science fiction

REVIEW: “CODE 404” (Peacock Original)

I love a good sci-fi comedy. The melding of sci-fi concepts and comedy is often endlessly entertaining. However, there seems to be a general lack of sci-fi comedies on TV – especially in America. There are the occasional horror comedies and fantasy comedies but you don’t see many sci-fi comedies. This is where Peacock’s newest show, CODE 404 enters. A blend of traditional buddy cop comedies and entertaining sci-fi concepts, CODE 404 is an enjoyable, dryly funny show. Plus there’s a pretty fun mystery at the heart of the series. (4 out of 5 wands.)

(NOTE: There may be mild spoilers for Code 404 ahead. You have been warned.)

CODE 404 (created by Daniel Peak, Tom Miller, and Sam Myer)
DI John Major (Daniel Mays) and DI Roy Carver (Stephen Graham) are the best of the best at an elite undercover police team. When Major’s cover is blown and he is met with his untimely death, he is brought back to life with some glitchy AI technology. Now, he’s better than ever – or so he thinks.

(more…)

REVIEW: “Tenet – The Complete Screenplay” by Christopher Nolan

Christopher Nolan’s films are always a bit hit-or-miss for me. When they work, I enjoy his dramatic tendencies and his sense of scale and spectacle. But when they don’t work, they really don’t work. To this day, Inception remains one of those films that I can watch repeatedly without growing bored. But I haven’t liked a Nolan film since The Dark Knight Rises. It’s with this level of trepidation that I approached Tenet. With movie theaters in my state closed for the foreseeable future, I can’t see the film anytime soon. But I can read its recently published screenplay. Based on the writing, alone, Tenet is weak. It’s devoid of any meaningful characters, hampered with a premise that never fully makes sense, and reads less like a film and more like a collection of loosely related set pieces. (2 out of 5 wands) 

(NOTE: There are mild spoilers for Tenet ahead. Read at your own risk.)

Tenet: The Complete Screenplay (written by Christopher Nolan)
Tenet is a global thriller whose action stretches across time zones, and stars Robert Pattinson, Elizabeth Debicki and John David Washington. The film displays Nolan’s preoccupations, especially how Time can shift from one moment to the next.

(more…)

REVIEW: “To Sleep in a Sea of Stars” by Christopher Paolini

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 . . .

(more…)

REVIEW: “LaGuardia” by Nnedi Okorafor and Tana Ford

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.

(more…)

REVIEW: “Doctor Who: Out of Time” by Matt Fitton and Big Finish Productions

The Fourth Doctor is probably the most popular Doctor from the classic era of Doctor Who. Similarly, the Tenth Doctor is probably the most popular of the modern era. So, it only makes sense that Big Finish, who has the license to make audios with all Doctors but the 13th, would finally make an audio drama where these two beloved incarnations meet. The result? Out of Time, the first in a series of audios pairing classic Doctors with the Tenth Doctor. Written by Matt Fitton, Out of Time is a fun romp with two fan-favorite Doctors. Featuring great performances from Tom Baker and David Tennant and a fun and intriguing plot, it’s a great listen for all Doctor Who fans. (4 out of 5 wands.)

(NOTE: This review may contain spoilers. Read at your own risk.)

Doctor Who: Out of Time 1 (written by Matt Fitton, directed by Nicholas Briggs)
The Cathedral of Contemplation is an enigma, existing outside time. It turns through history, opening its doors across the universe to offer solace to those in need.

Occasionally, the Doctor drops in – when he’s avoiding his destiny, it’s an ideal place to get some perspective. Only this time he’s already there from several lives earlier, so when dimension barriers break down, his past and present collide.

And when the Daleks invade and commandeer the Cathedral, two Doctors (Tom Baker and David Tennant) must unite to stop them – or face extermination twice over!

(more…)

REVIEW: “Auxiliary: London 2039” by Jon Richter

I’m always game to try an indie sci-fi book. Independently published books are always a bit of a gamble; sometimes they’re great; other times they’re not so great. But often you can find a great diamond in the rough by reading an independently published sci-fi novel. So, when the publishers of Auxiliary: London 2039 reached out to me and asked if I would like to review the book, I thought it was worth a read. It sounded reminiscent of Blade Runner and Altered Carbon, two stories I’ve enjoyed to a reasonable extent, so I thought it was worth a shot. And, having read the book, it’s not a bad read but it’s not a great read either. It’s perfectly fine, with a suitable mystery, well-written prose, and solid pacing, but it’s also not particularly original, and it feels like something you’ve read before. (3.5 out of 5 wands.)

(NOTE: A copy of the novel was provided by the publisher in exchange for a fair review. All thoughts are my own. Additionally, there may be spoilers ahead.) 

Auxiliary: London 2039 by Jon Richter
In a time where AI drives every car, cooks every meal, and plans every second of human life in London, a police detective named Carl Dremmler catches a murder suspect red-handed. The investigation seems open and shut, but the tech-wary detective can’t help but believe the accused’s bizarre story: that his robotic arm committed the grisly crime, not him. As Dremmler pursues the truth, he must question everyone he thinks he knows and face down every terror 2039 has to offer.

