Category: Sci-Fi Café


Looking for something to do at home?  Check out the Insight Editions Incredibuilds series of 3D wooden model kits.

As a follow-on to its Harry Potter crest, Hogwarts Express, Golden Snitch, and Time Turner, Firefly Serenity spaceship, Star Wars Death Star, Millennium Falcon, Star Destroyer, AT-AT, X-Wing Fighter, and TIE Fighter, Marvel’s Iron Man and Infinity Gauntlet, DC’s Flash helmet and Batmobile, Ghostbusters Ectomobile, Assassin’s Creed hidden blade, Disney Beauty and the Beast characters, and even Santa Claus, a monuments collection, and animal kingdom wooden model kits, Insight Editions has released its three latest 3D models, and they feature iconic ships from the Star Trek franchise.  Just released as part of its Incredibuilds line, you can choose from the original Federation starship U.S.S. Enterprise, the U.S.S. Enterprise-D from Star Trek: The Next Generation, or a Klingon Bird of Prey.  Or grab them all.

Recommended for ages 10 and up, each kit comes with a full-color 32-page softcover booklet discussing the specs of each vessel, the history, appearances, and notable Star Trek characters that have served on each ship, dozens of photographs from the TV series and movies, and a section discussing behind-the scenes materials.  Each is written by Dayton Ward, Star Trek novelist, all in the style of the fan-favorite technical sheets that once appeared in Star Trek magazines over the years.

 

Like all model kits, adult supervision is a good idea, and the need for patience to avoid breaking any parts–the nature of wood makes these easier to build than the more difficult to assemble and more breakable Metal Earth kit counterparts.  And these are a bit sturdier than the classic balsa wood kits you may be familiar with.  An easy to follow, fold-out instruction sheet is included for each ship, and a single sheet of laser-cut, FSC-certified wood with easy-to-assemble, punch-out pieces.

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Free comics comixology

While you are sitting at your computer at home pretending to be paying attention to conference calls, you need something to do for your sanity, right?  How about comics?  The best thing you can do is order from the hundreds of graphic novels at your local comic book store.  Many will be willing to send you overnight or within a few days anything you’re after, especially if you’re behind on the latest and greatest comics have to offer.  Your own comic book shop stands ready to take your order now.  And local shops may be able to get you comics often quicker than online retailers right now.

With most single issues of new titles on delay for now, you can still get your single-issue comic fix via free comics at the Digital Comic Museum, which hosts hundreds of full Golden Age public domain comics, including many featuring superheroes (like the original Captain Marvel, Bulletman, Captain Midnight, and Spy Smasher, plus Westerns (like Gene Autry and Tom Mix), war comics, sports comics (like Jackie Robinson), jungle comics, sci-fi comics (like Captain Video), romance comics, and crime series.  Comixology also has hundreds of comics you, your kids, or your cat can read right now for free.  It’s a great way to get wind of a great story you may have missed or never considered, which you can then order in its complete series from local or online stores  Note: Comixology also has an unlimited program (currently priced at $5.99 per month) with more than 25,000 digital comics, graphic novels, and manga from DC, Marvel, Image, Dark Horse, and more.  Those carry the white “Unlimited” ribbon in the bottom right corner of the comic cover icon.

The current list of totally free comics on the Comixology website (just set up a free account), is easy to use, and updates regularly with new titles.   We’ve identified many we’ve recommended before at borg for you to check out (click the Comics & Books tab above anytime to find nearly a decade of recommendations).  These include: Usagi Yojimbo, Stranger Things, Hellboy, Predator/Aliens: Fire and Stone, Centipede, Xena: Warrior Princess, Charlie’s Angels vs. The Bionic Woman, Battlestar Galactica, Doctor Who, and Star Trek: The Next Generation–Mirror Broken Thinking about watching TV or movie tie-ins?  Check out the free issues from the original comics at Comixology for The Umbrella Academy, I, Frankenstein, and Captain Marvel.  You can even read the first Batman appearance ever in Detective Comics, Issue #27, or see early Superman in Superman, Issue #1, and the original issue from the 1970s of Swamp Thing, Issue #1.

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Sam and Gene

My name is Sam Tyler.  I had an accident, and I woke up in 1973.  Am I mad, in a coma, or back in time?  Whatever’s happened, it’s like I’ve landed on a different planet.

