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Tag Archive: Orson Scott Card


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

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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Selfless movie poster

As serious dramatic actors go, Ben Kingsley has branched out like no other from mainstream roles.  In addition to the biopic that won him the Academy Award for best actor, Gandhi, Kingsley doesn’t seem to flinch from unique fictional characters in the strangest of situations.  Take for instance his roles in Sneakers, Dave, Species, A Sound of Thunder, Hugo, Iron Man 3, and Ender’s Game.  Kingsley’s next role takes him into the stuff of classic sci-fi.

Self/less asks the question:  What would you do to live forever?  Orson Scott Card’s science fiction short story “Fat Farm,” where overweight people can swap out their larger self for a slimmer version of themselves, and plenty of other classic science fiction stories and movies, from Star Trek to Doctor Who to Avatar to Buffy the Vampire Slayer and The Skeleton Key (even comedies like Freaky Friday and Prelude to a Kiss) have answered the question with swapping one body for another.

RoboCop, especially the remake, looked at how much you can take away from yourself and still be “you”.  In 1986’s Who is Julia?, Mare Winningham and Jameson Parker starred in a movie about a woman whose brain is transplanted into another woman’s body who was pronounced dead in an accident.  In Self/less, a wealthy man dying of cancer, played by Kingsley, undergoes a medical procedure where he ends up in the much younger body of Ryan Reynolds.

Ben Kingsley Selfless

Check out the trailer for Self/less:

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Dead Mans Hand cover

Review by C.J. Bunce

Who would have thought we’d be discussing a book in the second decade of the 21st century featuring new stories of the Old West?  Titan Books has released such a work with Dead Man’s Hand: An Anthology of the Weird West, bringing together short stories from 23 authors that mash-up the Old West with science fiction, fantasy, steampunk, and horror.

The Dead Man’s Hand is of course the legendary card hand last held by Wild Bill Hickok when he was shot down by Jack McCall in Deadwood, South Dakota back in 1876.  The superstitions carried forward by those cards–believed to be black aces and eights–fuels the magic and “weird” behind the stories in this compilation.

Fans of Louis L’Amour who may have open minds for the extremes of what might qualify as an Old West story should find at least a few good tales in Dead Man’s Hand.  Like Mike Resnick’s story “The Hell-bound Stagecoach,” set in Arizona Territory circa 1885, it chronicles riders in a stagecoach who don’t quite remember how they ended up on the road bound for somewhere, as they encounter a proper lady who happens to be a good cook along the way.  Resnick’s story is steeped in classic lore of the Old West era.

Jeff Bridges as Wild Bill Hickok

Editor John Joseph Adams attempts to summarize the genre in his introduction as having its roots in the works of Robert E. Howard, Gene Autry’s serial The Phantom Empire, and the 1970s series The Wild, Wild, West, but Adams could look back farther to cowboy lore–stories created and shared by those stranded in desert storms, creations of the lost, hungry and thirsty, like those seeing mirages.  Like the story that would become Ghost Riders in the Sky, written by Stan Jones in 1948.  Jones recalled the story was first told to him back around 1926, and certainly that story was among many Old West tomes of the oral tradition circulating back to even before the Civil War.  Regardless of the earliest sources for such stories, they still entertain audiences in a world of cell phones, space travel, and the Internet.

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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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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-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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Enders Game movie poster

If you’ve ever read Orson Scott Card’s classic Ender’s Game (and if you haven’t, go do that immediately), you couldn’t help picturing it on the big screen.  Card’s vision of a futuristic military academy is cinematic–in a way it’s taken over twenty years (and movie adaptations like the Lord of the Rings films to pave the way) for special effects technology to do it justice.  But there’s more to Ender’s Game than its dazzling sci-fi trappings, and after the rash of recent YA novels-turned-films, focused more on pleasing fans of the original books than in making fully realized, standalone stories, it’s hard not to worry about director Gavin Hood’s upcoming adaptation.

Still, the first trailer, just released, gives us hope:

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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.