Tag Archive: Connie Willis


Every new technological creation seems to eventually arrive at a point where you can buy it at 99 percent off its original price.  It’s the classic 99% off sale.  And while it’s not true for everything, we can see it in many ways across the decades.  Look at something like the simple calculator, once a giant machine costing thousands of dollars, ultimately it came down in price (and size) to fit in your wallet as a free giveaway as businesses all over stamped an advertisement on the back as a marketing tool.  Today it’s a free feature on nearly every personal computer and android phone.  In the 1990s Connie Willis focused on the emerging technology of animating dead people in films in her groundbreaking novel Remake (discussed here at borg back in 2012).  It happened and it’s only getting better.  As recently as December Star Wars fans saw Mark Hamill reprise a young Luke Skywalker via imaging software in The Mandalorian, and probably the best use so far can be found by the de-aging of Michael Douglas in the Ant-Man movies. 

In basements (and governments?) across the world software designers and users dabble in “deep fake” imaging, attempting to push this technology to defraud (or prevent the defrauding of) others by digitally replacing faces in all kinds of video recordings.  Imagine making such video images by uploading a static image and simply pressing a button.  Guess what?  Now anyone can.  Look to an unlikely source to visit the future, thanks to a genealogy company’s new software program that costs its subscribers… nothing.  Quietly slipping in its own add-on free to its pay subscribers, a surprisingly good “artificial intelligence” turns any photograph into a short animation.  Yes, you, too, can re-animate the dead, maybe not as Mary Shelley envisioned more than 200 years ago, but take a look for yourself…

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Review by Elizabeth C. Bunce

Most people know Daphne du Maurier as a suspense writer, creator of psychological and gothic thrillers like Rebecca, Jamaica Inn, and My Cousin Rachel.  But what often gets overlooked is her great science fiction, exploring the boundaries between the known and familiar, and the disturbing edges of twentieth century scientific progress.  Her classic post-war story “The Birds” was transformed into a Hitchcock horror film that bears only superficial similarity to the isolation, drama, and sheer apocalyptic gloom of the original, in which residents of an English coastal village watch their doom coming ever closer, thanks to terrifying radio news updates, and is well worth a read (perhaps not now… or perhaps particularly now, depending on your predilections!).

Her 1969 novel The House on the Strand explores the psychological effects of time travel, through the lens of unlikeable characters doing uninteresting things.  The time machine in du Maurier’s novel is a drug (or “concoction,” as she calls it), or a series of drugs, whose differing effects are never fully (or even partially) explained.  Dick Young is an out-of-work publisher housesitting for an old college chum for the summer, in an old house on the Cornish coast (setting of so many of du Maurier’s stories).  The old college chum, Magnus, has been experimenting with a time-travel drug, and urges Dick to make his own “trips” into the past.

 

What follows is a dense tapestry of Cornish landscape and history, although the details and characters take some considerable time to sort out, and Dick never interacts with any of the figures he observes.  His instant attachment to the characters of the past is only slightly explained in contrast to his wife (whom he dislikes).  A midpoint plot twist introduces a potential murder plotline, and du Maurier definitely keeps the reader guessing (or perhaps hoping) what might happen next.  None of my expectations were ultimately borne out, to my disappointment, and the main character never grew any more sympathetic.  There is a comeuppance, of a sort, at the very end, satisfying in its own way.  It’s easy to read this as an inspiration or forebear for later time travel stories to come, especially Connie Willis’s Doomsday Book, set in the same time period, or Michael Crichton’s Timeline. 

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Review by C.J. Bunce

Let’s cut to the chase:  Daniel Godfrey’s new novel The Synapse Sequence is not just the leading contender for the best science fiction novel of 2018, it’s the most absorbing, riveting, and thrilling science fiction novel I’ve read since I was first blown away by Michael Crichton’s Jurassic Park in 1990.  Hyperbole?  Maybe just a little, but when you are reading a new book and you’re taken aback by the twists, turns, and surprises as this book provides, it’s a bit like walking out of a big rock concert, wanting everyone else to witness what you just experienced.  Godfrey is relatively new to the genre, with two solid sci-fi books behind him, New Pompeii (reviewed here) and Empire of Time (reviewed here).  But this story is a completely different take on science fiction, and so deftly written, smartly paced, and completely believable in its speculative reach, Godfrey is worth comparison to some of the greats in the genre for it.

