SFRevu brings Science Fiction reviews and interviews to the web each month.
Letter from the Editor - Holiday
NewsBits - Contact (Adventures in Fandom)
Speaking of Southern Fandom, Absolute Magnitude (and much more) Publisher Warren Lapine has moved down here and I'm sure he'll find the South suits him. In winter, even a Yankee like me entertains warm thoughts about this region.
Though in the Deep South for Christmas, I kept hard at work on this issue, E-mailing Associate Editor Sharon Archer from a variety of locations along the way, often with digital pics to support my peripatetic claims. One stop, The Kennedy Space Center, gets featured in the CONTACT! Section as the adventure in fandom of the month. We enjoyed a visit to our spaceport, but I kept wondering what would happen if everyone coming through the gates read Victor Koman's KINGS OF THE HIGH FRONTIER, with its criticism of NASA as a roadblock on the highway to the stars
Rather than NewsBits this issue, I asked SF friends to share their holiday wishes. I think you'll like the results.
The Focus On section owes much to friend and contributor Tony Tellado and his enterprise; Sci-Fi Talk. Tony has always been a big supporter of Star Trek, and when he had the opportunity to do a series of interviews with Patrick Stewart, Brent Spiner, and Jonathon Frakes promoting the release of Star Trek: Insurrection, he offered to share it with us. With that as an anchor I decided to feature Trek this issue and several other pieces are included. Even so, John Ordover's publishing empire is vast indeed, and we barely scratched the surface.
Sci-Fi Talk's own page is worth dropping in on at http://members.aol.com/scifitalk.
Paul Giguere finally wore me down and we're running his review of DARWINIA. Lots of folks like this fanciful Alt. Hist. / Scientific Fantasy, Paul Among them. I don't happen to be one, but there is no accounting for taste. I thought STARFARERS was one of the best things Poul Anderson has done and a review appears in this issue. Paul tells me he couldn't get into it. Go figure.
Steve Sawicki's Video Column continues to provide direction for the holiday hordes standing in confusion down at the video store. Pay special attention to his casting comments, and hope you never see you own name in his sights.
It's time for me to put this page on the web and turn my focus to the friends and family around me. Merry Christmas to all, and whatever your beliefs, may they bring you peace and joy.
Ernest Lilley, Editor / Publisher SFRevu
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NewsBits: Christmas spirit fell on me like the snowfall of years past one recent morning. I was suddenly full of a wistful desire to gather everyone I know in a big room with a tree and force eggnog on them. In cyberspace, anything is possible. Instead of my regular NewsBits column in the December SFRevu, I want to share the holiday wishes of members of the SF Community with readers.
So I made up a Christmas Spam and sent it out to readers and authors here are some of the replies.Thanks to everyone.
Ernest's Christmas Spam Recipe
If you were thinking, "Gee, I wish I could give the world a hug and tell them that the dystopic future I write about won't come this year...or at least I hope it won't...," or maybe, being a cyber grinch you hope it will, please reply with a short holiday wish. Of course if you wanted to include a mention of how important SFRevu has become in your life...no, it's OK, just give me socks again this year...
Christmas night, sometime before midnight. In a back yard large enough to park a car in but not two, I'm sitting on a bench I built myself from a slab of slate and two terra cotta blocks salvaged from the demolition of the old Roxy Theater, a block away. The bench is cold beneath me, and I'm smoking a cigar. The sky is a mixture of clouds and stars. Perhaps there are a few flakes of snow.
Slowly, I exhale. A cigar-smoke dragon hangs, pale and blue, in the air. Rising, it thins. Thinning, it disappears. It is a time of war and madness, and the anger I feel is a constant, clenched presence.
But silence heals. By degree I surrender first tension, then emotion, and finally the babbling voice of self. Until my thoughts are as clear as the frigid air, and I am able to put voice to what existence tells us every instant: Peace on Earth. But to those of good will, more--happiness, love, the strength to bear up under sorrow, the knowledge that you are not alone.
That's all. Merry Christmas, and many more.
Remember: In the dead of winter when the days grow mean,
Mary Doria Russell
There is really no time of year when we feel more Jewish than at
Christmas. We are very aware of what so many Christians say they miss--the sense that this
day commemorates the birth of Jesus. The day has a purity for us. It's not about presents
or eating or fighting with the in-laws over whose house the newest married couple will
celebrate in. It's about the birth of a child who became a person of great moral courage
and immense historical importance.
OKAY... HERE GOES..."ALERT! In case none of you have noticed -- we've got just one year to get the flying cars, moving sidewalks, and space liners to balmy Venus! And where are the food pills and robot butlers? Come on, people. The future's almost here. Hop to it!!" ? ;-) - With best regards, David Brin
Christmas greetings? Hmmm...."May you survive the shopping mall with your sense of humor intact, and may no one give you an ugly tie (David Hartwell is exempted from this last blessing)."
