Blogs and Ends: Question from my Readers

Blogs and Ends: Question from my Readers

Bonesaw asks: Out of interest – is there any sci fi that’s worth watching at the moment?

No.

I thought about just leaving that as my answer and given the events of the last 24 hours I’m not sure anybody is going to be reading a popculture blog today anyway. But I should give you more of an answer than that.

Currently, there is NO decent science fiction being produced in America.  Given the state of Hollywood and their SJW checklists and diversity casting obsessions I don’t see anything good coming out the US for a long time.  

But the entertainment world is hardly limited to Los Angeles these days.  

Of my three offerings, one is from the Russian Federation, one is from India and one is from China 

First

The Wandering Earth – China

The Wandering Earth is based on a collection of short stories by Hugo winning (and Rabid Puppy approved) author Liu Cixin.

The premise for the film is big but also a little ridiculous but I can accept it for a couple of reason. One, you have to start a story somewhere and two, let me state up front that I haven’t read the book but Liu Cixin, has a good track record for taking science seriously. 

The setup. The new Solar Maunder Minimum we are entering is actually quite a bit worse than the Sun going quiet for a bit. It turns out that Sol is running out of hydrogen and will start drastically expanding soon. Within 500 years it will engulf of the Earth.

So, the question is how does the human race rescue itself? 

Move to Mars or maybe one of the moons of Jupiter? 

Sorry, the Sun is going to take out the whole Solar System.

Build spaceships and takeoff? 

No good. In this movie’s universe we haven’t licked the problem of FTL so it will have to be slower than light travel. Besides, Man is mass produced by unskilled labor and there are billions of us. There is also another bigger problem. We have found may-be one or two acceptable candidates but so far as we know for certain, this is the only planet that can sustain terrestrial life. And we have to deal in certainties if the survival of our species is at stake.

The solution decided upon is to take the whole planet with us.

That is the disbelief pill you have to swallow.

Gigantic thruster engines and underground cities are built. The Earth’s rotation is stopped and then the human race sets out for the nearest star available. Leaving the Solar System will require a close flyby of Jupiter to make use of the slingshot effect. Not everyone can get into the underground cities. The population of the planet is reduced to 3.5 billion. 

So, from a science fiction narrative standpoint this a universe ship story except it uses a whole planet as a ship, which maybe unique, I’m not sure (and believe me when I say, I don’t care). 

From a screenplay standpoint, it’s disaster movie.

So anyway, the principal characters are three generations of one family. Grandpa who drives trucks on the now completely uninhabitable surface of the Earth. Father who is an important astronaut serving on a space station in orbit around the Earth (and thus had the leverage to get his family below ground. Then there is the Son who is a kind of a juvenile delinquent. There is also the Son’s “kind of sister,” (watch the film if you want the details). A lot of the film revolves around the inter-generational conflict between these three men.

The external conflict is provided by Jupiter.

During its slingshot orbit, there is a gravity spike from the gas giant. The Earth starts to orbit in toward it’s destruction. This sets off massive earthquakes that disable a huge number of the giant thruster engines.

The day this happened the Son, stole his grandfather’s driving pass (Grandpa is the ultimate Ice Road Trucker) and went joyriding on the surface. Grandpa catches up with the kid just as the SHTF. Grandpa his truck and the kid are soon conscripted by the Army for a mission to help save the planet.

‘There were several elements that I found intrguing. First was the old timey Communist saw about the Workers and the Soldiers being at first in conflict and then banding together for a common good. Second, was the white people in this flick. There was one half Chinese, half Australian blond kid that provided the slapstick comic relief. There was also a Russian Cosmonaut who was the Father’s closest friend on the space station. One French woman on the Station as a background extra and no Americans at all. It is the Russians and the Australians that really matter to the People of the Han for…reasons

I liked the gimmick with the Station’s AI basically being sendup of HAL. 

I also rather liked the scene where they are driving through the frozen ruins of Shanghai and Grandpa is reminiscing about his late wife’s bad cooking and how much he enjoyed eating it. What sold that scene was the Army Colonel, who had been the Heavy up until that moment, half closing his eyes and smiling dreamily about a world that is now broken and gone forever. That moment really worked for me because I’m getting crotchety, old and wistful myself.