First off, it’s really going to rile some people when you pronounce something the greatest ever.  But we’re talking here about the British television series Life on Mars.  And not just Life on Mars, but The Empire Strikes Back of television series, Ashes to Ashes.  You can quibble with M*A*S*H or Law and Order or Buffy the Vampire Slayer or The Twilight Zone, or engage you people over there shouting Firefly and Supernatural and the others over there fighting over the best Star Trek series–but we’re talking about Life on Mars here.  And if you’ve watched its two seasons in 2006 and 2007, or the three seasons of Ashes to Ashes from 2008 to 2010, then the news that another chapter of the series is in the works is the kind of happy news that can actually distract you from the real world right now.

Yet it’s true.  Life on Mars co-creator Matthew Graham confirmed it all yesterday as part of a Twitter “watch-along” of the first episode of the genre-bending series for the UK audience.  Graham first hinted at the possibility in a Tweet he posted Tuesday promoting the event, and he provided more details after the show.  Just like over the past 15 years, Brits posted how much they loved the series, how they believe it to be the best series ever made.  The series follows John Simm (Doctor Who, State of Play) as Sam Tyler, a British cop in 2006 who is working on a case when he is hit by a car.  He awakens in the same police station 33 years earlier, in the year 1973.  He knows he’s unstuck in time, but unsure how he got there.  Is he in a coma?  Did something supernatural take over?  Is this what death is like?  This is where the genre-bending begins.  Until you’ve watched all five years of episodes, you won’t really know what is the true genre behind the genres hinted at in the series.  Tyler befriends and shares his situation only with co-worker Annie Cartwright, played by Liz White (Doctor Who, The Woman in Black).  He finds he is now working under the cantankerous Detective Police Inspector Gene Hunt, played by Philip Glenister (Cranford, Horatio Hornblower), one of my picks of the greatest characters of all time (seriously, I wrote about it here eight years ago).  DCI Hunt becomes the centerpiece of this strange world, continuing past the second season of Life on Mars to co-star in the same role in Ashes to Ashes along with Keeley Hawes (Doctor Who, The Bank Job), a police officer named Alex Drake who is shot in 2008 and wakes up in 1981.  Life on Mars continued with Ashes to Ashes much like The Closer continued with the series Major Crimes for U.S. audiences, swapping out the lead roles, but continuing with the rest of the cast.  Here that included two other cops, played by Dean Andrews (Father Brown, Marchlands) and Marshall Lancaster (Doctor Who, Casualty) who appeared in all five seasons.

Ashes

During yesterday’s watch-along, Graham peppered Twitter with glimpses at what lies ahead in what he called, The Final Chapter.  Although he didn’t say if any actors had confirmed returning, it seems impossible anyone would make this announcement without buy-in from Glenister, Simm, Hawes, White, Andrews, and Lancaster.  To that point he said, “we intend to get as many back (across both decades) as we can.  So when you wonder who will be coming back for The Final Chapter – think Avengers Assemble!”  He specifically referenced wanting Annie (Liz White) back, and Hunt’s boss DCI Litton.  Graham mentioned the series will be set in Manchester and London, partially in the 1970s, partially in the 1980s, but mostly in an alternate now, all running for four or five episodes.  “I’d like to tell you that in The Final Chapter there will be a TV show WITHIN our TV show.  TYLER: MURDER DIVISION,” adding, “We would never make another Mars unless we really had something to say and could push the envelope all over again.  Finally we have something.”  While watching a classic scene in the first episode, co-creator Ashley Pharoah Tweeted, “I wonder if Phil and John could jump over that desk now?  I guess we’ll find out”.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

As the ninth and final film in the Skywalker Saga arrives in a home video release, the fifth volume from Abrams Books chronicling the entirety of the Disney-era Star Wars concept artwork is here.  The Art of Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker does not disappoint in showing readers the expansive designs for a film that stepped ahead of its predecessor with more ships, more action, more aliens, more weaponry, and more costume designs.  Our only hope is that Abrams obtains the rights to create a similar volume continuing this series of books, documenting the first season of The Mandalorian.  One thing every fan will notice who has watched all eleven movies in the franchise–more than ever readers can now clearly see elements from each prequel, each original trilogy episode, and each Star Wars Story film incorporated into the sets, ships, and characters in this final installment.

