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, October 8, 2017

Fog & Fate (Dust & Cannibals Book 4) By Bruce I. Schindler - The People Of Harlan County Are On The Move!

Fog & Fate (Dust & Cannibals Book 4) by Bruce I. Schindler

I first met Bruce and learned about his writing at the Buffalo County Fair a few years ago while he was manning a table with the Central Nebraska Writers Guild. After visiting with him for a few minutes, I knew I had to read his Dust & Cannibals novel. He described it as a post apocalyptic cowboy/Sci-Fi mashup that takes place in and around Harlan County, Nebraska. Since reading that first novel, Bruce and I have become friends and I await every installment of the series with great eagerness. I finished reading Fog & Fate and am all the more chomping at the bit to read the next book which is promised to be released soon.

The Dust & Cannibals series opens somewhat innocently enough with a single rider headed into the town of Alma, the county seat of Harlan County (or simply Harlan as it is known to the people there). This rider, a man named Lyle Lillard happens to be on a “green-broke” horse with a saddle that is too small. When he is about halfway to his destination, he is set upon by a large group of people who are intending to have him for dinner, but not as a guest, but rather as the main course! It is only thanks to his horse being spooked that he escapes. As the story unfolds, we learn that a series of disasters, both natural and man-made, have made the world into a place where chaos is the rule rather than the exception. Those that have survived the disasters find themselves in a position in which only the fittest will continue to survive.

Fog & Fate moves forward with an imminent threat from the a large group of terrorists to the south near Colorado Springs. It is not known what capabilities the terrorists have to wage war against Harlan, but the possibility of a nuclear threat is a real concern. It is determined that a small group from Harlan needs to go on a recon mission to determine what numbers and capabilities they are facing. It would seem that the terrorists really don’t have anything against the people of Harlan, that is, other than a difference of philosophical points of view. Actually, they are determined to kill all the men and enslave the women for nefarious purposes. An altogether unacceptable situation for the citizens of Harlan.

It is soon determined that there are far too many terrorists to fight and that mass relocation is necessary for continued survival. When the idea of using the existing railway system and steam engines comes up, preparations are made to leave. But where can they go? There are so many places that are unsafe either because of the terrorists reach, or the climate conditions, the choices are very limited. While things are looking grave for the people of Harlan, there is still hope and determination driving them forward.

Each book of the Dust & Cannibals series focuses on a different character. This installment takes a close look on Josh Morgan, a former soldier who survived the war in Afghanistan and made his way back the the U.S. on an aircraft carrier. He, along with his friend, Mark Tahner, made their way across the country on foot. Upon arrival in Harlan, Josh and Mark’s skills came in very handy and they were readily accepted into the fold. Josh is a likable character who is not too outspoken and willing to take orders. He and his wife, Alicia are expecting one of the first babies to be born after the threat of the devastating Omega Dust (a weapon of mass destruction) has passed.

Josh is sent to command a mission to reconnoiter the terrorists in Colorado. During this mission, we find that Josh is not a strong commander, but he shows great personal growth after the birth of Baby Grace. From then on, the people of Harlan find that they can depend on him to get the jobs done and that he does a fairly good job of assessing a situation and solves problems. There is only one situation that he finds himself in where his soldier’s sense fails him and he gets pinned down during a firefight.

Bruce really ramps up the action in Fog & Fate with several firefights of varying size. This action tends to drive home the point that things are very tense for the people of Harlan. Some of that tension is very palpable when Josh’s wife, Alicia stands outside of the Lillard home with an automatic weapon gunning down attacking terrorists en masse. There are many other smaller scale skirmishes along the way, and the descriptions of those are also charged with the same sense of tension; as I read, I felt a true sense of relief that the situation had been resolved. The apprehension of what might happen next always hung in the air and there are many surprises along the way.

As each novel is released, there is more and more territory revealed and the conditions therein. Fog & Fate ranges from Cheyenne, Wyoming to the west to near Omaha, and south to Colorado Springs. All along the way, Bruce gives us a picture of devastation that evoked some sad feelings for me since the story is set so close to home. In other words, he is doing what a great author should do by making the reader feel what one should.

