Review by C.J. Bunce
The more I read Philip K. Dick’s novels, and I’ve read roughly half, the more I want to take a highlighter to paragraphs throughout his works that keep me coming back for more. Oddly enough, those tidbits I liked best from his Hugo Award-winning, 1963 novel The Man in the High Castle, didn’t make it into the Amazon Studios pilot released this month on their streaming service. Enough of his framework is there, however, to make science fiction fans, especially alternate history fans, want the new studio to pick up the series and show us what more they can do with this unique work.
The Man in the High Castle generally is considered Dick’s best work. The TV pilot and novel follow a small cast of characters living their average lives in a world where Nazi Germany and Japan won World War II. The superpowers have divided America, leaving a neutral zone of sorts in between, and this arrangement is the key political focus of the story. In the novel, life is more mundane and the vile realities more subtle. In the TV series the theme is more like Red Dawn–the studio must think modern audiences need that over-arching theme of American rebellion for the show to take hold. A key element missing from the pilot is the Japanese desire for American nostalgia. A key character in the novel, an antique salesman named Robert Childan, is absent from the TV version. It’s this character I was most fascinated with in the novel, so it was a strange watching the story progress without his contribution.
Review by C.J. Bunce
Now Wait for Last Year suffers from those chronic problems that plagued many of Philip K. Dick’s science fiction novels: Dick’s obsession with drug-induced fantasies and his misogyny that begins to grate on modern readers after only a few of his novels, despite a clever idea that could net a solid read if only Dick wasn’t his own worst enemy.
Now Wait for Last Year follows a doctor on future Earth who specializes in organ transplants that allow people to live for decades past their historic life expectancy. He hates his wife and she hates him. She stumbles into taking a drug that prompts an incurable addiction and then slips the drug to her husband as revenge. And then they discover that drug has a side-effect: the right dose will make you travel back or forward–or even sideways–through time. A new spin on time travel is the classic Dick sci-fi hook for this story. The trouble is that Dick mishandles it–too many deus ex machina rescues, including more than one by a talking cab familiar to fans of Total Recall, as well as too many references to then-recent history, an ugly future and no redeeming characters. The writer of some of the best science fiction stories of all time produced far better novels than this entry.
Finally the Australian film Predestination will be making it to the States. The Aussie Spierig Brothers direct this loose adaptation of Robert A. Heinlein’s short story “All You Zombies.” Bringing some genre street cred to this independent film is Gattaca’s Ethan Hawke as the lead. Hawke is a time travel agent in the business of preventing crimes before they happen, and in good film noir fashion he is on his final case to hunt down that one criminal who got away.
If the plot sounds familiar, it should. Predestination is just the latest entry in the sci-fi time travel trope, in the vein of the Philip K. Dick inspired films The Adjustment Bureau, Paycheck, and Minority Report, and the Bruce Willis/Emily Blunt rollercoaster ride Looper.
Predestination was filmed in Melbourne, and comes from that same stylized sci-fi tradition that brought us the cool post-apocalypse film The Quiet Earth. Released in Australia back on August 28, 2014, it finally has a U.S. release date.
After the break, check out the trailer for Predestination:
Wash. Rinse. Repeat.
Live. Die. Repeat.
One of these lines is in the 2004 Japanese military science fiction novel All You Need Is Kill by Hiroshi Sakurazaka. The other line gives away some of the surprise of what the novel–soon to become a major motion picture–is about. The movie, renamed the far less interesting title Edge of Tomorrow, stars Tom Cruise as a foot soldier (Kaiji Kiriya in the novel, Lt. Col. Bill Cage in the movie)and Emily Blunt as powerhouse super soldier Rita Vrataski in a future battle with an alien incursion that takes place on Earth not too far from now. Based on the brief previews we’ve seen, the film appears to be different enough from the novel so that reading the novel will not entirely give away the movie, and it’s full of enough classic sci-fi riffs that you may want to read it first as a separate experience.
Sakuraska’s novel will likely conjure elements from some of the best of classic science fiction. It’s a great look at day-to-day military encounters, with real world elements from Sun Tzu’s The Art of War, Richard Marcinko’s Rogue Warrior, Orson Scott Card’s Ender’s Game, and Robert Heinlein’s Starship Troopers. It has its own thought-provoking “warning-sign” messages found in classics like Logan’s Run and THX-1138, that adversity in the face of certain doom as in Pacific Rim, and the “what the heck is going on” feel from any number of Philip K. Dick short stories (“Paycheck” and “We Can Remember it for You Wholesale” come to mind). It also borrows a lot from the endless onslaught of future military video games—it helps to know the author’s background is in information technology and he’s an avid gamer.
As the movie’s tagline reveals, the now iconic Groundhog Day time-loop plays a part in the story. Searching for what role the time-loop plays is the real quest Sakurazaka takes us through. Each new year seems to bring a new take on that sci-fi device, and the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode “Cause and Effect” best illustrates the physics “causality loop” if you’re not familiar with it and we discussed several other examples here at borg.com back in 2011. If you’re stuck repeating the events of a single period of time, can you ever hope to break free from it? What do you do in the meantime? The time-loop element is pervasive even in the future world of the novel—Keiji loosely recounts once watching Adam Sandler and Drew Barrymore’s time-loop comedy 50 First Dates, which finds Barrymore’s character with amnesia every morning so she must start each day all over again.
