Sci-fi Experience 2016

My brother bought me the DVDs for Christmas and we watched it in just a couple of weeks. I really liked it mostly.

I liked the science part of it, even though it’s superhero science (magic really). Barry Allen is a crime scene investigator in Central City. He’s obsessed with his troubled past: his mother was murdered when he was young and his father was convicted of the murder and is in prison. But Barry knows that his father didn’t do it and is looking for evidence to free his father. When a particle accelerator malfunctions when its turned on during a violent storm, Barry is hit by lightning and becomes superhumanly fast. Other people also get powers during that event and Barry joins forces with S.T.A.R. labs’ people to fight superhuman crime.

The Flash is more lighthearted than Arrow, about the same as Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. in the first season, before that show went significantly darker. Right from the start Barry has a large cast of supporting characters: Star lab’s director Dr. Wells, Star labs employees Dr. Snow and Cisco (an engineering genius), Barry’s adoptive father detective Joe West, Joe’s daughter (and Barry’s love interest) journalist student Iris, and Iris’ boyfriend and Joe’s partner Eddie. Iris and Eddie don’t know that Barry is Flash. But Iris starts a blog about Flash and follows the sightings eagerly.

The show has both “monster of the week” episodes and an underlying larger story arch which worked nicely. Pretty much the only thing I didn’t like was that Barry was ‘protecting’ Iris by not telling her who he was. We’ve seen that so many time, in fact Arrow has exactly the same thing: Oliver ‘protecting’ his sister Thea and his love interest by keeping them in the dark. The problem is, of course, that things you don’t know can still hurt you. And we’ve seen this so many times; couldn’t they have thought of something else? Another problem is that it makes the woman (and it’s almost always a woman kept in the dark) so stupid when she doesn’t figure it out. The longer the story line is dragged the stupider she seems.

The series has two cross-over episodes with Arrow and those were a lot of fun. I really enjoyed the supporting cast: Dr. Wells was built well throughout the first season and Cisco is a great character with the jokes and upbeat spirit. Although we both wondered about why Caitlin was employed by the labs in the first place. Isn’t she some sort of medical doctor? I’m not nearly as knowledgeable about DC characters as Marvel so the series had some surprises.

The final episode ends in a cliffhanger. The series also has time travel and I’m still a bit iffy about that. But it’s going to be a long wait for the next season (Finnish Netflix doesn’t have Flash). So you US people are going to keep on watching it, right? So that we can all get another season.

Finnish TV is showing Arrow but not Flash.

The third book in the SF trilogy.

Publication year: 2004
Format: Audio
Running time: 10 hours and 5 minutes
Publisher: Audible
Narrator: Gregory Linington

Unlike in previous books, which had multiple point-of-view characters sharing the spotlight nearly equally, this book has two major ones: retired Colonel Lyle Kaufman and 14-year-old Amanda Capelo. Others have far less time as POV characters. In this universe humans are at war with the alien Fallers who refuse to communicate with humans. The only information the humans have about the Fallers came from Marbet Grant in the previous book.

Kaufman and his lover the Sensitive (genetically engineered human who is extremely beautiful and can pretty much read others’ thoughts and emotions from small cues) Marbet Grant are looking for a way to get back to the World. But even though the planet isn’t officially quarantined, it’s very hard to get there. In the end, they have to resort of illegal ways to get there. Kaufman is troubled by the humans who were left behind when the last human expedition left and wants to save them. But it turns out that they don’t require saving; instead Kaufman and Grant realize that they have to find Tom Capelo. And in order to do it, they join forces with a very formidable woman.

Amanda Capelo is home when she shouldn’t be and she witnesses the kidnapping of her father, the famous and grouchy physicist Tom Capelo. At first, she doesn’t realize what happened but as soon as she does, she thinks long about it and comes to the conclusion that she has to leave and reach Marbet Grant who will help her. Amanda takes with her some jewelry and tries to go to Mars where Grant is supposed to be. However, even for a very clever 14-year-old, the world can be a surprising and dangerous place. She’s rescued by a Catholic priest who turns out to be part of the anti-War movement. And he has plans for her.

