Sci-Fi November: Film Review: Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes

apes_1Confession: I never saw the original Charlton Heston films in the Planet of the Apes series. I’ve seen bits and pieces of them here and there, mostly as a kid flipping through the channels and catching snippets between commercial breaks on the Saturday or Sunday afternoon movie that aired on the stations higher up on the dial. Most of what I knew of these films was absorbed through the cultural zeitgeist and pop culture references in things like Spaceballs or Mystery Science Theater 3000. I did see the Tim Burton remake and was not impressed. So, color me surprised when, in 2011, I decided to check out the prequel/reboot of this 20th Century Fox franchise with Rise of the Planet of the Apes and was thoroughly impressed. And it was based on the strength of that film alone that I needed to see the follow-up, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes.

So, I bought and watched the latest on my Apple TV via iTunes this past weekend, and really loved this flick.

Since we know these films are basically leading into the original 60s-era Heston movie, we know that war between the humans and apes is inevitable, and we know who the victors will ultimately be. But, damn, the journey to get there? Excellent, excellent stuff.

It’s been ten years (movie-time) since the simian flu leveled the human race and the apes became ascendant. In fact, at the movie’s start, head-chimp Caesar and his lieutenant and friend, Maurice, speculate that the humans may have become extinct. This isn’t the case, of course, and the moment of first-contact between the two species in at least a decade is one that’s fraught with peril.

Throughout the movie, there’s a wonderful simmering tension between the various divisions, and the threat of violence is nearly constant. Both the apes and the humans find themselves divided over issues of trust and loyalty, and the relationship that develops between Caesar and Malcolm, our central human protagonist, played by Jason Clarke (Zero Dark Thirty), is borne out of a mutual desire for peace that is not equally shared by their compatriots.

caeserOne of the central themes at the heart of this movie is what it means to be ‘human’ (so to speak). There’s a definite fear of The Other on display here, distilled most cogently with Kirk Acevedo’s (Fringe) Carver and the ape, Koba. Both are twisted by their prejudices, and Koba bears the scars of his time as a test subject in a lab, where he was tortured by humans. And while Caesar and Malcolm work to overcome the pressures placed upon them by these darker, more animalistic fears, whatever peace they can arrive at is tenuous, at best. A stalemate, or even cooperation, may be achievable, but both are so overwhelmed by the events surrounding them and have come too far to make anything other than temporary accommodations.

There are some very serious issues at work in both Rise Of… and Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes, with both movies exemplifying important social issues. I always enjoy it when science fiction films can take certain touchstones of the modern world and expound on them in interesting ways, as the original Star Trek was able to do against the real-world backdrop of the Cold War era. There is a certain relevance to these two films, but neither get bogged down as ‘message films’ that feel the need to beat you over the head with their self-importance. You can look at them as deeply as you need to, or enjoy them as pure entertainment.

movies-dawn-of-the-planet-of-the-apes-performance-captureBeyond a fine script, the digital effects and set design are massively impressive. A lot of credit has been given to WETA and the motion-capture performance given by Andy Serkis, and rightly so. These mo-cap actors playing the apes have done an incredibly job bringing their respective primates to life, using prosthetic aids to help change their posture, gait, and movements, to make the CGI overlays all the more realistic. On the set design front, a lot of work and detail have gone into making a suitably post-apocalyptic San Franscisco, showing us what the city would look like as nature begins to overrun the area and its human inhabitants have taken to old buildings repurposed for shelter areas and quarantine zones. The forest dwellings of the apes are quite a marvel, as well, and a lot of work has clearly gone into making it look and feel like a community for this burgeoning, intelligent, and connected species.

The iTunes digital release boasts terrific sound and audio, with the surrounds picking up some nice sonic details, particularly during rainy scenes or the roar of a waterfall, and, of course, during the chaotic action of the finale. There’s also an array of iTunes Extras, including a commentary from director Matt Reeves and a bevy of behind the scenes production materials, along with an image gallery and theatrical trailers.

All in all, I enjoyed the heck out Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes. It’s a terrific installment that lives up to the expectations set by its predecessor, and sets the stage for the third film, which is expected in 2016.

