2019 scifimonth


The first volume in a comic where Earth has lost gravity. Collects issues 1-5.

Writer: Joe Henderson
Artist: Lee Garbett

Willa was an infant the day Earth lost gravity. Her mother was sucked to the sky and died, along with a lot of other people and animals. Willa and her brilliant scientist father were inside and survived. Twenty years later, Willa is working for a delivery company and flying around Chicago delivering packages. Humanity has adapted to living, using ropes to tether themselves to buildings. She has a crush on her co-worker Edison who doesn’t have legs below the knees. She’d like to see the world but her father hasn’t left the apartment since G-day and Willa must support them. She carries a gun, but not really for protection but to use in an emergency: the recoil will push her back toward ground. She also carries a fire extinguisher to aim her flying.

Willa’s dad, Nate, was working on gravity when it failed and now he claims that he can reverse the effect. Willa hears from her surrogate mother that Nate had worked with a man who’s now rich and lives on the surface of Chicago. Nate has never even mentioned his partner Roger but Willa thinks that Roger could help her dad. So, she flies to the surface and encounters a really strange culture which tries very hard to keep things the way they were before G-day. The place is also dangerous.

This was a really fun idea and visually the comic is really appealing. It’s fast-paced. Willa is brave and curious but she also argues a lot with her dad and is very impulsive and trusting. Nate blames himself for “letting” his wife die on G-Day and is deathly afraid to leave the apartment. Edison was apparently born without legs but now he’s able to fly just like everyone else. However, I didn’t care for the way Willa’s mom is killed off to have her dad scared of leaving the apartment.

I found the culture on the ground fascinating, but won’t spoil it for you. But the way the people have adapted to flying was great, very visual.

However, I didn’t really care for one thing in the ending which I won’t spoil. The ending is not a cliffhanger but leaves everything open.

The first book in the Foreigner SF series.

Publication year: 1994
Format: Print
Page count: 426
Publisher: DAW

Other people, including the back cover of this book, describe the Foreigner as anthropological SF and I have to agree. The main draw and attraction in this book is the alien race, the atevi and their culture, and the interaction between the humans and the atevi. This is not an adventure book.

At first glance, the book can be confusing as the first two “books” are just a prelude to the actual story which starts at “book 3” on page 65. Essentially, in book one a human spaceship is lost in hyperspace and after three dangerous years it makes its way to the atevi planet. They don’t contact the locals aliens whose tech level has just reached steam power. In book 2 we see the first contact between the atevi and humans where one atevi kidnaps a human but they’re able to communicate a little. The back cover summarizes the events better than the chapters. Apparently, the humans were able make an alliance with one atevi lord. The humans have far better tech than the atevi. Some atevi attacked the humans wanting their tech and also because the humans had insulted them. The war was ended with a truce in which the humans got a small section of land where their only city Mospheira is now. Also, one human at a time is accepted into the local atevi court, acting as a diplomat and a translator. He or she will slowly give atevi access to tech, so that it doesn’t hurt their planet or culture. However, the atevi way to think is so different from humans that even after generations of cautious contact, humans don’t really understand the aliens.

However, the real story starts on page 65, some 200 years after the treaty was signed. Bren Cameron is the current translator/diplomat (paidhi). By law, he’s not allowed to have any weapons. He’s attacked in the middle of the night. Luckily, the local lord Tabini has given him a firearm a few weeks previous. Bren shoots the assassin but they get away. Because of the attack, Tabini sends him to Tabini’s grandmother’s place in the countryside where they barely even have electricity. The grandmother, Ilisidi, is a strong-willed woman who isn’t happy that she lost the lord position first to her son and then to her grandson. She’s also a very traditional person who hasn’t had contact with humans. Bren has no idea if he can trust her or her staff.

Unfortunately, nothing much else happens. There are a couple of assassination attempts against Bren but he’s kept away from them and only hears about them. Nobody tells him anything. Ilisidi tests him a couple of times, but mostly Bren just sits and wonders what’s going on and thinks about the local politics. I’m afraid it’s not very exciting.

