Category: Sci-Fi Café


Review by C.J. Bunce

Once every 176 years a window opens whereby humans can send spacecraft in a trajectory that would include Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune.  Scientists knew of this pathway for centuries and the time for this window was approaching as 1970 arrived.  To act, with achievements in rocketry, aeronautical science, and experience in space travel, decisions needed to made quickly.  When President Richard Nixon was told this–and that the last President who could have done this, Thomas Jefferson, missed his opportunity–Nixon authorized the creation of two spacecraft to make the journey at a cost of about $1 billion.  The result is considered by many scientists to be the greatest space mission ever devised by humans.  The information recorded on the grooves of the accompanying golden records will survive intact for at least a billion years, making ours the first generation to create something that will not only outlive us, but will outlive our star.

One of the highlights of the year from NASA, the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, and PBS that we previewed in January here at borg.com has arrived.  An excellent, and surprisingly poignant and even epic journey of exploration as exciting as any voyage you’ve ever read about or seen awaits you in PBS’s new documentary The Farthest–Voyager in Space.  You will be hard-pressed (and must be made of some substance not found on this planet) to watch this film and not find yourself joining the Voyager project members in shedding a tear or two as you follow along in the amazement and surprising emotion of the Voyager missions, their euphoric highs and nearly devastating lows.  Should it surprise us that scientists and retired scientists saw their mission as so personal and yet so global in scope, to get so emotional when discussing the Voyager probes 40 years since they left the Earth?  Individual experts in all aspects of science, from NASA engineers to imaging specialists, describe their creation in terms like they would a child sent off into the unknown, never to return, but that would keep sending postcards and messages home for decades to come.

The film’s journey chronicles benchmarks of the Voyager spacecrafts as the individual scientists who were there from conception of the idea in 1972 to the 1977 launch of the first ship, Voyager II–which is celebrating its 40th anniversary this year–to its arrival at Jupiter and Saturn, to Voyager I’s arrival at Uranus and Neptune, to its emergence beyond the magnetic bubble that defines our solar system and entering interstellar space and beyond.   The probes were the first manmade objects to do many things, among them the first to observe volcanic activity outside of Earth, to discover moons which may contain life, and to leave our solar system.  The Voyager space records that humans have been so fascinated with since 1974 are explored in the film, too, as well as the afterparty attended by Chuck Berry, whose “Johnny B. Goode” continues its voyage into the unknown every day.  Standing in for Carl Sagan–who directed the creation of the two physical Voyager records (plus a few extras to keep for Earthlings) and their contents in less than six weeks–is his son Nick Sagan, whose greeting to possible alien life as a young boy was included on the records.

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Fans of the Star Trek series Deep Space Nine have a new chronicle of the show to look forward to, a guide book in the style of the Rick Sternbach’s classic technical manual book and the layouts in decades of Star Trek fan magazines.  Star Trek: Deep Space Nine Illustrated Handbook is an in-universe guide detailing the inside and outside of the former Cardassian space station led by Captain Benjamin Sisko, as well as the USS Defiant and the runabouts.  The book is available this month here at Amazon.  Take a look at the preview below.  

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Review by C.J. Bunce

Of all the attributes of Star Trek’s Deep Space Nine series, my personal favorite is the art direction.  Because it is a visual account of the production of the show, the new Deep Space Nine Illustrated Handbook is a celebration of the work of key creative visionaries and futurist art designers Rick Sternbach, Michael Okuda, and Doug Drexler, and more.  Reprinting key components from more than 8,500 mail order Fact Files cards published between 1997 and 2002, this attractive, hardcover, coffee table book will provide insight into Star Trek’s outlying, groundbreaking series for a new generation of fans now watching for the first time via Netflix and other streaming platforms.  In this chronicle expect to find everything but a self-sealing stem bolt.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

As much as you may hear general moviegoers asking if we may be near the end of the Alien franchise–and earlier this month Alien director Ridley Scott said as much, that the franchise has basically “run out”–you probably won’t hear that from fans of Alien who keep coming back for more.  But no worry: two future movies are expected from the franchise.  Along the way tie-in authors continue to expand the universe before and after the first film that premiered way back in 1979.  The best of these so far is arguably Tim Lebbon’s Alien: Out of the Shadows (reviewed here at borg.com along with an interview with the author here).  In that novel Lebbon cleverly intercut between films a new tale of Ellen Ripley encountering xenomorphs again.  Earlier this year we reviewed an anthology, Alien: Bug Hunt here, and a new interactive in-world book in the Alien universe will be reviewed here soon.  Ridley Scott returned to direct another film in the series this year with Alien: Covenant, and a new tie-in novel bridges the gap between 2012’s Prometheus and Covenant.  Titled Alien: Covenant–Origins, it features the return of one of fandom’s favorite writers, Alan Dean Foster, and readers will find the story completely unexpected.