As with the first two books in the trilogy, this look at the Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker shows paths taken and, more interestingly, paths not taken by production designer Rick Carter, franchise veteran Kevin Jenkins, and the rest of the art design team.  This includes alternate costumes for Rey, Finn, Poe, Lando, Zorii, and Jannah, new pilots, stormtroopers, droids, and new worlds of creature concepts.  Probably more than the past volumes in the series, this book has close-up detailed views at props, including lightsaber and other weaponry, all in search of that design element that says “Star Wars” to the movie audience.

Phil Szostak lets the artwork take center stage in this fourth book in the series (he also wrote The Art of Star Wars: The Force Awakens, The Art of Star Wars: The Last Jedi, and The Art of Solo: A Star Wars Story, all reviewed here at borg)–prior books had more textual commentary.  Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker (reviewed here and available in all digital formats today), the ninth and final episode in the Skywalker family story in the universe George Lucas created, saw the return of director J.J. Abrams and his strategy of evoking the trilogy to maximum benefit, with many images inspired by original Ralph McQuarrie concepts.  So it may come as no surprise that The Art of Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker feels like a book of original trilogy designs.  The artwork from dozens of contributors mirrors the iconography, the color patterns, the lighting, the costuming, and set pieces from The Return of the Jedi especially.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

How many sci-fi and outer space tropes can you pack into one hour of TV?  You’ll find out in the first episode of Syfy’s new space fantasy series Vagrant Queen It’s like Firefly and The Fifth Element as if they were directed by Sam Raimi.  Star Wars elements meet Doctor Who aliens with effects that feel a lot like The Last Starfighter.  And humor that’s a cross of Guardians of the Galaxy and The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.  Or maybe it’s just sci-fi created by Canadians.  Whatever it is you’ll be all-in with the crew of the spaceship Winnipeg as it takes off into adventures in some galaxy out there that is… not ours.

Adriyan Rae (Atlanta) plays the scavenger Elida, a mix of Marvel’s Valkyrie and Rey from Star Wars, who stealthily has masked her former persona as Queen Eldaya, being pursued by the dreaded Republic, led by Commander Lazaro, played by Paul du Toit (remember Gary Oldman’s Zorg in The Fifth Element? He’s like that guy).  Tom Rozon (Lost Girl, Wynonna Earp) is Isaac, a frenemy from Elida’s past (part Han Solo or Jack Harkness or Lone Starr from Spaceballs or Bruce Campbell in… anything).  They come together with a Kaylee-inspired ship mechanic named Amae, played by Alex McGregor, to save a space station’s bartender, get a ship back, and rescue the queen.  And that’s just the first episode.

It’s light-hearted, campy fun a la Xena: Warrior Princess featuring a group of actors who seem to be competing to see who has the most fun.  It’s a little bit… everything… that you enjoy about space travel, with a cool lead like Killjoys and alien makeups reminiscent of Farscape.  Goofy banter and situations, you’ll find yourself calling out the inspiration from nearly every scene, beginning with an opening rif on The Mandalorian.  This is the escapism you’re looking for right now.

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PatrickPicard

Patrick Stewart is back again to save the day, and he’s doing it in two ways.  As Sir Patrick Stewart, he has begun reading sonnets and sharing his readings online.  And as one of our favorite Captains, Jean-Luc Picard, he’s sharing news of the ability for anyone to stream the first season of his new series Star Trek: Picard on the CBS All Access streaming service–free.

As most know, the master thespian was an actor in the Royal Shakespeare Company before appearing in Star Trek: The Next Generation and as Charles Xavier in the Marvel X-Men franchise films, including one of his landmark performances in James Mangold’s 2017 Oscar-nominated film, Logan.  On his social media (see his Instagram page here) Sir Pat has begun reciting a sonnet a day, in the hopes that “a sonnet a day keeps the doctor away.”  He has so far read Shakespeare sonnets 116, 1, and 2.

Patrick Stewart

And Tuesday he announced more good news for his Star Trek fans: “Our #StarTrekPicard season finale is Thursday, and starting today until 4/23, you can watch for free on @CBSAllAccess in the US with the code: GIFT.”  All you need to do is sign up for the streaming service and use the code GIFT.  Check out the CBS All Access website for full details.

