Tag Archives: extraterrestrial life

“A Princess of Mars” and John Carter, the Prince of Pulp Sci-Fi

20 Mar

Literally just minutes ago (as of this writing) I finished Edgar Rice Burroughs’s 1912 novel “A Princess of Mars,” and I’m fairly convinced that it’s the best worst early-20th-century science fiction novel ever published. That should be no secret, considering that this book, the first in an 11-part series, was the inspiration for Disney’s recent movie (soon to be a flop), “John Carter.”

See how she cringes? That's how a real Victorian woman cringes.
(Click for the original column in the Crimson White)

Burroughs, an astonishingly prolific writer of the 20th century, gave us, among other iconic characters, Tarzan the jungle man, but you’re not likely to find him on the syllabus of an American literature course. If you’ve seen “John Carter,” that won’t be a big surprise: Burroughs’s writings, many initially published as magazine serials, are as pulpy as they come.

They’re science-fiction penny dreadfuls, dime novels with sensational and poorly-illustrated covers, cheap paperbacks you’d find on the counter at a seedy gas station and all-around the stuff sophisticated college-educated young people such as us would be embarrassed to be caught reading in the 1910s.  And to be perfectly honest, I should be embarrassed now. But, I’m three books in, and there’s no going back.

The story begins with Virginian ex-Confederate John Carter mining for gold in Arizona, running away from angry Apaches and hiding in a creepy cave filled with human skeletons. Admittedly, that doesn’t sound very promising.  But let’s fast-forward a chapter to his mysterious re-location to the planet Barsoom — what we, in our ignorance, call Mars.

Like the movie, “A Princess of Mars” has vicious aliens, epic battles and a giant monster dog named Woola.  But the novel is certainly a product of its time.  Occasionally this leads to questionable racial connotations (red men on the red planet) and cringe-worthy gendered characterizations (“I would rather stay and die with you, my chieftain!” or something). But at other times we find hilarious misunderstandings for the modern reader. For example, the chapter entitled “Lovemaking on Mars” includes nothing more scandalous than John accidentally grazing the bare shoulder of the Helium Princess. Steamy stuff.

Considering the time period and his icky military history, John Carter is a surprisingly sympathetic protagonist. He is, essentially, the classic hero of a Western, and Barsoom does look suspiciously like Arizona. The many times crypto-Victorian princess Dejah Thoris cringes behind him during a battle scene get annoying, I’ll admit, but by the second installment we have a much more active heroine: Thuvia, who protects her own honor quite adeptly by just shooting evildoers with Carter’s revolver.

The science is outdated, the romance is somewhat silly (Helium Princess, really?) and the writing is mannered, but we still read Jane Austen don’t we? We made “Twilight” a major franchise and eagerly await the return of “Game of Thrones” on HBO. I’ll go so far as to add that “Avatar,” with its Noble Savages and white hero, is quite like the John Carter books, and let’s not forget that “Avatar” came 97 years late to great critical acclaim.

“A Princess of Mars” and the rest of the John Carter books aren’t great literature, but even in 1912, they weren’t intended to be. Burroughs’s writing is fast-paced, entertaining, and readable today (not to mention the first three books are 99 cents digitally). If nothing else, they’re fun to make fun of. But I warn you, it’s not hard to get emotionally invested: When I turned the last virtual page on my Kindle, I was still holding my breath for the cliffhanger.

Of course, if you still feel you might be embarrassed reading “A Princess of Mars” and its sequels, just tell your critics that doing it … ironically.

China Mieville keeps getting weirder (and that’s a win for all of us)

20 Jun

“Weird fiction” writer China Mieville doesn’t write space opera (or at least he hasn’t yet), but even so (perhaps because of it), his non-human races are nonpareil.  The khepri, garuda, and vodyanoi of Bas-Lag are foreign and compelling, but Perdido Street Station, The Scar, and Iron Council are most memorable as masterpieces of crypto-communist steampunk.  Kraken was completely different, a thriller-detective-theological hybrid.  And now we have Mieville’s latest literary work, Embassytown, my favorite without a doubt (and here I was thinking nothing but Gormenghast was better than Perdido Street Station), with the most breathtaking alien race I’ve ever read (and that includes The Gods Themselves).

But let me stop title-dropping and write a little more coherently (with less parenthetical asides).

You could call China Mieville’s writing style schizophrenic–if he weren’t so good at everything.  Every book he has come out with has been different–wildly different–from the last.  Maybe he’s experimenting with narrative.  Maybe he gets bored easily.  Maybe he doesn’t want to be pigeonholed.  “Weird Fiction,” after all, as far as genre categorization goes, doesn’t tell readers much.  And neither can I, except that I’m in raptures and YOU HAVE TO READ THIS BOOK:

Click for Amazon.

