Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Altered Carbon Episodes 4-6

Now we're getting into the meat of the story. Kovacs is still trying to solve the murder of Laurens Bancroft, but now he's also trying to solve the sleeve-murder of Lizzie Elliot--part of a deal Kovacs strikes with her father, Vernon, so that Vernon agrees to be his sidekick. Unfortunately, some gangsters set Kovacs up, thinking he's some dude named Ryker. Who the hell is Ryker, you ask? We progressively get answers to that, and a whole lot more, across these three episodes.

You'll recall I was pretty lukewarm on episodes 1-3, but enjoyed it enough to continue. Episodes 4-6 are different--I don't feel lukewarm about any of these ones, though the cumulative reaction is still "like not love." Allow me to explain...

Episode 4 centers on the Lizzie/Ryker mysteries. A gangster named Dimi the Twin abducts Kovacs as he seeks answers about Lizzie. Dimi the Twin is actually a double sleeved individual, which is highly illegal. The other Dimi, you may recall, was turned into meaty pulp by Poe's retractable machine guns. This Dimi wants to know why Ryker killed him, and wants revenge. So he brings him to a private lab offering virtual reality torture chambers for a price. What ensues is 45 minutes of torture porn that manages to be both gratuitous and tedious. To put it another way, this is cheap shock n' schlock with a ho-hum payoff. I almost quit the show in disgust.

...thankfully I did not, as Episode 5 is everything Episode 4 is not. It is exciting, well-paced and very human. Though it centers on a plot reveal you will have seen coming more or less since the pilot, it is executed well. There is also a shocking event that unnerved me, but in a really good way, as it made me realize that finally I care what happens to these characters. They are now people rather than moving action figures.

Episode 6 isn't quite as good as Episode 5, but it is still quite good. And there is a really cool, though somewhat nonsensical, scene at the end.

I'm still on board, and like the uptick in quality we've seen over the past two episodes. At the same time, I have some concerns going forward. First, I'm wary of more shock and schlock. I'm fine with violence but it has to move the plot forward, and should be proportional to what's that movement calls for. Cheap shock n' schlock is a waste of good science fiction, in my opinion. Second, we've now had quite a few plot twists, some of which make more sense than others. The key to a good mystery is to leave just enough red herrings, but still make sure everything feels intuitive to the reader/viewer. We're starting to get into "huh?" territory now. We'll have to see where things go from here.

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Microreview [film]: The Ritual

Adam Nevill’s novel The Ritual is one of the few recent horror books to genuinely scare me as I read it, so when I saw that Netflix had done a film of it I was both excited and nervous. By nervous, I mean incredibly cowardly and watching the trailer through my fingers. However, I summoned up the courage (and by courage, I mean making someone watch it with me) to see it once it premiered on Netflix. Did it live up to my expectations (and by expectations, I mean did it leave me sleeping with the light on)? Both yes and no.

The plot of The Ritual sees four friends on a hiking trip in northern Sweden (it’s the King’s Trail in Sarek National Park---FYI, it looks gorgeous and even the movie’s creepy happenings couldn’t keep me from thinking about how much I’d like to hike there). The hike was supposed to be a bit of a friend’s trip, but is now a memorial trip for the fifth friend—who died in a liquor store robbery. Once on the hike, things begin to go awry, starting with one of the four twisting his knee. They decide to take a shortcut (Or the World’s Biggest No-No if you are in a horror movie) through the forest and soon strange and creepy things begin to happen. These includes symbols carved into trees, an elk gutted and hung up, and the world’s most DON’T STAY IN THERE cabin since the one in The Evil Dead. Of course, things only go downhill from there.

So, let’s start with the good: the film is very capably acted by Rafe Spall (as main character Luke) who brings a weary guilt-filled anguish to his role that goes beyond just his dialogue, I truly believed he was suffering from survivor’s guilt after the death in the liquor store; Robert James-Collier (Thomas from Downton Abbey, in case any of you are trying to figure out where you know him from) who brings a good level of empathy, machismo, and charm to his role as the defacto leader of the friend group; Arsher Ali (who was my favorite part of the adaptation of Arthur and George) brings depth to the underwritten Phil; and Sam Troughton as Dom, doing a solid job with the most stereotypical of the four characters. Despite the characters not having a lot of depth conveyed through backstory or dialogue, the comradery and acting caliber of the four sell them as old friends who the viewer cares about.

Additionally, the cinematography is excellent throughout—using angles and lighting to their maximum potential. The woods drips with eerie bleakness in nearly every scene. And now to my favorite part (warning a minor spoiler ahead!)

The film’s last third is make or break and, in some ways, it manages to do both. One element stays as meh as it was for me in the book (aspects of the ritual itself, as well as the people carrying it out). However, what is truly excellent is the ritual’s monster itself. It’s one of the most creepy and original creature designs I’ve seen in a long time and it downright delighted me.

What about the bad, though? Well, the main thing is that it just isn’t that scary. It’s sometimes a little tense or creepy, but I was never genuinely scared at the going-ons—which meant I never felt the danger of these things for the characters. For being based on a book that made me constantly have to put it down so I could pace out my fear, the film itself never plays up the building tension and dread as it should. I wonder if this is a case of an editing problem, a screenplay problem, or just the fact that a film inherently doesn’t have the ability to scare like a book does (where a reader’s mind can do most of the work in terrifying itself).

That being said, this is a solid horror movie. It doesn’t do anything too new with its story and doesn’t revitalize the “group of friends in danger” trope in the same way that something like The Descent did (and speaking of which that film is a masterclass in portraying grief and guilt as horror, something The Ritual does as well though to less stunning effect). But it’s well filmed, well acted, and never goes for cheap scares or gore. And honestly that’s a lot more than can be said for the majority of recent horror films I can name.

The Math

Baseline Assessment: 7/10

Bonuses: +1 for that monster *heart eyes emoji*; +1 for the excellent acting

Penalties: -1 for not being as scary as expected; -1 for not going anywhere I didn't expect

Nerd Coefficient: 7/10 "an enjoyable experience, but not without its flaws"


POSTED BY: Chloe, speculative fiction fan in all forms, monster theorist, and Nerds of a Feather blogger since 2016. Find her on Twitter @PintsNCupcakes

Monday, February 26, 2018

Tip of the Hat: The Arlo Finch Experience

Occasionally, there's something that comes along that simply reminds you of the joy of fandom. The execution may not be perfect, but it's nevertheless touching, or thought-provoking, or simply fun. "Tip of the Hat" is our occasional series to shine a light on those things when we find them.

A-list screenwriter John August decided he wanted to write a middle-grade fantasy series, and this month he has delivered not just the book, but an entire experience that, as a writer, I think is one of the coolest and most fun vicarious adventures I've gone along on in recent memory.

John August has always been staggeringly generous with his time in service of other writers, and so it's not a surprise that his podcast Launch, which has accompanied the release of his first middle-grade novel, Arlo Finch in the Valley of Fire would be another gift to writers. August has written a ton of movies, including the film and stage adaptations of Daniel Wallace's Big Fish, the Charlie's Angels movies, Frankenweenie, and he started his career with Go. For the last several years, he has also co-hosted the weekly Scriptnotes podcast, about screenwriting and things that are interesting to screenwriters. But long before Scriptnotes, he was fielding questions for IMDb from aspiring writers about formatting, writing for the screen, and the business of doing so. So for him to decide a couple of years ago to put that career on hold because he wanted to try writing a book, it was a ballsy thing to do.

