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Tag Archive: Philip K. Dick


Review by C.J. Bunce

How often does a television series stay powerfully compelling for the entirety of its run?  Most series, especially science fiction series, have a freshman and sophomore season full of bad episodes and clunky storylines.  With a fourth season now one for the books, Amazon Studios’ The Man in the High Castle is the exception, and nothing short of cinema magic that the final season of the series didn’t miss a beat in its final ten episodes.  The series has been a slow burn from the first season, but if you enjoy the idea of an alternate universe that doubles as an alternate history story–and nobody made them better than author Philip K. Dick–then this is the series for you, waiting for you to stream its 40 episodes right now.  It all began with a first-rate pilot (first previewed here at borg) set in a gut-wrenching world where the Axis beat the Allies in World War II, created five years ago for Amazon’s first run at a series format.  From the meticulously re-created sets, buildings, landscapes, costumes, props, and vehicles, to a script that may very well reflect the smartest and most tense science fiction ever to hit television sets, The Man in the High Castle proves Amazon Studios can match (and beat) the quality of programming of any of its competitors.

The themes are unfortunately current, grand and weighty like the best science fiction should be, and Santayana’s warning was probably never better illustrated in fiction form, asking the question: Could Nazi leadership of the homegrown American variety be worse than a threat from foreign invaders?  The show also explores other big ideas, like the idea that you may not be the very best possible version of yourself (and what you could do about it).  Most series are top-heavy, relying too much on the lead characters to drive the story.  The writers of The Man in the High Castle took the time to completely flesh out dozens of key supporting characters, each one critical to the story, and all an example of world-building detail that every writer should take notes on.  Every thread they created gets nicely tied up by the final episode.  The very best, most complex and creative character arcs on any series this decade happened here.  And the series’ climactic scene is simply goosebump-inducing.  The pool of candidates for anyone’s best TV actor and actress this year?  They should begin with this series.

Back again is Alexa Davalos as the world-bending, judo teacher-turned resistance strategist.  She was joined by last year’s new suave, rogue soldier, played by Jason O’Mara.  They have the knowledge to potentially save their world and infinite others, but how do they decide what is the right way to do it? Leading the bad guys on the American front again is Rufus Sewell′s Reichsmarshall John Smith, whose performance as the rising Nazi leader is so convincing viewers will never see what’s coming next, and his wife Helen, played by Chelah Horsdal, gets to step into the spotlight in nerve-wracking ways this season.  Joel de la Fuerte, as Japan’s Emperor’s leader in San Francisco, is so versatile he should be the most sought-after actor on the planet.  This year they are joined by new good guys played by Frances Turner and Clé Bennett, who bring a welcome, late-breaking twist to the outcome of the world, plus the return of Quinn Lord as the alt world’s Thomas Smith.  Even the kids playing the daughters–Genea Charpentier and Gracyn Shinyei–are scary good (meriting inclusion on our ever-growing horror film “creepy little girls” list).

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Review by C.J. Bunce

If a movie project languishes for twenty years, thee might be several reasons to explain why.  Gemini Man, in theaters now, has had both Tony Scott and Jerry Bruckheimer involved in the idea behind the film, but the timing didn’t seem right for them–digital technology had not yet evolved where an actor portraying a 51-year-old could fight himself at age 23, in a believable way.  Now here we are in a Hollywood (New York City, Atlanta, Toronto, etc.) where motion capture performances are the norm.  It’s not a spoiler if it’s in the movie poster, and that’s the case with Gemini Man.  The movie is Will Smith, a retiring government assassin, who must face off against a younger version of himself, raised and trained for combat.  So it shouldn’t surprise you that Gemini Man: The Official Movie Novelization, is a character study of what might happen when an assassin meets himself.

If you’re a fan of science fiction, a rush of prior stories and films should come to mind.  First of all the novelization, which does not give an author credit, instead listing the screenplay writers, Darren Lemke, David Benioff, and Billy Ray, reads very much like an early Philip K. Dick short story expanded to be novel (or movie) length.  The spoiler (if you can call it that) is that there aren’t many surprises.  How would a trained assassin react when confronting a younger clone of himself?  This is a single sitting read, filled with some interesting characters (the kind you’d find in supporting roles in any film, like Mission: Impossible, the Bourne Legacy films, Tomb Raider, or even Dick adaptations like Paycheck.  It’s also heavy on the action, something that would be spotlighted with CGI in the film, leaving the characters in the novel to internalize what is happening on the big screen.  The story feels like it was written for Will Smith.  His character Henry Brogan is the same guy we’ve seen Smith play in Bright, Suicide Squad, I am Legend, Hitch, I, Robot, Enemy of the State, and Independence Day.  Which fortunately means we have a likable protagonist.

