Tag Archives: Science Fiction

Tron Legacy (Film review)

First Published 03/06/2011

Summary: Sci-fi retro classic Tron gets an upgrade in its 2010 sequel Tron Legacy, but is far less contemporary than it’s 1982 original.
 

Tron: Legacy

Disney in 1982 intended for their Tron movie to be the cutting-edge special effects laden film that would take immediate advantage of the burgeoning video games arcade culture. They barely succeeded with a so-so showing at the box office. Still, for all its faults, Tron is fondly remembered.

 

In Tron: Legacy both Jeff Bridges and Bruce Boxleitner reprise their roles as Kevin Flynn (and also alter ego CLU) and Alan Bradley (also Tron) respectively.

 

Sam, Tron Legacy’s New Hero

The story starts with Sam (Garrett Hedlund), Kevin’s son – now grown, and a rebellious youth – attacking his father’s company ENCOM, which he owns a controlling stake in, in light of Bridge’s disappearance 20 years ago. He sashays past security and into the mainframe room where he stops the launch of a new Operating System, a program which he feels should have been released free of charge to the public in keeping with his missing father’s mantra of freely distributed software.

 

Sam manages to escape ENCOM’s building in a way that would make Batman proud, and it’s while back in his bachelor’s hovel that his father’s old friend Alan Bradley (Bruce Boxleitner) meets him. Alan’s just received a mysterious page from Sam’s father and suggests the son go investigate. And so the story starts to pick up when he gets to an old, abandoned arcade where his father set up his office all those years ago. Sam finds a hidden room and in there sees a computer that’s attached to some sort of machine. A few keystrokes on the keyboard and the machine comes alive and he’s suddenly transported to The Grid, a virtual reality world created by his father Kevin.

 

Rinzler and CLU – The Bad Guys

He immediately encounters trouble when he’s captured for supposedly being a rogue program, and is taken to a gladiator-style game arena where he’s pitted against Rinzler, the arena’s champion. Rinzler stops short of killing him when he’s identified not as a program but a “User”. He takes Sam before CLU, the Grid’s Führer-like dictator, and a program his father Kevin created in his likeness.
 

Quorra – The Girl

CLU challenges Sam to a duel on the Grid, hoping to kill him, but Quorra (Olivia Wilde), an ally of his father’s, rescues him. She takes him to Kevin who’s now grown old and sits apart from everything, meditating, and keeping Quorra (who it turns out is a program that carries answers to mankind’s problems) from his doppelganger CLU, who has destroyed all of her race in genocidal attacks. Bridges here is a peculiar if not sometimes incongruous mix of part Jedi, part Buddhist monk, and part The Dude from The Big Lebowski – you can’t help but smile at his The Dude-like “biodigital jazz, man” comment.

He explains to his son that CLU has held him captive in the Grid all this time but that Sam’s arrival’s reopened the portal to our world. They now have to journey back with all CLU’s might and resources against them. This inevitably leads to more light-based special effects action set pieces with the Daft Punk soundtrack – which received an Oscar nomination – playing in the background.

 

Box-office

The movie won’t be remembered for its convoluted story, but manages to impress in the visual department. It’s supposedly raked in over $400 million worldwide (boxofficemojo.com) and so one can only expect that Disney will be angling for more sequels to be made.
 

DVD and Blu-ray Release

Both DVD and Blu-ray releases have a sneak peak at Disney Channel’s new animated series, Tron: Uprising, as well as a documentary on Visualising Tron. The Blu-ray release has more documentaries and a Daft Punk music video, Derezzed.
 

Who Should Buy This?

Without a question fans of the original won’t miss this new instalment. Kids just entering teenage years may also find it entertaining. For everyone else Tron Legacy may only just be worth a night from your video club, with impressive visuals and a great beat from Daft Punk.

 

Sources: Tron Legacy (DVD), Production Year: 2010, Disney, Tron Legacy (boxofficemojo.com)

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The Gunslinger

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Roland Deschain the Last Gunslinger

Roland Deschain of Gilead is the enigmatic title character in this, the first of King’s 7 novels in his Dark Tower series. The Gunslinger combines science fiction with the fantasy genre. According to King, the idea for the story came after seeing Sergio Leone’s The Good the Bad and the Ugly – the first in a trilogy of spaghetti Westerns, and starring Clint Eastwood. Roland then, like Eastwood, has his guns as his primary weapon, and shows an almost supernatural ability in the way he uses them, whether it’s to draw them from their holsters or reload them when the bullets are spent. Here Stephen King draws parallels with the fantastic characters of King Arthur’s roundtable, and like the knights Roland supposedly belongs to an order of skilled killers, the gunslingers.

