science fiction

Day Three (or really, day two), + Book Review: Ender’s Game – The Graphic Novel

Reading: Before Watchmen – Nite Owl/Dr Manhattan
Listening: CMA – Caught In Our Thoughts
Watching: BBC’s Wonders of the Universe; waiting for the other half to have free time so we can catch up on Korra and Elementary
Playing: Nothing over the past few days

Day Three of my six month journey of writing! Or technically, day two…because yesterday I had a job interview and didn’t achieve much in between that and physiotherapy and outdoor soccer training. So yesterday will be one of my “weekend” days and I’ll work a full day on Saturday or Sunday to make up for it.

What difficulties have I encountered so far?

1. Waking up

I always have difficulty with this. Especially in winter. I suspect my body is somewhat related to a polar bear, because I tend to adopt hibernation behaviours in cold weather. I’m pretty sure, if you left me to it, I could sleep three-quarters of the day away. Unfortunately I’m not one of those lucky people who are able to thrive on a few hours of sleep (and now it seems there’s a genetic association for it!) though I really wish I was. Imagine the productivity! In fact, my utter inability to function without adequate sleep has definitely been a factor, amongst other things, in pushing me away from specialties such as Emergency Medicine and surgery.

Despite my love of the bed, I am actually a morning person and achieve the most before 12 noon. So, the alarm has been going off at 7.30am.

2. The Melbourne cold

I haven’t yet got so sick of my house that I have had to relocate to a cafe or library. But the downside is that my house is freezing. My weapons of defense? Fluffy pink socks and a trusty beanie.

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3. The afternoon slump

Hits around 2pm. I yawn and can think of nothing but a pillow against my cheek. My techniques for handling the slump so far have included switching activities—for example, switch from story-outlining to blogging; doing 10 push-ups (the most I can achieve); going for a short walk.

4. Facebook

Hasn’t been as much of a problem yet as I’d feared. Will update if this changes.

On to the book review!

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Yesterday I finished the graphic novel adaptation of Ender’s Game, scripted by Christopher Yost and artwork by Pasqual Ferry. It’s a collection of Ender’s Game: Battle School #1-5 and Command School #1-5, which basically covers the events of the original novel by Orson Scott Card: An impending second war looms between humans and their enemies, the bug-like alien Formics. To prepare for this, the army is seeking the most gifted child to mould into a deadly commander. Andrew “Ender” Wiggin is taken to Battle School in the hope that he can become this commander.

The graphic novel is a reasonably faithful adaptation of the book, covering all the main events in a condensed way. It’s a great introduction to the story if you’re new to Ender’s Game, and also an enjoyable alternative medium if you’re already a fan. There isn’t anything new or surprising.

The art style is clean and futuristic. Ferry’s linework conveys movement fluidly. The colours are sombre and evocative of the gloomy interiors of the spaceships. The Battle Room scenes are well illustrated and fun to flick through.

Overall, the graphic novel conveys the main emotions of the book fairly well, though the resolution seemed rushed and only offered a superficial skimming-over of Ender’s reaction to the final battle. I also feel as though they left out a major part of the ending.

A quick and easy graphic novel read that can be a great introduction to a controversial science fiction classic.

Happy hump day, everyone!

Movie Review: Guardians of the Galaxy

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What can I say about this movie? Rotten Tomatoes has already given it a 92% rating, and who can argue with that cinematic authority of spoiled vegetables? If you’re looking for a big, fun adventure in space, then get yourself a ticket to the 10th instalment of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, stat.

I must admit I’ve been waiting for this movie for months. A ragtag ensemble of interstellar heroes, somewhat scruffier and edgier-looking than the clean-cut Avengers in their capes and spandex, reluctantly banding together to defend the galaxy to the classic tunes of Blue Swede’s Hooked On A Feeling…what more could one desire?