It was also admirable. It's a shame so many of us are handicapped by a doubt that keeps us from telling our stories, in whatever form they may take, and he took a big risk to step away from a multi-million-dollar career in favor of stepping into the unknown. I love stepping into the unknown, but I usually don't risk much to do it. It might pop into my head, "I wonder if I could animate a music video?" And then I figure out how to do it, and then do it. All it costs me is sleep. Or wonder if I could make a horror movie for $500. Or I might wonder if I can write and record an EP about classic monsters in a week. There are many, varied creative journeys I've taken over the years, and through the Launch podcast, it's been a trip to go on one that had always been closed to me.

I don't intend to review Arlo Finch in the Valley of Fire, except to say, "Yeah, it's pretty good." I'm not a middle-grade reader, but I have kids who are and while it's no Wollstonecraft Detective Agency (oh, how I love that my kids love those books), I happily handed Arlo to my daughter after I read it and she's plugging away on it now. But Launch takes us on the entire creative and industry journey for the book. In my early 20s, I very much wanted to be a novelist. I wanted to land a top-notch agent (mine was definitely a few notches below "top"), and have publishers clamoring for what I'd written. I wanted to have those conversations. I wanted to see a book with my name on the spine in my local bookstore. It never occurred to me to think about going to the actual plant where the books are made, but all of these things occurred to John August, and he had a digital recorder along the way. So the seven episodes of Launch, the last of which drops this week, begin literally at the moment when the first Arlo Finch book occurs to the writer, through the writing, pitching, selling, and revising conversations, through the font selection for the final book (I love geeking out about fonts!), through watching the first book come off the line, then the release party and book tour, and finally the sales numbers and how we measure success.

I expected I might feel a pang of jealousy somewhere in this journey — after all, listening to an agent flip out over somebody's book isn't the same as having an agent flip out over *your* book — but that never happened, and I think the reason why it didn't is just joy. John August is so joyful throughout this entire process, and so willing to talk about his own uncertainties and fears, that each moment winds up being just so relatable and dripping with joy. It'll be a long time before I forget him exclaiming, "That's my book!" when he sees the first bound copy come off the line. This podcast is a celebration of authors, a celebration of books (which warms all our nerdy hearts here), a celebration of risk, and a celebration of just walking the road.

It's a joy. And the world needs more joy.

Check out the podcast from iTunes here and on Stitcher here. Or just play the first episode right here:

Posted by Vance K — cult film reviewer and co-editor of nerds of a feather, flock together since 2012, Emmy-winning producer and folk musician.

Friday, February 23, 2018

New Books Spotlight

Welcome to another edition of the New Books Spotlight, where each month or so we curate a selection of 6 forthcoming books we find notable, interesting, and intriguing. It gives us the opportunity to shine a brief spotlight on some stuff we're itching to get our hands on.

What are you looking forward to? Anything you want to argue with us about? Is there something we should consider spotlighting in the future? Let us know in the comments!

Baker, Mishell. Imposter Syndrome [Saga Press]
Publisher's Description
In the third book of the Nebula Award–nominated Arcadia Project series, which New York Times bestselling author Seanan McGuire called “exciting, inventive, and brilliantly plotted,” Millie Roper has to pull off two impossible heists—with the fate of the worlds in the balance.

Three months ago, a rift between agents in London and Los Angeles tore the Arcadia Project apart. With both fey Courts split down the middle—half supporting London, half LA—London is putting the pieces in place to quash the resistance. But due to an alarming backslide in her mental health, new LA agent Mille Roper is in no condition to fight.

When London’s opening shot is to frame Millie’s partner, Tjuan, for attempted homicide, Millie has no choice but to hide him and try to clear his name. Her investigation will take her across the pond to the heart of Arcadia at the mysterious and impenetrable White Rose palace. The key to Tjuan’s freedom—and to the success of the revolution—is locked in a vault under the fey Queen’s watchful eye. It’s up to Millie to plan and lead a heist that will shape the future of two worlds—all while pretending that she knows exactly what she’s doing…
Why We Want It: Listen, despite the Nebula and World Fantasy Award nominations for Borderline, I think that Baker's Arcadia Project has flown a little bit under the radar - at least in the places I see online. If that's the case, I strongly recommend that everyone go read these books. Phantom Pains leveled up everything I loved about Borderline and then Baker closed it out with an exceptional last act. I'm all in for Imposter Syndrome.

Bear, Elizabeth. Stone Mad [ Publishing]
Publisher's Description
Readers met the irrepressible Karen Memory in Elizabeth Bear’s 2015 novel Karen Memory, and fell in love with her steampunk Victorian Pacific Northwest city, and her down-to-earth story-telling voice.

Now Karen is back with Stone Mad, a new story about spiritualists, magicians, con-men, and an angry lost tommy-knocker—a magical creature who generally lives in the deep gold mines of Alaska, but has been kidnapped and brought to Rapid City.

Karen and Priya are out for a night on the town, celebrating the purchase of their own little ranch and Karen’s retirement from the Hotel Ma Cherie, when they meet the Arcadia Sisters, spiritualists who unexpectedly stir up the tommy-knocker in the basement. The ensuing show could bring down the house, if Karen didn’t rush in to rescue everyone she can. 

Why We Want It: Charles really liked Bear's novel Karen Memory (his review) and I thought it was even better than that. I loved Karen's voice and the steampunk western aesthetic. Bear is one hell of a storyteller and with Stone Mad she revisits Rapid City and gives us an unexpected adventure with Karen.

Brust, Steven. Good Guys [Tor]
Publisher's Description
A snarky, irreverent tale of secret magic in the modern world, the first solo standalone novel in two decades from Steven Brust, the New York Times bestselling author of the Vlad Taltos series 

“Delightful, exciting, and sometimes brilliant.” —Neil Gaiman on Steven Brust 

Donovan was shot by a cop. For jaywalking, supposedly. Actually, for arguing with a cop while black. Four of the nine shots were lethal—or would have been, if their target had been anybody else. The Foundation picked him up, brought him back, and trained him further. “Lethal” turns out to be a relative term when magic is involved.

When Marci was fifteen, she levitated a paperweight and threw it at a guy she didn’t like. The Foundation scooped her up for training too.

“Hippie chick” Susan got well into her Foundation training before they told her about the magic, but she’s as powerful as Donovan and Marci now.

They can teleport themselves thousands of miles, conjure shields that will stop bullets, and read information from the remnants of spells cast by others days before.

They all work for the secretive Foundation…for minimum wage.

Which is okay, because the Foundation are the good guys. Aren’t they?
Why We Want It: I'm sold on Good Guys simply because it is a novel written by Steven Brust. I absolutely love his Vlad Taltos series, but I haven't read any of his non-series novels (assuming we're not counting his Firefly fanfic novel, because that I've read and it's delightful). My expectations are high.

