Review TV

TV Review – Upload, Season One

I haven’t watched The Office or Parks and Rec. It’s a weird way to start a post about a totally different show, but Greg Daniels is the mind behind all of them, so I thought I’d toss it out there. Upload, Daniels’s newest creation, is a sci-fi dramedy set in a near future where, when you die, you have the choice to have your brain scanned into a digital afterlife. If you can afford it. Nathan Brown, played by Robbie Amell, has a self-driving car accident and ends up in the hospital. His rich girlfriend Ingrid (Allegra Edwards) pushes for him to go to Upload instead of surgery. Nathan ends up inside the digital afterlife called Lake View, modeled after a swanky resort in the Catskills. He’s helped out by Nora (Andy Allo), the “Angel” whose job is to ease the transition to Lake View.

Nathan and Nora, who is able to visit virtually thanks to VR tech.

The humorous elements are there from the beginning. Gamers will laugh and be horrified in turn at the idea of microtransactions in the afterlife. There’s a boy who was uploaded at 12 who hasn’t aged physically in 6 years. It’s played for laughs, as he acts like an obnoxious 18 year old, but then you see that his mother had him put there and he’s got no recourse, no control over his life.

There’s also a mystery surrounding Nathan himself. He’s missing memories, especially surrounding his work. He was running a startup but can’t exactly remember what for. The plot thickens when some of the corrupted memory files are moved by an unseen force. Is there more to Nathan’s death than his girlfriend is letting on? Aren’t self-driving cars “safe”?

I enjoyed Upload a lot! It’s an odd science fiction/comedy/drama/mystery but my wife and I were both sucked in. I’m definitely curious to see season 2 whenever they are able to make it. It’s on Amazon Prime, and if you need a free trial, click the image below.

Books Review

Book Review – Martians Abroad by Carrie Vaughn

I’ve heard a lot of good things about Carrie Vaughn from friends who read her Kitty Norville series, so when NetGalley had a copy of her new book, Martians Abroad, available to read, I jumped at it.  I’m glad I did, though the book is not without it’s faults.

The story takes place in a future timeline where Earth has settled the moon, Mars, and has stations and colonies out in the belt and on the usual moons.  Sort of like the Expanse, but less grim.  Polly Newton and her brother, Charles, are the kids of the main Martian colony leader.  Polly wants nothing more than to learn to be a pilot, but her mother has other plans – she manipulates their way into the Galileo academy, a prestigious Earth-based school for the best and the brightest.  Off-worlders usually don’t attend, not only for the physical limitations (with most growing up in 1/3 to 1/6 Earth gravity), but for the fact that the school is basically a networking tool for all the elite rich kids of Earth.  Polly is furious, but her brother Charles (an odd hacker who isn’t against a bit of manipulation himself) convinces her to give it a try as attending may give them some advantages in life.

From there, it plays out not unlike the usual YA novel where the outsiders struggle to fit in.  The Earth folks look down on them, the head of the school doubts them, but it’s a series of strange accidents where Polly has to be a hero that really throw them for a loop.

Martians Abroad is well-written and keeps things moving at a decent pace.  The main downside for me was, it seemed to take quite a long time (more than half of the book) for the mystery to really take hold, and even then, it didn’t stand out that the bad things happening were all that out of the ordinary.  Still, it was an interesting, YA-friendly take on future kids doing dangerous stuff in space and if any of that sounds appealing, or you’re already a Carrie Vaughn fan, it’s worth checking out.  You can pre-order at the link, the current release date is January 17, 2017.


Things I Want from the New Bryan Fuller Star Trek Series

The news dropped today that Bryan Fuller (Pushing Daisies, Hannibal) will be the showrunner for the new Star Trek series set to premiere on CBS next year, before moving to the CBS All Access paid subscription.  My enthusiasm for the new show had been stifled by the mostly mediocre movies and the fact that I’d need yet another subscription to see it, but they just got my full attention.  My wife and I both enjoyed Pushing Daisies a ton, and Fuller has a previous Trek pedigree, credited for story or writing on two dozen Deep Space Nine and Voyager episodes.  I’m not sure where he’s going to find the time (he’s also running the adaptation of Gaiman’s American Gods and is attached to the Amazing Stories reboot) but they’ve got my eyeballs for the pilot at least.