Guardians of the Galaxy tells the story of Peter Quill (Chris Pratt), a kid who gets abducted from Earth in 1988 by a gang of space pirates called the Ravagers and ends up becoming a carefree, womanising, wandering thief. After stealing a very important orb that attracts the attention of bad guys Ronan the Accuser (Lee Pace) and Thanos (Josh Brolin), a very big dude with a very big jaw who sits in a very big floating chair, Quill falls in with several other misfits: a green-skinned lethal assassin and daughter of Thanos, Gamora (sci-fi screen queen Zoe Saldana); a genetically engineered super-smart raccoon named Rocket (Bradley Cooper); Rocket’s devoted sidekick, Groot the living tree (Vin Diesel); and Drax the Destroyer, a tattooed muscleman hell-bent on revenge (Dave Bautista). Karen Gillan also plays a key role as Nebula, sibling rival of Gamora, a bald and blue-skinned fighting machine.

Guardians manages to pull off a perfectly wonderful mash-up of rock classics and science fiction which, along with the grungy-looking interior of Quill’s spaceship, and the futuristic but gritty technology, gives the movie a great sense of nostalgia and realism. It’s a rollicking, fast-paced adventure that doesn’t take itself too seriously.

There’s nothing much new or unpredictable about the story of Guardians. Frequent jokes tease mildly at heroic stereotypes but the plot ultimately doesn’t stray far from the sugary, upbeat staple of big budget productions. The highlight of the movie is almost certainly the delightful prison break scene. The visual effects, fight scenes and fantastical locations with grungy place names are also commendable. The final battle and resolution, though, fall a little flat.

What makes the movie worthwhile are the characters. Quill, also known as Star-Lord (mainly to himself), is a planet-hopping, rascally scoundrel of the Han Solo type, but more quick-witted than he seems. Gamora, unfortunately allotted the role of the “token girl” in the team, holds her own as a character with an intriguing past. The irritating, cynical and hilarious Rocket is also surprisingly poignant. Drax definitely had the best one-liners and impressive pan-faced delivery. And Groot—well, everyone falls in love with Groot: wholeheartedly sweet and innocent whilst being able to smash a dozen men against a wall with one twisty arm. Each of them have hints of a fascinating backstory.

My only quibble with sci-fi blockbusters is the relative sparseness of female characterisation. Gamora fills the shoes of the Strong Female Character well, but apart from her, the only women are Nebula, Nova Prime, Quill’s sickly mum and the bed-haired girl in a T-shirt whose name Quill couldn’t remember.

Nevertheless: lots of laughs, lots of action, and a feel-good romp through the galaxy. Worth a trip to the cinema.

Book Review: All You Need is Kill – Hiroshi Sakurazaka

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Speedy book review time!

All You Need is Kill is a Japanese military sci-fi novel published in 2004. A manga adaptation was released in the first half of this year, and the recent blockbuster Edge of Tomorrow is based on this book. It follows the experiences of Keiji Kiriya, a junior soldier in the United Defense Force, an army fighting against alien creatures called Mimics. Keiji is violently slaughtered during his first real battle—and that’s where the story really begins. Keiji finds himself trapped in a time-loop, Groundhog Day-style, where he relives the battle again and again, dying dozens of times over.

At 60,000 words (probably around 150-200 pages?—not sure, I read this in e-book format), this book is, in theory, a breeze. But it dragged on and on for me. Not sure if this was because of the translation from Japanese to English. I found the translated prose clunky and awkward, and rather unpleasant to read.

Although this is a prose novel, the entire time I felt like I was reading a manga. The voice of Keiji wasn’t particularly convincing, and I felt that his and Rita’s characters lacked depth and reality. The supporting characters were caricatured. I didn’t develop a connection with any of them. There is generous use of profanity and violence, which I didn’t find too gratuitous, but again, it was done in such a mundane way that there was no shock or emotion connected to it.

What did I like? In the book we get a brief but intriguing back story about the Mimics. We also find out a bit more about the robotic suits called “Jackets” which the UDF soldiers wear to enhance their fighting prowess. Generally, there are some major differences between the book and the movie, and perhaps because I watched the movie first, I kept comparing the book to the movie.

