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.

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...