SFRevu brings Science Fiction reviews and interviews to the web each month.
Much as I vilify the use of time travel to fix weak SF story lines, I'd happily employ it to get this issue out a few weeks ago. "Quick, Sharon," the daring editor said to his faithful number one, "invert the plasma phase coupling on the warp core inducer and slingshot us back in time!" I guess it only works on the Enterprise...
That said, here's an issue between the the holidays. In November SFRevu went to a gala SFWA reception at the New Yorker hotel, read a few books, including James White's latest Sector General novel MIND CHANGER, and spoke at length with the author in his home in Ireland and saw a few movies...some good...some bad.
The usual suspects, Paul Giguere, EJ McClure, Steven Sawicki, all turned in reviews in plenty of time, despite their own busy holiday schedules and special thanks are in order to Sarah Braun for the transcription of James White's interview. Um, next time..um...don't feel that you have to keep all the ums in.
Asta Sinusas sent us two reviews from the Great North, appropriately including NORTHERN STARS, an overview of Canadian SF, while Bruce Wallace added to the vampire content and Rob Archer covered the Alt Hist. front.
I'm hoping to get another issue out before the end of the year, but Sharon may have to realign the anti-matter phase couplings by hand to do it...(despite the fact that everything's already written...so please stand by).
Ernest Lilley, Editor / Publisher SFRevu
Subscribe nowby Emailing SFRevu@aol.com with "Subscribe" in the subject to be notified when new issues go online ("Remove" gets you off the list).
One of the highlights of the New York SF community is the annual Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America Gala Reception. SFRevu Editor was pleased to attend, camera in hand, to bring you our photo essay... SFWA Reception
Nov 13-15 - PhilCon98 Guest:Bruce Sterling, Artist Bruce
Jensen Location: Adam's Mark Hotel Philadelphia, PA
James White has just come out with another Sector General Novel, retiring the longest running character in the most popular hospital in space. SFRevu braved transatlantic phone lines to chat with the author. You'll also find reviews for the first Sector General novel (Star Surgeon) and the latest (Mindchanger). - Ernest
November 19, 1998
SFRevu: Your latest book, MINDCHANGER, is about the retirement of O'Mara, the crusty psych chief. I suspect he's your favorite character and I don't think the hospital is going to be the same without him. I was surprised by the secret life of O'Mara. Has that been in the works for awhile or...?
James White: No it just...He was such an unlikable character, I got to thinking about it: why is he unlikable? He tells everybody exactly what he thinks, and then I thought who else tells people exactly what they think? Well, the Kelgians, a species that doesn't understand tact or anything you see...So I worked out this connection between him and the Kelgian educator tape donor.
SFRevu: You nicely diverted me with the shipboard romance that you threw in.
JW: Mike Resnick sent me a note that says 'I loved the story, but who'd have thought O'Mara was so kinky...' I've just sent in another one called SECOND CONTACT. It's number 12 in the series. The central characters are Prilicla (an empathic alien physician) and to a certain extent Murchison (a human nurse).
SFRevu: How old were you when you discovered Science Fiction and did any of your friends share your interest?
JW: Eleven or twelve, and none of my friends shared interest. They thought I was a bit quirky for reading this, this stuff. But in those days, we were pretty poor and all you could get was in the public library. So I knew THE TIME MACHINE and WAR OF THE WORLDS and 20,000 LEAGUES UNDER THE SEA, and that sort of stuff.
War broke out in '39. It was about '40, '41, '42 I started getting interested in Science Fiction.
SFRevu: An interesting backdrop to be reading Science Fiction against.
JW: Yes, but like I said there wasn't any available really, with the paper restrictions during the War in the United Kingdom. They didn't print Science Fiction, because, you know, waste of time...
SFRevu: Did the American soldiers coming through bring any pulp magazines?
JW: That is what happened, Northern Ireland was a staging post for D-Day, you know, and there were an awful lot of them stationed here. They got magazines in their PX stores. Then they brought them into Belfast for sale in secondhand shops. I'd go in every day and look to see if they were still there and sometimes they would disappear, now most people didn't bother reading Science Fiction. It was mostly just ballast on ships before the war. I finally found out that Walter Wallace had been getting some of these books which I thought were mine.
We finally met up and exchanged our collections. Then we started getting out a fanzine called Slant, mostly at the beginning just to publish our want list. But then we started, or he started writing, I just set type, and did the linecuts, wood cuts, because his father had given him a small printing press but we only had enough type to fill half a page, and so I got the job of doing line cuts to fill it up.
SFRevu: What magazines were you looking for most?
JW: Mostly Astounding, which became Analog. If I couldn't get anything else, I'd get Sterling Wonder Stories, but I had difficulty getting them home because they had girls on the cover, and my foster mother was convinced that anything with a cover like that was unseemly.
SFRevu: Yes, those were great covers. When did you actually decide to start writing stories instead of just doing liner cuts?
JW: It was a period in Analog when Campbell was on this hobby horse against atomic war, and issue after issue was stories about the human race dying off in a flood of mutation or more wars, you know really down beat. Walter and I, and Bob Shaw who had joined the group then, and George Charters we were saying 'This is awful, Analog used to be, or Sterling used to be so good, why don't they write stories they way they used to?'
Walter said, 'Why don't you and Bob write the kind of story you'd like to read?' It was sort of a dare you see, we weren't taking it seriously. I did this story, about 8,000 words. It took about 10 months, because I wasn't really serious about it. I brought it up to Walter and the others in the gang to review, and they made constructive criticisms and I revised it, and I sent it to Ted Karnell who was editing a British magazine New Worlds, then.
He had a way of accepting stories sometimes which was worse than getting a rejection, which was at least polite. The first story I sent to him, sold to him was "Assisted Passage". There was a brief letter come back saying 'Thank you for Assisted Passage, you have spelt maneuver two different ways, both of which are wrong. Your syntax is awful, but I've cleaned it up, and I am enclosing a check for 10 pounds (which was 25 shillings a 1000 words), and have you any other ideas?' And I thought 'O-my-god' I don't know whether it was the 10 pounds (which was a fair amount of money in those days) or if it was seeing my name in print that I got the most kick out of. The next story only took 10 weeks, and after that well they kept on going.
SFRevu: Do you remember the first Con you attended?
JW: It wasn't in Ireland. We traveled to London for it. I think it was in 1950, '51, very small attendance. The '52 Con I think was the same time as the Queen was crowned, and a lot of American tourists came over for that. Including a lot of writers and big name fans, and it was a much better convention. I met John W. Campbell there for the first time. But this was three or four years before I sold a story to him.
SFRevu: The first novel you came out with, you weren't thrilled with.
JW: SECRET VISITORS, yes, that's right. And the second one was Sector General. But it was only a novelette. It wasn't a novel, and it wasn't until three or four years later when I had collected five novelettes that I linked them into the first Sector General book - HOSPITAL STATION. There were others, other stories before that...
SFRevu: Then came SECOND ENDING, which was short listed for a Hugo.
JW: Yes, but Heinlein went and wrote STRANGER IN A STRANGE LAND that year so…
SFRevu: Timing is everything....
JW: The next was called Field Hospital, it was joined with a an introductory novelette, and the was sold as a book called STAR SURGEON, that was the second hospital station book.
