Saturday, June 29, 2013

Review: Doctor Who - 001 - Season 01 Episode 01 - "An Unearthly Child"

Dallas, November, 22nd 1963. On this beautiful day a dark car is slowly moving on Elm Street. Next to the asphalted road some people are cheering on the grass. They are still unaware that in a split second, the world is going to change. The curious onlookers will witness the explosion of J.F. Kennedy's brain and Jackie's instinctive reaction. The news quickly spread around the world fueling fears of an incoming nuclear war.

United Kingdom, November 23rd 1963. With the event of the previous day in their mind, at 5:15PM local time, with a delay of about eighty seconds on the program, four million British began watching something new, unaware that science fiction and television history was going to change forever.
A strange, eerie music sounded from their now rudimental television set. A new show titled "Doctor Who" just started. The episode had no title, although we know it as "An unearthly child" or "100.000BC".

Doctor Who's first episode is divided in four parts and was broadcasted from 11/23/1963 to 12/14/1963 and is obviously in black and white. At the time the show did not really impress, and many critics called for its demise. Apparently BBC even canceled the show after the first part was aired and planned to stop any other episode to be filmed. Watching it fifty years later I can say that I am not surprised that it was difficult to understand. The First Doctor, played by an amazing William Hartnell tries to be mysterious and his grand-daughter Susan Foreman (Carole Ann Ford) is there to make the Doctor even more so.

Doctor... who?

The first few minutes of the show are actually about her interactions with other people that can't understand her, rather than space and time travel. She is young and goes to high school but at the same time she has a great knowledge about many topics. Susan actually tries to correct her teachers (Barbara and Ian Chesterton) which will later on become companions. Other kids make fun of her because she acts weird.

The junkyard

One night the two teachers decide to follow Susan and then they will meet the Doctor. This is also the first time the viewers see the Doctor. I will not spoil it, but somehow they get into the TARDIS (it's bigger on the inside!) and the Doctor will make it fly through time and space. Arrived at their destination, puzzled Chesterton and Barbara find themselves in the stone age (of Earth or a different planet). Here, the Doctor and his companion will end up tangled in the power struggle of two cavemen that want to be tribal leaders (Za and Kal) and desperately need fire to show their might.

For today’s viewers the episode might seem a bit simplistic. From the beginning of the second part, the original intention of the show is quite evident. Doctor Who was supposed to be a learning experience about history and science and this episode is focused on the importance of fire and the social issues of uncivilized societies. I am left wondering if at the time the behavior of Za and Kal was seen as an allegory to the Cold War.
In my opinion this episode is pretty good, although certainly not the best of the classic doctors. The show was newborn, the crew was unsure of the success of the show, and it was clearly a longshot.
However, “An Unearthly child” gives us what could be the most important line of Doctor Who ever, by the mouth of Ian:
BARBARA: Oh, look, I don't understand it any more than you do. The inside of the ship, suddenly finding ourselves here. Even some of the things Doctor Foreman says,
IAN: That's not his name. Who is he? Doctor who? Perhaps if we knew his name we might have a clue to all this.
Fifty years later we are still wondering if Ian was right.

More info:

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Analog, July/August 2013

- Reading “Thaw” by Arland Andrews, Sr. someone might think that the editors included this story by mistake. It seems that every element of the fantasy genre is in there while every element of science fiction is out of it. So, what’s going on? Did the editors drink too much vodka while watching “The Hobbit”? Did they shrank the thin line between sci-fi and fantasy so much that there is no more division among the two genres? Or more simply, is this an attempt to pacify hardcore sci-fi fiction fans with hardcore fantasy fiction fans? No, none of the above. “Analog” is the magazine of “Science fiction and fact” and the science fiction element is in the fact part of the story. (spoiler) The story is based on Earth, in a far/not to far future, after the global warming changed everything. People, the few still alive, are unable to read with their eyes not because they are blind or anything, but because history must’ve been forgotten – becoming oral tradition – and reading is fundamentally changed. People read with their touch. This story is quite an interesting device to discuss science, global warming and other hot topics (end of spoiler). I am not a big fan of this story in particular but I must give the author a lot of credit for fooling me and for writing down a good plot.

- “Not with a bang” by Rosemary Clair Smith is a time travel love story. Two scientists fall in love with Julianna. Both are sent back in time to the Late Cretaceous for a six-month mission. From that mission new facts about the dinosaurs and their extinction will emerge. The core of the story is the love for Julianna, which is a few million years later. Easy read, not a great story. The only part I really liked is when they find out that the T-Rex behaves differently than previously thought.

- "Other people's avatar" by Howard V. Hendrix reminded me of David Cronenberg's "eXistenz". A guy wasted his life in front of video games, has a heart attack and a whole new adventure begins. Is it real? Is it a dream? I kinda felt sorry for Anderson. This story had an amazing potential but it was way mistreated. Too long and the character felt incredibly dry.