Anna Glover is an investigator with an unfortunately troubled and public past for her conclusions in investigating an airplane crash.  She lives in the somewhat distant future–bots serve man, taking on so many functions that personal freedom is limited.  As told from the alternating viewpoint of Glover in the present and looking back on her life, future London is very familiar and steeped in the world that technology is building right now with so much of life absorbed into the digital world.  When we meet our protagonist she is attempting to lie low conducting trials for a company with an emerging technology, a “synapse sequencer,” which allows a person to be tapped into the mind of another, like a witness to a crime, to experience vivid, shared memories as an observer.  She meets with her boss inside this world, where he lives out most of his life, a life better than he would experience in the real world.  The process requires the help of a monitor, and hers sees that she gets in and out of submersion safely.  But we learn there are risks for anyone who participates in this intermingling of brain activity.  If you’ve seen the 1980s sci-fi classic Dreamscape, the modern classic Source Code, the television series Stitchers, or the shared visions of iZombie, you’ll find no suspension of disbelief issue with the wild ride that awaits you.  The method for the journey isn’t as elaborate (or glitch-filled) as Connie Willis’s elaborate time travel tech, but Godfrey provides enough to submerge us into the stress and angst of Glover as she takes journey after journey to learn the who and why of a case involving a boy in a coma and a missing girl.

You can’t predict where Godfrey will take Glover from chapter to chapter in The Synapse Sequence Godfrey has been likened to an emerging Crichton, but Crichton rarely could craft as satisfying an ending as found here.  The story embraces that speculative futurism like many a Philip K. Dick story (Paycheck, Total Recall/We Can Remember It for You Wholesale, and Minority Report for starters), while weaving in a plausible future from the seeds of new tech today.  He combines the audacious duplicity of Vincent and Jerome in Andrew Niccol’s Gattaca with the foreboding and despair of The Man’s story in Chris Marker’s Le Jetée and Cole’s in Terry Gilliam’s 12 Monkeys. 

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Review by C.J. Bunce

Betrayal.  Duplicity.  Deception.  Intrigue.

Godfrey’s debut novel, New Pompeii, was one of last year’s most entertaining reads (reviewed here at borg.com).  Empire of Time, Godfrey’s sequel, is equal to the first, and brilliantly enough it’s completely readable as a standalone work not requiring the reader to have read his New Pompeii.  Godfrey, who is not a professor of ancient history, has written a narrative about life in Pompeii at the time Vesuvius erupted in AD 79 that would swiftly pass muster with historians.  And his knowledge of history is matched by his science fiction storytelling skill to provide a rousing next chapter for one of the decade’s most nuanced time travel stories.

Suetonius’s Twelve Caesars is one of the more exciting of the primary history texts of the ancient world.  In New Pompeii, Godfrey transported most of the population of Pompeii in AD 79 to a rebuilt facsimile in the present day world, saving their lives from Vesuvius’s lava, fire, and heat.  More fleshed out this time around, the characters who live in the world of New Pompeii in Empire of Time all live, fight, and die in accordance with the politics, literature, art, social, and scientific elements of Suetonius’s world.  Godfrey even hands the classic book to a character for that character’s own twisted inspiration.  Godfrey crisscrosses time with his lead character, former research assistant Nick Houghton as he traverses modern Italy, and follows Houghton in the city of New Pompeii in his Roman persona, Decimus Horatius Pullus–the legendary “man who cannot be killed.”  In a third and parallel story Godfrey presents the exploits of a slave turned gladiator named Achillia, a ruthless, bloodthirsty survivor who establishes even more of the detailed feel for the mindset of people in the real Roman Empire.  A hardened warrior, Achillia will appeal to fans of Robin Wright’s General Antiope from the opening scenes of Wonder Woman.

The same political intrigue that seeped into stories of Italy’s modern-day Cosa Nostra is present among the manipulators, magistrates, and political machinations of New Pompeii.  Readers will travel through most of the novel with Houghton as he sleuths out lost technical data in the normal world that may allow the “Novus Particles” device to repeat the time travel used to transport the ancients to the present day.  He is also charged–in his Pullus persona–with the same mission only under the control of Calpurnia, the “Empress of Time” of New Pompeii.  But is there truly a device to reactivate time travel?  When archaeologists suddenly begin to encounter messages in English in ancient ruins, does that provide evidence that someone in the future can not only pull matter forward in time, but also transport messages backward in a parallel timeline?  And who is sending the messages?

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timeless-hindenburg

Time travel.  It’s a fun sub-genre of science fiction when it’s done right.  NBC and the CW have dueling sci-fi series entering the Primetime line-up beginning this month.  On Mondays, NBC airs Timeless, a story about a historian, a computer expert and a soldier acting as timecops as they try to correct changes in history via a time machine in pursuit of another–stolen–time machine.  On Wednesdays the CW airs Frequency, based on the 2000 sci-fi sleeper and cult movie starring Dennis Quaid.  Both are from the creative minds of Supernatural showrunners, and both series began this week with powerful openers.  We think both are worth adding to your weekly watch list.  The challenge will be maintaining their respective concepts for a full season.