Star Trek: Picard takes place twenty years after the events in the movie Star Trek: Nemesis, which resulted in the death of Brent Spiner’s character Data, and also after the events of Star Trek (2009), which resulted in the destruction of the planet Romulus.

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A new sci-fi television series is coming your way next week with a similar vibe as Killjoys and Farscape.  It’s an adaptation of a comic book series, but don’t be surprised if you haven’t heard of it.  Like many TV series adapting comic book stories of late, the production was practically overlapping with its release.  The series is called Vagrant Queen and it hails from one of the smaller publishers, Vault Comics.  The comic was written by Magdelene Visaggio and illustrated by Jason Smith, and the TV series is written by showrunner Jem Garrard (Killer High), Mariko Tamaki (X-23, Tomb Raider, Lumberjanes) and Mika Collins (Travelers).

Adriyan Rae (Atlanta) plays the series lead Elida, with Alex McGregor (Blood Drive) as Amae, and Paul du Toit (Maze Runner, Tremors) as Commander Lazaro.  Fans of Wynonna Earp, Lost Girl, and Being Human fans will be happy to hear Tim Rozon is the series co-star, playing Elida’s old frenemy, Isaac.

The series promises cannibalistic aliens, dangerous planets, shootouts, karaoke, and parking tickets.  Order Vagrant Queen–the graphic novel–now from Elite Comics (it’s also available at Amazon here).  And check out this preview of Syfy’s Vagrant Queen:

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The truth.  Truth is the only way forward.  Lies and misinformation can destroy any plan, even a good one.  Created by writer Daniel H. Wilson in collaboration with the Michael Crichton estate, The Andromeda Evolution arrived last year 50 years after The Andromeda Strain was first published, the book that launched Crichton’s fame as master of the technothriller.  The Andromeda Evolution has all the components of Crichton’s best works–the trademark structure of a team of unique experts colliding to prevent catastrophe, the integration of cutting edge science to both inform the reader and carry the plot forward, and the surprising juxtaposition of the improbable and the unimaginable.  The ripped-from-the-headlines timeliness was eerily creepy last year, and here in March 2020 with a real pandemic threatening the planet, it’s even more so.  It all begins with a disaster in the heart of the Amazon rainforest, complete with lies–government clashes and misinformation campaigns–and ends with a surprise also ripped from last year’s headlines.  The Andromeda Evolution is now available in paperback here at Amazon from HarperCollins.

The influences and now, unfortunately, familiarity for readers will harken back to many other fictional tales with virus or pandemic components in sci-fi, conjuring callbacks to Tom Clancy’s Debt of Honor, Isaac Asimov’s Fantastic Voyage II, The Philadelphia Experiment, The Cloverfield Paradox, 2017’s Life, or Crichton’s own novels Sphere and Congo.  More recent fictional touchpoints for addressing virus crises include zombies as in Netflix’s Kingdom, and The Living Dead, both reviewed at borg this week, and even aliens: Who now doesn’t feel like Donald Sutherland–suspicious of everyone who walks by–in Invasion of the Body Snatchers simply visiting your local grocery store?  More fantasy accounts can be found all over the origin stories of superheroes, like the Hulk, Spider-Man, Wolverine, the Fantastic Four, Deadpool, and in DC’s Swamp Thing series, where the environment itself fights back.  Add these to attempts at more realistic stories, the modern, mainstream pandemic thriller, like Outbreak and Contagion.

But can we learn anything from science fiction to help us in the real world, right now?

Those watching the news, working in healthcare facilities, and sheltering at home can certainly find shared experiences as a starting point.  But there may be even more.  Like how not to handle crises.  How the human condition delivers all kinds of different personalities, some who help, some who contribute, and some who hinder.  Reading The Andromeda Evolution or revisiting any of the above books, movies, and TV shows may be something you’re not ready for yet.  If you are ready, they also may provide ideas.  Like anything we might be forgetting.  They also may illustrate that no one can say “we never could have planned for this” or “nobody ever figured this could happen.”  Those assertions may be said aloud, but science fiction proves them as falsehoods.  And if you have kids at home, maybe the superhero stories listed above could help explain how viruses work in real life.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