China Miéville doesn’t follow trends, he sets them. Relentlessly pushing his own boundaries as a writer—and in the process expanding the boundaries of the entire field—withEmbassytown, Miéville has crafted an extraordinary novel that is not only a moving personal drama but a gripping adventure of alien contact and war.

In the far future, humans have colonized a distant planet, home to the enigmatic Ariekei, sentient beings famed for a language unique in the universe, one that only a few altered human ambassadors can speak.

Avice Benner Cho, a human colonist, has returned to Embassytown after years of deep-space adventure. She cannot speak the Ariekei tongue, but she is an indelible part of it, having long ago been made a figure of speech, a living simile in their language.

When distant political machinations deliver a new ambassador to Arieka, the fragile equilibrium between humans and aliens is violently upset. Catastrophe looms, and Avice is torn between competing loyalties—to a husband she no longer loves, to a system she no longer trusts, and to her place in a language she cannot speak yet speaks through her.

 

This has been a production of the Scattering’s “Least Helpful Books Reviews” series.  I’m going to blame the whole “applying to grad school” thing.

The 12th Planet: I (don’t) want to believe

17 May

I realize that I read more science fiction and fantasy than is probably healthy for an individual, but even so, I think I have yet a modicum of intelligence and reason left in my head–which is why I gaped in shock and horror to find a copy of Zecharia Sitchin’s The 12th Planet in the back seat of my father’s car when we went to breakfast this morning.

For those of you who don’t know, The 12th Planet (1977) is the first installation of Sitchin’s “Earth Chronicles,” a seven-part series in which he attempts to prove that we are not alone in the universe:

Basically, all those Old Testament stories people have passed off as myths are really, literally true.  Fear our celestial overlords!  The Nefilim built the pyramids, and they can tear them down too.  (Note that Sitchin has collected indisputable proof.)

Oy vey.

The book has received some attention recently, probably because the final volume of the Earth Chronicles, The End of Days, was released just a few years ago–and what better to do in our last year of existence (or last week, if you expect to be taken up in the Rapture this Saturday) than read the “nonfiction” ravings of a crackpot writer?

I’m sorry, that’s unfair.  Zecharia Sitchin is a reasearcher, of sorts.  He is proficient in multiple ancient languages, Sumerian cuneiform purportedly among them.  He claims that his assertions in The 12th Planet are based on textual analysis of the original texts–the Hebrew OT, the Babylonian Epic of Gilgamesh, those mysterious cuneiform tablets, etc., et al.  Of course, the more *respectable* scientists and academics reject Sitchin’s hypotheses as the work of faulty interpretation of ancient texts and flawed astronomical information.  Personally, I think he simply suffers from an overactive X-Files Mentality.  In other words, he wants to believe.

I don’t.

That back cover blurb alone should be enough to make a reader with the barest amount of sense laugh out loud.  Until she realizes that the book is being sold as nonfiction, and that there are those (including the author) who believe every word.  Then the reading experience just gets sad–and more than a little creepy.

There are a number of problems with The 12th Planet:

1. Not only does Sitchin employ (more than) questionable methodology in fashioning his claims, believing those claims requires us the readers to shunt aside all sorts of scientific explanations of phenomena for which there is actual evidence.  Oh, like human evolution.  Here’s an excerpt from the first chapter:

“The unanswered question is: Why–why did civilization come about at all?  For, as most scholars now admit in frustration, by all data Man should still be without civilization.  There is no obvious reason that we should be any more civilized than the primitive tribes of the Amazon jungles…

But, we are told, these tribesmen still live as if in the Stone Age because they have been isolated.  But isolated from what?  If they have been living on the same Earth as we, why have they not acquired the same knowledge of sciences and technologies on their own as we supposedly have?”

How about we read this instead, okay?

Astonishing!  I don’t think anyone has ever tried to answer that question before.  Except Jared Diamond.  Ever heard of Guns, Germs, and Steel?  Yeah, it’s that one that won the Pulitzer some years back.  Sorry, Zeke.

I won’t even get into that second part, in which Sitchin seems to imply that scientific knowledge is just chillin’ in the aether somewhere, waiting for some “primitive bushman” to pick it out of the air.  That’s for another paragraph.  What’s truly astonishing is where Sitchin goes from here.

One of the plethora of Discovery Channel conspiracy theory programs will attempt to raise questions about the origins of civilization–did space aliens give us knowledge and sink Atlantis in their rage, or something?  Sitchin says yes, the evolution of human civilization is actually extraterrestrial in origin.  And, he adds, modern man did not really evolve from the primordial ooze.  Male and female the aliens created them, because it would take too long to make apes talk.

