Readlist – The Durdane Duology and more

– The Durdane Trilogy (The Faceless Man, The Brave Free Men, The Asutra) – Jack Vance. This is a trilogy that really, really should have ended with the second book. Or at least, had a hard-handed editor crack down on Vance, who allowed his cynicism and (apparent) dislike of the main character invalidate that hero’s entire arc, work, and struggles.

Books 1 and 2 set up a subtle parallel between the main hero, Gastel Etzwane, and the two most prominent supporting leads: the mysterious and neutral Ifness, and the fraught Jerd Finnerack. When Etzwane is a young boy, fleeing from mortal danger, he encounters Ifness–who (bound by a strict policy of neutrality!) refuses to help. Later, when Etzwane encounters Ifness again as an adult, Ifness–ostensibly for reasons of sheer pragmatism but, potentially, also as a subconscious or semi-conscious atonement–makes Etzwane his accomplice and sets the reins of power in his hands, before exiting stage left in the fashion of mysterious mentors.

Meanwhile, when Etzwane was also a boy, he did a great harm to Jerd Finnerack, who was attempting to help him; and when he is able to, recruits Finnerack as his assistant…and sets the reins of power in his hands.

Etzwane is not particularly bitter against the man who harmed him, or at least can control the desire to act on his dislike; Finnerack is, and might–or might not. The conflict between the two grows throughout book 2 as they both increase their abilities–Finnerack more so than Etzwane, and Finnerack with decreasing stability. It is one of the driving sources of tension in Book 2, as our heroes  clash even while they are attempting to unify the planet and destroy the barbarian hordes of invaders. –with heroic, protagonistic success, but not without incident–

And then, Ifness comes back and takes over (the neutrality policy has changed! Now his actions are, it is revealed, motivated by a desire to embarass and displace his superiors), and Gastel Etzwane’s time, efforts, sacrifice, struggles, worries, plans, and battles are completely forgotten or negated; Jerd Finnerack is destroyed as a character with an almost cruel abruptness. Several fairly important plot threads are completely abandoned in order to make this work. Worse still, this is all done together with a bait-and-switch moment that was aggravating just on the surface of it.

Still, Book 2 provides an overall satisfactory conclusion to the problems of the world Durdane and its leadership, and the journey of the boy Mur, aka Gastel Etzwane, the musician who became its leader.

The way Book 3 ends makes me assume Vance was forced to write another chapter just for the sake of it, disliked the obligation, and decided to deliberately make the readers suffer. Here’s how: he takes a bunch of standard SF tropes and our hero…and then (with malicious intent!) applies “Except Now Reality Happens” to what should be very simple tropes. Planetary barbarians capture spaceship to rescue their womenfolk!….ship is recaptured after a brief siege because the barbarians can’t make it go anywhere, up down or around, and all survivors (did we mention they started killing each other after a week or so, including the named characters that were specifically pointed out as knowing the odds and the risks of a rescue mission and went for it anyway because they loved their daughters) are enslaved along with the girls. Again, it’s not in the content–it’s in the execution; and it’s in the denouement, which is infuriating all on its own without adding the additional insult that it does have.

Will you look at that, turns out I did have something to say about this book. I think it sucked.

As far as the good stuff goes: Books 1 and 2 for the most part are standard and I did like them: they have characters, character arcs, development, motives, and a plot that allows the characters to be proactive and effective. Book 1 Etzwane is largely motivated by trying to redeem his mother’s slave-indenture, making his mother one of the more prominent female characters in the pulp scifi galaxy. And she’s a rather good character as well. Might have to make a “mothers in SF” post one of these days. And I will say that that’s an OK cover to book 3. If only it had a good book to cover. Damnit.

– The Blue World – Jack Vance – See, Vance did know how to write pulp-action scifi. He just had to layer it in elaborate worldbuilding and add sly layers of humorous backstory. I read this one as a palate cleanser. (Literally: I stayed awake another two hours to read it, just to get The Asutra out of my head.)

Spinning Silver – Naomi Novik – This one has definitely entered the rotation as one of my go-to relax reads, and I’m glad to say it’s held up on each repeat.

– The Fifth Elephant – Terry Pratchett – “Vimes in Uberwald will be more amusing than an amorous armadillo in a bowling alley.”

Poetry Corner – Shai Dorsai

Stone are my walls, and my roof is of timber,
 But the hands of my builder are stronger by far.
 The roof may be burned and my stones may be scattered,
 But never her light be defeated in war.

