Tag Archives: Science Fiction

New Short Story: “He Has Walled Me In”

He Has Walled Me In - Cover ImageTired of waiting for the sequel? Wondering when or if we’ll ever be done with it? (We will, still working on it.) Well, here’s a little something to tide you over: “He Has Walled Me In”

Leon Toa sets out on what for any other Martian settler would be a routine drive to Port Lowell. When unseen forces interrupt his trip, he must uncover the truth about his past before what’s left of his future runs out.

To give a bit more detail, our protagonist’s trip is as much a business necessity as it is a personal one, meant to rebuild his self-confidence after he survives a disabling illness.  A static discharge damages his rover en route, and he is lured into a life-threatening mystery he must think his way out of.

The story takes place in the Ares Project universe at the time of In the Shadow of Ares, and was inspired by H.P. Lovecraft’s “Within the Walls of Eryx” (no spoilers – the two are quite different). At 15,000 words it’s a fairly long short story, so you get your money’s worth at $1.50.

 

The Aliens are Coming! Again…

Fans of big budget, cheesy Sci-Fi will be glad to learn that the first trailer is out for Independence Day: Resurgence.  It’s due in theaters June 2016, and picks up 20 years after the initial attack.  My personal hope is for something more serious than the original.  Roland Emmerich returns to direct, although he and Dean Devlin only get a character credit.  The screenplay is by Carter Blanchard,  James A Woods and Nicholas Wright, all with paper-thin writing credits so it’s hard to know what to expect.

Anyway, the official site has some interesting backstory details that had me intrigued.  First is the alternate timeline.  Picking up in 1996, and anticipating an eventual return by the invaders, the surviving Earthlings have adopted the aliens’ technology and have been preparing.  Apparently we have a Moon base and also bases on Mars and Saturn’s moon Rhea.

Additionally, there is also a reference to the impact of alien technology on consumer gadgets.  That sounded particularly intriguing at first, until I read the details that mention “breakout consumer products that were inspired by alien weaponry – including the touchscreen smartphone, bladeless fans, drones, and airport security scanners”.  OK, that’s as stupid as it is disappointing.

Still, I’ll try to reserve judgment for the final product.  As much as I am hoping for more realistic science fiction like what we were recently treated to with The Martian, I don’t mind the occasional alien shoot-em-up.

Review – The Martian

I finally got to check out The Martian this afternoon.  I thought it was fantastic, as did the family members with me, young and old.  It has all the great imagery and action sequences that I go to the movies for.

It’s a while since I read Andy Weir’s book, but based on my recollection I felt the movie was true to the story in all the right places, and better in some.  Mark Watney is MacGyver on Mars.  The detailed technical exposition is largely gone, but that would have bogged down a film that was already 140 minutes long.  For the most part the profanity was limited, probably another good change to increase the broad appeal of the film.  Drew Goddard’s screenplay also did an adequate job of fleshing out the secondary characters, something on which I felt the book fell short.

As far as accuracy goes, just as in the book the effect of winds on Mars was completely unrealistic.  The author admits as much, using it as a necessary plot device.  I was a bit disappointed in the surface suits.  They are visually appealing, and they look more like a next generation suit than a standard pressure suits, but they were clearly not as tight fitting as a true mechanical counter pressure suit (as we depict in In the Shadow of Ares) would be.

For a couple of extra space-centric reviews you can check out Keith Cowing’s review here (with a NASA-focused perspective) as well as Sarah Lewin’s review on Space.com here.

As for my previously expressed concerns regarding what kind of a message The Martian would have, those were put to rest.  By necessity the movie focuses on the hardships of living on Mars, and surviving in space in general, but it’s also a celebration of exploration and challenge.  In one scene, while resigned to his own death, Mark Watney asks that his family be told that he died doing something he loved, for a cause that was bigger than himself.  Amen.

Movie Science: Does it Matter if It’s Wrong?

