Last Saturday, on Netflix, I watched Stowaway (2021) an engaging and compelling hard science fiction film by a new filmmaker, Joe Penna. The story, which has only four characters, is reminiscent of Gravity (2013) or Apollo 13 (1995), not only in how it involves a disaster aboard a small spacecraft, but in how it tries to respect physics as much as possible. (Apollo 13, of course, was a real story which made it a lot easier.)
It is, on both counts, also similar to The Martian (2015), in which it bears a third similarity — a connection to Mars. They differ, however, in that The Martian is about a guy trying to get away from Mars whereas Stowaway is about three people trying to get to Mars.
The disaster for them is the fourth person, the stowaway.
After eight books I think it’s safe to say that I am not, and probably never will be, a fan of science fiction author Stephen Baxter. Just over a year ago I read his Manifold trilogy and was notably underwhelmed (see this post about book one and this post about the whole trilogy).
Recently I finished The Long Earth, a five-book series Baxter co-authored with my all-time, no-exceptions, favorite fiction author, Terry Pratchett. The series is based on an interesting parallel worlds idea from a short story, The High Meggas, Pratchett wrote back in the mid-1980s.
Much to my disappointment, I was also notably underwhelmed by this series.
During the last two weeks I re-watched Cowboy Bebop, an award-winning Japanese science fiction anime classic created in 1998. In contrast with a lot of anime, the show is so adult in its themes that only 12 of the 26 episodes were aired when it premiered on TV Tokyo in 1998. The full series wasn’t aired in Japan until the following year on Wowow, a private, premium satellite network.
In 2001 it was the first anime title ever broadcast on Adult Swim, so it was the first experience many Americans had with Japanese anime. Since then, because of its visuals, music, and themes, it has earned international acclaim, both with critics and audiences.
It’s a definite must-see for any fan of anime or science fiction.
Fans of Doctor Who, at least those without an unreasoning dislike of Jodie Whittaker, may get a kick out of seeing her in the 2011 British alien invasion film Attack the Block. It’s a small rather unregarded film with a box office return of only half its £8 million budget (about $11 million USD at 2021 rates). Since its release it has gotten well-deserved critical praise and won a few international accolades.
I should note that Whittaker is not the lead. At best, she’s a co-star, and perhaps almost more of a major supporting character (she is present for most of the film). The film stars John Boyega, who many will know as Finn from the final Star Wars trilogy.
I highly recommend it for all science fiction movie fans.
Last Sci-Fi Saturday I savaged Sabrina, which remains a new low to me in dumb TV. This time I have a much more mixed review. I’ve been working my way through Black Lightning (available on Netflix). It’s a superhero show, so it’s fantasy and suffers all the problems and weakness that go with that.
On the other hand, it’s about a Black superhero (three, actually), and the landscape has been sadly and notably deficient in people of color as superheroes. There is also that Black Lightning obviously has a bigger budget, much better acting, and a far stronger sense of authenticity.
That said,… I’m sorry, but superhero stories are just super lame.
I watched the first season of Chilling Adventures of Sabrina (Netflix) with mixed reactions. It had just enough to keep me watching, but I didn’t think much of the writing. It has the same problem as a lot of modern fantasy — random, irrational, downright dumb (and in this case very unoriginal) world building.
The latter season tipped the scales entirely to an Ugh! rating for me. Television shows are rarely known for their intelligence, but this one has given me a new standard of worst-ever.
To be clear here, ‘I come, not to praise Sabrina, but to bury it.’
In what seems the distant past of late summer 2019, I posted about an interesting science fiction novel by Greg Egan, Quarantine (1992). The post didn’t get many views back then — only 13 that August, and only 27 total by the end of the year. And through 2020, it only racked up another 37 views. (That’s 64 total for those keeping score at home.)
Then, this January, the post got 257 views — 161 in the first three days. After being largely ignored for a year-and-a-half, something made the post go mildly viral. No one commented, so I have no idea how or why the post got so much traffic.
I have a thought it might have to do with the title.
I thoroughly enjoyed the first John Scalzi book I read, Redshirts. I thought it was delightful and definitely my kind of book. I also very much enjoyed the second Scalzi book I read, The Android’s Dream. Because of that, I’ve been looking forward to reading his trilogy, The Interdependency.
This past week, courtesy of online library books, I finally did, and I do regret to report that I found the series rather underwhelming. I ended up skimming through the last half of the last book just to find out how it all turned out.
I think the biggest issue for me was lack of action. There was a ton of narration, explanation, internal monologue, and talking, but there wasn’t much action.
In every literary genre (in every type of art, really), there are classics that stand out and often participate in forming the language, or at least some of the territory, of the genre. That is part of what makes these works classics. (Lord of the Rings is an ultimate classic — all Medieval fantasy since is in reference to it.)
I suspect all serious readers have a classic or two they’ve never gotten around to. Last week I finally got around to reading the classic science fiction novel, Brave New World (1932), by Aldous Huxley.
For a novel written 88 years ago, it’s surprisingly prescient and relevant.
Well they finally made a good Terminator sequel! Granted, the first one is a modern classic and a very tough act to follow. There is also that sequels are almost always necessarily warmed up left-overs, but this franchise has been noted for being especially disappointing. (I know I saw #5, but it left absolutely no impression, and #4 was dismal and awful.)
I’m definitely more of a Terminator fan than a Star Wars fan. That’s even more true when it comes to Star Trek. I’m willing to at least see the Star Wars movies, but I gave up on Trek ever since J.J. Abrams took over (although it had already gotten moribund).
For my money, Terminator: Dark Fate is a nice return to form and a pretty good action movie in its own right.