Category Archives: science fiction

Rabid Rewind: "Inception"

Inception
starring: Leo DiCaprio, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Ken Watanabe, Ellen Page, and Cillian Murphy
written & directed by: Christopher Nolan
Warner Bros. (2010)
If you’ve seen Inception, chances are pretty good that you end up on one of two teams: Team Loved-It or Team Hated-It. Because, you either thought this was one of the trippiest, gamechanging-est pieces of cinema to come along in recent years. Or, you think this was one of the most convoluted, schizophrenic pieces of tripe to hit the screen since The Matrix sequels.
As for me, I am on Team Loved-It, but I recognize that writer/director Christopher Nolan used up a lot of capital with the loyalties of movie-goers with this movie. It’s an alienating film, because it doesn’t just demand your attention the whole way through, but it wags its finger at you if you so much as blink and lose your place in the story. I’m pretty sure I’m the last guy to get around to seeing this film, but just in case, I’ll keep this spoiler free for anyone living in bunkers in Montana waiting for the Chinese to taker over–or President Obama to present his birth certificate. Those boys don’t get out much.
Leo plays Dom Cobb, an extractor. He and his cohorts steal information from people, but they pilfer the information by breaking into the target’s subconscious mind during a dreaming state, as a sci-fi version of corporate espionage. Think of him as a bank robber who breaks into dreams rather than banks. Then, they are tasked with planting an idea in someone’s mind, rather than taking one away. A process called “inception” and is considered impossible, but Cobb believes he can do it. His motivation isn’t purely for money though, as the corporate mogul who has hired his team (Watanabe) promises to get his criminal record cleared so he can return to the U.S. and be with his children again.
Leo’s performance is engrossing, if also familiar, and offers up another tortured soul as the hero, which seems to be a pastiche with this guy. While he does good, and Ellen Page plays the role of a new recruit with a talent for constructing dreams quite well, it’s Joseph Gordon-Levitt who steals the show in my opinion. On one hand, I marvel at how the kid from Third Rock from the Sun has turned into such a talented dramatic actor, and on the other hand I am befuddled how he is not Hollywood’s new leading man.
The special effects are amazing, done so in such a way that the screen feels saturated with them at times. The last five years especially have seen some truly remarkable leaps forward in CGI melded with practical effects, so much so that it comes off as seamless, and it has a spoiling effect when watching other films. I recently watched Knight & Day, which is a prime example of how less than stellar CGI effects can suck you out of a movie. Inception has no such issues, and you wind up feeling at points like you’ve fallen down the rabbit hole right along with the characters.
I’m not equipped to dive into the nitty-gritty of the sci-fi elements in this movie, as I was just looking for a really good story. And I got it. I’m undecided if this is my favorite movie of 2010 now, but it’s certainly in the running.

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Filed under Christopher Nolan, Cillian Murphy, dreams, Ellen Page, Inception, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Ken Watanabe, Leonard DiCaprio, movie review, Rabid Rewind, science fiction, Tom Hardy

Rabid Rewind: "Mr. Nobody"

Mr. Nobody
starring Jared Leto, Sarah Polley, Diane Kruger
written and directed by Jaco Van Dormel
Pathe (2009)
How do you like your speculative fiction? Do you like it straight forward, asking that one big question? Or, do you prefer the movies that are more vague, less linear, and bordering on the pretentious? Well, if you answered the latter, then Mr. Nobody may be the movie for you.
Jared Leto plays Nemo Nobody plays a centenarian in the year 2092, famed as the last human who will die of natural causes, as technology has advanced to make aging obsolete. He is an enigma to the world and treated as less a celebrity, but more like a barnyard oddity. And a reporter has arrived to hear his life story, since so little is actually known about him.
But, Nemo’s memories seem confuses as he tells his story with not one linear path, not two, but three. And each of these lives is visiting at three key moments in his life, during his childhood, teen years, and mid-thirties. Each of the three lifetimes show how his life played out after falling in love with one of three girls, Jeanne, Elise, and Anna.
The movie plays out in a non-linear fashion, shifting about not only through the three key time periods–along with brief interludes in Nemo’s present as an old man narrating the tale–but also shifts between the three realities. Exploring the choices he made in his life and which ones were the right ones. When his parents divorced, would he choose to stay with his father in Britain or leave with his mother to Canada? Would he wind up with the emotionally disturbed Elise, the romantically distant Jeanne, or the girl who got away, Anna.
I really wanted to love this movie, and for the first ninety minutes I did. The problem was that there was another hour to go and the movie was spinning its wheels. God, I hate it when a movie insists on being over two hours long when so few need to be, and I think this one would have been fine if they had shaved fifteen to twenty minutes off of it.
There are some genuinely good performances from the likes of Sarah Polley as Elise, Juno Temple as the teenage Anna, and Rhyss Ifans as Nemo’s father. Even Jared Leto offers up a strong performance as both the thirty-something Nemo and the elderly and invalid Nemo–under a metric ton of make-up effects.
It’s a movie that is visually stunning to watch, both for the glimpses of the fantastical, but the effectiveness of the more mundane scenes. Again, my only real gripe as a viewer was the length of the film and how it seemed to stall a little after the midway point. I shouldn’t be looking at the clock, waiting for the movie to wrap up, as it makes me harbor a resentment towards the rest of the film. Shame, too.