- "Ready, Set" by Mary Lou Klecha is very short (not even two pages) but a nice read. The only thing the main character desires is to leave his current place. A long wait, and nothing will ever bring him away. Truly a sad one.

- "Milk Run" by Alec Austin and Marissa Lingen. A story about a mission with an "intern". Nothing to note on this one, pretty average.

- "Tethered" by Harris A. Durrani. A nice story about a janitorial spaceship devoted to pick up space trash. The crew finds itself faced with the risk of starting a diplomatic crisis or not respecting contracts with private corporations. I enjoyed it but I sometimes found myself lost among all the information that is thrown to the reader which is then left there.

- A Quiet Little Town in Northern Minnesota” by K.C. Ball is a nice little piece about an AI who wants to conquer the world starting from Blackduck, MN and, in part, its relationship with humans. Enjoyable.

- “Cronus and the Ship” by Seth Dickinson is a very short story about spaceships and their defense system. Another enjoyable story full of significant christenings for ships (Iliad, Edda, Argonautica etc.).

-“Love” by Rick Norwood. This is a sad love story, which strangely enough is not cheesy. At six Stephen is kissed on the cheek by a spaceship captain, Helen. She’s much older than him but since she is sent out to travel in space she ages a little while he ages according to Earth’s time. When she’s back he will meet her and they will have a one night stand. He deeply loves her so he will wait (and age) for her to come back.
I don’t think “CREP d’Etoile” by Bud Sparhawk is meant to be taken seriously. It’s about recycling food supplies and making them taste amazing while there is one crisis after another. Didn’t enjoy it; nothing wrong with the style, I just didn’t find it interesting.

- One story I loved is “The Chaplain’s Legacy” by Brad R. Torgersen. An alien race called the Mantis (due to their look) is unstoppable in their destruction of the galaxy’s civilizations. Harry Barlow, a chaplain, is able to make the humans and mantis to sign a truce by teaching the concept of religion to the Mantis who never heard about it. They are unable to comprehend it. Somehow the truce ends and Harry, a human female Captain, a Mantis called Professor and the Queen Mantis are stuck on a planet together trying to survive. Now, it’s obviously a story about preconceived notions and possibility of change and from time to time it’s actually cheesy but with some leap of faith (mainly believing that people/aliens can be englightened in a split second) it’s by far the best story in this issue.

- “Dark Secret” by Edward Lerner is the conclusion of a series. I haven’t read the previous episodes so I will not review it.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

"The silver linings playbook" book and movie review.

My wife insisted that I read “The Silver Linings Playbook”. She also gave me an ultimatum: I had ten days to read it before the movie was going to be played on our TV and I was to be forced to watch it as in A Clockwork’s Orange. I have to admit, I am glad she did but please don't tell her! I will briefly review the book and then the movie.

I could've ended like this guy...

The book.  
The novel is written in first person; the POV is that of Pat Peoples who just came out from a mental hospital. Pat doesn’t remember what happened, other than he ended up being separated from his wife. He doesn’t even remember how long he has been inside the hospital. The only thing he knows that he wants to get back with Nikki. As I mentioned earlier, Pat and Nikki have been separated during a time that Pat christened the "Apart time".
To complicate things, his parents are not much willing to tell him what happened, why he can’t see Nikki yet and why they removed every picture of Nikki from the house. Now, one important thing to notice that when Pat comes back home it’s not all sunshine and rainbows. His father can’t stand him. Whenever Pat and his dad are in the same room there is some tension.
It is easy to foresee that Pat will soon or later meet a girl; this girl is Tiffany, an individual with some problems of her own. The two will grow a troubled friendship and the reader will have some fun reading about it. I am not going to spoil it anymore.
Stylistically I found the book interesting. As my wife pointed out, it reads as if a child wrote it. It’s linguistically simple, there are no weird descriptions and the reader is left with a good feeling after the last page is turned. Two thumbs up.

The movie.
Ok, first the BAD. Whoever decided to cast in Robert De Niro and even worse make him as if he was playing a Focker should be fired on spot. I would actually be glad to chew his brain (kidding!). To me it’s completely unacceptable that the father’s character has been changed so vastly that it doesn’t even make sense. It’s stupid and boring. I am left wondering if De Niro is trying to change his “bad ‘Al Capone’ guy” look to “good ‘ol grandpa Bobbi”.
One more thing I didn’t understand is why they explained what happened to Pat within the first five minutes of the movie . I am not really complaining, it could be that keeping the mystery for one hour would’ve made the movie more of a Lt. Columbo story than a good psychological drama. I suggest to you to read the book first.
The actors are all amazing, with the exception of the dull De Niro. Bradley Cooper (Pat) is very credible, has the right voice tonalities and is quite funny to watch, but the real star is Jennifer Lawrence (Tiffany). She is sublime, portraying a woman much older than she is in real life. She won an Oscar for this role and I believe it’s truly deserved. Impressive.
The movie gets only one thumb up because of De Niro, otherwise it would’ve been an almost perfect interpretation of an already good book.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Reading queue

Neil Gaiman's latest book, "The ocean at the end of the lane", has been released. Therefore  my reading queue is now as follows:
- "Analog", July/August double issue  (currently reading)
- "Analog ", September issue
- "The ocean at the end of the lane"
- "Clarkesworld", issue 81

 I will review all of them.
I might  also read "Jack Glass: The Story of a Murderer" by Adam Roberts. The novel won the John W. Campbell Memorial Award for best 2012 science fiction novel.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Review: Asimov's SF, August 2013

This issue is quite average.