In his afterword, Sakurazaka tells us that the plot to All You Need is Kill was inspired by video games—the fact that you can die, reset and repeat, and are subsequently perceived as a warrior of great skills. It’s a fascinating concept, but unfortunately I was somewhat disappointed by the source material. I’ve seen other reviewers give it five stars though, so I’m sure people disagree!

Edge of Tomorrow (2014) – Grace.C

Check out my review of Edge of Tomorrow (2014) on the awesome movie review blog, Filming You In!

FILMING YOU IN

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Edge of Tomorrow
is fast-paced and punchy. It’s headlined by two big names: established action hero Tom Cruise and rising English star Emily Blunt. There are robotics and giant swords and glowing alien special effects. But let none of the flashiness detract from the fact that this movie is the essence of science fiction. It takes an interesting premise and asks: what if…?

Based off the Japanese novel All You Need is Kill by Hiroshi Sakurazaka (which I desperately need to get my hands on), Edge of Tomorrow depicts an Earth that has been at war for five years with aliens called Mimics. William Cage (Cruise) is a major in the United States Army who shies away from the frontlines and prefers media relations—he talks of heroism and victory and encourages people to enlist in the fight against the Mimics.

Through a couple of unwise choices, Cage ends up stripped…

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Book Review: Dune – Frank Herbert

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This book took me a bloody long time to read.

I bought it a couple of years ago, started it, slogged through the first 200 pages, and put it down.

It stayed on the floor next to my bed for many, many months.

Late last year I tried again. I started from the beginning, slogged through 300 pages and put it down for a long time.

On the weekend, I finished reading Dune. It feels like a milestone.

As you can tell, for me, Dune was not an easy book to get stuck into. The first third of the book is slo-o-ow. The problem is that Herbert has crafted an incredibly complex, interplanetary world tangled with political intrigue, feuding houses, invented jargon and lots of characters with funny names. It takes a good few hundred pages to immerse oneself in the world of Arrakis & beyond. There are a ton of characters, some of them with similar-sounding names, that initially fly over your head. Herbert doesn’t spend a lot of time describing each character or letting you get a deep sense of who they are, so you have to rely on your own efforts to remember.

So what is the story of Dune? It’s an epic. A science fiction epic, and, I do have to conclude, a veritable masterpiece. It deals in prophecies and legends, decades and centuries, emperors and rulers of great houses. Essentially, it chronicles the rise of a messianic figure: Paul of Atreides, the fifteen-year-old son of a fallen house, who through immense personal skill and cleverness and the investment of numerous past generations, rises from the dust to be a leader of men.

It’s a great tale, and I’ve encountered nothing like it before. The thing that makes it most unique, I feel, is the setting. Arrakis is a desert planet, largely uninhabitable, a sea of barren dunes, swept with dust storms. The native people, the Fremen, dwell in cave networks and in the underground, and flourish in a completely fascinating way of life. I enjoyed reading about the technicalities of sand travel, particularly the stillsuits that conserve every drop of the body’s water. Herbert really makes you feel the thirst of the people on Arrakis—the preciousness and sacredness of water, the parched nature of the land and of the desiccated bodies of its inhabitants.

I also enjoyed the way Herbert portrays the Bene Gesserit skill of intuitive logic (is that an oxymoron?) that both Paul and Jessica utilise. Many of the dialogue scenes are layered with undercurrents of unspoken meaning and suspense. The conversational parries are just as tense as the sword-fights.

What didn’t I like about this book? At first, Herbert’s writing style really grated on me. He uses words like an old chef tossing ingredients into a food processor: I feel like he throws phrases together out of a vague sense of meaning—at first, the phrase doesn’t really make sense, but if you just let it flow over you, you get an impression of what he is trying to say. Especially in the bits where he writes about floating consciousnesses and all that…I decided it was best to just accept and not over-analyse. As I read on, I got used to his style and actually started to enjoy and appreciate his literary technique.