SFRevu: What made you decide to do medical Science Fiction?
JW: Well I'd always had an urge to be a doctor, but over here we weren't very well off, and you have to have well off parents to send you to University and through medical school But I was very interested in medicine and surgery and I read a lot about it when I was working in a shop. I was a tailor, you know, I served my time (22 years) and during this time I joined a first aid class, British Red Cross Society. I have the British Red Cross Society First Aid class Number 1 certificate on my wall. It's my only medical qualification.
I didn't like war stories, but medical stories were different, you could be faced with violence and bloodshed and natural disasters rather than war. There was lots of conflict, but I didn't like guys just shooting each other, you know?
So I went in for medical Science Fiction, and I liked the medical heroes. A lot of the characters in the early stories were doctors. Then I began to have doctors rescuing aliens from wrecked spaceships on Earth, and how did they figure out what was wrong with them, and I got the idea for the aliens being doctors as well, and that's how Sector General was born.
I owe a lot of it, I think, to E.E. Smith too because he was the first man that made me realize that some of the absolutely horrible aliens could be good guys.
SFRevu: Well I am very fond of Smith myself, so it warms my heart to hear that. Is there a lot Smith's Clarrissa MacDougal character in Nurse Murchison?
JW: Oh yes, and there's a lot of my wife in it too. During the worst of the troubles, in 1970, '72, '73, she was a nursing aide in the Intensive Care Unit in the Royal Victoria Hospital. She used to come home and sometimes, some of the things she would tell me, you know, were horrifying, and others not and I got a lot of practical second hand experience from her.
She just had a brain operation there a couple of weeks ago. All sorts of things could have gone wrong with brain surgery but as it happened all she has at the moment is a slight deafness in one ear, but they think that will rectify itself. That would be excellent.
SFRevu: It must have been interesting for you, being around all the medical technology. Did the future you've imagine sort of compare up with the future you found yourself in?
JW: It's strange how, because the present I find myself in, they keep getting ahead of the future I've written. It's not fair. The real life doctors are getting ahead of the future medics I've been writing about. But there you are.
SFRevu: Have you watched much Star Trek over the years? They certainly have a collection of doctors on there. Do you have a favorite Star Trek doctor?
JW: Well I like the one on Voyager. Bones in the first one was pretty good. He was crusty and all, but he's pretty good. I had visions of him making a good O'Mara. Sort of dry and sarcastic at times, but he knows it all.
Back around the original Star Trek series I was sent a copy of a fanzine, I
haven't got it now, unfortunately, in which the Enterprise was beaten up in a
space battle and they put into Sector General for treatment.
SFRevu: I think that it would be great fun for you to write an episode of Voyager. Your other profession has been somewhat under represented in Science Fiction. There are not a lot of tailors in space, but there are one or two. On Deep Space Nine they have a tailor, who's also a secret agent.
JW: In FINAL DIAGNOSIS, the central character is a tailor...the thing is, he's a bit crazy mixed up, but he's a tailor, a future tailor and he's a descendent of the tailor who was in "Custom Fitting", that was the other story I got on to the short list for a Hugo for. It was about this little old tailor and his wife who were faced with the sartorial challenge of building this suit for an alien, who was to present his credentials to the court of St. James. That gave me the character for FINAL DIAGNOSIS. Anyway, I'm not going to tell you any more about that.
SFRevu: A number of authors who have created strong universes like yours have let other people in to play. Have you ever considered letting someone write Sector General for you?
JW: Nobody asked, anyway, the thought just never occurred to me.
SFRevu: It seemed to me that I know a number of recent authors who have good medical technology backgrounds - Elizabeth Moon for one, has written some great stories about the difficulties of being a paramedic in space ("ABCs in Zero Gee").
JW: The thing is I'm basically a pacifist, which is not a good thing to be when you have lived most of your married life a in Belfast, if that means anything to you.
When the troubles started, all the rowdy element moved in from the lower falls, and the neighborhood went to hell, but with all the bombing and shrieking going on, I didn't want any part of it. I couldn't beat them, and I didn't want to join them, so I just kept writing stories that were the worlds I'd like to live in, not this rotten place outside you see?
So anybody who wanted to join in on the Sector General would
basically have to have the same feeling. In the Sector General stories
especially I was trying to show people from vastly different cultures, and
motley ships and everything, were living and working together. I was trying to
make the point, that minor differences of skin pigmentation and politics, and
religion, were just not important. They are all just things, and we should all
wake up and see that.
The past few years have seen a new stream of Sector General novels, revitalizing the 30 year plus hospital in space series that James White has blessed SF readers with. In the latest, MIND CHANGER, the series earliest character, O'Mara, the gruff, unlovable Chief of Psychology, comes full circle accepting a new but temporary position as the hospital's Chief Administrator - but only a long as it takes to find his successor, then off to retirement.
Like all Sector General novels, the story proceeds episodically as the hospital staff deals with medical crises among the many species that inhabit White's known space. As much of MIND CHANGER is spent in the past as the present however, as O'Mara dwells on his early days in reverie. Though we first met him in HOSPITAL STATION (1962) as a young space construction worker whose abundant muscles blinded everyone to his keen mind, MIND CHANGER reveals much I had never suspected about the cranky psychologist. Of course, we all knew he had a heart of gold, but the book stretches out the mystery of his leaves. O'Mara has no personal life on the station, but never misses a leave, though no one knows where he goes. Bit by bit the author teases us to the truth.
On the station, O'Mara tasks his successor candidates to perform the usual medical miracles, psychological in this case, without his assistance so that he may handle the day to day operation of the massive medical complex while they prove themselves worthy or not. Of course not all of the candidates actually want the job…especially O'Mara's right hand - Lt. Braithwaite, who would far rather have someone above him to take make the final diagnosis. Braithwaite is in almost every regard the opposite of O'Mara, his Monitor Corps uniform immaculate, his temper even, and his manner ever courteous. Could the hospital get used to being run by a prince instead of an ogre?
If you've been reading the series since the start, you'll be glad for the guest appearances by your favorite characters. That headstrong human Conway is still here, and mention is made of his life and medical teammate the brilliant and beautiful human Murchison. In flashbacks we uncover a shipboard romance that took place during O'Mara's first leave, taken shortly after he downloaded an alien physician's memories and personality into his brain and had, understandably a lot on his mind. White unrepentantly likes his human females the classic SF way. With, as an alien character puts it, "wobbly chest lumps (that) give it a ridiculous, top-heavy look" and though he casts his heroines in that mold the ultimate message is that beauty is more than skin deep.
Sector General is a comfortable place for those of us who have been there before to return to, and the series' success seems to say that one of TV's most popular genres, the hospital show, can play equally well in space. But it's not true. The medical side of the show is its weakest actually. The details of the cases are generally pretty incidental to the story, and here again is an ad hoc create a medical condition and arbitrarily solve it paradigm that has always bothered me. Sector General's medical technology is rooted in the era it was conceived in, and could stand a good overhauling by one of today's top Bio-SF writers, Nancy Kress for instance. Fortunately the character side of the story has always been White's strength, and his characters are the sort of people you want to keep for friends, story after story.