As it is throughout the series, the theme in Fog and Fate is survival. The people of Harlan are being targeted by the terrorists and decide that they have to leave the area, especially in light of a possible nuclear threat. There are many things to consider when outfitting the trains they will use as their transportation, as well as their homes away from home. First they have to make sure that everyone has plenty of food and water, then there are the horses they will continue to depend upon that also need to be fed. While the trip will not be the most comfortable, many considerations are given to make things as pleasant as possible. The people of Harlan will only survive as long as they work together and stay focused on their goal.

While I have enjoyed every novel in the Dust & Cannibals series, this one is my favorite so far because of the author’s brilliant world-building and character development. He has really made me care about what happens to the people of Harlan. Add to that, Bruce’s style of storytelling that is quite non-formulaic allowing for surprises along the way. I give my highest recommendations for this book and all of the rest in the series. We are promised a fifth book in the series entitled Steam & Trust, for which I am eagerly awaiting as the people of Harlan try to find a place that they can find peace.

Well, there it is…


Edited By Benjamin Arrowood

Friday, September 22, 2017

The Sensitist (Convergent Space Book 3) By John-Paul Cleary - Awesome Characters In A Great Story Well Worth The Time!

The Sensitist (Convergent Space Book 3) by John-Paul Cleary

I was introduced to the work of John-Paul Cleary just a little four years ago when I stumbled upon his first novel in the Convergent Space series (the first book is the same title as the series), followed by his second book entitled The Shadow Ship. I enjoyed both of those earlier works and have just finished reading the third in the series, and must say that this may be my favorite of the three.

To recap, A mysterious ship has gone around the part of space held by a faction called the Renaissance and planted bombs inside their planets. These bombs are capable of utterly destroying the planets they are planted in. Control of the explosive devices are given to Tihn Forlihn, the once leader of another faction called the Phlegar.. The control is not a physical device, but rather a set of commands and codes that Tihn has memorized and cannot forget. Moving forward in the Convergent Space universe, Tihn become the most sought after person in the galaxy for several reasons, but mostly for his knowledge of what he calls the Vapourgun.
One faction seeks him to exploit him to win a war while another looks for him to prevent their space from being devastated. The race is on to get to Tihn first, but there are other factions that may have something to say about it too.

The story opens with a character that captured me immediately. He is a gentleman named Rico Bretch who is a captain in an army on the planet called Estia. He is an older man who is fighting for one of two factions on the planet called the Progressives. They value youth and are fighting an enemy called the Reformists who value the experience that is offered by age. Bretch is in command of a squad (made up of equally elderly soldiers) that is routinely sent out on the most hazardous missions. Thanks to his experience, he seems to always manage to complete the missions he is sent on, sometimes with many casualties. One such mission seemed like an attempt by his Progressive commander to get Bretch and his entire squad killed. When he manages to survive once again, he is rudely mustered out and sent away to become part of the Reformist society.

Bretch is happily welcomed into the company of the Reformists and can have anything he wants there. Unfortunately, although the enticements are tempting, he is understandably suspicious of his new hosts. So he decides to go somewhere else and think things through. After all, he has spent most of his life fighting the Reformists.

Bretch is a character I can connect with and I enjoyed reading his exploits, on and off the battlefield. He is smart, cunning, and ruthless when he needs to be, but he also has deep feelings and the ability to think on his feet. He has a solid sense of right and wrong and is not afraid to make judgements based on his observations of a given situation. Without giving too much away, he manages to improve his situation immensely without intending to do so just because of the way he uses his wits.

Another character is Amilla, the Sensitist who has been called away from her normal routine on false pretenses only to be disappointed in the end. She finds herself deceived and used by nearly everyone. Amilla very much represents a tragic figure, and even moreso because none of her misfortune is of her own making. Amilla is accompanied by her Companion, a computerized device that has been with her all her life. It not only advises her and keeps her informed, but also helps her regulate her bodily functions. I believe that because of Amilla’s inherent naivety, she wouldn’t have survived very long outside her comfort zone.

Amilla’s comfort zone is to be a Sensitist and an author of “sensory literature.” A sensory book not only allows the reader to enjoy a story, but they can also enjoy the emotion by inducing chemicals into the reader.