That seems to me a total non sequitur, but it’s not like I can read cuneiform.  I bet those evolutionary biologists can’t either–so there!

2.  The second major problem I have with the whole “ancient astronauts” thing goes beyond Sitchin’s book.  My question is: Why is it so hard to believe that humans, with their own minds and their own contemporary technology, could have built the pyramids?  Because it’s always about the pyramids.  “They’re so geometrically perfect,” a Sitchinite might exclaim, “and how could they move those big rocks?”  There are a number of construction method hypotheses, all of them more plausible than the one that requires alien overlords cracking the whip.

Perhaps more disturbingly is the underlying racial prejudices inherent in this argument.  I had a professor of archaeology my freshman year who worked on ancient Mesoamerican cultures.  He seemed to have a bit of a chip on his shoulder when it came to the Mayans.  Why does everyone think the Mayans are so mysterious? he asked, multiple times during the semester.  He was a scientist, and had all sorts of perfectly reasonable (and more than that–empirical) explanations for the mysteries of the Maya.  And yet, the dilettantes of pseudoscience and pseudohistory seemed unable to resist groping for the mystical.

Because, of course, indigenous peoples of non-European origin must be primitive bushmen, right?

If it isn’t apparent by now that I’m intensely annoyed by The 12th Planet, let me be clear:

Zecharia Sitchin’s Earth Chronicles Series ranks among the very worst of pseudoscientific and pseudohistorical “nonfiction.”  It may be some people read books like his for entertainment, or because they have a case of the X-Files, but I for one think something like The 12th Planet cannot go without even this meager rebuttal.  Zecharia Sitchin’s books feed into the worst popular conceptions of ancient civilization, and commit an unforgivable crime: they rape history, underestimating and belittling the fully human people who lived before us.

That’s not okay.  And I sincerely hope my father was reading it as a joke.

Just Out! Peace Army, by Steven L. Hawk (Book 2, Peace Warrior Trilogy)

17 Apr

Last December, I reviewed Peace Warrior, a military SF novel by author Steven L. Hawk.  It was good.  Really good.  Which is why I’m thrilled to announce that the second installment is live on Amazon… right now.

A full review of Peace Army is forthcoming, but since I’m “booked up” for a few months already, I just wanted to get a quick plug up for Hawk’s second novel.  I don’t generally like to count my reptiloid alien eggs before they hatch, but Peace Warrior was such a fantastic, fast-paced read that I thought I’d start getting the word out.  When I get the official Peace Army review up, I’ll let you know if Hawk has a stunning sequel or a sophomore slump, but until then, enjoy the book blurb:

It’s been six years since Grant Justice was brought back to life to help the Peaceful citizens of Earth defeat the Minith. Life should be good. The Minith are gone. Grant now has a loving wife and a remarkable son. He is a hero to the society that once shunned him. But Grant hasn’t been taking life easy. He’s been recruiting fighters away from Peace. He’s been cobbling together an army from the dregs of society and training them to fight. Which is a good thing, because another alien Mothership is headed their way. It will reach Earth in less than a week.

Grant and his forces have been preparing for this day. They must be the… Peace Army.

For those who are interested, here are the links to my two prior reviews of Peace Warrior:

I’m with Team Human

Final Verdict: Peace Warrior

Rasputin Wants YOU! to read Whom God Would Destroy

12 Apr

Bless you, Alexis, and be cured of your haemophilia!

Or maybe that’s just my interpretation of this absolutely bizarre book trailer–and who better to have made it than the mysterious, mystical, highly heterodox Commander Pants?

The good Commander, you might recall, is the author of a delightfully blasphemous book, Whom God Would Destroy–which, as you might also recall, I reviewed a couple months ago.  If you don’t recall, you can read about the winner of the Spring 2011 Heretic Badge of Honor right here.

In any case, here’s the book trailer.  Watch and enjoy–unless you’re a person particularly susceptible to hypnosis, subliminal messages, and/or the piercing eyes of a really messed-up Russian mystic.  If you have any of the above weaknesses, you might want to click on another hyperlink, any other hyperlink, and get far away from here while you still can.  Just some friendly advice.

Bonus points to the first person to spot Rasputin.  And when I say bonus points, I mean it in the Whose Line way.

