Tag: speculative fiction

The Inheritors

Worth supporting?

The Inheritors is an intimate science-fiction short film exploring themes of race, family and belonging. Reflecting on the experiences of people with multiple-heritage, it’s a story about how societal polarisation creates walls that divide us, deprive us of love, of community, of a sense of identity, and ultimately of our deepest humanity.

[Via Orbital Operations]

Picard Season 2

Season 2 of Star Trek: Picard has been a poorly-paced tale that is so busy looking backwards that I have very little confidence that the coming third season will be worth my time, even if they are reuniting the TNG-era bridge crew and promising us "Federation starships galore".1

On the other hand, sometimes it prompts MetaFilter FanFare comments like this and it all seems worthwhile:2

“Oh no.”
“I just realized who the actress playing his mother reminds me of. Holly Palance.”
“Let’s just say that I hope ‘Look Up, Jean-Luc’ isn’t this plotline’s ‘Look at me, Damien, I love you! It’s All for You, Damien!'”
‘oh god, they wouldn’t’

Q: Jeez, Jean-Luc. I came here to teach you a lesson about romance. But I thought your Avoidant Behaviors about women were you just being, y’know, stuffy. Reserved.

(Vash told me she actually caught you doing the Picard Maneuver with a condom. C’mon man.)

I had no idea your mother made you a witness to her suicide!

Really messes up my plans for you and Laris loving it up and having the first Synth-Romulan hybrid baby; solving both my selfish Last of the Picards to Play With and making a point about growing by overcoming your deepest fears.

But no, you had to do your own thing. So now BorgRati is headed straight for the alternate dimension where AI is the dominant lifeform, from last season. The big portal full of robot tentacles? And I’ve seen enough hentai to know where that’s going.

posted by bartleby at 6:48 AM on April 15

  1. It’s crazy how often major, galaxy-threatening terrors turn out to have their roots in the histories of that one small group of Star Fleet officers, to the point where it’s starting to feel like a galaxy so small it feels like it was inspired by the works of George Lucas. 
  2. NB: That comment was posted before this week’s penultimate episode of the season, in which the first plot point mentioned turned out to be spot-on. 

Station Eleven ended

I’ll have more to say about this, but first just a quick note to confirm that now that the STARZPLAY stream of HBO’s Station Eleven has come to an end I’m delighted I went to the trouble of seeking the show out.

The story and the way they chose to tell it took a few episodes to get used to, but by the time they had trained their audience in what to expect from the story their clever, lyrical approach to adapting an existing tale paid massive dividends.

Arguments about how realistic the story of this particular post-apocalyptic pocket of human civilisation was are, in my opinion, missing the point. The author of the source material wanted to tell a story that took an optimistic view of what could happen in the wake of a ruinous pandemic given an attitude that survival was insufficient, and the showrunners seem to have honoured that by producing a show that has to be one of the highlights of what’s been a little bit of a golden age for televised speculative fiction over the last couple of years, between Station Eleven and Devs and Tales From The Loop.

Station Eleven

Given the largely positive reviews that Station Eleven got, regular readers may not be surprised to learn that I ended up shelling out for a STARZPLAY subscription with the plan of watching the ten episodes then deciding whether to let my subscription roll over for another month. There’s other content I’d been meaning to watch1 so we’ll see how long they can keep my interest.

I’m up to episode five so far, and while the show has been a bit uneven so far as they’ve introduced the characters my worries that the show might veer into a more Walking Dead-style take on the apocalypse have abated. I’m mostly enjoying some excellent acting and a cast of characters who are (so far) very much not taking the story in that sort of relentlessly grim direction.

More to say once I catch up with the end of the show, but I do have two negative points about the wider experience of watching the show:

  1. Whilst the official podcast has all the access to the cast and crew one could wish for, the content is so self-congratulatory about just how brilliant everyone was that it can be hard to take. This is why for other shows I mostly steer clear of their official podcasts, but I haven’t had time to locate a suitable non-official alternative for this show yet.
  2. The STARZPLAY app for iPadOS breaks so many of John Siracusa’s (unsolicited) rules for streaming apps it’s ridiculous and is also just horribly unreliable when it comes to just playing streaming video, full stop. Silent crashes, the app reacting to a wrong touch by returning me to the start of my episode multiple times per episode, it’s infuriating. They’re lucky the content is worth the perseverance required.

