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Tag Archive: Ender’s Game


Review by C.J. Bunce

It’s not often a sequel surpasses the first novel in the series, but that’s the place where Spaceside lands.  And that’s saying something, because Michael Mammay′s Planetside was one powerful first novel.  I first reviewed Planetside before its release only a year ago here at borg, and its combination of military thriller and sci-fi action story was one of last year’s best sci-fi reads.  Happily for readers of Mammay’s first story, the protagonist this round is again Colonel Carl Butler, that ex-military mastermind who keeps getting pulled back into danger.  Imagine Edge of Tomorrow’s General Brigham a few years after the war or Starship Troopers’ Lieutenant Rasczak if he’d lived to fight another day, and you’ll have an idea of what you’re in for with Colonel Butler.

But this story and this style is different for Mammay.  I saw Planetside as military conspiracy-thriller in sci-fi dress, but this time Butler is part investigator in a planetside mystery as a bit of a future noir or tech noir detective.  Where Planetside featured plenty of the grunt-side action of Robert Heinlein’s Starship Troopers, this story delves more into the strategy and corporate politics (think Weyland Corp.), providing a fine standalone story.  Yet for those that take on the first novel (as they should), Spaceside fleshes out the secrets of why Butler was thrust far away across the galaxy to deal with the alien race called the Cappans in the first place.  Two books in and readers will be asking for more–Mammay has concocted one of the best science fiction universes around.  So just when a new series of Blade Runner novels is on its way, Spaceside fits the bill as a worthy read-alike of a future, cybernetically enhanced human trying to stay alive while he’s constantly dodging bullets (although Butler’s borg nature is downplayed for much of the story).  More like Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner than Philip K. Dick’s source novel, Mammay’s story is a compelling character study that amps up the intrigue.

Instead of spending most of this novel’s adventure in outer space as the title might suggest, ex-Colonel Butler finds himself grounded, exiled, shunned, and scorned for the murders of millions of Cappans resulting from his decisions in the pages of Planetside.  Instead Butler is relegated to leading corporate team-building sessions where he takes groups on virtual reality combat missions with him as the real-life war hero.  It’s embarrassing, but it pays the bills, and it keeps him busy after his wife left him and took half his money.  That’s until the CEO calls him into his office to investigate a hacking of a major rival corporation–after all, his title has the word “security” in it.  If Butler can figure out what went wrong at the rival, then his own company can make sure it doesn’t happen to them, too.  Or so his CEO figures.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

Alita: Battle Angela could be just another space-age story.  It’s full of cyborgs (we love’ em), but it’s not standard fare for frequent sci-fi movie buffs and sci-fi readers.  Without the “distraction” of Robert Rodriguez’s special effects, you can really get to the heart of the movie’s story by going to the underlying source work it adapts, or in this case, its novelization, Alita: Battle Angel–The Official Novelization, by author Pat Cadigan, who also wrote last year’s Harley Quinn–Mad Love, reviewed here at borg.  The film is an adaptation of the manga Battle Angel: Alita by Yukito Kishiro, a story about self-discovery and empowerment via a centuries-old human brain that finds its way into the cybernetic body of what looks like a teen girl.  The film changes enough from the manga, incorporating several new characters and conflicts, that the novelization and film stand apart from Kishiro’s manga.  So how does the new story fare?

Above all, the biggest surprise is that Alita: Battle Angel–The Official Novelization is in every way a young adult novel, based on its protagonist, story structure, and the author’s writing style.  In fact the film may have missed a niche audience–as the studio targeted adult sci-fi buffs instead of fans of stories like the Divergent series, Twilight, The Maze Runner series, City of Ember, and Ender‘s GameEven more on-point, Alita: Battle Angel follows the same emotional highs and lows of The Hunger Games.  Both The Hunger Games and Alita: Battle Angel are teen heroine updates to both Rollerball (1975) and The Running Man (1987), but like some of the best science fiction they are also remakes of the oldest of them all, Frankenstein, and its descendant PinocchioBlend these four popular stories together and you can understand why James Cameron prepared 600 pages of development material for the Alita project he would ultimately produce into the film.