MIND CHANGER is a bit contrived at times as the author unveils the mystery that O'Mara has kept hidden from us all these years, hidden so well that I think this is the first time we knew there was a mystery. It does serve to tie the present and earlier works together in a way that makes me want to go back and read the originals, and it moves a few new characters into positions where they can have stories written about them.
If you've followed the series along O'Mara's retirement party is
a must read, and the amount of backstory makes it assessable for someone just
starting. On the other hand, you could start at the beginning (almost) with STAR
SURGEON, this month's Retro Review...
Beside him 0'Mara groaned. "Besides saving hundreds of lives," The Chief
Psychologist said, "and averting a galaxy wide war, our young doctor is being
called on to --"
James White hates war. Having entered his teens as the world entered W.W.II, and having lived in Belfast most of his life, he's seen far more of it than he cares to recall, and too often he's seen it color the stories he's escaped into since childhood. Don't tell him that the future is a dark place full of warring aliens and corporations. He won't stand for it. In fact, it was in response to John Campbell's preoccupation with holocaust that moved him to start writing the kind of stories he wanted to read. Stories that reflect hope for the future and realities where differences between beings didn't mean that they couldn't coexist.
Sector General is a massive multi species hospital out on the edge of known space where physicians of different species come together for the one thing that they can all agree on - saving lives. STAR SURGEON is the second Sector General book, following HOSPITAL STATION which featured the irritable Chief of Psychology, O'Mara, in a series of connected short stories describing the construction of the station and the establishment of the giant hospital in space.
Here the author introduces a more traditional hero, Conway, a bright young human surgeon coming to the station and trying to fit in with the many bizarrely shaped life forms that are his colleagues. Conway also has to contend with his feelings for Nurse Murchison, shaped not so much bizarrely as remarkably, even for a human female. The author modeled Murchison after Clarrissa MacDougal from E.E. "Doc" Smith's Lensman series and his wife, Peggy, also a nurse. O'Mara returns to provide counterpoint and head shrinking, lest Conway's successes at the hospital go to his head.
For a brief 159 pages Conway struggles with the time honored ills of medical residents, though he is an accomplished surgeon, making friends with the various ETs and generally working himself to the bone. When the hospital comes under attack by forces under the belief it is a Federation torture center, war comes to the station in force. The author saves the station not by military stratagems, but through the dedication of the surgeons, specifically Conway, who never stop to ask which side his patients came from. In fact, Conway is the sort of hero who doesn't stop for anything, least of all death.
From a technological standpoint it may seem dated, but a number of ideas in the series are still just coming online, and every doctor who ever stepped off a holodeck or out of an alien environment ward owes the author a debt of thanks.
STAR SURGEON is a fast and fun read, and the
characters are all the sort of people we want to know. Even the externally gruff
ones like O'Mara.
New Titles: Smoke and Mirrors by Neil Gaiman Playing God by Sarah Zettel The Vampire Armand by Anne Rice Scent of Magic by Andre Norton Stars & Stripes Forever by Harry Harrison The Alien Years by Robert Silverberg
Neil Gaiman's collection of short Fantasy stories is tremendously seductive. Written in a first person, autobiographical tone for the most part, the stories in SMOKE AND MIRRORS blur the line between reality and illusion with a finesse that left me no doubt but that they are all true, even if they had never happened.
Even the introduction is worth reading as I found when the little unsettling little story buried within it, about a wedding present he decided not to give, snagged my interest. Neil settled for giving a toaster, since he correctly surmised that some omens are best kept hidden.
The author points out that Fantasy is a mirror to reality, a blurring mirror which sometimes shows the truth that the surface conceals. The hidden self, the road not taken, these are recurrent themes throughout the book. A boy becomes the troll that menaces him, a woman chooses the poorer life she has been saved from, a lover is unmasked as a demon. A couplet of tales about a werewolf who wishes he were dead caught my attention. A string of these could easily make a fine book by themselves. There is a thoughtful little page-turner about a compelling computer game called Virus, that shows the author's ability to paint a larger picture with just a few brushstrokes. Neil conveys a lot of information through his choice of phrase and is clearly a wordsmith that enjoys playing with his tools.
He deftly combines genres in ways that I just don't expect, right up to the sucker punch. Witness "Murder Mysteries" a LA detective story that takes place in the City of Angels. I mean the one that existed before He created the Heavens and the Earth. Very noir. Very clever. Very nicely pulled off.
I love the first person prose, the reflective and moody tone throughout. The author's proxy-selves are not innocents, witness a boy offering the girl he thinks he loves to a troll, and I like that. It adds realism to the fantasy. He also gives lie to the notion that first person means the character doesn't die. Most of the stories are quite short, some just a page or two, but a few reach more than a handful. The prose is fine stuff, and the characters are shaped extraordinarily well. Reading each I forgot to wait for the hook at the end, so caught up with the story, but more often than not it was waiting there to ambush me, closing the trap I'd been lured into all along but not seeing until I looked backwards over the trail.
There are many treats among the tales in SMOKE AND MIRRORS, and the murky quality of light that pervades them makes them ideal candidates for reading in the shortening days of autumn, or the cold nights of winter. Read them aloud and roll the prose around like brandy. Share them with friends.
I suppose I'm a sucker for the combination of thoughtful prose
and ancient mythos lurking around the corner. I'm hoping that when I finally run
intothe author he's not as stuck on himself as the talent in these stories would
Sarah Zettel's first novel RECLAMATION was a hit with Science Fiction fans and her next novel FOOL'S WAR, avoided the second book syndrome and proved that Zettel wasn't a one-book wonder. PLAYING GOD is Zettel's admission ticket to the growing group of new writers who will reshape Science Fiction in the image of the younger generation.
All-Cradle is a planet where the clannish Dedelphi are a race of female marsupial-like people. Upon reaching old age the Dedelphi then evolve into males. The Dedelphi clans have been at war for several generations. The result is a planet ravaged by pollution and plague. With All-Cradle on the verge of becoming totally uninhabitable, the Earth-based corporation Bioverse has offered to clean and restore the planet. In return, Bioverse will get access to the planet's unique biological resources. In order to accomplish this task, Bioverse will have to transplant the entire population of All-Cradle onto city-ships in orbit so that the radical clean-up operation can happen.
Dr. Lynn Nussbaumer is in charge of the project but she has her work cut out for her. With a precarious peace treaty in place, rival clans are secretly scheming to destroy each other and the close quarters of the city-ships will only exacerbate the problem. Adding to the problem Lynn's ex-boyfriend Arron is spreading inaccurate information about the true intentions of Bioverse; and the only Dedelphi who may hold the key to peace may not be working towards that end. To top everything off... humans are toxic to Dedelphi and can only mingle among them in environmental suits. The flash point could be the first city-ship and the fate of an entire planet is at stake.
Balancing great world-building and subterfuge at several levels, PLAYING GOD
is an exciting and well plotted novel. The story flows well and the rather large
assortment of characters is deftly handled. Zettel has shown that she has a firm
grasp of the elements of a good Science Fiction story and she puts them to
excellent use in PLAYING GOD. With a third novel under her belt, Sarah Zettel is
still the new kid on the block but she shows us that she is ready to relinquish
that title and take her place among the new generation of young and exciting
Science Fiction writers.
