Tag Archive: Ender’s Game


Review by C.J. Bunce

If you agree with us that the biggest landmark in the visual representation of futurism in science fiction over the last several years was Doug Liman’s Edge of Tomorrow, Luc Besson’s Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets, and Netflix’s Altered Carbon, then you might also see something similarly new and refreshing–and yet new and different–happening with the new Paramount+ series Halo As I described it last month here at borg, Halo’s first episode was a dense set-up of a series opener, establishing the world building, the opposing factions and key characters in this new universe extracted from the video game franchise.  But the series’ second episode, titled “Unbound,” doesn’t miss a beat in showing viewers an even more layered science fiction story is in play, with plenty of visual surprises.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

At $6.5 billion in sales, Halo, the 77th biggest media franchise, is nothing to sneeze at.  So what took the video game franchise so long to make it to a major live-action production?  It was just stuck in development stages.  But for both those who never played the games and those who have, Halo is now a live-action series joining sci-fi’s Star Trek franchise on Paramount+.  The series opener is full of all the pew-pew action you’d expect of a first-person shooter game.  Neither a continuation, adaptation, or prequel to the games, the show is meant to be a standalone world.  It’s Lost in Space meets Ender’s Game and Star Wars: The Clone Wars, with similar plotting to Dune and Gears of War, a non-human threat like Ender’s Game and Starship Troopers, a 26th century mad scientist’s super squad with Edge of Tomorrow armor and guys in them that talk and stomp around like Jayne in Firefly.

Fortunately the pilot comes together like the short mini-series that touched off the successful Battlestar Galactica reboot.  Yes, this is a military sci-fi genre series to check out, and one you’ll likely return for next week.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

Words are power in Scotto Moore’s expansive, mind-bending first novel, Battle of the Linguist Mages.  “Power morphemes” are power itself, punctuation marks are aliens, and nothing is as it seems in an almost drug-induced frenzy about a young woman immersed in the real-life politics behind her favorite MMPORG virtual reality universe, Sparkle Dungeon 4.  Follow as the Queen of Sparkle Dungeon infiltrates the corporation behind the game in this new Tor release, arriving at bookstores this month, and available for pre-order here at Amazon.  How to break reality in three easy steps.  Mr. Robot meets Ready Player One and The Fifth Element?  Maybe, but the world building is more imaginative and detailed than in Ready Player One, and this story isn’t about nostalgia.  The granular level of the world building would feel like something concocted over decades if the subject matter wasn’t so modern.  Someone reading it in 1995 wouldn’t have a clue what it’s even about.  But it’s an extension of sci-fi storytelling dating back to The Last Starfighter and Ender’s Game.  A bit of Avatar--the James Cameron one–but more interesting.  It’s ambitious, but mostly a fun ride.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

Happy New Year!  My wish for everyone is they get their own bacta tank jacuzzi to help recover from last year… and the year before that, and…

It’s been 38.5 years since I first saw Boba Fett die, at the sneak preview of Return of the Jedi.  It was the low point of the movie–I’d rather they’d kill off Han Solo.  Let the mysterious bounty hunter drift off into the sunsets.  Practically speaking it meant decades of no Boba Fett, and nothing but minor appearances of Boba Fett in the Marvel comic books.  So we’ve all had a long time to picture how Boba Fett survives bumbling into the Great Pit of Carkoon, nesting place of the all-powerful Sarlacc, to be slowly digested over 1,000 years, which was as baffling as making the Kessel Run in less than 12 parsecs.  Now thanks to Jon Favreau, we get to see the vision in his head, in the first episode of The Book of Boba Fett, now streaming on Disney Plus.  (Moderate episode highlights and a revisit to 1983 and 1997 follow).

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Engines of oblivion

Review by C.J. Bunce

In Architects of Memory, first-time sci-fi writer Karen Osborne created a corporate sci-fi story, similar to Alien’s Weyland-Yutani, where corporations compete for weapons and power.  In this futuristic realm, humans have been de-humanized to almost unrecognizable, something like in Richard Morgan’s Altered Carbon.  In a world so vile, why fight to survive?  Is living enough when there’s nothing to live for, and if there is something worth living for, then what is it?  Osborne doesn’t answer that question in either the original book or its sequel, Engines of Oblivion, the second and last book in her “Memory War” duology.  Fans of the first book will be interested in this next novel, as it revisits the world of human bombs and a bleak dystopia, only this time moving from lead protagonist Ash to Natalie, as Natalie is manipulated into returning to find those she left behind after stumbling into a major military success for her board of directors.  Strong women on the brink of hopelessness struggle to understand their roles, their relationships, and a world bogged down in Avatar-esque designs in this wind-up to the Memory War story.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

In Colonyside, the third novel of Michael Mammay’s Planetside series, battle-hardened mastermind hero and retired marine colonel Carl Butler is “getting too old for this kind of thing.”  With his notorious reputation and knack for getting people close to him killed–and getting alien inhabitants killed, too–his era’s equivalent of the prime directive is even named after him.  Lucky for fans of Planetside (reviewed here) and Spaceside (reviewed here), Colonel Butler, now really just Carl, has a methodical approach to military, politics, and life that shows no signs of waning.   But where Planetside was a military conspiracy-thriller in sci-fi dress, and Spaceside was a future noir mystery, Colonyside is more office politics and low-level squabbling power plays.  The Aliens franchise Colonial Marines vibe of the first two books takes a shift here in a surprising direction.  What begins as something like Predator, an intriguing story of a team going in to re-evaluate a prior action–here a mission gone bad resulting in the death of the daughter of an influential executive–ultimately doesn’t catch the intrigue of the earlier books.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

