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.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Pangaea: Edited By Michael Jan Friedman - 13 Amazing Stories By 14 Superior Authors - A Must Read

Pangaea Edited By Michael Jan Friedman (2015)

Many scientists subscribe to a theory that 300 million years ago, there was only one super-continent as opposed to the seven that now exist. That super-continent was called Pangaea by the scientist that put forth this theory in his treatise called The Origin of the Continents by Alfred Wegener, published in 1912. Wegener further claimed that the continents began to break up and drift about 175 million years ago and slowly came to their present positions.

Much more recently, author Michael Jan Friedman began speculating on what the world might be like if continental drift stopped with the formation of the super-continent Pangaea all those millennia ago and stayed in that form into present day. Earlier this year, Mike announced a Kickstarter project that, if funded, promised to be an impressive project that would involve not only himself, but numerous other authors with impressive credentials coming together to produce a short story anthology the likes of which would be unique.

Well, the project was funded beyond what was needed to start work on the book and it is now available to the general public in all the usual formats from all of the usual sources.
Mike brought fourteen authors together to write thirteen great short stories that will sometimes make you laugh, sometimes feel saddened, and always make you think about how this alternate world that was created seems far too much like our own, but at the same time it is very different. The list of contributors to this volume, along with Friedman himself, include: Michael Burstein, Adam-Troy Castro, Russ Colchamiro, Peter David, Robert Greenberger, Glenn Hauman, Paul Kupperberg, Kelly Meding, Aaron Rosenberg, Lawrence M. Schoen, Geoffrey Thorne, Dayton Ward, and Kevin Dilmore. All are accomplished writers and highly respected in their chosen genres. It you want to learn more about this distinguished bullpen of word-slingers, follow the link to the Kickstarter page where there are brief bios on each one.

Pangaea is a collection of thirteen stories that begin with Michael Jan Friedman's story of an energy producing facility that is sabotaged just as it is about to come online. There is an interesting twist at the end of this one, as well as the last story in the book, written by Peter David who follows on from where Mike leaves off and adds yet another twist and a wide open ending that absolutely howls for a sequel. In between Friedeman's and David's brackets are eleven more stories that range from cop stories to tales of revenge; land grabbing schemes to the freeing of slaves; sibling rivalries and love gone wrong.

I would be hard pressed to choose a favorite story among the choices offered. Each one is an imaginative self contained tale that are in all different styles and voice. All are easily read with some terminology that is easily understood in context. The longest story is about an hour of reading time with the shortest coming in at about 20 minutes, most can be read in the span of an average lunch break of a half an hour. I found myself reading two or three stories at a time not wanting to put the book down because each was like unwrapping a gift that was not like any of the others.

The world of Pangaea takes place in many different settings including heavily populated city-states near the inland ocean to vast open plains and mountains. A great variety of settings are offered that well describes the world created in this volume. There is also a variety of people, but two of the main groups are the humans and a race called Brows, which seemed to me to be evolved Neanderthal-like people that have wide noses and heavy brow ridges as well as possessing superhuman strength. The Brows are often oppressed, but are also valued for abilities their human counterparts lack. The people of Pangaea are much the same as those that exist in our world, but unlike our reality, everyone has to exist and cohabitate on a single landmass which often causes tensions, but also promotes cooperation among peoples.  Much of what happens in Pangaea will be familiar to readers while much will also be very thought provoking. As I see it, we may not live on a super-continent, but in our modern world with the technology we possess, the planet would appear to be shrinking. As it is in today's society, it is in Pangaea; there is much prejudice, paranoia, and many other very recognizable characteristics that are prevalent. By reading the stories of this imagined world, there will be much to think about as one proceeds through the stories. But the biggest value in Pangaea, along with the variety of stories, is the entertainment value. Many of the tropes contained therein are not all that new, but their treatment in the book is unique owing to the environment in which they are set.

At any rate, I give Pangaea my highest recommendations as great reading material with an interesting variety of stories every bit as tasty as a box of good chocolates.

Well, there it is...


Monday, October 19, 2015

Mud and Horizons by Bruce I. Schindler - The Sequel To Dust And Cannibals - Another Great Story In The Post-Apocalyptic World Of Harlan County

Mud and Horizons by Bruce I. Schindler (2015)

Recently, I read and reviewed Bruce Schindler's Dust and Cannibals, the first in a series of novels set in a post apocalyptic world where just about everything that can go wrong does go wrong. That book focused mainly on the survivors that live in and around the Harlan County area of rural Nebraska. At the end of that story, the people of Harlan County had defeated a band of cannibals, managed to avoid being annihilated by a devastating flesh-eating chemical agent, and a group of terrorists bent on killing every human being not agreeing with their philosophical point of view. They also managed to begin putting their small society in order by setting up a government of sorts and finding a role for everyone to contribute to the good of the community. by the end of the story, things were looking pretty good for the people of Harlan County.

