Tag Archives: sf

Star Trek: Discovery, Episode 4 FTW!

9 Oct

Threat ganglia!

Black alerts!

Women of colour passing the bechdel test!

I have so many (only slightly spoilerish) thoughts about the fourth episode of Star Trek: Discovery that I almost don’t know where to begin. Sceptics, begone! Surely this is the episode to show us that the new show can be everything we want it to be?

Words have been written elsewhere about the choice of perspective, with our sole viewpoint character being Burnham, rather than the full ensemble of a senior crew. It is indeed refreshing to be introduced to a Starfleet vessel from the lackey’s perspective, but it also serves to highlight an important thematic point: the crew of the Discovery, and perhaps Starfleet itself, have lost their way. While Burnham alone continues to want to seek out new life, in the form of Ripper, everyone else is focused only on “weaponising” it, or seeing it as a threat. She alone treats it as a possibly sentient being, and she alone embodies Starfleet’s ideals. I love the affinity she has with it, and the parallels between the way she views it and the way others view her. Burnham’s eyes swim as she describes it as just wanting to defend itself, and as, ultimately, peaceful and misunderstood. If the rest of her is Vulcan, Burnham’s eyes are still human- all her emotion is there, and Sonequa Martin-Green is brilliant. During the six months of Burnham’s incarceration, the galaxy seems to have gone mad, and we share her disorientation as we adjust to this version of the Federation.

I know some people wonder why this had to be another prequel (especially to TOS), and feel that this restricts the show. Usually I’m the first to bemoan such decisions, and when I first heard about the new Trek I too was hoping we’d get something post-Voyager. But this episode has won me over, because of the existence of the spores. Something is going to go wrong; hideously wrong. That’s why we don’t have this method of travel in TOS or beyond. Now the threat of what will happen hangs constantly over our heads, and I am sure that the usage of the spores will increase, as will Starfleet’s reliance upon them, and as the stakes rise, so does the tension, and tension (not context- sorry, Episode 3) is king. I was reminded painfully of the usage of Star Whales in this episode of Doctor Who, and I just hope that poor Ripper isn’t put through too much… I don’t think my heart can take it. 

I love a good antihero, and I already love Voq. So. Much. Pathos. And again, more parallels- both he and Burnham are outcasts, despised by their peers. Both have lost their beloved mentors, and each has the other to blame for this. I can’t wait for them to meet. The show ended with Voq contemplating Burnham’s image, as the architect of his downfall, and with Burnham receiving a poignant reminder of what Voq has taken from her. I look forward to Voq becoming the crazed Klingon despot he is surely destined to be. 

More, please!

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I want to talk about Borne

22 Jun

This book! I find all of Jeff VanderMeer’s fiction deeply affecting, and I’m still trying to process his latest novel, Borne. It simultaneously broke my heart and lifted me up. I can’t think of another book I’ve found so moving and disturbing and yet also so beautiful and, eventually, positive. Warning: this splurge of thoughts may contain spoilerage. 

All of the stuff I love about Jeff VanderMeer’s fiction is here: corrupted nature; body horror; a decaying metropolis. Explorations of power and who wields it permeate (is it the Magician, who sells lies like a priestess sells religion- to comfort but also to control? Or Mord who, king-like, terrorises to rule? Or the Company, who ingest and spew out, a faceless, thoughtless consumerist nightmare that, unchecked, will destroy worlds?) And monsters! Such monsters, in every sense of the word. What makes a monster and what makes the opposite, a “person” – as Borne is so fond of saying and is so desperate to be – is another question that lurks behind much of the story. 

I loved Borne’s upbringing with Rachel. What parent hasn’t heard many of Borne’s myriad, impossible-to-answer questions from their own offspring? And the way in which Rachel questions herself, doubts herself, blames herself… Well, I have definitely been there as a parent, many a time. Ultimately, it’s nature, not nurture, that wins out for Borne – or is it? Rachel comments, more than once, that Borne appeared to her the way he thought she wanted him to be. And Rachel surely wanted nothing so much as a weapon with which to rid the city of the blight of Mord. 

There was a lot in this novel that for me echoed other fiction by VanderMeer, and not just the environmental themes or the beautiful, haunting descriptions of nature twisted. A big reveal towards the end, in particular, is reminiscent of a similar big reveal at the end of Finch. Rachel is a delightfully and self-consciously unreliable narrator, although not quite in the category of the narrators of Shriek: An Afterword, another of my favourites. 

