Tag Archives: science fiction

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.

Passengers (2016)

It is functionally impossible to really talk about this movie without massive spoilers, because what the movie is actually about requires knowledge of character actions and motivations. This is… problematic, since spoilers suck. So, I’ll fill in the next paragraph with some kind of thumbnail thing, and put in a cut (that doesn’t work everywhere), and after that, you should probably have watched it first to go any further. Or, if you don’t care, that’s your lookout.

Passengers is, at the broadest level, the story of a colony ship headed outbound from Earth to new frontiers. At the next focus inward, it’s a story about hell and impossible choices. The next focus inward will have to go behind the cut.
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The Short Victorious War

It’s been a while since I’ve read an Honor Harrington book, and I honestly couldn’t say why. I mean, I know why I haven’t in the past let’s say year and a half, what with finally packing up my house and moving, and then getting engaged and planning a wedding before getting my books all the way unpacked from the move. But it was four years before that, and that is the part I cannot especially account for. Honor books are fun! Step one: space bad guys decide to be bad guys. Step two: space good guys leave Honor in an untenable position due to political wrangling or misplaced tactical / strategic thought that notably disagrees with whatever Honor correctly thinks instead. Step three: big naval space battle, which is somehow exciting despite being spread out across hours and hours instead of the 15 minutes of a Star Wars space battle[1]. Step four: Honor wins and gets lots of begrudging accolades from the people she just proved wrong. What’s not to like?

That said, this is the first book that has ended in such a way that I kind of want to know what happens next immediately. So while I understand not reading it that soon after the last one, I still can’t explain the fullness of the gap. Oh well?

Here’s what you need to know about The Short Victorious War: it is foreshadowed by a history lesson from which the title is drawn, in which Imperial Russia tried to take on Japan just a brief time before the glorious Communist revolution. So when the space bad guys proceed in chapter one to plan their own short, victorious war against the space good guys in order to settle down the proletariat, the outcome of the book has already been decided. However, getting there is basically hilarious on the space bad guy side[2] while maintaining the typically entertaining Honor formula on the space good guy side. Plus also, space romance!, if that kind of thing is your bag.

The reason I think I am especially excited for the next book is because it ended on the kind of cliffhanger that leads me to expect things to pick up weeks later instead of the typical years later, plus also I expect the formula to be broken. Which is always more exciting than knowing exactly what will happen, despite how entertaining the road to it might be.

[1] I think this is because of the ratcheting tension.
[2] Leader of the space bad guy revolutionaries is named, and I swear I am not making this up, Rob S. Pierre.

Fury’s Pilgrims

51xi6zpicnlDid I mention that the Deathlands series is over, as of earlier this year? Probably. It’s just so weird to me that this thing has an ending, 30 years after it started. Especially when I compare to my infinite and infinitely expanding Marvel comics thing, you know? I mean, I’m still only to 1992 here, so it’s not like I’m in any danger of running out, it’s just strange.

That said, it’s also strange that I’ve gotten so far into a men’s adventure series and it still shies away from being fully episodic, misogynistic, and militaristically triumphal at every turn. Fury’s Pilgrims gives our heroes another momentary glimpse at the pre-nuke world, with its time travel equipment and space stations and other wonders, all tantalizingly out of reach and all gradually decaying into uselessness.

I mean, some of the entries in the series are more hopeful than that description? But so far, I have to admit that Deathlands is not a rise from the ashes version of the post-apocalypse; this is not an aspect I’d ever really considered before. Still, I’m not opposed to grimdark, and even if I were, this is not really that. The characters find love, and sometimes long term peace, and keys to their past and the collective past alike, even if never quite as fast as I’d like for the latter. But I’ve got like 100 plus books to go, so I should probably give them some time, eh?

Assassin’s Creed: Revelations

51g6GKymFKLAt long last, I’ve played another Assassin’s Creed game. I must be at least four behind now? And at some point they get terrible, though I do not know what point that is. Anyway, Revelations (the last of the Ezio Auditore trilogy) was still a good game, so that’s nice.

Well. I mean, it was a good game. That part is true. All kinds of new toys to play with, the same climbing and running and jumping and assassinating fun from the previous two games, plus a satisfactory ending to Ezio’s story and both a nod to how terrible AC1 was plus a satisfactory ending to Altaïr’s story to make up for it. Gameplay, 16th century storyline and 12th century storyline, all of these were firing on all cylinders. Best Assassin’s Creed game yet.