THE VAMPIRE ARMAND is Anne Rice’s SILMARILLION. Fashioned after J.R.R. Tolkien's novel that explained the history of Middle Earth and its players large and small, this book tells the stories of Armand and his master Marius. Additionally we are finally given some closure to a previous novel MEMNOCH, THE DEVIL. THE VAMPIRE ARMAND is required reading for the faithful of Anne Rice, but those who have just discovered Anne might do well to begin with INTERVIEW WITH A VAMPIRE, the first of her vampires novels.
The latest story begins in a chapel in New Orleans. The vampire Lestat lies stricken on the marble floor of the chapel. He has not moved from that spot since returning from his trials and tribulations in MEMNOCH, THE DEVIL. Armand has come to see the spectacle of Lestat’s demise and to offer his love and support.
Armand enters the chapel in a state that can only be thought as depleted and despondent. Early on he reveals his pain. He is lonely and distraught. He carries a great burden and can no find release. While wandering the upper rooms of the chapel he encounters David Abbot, former Superior General of the Talamasca and newly made vampire. David offers Armand two precious gifts. He offers him his unquestioned love as well as a chance to relieve his mind. Armand will tell his story and David Talbot will write it down word for word. David promises him that the telling of the story and the resulting book will help him to make sense of his long life and perhaps deal with his pain and sorrow. Armand agrees to accompany David back to his rooms to tell him the story of his life.
Armand begins his story with his capture by slavers in his native land of Kiev Rus and his journey to Constantinople. Soon afterwards he is on a ship to Venice and his destiny. For several days he languishes in slavery until his future master, Marius rescues him. Marius calls him Amadeo, meaning beloved of God. Marius carries Amadeo back to his palace and bathes and comforts him. In the morning he wakes to find that he is in the bedroom of Marius, no longer alone with him but surrounded by a multitude of young boys. They were extravagantly dressed and well fed. He is left in their care during the day and educated alongside them clothed in the same finery. Armand is told he will be financially set for life should he ever choose to leave. He knows Marius will want something in return for this treatment, but he cares not because he is as infatuated with Marius and the idea of being loved by such a tremendous figure of power. Marius is a vampire. One the oldest and strongest of his kind and keeper of "THOSE WHO MUST BE KEPT", the originators of the vampire breed whose demise would cause the end of vampires everywhere. His power is such that none dare question him.
At first we are regaled with tales of Armand’s youthful indiscretions and not much else, until a jealous lover stabs Armand with a poisoned blade. Armand is dying and Marius is forced to choose between working the dark trick on Armand prematurely or losing him forever. Marius chooses the former because he could not bear to go on without him.
Here, the story truly begins. We witness Armand’s days as a fledgling vampire and finally the dreadful maturity that he learns at the hands of other vampires, more numerous than he. Marius is lost to him in this battle as well, but not before Armand learns the rules vampire of conduct. Prey only on the wicked. They will not be mourned. Killing the innocent will drive a vampire insane with guilt and bring unwanted attention to their kind. Never reveal your nature to mortals. These lessons learned; it is not long before he realizes the true vampire curse. Vampires are destined to live alone. They are shunned by their own kind and damaged by the few temporary relationships they can strike up with mortals who are only destined to die. Indeed this is the source of the angst of Anne Rice’s vampires. They are the definition of solitary killers, they kill with ease and seemingly no remorse. However left to themselves, they are tormented with guilt for their victims and hopeless thoughts of what they once were and could have been had they remained mortal. They seek the light and even death but can achieve neither.
In THE VAMPIRE ARMAND and indeed all of her Vampire books, Ann
Rice paints her vampires in such a heroically tragic manner that we forgive them
their crimes and indeed condemn the prey they seek. They are the consummate
prodigal sons, ageless and with no home to go back to. They feed on the fatted
calves of the world at their pleasure. We love them because they are beautiful
and stronger than we could ever be. We fear them as much as we are attracted to
them. In the end, all we can do with our hopes, fears, and dreams is wish the
author well and pray for a new book soon and perhaps a moment of grace for our
Andre Norton is renowned as a pioneer in the field of Science Fiction; she has been writing for six decades, primarily for young adults. I first read her books in elementary school, along with Heinlein's juveniles, and I picked up SCENT OF MAGIC with nostalgic pleasure.
Unfortunately, I've grown up. That being said, SCENT OF MAGIC is a Fantasy clearly designed to appeal to girls in search of heroines and role models. The young scullery maid Willadene is both spunky and quick-witted. Appalled at the prospect of being sold to the unsavory Wyche, Willadene seizes the first opportunity to seek refuge with the only woman who has shown her kindness since her parents died of the plague. To her dismay, she finds the Herbmistress Halwice herself in need of rescuing, a challenge Willadene braves successfully. In the process, Willadene begins to suspect that her nose for sniffing out elusive scents might be more than an ordinary talent. She begins to learn the rudiments of Halwice's craft, and comes across the legend of Heart-hold, a mysterious flower reputed to give forth a perfume no lover can withstand. Such rarities are the stock of Halwice's trade in unique perfumes and herbal remedies. Norton lovingly describes the apothecary's shop, with its exquisite crystal perfume bottles and fragrant herbs and flowers, immersing the reader in Willadene's world.
Equally appealing to a young reader is the plight of High Lady Mahart. Mahart is no fairy-tale princess, but a bright and self-possessed young woman emerging into a complex and treacherous world after a sheltered childhood. Her father is only Duke of Kronen by lucky accident - he survived the plague that killed most of the other contenders for the title. Inept and ill at ease on the throne, he leaves most of the dukedom's plans and policy decisions to Chancellor Vazul, an enigmatic man that Mahart rather fears.
In covert opposition to the Duke's rule
is High Lady Saylana and her unsavory son Barbric. The subtle power struggle
comes to a head with the pending visit of Prince Lorien, a redoubtable young
hero and potential match for Mahart. But Saylana has plans of her own for both
Lorien and Mahart, plans that the Chancellor knows nothing about.
Norton's young heroines are not superwomen. Willadene, who has never ridden before Nicholas brings her a horse, suffers all the usual pains and indignities of a beginner. Mahart, concerned with winning her father's approval and making a good impression on the people she will one day lead, is hesitant to make decisions on her own, and slow to recognize her danger. But the girls' foibles make them more likeable; any teenager will feel kinship with their insecurities and occasional angst over things the grownups--supposedly older and wiser--dismiss as insignificant.
Norton's humor is
understated and whimsical, and depends on ironies of situation rather than witty
repartee between the characters. Poetic justice is served out in healthy
portions. As is usual with Norton's books, good and evil are clearly defined,
and neither the action nor the delicate courtships transgress the bounds of what
my grandmother would consider good taste. Norton's style is convoluted, and at
times somewhat cumbersome, but overall it lends the book an archaic tone well
suited to a tale of destiny and high magic.
All things come to pass, but according to Harry Harrison there will be STARS & STRIPES FOREVER. His recent Alternate History novel takes place in 1861-1862, in the early years of the U.S. Civil War. It's based on a historical incident know as the Trent Affair, where a British ship carrying mail and two Confederate envoys was seized by the United States Navy. This was considered a great affront to England (who already sympathized with the Confederate States) and it brought her to the brink of war. Taking certain actual events just a bit further Harrison tweaks history to create a world where England's involvement changes the course of the war in an unexpected way.
