Tag Archive: Starship Troopers


Review by C.J. Bunce

One of the oldest sayings of actors is never take a role with an animal or a child, because you’ll always get upstaged.  That’s where the Disney+ series is currently stuck–they created a character in The Child (aka Baby Yoda) that we’d all probably rather see more than Pedro Pascal’s title character.  Yes, The Mandalorian is back this weekend with the first episode of Season Two, more than welcome fun in the year of COVID-19 and real-life, high-stakes politics.  The series is full of Easter eggs and good throwbacks to the original trilogy, the prequels, bits and pieces of the entire franchise.  But the plot for the season opener is a retread of themes and scenes from last year, light on our favorite young green-eared friend.

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If you’re discussing the most compelling and amazing action movie franchise actresses, you’re going to begin with Sigourney Weaver and Linda Hamilton.  But quickly you must count Milla Jovovich, whose track record at the box office is hard to match, thanks to her role as Alice in the Resident Evil series.  But she’s also revealed her badass prowess in classics like The Fifth Element and Ultraviolet, and she keeps adding to her amped up, tough-as-nails characters.  This year that means taking on the role of Lieutenant Artemis in Monster Hunter, an adaptation of the online fantasy-action game.  In one word, that overly-used phrase is apt here: Epic.  The first trailer for the film (below) is very Starship Troopers meets Jurassic Park.

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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

One of the year’s best military sci-fi novels awaits you in the next Gears of War tie-in novel, Gears of War: Bloodlines Author Jason M. Hough creates a gritty tale of an unthinkable mission by current lead game character and former Gear soldier Kait Diaz and a forgotten, impossible mission by her father, Lt. Colonel Gabriel Diaz.  The story begins in the future at war, after the destruction of Settlement 2.  Kait’s comrade J.D. Fenix is severely wounded.  While Kait awaits his outcome, she is approached by an old man who claims he fought with her father years ago.  The man slips her a secret file, which recounts a mission that determined the fate of her father, marked a turning point in his life, and may influence who she may become.

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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

Usually a franchise tie-in novel or sequel will be able to serve as a standalone story to create a springboard into the story’s universe for new readers.  That’s not the case for readers of the new Gears of War prequel to the Gears 5 video game, Gears of War: Ascendance.  Author Jason M. Hough takes fans of the games on a journey back into field combat with a group of familiar characters battling close-quarters with the Swarm, with a backdrop focus on the political machinations of Coalition of Ordered Governments’ Minister Jinn and her reliance on Damon Baird and his robot army.  Unfortunately the story reads like the down day at a Dungeon & Dragon session, all about a group of characters getting from Point A to Point B, with little happening in between.

The entire novel is a set-up to bring the franchise’s first heroine to the lead position of gameplay, Kait Diaz.  The lack of development of the character is unfortunate, because it could have the potential for another alien bug fighter like Ellen Ripley, Rita Vrataski, Dizzy Flores, or Private Vasquez.  We meet Diaz following the burial of her mother.  She and her team are rescued from this planet only to return later so she can try to save a boy and a girl that she believed were dead when her group had abandoned their location.  So readers will be drawn toward her mission.  Backstory (available elsewhere) for the video games explains the significance of a special talisman she wears, yet each time it is discussed the reader is ready to learn more about it, but its purpose is ultimately skipped over in this book.  And readers don’t get to learn much about what makes Kait Diaz tick.  For that, readers will need to look to the game (which has been well-received by gamers).

So Gears of War: Ascendance is truly for fans already familiar with the game and its characters.  What a “Gear” even is, and what the opposing factions are and why, what one weapon is versus another–none of these concepts are ever explained (a Gear is a soldier, but is it an elite soldier or any foot soldier?).  The Swarm and other beasts are some kind of alien monster inspired by the Arachnid Bugs of Starship Troopers or that creature from Mimic, a kind of giant locust (it’s called the Locust Horde so I assume it looks like a locust) but all creepy like the Xenomorphs of Aliens, and telepathically connected like the hive mind of The Borg from Star Trek.  Why are they bad?  We don’t know, just as Heinlein treated his antagonists in Starship Troopers, although game players who dig in outside this novel will see they become more than that to Kait Diaz in the game.  Opening paragraphs in each section providing some backstory and setting, along with descriptions of characters would have been a welcome addition for those not familiar with the game yet.

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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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Review by C.J. Bunce

Last year’s winner for most surprising film to be discussing at the water cooler was A Quiet Place, a uniquely quiet but suspenseful horror thriller that held back the true nature of the threat in its previews similar to Midnight Special, Signs, and 10 Cloverfield Lane.  And as with those films we’re definitely looking at an otherworldly threat for the film’s protagonists.  Critics and audiences seemed to go for this mix of sci-fi and horror, possibly out of an affinity for director and co-star John Krasinski (The Office, Jack Ryan) and his on and off-camera wife, co-star Emily Blunt (Mary Poppins Returns, The Adjustment Bureau, Edge of Tomorrow).  It’s now streaming on most major platforms, including Amazon Prime, Vudu, Hulu, YouTube, Google Play, and Fandango, as well as Blu-ray, 4K, and DVD.

Few movies were hyped in 2018 as much as A Quiet Place, although come awards season it only received a nomination for best sound editing and Emily Blunt took home the Screen Actors Guild Award for supporting actress, despite her clearly starring role in the film.  If there is a reason to watch the movie it’s for Blunt, who steals the show in any film she appears in.  In A Quiet Place, for better or worse, she lets go from an acting standpoint and offers up a beginning-to-end melodramatic and possibly over-the-top emotional performance, similar to her portrayal as an amnesiac in The Girl on the Train.  Some subtlety would have been a good thing, because in contrast to her ever-stoic husband she comes off as hysterical.  We’ll chalk this up to a quirky misstep by an inexperienced director (it’s also an instance of his character doing all the smart and brave things, and Blunt’s all the dumb things, which gets old quickly).

But this one has been done before, especially as seen in the above-referenced films, and multiple episodes of The Twilight Zone.  The plot is thin.  A family of five are among the only people living (on Earth? in the region? we don’t know).  A blind insectoid alien menace (think Blunt in Edge of Tomorrow only here she’s not the badass Angel of Verdun) will slaughter anything and anyone it hears with its sonic-locator brain.  So everyone is quiet all the time.  Only they aren’t–we hear them make all sorts of body and movement noises for the first half of the film, only to learn later from the father that they don’t listen for soft noises.  The daughter of the family (played by Millicent Simmonds) is deaf, and so she doesn’t know when noises are happening around her, leading to the key dire circumstances throughout the film.  The audience can’t help but put themselves in the positions of the characters.  What would you do?  Unfortunately the film is full of many tropes like you’d find in teen slasher flicks:  so many times characters make decisions that are similar to a teen walking outside their cabin in a thunderstorm at night in their underwear after hearing a mass murderer is on the loose.  Any viewer would think the circumstances are more dire than the characters in A Quiet Place.

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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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