Fuller’s been talking about Trek for years – the EW article here has some details – and I like what I’m hearing.  Here’s my wish list for what I want from the new series:

  1. Get back to exploring – One disappointing thing about the most recent movies is they rarely deal with exploration.  I don’t totally fault them for that, as you can’t really do an ‘alien culture of the week’ as a blockbuster movie, but shifting back to TV should allow them the creativity and flexibility to go deeper than fist fights and phaser blasts.
  2. No wars – Anyone who has read my stuff before knows I LOVE Deep Space Nine.  It’s up there with my favorite shows of all time.  Having said that, it may be tempting to replicate the very excellent Dominion War arc that show had…but it would be a mistake.  Let’s base this one on a science vessel, do diplomatic missions, rescues.  Some of my favorite Trek episodes dealt with content that was not your usual weekly sci-fi show fare (The Measure of a Man, Far Beyond the Stars, The Visitor, The Inner Light), and many went straight into goofball humor (Doctor Bashir, I Presume?).  We need that introduced back into Trek.
  3. Cast some new people – Star Trek has always connected back to previous shows, and one of the ways that’s been done is by bringing on actors from the past to cameo.  While I love the actors of Trek past, I’d like them to not try this, at least at first.  Let the new show grow into it’s own and develop the new characters.  Since the show isn’t going to link directly to the movies or the older shows (at least based on what we know now), that will work the best.  We don’t need Brent Spiner popping up as another Soong to bring us in.
  4. Be positive – One of the things that’s shifted over the years is the idea that the Federation was this vision of what the future should be.  I thought DS9 masterfully deconstructed that with the Bajorans and Sisko as the Emissary.  The Federation wasn’t always right, and the conflict of interest there made for some good TV.  But it got taken too far at times, with Section 31 and Insurrection and the like.  Let’s have Starfleet/the Federation trying to be a force for good and running into the moral dilemmas and struggles they’ve encountered since the Original Series.
  5. Be diverse – Others can speak more eloquently than me on this, but whether it’s another female captain, an alien captain, LGBTQ captain (or some or all of the above) you can do better than the JJ Abrams movies have.  These shows are ensembles, and can represent ALL of Earth and hey, remember that it’s a Federation of Planets, plural.  Cast your net wide, jack up the alien makeup budget and represent some folks that aren’t often portrayed in a genre show.

So that’s what I want.  What else do YOU want?

Books Review

Book Review – Archivist Wasp

For months, one of my online friends has been recommending Archivist Wasp to pretty much everybody.  It was on my list to check out some day, but when it went on sale a few weeks back she decided to just gift the book to a few of us and be done with it.  I’m very glad she did.

At first glance, the world seems like a typical fantasy realm, where you take a medieval setting and add something weird (ghosts, in this case).  ‘Wasp’ – not her real name – is the Archivist, one of a group of young women marked at birth by a goddess, and taught to catch and study the ghosts that linger all around the landscape.  It’s a brutal life, as the role of Archivist is won through, and held onto, via knife fights to the death versus ‘upstart’ challengers.

Even that life is turned upside down when Wasp meets a special ghost – one that has no problem communicating with her.  He shows her worlds never glimpsed by normal people, and shakes the foundations of everything she was raised to believe.

Archivist Wasp is a quick read that you’ll want to finish in one sitting.  If there’s one flaw, it’s that it relies a bit much on flashbacks to the ghost’s previous life.  But I was dying for that information so it didn’t bother me.  Felt like the flashbacks to the island on Arrow in that way.  Anyway, check the Kindle preview below and buy it, you’ll be glad you did.

Featured Movies

Ender’s Game News – Ben Kingsley and Hollywood Whitewashing

Some notes:  This post has some plot details of Ender’s Game: The Book, so if you haven’t read it (and WHY NOT) read the rest of this at your own risk.

I hesitate to even write this, as Orson Scott Card’s books were a pretty fundamental part of my childhood, after I read my brother’s copy of Ender’s Game.  We Card fans have been looking forward to a movie based on the book for well over 15 years.  It’s never gotten far as Card wants to be sure the movie gets done right. Well, after many false starts, it finally looks like it’s happening.  People are getting cast (Slashfilm has the details on Kingsley, Asa Butterfield, and Hailee Steinfeld), there are writers and directors, the whole nine yards.  Sounds like a dream come true for a Card fan, and for Card himself.  I was on Facebook the other day when the news about Kingsley broke, and saw a fan ask Card what he thought.  What she got in return was a bit of a rant by Card about Hollywood and casting an actor who plays ‘white’ roles in a role he had pegged for a dark-skinned actor (Mazer Rackham, in the book, is a half-Maori New Zealander), disliking the Hollywood-ism that since he looks ‘ethnic’, it would work.  I attempted to comment but the thread was deleted (I didn’t screenshot it).  I then posted this on Card’s wall:

I know you wouldn’t want to be associated with Hollywood style whitewashing, but I can’t be mad at a role in Ender’s Game going to Ben Kingsley (if true). He’s a well-known name that can help get this movie in front of casual moviegoers. To me, the most important place to keep the diversity is with the Battle School kids.