Buy Dawn of the planet of the apes at amazon
Sci-Fi November: Film Review: Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes

Sci-Fi November: DEFIANCE Release, and the works of Lucas Bale

heretic     defiance      whatitmeanstosurvive

Regular readers of this blog are probably aware that early next year, Lucas and I will be releasing a sci-fi anthology, along with a number of other terrific writers with some truly great stories to tell. I’ve reviewed each of his works and dug them all, and I think you’ll like them, too.

Lucas has a new release out today called DEFIANCE. This is the second book in his Beyond The Wall series, and I got to read an ARC of it last week. It’s killer stuff, and well worth picking up. As an added incentive to buy, it’s only 99 cents today!

But, Lucas isn’t stopping there. If you haven’t read the first book in his series, THE HERETIC, that one is currently free. Also free, his recently-released short story WHAT IT MEANS TO SURVIVE.

So, you can grab all three of his titles for just under a dollar. Not too shabby.

Check out his Amazon Author profile for the links to his titles and enjoy: http://www.amazon.com/Lucas-Bale/e/B00LGVGUMO

Sci-Fi November: DEFIANCE Release, and the works of Lucas Bale

Review: In The Shadows Of Children by Alan Ryker

in_the_shadows_of_childrenAbout In The Shadows of Children

Aaron hasn’t been home since his younger brother mysteriously disappeared without a trace from his bedroom fifteen years earlier. He thought he’d moved on with his life.

But when his mother dies suddenly, he finds himself back in his childhood hometown to attend the funeral and see to the estate. Aaron soon finds his hopes of reliving fond childhood memories evaporating as he discovers something in his old closet that shakes not only his beliefs about what happened to his brother, but his grip on reality.

In the hungry darkness, a shadow as old as time itself has been waiting for his return for a long time. And its wait is nearly over…


About the Author

Alan Ryker is the product of a good, clean country upbringing. Though he now lives with his wife in the suburbs of Kansas City, the sun-bleached prairie still haunts his fiction. To learn more about his work, go to http://www.alanryker.com.


My Thoughts

Hot damn! In The Shadows of Children is the first story I’ve read from author Alan Ryker, but it certainly will not be the last.

This DarkFuse novella finds Aaron returning home following the death of his mother. Fifteen years ago, he’d fled to California and found every excuse he could not to go back. It’s been fifteen years since his brother, Bobby, disappeared, and seven years since his father passed away. Now, he’s grudgingly picking up the pieces of his old life in the wake of his mother’s passing, and starting to recall the horrors of his youth. His adult mind has long since shuttered those old memories, to the point that he can’t even really recall what childhood terrors made him leave and never come back. When Bobby appears in their old bedroom closet, still fourteen years old, Aaron begins to remember and, in the process, is threatened with the loss of his son, still at home in California.

I didn’t bother reading the book description and went in blind; knowing this was a DarkFuse title was enough for me. At first I thought that Bobby’s reappearance was going to make this title a simple, straight-forward ghost story, but Ryker went for richer veins by relying on an ancient, worldwide mythology that still has its foot in the modern door. We call it the boogeyman, and in Ryker’s hands it becomes a thing a frightening beauty.

The writing is clean and sharp, and I felt a nice bit of depth in this story. It’s a quick, clean bit of horror but nicely layered with questions of psychological pathos and those notions of terror that we either deliberately or inadvertently instill in our children. As adults, we think of the boogeyman as a bit of clean, scary fun, but in the child’s mind it can take on a much larger, frightening shape. There’s a darkness to it, in the way adults may use that scare to manipulate their children into certain behaviors. Aaron rediscovers this darkness as it begins to intrude on his adult life and put his own family in jeopardy, and it’s just so well done. Buy it!

buy In The shadows of children at amazon
Review: In The Shadows Of Children by Alan Ryker

Sci-Fi November: Review: Defiance by Lucas Bale

defianceAbout Defiance

The darkness in the human heart is infinite.

At a time when power means everything, the ultimate power, the imperium, rests with the Consulate Magistratus. The murder of a man in the lowest caste may be inconsequential, but one man, one of the Caesteri lawmen who still believes in justice, refuses to ignore it.

The woman he hunts is violent and unstable, and haunted by her own callous ghosts. She will drag him to the furthest reaches of space, where the abyss which awaits them hides an unspeakable truth.

