, and on Herse, the people use horses to get around.  While I don't like to compare properties too much, Heretic has a kind of Firefly flavor to it; mostly because it is set in the outskirts of where humans have moved, far away from the Core worlds.

As far as things I would have liked to see more of in this story would be in the way of Character development.  We get a pretty good picture of Jordi during the story.  He has lived a hard life, but it hasn't been completely without good moments here and there.  Shepherd is one character that I am interested in learning more about.  Details about him were sketchy at best.  We do get an idea of what might have been a past, or maybe future ambitions in a couple of dream sequences.  But there is nothing that a reader can really grasp, and he is an interesting personality.  One thing that we do learn about Shepherd is that he would like to think that he only cares about himself, but he seems to have the capacity to also care for others.  Now while it might seem like I am pointing out something that is negative, it really isn't meant that way because since it is a series,I expect that the character development will take place slowly throughout the series.

The Preacher is the real mystery.  He seems to have skills that a religious figure shouldn't really have, but in the last chapter, he explains the real role of the Preachers in this society, and there was no mention of a traditional religious belief system existing in this universe.  It is going to be interesting to see what direction the next book takes.

I will say that I was completely engaged and mesmerized from the beginning to the end of The Heretic, only putting it down because it got late in the evenings and I have to start the day early.  I give my highest recommendation to this book and urge you to give it a chance.  You will be entertained.

Well, there it is...


Sunday, November 9, 2014

Interstellar - Brain Candy For The Intellectual Sci-Fi Fan

Interstellar - 2014

Carl Sagan said in one episode of Cosmos, "...there will be a last perfect day on earth."

Dr. Sagan said this in the context of the far future, some 5 billion years from now. However, it is no secret that we humans are constantly changing our planet and its environment.  While the reasons for what is happening to our planet are not given in Interstellar, suffice it to say that that last perfect day has come and gone and Earth is no longer able to sustain human life.

This film presents a vision of life in which humans have had to abandon the pursuits of science and technology for the betterment of mankind while being shifted to an agrarian based existence where the main concern is simply growing enough food to feed everyone.  So what is the logical next step?  Find another place to live, of course.

Matthew McConaughey plays Cooper, a former NASA engineer and test pilot how is one of those that are forced into becoming a farmer.  He lives with his two children and his father-in-law on a huge farm.  Cooper uses his engineering skills to run his own farm on automation and help others maintain their automated systems for farming by scrounging and repairing whatever he can find.  His daughter, Murph, aspires to be a scientist and seeks answers to strange happenings that she dubs ghosts. She finds books and other objects have been knocked off of shelves onto the floor in strange patterns that Cooper later figures out are gravitational anomalies that convey messages.  One of the messages, he figures out, are a binary set of coordinates that point to a former NORAD base.

He goes to investigate and finds that the NORAD base has been taken over by NASA.  NASA's mission is not any longer the exploration of space, but rather to find a way to save humanity itself. Near the planet Saturn, a wormhole is discovered and Cooper is recruited to fly a space craft into the wormhole to meet up with a previous expedition that has supposedly found three possible candidate planets to move the population of Earth to.

What Cooper finds is mostly disappointment and empty promises, but there is still hope for human kind.

Interstellar is a good film in the vein of 2001: A Space Odyssey but it is not for the casual Sci-Fi fan. This film goes beyond mere entertainment and would seem to have been made to make one think about the possibilities of the future.  There are themes that are quite disturbing.  For instance, what would it be like if we were faced with a situation where the entire planet became a dust bowl?  Obviously, we do not have the capability to either leave the planet en masse, nor the capability to terraform another planet to live on.

For me, the most disturbing was a brief scene in which Cooper goes to his kid's school for a parent/teacher conference.  Cooper has continued to try to instill the value of scientific discover in his children.  While his son has made up his mind that he will carry on farming, His daughter, Murph has embraced a love of science.  During the conference, Cooper is treated to a good report for his son, while Murph has chosen to go against the film's current trend in education of teaching that the moon landings were faked as a political ploy and that other scientific discoveries were similarly treated.  Mind you, this is,in the context of the film, taking place in the public schools.  The actor that plays the teacher, Ms. Hanley (Collette Wolfe) does a brilliant job of playing the role of a teacher who has completely bought into the curriculum and will allow no room for individual thought or speculation.  She allows no room for questioning the "facts" or investigation into the validity.  Although it was a brief scene, I found it quite disturbing and it made me very uncomfortable watching it.  But understand, I am not saying that this is a bad thing.

I enjoyed many of aspects of this film.  First of all, it was a great story. I didn't find it predictable at all.  I went into the theater not knowing what to expect, and as the story unfolded, I was expecting some benevolent alien race to be responsible for the placement of the wormhole that would have been responsible for the saving of the human race.  I was pleasantly surprised at the reveal at the end that we humans were actually capable to use science to save ourselves.  The surprise is in how this was brought about.

