Books to include in a time capsule and why

Telling a book lover to choose is a nearby impossible task. I’d just make the whole time capsule and underground bunker library which will hopefully last long past human descendants are a recognizable species. 

All Tomorrow’s: this is a very strange yet wonderful SF piece about possible human futures. It’s for hardcore SF fans to read through and an acquired taste, but I think it should be around. 

The Lord of the Rings: Arguably the entire fantasy genre started because of this. 

1984/ Animal Farm: I’d pick one because it’s the same message really.

Parable Series/ Octavia Butler: because it’s eerily accurate predictions about many of the strains and social ills of her fictional future California are actually true. 

Interesting Times/ Terry Pratchett: any of his discworld series but this is my favorite. 

To be Taught if Fortunate/ Becky Chambers: I bought it this year and have already read it twice.

Nightfall/Isaac Asimov: because it’s the first SF novel I read and made me love the genre.

Dune/Frank Herbert: it’s not always the easiest read but it has influenced a lot of modern space opera.

Friday Five August 13

Other, ready, digress, tire, orbit

Emma heard the squeal of tires as her brother Michael finally pulled up. Finally. She almost thought he wouldn’t come. When he stepped out of his car, dressed in a clean white shirt and pants with clear-eyed and well rested, she was content. He had come. For now, they were all together.

There were too many people in the house, but Emma had spent all morning with her aunt and uncle getting ready. It was mostly family but lots of other people in the neighborhood had come around to join the fun with them on the new digital screen her husband had bought just for the occasion. Mom and Dad, of course, got to go to Texas and see her other brother launch, but the rest of them watched like everyone else. Her son had the streaming set up from his computer. 

“You came,” Emma said, hugging her brother tight as he came in the door. He was too thin, she noticed as she put her arms around him. The older brother who used to pick her up and swing her around as a child now felt fragile under her touch. Tell me you’re really betterTell me you’re well now Michael. She wanted to say but kept her mouth shut. It was the wrong time to digress into the should have beens and should have done’s. He was here now, right? That was all that mattered. 

“Michael’s here,” she said pulling him into the main room. They gathered around him-the cousins he hadn’t seen in a while and the people from church who’d  heard about him. The minister was older now with more gray in his hair and all he said was “glad to see you son.”

For a minute, she worried that Michael would lash out or run  and she held her breath for those few uneasy seconds.  But he only smiled.

“Glad to see you,” with a pat on the back in the tough male hugs. She wondered if the minister noticed how thin and frail he’d gotten. But if he did he said nothing. Or maybe he’s seen it before. These prodigal son’s returned – a little less than they used to be. 

“I can’t believe my nephew is going into outer space,” Aunt Delia said trying to rearrange the throw pillows to give herself room on the sofa. Emma kind of winced as she just threw one on her floor and sat her bulk down making a huge dent in the middle. 

“Actually he’s going into orbit which is not the same thing,” her son rigorously followed all news about his uncle’s upcoming mission. She was proud of that, but wished he’d learned more tact. 

Micheal went over to his nephew, folding up his six foot frame and sitting down beside his nephew.

“You’re right,” he said.

“And you built the ship,” her son said. 

“Only some,” he said in a soft voice with only the faintest of smiles, “only some. Can’t have my twin up there in space riding on a second rate craft.” Her son chuckled at that and for a moment, a moment of the most beautiful sound Emma had heard in years, Michael laughed too. 

Copyright 2021 Echo Ishii


SF Obscure Movie: Battle Beyond the Stars (1980)

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This is a 1980 film which was billed as The Magnificent Seven in space; which is The Seven Samurai in a western setting. This film stars Richard Thomas (The Waltons)  and featured the late George Peppard (The A-Team) and the late, great Robert Vaughn (The Magnificent Seven, The Man from U.N.C.L.E) The music was done by James Horner and features James Cameron’s earlier SF effects work.

Summary: The planet of Akir (one of those one culture, one town planets) is threatened by a psycho warlord named Sador of the Mamori  and his mutant army, who will destroy the planet. Since the people of Akir follow the “teachings of the Varda”- they are committed to non-violence. Basically, no one knows how to fight. And Sador has a secret planet destroying weapon. (Yep. They were trying to capitalize on a certain other franchise) One young man Shad, is sent to go and find mercenaries to fight Sador. He has a ship with an AI named Nell- who is probably more interesting than a lot of the characters. His first stop is a space station to find Doctor Hephaestus, who was an old friend of an Akir leader. The only people on the station are  Doctor Hephaestus  and his daughter Nanelia and a host of androids. The Doctor has become a cyborg due to life extension and is stuck in a giant container. So, not much help. Nanelia eventually agrees to help Shad and escapes.

I won’t go through the whole list but Nanelia and Shad manage to recruit some other mercenaries: A guy who trades weapons, smokes cigars, and watches lots of westerns. (George Peppard right before the A-Team) A group of clones with a hive mind and very fake third eyes glued to their foreheads. Some lizard alien. A space Valkyrie. And a hired killer, played by Robert Vaughn, who is actually one of the better and far more convincing characters and you kind of wonder how and why he got roped into this film.