When faced with their own mortality, there is no limit to what human beings will do to protect themselves, their family, their property. The human mind changes when exposed to relentless horror. It becomes dehumanised. The grotesque becomes mundane.There is no pity, no remorse – only instinct. An instinct which cannot be controlled.

The imperium belongs only to those who are strong enough to wield it.

The war to control humanity’s future is about to begin…

Defiance is the second book in the acclaimed Beyond the Wall series, an epic hard science-fiction space opera about the future of humanity and the discovery of the truth of its past.


About the Author

Lucas Bale writes the sort of intense, gripping science-fiction thrillers which make you miss your train. Stories which dig into what makes us human and scrape at the darkness which hides inside every one of us.

His debut novel, THE HERETIC, is the gateway to the BEYOND THE WALL series, an epic hard science-fiction space opera about the future of humanity and the discovery of the truth of its past.

He wasn’t always a writer. He was a criminal lawyer for fifteen years before he discovered crime doesn’t pay and turned to something which actually pays even less. No one ever said he was smart, but at least he’s happy. He blushes when people mention him in the same sentence as Iain M. Banks or George R. R. Martin, bless him.

If you’d like to hear about new releases before everyone else, get advance review copies of those new releases and every short story he ever writes for free then subscribe to INSIDE, his semi-regular newsletter, here: http://www.lucasbale.com/inside

If twitter is your thing, you’ll find him at @balespen


My Thoughts

(This review is based on an advanced reader’s copy provided to me by the author.)

I greatly enjoyed Lucas Bale’s The Heretic when it released earlier this year, finding it to be the beginning of an ambitious science-fiction series with a heck of a lot of promise. Book Two in his Beyond The Wall series, Defiance, struck me as even better in nearly every way.

There is a lot of mystery surrounding the narrative that propels the book’s central characters into action. Starting off with a murder and the hunt for a fugitive, the story expands on the mythology introduced in The Heretic and the scope of the Imperium’s domain and the power of the Magistratus. We’ve got murder, a fugitive on the run, political chicanery, a lost spaceship, and more. While not a direct continuation of The Heretic, although there are references made to the events that occurred in that book, Defiance is a bit more like a necessary side-journey.

Bale’s series is what he calls ‘series episodic.’ There’s a large, overarching story connecting the two works, although the characters are different and separated by the vast reaches of space. They inhabit the same universe and live under the same threatening weight of the Imperium’s fist. With new characters comes a new locale, as well, and the world of Jieshou feels vastly different than The Heretic’s Herse. The central characters of Weaver, a sort-of policeman, and the fugitive, Natasha, whom he spends the book hunting, are new faces to the expanding cast and take center stage this time around. Through their eyes, we get to familiarize ourselves with the criminal underworld of Jieshou’s Bazaar, and find Weaver up against some significant odds.

I felt that the characterizations were stronger, and the threats they faced to be more immediate and more prevalent. Weaver has a terrific bit of inner conflict, often arguing with himself over the merits of obeying orders versus following a more morally correct path. Natasha, too, is an intriguing sort and seems to possess a rare quality that allows her to navigate through the wormholes connecting the empire, and to pass through the farther reaches of the Imperium’s domain and beyond The Wall, a section of uncharted and uninhabited space. Or is it? Hmmm…

As Bale produces these novels to be part of a larger whole, we’re left with one heck of a cliffhanger. Most of the mysteries introduced along the way are resolved, but plenty more gets teased in order to set up Book Three.

The Beyond The Wall series is shaping up to be a terrific showcase for Bale’s talents with plenty of future-past mythology and an expanding scope that is starting to feel as large as the universe itself. Recommended.

buy Defiance at Amazon
Sci-Fi November: Review: Defiance by Lucas Bale

Sci-Fi November: Review: What It Means To Survive by Lucas Bale

whatitmeanstosurvive

About What It Means To Survive

McArthur’s World is a frozen planet which has been bled dry by mineral mining corporations for three decades. When there is nothing left but ice and snow, the last freighter lifts off carrying away every remaining human being. When it crashes in a wilderness no one has ever returned from, there are only two survivors: a miner who wants to get back to the children he has not seen for two years, and the woman who forced him to come to McArthur’s World in the first place.

They think they’re alone, until the shrieks in the darkness come.