Mud and Horizons is the second book in the series and it focuses mainly on the character, Mark Tahner, a former soldier in the Army who came to Harlan (the residents decided to leave off the 'county') from fighting in Afghanistan. Mark made his way from that country back to the U.S. and along with his friend and fellow soldier, Josh, trek across the country after engaging in fighting on the Mexican border. Mark and Josh became a part of the Harlan community by demonstrating that they had skills and by being willing to contribute productively.

Lyle Lillard, the de facto leader of Harlan, recognizes Mark's abilities and worth and appoints him the manager of Harlan 
Ranch. Among his duties, Mark manages horses, the only means of transportation in this world with very limited resources.

While out checking around, Deputy Vince discovers some bicycle tracks. Knowing that no one in Harlan is currently using that particular mode of transport because of the heavy rains, this becomes an area of concern. Further investigation reveals that there are people from the McCook area observing the activity of Harlan.  It is soon learned that the cannibals, now under the sole leadership of Stanley Peepul, did not perish when the moved out of Harlan, but are now hunting and butchering wild pigs. The folks of Harlan are a little skeptical, but begin setting up relations with the people of McCook and trade begins to take place.

Meanwhile, Mark strikes up a rather steamy relationship with Ellen and manages to get himself in a little trouble. He worries about his position as the manager of Harlan Ranch and what Lyle might do when he learns of what is happening, and rightfully so because Mark's behavior and a subsequent falling out with Ellen has Mark looking toward the horizon and thinking about a hasty retreat. There is a period where Mark has his "foot on the rail" (referring to going over the fence and making a clean getaway, but he hesitates, knowing that if he pursues that course of action, he will not survive on his own.

With winter coming on, arrangements have to be made for the survival of the people of Harlan as well as the Peepul tribe, who have somewhat redeemed themselves, now that they are no longer hunting humans as a food source. Also, the newcomers from McCook will need to be provided for. For the time being, there is an uneasy peace in Harlan, but on the horizon there are the terrorists looming over any possibility of becoming comfortable.

In this second installment of the Dust and Cannibals series of books, the pace is quite a bit more laid back than the previous story. There is a lot to do to prepare for the upcoming winter season and the focus is more centered on Harlan County. But the slower pace does not take away from the quality of the story in any way, because we get quite a bit more character development in this volume. While the story focuses a lot on Mark Tahner, it also reveals a lot about other characters, especially Stanley Peepul.

In the first book, Stanley was presented as a possibly mentally handicapped individual who was the puppet of Willie, the St. Louis petty criminal that broke him out of jail and encouraged the cannibalistic activity of the tribe that Stanley now is well in command of.  According to the author, appearances where Stanley are concerned are quite deceiving.

The mysterious people that seemed to be in charge of McCook include Sammie, a former Air Force officer and four Marine snipers. While they think they may be in charge in McCook with members of the Peepul tribe serving their every whim, they do not seem to know that Stanley's followers only serve Sammie at Stanley's pleasure. Stanley is turning out to be an intelligent and very formidable character with survival instincts that will most likely be quite valuable to the people of Harlan. He only acted as a buffoon because that is the role that he has been expected to fill for his whole life, but in Mud and Horizons there is no one to pull Stanley's strings and his real personality is coming out. Where he was quite repulsive in the previous book, he is now becoming quite likable and I am looking forward to further character development on him.

I really enjoyed this book as much as I did the first one. Whenever I pick up the book, I feel like I am entering the Twilight Zone. I never know what to expect from one page to 
the next because things in Bruce's universe are quite unpredictable. One of the strongest points about this book is that it develops characters to the point that I can care about them. As I read, the people of Harlan County become real to me and it matters to me what happens to them.

Bruce assures me that there will soon be a third installment in the Dust and Cannibals series, and I am looking forward to that one.

If you want to know more about the author and what he has written so far, you can find links to that information by following the link above in the first sentence of this post.

Well, there it is...