Readers of the anthology series Dark Horse Presents will have already read it in serial form, but those who haven’t will be in for a sci-fi TV inspired treat with this week’s release of the one-shot Station to Station. Co-written by Gabriel Hardman and Corinna Sara Bechko with art by Hardman, this Outer Limits-inspired tale chronicles the aftermath of a laboratory experiment into parallel universes when the experiment goes incredibly wrong. Set in San Francisco Bay’s Treasure Island, Station to Station reads like a short story from a sci-fi compilation like Philip K. Dick’s Short Stories or Ray Bradbury’s Short Stories, only in graphic novel form. It begs the question: Why not take a bunch of sci-fi stories like these and make an ongoing monthly comic book series out of them?
As to genre, Station to Station fits in the mix of sci-fi that crosses over into horror, like many of the best tales from The Twilight Zone–the cool thrilling and chilling kind of horror as opposed to the goopy gory kind. Unlike a lot that comes out of Dark Horse Presents that have grown into ongoing series, Station to Station doesn’t need a series because it does what it needs in a single issue.
Imagine a movie where Khan from Star Trek is trapped on Seti Alpha VI and Jabba the Hutt puts a bounty on his head and sends several mercenaries to track him down. Now imagine this takes place in Jurassic Park and Ridley Scott’s aliens invade. Oh, and Battlestar Galactica’s Kara Thrace is one of the bounty hunters. And better yet, Khan is played by Vin Diesel.
Imagine no further. Just check out the new trailer to the latest installment in the Chronicles of Riddick, titled Riddick:
By Elizabeth C. Bunce
The 2012 remake of Total Recall was one of our most hotly-anticipated films. Somehow we missed it in the theater, and our first efforts to catch it on video ought to have told us something (two broken Blu-Rays, an extra-long wait for a Netflix copy, and part of the audience dozing off during the initial screening). It all seemed so promising–proven material, a top-notch cast (Colin Farrell, Jessica Biel, and Kate Beckinsale in her signature running-and-jumping role), and some pretty cool teasers at Comic-Con. What could go wrong?
Well, as it turns out, everything. Gloomy set design and glacial pacing dragged down the first act, and while the action sequences are acceptable genre fare, the movie just doesn’t have any zip to it. The actors seem bored with the material, and the story (which owes more to the Bourne franchise than to Philip K. Dick’s classic short piece “We Can Remember it for You Wholesale”) suffers from utterly uninteresting gimmicks and a preposterous premise. The villain has one of the least credible goals I can remember seeing in movie (kill everyone in Australia and replace them with robots, and I am not making that up). But most baffling of all is the filmmakers’ decision to abandon the Recall plot device almost from the get-go. There is none of the mind-bending “is it real, or is it Recall?” mystery played up so well in the 1990 version starring Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sharon Stone, let alone Dick’s bizarre original story. Why call this film Total Recall at all? Because they couldn’t get the rights for The Bourne Future?
Following on the heels of the successful Canada import Lost Girl, the Vancouver based sci-fi series Continuum premiered this year on the Syfy Channel in the U.S. and it easily earns the status of best new TV series of 2013. Like Lost Girl, the first season has already aired in Canada, and is being shown one season behind here, hopefully to catch up in the U.S. market later this year. The series has already been renewed in Canada, and Season 2 is being filmed on location in Vancouver, B.C. Tonight, episode four airs at 7 p.m. Central/8 p.m. Eastern on the Syfy Channel. You’ll want to set up your DVR for this series and if you’ve missed episodes 1-3 you can still catch them on primetime Free Per View.
Continuum stars Star Trek 2009, G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra, and Conan the Barbarian’s Rachel Nichols as a British Columbia cop from the year 2077 named Kiera Cameron who gets transported back in time to 2012 where she tracks down a group of rebel terrorists who have come to the past with her. The terrorists, who go by the name Liber8, were sentenced to death and at their execution someone smuggled in a device that created a warp field that spun the convicts back in time and sucked in security officer Cameron. Like her cool and tough performance as Scarlet in the first G.I. Joe movie, Nichols is perfect as a no-nonsense cop, quick to act in a gunfight and several other situations she never could have trained for.
The producers of Continuum have created the most seemingly realistic future technology here along with a creepy possible future political structure where corporations have bailed out the defaulting government and eventually taken over all its functions, taking away individual liberties from citizens. The police force Cameron works for is in protection of this new world order, and the great twist of Continuum is having the terrorists’ ideal be a return to our political structure today. Continuum is the series many hoped the Battlestar Galactica spinoff Caprica would be, but in only three episodes Continuum has already surpassed that other Syfy Channel series in production quality and story.
Image Comics has several new and interesting titles beginning in November, with many new creators, including:
Clone #1, by David Schulner, Juan Jose Ryp and Felix Serrano
Great Pacific #1, by Joe Harris and Martin Morazzo
Comeback #1, by Ed Brisson and Michael Walsh
Nowhere Men #1, by Eric Stephenson, Nate Bellegarde and Jordie Bellaire
Storm Dogs #1 by David Hine, Doug Braithwaite and Ulises Arreola
Perhapnauts: Danger Down Under! by Todd Dezago and Craig Rousseau
Where Is Jake Ellis? by Nate Edmondson and Tonci Zonjic
Witch Doctor: Mal Practice, by Brandon Seifert and Lukas Ketner
To be released by Image Comics’ Shadowline Productions imprint this coming Wednesday, November 21, 2012, is Comeback #1, a story that could have been written by Philip K. Dick about a time travel agency that will send agents back in time for you to fix wrongs or retrieve people, for a price. And if the agents mess up a reconnaissance, they can do it over.
Review by C.J. Bunce
Allen Purcell, the protagonist in Philip K. Dick’s 1956 novel The Man Who Japed, unexpectedly reminded me of a character from a classic Hollywood film from 1955, Ensign Pulver, from John Ford’s comedy drama Mister Roberts. If you haven’t seen Mister Roberts or read The Man Who Japed, you’re missing out on two of the best comedic works from their respective creators.