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Filed under Jared Leto, movie review, Mr. Nobody, parallel universes, Rabid Rewind, Sarah Polley, sci-fi, science fiction

Rabid Rewind: "Never Let Me Go"

Never Let Me Go
starring Carey Mulligan, Keira Knightley, and Andrew Garfield
directed by Mark Romanek
written by Alex Garland
based on the novel by Kazuo Ishiguro
20th Century Fox (2010)
Since we are creeping ever closer to the uncomfortable question of sentience and human rights towards human clones, Never Let Me Go offers a forum in which to explore the subject. The setting it provides winds up rather dystopian, too.
Hailsham seems like one of those idyllic British private schools of yesteryear, but this one has a school population of a much more unsettling nature. Every student in Hailsham is a clone, created ultimately for the sole purpose of harvesting their organs to prolong the lives of real humans. It’s not a near future setting though, instead offering an alternate universe where the science advances take place in the wake of World War II.
For the three main characters, Kathy, Ruth, and Tommy, the real world feels as alien to them as their world does to us. All they know is the school, never leaving the grounds as rules and rumors act as leashes about their necks. They are educated about the world in a very filtered fashion, since their future–held secret from them until their teen years–is so bleak. It’s during their formative years that Kathy endears herself to Tommy, a troubled boy who finds himself a bit of an outcast in a school of outcasts. But when her best friend, Ruth, undermines her by pursuing Tommy as a love interest, Kathy winds up seeking something else to fill her heart–a life as a “carer” who acts as a companion to other clones as they undergo one organ extraction after another.
The alien concept of clone farms is juxtaposed brilliantly by the mundanity of a British township. Nothing exists visually in the film to lead you into thinking this is a sci-fi film, which is both an effort to avoid the sci-fi label, as well as a way to draw the audience in to a familiar word with an unfamiliar concept. As for the love triangle played out over the years in this story, it doesn’t feel the least bit hokey, despite Carey Mulligan’s prim and proper demeanor that veers dangerously close to Jane Austen territory. Sacrifice, betrayal, forgiveness are all explored and make for a genuinely engrossing movie.
This is one of those sci-fi films that very flagrantly tries to distance itself from the genre. The director, Mark Romanek, even goes so far as to describe the film as “a love story where the science fiction is this subtle patina on the story.” I’m not sure how much the novel’s author, Kazuo Ishiguro, tries to avert the sci-fi label, but it’s a shame that a movie like this can be appreciated as both a love story and a sci-fi story–because it is clearly both and a fair bit more.

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Filed under Andrew Garfield, British films, Carey Mulligan, cloning, dystopia, Kazuo Ishiguro, Keira Knightley, movie review, Never Let Me Go, Rabid Rewind, science fiction

Rabid Reads: "The Repossession Mambo" by Eric Garcia

The Repossession Mambo
by Eric Garcia
HarperCollins (2009)
328 pages
ISBN 9780061802836