I especially loved the soundtrack that, at least in my mind, was a huge nod to 2001: A Space Odyssey, especially through the use of a pipe organ that one can hear at some of the most dramatic moments of the film. But the score was not taken from composers of classical music as was the case in 2001, so I cannot help but think that it was the composer's intent to acknowledge the classic film.

Scientifically speaking, it would seem to me that it was mostly plausible.  In this vast cosmos, I am sure that there are planets that experience huge tsunami-like waves such as the one that killed one of the crew members, as well as planets with surfaces of frozen ammonia, but I do have to doubt that there are planets with frozen clouds floating in the upper atmosphere.  There were also a few few scenes of zero gravity that seemed a little awkward as crew members of the Endurance crew moved from one place to another before the artificial gravity was established.

The visuals were done pretty well.  I understand that director Christopher Nolan opted to use models instead of CGI for his ships.  Models just look more organic and render better on film than CGI, and it shows that the director cares.  Not that CGI is bad, mind you.  The use of locations is also appreciated.

If there is anything that I didn't care for in this film, I would have to say that it was the lack of character development.  We get a look into Cooper's character pretty well, but not enough to really make me care what happens to him.  The depth with Cooper comes out in the relationship he shares with his daughter, Murph.  All of the other characters are very shallow and also quite forgettable.  This was especially disappointing for me with Michael Cain's character.  Cain is one of the best actors of our time, and I would have liked to seen him better utilized.

Despite that drawback, I found Interstellar to be a good film, but not necessarily a great one.  It really is on the intellectual side of the equation.  If you are looking for an action packed "shoot 'em up" film, you will not want to see this.  While there is plenty of tense sci-fi action, it is couched in a lot of technical discussion that a deep thinking sci-fi fan can appreciate.  This film is also not for the casual science fiction aficionado, stay away of you don't want to think.  Also, if you go to see this in the theater, be sure you hit the restroom and get your popcorn before the film starts, you will not want to miss anything or it might throw off the continuity for you.

Well, there it is...


Wednesday, October 22, 2014

I Am The Salamander By Michael Jan Friedman - The Birth Of A New Superhero

I Am The Salamander by Michael Jan Friedman

It is no secret to anyone who reads this blog that I am a huge fan of the work of author Mike Friedman.  That being said, when Mike announced that he was doing a Kickstarter project to self-publish a new work aimed at young people, I wanted to get involved.  Mike's Kickstarter was a success and he set to work on a novel to introduce a new superhero.

One of the perks that went along with getting in on the ground floor to support Mike's project was an electronic copy of I Am The Salamander.  I read it as soon as I got it and was eager to write about it in my blog, but alas, I was forced to wait until it was released to the public, which happened about a month ago.

Imagine yourself as a junior in high school, just surviving a bout with cancer, returning to school for the first day.  A few of those who know you are happy to see you; some are not so happy, and most have no idea how to approach you.  A very awkward situation indeed.  However, on top of all that, you begin to notice that some weird things are happening to you like, when you get aggravated, you suddenly notice that your body undergoes some changes of color, or you suddenly develop sensitivity to light and heat, or even more bizarre, you suddenly have the ability to regenerate parts of you that are removed.

Such is the situation that Tim Cruz finds himself in.  He has no idea what is happening to him and thinks that it might be as a result of his disease returning. Even though his mother is a successful real estate agent, Tim knows that the medical bills have mounted during his treatment and feels he needs to help.  Before he went into the hospital, Tim held a job at the local aquarium, to which he returns seeking part time employment.  While leaving, he sees that a young girl has fallen into a tank of piranha and dives in after her.  While doing this, he finds that he can breathe under water and that he can swim very well.  He successfully rescues the little girl and flees to avoid bringing attention to himself.  He discovers that he has lost some toes, but soon sees that they are miraculously growing back.

This story unfolds in many interesting directions, all the while Tim is being pursued by several people who either want to learn who the mysterious person was that saved the girl, or by some who want to exploit him for his abilities.

While I Am The Salamander is intended for a young audience, I was caught up in the story from the very beginning.  Mike demonstrates that he really understands younger readers by providing plenty of action and mystery couched in some colorful writing that doesn't get too wordy.  It should hold the attention of the target audience quite well.  While the point is made that the main protagonist is a cancer survivor, one must remember that the story is not about a kid surviving a potentially fatal disease, but rather how this young person might cope with returning to a normal situation under some very abnormal circumstances to become an otherwise unlikely hero.

After I finished reading Salamander, I found myself wanting more.  I don't think that the plight of Tim Cruz is over because this story absolutely begs for a sequel.  There is definitely something in this book for young readers to show them that no matter how difficult life can be, there are solutions to problems that present themselves as one learns to adapt to situations that seem impossible and as one learns to accept themselves for who they are.