The atevi culture is in the middle of everything. It’s quite different from modern Western culture. They don’t have lands or nations. Instead, they have alliances to people. They also don’t have words for affection or trust. If they can still feel such emotiond, remains to be seen. Part of the legal system are licensed assassins. Most of them work as bodyguards and Bren’s primary protectors, Banichi and Jago, are both assassins. However, for assassination to be legal it must be declared and nobody has declared Bren a target. So, the situation is strange by atevi standards.

Also, they have very strict way in which they need to be seen to behave in public. The higher the rank, the more formal the person (male or female) must be. Personally, I also enjoyed Tabini’s attitude towards eating meat. He, and his household, eat only game:

“[Bren] preferred distance from his meal. Tabini called it a moral flaw. He called it civilization and Tabini called it delusion: You eat meat out of season, Tabini would say. Out of time with the earth, you sell flesh for profit. You eat that never runs free: you call that civilized?”

I enjoyed the atevi characters but I was frustrated by Bren who seemed to be doing noting but arguing with them and moping around. We did learn stuff about atevi history.

Cherryh’s dense style of writing here is similar to Chanur or Faded Suns on the surface. However, the repetitions and lack of action isn’t typical. I’m told that the series gets better. So far the only attraction in the series is atevi culture and characters. I’m hoping the second book will better.

A stand-alone time travel story. Part of Storybundle’s Race Against Clock bundle this year.

Publication year: 2013
Format: ebook
Publisher: WMG Publishing
Page count in GoodReads: 160

Thomas Ayliffe is a thief who wants to commit the jewel robbery of a life time: to steal the Crown Jewels of Britain. And he’s going to do it by swindling his way to a team which is going back in time to the White Tower in 1674. This isn’t his planned time spot but he must use what he can get. He couldn’t care less about the historian’s goals. In fact, he finds them very strange.

Neyla Kendrick is a historian with an obsession with the murder of the two princes, the sons of Edward IV. She can’t get to their supposed bones now, but Portals Inc has been testing a time traveling device and they need to send a team back in time to test the system. Neyla and her team of handpicked four men are going to do it. However, the day before they’re leaving, one of Neyla’s team members becomes violently ill and needs to be quarantined. To make matters worse, their patron practically forces a complete stranger to join the team. The stranger’s name is Thomas Ayliffe. In 1671 a Thomas Ayliffe was caught trying to steal the Crown Jewels. Neyla has a bad feeling about him, but has no choice but to accept him.

This was a quick and enjoyable read. The characters worked well and the plot was fast-paced. However, I was surprised and a bit disappointed by how little time the characters spent in the past.
Also, the bodies of the princes didn’t play a large part, after all.

The characters are very distinctive for such short tale. Neyla’s very confrontational when required while Thomas is focused on his job. She isn’t looking forward to having a spend a whole month in 1674. In fact, she’s prefer it if she could come back as soon as possible. But for research, she’s willing to risk disease and food poisoning. The past was described vividly.

Portals Inc plans to commercialize time travel. I’d love to read more stories set in this world, but this seems to be the only one.

The hosts of SciFiMonth have gathered cool prompts and top ten lists. Today, I’m going to talk about my favorite time travel stories.

Time travel is one of the SF tropes I love. However, sometimes it’s hard to distinguish time travel from another trope I also adore: alternate universes. That’s not strange because according to some theories if you time travel and change something, that creates an alternate timeline.

Different stories (and franchises) have different rules for time travel. In most, the travelers can change the past and by changing it, change their own present (the future). They’re often warned against it but end up changing something anyway. In some singular stories you can’t change the past but that’s far more rare. Apparently it makes for less exciting story unless it’s about time travel tourism.

I love time travel in series because what I most like about it is a chance to see characters I know and love to be different. That’s why I’ve split this list in two: series and more stand-alone works.