Merry Holidays and a happy new and final year before the Y2K bug crashes the world and we all die freezing in unheated domiciles, at least those of us who survive the gas explosions, riots, food shortages, plane crashes, and other chaos brought on by too strong a reliance on technology. Remember that the dinosaurs developed computers just before they became extinct, how else to explain that silicon layer? Free Bill Gates for only he has the answer or, alternatively Spooze, Dudes!
It has been my pleasure to have been a contributor to SFRevu this past year and look forward to doing so when the millennium arrives as well. Ernest is also a good friend. Happy Holidays to all and to all a great 1999. Let's end the 20th Century in style.
What happened to Scrooge??Happy Holidays & Best Wishes for 1999 See you at Arisia
The dystopic future is here, unfortunately, but it does not stop those who still firmly believe in Santa and the good will of humanity (Saddam not withstanding). Merry Christmas to all and a Happy Healthy and Safe New Year.
I haven't been to the KSC for a decade, and the only other time I was here was just after Challenger, so you might not be surprised to know nothing much was shaking then. It's much better now, and the center has just finished an impressive Saturn V display facility with an unused Saturn V, LEM, and Command capsule on display inside a cavernous building. Having watched the launch of Apollo 8 live on TV, I was surprised to find myself getting choked up as their launch center presentation counted down to a fiery ascent. Of course, I'm the guy who always wonders how the vote is going to go at the end of 1776.
KSC has improved its visitor displays over the years, but the new Apollo was the best part. Even the IMAC theater was a bit disappointing, as we watched the shuttle film, THE DREAM IS ALIVE, narrated by Walter Cronkite and displaying several Challenger crew when they were still alive. Beautiful footage, but dated. The dream is on life support, I'm afraid.
The black rectangle shown above is the Astronaut's Memorial, with the names of fallen astronauts engraved in a marble surface which motors keep facing the sun. There are about 20 names on its face, most I recognized, but a few left me wondering. A bit more information nearby would have been welcome. Perhaps 20 names is a small price to pay for 40 years of space exploration. These days I'm just not sure.
If you grew up with the program, take a child along to watch through their eyes. Like mine, you may find yours misting over a bit. Like theirs, you may find them opening wide again.
Welcome to our Star Trek Extravaganza.
Sci-Fi Talk host and SFRevu contributor Tony Tellado attended a press junket for the latest Star Trek film shortly before its opening. Here are his interviews with several of Insurrection's principals including stars Patrick Stewart and Brent Spinner, in addition to actor/director Jonathan Frakes.
Tony Tellado: When we were all together here last for FIRST CONTACT, you spoke about the many different shifts that were in that movie for Picard. I think that continues in INSURRECTION with some shifts we hadn't seen in a while, especially a romantic one.
PS: Thank God. I'm glad you see them as shifts because there has been a suggestion that we're changing the character. This is certainly not an intention. The man is a three dimensional, rounded individual and all of these elements exist in him. In all gifted and passionate people, certain aspects will come out under different circumstances. We drew more on the series in this movie. It was significant because the studio had invited Michael Pillar to write the screenplay who had been a constant presence on Next Generation. Also I think with this film we get a little closer to something I still want, which is a real sense of the ensemble work of this group. This is a talented group of actors. They can do anything. In the series, every single actor could lead an episode.The idea that we could make this film, a little lighter, having the crew having a bit more fun, and introducing a couple of romantic stories was an excellent way to go because this cast can handle that kind of material very comfortably and make it seem quite natural. I would like to see a story line which would bring the seven of us closer together. There are stirrings of an idea that I think would just do that. I think for a lot of people who go to see these movies is the interaction between the principal actors that provides a lot of the charm. At the same time, we have to be very conscious of our need to create a new audience as well. We're trying to make movies where someone who has never heard of Star Trek can be entertained.
Q: What a about your romance in the film ?
PS: I was very happy in the way that relationship evolved. There was appropriate tension and attraction. In the writing of that role and the casting of Donna Murphy, they created a woman that Picard could really fall for and truly become dazzled by.
T^2: This is a strong story where Picard does something we haven't seen him do in a while, where he takes a moral stand.
PS: In both the last two films, he had been somewhat disturbed and disturbing in his emotional line. This was a classic example of Picard dealing with fundamental moral issues and it felt good to introduce those kind of elements into the film. It's what has been in the sub texts and the background of the best of Star Trek.
T^2: What do you think of the other SF Franchises?
I saw the trailer for Star Wars the other day, George Lucas introduces aliens so beautifully. I can't wait to see that movie. He has a way of introducing aliens with invention and imagination that's absolutely delightful. I feel that maybe in the next year or two, we should leave that to him.
T^2: I saw you in Moby Dick as Captain Ahab . You were fabulous.