Thursday I attended my second presentation in as many months at the Lunar and Planetary Institute near the Johnson Space Center south of Houston.  It was part of their Cosmic Explorations lecture series, titled “Movie Science:  Who Cares if It’s Wrong?”, and consisted of a talk by Dr. Seth Shostak, Senior Astronomer and Director at the SETI Institute.  He is also host of the Big Picture Science radio show and podcast.

Dr. Shostak gave an entertaining presentation on scientific accuracy in film, from the perspective of a scientist asked to provide guidance on Sci-Fi scripts.  Provided and often ignored.  We were given humorous insight on the creative process, where Hollywood gets it right sometimes but often not.  It was ultimately left up to the audience to decide if it ultimately matters.  Of course with In the Shadow of Ares, and the sequel, we’ve taken the position that it does.

It is anticipated that the series will pick up again starting in the fall.  Those living in the Greater Houston area and interested in attending should check the LPI website in August/September.

Review: Interstellar

Interstellar - GargantuaI’m posting this review of Interstellar, belatedly, because I felt I had to see it again before commenting on its greatness as well as its few shortcomings. There was just too much to absorb and appreciate in one viewing. I’ll be careful with my wording to avoid spoilers.

Knowing the basic premise— explorers are searching for a habitable home for humanity to save them from a dying Earth, helped by unknown, advanced “bulk beings” who have opened a wormhole near Saturn for our use—I had initial trepidation that I was in for a Climate Change lecture. That notion was dispelled on the first viewing. Sure there’s a dust-bowl type blight that is wiping out crops and threatening what’s left of mankind; but this is just the impetus—the McGuffin if you will—to provide the urgency that drives the action. Some elements leading up to the climax were a bit too contrived for my taste, but overall it’s a great story with a strong cast, tension, and visuals that won’t let anyone down.  The script is excellent, with the exception of one criticism I’ll go into below.

Unlike so many recent Sci-Fi films, this one consistently makes a case for space exploration and advancement. A particularly powerful and effective scene involves a parent-teacher conference where Cooper has to process the absurdity his daughter’s suspension. Murphy’s transgression? She got into a fight after bringing a non-sanitized textbook to school; one that hadn’t been “corrected” to show that the Apollo landings were an elaborate hoax.

Cooper: You don’t believe we went to the Moon?

Teacher: I believe it was a brilliant piece of propaganda, that the Soviets bankrupted themselves pouring resources into rockets and other useless machines…

Cooper: Useless machines?

Teacher: And if we don’t want a repeat of the excess and wastefulness of the 20th Century then we need to teach our kids about this planet, not tales of leaving it.

Cooper: You know, one of those useless machines they used to make was called an MRI, and if we had one of those left the doctors would have been able to find the cyst in my wife’s brain, before she died instead of afterwards, and then she would’ve been the one sitting here, listening to this instead of me, which would’ve been a good thing because she was always the…calmer one.

Wow, not the kind of thoughtful dialog you expect in a film like this, but most welcome and expertly delivered.  It’s something we were keen to include in In The Shadow of Ares, and what is so often missing from the anti-human, Luddite drivel we’ve come to expect.  The humor is also excellent, particularly the interaction between the humans and robotic character TARS.

Where I was a little let down by the dialog was during the climax where Cooper solves the mystery of the bulk beings.  Cooper works out the details in a conversation TARS that is perfectly set up to avoid exposition, yet ends up feeling like just that.  Complicated conclusions end up being stated more than worked out. This important scene, and the accompanying dialog, could have been extended slightly and improved greatly.  I have my fingers crossed that this is addressed in the Director’s Cut.

While Interstellar is brilliant on so many levels, it’s the human element that really surprised me.  Ultimately it’s a story about our relationships and obligations to those we love, particularly our children.  Two scenes in particular, between Cooper and Murphy, are perhaps the most powerful I have ever seen.

Review: The Martian

I recently finished The Martian by Andy Weir.   I knew little about it, hadn’t read any reviews, and wasn’t expecting much.  In fact, I was ready to be disappointed. 