Mike Friedman
I give I Am The Salamander my highest recommendations and would suggest that if you are involved with a school library in any way, perhaps as a teacher or a parent who feels that reading is important, make sure to get a copy of this book and encourage students to give it a read.  After all, what could be more fun than the origin story of a new superhero?

Well, there it is...


Sunday, September 21, 2014

These ARE The Voyages: TOS Season One - The Difinitive Behind The Scenes Story Of The Orignal Series

These Are The Voyages: TOS Season One by Marc Cushman and Susan Osborn

While looking at my Facebook news feed, I saw an advertisement for a book that really caught my eye.  It said that Leonard Nimoy called it “astounding”  Well, if it is good enough for Nimoy, then I knew it would be good enough for me.  Good enough?  It is indeed astonishing and if you are interested in seeing behind the scenes of Star Trek and how it got it’s start, I would have to say that this is the definitive story.

Previous to reading this book, I thought that the best book about the making of Star trek was a book by Herb Solow and Robert Justman called Inside Star Trek.  I am not now saying that Solow and Justman’s book is not definitive, it remains another one of the best books about Star Trek I have ever read.  But it is from the point of view of the authors.

What sets Cushman and Osborn’s work apart from the many other books about Star Trek I have read is that this one is from the perspective of the research done.  While These Are The Voyages was not authorized by CBS or Paramount, it was apparently endorsed by Gene Roddenberry and Robert Justman to be a “definitive history of the first Star Trek” according to Memory Alpha, the Star Trek Wiki.

Inside the book, you will get not only the story behind original series Trek, but you get an indepth look at how a television series is produced with all the ins and outs of developing the concept, casting, choosing directors, and getting the show aired.

The opening chapters discuss Gene Roddenberry’s biography, how the show was pitched, and how the concept was developed, including ship design, costumes, etc.  Next is the filming of the first pilot, and how Roddenberry was given an unprecedented opportunity to make a second pilot.  The chapters that follow are a breakdown of every aspect in the production of each episode of the first season.  In these pages you will learn about how the feud between Gene and Harlan Ellison began.  One will also learn why that while Star Trek received top ratings every week, why it was never deemed a hit by NBC.

One of the aspects that I personally most enjoyed reading was how the authors put the episodes into historical perspective by discussing what other television shows were being aired at the time, what movies and music were popular, and many historical events that were taking place at the time.  All of this really resonated with me because I was eight years old when Star Trek hit the airwaves and can remember much of the history.  Another aspect that amused me was how many of the sets used for episodes such as City On The Edge Of Forever and Return Of The Archons were the same ones used for The Andy Griffith Show; Some of Star Trek actually took place in Mayberry!  Classic!

Marc Cushman
These Are The Voyages is a must read for Star Trek fans who enjoy the history and would like to know the real story behind the first season as it is mostly devoid of opinion (the author does once in a while get a small quip in here and there).  Based chiefly on research and interviews it is the story behind the story.

I highly recommend this book as a Star Trek book, and a how to guide for producing a television show.

Well, there it is…


Saturday, August 23, 2014

Lost Days - Michael Jan Friedman's Newest Kickstarter Project - Worthwhile and Important

Lost Days – A Kickstarter Project by Michael Jan Friedman

Back in October of 2013, Mike Friedman asked if I would help him spread the word for a new project he was working on called I Am The Salamander, the story of a young cancer survivor who unwillingly becomes a superhero.  I contributed (after all, I feel that it is important to support something that I am endorsing), then wrote a blogpost.  You can find that my Salamander post HERE.  As promised, I received a trade paperback copy of Salamander, complete with autograph, and an eBook copy that I have since read, and enjoyed.

But I am not writing to talk about a successfully funded Kickstarter.  I am writing to talk about a new project by Mike called Lost Days.  Once again, Mike has asked me to help by boosting the signal to get the word, and I am all too happy to do so.

You may know Mike from his work as a Star Trek novelist, or you may be familiar with his other numerous works.  I have read several, and blogged about them on this forum.  Just put Friedman into the search bar above and you can read my other blogs.  But, is you don’t take time to do that, you need to know that I have a lot of respect for this author and his work.

Here is a video of Mike describing what this project is all about…

So, you might ask, since Mike is such a good writer, and has been so well published, why does he need to raise money through Kickstarter?  Well, the answer to that question is publishers get very jittery about stories that they believe may not have a wide appeal, so they are reluctant to take on a project that is as focused as Lost Days.

As an educator, Mike knows how important it is to get young people reading at a young age.  He teaches middle school history and wants to teach through his writing while showing students that one can learn about history, and have fun doing it.  So Mike is teaching about how Pope Gregory brought his calendar into being by eliminating ten days from the Julian calendar.  Therein is the lesson, but to bring this fact to life, he speculates on what might have happened during those ten days that were eliminated.  So we have a historically accurate fantasy story aimed at students in the 6th through 8th grades.  As an educator myself, I believe in what Mike is doing and have once again contributed to making his dream into a reality.