Another character is Kodava. He is an animal of some sort who has to be kept in a movable cage with a muzzle. He is able to talk and move, but the restraints are to keep those around him safe. Kodava is a complex character that I would have to describe as being severely bipolar, except the ups and downs are not good. He is racked with self loathing and much anger that causes him to either do harm to himself or to do devastating harm to others. In one scene of The Sensitist, Kodava sees a situation develop which drives him to smash out of his restraints and go on an awesome rampage. His ambition is his undoing.

Cleary’s writing is very easily understood and the technical aspects of the story are not hard to grasp. He gives enough information for the reader to understand the essence of the situation without overwhelming jargon. Add to that, a writer who is adept at creating characters that come alive. Even the minor characters are given enough personality to really add to the story.

I especially liked the pacing as the plot unfolded. The characters start out in different situations and different worlds and slowly come together. The reader gets just enough of the picture in each chapter until it switches to another part of the story, leaving the reader with a mild cliffhanger with each plot block. I sincerely did not want to put the book down and read at every opportunity.

I recommend The Sensitist as well as the previous two novels in the series, Convergent Space and The Shadow Ship (both of which I reviewed on this blog, just click the title). All three are some fine science fiction that includes space opera, political intrigue, and fast paced action. John-Paul Cleary spins a good yarn that is worth the time, and as far as the Kindle editions are concerned, well worth the price of $4.00 each!

Well, there it is…


Edited By Benjamin Arrowood

1-800-Henchmen: Four Horsemen By Katherine Wielechowski - The Last Of The Series Raises The Stakes To The Breaking Point

1-800-Henchmen by Katherine Wielechowski

In this fourth installment of Katherine’s 1-800-Henchmen series, things take a much different turn from what a reader finds in the first three novelettes. Things get quite serious for our hero, Alfie Vihar, as well as for those around him.

This series consists of four novelettes that follow Alfie Vihar for a short period of time. While looking for a way to make some money so he can travel after graduating high school, Alfie answers an ad and suddenly finds himself working for a company that rents out personnel to assist clients, good or evil, to accomplish their goals.  In the beginning, Alfie is quite green and has a rough time keeping up with the other members of his team, but as they are a team, everyone chips in to train him and his competence grows. Alfie also grows as a person through the series.

At home, Alfie is surrounded by a family that is very close and cares about on another deeply. Alfie’s best friend, Tessa, is actually more of a member of the family than an outsider. Alfie can go to Tessa with anything and she is always there to help. The biggest problem that Alfie faces is how to keep his family from knowing that he is a henchman. He faces danger on a regular basis, so he tells his family that he is working for a company that does athletic training in order to explain the bruises he sustains from training, He also tells them that he often has to go on business trips to explain his absences. As time passes, the missions that Alfie’s team go on become more complicated and so does Alfie’s personal life.

So far, Alfie has been pretty happy-go-lucky as he goes about the business of putting super villains out of business. However, in Four Horsemen, things take a turn for the worse and the stakes are raised to the breaking point. Alfie has to take a second look whether continuing on is really worth it. The stakes are high and so is the action in this last of the four 1-800-Henchmen series.

As always, Katherine does a great job continuing the familiar brilliant character development and engaging story lines that have been a thread through the entire series. Even the most minor character has a level of personality that a reader can relate to, or find endearing. Four Horsemen ups the ante for Alfie and his team, not to mention those that he cares the most about and the action is palpable. Not only is the action fast paced, but there is also the added dimension of high tension as Alfie has to figure out how to get the job done and not risk everything.

I recommend reading the entire 1-800 Henchmen series in order so one can really appreciate the brilliance of this up and coming author.

On another note, I am both happy and saddened by the recent news that Katherine will be leaving the local area to take a new job in the city working in the publishing business. I am happy for her, but at the same time sad because I will not be able to hear her wonderful and witty writing at our twice-monthly Central Nebraska Writers Guild meetings, not to mention the great munchies that she brings along.

I am sure that the other members of the CNWG will join me in wishing Katherine all the best as she embarks on her new adventures, and our hopes that she will stop in every now and then and share the amazing writings that we have come to enjoy and love.

Well, there it is…


Saturday, September 2, 2017

The Dark Tower (Film) - In Spite Of The Negative Press, I Enjoyed This Film!

