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Sunday, June 10, 2018

Sci Fi Summer Reading List for 2018

Surreal: A small woman jumps into a pool in an open book.
Dive Into Some Good Sci Fi Summer Reading!
Credit: Pixabay.com




You’ll soon open your front door to what feel’s like a gust of dragon’s breath. But they’re actually rays from space. No, not a U.F.O.’s rays but our own sun’s. It’s that time of year again when a lot of us want to hit the pools, beaches or AC’d movie theatres. But sometimes you may want something to read in between those laps or rounds of surfing the waves as you lie back to dry off from that chlorinated or naturally salted water. Or when you’re in town with two hours to kill before the showing of that sci fi blockbuster. So during in-between times like these, why not utilise the wait by reading a best-selling or should-be best-selling sci fi book? But you maybe feel like you’ve read everything you wanted to. Well, if you’re wondering what to read this summer in science fiction, maybe the list below of what I plan to read will help get you started. And if you can add to it, please do in the comments box below. The more suggestions the better variety and choices we’ll all have!


My Sci Fi Summer Reading List


Annihilation, Jeff Vandermeer: A chilling story about a female group of scientists who explore a secluded region of the continent where several expeditionists before them mysteriously died. This is the first book of the Southern Reach Trilogy.

The Tarzan Series, Edgar Rice Burroughs: I have an incomplete collection of the books. I’ve read the first and second ones, Tarzan of the Apes and The Return of Tarzan, but I don’t have the third which is The Beasts of Tarzan. The one that I have next in the series is the 7th, Tarzan the Untamed. I normally like to collect the older editions, especially from the 70s because of cover art by great artists such as Neal Adams and Boris Vallejo. But if I can’t find a copy with their or some other great artist’s work, I’m okay with skipping over to Book 7 and going back later.

Jurassaic Park, Michael Crichton: With the latest sequel coming out this month, it’s time that I read this book that started the whole movie franchise. I may even do a Book-To-Movie review of it, but to do that I’ll have to refresh myself on the first movie which I haven’t seen since it released back in the ‘90s!

The Three-Body Problem, Cixin Liu: I haven’t read a good “old” new alien invasion story in a long time. This one was a Hugo Award winner so it can’t be too formulaic as many alien invasion stories tend to be.



Until next time . . .


A cartoon shark swims over an underwater mound.
Sink your teeth into some good sci fi summer reading!
Credit: Pixabay.com


Sunday, June 3, 2018

Coming This Summer: WorldCon 76 and Elections—for Hugos


A rocket in launch.
Button with stars and the word 'Vote'.
Credit: Pixabay.com





California’s primary elections are this Tuesday but the voting doesn’t stop there in my home state. In fact, it doesn’t even stop with California. No, I’m not talking about the other states’ elections or the national elections in November. I’m talking about the elections for the Hugo Awards! The Hugo Awards are taking votes from now until the end of July and the winners will be presented their awards at WorldCon 76 in San Jose, California. As much as I’m “next door” to the location of this world science fiction convention (I live in Sacramento) I found out about it only a couple of days ago. And it’s this August 16 through 20! So if you’re interested in attending, I suggest you get your tickets and accommodations fast. Nearby hotels are already booked! What makes this con so big is that it presents the Hugo Awards which many world famous science fiction and fantasy authors and artists have been awarded. If you register for WorldCon, you may be able to make your favourite unknown author or artist world-known!


WorldCon


WorldCon started back in 1939 in New York City and has been going almost every year since. The location for it is voted on a couple years in advance each year. The location voted for can be anywhere in the world. This world science fiction/fantasy con has been hosted here in the U.S. several times as well as in other countries such as Scotland and Japan. I attended the one in Los Angeles (Anaheim, to be more precise) back in 2006 and it was far out! That is, as in awesome, of course, not distance (though it was a little bit of that for me too, but it was worth it)! It was there where I actually shook hands with author Harlan Ellison who gave me super advice for my writing and that was: “Make them give you money [for my writing].” And so I have done that ever since. I saw the now late Ray Bradbury speak for the second time in my life (the time before was back in the ‘90s when he spoke at California State University Fresno during my semi-desert stranded years). And I might have seen Forry Ackerman, founder and editor of Famous Monsters of Filmland magazine, speak at a panel. I can’t quite remember because, at the time, I wasn’t as familiar with himas much as I’ve read Famous Monsters since I was a kidand I had popped in on the panel late.