The novelization brings in bits and pieces from across decades of science fiction, from addressing the question of how you select who you clone (from Star Wars: Attack of the Clones), to how you control your newly minted human military weapon (from The Manchurian Candidate), to how you survive when the world is crashing in on you (from the Jason Bourne, Shooter, and Mission: Impossible movies), to how you react when you learn you are not really you (from RoboCop, Moon, and the new series Living with Yourself).

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We previewed Amazon Prime’s first trailer for the final season of The Man in the High Castle here back in February, and we had a glimpse at an opening scene from the first episode of season four.  Last year’s finale for the season, our pick for last year’s best sci-fi TV here at borg, featured a 1960s sci-fi scene with its own version of Stranger Things.  Another trailer is here, and this one finally confirms Chelah Holsdal′s bigger role as Helen Smith, wife of the new leader of the Nazis and former U.S. soldier, John Smith, played by Rufus Sewell.

With Germany’s move on the Japanese States thwarted, a revolution has gained traction out West, and viewers were left with series lead Alexa Davalos’s heroic leader Juliana seemingly understanding how to phase-travel like Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa′s Tagomi had done.  Helen and her girls have John Smith, and Himmler is taken down in an assassination attempt.  Yes, a lot was resolved, but we’re also set up for a big, brutal finale this next year, especially as Joel de la Fuente′s Inspector Kido gains more influence and power.  Who will win the battle for the World War II outcomes of all dimensions, the U.S., Japan, or Germany?  (Sounds like a game of Axis & Allies to us).

Is Helen Smith finally going to kill her husband John for letting her son die?  It seems likely Philip K. Dick would have approved all the updates and extensions to his novel in this show.  Here is the latest look at the final season of The Man in the High Castle:

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We previewed Amazon Prime’s first trailer for the final season of The Man in the High Castle here back in February.  Now we have a peek at an opening scene from the first episode of season four.  Last year’s finale for the season, our pick for last year’s best sci-fi TV here at borg, featured a 1960s sci-fi scene with its own version of “stranger things.”  An experiment led by an alternate history Josef Mengele, who could forever imprint a Nazi-won World War II on any and all timelines led to the Liberty Bell melted down and the Statue of Liberty destroyed, last seen falling into New York Harbor.  With Germany’s move on the Japanese States thwarted, a revolution has gained traction out West, and viewers were left with series lead Alexa Davalos’s heroic leader Juliana seemingly understanding how to phase-travel like Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa’s Tagomi had done.

Luke Kleintank’s Joe Blake and Rupert Evans’ Frank Frink were cast out of the story, as Jason O’Mara’s Wyatt Price stepped in to fill the void.  Helen and her girls have left Rufus Sewell’s John Smith, and Himmler is taken down in an assassination attempt.  Yes, a lot was resolved, but we’re also set up for much more in this coming season.

What is this mysterious relationship in another timeline between Juliana and John Smith?  Check out this first look at an opening scene showcasing these characters in season four, the final season, of The Man in the High Castle:

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Review by C.J. Bunce

M.F. Gibson′s new novel Babylon Twins doesn’t seem to be targeted for the Young Adult section of the bookstore, but it should be.  Following a pair of twins who share a secret language whose lives take a turn as a big pharma-virus, artificial intelligence experiment, and robot war collide to take down and remake civilization.  The novel fits well with Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games novels and would make a good follow-up for fans of the series, especially older teens.  More focused on their survival in a Creek Stewart sort of way (move along if you can’t stomach animal hunting for survival purposes), these girls don’t ever get the kind of gourmet food the competitors land in The Hunger Games. We meet the girls both when they’re young and later as young adults, and their lack of contacts and traditional educational resources keep their dialogue and needs more child-like than adult.