I loved the cyclical nature of much of what happened. Rachel salvaged Borne, Wick had once salvaged Rachel, Rachel salvaged Borne again. I felt it most strongly through the cycles of creation and destruction we see. The Company creates monstrosities, destroying worlds in the process, but ultimately these creations will remake the world. The magician (and Wick) create memories, but the magician destroys children to do so. The magician, and Rachel in her way, create monsters, as did Wick, and Wick and Rachel’s creations destroy each other, and in so doing, create a new world. Even Mord, who destroys so much, creates his proxies (who then go on to destroy.) Have I tied myself in enough of a knot yet?

I should probably stop here. I just loved loved loved this book and cannot recommend it highly enough. Oh, and I want a swimming pool just like Wick’s. 

The Power by Naomi Alderman… READ IT!

20 Mar

A friend told me that I had to read The Power by Naomi Alderman. It wasn’t really on my radar until that point but man oh man am I glad I read it. (And I’m suddenly self-conscious about my choice of phrase there.) It’s one of those books that stays with you long after you stop reading. I think I read something that said it “will change the way you look at everything.” This isn’t hyperbole, although I’d probably describe it as bringing everything into sharp (and terrible) focus. More than once had to stop reading on the Tube because I realised I had started crying. That’s power, that is. 

Here’s a description of the book from the author’s website. In short, women suddenly acquire the ability to be physically dominant over men, and this changes the power dynamics between the sexes in ways that highlight the awful things we take for granted in our own patriarchal society. 

I rode the wave of the writing. I found the style taut and urgent and perfect for the story being told. I felt the book had as much to say about the societal pressures on men as it has to say about the way women are treated, and as well as being about gender, it is definitely also about power itself and the subtle way in which it is expressed (and the way in which the presence or absence of it permeates everything.) One character, a politician, ceases to give a shit about or be intimidated by a rival once she knows she has the ability to hurt him physically (even though he doesn’t know.) It reminded me of when I started to practise martial arts as a child: up until that point, I got picked on, and got into quite a lot of fights trying to defend myself. After a few months, I didn’t have any more fights, and I’m sure it was just down to the way I carried myself: I just wasn’t scared of getting hit any more.

I particularly liked the exchanges between Kristen and Tom (and later Matt), and the creeping way they were integrated into the main text, just as such frothy, reductive journalism does seem to creep into everything at the moment. I also loved the framing exchanges between the fictional author and his mentor, thousands of years in the future. I’d say it’s implied, rather than stated, that religion lies at the root of our own existing patriarchies, just as religion is wielded as a conscious weapon for control by Mother Eve in this book. I found the description of male genital mutilation, and of women as being naturally aggressive because they “have babies to protect” particularly thought-provoking. 

One might be tempted to think the book is suggesting that it is inevitable that those in power will abuse it. However, I think that’s missing the point of the story. The point is to shine a light on aspects of our existing cultures by completely reversing the balance of gender power. It is deliberately shocking (haha, no pun intended) but never sensationalist, and it deliberately takes things to their most extreme conclusion, but none of it is worse than what is happening to women right now.

Anyway: read it. Everyone should. 

[And now the weather on the ones… Sorry, couldn’t resist!]

O.M.G. Black. Mirror.

11 Nov

How timely that I have just discovered this amazing, amazing show. I’m slowly working my way through all the episodes (I’m about to start Season 3) and really could not have discovered it at a better time. I mean, totally this, this week:

I’ve seen a few things likening the above Season 2 episode The Waldo Moment to the current political situation in America (and, really, elsewhere.) The episode is scarily prescient, not to mention terrifying, and is probably my favourite so far, along with Fifteen Million Merits.

It’s not just the relevance of the stories that makes it so worth watching. It’s unusual and refreshing to find a new show with an anthology format, and the discreteness of each episode is a good lesson in complete story construction. Though I have heard people compare the show to The Twilight Zone, among other things, it also reminds me of a series called The Outer Limits, which I felt was really underrated at the time (over twenty years ago, and itself a remake of an earlier series…. Ye gods, I’m getting old!)

Anyway… More Black Mirror for me. Far less terrifying, and far more sensible, than the real world right now.

Attack The Block – Watch It!

29 Dec

I’m late to the party with this, but how great is Attack The Block? (Answer: exceedingly great, fam.) I felt it worked on several levels, I found it tightly written, and I thought it contained some lovely action moments (especially the corridor scenes amid the firework smoke.) It also featured some memorable comic lines and genuinely poignant moments – for example, when nurse Sam learns her mugger Moses lives virtually alone and is just 15 years old. And not that I’m biased or anything, but a genre film about underprivileged London kids will always get my vote.