Kress, Nancy. If Tomorrow Comes [Tor]
Publisher's Description
Nancy Kress returns with If Tomorrow Comes, the sequel of Tomorrow's Kin, part of an all-new hard science fiction trilogy based on a Nebula Award-winning novella

Ten years after the Aliens left Earth, humanity succeeds in building a ship, Friendship, to follow them home to Kindred. Aboard are a crew of scientists, diplomats, and a squad of Rangers to protect them. But when the Friendship arrives, they find nothing they expected. No interplanetary culture, no industrial base—and no cure for the spore disease.

A timeslip in the apparently instantaneous travel between worlds has occurred and far more than ten years have passed.

 Once again scientists find themselves in a race against time to save humanity and their kind from a deadly virus while a clock of a different sort runs down on a military solution no less deadly to all. Amid devastation and plague come stories of heroism and sacrifice and of genetic destiny and free choice, with its implicit promise of conscious change.
Why We Want It: I'm a touch behind here because I have Tomorrow's Kin on my nightstand just waiting to be read. I've been a fan of pretty much everything I've read from Kress, including the original novella this series was based on, "Yesterday's Kin".

Robson, Kelly. Gods, Monsters and the Lucky Peach [ Publishing]
Publisher's Description
"Gods, Monsters, and the Lucky Peach is a tour-de-force, with nuanced characters in a masterfully conceived world of stunning, mind-bending eco-tech." —Annalee Newitz 

Experience this far-reaching, mind-bending science fiction adventure that uses time travel to merge climate fiction with historical fantasy. From Kelly Robson, Aurora Award winner, Campbell, Nebula, and Theodore Sturgeon finalist, and author of Waters of Versailles 

Discover a shifting history of adventure as humanity clashes over whether to repair their ruined planet or luxuriate in a less tainted past.

In 2267, Earth has just begun to recover from worldwide ecological disasters. Minh is part of the generation that first moved back up to the surface of the Earth from the underground hells, to reclaim humanity's ancestral habitat. She's spent her entire life restoring river ecosystems, but lately the kind of long-term restoration projects Minh works on have been stalled due to the invention of time travel. When she gets the opportunity take a team to 2000 BC to survey the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, she jumps at the chance to uncover the secrets of the shadowy think tank that controls time travel technology. 
Why We Want It: Robson has been absolutely crushing short fiction for several years now and conceptually, this story of time travel and ecology fits so much of what I want out of a story. I read pretty much everything Publishing puts out, but I'm sold on the description alone.

St. James, Simone. Broken Girls [Random House]
Publisher's Description
The “clever and wonderfully chilling” (Fiona Barton) suspense novel from the award-winning author of The Haunting of Maddy Clare… 

Vermont, 1950. There’s a place for the girls whom no one wants—the troublemakers, the illegitimate, the too smart for their own good. It’s called Idlewild Hall. And in the small town where it’s located, there are rumors that the boarding school is haunted. Four roommates bond over their whispered fears, their budding friendship blossoming—until one of them mysteriously disappears…

Vermont, 2014. As much as she’s tried, journalist Fiona Sheridan cannot stop revisiting the events surrounding her older sister’s death. Twenty years ago, her body was found lying in the overgrown fields near the ruins of Idlewild Hall. And though her sister’s boyfriend was tried and convicted of murder, Fiona can’t shake the suspicion that something was never right about the case.

When Fiona discovers that Idlewild Hall is being restored by an anonymous benefactor, she decides to write a story about it. But a shocking discovery during the renovations will link the loss of her sister to secrets that were meant to stay hidden in the past—and a voice that won’t be silenced… 
Why We Want It: So, my wife and I  are members of the Book of the Month club and Broken Girls was our February selection. A good ghost story is always intriguing and we've been on a bit of a mystery / thriller kick.

POSTED BY: Joe Sherry - Co-editor of Nerds of a Feather, 2017 Hugo Award Finalist for Best Fanzine. Writer / Editor of the mostly defunct Adventures in Reading since 2004. Minnesotan.

Thursday, February 22, 2018

Thursday Morning Superhero

Marvel teased its new event and....ahhh who am I kidding? The Image Expo was held yesterday and over 20 new creator owned series were announced! The series that stood out to me included Dead Rabbit from Gerry Duggan and John McCrea and Leviathan by John Layman, Nick Pitarra and Mike Garland. Dead Rabbit is about a mercenary who is forced out of retirement and Leviathan is described as Godzilla by way of black magic. Yes please!

Pick of the Week:
Royal City #10 - This series has grown even more emotional as we get a peek into the final days that Tommy was alive. The Pike family, who seemed so normal and put together at the start of this series, has a lot of skeletons in the closet and things aren't as peachy as they seem. What started as a family coming together to rally behind their sick father, has turned highly introspective as they all reflect on the memories of the troubling loss of Tommy. In the latest issue Tommy mixes alcohol and prescription medication after being dragged to a party at the old factory he didn't want to attend. What resonates with me in this series is how Jeff Lemire paints his characters as feeling alone despite how social they all appear. I sound like a broken record when I review Lemire books, but he really has an uncanny ability to write people in an extremely realistic way and in a way that the reader connects with his characters on a personal level with relative ease. 

The Rest:
Dept H. #23 - We now know the true identity and motive behind the murder of Mia's father and the sabotage of Dept. H. Matt and Sharlene Kindt's stunning mystery at the bottom of the sea will reach its conclusion in issue #24, but what was revealed this week truly put all of the pieces together. Mia is still racing to the surface with the cure, but it is unknown if she will make it or what she will find when she finally emerges from the sea. This series has been a delight from the beginning and I sure hope that Matt and Sharlene will continue to work on future projects together.  I can't wait to read the conclusion! 

Birthright #30 - This issue is a culmination of a multitude of factors that are starting to set things right and restore some sense of normalcy. I will admit to being a bit confused during some of the interaction within Mikey's memory, but alas!  The Nevermind has officially been separated from Mikey and it seems to mark the beginning of the end.  This is an odd crossroads for a series that I have enjoyed. It is one I want to read from the beginning again so I can see how Joshua Williamson brought everything together. While I want to see this series continue and want to learn more about this world Williamson has created, I don't want this comic to drag on and want it to reach its appropriate conclusion. I honestly thought that this might be the end, but appreciate how Williamson set up the next arc. It is one I am looking forward to and will trust him in terms of the direction this series takes.  It has been a great ride thus far.

Hit Girl #1 - Mark Millar, fresh of rebooting Kick-Ass, gives us an uber-violent debut of a new Hit Girl series. This definitely took a direction I wasn't expecting, both from a story and art perspective. Ricardo Lopez Ortiz gives this series an anime inspired style that works really well with the over the top action sequences. The story centers around a lonely Hit Girl and her desire to find a new partner. Her desire is so great that she is willing to partner with a convicted hit man who has killed over one hundred people over a twelve year period. She figures that he would rather be free after helping her out than serve 10 consecutive life sentences. Definitely more violent than the first Kick-Ass, but I think I preferred the new character introduced in that series. Either way I am looking forward to both of these series.