Except… so, the ending of Brotherhood pretty much blew me away. It was a huge out of nowhere plot twist for Desmond’s story (he’s the guy in modern times that is reliving the genetic memories of his ancestors) that was simultaneously a huge cliffhanger. And for that part of the story… I mean, just nothing. Everyone seemed to treat it as no big deal and not worth mentioning, and I’m left clawing for answers that I suppose will never be forthcoming.

So that’s lame, and inevitably colors the whole experience. Alas.

End of Watch

81rLDztUK7LThere was a time when I claimed that Finders Keepers was not a sequel to Mr. Mercedes. Likewise, I can now claim that End of Watch is not a sequel to Finders Keepers. Sure, they’re in the same continuity and with mostly the same characters, but except for acknowledging that those things happened in the past: not a sequel.

But: End of Watch is a sequel to Mr. Mercedes. So, y’know, there’s that? Now that I’ve clarified the interactions between the books, though, how am I supposed to review the third book of a trilogy, absent massive spoilers? I’ll say these things:

  1. It was good, and I liked it.
  2. I liked it less than either of the other two books, but not enough to dim my enjoyment of them; all of the characters remained meaningful and important to me throughout. (Holly Gibney, especially, is pretty much the best.)
  3. I think the main reason I liked it less is because after two books of solid mystery detectivey stuff, throwing in a supernatural element just did not seem to belong anymore. If you read this as a standalone book, which it would be maybe barely possible to do, you would not have this problem. All the same, I had it.

So, yeah. That was definitely a book I liked reading, and I hope King keeps writing new books like usual. The fact that they cannot all be the best in no way detracts, y’know?

Moon Fate

51B5enw1nlLApparently, the Deathlands series is completed, at 75 books, as of sometime last year. That’s kind of cool, because it implies that I might ever finish[1]. Not a habit I’m used to, what with Marvel comics that have been published continuously since 1961 with no end in sight.

I’m not sure that has any special relevance, but I learned it while doing research into the author of Moon Fate. (James Axler is a farm name, you see, assigned to any number of actual writers in the series, but not a real person in his own right.) The sad reason for this research was that there was a tonal shift so drastic, I briefly hoped there had been a change of the usual author to explain it. Here’s an implausible number of words about that.

Weirdly, even now, I can’t tell if I’m being unrealistic. In thumbnail, Ryan Cawdor is returning from the events of Chill Factor to rejoin his friends, but due to a series of the kind of tragic event that is so typical in a post-apocalyptic hellhole, they end up split once more, with he and his girlfriend captured by vengeful mutant “stickies”, so called because they are part of a common lineage in the Deathlands whereby their arms are covered with incredibly strong octopus-like suckers, strong enough to strip flesh right off any “norms” they might come in contact with.

And here is where problem one crops up. Normally stickies are, in addition to being strong and violent death machines, quite lowly ranked on the intelligence scale. Which is fine, killer mutants are a staple of any nuclear holocaust. But they were lead by an especially intelligent throwback to humanity, who of course was a figure from Ryan’s past. I don’t mind that they had a bad time together and the stickie wanted revenge. I mind that, after going to all the trouble of making him a leader who was intelligent and strong-willed enough to organize his troops instead of the usual ravening hordes, the story still treated them as mindless enemies. A story where the mutants could also be human would have been much cooler.

In any case, not enough to put me off the story, but then there was a rape scene in which a female stickie took Ryan into her quarters for to satisfy her carnally. And… I mean, there was only the one mostly human throwback, so I’m not saying I have a problem with the run of the mill mutant being a grotesquerie. And if the rape scene had been reversed, with lead female character Krysty Wroth being the victim, that wouldn’t have been any better, for all kinds of reasons. Still, the scene where Ryan was being forced to perform oral sex was just relentlessly anti-female, in a way I have thusfar thought this series was better than. And like I said, I read over the caveats and feel like I’m being way too sensitive about this; because yes the scene could have been left out entirely, but once you accept its presence, I can’t really see anything unrealistic about it. All the same, it felt skeevy, and I hope it doesn’t happen again.

Third, not that I much care about this, and especially in comparison to the other two, but I have no earthly idea what the title had to do with anything at all.

Anyway, leaving aside those complaints, the book was at least a nice change of pace from the standard “teleport somewhere, right a wrong, move on” template the series quickly fell into. I mean, yes, that is technically exactly what happened, but the trappings were all different, what with resuming from a split party, visiting friends, and staying in town for months rather than days or hours.

[1] Given that this book is #16, I’m already 20% of the way through!