I suppose another thing that wasn’t quite to my tastes was the two-dimensionality of many of the characters. The males are variously skilled and heroic, or evil and leering and conniving. The females are generally either haggard crones or beautiful and talented. The bad guy is a paedophilic homosexual. On the flip side, Dune is a book that focuses more on events, motives, intrigue, treachery and plot than on subtleties of character. It covers broad themes and provokes thought about the worship of a hero figure, the origin of religion, the interplay of humans and environment, and many other ideas.

Overall, I can see why Dune won both the Hugo and Nebula Awards in 1966 and lives on as a classic. It’s a game changer, sweeping in scope, and quite different. But I’m not sure if I’ll read the sequels…

Movie Review – X-Men: Days of Future Past

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What is with the onslaught of sci-fi/action/adventure movies coming out lately?

Not that I’m complaining, but…physically, I can’t keep up! Robocop, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Transcendence, Amazing Spider-Man 2, Godzilla, Edge of Tomorrow…One of my online course instructors pointed out that most people are fans of science fiction without even realising it, and it’s true: science fiction and fantasy movies constantly dominate the box office.

I struggled to find the time to fit in a viewing of X-men: Days of Future Past, but I wanted to see this movie so much that with much dedication we squeezed it in between work, food, sleep and more work. We chowed down our dinner. We bought a banana choc top (the best kind) and marched into the theatre with a sense of great anticipation. I had thrills. This was movie-watching excitement at its best.

Last decade I followed the X-Men 1-3 movies with enthusiasm, and more recently I thought First Class was a well-made exploration of the early lives of Professor X and Magneto. (Origins and The Wolverine were both a little disappointing in different ways, although the latter had a decent standalone story.)

So how did I find X-Men? Well, my expectations were pretty sky high, and it’s safe to say the movie didn’t disappoint.

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Pros:

  • Decent action scenes. You get thrown into the action pretty much straightaway. Before you even really know what’s going on, there are flaming people and element-shifting robots having a punch on. Don’t worry about feeling confused though, because the movie is ridiculously easy to follow: the characters explain every plot point and change of motive as they go along, which I’ll mention further below…
  • Amazing special effects. I could point out a few scenes here but it’s better if you just watch it :)
  • Interesting new heroes. Of course, along with half the internet, I have to gush about Quicksilver (Evan Peters), the super speedy kid who gets recruited to help rescue Magneto, and his scene-stealing performance. Although I was really doubtful when I saw the pre-release pictures, I ended up really liking the way they styled his character: the silver hair, goggles, Pink Floyd t-shirt and space-age jacket. It suits his personality and doesn’t try too hard. I also must mention Blink (Fan Bing Bing), who can teleport herself and others through these awesome pink portals. Also she’s Asian and has purple hair and green eyes.
  • A solid storyline: go back in time, stop a pivotal event. They didn’t make things too fancy, though it could have got convoluted with the collision of past and future. It felt a bit Inception-y towards the end there.

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Cons:

  • Clunky dialogue in certain scenes. This goes hand in hand with the point I made above about having characters reiterate every step of the story. It didn’t leave much to the imagination. A couple of conversations had me cringing a little when they felt too forced.
  • A couple of plot inconsistencies…which I wish I could discuss but cannot without spoiling!
  • Generally corny jokes. The genuine laugh out loud moment was, of course, the slow-mo scene. Best.
  • Featuring fewer female leads. Really, it was only Mystique who got a kick-ass role :( Jennifer Lawrence, why do you get to be so awesome?

If you want to clarify the timeline of the X-Men Movie Universe, here are a couple of links to check out (spoiler alert – watch the movie before you click these!):

Official Fox tie in website: http://www.25moments.com

X-Men Movie Visual Timeline: https://imgur.com/a/B2M1n

 

2012-2013: Summer Reading List: Part Three – Wells, Gaiman, Stroud

1. The Time Machine – H.G. Wells

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Why not kick off Part 3 with a classic?