Actually, the concept isn’t a bad one. Battle Beyond the Stars does have its moments, but it is very much a B movie. And in light of 2019, a very, very B movie. Cheap special effects can be overlooked; but the costumes have a giggle factor difficult to ignore. Lots of robes. Glued on extra eyeballs. Stiff, plastic lizard head. The Valkyrie had on some type of breast baring halter top  and looks like an erotic amazon bird creature.

There are a few decent actors, but the script doesn’t give them much to work with. The supporting actors are not exactly top quality. Lots of stiff delivery and staring into…space? The camera? Cue cards? The aliens,-“forms”- as they are called all seem kind of slapdash. As if the writers took lots of old SF movie alien tropes and sort of threw it together. I think that’s part of what makes it so B-movie. There is no consistent look or style. Just lots of random names and goofy costumes.

The real problem, though, is the pacing. Or rather a lack of pacing. The hero meanders through space for a while, picking up aliens, but there is not sense of fear or danger. Even the climax doesn’t feel climatic. You just have background mood music and a hero who rarely changes his facial expressions.

And that’s what really does me in. You can have budget effects and costuming as long a you have top notch actors and a good script. This movie does not have those things.  But it does have a goofy charm; and hey, it did well on its release and clearly has its fans. As long as it makes someone happy, I guess it’s all worth it.

SF Worth Watching: HUMANS

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Hi out there! So, this summer I took time to do quite a bit of reading, but I did watch a show or two here and there. Today I’m going to talk about HUMANS. It’s not an obscure show and still broadcasting, but it’s a gem of a show I hadn’t heard much about. My mother is a big fan and introduced me to it-so we indulged in a mother/daughter binge watch.

HUMANS is a UK science fiction television series that began in 2015. There are three series broadcast thus far. The theme revolves around a modern world in which anthropomorphic androids called ‘synths’ are part of daily life. Synths can be purchased for family/personal use but there are also synths contracted by companies and synths contracted by government health services. HUMANS is an SF drama show-the focus being on how the exists of synths explores human relationships to technology and each other.

There is a larger overarching plot-about the creations of the first conscious synths and their large purpose-but the power of the show is in the individual synths and their family dramas. The first synth whose life we follow is Anita. Anita is a synth purchased by the Hawkins family for domestic tasks. Laura, the wife is not to thrilled about a synth; but Joe feels the family needs the assistance.  The Hawkins family becomes center to the drama as their reactions to Anita reveal a lot of the complex issues surrounding human/synth relationships.  There is also Anita’s odd behavior which causes Laura want her returned and replaced. (There are other reasons also which you need to discover for yourself)  It turns out that Anita was purchased  as new but is actually a hacked synth whose old personality as Mia, has been submerged. Mia is one of a small group of conscious synths.

Without giving too much away (trust me you want all the surprises) the original creator of the synths created a group that were self-aware. They were on the run for some time, but Mia/Anita was captured and the group was scattered. Leo, the son of the creator, wants to get them back together and create a space for them. Niska, another synth, was forced to hide in a brothel. She kills a human to escape; tries to liberate synths forced to fight; and then is on the run. Niska’s murder of the client alerts the authorities to the possibility of a synth that can override its programming not to kill. There are other synths Max and Fred, both synths created as a brother to Leo.  There are other non-aware synths, such as Odi, and older model and other synths in hiding.

One of my initial concerns with Humans was my worry that it would be another Blade Runner rip off. I love Blade Runner. I love Blade Runner 2049. But I have seen too many movies and tv shows rip off the Blade Runner look and style. Thankfully, Humans does not. It does ask many of the same questions about what is sentience and what is means to be human but in a new way.  The synths look human have energy ports and have to be recharged like a smartphone. They are ethnically diverse as well as ‘older’ and ‘younger’ looking models with rather clever explanations as to why. It’s a fully developed world. HUMANS also explore the psychological effects on humans and their attachments to synths. (Letitia Wright of Black Panther fame, plays a teen desperate to be a synth.)

This is not the first version. HUMANS is based on an original Swedish show called REAL HUMANS. I would love to see this version. And there is apparently a plan for a Chinese version in the works.

SF Obscure: The Tripods

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The Tripods TV series is a 1984-1985 YA SF series based on a series of books The Tripods by John Christopher. It ran for two seasons on the BBC. There are many changes from the books to the tv series though the basic concept remains the same.

The show begins in the future 2089. We see a pre-industrial version of England. Horse drawn carriages, family farms, etc. A young man in a suit is being congratulated by his friends and family for his “capping “ceremony. He takes off his hat to reveal his shaven head. Out of the sky comes a giant metal tripod, that lands in the lake and  pulls the young man up inside.