 Story of The Gunslinger

We follow the gunslinger as he embarks on a journey in pursuit of the man in black, a mythic creature that appears to be able to take on any form he wants. In one incarnation the man in black goes by the name Walter O’ Dim and seems hell-bent on making the hero’s path hard and full of troubles. Along the way he sets traps for Roland: in a town with a mad preacher who’s pregnant with a devil and who incites the whole town to murder him, and also with a boy who Roland becomes taken with and who arrests the warrior’s soul.

 

Roland will also encounter other colourful characters in his pursuit of his nemesis, like Zoltan, a talking bird, subterranean luminous creatures, pitiful in their existence but terrifying in that they seem to want Roland and Jake around for dinner, with those two being on the menu, or course, and a salacious oracle who will prophesy to the gunslinger only if he gives the lustful spirit the warmth of his flesh.

 

The boy who Walter O’ Dim sets on Roland’s path is Jake Chambers and he lived in the 20th Century in our time until he was killed by Walter O’ Dim, only to find himself trapped in Roland’s own reality. Roland’s not sure how the mischievous warlock will use Jake against him, but he’s unable to send him away because of his love for the boy. In the end he discovers the man in black intends for Jake to be Roland’s “Isaac,” and he must make a choice whether to sacrifice him or save him. If he sacrifices him then Roland will be given what he’s been searching for since his journey began and that is knowledge, knowledge of the tower. The series continues with The Drawing of the Three.

The Revised Edition of The Gunslinger

According to King in his introduction for the revised editions he had been approached by several people, not least an old woman who wanted to see the end of the series before she died. After he survived a horrible accident he decided it was time to get back to his series – one he has remarked is his magnum opus. But there was a need to revisit the original stories, mainly to ensure uniformity across the books. It’s for this reason The Gunslinger has had changes. In the foreword (2003) he wrote, “What I did want to do – and before the final volumes of the book came out, if possible – was to give newcomers to the tale of the Tower (and old readers who want to refresh their memories) a clearer start and a slightly easier entry into Roland’s world. I also wanted them to have a volume that more effectively foreshadowed coming events.”

So Which Edition Should You Buy?

This, of course, will be a matter of choice. The older editions may be cheaper and this may inform your choice. But if you can spare the extra buck or two I’d say get this one. Like Matthew Peckham observed in his 2003 article The Dark Tower: The Gunslinger on SFsite.com: “If you’ve never read The Gunslinger, this is the edition you should get. Is it better than the original? Without question, though as noted above, primarily because the story integrates better with the latter volumes. If on the other hand you’ve already read the original, you will still find the revised edition indispensable for its new revelations which affect the continuity of the latter books.”

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Sources:

The Gunslinger by Stephen Kind (copyright by Mercury Press for The Magazine of Science Fiction and Fantasy. This edition 2003.), The Drawing of the Three by Stephen King, The Good The Bad and The Ugly (directed by Sergio Leone, and starring Clint Eastwood, 1966), The Dark Tower: The Gunslinger by Matthew Peckham (SFsite.com)

Where Late the Sweet Birds Sang

Summary: It’s another end of the world story in Kate Wilhelm’s Where Late the Sweet Birds sang and the only solution for the human race is to embrace the science of cloning. But will this new technology solve all their problems?

Image from andscifi.com

 

WHERE LATE THE SWEET BIRDS SANG by HUGO WINNER KATE WILHELM

It’s the end of the world in Kate Wilhelm’s Where Late the Sweet Bird’s Sang. Grandfather Wilson is patriarch of the large and rich Sumner family and sees that man’s only hope of avoiding extinction amidst the disease, pollution, wars, climatic trauma, and most importantly, the sterility he faces is to start cloning.

 

THE STORY OF WHERE LATE THE SWEET BIRDS SANG

He entrusts his estate to his heirs: grandson David Sumner, and his own son Walt Sumner. Both start to work feverishly to perfect the cloning process and succeed in cloning animals and members of their family. But they soon find that the clones are not human in the strictest sense. They clones soon ostracise their creators in favour of a new community of clones, one that abandons the old ideas of the dead human world and think to start a new one where individuality is killed by embracing the homogeneous group instead as a functioning singular unit.

 

Things take a turn for the worse, though, when the community runs out of supplies and is forced to forage in the old dead world. They send out an expedition to the ruined city of Washington to scavenge for replacement parts for their ageing machinery. It’s during this time that the group, separated from the influence of their community of fellow clones, begin to witness for the first time their own uniqueness and individuality.

 

Thinking it a disease, they reject this call, deep within them, to singular identity. All of them except Molly, the only female in the group. She slowly begins to accept her uniqueness and passes this knowledge, this idea of the power of the individual, on to her child, Mark, just before she’s finally banished from the community.

 

The novel then follows Mark as he grows up and proves the inadequacies of a community that, in spite of its dependency on the old world’s technology, has chosen to despise the philosophies of their human ancestors and instead have opted for a new, brittle world of group consciousness where everyone shares every other person’s thoughts and ideas, and nothing is new, nothing is created. In this new world the ability to use one’s skills to think outside the box has been lost, and there is only the mindless conformity with what has been learned in the group. Mark then leaves and establishes a new community, one that can think for itself, survive on its own, and one that will create new technology to face the complexities of a post-apocalyptic world.