It’s not that Auxiliary is bad, far from it. It’s an intriguing mystery that is well-executed and frequently enjoyable. It’s filled with multi-dimensional characters, fascinating ideas, and great action scenes. So, what’s the problem, then? The problem is that much of the novel feels very familiar – so familiar that is often distracting. Now, to be fair, a story being familiar isn’t inherently a bad thing. Lots of sci-fi builds off of the ideas of other stories. The problem for me was that there just weren’t enough new elements in the story. Instead, it just felt like a remix of old ideas and new technology.

For starters, Dremmler, our protagonist, is every detective from any pulp novel you’ve ever read. He’s troubled, he’s an alcoholic, he often plays by his own rules, he’s frequently misogynistic, and he even has a tragic backstory. He’s Blade Runner‘s Deckard meets any film noir detective. In fairness, this all seems intentional – the whole novel is a riff on film noir detective stories and even briefly starkly comments on Dremmler’s flaws. The problem is that that’s all it does with the trope. One throwaway gag doesn’t get you off the hook for using such a trope. It felt like there was plenty of room for the novel to try to subvert Dremmler’s characterization, but every time it comes close to doing so, it fails to commit. Now, again, there’s nothing inherently wrong with a character like Dremmler. I just have no interest in journeying with such a character in a story that doesn’t seriously examine their flaws in any meaningful way.

The same problems plagued many of the novel’s other elements. They’re all familiar ideas presented in a new context but without any further changes. The newest element of the story is probably the specific technology used – an Alexa-esque AI called TIM, who has access to, and control of, almost every facet of society – but even that just feels like a slight update of the way Androids have been used in earlier cyberpunk stories. The novel tries to put some twists on its ideas through its central mystery – who is behind this seeming malfunction of a TIM-controlled limb, and why – but it never manages to be particularly surprising. There are satisfying twists and turns, but almost all of them are predictable before they happen – even the book’s climax, which tries to shock you at times but merely ends up confirming suspicions you’ve had the whole time. Now, I wouldn’t mind this much on its own, but couple it with the other examples of the novel feeling like an old room with a new coat of paint, and it starts to feel like a pattern. 

However, despite all this, Auxiliary still manages to be a lot of fun. Some of that is down to the fact that even a predictable mystery can still be a fun one but much of it is due to how good Richter’s prose is. It’s a fast-paced novel, and Richter never spends more than more time than he needs to on a scene. He litters the novel with action scenes, constantly propelling the narrative forward. He expertly builds tension in a way that makes you worry for the characters even though you have a good idea of how things will turn out. The book moves so fast there’s never a chance for you to get bored. And even if many of the elements feel very familiar, they’re still competently repackaged in a manner that’s fun to read and enjoyable to experience.

So, at the end of the day, Auxiliary: London 2039 is a bit of a mixed bag. It’s a familiar take on familiar ideas but doesn’t bring much new to the table. However, it’s still presented in an easy-to-read, fast-paced, and enjoyable manner. The characters feel developed, if archetypal, and the mystery is well-executed. It makes for a fun read if you’re looking for this kind of thing. It’s enjoyable enough, and if you want something in the same vein as Blade Runner, it’s well worth checking out.

3.5 out of 5 wands.

REVIEW: “The Intergalactic Interloper” by Delas Heras

I love a weird, quirky sci-fi book. There’s just something so inherently fun about weird sci-fi  – it often doesn’t take itself very seriously, freeing the author to let their imaginations run wild. It’s usually a lot of fun and I frequently find myself drawn to these kinds of stories – which is exactly why I ended up reading The Intergalactic Interloper. With a summary promising missing cats and two-headed alien turtles, I was immediately on board. And, having finished the book, it was well worth the read. While light on plot, The Intergalactic interloper is packed with fun and weird ideas and is immensely enjoyable. (4.5 out of 5 wands.)

(NOTE: An advanced copy of the book was provided in exchange for a fair review. Additionally, mild spoilers for The Intergalactic Interloper may follow.)

Ollie, a young East Village musician, woke up on the proverbial wrong side of the bed: His cat is missing, he is in trouble with his boss, and his friends all think he has lost his mind. This last one may have something to do with the story he tells them about spying a giant two-headed turtle from outer space on a nearby rooftop. But he swears it’s the truth. Ollie’s bandmate Zara is skeptical, but she still signs on to help him track down his vanished pet. Together they follow a trail of clues that lead them to a bird-watching neighbor, who—spurred on by the ghost of a Civil War colonel—may be out for blood.

(more…)

REVIEW: “The Vast of Night”

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.

(more…)

REVIEW: “Axiom’s End” by Lindsay Ellis

axiom's end

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.

(more…)

REVIEW: “A Beautifully Foolish Endeavor” by Hank Green

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.

(more…)