Category Archives: SF

Movie Review: Kong; Skull Island


The other day I was speaking with friend who also enjoys movie about Jackson’s remake of King Kong and he commented that he enjoyed the film it got back to New York. Now if you agree with that sentiment then Kong: Skull Island likely right in your wheelhouse.

The movie has the usual first act set up of meeting the characters, providing just enough depth to satisfy the requirements of a major tent-pole action film, and getting the relationships into a rough geography.

With the housework behind them then next two-thirds of the movie is action on Skull Island. Meeting fantastic beasts, being chased by monsters, the thinnest of explanations for why we haven’t seen these giant kaiju monsters before, and then wrapping all up with a message of ecology and humility.

This movie is competently crafted without glaring idiotic errors but that landed the final product, in my opinion, just okay. It was fun and engaging on the surface but it lacked the grip to hold my unbroken attention and my mind wandered.

Now as with all things your mileage may vary and I want to repeat that this is not a bad movie. I am happy I saw it, and the spectacle is enough to justify the big screen viewing. The film does more work establishing the shared cinematic universe to come than it does in servicing its own story and that’s the biggest flaw.

There is a button that follows the end credits but if you want it unspoiled do not read the title card announcing that this film is a work of fiction. (I did read it *sigh*)

Overall a fun film for giant monster fans but I’d keep to the matinee price level.


Retire This Trope

The other night on Hulu I watched some of the movie Deep Impact. If you haven’t heard of this Earth versus Comet movie it is because it was utterly buried at the box office by that stupidly insulting example of Michael bay’s work, Armageddon. Beside show casing Elijah Wood before The Lord of The Rings, this film was a serious attempt to convey a story about a comet on a collision and the difficulty in diverting it.

Overall this film scores well in its science. It has some concept of the distances and energies involved. In fact the ship dispatched to divert the comet is powered by an Orion drive, something we had considered building; a ship that flies on a series of atomic explosions.

The movie did engage in one of the oldest trope in SF movies, the astronaut who gets separated from the craft and flies off into cold limitless space.

People, this is not the problem Hollywood would have you think it is.

Everything in space is about velocity. Velocity determines the size and period of your orbits. Go fast enough around the Earth and you are in orbit around the planet. Go faster and you may leave the planet but then you are orbiting the sun. Go a hell of a lot faster and you leave the sun’s influence and now you’re orbiting the center of the galaxy.

If you are working over the side on a spaceship lose you grip you may float away, but your velocity did not change all that much. You are still in the same orbit as the ship you left. Yeah it is out of reach but guess what you can move. With just a tiny burp of it orbital thrusters, not its main engines, and they can come and get you. The same is true if that ship is on its way to the moon, or Mars, or even the outer solar system. The difference between your new velocity and your old one, which was the same as the ships, is going to be insignificant compared to the ship’s ability to change its velocity.

But you know, I am starting to get an idea for a story…


Mad Max: Fury Road – Black and Chrome

For Valentine’s Day y sweetie-wife gifted me with the deluxe Blu-ray for Mad Max: Fury Road which included not only tons of bonus material, which I adore, but the directors version of the film in glorious Black and White. I have spent the last few nights watching the movie in its ‘Black and Chrome’ edition.

(I saw the film in the theaters and one on Blu-ray in color so I didn’t feel too bad breaking it into thirds to watch it after my evening’s work was done.)

Much like Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, Mad Max: Fury Road is a film that I like and appreciate more with repeated viewings. The story movies at a breakneck pace, throwing character development and backstory in amid the action. I watched it this time with subtitles turn on and followed the story a little closer without losing dialog to accents or the massive noise of the extended chases. Specifically I understood the through-line arc for the character Lux a little better this go around.

The film plays beautifully in black and white. Stripped of color the stark unforgiving landscape is particularly powerful and the characters seem harder and more raw.

Overall I thoroughly enjoyed the experience and I couldn’t hazard to guess which version may end up my default screening, B&W or color.


It Means What you Think, but that is not what was Meant

At one of the panels this past weekend the classic SF/Horror film The Invasion of the Body Snatchers was mentioned. Naturally when the film came up people started discussing it’s message and meaning.

Of Course it is an allegory for Communism and the soul crushing power of the totalitarian state.

Of Course it is an allegory for McCarthyism and crushing power of political terror forcing everyone into the same march.

Of Course it is an allegory for Social Conventions and the crushing power of culture, particularly that of mid-20th century America to crushing people into conformity.

Which of these is correct?

Why all of them, of course. A piece of art means to you what it means. That is not to say that was its intended meaning. Various interviews have revealed the actors, director, and writers, harbored not direct allegory. Some going so far as to say they merely intended to craft a good thriller. (check that box) Do not confuse the message you take away with the artist’s intent.