Daredevil #599 - Charles Soule is setting up the 600th issue of Daredevil to be a doozy!  I am a big fan of Muse and how Soule has used him to sow discord and make him one of the most feared villains I have read.  The dynamic between Mayor Fisk and Matt Murdock is very interesting, but it seems that Fisk is always one step ahead. Murdock is beginning to work on a way to oust Fisk, but it is coming at the cost of being blind (sorry) to what Muse is doing. This arc has been very tense (as was the other one with Muse) and I am fearful of what issue #600 is going to bring.

Infinity Countdown Prime #1 - We are officially on the path to the next Marvel event and another reset of the Marvel Universe. Gerry Duggan is at the helm of this series and it was an interesting, albeit predictable, walk through the struggle to control all of the gems. Depending on the direction it takes it might be fun to see how the competing interests compete over the gyms. I must have missed when Wolverine learned how to teleport and that was something to see during the opening sequence when he took down some of Ultron's minions who wanted the stone in his possession. Most big events are a lot of hype that under-deliver.  I don't have high expectations for this one, but found this first issue enjoyable.

Doctor Aphra #17 - Aphra and the crew she is temporarily working with infiltrated the Hivebase-1 and for a brief moment it looks like they might be joining the Rebellion.  That is until they run into none other than Hera. This was a welcome surprise and led to an exciting jailbreak led by Tolvan still driven by ulterior motives. The most recent arc has been a bit confusing as it lacks a clear driving force, but the romantic tension between Aphra and Tolvan has been an interesting twist. As this was one of my favorite spin-offs I have high hopes that this series will return to its roots as this arc develops.

POSTED BY MIKE N. aka Victor Domashev -- comic guy, proudly raising nerdy kids, and Nerds of a Feather contributor since 2012.

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Microreview [film]: Bright

Way better than I expected--thanks, critics!

Image result for bright
Ayer, David, dir. Bright. Netflix: Dec. 2017.

It could simply be because I watched it on New Year’s Eve after one three eggnog martinis (liberally spiked with the delightful pumpkin spice flavor of Kahlua!), and because of lowered expectations due to all the hate floating around about it, but Bright was actually fun! Were all the critics who despised it really watching the same film as me? And if so, I’ve got the perfect remedy: eggnog martinis!

First of all, it’s great to see urban fantasy—any urban fantasy—get such a huge-profile debut. The vitriol over the film can be usefully subdivided into two categories: diehard urban fantasy snowflake-fans up in arms over this or that inauthentic aspect of the film’s depiction (or appropriation) of the genre, or clueless lamestream media hack reviewers who have no idea what urban fantasy is or should be, pretentious fops who use terms like “pictures” or “films” and shun hoi polloi vernacular like “movies” religiously.

As a self-proclaimed middle of the roader, I fail to see why we have to listen to either of these categories of ‘experts’ and can instead sit down to appreciate Bright’s many good points (and trust me, they only get better with some eggnogtinis!). For instance, this is a movie which actually addresses racial tensions! Is its attempt to tackle racism (by replacing socially disadvantaged groups with entirely different species) heavy-handed? You bet it is! But at this point, at a time when most people in the developed world receive pre-selected news/‘information’ based upon various algorithms’ predictions of what we already believe, just having such a high-profile film project address such a sensitive issue at all is a win of sorts.

But also—have you actually seen the movie, or are you just spewing hate a priori? You might be surprised by how empirically entertaining the finished film turned out to be. Sure, parts of it are hokey, like the (to me) gratuitous scene of Will Smith’s character beating a mischievous fairy or sprite or whatever to death in his front lawn, to the jeering cheers of his cop-hating neighbors. And yeah, it would have been a better film if it had been made more tongue-in-cheek instead of being billed as a straight-up urban buddy cop action extravaganza. Yet even so, when Bright is good, it's downright watchable! 

The special effects are generally thrilling, and the human performances are pretty good too (though I confess to being a bit disappointed in Naomi Rapace’s turn as villain, as she couldn’t quite sell the necessary menace, that indefinable yet palpable air of lethality). Smith delivers here in a manner fans haven’t seen much in this period of his career--you know, just a few years after he thought it would be a good idea to appear in After Earth. So here’s the final word: what exactly is supposed to be so bad about the movie? Am I missing something? Did I have eggnogtini googles on when I saw this? I’m sure you’ll let me know in the comments below J

Image result for after earth dumb
Smith rediscovers his acting chops, aided by the massive drop in expectations following the turd-fest After Earth!

The Math:

Objective Assessment: 6/10

Bonuses: +1 for sizzling special effects in an urban fantasy movie, +1 for addressing racism, even in this rather goofy way

Penalties: -1 for the heartless scene showing the murder of a fairy and the taking-themselves-way-too-seriously-vibe

Nerd coefficient: 7/10 “An enjoyable experience, but not without its flaws”

[Incidentally, 7/10 is a totally respectable score here at Nerds of a Feather—see here for details.]

This message is brought to you by Zhaoyun, purveyor of urban fantasy in all its forms and reviewer for Nerds of a Feather since 2013.

Monday, February 19, 2018

Microreview [film]: The Cloverfield Paradox [2018]

An astonishingly wasted chance to revitalise space horror
"Can we please have a new script now? I was in bloody House of Flying Daggers, you know"

Some Netflix viewing experiences require the 15 second rewind button : ‘What did they say?’, or, ‘Woah, what was that?!’, or perhaps, ‘Oh that’s beautiful, let me see it again!’  Some, however, make you wish there was a skip-forward option instead : ‘Urgh, this is boring’, or, ‘Yikes, this is too gruesome’. A rare few, like The Cloverfield Paradox, make you want to do both. There are moments so amusingly-misguided or off-key that they invoke an urge to go back and check you didn’t mishear, like a third of the dialogue. On the other hand, there are twice as many points in the ‘narrative’ that inspire a desperate desire to skip ahead, like the tedious renditions of the age-old (and age-weary) ‘lone person walks slowly and nervously towards something no sane person would as the music screams at you how to feel’ device, or the repeated cuts after a violent or dramatic incident to wide exterior shot then moody silent shots of cast looking moody for ages before anything else happens.

The fact that this entire film is entirely made of sections of either skip-aheads or ‘wait, did they just commit that to the screen on purpose?!’ tells you all you need to really know about whether to see this. Yet the reason this review and indeed the reasons for my viewing The Cloverfield Paradox in the first place exist bears some scrutiny in relation to this new age of streaming commissions taking over from traditional channels of creation, coming at a time of renewed (and profitable) proliferation of Science Fiction and Fantasy filmmaking. Arguably at no time since the late 1950s have sci-fi dramas been so numerous in cinema and television. Yet so few do more than ape their forebears. And here comes what is essentially a crap B-movie Event Horizon with a bit of Alien and Sunshine thrown in, the sort of shameless rip-off film you see littering Netflix’s homepage once you get past the fifty or so decent movies. Yet it has been showered with attention because of the Cloverfield element, which has garnered it a decent budget and cast. Sadly, a decent story wasn’t necessary for this cynical business construct to be given life. I won’t go into the Cloverfield factor of this, for a few reasons. Firstly, so many others already have. Secondly, it feels so weakly connected that it might as well have been called the Battleship Paradox, or the Predator Paradox. Thirdly, the previous two films don’t deserve to be sullied by association. Suffice to say though that the sense of helpless dread the first two films created through artistry is barely touched on here in the poorly-depicted hints of [spoiler alert] ...... apocalypse on Earth. 

