There’s a saying that often gets trotted out anytime a movie, TV show, or book spends all its time laying the groundwork for a sequel it never gets – never save your best ideas for the sequel. If you’ve got a good idea, use it now. It’s a saying that could easily apply to any number of recent projects. And it’s one that definitely applies to Harry Turtledove’s new novel, Three Miles Down. Set during the 1970s, Three Miles Down is one-part political thriller and one-part First-Contact science fiction romp. Unfortunately, the book features very little political intrigue and even less “First Contact”. Instead, Three Miles Down reads like the prelude to an as-yet-unannounced sequel. And that’s a pretty big bummer considering how solid the premise is.Continue reading
If you’re a sci-fi fan and you’re not watching Debris, you’re missing out on a fun show. Debris is one of those weird experiments in how little exposition a show can get away with giving. The pilot episode drops viewers in the middle of the action, with Brian and Finola having been tracking debris for several weeks already. It’s a gutsy way to start such a high-concept series, for sure. But it’s honestly a breath of fresh air in a genre that usually spends an unwieldy amount of time setting premises up before anything interesting happens. It’s nice getting right to the action, especially when the action involves a new piece of Debris each week that lets the writers explore a multitude of science fiction ideas. Want a story about clones? Check out episode two. Want something involving wormholes? Episode three’s your bet. Want to see an episode where old people can become young again? Watch episode six. I’m not always the biggest fan of procedural shows, but Debris offers a nice balance between fun cases of the week and an intriguing ongoing mystery—there’s some kind of terrorist group trying to find the pieces of debris before the various governments can and they seem to be up to no good. The mystery needs some development, but it’s enough to keep you coming back each week to see the newest strange case.Continue reading
Who doesn’t love a good fish out of water comedy? There’s just so much joy to be mined out of watching a character from one environment have to navigate the ins and the outs of a totally new and alien environment. This trope is especially successful in sci-fi settings, where either a human has to adapt to an alien culture or vice versa. It’s this trope that first attracted me to SyFy’s Resident Alien, a TV adaptation of the Dark Horse Comics series of the same name. Here, Alan Tudyk plays an alien who’s crash-landed in a small Colorado town and is forced to blend in with the local townsfolk as a quirky doctor, Harry Vanderspeigle, while searching for the remnants of his ship and the device he intends to use to destroy the world. It’s one of those premises that seems destined to become a classic sci-fi fish out of water story. Unfortunately, Resident Alien never quite manages to take off in its first seven episodes. It’s not a bad show, just a wildly uneven one. Its plot is unfocused, it struggles to balance its comedy with its drama, and many of the characters feel underdeveloped, at best, and paper thin and annoying, at worst. There’s plenty of potential here, but there’s a lot of work to be done before this show is as good as its premise is. (3 out of 5 wands.)
NOTE: This review is based off of the first seven episodes. It will be as spoiler free as possible.
Resident Alien (created by Chris Sheridan)
Based on the Dark Horse comic, SYFY’s RESIDENT ALIEN follows Harry, an alien played by Alan Tudyk that crash lands on Earth and passes himself off as a small-town human doctor. Arriving with a secret mission to kill all humans, Harry starts off living a simple life… but things get a bit rocky when he’s roped into solving a local murder and realizes he needs to assimilate into his new world. As he does so, he begins to wrestle with the moral dilemma of his mission and asking the big life questions like: “Are human beings worth saving?” and “Why do they fold their pizza before eating it?”
I never read The Inheritance Cycle as a kid. I tried reading Eragon a few times and I made it partway through the film, but it was never something I could get into. I’m very picky about what kinds of fantasy books I like – the higher the fantasy and the more complex the world, the less likely I am to like it. Which is exactly what happened with Christopher Paolini’s beloved books. It was a classic case of it’s me not them. In that context, I was unsure what to expect when approaching To Sleep in a Sea of Stars, Paolini’s first book for adults, and his first foray into science fiction. While I love a lot of sci-fi, would I like this? Would this novel connect with me in the way I wanted his others to? In short: yes. To Sleep in a Sea of Stars is a masterclass in genre storytelling. Intricately plotted, stuffed with multidimensional and endearing characters, and filled with enough action to make Hollywood jealous, it is a thrill from start to finish. (4.5 out of 5 wands.)
(NOTE: I won an advance copy of this book from BookishFirst. All reactions are my own. Additionally, there may be mild spoilers.)