A perfect example of this is the recent on-line war between John Carpenter and the Alt-Right over the meaning of his film They Live. As I mentioned in passing when I recently discussed that film here, it could be read in an anti-Semitic manner. Now if you know anything of Mr. Carpenter you know that the intended message was on attacking Yuppies, Capitalism, and Consumerism. However those of the Alt0Right saw a different theme, one that is easy to see if that us what you *want* to see.

And there is the great truth of art, everyone brings their own life experiences and filters the process through them. What you see as a clear symbol is to someone else just a jar of baby food.

When you talk about tv shows and movies and what they really meant, be wary of putting your meaning into someone else’s mouth.


Condor 2017 Post convention report

This weekend was Condor, San Diego Longest Running SF convention. I participated in six panels, attended several more, and hung out with friends, artists, and writers. All in all it was a great weekend and I had a terribly good time.

I think every panel I participated in was crewed by intelligent, engaging, and entertaining people. The discussions were lively, and covered a broad range of topics from the merely amusing to the deeply serious. Just the sort of things I look for in a convention.

Panels I attended were of the same caliber. In addition to the panels I had lively and good discussion with friends and fellow members of the Horror Writers Association, a fine group of people.

The only thing that really marred my weekend was Saturday night as I drove home a experienced a suddenly migraine. It last throughout the night and even a bit into the next morning after I awoke. I still made it to the convention, took part in my final panel, and had a good time, but once I got home that evening the pain returned.

Here’s hoping your weekend was as fun but without the pain.


Condor 2017

This weekend is Condor, San Diego local SF convention. I will be attended as panelist and fan.

Here are the list of panel that I will be participating on if you want to stop by and listen.


Zombies, Werewolves, Vampires, and Other Tropes 12:00 noon

Writing What you Know 1:00 Pm

Mad Scientists in books and Film 3:pm


Horror in Harry Potter 1:00 pm

Bad Science in Movies & TV 7:00 pm


How Big will Science-Fiction Get? 2:00 pm


Movie Review: Logan

Logan is reportedly the final outing for Hugh Jackman as Logan/Wolverine and Patrick Stewart as Charles Xavier and it is fitting conclusion for the association of these two talented actors with their icon characters.

This movie is not one for the children. It is rated ‘R’ for language and violence. In the source material Wolverine is a violent character and the illustrations usually hint of the terrible carnage wreaked by his claws. For this final film the carnage is explicit. Limbs are severed and decapitations abound. However the film is not an exploitative exploration of how much gore can fit onto an IMAX screen. In fact compared to most zombie movies post Dawn of the Dead the blood and dismemberment is positively restrained.

The themes are friends, family, and the dichotomy between what life has made us into and what we choose to be. It is set in the future of the X-Men/Mutants franchise (Which is not part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Different studios, different film rights involved.) and for the most part the gifted mutants have vanished from the world. Logan and Charles live in hiding, the days of heroism now a thing unspoken. A mysterious aliment has weakened Logan who now makes his living as an upscale Uber-style driver. Into this reclusive life comes Laura, a laconic young girl, troubled, hunted, and with a secret. Suddenly thrust into danger and trying to refuse call to heroism Logan is forced to confront his and Charles’ past and the ghosts of their actions.

This film hardly belongs in the category of ‘superhero’ movies. It is a rich character drama drawing its power from compelling characters, a tight, taut script and terrific acting. It is no surprise that veterans such as Patrick Stewart, Hugh Jackman, and Richard E. Grant imbue their performances with heart and nuance but throughout the film I was stunned by Dafne Keen as Laura.

Dafne tackles a part that many adult and experienced actors would find difficult. Using only her eyes she conveys a range of emotions many thespians are unable to achieve. I was reminded of the work of Natalie Portman in Leon: The Professional. I hope that Ms. Keen’s career is a full, varied, and satisfying as Ms. Portman’s.

From a writer’s perspective There are a few minor flaws in the Logan. Elements of Wolverine’s mysterious illness left me with problems and some of the ‘Chekov’s Gun’ establishment was too obvious for my tastes, but these and other minor missteps are unlikely to bother people who are not regularly engaged in story construction.

This is a movie worth seeing. If you enjoy your violence loud, and in your face, then see it in IMAX, if you are sensitive to modern movies and their volume levels wait for home video as the mix is full of thumping bass, but the movie is fully worth it.


Dream Project

Artists of all stripes have projects that they dream of attempting and I am no different. The project I have in mind is an already existing property and as I understand it totally tangled in rights issues so I have no reasonable hope of doing this.

I’d love to reboot Blake’s Seven in a series of novels.

For those not in the know Blake’s Seven is a late 70s and early 80s BBC SciFi series. Set in a galaxy under the thumb of dictatorial Federation the series deals with a band of rebels and outlaws. Once describe by its creator Terry Nation as ‘the Dirty Dozen’ in space the rebels in this show are hardly paragons of virtue, with most well across the line into criminality.