Yet Another Canadian Science Fiction Novel (Keepers of the Rose)

12 Apr

There are three major trends I’m noticing in contemporary science fiction:

1. Apocalyptic 2012 Scenarios

2. Video “Book Trailers”

3. Canadian SF authors

The first is easy to explain–we’re all going to die next year, so why not spend our leisure time reading about all the multifarious ways it might happen?  Of course, we of the Ray Kurzweil camp would rather spend our time reading about all the multifarious ways we’re going to turn into robots or cyborgs or floating brains when the end of the world (as we know it) happens in 2045, with the Singularity.  But still, I don’t see an end to the End of Days novels, at least not yet.

Another interesting trend is the “book trailer”–so long blurb!  In a society that privileges the visual, getting people to read might be hard.  Getting people to watch a brief video about getting people to read may be, paradoxically, a bit easier.  Who’da thunk it?  Anyway, when you start getting book trailers during ad slots on Hulu, you know it’s not a fad.  Book trailers are legit, and now that the novelty is beginning to wear off, us mainstream folks can join the bleeding-edge hipster crowd in watching them.

And finally–I don’t mean to be overly-nationalistic or anything, but can the United States not produce star science fiction writers anymore?  We’re Americans, dammit!  My favorite contemporary sf authors all seem to hail from that punctiliously polite nation to the north, Canada.  Okay, so maybe it’s really just Cory Doctorow, but he’s so prolific that the Canadian contribution to the genre is becoming disproportionately large.  (And now checking off the to-do list: plug Cory Doctorow this month)

In any case, and to get to the point (don’t blame me, I warned you in the URL, didn’t I?)–I have come across a book which combines these three trends in a trinity of indie science fiction.  Reviews are forthcoming this summer, but why not strike while the iron is hot?  And why the hell not use as many mixed metaphors as I can?  Who knows–the Mayans could have been off a year, and we’ll be gone tomorrow.  So:

Here’s the cutting-edge book trailer and old-fashioned blurb for D.J. Dalasta’s novel The Keeper of the Rose.  From what I can see, It’s a MesoAmerican cross between Dan Brown and Clive Cussler’s Dirk Pitt series (my favorite books through 5th grade, for the record):

Nestled off the coast of a charming little town in Nova Scotia, Oak Island is home to the longest running treasure hunt in modern times. The secrets hidden on the small piece of land have been thwarting treasure seekers for over two hundred years, consuming millions of dollars and costing multiple lives. For famed treasure hunter, Rock Tilton, the island is nothing more than an obsession.

When Rock receives a call from his ex-wife, archaeologist Anna Riley, to help with the excavation, he finds himself on the next plane to Canada. Rock arrives at the location to find Anna wedged in the middle of an escalating feud, pulled between a covert organization, The Keepers of the Rose and an aloof but influential corporation, The Delega Group. As the two sides become increasingly hostile, Rock begins to realize that the secrets buried on Oak Island may contain lost information about the prophesized events in 2012. As he is pulled into a world of secrets and murder he must decide if the truth is worth more than the people he loves.

Just for the record, I don’t know if DJ Dalasta actually hails from Canada–but the book’s set there!  What American would set their book in Canadia!?  fnhjk gbkh Jesus Christ! cnr oho Manifest Destiny! fnrj fqogfhr bjkv xb Dubya! ncd qbehjq Grand Ole Party! chjg fiqbfh [here endeth patriotic rant]

What the Heaven and Hell!? (V gets religious)

29 Jan

Or, how a show I used to really enjoy has suspended my suspension of disbelief.

I wanted to write this a week ago, but there is no wrath, after all, like an atheist socked in the face with preachy religious messages in the middle of a science fiction program that’s supposed to be about, well, science fiction, and I didn’t want to have a completely incoherent rant splashed all over search engines for the rest of time.  After two-ish years of science fiction blogging, I still have some dignity.  Maybe.

So here goes:

I’ve been reviewing ABC’s alien invasion drama V since it premiered last year.  I was thrilled with the show: Elizabeth Mitchell and Morena Baccarin are both fantastic actresses, and to see them face off in an intergalactic war seemed pretty exciting.  I’ll admit–part of me was trying to fill that LOST-shaped hole in my heart, and FlashForward just wasn’t doing it.  FF had the plot twists, but V had the characters worth caring about.

There’s the FBI agent turned terrorist, the omnicompetent mercenary who can kill soldier aliens with a shovel, the slick tv anchor with access to the mothership,  the turncoat reptiloid traitor, and the Catholic priest who lets them plot and plan their revolution against the Visitors in the basement of his church.  Meanwhile, they banter and make Thorn Birds references.  This season they added that son of Satan from Reaper as the smart-ass scientist, and at last the cast was complete.  It would sound like the premise for a really bizarre sitcom–if the fate of the universe weren’t at stake.