The best comparison to this story of dystopian, post-apocalyptic sci-fi is the classic 1970s sci-fi film Logan’s Run.  Like the Runners of that story, Clo and El live the best they can after escaping the new norm thanks to their mother, but when their mother leaves their forest hovel they decide to take their brother and return to the city to find her, ten years after the “end of the world.”  This is far more classic sci-fi than zombie horror, a good entry point for young adult readers dabbling into the short stories and novels of Philip K. Dick (like Minority Report) and Harlan Ellison’s A Boy and His Dog.  Encounters with freakish new lifeforms that aren’t what they seem as found in classic sci-fi like Logan’s Run or Beneath the Planet of the Apes combine with a setting sharing a lot with that of Dawn/Rise/War of the Planet of the Apes, or the Jessica Chastain movie Mama (without that movie’s kind of horror).

Readers of John Christopher’s Tripods series will also see parallels in Babylon Twins Gibson’s wooded home for the girls conjures a loneliness oddly akin to Christopher McCandless’s grim solo journey in Jon Krakauer’s Into the Wild, yet their path is much different.  Girls with younger brothers may particularly love the book, as the older sisters really never give the poor little brother a break across the entire story, including chastising him, berating him as bigger sisters do, and even tying him up and throwing him in the car at one point.  It’s all written with a dose of humor.  And the youthful voice of the narrator and characters reveals a coming of age story for the twins, sometimes dipping into the stuff of middle grade stories from Judy Blume.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

It’s what Blade Runner fans have been waiting for, and if your appetite was whetted by the movie Blade Runner 2049, then you’re going to want to check our the next era of Blade Runner stories as Titan Comics goes back to a parallel Earth future in Blade Runner 2019.  The future is now.  It’s been worth the wait, as the new story looks and feels like we’re back inside Philip K. Dick’s original vision in his novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?  In the neo-noir city of Los Angeles, 2019, Ash, a veteran Blade Runner, is working the kidnapping of a billionaire’s wife and child.  Is the CEO of the new Canaan Corporation any better than those behind the Tyrell Corporation?  Written by Academy Award-nominated screenwriter Michael Green (Logan, Blade Runner 2049), with co-writer Mike Johnson (Supergirl, Star Trek), get ready for Blade Runner to experience the treatment we’ve seen in recent years for franchises like Firefly, Planet of the Apes, and Alien, as another new world of science fiction storytelling opens up.  Green and Johnson have written a perfect first chapter.

This very first original, in-canon story set in the Blade Runner universe is illustrated by Andres Guinaldo (Justice League Dark, Captain America) with brilliant color work by Marco Lesko.   You’re going to see something surprising in Guinaldo’s artwork–not only is this the world of Philip K. Dick, Ridley Scott, and Syd Mead′s neo-noir future, readers will see influences from cyberpunk and tech-noir classics like John Carpenter′s Escape from New York, Luc Besson′s The Fifth Element and Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets, Neill Blomkamp′s Elysium, James Cameron′s The Terminator and Aliens, Robert Rodriguez′s Alita: Battle Angel, and the other futureworlds adapted to film from Philip K. Dick′s stories.  It all probably comes down to the versatility, breadth, and influence of concept artist Syd Mead, but the creators do give due credit to Dick, Scott, Hampton Fancher, David Peoples, Michael Deeley–and Mead–for the look and feel of their new story.

The first issue arrives next Wednesday, and you can pick from four cover options, from Stanley “Artgerm” Lau, Andreas Guinaldo, John Royle, and an original concept piece by Syd Mead.

Check out our sneak preview of the first issue of Blade Runner 2019, courtesy of Titan Comics, plus a new trailer for the series released just today:

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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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Review by C.J. Bunce

Using a meticulously designed new robot from Weta Workshop, the Australian science fiction movie I Am Mother has all the components of a good story steeped in the classic sci-fi of the 1950s.  It takes place on Earth after an apocalypse that could easily be interwoven into the Cyberdyne/Genisys destruction from the Terminator series, and has that futurism straight out of a Philip K. Dick short story.  What’s left are robots running everything, some on the surface, but one in particular inhabits what looks like a space station buried beneath the planet’s surface.  This robot is called Mother, voiced seamlessly by X-Men series co-star and Australian actor Rose Byrne.  She has preserved several of the last bits of humanity–embryos–in order to repopulate the species via rapid-growth technology.  The production, the design, the light-up props, and the pacing all create the right framework for a significant sci-fi film.  Unfortunately the story is single-threaded, building opportunities for subplots that get left ignored, much like January’s direct-to-Netflix sci-fi release Io.