The pacing is slow by American standards, but the special effects are good enough for the small screen.

The Dark Herald Recommends with Confidence.

NEXT

Mohenjo Daro – India

You have to be into archaeology to really enjoy this next movie.

When I loaded this one up, I was at first a little disappointed. The grand spectacle of Raj Putana was missing. In fact, everything looked pretty cheap but then I saw almost everyone was using stone tools and they looked pretty authentic. That was when I took a real interest.

It took about a minute of internet searching to discover that this production company really sweated the details. Pretty much everything you see is based on things that were discovered a the Mohenjo Daro dig site.

This film takes place in the third cradle of human civilization, the Indus River valley circa 2500 bc. Which makes the city contemporaries with The Old Kingdom pyramid builders of Egypt, the Royal City of Ur and Minoan Crete.

The story itself is another variant on what I am coming to call the Osiris Mono-myth. The vindicating son avenging the death of his father, the lawful and just king. Then assuming his place on the throne. The only thing missing was the usurper being his uncle… and also his father wasn’t actually the king of Mohenjo Daro, he was the Senate Chief but hey, close enough.

So our hero’s father was overthrown and killed and the usurper plans to expand his rule with the ultimate weapon of the day, copper weapons. The son arrives about then.

I’m afraid The Osiris Mono-myth, is really more of cautionary tale for usurping uncles in the real world. After all when Richard III took the throne what was the first thing he did? (And no, I am not remotely interested in how long he actually took to get it done. No one is. Stop being That Guy). 

The movie itself is the usual Bollywood Adventure-Romace-Comedy-Action-Musical-Drama. If you are into that you won’t be disappointed.

I’m afraid the part I found a little off putting was making Hrithik Roshan as the lead. Don’t get me wrong I like the man’s work. Think of him as a Cary Grant who can actually sing, dance and really act. But I just couldn’t buy him as twenty year old kid. Not when he is in his mid-forties and his love interest clearly looked like she was in her twenties.

Apparently, there was also a real world problem the film had was with the Hindus themselves. Mohenjo Daro itself predates the current pantheon. Those gods are supposed to be eternal and they ain’t there. The Hindus were not cool about this.

However, if you are like sword and sandals, Bollywood and Archeology you are in for a treat. The Dark Herald Recommends with Enthusiasm…If you meet that criteria

NEXT

kinopoisk.ru

Sputnik-Russia

If you don’t speak Russian, like yours truly here, then you probably have an incorrect idea about what the word means. 

In 1957 the Soviet Union caught the United States absolutely flat footed when it launched the first man made satellite into orbit named Sputnik-1.  America was absolutely shellshocked by the idea that backwards, backwater Russia had stolen that much of a march on us. In truth, it was simply the result of a of a strategic decision that the US military had made regarding nuclear delivery systems. Which was to pursue bombers instead of missiles.  And given 1950s rocketry technology it was the correct decision. 

The most likely place for a nuclear bomb to be destroyed was on the ground, and that is where missiles are kept.  More over the early models couldn’t be kept fueled twenty four/seven.  Which meant there was a five hour fueling process to get the missiles ready for action. And the bombers would have been there two hours before.

A huge chunk of the B-52 could be kept airborne around the clock. Their bombs were safely off the ground and moving around constantly. Since their stations were forward deployed it would only take three hours to get to their targets. And they could be recalled at any time until they actually dropped their bombs.

The Soviets simply couldn’t produce a bomber as good as the B-52 in the 1950s. It was easier for them to build a intercontinental missile with existing technology.

The Vostok rocket (which was effectively five of the old German V-2 engines strapped together) did the job plus got Mankind into space first.  Respect!

The Russians were justly proud of their achievements in space.  And remained so long after the fall of the Soviet Union.  

But during the Soviet Union the Cosmonauts were near deified personages. So if something was wrong with one when he came back from space it would be… Problematic.  

