book review: new moon

Ian McDonald’s Luna: New Moon has no lovestruck vampires. Instead, it’s the story of a dynastic Brazilian helium mining company/family on the moon, three generations into the colonization. I loved this book mostly because it doesn’t just deal with family power plays (the matriarch, the scheming brother, the loose cannon brother, the brilliant lawyer sister, the outcast, the fashionable next generation) but the economics of living in a harsh harsh world.

On the moon, there is no law, only contract. You pay for every bit of carbon you consume, every drop of water, your bandwidth, every breath you take. It’s AI-mediated anarchocapitalism with lawyers (and lawyer AIs) negotiating everything. Which sounds hellish to live in if you aren’t one of the people on top of the society. McDonald does a good job of if not romanticizing the economic concept, at least leavening it with some perspective of the working-class.

I couldn’t help but liken the resource-extraction hellpit that the moon is in this book (with nice bits for the rich) to Alberta. But the moon is socially libertarian as well. All sorts of sexual diversity is normal, the powerful aren’t all white people, there are ways to help one another. So while the plot was interesting enough, it was the bouncing around between ways of organizing people differently I really liked.

All in all, it’s a very good social science fiction book, and only wish it wasn’t the first in a series (I loved the ending and wish it actually was one).

book review: mooncop

Tom Gauld’s Mooncop is beautiful. The quietness of the police officer’s story on a gradually emptying satellite matches Gauld’s art-style perfectly. I can’t really say much more about it besides that it is good. I read it on half a lunch break and spent the rest of the break thinking about it.

If you like Jason‘s work — I do — you’d find Mooncop very similar.

book review: apocalypse suite (the umbrella academy vol.1)

Apocalypse Suite is a time travel, get the team back together to fight something that’s gone horribly wrong, high adventure style comic that I enjoyed immensely. It’s Gerard Way’s first time writing a comic and it doesn’t really show.

The Umbrella Academy super team was once a bunch of orphan kids brought together to fight terrible threats (including an animated Eiffel Tower). This story takes place when their mentor has died and they regroup after scattering to the winds (or the moon) for years. Then one member comes back from the future and the team member who doesn’t do anything special feels slighted and it all spins out of control. It’s a great story, illustrated superbly by Gabriel Ba. Highly recommended.

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: planetes (vol. 1)

I found a manga I really like! Planetes is a science fiction story about three astronauts who work on the trash detail, cleaning debris out of Earth’s orbit. Hachimaki wants to be an exploration type astronaut with his own ship some day, Yuri lost his wife on his first trip up to space and Fee is the working stiff who pilots the ship and keeps them safe.

There are five stories in this first volume and they cover a good range, from the romance of junk-collecting (complete with last second rescue) to the psychological trauma of surviving an EVA accident. The stories have enough giant-mouth screaming to still feel like a manga book, but it’s all in the service of really solid science fiction. I don’t think there are as many volumes of this at the library as Death Note (which I tried reading but it didn’t do anything for me – consider that my review) but I’m going to grab what there is and keep reading.

book review: life as we knew it

[photo credit: Giant Moon by Timmy Toucan]
Life As We Knew It is a book by Susan Beth Pfeffer about survival through massive disaster.

Miranda and her family live in kind of rural Pennsylvania and she keeps a diary. She used to figure-skate and her dad lives in Massachusetts with his new wife. Then an asteroid hits the moon, knocking it way closer to earth. I do not know how possible that is no matter how dense that asteroid was, but don’t worry too much about it, because the take-off point is about what a giant disaster this is for the globe. The moon isn’t crashing into the Earth or anything, but the changes to tides cause tsunamis and earthquakes and volcanoes. There are ash-clouds and it might be the end of the world.

Miranda and her family are better off than some people. Her mom goes into survivalist mode right away and they stockpile food. They have a wood stove and land to get firewood from. They look after their elderly neighbour but other than that it’s a strict “family first” policy. This all happens in the spring, and things just keep on happening through the (almost) year the diary covers.

The big thing is Miranda dealing with how abnormal this makes her life. She vacillates between self-pity and being really strong in a way that feels realistic to how a person outside a story does. I think that’s something that the diary form for a book like this does really well. In Carbon Diaries 2015 the author used the same diary format to really get at what day-to-day life would be like if everything would be different (though the Carbon Diaries was less apocalyptic than Life As We Knew It).

Apart from the cause of the disasters in this book I feel like it’s a really good realistic look at what life immediately post-disaster would be like. There aren’t any zombies (The Walking Dead) or radioactive wastes (Z for Zachariah), just terrible weather and not enough food. I appreciated that it takes place outside an urban centre, so things like looting and violence are more ominous and less omnipresent.

Very good science fiction for YAs who like realistic fiction.

book review: astronauts in trouble – live from the moon

Astronauts in Trouble: Live From the Moon could have been exactly the kind of thing I’d love. It’s a comic about journalism and space colonization (and had an introduction by Warren Ellis). But something about it never really clicked for me.

I had issues with telling the similar looking characters apart. The plot itself had some gaps that left me confused. The journalists fending off nukes with a jury-rigged camera wasn’t quite as wacky as it sounds so it was just kind of odd. The trusted onscreen personality talks about himself as growing up in the shadow of Generation X, though he was born in 1977, which seems all sorts of weird to me (though it was written in 1999, which might explain that a bit).

I did like how orbital dynamics were addressed when they launched prematurely though. I just think the book needed to open up the throttle a bit more and decide if it was being more of an adventure or a serious speculation. It kind of waffled around without melding the two.