Since the 1970s Foster has written famous science fiction expansion stories that brought classic films home to audiences before the days of home video, including the novelization of the original Star Wars and the first Star Trek tie-ins.  His success with those would lead him to write the novelizations of the first three Alien films and Alien: Covenant, Terminator: Salvation, The Chronicles of Riddick, the first two Transformers movies, Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Star Trek (2009), Star Trek Into Darkness, adding to a catalog of books that include The Thing, The Black Hole, Outland, The Last Starfighter, Starman, and AlienNation.  So Foster knows the Alien world well and with Alien: Covenant–Origins, Foster looks beyond the monstrous xenomorphs of the franchise to the political and corporate machinations behind the first effort to colonize outer space by Earthlings.  Springboarding off what we can imagine to be a Michael Crichton’s Rising Sun-inspired corporate takeover of CEO Peter Weyland’s tech company by competitor Hideo Yutani after the events of Prometheus find Weyland lost in space, we encounter the new Weyland-Yutani Corp. as it prepares to send a ship full of colonists to habitable planet Origae-6.  But on Earth the company first encounters espionage, intrigue, and sabotage, earthbound topics wrestled with similarly in Carl Sagan’s classic novel Contact. 

More action-thriller than sci-fi, Foster plants us into a mad dash to get the Covenant into space, with Yutani’s daughter kidnapped, assassination attempts, and a strange faction bombarding the company at every step to stop all efforts to go into space to avoid what one human is foreseeing as an invasion of horrible alien demons in Earth’s future if Weyland-Yutani proceeds with its flight.  It’s the same warning Sagan and NASA encountered from members of the public when the United States sent two Voyager space probes to the edge of the galaxy and beyond in the 1970s–what if aliens find us and they’re not so friendly?

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Review by C.J. Bunce

Tor Essentials is a new library of backlist science fiction and fantasy novels from Macmillan Publishing’s Tor imprint, so far featuring 15 novels plucked from the past few decades.  One of those 21st century titles is a well-constructed gem, Canadian author Robert Charles Wilson’s Spin A broad, epic story that traverses literally billions of years from the vantage of a doctor living on Earth, the novel packs a lot of ideas into 300 pages.  The sub-genres covered are a mix of apocalypse, speculative fiction, and Martians, but not quite the aliens of H.G. Wells or Robert Heinlein.  Like the inexplicable monolith of Arthur C. Clarke’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, a giant black barrier has blocked the atmosphere so we no longer see the Sun, the Moon, or the Stars, but some secret force is protecting the Earth from the effects of such an occurrence.  Somehow Wilson connects the dots between the absurd and the improbable with the realities of the human condition to arrive at a story similar to Daniel H. Wilson’s The Andromeda Evolution, another intriguing, creative tale that made readers believe the unlikely was possible.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

For most television viewers, the names after a show scroll by without much notice.  But if you pay attention, you may find the writer of one of your favorite episodes is the writer of many of your favorites, which may point you to other series and episodes you’ve not seen yet that you may like.  You might not have heard of Paul Robert Coyle, but it’s likely that anyone who is a fan of one or more genre shows has watched the results of his work.  Or maybe you haven’t heard of Star Trek: The Next Generation, Deep Space Nine, Star Trek Voyager, Star Trek: The Animated Series, Xena: Warrior Princess, Hercules: The Legendary Journeys, Superboy, The Dead Zone, Simon & Simon, or earlier detective and police series like The Streets of San Francisco, Barnaby Jones, Crazy Like a Fox, Jake and the Fat Man, and CHiPs.  Coyle wrote for these series, and readers of his new book Swords, Starships, and Superheroes: A TV Writer’s Life Scripting the Stories of Heroes may find he wrote some of their favorite episodes.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