It’s not surprising that the priest, Father Jack Landry, grated on my nerves at first.  He was so dreadfully naive–letting vital information slip to all the wrong people, and biting his fingernails over violence (this is a revolution, buddy).  But he grew on me–mostly because he’s just such a terrible priest.  For God’s sake, there’s a mercenary weapons expert torturing a captive in the middle of the rectory!  Not to mention the whole Jack-Landry-breaks-the-Seal-of-the-Confessional-to-his-own-personal-confessor,-the-FBI-agent thing, which is kind of a bad sin, for a priest.

Simply put, I liked the show–and I defended it against Kate the Lostie, who was all the time pushing me toward Fringe and Minecraft videos.

But I stopped watching halfway through episode 2.2, “Serpent’s Tooth,” and haven’t started up again.  Here’s the thing:

Season One dealt very well with the differences between humans and Visitors.  At that time, it was all about emotion–namely, love (and even more namely, love of a mother for her children).  Reason’s great and all, but love was what worried V Queen Anna most of all.  And in a fantastic season finale twist, Anna herself experienced her first burst of human emotion (rage) when her own children (well, creepy soldier children reptile eggs) were… er… frozen to death by the Fifth Column.

This season, the emphasis has shifted.  In one of the most ridiculous television scenes I have ever had the misfortune of watching:

Apparently, what makes humans human isn’t emotion, empathy, love–it’s The Soul.

“I have human skin, I feel, but I need you to tell me something…” Ryan begs of Father J, “Do I have a soul!”

(Cut scene) “I will isolate it in the medical bay!” Anna exclaims.

(Cut again) “Every creature can feel the grace of God!” Jack tells Ryan.

(And again) “It’s too complex!” cries Diana.

*cue creepy piano music*

Oh, I’ll pick V up again when I can find it on Megavideo, I guess.  But I won’t be so naively happy about it myself, and I don’t know that I’ll ever get that immersion experience that a good story–print or film–can give you if it successfully suspends your disbelief.  If the show continues along this path, viewers have to accept that “humanity” in the world of Anna and Jack is defined in terms of religion.

No, the idea of a soul isn’t very controversial in the United States, but to base an entire science fiction series on it is… jarring (and a lot harder to deny in V than it ever was in the at-times-somewhat-spiritual LOST).  I’m an American Studies major–I’ll learn to look at V the way I do any other historical artifact: as a product of its time and culture.  But who really wants to be a scholar watching tv?

Attack of the Anthropologists (Retro SF Review #1)

19 Jan

Katherine MacLean is a fey young woman whose career is curiosity.

Even if it didn’t have the connotations it has today, “fey” is kind of a weird term to describe someone by.  The dictionary gives three definitions:

1. giving an impression of vague unworldliness

2. having supernatural powers of clairvoyance

3. fated to die at the point of death (Scottish)

These definitions make perfect sense when we’re talking about Eowyn calling Aragorn “fey” in The Return of the King, but none for a science fiction writer whose short stories aren’t paranormal romance, or whatever they’re calling it these days.  And while he story “Unhuman Sacrifice” in the anthology A Century of Science Fiction references God many times, it’s not because there’s spooky stuff going on down yonder planet–it’s because one of the characters is a crazy missionary trying to witness to an alien people who become convinced that he’s an evil spirit who lives inside the translator machine… and shouts at them.

But the rest of Damon Knights description of MacLean’s writing sounds right:

“Unhuman Sacrifice,” first published in Astounding in 1958, is a subtle interweaving of anthropology, social comment, depth psychology, irony, deadpan humor.  There are pointed comments here on good intentions, religious differences, the pursuit of happiness, and how not to interpret anthropological data …”

Note: This is a review about retro sci-fi, written in the retro Scattering style.  Meaning it’s scattered, rambling, and self-indulgent.  Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

Oh, anthropology.  Dear, dear anthropology.  Do any of ye readers not know that the two groups of people I unswervingly despise are sopranos and anthropology majors?  I always thought it was because they have an elitist attitude toward historians, their methodology is ridiculous, and they are, frankly, second to none in obnoxiousity when students (second place: English majors who talk too much in class, but never actually get to a point, and all the while don’t wear shoes).  But maybe I loathe them because at a very young age, I read “Unhuman Sacrifice.”

When Revent (read Reverend) Winton comes to the planet–well we don’t really know the name of the planet–on engineers Charlie and Henderson’s ship, he is elated to find that the new found land has a native population he can witness too.  Pity he’s a terrible preacher–as Charlie and Henderson are sure, Winton was made a missionary to get him as far, far away from human beings as possible.  Charlie and Henderson, as well, threaten Winton with the disapproval of anthropologists were he to tamper with the natives.

