book review: brain camp

Brain Camp is a comic, written by Susan Kim, about going to camp where terrible experiments are being done on the campers to make them smarter. But at what cost?! It’s drawn by the awesome Faith Erin Hicks and looks great. The story about three kids who figure something weird is going on at camp, is decent but not earth-shaking.

I liked how they used the ensmartening against the camp-runners by the end, and the reason the two main characters have better resistance than most is kind of clever and cute. The reason for the experiments is also a good twist on the basic idea.

In all, a good little story (but no match for the really greatness of something like Hicks’ Friends With Boys).

book review: the rapture of the nerds

I’d read the Appeals Court part of Cory Doctorow & Charles Stross’ The Rapture of the Nerds when it was first published a few years ago and thought it was kind of meh. This version has two more stories to flesh out the story into more of a book, and the last section makes it worth reading.

I don’t know. I guess the early bits about the messenger and the being called into techno court are okay, but so much of it seems like an excuse to just toss a bunch of ideas together. I appreciated the gender-switching as Huw got incarnated differently through the story and the family relationships, but mostly the book didn’t really do it for me, until Huw had her years-long sulk in part three.

It wasn’t bad, just not highly recommended.

book review: ten monkeys ten minutes

Ten Monkeys, Ten Minutes is a small collection of science fiction stories by Peter Watts. One of the stories was a chapter from his novel Starfish. Another was about rationalizing racial violence with genetics. A story about environmentalists negotiating with orca to feed both sides of a conflict was kind of funny, but I think my favourite story in the book was about the storms that are an alien malevolent force in the narrator’s life, much like his teenage daughter who’d never known a world where the sky wasn’t trying to kill you. It’s a small book, but well worth the read.

movie review: prometheus [spoilery]

I really wanted to like Prometheus but I couldn’t. Not immensely. Of the movies I’ve seen in 2012 I liked it better than John Carter (of Mars) (which I had low expectations for), but less than everything else. I rewatched Total Recall a while back, which while not being a masterpiece by any means, it had a better sense of itself and more mind-bendy SFishness than Prometheus (and much worse acting).

The good bits:

Michael Fassbender as David the android was pretty excellent. He was well done as the translator and childish person who was just trying to do right by his creator. The scene in the billiards room where he makes the final decision to infect Holloway or whatever the guy scientist’s name was is chilling.

Idris Elba as Captain Yannick was so good. He had one exposition scene which seemed weird and unprovoked but otherwise, he was badass and charming and yeah. I need to see that show he starred in because he’s pretty excellent.

The rest of the bits:

You know how in Alien, nobody is an idiot? Everyone is just doing their jobs as well as they can. The only stupid moment in Alien is when Ash breaks quarantine and lets the facehugger onto Nostromo, but it’s because he’s working on a different set of orders from everyone else.

In Prometheus this trillion-dollar team of super scientists is a pile of morons. They poke creatures and destroy stuff and breathe the atmosphere without compunction. First thing we do, let’s jolt this head with electricity and trick it into thinking it’s alive! They behave in nothing like a reasonable fashion for a scientific possibly first contact team (apart from Captain Yannick, and even he takes the ship on a suicide mission). “This is a scientific mission. We won’t need weapons.” Having a character lampshading the stupidity of their choices doesn’t make it any better.

The iconic image of the big ring thing rolling from the trailer? Huge fucking spoiler. The only thing the trailer didn’t have was the explosion that caused it rolling. Knowing that the big ring thing lands on the ground drained all the tension from the Engineer alien’s plan to go to Earth with its biological weapons of mass destruction.

It would have made more sense to get an actually old person to play Weyland instead of Guy Pierce in eighty tonnes of makeup. Just saying.

While the pregnancy angle was interesting, why the fuck would the medical doodad in Vickers’ lifeboat be configured to Male Only (so Shaw couldn’t tell it do do a caesarean section – and definitely not an abortion)?