There’s Rog Blake, the engineer, idealist, and a man who has been set-up by the authorities as someone guilty of sex crimes against children. He’s the passionate do anything required to beat the government leader of the group.

Today Kerr Avon would be depicted as a hacker, but in the late 70’s few television writers understood computers (hell few understand them today) and he’s presented as more technician. Avon’s image is the self-centered criminal, sticking with Blake because its safer than being on his own, but somehow when the chips are down he never really betrays his own, so I also so him as a broken idealist.

Jenna Stannis was a smuggler before falling into Blake’s orbit where his passion and charisma converted her to a political animal, committed to the cause.

Villa Restal a talent thief he doesn’t really care about the fight but lacking the spine to cross those more powerful than himself, he follows Blake and Avon.

There are several more characters – more than seven in fact- that came and went over the series 4 season run.

The show was hampered from the start with a budget far too limited for the creator’s vision. (It had been given the budget of the show it replaced – a police procedural.) Still with duct taped costumes and sets that shook when touched they managed to craft compelling characters in a dark cynical setting.

It would be so fun to tackle rebooting the concept. Work out the world building ahead of time and really explore hard choices of heroes who aren’t always heroic.

It’ll never happen for me, but a guy can dream can’t he?


It is Written. Or is it?


In the classic film Lawrence of Arabia When Lawrence returns with the man lost upon God’s Anvil and presumed beyond hope of saving he tells Ali that ‘Nothing is written.’ His meaning is that nothing is predetermined by Allah or God but that our fates are our own. The question about what is or is not predetermined is not one that is restricted to matters of gods and theology but is strikingly relevant to science-fiction. No where is this more on point than in the sub-genre of science-fiction, time travel.

A common conceit in time travel stories is that the past is fixed but that the future is open to change, however that view is one that upon closer inspection, at least to me, falls apart

Let’s consider a person we shall we refer to Character Delta-0, he or she is a person living in their ‘present. Delta-0 can look back at their past and perceive their earlier selves but under the ‘past if fixed’ perspective nothing about that history can be changed. Every earlier version, lets call them Character Delta-minus, is stuck on a fixed path that leads to Delta-0. Looking forward in time Delta-0 can see innumerable possible paths, each containing different versions of their future selves that we’ll call Delta-Plus. Which Delta-Plus Delta-0 become depends on Delta-0’s choices, there is no fixed path.

So far this is a very classic time travel interpretation, but it is fixed upon a single point of reference.

The truth of the matter is that all of them are Delta-0, Delta-minus, and Delta-plus from each other’s viewpoints. If we step back and center on Delta-Minus, the two other Delta are both Delta-pluses to this character and there are an endless number of paths forward through time and one some lead to those particular Delta-Pluses. If we center our focus on Delta-Plus, both of the other characters are Delta-Minuses and there is an immutable path leading through their histories to that particular Delta-Plus who of course sees himself as a Delta-0.

This the essential contradiction in moving forward and backward in time. The future is merely someone else’s past and the past cannot be fixed without also fixing the future because of its nature are an even more distant future’s past.

If we simply unfix everything, then the past becomes a fog of possibilities and any particular past hold no essential prominence as true ‘history.’ The history I know is just that what I know and no more valued than any other. There can be no time police ensuring a stable past without that same unit enforcing an unchanging future.


Movie Review: Roger Corman’s Death Race 2050

So yesterday I took my traditional SuperBowl Sunday trip to Universal Studios and I had planned today’s blog post to be my opinions and impressions from that visit, particularly since this was my first chance to explore the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, but my Sunday Night Movie upset those plans.

After popping myself a big bowl of popcorn I settled onto our loveseat and started Roger Corman’s remake of his classic trashy SF satire Death Race 2000. For those who may not know the recent film franchise Death Race is considerably different from the 1970’s film that spawned them. Corman decided it was time to return to the socially satirical SF of the original, including the concept that running down pedestrians as central to the race and its purpose.

Death Race 2050 is a blast. A sharp, graphic, and funny take on the original concept. The writers updated the ideas, while remaining true to the first film’s beating heart. Being a remake 2050 hits the same major beats as the original but with enough twists and inventions that they kept the story fresh even for those of us old enough to remember the first time through this race.

Let me spoil one gag for you as an example of the film’s sharp satire.

Two named female characters has a heart to heart discussion about their lives and the sorry state of the nation without mentioning the men in their lives. They hold this conversation in the checkpoint’s “Bechdel’s Bar.”

Now, this movie is not for everyone. There’s lots of nudity, gore, and violence, but it wouldn’t Death Race without these things.

If you like the originally waste no time in streaming this modern gem.