1, The Days of Future Past comic by Chris Claremont and John Byrne
This is one of the first time travel stories I ever read and I was very young and impressionable then. 🙂 In the original comic, it’s fourteen year old Kitty Pryde who had just joined the X-Men only a couple of issues before who receives the mind of the 30 years older Kate Pryde. She convinces the current day X-Men (Storm, Angel, Colossus, Nightcrawler, and Wolverine) to try to save senator Kelly from assassination and so change the future.

Seeing the older and much, much sadder Storm, Colossus, and Wolverine of the future was just gut-wrenching. The original story is only two issues long bu it’s very powerful. Also, later Claremont brought Rachel Summers from that future.

2, Star Trek TNG: Cause and Effect
I had really hard time choosing just one ST episode because I love many time travel episodes (“Yesterday’s Enterprise”, DS9’s “Trouble with Tribbles”, Voyager’s “Year in Hell”, Star Trek: First Contact just to name a few). But this episode has somewhat different mechanic than the others mentions on this list, specifically the crew is caught in a time loop and repeats some hours.

3, Legends of Tomorrow: Raiders of the Lost Art
This show just gets better all the time. Since the whole premise of Legends is for a group of misfits traveling through time, it has a lot of time travel. In the first season, they have an immortal bad guy whom they’re trying to catch at different time periods. Later, they try to mop up breaching through time. In this episodes, they’re in Hollywood, reinspiring a certain young movie maker.

4, Back to the Future
While these movies are part of a franchise, there are only three of them, so I can’t really compare them to a long-running series like Star Trek. In this series, Doc Brown constantly tries to warn us not to use time travel for material good or for trying to alter the past. Except from Marty’s past.

I love especially the second movie where returns to 1955 and we have two time traveling Martys running around at the same time.

5, Doctor Who: Blink
One of the best time travel series around is Doctor Who where time is a “big ball of wibbly wobbly time-y wimey stuff”. In Blink Doctor and his companion Martha Jones are trapped in 1969. They try to communicate through video tapes with a woman in current time. It also introduces the most scary villains in the series, the Weeping Angels.

6, Avengers Forever by Kurt Busiek and Carlos Pacheco
This is a twelve issue maxi series where Kang and Rick Jones pull a group of Avengers from different timelines. Hank Pym and Janet van Dyne are from the “current” timeline (1998), Captain America has super strengh but has just been disillusioned, Yellowjacket who is Hank but he’s had his nervous breakdown, Hawkeye from just after the Kree-Skrull war, Songbird so far in the future that she’s not yet an Avenger in the current time, and Captain Marvel (Mar-Vell’ son Genis) from further in the future. This series explores and tries to make sense of various inconstancies and gaffes in the Avenger’s history. It’s a love letter to the continuity and wonderful for us old fans.

7, The Flash: The once and future Flash
In this episode, Barry travels to a future where he wasn’t able to prevent Iris’ death. In consequence, the whole team disbanded and the future Barry is depressed and no longer a hero.

The Flash has many, many time travel episodes and it explores their consequences in fascinating ways.

Stand-alones:

8, Connie Willis: To Say Nothing of the Dog: or, How We Found the Bishop’s Bird Stump at Last
Technically, this too is part of a series, the time traveling historians from Oxford. However, the time traveling main characters Ned Henry and Verity Kindle don’t appear in the other books. Neither do the characters from 1880. Ned Henry is the narrator of the book. He’s from the future Oxford and has been time traveling trying to find the birdstump for an obsessed American financer. Now, he suffers from slippage and the don sends him to Victorian times so that he can rest.

It’s one of my favorite humorous books, right next to Terry Pratchett. The time lag effect, which is similar to jet lag, gives poor Ned confusion and difficultly in hearing and makes it all the more hilarious.

9, Looper
In this movie, mafiosos use time travel to kill without a trace. The changes in the past instantly appear on the character’s future self.