I learned that Mike was interviewed by The SciFi Diner recently.  In this interview, he talks about the indie publishing business, other projects he has worked on, and about Lost Days.  Give it a listen.

Perhaps you will consider contributing to making this project a reality.  If you feel that reading is important, as I do, and have the means, make a pledge.  There are some neat perks at various levels of contributions, but anything $1 and up will be very much appreciated.  If you are interested, click on the link at the bottom of this post and it will take you directly to the Kickstarter page.

Well, there it is...


Wednesday, August 6, 2014

The Klingon Art Of War - A Great Book On Many Levels

The Klingon Art Of War by Keith R.A. DeCandido

In early 2013, I noticed that author Keith DeCandido was posting in his blog and other various internet outlets about something he was calling a “project that can not be named (yet).”  As a fan of Keith’s work, I was very curious, hoping for another Trek novel. I followed the posts waiting for some word on what was coming down the pike. Later, I learned that Keith was coming to a convention in Omaha as an Author Guest of Honor.  I was able to make arrangements for an interview with him (Scifi Diner Episode 204).  He spilled the beans to me on this project, as well as others.  Little did I know what was in store for me as a reader; a great book, perhaps one of the best I have ever read.

I have read The Klingon Art of War (KAOW) twice now.  This is a great book on several different levels.

KAOW is patterned after Sun Tsu’s Art of War, a treatise on the correct way to wage war.  Keith’s treatise is about how Klingons who choose to live an honorable life may do so by following ten precepts that involve how relationships should be conducted between Klingons and others.  Keith puts himself in the role of translator of the text as penned by a Klingon author named K’Ratak (take a close look at that Klingon name, see anything cool?)  K’Ratak gives a quote from Kahless for each precept, then gives stories to show how the precept applies to Klingon life, then follows with a commentary.  The original “qeS’a’” (the Klingon title of KAOW) contained many stories from adventures of Klingons while on their home world.  K’Ratak explains that he has updated the work to include stories that have taken place as the race has moved out among the stars.

On the surface, KAOW is a monumental gathering of stories that have appeared in the various television shows and novels in the Trek universe. The first precept is “Choose Your Enemies Well” and includes the story of the Klingon who chose to face a vicious storm and “make the wind” respect him at the walls of Quin’Lat.  This story appears in the ST:TNG season six episode, “Rightful Heir.”  If you enjoy Klingon lore, KAOW is loaded with it.

Further, the first precept looks at how a warrior needs to take care in choosing their enemies.  When choosing an enemy, there is no honor in choosing to battle an enemy that is easily beaten, while at the same time, it is foolish to choose an enemy that is impossible to beat.

Going even deeper, the reader can try to apply the precepts to their own life. Keith sets this idea down as a quote in the Introduction by K’Ratak discussing the authorship of the qes’a’:

“Whoever the author might be, that Klingon gave us a guide to living that can apply to all warriors - regardless of class or standing within the Klingon Empire. As Kahless himself said, “All life is a battle.” And those who live to wage war in one way or another. qeS’a’ provides a guide to fighting all of life’s battles.”

In other words, one can look at the enemy not as another person, but as the challenges we are faced with in life, and the battle not as physical conflict, but rather as how one faces those challenges.  So, if one has the choice of what challenges to choose, can one take pride in choosing challenges that are very easy? Is there any sense in choosing a challenge that is impossible and will assure one failure?  For me, it comes down to something my principal told me when I first started teaching, “choose the battles you can win.”

If one reads this book on a level that is more than just mere entertainment, it can speak to the reader on many levels.

Another aspect of KAOW that I found as I read was in the language that Keith used in the telling of the stories and in K’Ratak’s commentaries.  As I read while alone and when it was quiet, I could hear the voice of the author speaking to me in a very Klingon way.  I found myself imagining that I was sitting in a place with subdued light, perhaps a fire burning in a huge fireplace, listening to how I might, one day, become a warrior.  As you may or may not know, Keith is a student of the martial arts, and the influence of his experience is palpable all the way through this book.

Something else to keep in mind before you read KAOW is that before each precept is presented, there is the image of artwork that is absolutely beautiful. If you are planning to read this book in an electronic format, make sure it is on one that has a color display, the impact in B&W is just not there when it comes to the images in the book.

In any case, this book is so good on so many levels, I know that I will be coming back to it over and over again for inspiration, advice, and just for its pure entertainment value. I give The Klingon Art of War my highest recommendations, whether one is a Star Trek fan or not, there is a lot in this volume that will help one behave honorably and just makes good sense.

Well, there it is…