WorldCon gets authors and artists, both famous and obscure, from all over the world and it holds writing workshops and panels run by professional fantasy and science fiction writers who can critique your work. There’s also cosplay featuring some of the grooviest costumes in the universe and gaming. There’s plenty of media fandom as well for fans of such TV shows and movies as Star Trek and Star Wars and, at the upcoming WorldCon, probably Game of Thrones since that’s been the biggest fantasy TV series to date. For more info, visit WorldCon 76’s web site

The Hugo Awards


The Hugo Awards offer fantasy and science fiction awards for work in several categories, some of the broadest being literary fiction, art and movies but many subcategories as well. Although nomination for creators and their works ended in April, you can still vote for the finalists from now until July 31, 2018. But in order to do so, you must be a member of the World Science Fiction Convention (a.k.a. WorldCon). Learn how you can purchase membership by visiting WorldCon 76's membership page.  Many world famous science fiction and fantasy authors became such by getting awarded Hugos! You can help an obscure author or artist become world renowned if you register for membership and vote!

The Hugo Awards began in 1953 and went annual two years after. Interestingly, the World Science Fiction Convention also presents Hugos for past years such as this year’s 1943 Retrospective Hugo Awards! So the Hugos will be taking a trip back in time this year!

That’s the gist of it, convention and Hugos. More on WorldCon 76 to come!

Until next time . . .




Sunday, May 27, 2018

4 Space Opera Books That’s Heroes Will Remind You of Han Solo

A flying saucer.
Credit: Pixabay.com




No doubt that there’s been some big Star Wars news this week! Friday was the 41st anniversary of the first Star Wars movie, A New Hope, and so the birthday of the entire franchise. The day before, Solo: A Star Wars Story released in theatres. I haven’t seen this new Star Wars film yet but plan to tomorrow. But in celebration of the new movie I thought it would be neat to list four of my favourite space opera books that’s central characters share the same swashbuckling, rogue archetype as the Han Solo character does.

Han Solo’s archetype, or primal character-type, combines traits of the cowboy, the pirate and the wandering adventurer. Characters who have these traits are often loners of a sort, are daring and don’t let the law stop them from doing what they feel they have to. Often the legal system that they defy is one that is set up by a corrupt establishment and, in the case of space operas, that establishment is often an empire. Even though Han Solo has had his own novels that star him (and his alien sidekick, Chewbacca), I prefer reading space operas that don’t have to depend on a movie or TV franchise such as Star Wars or Star Trek to tell their stories, as much as I am a fan of both. Three of the books listed below are actually pre-Star Wars, although the third one has overlap between the two time periods. The fourth book was published after the first Star Wars film. So here is the list of some reading that Solo will, hopefully, inspire you to read or vice versa.


The List


“The Witches of Karres”, by James Schmitz (1949): The hero in this short story is Captain Pausert who pilots his own cargo ship, the Venture. Like Han, he’s a gambler, bar hopper and debtor trying to pay off his dues. Also like Han, Pausert is a dodger of starfighter ships and a smuggler of a sort, only not so much of spices than of . . . witches.

Plague Ship, by Andre Norton (1956): In this second book of the Solar Queen series of novels, the hero is Dane Thorson, apprentice cargo master of the spaceship, Solar Queen. Even though he’s not a captain of his own ship like Han, he’s fairly close to being so--he’s only one step down from the cargo master himself, Van Rycke. Like Han with the Empire, Dane and Van must go rogue against the establishment, the Galactic Patrol, when it attempts to destroy the Solar Queen along with its crew due to a supposed alien plague on board.

Crashlander, Larry Niven (1960s to ‘90s): This novel is actually an interconnected collection of Niven’s stories that’s central character is Beowulf Shaeffer, an independent contracting star pilot who is often in debt to the point of criminality and takes on dangerous missions to pay off his dues. Unlike many science fiction stories with roguish heroes, this one is a more high quality novel mostly due to the hard science going on in the book. But what makes Beowulf distinguishable from the typical rogue hero is that he isn’t only witty in the survival sense but is also intelligent in science and technology. And yes, as his name suggests, he is also based on the character of the Dark Age British epic (who wasn’t so much rogue, but adventurous nevertheless).