When I was in grade school I was told that Sputnik means moon.  This is inaccurate a better translation would be, companion.

Sputnik takes place in the last years of the Soviet Union and is intriguing as this a Russian film that looks back on the Soviet period.  This is from their own perspective. 

“(T)wo Russian cosmonauts engaged in an orbital research mission experience something inexplicable while returning to earth: they see something moving outside their ship. The spacecraft malfunctions on re-entry, and only one of the cosmonauts, Konstantin, survives, but it is clear that something is wrong with him. He is taken to an isolated military facility, where Dr. Tatyana Klimova, a young psychiatrist under review for her controversial approaches, is brought in, recruited by the officer in charge, Colonel Semiradov. She is not told the real reason for Konstantin’s quarantine, but she soon finds out that the cosmonaut brought back an extraterrestrial life-form inside his own body without knowing it himself. The creature comes out during the night, while its host is asleep. Colonel Semiradov reveals to her that she is here to determine how to separate Konstantin and the creature, since they seem to have developed a completely symbiotic relationship, with the creature living in the esophagus of the cosmonaut and benefiting from his nutrients, while Konstantin has made an impossible recovery from his injuries received when crash-landing.

Tatyana confronts Konstantin by telling him she knows he has a child whom he has abandoned at an orphanage, implying he is not a national hero but a coward who does not care about his own son, with the purpose of stressing him. Thanks to this, she discovers that the creature is affected by hormone levels and that one of the videos she has been shown has been altered, which leads to her discovering a horrifying truth: the creature does not feed from whatever Konstantin eats, but rather eats live humans, and that the military has been feeding it prisoners. The creature shows itself to its victims in order to augment their fear, which makes the human brain release cortisol, from which the alien obtains its nutrition. Disgusted and horrified by this, she confronts Semiradov, only to be told that the real reason they are here is to find a way to turn the alien into a weapon that they can control. He asks her if she will cooperate, to which she seems to agree.”

And that’s all your getting. 

If this sounds a lot like the Quatermass Experiment, that’s only because it’s a lot like the Quatermass Experiment.  However, this film is a superb example of the suspense genre.

The Dark Herald Recommends with Enthusiasm. 

Okay, I’m done here.

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Comments (5)

  • Bonesaw Reply

    Awesome. I’ll check those out. Thanks.
    I was getting strong Quatermass vibes from your description of the third movie, which is great as I have a particular fondness for the old Quatermass movies – especially the black and white ones where he’s more of a crotchety old scientist who’s drawn into a terrible situation.

    January 8, 2021 at 6:55 am
  • DJ Reply

    I stumbled across Mohenjo Daro last month.
    The producers checked all the Bollywood boxes, but the setting was certainly unusual!

    January 8, 2021 at 7:54 am
  • furor kek tonicus Reply

    is it my imagination, or could Roshan reasonably pass as a version of Crying Freeman? you know, with his natural hair color:
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hrithik_Roshan#/media/File:Hrithik_at_Rado_launch.jpg
    .
    and the Planetary Generation Ship idea is old. Niven’s “Fleet of Worlds” cycle for one, in which the reason the Puppeteers did this is for the exact same reason Cixin used, a Sun expending into a red giant. first used by Niven in 1966.

    January 9, 2021 at 6:15 am
  • Silent Draco Reply

    Going back farther, “Doc” Smith moved planets and negaspheres in the Lensman series. The generation concept sound good.

    Sputnik reminds me of “Solaris” in some ways, with the intrigue and story build. Some hints of “The Space Vampires” (OK, we watched “Lifeforce” for the plot, right?) in the alien actions.

    Good recommendations.

    January 10, 2021 at 11:01 pm
  • Codex Reply

    The two books you’ll want for that epic, and yet still feels like it should work, SF thrill are:

    Cities in Flight by James Blish
    Superluminary by John C. Wright.

    And on a related note: If you remember Evercrack (Cleric of Tunare, Missouri Synod) there’s a great series based on it called Log Horizon.

    Does anyone know if there’s anyplace left but fandubs for Season 1?

    January 13, 2021 at 7:19 pm

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