  1. I definitely need to see Counterpart from scratch, and it’d be good to finish off Fringe after I made it to the end of season 2 in an earlier watch on NowTV earlier in the pandemic. 

Fett Fanfic

Even if I live to be 100, I will never understand why knowing more about the fate of Boba Fett became such a big deal among fans of the original Star Wars trilogy.

Despite this, there’s no denying that This Place Was Home by ND Stevenson is a really good, heartwarming piece of Boba Fett fan fiction. Got me right in the feels, it did.

[Via MetaFilter]

Star Trek: Coda

When I dipped a toe in the waters of the Star Trek tie-in towards the end of last year1 I had no idea that the Trek Litverse was just about to wind itself up:

Following the conclusion of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine on television, the success of the series’ continuation in book form, known as the DS9 relaunch (about which I’ve written extensively in this space—see here for an overview and index to individual book reviews), inspired a shared continuity across almost all Trek novels being published at the time. Authors and editors worked closely to keep this continuity as tight as possible across twenty years (2001-2021) of multi-book series storytelling, in the process giving rise to a vast tapestry of interconnected stories that some fans refer to as the Trek Litverse.

That enormous Litverse, at least in its current form, is now concluding. In September, October and November we’ll see the publication of three volumes that will stand as the epic final chapter, called Star Trek: Coda, of the decades-long mega-story:

  • Moments Asunder by Dayton Ward (September 28)
  • The Ashes of Tomorrow by James Swallow (October 26)
  • Oblivion’s Gate by David Mack (November 30)

Clearly I was about thirty years too late to start catching up2 with the Trek Litverse at this late stage in the game, but I decided that if they were just about to wind the whole thing up with a bang then it’d be a shame to miss out on the final round of fun for a bunch of characters I mostly greatly enjoyed in their original run.

Having finished the last of the Coda trilogy a couple of weeks ago, I think it’s fair to say that they wrapped up the story with WAY-more-than-one-bang. There was an awful lot of fanservice going on across three volumes of story, but given the nature of the story that was precisely what I was expecting. Not having folllowed the details of the Star Trek Litverse I was mildly taken aback at the number of familiar characters from the TV shows who turned out, several years after we last saw them in their respective TV shows, to be on hand in the vicinity of their former commanders when needed. The former Major Kira Nerys being a Vedek now, resident on Bajor, was no big surprise, but what led to Odo serving on the replacement Deep Space Nine, with Ro Laren (Ensign Ro when we last saw her in season 7 of TNG) as the DS9 station commander?3 That’s what I get for being a couple of decades behind in my reading, I guess…

The basic point being that for anyone who established some liking for the 1980s/1990s-era Star Trek universe over the years and isn’t put off by the but-this-isn’t-ever-what-we-saw-on-tv-or-the-big-screen premise,4 this trilogy is a fun ride. I’m not tempted right now to dive into two decades of Star Trek Litverse material, but I’m glad it’s there if I’m in the mood.

  1. What can I say? I was in the mood for something lightweight to distract me at a stressful time work-wise and otherwise. Also, I was exploring the pros and cons of an Audible subscription I’d acquired earlier last year to enjoy the first volume of the adaptation of Neil Gaiman’s Sandman stories (which, for what it’s worth, worked far better than I’d imagined they would when stripped of their visual component) and was in the mood to see how well a more conventional audiobook adaptation would work for me. Star Trek seemed to fit the bill. 
  2. My mid-2021 dip into the Trek Litverse consisted of a trilogy set in the TOS era consisting of Greg Cox’s Captain to Captain, David Mack’s Best Defense and Dayton Ward and Kevin Dillmore’s Purgatory’s Key, followed by a two-parter by Kirsten Beyer set in on Voyager in the Janeway-gets-sent-back-to-the-Delta-quadrant era, Architects of Infinity and To Lose the Earth. Not, by definition, a comprehensive picture of what’s happened in the Trek Litverse over a couple of decades, but sufficiently entertaining to persuade me that my earlier inclination to look down on material that never got near a TV or movie screen as inherently less satisfying might have been too harsh. 
  3. True, the plan was that her character might end up on the DS9 TV series, but that was – forgive the expression in this context – in a different timeline. 
  4. I used to think that novelisations based to filmed material were fine – perhaps influenced by the James Blish tie-ins back in the day but I always held the original material at arms’-length, uncomfortably aware that if it wasn’t on TV then by definition it hadn’t been in the mind of the show’s writers. 