“Revent, I appeal to you, tampering is dangerous.  Let us go back and report this planet, and let the government send a survey ship.  When the scientists arrive, if they find we have been tampering with the natives’ customs without waiting for advice, they will consider it a crime.  We will be notorious in scientific journals.  We’ll be considered responsible for any damage the natives sustain.”

The good Revent doesn’t really give a you-know-what.  God is on his side!  He annointed Winton with His Holy Seal of Faith to do His Mighty Purpose.  Or whatever.  The result is, as I’m sure you can guess, disaster.

But let’s stop with Henderson’s quote a few lines up.

Take a deep breath.

Am I reading this right, or am I reading this right?  There is a government-sponsored, Intergalactic Department of Anthropology?  A part of me cheers that academia hasn’t died; and a bigger part cries that they wouldn’t send historians.  John Lewis Gaddis in The Landscape of History speculates that, if multiple extraterrestrial intelligences were found, history would be more than a social science–it would be a natural science.  Natural sciences such as geology, paleontology, astronomy, and others, after all, are concerned with studying change over time–comparatively.  Historians study change over time in human behavior.  Once we get aliens: it’s comparative, and we move into the fancy new buildings on campus with the nice lecture halls.

Score!

But not in MacLean’s universe–in MacLean’s universe, it’s the anthropologists directing the search for and study of extraterrestrial life.  To their credit, it seems that they’re strictly opposed to interference.  I means, historians already know not to interfere with their subjects because they… kind of can’t.  But I’ll take what I can get.

The point of all this is that the fey Katherine MacLean composed a flawlessly-written story with a horrifyingly good twist ending, incorporating issues of religious hypocrisy and academic integrity all the while.  Oh, and did I mention the native population has a stage of life in which they turn into plants?  And that even the scientist visitors (Charlie and Henderson) completely misunderstand this and try to stop what they see as barbarity?

Funny, that sounds like another book I’ve read: Xenocide, by Orson Scott Card (third in the Ender series).  Let me give a brief summary of Xenocide:

Anthropologists control interaction with alien life forms.  A religious mission sets up on a planet with an indigenous population.  This population has a stage of life in which they turn into plants.  Scientific visitors completely misunderstand this and try to stop what they see as barbarity.

OSC does insert an interesting subplot about OCD, religion in a population of the seriously mentally-ill, discussions of genetic determinism, and an emergent superintelligence on the intergalactic Internet.  But the parallels between Xenocide and “Unhuman Sacrifice” are clear.  And when I look at Speaker for the Dead–something of a science fiction manifesto for the writing of history–I wonder if OSC didn’t meet some snotty anthropologists in his life too.  And I wonder, too, if Card read Astounding in his youth, and a particular story by a few young woman whose career was curiosity…


Now Reading: SEAMS16 A New Home

12 Jan

While I finish up Tag, I’ll be downloading Eric B. Thomasma’s first in a series, SEAMS16: A New Home:

Charlie and Susan Samplin make a new home for themselves on the finest repair depot in space. On the Space Equipment Authority’s Maintenance Station 16, Charlie discovers that he has a natural talent for the station’s favorite pastime, Zeegee, a zero gravity sport. He also finds satisfaction professionally when his skills as a technician are finally allowed to shine. Susan finds life on the station stimulating too, as she makes many new friends, including Station Director Sureenon and his wife, Penny.

But soon, a series of mysterious mishaps occur in seemingly unrelated systems, one of which results in the death of a co-worker.  Charlie suspects the one person he doesn’t get along with, but others disagree. The mishaps stop as mysteriously as they started-for a time-but when an old friend comes aboard they begin again, leading to the discovery of a device that can only be alien technology. But who brought it on board and why? Join Charlie and Susan as they work together with new friends and old to solve the mystery and discover A New Home.

That’s all fine and dandy, but my worry is that Charlie and Susan are going to get sucked out to space if they don’t seal up that airlock.  Space mechanics to the rescue!

Mommy Issues (ABC’s V, ep 2.1: “Red Sky”)

5 Jan

There was a time in my life when everything I read, or watched, or thought reminded me of LOST.  I’m not saying that’s quite over, but Kate the Lostie is Kate the Fringe Fan these days, and more and more I’m seeing J. J. Abrams’s other show in everything I read, watch, and think.  I’ve been texting myself descriptions of my déjà vus just so I can learn about what Parallel Universe Isabela’s like.

So when we learned last night on the season two premiere of ABC’s V that Erica Evans, FBI agent and Fifth Column High Commander, may have been experimented on while pregnant with her son Tyler, my first thought was, quite naturally, “Cortexiphan!”  More like a phosphorous supplement, but still.  Erica and her son are the Chosen Ones.  No wonder Erica had that weird psychic dream about acidic red rain.  No wonder Tyler’s so effing annoying.