Harrison obviously has a strong grasp of history, and does a good job setting the period. His knowledge and use of both history and the military create a sense of realism that make certain parts of the story captivating. However, although the plotline engages the reader's interest, the characters to a large extent do not. There is a built in problem when dealing with historical figures - the author is constrained by their documented personalities and has less freedom to create engaging characteristics. Compounding the problem is the excessive exposition - characters too often vocally explaining what they think and feel, giving the story an unnatural, screenplay like effect. The dramatic points also seem to turn events drastically, the way that things happen in a "feel good" movie rather than the slower developments you expect from a novel. Changes of heart seem a bit too abrupt and changes of fortune a bit too one sided.
The author does do a very good job with the British characters. They are accurately portrayed, harboring a disdain for most things American (a backwater that managed to escape the Empire). Harrison also displays a strong knowledge of military matters, and the campaigns he writes about are startlingly plausible. The reader has no problem envisioning the fighting going in much the way that he describes it.
Although historical events could have been developed more slowly
and realistically for those primarily interested in either the military or this
time period, this is a book worth reading.
Earth has been invaded by aliens (called Entities) who, after causing widespread panic and pandemonium upon their arrival, deprive Earth of electricity for several months and then proceed to shut themselves off from humanity. Earth slides into anarchy as all forms of communication, government and financial institutions crumble. The aliens use some humans to achieve their mysterious ends through a form of telepathy (called Push) and when electricity is eventually restored by the aliens, it is clear that humans are no longer in control of their destiny. Resistance is met with large-scale plagues and executions but a few freedom fighters continue the struggle regardless of the consequences to others. So begins THE ALIEN YEARS, a novel that bridges a gap between an alien invasion story and the story of the Carmichael family (led by Colonel Anson Carmichael) who make attempts to resist the aliens across fifty years and several generations (often ending in tragedy).
The story of the Carmichael family is the focal point of the whole novel and is often engaging and moving. You root for them when they take part in the missions to free humanity of the aliens and you feel for them during their times of crisis and loss. The aliens however are right out of the alien pulp-mold of yesteryear; fifteen foot purple creatures with tentacles who look and behave like guys in rubber suits making a "B" movie. This in itself is distracting to the story.
The novel is often reminiscent of H.G. Well's WAR OF THE WORLDS
but it takes the idea too far. Like WAR OF THE WORLDS, the focus of the story is
on humanity's struggle against oppression with little to no emphasis on the
aliens themselves or their motivations. The aliens just follow some unknown plan
without any rhyme or reason. Readers today however demand more world-building
and realistic aliens than THE ALIEN YEARS delivers. At the end, the reader is
left with a feeling of despair and sadness both because of the conclusion to the
novel (which is unsatisfying but acceptable given the set-up Silverberg employs)
and the realization of what THE ALIEN YEARS could have been. THE ALIEN YEARS is
billed as Silverberg's epic masterpiece but I found that Silverberg wrote his
masterpieces many years ago and although THE ALIEN YEARS may be the best novel
he has written in quite along time, it is a pale shadow of Silverberg's early
The Hoka are a race of pretty sharp characters, given that they look like teddy bears and are unable to separate fiction from reality. If you think the classic Trek episode "A Piece of The Action" showed the danger of cultural contamination, you haven't seen anything.
Thirty years prior to the first story in this connected series, a Terran scout ship introduced some simple metalworking and a few western movies. Now Alexander Jones, lately having crashed his survey flitter and reduced to walking across the dry Tokan prairie is surprised to find himself in the company of cowboy teddy bears with a flair for the dramatic and a take on cowboy life no author ever consciously intended. Demoted from revered human to the lowest social position The Old West offered - Sheriff, Jones has to find a way back to his survey vessel, fend off an Indian massacre, or at the very least, not drink himself dead off the local, and very potent, rotgut.
HOKA! HOKA! HOKA! is a compilation of short stories from this series of collaborations between two of SF's masters, which dates back to the mid 50's. It's a delightful collection of pastiches. Each an adventure with Alexander Jones at the center as his political career as Human Plenipotentiary among the Hokas and each in a different literary culture. As he guides the furry creatures toward membership in the Galactic Civilization, Jones finds himself in the midst of THE HOUND OF THE BASKERVILLES searching for an alien drug smuggler; at the head of the Space Patrol zooming through the void after pirates; enlisted in the French foreign legion in a bid to save his beautiful wife before she's forced to gorge herself at the hands of alien savages aliens; or off in the diplomatic intrigues of British spy masters abroad with the Hokan Secret Service. A timely adventure recounts "Casey at the Bat" as the mighty Hokan face off in an intergalactic series.
There was once a popular notion that you could be anything you set your mind to. HOKA! HOKA! HOKA! must date from its heyday. Not only do the energetic Hokans believe they are fictional characters, a belief they keep trying to include Jones in, but they often pull it off. Maddeningly cheerful, cunning as the characters they portray, the whole thing is madcap and wildly funny. It's a pretty good formula for comedy. The pitfalls of various genres stand out as Alexander Jones struggles to keep a planet full of overly imaginative teddy bears out of trouble, and himself out of a job.
HOKA! HOKA! HOKA! isn't especially deep, but it lampoons a wide
range of genre fiction while having a lot of fun. Recommended.
Returning home from a sleepless night spent helping a cow give birth, the young mage Dion Holyhands is annoyed to find a disreputable Wanderer on her doorstep offering her a foretelling in return for a bit of cheese. "We will all be going home soon," he tells her. Like the Wanderer, Dion is also a Morian. She too yearns for her homeland but knows that return is impossible while the Church of the Burning Light rules Moria; a mage by training and a healer by profession, she would be burned for the sin of working magic without Church sanction.
Jane Routley deftly weaves the prosaic and the romantic together into a colorful tapestry of magic, politics and love in FIRE ANGELS, the exciting sequel to MAGE HEART. Told in Dion's voice, the story moves rapidly from that first encounter with the mysterious Wanderer to the arrival of two half-brothers Dion scarcely remembers. They beg her to give up her healing craft in Gallia and return with them to Moria to help search for her half-sister Tasha, and promise to protect her from the Burning Light.
Dion has no strong ties to her family. Her mother, an inn servant, had seven children, most by different men; it is a disreputable past Dion put behind her when she was sold very young to a mage who apprenticed her to his art. But a mind search of the two men convinces her that they are indeed telling the truth, and further, that Tasha is somehow involved in nightmares Dion has been having of a red-eyed stone woman who feeds on her life force the way demons feed on their victims.
Dion knows more than she wants about demons; she once fell in love with a demon in human form, dazzled by his charisma, and became a pawn in his struggle to free himself from the necromancer who controlled him. What Dion sees in her brothers' minds convinces her that there is a powerful necromancer at work in southern Moria, and she reluctantly agrees to accompany them to their home and help them look for Tasha. Much to her dismay, her brothers also make plans to take Parrus, her sometime lover and a thorough opportunist, along with them on the theory that two mages will be better than one.