Pat Cadigan‘s storytelling is a mirror of the writing style and pacing of The Hunger Games’ novel writer, Suzanne Collins.  In a significant way, Alita: Battle Angel is a teen romance, a romance between Alita–an amnesiac cyborg who is primarily robotic but has a human brain–and her newfound human boyfriend Hugo.  Hugo is a street kid who helps her learn who she wants to be and how to survive on the streets of a futuristic Earth where everyone who isn’t a cyborg is mugging cyborgs to steal their parts and swap them for cash.  As with Katniss and Peeta in The Hunger Games, Alita and Hugo fall in love as they help each other and work together when faced with an onslaught of ever-increasing impediments to their survival.  And yes, this is another superheroine with a problem like the heroine in the new Captain Marvel movie.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

Colonel Carl Butler has done it all long before he is asked by his former boss and mentor–a general with plenty of influence to get things done–to take on a strange mission far away.  The son of a High Council member has gone missing and the investigation is at a standstill.  Butler is a semi-retired hero, he’s loyal to an old military boss, and that man has asked him to go on a far-away mission as a favor.  Butler takes the mission, but always has that niggling feeling all is not what it seems.  The price of the mission is great as he is put into cryo freeze for the long voyage ahead, but his wife is set up nicely with family for the duration.  It’s all a favor to someone who has always commanded his loyal and respect.

All goes downhill even before his arrival as he’s pulled out of cryo early.  On arrival Butler is immediately odd-man-out.  He is assigned some help, but he is disregarded by everyone in authority and all his efforts to sleuth-out what happened to the missing soldier are thwarted.  Even the medical branch won’t help, and a member of the press is persistent, asking why Butler was chosen for this mission and no one else.  That becomes the mystery for Butler, too, as much as discovering the story behind the missing man.  He’s on a space station and the planet below is at war with the alien inhabitants.  Butler does everything to avoid going planetside to meet with the local commander.  Can he stay away, or are all the answers down there?  And will he get those answers without taking command himself?

Arriving in bookstores tomorrow, retired Army officer Michael Mammay’s debut novel Planetside is a military conspiracy-thriller couched in sci-fi dress.  Heavier on the soldiering than the sci-fi, it has common elements you’d find in The General’s Daughter or Courage Under Fire (Mammay does it better).  Yet it is completely accessible to both fans of war novels and sci-fi readers thumbing the paperback rack for their next enjoyable read in the mystery genre, like Forbidden Planet, Blade Runner 2049, or Hiroshi Sakurazaka’s All You Need Is Kill (known to moviegoers as Edge of Tomorrow).  The author’s key strength in Planetside is the first person voice of Colonel Butler.  No doubt derived from Mammay’s years of encounters with similar types as a soldier in Desert Storm, Somalia, Iraq, and Afghanistan, Butler has that stilted dialogue and manner that seems to define long-tenured soldiers in books and movies.  Both Butler’s inner voice and his orders to those around him give the novel fuel to skip along at a brisk pace.  Butler is very much in the realm of Colonel Graff in Orson Scott Card’s Ender’s Game, and he could have fought alongside Sgt. Zim or Lt. Rasczak–although Planetside is not a story immersed in ground and aerial combat as in Robert Heinlein’s Starship Troopers, Mammay’s realism pulls readers in with some significant skirmishes along the way.

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emily-blunt-edge-of-tomorrow

Review by C.J. Bunce

The challenge will fall to the coming years.  Watching and re-watching Edge of Tomorrow to count how many days take place in the movie.  How many days Tom Cruise’s character dies.  How many days Emily Blunt kills him, putting a new spin on the phrase “blunt force trauma”.  if you read movie ads or trailers none of these are a surprise.  Live.  Die.  Repeat.  No more apt tagline has ever been attached to a movie.

For decades soldiers could look to classic war movies for inspiration.  John Wayne performances, like his Sgt. Stryker from Sands of Iwo Jima or Gregory Peck’s General Savage come to mind.  Michael Ironside left an enduring mark with his Lt. Raszcak in Starship Troopers.  Now there’s a new movie to absorb some inspiration to take action, survive, and maybe even win in that next impossible battle beyond the next trench.

ALL YOU NEED IS KILL

Loosely based on the world created by 39-year-old Japanese author Hiroshi Sakurazaka’s war novel All You Need is Kill, which we gave rave reviews to earlier here at borg.com, Edge of Tomorrow is also completely different.  If you think you want to read the novel before the movie, hold off.  The first 30 minutes might leave you frustrated.  If you haven’t read the novel, Edge of Tomorrow stands by itself as a butt-kicking, take no prisoners, tale of a future in its last days before domination by an otherworldly threat.  That said, after the movie you’ll be in for an even better ride with the book.

The action and war sequences will have you comparing it to Aliens and Predator.  The otherworldly threat is of the Ender’s Game and Starship Troopers variety.  The story’s hook will have you thinking of the best video game you ever played.  Sakurazaka’s well-developed world, steeped in good science fiction tradition, is key to making this otherwise improbable story play out in an engaging way that will have you quickly jumping in for the ride.  The hook is the Groundhog Day reset of each day, and that part is a good part of the fun, but you’ll find a lot more with these characters and their persistence.