 	 I am the heart and the core of the Morgans.
 Many the battle, around me, was fought.
 Many the year has gone by since my building.
 Each of my stones, by a life, has been bought.

 	 Long was the work and hard was the building
 From under the hill and the forest so wide.
 My stone, that is piled in the place of her choosing,
 Is mortared with bone of the men who have died.

	 Blood paid the price of this hill that I rest on
 And blood pays the price of these lands that I see.
 The price; it is fair for the rights that it purchased.
 Within my gray walls, ye shall ever stand free.

 	 I am the heart and the core of the Morgans.
 Amanda; she built me and I shall remain
 A home for the heart of the men that may leave me;
 A beacon for bearing their way home again.

 	 Stone are my walls and my roof is of timber,
 But the hands of my builder are stronger by far.
 The roof may be burned and my stones may be scattered,
 But never her light be defeated in war.


- Gordon R. Dickson, The Spirit of Dorsai

12 Rules for Life: Science-Fiction Solutions to Chaos (repost)

So inspired by (a 12 Rules list which was made by someone who hadn’t very read much science fiction) and the fact that I occasionally remember this is supposed to be an SF book blog, here’s my brilliant, science-fiction infused Antidote To Chaos.

Rule One: Never act incautiously when facing a small wrinkly bald smiling old man!
b88b64994c83bc8f1b9ea3a8fd4d6952-memes

Hokey religions and ancient prophecies are no match for a good blaster at your side. 

When in doubt, take off and nuke it from orbit. It’s the only way to be sure. 

– Learn the attitude of the knife–of chopping off what’s incomplete and saying ‘Now it’s complete, because it’s ended here.’ 

Good engineers build triple redundancy. 

Do not call up that which you cannot put down. 

Beware of spaceships bearing gifts. 

When you meet anything that’s going to be human and isn’t yet, or used to be human once and isn’t now, or ought to be human and isn’t, keep your eyes on it and feel for your hatchet.” Also alternatively stated: Make ye no truce with Adam-zad! 

If someone asks you for a cracker for their oontatherium…give it to them. 

Evil is treating people like things–including yourself. 

Fuck subtle. 

All things strive. 

Runners up:
“You can’t trust anybody any further than you can throw them and there’s nothing you can do about it, so let’s have a drink.”

– Make ye no truce with Kings!

Review: The Ascent of Wonder: The Evolution of Hard SF – Parts 2 and 3

As mentioned, Part I is the stuff I actually read (and most of it, liked enormously.) Part II is stories I didn’t bother reading before.

Davy Jones’ Ambassador – Ramond Z. Gallun – This is one of the very few stories you will ever read where “They’ll put you in a box and study you!” is met with a calm, “Yes. I intend to study them, as well. It will be interesting.” So in this case there are two steely-eyed resourceful engineer heroes….and one of them is a Deep Thing.

The Weather Man – It’s actually a three-fer, as it has a smug politician, a mad (female) scientist, an elderly retired scientist (I was waiting for him to be consulted about the developments, but this did not transpire) and an invincible space engineer.

The Singing Diamond – Eh. This is what I have against most space babes: they’re kind of wimpy and will, at the drop of an ultradense gravity bomb, give up on space exploration and hover around Earth to listen to microscopic alien motes buzz. Sing. Whatever.

Exposures – Greg Bear – This one is quite good once you get to the meat of it, but it’s slow and dense and it took some effort to get into.

Down and Out on Ellfive Prime – Dean Ing – This one’s quite good in theory (and has two Competent Space Heroes), but it’s sloppily executed.

Prima Belladona – Uh. Okay.

The Land Ironclads – H. G. Wells invents tank warfare. He doesn’t quite get it all right, but he got the snivelling journalists bang-on.

Procreation – Gene Wolfe: Okay. This one misses out on being straight lit fic mostly because it involves parallel universes and the ingress and egress of the protagonists from them. Nevertheless….

Atomic Power – John W. Campbell: For someone who repeatedly insisted Tom Godwin not rescue the girl in The Cold Equations, Campbell is pretty cavalier about hitting the reset button after life on Earth as we know it is irreparably altered and untold billions of people have died horribly.

GiANTS – Edward Bryant – guess what this one’s about. No, go on. Guess. No, you were actually wrong, because it’s a philosophical romance shot through with elements of science and morbidity. Also, the square-cube law is weaponized.