10, Source Code
In this movie, captain Coltair Stevens is sent back to a train which is about to explode, again and again. He has eight minutes at a time to find a way to stop the explosion.

12 Monkeys probably deserves to be on this list but it’s been too long since I saw it. Time for a rewatch.

The hosts of SciFiMonth have gathered cool prompts and top ten lists. Today, I’m going to tell you about my favorite male characters.

I couldn’t choose just one so here’s my current top five.

1, Captain Jean-Luc Picard
My favorite spaceship captain, Picard is a real Renaissance man. He’s not “just” a diplomat and a leader of soldiers. He’s also interested in archaeology on various planets, he acts, rides horses, and plays a flute. He’s also dappled in painting. As a diplomat, he knows many alien cultures and customs. He keeps his private life private from his crew. However, during the seven years of Star Trek: TNG we get to know him very well. He’s ethical to a fault and never takes the easy way out.

2, John Crichton
Another man who lives up to his ideals. At the start of Farscape, he’s a scientist and an astronaut who is flung accidentally through a wormhole across the universe. There he meets a lot of new cultures. His sense of humor keeps him sane even though he knows that it’s quite possible he’ll never return home. He’s brave and loyal but also quite mischievous.

3, G’Kar
Babylon 5 has lots of very interesting male characters so it’s was hard to pick just one. G’Kar is the Narn ambassador to the Babylon 5 space station. He despises the Centauri who occupied his home world for years, keeping the Narn as slaves. But on B5 he must be at least civil to the Centauri. He has a wonderful character arc through the series.

4, Doctor Emmet Brown
I love the Back to the Future Trilogy and the Doc is one of the best things about it. He’s so upbeat and optimistic all the time in addition to being a genius inventor.

5, Magneto
Magneto’s childhood was cut off horribly when he was sent to a Nazi concentration camp. Now, he wants to protect all mutants from similar oppression. His methods sometimes are questionable, but at other times, he’s a full member of the X-Men.

Collects the first Superman versus Aliens miniseries.

Writer: Dan Jurgens
Artists: Dan Jurgens, Kevin Nowlan

Just like I predicted, to make the aliens at all threatening, Superman must lose his powers.

Lexcorp has a space program. Lois and Clark have been invited to interview the head of that program, doctor Sheryl Kimble. She’s an ambitious scientist (and I’m sure you all know what that means in the context of aliens…. :)). Lexcorp has captured a message from space. It’s in unknown language but Clark recognizes it as Kryptonian and as a distress call. When the probe which sends the distress call splashes into the ocean, Clark rescues it. It makes a mental connection with him and sends images of a surviving Kryptonian city which is badly in need of help. Reluctantly, he allows Lexcorp to investigate it.

Lexcorp has a hyperspace capable small space ship. Clark takes it and heads to the city which is on an asteroid, far way from any sun.

There he finds that the city has been ravaged by alien monstrosities. He finds four unconscious survivors, who look human (or Kryptonian). He puts them in the ship and sends them back to Earth while he remains to explore the city. He’s not any longer under a yellow sun so his powers diminish quickly. He’s attacked by aliens who burn his eyes. A blonde young woman, Kara, saves him. Kara tells him that the aliens have been attacking the city for years and she grew up as a soldier. Clark wants to find a way to help her and the rest of people who are out of food and medicine.

Meanwhile on Earth, the ship has returned. Of course, all the “survivors” have been infected. The aliens burst out and start to attack everyone.

This exactly what you expect from a cross-over. Superman fights increasingly desperately against hordes of aliens with Kara by his side. Kara is an experienced soldier even though she’s only 16. In the ship, on the way to the city, Clark reminiscens how he was forced to kill his fellow Kryptonians before and is determined never to kill again. Even when fighting the aliens, he tried not to kill them. When he first meets them, he tries to talk to them, so he’s very much in character. Meanwhile, Lois tries to survive the aliens and is determined to kill them. She lectures Kimble who wants keep the aliens alive for research.