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All You Need is Kill

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.

All You Need is Kill Edge of Tomorrow tie-in novel

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.

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Dracula or Selfridge

After its second week in the late Friday time slot following Grimm, NBC’s new Dracula series is off to a very solid start.  It’s incredibly polished for an early first season effort, with lavish sets, beautiful costumes, and an expertly cast group of actors.  Like Fox’s Monday night similarly dark Sleepy Hollow, Dracula is also an interesting update to a classic with an intriguing story and smart dialogue.

Set in NBC series Dracula

The cast of Dracula is mostly fresh faces, yet each actor could be the doppelgänger for well-known actors.  Dracula himself, known to his contemporaries in the series as Alexander Grayson, is played appropriately vampirish by Jonathan Rhys Meyers, who played King Henry VIII in the romance heavy The Tudors.  Meyers seems to be doing a riff on Jeremy Pivens’ Mr. Selfridge from the popular British series, portraying a Gilded Age businessman from America bringing his ingenuity to the Old World.  Meyers also has the determination and charisma–and the same general appearance–of Josh Henderson’s John Ross Ewing from TNT’s Dallas series.  Meyers is good, very good in fact, as his Dracula only recently back from the dead, fawning after a woman who looks exactly like his wife, murdered ages ago by the Order of the Dragon.

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Enders Game image

Review by Elizabeth C. Bunce

First, let me say that I’m struggling to figure out how to review this for people who haven’t read the book (really?).  Although it’s been almost 20 years since my last read, so much of what I just saw is wrapped up in what I remember, and what I wanted to see, that it’s difficult to give this an objective viewing.  So I’m just going to give up trying.

Ender’s Game follows a talented young (young) military cadet, Andrew “Ender” Wiggan (Asa Butterfield, Hugo) as he navigates his way through a complex future military academy.  Picked at birth, soldiers begin their training in childhood, all in preparation for a massive war with Earth’s longtime, poorly-understood alien enemy, the Formics.  The title refers to the computer simulations and novel physical training undergone by the students at Battle School.  What makes Ender’s Game different from any other sci-fi bootcamp movie (like 1997’s Starship Troopers, itself an adaptation of the science fiction classic by Robert Heinlein, which was poorly received but which borg.com editor C.J. and I both enjoyed) is the focus on the emotional arc of the adolescent hero.  Where Starship Troopers is a straightforward shoot-’em-up action flick, Ender’s Game is a little more complex, delving into the psychology of indoctrinating the young to kill, and examining the effect of this training on young Ender himself, as he grows from a scrawny little picked-on genius to a brilliant military commander.  Oh, yeah—and it’s a damn good shoot-’em-up action flick.

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Enders Game final trailer

Ender’s Game has long been on borg.com’s list of books we’d like to see adapted to film.  We’ve been waiting nearly a year now for the November 2013 release of Ender’s Game, starring Asa Butterfield, Harrison Ford and Ben Kingsley, since we included Ender’s Game as one of the 24 coming movies to see in 2013.  We featured the first trailer for Ender’s Game here at borg.com as well as a ton of the videos released this past July at San Diego Comic-Con International, where Summit Entertainment featured a great exhibit for the movie.

What is probably the final trailer leading up to the release is here.  Check it out:

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Ford International Fleet Video

As part of the hundreds of events schedules and promoted at San Diego Comic-Con International this year, expect the promotion of the big screen Ender’s Game with genre legend Harrison Ford to be high on the list of sought-after panels.  Harrison Ford and other cast members will be at the Con this year.  As one of the hundreds of press packages issued in the past few days, Summit Entertainment has turned out some great advance marketing for Ender’s Game, including a recruitment video and aptitude test for recruits.

And right now, if you missed Comic-Con you can watch footage taken yesterday by Summit Entertainment of the Ender’s Game Fan Experience at the Hilton Gaslamp Park in San Diego.  Lots of great details of props and costumes and re-created sets!  Check it out:

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Enders-Game-promo poster C

Huh?  San Diego Comic-Con is only 20 days away?

The Hollywood studios are in “engage” mode releasing details on their plans for this year’s big show.  One of the bigger draws will be the Ender’s Game panel in Hall H on July 18, and Summit Entertainment has announced that Harrison Ford will return to Comic-Con this year to promote the movie.  Ford surprised fans at the Cowboys and Aliens panel back in 2010, entering the hall in handcuffs.  You can’t get much of a bigger celebrity for Con fans than Han Solo/Indiana Jones himself.  If you missed borg.com’s preview of Ender’s Game, check it out here.

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