What It Means To Survive is a short science-fiction story by Lucas Bale. It’s around 40 pages long and should take about an hour to read.


About the Author

Lucas Bale writes the sort of intense, gripping science-fiction thrillers which make you miss your train. Stories which dig into what makes us human and scrape at the darkness which hides inside every one of us.

His debut novel, THE HERETIC, is the gateway to the BEYOND THE WALL series, an epic hard science-fiction space opera about the future of humanity and the discovery of the truth of its past.

He wasn’t always a writer. He was a criminal lawyer for fifteen years before he discovered crime doesn’t pay and turned to something which actually pays even less. No one ever said he was smart, but at least he’s happy. He blushes when people mention him in the same sentence as Iain M. Banks or George R. R. Martin, bless him.

If you’d like to hear about new releases before everyone else, get advance review copies of those new releases and every short story he ever writes for free then subscribe to INSIDE, his semi-regular newsletter, here: http://www.lucasbale.com/inside

If twitter is your thing, you’ll find him at @balespen


My Thoughts

Let me disclose a few things right at the outset – I received a copy of this story from its author, Lucas Bale. I know Lucas from the KBoards community, and we interact a bit on e-mail and through Goodreads and twitter. We are currently working on an anthology together, along with a few other indie authors, which should drop in 2015. That all said, I did my damnedest to approach this story and this review as a reader first and foremost. Thankfully, Lucas is a fine author, which makes setting aside any professional accords as a fellow author/reviewer rather easy, and I can feel pretty safe in touting his work because I think it’s just that damn good. So, on with the show!

Lucas Bale’s latest, What It Means to Survive, is a rugged short story of survival on a desolate, frozen alien world.

Simple? Well, simpler than it sounds at any rate. There’s a lot of punch packed into these forty-some pages. The story unravels in first-person point of view, and Bale gets to prove the elasticity of his author’s voice, submerging himself into the gruffness of a mining hick screwed over by corporate suits. The company was supposed to pay out the insurance money to pay for his wife’s sickness, but managed to delay their responsibilities long enough for her to die after they’ve forced him into a mining job at McArthur’s World. Now, all he has left are his two boys, who he hasn’t seen in several years and who may not even remember him.

As luck would have it, the woman who maneuvered him into this situation, and whom he pins the blame of his wife’s death on, finds herself stuck on McArthur’s World, too. With the planet sucked dry, the corporation is shutting down its operations and sending everyone home. But fate, as is often the case, has other plans and tragedy strikes, leaving only these two adversaries alive in a brutal environment filled with blood-thirty animals.

I really loved how Bale stacks the odds against these protagonists, turning everything against them and forcing them to rely on their wits and whatever few provisions they can salvage. McArthur’s World is a nasty place, where the environment ranges only between cold and colder. The beasts are interesting, imaginatively complex savages, as are the protagonists who are fueled by mutual animosity but forced to work together. Against all this is the omnipresent threat of their downed ship and its fusion reactor, which could go critical at any moment.

There’s a lot happening in this short story, but it never feels like too much. Rather, it struck me as perfectly layered, and the narrative had me locked in a choke-hold throughout. It’s a fast, breezy read, but absolutely enthralling throughout. The finale is gutsy and as I watched the minutes left to read in my Kindle progress tracker tick down, I realized that I wasn’t quite ready for this story to end yet. I didn’t want to leave McAthur’s World, and I really wished I could avoid the inevitable business of finishing this story. I wanted more, damn it! Which is hardly a slight. Bale’s work here is complete and solid. I just wanted to linger a bit more and stay with this narrator for a little while longer. I think you will to.

buy what it means to survive on amazon

 

Sci-Fi November: Review: What It Means To Survive by Lucas Bale

Sci-Fi November: Review: The Three-Body Problem by Liu Cixin

ThreeBodyProblem1About The Three-Body Problem

Three-Body Problem is the first chance for English-speaking readers to experience this multiple award winning phenomenon from China’s most beloved science fiction author, Liu Cixin.

Set against the backdrop of China’s Cultural Revolution, a secret military project sends signals into space to establish contact with aliens. An alien civilization on the brink of destruction captures the signal and plans to invade Earth. Meanwhile, on Earth, different camps start forming, planning to either welcome the superior beings and help them take over a world seen as corrupt, or to fight against the invasion. The result is a science fiction masterpiece of enormous scope and vision.