What remains then is a creation that feels like a commercial construction rather than a story. The cast are almost all lost, as if all required to be there against their will, like a shit theatre workshop retreat in space. When glimmers of personality surface, they glare awkwardly in the dim light of both the set and the script. The best example of this is Chris O’Dowd, clearly brought in to bring some wise-cracking light relief but despite his natural talents and charm failed to make me more than smile once or twice, and his ‘humorous’ lines and deployment as light relief agent jar terribly with the seriousness of the situation. Two spoilers as examples- fellow crew member for last two years dies in explosion of worms (don’t bloody ask) and he says, “So that’s where the worms went”. If he was in a broad comedy-horror (which actually would have been great), fine; here, it kills any tiny fragments of sympathy or connection we might have with the poorly-drawn characters. He later loses an arm in the most ridiculous way and the attempt to make a running gag of this drains the meagre resources of tension the plot thus far had managed to conjure, and kills the fear of bad things happening to other crew by how random and unbelievably daft it is. At least Event Horizon knew to play its body-horror madness straight. At no point does the threat of the random and deadly accidents, which result in the horror and befall most of the crew, achieve any sense of causality beyond the idea of two dimensions overlapping.

yes, this really happens

The rest of the cast are, bluntly, wasted or badly miscast. A couple retain dignity solely by not having to say more than a handful of lines, but some are simply not up to the challenge, and sadly the lead is chief among them. Gugu M'Batha-Raw fills almost all her moments with a singular emotion of fearful worry and despite being our lead-in to the crew, seems to have little connection to any of them in the dialogue and so is left in the background and it took me a while to clock what her role actually was. In fact, one of the worst elements is the poor interaction between the cast which suggest they were dumped on set in as sudden a manner as their characters are dumped far from home. A few merciful moments of genuine human connection, mainly told through the eyes of some of the underused actors, like Daniel Bruhl and David Oyelowo, only serve to hint at what could have been. As for the filmmaking, the cinematography is fairly bland and the sound design often awful, especially the use of Bear McCreary’s overly-wrought big, traditional orchestral score, which strikes the wrong tone regularly, especially in action scenes. Music can be the wings of a films as Zimmer said; here, it is the concrete boots.

Finally, it is vital that those reading this don’t fall into the trap of thinking it’ll be a mindless fun genre thrill. This film is actively bad. It is frustratingly poor storytelling that is a stain on the already fairly tarnished sub-genre of space horror and undeserving of the attention and resources it has. As for that much-discussed final ‘shock’ shot - I would have laughed out loud at how shoddy it is if my spirits weren’t already brought so low by the dire final act of inexplicable murder and resolution-through-fighting nonsense that preceded it. If you want to show (spoiler....) the world taken over by monsters, meanwhile, you need more effort than one guy looking worried and texting whilsts saving a random kid, and a final shot that makes your viewer think of the Jaws gag from Airplane. JJ Abrams and co had better find a seriously great script and a much better director for their next instalment.
You won't be able to un-see this film but at least you'll forget it almost immediately
The Math

Baseline Assessment : 4/10

Bonuses : +1 for... well... I finished it. It certainly enthralls you in the hope it'll sort itself out, like watching a drunk trying to do up their shoelaces.

Penalties : -1 for showing you actors you love do... nothing; -1 for the rubbish 'oh ok one person will suddenly decide to kill everyone' device; -1 for never once scaring me

Nerd Coefficient : 2/10 which is "really, really bad" on our scoring system

Written by English Scribbler, space horror obsessive and NOAFFT contributor since 2013

Thursday, February 15, 2018

Microreview [film]: Black Panther

The best Marvel film I've seen--by far...

I have a confession to make: I just don't love superhero films. I've loved superhero comics since I was a kid--and, at several points in my life, collected them. But the film adaptations rarely do it for me. Sure, there are plenty that I've enjoyed on first view, but only a few that I've actually wanted to see again. The ones that make the cut can be counted on one hand: Batman (1990), The Dark Knight (2008), The Avengers (2012) and Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014). And even with those, the law of diminishing returns applies. Black Panther is different; this is a film I think I could see twenty times or more.

Black Panther is, at base, a very well made blockbuster. It does a good job integrating back story with foregrounded action--not always a guarantee in this genre. It is well-paced, with a tight balance between action and character exposition. The acting performances are almost uniformly good, and it looks and sounds brilliant (more on that later). Also, it contains a plot twist that is genuinely surprising, but which also feels intuitive. These qualities already mark it as a cut above most superhero films. This is not just Save the Cat for the Nth time.

But it's the richness and wonder of Black Panther's world-building that truly sets it apart. Much has been made about how Black Panther centers blackness, and how rare this is in blockbuster action films. To me, though, it is more striking and significant that it centers Africa and African-ness.

Watching the film really underscores how uncommon this is. In most cases, Africa is the backdrop to a film about a white protagonist (e.g. Blood Diamond). This is often the case for Hollywood films set in Asia as well (e.g. The Last Samurai, The Great Wall). However, China, Hong Kong and Japan have strong film industries as well, so films that center Chinese- or Japanese-ness are pretty easy to find in most countries. African films, on the other hand, rarely penetrate the global consciousness...which means that the rare Hollywood film will be all that many audiences ever see of Africa. Making matters worse, the Hollywood view of Africa is almost monotonically focused on deprivation.

Exceptions to the rule are rare--there's The Lion King, which is about animals not people, and Coming to America, 90 percent of which takes place in Queens. Both have an almost exclusively American cast. Here, though, we have a film with an African protagonist, a mostly African supporting cast and set in a modern African society. Many of the actors are either African or of recent African descent as well. The main white character, played by our own English Scribbler Martin Freeman, is the sidekick--a role usually reserved for a black actor.

This is meaningful to me personally. As a kid I loved Fantomen, the Swedish iteration of Lee Falk's The Phantom. The comic was very progressive for its time (1930s), offering a sympathetic view of Africa and Africans and a negative view of their colonial exploitation. As I grew older, though, I realized how The Phantom relegated black Africans to side characters in what should have been their own story, and so robbed them of agency. I've always wondered why the many reboots of this otherwise excellent comic franchise didn't just make the Phantom black. To my knowledge, it hasn't happened yet.

The Black Panther comic introduced in the 1970s was, in some ways, a response to The Phantom, as well as all the other African stories centering white saviors. The film feels like a powerful response to every white savior film ever made.

An amazing Jack Kirby cover too! 
Another interesting element of the film is that it also centers women. More than half of the film's central characters are women, and they are strong, independent women as well. Danai Gurira is electrifying as General Okoye, leader of the elite Dora Milaje warriors, as is Lupita Nyong'o as spy and T'Challa love interest Nakia.

None of this would matter much if the film were bad or mediocre--but it is in fact an exceptionally well-made blockbuster, first and foremost for the reasons I outlined above. However, it is also exception for how meticulously writer/director Ryan Coogler built Wakanda. The sets, costumes, rituals and institutions are draw from African cultures and symbols, as well as the modern tradition of Afro-futurism that gave us the comic character Black Panther in the first place. The effect is stunning, from a visual perspective--as well as unique within the genre. The soundtrack and incidental music are also really striking, enhancing the sense of place as well as dramatic tension throughout the film.