PS: Thank you. What a great opportunity that was. I have been very blessed in the last two or three years to have a sequence of roles that are an actor's dream. Ahab being one of them. As I am aware, there were only two other actors beside myself that have ever put this role on the screen. After that I went to play OTHELLO in what has become known as photo negative Othello. It has been one of the most exciting periods of my work. And in the middle of that I have the experience of INSURRECTION. I think for the first time in 11 years, I got a feeling that Picard, the man, is there. He's absolutely in place. If we do another movie, then I want to take all we know about him and put it into the mix.
T^2: What's great about Data and especially in this film, is that he shows us different way of looking at the human condition. This was a great film for him to tell us 'stop and smell the roses'.
BS: That's what the objective was. The beauty of Data for me has always been the joy of an actor to be able to play a character who experiences the human condition with all its possibilities. That's been Data's thrust from the beginning. Wanting to be human and thus examining every nuance of humanity through innocence.
T^2: Jonathan Frakes really puts you through a ringer dropping you from a soundstage in FIRST CONTACT and soaking you in water for INSURRECTION.
BS: I had to take a walk in 40 degree water. I wanted there to be golf narration (whispering like a TV golf commentator ),' He is walking in 40 degree water. Will he survive ?' I have never did that before. I asked how far do I have to go in. And they said that I have to disappear. Ok. A stuntman did it before me just to see if it was possible. You really can't walk into water, you tend to come up. We both had weights on our ankles to keep us down. There was also an underwater ramp, so when you got to the point when you got back up, you could pull yourself in. The stuntman said that when the water hits you in the chest you're going to panic. I had to stay in character. There were other cameras that showed me from the front. It was funnier to see me from the back. I wish there was a shot from the front so you could see that I didn't flinch. The water had snow melt off the top of the Sierra Nevadas. Jonathan has put me through it, it's true. Not to mention helicoptering to the top of the mountain. I don't like heights but I don't mind water especially at 80 degrees.
Q: Has anyone discussed another Trek film ?
BS: I haven't. Fortunately or unfortunately, it's supply and demand. We live in Hollywood, USA and it's a big business. Star Trek is a very big business for Paramount Pictures. If this film makes a profit then they'll do another one. If it doesn't, I 'm even more certain that they won't do another one. It is rapidly approaching that we're going to get a little long in the tooth to keep doing this stuff. Much as I wish we were 15 years younger and doing one after another, we did a slew of the them on television. I think I would be good for one more. Then the suitability quotient is out the window. I don't think I would be believable in the character for very much longer. As a matter of fact I had asked Rick Berman, (Star Trek's Executive Producer) to kill me off in INSURRECTION. But when the script arrived to me, he left note on his stationary which said, "Sorry, Kill You Later." I really think that I'll be too old to play the part. I remember reading the reviews with the original cast of the last three or four Star Trek films where the first paragraph of every review was about how old they looked. I didn't think it was fair. They were playing officers in the Navy basically. Shatner was playing an Admiral in the Navy. Have you seen what Admirals in the Navy looked like ? He looks pretty good. DeForest was playing a doctor. Why can't doctors look older ? With me it's a different story. I'm playing a machine, an android. I clearly look different from the first episode. You can accept what I look like but soon it won't be. So I just want to get out before it's unacceptable.
T^2: I noticed that they abandoned the emotion chip in this film.
BS: I was ambivalent about it, really. If they sent me a script that had the emotion chip in it, it wouldn't bother me. I don't have preconceived notions as to what I want to see the character do. It was a perfectly reasonable idea to do a different kind of film this time. The two previous films were kind of dark and edgy. The newness of the emotion chip worked well but I don't know if it had a place in this film. Unless Data had a romantic interest. In FIRST CONTACT's first draft there was no emotion chip especially in the scenes with the Borg Queen. It finally occurred to us it would be behoove us for the chip in those scenes. Then we decided that Data would use it when he does need it. There was no need for it in this picture.
T^2: Was this film harder for you (than FIRST CONTACT) because Riker was more involved?
JF: Riker got the painful assignment of spending his time in a bath tub with Marina Sirtis. It was a very tough and trying day. But fortunately I survived. I was glad Riker had more to do in this film. It was fun to see him with his daring do and without the beard. It is interesting to be playing the part and directing. Obviously those days are more exhausting because I would wear two hats, hair spray and a hat depending on which you were going with. It is easier than what other actor-directors do because I didn't have to create the part like Mel Gibson had to do in BRAVEHEART. I've played this character for 11 years and so have the rest of them. We know how we fit and that makes it a little easier.
T^2: This movie had more of a theme then the previous Treks. Was this a conscious decision to go back more to Gene Roddenberry's vision ?
JF: That's exactly what it was. This film does what Star Trek has historically done best, address a contemporary issue or important ethical moral theme in the metaphor of the 24th century so that the audience doesn't feel as if they are being lectured to or brow beaten. The idea that one should not sacrifice the few for the needs of many is an important theme. All of us are so busy with our lives that we forget to slow down and breathe. It is an important message if you will. I think the structure of this film is better than the rest because there is an A, B, and C story that intermingle though out the movie and connect at the end like a good "episode" should.