Kaufman’s and Amanda’s stories are separate for almost the whole book even though their goals are the same. We’re also introduced to a bunch of new characters. The most significant of them is Magdalene, a woman who has overcome her past and become one of the most powerful information brokers in the human universe. However, I almost felt like I liked the idea of her (as a character) more than how she was used in the book. I also didn’t really care for the whole teenager shenanigans.

This time we barely see the Worlders who were a big part of the previous books. We see more of the Fallers but they aren’t nearly as distinct as the Worlders were. In fact, the book has far more human politics than xenoanthropology.

The book has its faults (for example we never find out who built the wormhole tunnels and other artifacts and nobody seems really interested to know or why backwater World had such artifacts) but I enjoyed it. It’s a good ending to the series.

A stand-alone science fiction/horror book.

Publication year: 1956
Format: print
Page count: 200
Publisher: Gollanz

Scott Carey shrinks every day 1/7 of an inch. Now, he’s about the size of a spider and essentially trapped into his own cellar because he’s too small to get out. He battles the Black Widow spider, which also lives in the cellar, and scrounges for food and water. He knows that he has only five days to live before he becomes too small to exist, so he also battles despair. He reminiscens about his life: how he felt that the shorter he came, the less masculine he was. He went to see the best (and very expensive) doctors but they couldn’t help him. His fear, frustration, and insecurity come out as rage against everyone near him and he loses his job. He alienates his wife and daughter, too.

In the adventurous side of the book Scott is really tiny and his life is constantly threatened by the spider. Matheson shows us in detail how Scott has to work hard for everything we take for granted. But most of the book follows his story to that cellar. Matheson also describes Scott’s mounting frustration and humiliation because of his shrinking. When Scott’s small enough to be mistaken for a boy, he encounters dangers that children face: a child molester and a gang of other kids. Scott also pushes away his own family and so he feels very lonely and sexually frustrated. (Personally, I didn’t care how he lusts after an underage girl and justifies it to himself.)

Sometimes he thinks about suicide but in the end, he forces himself to continue the struggle to live.

I didn’t like this one as much as I liked “I am Legend” but it was a solid read.

A stand-alone science fiction book. Or science fantasy if you consider (very powerful) psionics to be fantasy. Part of the Women in SF bundle I bought last year.

Publication year: 2015
Format: ebook
Page count: 436
Publisher: Book View Café

Nevermore is a planet with a mysterious past: it has history dating back thousands of years but very little of it has been recorded. The current nomadic tribes don’t know much about their past and no statues have been found. It’s an ideal and frustrating place for passionate archeologists, such as the Nasirs.

Aisha and Jamal are the children of the current lead archeologists on Nevermore. The kids love their freedom to ride and roam around. However, even they have heard that it’s increasingly hard to get funding for the work and Aisha has decided to help her parents. She just knows that a nearby cliff, which has a mysterious chamber in it, has all the answers and a wealth of artifacts. So, when the parents are away from the planet (begging for the next round of grants) the 12-year-old girl steals some explosives and blows it up. Unfortunately, no treasure trove of past is revealed. The place is mostly destroyed and a strange man approaches the kids. The man seems to be a native (almost human) but he has no memory of where he comes from or about anything else. He also seems to be sick. Aisha brings him home and she and her aunt Khalida nurse him back to health. By the time the parents return, it seems that the mystery man, dubbed Rama, is a part of the household.

Khalida Nasir is a recovering Military Intelligence agent. She was deeply scarred by the things she had to do for the MI and is on extended leave. She was born a psionic but refused to join the Psycorps, so they ‘neutered’ her: supposedly they cut out her psionic talents. But she still has them; they haunt her in addition to the nightmares of her past duty. When the kids return with a man whom they all start calling Rama, she becomes very interested in him. (But not romantically: she’s a lesbian.)

Soon, Aisha, Khalida, and Rama are off planet and hunted by the Psycorps.