For 2022

On the same principle that lots of us rewatched Soderbergh’s Contagion in the early days of the first lockdown1, HBO stands to do well with an adaptation of Station Eleven:

The show, based on Emily St. John Mandel’s 2014 international bestseller, follows the survivors of a flu pandemic.

Despite the desperate realities of the world at present, it seems there’s a continuing thirst for post-apocalyptic stories. Station Eleven sees a devastating flu pandemic and follows its survivors as they they attempt to rebuild society.

It seems to be getting enough favourable reviews to suggest that it’s going to be worthwhile, and at the end of January 2022 it’s going to be available to UK viewers via STARZplay (which should mean it’ll be viewable through Apple TV+ or Prime Video and so on.)

HBO’s trailer for the US release makes the show look worth watching:

If, like me, you’re utterly unfamiliar with the source material you might find HBO’s Beginners’ Guide promo useful:

Me, I’m seeing Mackenzie Davis and Himesh Patel (both actors who I think did good work in past projects – Halt And Catch Fire and Yesterday respectively – that didn’t bring them the plaudits they were due) in a speculative fiction show that has some interesting ideas and I’m there. The only question is whether I pony up for a STARZplay subscription that I plan upfront to cancel after 1 month or whether I wait until the end of the first season then binge the entire season in the free trial period. I realise the latter option isn’t exactly playing fair with the spirit in which STARZplay offers a free trial, but then Lions Gate Entertainment Corporation have no doubt costed into their projections how many viewers will "abuse our generosity"2 like this.

My worry about Station Eleven would be that it’ll be in danger of starting out as an even-in-an-apocalypse-human-beings-need-the-arts-too story and by season four it’ll turn into a hellish even-good-people-discover-that-they-have-to-harden-themselves-to-defend-what-they’ve-got spectacle. It’d be a shame to see all that behind the scenes production talent devoting itself to ensuring the small arms deployed by the characters are definitely capable of bringing down a human being at twenty paces in the bloodiest and most final way possible so as to head off a social media shitstorm if some gun fetishist on Facebook posts a video proving that this inaccurate small arms detail is yet another sign that Hollywood’s Liberal Communist Elitists are disrespecting Real Americans again.

In fairness, neither the Wikipedia summary of the source novel nor the entry on the novel’s author in the Encyclopedia of Science Fiction suggest that’s the direction a faithful adaptation would go in. Not to mention that HBO are probably not the adapters I’d expect to veer that far from the source material.

  1. I thinktwenty years from now the consensus will be that audiences mostly just wanted to see Gwyneth Paltrow’s corpse with the top of her head peeled off during her character’s autopsy. If they couldn’t have it for real, they’d take it in fiction even if it was embedded in such an unsettling story given the circumstances. 
  2. As they’d no doubt put it, if they thought that adopting the tone of a stuffy British TV executive who felt he or she was entitled to some of our money even where audiences were following the rules the producers laid down when making the free trial period offer in the first place would convince such miscreants to mend their ways. 

Ack! Ack! AckAckAck!

By the time Tim Burton came to making Mars Attacks he was (rightly) pretty darned famous, which explains the cast he could get at the height of his powers:

Between 1988 and 1993, Burton made a string of classics: Beetlejuice, Edward Scissorhands, Batman, and The Nightmare Before Christmas. So it was no surprise that some of the era’s biggest celebrities had lined up to make what is arguably the director’s weirdest and most divisive movie:****Mars Attacks!

“It was a strange and fun movie to make,” Burton tells Inverse.

_Mars Attacks!_stars Jack Nicholson and Glenn Close as the President and First Lady. The disaster-film pastiche also features Natalie Portman, Jack Black, Annette Bening, Pierce Brosnan, Michael J. Fox, Sarah Jessica Parker, Lukas Haas, Martin Short, Danny DeVito, and Tom Jones dancing in a desert with a bird of prey on his wrist.

Do not forget Tom Jones. None of us who watched it could. And the above list of successes omits Batman Returns, which may have been messy but it was the sort of mess that modern superhero films aren’t permitted to be. Also, it gave the world Michelle Pfeiffer’s take on Catwoman, which was vastly better than what Halle Berry brought us a decade or so later.