To Sleep in a Sea of Stars by Christopher Paolini
During a routine survey mission on an uncolonized planet, Kira finds an alien relic. At first she’s delighted, but elation turns to terror when the ancient dust around her begins to move.
As war erupts among the stars, Kira is launched into a galaxy-spanning odyssey of discovery and transformation. First contact isn’t at all what she imagined, and events push her to the very limits of what it means to be human.
While Kira faces her own horrors, Earth and its colonies stand upon the brink of annihilation. Now, Kira might be humanity’s greatest and final hope . . .
I’m always on the lookout for new comics. I don’t follow the industry particularly closely, so a lot of titles slipped my attention. But I kept hearing about Nnedi Okorafor’s LaGuardia. It was part of Dark Horse Comics’ Berger Books imprint, a line of titles spearheaded by Karen Berger of Vertigo Comics fame – an editor whose work I’ve adored. It was a sci-fi comic that imagined an alternate Earth where aliens had integrated themselves among humanity – a premise that’s right up my alley. And it just won Eisner and Hugo Awards. So, I finally read it. And, man, it’s good. While I wish it was a bit longer, LaGuardia is a superb read. Featuring gorgeous artwork and intriguing world-building, it’s reflective of our current societal problems and a wildly captivating read. (4 out of 5 wands.)
(NOTE: This review may contain spoilers.)
LaGuardia (written by Nnedi Okorafor, illustrated by Tana Ford)
In an alternate world where aliens have integrated with society, pregnant Nigerian-American doctor Future Nwafor Chukwuebuka has just smuggled an illegal alien plant named Letme Live through LaGuardia International and Interstellar Airport…and that’s not the only thing she’s hiding.
She and Letme become part of a community of human and alien immigrants; but as their crusade for equality continues and the birth of her child nears, Future—and her entire world—begins to change.
I’m going to be blunt. I’m not much of a Superman fan. There’s nothing wrong with the character or anything, his stories just don’t do much for me. That said, there is something about a story that intrigues me. He’s an alien refugee from a war-torn planet who dedicates himself to protecting the Earth. So, I’m open to finding a Superman story I enjoy. That’s partly why I decided to watch Superman: Man of Tomorrow, the newest animated film from DC Comics. The other reason is that Darren Criss, whom I’ve been a fan of since his early Starkid days, was voicing Superman and I was curious to see how that turned out. Well, having seen the film, Superman: Man of Tomorrow is deeply enjoyable. It might even rank among my favorite of the recent DC animated films. (4.5 out of 5 wands.)
NOTE: This review contains mild spoilers. Read at your own risk.
Superman: Man of Tomorrow (written by Tim Sheridan, directed by Chris Palmer
Meet Clark Kent. Sent to Earth as an infant from the dying planet Krypton, he arrived with as many questions as the number of light-years he traveled. Now a young man, he makes his living in Metropolis as an intern at the Daily Planet – alongside reporter Lois Lane – while secretly wielding his alien powers of flight, super-strength and x-ray vision in the battle for good. Follow the fledgling hero as he engages in bloody battles with intergalactic bounty hunter Lobo and before fighting for his life with the alien Parasite. The world will learn about Superman…but first, Superman must save the world!
Better late than never, eh? There’s something about alien stories set during the 1940s-1960s that appeals to me. Maybe it’s that whole “things were simpler back then” trope or the fun that comes with watching or reading an alien story set during the height of the nation’s obsession with UFOs. Whatever it is, I often enjoy stories set during this period. And I also enjoy stories that focus on old-timey radio/TV production. In this context, it should be no surprise that The Vast of Night immediately appealed to me. I hadn’t heard much about it, but the moment Amazon Prime suggested it to me, I was eager to watch it. In theory, it touched on a lot of things I love and it looked pretty darn good. Having seen it, it is pretty darn good. The Vast of Night is easily one of my favorite films of the year. It’s both modern and retro and is filled with charm, great performances, great direction, and a solid story. (4.5 out of 5 wands.)
(NOTE: Mild spoilers for The Vast of Night may follow.)
The Vast of Night (written by Andrew Patterson and Craig W. Sanger, directed by Andrew Patterson)
In the twilight of the 1950s, on one fateful night in New Mexico, a young, winsome switchboard operator Fay (Sierra McCormick) and charismatic radio DJ Everett (Jake Horowitz) discover a strange audio frequency that could change their small town and the future forever. Dropped phone calls, AM radio signals, secret reels of tape forgotten in a library, switchboards, crossed patchlines, and an anonymous phone call lead Fay and Everett on a scavenger hunt toward the unknown.