In this world when during a child’s thirteenth birthday, a Psycorps officer is sent to test the child to see if he or she had the psionic talent. If they have, they can choose to either join Psycorps or have their talent cut out (neutered). Aisha has the talent but she doesn’t want to join Psycorps so she’s really scared about meeting the officer, which happens early in the book. Psi is a big part of the world and the humans. Psi is also the link between science and magic, blending both.

The book has complex politics where the government and its organizations are the bad guys. Khalida and Aisha are the two POV characters and they’re pretty different from each other. The world-building is detailed. Khalida and Aisha and their family are from Egypt and so they’re not white (which is great because it’s different from the majority of SF).

The start is a bit slow but when things start to happen, they do so quickly. In addition to adventure, the story focuses on family and friendships rather than romantic relationships. Aisha lives in a loving family and she does the the craziest stunts because she wants to help them but doesn’t think things through (because she’s 13).

For some reason I didn’t click with the writing style as much as I did with the previous (and only) Tarr book I’ve read. I liked the book a lot, though.

A new SF/fantasy book from a new author. I got an Advance Readers’ Copy (ebook) from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Publication year: 2016
Format: ebook
Publisher: Harper Voyager Impulse

Quinn Bradley is a stage magician in Las Vegas but not in one of the largest casinos. In fact, for a long time he has dreamed about working in the best casinos. He has just done his best performance ever and the talent scouts of the big employers are really noticing him. But after the show everything seems to go wrong: the talent scouts just take off, leaving Quinn with a couple of strange military people. They offer Quinn a lot of money for a gig which would last only for six months. The catch is that Quinn isn’t told anything about what the gig will be or where he will be performing. But he doesn’t really have a choice.

The mysterious people fly him off Vegas immediately and Quinn finds out something fantastic: their company, CASE Global Enterprises, has found a portal which leads to another world. They’re keeping really quiet about it and have draconian non-disclosure agreements. The world, called Alissia, seems medieval in technology. Happily, everyone who goes through the portal can speak the same language so that’s not a barrier.

The reason why they want to hire a magician is that Alissia has real magic. Now, their top anthropologist has gone missing and CASE is sending four people to retrieve him and all the high tech gear he took with him. The mission has two military people Kiara and Logan, and an anthropologist Veena Chaudri in addition to Quinn. The other three are very familiar with Alissia but Quinn is very much a duck out of water.

This is a fast-paced adventure with likable characters. Real magic actually enters the story quite late, for a good reason. Quinn and his team have some high tech gear which helps them communicate and defend themselves against the Alissians. Quinn doesn’t know how to use a sword but he practices while the group travels and his sword is made from a very light and durable material. In fact, the Alissians would probably call the high tech items magical.

The Alissians aren’t shown as stupid, even though they don’t have modern tech. In fact, they seem to be more egalitarian so a woman wearing a sword and leading a team is normal.

Quinn is quick-witted and charms people for a living. Once he knows what’s going on, he’s quick to adapt. He’s very good with his job and the company outfits him with gadgets to create illusions of magic. He’s a likable protagonist.

Logan is the second point-of-view character in the book. At first glance, he’s a tough, experienced soldier but he’s a bit more nuanced than that. Kiara is another tough, experienced soldier. She’s the leader of the team and she keeps to the orders and rules even when it would be easier for everyone to bend them a little. Chaudri is very enthusiastic about Alissia and she’s happy to show Quinn around.

The only thing I didn’t really like was some of the treatment of the horses which the characters ride all the time. For example, the company has made a drug which makes it possible to ride the horses hard for several weeks non-stop. Of course, this isn’t a horse manual but a fantasy book.

The book has a clear ending but several things are left open. I’d be happy to see more of these characters and the setting.

The second book in the science fiction series.