Day Million – Frederik Pohl – Dude, freaking chill. Seriously.

Weyr Search – Anne McCaffrey – Why are the Pern books regarded as either scifi or good? This story sucked, the characters were repulsive, and the writing was bland.

The Hungry Guinea Pig – Miles J. Breuer, M. D. – I read this story and I regretted it. You have two guesses as to why, and here are three hints to help. One is the title, and the second is the fact that the mad scientist also won a medal in WW2 in the artillery. The last hint is that the square-cube law is gleefully violated and no one seems to really care.

Kyrie – Poul Anderson – Ugh. See, I can handle alien star systems being supernova’d. I can handle the Earth getting blown up. I can handle the girl getting spaced, because that’s a quick death. I can even handle the Earth being torn apart atom from atom and life as we know it being slowly and painfully extinguished. But being crushed to death in a black hole while your dilated sense of time registers it for eternity and you are telepathically linked to someone on the outside who is going be to hearing your screams for eternity–that’s a no from me, dawg.

Dolphin’s Way – Gordon R. Dickson – I read this, or I must have, because it’s Gordon R. Dickson. But I can’t really remember it and I don’t particularly want to try.

The Life and Times of Multivac – Isaac Asimov – I think I read this one. It was aight.

Drode’s Equations – This is goddamn lit fic, what the hell. Get outa here.

Making Light – James P Hogan – Hehhhhhh.

The Last Question – Isaac Asimov – Also heh.

And then there’s Part III – These sound boring, and their first few paragraphs don’t help, and I didn’t read them ever and probably never will.

The Psychologist Who Wouldn’t Do Awful Things to Rats – James Tiptree, Jr. – Oh, no. I read the guinea pig story. You are NOT getting me on this one.
Cage of Sand – J. G. Ballard. Considering this is where not one but two bookmarks have ended up, it gets to stay on this list. Also the title sounds like Rope of Sand, a vaguely homoerotic film noir starring Burt Lancaster and Paul Henreid (not a bad film, BTW.)
No, No, Not Rogov! – Cordwainer Smith – I vaguely remember skim-reading this one–the title is the last line–but everything Cordwainer Smith has always left a bad taste in my mouth.
Mammy Morgan Played the Organ, Her Daddy Beat the Drum – Michael F Flynn – Is there, possibly, anywhere, somehow, a title less likely to attract a scifi reader’s attention? I mean, I’m not demanding “Blood Swords of the Gods of Death Against the Dying Suns,” but if you’re writing in the genre at least try. At least Carnacki the Ghost-Finder knew to be properly evocative. “The Thing Invisible,” “The Gateway of the Monster.” “The House Among the Laurels.” Refer to the monster, not to what the monster does…especially if the monster/ghost is doing something as mundane as playing piano. Organ. Whatever.
The Pi Man – Alfred Bester – Bester is a complete meh at the best of times.
– A bunch more that I’m not bothering to list out because….they sound boring.

Review – The Ascent of Wonder: the Evolution of Hard SF – Pt I

The Ascent of Wonder: the Evolution of Hard SF is an anthology with a hard-SF theme compiled and edited by David G. Hartwell and Kathryn Cramer. The copy I have is still stamped with COUNTY REGIONAL LIBRARY and we picked it up off the hardbacks-for-one-dollar table, quite a few moons ago. Not nearly so long ago as that, I found myself frantically trawling through online bibliographies in search of *cough* evocative titles that, more importantly, meant something to me. This was one of them, and I recently re-read (most of) the book to figure out why.

Why? It’s hard or hard-ish SF, but also: deeply psychological. There are a lot of steely-eyed missile man space heroes. Also, this book is very female-centric. There are a lot of cool dames–and a smattering of mad scientists–in this, and they come in more flavors than the space heroes do.

The book is broken down into Parts I, II, and III. I don’t know why because I never have bothered to read the editors’ notes or forwards and I refuse to do so now. It doesn’t seem to be a chronological order, because Part III contains stories by Rudyard Kipling and Jules Verne as well as the likes of Vernor Vinge and Cordwainer Smith.

Not coincidentally, though, this review is also broken down into three parts: stories I’ve voluntarily read before, stories I made myself read this time through, and stories that I’m probably not going to read no matter what. Oddly enough, they kind of trace over the parts I, II, and III as well. Is that significant? I dunno.