But let’s back up:

The Ensemble

Season one closed with “Red Sky”—remember?  The episode where Lisa the Lizard Princess gives Erica a Blue Energy alien bomb and Erica explodes Anna’s spawning soldier children, causing Anna to experience her first human emotions and, in a fit of vengeance, “initiate the sequence.”  All these months I’ve been wondering what that meant.  All we saw on the finale was that it made the sky turn red.

Well I admit, that’s pretty freaky.  The people of V thought so too, and all the adoration, appreciation, and adulation the masses had for the Visitors last season quickly turned to riots, wrath, and religion.  Tyler was stupid enough to wear his peace ambassador uniform on the street and got beaten up.  I was kind of pleased about it, but, admittedly, that’s probably a bad sign about the state of society.

And when the titular “Red Rain” starts to fall, it doesn’t become a YouTube musical sensation—it’s pure chaos.

Father Landry goes back to the church (figures), Kyle Hobbes starts stockpiling guns (figures), and Chad Decker has an emotional breakdown (finally).  Erica shouts at Anna for an explanation about the Red Sky.  No harm done—Anna’s pretty sure they’re besties now.

Things would seem good for the Fifth Column right about now.  A random New Yorker and fervent Tea Partier (okay, so that part’s speculation) sums up the public attitude:

“If Anna’s bringing Armageddon, I’m goin’ out fighting!”

Hell. Yes.

Anna and Marcus

There’s even dissention in the ranks of the V elite.  Marcus, ever the cold-blooded reptile, warns Anna that some of her ships’ captains are suspicious that she’s being infected by that perfidious human emotion.  Anna has to flense and impale one of them just to prove she’s still the reptile queen at heart.  I mean… er… well you know what I mean.

The killing continues in the nursery.  Out of the hundreds (thousands?) of soldier eggs she laid last season, only six survived the bomb.  In “Red Rain,” Anna and Marcus take a little trip to the intensive care unit, in which Anna takes her babies off life support in a symbolic act of destroying the thing that made her weak and emotional: her children.  Marcus approves, but then, he doesn’t see the pain on her face when she turns away and… sniffles?

Then there’s the problem of the rioting humans down on the ground, who are pretty convinced that she sky is bleeding and the End of Days is just around the corner.  The people are ripe for a revolution, but the people are fickle, and they easily accept Anna’s explanation that it’s a cleansing gift that’s going to clean up the ocean, stop global warming, and save the polar bears.

Still, Anna’s on shaky ground, and that’s a change for the Lizard Queen, who was calling all the shots last season.  This time around, she has something to prove—and notably, she needs to prove it to Marcus, her closest advisor and the epitome of V violence and dispassion.  If Anna wants to keep her power, she needs the approval of this guy.

Oh right, and her mother, who apparently lives in some jungle nest in the bowels of the ship.

Anna and Erica

Agent Evans is sitting pretty in “Red Sky.”  No matter that the FBI’s been infiltrated by the reptiloids and Erica’s leader of a terrorist cell—Anna has complete confidence that Erica, Fifth Column mastermind, is her most trusted ally on Earth.  Erica’s close enough to the seat of power that she can just fly on up to the mothership and talk to Anna pretty much whenever she wants.

The linchpin in this relationship is (gag) her son Tyler, Lisa’s paramour, who has decided once again that he wants to live up on the ship.  On the one hand, it keeps Erica in the inner circle.  On the other, Anna has some seriously nefarious plans for Tyler that definitely involve breeding.

Erica, we learn in “Red Rain,” had an unusually high level of phosphorous in the blood while she was pregnant with Tyler—after being experimented on by aliens.  And that’s what the red rain is: phosphorous.  Turns out Anna doesn’t care about climate change (gasp!) unless it’s about making the climate more suitable for raising reptile babies.  Fun times.

Lisa and Tyler and Joshua (oh my!)

There have always been a lot of mommy issues in this show.  Lisa’s mommy dearest, recall, had her legs broken as a public relations stunt against the Fifth Column.  That’s pretty harsh.

For her mother, the princess plays the dutiful daughter: meaning, she seduces Tyler once and for all, as Anna surveils them.  But Lisa’s character is growing increasingly complex: she’s not the tortured teenage V of last season.  She’s actively conspiring with Erica against Anna, actively conspiring with Erica against Marcus, actively conspiring with Anna against Tyler, actively conspiring with Joshua except that he seems to have lost his memory—and all the while I still can’t tell who she’s really in love with.  Still rooting for Josh; still guessing it’s Tyler.