Timeless hails from Supernatural creator Eric Kripke and The Shield creator Shawn Ryan. Abigail Spencer leads the cast as a historian much like you’d find in a Connie Willis novel, pulled into a secret time travel project.  Someone (Goran Visnjic) kidnapped a scientist played by genre favorite Matt Frewer, and Homeland Security, including a smartly cast agent played by Sakina Jaffrey (Sleepy Hollow, Mr. Robot), enlists Spencer’s character, an insider IT guy (Malcolm Barrett) and soldier/protector (Matt Lanter) to find them–in the past.  Compared to Star Trek and Doctor Who this show is Time Travel Lite–no complex knowledge or thought required.  The time travel prime directive seems to be that the timecops cannot travel into a time in which they previously existed.  So no do-overs.

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You can’t beat a nicely done re-creation of the Hindenburg disaster.  Even better, a re-imagining revealing the disaster never occurred.  Timeless didn’t waste any time, starting off with a single episode story focused on a historic event and it appears that will be the draw of each episode.  We saw elements of TimeCop, Timeline, Continuum, Quantum Leap, Doctor Who, Terminator, and DC’s Legends of Tomorrow in the first episode alone.  It works and it’s fun.  There’s something adventuresome about Timeless in a Young Indiana Jones vein. Timeless did miss one opportunity here:  Why not begin with the Hindenburg crashing on a false historic date and then land on the real date of the disaster for the ending?  That would have been a heck of a trick, but it shows much more can be threaded into this series.  We know from Star Trek and Doctor Who that time travel is twisty and full of possibilities. Timeless needs to embrace what its savvy audience already knows–and keep the focus on the fun.

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New Pompeii cover

Review by C.J. Bunce

In a thick 459 pages, British author Daniel Godfrey begins a new time travel series full of twists and turns in New Pompeii, his first novel from a major publisher (Titan Books).  Billed as a novel in the tradition of Michael Crichton, New Pompeii is evocative of Crichton’s early novels, but more closely follows the plotting and style of the time travel science fiction novels of Connie Willis (Lincoln’s Dreams, To Say Nothing of the Dog) and the pacing of a Tom Clancy thriller.  Fans of Crichton’s Timeline and Westworld, Philip K. Dick’s short stories and his novels Time Out of Joint and Man in the High Castle, Doctor Who’s “timey wimey” stories and films like TimeCop will appreciate this new entry in the time travel and parallel universe sub-genres.

Despite a daunting 75 chapters, New Pompeii is a quick read.  Godfrey follows Nick Houghton, a history scholar who has yet to earn his doctorate as he is inexplicably courted into joining a venture with a corporation that promises the impossible–Novus Particles plucks people from just before the point of death and brings them into the present, cheating the timeline manipulation restrictions like the field trips in Ray Bradbury’s “A Sound of Thunder.”  Think Philip K. Dick’s Paycheck meets Final Destination.  The company is not a secret–it is well documented that it saved a flight of passengers from a plane crash.  But why are all the survivors now committing suicide?  Who is the ghost student that has been emerging from a bathtub at a college campus over the course of thirty years?  And how do you hide an ancient civilization in the modern world?

Told in short, alternating chapters from the perspective of Nick as he walks among ancient Romans in a secluded Eastern European town in the present day, and college student Kirsten Chapman as she appears unstuck in time across a span of time periods like Jennifer Jones in Portrait of Jennie or Billy Pilgrim in Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.’s Slaughterhouse Five, the truth behind the corporation’s purpose is slowly revealed.  You won’t find a lot of complexity in the time travel elements here, which makes this appealing for the most casual sci-fi reader.  Fans of any Star Trek or Doctor Who time travel story will be familiar with the rules here.

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Assassins Creed Ankh Of Isis Trilogy

Whether you’ve played videogames or not, you likely know something about Assassin’s Creed, the game featuring modern time travelers that are able to tap into the minds of their ancestors to seek talismans, avenge the wronged, and put the future on the right track.  The Assassins appear to gameplayers in various historical contexts, wearing variations on that familiar, oft-cosplayed hooded costume, those nifty gauntlets, and an often blood-soaked sword.  The first English translation of the comic book tie-ins of the game are now available in a hardcover compilation from Titan Books and Ubisoft, called Assassin’s Creed: The Ankh of Isis Trilogy.