So, Part I – stories I’ve read before and most of them I liked.

Nine Lives – Usula K. Leguin – kind of exemplifies the theme of this collection. Hard SF, with the grit of hard, dangerous labor in space and on alien worlds, with a deeply psychological thrust. Two miners on a far-off world have lived with each other long enough to develop a rapport, which is disrupted by the entrance of another personality….lots of another personality. Standard stuff. But then, for the gripping hand: how do you expect someone to react to losing themselves in a mining accident….nine times over? In other words, it’s long on the psychology and short on the blasting action, but it’s also written by a Grande Dame of SF and quite readable regardless.

The Star – Arthur C. Clarke – Heh.

Rappaccini’s Daughter – Nathaniel Hawthorne – How this is supposed to be Hard SF eludes me, but remember the 18th-century Gothic poetic flavor, it’ll be back later.

Mimsy were the Borogoves – Henry Kuttner & C. L. Moore – Parenthood also seems to be one of the themes of this anthology. Is this significant? I don’t know. I don’t really care, either. Perhaps reviewing SF shouldn’t be done while I have a fever. I should stick to chick-flicks.

Beep – James Blish – I only just realized on this read-through how female-centric this collection actually is, which is probably one of the reasons I tend to like it so much. The central (not POV) character in this story is a woman, and it turns out that (spoiler), she’s got all the answers. And will provide them to the very much not-hapless but in this situation basically helpless, heroes, for the appropriate price. Really, the only way this story shows its age is through the assumption that a professional journalist is going to have anything resembling ethics or patriotism. The actual S in the F here isn’t all that plausible, but said heroes are first-rate mid-century Honest and Competent Bureaucrats….so quaint. So cute.

Transit of Earth – Arthur C. Clarke – The actual reason I was never that impressed by The Martian.

To Bring in the Steel – Donald M. Kingsbury – My actual favorite. This entire 1000+ page book is worth hauling around for this one novella. What’s it about? Well, there’s this girl. And there’s this guy. And there’s an asteroid with ten billion tons of steel, being slowly guided on its way towards Earth. Guy (Kell) is an engineer on the asteroid colony. He’s an old-school space hero of the steely-eyed missile man with a heart of gold and an exterior of plastic and tungsten: AKA, a cynical, arrogant jerk that no one likes but everyone depends on because he really is that good. He wants custody of his seven year old daughter and, when it’s denied him by the other residents of the colony–who quite rightfully doubt that he’s fit to care for a child–comes up with an ironic revenge: hire Lisa Maria Sorenti, the most (in)famous, expensive, and sought-after courtesan in San Fransisco, as her nanny and thereby unleash hell in the erstwhile close-nit community of the mine colony. Kell is valuable enough to the company that the CEOs comply with his idea….except that Lisa Maria’s contract has an extra clause in it: she’s only allowed to focus on Kell.
So, yes, I know, so far it sounds like a maybe-above-average arranged marriage-type romance novel or a very, very sub-par setup for a scifi book, even when you factor in the portrayal of Kell an asocial, physically unattractive loner with a high IQ-, obsessive personality. (It’s really quite impressive writing, at least to my maladjusted nerd brain). It’s a portrait of The Ideal SF Hero…and what he’d really be like to be around–and what kind of woman it would take to put up with him. (In Lisa Maria’s case, seven million dollars.)
Where it comes into its own is turning Lisa Maria Sorenti from a helpless damsel incapable of functioning without her manager (aka: abusive pimp) into a heroine capable of saving the day with space suit, rocket ship, and laser gun….a heroine who is not only capable of handling the roughneck hero, but of learning how to match him jet for jet as well.

Waterclap – Isaac Asimov – This is a very feminist story. It says so. It’s character say so. And my oh my are the author’s unspoken assumptions adorably dated.

Gomez – C. M. Kornbluth – Eh. Too much math, too little blowing stuff up, and Gomez rejects his destiny as a science hero. Can’t really blame him much, though, given the circumstances…

The Cold Equations – Tom Godwin – Apparently, John Campbell rejected this story three times because Godwin kept coming up with ingenius ways to save the girl. Which, given that this story is good physics and bad engineering, including y’know, social engineering, would have been somewhat impressive in and of its own. Nevertheless, it’s a classic of the genre for a reason: she dies, and there is nothing that could be done about it.