I also appreciated that Black Panther, in the best Marvel tradition, invites us to sympathize with the villain's cause, even as we recoil from his chosen methods. I won't get farther into it, for fear of spoiling the movie for you.

Since this is Nerds of a Feather, I'd be remiss if I didn't nitpick something--nothing is perfect after all. I have two relatively minor complaints. First, there are a couple moments when the film goes overboard with the CGI, in a way that will look dated in just a few years. These are relatively few and far between, though. Second, there is an element to the central plot twist that doesn't make a lot of sense unless you add more own exposition. This did annoy me, but not enough to detract from my enjoyment of the film.

Black Panther is the best blockbuster film I've seen since Gravity, and the best superhero film I've ever seen. By a mile.

The Math

Baseline Assessment: 9/10.

Bonuses: +1 for world building; +1 for centering Africa and Africanness; +1 for going beyond the Save the Cat formula.

Penalties: -1 for too much CGI at a couple pivotal moments; -1 for element of plot twist that, on consideration, doesn't make a lot of sense.

Nerd Coefficient: 10/10. "Mind-blowing/life-changing."

Thursday Morning Superhero

Black Panther comes out tonight at midnight and from what I have been reading we should all go see it immediately. My schedule will permit me to view this film on Monday so I would appreciate you all remaining spoiler free on social media.  I'm looking at you, Carl! In addition to being critically acclaimed and projected to break some box office records, it brings joy to my heart that we have a movie with a nearly all-black cast that is getting this much hype and is already being celebrated world wide. Go see Black Panther this weekend. In fact, see it twice!

Pick of the Week:
Babyteeth #8 - Woah.  Donny Cates brought the heat (literally at one point) in the latest issue of his comic that chronicles the lives of Sadie and her newborn Clark. Something is a bit off with Clark, most notably his thirst for his mother's blood. It turns out that he might be the Antichrist and there are various groups that have a vested interest in his life. We recently met Sadie's mother, and in this issue she tells her about her ancestry and why Clark is important in opening the gate between our realm and the devil's.  There are some other amazing tidbits that Cates teaches us about Sadie's mother that I won't get into due to spoilers.  While Sadie's mother is currently holding her and Clark in a safe house, Sadie's father and sister will stop at nothing to save her and Clark, despite the efforts of the demon-ish Dancy and a fire-breathing demon raccoon type animal. Cates provides comic relief in an effective manner and this remains one of my favorite books currently in print.

The Rest:
Kick-Ass #1 - Kick-Ass is back and a brand new Hit-Girl is just around the corner. While I was initially skeptical of another iteration of this Mark Millar creation, the identity and background of the person behind the mask is one that is needed in comics. Even though it is a spoiler, the new individual behind the mask is Patience, a veteran who was a war hero in Afghanistan, an African-American, and a single mom. We quickly learn what an amazing woman she is and I look forward to how her identity shapes the direction of the character. This explosive debut issue features the ultra-violence that is associated with the series and is a lot of fun. I am very curious to see what plans Millar has for this character and look forward to seeing where her journey leads.

Darth Vader #11 - Now that Vader has the list of force sensitive children, he is on a mission to eliminate them.  Joined by The Ninth Sister, a former Jedi turned Inquisitor, Vader is investigating a force sensitive incident that was reported on Cabarria. We quickly learn that there is a group of bounty hunters that are targeting Vader. A highly entertaining issue that sees the destruction of Vader's lightsaber and an exciting flying vehicle chase. A great start to a new arc that seeks the answer of who set Vader up?

POSTED BY MIKE N. aka Victor Domashev -- comic guy, proudly raising nerdy kids, and Nerds of a Feather contributor since 2012.

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

New Books Spotlight

Welcome to another edition of the New Books Spotlight, where each month or so we curate a selection of 6 forthcoming books we find notable, interesting, and intriguing. It gives us the opportunity to shine a brief spotlight on some stuff we're itching to get our hands on.

What are you looking forward to? Anything you want to argue with us about? Is there something we should consider spotlighting in the future? Let us know in the comments!

Bacigalupi, Paolo, & Tobias S. Buckell. The Tangled Land [Saga Press]
Publisher's Description:
From award-winning and New York Times bestselling authors Paolo Bacigalupi and Tobias Buckell comes a fantasy novel told in four parts about a land crippled by the use of magic, and a tyrant who is trying to rebuild an empire—unless the people find a way to resist.

Khaim, The Blue City, is the last remaining city in a crumbled empire that overly relied upon magic until it became toxic. It is run by a tyrant known as The Jolly Mayor and his devious right hand, the last archmage in the world. Together they try to collect all the magic for themselves so they can control the citizens of the city. But when their decadence reaches new heights and begins to destroy the environment, the people stage an uprising to stop them.

In four interrelated parts, The Tangled Lands is an evocative and epic story of resistance and heroic sacrifice in the twisted remains surrounding the last great city of Khaim. Paolo Bacigalupi and Tobias Buckell have created a fantasy for our times about a decadent and rotting empire facing environmental collapse from within—and yet hope emerges from unlikely places with women warriors and alchemical solutions. 
Why We Want It: I've had copies of the linked novellas The Alchemist (Bacigalupi) and The Executioness (Buckell) on my shelf for a number of years without ever having cracked either cover for no good reason that I can understand. I've been a big fan of Buckell's work since discovering Crystal Rain ten years ago, so I'm always excited to see something with his name on the cover. The Tangled Land pulls together the two previously mentioned novellas with two additional ones to weave together a larger epic story. Now is the time to finally dive into this world.

Barnhill, Kelly. Dreadful Young Ladies and Other Stories [Algonquin]  
Publisher's Description:
A stunning new collection of short fictions for adult readers from the World Fantasy Award– and Newbery Medal–winning author of The Girl Who Drank the Moon.

From award-winning, New York Times bestselling author Kelly Barnhill comes a stunning first collection of acclaimed short fictions, teeming with uncanny characters whose stories unfold in worlds at once strikingly human and eerily original.

When Mrs. Sorensen’s husband dies, she rekindles a long-dormant love with an unsuitable mate in “Mrs. Sorensen and the Sasquatch.” In “Open the Door and the Light Pours Through,” a young man wrestles with grief and his sexuality in an exchange of letters with his faraway beloved. “Dreadful Young Ladies” demonstrates the strength and power—known and unknown—of the imagination. “The Insect and the Astronomer” upends expectations about good and bad, knowledge and ignorance, love and longing. The World Fantasy Award–winning novella The Unlicensed Magician introduces the secret, magical life of an invisible girl once left for dead.

By an author hailed as “a fantasist on the order of Neil Gaiman” (Minneapolis Star Tribune), the stories in Dreadful Young Ladies feature bold, reality-bending fantasy underscored by rich universal themes of love, death, jealousy, and hope.  
Why We Want It: We loved Kelly Barnhill's Newbery Medal winning novel The Girl Who Drank the Moon (my review) and pretty much everything else Barnhill has written. I nominated Barnhill's story "Mrs Sorensen and the Sasquatch" for the Hugo back in 2015, but alas, it did not make the final ballot. I've been enjoying her short fiction for years, so this collection will be a delight.  It also includes The Unlicensed Magician (my review), so if you haven't had the chance to discover Sparrow, The Junk Man, or Marla the Egg Woman yet, you're in for a treat.