Saturday, October 17, 2015

The Martian - A Must See Film For Manned Space Flight Fans And SciFi Fans Looking For Something Fresh

The Martian (2015)

Back in March of 2014, I finished reading and blogged about Andy Weir’s book, The Martian. In the last line of that review I wrote, “now if only someone  would pick this (the book) up and make a movie.” It wasn’t long after that it was announced that there was indeed going to be a film made from one of the best SciFi novels I have ever read.

Now I am not going to say that the film based on the book that I saw this past weekend is the best SciFi film I have ever seen, but I will say that it would be very near the top, that is if I were given to making lists, which I usually do not. Nevertheless, I found The Martian appealed to me on many levels.

The film follows quite faithfully to the events depicted in the book. While exploring Mars, a potentially dangerous dust storm is found to be headed toward the Ares III landing site. After a short period of deliberation, the mission commander decides that conditions warrant scrubbing the mission and getting off of the surface. The storm hits full force as the astronauts head back to their launch and ascent vehicle and astronaut Mark Watney is hit by a piece of debris that is dislodged from the habitat. Watney is carried away by the impact and the wind and there is a brief effort at a search, but with the urgent situation, the rest of the crew must lift off before they are all stranded. They give Watney up for dead.

Watney is most certainly not dead, but is injured by the debris that has hit him. Now, for the lone astronaut, it becomes a game of survival. After at first realizing that he is as good as dead, he later decides that he is not going to give up without a fight. He uses his wits and his knowledge of science to set himself up to survive. Without communications capabilities, he has to survive four years until the Aries IV mission arrives.

Back on Earth, a person in Mission Control sees pictures of the Aries III site taken by an orbiting satellite and notices that equipment has been moved around and it is determined that Watney must still be alive. A way to communicate is found and options for rescue are considered.  It is finally determined that the transport vehicle that is returning to earth with the rest of the crew can be sent back to Mars on a free return trajectory using the Earth as a gravity assist and a resupply mission is launched.

Watney is rescued and returns to Earth to become an instructor for future astronauts.

There is much in this film that appeals to me. One of the first things that comes to mind is the performance of Matt Damon as Watney. He plays the thinking scientist/astronaut very well. Much of this is most likely thanks to Ridley Scott who seems to understand what an astronaut would do in a hopeless situation.

That leads me to the story itself. While well written by the author, a lot of credit has to be given to the screenwriters who masterfully preserved the spirit of Andy Weir's book as well as the most essential story elements. There are a few things in the book that were not included in the film, but it doesn't diminish the story whatsoever. I have to admit that even though I knew that everything was going to be okay, I still felt tense at several points during the film. Having read the book should not diminish your viewing experience.

The visuals were also very stunning. I seriously believed that the set that the movie was filmed on could have been the planet Mars. The filming for the Martian landscape took place in the Jordanian desert that gave an incredible impression of what I would imagine it would actually look like.

Be warned though, there is one sequence in the film that might be disturbing to some audience members. It had me curling my toes in sympathetic pain as I watched it. Right after Watney wakes up, he has to make his way back to the habitat and treat his own wound from being struck by the communications dish. This scene is quite graphic and bloody as he cleans his wound and staples it closed.

On the other hand, The Martian also has a good sense of humor. In their haste to leave the surface of Mars, all of Watney's colleagues are forced to leave things behind. One item was the mission commander's laptop which was loaded with 1970's Disco music. Watney made several references to his hatred for this genre of music which broke the tension and added some appropriate comic relief. There were also several exchanges between characters in the film that were quite humorous and added to the overall realistic feel of the movie.

All in all, everything about this film was remarkable and is a must see movie, especially for fans of the manned space program. It seems like it would quite plausible that something like this might happen. I hear many fellow SciFi fans complain often that everything we are currently getting from Hollywood is either a prequel, sequel, reboot, or remake, so it is important that we send a message to Hollywood that we want more original and new material. So get out there and see The Martian in theaters! You will not be disappointed.

Well, there it is...


Sunday, October 4, 2015

Star Trek: New Frontier: The Returned Part 1 by Peter David - Mac Is Back And He Is Looking For Payback

Star Trek: New Frontier: The Returned, Part 1 by Peter David (July, 2015)

Back in December of 2012, I blogged about a series of books from Peter David set in a New Frontier. I began reading that series during the summer while off from school and could not stop reading them once I started. Later I was saddened to learn that the last book I read (Blind Man’s Bluff) was most likely to be the last of the series as Mr. David’s contract for the series had been fulfilled and he had received no word from the publisher that he could continue the saga. Earlier this year, I learned that there would be three more novels in the series and I immediately added them to my pre-order list on Amazon. The books arrived on my Kindle and I finally got around to reading the first one, and it is great, just as I expected it would be. Mr. David, as his readers all know, can tell one hell of a story.