T^2: This film had water, underwater scenes and more locations. That must have been challenging for you.
JF: It gave the movie its scope that we were outside on location. The challenging set was on a top of a mountain and it was only accessible by mule or helicopter. The producers much to their chagrin, had to build a helicopter pad and fly us in four at a time - extras, camera equipment, food, toilets, the works. But the look was like the Alps and it happened to be in Northern California and well worth it.
T^2: This film marked a milestone for a Star Trek film using mostly CGI.
JF: It was all CGI, which I found amazing. Two years ago on FIRST CONTACT, three quarters of the ship shots were models with interior lighting. What they can pull out of those little gray boxes is amazing. That's another thing, the technology. If you can express to these technicians what you want clearly, then there is virtually nothing that they can't do. The end of movie was changed near release date. We added 18 opticals including a massive explosion.
Q: What about the re-introduction of the romance between Riker and Troi ?
JF: Marina and I fought hard for that. In the original series in the pilot, the relationship was established. But what is great about people who haven't seen the series is that these two people get together and it's ok with them. During the series, the writers swept the relationship under the carpet so Marina and I would throw meaningful looks at each other where there was no real meaning. The fan base was so strong and the writing to the studio was so strong that the writers responded.
T^2: Riker looked good as the Captain of the Enterprise...
JF: From your mouth to God's ears..
T^2: Do you see him getting a promotion after Picard does ?
JF: I won't say that I haven't thought of that. Riker and Picard are the only officers in Starfleet that have not been promoted. On VOYAGER, DEEP SPACE NINE, on the original series and our show - everyone has been except us. And I thought we were doing a hell of a job. I don't know who to talk to, but we're working on adding a pip each.
Q: You kept rejecting all of those promotions to your own ship..
JF: That was just bad writing..It wasn't my choice.
SFRevu Goes to the Movies:
Star Trek: Insurrection - Paramount Pictures Review
by Ernest Lilley
"I feel obliged to point out that the environmental anomalies may be stimulating certain rebellious instincts common to youth that could affect everyone's judgement." He paused. "Except mine, of course."
"Okay, Data, what do you think we should do?"
"Saddle up. Lock and load "
- Star Trek: Insurrection
"The Federation is old. In the last twenty-four months it's been challenged by every major power in the quadrant: the Borg, the Cardassians, the Dominion they all smell the scent of death on the Federation -- that's why you've embraced our offer, because it will give your precious Federation a new life. Well, how badly do you want it Admiral, because there are hard choices to be made now."
- Ru'afo (chief bad guy) to Admiral Dougherty (chief fall guy) in Star Trek: Insurrection
Data runs amok while away on a Starfleet study of the Ba'ku, a "primitive" culture, outing the secret observation post and stealing a shuttlecraft while ranting that the Federation is evil and scaring the local populace, who turn out to be more than the simple villagers they appear. Far more, as Picard discovers when he shows up with the Enterprise, despite the Admiral on the scene's insistence the they just send the android's instruction manual.
Soon we find out that Data was damaged when he learned of a plot to relocate the inhabitants of the planet so that its rings could be harvested for "metaphasic particles". Since the harvesting, done by a particularly nasty species which call themselves the S'oma will leave the planet uninhabitable, Starfleet has agreed to move the Ba'ku locals somewhere else. The Prime Directive doesn't apply because the Ba'ku are only colonists and therefore at least had warp tech once. Everyone wants the particles in the ring because they provide eternal youth. Picard, feeling the years dropping off as he jaunts around the system decides that the Federation council has no right to jump into bed with a bunch of gruesome baddies who worship plastic surgery and sets out to stop them. Picard and a few of the crew help the Ba'ku escape into the mountains while Riker goes for help - in this case by putting a face on the victims and letting public opinion sway the Federation Council . Not that the S'oma are actually interested in taking Federation orders anyway.
It all comes down to the Captain Courageous duking it out mano a mano with the bad guy as the time counts down to annihilation. It's a formula for success, so why change it?
Having fought off yet another Borg attack in the last movie, the Enterprise proceeds to one of its most difficult missions: Breaking the curse of odd numbered Trek movies. At the film's helm is Director Jonathon Frakes (playing himself) and incidentally directing himself as Captain, at least for the fun stuff. "I need a plot in ten seconds, or we're all out of a job!" Can Frakes save the franchise from the curse of numerology? Well, yes as it turns out, he can and does.
Picard moves from merely pompous to the becoming the moral center of the Trek universe while Riker has a midlife crisis. Will gets to play with his joystick and share a hot tub with Diana whom we can only assume gets to play with his joystick as well Worf drops by to cast a benevolent eye over this tryst and to join Picard and Data in a rousing round of Gilbert and Sullivan. No really.
In a lot of ways this is the Next Generation's version of Star Trek IV, the save the whales movie. They're more comfortable with their roles after the series and everyone is more relaxed, ready to let their hair down and share a few laughs - despite their desperate situation. But what fun would it be without one?
