Tag Archives: Science Fiction

A late ‘Arrival’ – Film Review


The most notable cinematic aliens to visit Monatana (since the Star Trekkers brought the Borg) have landed there and in eleven other global locations.  Linguist, Dr. Louise Banks, (Amy Adams) and Theoretical Physicist, Ian Donnelly, (Jeremy Renner) are sent to work out what they want. All global locations are on high alert as they try to work together in the race for a breakthrough. The U.S. Military is represented by a benign Colonel Weber (Forest Whitaker) while intelligence is served by an obtuse Agent Halpern (Michael Stuhlbarg).

arrival

Director Denis Villeneuve delivers the action at a slow and steady rate; his sense of apprehension-building makes the film seem to have more pace than it actually does.  The majority of scenes are interiors; mixed with the apprehension, this gives the film an appropriately claustrophobic and tense quality. The Sci-fi elements are set into a more grounded world to which we can relate. It follows more in the vein of Interstellar, Moon or Contact rather than the spectacles and high ideals of Star Wars and Star Trek. It is refreshingly subdued and contained for the sci fi genre.

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All performances are appropriately understated; Amy Adams gives a subtle, thoughtful and retro-reflective performance as a bereaved mother and we are given a series of somewhat disconnected yet touching memories of her relationship with her daughter as she battles to understand the Alien dialect.  Jeremy Renner does his Jeremy Renner thing, with glasses because he is a mathematician, but does not feel out of place while doing it. Forest Whitaker brings an almost too benign and understanding quality to his Army Colonel and following with the film’s muted tone Stuhlbarg’s spiteful investigator is wonderfully snide rather than brash and loud.

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There is an already contentious feature spliced into the plot which is no more bizarre than Interstellar and already some people are finding silly. While it could have dug deeper into an explanation of a few of these plot devices I still found it to be gentle, cozy and delivered endearingly despite its simplicity. It would sit comfortably beside “A.I.” in a sci-fi collection.

I came away with a warm content monies-worth feeling. Overall it worked for me.

7/10

Arrival on IMDB

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Oblivion – Tom Cruise – Review


Tom Cruise is back on our screens with a slick looking ‘dying Earth’ sci-fi yarn, though he will have to work a lot harder to catch up with Bruce Willis’ tally of saving the world 11 times (so far).

(Next  paragraph contains info from any trailer you may have watched.)

Jack (Cruise) and his partner Victoria (Andrea Riseborough) are stationed on Earth sixty years after Aliens have invaded and been beaten. But the world has been left exhausted and barely habitable. They oversee the extraction of water for the off world populations use. Spherical Drones skim the planet’s surface hunting down the minority of aliens (Scavs) left alive. Tom is a drone mechanic.

There is nothing new here. To put it in Sci-Fi terms it begins a little like an inversion of Waterworld mixed with Wall-E, then dips in and out of Philip K. Dick , stealing from Robocop along the way (heavily armoured drones), before turning all Mad Max and then settling into a sort of Independence Day plus smatterings of I Am Legend and all with Adam and Eve overtones.

It is romanticised and simplified, with some very cheesy lines, and some terrible plot holes. Without spoiling anything just watch out for where the ‘recording’ ends and where it comes from in the first place. If it hadn’t been part of their contract  these Aliens could easily have wiped us out decades earlier.

None of the acting is out of place but I’d love to see Cruise to take more roles like Rain Man, Born on the Fourth of July and especially Magnolia, we know he can do cool under pressure, he’s more fun when he’s unhinged.

Though they are a little ripped off, for me, the drones were the stars.

Given the choice I’d watch Prometheus again first.

4/10

Oblivion is in Cinemas now.

Check your local Irish Cinema here

Isaac Asimov; My Small Tribute.


Isaac Asimov was a literary hurdle I managed to avoid for a couple of decades and looking back  I do not know why.

Science Fiction and Me

I read the Lord of the Rings trilogy twice and then the Chronicles of Thomas Covenant once (that was enough), Philip K Dick, Arthur C. Clarke, Stephen Baxter and a smattering of other fantasy and science fiction writers.

Whenever I told sci-fi fans about my ideas for stories many of them asked if I had read Isaac Asimov. Until a few years ago the answer was “No”, then I picked up a second hand copy of Foundation.

Within three pages my imagination was knocked out, tied up and thrown into the back of a spaceship. I devoured five of the seven Foundation books in less than two months and then dined on three of his Robot short story compilations.

Before I run through his brief biography (because a full one has already filled two volumes) I will give you an example of his influence.

The American company called U.S. Robotics founded in 1976  and sells high speed modems which fuel internet access was named after “the greatest company in the known galaxy” U.S. Robots and Mechanical Men, from Asimov’s novel I, Robot (1950).