Day of the Starwind, Douglas Hill (1980): This is the third novel in The Last Legionary space opera series. The main character, Keill, is the last soldier of planet Moros’s legions. He battles the Warlord, Altern (a.k.a. “The One”) and his army of clones, the Deathwing. Keill is more like a cross between Han Solo and Luke Skywalker--the ship he pilots is a one-man like Luke’s X-Wing fighter yet he travels with an alien sidekick like Han does with Chewie: a winged creature by the name of Glr who’s small enough to fit in the cockpit with him.



Of course, because the rogue hero is very common one in science fiction, this list is no where near exhaustive. So if you can think of any other stories with a Han Solo-like hero who is at least one of the main characters if not the central one then please let me know in the box below!

Until next time . . .

Sunday, May 20, 2018

Movie Review: ‘A Quiet Place’

A metallic bust sculpture of an alien woman.
It has no skin! Or does it? This sculpture of an alien is said to be from the H.R. Giger Museum.
Photo Credit: Pixabay.com



I finally saw A Quiet Place yesterday evening. It was really good in almost all aspects. The story to this film was not made to be merely an audience pleaser. This was an intelligently made movie with well-developed characters and a well-written storyline. But the monsters were designed terribly. So as not to create any spoilers I won’t go into too many details, but at many points in the film the monsters looked like they were cut open in parts of their bodies. I know that’s been a major characteristic in the creatures of horror films ever since Alien in the late ‘70s, but it’s been over done too many times.

I’m not against the design of the Alien movies’ exoskeleton creatures that’s muscle tissues seem to be exposed. In fact, the first movie has been one of my favourites among sci fi horror. But those monsters were Ridley Scott and H.R. Giger’s creations and so were unique to them. After the first movie, it seemed like monsters in every sci fi horror flick, both Alien knock-offs and films with original storylines, were skinless regardless of what environments they evolved from.

(Warning: Even though I said I’m trying not to give away spoilers, some of the details ahead may be considered by some to be spoilers. Enter at your own risk!)

It was no different with the monsters in A Quiet Place. For what reason did the producers have to use monsters, that are not zombies, that’s intestines seem to be naturally exposed? No scientific knowledge in the movie indicates any kind of evolutionary element that determines such a characteristic. Speaking about characteristics, the monsters’ distinctive feature was their extrasensory hearing. So, particularly, the intestines of their ears appeared to be exposed all the time. Well, bats have extrasensory hearing too but evolution didn’t leave the skin off of their ears to show the intestines!

I think Hollywood studio executives just had to get their way with this movie in the end in order to make the profit they always want. Gore draws the masses, especially here in the commercial-infested U.S. And so, very unfortunately because A Quiet Place was made with such high quality on almost every level, the logic of world-building has once again been sacrificed for capital gain.

Have you seen A Quiet Place? If so, what did you think of it? What did you think of the monsters?

Until next time. . .


Man wearing a germ warfare mask.
May Daze! May Daze! We're in the heart of allergy season but I'm prepared!
Credit: The blogger


Sunday, May 13, 2018

‘Black Panther’ Movie Brings Afrofuturism to the Mainstream


The Black Panther movie adaptation, based on the Marvel comic book of the same name, has been getting more recognition than I recently thought and that’s definitely a good thing! It is probably the big budget sci fi movie that stars black characters and made by a black director (Ryan Coogler) that has broken the most records. It definitely shows that people of colour are becoming acknowledged for their work in speculative genres. It’s bringing to light the sci fi/fantasy community among people of colour, breaking the too long-time impression of the genre being a white person’s. Along with that, it’s also bringing to light the speculative movement known as Afrofuturism and so making the movement less marginalised. Afrofuturism is the intellectual movement of scientific and technological speculation by people of African culture. That’s probably too simple of a definition. However, an article at BBC.com entitled “Afrofuturism:Why black science fiction can’t be ignored” explains it really good which I think you will find fascinating!

Yes, I did see Black Panther when it released back in March and thought it was super! And do mind the pun—it was a super hero film that was made really good.

Afrofuturism is doing for speculative film what “blaxploitation” was doing for the same in the 1970s, only better since Black Panther is bringing Black sci fi and fantasy to the mainstream more than ever! Because of that, I think there’s going to be a lot more big budget films in the genre by people of colour and really well-made ones too like Black Panther.

Until next time . . .