French writer Eric Corbeyran and artist Djilalli Defaux piece together an epic story broken into three parts, focusing on three characters mired in a world of violence and mistrust.  First, Desmond Miles, a descendant of the Assassins who uses a mind-based time travel method to improve his “genetic memory” by reaching back to his ancestors, similar to Avatar but more like the time travel technology of Connie Willis’s science fiction novelsand Michael Crichton’s Timeline.  Next, Aquilus is an ancestor of Desmond living in ancient Rome who is odds with the men that would become the Templars, and he seeks to avenge his father’s death.  The third part features Accipiter, a deadly Assassin and leader of Barbarians advancing on Lugdunum, as Aquilus seeks the lost talisman of the trilogy, the Ankh of Isis.*

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Hundreds of years of protective rites and honor are balanced between the Assassins and the forces throughout history that oppose them.  The significance and power of names, the interspersed real historical places and conflicts, and engaging characters, make this a better than average tie-in series.  This includes an intrepid scientist in the present day named Lucy Stillman who facilitates the mind-damaging time travel process but aims to protect Desmond from those who would dismiss his value.

To one extent, Assassin’s Creed: The Ankh of Isis Trilogy reads like a simple 1980s era PC role playing game—where you’d enter new rooms, battle a foe and find the hidden relic.  Whether you’re into the more high tech versions in modern gaming or not (and eight million copies of Assassin’s Creed demonstrates there is a real market for this series), any fan of the adventure genre will find this series accessible, with an audience for older teens and up (for language and violence).

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Bill Murray not in Stripes

It’s not a title that, by itself, will draw crowds to the theater.  But how often does a movie have much more than one reason to get you into the theater to see it?  Maybe its an actor you love, a genre, the fact it is based on a book or property you’re interested in.  The Monuments Men, with its first trailer released this past week, has almost too many reasons to see it to count.  “In a race against time, a crew of art historians and museum curators unite to recover renowned works of art stolen by Nazis before Hitler destroys them.”  Yep, it’s not about Mount Rushmore.  So let’s take a quick look at what this movie has to offer, to bring in viewers for different reasons.

Everyone is always trying to make a war movie that’s not a war movie, add some twist to the genre to make it slightly different to entice new crowds to give war movies a try.  Saving Private Ryan tried it, making a war movie into more of a kidnapping film with the modern trend toward challenging the components of war vs the old Frank Capra-type pro-nationalism films.  And how unique was Quentin Tarentino’s Inglourious Basterds?  In fact, if Brad Pitt hadn’t starred in that movie, you’d think he’d have been a shoo-in for The Monuments Men.  Why?  Because with George Clooney and Matt Damon in pursuit of a seemingly impossible goal, this looks like Ocean’s Eleven all over again.

John Goodman Monuments Men

And speaking of impossible goals, this also looks like The Dirty Dozen, although the trailer tells us there’s eight soldiers engaged in this mission.  Who isn’t ready for another movie of the Dirty Dozen variety?  Remember how good the beginning of Captain America: The First Avenger was with Tommy Lee Jones as a general in the World War II recruitment scenes?  Or go back to Bridge on the River Kwai and recruiting William Holden to go back to the battle.  Of course these are all plays on the original Western recruiting warriors film, Seven Samurai.  And just look who gets recruited for this new mission.

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borg dot com benchmark logo tape

We kicked off borg.com as a way to catch up on entertainment news, books and movies back on June 10, 2011.  We’ve posted what’s new each day to provide “your daily science fiction, fantasy, and entertainment fix” for two years now and continue to forge ahead as we tick past our 800,000th view by readers today.

We want to say thanks to you for reading.  It’s a lot of fun (and hard work) keeping up on all the great genre entertainment out there, be it on TV, in theaters, in books, or comics.  We also want to thank all the comic book publishers out there that provide us with preview review copies, as well as book publishers and TV and movie studios and collectible companies that allow us to give you first available previews and reviews.  We cover only what we’re interested in and excited about–we figure that if we like it, so might you.

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Some of the most fun we’ve had is meeting new people as we keep up on the coolest happenings in the genre realm, some at conventions, some are friends we are grateful to chat with each week of the year.  And lucky for us, borg.com has allowed us to meet some of our own favorite celebrities over the past two years, sci-fi stars like Mark Hamill, Joss Whedon, Jonathan Frakes, Brent Spiner, Anthony Stewart Head, Scott Bakula, Adam Baldwin, Lindsay Wagner, Saul Rubinek, Zachary Levi, Eddie McClintock, Wil Wheaton, and Mark Sheppard.  Sci-fi and fantasy writers like Peter S. Beagle, Connie Willis, James Blaylock, and Sharon Shinn.  And comic book creators like Frank Cho, Jim Lee, Sergio Aragones, Neal Adams, and Howard Chaykin, and scores of other great comics creators like Mike Mayhew, Mike Norton, Michael Golden and Mikel Janin (and several not named Mike).