The film is about a group of London teenagers whose mugging of a young woman named Sam is interrupted when an alien drops out of the sky. The kids then kill the alien, bringing down a whole load more trouble in the shape of the alien’s bigger, faster brethren. This is the first of several ways in which the aliens and the threat they pose are used as parallels to Moses’ life. He and his friends are at first dismissive of Sam’s mugging, which they scarcely see as a crime, but in the end, just as they misjudged the consequences of killing the alien, they realise Sam is a person not so different from themselves, that mugging her has deep consequences, and they give her back a ring that has sentimental value to her.

There are a lot of ideas in this film about the meaning of alienation and territory, but aside from one or two slightly heavy-handed lines, the script manages not to be preachy or cringeworthy. Moses and his friends are initially presented as masked and therefore faceless, and we are half way through before we learn all their names. By the end of the film, it’s the police who are faceless, emerging from the smoke (as the aliens did moments before), lights and uniforms obscuring their identity. Although you might not necessarily like these teenagers by the end, it’s hard not to find a kind of sympathy for them. They have no money (at one point, a character only has enough credit for one text – one of several moments that is both amusing and poignant.) Although Moses has a Samurai sword, their most effective weapons are fireworks. The turning point for me was when we see the kids running to face the aliens, Pizza Go Go bike and tiny dog in tow. This is when we are given our first reminder that they are just children. Other moments, such as when one boy apologises for his bad driving by saying, “I’m getting lessons for Christmas” add to this.

Moses and his friends mistakenly apply their own code of existence to the aliens. They assume that the creatures turn up en-masse out of a desire to avenge their fallen friend. Likewise, it’s unthinkable that Moses and his friends would simply leave their home (they are deeply offended when Sam says she doesn’t like the area.) Despite their very different perspectives, Sam, gangster Hi-Hatz, and Moses and his friends each individually claim that this is their territory, and their actions are governed by their desire to protect it. And it’s the block that this film is really all about, as highlighted through a lovely first-person shot near the beginning when the viewer is drawn inexorably into its looming bulk. Though Sam seems both to Moses and his friends, and to posh, weed-smoking student Brewis to be alien to the block (Brewis explains he was headed to a party at Fulham and after asking why she’s there, is shocked to learn she lives there) by the end Sam tells police that Moses is her neighbour and stands united with him.

The idea that Moses and his friends appear aggressive out of necessity – from fear and self-preservation – is re-enforced repeatedly. Gangster Hi-Hatz accuses them of bringing both “feds” and aliens to the housing block – another way in which the police and the creatures are set up as parallels. Hi-Hatz at one point suggests Moses might like to graduate to selling cocaine for him, and we are reminded that it is very easy for children from Moses’ background to fall into such a lifestyle by the fact that, in this block, the safest place is the “Weed Room”, where Hi-Hatz grows cannabis. The viewer is drawn into Moses world of alienation and abandonment as the block is sealed off, his female friends flee and the police remain ignorant of the threat within, interested only in catching the muggers. As one of Moses’ friends says towards the end, with regard to his knife carrying (and unnecessarily, I felt, but never mind): “Walking around expecting to get jacked any minute – feels like just another day in the ends.”

I could go on. Anyway, bottom line – watch it!

I heart Inception

23 Jul

It’s a long time since I’ve been as blown away by a movie as I was by Inception. I didn’t quite feel the skin-tingling awe that I felt when I first saw the Matrix, but it was still the best movie I’ve watched in a long time. It probably helps that I’m fascinated by dreams (yaknow… being a lucid dreamer and all that.) It’s the only film I’ve been to where people have both walked out at the beginning and clapped at the end (er… not the same people, mind. But I’m just saying… the range of reactions just highlights its uniqueness.) Given the conservative tendencies of today’s Hollywood, I found it so refreshing (and surprising) to come across something original and challenging – and this makes me very willing to forgive its few shortcomings. I loved the visuals – I want to see more crumbling cities and gravity-defying roads – and I loved the orchestral score. The ending was also pleasingly ambiguous (or not – discuss.)

I’m not entirely without criticism. I found the dialogue a bit info-dumpy at times. I thought that some of the “surprises” regarding Cobb’s wife were a little too well advertised beforehand, and the characters could perhaps have been more fleshed out. And I’m also not a hundred per cent sure of some of the logic. (Like, if they were dreaming about the van, why would the jolt of it hitting the water wake them, when it wasn’t really happening.) But damn! …What a film!

I’d tentatively say that I hope they make sequels. Tentative, because I want to see the possibilities explored more, but I wouldn’t like to see the life sucked out of the idea, because I think it’s such a great one.

One for the DVD wish list, methinks!