Imagine a world where artificial organ implants are as plentiful and easily installed as parts on a car. Now imagine the same scuzzball business practices, used in the automotive industry, employed in the medical field. Yeah, not exactly Utopia, is it?
Garcia’s novel is written as a firsthand account from a Bio-Repo man as he’s on the run from the very company who once employed him. The repo man tells his story via an old typewriter on whatever bits of paper he can find, as he hides out and hopes the noise doesn’t alert anyone to his presence in an abandoned building within the city he used to work.
The way the story is laid out is a disjointed memoir of a man basically writing out all the mistakes he made in his life, all of which have contributed to where he finds himself now: on the run from his former employers with an artificial heart he never asked for and can’t afford to pay for. But the majority of the story is about his life, particularly his formidable days in the army and his more contentious days in married life–with four ex-wives in his wake.
I became interested in this book when I saw the trailers for the film last year. But a movie trailer is a terrible way to gauge the potential of the book its based on. I went in expecting a rather high-octane cat-and-mouse chase between a skilled repo man and his former peers now out to get him. What I got was a meandering lament, albeit an engaging one, from a character that spent more time seemingly squirreled away in front of an antique typewriter, surrounded by advanced technology in a kind of juxtaposition there, than he did actively evading the authorities.
I did manage to quite enjoy this novel, despite my preconceptions being dashed within the first hundred pages. The sci-fi elements are plentiful and articulated well enough for a dullard like me not to feel overwhelmed by all the jargon, and the repo man’s tone has enough of that sarcastic tone to make him sympathetic. It’d be really easy not to give a damn whether this character lived or died, but Garcia presents him in a way that made me root for him towards the end, and the ending itself does provide a measure of satisfaction. Not what I was expecting there either, but that turned out to be a good thing.
I’ll be seeing the film adaptation, starring Jude Law and Forest Whitaker, soon enough. It’ll be interesting to see what elements of the novel make it into the film, because I can’t see it being strictly adhered to. Movie audiences probably wouldn’t have gone for that at all. Readers, especially ones who like sci-fi, should find something to like with the book at least.

CymLowell

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Filed under book review, Eric Garcia, Rabid Reads, Repo Men, Repossession Mambo, science fiction

Rabid Reads: "Under the Dome" by Stephen King

Under the Dome
by Stephen King
Scribner (2009)
1074 pages
ISBN 978-1-4391-4850-1


Now that I’ve finally read through Under the Dome, I feel I can say with all honesty that I’m in the best shape of my life. Why? Because reading the hardcover edition of this book was a workout. Nearly 1,100 pages added up to be not only an epic read, but a hefty dumbbell by which to exercise.

And that sums up my primary complaint about this novel: it’s too long.

I understand how crafting a story with dozens of characters requires a fair amount of space in order to establish them in such a way that they feel reasonably genuine and sympathetic. But, let’s be honest, the events of the novel do not carry over a great passage of time–and the events depicted in the novel are at times drawn out to an interminable level. I’m not likely to be accused anytime soon of being an editor, but despite the purported cutting down of this book from an even greater length to its existing size, I think there is plenty of fluff left in the novel to whittle it down to a healthy–and relatively trim–eight hundred pages. I can think of a couple of superfluous scenes involving the points of view of animals which would not be missed.

As for the story, it’s an interesting one that’s for sure. On an uneventful October morning, the bucolic little Maine town of Chester Mills is unceremoniously trapped within an invisible forcefield. Not even the water from the brooks can penetrate the barrier beyond a miniscule trickle. The town essentially becomes the world’s largest snowglobe.

Trapped inside is Dale Barbara, a retired soldier and vagabond hash slinger, looking to vacate the town after a violent altercation with Junior Rennie and a few others. Barbie doesn’t want to hang around since Junior’s dad is on the town council and is the unofficial mayor, and that’s a headache Barbie can do without. Unfortunately for him, he reaches the outskirts of town just in time to see birds, a woodchuck, and even a small-engine plane crash into the newly formed barrier.

From there, civilization breaks down in record time. And that might be the other issue I have with this novel. With an event so extraordinary as an invisible forcefield, I would have expected a more mundane setting to greet it within its walls. You know, put plain folks in the situation and see how things play out. What Kind does, however, is introduce a sensational villain into the mix who defies belief–Junior Rennie’s father, Big Jim. Where nearly everyone in Chester Mills feels pretty regular and believable, Big Jim comes off as a nearly cartoonish antagonist. And if there are enough Big Jims in America to count him as regular too, then I weep for that nation.

The novel is by no means a bad book. All things considered it’s a good read with some inventive twists and turns. It is a novel that requires an investment of time and of patience, though. As a Stephen King, I am left mildly disappointed. Not because I foolishly compared this novel to The Stand, but because King has–in my opinion at any rate–a recent string of very good stories that make up a second win to his longstanding career. And King is at his best when he’s longstanding rather than longwinded.