Years ago, I read an abridged version of the Time Machine without realising it was an abridged version until I finished it and thought, that was really short. (Hey, I’m clever.)

To be honest, the complete text didn’t add a whole lot more. It’s a short book; my copy was just over a hundred pages. Wells’s story is an elegantly penned tale about a mysterious scientist, referred to only as ‘the Time Traveller’, who regales his disbelieving peers with a story of his voyage into the far distant future.

The Time Machine has a decidedly steampunk feel, particularly with all the levers and clockwork machinery (the machine itself is ‘squat, ugly, and askew, a thing of brass, ebony, ivory and translucent glimmering quartz’), and that I enjoyed. The scope of Wells’s narrative is also impressive–his protagonist travels 500,000 years into the future to discover that mankind has devolved into two very different species, the Eloi and the Morlocks. He then goes further still, to witness the fate of the dying Earth. Wells’ ideas are so far-fetched that I struggled to find them even remotely believable, though I supposed believability isn’t at all the point of the story.

Wells’s writing puts me somewhat in mind of C.S. Lewis in this instant: eloquent, not overly fanciful, as easy to follow as a bobbing tide. I liked the choice of using a nameless point of view character, listening to the Time Traveller’s story. The ending is also a treat.

2. The Graveyard Book – Neil Gaiman

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A very enjoyable Gaiman read. I can’t believe it’s taken me this long to get around to TGB. I can’t say much more about this book that hasn’t already been said. It’s written for children and that definitely shows, but that’s not to say there isn’t plenty for us full-grown kids to sink our teeth into.

Nobody Owens is an immensely likeable protagonist, and Silas, the witch-girl Liz, Bod’s adoptive parents and Miss Lupescu are all equally fun to encounter. Divided into eight parts that function as short stories to create a chronological novel, The Graveyard Book is well-paced and is a balanced mixture of adventure and poignancy. Favourite parts include Bod’s escape from the greedy pawn-shop owner with Liz’s help, and Scarlett and Bod’s exploration of the Sleer’s cave.

Gaiman’s play on names is quite delightful and his prose is as lively as ever. A surprisingly fun read, despite the fact that the opening scenes involve the attempted murder of a baby o_O

3. The Ring of Solomon – Jonathan Stroud

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As I am a huge fan of the Bartimaeus trilogy, I knew it would only be a matter of time before I got around to reading the sequel–or rather, the prequel.

In Ring of Solomon, we are transported into a pseudo-Biblical period Jerusalem overrun by magicians and spirits. A slightly younger Bartimaeus is a slave of one of King Solomon’s many magicians. Solomon himself rules Israel and surrounding submissive kingdoms with the help of an Uberly Powerful Ring that can raise armies of demons at a single touch.

Bartimaeus’s wit is by no means diminished, and his POV chapters are a romp. Asmira, the female protagonist and a super loyal member of the Queen of Sheba’s guard, on a suicidal mission to kill Solomon, provides the more boring half of the book. For most of the story she isn’t much more than a one-dimensional, annoying character with zero sense of humour. I was somewhat disappointed.

The reappearance of Farquarl and the rapport between Farquarl and Bartimaeus are a hoot, and the character of Solomon is unexpectedly intriguing. I thought this book would be uniformly predictable but I was proven wrong. Though Ring of Solomon doesn’t have the scope of the original trilogy, Stroud has not lost his ability to tell an awesome tale (moreover, he actually does action scenes well, which is a rare talent in my opinion). If we’re in luck there’ll be lots more Barty adventures to come.

PS. Can someone please make this into a movie, stat?!?

As summer’s coming to an end in my corner of the world, that brings my reading list to a close. Hope you enjoyed the science fiction flavour this year and maybe discovered something that you’d like to read or re-read. Do stay tuned for many more reads throughout 2013 :)