That too was deleted quickly, and I didn’t press the issue.  In the book, Mazer’s heritage, in my opinion, is not as big a deal as Alai’s (a fellow student at Battle School who is Muslim) and the other kids.  I have friends who would disagree, but that’s how I se it.  With the adjustments you have to make to shorten a novel into a movie, I can see that bit of characterization for Mazer being ignored completely.  It’s referenced once, as a foil to the Jewish military leaders he out-thought in the second Bugger invasion, and wasn’t mentioned again.

I can understand that Ender’s Game is probably very close to Card’s heart.  Ender was based partially on his son Geoffrey, and the book still stands as one of his finest works.  I reread Ender’s Game and Speaker for the Dead all the time, and they hold up well.  That it is happening now is probably a testament to him finally letting go a bit, and wanting to see the movie done while people still want to see it.  Helps that the tech is finally there to do the battle room and command school justice.

Uncle Orson, I hope you can come to grips with whatever casting and story decisions are made, and judge the movie based on it’s merits.  The movie will be it’s own thing.  I’d hate to see bitterness in the decisions made cloud the joy of seeing something you created on the big screen.  Your book will always exist and be the first one picked up from my shelf when I want to read something good.  Let the process play out, see the result, and judge.  And like the friends I mentioned, I hope you got a dump truck full of cash in return for the stress this is causing.

Life Media

NaNoWriMo? Should I subject myself to this again?

Why am I considering this?  Shall I torment myself yet another year?  Yeah, actually, I think so.  Looking at the 10 Types of writer’s block I linked earlier, I think I might have a way past the ones that typically take me down.  I have ideas, and I think I can strangle my inner critic, who is my own worst enemy.  That, and unwittingly reading another book that uses my “can’t miss” story hook.  Thanks a lot, Timothy Zahn.

I know my blog readers and Twitter followers include numerous authors of varying levels of success amongst them.  How many of you are attempting NaNoWriMo this year?  Let me know.

Featured Movies PC Games Sci/Tech

Friday Finds – Alligator Biodiesel and a Supernova

Missed a week due to unforseen circumstances, but here are the most recent posts:

I also missed an Old Game Tuesday, so as a bonus, check out Carrier Command:  Gaea Mission, a successor to the Carrier Command game on Amiga.

Here are the links you may find interesting this week:

First, fill your tank with biodiesel made from alligator fat.  The commenter who wants to restyle MPG as Miles Per Gator is winning at life.

Why east coast earthquakes are different from west coast ‘quakes.  Because the east is hard, yo.

Teach your kids about ancient weapons of war, while annoying your cats.

A possible new Star Trek TV series?

Han Solo in carbonite, ice cube version.  Put Captain Solo in the cargo hold.

A touch more information on Brave, from Pixar.

Finally, astronomers are excited about a quite-visible supernova in the M101 galaxy.  Cool.

Featured Movies

Movies to Introduce Your Kids to Science Fiction

Giant Freakin Robot has a list of 15 movies (or movie series) to use to introduce your kids to the Science Fiction genre.  I agree with many of the movies here, though you may want to pre-screen some of them as it’s been pointed out that Ghostbusters has a bit of salty language and implied ‘ghostly fellatio’, the latter I don’t even remember.  Anyway, my favorites from the list, and a few more suggestions:

1.  The Iron Giant – If you liked The Incredibles, check out Brad Bird’s first feature, The Iron Giant.  A giant robot crash lands on late 1950s Earth, and is befriended by a kid who tries to keep him secret from the government – and his mom.  If it sounds like E.T. to you (another movie on their list), note that the story this is based on dates to 1968.  It’s a shift from the Disney films of the era, with no musical numbers and no sidekicks.  The Iron Giant provides a look into the Cold War mentality, and might prompt some interesting discussions with older kids.  A great change of pace from Disney classics your kids are probably wearing out.