When we decided to write In the Shadow of Ares, we intentionally set it on a developed Mars.  For my part, I thought the story of a few astronauts and a dead planet had been done to death, with predictably mediocre results. 

I’ve never been so wrong.  This book is fantastic. 

Mark Watney is stranded on Mars when the rest of the Ares III crew have to evacuate for Earth shortly into their mission.  He is thought to be dead, and with no functioning communications and almost no food, his prospects are bleak. What he does have, though, is a mountain of ingenuity and a great sense of humor that give him a fighting chance.

The Martian is highly technical, but so funny and suspenseful that it should be accessible to nearly anyone (the language is genuine—and salty—so it’s not for all). Despite the bulk of the story consisting of the narration of the protagonist, the voice of that character is more than strong enough to carry the story along, and it doesn’t hurt that the pacing and suspense are outstanding.  I did have a few technical and editorial criticisms, but they are too insignificant to describe in detail here.

This is one of the most creative and enjoyable books I have ever read, and I recommend it highly.

And the Award Goes to…

This year’s winners of the Prometheus Award are Ready Player One, by Edward Cline, and The Freedom Maze by Delia Sherman.  Given annually by the Libertarian Futurist Society, the award recognizes the best in libertarian fiction.

We are honored that In the Shadow of Ares was a finalist, and wish the winners a hearty congratulations.

Why We Need Big, Bold Science Fiction

Glenn Reynolds’ article from Popular Mechanics is now available online. He opens:

The future isn’t what it used to be.And neither is science fiction. While books about space exploration and robots once inspired young people to become scientists and engineers—and inspired grownup engineers and scientists to do big things—in recent decades the field has become dominated by escapist fantasies and depressing dystopias. That could be contributing to something that I see as a problem. It seems that too many technically savvy people, engineers in particular, are going to work for Web startups or investment firms. There’s nothing wrong with such companies, but we also need engineers to design bold new things for use in the physical world: space colonies instead of social media.

Which is an excellent summary of why we decided to write In the Shadow of Ares, and to write it in the style that we did. I’m not persuaded that a proliferation of optimistic, “Human Wave” science fiction is enough to get us back on the right track as a civilization, but it’s certainly helpful to that end – one piece of the puzzle.

We know from past (and personal) experience that science fiction can embolden people (particularly young people) to seek out big challenges, and it can do so again in the future if the right kinds of science fiction are generated, read, and rewarded. But work is also needed on the assorted factors which needlessly prevent those big challenges from becoming big achievements: paralytic risk aversion, unproductive over-regulation, comfortable complacency, and open Luddism, among others. All of which, I hope and believe, will soon be facing their long-overdue reevaluation due to economic necessity.

As for Glenn’s suggested reading list — I’m embarrassed to say that I have only read one of the books he selected: John Steakley’s Armor. But oh, what a book it is. It’s one of my all-time favorite SF novels, and made a huge impression on me when I first read it at sixteen. It’s a very dark novel, so I’m exceedingly surprised to see it on a list of “optimistic science fiction books”. However, the tagline he quotes is indeed the moral thread of the story, and the redemption of several of the main characters at the end by living up to that quote does make it end on a positive note.

In the Shadow of Ares Recognized as a Prometheus Finalist

Prometheus
The Libertarian Futurist Society has announced six semi-finalists for the 2012 Prometheus Award for Best Novel, and the list includes In the Shadow of Ares.

The Prometheus Award has been presented since 1979, making it one of the most enduring awards after the Nebula and Hugo awards, and one of the oldest fan-based awards currently in sf and fantasy.  The Prometheus Award for Best Novel focuses on novels whose plot, themes, characters and/or specific issues reflect the value of personal freedom and human rights, or which seriously or satirically critique abuses of power–especially unchecked government power.

The winner will be announced at an awards center at the WorldCon in Chicago August 30-September 3.

Congratulations to the other nominees and runners-up. It may be cliche, but it really is an honor to be nominated, especially among established authors such as Vernor Vinge and Terry Pratchett.