The Dark Tower

I have been hearing about film adaptations of Stephen King’s The Dark Tower book series for many years. Nothing ever seemed to come to fruition until now, and it isn’t even an adaptation, but rather a sequel of sorts. Anyway, since the release of this film that is based on the story and characters of the famed novels of Stephen King, I have heard nothing but bad. Currently with an 18% rating from Rotten Tomatoes and a 6/10 rating on IMDB, 78% of Google users are reported as liking this film.  I am one of the 78%.

In the center of the universe there is a giant tower that protects all of the realms of the universe from monsters. If the protection afforded by the tower were to ever fail, hideous monsters would enter the various worlds causing death and destruction on a huge scale. Walter O’Dim, an evil sorcerer also known as the Man in Black has made it his mission to bring down the tower and unleash the evil forces that await. Walter uses children that he connects to a weapon as a power source to shoot energy bolts at the tower to destroy it. Fortunately, Walter hasn’t found the single child that can bring the tower down, yet.

Roland Deschain has made it his life’s mission to avenge himself upon walter for the killing his father. Roland is the last of his kind, the Gunslingers, a highly trained knight-like band that were used as law enforcement in Mid-World. Unfortunately for Roland, his world has “moved on” and become a bleak and desolate place that is populated by people who exist through subsistence. If Roland can catch the Man in Black and kill him, he will not only get his revenge, but he will save the universe.

The catalyst that brings Walter and Roland together is a deeply disturbed young man named Jake Chambers. Jake is a middle school aged kid that has disturbing dreams and draws pictures of the images he sees in those dreams. Following an incident at school, Jake’s already concerned mother decides that Jake should attend a psychiatric “camp” that will help Jake cope better. When Jake recognizes that the people from the “camp” are actually the same as those in his dreams, he bolts and manages to get away. Jake tracks down an abandoned house from his visions that contains a high-tech transport device that can open portals to the other realms. Jake enters the portal and arrives in Mid-World.

Jake then happens upon Roland and they begin traveling together. Roland explains his purpose and what Walter is about and then takes him to a village to have his visions interpreted. It is discovered that Jake has strong psychic abilities that Walter can track. Walter then unleashes another attack against the tower that opens a small rift allowing one of the monsters to enter Mid-World. Roland kills it before it can kill Jake, but is wounded in the battle. Roland’s wounds are beyond the medical abilities of Mid-World’s healing methods. The people of the village have a portal machine and Jake uses it to transport Roland back to his world to get him medical treatment, and more ammunition. When Jake tries to contact his mother to let her know that he is okay, he discovers that she has been killed. Now he also has a stake in Rolands mission of revenge.

Walter detects the use of the portal and captures Jake and hooks him up to the machine to destroy the tower knowing that he is the one child that can. Roland sets about rescuing Jake by battling Walter’s minions, killing them all, and finally killing Walter with a trick shot.

In the aftermath, Roland tells Jake he has to return to Mid-World and since Jake has nothing left for him in his own world, he should accompany Roland as his companion. Jake accepts and they transport back to Mid-World together.

Now, if you are a fan of the books series, you may be among those who do not like this film. It is so different and off the beam of what was the books, you may not even recognize a lot of it outside of the names of the characters and the setting in the first parts of the film up until Jake and Roland transport out of the village. Outside of that, there isn’t a lot that a staunch fan of the Dark Tower series that is canon. This film takes a completely different direction.

As one might recall from the books, When Roland reached the tower and opened the door at the top of the tower, everything reset and went back to the beginning of The Gunslinger. The last line in the last book was the same as the first line in the first book, “The man in black fled across the desert and the gunslinger followed.” I have read and heard in some of the social media that I follow that The Dark Tower is intended to be a sequel to the last book in Stephen King’s series of the same title. I am just guessing that when Roland opened the door and reset the story, it was thought that perhaps everything may not repeat as it did before, but rather allowed for a whole new story to be told. This film is a whole new story unlike anything that Stephen King wrote. I have always felt that while there have been many adaptations, with a very few exceptions, King’s books tend not to translate into visual media very well. Stephen King writes in such a way that the words he puts together makes pictures in the reader’s mind that are eminently more terrifying than anything that can be shown visually. As far as I am concerned, many times when the horrors in the writing are brought to the screen, they are laughable at best.