Oh, dear dear Tyler Evans.  It’s no secret that I can’t stand your blank expressions and terrible acting.  As Kate the Lostie commented: “I tried to watch the first episode, but his smile was too annoying.”  Per usual, he didn’t do anything exciting last night except get hit on the head and have his face dissolve with terrible special effects in Erica’s psychic dream about Anna threatening to kill Erica’s child for payback.

Of course it won’t happen—not now that Tyler’s all phosphored up and going to be the Lizard King or whatever.

Ryan and… It

But let’s not forget Ryan and Val’s hybrid baby girl, currently unnamed.  With Val out of the way, and Ryan all Blissed up, Anna snatched the ugly little thing away and appointed herself both mother and captor.

“Every being in the world understands a mother’s pain when her child suffers,” Anna tells Erica, truthfully for once.  That pain made Anna weak last season, and in “Red Rain” it looks like Anna’s using that lesson to weaken Ryan.  Marcus is shocked when Anna decides to send Ryan back to Earth—he’ll join back up with the Fifth Column!  Of course, that’s exactly what she wants: a man on the inside she can manipulate.

Jack and Chad

Erica might be buying Ryan’s sincerity, but Jack (Jack!) is finally on the same page as the ever-paranoid Kyle Hobbes.  “What would you do to protect Tyler?” the priest asks, “At some pt, Ryan’s going to have to make a choice: his daughter or us.”

I’ve been ragging on Father Jack Landry as the most naïve member of the Fifth Column for a whole season now, and it seems that at last he might be learning the pilot episode “Don’t trust anyone” lesson.  But this season, for the first time: Jack’s actually in a position to do something.

This time last year, Chad Decker was wheedling information out of Father Jack, just like any good reporter can.  He was Anna’s mouthpiece, praising the Live Aboard Program (AKA, abduction and experimentation initiative) the high heavens and allowing V doctors to save him from a potentially-fatal aneurysm, all on live tv.  But Chad realized what I’ve been thinking all along, that the Vs gave him the aneurysm.  Now, after witnessing Anna’s experiments on humans firsthand in the season one finale, Chad’s feeling responsible.  And where do you go when you need absolution?  A priest.

Chad wants forgiveness, and practically begs Jack to let him into the Fifth Column clubhouse.  He wants to fight back—publish a report and broadcast interviews about and from the victims of Anna’s experimentation.  But just as Erica shrewdly keeps Tyler close to Anna, Chad has to preserve his relationship with the high queen as well.  If he can make Anna believe he’s still her town crier, he’ll be the Fifthers’ most valuable inside man.

Chin up, Chad, you’re a journalist—you’ll be a great actor.

Hobbes and the New Guy

The Fifth Column, after all, doesn’t need more soldiers yet—at least not when they have a badass like Kyle Hobbes.  Hobbes did have some shady dealings with Marcus last season, but it still seems like he’s committed to the Fifth Column.  And the writers still seem committed to giving him the best lines ever.  Him and the new guy, anyway.

The Fifth Column has a new recruit, and whoever’s in charge of casting did a great job.  So maybe Bret Harrison (of Grounded for Life and Reaper semi-fame) doesn’t look like a PhD.  But the Fifth Column lost Georgie last year, and some comic relief is definitely in order.

When the Visitors take out Ellis Watts, an environmental scientist beginning to suspect the true nature and purpose of the red rain, they overlook the true brains behind the operation: his young associate Sidney Miller, who’s squirreled away “Alpha,” the skeleton of a V he found in a mysterious mass grave in New Mexico, in his janitor closet-like office.

Needless to say—and especially after he sees Hobbes kill a V tracker on their trail—Sidney Miller isn’t going anywhere.  “I’m not a fighter!” he protests.  And Hobbes:

“We don’t need your fists, we need your brain.  And if you say no, we’ll kill you…  Ahh, relax.  I’m kidding.  Maybe.”

So the Fifth Column club gets themselves a scientist with comedic timing to rival Hobbes’s.

“Anna’s a lizard?” Miller asks.  “That sucks.  She’s so hot.”  (cue incredulity)  “Sorry… I joke when I’m nervous.”

When Miller calms down, he explains what’s been hinted at throughout the episode: the red rain is changing the planet and human physiology to make them capable of bearing little Visitors.  Cue horror, and Hobbes:

“So, first they want to invade us, then they want to shag us.”

Pretty much.

“Red Rain” is, essentially, about children.  Using them, manipulating them, breeding, killing, protecting them, and all that jazz.  And in my opinion at least, that’s a smart way to handle a galactic plot: make it about relationships.  Humans vs. Visitors boils down to Erica vs. Anna, a much more manageably-scaled sort of conflict.