 

THE IDEAS OF WHERE LATE THE SWEEET BIRDS SANG

Where Late the Sweet Birds Sang is about aloneness – even the recluse Mark admits to not wanting to be alone during a solitary expedition. It’s about community, about individualism and the special abilities that may, albeit unknown to the community, benefit it in the end. Many books have dealt with the individual Vs the group, the fact that Kate Wilhelm won a Hugo for this effort shows that this ranks up there with the best of them.

 

The book does have its shortcomings, though: vegetation tends to thrive even though animals and insects – the main agents of pollination – have become extinct. There is a pseudo-spiritual idea of trees talking and having consciousness that is incongruous with the rest of the story, because the idea doesn’t quite lead anywhere. Also most of the characters do not have enough depth, and while this may have been done purposely to show the emotional shallowness of the clones it’s also partly due to the author jumping from one generation to the next at a pace too fast to thoroughly connect with any of them. Still don’t let these few misgivings put you off a story that, if not all the time compelling, is at the very least entirely thought provoking.

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THE CITY AND THE CITY

A Tale of Two Cities

Recent history is not unaccustomed to cities existing rather inharmoniously side by side – just think of the Berlin wall before its fall, dividing East from West Germany, or the still ongoing feud between Israel and Palestine. In The City & The City two city-states exist together in the same physical topography, but are 2 entirely separate entities with their own governments, their own security forces (one called the policzai and the other the communist-style militsya), and their own citizens – all who exist side-by side but who cannot risk the fury of Breach by acknowledging the other.

 

China Miéville’s Existential Dystopian Cities

In The City & The City China Miéville’s Inspector Tyador Borlú is a policzai detective in the Extreme Crime Squad division of the city of Besźel, one of the two cities. The novel starts by a body having been discovered and the Inspector going in for what he assumes will be a routine investigation. It soon turns out that it isn’t as it’s discovered that though the body may have been found in Besźel, the victim may actually have been killed in the second city of Ul Qoma, which introduces a host of jurisdictional issues. Inspector Borlú, while co-operating with his counterpart in the militsya, Senior Detective Dhatt, soon finds that the case is much bigger than imagined and a third security force may need to be invoked, one that everyone fears but understands is a necessity for the existence of both cities. It’s here that we’re introduced to the force that is Breach.

 

Sci-fi?

The book follows the ususal detective crime fiction model (even with the complicated geographical setting and politics) until we start to grapple with the concept of the Breach. Just what is Breach? Put simply – and it’s anything but – Breach is a policing force that has jurisdiction in both the cities of Besźel and Ul Qoma. Their main occupation is to ensure no interaction between the two cities. This immediately introduces problems, considering both cities are in the same geographical location, with locations that sometimes overlap. The author overcomes the contradiction of 2 people who may not be too far away spatially but nevertheless are in different states and who risk transgression by acknowledging the other’s presence by introducing the concepts of unseeing and unhearing. Needless to say then that while this may be an interesting idea the author never quite manages to convice how this would work in reality so that asinine scenarios often present themselves (like having to unhear a dog bark in another city, or having to unsee a car coming down the street if that part of the street is in the opposite country.) Miéville never quite fully convinces the reader to believe this world and he never quite establishes whether this policing force is alien in nature, and therefore power, or just a completely human construct. In fact on this issue there are many gaps that tend to draw one’s concentration from what should be an engaging read.

 

Pros & Cons, Anyone?

And this, in my opinion, is where the book falters: it tries to deal with too many complicated things. For one the setting of the story whist imaginative is too complex, and even though this is not a problem the author never quite develops his world past superficial stages. Then there’s the problem of the players involved: security forces from two very different cities; political entities in both cities, each with different agendas, each with different reasons for wanting to kill the victim – whether it’s the nationalists who want to maintain the sovereignty of each city or the unionists who want to join them together. Finally the culture of both cities in unseeing and unhearing that necessitaties the prescence of the entity that is Breach in some places brought about scenes that were just fatuous. All in all what started out as a promising story just ended up being rather convoluted because it was trying to wrestle with a tangle of ideas.

 

You can find reviews of The City The City in the Guardian and the Telegraph. In the end this is an ambitious book with big ideas, one of them being string theory as the Guardian points out, but one that I think would have benefitted from a little more tweaking to iron out its less fine points. But maybe this is China Miéville’s method – that he does not mind experimenting and does not mind making the reader uncomfortable, wondering just what’s going on. I say, make up your own mind and read it. It’s well worth a look.

 

Source: First published in 2009 by Macmillan. This edition published in 2011 by Pan Books, an imprint of Pan Macmillan, a division of Macmillan Publishing Limited