As it turns out, there is no need for a search - Tasha was found and brought home to die by Shad Forest, a woodcutter. Despite Shad's apparent kindness, and his charm, Dion is reluctant to trust him. Tasha was fed on by a demon - Dion knows the signs. Is Shad a necromancer, or even a bound demon?
The arrival of all these strangers in the small town of Annac doesn't go unnoticed; the inn is visited first by witchfinders of the Burning Light, then by Fire Angels, the dread appearance demons typically take when summoned into the human world. It takes all of Shad's wit and Dion's magic to escape. Aided by Wanderers, they make their way to the Wanderers' secret refuge, where the astonishing truth about Dion's mother is revealed. The pace quickens as the plot grows more complex, but never does Routley loose focus or bury the reader in inconsequential details. Dion's voice is wry, honest, passionate and entirely consistent with that of a young woman thrust unwilling into the political scene by virtue of her unique gifts. To her, magic is as natural as breathing. She knows her vast power, but is also aware of her naivete and the tragic mistakes she has made in the past by trusting the wrong people. Only when using her magic does she feel calm, secure and in control - a seduction that inevitably leads to her greatest temptation.
Jane Routley's writing style is refreshingly direct and witty,
and the world she creates owes more to the complexity of Renaissance Europe than
Medieval England. Her demons are fiendish and inhuman in their hungers and
cunning plots. Dion's loyalties are to the Duke's fiancée, Julia Madraga, last
survivor of the royal house of Moria, but her obligations to the Duke of Gallia,
her erstwhile patron, draw her into a web of courtly intrigue. The climax is
unpredictable yet, in retrospect, inevitable. The framework of Routley's world
is consistent without being tedious; after all, it is Dion's world too, and Dion
is telling us the story of her life, not the history of her country. The
conclusion of this immensely satisfying book was as enjoyable as the beginning,
and yet it leaves the door open for a sequel that I, for one, am anxious to
There is a tremendous Fett following (my editor's choice of words, not mine) in that he is one of the most popular characters in the Star Wars universe. After reading SLAVE SHIP I can understand why. Boba Fett seems to be developing, under Jeter's capable direction, into a very appealing character. He has survived countless attempts on his life and always emerges victorious. In some ways, he is starting to remind me of James Bond. He just won't die. Fett is seen as a very silent and solitary character, and the limited omniscient view taken by the author continues this perception. One can not get too close to Fett and the fact that he is known as one of the most feared characters in the galaxy only adds to this. However, when he does speak, he has the ability to persuade with the finesse of a politician.
Most of the cast returns in SLAVE SHIP, especially Kud'ar Mubat and his subassembly Balancesheet. Unarguably, the duo are still the most enchanting characters and in this installment Jeter has given them another opportunity to shine, with G2 stellar brilliance. Matters have gotten to the point where Balancesheet has secretly cut the leash his master keeps him on, while he pretends to be loyal. Bossk, the reptilian bounty hunter, allies himself with Boba Fett in another shaky partnership where the only question is which partner will end up with the figurative knife protruding from his back. After all, Bossk was supposed to be the heir of the Bounty Hunter's Guild which Fett splintered. This time, they unite to capture a renegade stormtrooper who has some Imperial codes that the Emperor seems to want returned.
Kuat of Kuat Drive Yards makes a stronger appearance as the hereditary leader of the corporation that is one of the Imperial Empire's biggest contractors for ship building. He is trying to save his business from Imperial takeover, and wants to see Fett dead because he holds the tape of a raid at a certain moisture farm on Tatooine. Also involved in this growing web of intrigue are Dengar and Neelah, who seem content to follow Fett in a limited partnership. Although there were politics involved in THE MANDALORIAN ARMOR, they are growing much stronger in SLAVE SHIP. Most of the characters could apply for positions as CIA operatives as there are so many conspiracies, lies and subplots. In the middle of it all is Boba Fett, who manages to neatly be two steps ahead of the game in what seems to be a galactic chess match.
K.W. Jeter has succeeded admirably, and his style is beginning to feel very approachable and straightforward. Although Timothy Zahn will forever remain as the man to whom the emergence of Star Wars fiction must be credited, Jeter appears to be a strong contender who might match Zahn's scope and depth. Nevertheless, not all Star Wars novels are created equal. While he can compare to Zahn, there is a difference in style between the two authors. Zahn leaves the impression of a story very well told and here is a flawless smoothness and elegance in his novels. However, most of the plot is ridiculously easy to figure out. Jeter is more of a mystery writer, and keeps the reader guessing as he drops subtle clues. Not only that, but Jeter has the ability to create tension that gives the sensation of looking down 10,000 feet from the open hatch of a plane.
The best example of this is in the opening of the book. Bossk
has just blown up Boba Fett's ship when he hears a voice start to count down
from 20. With each second, Jeter vividly describes Bossk's thought process as he
rushes to pack a few self defense accessories and get himself into an escape
pod. All this is done only to realize, after blasting off, that there is a voice
inside the pod. The panic begins in earnest as he tries to figure out a way to
diffuse the explosive and can not with nine seconds remaining. The best part is
when the voice stops and there is no explosion. That is the moment he realizes
that he has been tricked into leaving his ship, which is promptly hijacked by
none other than the best bounty hunter in the business.
Editors Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling bring us the fourth book in their delightful and disturbing fairy tale anthologies just in time for Halloween.
Twenty tales and poems by authors as various as Joyce Carole
Oates, Midori Snyder, Jane Yolen, John Crowley, Nancy Kress and Esther M.
Friesner, among others, are collected in this new volume. These short stories by
the masters of contemporary Fantasy are a far cry from the pastel Disney
productions most of us think of when someone mentions fairy tales. Witty,
dangerous, gruesome and breathtaking by turns, they offer both clever tricks and
pleasing treats. Hansel and Gretel are brought to trial for burning an old woman
alive, a sensational event in the small German town, and are rescued at the last
moment by the appearance of their stepmother...who is really the witch?
Northern Stars is an anthology of short works by Canadian authors. One of the major attractions of the SF genre is its ability to whip your head around 180 degrees. It offers up a fresh perspective and makes you think. In fact, anthologies are in some ways better than novels because the essence of the author is distilled. It gives the reader an opportunity to be introduced to many authors and at the same time, if they don't appreciate the ideas presented, there is no long term commitment to endure through a few hundred pages. There are 28 contributors in the anthology, and it's not feasible to discuss all of the authors. Besides, the likelihood that most people know more than three contributors (William Gibson, Spider Robinson, and Robert Sawyer for instance) is quite rare.
Canadian fiction in general is concerned with environment, especially when it is in conflict with its inhabitants, which is largely due to the sometimes inhospitable geography and weather of The Great White North. "A Niche" by Peter Watts illustrates this. The story deals with an underwater exploration station like the one in THE ABYSSS. Not only do the characters have to deal with the pressure of the ocean crushing their sanctuary and with the creatures from the deep when they leave the station to explore, but also getting along with each other for weeks on end.
Some of the pieces are located in Canada, such as a futuristic Maritimes in "Outport" by Garfield Reeves-Stevens or the Western roadhouse setting of "Ballads in 3/4 Time" by Robert Charles Wilson where the entertainment is human, but of the vat grown variety.
