A Brief Review – Star Trek: Beyond

I missed seeing Star Trek: Beyond in the theater, but was able to watch the latest installation of the franchise a week ago. While I’ve never been a dedicated Trek fan, I do appreciate the themes in Gene Roddenberry’s creation and I make an effort to keep up with the latest releases. (One day I’ll go back to watch all of the original series and that Next Generation thingy).

beyond-poster

I have to admit that I was a little apprehensive about this film because I hadn’t really enjoyed the previous one – Into Darkness. To me, you can’t remake (reboot?) The Wrath of Khan. I also think that I’m one of the few people who doesn’t fawn over Benedict Cumberbatch in everything that he appears. I don’t think he’s terrible, just overrated, so seeing him as Khan was odd.

The newest movie picks up a few years after the events of Into Darkness, with the Enterprise returning to its roots, exploring distant space. The crew earns a break from the monotony of their duties, with a trip to the new Starbase Yorktown. An escape pod arrives at the Starbase, bringing a strange alien with a tale of distress. Kalara relates how she fled when her ship was captured in a nearby planetary system in a region of an unexplored nebula. The Enterprise is sent to investigate, but of course this doesn’t go well, and they fly into a pretty obvious trap.

The rest of the movie was entertaining and fun, and I enjoyed the new characters. I may even have to cosplay Jaylah if I can figure out the prosthetic makeup. A few plot holes existed, but none of those bothered me too much. The film included a brief reference to Leonard Nimoy’s passing, which blended tastefully into the story.

What did YOU think of the movie? I have to say that when the alien ship/conglomerate first appeared, I was reminded of the Shadows from Babylon 5. Did anyone else have that reaction?

Star Trek: Beyond releases on DVD and Blu-Ray on November 1.

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I have some random links for everyone today!

 

Here is an article on tor.com discussing the recent 2015 Eisner awards and how comics are becoming more diverse in many ways.

I have several book reviews that went up over on Book Spot Central in the last few months. In case you missed them over there, they are:

Yesterday’s Kin by Nancy Kress

ApocalyptiGirl: An Aria for the End Times (graphic novel) by Andrew MacLean

Shattering the Ley by Joshua Palmatier

Fool’s Assassin by Robin Hobb

Link

Looking for a Few Reviewers

Is anyone out there interested in becoming a book reviewer? I’m looking for a handful of new reviewers over at Book Spot Central for genre novels. The site covers mainly fantasy and science fiction, but books with some mystery or romance elements are fine. You can also review graphic novels.

Benefits include the ability to get a Net Galley account where you can find e-book advance review copies of the latest books. If you may be interested, fill out the form below explaining why you want to write book reviews and a link to anything similar that you’ve written (or paste it into the other box if it isn’t available online).

Thoughts on Ascension – Part 2

Well it took me a while to find the time to watch part 2 of Syfy’s miniseries, Ascension. This installment was easier to follow. The plot still leaves me with many unanswered questions, but I found this second part to have fewer WTF moments.

 

*** SPOILER WARNING ***

 

 

 

 

 

 

At the end of the part 1, we learn that the Ascension mission was all a ruse. Those people on board for 50 years believe that they are in space, while they are really still on earth in a simulated interstellar journey. A sinister government agency (not sure which one), is running an experiment on the 600 people on board.

Where I become confused is when there are still references to how important the Ascension is to saving humanity. If it isn’t en route to a new planet and has been sitting on the ground for 50 years, how is this helpful to that goal? What is this nebulous threat?

I have to wonder whether anyone on board would really believe that they took off. I’m not sure how the project simulated the G-forces that would have been involved in a launch. If all of these super-bright scientists made up the original crew, was there an equal group of super-bright scientists that worked to ensure the voyage was accurately faked?

I did notice that two of the original scientists who are mentioned to have been on board the Ascension were really SF authors – Fritz Leiber and Alfred Bester. That was a fun tribute to throw in.

The project is being investigated by a special agent. I’m not sure what triggered this, but I like her, mainly because I don’t like the guy who is currently in charge of it.

The little girl on the Ascension looks like she is developing some psychic or telekinetic powers. It is hinted that one purpose of the project is to try to produce this effect.

Off to watch the last part!

Thoughts on Ascension – Part 1

This isn’t really a review because I don’t have the time or energy for that tonight. But I just watched the first part of Syfy’s Ascension mini-series and I feel like writing something.

Ascension promoThe show is pretty, and I have to give some to Syfy for their production and special effects. This is certainly a step above Sharknado. The premise was also interesting, with most of the show taking place on Ascension, a generation ship launched in secret by the United States sometime in the 1950’s. I wanted to know more about why and how this happened, however, which is not explained (at least in the first part).

When the show opens, a young woman on Ascension is murdered. The story follows the investigation of her death, with secondary plots involving a confusing number of cheating spouses, a strange little girl, and some brewing insurrection. A few scenes on earth are interspersed with those on the ship.