About the Author

Liu Cixin is the most prolific and popular science fiction writer in the People’s Republic of China. Liu is an eight-time winner of the Galaxy Award (the Chinese Hugo) and a winner of the Nebula Award. Prior to becoming a writer, he worked as an engineer in a power plant in Yangquan, Shanxi.

Ken Liu (translator) is a writer, lawyer, and computer programmer. His short story “The Paper Menagerie” was the first work of fiction ever to sweep the Nebula, Hugo, and World Fantasy Awards.


My Thoughts

(This review is based on an advanced reader’s copy received from the publisher via NetGalley.)

Liu Cixin, one of China’s most popular science fiction authors, is making his US debut thanks to Tor Books‘ publication of The Three-Body Problem. Originally published in China in 2007, Liu’s novel is the first in a trilogy (the next installment, The Dark Forest, will release in July 2015) and the first Chinese science fiction novel to be translated into English, thanks to the efforts of Ken Liu.

The Three-Body Problem is a work that unfolds across time, beginning in the late 1960s at the height of China’s Cultural Revolution. After witnessing the murder of her father by revolutionaries, Ye Wenjie finds herself politically tainted, yet useful to the new hierarchy of command. As an astrophysicist, she possesses skills that make her suitable for work at the Red Coast Base, a secret installation that she’ll never be able to leave and that has spawned much speculation and rumor.

In the present (or, at least, very near-future), Wang Miao, a nanotechnologist, is enlisted to infiltrate a cadre of cutting-edge scientists and learn their secrets. What he finds, instead, is an ominous layer of secrecy that has left several other scientists, including Wenjie’s daughter, dead. Along the way, he stumbles upon Three Body, a virtual reality simulator depicting the end and rebirth of civilization on a world surrounded by three suns. The conflicting gravity fields and the ebb and flows of the planet’s orbit inevitably leads to disaster, and the game’s participants are challenged to find and exploit a pattern in the chaotic three-body problem.

Liu presents a science fiction story that is grounded in modernity and physics, fully utilizing the aspects of “science” alongside his fiction. The narrative thrust is largely cerebral, as well as political, and constantly engaging. He has a skillful hand in layering the many mysteries at the book’s core, and pulls all the various threads together for form a complete whole by book’s finish.

While the book’s description bills this novel as an alien invasion story, it’s really not until late in the game that the plot dovetails toward that revelation. It’s clear that this ingredient will play a larger role in the other two installments, but for now it’s a simmering plot point that helps to really blow up the novel in the third act. I’ve seen some marketing that claims this book has the “commercial action of Independence Day,” but that’s really not the case. The Three-Body Problem is a far more subtle and nuanced work that favors a slow-boil approach, rather than attempting to be a run-and-gun actioneer. As for the aliens themselves, what we learn of them is pretty magnificent and I can’t help but think that their evolutionary tract must have been pretty damn innovative. Their scientific savvy is mind-blowing, although Liu is able to relate the real-world high-level physics supporting his plot in easily digestible chunks.

In fact, I found the strongest elements of this novel to be on its scientific and (mostly) Earth-based foci. As an American reader with an interest in both science and history, I was truly fascinated by the political machinations that dogged these characters, particularly Wenjie, and which shaped their approaches to science and their world. This intersection of politics and science is a topic Americas would do well to pay keen attention to, particularly in light of science-denying politicians, like Lamar Smith and James Inhofe, garnering positions of power. The focus on China’s Cultural Revolution and how that would shape a first-contact scenario was a very refreshing break from the presentation of similar material shaped by largely democratic, English-speaking countries. While I felt a bit of tonal similarity to British sci-fi author, Alastair Reynolds, the cultural forces informing their works are nicely dissonant.

The only real problems I had with the story were a rather bland set of characters, but the thriller-like momentum of the plot itself kept the story moving briskly despite not having a solid protagonist to really latch on to or worry about. Wang is bit too stiff and lacks any really strong elements of characterization. As I said earlier, this is largely a cerebral effort, but it lacks a lot of heart. There were also several instances where the dialog felt a bit stiff and stilted, with characters frequently going into long-winded monologues,  but perhaps something was simply lost in translation. In the end, though, these are minor gripes that are far outweighed by the sense of mental excitement and enjoyable brain-games the novel carries.