I don’t normally watch video essays on YouTube. It takes a very specific kind of personality to get me interested enough to watch anything on YouTube for more than 10 minutes – especially something that’s just analyzing something else. But Lindsay Ellis is one of those YouTubers who can get me to watch an hour-long video and enjoy it. So, when I heard about her debut novel, Axiom’s End, I was excited to give it a read. And I was even more excited about it when I heard it was a science fiction/alternate history novel about humanity’s first contact with an alien species. That kind of story is one of my favorite kinds of science fiction stories and I was eager to see what kind of a take Ellis would have on it. Having now read the book, I can say that it wasn’t really what I expected at all. Ellis certainly puts her own spin on the first-contact genre, weaving a pretty interesting tale and delivering a book that, while a bit difficult to initially get into, makes for a compelling and enjoyable read. (4 out of 5 wands)
(Note: I received an ARC of this novel from NetGalley in exchange for a fair and honest review. All opinions are my own and have not been influenced. Additionally, mild spoilers may follow.)
Axiom’s End by Lindsay Ellis
It’s fall 2007. A well-timed leak has revealed that the US government might have engaged in first contact. Cora Sabino is doing everything she can to avoid the whole mess, since the force driving the controversy is her whistleblower father. Even though Cora hasn’t spoken to him in years, his celebrity has caught the attention of the press, the Internet, the paparazzi, and the government―and with him in hiding, that attention is on her. She neither knows nor cares whether her father’s leaks are a hoax, and wants nothing to do with him―until she learns just how deeply entrenched her family is in the cover-up, and that an extraterrestrial presence has been on Earth for decades.
Realizing the extent to which both she and the public have been lied to, she sets out to gather as much information as she can, and finds that the best way for her to uncover the truth is not as a whistleblower, but as an intermediary. The alien presence has been completely uncommunicative until she convinces one of them that she can act as their interpreter, becoming the first and only human vessel of communication. Their otherworldly connection will change everything she thought she knew about being human―and could unleash a force more sinister than she ever imagined.
I really enjoyed An Absolutely Remarkable Thing, the first novel in Hank Green’s The Carls duology. It was one of those books that ticked off so many items on a theoretical checklist of what I like in science fiction. But, of course, it ended on a pretty killer cliffhanger. So, when the sequel, A Beautifully Foolish Endeavor, was announced, I was utterly excited to give it a read. Was it even possible for the sequel to be as good as the first book? Could Green bring the whole story to a satisfying conclusion? In short: yes. Yes to all of that. A Beautifully Foolish Endeavor is about as good as any sequel could hope to be. And I loved every second of it. (4.5 out of 5 wands.)
NOTE: There may be mild spoilers for A Beautifully Foolish Endeavor. You have been warned.
The Carls disappeared the same way they appeared, in an instant. While the robots were on Earth, they caused confusion and destruction with only their presence. Part of their maelstrom was the sudden viral fame and untimely death of April May: a young woman who stumbled into Carl’s path, giving them their name, becoming their advocate, and putting herself in the middle of an avalanche of conspiracy theories. Months later, April’s friends are trying to find their footing in a post-Carl world. Andy has picked up April’s mantle of fame, speaking at conferences and online; Maya, ravaged by grief, begins to follow a string of mysteries that she is convinced will lead her to April; and Miranda is contemplating defying her friends’ advice and pursuing a new scientific operation…one that might have repercussions beyond anyone’s comprehension. Just as it is starting to seem like the gang may never learn the real story behind the events that changed their lives forever, a series of clues arrive—mysterious books that seem to predict the future and control the actions of their readers—all of which seems to suggest that April could be very much alive. In the midst of the search for the truth and the search for April is a growing force, something that wants to capture our consciousness and even control our reality.
In a way, this latest season of The X-Files is a return to form for the show. From week to week, it goes from a really problematic episode to a really enjoyable one, to a mediocre one, and, finally, to a new classic for the show. Equally interesting is how the best episodes of the season so far have been the ones that weren’t written by Chris Carter. Picking up where 2016’s tenth season left off, Season 11 of The X-Files follow FBI Agents Dana Scully (Gillian Anderson) and Fox Mulder (David Duchovny) as they work to stop an impending apocalypse, seemingly caused by the Cigarette Smoking Man (William B. Davis), and continue to investigate the titular X-Files, a collection of cases that defy conventional thinking and explanation, while searching for their missing son, William, a boy who may just be the key to averting the apocalypse. (Mild spoilers for the first four episodes of Season 11 follow)