The bad news is that Trek is barely SF after all these years. The characters are lovable mugs that we queue up to catch up with, but the treknobabble gets so thick that it sounds like the cellular phone commercial where you can't understand a word until you switch to the new digital phone. Much is made of the Ba'ku's ability to make time stand still, and we get to watch a hummingbird-thing slow down to near stillness to prove it. Heck, we know all about time standing still. Nobody stays first officer on the same ship for a decade or so. Riker even gets to make time go in reverse, heating up a love affair with Troi that they walked away from in the first season.In fact, after Riker shaves off the beard he looks so darn Peter Pan it's just hard to take him seriously at the helm.
There are other cosmetic changes here as well. The new Enterprise sports the best interior decoration yet seen in Trek, replete with rich earth-tones and moody corridor lighting. Trek interiors still look like a hotel, but we've been upgraded from Trek Classic's Holiday Inn design to Hyatt Regency. Does Starfleet leave chocolates on the pillow? NASA should let these guys do the inside of the International Space Station. I've seen the future and it looks like aluminum and white plastic.
The concepts in INSURRECTION have certainly been around since the original series, planets whose fields provide a fountain of youth are practically standard fare, while we have here a curious reversal of the Trek episode where a group of space hippies are searching for Eden and Kirk saves them from the poisonous planet they find instead. Here, the Ba'ku have found Eden and Picard has to defend it.
STAR TREK: INSURRECTION is a good effort, and fun to watch. It's not likely to win the franchise new converts though, and the difference between films and two hour episodes is getting harder to detect without a tricorder.
Let no media go unturned. Pocket book has published several companion pieces to tie in with the release of the movie.
J.M. Dillard did a delightful job translating screenplay to novel, and if you want to spend a few relaxing hours listening to the characters internal mental workings as well as seeing their actions, Ms. Dillard will explain all, or most, anyway. An audio version is available as well.
Among the secrets revealed are the inspiration for, then the evolution of, the storyline and the influences of screenwriter Michael Piller, executive producer Rick Berman and actor Patrick Stewart (first time serving as a producer on a Star Trek film). Also disclosed is how it came about that Data, Worf and Picard performed Gilbert and Sullivan.
There are several interesting character insights by the actors portraying them including Tony award winning actress Donna Murphy - Baku founding member and Picards love interest, Anij. Jonathan Frakes style of directing and how it was responsible for the friendly and supportive atmosphere was examined too.
As with most "the Making Of " books, there are insights into locations, sets (some recycled from existing ST productions including Voyager and DS9, others constructed out of polyurethane foam - the material used in packing ), props (including a nose clipper transformed into a surgical tool) and makeup tips for the age obsessed Sona, and the alien races they have indentured - the dinosaurish Ellora and leonine Tarlacs.
All in all an interesting look behind the scenes which will inform and at times amuse fans of Star Trek or any film goer who enjoyed the movie.
Starfarers by Poul Anderson
The curse of being a Hard SF author is that you deny yourself whatever physics rules out. Faster than light travel being the most painful crutch to toss away. Poul Anderson has been FTL free for a number of books, but this is the best yet. In STARFARERS the lack of FTL turns out to have some advantages for the cultures that evolve around it.
Out in distant space signs of intelligent life are discovered. Not radio signals, but the emissions of starships tracking across space near the speed of light. Anything moving at near lightspeed must leave some kind of wake as it batters the occasional gas molecule out of its way, and given the clues found in the distant trails man soon masters the technology of Starfaring.
The main narrative follows ten explorers aboard the human starship Envoy on a 120,000 year mission to meet the alien starfarers. Some are running away from their pasts, some rushing to meet the future, but none will see the Earth they left.
Thanks to time dilation the crew will live to see what becomes of Earth, if they can survive the dangers that await them. The ensemble cast of the exploration ship provides the human drama requisite to make such a voyage interesting as they watch the universe age at arm's length. Their long view perspective, a confidence that they will be able to integrate into whatever version of civilization exists millennia after they have left is new and interesting.
A second story lies interspersed in the alternate chapters following the evolution of mankind's starfarers, the Kith.
Reminiscent of the forever shuttle at the end of Joe Haldeman's FOREVER WAR, Anderson builds a plausible culture of space travelers that circuit endlessly between man's colonies while living outside the stream of normal time and society. In Anderson's world it is the Starfarers that provide continuity as civilizations rise and fall. Living at the time dilation of near light speed makes them a living time capsule.
Between BOAT OF A MILLION YEARS and the author's other earlier works, this is familiar ground for the author. Fortunately Poul Anderson manages to infuse the book with a freshness and excitement that harks more to his early works than some of the more recent. Although I bridled a bit at the jump between storylines I found myself captivated by each in turn and stayed up considerably later than I planned finishing it.
STARFARERS resonates with themes from earlier SF, but Anderson breathes new life into them both with a new perspective and skillful narrative. The perspective shows the cycle of civilization rather than its steady evolution and is cogently presented by an author with enough sense of history and adventure to make it absorbing.