There were so many crew on the ship who were there just to be killed in the rampages near the end. One of the things that made Aliens work is the slow build where you felt for everyone who was about to die. There were all these people I hadn’t seen before getting tossed about by the alien infected form of the geologist, and it all felt hollow.

Verdict:
Bah. I really wanted this to be good. I was hoping it would be more like a big-budget, more actiony Moon, but it was way more like Predators or Alien Resurrection – not the worst movies ever made, but nothing I’m going to remember fondly (outside of a couple of bits). The Avengers is still in theatres; go see that instead. It doesn’t try to answer any big questions about the meaning of humanity but it’s way more fun and the only people doing terribly stupid things are bureaucrats trying to nuke New York.

book review: railsea

Photo Credit: Gastown Railyards by Evan Leeson

Railsea is China Miéville’s a story about a boy named Sham who is working on a moletrain. A moletrain is like a whaling ship, but in the world of Railsea, there are no seas like we know them, only the loose earth that terrifyingly dangerous creatures (like moldywarpes and antlions) burrow through. This earth is crisscrossed by an impenetrably tangled network of rails that require expert navigation and track switching. The trains navigating the railsea are hugely various, some powered by sails, some by steam, diesel or even fusion. Out in the dangerous earth there are islands and communities, and many wrecked trains to salvage. There’s also the upsky which is poisonous and filled with alien beasts that sometimes drop inexplicable bits to earth for people to find. It’s all kinds of awesome.

Sham begins the story as a mediocre doctor’s apprentice, serving a captain in search of her philosophy, a giant ivory mole named Mocker-Jack that took her arm. Miéville does this thing where this creature she’s hunting is explicitly philosophical at the same time that it’s a physical beast that could crush a train. It’s directly inspired by Moby Dick but is wildly divergent from Herman Melville’s story.

Strangely enough not everyone likes China Miéville’s use of language. It’s filled with words that are made-up but make sense and I am a fan. The book is published as YA and while the language is intricate and ornate, it will knock the right reader’s socks off. Comparison-wise, it’s got similar themes to Ship Breaker, but the language is less straight-forward. The plot is stronger and more direct than Mechanique, which had a similar kind of language/mood.

I loved the hell out of this book and am only sad it’s over and I’ll have to wait for Miéville’s next one.

book review: ocean

Ocean is a great little scifi story about a UN weapons inspector who heads out to Jupiter’s moon Europa because a scientific team there found a shitload of billion-year-old alien coffins. There’s another corporation out in orbit of Europa too and they’re interested in the weapon potential of these alien devices.

The book is full of good Warren Ellis dialogue between bitter cranky people trying to save the world. The evil corporation guys have all had personality replacements for the length of their contracts so they’re full on corporate drones, while the heroic real people make terrible food and talk about sex a lot. There are some cool ideas about weapons in space, a great fight sequence using manipulation of the space station’s gravity, and Ellis’ old-school rocket fixation (transferred to the main character) helps to save the day.

I really enjoyed the book and it’d make a great movie.

book review: fuzzy nation

Fuzzy Nation is John Scalzi’s reboot of H. Beam Piper’s classic science fiction book Little Fuzzy. I haven’t read the original, but Scalzi’s version is a lot of fun.

Jack Holloway is an ex-lawyer current-prospector on a remote planet who finds a huge mineral claim. He also finds a bunch of fuzzy creatures that take up residence in his home out in the (dangerous) jungle. The story follows the wrangling over people getting what they want, which isn’t always completely obvious. There’s intrigue and CSI-type stuff, courtroom drama, and debates over sentience. All classic SF stuff.

There are a few points where I think I can guess how the original differed from Scalzi’s story, just in the way some things are set up that feel specifically modern, but there are only enough of them to make you feel like you’re clever. They don’t dominate the proceedings.

Like most of Scalzi’s work, it’s a quick read, but worth the time if you like witty scifi.