In Architects of Memory, first-time sci-fi writer Karen Osborne creates an Alien-esque, Weyland-Yutani-inspired construct in outer space in Earth’s future, where corporations are competing for market share as salvagers acquire a laundry list of weapons of terrorism to pursue a pathway toward citizenship.  A race of unknown and unseen aliens (like those seen in Ender’s Game and Starship Troopers) are the threat, yet it may very well be the corporations themselves are humanity’s worst enemy.  Mad science has concocted the ultimate weapon.  Gruesome and invasive, humans become the experiment and the conduit to deliver destruction to the alien race, as a group of strong women struggle to understand their role in the corporations’ schemes.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

With all the Netflix series being rolled out this year, October Faction might get overlooked.  It’s the latest monster series based on a comic book and it arrived on Netflix this past weekend.  Based on Steve Niles and Damien Worm’s graphic novel/comics of the same name, both the TV series (created by Sleepy Hollow and Stargate’s Damian Kindler) and the comics are a darker spin on The Addams Family–the comics even darker than the TV series, which is closer in tone to Riverdale, Charmed, and Stranger Things than, say, Grimm or Chilling Adventures of Sabrina.  Unfortunately it’s not as well-constructed or visualized as any of those series, but it may be worth the time for fans of horror or stories of students with super powers.  It’s the super powers angle that demonstrates how closely linked superhero series are with supernatural and horror stories in the 21st century–Swap out a few words, monsters for malevolent aliens and witches and warlocks for superheroes and you’ll find October Faction has the same story beats as, say The Umbrella Academy or The Boys.  October Faction has an easier to digest, more accessible story than both of those series although the production values lack a certain tightness in editing and cinematography style.  It also could use a soundtrack that better matches the charging, creepy pitches found in Netflix’s three trailers for the series.

This is a story about a husband and wife and their twin 17-year-olds, and how the twins handle learning their parents belong to an age-old network of monster hunters.  Tamara Taylor (Bones, Altered Carbon, Lost, Serenity) is really in the driver’s seat as Deloris, the mom who always seems to have the right firearm close by, joined by husband Fred, played by J.C. MacKenzie, a character actor TV audiences have seen in dozens of police procedural series and movies, including The Irishman, The Departed, The Shield, and Hemlock Grove, as a father who is looking forward to a rest from the monster work.  If you agree MacKenzie is a ringer for a younger Matthew Modine, you might convince yourself October Faction is a prequel to Stranger Things (he also evokes Ed Begley, Jr.).  MacKenzie’s casting is an odd choice, like starring old school Fred MacMurray or Robert Young as a modern, mouthy murderer of monsters.  But he might grow on you.  The kids are more interesting: Newcomers Aurora Burghart plays Viv, an angsty teen who sketches morbid miscellany and can’t understand why she sees things before they happen, and Gabriel Darku is Geoff, her gay brother who is lost leaving behind his old friends for the family’s most recent relocation–and who also thinks he sees the deceased dead.

The level of horror and gore is about that of Shaun of the Dead, enough to establish genre while not becoming a full-on slasher show.  At first this appears to be another story of the Ender’s Game or Starship Troopers variety–black and white good and bad guys and monsters that are evil because ugly, unfamiliar, and different things are always evil.  Fortunately the story catches up in time and the theme becomes that of fellow monster series Grimm, that not all monsters are bad, and sometimes humans are the worst threat of all.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

To understand the scope of celebrated Chinese author Cixin Liu′s 2005 novel Supernova Era, finally available to Western audiences in an English translated edition by Joel Martinsen, it helps to look back to its influences, and those works published since its original publication in China.  At its core, this is a classic science fiction novel of the Philip K. Dick, Arthur C. Clarke, and Ray Bradbury school.  It’s a work of speculative fiction, at once arguably both optimistic and dystopian that reads almost like an alternate history in the vein of Dick’s The Man in the High Castle.  Disturbing and horrifying at points, philosophical, and filled with global, international, and political intrigue, it’s also squarely a young adult title, featuring almost exclusively middle grade aged kids tasked with surviving an interstellar holocaust–the actual “supernova” of the title–that quickly fries the DNA of anyone older than the age of thirteen.  The solution?  In the face of their imminent deaths, the world’s adult leaders begin to select youth leadership based on the classic “model United Nations” competitions.  It’s a jarring, but ultimately interesting and clever mash-up of some great tropes of science fiction.

Since the initial publication of Supernova Era in China, we’ve seen parts of the story replayed–possibly even inspiring–many other genre works:  Only last year in we saw Jeff Lemire’s Sentient–a comic book series where the adults on a ship are killed in a sabotage leaving kids to run a spaceship.  Here, we follow two small groups of children, the cabinet who must lead China and the cabinet who leads the United States, without the help, advice, education, and other benefits of adults or adulthood, on a global stage.   At first, the children default to letting an Internet-like artificial intelligence computer–the Digital Domain–help keep society in order, something like the robot in last year’s Netflix movie, I Am Mother, where a computer system’s robotic surrogate fulfills all parental duties to children.

When the daily toil of work grinds the kids in the Supernova Era into a state of boredom, they reach out to a massively multi-player online roleplaying game (MMPORG) and begin to build their real lives around it, as we saw in Ernest Cline’s 2011 novel, Ready Player One, where a future society allows itself to give up life in the real world to become lost inside a virtual reality MMPORG.  And the world’s kid leadership ultimately decide they need to compete with other nations, creating a worldwide version of Suzanne Collins’ 2008 novel The Hunger Games (also inspired by Stephen King’s novel, The Running Man) with a society relying on a new world construct with quirky contrived, artificial new rules of survival, battling wars with gameboard rules to the death.  Were these authors aware of Liu’s internationally known and respected work?  Possibly, but it’s the earlier works that served at least in part as influences on Liu’s novel.

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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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