We previewed Dan Curry’s new look back at his work on Star Trek in September.  The nicely designed full color hardcover, Star Trek: The Artistry of Dan Curry is designed and reads like a true sequel to Judith and Garfield Reeves-Stevens landmark 1995 book The Art of Star Trek, once the only definitive look at the artwork behind the franchise (we’ve covered nearly all the Star Trek art books since then here at borg).  Like any professional in the art and design fields for a television or feature film crew, Dan Curry had a variety of projects he handled.  This book digs into Curry’s work from 1987 to 2005, basically Star Trek: The Next Generation through Enterprise, where he served as visual effects supervisor/producer, second-unit director, title designer, and concept designer, winning seven Emmys for his effort.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

The right mix of writing, acting, art direction, and music come together in Orbiter 9, a direct-to-Netflix Spanish film that really has it all.  Like the critically-acclaimed Midnight Special, saying too much about the plot will give away too much of what is compelling about this film.  But you can be sure to find a tense piece of science fiction derived from those classic tales of great writers of the past like Arthur C. Clarke, Ray Bradbury, and Philip K. Dick.  It’s a tale of future Earth where Earthlings have ravaged the planet, so, like recent sci-fi entries Passengers and the Lost in Space reboot, the only chance for humans is to embark on long voyages to distant worlds.

Clara Lago (The Commuter, The Librarians, LEX) masterfully plays Helena, a young woman left on board a spaceship heading from Earth to a distant colony who encounters an engineer named Álex, coming to repair the ship’s oxygen system, played by actor Álex González (X-Men: First Class).  We learn from a video image Helena is re-watching that her parents left her alone three years ago when the oxygen system broke down–their math showed that with Helena flying alone the oxygen could still get her to Celeste safely.  Raised on the ship since birth, she has never met another human.  She is diligent in her daily rituals, including exercise, with a determination to complete her mission prompted by her parents’ sacrifice.  But after Álex’s arrival, everything changes.

More believable than prior visions of the future in this sub-genre (Passengers, Moon, the Cloverfield series), Orbiter 9 may pull its tale in part from classic Greek sacrifice mythology or closed-room mysteries like Alfred Hitchcock’s Lifeboat, and wrestles with the limits of sacrifice, for family or others–again, a concept addressed in many past sci-fi stories, Star Trek in particular (think Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, “Suddenly Human” in Star Trek: The Next Generation and “Child’s Play” from Star Trek Voyager).  Do the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the one?  Orbiter 9 attacks this question in many surprising ways.  And unlike many a recent sci-fi film, it’s story belongs in a full feature format like this–it’s not just another short story dragged out to fit a movie-length format.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

Star Trek Voyager’s Seven of Nine takes center stage in a new limited series from IDW Publishing.  In Star Trek Voyager: Seven’s Reckoning, writer Dave Baker (Action HospitalStar Trek: Waypoint) and artists Angel Hernandez  (Star Trek: Picard CountdownStar Trek/Green Lantern) and Ronda Pattison have created one of those rare tie-in stories that is solidly believable as a missing episode of the TV series.  In Seven’s Reckoning, the Voyager crew encounters an alien vessel filled with a cryogenically frozen crew, which should evoke thoughts of Star Trek Into Darkness and its source story, the original series episode “Space Seed” (it also might conjure images from the Chris Pratt and Jennifer Lawrence movie, Passengers).  As Captain Janeway and the crew attempt to assist the peoples, called the Ohrdi’Nadar, Seven lands in the middle of an uprising of the worker aliens–the Vesh–against Septa, their oppressor and leader, getting a close encounter with the Prime Directive.

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Since launching it’s studio of direct-to-streaming films, Netflix has not been lacking for sci-fi.  The latest in its line of space disasters is Stowaway, coming to your TV sets next month.  It’s a suspense thriller about a long-term voyage to Mars that–no surprise–has a stowaway, and other problems that require some life-and-death decisions of the Kobayashi Maru variety.  Because of the stranded lifepod nature of the story, look for a small cast.  It stars Anna Kendrick (Twilight, End of Watch), with Daniel Dae Kim (Star Trek Enterprise, Star Trek Voyager), Shamier Anderson (Wynonna Earp, Lost Girl) and Toni Collette (The Sixth Sense, Shaft).

Check out the trailer for Netflix’s Stowaway.

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