CymLowell

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Filed under book review, horror, Rabid Reads, sci-fi, science fiction, stephen king, Under The Dome

"Zero Gravity: Adventures in Deep Space" is Available Now

If you’re interested in science-fiction, particularly short stories, then this schill will be right up your alley.

“The Stand-Ins,” my latest short story to find its way into publication is now available through Pill Hill Press and the new sci-fi anthology, Zero Gravity: Adventures in Deep Space, edited by Alva J. Roberts. Here’s the write-up straight from their site:

This thrilling collection features thirteen fantastic adventures set in the cold vacuum of space. Read about rogues, scoundrels, aliens, robots, heroes, junkers and priests as you explore the rich and creative diversity of the following stories:

  • “Junker’s Fancy” By Rosemary Jones
  • “Leech Run” By Scott W. Baker
  • “A Space Romance” By Paul A. Freeman
  • “Hawking’s Caution” By Mark Rivett
  • “Parhelion” By David Schembri
  • “To Stand Among Kings” By Kenneth Mark Hoover
  • “The Unicorn Tree” By Alethea Kontis
  • “The Beacon of Hope” By Gregory L Norris
  • “Tangwen’s Last Heist” By C.B. Calsing
  • “The Stand-Ins” By Gef Fox
  • “Glacier Castle” By Will Morton
  • “Rescue” By Margaret Karmazin
  • “At One Stride Comes the Dark” By Murray Leeder

I’m pleased to see my first science-fiction story in print, and I’m very much looking forward to reading everyone else’s stories. From what I’ve heard about the other stories, it should prove to be a widely varied colletion of interstellar tales.

Click Here to Puchase From Amazon

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Filed under anthology, Gef Fox, Pill Hill Press, science fiction, short stories, Zero Gravity

Book Vs. Movie: I Am Legend

I may do another Book Vs. Movie with Matheson’s classic going up against Charleton Heston in The Omega Man, but for now I’m going with the most recent adaptation with Will Smith in the lead role.

Richard Matheson has does it all in the writing world–western, sci-fi, horror–and the guy garners acclaim no matter what the genre. And one of his most iconic stories is I Am Legend, about the last man standing in a city, in a world really, that has fallen to a menace of mankind’s making.

This is one of my favorite novels, though I think it may technically be a novella because it’s less than 200 pages. So when Will Smith assumed the role and I had a chance to finally sit down and watch the movie, I was like many in that I had some skepticism held towards how good it would be. I’d heard Smith and others involved with the film say that it stayed truer to the book than The Omega Man, but that still left a lot of breathing room.

The protagonist is essentially the same, with Neville (played by Will Smith) living in a devastated and isolated New York City as he seeks to cure the disease that turned so many people into monsters. In the film, the monsters are revealed fairly early to be humans turned rabid and nocturnal. They exist primarily as instinctual creatures that feed on any human unfortunate enough to cross their path. Oh, and dogs are infected too. In the book, the monsters are of a different variety. They’re violent and also bloodthirsty, but there’s an intelligence about them, as one in particular taunts Neville each night to come out of his house-turned-fortress.

In the book, Neville is fairly composed, though there is the sadness for everything he’s lost and that fear he may ultimately fail. In the movie, the writers went one step further–or Smith did in ad-libbing–by making Neville a tad crazier thanks to the isolation, as he carries on conversations with mannequins he’s set up in his neighborhood, even hitting on one at the behest of his German shepherd. Yup, you read that right.

The climax of the movie starts off similar to the book, as a couple of characters are introduced and protected by Neville. But when the shit hits the fan, the movie takes a much different path from the book. I could easily dismiss the movie for this use of creative license, but I thought the movie’s ending worked as well as the one in the book. And when you consider the rest of creative license used throughout the movie, they basically had no choice but to come up with a different ending.

Winner: The Book. If you’ve seen the movie, read the book if for no other reason than to get a totally different experience. If you’ve read the book, but haven’t seen the movie, I’d say you should still give it a chance. Just keep in mind that it’s not exactly as Matheson originally envisioned it. I really do like the movie, but Will Smith’s performance was just too quirky and distracting to make me care about him. With the book at least, I was rooting for Neville the whole way through.

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Filed under book review, book vs. movie, horror, I Am Legend, movie review, novella, richard matheson, science fiction, vampires, Will Smith