Three Laws of Robotics

Asimov created the now famous three laws of Robotics which bind most of the robots involved in his stories. I’ll let him explain them to you.

A Brief History of Isaac Asimov

Born in Russia in 1920, his parents moved to Brooklyn when he was three years old. His high functioning memory helped him finish high school at the age of sixteen.

His father wanted him to study medicine but instead he pursued chemistry in Columbia University and after a brief stint in the army he graduated with a doctorate in 1949.

Asimov went on to teach in Boston University’s School of medicine and by 1955 became associate Professor of Chemistry. But by that time he had been a published science fiction writer for 16 years and the pressures of both careers were beginning to show.Asimov retired to be a full time writer in 1958 but still kept links to the University.

His first short story Marooned off Vesta was published in Amazing Stories in 1939, he was only nineteen. Then his stories began to appear in the leading science fiction magazines.

By the end of his career he had published over 500 works including mystery novels, a four volume History of North America, a two-volume Guide to the Bible, a biographical dictionary, encyclopaedias, books on many aspects of science and a two volume autobiography.

He won the Hugo Award four times and the Nebula Award once.

Foundation Novels

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He is most remembered for the Foundation and Robot series of stories.  He eventually wove the two ideas into single a history detailing the rise and fall of a futuristic Galactic Empire. The original Foundation trilogy begins thousands of years from now when humans have developed intergalactic space travel and colonised thousands upon thousands of planets while the memory and location of Earth has become the stuff of myth and legend. Without ruining it for you the story concerns the crumbling of the Galactic Empire and the work of one man, Hari Seldon.

In the first couple of chapters we meet Seldon as an elderly man. He has devoted his life’s work to a science he created himself called Psychohistory (a mixture of history, sociology, and mathematical statistics). He foretells the collapse of the Galactic Empire and, by doing so, has been named public enemy number one by the said Empire.

He says that without a plan the galaxy will fall into thirty thousand years of barbarism before rising again in any shape or form. His plan will cut this down into a thousand years. If all goes correctly a ‘Foundation’ set up at the edge of the Galaxy which will be the seed of the next empire.

This is all explained in the first couple of chapters of the first book. The story is  divided up into short periods of turmoil in the life of the Foundation, divided by jumps of fifty to a hundred years. We see the empire crumbling and the plan stumbles with fits and starts. Each generation of the Foundation interpret Seldon’s  plan as their current events dictate, wondering if they have made the right decisions. Battles are fought, deals are struck and heroes emerge and soon become part of the Foundations history. All the while Seldon’s plan trundles along in the background.

Fans of Star Wars, Star Trek and the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy all have Asimov to thank for part inspiration.

Psychohistory is an actual science though many are sceptical about its usefulness. Asimov makes its application on a much grander scale than it is used today.

Here is a discussion from 2011 where people are discussing whether Asimov’s view of Psychohistory could be put into practice in business.

Robot Stories

Asimov did not create the idea of a robot, you can look to eastern Europe for mythical mentions of the Golem, nor was he the first twentieth century writer to use them in fiction, Karel Čapek in his science fiction play R.U.R. (Rossum’s Universal Robots) 1921 was the first writer to coin the term. Karel Čapek may have put robots on the literary map but Asimov was the writer who told everybody where they were.

Rossum's Universal Robots

He did not just write about sentient humanoid shaped robots like the familiar ones from I, Robot. His short stories run the range of cars with artificial intelligence, robot dogs, minds transplanted from our bodies into machines and massive computers able to answer the ultimate question of life the universe and everything.

As the years went on he weaved this rise of mechanical men and robot psychologists into the prehistory of the Foundation stories. In this part of Earth’s future Asimov has created a world where robots are now employed as manual labourers in areas too dangerous for humans to operate.

In these stories conflicts arise when people treat the robots badly and misplaced words like “Get lost” can have bad affects on a purely logical brain of a robot. More issues arise when robots are asked to perform acts that conflict with the Three Laws of Robotics.

Asimov thought up some very clever situations which challenged his human characters to work out the odd behaviour of his robots. They come across like forms of science fiction detective stories.

I am sure he would have been impressed with the latest incarnation of his namesake (minus the ‘s’) from Honda

It is undeniable that his imagination has had a massive influence on science fiction today but some have criticised his writing because of it’s cheesy dialogue and under developed characters.

While this is to a large extent true you must remember he was writing for the new teenage science fiction audience. With the massive scope of his ideas it seems logical that his style should be more than accessible to gain the widest of audiences.

If you will, take some time out to watch this interview with him from the 1980’s which details how accurate some of his visions have turned out.

Here are a couple of blogs I read while researching Isaac Asimov.

Tales From Clark Street

sandipb.net

For a full list of his works and more about him you can check out Isaac Asimov Online.