- "The Application of Hope" is this month's novella. Here we have spaceships, space fold technology, weird alien civilizations and a star fleet. In other words, change a few words, call a spaceship Enterprise and you get a Star Trek spinoff. The story works and flows well.

- "Stone to Stone, Blood to Blood". Quite an interesting story about a child that is genetically modified to follow the Imperative, that is to make his assigned subject happy. Unfortunately, the Subject is an important member of a very important family. To make thing worse this subject is rebellious. Good story about friendship and duty.

- "Arlington" does not really deliver. The story itself is interesting but I didn't like the style; way too dry. A guy gets lost in a different dimension when flying solo. When he finally gets back he finds himself stuck in another dimension than the one he comes from.

- "Lost Wax". Ingenious but boring in my opinion.

- "The Ex-Corporal". A story that has a "already seen, already done" feeling. Nonetheless, it remains nice to read. It is clearly the author's homage to her father. Somehow this story works.

Here's the table of contents taken from Asimov's website:

The Application of Hope by Kristine Kathryn Rusch

Stone to Stone, Blood to Blood by Gwendolyn Clare
Arlington by Jack Skillingstead
Lost Wax by Gregory Norman Bossert


The Ex-Corporal by Leah Thomas

Turing Tests by Peter Chiykowski
Telling the True by Jane Yolen

Editorial: 2013 Dell Magazine Awards by Sheila Williams

Reflections: Rereading Simak by Robert Silverberg
On the Net: What Counts? by James Patrick Kelly
Next Issue

On Books by Paul Di Filippo

The SF Conventional Calendar by Erwin S. Strauss

Thursday, June 13, 2013

The update

I haven't written anything on this blog in a while so this is going to be a wrap up on what I've been up to.
Mostly I have been working Saturday included. We got some deadlines to meet at any cost.
Although a bit inconsistent I have tried to keep up with my healthy habits, training at least three times a week. I am currently doing martial arts, boxing and some gym work (weights). Unfortunately, not only I spent last week on the DL with a tedious neck injury that was causing headaches, but I was kinda unable to restrain myself from overeating. Some setbacks are normal, they are part of training. Tomorrow I will go back to the gym, do some light weights and see what happens.

Deadly injury? I will survive!

My family and I haven’t been anywhere except from our annual visit to Cross Plains where the first week of June the town celebrates the life of Robert E. Howard, the creator of Conan the barbarian and Solomon Kane.

On the road!

Howard ended his own life on June 11 th 1936 just a few minutes after his mother died.

Since I had the kids with me I was unable to listen to the various panels that are offered, but they all look interesting with very good guests.

Howard's house is quite typical and features the room (formally a patio) where Howard slept  and wrote. One interesting feat is that his mother’s room had a window facing inside his room. So much for privacy.

Howard's room. Notice the window on the left.
Part of his books collection, his possessions and a manuscript (postcard) by H.P. Lovecraft are all there for the visitor to see.
Each year during the REH  days Cross Plains Public Library is open extra hours. Howard’s original typescripts and several copies of Weird Tales are located there and can be consulted .

Great original copies of Weird Tales.

In addition, the town celebrates the Barbarian Festival, which is located close to Howard’s house. There is live music, food and a car show. The Festival is quite small, probably not worth the trip; however I have to admit that this year I had an amazing smoked Turkey Leg. I am still drooling thinking about it.
I will go back next year, just to buy the yearly t-shirt and to have an excuse for a day trip.

On our way back we hiked for about an hour at Lake Mineral Wells State Park. It was quite beautiful.

Other thing we did was going to watch several College baseball games, including the WAC finals and some AirHogs (Independent League) games. Given the price, free parking and atmosphere I think that’s the best value you can get at a baseball game. After the game no one cares if you go on the field so the kids and I played some catch in a real ballpark. That was really fun!

The children sitting by the bullpen are MLB scouts in disguise.
On the field with the winning team!

We also went to a local medieval festival, here some pictures:

Lately I have read only two books, “Silver Linings Playbook” and “Bottom of 33 rd ”, which I will review soon. I also started going to the local chess club once in a while, so I studied some of Averbach’s works on endings, just to have a better idea.

Monday, June 10, 2013