One of the things I liked about this film was the way the characters were portrayed. Matthew McConaughey makes Walter’s evil palpable. Walter has zero regard for life or the needs of others and is bent on bringing about the apocalypse. Anyone who tries to get in his way, he kills by simply telling to “stop breathing.” He does this to Steven Deschain, Roland’s father, as well as to Jake’s step-dad. But the way he does it is just so nonchalant and without feeling that it embodies evil. It was a great performance.

Idris Elba represents the good opposite Walter’s evil and does it with class, as one might expect. Roland is an expert at handling weapons, but he is lonely. The world has moved on and has left him behind to pursue the Man in Black across the world. Elba shows this in his expression so well. He looks tired and sick during most of the movie and one has to wonder if he actually has the strength to defeat Walter when and if he ever catches up to him. When Jake takes him to New York and has him treated, he revives and becomes stronger thanks to a bunch of pills he is given at the hospital. His strength and vitality return and he is part of some incredible scenes.

Jake is portrayed by Tom Taylor, a young British actor who is 16-17 years old and is more mature than what he is supposed to be, which is in the sixth or so grade. It is pretty obvious that he is older, but he turns in a convincing performance as a scared kid who is experiencing disturbing things beyond his control. He is confused and alone and latches onto the only pillar of hope for understanding, which is Roland.

Together the cast clicks even though they spend a lot of their screen time apart, one can see that there is going to be a huge conflict in the end, and one hopes that good triumphs over evil because the survival of the Earth, as well as the other realms, is forfeit if Roland fails. To this end, the action scenes are well put together and always moving, but not at too fast a pace. The pacing of the action scenes and camera angles affords the viewer an opportunity to be amazed at what Roland can do. The visual effects are amazing and add a lot to the story, especially in the final ten or so minutes that Roland battles Walter’s minions, and finally killing Roland.  If there were real gunslingers, one would see some amazing feats of marksmanship. But even as one can see that they are visual effects, they are done so well as to be believable.

Among other aspects that I appreciated in the film were the location shots filmed in South Africa. The locations they chose were accurate to what I would have pictured in the books with the wastelands and rocky terrain that was featured. I also thought the film’s score was well done and appropriate to what was happening on the screen. Some of the music was quite epic and heroic in scope which accompanied the action scenes very well.

If there was anything that would have me picking nits, it would have to be the closing scene of the film. Jake and Roland are back in New York having a hot dog (Roland assumes that the wiener is made of dog meat) and Roland tells Jake that he has nothing left there and should accompany him back to Mid-Earth. As that ended and they headed off camera, the scene felt more like the ending shot of a television show than a major motion picture. I was almost expecting to see something like “Join us next time for the adventures of Roland and Jake on The Dark Tower.” While keeping in mind that there is actually plans in the works for a television series and perhaps other motion pictures, perhaps it was appropriate, but I thought it was a little cheesy and made me kind of feel like we were watching the pilot episode for a television series.

All-in all, in spite of what the critics say, I thought The Dark Tower was a great film with some excellent direction, acting, and action scenes. The length (just over an hour and a half) was perfect for a diversion on a summer afternoon.

Well, there it is…


Edited By Benjamin Arrowood

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

LIFE - An Old Trope in Sci-Fi Set Aboard The ISS - Not Great But Worth Seeing Once


I never saw an ad or preview for this film. I also know that it did not play in either of the two local theaters in the town where I live, so this film was completely off my radar. I actually didn’t learn anything about it until my wife found it advertised on sale in an ad for a local department store so I had her pick up the BluRay.

Life is a rehashing of an age-old trope in science fiction of a crew being trapped in a confined place with a malevolent alien stalking them. They more or less get picked off one at a time until there is only one survivor. While there is not a lot new in the story, which for the most part is extremely predictable, there are some aspects that, in my opinion, make this film worth a look if you can find it in a Red Box, on a streaming service, or by waiting until it is in the $5 bin at a local department store. Judging from the ratings I have seen, it shouldn’t be a long wait.