Publication year: 2003
Format: Audio
Running time: 10 hours and 5 minutes
Publisher: Audible
Narrator: Gregory Linington

Three years after the surviving scientists returned from an alien planet which the human-like natives call “the World” (in Probability Moon), another expedition is finally seriously considered. It’s a joint civilian and military mission with hand-picked people and some of those surviving scientists will be returning. However, they know that the Worlders declared humans “unreal” so they’re expecting trouble; being unreal means that the Worlders will not literally see them or have anything to do with them, except to kill them. But the previous team discovered that the World itself has an artifact which could change the balance of war between humans and alien Fallers to the humans’ favor. However, the humans need to study the artifact which is buried in an area of the planet which is sacred to the Worlders. Also, removing the artifact could mean the end of the Worlders’ peaceful way of life.

Tom Capelo is a brilliant scientist but a jerk. His wife was killed by the Fallers and so he hates and loathes them. She was killed on a supposedly safe world so now Capello takes his two young daughters, and their nanny, everywhere with him. Including to an alien planet. He’s also prone to irrational rages and blackouts following the rage.

Major Lyle Kaufman is the military leader of the non-military mission. He doesn’t care for the natives and is focused on his goal.

Ann was on the original mission. She cares about the aliens and is furious about how the humans are going to callously change their lives.

Enli is the native who dealt most with the Terrans last time and now she’s also drawn into this situation even though she doesn’t really want anything to do with humans anymore. But she’s one of the few Worlders who know the Terran language.

The Worlders have decided that humans are real because of the actions of one of the humans left behind in the last book, so the humans get a different welcome than they expected and the Worlders are will to trade with the humans. However, they’re not happy about the humans’ plans to desecrate their holy place.

Another plot line follows a Faller prisoner of war and Marbet Grant. She’s a civilian Sensitive, an empath, and she’s given the task of interrogating the only alive Faller humans have been able to capture. The Faller is kept on the same ship than Kaufman’s team (which I found a bit strange) and Grant does her rather unusual best to do what she can. Considering that humans and Fallers don’t have a common language and that humans don’t know anything about Faller culture, the task isn’t easy.

The science part of the book is probability. The setting has probability bosons called probons. I find them fascinating but I’m not a scientist in any way so I can’t say if they’re made up or not.

In the first book, the Worlders and their civilization were a big part of the story. Now, they’re a back drop and Kress assumes that the reader is familiar with their culture of sheared reality. They’re part of the big moral questions, of course; if humans can or should wreck an entire culture in order to have a chance at winning a war (the other moral question is the treatment of alien prisoners of war). I found the book well written and engaging. The humans seemed quite real with their flaws.

The ending left an opening for the next, and final, book but it gave enough closure that the reader isn’t forced to continue. But I’ll be continuing into the next one soon!

Collects Fantastic Four # 570-574

Writer: Jonathan Hickman
Artists: Dale Eaglesham, Neil Edwards, Andrew Currie

Hickman starts his writing gig with clearing up some leftover stuff from the previous writers. First off is a three issue story about Reed. The FF defeats the Wizard (again) and it seems that he has cloned himself and has a child clone around. Franklin is worried about what happens to the child clone, Bentley, and that makes Reed thoughtful. Reed returns to his “Fix everything” solution. He has rebuilt the Bridge which leads to another dimension where a whole lot of Reeds are trying to fix the whole omniverse. He has a hard choice to make.

We get to see Reed’s dad, too, and that’s pretty rare. I don’t remember seeing him anywhere else but in John Byrne’s run. Anyway, Reed sees both the good and the necessary evil which the Reeds of other dimensions are doing and it’s both great and creepy. We get to see a lot of different Reeds from alternate dimensions and some other pretty cool science fiction stuff. Of course, we know how he will choose in the end, but it’s a great way to put an end to that Bridge stuff.

Next is a fun one-shot issue centering on Ben and Johnny. They’re going on a vacation on Nu-Earth, the artificial paradise planet designed by a bunch of geniuses. Except that things go wrong right at the start. For one thing, Franklin and Valeria hitchhike a ride with them. This turns out to a very good idea indeed because time runs different in Nu-Earth and things have changed radically.