Overall, I found The Three Body-Problem to be a solid work and a wonderful introduction to a terrific writer. I was truly delighted with the way Liu developed his plot and the follow-through he exhibited in unraveling the scientific quandaries of this first-contact scenario. As the first in a trilogy, it promises enough scope and an epic scale, along with a spectacular thoughtfulness, to keep me eagerly awaiting the remaining two titles. I really need to know how the rest of this series plays out!

buy The Three-Body Problem At Amazon
Sci-Fi November: Review: The Three-Body Problem by Liu Cixin

Sci-Fi November – Review: The Telepath Chronicles – An Anthology of Science Fiction

telepath chronicles

About The Telepath Chronicles

Telepathy. Just a far-fetched bit of science fiction “hocus pocus.” But is it? With today’s giant leaps forward in technology and biotechnology, with people constantly surrounded by sophisticated yet invisible communication networks, and with a rapidly increasing understanding of the brain’s inner workings . . . is it so hard to imagine that we might be able to develop direct mind-to-mind communication?

Or might it not be the case that evolution alone, in the right circumstances—if not on this planet, then on others—could give rise to creatures with telepathic abilities?

This collection of fourteen stories explores the ramifications of a future where telepathy is real. From that first glorious moment of discovery, to the subsequent jealousies and class divisions, to the dangers of weaponization and the blessings of medical miracles, The Telepath Chronicles promises to take you inside the creative minds of some of today’s top science fiction authors.


My Thoughts

Continuing his line of The Future Chronicles anthologies, Samuel Peralta follows-up this past summer’s The Robot Chronicles with a new anthology centered around telepathy. Collecting fourteen short stories from various authors, The Telepath Chronicles explores the ramifications of one of science fictions most enduring staples. Assembled here are stories that span time and space, ranging from a present-day murder investigation to an alien world that is, itself, a sentient entity.

A few of the highlights for me:

  • Peter Cawdron‘s #DontTell kicks off the anthology with an excellent piece that explores the social implications of a burgeoning telepathic community and the fear it brings, acting as an allegory of minority rights. It’s a terrific opener, and provides a street-level view of the action presented through the eyes of a celebrity journalist.
  • Stability, by Theresa Kay, presented an intriguing premise that’s a bit like X-Men by way of a prison break, involving a central telepath, Cora, and several psionics who are attempting to free her from a sinister breeding program. There are hints of a darker world outside the prison and the story is effectively engaging. This is a world I would happily return to if the author decides to explore the territory any further.
  • Susan Kaye Quinn‘s story, The Locksmith, takes place in her Mindjack universe, but stands alone and requires no former knowledge of her prior works. It works well and the world-building on display was strong and interesting enough to goad me into picking up her novel, Open Minds, book one of the Mindjack series. Her short story in this anthology also promises to continue the series with a new trilogy, and I’m certainly interested in reading more from her.
  • Therin Knite‘s Venus in Red is another strong contender. Her stand-alone piece is a fun sci-fi actioneer revolving around a corporate assassination with the telepathy aspect playing an integral part via high-tech cerebral upgrades. It’s a serious bit of entertainment, and Knite brings her usual flair to the story, as exhibited in her earlier release, Othella.
  • MeiLin Miranda uses the concept of telepathy to write one of the anthologies more dramatically striking stories. Word-Bound focuses on a family that is incapable of communicating telepathically in a society where telepathy is the norm. Four-year-old Campbell is about to undergo corrective surgery to have an implant placed in his skull that will help him receive and transmit thoughts, and be capable of living a normal life. It’s a fascinating parable of the hearing-impaired that inverts the typical telepath-story mold, presenting a story of “outsiders” in an original and intriguing way, and, similar to Cawdron’s opening short, looks at the societal implications and the changing landscape that such a gift would bring.

As with any anthology, some stories stuck a stronger chord than others, and there were a few that did not quite resonate with me as well as others. Overall, though, I found it to be a fun and engaging read, and the breadth and depth that some writers were able to bring to the table made for a very pleasant mix.

buy the telepath chronicles at amazon
Sci-Fi November – Review: The Telepath Chronicles – An Anthology of Science Fiction