Bujold, Lois McMaster. Penric's Fox [Subterranean Press]
Publisher's Description
With Penric's Fox, multiple-award-winner and bestselling author Lois McMaster Bujold returns to her World of the Five Gods, the setting of her acclaimed novels The Curse of Chalion, Paladin of Souls, and The Hallowed Hunt. Continuing the tale begun in the novellas “Penric’s Demon, “Penric and the Shaman,” and "Penric's Mission," Bujold’s newest installment of Penric and Desdemona’s tale is another must-read novella for her legion of fans.

Some eight months after the events of Penric and the Shaman, Learned Penric, sorcerer and scholar, travels to Easthome, the capital of the Weald. There he again meets his friends Shaman Inglis and Locator Oswyl. When the body of a sorceress is found in the woods, Oswyl draws him into another investigation; they must all work together to uncover a mystery mixing magic, murder and the strange realities of Temple demons. 
Why We Want It: At this point we don't have to say much more than "Lois McMaster Bujold" to get you to pick up a book, do we? Bujold's Penric novellas are bite sized delights and I'm quite looking forward to more.

Burke, Sue. Semiosis [Tor]  
Publisher's Description
Human survival hinges on an bizarre alliance in Semiosis, a character driven science fiction novel of first contact by debut author Sue Burke. 

Colonists from Earth wanted the perfect home, but they’ll have to survive on the one they found. They don’t realize another life form watches...and waits... Only mutual communication can forge an alliance with the planet's sentient species and prove that humans are more than tools. 
Why We Want It: I've long loved novels of colonies and discovery across generations.  Semiosis continues to pop up on our radar and as this is a generational novel of a human colony struggling to survive on another world, it's exactly the novel I'm looking for. Semiosis should be an impressive debut.

Stross, Charles. Dark State [Tor] 
Publisher's Description
Hugo Award-winning author Charlie Stross dives deep into the underbelly of paratime espionage, nuclear warfare, and state surveillance in this provocative techno-thriller set in The Merchant Princes multi-verse 

Dark State ups the ante on the already volatile situations laid out in the sleek techno-thriller Empire Games, the start to Stross' new story-line, and perfect entry point for new readers, in The Merchant Princes series.

In the near-future, the collision of two nuclear superpowers across timelines, one in the midst of a technological revolution and the other a hyper-police state, is imminent. In Commissioner Miriam Burgeson’s timeline, her top level agents run a high risk extraction of a major political player. Meanwhile, a sleeper cell activated in Rita's, the Commissioner's adopted daughter and newly-minted spy, timeline threatens to unravel everything.

With a penchant for intricate world-building and an uncanny ability to realize alternate history and technological speculation, Stross' writing will captivate any reader who's a fan hi-tech thrillers, inter-dimensional political intrigue, and espionage.  
Why We Want It: Empire Games (my review) was perhaps the strongest of Stross's parallel universe hopping Merchant Princes novels filled with political intrigue. I didn't love it without reservations, but I frequently find myself coming back and thinking about the details and how things fit together. I'm hoping for more of Dark State to be set in Miriam's timeline since Empire Games skimped on that a bit, but I've got this sitting on the nightstand next to my bed and I anticipating cracking this one open very soon.

Wexler, Django. The Infernal Battalion [Ace] 
Publisher's Description
Military might and arcane power clash in Django Wexler’s thrilling new Shadow Campaigns novel. 

The Beast, the ancient demon imprisoned beneath the fortress-city of Elysium for a thousand years, has been loosed on the world. It absorbs mind after mind, spreading like a plague through the north. The fell army it has raised threatens the heart of Vordan, and it is under the command of the Beast’s greatest prize: legendary general Janus bet Vhalnich.

As Queen Raesinia Orboan and soldiers Marcus D’Ivoire and Winter Ihernglass grapple with the aftermath of a hard-fought military campaign, they soon discover a betrayal they never could have foreseen. The news arrives like a thunderbolt: Janus has declared himself the rightful Emperor of Vordan. Chaos grips the city as officers and regiments are forced to declare for queen or emperor.

Raesinia must struggle to keep her country under control and risks becoming everything she fought against. Marcus must take the field against his old commander, a man who has seemed an unbeatable strategist. And as Winter recovers from her injuries and mourns her losses, she knows the demon she carries inside her might be the only thing standing between the Beast and the destruction of everything in its path…. 
Why We Want It: We here at Nerds of a Feather have long been fan of Django Wexler's Shadow Campaigns, especially The G, so you know we're looking forward to this fifth volume. 

POSTED BY: Joe Sherry - Co-editor of Nerds of a Feather, 2017 Hugo Award Finalist for Best Fanzine. Writer / Editor of the mostly defunct Adventures in Reading since 2004. Minnesotan.

Tuesday, February 13, 2018


Image result for space
Welcome to the latest Fireside Chat! I sat down (ie emailed back and forth, but I’m sure there was a roaring fire at some point) with Brian Ramos, an all-around awesome person with degrees in engineering and a Masters in International Space Studies. He previously did work with Engineering World Health (a non-profit that works to improve healthcare systems in developing countries). He also recently completed an 8 month long stint in the HI-SEAS Mars habitat. This essentially saw him living inside a dome, next to one volcano and on the slopes of another, alongside a small crew, to help the study of what these kind of living conditions would be like for potential future manned missions to Mars. So we talked about his experiences and his ideas about depictions of space in media and science-fiction.- Chloe

Can you tell us a bit about your background and interest in space and science?

My academic background is in Biomedical and Electrical Engineering. I also have a degree in International Space Studies from the International Space University in Strasbourg, France. My professional experience ranges from working on improving medical care in developing countries to work in the space industry. As much as possible, I try and make as much of my life about exploration, and both traveling and space/science fulfill this need (living in a dome on a volcano included).

Because you brought it up in there, can you explain the dome part of your answer?

Although living in a dome may seem as if it’s the opposite of exploration, given its stationary nature, it fulfilled this need to delve into a different way of life. It was an adventure in its own way. Rather than trekking around the world, what happens when you step outside of it entirely? What happens when you’re able to turn down all the noise and tear yourself away from the constant connectivity of the modern world? These were the sort of questions I was able to answer or at least dive into with the experience. On a more surface level, there was also a lot to learn through the research and performing of work, such as exploring lava tube caves.

Do you think the experience inside the habitat changed your perception of how community and/or relationships in space/sci-fi media are portrayed?

 I haven’t thought about its connection to space media, as much as it’s given me some insight into how a real astronaut may feel under certain conditions; such as  what may actually be necessary or unnecessary for creating a positive work and living environment, in an isolated space.

I did give thoughts to some sci-fi pieces such as I Am Legend or the movie Passengers in relation to being isolated. I tried to imagine how different I would feel if I were on the same mission alone.

 What kind of space media (books, movies, tv) have you enjoyed? What made these works stand out positively to you?