The last issue is Franklin’s birthday with a guest appearance by Spider-Man, Franklin’s favorite hero. We get to see Power Pack members and there’s even a time-travel story to wrap the issue up. The traveler brings grave warning… to Valeria Richards.

Hickman’s run centers on FF as a family again, rather than superstars. They also do more exploring than basic superhero slugfests, which I really like. The last issue also builds a foundation for future stories when Reed invites the clone Bentley, Leech, and Artie to stay with them and offers a job to Alex Power.

The art isn’t as slick as Hitch or Davis but it feels to me reminiscent of Kirby’s style, especially with all the FF in short sleeves. I’m looking forward to rereading Hickman’s run.

Collects Fantastic Four #562-569

Writer: Mark Millar
Artists: Bryan Hitch, Paul Neary, Andrew Currie, Matt Banning, Cam Smith

The collection starts with four smaller stories. The first is the funeral of the Invisible Woman, an epilog to the biggest story in the previous collection. Everyone gathers to honor the death of another Susan Richards and later Ben proposes to his girlfriend Debbie. Next is another one-shot “Mr. and Mrs. Thing” where people congratulate Ben and Debbie. Also, Debbie get a taste of what her life would be like married to a superhero.

Then we get a two-parter Christmas story set in Scotland. Reed brings his family and Ben and Debbie to Reed’s cousin to celebrate a more down to earth Christmas. At first, the town feels peaceful but that doesn’t last.

Next is four-part Master of Doom storyline which has been building during the previous issues. Doom has a master who has taught him everything he knows about evil and destruction. That master has taken a new apprentice and together they’ve destroyed countless alternate Earths and their Fantastic Fours. And now they’re coming to our Earth.

The final issue is the wedding of Ben and Debbie… sort of. We’ve had hints that something terrible will happen to her. I must admit that while I wasn’t surprised that Ben didn’t get married, I was surprised by the reason.

This was an entertaining collection but nothing new for the FF. I didn’t really buy the whole Doom’s master thing. The plot has plenty of action but a few holes as well and does seem out of character for Doom. Doom as an apprentice?! The ending was appropriate, though. We also get a brief glimpse into an alternate future which would have been very interesting if it hadn’t been wildly out of character for everyone involved.

Despite some great ideas Millar’s run was a bit “meh” to me in the end. I recommend John Byrne’s, Jonathan Hickman’s, and Matt Fraction’s runs for those interested in FF.

A book of six tales nested within each other.

Publication year: 2004
Format: print
Page count: 529

I’ve seen the movie which of course influenced my reading. I also liked the movie quite a lot. But watching the movie first “spoiled” the book; I already knew the big idea behind the book so the book couldn’t wow me.

Cloud Atlas has six novellas each set in different time period and with different characters. They’re also written in different style. In each story, the central character of the story reads the previous story, except in the first one, obviously. It is a kaleidoscope of lives which are connected through the years in a tapestry of human life.

The first one is Adam Ewing’s dairy about his sea voyage around 1800s. It’s written in first person and emulates the style of writing at that time. Adam is a religious man and deeply dislikes the rowdy ship captain and his crew. He’s also a sick but managed to find a doctor to travel with him.

The second story is a number of letters written by a broke English composer Robert Frobisher in 1931 to his friend (and lover) Sixsmith. He manages to secure himself a place as the assistant to a former great composer Vyayan Ayrs who is a very sick man and very disagreeable, too. Robert is attracted to the composer’s younger wife in addition to the small amount of money Ayrs pays him.

The third is called Half-Lives the first Louisa Reye mystery. It’s written in multiple POVs and present tense, mimicking noir style. Louisa is a journalist in the 1970s US. She has integrity and wants to prove herself but she working in a less than reputable paper. However, she stumbles into a very big secret and doggedly pursues the truth.

The fourth is “The Ghastly Ordeal of Timothy Cavendish” and is written by an elderly vanity publisher. It’s most humorous piece in the book. Timothy stumbles upon a book which sells millions… and puts him into deep trouble.