When last we saw Mac Calhoun, captain of the USS Excalibur, his home planet Xenex was being attacked by the Brethren, a faction that were being used as footsoldiers by a race known as the D’myurj.  Their mission was to wipe out all life on Xenex and Mac received word that they may have done just that.

The Returned, Part 1, begins about three months after the events of Blind Man’s Bluff. Mac is on Xenex searching for any survivors and not having any success.  It would appear that he is the last of his people. His wife, Admiral Shelby arrives looking for him and tries to bring him back, but Mac tricks her and he goes off on a one man mission to exact vengeance against the D’myurj.  Mac soon arrives on a planet where he intends to use the Guardian of Forever to go back in time and prevent the events that destroyed his people from happening. Thanks to his former navigator, Mark McHenry, Mac realizes that he could do far more harm than good by going back in time and decides to take a different tack.

Mac returns to the Excalibur and takes back his command from his first officer, Burgoyne 172. The crew is happy to see him back in the center seat and pledge to follow him no matter what the future holds. It is Mac’s intention to go to a wormhole located in Thallonian space that will take him to a “pocket” universe where the D’myurj are.

Meanwhile, Admiral Jellico tells Mac that he is not to be seen entering Thalloian space.  With the help of a cloaking device, Mac is able to follow Jellico’s orders, but somehow, the Thallonians do find the Excalibur and demand that Mac hand over Robin Lefler and her child to them. Lefler decides the issue for herself and with the help of McHenry, transports herself onto the Thallonian ship and is taken to meet the new ruler of the New Thalon, a being who is determined to solidify his power base by eliminating anyone that might pose a threat, including Lefler and her infant son.  But how was the Excallibur discovered? There is another force at work with the Thallonians that knows Mac and the Excallibur well enough to pose a clear and present danger to the ship.

With few choices, and realizing that McHenry will not let anything happen to Lefler, Mac decides to take his ship into the pocket universe, but there he learns that there is another even more powerful race that poses a threat to the D’myurj. Are they allies or another foe?

In this latest installment, the first of three parts, Mr. David once again demonstrates that he is one of the masters of not only telling great Trek stories, but he is also a master at making his characters jump off of the page and come alive. Mac Calhoun is a character that I have enjoyed in his other books, and recently as a character in the Mirror Universe. He is very much alive in my mind, along with the other characters he has introduced in the New Frontier series. This book focuses mostly on Mac, but many of the others are also there. One bonus is that he also develops characters that we are familiar with from the television series. Two of those are both from TNG lore, one being Edward Jellico from the sixth season two-part episode, Chain of Command when he took command of the Enterprise-D for a brief time while Picard was on a special operations mission, and the other being Elizabeth Shelby from the season three two-part episode Best of Both Worlds where she became first officer for Riker while Picard was under the influence of the Borg.  Thanks to the author of The Returned, both of these characters have been given personalities that are extensions of their canon counterparts on the series. Neither of these characters in the series (in my opinion) were very likable.  In this book, they do retain their on-screen personalities, but are also given human faces. Really, their characters are very well developed through the entire New Frontier series of books.

Retuned, Part 1 is not a stand alone book. I think it is essential to go back and read at least some of the New Frontier books to get the background needed to understand the events that are taking place. The author does provide some of the background that will help with understanding, but to get the full flavor, the previous volumes are better.

This story ends with a pretty good cliffhanger of an ending and I am looking forward to reading the next of this three part story.

Speaking of that, while I was looking at other reviews, I noticed that was some animosity toward the author and/or the publisher that they chose to release this as three smaller novels as opposed to one larger volume. As those who have read all three parts know, one was released in July, the second in August, and the third in September. Personally, I do not have a problem with this and feel that whomever made the decision to release it in three parts is completely free to do as they wish. I kind of like the idea that I can read other material in between parts and anticipate what will come next. It isn’t as though either the publisher or author is going to make any more money as the price for the book is $2.99 and is the same for the following two parts. It should also be noted that this is an E-Book series exclusively.

Peter David
At any rate, I think that if you have enjoyed the previous installments of the New Frontier books, this one is an excellent re-introduction to the series. It is my hope that there are many more on the way.

Well, there it is…