2.  Meet The Robinsons – A loose adaptation of William Joyce’s “A Day with Wilbur Robinson“, Meet The Robinsons follows a nerdy orphan named Lewis on an adventure through time where he finds a family and gains confidence in himself.  One of several Disney productions that went through significant changes after John Lasseter took over as head of Disney’s animation department.  There is a lot of heart in this movie, great action, and cool 50’s inspired ‘futuristic’ designs.

3.  Star Wars (The Original Trilogy) – Some smart-ass in the comments of the original article decries the author denigrating the new trilogy.  Seriously, dude, did you see The Phantom Menace?  Anyway, I don’t need to explain or introduce these to you, as it is extremely rare to meet someone who is not familar with these movies.  Just be prepared to see your kids making lightsaber noises while waving sticks around after watching.

4.  Titan AE – The movie that ‘killed’ Fox’s animation studio, is actually quite a good movie.  Odd soundtrack, but it has writing from Ben Edlund (of The Tick) and Joss Whedon, and is the last Don Bluth feature.  Solid, classic sci-fi story of the kid with a destiny, peppered with betrayals, redemption, and some good voice actors.  Show your kids this, then show them Firefly in a few years.

5.  WALL-E – Okay, so your kids will probably see this no matter what, but WALL-E can be used effectively as a gateway to other sci-fi materials.  And it’s a genuinely good genre example, animated or not.  Pixar shows their mastery here, making you love a square robot who makes a minimum of noise just as much as you do any of their human characters.  As a plus, it can spawn a discussion of environmental issues if you are so inclined.

6.  Mystery Science Theater 3000:  The Movie – If you don’t know what MST3k is, it will sound really odd, but here goes:  a mad scientist shoots a human into space and forces him to watch bad movies until he finds the one that breaks his mind (at which point he will unleash it on an unsuspecting world and take over).  To cope, Joel (and in this installment, Mike) have robot friends Crow T. Robot and Tom Servo, and they all make jokes and pop-culture observations while the movie is playing, with ‘host segments’ every once in a while that might be a skit playing off the movie, a musical number or who knows what else.  There are better episodes of the TV show, but I was keeping the list to things released in theaters.  “Into the Weeniemobile…Weenie man away!!”  Ahem.  There’s plenty of good jokes here, and if your kids want to see some other goofy black and white sci-fi movies afterwards, so much the better.

7.  Galaxy Quest – It works both as a spoof of and a love letter to Star Trek, Galaxy Quest has quite the cast (Tim Allen, Sigourney Weaver, Alan Rickman, Sam Rockwell and Tony Shalhoub among others) playing the washed-up, typecast actors of a classic sci-fi show with obvious parallels to Star Trek.  Aliens mistake the show’s broadcasts as historical documents, and gather the crew together to defeat an implacable foe.  Plenty of clever jabs at fanatics, but it works well as a sci-fi story all it’s own.  A fun way to spend an afternoon.

8.  Lilo and Stitch – Yes, another animated movie, but it’s a sci-fi classic as well.  A mad scientist that creates new life, aliens, spaceships, blasters, Men in Black references, all of which is wrapped around the story of a broken family.  Another movie with surprising heart that might sneak a few tears out of you – when your kids aren’t looking, of course.

So that’s what I have.  Are there any other movies you’ve used to get your kids to share your interest in science fiction?  Has it led to them reading more?  Any other movies you’d add to the list?  Let’s hear it!

News Review Sci/Tech

Friday Finds – Jumping the Shark

Solid week, things are easy at the office.  Here are the week’s posts:

Other links worth your time:

Do Science Fiction and Fantasy Short Story Markets have gender bias?  From the ever so awesome Geekachicas multi-blog.

I don’t do any tabletop gaming, but these maps look badass.

The first transatlantic communications cable took years to successfully install…and three weeks to get destroyed.  This dude may not have been the sole cause of the cable failure, but maybe you should think through tripling the voltage on something like that.

The M101 ‘Pinwheel’ galaxy is awesome to photograph with any camera.

Stop.  Hammertime.  Obligatory xkcd link.

And finally, I give you the story of a man jumping a shark.  Literally jumping ON it.  The money quote:

“We circled around it a couple times, realized it was a basking shark, got comfortable, came up next to it and thought, ‘You know? I need to feel this fish,'” Jacobs said. “I need to swim with him and be part of this.”

Oh man.  Great way to lead up to Shark Week.