For my money the good bits in Mars Attacks! were well up to the mark – the dogs with human heads attached, apparently just because the invading Martians could do that; the ineptitude of Jack Black’s GI trying to respond to the Martians opening fire; the Martians carefully toying with major US landmarks before knocking them over – and even the jokes that didn’t quite come off were quickly overtaken by the next visual joke that did work. That was one very fun film, even if US audiences didn’t quite see the joke.

Even after his remake of Planet Of The Apes five years later – a woeful mismatch of director and material, for my money – we still see the odd flash of the old Tim Burton in projects like Big Fish and Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children. Unfortunately, all we can rely on Tim Burton for nowadays is his unreliable touch when it comes to choosing projects. (That, and we can rely on Burton trying to employ Johnny Depp as an actor long after that was a good bet.)

It’d be great to have the old Tim Burton back again someday. We’ve missed him.

[Via MetaFilter]

Invasion gets renewed

In the wake of the news that Apple TV+ have renewed Invasion for a second season, showrunner Simon Kinberg talks a good game about what he plans to do with the show:

[…] there’s a lot I want to explore with the aliens in subsequent seasons. I mean, there’s not a ton of alien information. There’s a lot of mystery and suspense, I suppose, in Season 1. And I think in subsequent seasons, you want to pay off that mystery, build more mystery, but start to really get a sense of the aliens as characters? What do they want? What are they doing here? How do we actually stop them? And that is fodder for some really interesting storytelling, again, filtered through the lens of really emotional characters, dealing with complex psychological stuff. Whether it’s guilt, or it’s love, or it’s remorse, or it’s anger or escape, whatever it is, I think the alien story for me is always going to be told through the filter of our characters.

The thing is, part of me wants to respect the show for sticking to a humans-only perspective on an alien invasion, especially when telling that story in a medium which all too frequently substitutes spectacle for exploration of how these extraordinary events affect ordinary people faced with extraordinary challenges.1 The thing is, though, the first season of Invasion worked spectacularly poorly on so many levels.

Full marks for not solely showing us the impact of the invasion on red-state American civilians,2 but the array of characters we followed over the ten episodes of the first season didn’t really get to develop all that much, and – with the exception of the Japanese Space Agency techie whose lover was apparently lost in space once the encounter developed – didn’t know much about how the wider alien encounter was going. We basically got to follow round a bunch of characters who were, at best, on the periphery of what was going on and stumbled along from episode to episode in the wake of the impending collapse of human civilisation. Beyond the basic empathy for any human finding themselves living through such an experience, I don’t think the series really had us engaged with the story they were being used to tell.

Most of all, I’m unconvinced that continuing that approach will bring us any of the things Simon Kinberg is suggesting in his talk of season 2 and beyond. Will we switch to an entirely different, and much better-informed, set of characters in season 2?

[Via r/tvplus]

  1. Contemplate The Tomorrow War for a good recent example of how poorly that can go. 
  2. Once we got beyond Sam Neill’s retiring Oklahoman sheriff’s appearance in the first episode. 

Firefly Returns

Subtract Joss Whedon and the original cast, and let’s see what comes of the Firefly reboot:

[…] Disney plans to reboot the series as an exclusive for its streaming platform Disney+. Disney had acquired the rights to the franchise after their 2018 acquisition of Fox. _Firefly_seems like the perfect option to diversify their current line-up for streaming.

Could be fun, could be awful. It’s way too early to know, given how little Disney have told us at this point.

Unless Disney’s plans are much further ahead than they’re letting on, it’s likely to be a few years before whatever this new series is shows up on Disney+, by which time Disney will be hoping that the current surge in speculative fiction on TV hasn’t faded away. It’d be funny to see Firefly: The Next Generation competing with the Battlestar Galactica reboot and whatever comes out of the interest in reviving Babylon 5 and Wheel of Time season 4 and For All Mankind season 6 and Foundation season 41.

I’m predicting a slew of opinion pieces in three or four years’ time, wondering why TV is so intent upon saving the world by recycling. What’s next: someone giving us a reboot of Dark Angel or Farscape or Lost?2

[Via More Words, Deeper Hole]

  1. Provided the latter two are lucky and Apple TV+ keep funding the shows that long. Hope they do, though I have my doubts. 
  2. A big old Hell Yes! for Farscape, provided they promise to continue to use the Jim Henson Company to bring us at least half of the regular characters. 
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