Distraction by Bruce Sterling
I don't need any brainwashed robots! I need smart people,
all the smart people I can get! You just don't understand!"
2044. America just isn't what it used to be. The Chinese posted all our patents on the web and declared them free. The poles are melting and the Dutch are building dykes everywhere. Federal funding to military bases has sunk low enough so that the Air Force is shaking down the public and holding bake sales. Genetic engineering is rampant, nomad tribes roam the land in post apocalyptic counter-culture and the French are about to invade Louisiana, which is a cesspool of pollutants and bayou biotech. Other than that, it's business as usual. Hey, life goes on.
Oscar Valparasio is an unlikely hero with a personal background problem. He's just won a senate race for his idealistic architect candidate and a coveted seat on the Senate Science Committee for himself. Now he's off to trim the fat off a pork barrel federal genetic lab built under an isolation dome somewhere in Texas. Just over his event horizon are a brilliant neuroscientist to fall in love with, a Cajun Governor with a plan for the future of the human race, numerous assassination attempts, a revolution in science and a frenetic ride through the next century's politics and technology. He's quite a character, savvy and driven, in the center of the political storm dancing between the raindrops. He always seems like a reasonable guy but somehow he talks everyone into doing extraordinary things.
DISTRACTION is full of ideologue and worldbuilding; terrible, wonderful and believable all at the same time. After cybernetics and genetics comes the real science of the mind: Cognition. Oscar and Louisiana Governor Green Huey Long form wrestle for control of the next wave of neuro-scientific breakthroughs and incidentally redefine the way science is done in the future.
DISTRACTION is Bruce Sterlings best novel yet. He doesn't just imagine the future, he puts flesh on the bones of the present and the promise of tomorrow's technology - then puts a flame under it and serves it up Cajun style. After every page I added another person to the list of friends I really wanted to read DISTRACTION. It's got ideas, it's got great characters: scientists, politicians, revolutionaries and lovers. Many all at the same time. And they're all well done.
Sterling's insight gives us a look at the alternative to living in the past, reminding us that the end of the world as we know it isn't the same as the end of the world. Welcome to the future by the way, you're standing in it.
If you like Space Opera, you're going to love Esmay Suiza.
Having survived her reputation in ONCE A HERO, Lt. Esmay Suiza is now ready, in the opinion of the Fleet psychiatrists, to assume her rightful place as a rising star on the command track. No, you don't have to be crazy to command, but Esmay had buried childhood traumas that only came out in the last book and kept her from following the naval career for which she was uncommonly suited for. Now, after a string of combat victories, not easy for an engineering officer, and still swooning over her flame from the previous book, Ensign Barin Serrano, she's off to the Fleet training facility at Copper Mountain to catch up on what all the Gold Shirts learned the first time around.
Brun Meager is the troublesome daughter of the Speaker of the Grand Council. In case we miss it, several characters point out that she is like Esmay with the control rods pulled out. Bright, bold, beautiful and tenacious. Brun just lacks any semblance of discipline. Given her penchant for getting into trouble, and the occasional attempt on her life, it is decided that she could benefit from some time at Copper Mountain herself.
Esmay is buried under courses, and doesnt have time for anything but overwork. She doesn't even have time for Barin, whom she's dotty over. Brun would love to be friends, knowing that she needs Esmay's discipline and advice, and if Esmay doesn't have time to spend with her, maybe that nice Barin Serrano would escort her to the spacer bars nearby?
When Esmay rudely dresses down the rogue star crossing her orbit chaos and disaster follow. Brun is bugged, for her own security, and Esmay becomes a target for suspicion in Fleet command. Brun tells her tale of woe in a bar off base and the news services get hold of it as well. To make matters worse, Esmay has to ship off to a field exam an escape and evasion that Brun is denied, being too dangerous for her. Brun takes off in a huff and runs smack into an ambush by the God Fearing Militia of Our Texas. These Texas Rangers are Kzinlike in their attitudes, muting women to keep them from speaking of things men should only be privy to, everything except housework and childbearing.
So by fairly early in the book, Esmay is in disgrace, Brun has been reduced to surgically muted breeding stock and Barin is just plain confused. To make matters worse, there are elements in the fleet that are out to ruin Esmay once and for all, and opportunities abound.
I like Elizabeth Moon's take on the military, and friends in the Navy grudge that she's almost got it right, high praise from folks who get up in the middle of the night to do a less glamorous version of the Space Opera daring do served up by the author.
In the last novel I thought Ms. Moon played fast and loose with the complications surrounding romance in the ranks. In RULES OF ENGAGEMENT she address that complaint in detail. Much of the story is driven by Esmay and Barin's angst and affection in the face of Fleet policy. Mixed gender armed forces aren't easy, but the author makes them believable.