Diamond-shaped spaceships float above desert pyramids.
Photo Credit: Pixabay.com


Saturday, May 5, 2018

Book-To-Movie: 'Ready Player One'



Computer grid image of a landscape with a planet halfway above the horizon.
Credit: Pixabay.com



The problem with many sci fi movies today, as they have been in most of movie history, is that they are either made to amuse or they’re made to provoke thought about important issues in life. Ready Player One, however, does both.

Ready Player One is based on Earnest Cline’s ‘80s novel of the same name. It’s about a teenager, Wade Watts (played by Tye Sheridan) in a near-future Earth who competes in a VR game set in a world called the Oasis. He comes across the scheme of an evil corporate CEO by the name of Sorrento (Ben Mendelsohn) who is trying to take control of the Oasis in order to rule the real world. The Oasis is a kind of open source fictional world where anyone can play any character they want and anything can happen.

I have not read the novel and so won’t try to compare it to the movie. But regardless of how faithful it is to the book, Ready Player One was made really good. Even though a certain segment of the film gets a little too fairy tale-idealistic, most of the other elements out-weigh that flaw. The characters along with the actors portraying them are convincing and so is the setting of the Oasis. The characters are sympathetic although Sorrento comes across as a bit too typical of a corporate villain as much as you love to hate him. The Oasis is convincing as the setting of a VR game in that many characters within it are pre-created and so come from existing franchises while others are created by the players and game developers. For example, while we are caught by surprise when we see characters in the background such as Tim Burton’s black-costumed Batman, the characters of Ready Player One create their own avatars such as Wade’s Parzival.

The movie’s themes are conveyed good without preaching them into the audience’s faces. Some of these themes are reality versus fantasy (more specifically reality versus virtual reality), pop cultural nostalgia and humanitarianism versus profit. The producers of the movie capitalise on today’s ‘80s nostalgia through Wade’s character who is into the era yet the nostalgia in the Oasis is ecumenical: other eras are also represented such as a ‘70s disco dance scene between Wade (as Parzival) and his fellow gamer Art3mis (pronounced ‘Artemis’, played by Olivia Cooke), and the ‘60s campy Batman television show’s Batmobile is seen charging by in an auto race segment.

The theme of humanitarianism versus profit is played out in the rebellious characters’ fight to protect the open software-produced Oasis from corporate conquest. This conflict suggests social commentary on today’s net neutrality debate. The theme of reality versus fantasy is seen in the characters trying to determine how much of virtual reality is part of the real world, an attempt that includes the question of how much of a person’s true personality is conveyed by their game avatar.

As with any blockbuster movie, Ready Player’s special effects and cinematography are super! However, what distinguishes this movie from most sci fi flicks is that it both gives audiences a fun time with loads of action scenes and otherworldly settings while showing the social impacts of technology and what can happen if it is abused. And so this movie does what all cyberpunk and any other kind of -punk should do—warn and speak against future technological abuse.

Ready Player One is directed by Steven Spielberg and screenwritten by Zak Pen.

Until next time . . .

Saturday, April 14, 2018

Are the Events That Inspired ‘Stranger Things’ Copyrighted?

An alien stands inside a bio tank of fluid.
Credit: Pixabay.com




I saw Ready Player One last Sunday and it was a real trip! I know, I said I would have a review of it for you this week, but I decided to postpone it because I felt that something else was more important. It’s concerning the infringement lawsuit filed against the Duffer brothers, creators of the Netflix series Stranger Things.



Filmmaker Charlie Kessler filed a lawsuit against the Duffer brothers claiming that they stole his idea for his short film, “The Montauk Project”, to make Stranger Things. But the Duffers’ lawyer said the brothers never saw Kessler’s film or talked about any projects with him. There are some similarities between it and Stranger Things. Stranger Things is centered around a teenage boy who goes missing in connection with a military laboratory, the top secret experiments performed there and strange phenomenal activity. In “The Montauk Project”, according to the Los Angeles Times, a boy also goes missing after he approaches a closed-down military base that a mysterious force leads him to.



However, neither Kessler’s movie or the Duffers’ series initiated the idea for their stories. Variety reports that the events in both projects come from real-life claims of mysterious activity involving a government facility in Montauk, New York. So is Kessler trying to claim ownership on other people’s claims and alleged experiences? Unless the specific events in both stories are depicted similarly using similar characters, there isn’t much of a case.



I’ll review Ready Player One in the next post. In the mean time, do you think Kessler will have enough evidence to sue the Duffer Brothers?

Until next time . . .