The build-up is nicely rendered by first-time movie director and script writer Grant Sputore.  The common theme of this genre, as much sci-fi horror as merely sci-fi, is “things aren’t what they seem.”  Or maybe they are.  The audience sees Mother raise a single child from the bank of embryos stowed on the facility, a girl known simply as Daughter, played first by young Tahlia Sturzaker, then for the bulk of the movie by Clara Rugaard, both giving fine performances.  We believe the humans are long gone outside, until a woman arrives, played by two-time Best Actress Academy Award winner Hilary Swank.  She’s been shot, and whether she was shot by humans or robots becomes a mystery for Daughter to solve.  Both Swank and Rugaard look so much alike, their likeness simply must be a plot point:  Are they related, and if so, how?  Sisters?  Clones?  Same hair color and length, eyes, bone structure.  Was Swank’s lost human a former captive in the underground bunker?  How many times has Mother created Daughters or Sons?  How many years from Armageddon is this story really happening?  It’s the answers–or lack thereof–to these questions, and the ultimate payoff Sputore delivers that doesn’t match the rest of the film.

Part of the legitimacy of the film as something more than mainstream popular sci-fi is the amazing body movement work of Luke Hawker acting inside the robot suit he helped design and build with the Weta team.  How rare is it that the designer of the tech is also the actor, who is featured in 90% of the scenes of the film?  The added surprise is this was not a CGI motion capture process, but a practical effect that had to be created with real-world materials.  There is some actual chemistry between Daughter and Mother, and Mother is a pretty great mother to see in action.  It’s like watching young Will Robinson interact with his Robot in Lost in Space.  Add to the believable robot the cold and lonely tenor of the film and you have something like New Zealand’s low budget 1985 sci-fi marvel The Quiet Earth.

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As we first previewed here at borg last July, Titan Publishing and Alcon Media Group, the producer behind more than 30 films over the past 20 years, announced a partnership that will mean the beginning of an expanded universe of stories for Rick Deckard, Replicants, and the world of Blade Runner and Blade Runner 2049.  Today Titan Comics released its first look at the new comic book series, and revealed its title, Blade Runner 2019The original film and this year have been the subject of millions of shared memes commenting on the fact that the real 2019 looks little like Ridley Scott’s 1982 vision of 2019.

The new series will be “in canon” comics and graphic novels that dive deeper into the Blade Runner world.  According to an Alcon representative, “The Blade Runner universe has barely been explored; there is so much more there.  It’s an honour to be bringing this world to life in new ways for a new audience – and to reveal tales from that universe that you’ve never seen before.”  Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner was adapted from the novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, a novel by science fiction legend Philip K. Dick, who endorsed the original film project in 1982, but died before its release.

New character concept drawings for Blade Runner 2019.

Launching this summer, Titan Comics’ new series will be set during the exact timeframe of the original 1982 Blade Runner film, and feature a mostly new set of characters and situations.   Artist Andres Guinaldo (Justice League Dark, Captain America) created the above first looks at characters featured in the new story.  He joins Oscar-nominated Blade Runner 2049 screenwriter Michael Green (Logan) and Mike Johnson (Star Trek, Super­man/Batman) on the series.

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Amazon Prime released its first trailer for the final season of The Man in the High Castle, our pick for last year’s best sci-fi TV series here at borg.  Last fall’s season three finale, “Jahr Null” (Year Zero), included a set inspired by 1960s sci-fi films where an experiment led by an alternate history Josef Mengele could forever imprint a Nazi-won World War II on any and all timelines.  The Liberty Bell was melted down, and the Statue of Liberty was destroyed, falling into New York Harbor.  Luke Kleintank’s Joe Blake and Rupert Evans’ Frank Frink are now out of the story, as Jason O’Mara’s Wyatt Price steps in to fill the void in the rogue hero department.

Helen and the girls have left Rufus Sewell’s John Smith, and Himmler is taken down in an assassination attempt.  Did he live or die, and does that mean Smith becomes Fuhrer?  With Germany’s move on the Japanese States thwarted, a revolution has gained traction out West, and Alexa Davalos’s heroic leader Juliana has finally figured out how to travel like Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa’s Tagomi.

Yes, a lot was resolved, but we’re also set up for much more in this coming season.  Will Laura Mennell’s Thelma Harris take on a greater role now that Bella Heathcote’s Nicole Dörmer was sent back to Germany for flaunting the law?  And what is the mysterious relationship in another timeline between Juliana and John Smith?

Check out this first look at season four of The Man in the High Castle:

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