Other tales are set in outer space, such as "Loneliness of the Long Distance Writer" by Lesley Choyce where there are only four people left in the solar system who read. That is until they find an audience for their writing in research ships where the descendants are the ones who reach the stars and are starving for something new to read.
Another aspect of Canadian SF is the presence of writers from the province of Quebec. Oui. Les Quebecois. Apparently, there is a flourishing of SF written by Canadians in French, but it is generally overlooked because there are not a lot of translations accessible to American audiences. Published mainly in France and Quebec they are as a result recognized mostly in those two areas. About one third of the selections in NORTHERN STARS were written by francophones and the translations were included to give English readers a taste. Most stories have a sense of solitude and a continental European flavor.
Personally, I discovered that I had a more passionate response to the translated stories. I either intensely loved or disliked the styles and ideas of the writers. My two favorites were Elisabeth Vonarburg's tale of an woman who discovers that she's not human but artificially made and Yves Meynard's "Stolen Fires" which has a beautiful fairy tale quality to it. It is about a man and an angel who swap stories that turn out to be two related myths of a new world told from two different perspectives.
The most interesting part about this anthology is the fact that
there are now enough Canadian SF authors producing SF that they can be grouped
into a theme for presentation. As most collections do, NORTHERN STARS offers
something interesting and appealing for everyone so check it out, eh!
Of The State - Touchstone Pictures
Review by Ernest Lilley
ENEMY OF THE STATE is very good. Will Smith and Gene Hackman are brilliant casting choices, and the script is equal to their talent. My biggest fear was that the preachy liberal antigovernment message running through the film would be made less important by a lack of balance. In the end I decided that there was just enough balance to satisfy me.
Will Smith plays a DC attorney, obviously a good guy. He takes on the mob to protect union workers rights, loves his wife, and only sees his ex-girlfriend and mistress because she happens to be his contact for the secretive investigator he uses in his cases. Ok, nobody's perfect, and he's clearly got a thing for the ex. An interesting exercise for the viewer is to figure out who he's in a lingerie store buying presents for. The only clue they give us is that the model who's helping him has smaller breasts than his "wife". Hmm. Not much to go on, but I'll take the case.
Suddenly a man bursts in through the back of the store, NSA agents seconds behind. It's Smith's unlucky day that it's someone he knew in college, possible in the small world of DC. The running man drops a computer memory card into Smith's bag and runs on. On the card is digital video of an illegal NSA operation, and the Asst. Director running it wants it back. Realizing that Smith may have it, even though he doesn't know it, the NSA begins a campaign of misinformation to discredit Smith before he can go public.
His life collapsing around him, Smith turns to the secretive "Brill", the investigator that he has never met. Gene Hackman plays the reclusive ex-NSA operative perfectly. All he wants is to get out of the middle of this mess and resume his invisibility, but he's dragged back by a promise he made to a partner - the ex-girlfriend's father.
Today more than ever the kind of high tech invasion of privacy portrayed in the movie is pretty believable. The only weakness is in believing that all the satellites and communication vans and helicopters can be made available to a bad operation like this without any oversight. Maybe they can. There was actually only one scene that I didn't buy, where a bug on Smith's clothing allowed them to pinpoint his location inside a hotel and show it on a wireframe map. But maybe they can.
Hackman gets the better one liners in the film. "Live another day, and I'll be really impressed." Vies with the recurring: "You're either incredibly smart, or incredibly stupid." Both, naturally, but at different times.
Will Smith's character plays the urbane Oreo cookie lawyer a shade too lightly in the beginning, sending cases of Chablis over to a union client in the hospital who was beaten by the mob. After a while he believes the advice of his reluctant mentor in survival and divests himself of all the trappings of his life that make him vulnerable, starting with his pants and ending with his view of morality.
The action sequences are frequent and fast paced. The tension between Hackman and Smith is ultimately formulaic, but frequently refreshing. The gizmo factor is tremendous for the first half of the film, but by the end you start wondering if we're seeing the same CGI of a spy satellite over and over again.
The bad guys remind us that the spy business isn't really made up of polished guys in European sports cars and tuxes. Here it's grunge attired Gen X hackers that get off on invading bedrooms, thugs hired out of prison, and middle aged politicians with powerbases and private scandals to protect.
Add this one to the shelf next to PATRIOT GAMES, THE PRESIDENT'S ANALYST, and THE NET. We need movies like this periodically to remind us to be wary of Big Brother, but if you look closely there is an almost unwilling counter-argument that the same technology is available to the private citizen. Perhaps not to the degree that ex-spy Hackman manages, but to no small degree in reality.
The watchers are vulnerable to accountability. It remains our
job to hold them to it.
Carpenter's Vampires - Columbia
Review by Ernest Lilley
There's a dark knight whose mother was killed by a vampire when he was a child, and now hunts the undead. There is a secret society of Vampires that the world prefers not to acknowledge. There's a plot afoot to turn the head vampire into a creature that can walk in sunlight without exploding in gooey pyrotechnics. To pull this off one needs the blood of the vampire hunter. There's an attractive girl along for the ride that's been bitten by the head bloodsucker and is slowly turning into a child of the night.
Wait a minute…that was BLADE. No, don't confuse J.C.'S VAMPIRES with BLADE, just because they have the same story. BLADE was entertaining. Pity that the executives at Sony couldn't have admitted to themselves that this movie sucked, and not blood either.
James Wood plays the Catholic Church's chief vampire killer, Jack Crow. As a boy his father was bitten by a vampire and killed Jack's mother. Jack killed his father, a pretty good trick, considering the superhuman strength of vampires. Anyway, the church takes him in, grows him up and sends him out with a crossbow, an assistant padre, one of the Baldwin brothers for a sidekick and a collection of redshirt team members. To kill vampires. In the southwest.
After a hard day cleaning out a vampires nests in the desert, Jack and the boys kick back with beers and hookers at the Sungod Motel. Ol' Jack's never off duty though, and while his boys are trying to figure out what to do with hookers that won't threaten the R rating, he's looking glum and wondering why the master vampire wasn't home. Don't worry Jack, vampires can't resist a good party. Pretty soon the redshirts and hookers are all dead and Jack is driving off into the night with a party girl who's been bitten off screen in a scene that provides the closest thing to a sexual moment as you will find in the film. Personally, I prefer sex to violence, but I guess I'm weird.
And there's more. Somebody in the church is tipping off the undead. We know this because the vampire leader knows Jack's name. Like his reputation hasn't preceded him. Most of the movie is spent waiting for the hooker to turn into a vampire, while our boy exploits the telepathic link from vampire to victim. Why the prey should get images and not the hunter is only one of the film's many puzzlements.
It's got everything. Cheap dialog, inconsistent rules of the undead, cheap running gags and no way to move the film forward without the main character getting out and pushing. The pushing comes in the form of scenes which exist solely for the sake of exposition. The cheap running gag is Wood's insistence on asking everyone if they got any "wood" after every fight scene. The only pleasure I got out of this exchange was to imagine James Wood wincing as he delivered the lines.
The bad news is that JOHN CARPENTER'S VAMPIRES is a cross
between BLADE and DUSK TILL DAWN, but not the best parts. And they at least had
best parts. The good news is that you can rent them instead.