Early in the book I groaned at the promise of so much character development and personal conflict, sure to shoulder space battles out of the way. By the end of the book, replete with high g maneuvers and Space Marines sortieing through derelict space stations, I had gotten hooked into the dual storylines and was reading frenetically to find out what happened to the characters. They are not treated gently, and I confess to getting choked up once or twice at the end, but that's just me. You're probably much tougher.
In case I haven't' made it clear, this is a great story from a tremendously talented author. Would somebody please nominate her for a Hugo?
As the result of a binding ceremony gone awry--resulting in a candidate dead beyond reviving and a ward awaiting a Blade to serve him -- Durendal finds himself in his worst nightmare, pledging his life to the service of the Marquis of Nutting, brother of the King's latest mistress. Nutting is a miserable weasel; a gambler, a cheat, a spineless fop and an inept traitor and that's just his good side. Durendal finds the Marquis a despicable bore, but cannot deny the fervent loyalty invoked by the binding ritual.
When Nutting's greed and shabby plots come to the attention of the mysterious Inquisitor Kromman and Durendal's efforts to save his ward fail, he must pay the agonizing price of enduring a second binding. King Ambrose sends Durendal on a quest to distant Samarinda. Durendal's mission: to find what became of Everman, a Blade who reportedly joined a military fraternity that possesses a philosopher's stone that makes gold from base material. King Ambrose wants the stone's secret, and is prepared to pay highly for it. Durendal is reluctant to go; he has just fallen in love with the winsome and saucy Kate. But his binding holds, and he reluctantly rides off on his quest, leaving Kate behind.
Throughout his many adventures, Durendal's fierce rectitude serves as a moral lodestone, proving him a hero by virtue of more than his magical binding. King Ambrose owes much of his substance to Henry VIII of England, but by reworking the familiar historical template into his fantasy world Dave Duncan has created a satisfying motive for Durendal's adventures. Though the book as a whole is aimed at a young male, Kate and Durendal's romance is winsome enough to engage a wider audience, and the quirky plot never quite goes where expected.
Though this story stands well alone, it would serve nicely as the foundation for other tales of the Kings Blades. If so, I want to be there when Duncan unleashes tempered steel in the defense of the monarch.
In THE GOLDEN GLOBE, Varley has created Sparky Valentine, a 100 year old Shakespearean actor, who travels the from planet to planet, with a peculiar troupe, looking for work and trying to stay on step ahead of the law for prior acts of indiscretion. Sparky has the unique ability to entirely alter his appearance (even his gender) using a special machine which gives him the ability to play just about any part. While trying to eke out a living in the gutters of Pluto, Sparky manages to get the dangerous Charonese Mafia mad at him while trying to gather some money together for passage to Luna in hopes of landing a part as the lead in a new (and respectable) production of King Lear.
The seemingly straight-forward plot has several twists and turns to it and although the plot itself isn't very impressive (there is the mystery of who or what Sparky is and several well-done action scenes), it is the first-person narrative which really shines here. Sparky's insights, comments, and philosophy throughout the novel keep you turning the pages and frequently laughing out loud. Although not entirely morally bankrupt, Sparky always sees his actions as justifiable given the circumstances that he frequently finds himself in. His ability to hold his nose aloft and make his pronouncements (usually while sticking up for the little-guy) while standing in trash without a penny in his pocket endears him to the reader.
Varley's last novel, STEEL BEACH, was published in 1993 and was a disappointment to many but with THE GOLDEN GLOBE, it seems that Varley has found his bard again. Varley's stand-out writing, in the character of Sparky Valentine, gives us a new anti-hero for the ages and a fun novel in the process.
In 1912 an event called the Miracle occurs whereby much of Europe literally vanishes overnight. Although the geography is still the same, all of the people, cities (basically anything recognizable) is gone. In its place is a strange world with alien varieties of alien flora, fauna, and animals. The new land is dubbed Darwinia (a kind of slam to Darwin's theory of evolution). America, fueled by a renewed era of imperialist tendencies and religious zeal, ignores the remaining European government's claim to the land and declares Darwinia open territory. By 1920, some colonists have settled in the new land and an expedition is planned to venture deep into Darwinian territory.
Leaving his family behind in New London, young Boston photographer Guilford Law signs up with the scientific expedition led by American Preston Finch. The expedition plans to travel down what was once called the Rhine and then over the Alps all the while collecting specimens and data on the radically changed landscape.
Shortly into the expedition, Law begins to have recurring dreams where he meets himself wearing a military uniform while fighting a devastating world war in France. The expedition eventually encounters bandits and bands of mercenaries working for the displaced European governments as well as strange and dangerous plants and animals. With the expedition in shambles and the party struggling to avoid sure death at the hands of the bandits, they go deeper into Darwinian territory until finally encountering a large and apparently abandoned city of carved stone buildings.
Eventually Law escapes the city and upon returning to New London, finds that his family has given him up for dead. Still frequented with the same dream, Law eventually accepts the fact that his existence as he knows it is false and that Darwinia was never suppose to have happened; instead, Law (and millions of other people) were suppose to fight and die in a world war in France. The existence that Law knows is the result of a war being fought between two alien intelligences and Earth has simply become part a of their battleground. Law (and others like him) pick sides in the war the result of which is uncertain for everyone involved.