At first, the plot progressed logically, but as more twists came up and more characters became involved, the plausibility began to falter. Characters suddenly knew information that they shouldn’t, while others leaped to conclusions without any explanation of what led them to this. I could barely follow who was setting up whom for what. And as to why – well, I’d probably have to watch it again to guess at that, and I can think of at least a couple dozen better ways to spend another 90 minutes.

Photo by Tom, shared under Creative Commons license.

Here are a few other random thoughts:

Apparently, the standard procedure for surviving radiation is to go to sleep with the aid of a creepy breathing mask. Why would you need to sleep through the radiation? As long as you are in a shielded area, can’t you stay awake?

I don’t understand why the commander is elected position. If I understood correctly, he was once a working class guy from the lower decks. It is hinted that he saved some people from a fire and that propelled his political success. But – here is the problem. If he never trained to command a starship, how does he know how to do it? He acts as more than a politician, giving technical commands when the ship is in trouble. Clearly he learned that somewhere, but it defies my character logic.

Then there’s the big reveal at the end of the episode, which I won’t give any more specifics about. I don’t buy it. I doubt that this would have been possible to pull off.

Okay, so maybe this was a review. Who else watched Ascension this week? What did you think of it?

Book Review – Kingdom of Cages

Catching up on some book reviews now:

Kingdom of Cages
by Sarah Zettel
Aspect (2001)

Kingdom of Cages is an older novel by Sarah Zettel and is the only work of hers that I have read. Set amidst a space-faring society, the novel focuses on the plight of a single mother, Helice Trust, and her two young daughters, Chena and Teal.

Human society is in trouble, plagued by the Diversity Crisis. I had a tough time figuring out what this really was, and to the best of my ability it was a collection of afflictions that are supposedly brought on a lack of genetic diversity, akin to a bottleneck phenomenon. However, it acted more like something infectious, and that is how the characters treated it, so I found the premise unbelievable.

With society in fear of the Diversity Crisis, many flee to Pandora, a world which seems to be unaffected simply for the reason that the inhabitants are kept in habitats separate from the ecosystems. This also didn’t make sense to me, because in the villages people breathe the air from the world and live in the trees.

Amidst this setting, Helice Trust and her daughters manage to make it to Pandora, but are misled about their roles there. The ruling body on Pandora has other plans for Chena trust, but cannot convince her to play nice.

I had a hard time finishing this book for several reasons. The story mainly followed Chena and Teal Trust, but wandered without a clear plot for much of the time. I never cared whether either one of them accomplished their goals, and Teal struck me as a spoiled brat, so I was actively rooting against her. Also, the antagonists were too similar and I kept confusing them through the entire book.

The writing itself was solid and did not distract me, so I would be open to reading another book by this author, but it needs to have a more logical premise.

Book Review – Grimspace by Ann Aguirre

Grimspace
By Ann Aguirre
Ace (2008)

I can’t remember who recommended this book to me, but I have had it on my to-read shelf for about a year. It looked to be a quick read and I decided to plunge into it while waiting for another book to arrive in the mail.

Grimspace Cover

Grimspace is the debut novel by author Ann Aguirre and the first book in the Sirantha Jax series. The story is set in a world in which interstellar travel is possible by using paired pilot-jumper teams. Jumpers are rare – born with the J-gene that allows them to enter grimspace and follow the beacons left by an alien race. They are also monopolized by the Corp, the organization that identifies, trains, and employs them until many suffer a fatal burn out.

Sirantha Jax is an extraordinary jumper who is psychologically broken, and that is what makes her such a fascinating protagonist in this novel. Imprisoned for “treatment” after a catastrophic accident on her last trip, she is grieving her former pilot/lover who was lost in the crash. Jax has been interrogated by the Corp and although she has no memory of the events leading up to the crash, she feels incredibly guilty over the loss of life.

When she is rescued from her cell by an abrasive stranger, Jax is thrust back into her role as a jumper. Caught up in the schemes of her rescuers and their mysterious leader, Marsh, Jax finds herself running from the Corp and her past. This book was also a romance, and it was intriguing to follow the relationship between Jax and Marsh because he had his own dark past to rival that of Jax. This forces him to keep his emotions bottled up and his motivations are initially unclear.

As a first novel, this was a solid read. There were a few hiccups initially, where I felt like I had missed some explanation about the technology or the characters. By the time I was halfway through the book, I was engrossed in the story. The plot was unpredictable but logically followed the characters’ motivations, and by the time I finished reading, I decided that I adored this book. There is enough of a resolution in this first novel for it to serve as a stand-alone read, with just enough unanswered questions to leave me wanting more. I plan to pick up the next volume in the Sirantha Jax series soon.

This Sounds Cool!

I have a soft spot for space opera, and this book just sounds fun! If only there were more hours in the day for reading…

The Burning Sun by William J. Benning. $3.99 from Smashwords.com
The adventure continues for Billy Caudwell, the teenage First Admiral of the Universal Alliance Fleet. The Bardomil Empress, eager to avenge the defeat of her Imperial Fleet at the hands of Billy Caudwell, acquires a weapon that can generate super-charged solar flares and incinerate entire planets. And, as if that’s not enough, Billy also has girl troubles!