The holidays are here and there is no better time to sink back and relax. What with all the turkeys out there it’s important to keep a good handle on what’s worth pursuing and what’s not. To that end I’m making a list and checking it twice. Unlike the jolly fat man I’ll clue you in on who’s naughty and nice. Tell everyone else to go shopping. We’ve got video incoming and some of it don’t look pretty.
GODZILLA, TriStar Pictures, Rated PG-13, 139
Directed by Roland Emmerich, Music by David Arnold, Story by (more writers than actors) Ted Elliot & Terry Rossio and Dean Devlin & Roland Emmerich, Screenplay by Dean Devlin & Roland Emmerich.
The bright spot in this entire film is Jean Reno’s character and his acting ability. This only fills about 10 minutes of film though. It’s big. It’s green. (Actually it’s kind of hard to tell what color it is since the entire thing seems to take place either in a heavy rain or at night--except for those scenes which involve both rain and darkness of course.) It’s come to Manhattan for the same reason everyone comes to Manhattan--to piss off the mayor. This takes about five minutes and I won’t even try to fathom what Director/Producer/Writer/Cook Emmerich was thinking when he made the mayor and his aide parodies of film critics Siskel and Ebert. I should point out that there are parts of the movie which take place in daylight. These are scenes which involve looking at footprints however and are otherwise of little consequence. The remaining 124 minutes consist of the military looking like boobs, most of the non-military characters struggling to fill the stereotypical roles they’ve been saddled with, and closing your mind to the huge plot and story holes which come at you faster than you can say Deep Impact.
Oh yeah, the monster. Well, all I can say is son, I’ve seen Godzilla and you ain’t no Godzilla. Sure you’re big and stupid. Sure you love destroying cities. Sure you swat helicopters with the best of them. But the head’s all wrong. The breath is bad. The walk is funny. And the babies are nothing but Velociraptors Spielberg passed on. What’s that you say? Babies? Yeah, well, go figure. If you like dark, gloomy movies which lack plot sense then this is the video for you. Looks squished on the little screen as well. Pass this one up and head for the original.
BABYLON 5: IN THE BEGINNING, Warner
Brothers, Not Rated, 93 minutes
Directed by (do you really care?), Written by (Please, stop insisting for information which has no meaning to you.) Music by (Music? They have music on these?)
This is the first full length movie made from the series. Needless to say, pretty much everyone who was in the first couple of episodes is in this flick. IN THE BEGINNING essentially sets the stage for the series. Now, you might think that this is kind of a strange thing to do for a series which has run for four years. Well, okay, it is kind of strange since they are doing so much obvious backfilling because those of us who are really attentive would catch them and harangue them to death for mistakes.
The events detailed here tell the story of the human/Mimbari war as told by an aging Emperor Mollari. What we get are the events which cause the war, some decent battle sequences, some sense of how characters got to where they are, lots of info we already got but which is needed to move the plot, and just enough forward movement story-wise to make the whole thing watchable.
Probably a must have for fanatics but also a pretty good flick in its own right. It would be interesting shown in sequence, in other words as the first entry to the Babylon 5 mythos.
Warner is releasing other videos as well so Bab’s should be happy for the holidays.
ARMAGEDDON, Touchstone, Rated PG-13, 144 minutes (150 in Sweden)
Directed by Michael Bay, Written by Jonathan Hensleigh (story) and Robert Roy Pool.
When an asteroid the size of Texas heads for earth, writers run
while special effects wizards bask. This is an effects heavy flick with much
nationalism (People in Sweden laughed at the patriotic parts) geared to American
audiences. The special effects fade to cartoon space flying in the middle but
the destruction of Paris is something to see. Willis plays square jawed
(Surprise!!) Harry Stamper, the head of a deep drilling team who gets recruited
to go into space and blow up this asteroid. Two hours of training at NASA makes
spacemen of them all and they’re off. Surprisingly, the space men can’t learn to
become drillers because it is just too complex and intuitive. Formula plot saved
by some great acting on the part of Buscemi and the minor characters and by a
writing team that knows how to cover poor science and plot with explosions and
loud music. It will make you cheer and cry and then wonder why. This will make
you go see it again. Gather a group and try to watch this on as big a screen as
possible. Perhaps the most emotionally packed SF movie of the decade.
SF : Greatest Science Fiction Hits IV -
Neil Norman And His Cosmic Orchestra
I'm guilty of judging a book by its cover, or in this case a CD by its jacket. Despite the really cheesy artwork, this is actually worth buying. Go figure.
Every tune is a high energy tribute to SF themes. A few wander off into spydom, but don’t we all. From the opening chords of the Amazing Stories theme to Danny Elfman's Men In Black, these 28 themes are all listenable, and a number of them are strikingly good. A few are 1st releases of tunes that should have gotten more attention before this. My favorites:
Amazing Stories - Neil Norman has been providing tributes to John Williams for years. You may think of him as primarily a movie composer, but Lost In Space, Time Tunnel, and Land Of the Giants all featured his work. Here's a nice rendition of a more recent theme. Escape from the Planet of the Apes - Arranged by Jerry Goldsmith and recorded with Joel Goldsmith on synthesizer. As Norman says in the liner notes, it's good to see a talented musical family continue. The Wild Wild West - And I thought this was going to be an SF extravaganza. It's fun to listen to this one anyway. The orchestra has a big sound that certainly evokes memories of an enjoyable series. The Adventures of Buckaroo Bonzai - (1st recorded release) Where you going monkey boy - Planet 10? This first release of the theme from one of SF's quirkier films is absolutely worth the cost of the CD alone. It's a great rendition of a neglected piece. Very 80s and very, very good. Kind of makes you want to rent the video on DVD. Stargate SG-1- I haven't been following the cable release of Stargate, and the movie only moderately impressed me, but David Arnold's theme is lush, heroic, and evocative all at once. Neil has recorded both the main and end title themes in a nice couplet. Airwolf - The sound of chopper blades leading into this piece perks everybody's ears up. They almost recognize it, but can't quite make the connection. Neil is absolutely right to warn listeners that listening to Airwolf while driving may cause damage to your licensee! The James Bond Theme - When you say Bondage, people listen. Neil's father produced the original Billy Strange Bond Single in the 60's, so Bond has been a family tradition for him. This version was recorded live at the House of Blues in Hollywood. It's certainly got energy, and it's best cranked way up. This Bond is definitely shaken…not stirred. Star Trek, The X-Files, Jurassic Park, Godzilla, Zena and Hercules…they're all here too, and the worst of them is still fair. The best of this collection is really good.
Cover Art: Mind Changer - John Berkey, Playing God - Steve Youll, Star Wars: Slave Ship - Steve Youll, Hoka,Hoka,Hoka - Stephen Hickman
Titles we are considering include: Distraction - Bruce Sterling, Mission Child - Maureen F. McHugh, Rules of Engagement - Elizabeth Moon, Starfarer - Poul Anderson, The Cleft and Other Odd Tales - Gahan Wilson and The Guilded Chain -Dave Duncan
Plus a look at the latest Star Trek offering - a review of the newly released Insurrection and an interview with its Captain, Patrick Stewart and its director Jonathan Frakes.
by emailing SFRevu@aol.com with "Subscribe" in the subject, and how you found out about SFRevu.