DARWINIA is a complex but well plotted novel. The reader is constantly reminded (mostly because the author keeps telling you in the text) of comparisons between DARWINIA and the works of other "scientific romance" writers (such as Jules Verne, H.G. Wells, and Lin Carter). The first part of the novel (especially the scenes at the abandoned city) reminded me of Lovecraft's AT THE MOUNTAINS OF MADNESS. Wilson has bitten off quite a bit with DARWINIA and the result is a brilliant, well written novel with some mild flaws in it that probably could not have been avoided (especially the ending). Overall, DARWINIA is a satisfying and recommended read.
Merry Holidays and if you didnt get the video of your dreams for a present you can always take a handful of that Christmas cash and spend it on a rental. What should you rent? It really depends on whether youve been naughty or nice. So, grab that turkey (no, no, thats the editor..Hey! I heard that), kick back and relax appropriate to the season. For starters Id recommend something warm and fuzzy followed by a bit of romantic flair and closing with an old and sentimental friend.
Halloween H2O: Twenty Years Later, Dimension Home Video, Rated R, 86
Okay, time has passed and things have changed. Actually time has passed and nothing has changed except for a few former cast members who died in the intervening years. We once again have Jamie Curtis running for her life from her zombie-killer-satanic-knife wielding brother. Once again the blade slashes and blood flows. Once again the bodies mount quicker than crumbs under Santas cookie plate.
Curtis, hiding out as Tate, is now the dean of a private school in Northern California. Her son, who is just turning 17 attends the school. Curtis, still haunted for some reason by the grisly murders perpetuated by her brother, drinks to forget. This doesnt work real well as she sees the figure and face (or mask) of her brother everywhere. Fortunately for us hes really there and he quickly gets back into the swing of things. Where hes been for 20 years is not really explained--biding his time? Sharpening his knife? Haunting chat rooms? Attending Serial Killers Anonymous?
People die, Curtis screams, Michael Myers stalks and everyone is happy. In all seriousness, this is perhaps one of the best sequels to an original film ever done. The pacing is pretty tight, the acting is pretty good and the plot actually makes some sense. The ending is righteous as well. (End note. The original HALLOWEEN comes as close to a one man project as it is humanly possible to be. John Carpenter had the idea, wrote the screenplay, directed the thing, scored and played the music and, rumor has it, sewed all the costumes. This distant sequel pays much homage (and well deserved it is) to Carpenters vision by returning to the original ideas.)
The Mask Of Zorro, Rated PG-13, 136 min.
Im a big Zorro fan and I saw this film in the theater. I liked it so much I had to see it again. In the theater it was loud. At home I was more able to focus on the plot and timing and less on the blood spurting from my ears. As a film which essentially is based on decades of previous efforts, this rendition more or less dodges all major issues of continuity through a deft flick of plot shifting. The shift is a simple one, the original Zorro is retired but is enticed to train a replacement when his nemesis (who had fled California after killing Zorros wife and stealing his daughter) returns with said daughter (who hes raised as his own) in tow. Aye Carrumba what a devious thing to do. Anthony Hopkins is marvelous as the original Zorro and Antonio Banderas avoids all controversy by being a different Zorro altogether. Banderas still does an excellent job in this swash buckler. Sure the writers (and there were lots of them) did this whole mining sub-plot which pretty much went no where except to provide some pretty explosions out in the desert, and sure the story was pretty predictable from just past the beginning to end and sure more buckles were swashed than you could even begin to imagine. It all added up to some solid entertainment though and if you like rousing adventure thrust hard on the tip of a sword then this is one film you just have to see.
The X Files, 20th Century Fox, PG-13, 121 minutes
The truth is out there (along with a lot of cash) and if you enjoy being confused and misled then this is right up your alley. Scully and Mulder chase aliens across a landscape of half-truths, outright lies, destroyed buildings, downed saucers and more conspiracy than you can fit under a full sized X-mas tree. The aliens have colonized Earth--or maybe they havent. Its hard to tell and if Mulder and Scully would only learn to emote a bit more wed get those answers were all seeking. Sure, the truth is out there but so is the sequel. If you havent watched the television series you might be a bit lost. Then again, pretty much everyone is lost. Jump on for the ride and for the shear pleasure of a conspiracy done well.
(X-files rebuttal by the editor - Conspiracy done well?? Steve have you fallen under alien brain control? The only conspiracy here is to bilk fans out of money hoping that something useful will be revealed in the film. This Christmas Turkey plays like a season ender episode at best. Quick, Everyone, run out and rent it to see that I'm right!)
Cover Art: Distraction - Cliff Neilsen; Starfarer - John Harris
Posters/Photos: Insurrection - Paramount Films; photos by Ernest Lilley
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