I’m going to have to say Firefly is probably my favorite space-themed show. Its incredible writing, character backgrounds and interactions, and well-meaning but stern protagonist all make me wish the series had continued. There’s something enticing about a group who lives job-to-job, traveling around to different planets. It scratches a certain traveler’s itch and envy, you know, except without the forced life of crime.

For movies, I’ve enjoyed the new Star Trek movies (the first in particular), Star Wars, and movies like Arrival. Star Trek provided this fantasy of an organization that anyone could join and lead a life, and career, exploring and observing the universe—basically a dream come true for any of us who would want to leave the planet someday. Plus, there’s a market for skills like martial arts; so, for once, my childhood hobbies would be respected on a resume!

Additionally, the idea of Star Trek’s prime directive is a really important thought in science fiction, I think. Having a rule of not meddling is something that we, as humans, rarely emphasize enough in practice. The crews in Star Trek aren’t looking to create settlements or colonize, but instead exploring to understand. I’ve enjoyed that idea of exploration rooted in good moral intentions, as well as the thought of curiosity being enough of a motivator for us to go out there.

I’ve enjoyed movies that try and have a degree of realism involved. The Martian or Gravity might be good examples of this. Though they’re not perfect, they have some elements that relate to actual space exploration as we know it, and that can be exciting for someone who knows the field. That being said, I don’t think that realism is necessary in science fiction. If anything, I want the media to take me somewhere new—show me possibilities rather than reality. Arrival did a nice job of this. Both the short story and the movie ask questions, and propose possibilities, that leave you thinking a while after the credits roll. It begged for conversation.

It wouldn’t be fair if I left out movies about actual space missions. Apollo 13 is probably the best example of this. Truth is often more engaging than fiction, and the story of what those men went through is engaging in every aspect.

Since you brought up films about actual space missions, I’m curious as to whether you feel those kind of films have an easier or harder time depicting space (since they have to stick to realism)? And, do you think it’s important for non-realistic science fiction to still realistically depict space? If so, why?

 I’m not sure that it’s a question of whether one is easier or harder to depict space, but perhaps more about the intent. A movie about Apollo 13 would likely go to great lengths to get the story correct, consulting with experts and the like, and the dramatization might be amplified for storytelling purposes. They consult experts on movies such as Star Trek, as well, a lot of times, but they don’t necessarily strive to be accurate and I don’t think they really need to be.
 What are your feelings/thoughts on science-fiction?

Oddly, space fiction isn’t something I indulge in much. Science-fiction in general does have a lot of utility. First and foremost, it needs to be good entertainment. Anything beyond that is a bonus. Science fiction does a good job of sparking ideas and showing off what kinds of things we may be able to create or want in the future.

The most valuable thing science fiction provides, for me, is a barometer for our society’s current trends. Culture drives everything, and space exploration is no exception. As interest in space and science has increased throughout the last several years, so has the amount of shows, movies, and projects about space. Ten years ago, only people in the industry could tell you what SpaceX was. Now, Elon Musk is a well-known name, complete with appearances in science-fiction blockbuster movies, such as Iron Man 2.

 What are things you’d like to see more of in science fiction (ideas, technologies, etc)?

I’d like to see more depth, in general. Science fiction, like any work of fiction, is stronger when it urges us to question ourselves and the world around us.

I would love to see more movies like Moon. In general, I’d love for filmmakers or whoever greenlights those films to feel less inclined to put in action scenes or pointless explosions into movies just for the sake of it. I loved 90% of Passengers—having to make the choice of waking someone up in the face of an eternity alone, at the expense of guilt, is a fascinating concept all on its own. I could have done without the engine heat body-blasting. These pieces don’t often offer up much, and often detract from the story.

That being said, given that no filmmakers will read this and think, ‘by gosh, he’s right!’, I’ll go ahead and say, at the very least, I would not be opposed to Star Wars adding a heavy second dose of Donnie Yen or more lightsaber battles. Nobody goes to those movies hoping to see Darth Vader falling in love.

You’re interested in cultural issues and aspects of space, as well as the science, is that something that you’d like to see addressed more in science-fiction? What are your feelings on science fiction’s depictions of exploring and living on other planets? Having had the habitat experience, do you think there’s specific elements of living on another planet that you’d like to see depicted? 

      I’m going to answer your questions in what might be a different way than what you’re asking.

    The old saying that truth is stranger than fiction is very true. If someone were looking for science fiction inspiration, I would look towards organizations that look at concepts for things like multigenerational worldships – the concept of having a self-sustaining society, contained within a ship, which would travel over many generations before reaching their destination. These are real studies that consider launching a group of people into space, with the knowledge that the ones who arrive at the destination will not be the ones who left Earth. Because of the complexity of the scenario, there are a lot of interesting questions that arise from the thought exercise. What might religions look like in that worldship, for example? Would they exist at all? Would they be Earth-based religions or something new? Would religions that focus on Earth matter to people who had never seen it? What happens when a terrible leader comes to power in one of the generations? How likely is that to happen? What might an economy look like on this ship?

These are just a few examples but the point is that a creator can take one simple concept – a Mars base, a worldship, the theory of panspermia, and run with the idea. Start with the truth and show me where your mind runs to.

Where do you hope to see the representation of space in science fiction and media go?

I’d like to see a growing demand and supply for space-related science fiction, simply because it shows that people are becoming interested in the topic. NASA is a publicly-funded organization, which means it depends on voters who care about space exploration. Without a desire and popularization of space exploration, I think it will be difficult for us to go anywhere interesting. At the end of the day, people need to care about the search for life and thirst for understanding of our universe.

For people wishing to learn more about space, what would be good resources?

 It depends on what sort of space they’re trying to learn about. There is a lot on the website about their research and progress. Speakers, such as Neil Degrasse Tyson, do a great job of being effective space communicators. I urge people to look outside of what NASA is doing. There are space programs, in many different nations, that look to leverage space in new and interesting ways. For those looking for an academic institution to grow their space industry knowledge, I highly recommend The International Space University.

Are you involved in the creation of anything space media related? (This question is essentially so you can plug your podcast, because I am helpful like that)

Yes! We run a podcast called Space For Everyone that’s going to explore interesting aspects of the space industry, ranging from religion to space organizations in developing nations. Our goal is to showcase the international and cultural aspects of space exploration. I also run The Traveling Spaceman blog which talks about my HI-SEAS mission and other lessons learned through exploring the Earth.

 Since often the focus, at least in the news and popular media, on space is linked to technology and exploration,  are there aspects of space or space exploration that you wished people talked about more?

There are a couple of things.

This isn’t unique to space exploration, but news media tends to focus on the accidents. When something goes wrong and people’s lives are threatened, there is a ton of coverage. There isn’t a lot when things are running smoothly. When the space shuttle program was cancelled, many people back home asked me what I thought of ‘NASA being shut down’. The International Space Station has been flying for over 15 years consistently and I think that should be recognized. When things are running smoothly, we tend to take for granted that the astronauts there are risking their lives every time they strap themselves to a rocket.
I wished that people connected more with the idea of exploration being something we should do simply because we are, because we exist and we can. No one asks why we want to breathe or be loved. We all understand that:those of us who are addicted to traveling or space feel the same wayabout hopping on a plane or discovering a possible signal of life on another planet.