Tag Archives: science fiction

Twilight Children

On Sunday, I read Twilight Children, completing my three-book camping weekend bender. In this one, Ryan Cawdor, Krysty Wroth, and their band of (I swear this was written in an amazon description of one of the other books, which I am not making up) warrior-survivalists go from a familiar setting gone direly wrong, to an old West tourist town inhabited by poisonous bird-bug things that I feel probably should have been more consequential than they were, and finally into the meat of the story, in which a paradisaical lakeside community is spoiled by Logan’s Run syndrome.

Later, they chill some mutants.

So, a thing I realize I’ve left out of these reviews is the side story, in which one of their old friends from before they started teleporting everywhere has been on a quest to find Ryan’s former leader, a near-mythical figure called the Trader. His rules for survival and profit in the Deathlands have informed their every decision, and the mercenary aspect of these rules is why so many of their adventures that ended in cleaning up messes created by all the power-hungry and murder-addicted regional barons have ended that way by accident, after they tried to stay out of it instead. The A-Team, they ain’t.

My point here is that even by that low standard, the Trader himself has appeared over the last couple of books to be a particularly mercenary individual, and I think that when everyone finally gets back together into one big happy, they’ll instead find that maybe they’d have been better off leaving him wandered off to die of radiation cancer like it seemed that he had done, about two thirds of the way through the first book. Which is a cool tension to have in an ongoing series like this. (Another reason I enjoy these so much, I reckon, is because of how much they remind me of Marvel comics, in their storytelling methodology.)

Cold Asylum

On Saturday I read Cold Asylum, which quickly dispenses with a set-up for several new locations and then with its title scene (a refrigerated, multi-warehouse-sized morgue inhabited by cannibalistic mutants[1]), to proceed quickly into a Most Dangerous Game pastiche in which the newest member of the band of adventurers (a young, sheltered cultist kung fu monk pulled forward through time[2] from right before the nuclear war) starts to show cracks in his loyalties and capabilities. How will they get out of this one?!

[1] I know it’s easy to see that I’m reading one of these books, roll your eyes, and move on, maybe wondering why I bother. This, right here, is why I bother. It’s just such a perfectly macabre sample of post-apocalyptica. And I know, it’s silly to imagine the refrigerators working a hundred years on, but that’s one of the premises you just have to accept. The nuclear generators are buried well, and they keep running without service. Otherwise, the whole series falls apart, because how would the teleporters work without power? Also, the part where the teleporters just never send you to an unpowered or otherwise destroyed location was a piece of genius in its own right.
[2] Also, all the time travel. Seriously, 125 book sci-fi series that is simultaneously post-apocalyptic and has good gender equity throughout? Except for the obligatory gun fetishism, what’s not to like?

Deep Empire

If you are paying a lot more attention than I would expect anyone to be paying, you would expect this review to cover the second Robin Hobb book. However, I ran into a pair of related problems. Maybe a trio of interrelated problems? You decide! See, thing one is that I’m still trying to read the series in conjunction with my wife. Thing two is that I went camping last weekend. The problem with that is that while I read a lot in the woods, she really does not. Thing three, which may or may not count as an actual thing, is that I didn’t want to deal with reading comics on my convertible laptop in the woods, because it’s quite a bit harder to handle / keep safe than a tablet in a case would have been. The relevance of this is that comics would have slowed me down quite a bit and made it at least mildly feasible that I could read the Farseer book without pulling irretrievably far ahead.

So instead, I brought five Deathlands books. The theory being that I would be out for 5 days and read about a book a day. This math was largely correct, except that I was not there for the entirety of the bookend days, and also I was building / tearing down on those days.

Enough inside baseball! You’re definitely here because you want to know how Deep Empire was. And I have good news: the title actually makes sense[1] this time. See, they come out of the teleporter into the Keys, where they encounter pirates, undersea volcanoes (because, post-apocalypse), dolphins, and rogue marine biologists.

[1] All three did, which makes me wonder if I missed something in Shockscape. I probably didn’t, but the impostor syndrome is especially strong right now, since I noticed my reviews used to be a lot funnier than they are these days. Everyone not reading this because they left me behind long ago? I forgive you.

Shockscape

I was poised to read a Robin Hobb book, but then my schedule got pushed back, so I went for something guaranteed to be quick and easy. And then work was a bear[1], and I realized a new Walking Dead was out, so now I’m actually behind on starting the Hobb instead of ahead. Oh well, that’s what happens when I try to keep to a schedule on much of anything besides work and vacations.

Which brings us to Shockscape, a book that demonstrates Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle in action[2]. See, these books can only have either a title that is vaguely related to the plot, or a cover that is vaguely related to the plot. Never both, and virtually never more than a vague relationship. In this case, the title is as far as I can tell a meaningless agglomeration of syllables, while the cover shows a giant mutant bear, who isn’t in the book long, but he is the catalyst for the rest of the action. Which consists of the same kind of action in most Deathlands books: the good guys run into a baron[3], he sets them to some task for which failure means death and/or enslavement, depending on whether you are a person on the task or a hostage, the good guys complete the task (probably by killing someone what needed it), and then return and kill the baron too, because what kind of a dick makes people do things whether they want to or not?