This Sounds Cool!

I’m going to start posting more book reviews and general reading and writing interest items here. This Sounds Cool! is for books or other items that I think might be worth a read, or at least a look. I haven’t read them, I just happened to hear about them. Sometimes it won’t be a book at all.

Here’s the first one:

Shift by Madison Dunn. $8.99 from Smashwords.com
I’m not sure why it happens, but when I focus just right, I can slow time. Things around me become lighter somehow, and I almost feel the tiny particles of energy spinning inside of them. The thing is, having the ability to transform the world around you isn’t all it’s cracked up to be — especially when you are running from the Valencia without any deodorant.

A Positive Outlook – On Sexism in SF/F

There has been a lot of controversy and commentary in the SF/F writing community of late centered around the last few issues of the SFWA bulletin. I am not a SFWA member, so I have only heard about this second-hand and have not been able to find the cover art in question or all of the articles. Jim C. Hines has a nice summary of links here, but it centers around accusations of sexism in the SF/F publishing industry over the course of three recent issues of the SFWA bulletin. I’m not going to rehash the details here because others have already done a more informed and thorough job than I can. What I do want to say, is that most of the writers and editors that I have met at conventions or through the internet have not shown any overt sexism or unprofessional behavior. Perhaps I’m lucky. Perhaps I’m just unobservant. But whatever the reasons, I wanted to share some of my positive experiences that, I think, illuminate how much progress has been made for women in recent decades.

First off, I work as a veterinarian in my “day job” and veterinary medicine is a field which has experienced a dramatic gender shift. From the early 1900’s through most of the 20th century, veterinary colleges admitted primarily male students, citing reasons such as a woman’s lack of physical strength required for work with farm animals and the concern that women would leave the field to start families. I’m sure that at that time, some of this reflected the applicant pool. But from the late 1960’s up to the past decade, the ratio of female students admitted to veterinary colleges in the United States has flip-flopped, going from approximately 11% to 77%. The data from 2009 showed that for the first time, women outnumbered men among practicing veterinarians. This shift in gender in the profession is not completely understood, and there are still gaps in pay between women and men in the field, but I take it as a sign that such a shift could occur in other traditionally male-dominated fields. For more information on this change in veterinary medicine, here is a good summary article.

I grew up a tomboy, playing street hockey and manhunt with my brother and the neighborhood boys. I never felt singled out as the only girl among them. I was bigger than they were (for most of the time), and I played just as hard as they did. Even in college, if I showed up at the local roller-hockey pickup game, I might have received some odd looks, but I was never told that I couldn’t play. At a purely physical level, sure – I was at a disadvantage, being only 5’2″ and lacking testosterone – but we weren’t out there to play professional hockey. I could skate and stick handle better than some of the men. In any group activity there will be players of different skill levels, and this was not an elite group, just a group of friends enjoying the day.

When I began fencing, this was also a male-dominated activity. In my event (saber), there weren’t even competitions held for women. It wasn’t until the 1998-99 season that the NCAA added women’s saber to collegiate competition, followed by the first Olympic individual event in 2004. In fencing, afficianados of a particular weapon are usually ecstatic to have more people train and compete in that weapon. I never experienced anything I could verify as sexism from any competitors, coaches, or tournament staff. Like I said before, maybe I’m oddly fortunate. I’m sure there are others who have had a different experience.

I’m also a PC gamer, and I did have one recent experience that could be loosely called sexism. My cute blond human female character in Guild Wars 2 was busy pursuing quests in a pastoral area of farmland, cows, and peasants. I had just finished one task and was headed off to fight some monsters, when another character began to follow me around. The game allows you to pick up buckets of water and dump them out – presumably you would do this in the correct place to fulfill the quest goals. Instead, this other character asked me, “Do you want a bath?” and proceeded to dump the water on my character repeatedly. I ignored this, never engaged the other player in any conversation, and when I had decided to move on, teleported to a different location. That ended it. Was this a sexist attack on me? The other player had no reason to know that the person behind the character was female. I think rather than label this sexist, I would prefer to call it “being an asshole”. People are going to behave like this at times, and if there is a hint that the target’s gender plays a part, it may be sexist or discriminatory, but I would venture that when you’re being an asshole, you don’t stop to think about those facets of your behavior. There will always be individuals who act out in a malicious way against others, but this shouldn’t be accepted as normal by our modern society.

I don’t want to discount or discredit the experiences of those who have endured serious discrimination. There is still work to be done, and I don’t think that comments on a female editor’s appearance in a bathing suit belong in a commentary about her work. The research studies and case reports that I read in my professional veterinary journals don’t relate information about the author’s bra size or shoe size, be they male or female. Why would they? It’s not relevant. I just want to say that if veterinary medicine and sports can show a willingness to change and be more inclusive to women, then surely SF/F, the field that purports to speculate on the possibilities of the future and imagination can also make progress in this regard.

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