Apparently, the tripods are controlled by the Masters, an alien race that controls humanity through capping. When you turn 16 (14 in the books) you get a metal implant in your head-cap-that keeps you from independent thought. It gets rid of violence and greed and what not, but also free will. It also seems to dumb down society-hence the pre-industrial world. Humanity has largely forgotten technological progress. We later find out that many countries are now isolated to the point that no one travels outside their own country, learns another language, or even has the same currency. The caps create a xenophobia which prevents mixing with any ‘outsiders’ and this helps the aliens maintain control.

The focus is on two young men, Will and his friend Henry, who are almost at the age to be capped. Will is apprehensive about capping and what it does to people. They meet up with some of the uncapped/ those for whom capping didn’t work- who live as vagrants. One vagrant, Ozymandias, convinces them that they do have something to fear from being capped and need to escape. On their journey, they begin to figure out their idyllic world is based on mind control and they begin to resist it. There are also agents of the tripods, which chase the boys as Will, Henry, and a new friend  try to convince other young adults to join in and resist the Masters.

The books are a bit different-a prequel book explains the beginnings of the invasion and how the world came to be. The TV series ended without completing the book series due to budget issues.

On the whole, I found the premise intriguing. It does look dated…the clothes and dialogue are supposed to be pre-industrial but even then the episodes and dialogue can be a little stilted and slow. I don’t think a young adult would sit through it now especially with a diet of  faster paced shows.  It is interesting to watch if you want to round out your viewing of the cult classics- and the books hold up fairly well.

SF Obscure: Cleopatra 2525

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Hi out there!

Winter approaches…and so does holiday movie season.  Rogue One! Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them! Heck, maybe I’ll even go out and watch Dr. Strange. I finally got to see Star Trek Beyond and really enjoyed it. I think it’s the most traditional Trek of the reboot movies. Karl Urban really, really does an excellent job as McCoy. And it was nice to add a tribute to both Leonard Nimoy and Anton Yelchin.

So for this week’s post I decided to cover the half hour, SF/action show CLEOPATRA 2525.

The year is, uh, 2525. Humanity has been driven underground because the surface is controlled by giant floating robot armchairs (That’s what it looks like anyway) called Baileys.  Two fighters Hel(Gina Torres) and Sarge (Victoria Pratt) are resistance fighters who battle the robot overlords. helped by a mysterious voice called ‘Voice’ that taps into Hel’s brain. Anyway, Sarge gets hurt and needs a kidney so they go and get one at the local buy-a-body-part depot. Thus, the meet Cleo (Jennifer Sky), a women cryo-frozen in 2001 when her breast augmentation surgery went awry and she was stored until humanity had the tools to save her life. I am not making this up.

There’s a sexy, android guy who shows off his abs and makes stuff and Sarge is all hot and bothered for him. Hel, Sarge, and Cleo fight for humanity by hanging out in bars with cyborgs a lot. Occasionally, the go to the surface and fight some more Bailey’s. Cleo chips in with 90’s movie references. A  psycho telepath shows up to cramp their style. There is a more involved plot involving a guy named Creegan and the origin of the Bailey’s but this is not a complex show so don’t expect too much on that front.
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Despite all this, I like Cleopatra 2525 mainly because it never takes itself too seriously. It knows exactly what it is…30 minutes of futuristic looking entertainment. The in jokes actually make you chuckle; the costumes have be seen to be believed; and there is a sense of fun about it. The main characters Hel, Sarge, and Cleo are likeable. At the very least, you look at Gina Torres and Victoria Pratt and think, ‘hey, I need to spend more time at the gym.’  And even though it’s often a silly show, I kept watching episode after episode. Maybe part of me wished I could run around with weapons and sexy male bimbo androids fighting aliens. At least, it would be fun for a week or so.

 

SF Obscure: Children of the Stones

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Children of the Stones is a 1977 television drama for children produced by ITV network. I know of this show mainly because of the late Gareth Thomas. So, I decided to watch it because I had heard good things about it.

Astrophysicist Adam Brake and his son Matthew go to a village called Millbury which has a megalithic circle of stones in the middle of it. (It’s filmed on the prehistoric monument of Avebury) Things get strange as soon as they arrive. First of all, the housekeeper and neighbors all seem abnormally happy. Matthew has strange feelings of evil and is immediately hostile towards the new neighbor. His father chides him, but Matthew can’t help but feel something is wrong. We later learn that Matthew has some psychic abilities and this is why he reacts the way he does.

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When Matthew goes to school he soon discovers the other children are doing high level science and math well beyond the school years. Matthew makes a few friends at school who are still ‘normal’ like him. They warn him that the  neighbors are slowly being changed and this is connected to the stones and the mysterious town leader. There is a heady mix of black holes, time paradoxes, and weird paranormal history in a short miniseries. At time, Children of the Stones is frightening. There are only seven episodes but I had a good time watching it.

Sure, it’s rather low budget, (yeah, the clothes are dated) but it’s well-acted and the writing is solid. Plus, this is a show that treats children as if they are capable of understanding complex ideas. There is no dumbing down to sell something. At the same time, the father-son relationship is convincingly done.

There is also a novelization of the story which you can find in paperback and e-book.