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By Elizabeth C. Bunce

As everyone knows, it’s all too likely for a film adaptation of a beloved novel to, well, ruin it. (Witness the travesty of The Seeker, an utterly butchered translation of Susan Cooper’s breathtakingly beautiful fantasy series, The Dark is Rising.) And yet, some of our most brilliant and wonderful movies had their start as novels–Jaws, Gone With the Wind, The Grapes of Wrath, Babe.  When they get it right, they get it really right, so it’s worth suggesting (albeit a bit tentatively) a few literary gems that deserve their day on the screen.

1.  Ender’s Game, by Orson Scott Card

I almost don’t have to say anything about Orson Scott Card’s brilliant science fiction classic–fans have been clamoring for an Ender’s Game movie since its release in 1984, and the property has come close several times.  One of the early stumbling blocks (filming those dynamic zero-gravity training sequences) will no longer pose a problem, thanks to advances in special effects.  But drafting a script with all the excitement and nuance of Card’s novel intact remains a challenge, as does casting the novel’s impressive ensemble of very young characters.  Hopefully someone will eventually be up for those challenges, and, like Peter Jackson with The Lord of the Rings, be able to do this literary masterpiece justice.

2.  Lincoln’s Dreams, by Connie Willis

Seldom do I read a book and think immediately, “This should be a movie.”  But that is exactly what I thought upon first reading Connie Willis’s stunning debut novel, and what I think every read thereafter.  It’s short, which means it can be adpated wholesale without losing anything in the compression of film.  It’s highly visual, with evocative scene-setting around Washington, DC and various Civil War battlefield sites, as well as graphic Civil War dream sequences.  And the touching mystery and love story of the young historical researcher and the girl haunted by dreams of the past would be a perfect vehicle for young actors.  When I first read this, I thought Tom Everett Scott would be ideal in the lead, but the intervening decades have made that less likely.  Perhaps Jake M. Johnson from New Girl?  Or the always-earnest Jake Gyllenhaall?

3.  Les Miserables (the musical)

Victor Hugo’s classic tale of doomed revolutionaries, redemption, and obsession has been riveting readers since 1862, and has been adapted for the screen and stage countless times.  But it’s safe to say that Claude-Michel Schonberg’s 1980 musical adaptation has been one of the most enduring, spawning legions of devoted fans all over the world.  Alas, it missed the heyday of stage-to-screen adaptations of a generation before–but with the success of movies like Phantom of the Opera and Rent, not to mention current TV fads like Glee and Smash, perhaps it’s time to revisit this one.  NEWSFLASH!!!  According to Wikipedia, this one is on its way at last!  Starring Hugh Jackman, Russell Crowe, and Anne Hathaway, no less!  We’ll bring you news as we learn more.

4.  Tamsin by Peter S. Beagle

Tamsin is my favorite novel in the world, which means that it’s perfect just the way it is, and the risk for mucking it up is great–but the potential for an absolutely brilliant screen adaptation here is huge, too.  Beagle himself is an experienced screenwriter, and this novel deserves a bigger following.  It’s the story of an American teen who moves to the Dorset countryside and runs headlong into the neighborhood’s older, Otherworldly residents–from the local pooka, to the Wild Hunt, to a company of ghosts at once more lovable and more chilling than she (or the reader) is prepared for.  borg.com has actually heard a rumor that a British TV network is considering adapting the world of Tamsin into a long-running series, so we’ll be watching to see if–and how–that plays out.

5.  Muppet _________

A Muppet Christmas Carol being one of the best book-to-screen adaptations ever made, and Muppet Treasure Island being great fun, too, it’s time the wacky gang gets back into serious literature–particularly now that the Muppets are a hot box office property again.  Screenwriters can take inspiration from a fun series of comics from Boom! Studios, including titles such as Muppet Sherlock Holmes (with Gonzo in the title role), Muppet Peter Pan, and Muppet Robin Hood (Kermit); but allow me to suggest a few other works that may have good Muppet mileage.  How about Muppet Jane Eyre?  (Admittedly, their lack of a true ingenue might be a handicap here.)  Of Muppets and Men?  The Maltese Muppet?  Wait–I’ve got it:  Muppet Three Musketeers.