The art is solid and brings out the horror of the aliens. This cross-over works surprisingly well even though it has pretty much all the expected aliens plot points.

The hosts of SciFiMonth have gathered cool prompts and top ten lists. Today, I’m going to list my favorite AI characters. This turned out to be very difficult.

Many, many SF franchises and various films, tv-show, games, books, and comics have AI characters. Some are good, some are evil. Many of them have some sort of bodies, either machines or fully human. Others are ship intelligences.

One of the things I find fascinating with AI characters is our tendency to give them genders and often they seem to have the biological parts, as well. After all, except for sex bots (which tend to be almost always female) they don’t require a gender to function. Most of them don’t have story lines that require a specific gender, either. It seems that we humans are most comfortable when a human looking machine has an identifiable gender, even when it doesn’t have the parts.

Here are my favorites over the years:

1, Lieutenant Commander Data
My favorite Star Trek series has one of my favorite AI character, so of course he had to be first. In many ways Data is physically superior to humans, and other organic lifeforms. He’s saved the Enterprise many times. But it’s his exploration of what is it to be human that really set him apart. Yes, some of them are cringe worthy, especially in the first two season but most bring some insight not just to Data himself but to humanity.

Star Trek has other AI characters as well, such as Data’s “evil brother” Lore and ST: Voyager has the Doctor who is hologram.

2, Cameron
The second choice was much harder but I just had to go with Cameron from the too-brief Sarah Connor Chronicles. Cameron is a Terminator sent from the future to keep the Connors safe. She poses as John Connor’s sister. Like many of the other Terminators, she pretty emotionless but she seems to have been learning the value of life from Sarah and John.

3, The Oracle
The Matrix series has many AI characters, most notable Agent Smith and the Merovingian. But I really like Oracle. She’s integral to not just the story line but to Neo’s development.

4, C3PO/R2D2
Of course the list wouldn’t be complete without the two lovable droids from Star Wars. They complement each other so well the I can’t just choose one of them.

5, KITT
Knight Industries Two Thousand is the second main character in the Knight Rider tv-series. It’s very independent and often tries to advice it’s rider, Michael Knight. It’s also programmed to protect Michael. It’s been many, many years since I watched the show but I remember it having sarcastic lines and a sense of humor.

6, The Vision
Marvel cinematic universe had three prominent AIs: Jarvis, Ultron, and the Vision. The last two had very brief appearances, although the Vision is in Disney+ -channel’s WandaVision. I’m patiently waiting for the channel to expand outside just one country.

But I’m talking about the comics version. When I started reading the Avengers in the 80s, the Scarlet Witch and her husband the Vision were an integral part of the team. Unfortunately, that didn’t last. As is usual for Marvel (and to a bit lesser extend DC), they were separated. Wanda’s powers made her crazy and the US government dismantled the Vision. The current Vision has been rebuilt many times but my favorite versin is still the original.

7, Gideon
The AI piloting the Waverider is just as much a Legend and the rest of the team in Legends of Tomorrow. It has a female voice and a female appearance. It functions as the navigator and the doctor. It’s also sometimes the voice of reason for the team.

8, Marvin the paranoid android
Still one of the more memorable characters in the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. Marvin had “the brain the size of a planet” and is depressed and bored because he’s not given much to do. He’s also immortal and lives through all of time (IIRC).

9, Athena
In the first season of the new Battlestar Galactica, Sharon Valerii, or Boomer, thought she was a human. But as the season progressed, she found out that she was actually a Cylon. But she sided with the humans and became a trusted and valued member of the battlestar.

10, Murderbot
My newest favorite AI character is the delightful protagonist of Martha Wells’ novels. All Systems Red has been a hit and with a reason. Written in first person is brings out Murderbot’s sarcasm and introverted nature. It just wants to be left alone and view it’s shows. But as a security unit, instead it must protect humans from all the stupid things they get up to. (Technically, I think Murderbot is a cyborg but so are the terminators.)

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