Timing of the debut of a horror genre series on Friday the 13th isn’t that much of a clever stretch, unless your series is about a plague and it’s launched on this particular Friday the 13th.  It’s a shame that with most people staying home there won’t be a water cooler to circle around to discuss Netflix’s latest and greatest release.  That’s the second season of Kingdom, the fantastic, epic tale of villagers in medieval 16th century South Korea dealing with a deadly plague.  Check out my review of the first season here at borg.  I am a bit envious of those who get to watch the first and second season together, because there are subtle hints in the first season that will have a greater impact if you remember them as the many twists and surprises are unveiled.  “Ripped from the headlines,” about a zombie series?  Who would have thought that was possible?

And yet it is.  The first strange irony is that the production was South Korea’s first international release via Netflix, with its topic mirroring people from differering statuses coping with a sweeping virus, government incompetence and mismanagement, and the disparate treatment of economic classes.  Unprepared for what lies ahead, a king is infected with a plague that renders him uncapable of leading.  A group of thug-like mobsters takes the opportunity to position their candidate to take the throne–only he is not ready to lead.  In fact, he doesn’t even exist–yet.  The actual person best able to lead–the rightful heir to the throne, a prince played in classic Shakespearean stateliness by Ju Ji-hoon–has been pushed aside and exiled.  He soon learns his people are threatened by a novel virus–a virus that restores the dead, but not as their former selves.  That was in the first season.  In the new season we learn that the truth behind the virus is even stranger than we could have expected.  As a physician (played by the excellent Doona Bae) struggles to find a cure, the heir to the kingdom attempts to save his people and return to seize the throne from the young, ruthless queen (played by Kim Hye-jun), who is at least partly to blame for his plight.

Kingdom pic 1

The result is a second season that matches the success of the first–the best zombie show you’ve ever seen, while also seizing the opportunity to bring a certain gravity along by steeping the story in a historical context.  And now that many have lived a few days with the threat of a deadly virus at bay, you may find the series takes on its own different, unexpected, heavy level of drama.  You might agree the nature of the threat in the series makes for the least “fantasy” version of a zombie story you’ve yet seen on film or television.  Kingdom is as much science fiction as fantasy, but it’s like that science fiction you’ve seen from Stan Lee superhero creations, and all his character origin stories resulting from misapplied science.  You’ll also find plenty of heroes and villains.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

We’re probably far from seeing a story featuring the bounty hunter Valance as good as in the pages of the original Marvel Comics series in 1978, but the first issue of the latest Star Wars comic book series is promising.  Valance, borg Hall of Famer and the first character in science fiction specifically referred to as a “borg,” shares the spotlight with a few other familiar faces in Star Wars: Bounty Hunters, now available in comic book stores.  When Star Wars writers and artists pull from the original trilogy and do it right, it can be quite fun for fans of the franchise.  And much seems to involve deconstructing every detail of George Lucas’s original visions.  For this series, that means asking the question: Why would you have so many bounty hunters on the bridge of Darth Vader’s star destroyer?  The answer became clear in last year’s Disney+ series The Mandalorian: it’s because sometimes that’s how the jobs work–if you can afford it.  And that’s the starting point of Star Wars: Bounty Hunters.

In the not too distant past we meet Valance working with Boba Fett the Mandalorian and the lizard-like Trandoshan called Bossk, two of the fellows we first met on Vader’s ship, working a job with a few other hunters.  Only the job goes sideways due to the actions of one of the hunters, Nakano Lash.  So the story begins when Lash becomes the bounty, setting the other hunters after her.  Taking place after the events of The Empire Strikes Back, that means Han Solo remains in carbonite in the cargo hold.  And it also means Lady Proxima is still around, the character that held Han’s life in her hands, introduced in Solo: A  Star Wars Story.  And it also makes room for Doctor Aphra, a character from the more recent comics universe.

 

In fact, writer Ethan Sacks and artist Paolo Villanelli appear to have the ability to play with the entire Star Wars universe in a single series.  No longer are they held back, tethered to the lead characters Luke, Leia, Han, and Darth Vader, so readers can finally dig into the other corners of the already established Star Wars galaxy.  The first issue probably has more characters and action sequences than necessary, but it’s a promising beginning.  Check out covers from the first four issues and a preview of the first issue below.

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