It’s a good thing I don’t mind stories that are formulaic, as long as I know that whatever character or plot or world-building development missing from this book will definitely occur in the next one. Anyway, there was a pretty solid cliffhanger? (I hope they don’t resolve it in the easiest way possible, where they might as well not have had it in the first place.)

[1] Oops
[2] It doesn’t.
[3] A baron, in Deathlands parlance, is the leader of some locality. He always has sec men, and usually is in some sense a bad guy, either by virtue of terrorizing his populace or by virtue of opposing the good guys in a non-evil way that is never justifiable enough to make our heroes look like non-good guys when they inevitably chill him in the end. (Unless he’s a recurring character who gets away but will probably be killed in a sequel. That happens.)

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2

Thing that is awesome: I saw a Guardians of the Galaxy double feature on Thursday! Thing that is less awesome: it always takes me forever to review premiere style movies. Like, to even have time to start. I am typing this Sunday, and I will post it Sunday, but I didn’t start until Sunday, which as you know is three days after Thursday. I don’t know why this always happens, but it always does. I might as well not even go to premieres, for all the good it does anyone else! …although I still get to see it early, so that’s nice.

In a nutshell: Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 is the platonic ideal of a comics movie. It requires you to have seen the original, yes, but since the original was full of origin stories that people didn’t already know by heart, that’s not so bad. And then it’s off to the races, with… basically a lot of cool and hilarious stuff that I can say nearly nothing about, because it would all be spoilers. Even the thematic discussion is a no go. Except to say, trust me that yes there’s a heaping helping of theme. And lots of cool old characters, and some cool new characters, and a teaser for the future that I don’t see how they can pull off right, but then again, if you’d asked me five years ago (or five days ago!) if they could pull off what they did in this movie, I would have said no, that’s way too stupid to ever work. So I’ve clearly been proven wrong, and I’m once again excited for the next thing!

I should say, the music is not as good as last time.

Pixels (2015)

On Sunday, after two days of renaissance festival and a truly spectacular amount of mead, we decided to watch a random movie. (It should have been the American Gods pilot, but Mary was already sleeping off a scraped cornea.) The one that got picked, basically by virtue of being the first one seen that there was a quorum on, was Pixels. I mean, yes, the con column had “Adam Sandler movie”, but the pro column had cool video game movie, not the kind based on a specific game, but rather just generic 1980s arcade fever. Arcades are cool!

Anyway, we were wrong. Nothing outweighs “Adam Sandler movie”.

Logan

So, another X-Men continuity movie[1]. Logan is set in 2029, which is somehow only 12 years from now. I think there are maybe two or three things I can say about this movie, without getting into territory I’d rather avoid. I mean, it’s basically impossible to review anything without spoilers[2], so I always try to limit myself to what you’d know within 5 minutes (or 1-2 chapters) anyway, but sometimes it’s more than that, and this is one of those times.

The first thing is, this is a movie that doesn’t fuck around. Wolverine has always killed people, which is unusual enough for a comic book setting, but he’s never killed people the way he would kill people, you know what I mean? Here, he definitely does. Which is useful as a calibration tool for the rest of the movie, is my point. The second thing, I’ve already said in one of the footnotes anyway, so if you are trying to avoid spoilers more than I am (which maybe you should!), you can miss that easily. The third thing is that the movie is about something. I think it’s been a while since the theme of a film has shone strongly enough for me to care about mentioning it. (Or maybe they’re always so obvious as to not be worth mentioning?)

Anyway, this is a movie about responsibility. It is the lens through which nearly every character views things. Like, I don’t know if everyone is right about what responsibility has or has not accrued to them, nor whether everyone is right about how they do or do not discharge that responsibility. But it permeates every decision, and it’s a strong theme for a strong movie. Which reminds me of a fourth thing I can definitely say, which is that the three lead roles are acted exceptionally well. Nobody will look at this movie when the 2017 retrospective awards season comes along, but I think maybe they will have made a mistake, when they do not.

[1] As opposed to the rest of Marvel continuity, since the Disney people made a deal with the Sony people to share Spider-Man, so now there are only two such continuities extant.
[2] I picked the poster that most reminded me of The Last of Us, because the movie put me in mind of that. Which is a spoiler if you’ve played that game or know of it, but explaining that the correlation is by no means perfect, or even necessarily strong, would itself be a spoiler. This is hard, is all I’m saying.