The story is set mostly aboard the International Space Station with a crew of six.  There are two crewmembers from the US, two from the UK, one from Japan, and one from Russia. In the opening scene, an unmanned vehicle returning from Mars could possibly be delivering evidence of extraterrestrial life on board. The probe is damaged when it passes through an asteroid field and is unable to be guided back to its appointed landing place, wherever that might have been. As it works out, the crew of the ISS are able to capture the probe before it either burns up in the atmosphere or goes skipping off into interplanetary space.

A scientist aboard the ISS then finds and revives a single-celled organism which begins to multiply into a multi-celled life form. The crew of the space station goes on television with a classroom full of kids who give the name “Calvin” to the creature which is how it is referred for the rest of the film. Calvin goes dormant again when there is an atmospheric accident aboard the station and the scientist decides that he will try to revive the creature with a mild electric shock. While this does indeed revive Calvin, it also apparently angers it and it attacks the scientist and kills another crewmember that tries to rescue the scientist.

For most of the rest of the film, Calvin continues to kill crewmembers, and there is no way to inform ground crews because communications are cut off by a malfunction of station systems. At the same time, Calvin grows rapidly as it kills and consumes crewmembers. The remaining crew try to push the creature into deep space by using the station's thrusters when Calvin tries to re-enter the station through the thruster ports, but all this does is cause the station to fall into a decaying orbit.

The crew had managed to get a distress call off before the comms system went off line and the response from ground crews is to send an unmanned Soyuz craft to push the station out into deep space and prevent Calvin from landing on Earth. The two remaining crew members of the station decide they cannot allow the virtually indestructible Calvin to reach the planet and they use two escape pods (that do not actually exist on the real ISS) to escape, but one crew member decides to sacrifice himself by luring Calvin into his pod and launching it into deep space while the other is to return to Earth to explain what has transpired aboard the doomed station.

Both pods are launched at the same time. One is thrown off course when it hits some debris and careens off into deep space while the other performs a controlled re-entry from the station, splashing down near two Vietnamese fishermen in a boat.  As it turns out, it is the pod with Calvin aboard that splashes down and is opened by the unaware fishermen, thus releasing the organism on the planet.

As I mentioned earlier, it is quite predictable. As a matter of fact, my thirteen year-old daughter knew that the pod that landed in the ocean would contain Calvin.  But beyond the story, there is much in this film to be admired and appreciated.

First of all, the performances of the cast as astronauts aboard the ISS are quite convincing. Now, I don’t claim to know everything about astronaut training, but I do know that they are trained to deal with problems that arise without panicking, rather they are trained to analyze the problem, find a solution and execute. That is exactly what the crew on the ISS in Life try to do, but as it is a film, the odds are against them from the beginning and with the nature of the creature that they are facing, there is no amount of training that will help them deal with the danger.

When on board the ISS, astronauts move from one place to another by pulling themselves along rails and other handholds that give them a good start then they basically fly from one place to another. Those aboard the ISS call this “translating.” As I watched the film, I was impressed with how smoothly astronauts moved from one place to another and wondered how it was done. Well, they used wires to fly the actors from one place to another on a station that was made up largely a green screen background and a few items that the crew had to interact with, and the film had a nearly authentic look to it. I have watch a lot of NASA TV and the behaviors of the Life actors was very much like what I have seen on NASA’s service. When the astronauts on the station are still in the movie, they are still moving in the micro-gravity environment of low Earth orbit and they are never really still, rather they kind of bob up and down a bit. I would have to say that there was a lot of time and effort that went into making this film as authentic as possible.

One of the things that I thought was unfortunate about the film is that I didn’t really care about any of the characters. There was really nothing that endeared them to me and I didn’t really care whether Calvin killed them or not; they were quite one-dimensional. So, as one can note from my synopsis, I cannot really recall any of the character’s names and no one special comes to mind. Not even the character who decided to sacrifice himself at the end to save his fellow crewmate, and also to save the planet from a relentless entity.

So, all in all, I enjoyed the film in spite of the shallow handling of the trope (people versus a malicious alien in a confined space) and the lack of depth of the characters. The sets and the performances of the actors themselves made it a fun film to watch with the positives slightly outweighing the negatives.

Well, there it is…


Edited By Benjamin Arrowood