The fifth is “An Orison of Sonmi – 451” and is set in the future where corporations rule the world, or at least the small part of the world we see. Sonmi is a replicant, a person designed and grown for the sole purpose of being a waiter. But one day she has a chance to see the world outside her diner.

The final story is set in apparently far future when civilization as we know it has collapsed. The first-person narrator uses somewhat different English than the modern day variant and it’s somewhat difficult to read. The narrator is a goat herder in an Iron Age village but sometimes the village is visited by people who have far more advanced technology.

Except for the last story, the others are interrupted in the middle by the next story and after the last story is done, the others continue, the first story’s final part last.

I really like this type of structure and I liked the links between the stories, too. The final story was quite difficult to read and by that time I was impatient to find out how the other stories end. My favorite was Sonmi’s terrible tale. However, the links weren’t enough for me to bring this to a coherent whole: they feel separate stories to me.

Cavendish’s tale has some amusing pokes at the literary establishment and reviewers, perhaps Mitchell is anticipating what some people will say about his work. He also puts down the British railways.

All the characters are flawed people and convincing as humans. They depict people at their worst, being cruel to each other, but in the end, hope glimmers in every human who ends up behaving humanely to each other, especially if their society frowns on it, or even forbids it.

Collects Fantastic Four #554-561

Writer: Mark Millar
Artist: Bryan Hitch, Paul Neary, Andrew Currie, Matt Banning, Cam Smith

I love Hitch’s art and he’s in top form here, so the art is fantastic! Except for some really weird faces on Alyssa and some of the other women who apparently talk with their tongues out.

Millar’s writing promises big things to come and he does start with a bang: the FF are returning from a time travel journey. Then Reed’s old girlfriend Alyssa returns and she needs Reed to consult something. It turns out that Alyssa’s new husband is also a genius scientist and he’s built another Earth because according to their calculation this Earth is going to be uninhabitable in less than ten years. Not from a supervillain attacks but from environmental collapse. And rather than trying to stop it, it’s easier to duplicate the Earth in a parallel dimension. It’s called “Nu-Earth”. Well, not everything will be duplicated. Weapons won’t be and the geniuses also built a huge robot to keep the peace. Of course, the robot (called Cap) gets loose and tries to kill everyone.

Meanwhile, Johnny rans across a supervillain who’s robbing a diamond shipment. Instead of arresting her, he sleeps with her. He’s also building a band and his house is rigged into a reality show. Ben has a new (ordinary teacher) girlfriend and Susan is forming a charity.

The second story arch is “The Death of the Invisible Woman” and it brings back Dr. Doom and introduces a new villain group, the New Defenders. In fact, the New Defenders are hunting Doom who needs help from Reed. But Reed and Sue are away so the New Defenders wreck the Building fighting Ben and in the end take the rather worn-out Doom with them. Reed is determined to find him and we’re shown that the group is headed by a very familiar green giant.

Oh and the Richards’ have a new and mysterious nanny. She’s a sweet old lady who is really good with the kids. But soon we find out that she knows more about Valeria than her parents.

Millar takes the FF back to their roots, as Marvel’s first family. Unfortunately, he also resets everything the group’s learned in the (recent) years. In a way this is the perfect time for new readers to pick up the comic because no background information is needed. Johnny is, once again, the irresponsible teenager, Reed the genius with his head in calculations, Ben a jock with a heart of gold, and Susan is the responsible one. Unfortunately, I found these FF more obnoxious than heroic. Johnny is especially terrible: he’s arrogant and thoughtless. Susan is jealous about Reed and women sigh over Reed and Ben. In essence, they’re movie stars. Like in many FF stories before Millar’s, Reed’s story is the only one which really matters.

To me this was a frustrating read because Millar has a lot of interesting ideas (Galactus Engine!) and he works with troupes I really like. I also enjoyed the new villains and even more when I found out who they really were. But I was less happy with the representation of the characters and where the stories went.

The collection has entertaining stories but not as great as they could have been.

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