Ancillary Justice

Rumor has it, Ancillary Justice won a lot of awards when it came out a few years ago. This is fair enough, because it ties a well-written take on an intriguing sfnal concept (that would be a spoiler for the early book to reveal, see footnote [1] below cut) to a good story that, to nobody’s surprise who has read the title, is deeply concerned with justice on both personal and imperial scales, and it wraps that package up in meaningful social commentary on the topic of gender and identity.

I should probably read the other two? I’m not sure how much they will further address cool sfnal concepts and meaningful social commentary, but like I said: the story was good too. Problematically, I own neither.

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Assassin’s Creed

Assassin’s Creed was a game with an incredible premise. Using an sfnal device called The Animus, you could connect yourself to display monitors and relive the genetic memories of your ancestors, with an audience of observers along for the ride. This was a tool to tell the story of a war down through the ages between the Knights Templar (on the side of order, thoroughly lawful evil) and the Assassins (on the side of freedom, thoroughly chaotic neutral) to determine the fate of humankind. See, there’s this differently sfnal device called the Apple of Eden which nobody seems to exactly know how it works or what it does, but which everyone agrees will allow their side to win once and for all.

It was, unfortunately, an incredibly flawed game in execution, but both the basic premise and the underlying modern and historical parallel stories that premise enabled were not among the problems the game faced. In the meantime, that series has blossomed into some dozen or so games now, the first third of which I’ve played.

Enter last month, in which a movie based on that series was released. Which makes sense! You have a pre-built plot that contains lots of lavish historical sets and an interesting conflict, not to mention all kinds of cool parkour and medieval weapons combat. What’s not to like? Only… I mean, it wasn’t bad. Those things I said about how rich the premise and conflict are, they are true and cannot just be erased unless you made a movie that was actually unrelated to anything the games had done. And they did not, this is definitely an Assassin’s Creed movie.

At the same time, the plot fell apart to such a drastic degree in the final act that I don’t actually know what character decisions were made or how I should feel about them, even though up until then I had liked the two main characters (the Assassin descendant and the Templar scientist) and their developed relationship. Plus, the lush historical settings? Were instead consistently crowded with so much dust and smoke that you couldn’t really sit back and enjoy them. I did not expect anything so immersive as a 60 hour game can provide, but, talk about missing the point. Especially since the historical setting and timeline (1490s Spain) are both unaddressed by the games.

I guess what I expect is that any potential sequel will fix all of the niggling flaws and turn into something brilliant, just like the second game did. The parallels are just too strong to ignore!

Life Is Strange: Chrysalis

I’m in a weird position here, in that I’ve never played an episodic game before. The chapters are not terribly long, but they’re long enough that the full game seems like it will turn out to be incredibly long, plus also I’m so bad at reviewing partial games anyway. Not to say I expect to stop playing Life Is Strange! But things happen sometimes, and the part where I opted to take a break between chapters is, if not telling, at least cautionary.

So, anyway, this is one of the new wave of exploratory, talky, thoughtful games that are mostly devoid of shooting wave after wave of nameless enemies who are (if not alien invaders or zombies) nevertheless human, thereby raising questions of morality. You may recall that I played Gone Home, about an older sister arriving unexpectedly from college to find that her entire family had been upturned in the meantime, via exploration of the empty house. Life Is Strange’s first chapter, Chrysalis, is certainly more “interactive character” / less “detached observer” than that was, which is a good thing. It was a lot easier to get immersed in Max’s problems, because she actually had a personality and a physical form, instead of being a set of silent eyeballs floating through a silent house. (Irony: I did like Gone Home, but its flaws are apparent now that I’ve played literally any other game in the same new genre of play.)

Here’s the deal as gleaned in the first five minutes of play. Max Caulfield is a new transfer student to a prestigious high school academy on the Oregon coast, returning to her hometown from Seattle after 3 years away because it is the best place to pursue her love of photography. She’s an out of place loner who has not reached out to her former best friend because of a fear of rejection, she’s learning to navigate the many cliques (especially the Vortex Club, for hyper-popular people) in her new environment, she’s barely aware of the geek who is desperately hitting on her at every turn, she keeps avoiding a submission to a photography contest that the teacher she idolizes is pressuring her to enter (also fear of rejection), her earbuds are full of the latest alternative music you’ve never heard of, she finds herself thinking a lot about the preponderance of flyers about a girl who went missing last spring… it’s a high school story. Cool. Been here, done this.

Then, by way of a massive spoiler in the 5-10 minute range, it takes a sharp turn into inexplicable sci-fi territory, and the game is off to the races. I’ll probably talk more about how in future chapters when it would be less of a spoiler than it is in this one, but I am both impressed and a little dismayed by what is a paradigm-shift to RPG elements of games (if not to strategy elements; I’d link what game I’m thinking of, but the same spoiler problem applies) combined with a healthy middle finger raised straight at me. But[1] in a good way!

Long story short: The Steam Machine was a good purchase, if the new genre are all as good as the two I’ve played so far.

[1] Apparently, since I loved it and want to play more.