The Hole Man – Larry Niven – This is an entry in the Astronauts Are Maladjusted Psychos genre much beloved by Hollywood scripts. However, it manages to stick to its literary roots by making them competent and intelligent maladjusted psychos who can do the math properly, rather than the total screwups that we usually see in space movies.

The Xi Effect – Earth goes poof and a snide professor told you so.

The Beautiful and the Sublime – Bruce Sterling – Remember what I said about the 18th-century Gothic lit? This is the counterpoint to it.

Heat of Fusion – John M. Ford – I keep forgetting what this story actually is about. I recognize the title. I remember I kind of liked it. I look up the first page in the book and go “oh yeah, that one.” And then by the time I get back to this part of the review I’ve forgotten again. So it’s pretty okay, I guess?

All the Hues of Hell – Gene Wolfe – So….what? This is my problem with Gene Wolfe’s stuff and other such deeply subtextual and meaningful and double-meaningful things written by geniuses for geniuses: it doesn’t actually offer anything to me, a non-genius reading at the surface level. So why should I bother with it? And so I don’t. That being said, I read this one again, hoping it was going to be clearer this time. Nope.
Well, actually, that being said, this one does have a pretty understandable surface-level storyline. It’s just densely buried under the in medias res style that doesn’t provide any context whatsoever, heaps of subtext and globs upon globs of narrative filligree. Oh well, whatever. The turtle moves and so does the fetus.

Occam’s Scalpel – Theodore Sturgeon – This one I also like, because it’s also a portrait of An Ideal SF Hero….and why he’s really, realllllly scary to people who are paying attention. (And it’s what I always flash back to whenever I hear news of Elon Musk getting up to new business.) But it transcends the Beware the Superman theme by allowing both the ubermensch and the regular-man POV character to have and showcase the very best intentions and motivations. The final twist, of course, was put there to punch up the end of an almost-pure character study with overtones of horror and turn it into a scifi thriller…but I would seriously be down for the sequel starring any combination of these characters or ideas.

Time Fuze – Randall Garrett – I regularly get into arguments with the Father of Skaith over whether or not characters should be killed off. He says no: they need to stick around, because when you sign on to a book or a series with a main character, that is who you want to read about. Your main characters should be awesome enough that people like them, and they should be smart enough to keep themselves alive and victorious (in-story). Hero fights, hero wins, hero lives happily ever after. I say that, awesome or not, sometimes you need to kill off characters if that’s the natural result of their course of action, or if the plot / character development of others (AKA: dead wife syndrome) requires it. As long as a hero gets to live happily ever after, that still counts.
Nevertheless, we are agreed on one thing: it’s Bad Form to blow up the Earth.
BAD FORM, RANDALL!

Desertion – Clifford Simak – I’m going to spoil it right here, because: “They would turn me back into a man.” “And me, into a dog.” –is awesome.

The Person from Porlock – Raymond F. Jones – Another story about a socially maladjusted engineer is ruined by having the (literal) people from Porlock be space lizards.
Space lizards–with exposition.

The Planners – Kate Wilhelm – I read this story before, and I didn’t like it then, and I didn’t like it this time. If you want to write dreamlike, hallucinogenic prose, kindly don’t. I was going to write an entire ‘nother clause to that sentence, but y’know…

Light of Other Days – Bob Shaw – It aight.

Chromatic Aberration – I liked it, possibly because it’s one of the few stories in Part III of this book to feature, even vaguely described, action.

In a Petri Dish Upstairs – George Turner – This one is kind of the antithesis to proper SF, and not because the theme is bleak and the characters are repulsive. It’s because (however realistic this may be), the authorities’ solution to a tribe of orbiting barbarians is to make it somebody else’s problem….in the future. We don’t get to the future by having this attitude, and I don’t like reading about it.

Johnny Mnemonic – Vernor Vinge – Eh, it’s OK.

DNF Movie Review – Occupation: Rainfall (2020)

Operation-Rainfall-600x873 TLDR: it starts of really quite well, and then it lost me about thirty minutes in, just about when the plot killed any good will I had towards an action-heavy, low-cringe opening.

So.

The blurb–and the opening voiceover narration–tells me that this movie is set two years after an alien invasion struck Earth in two waves, first by a drone bombardment from orbit, then by actual invasion. The invasion was thwarted, as these tend to be, by a “handful” of brave men and women rather than, y’know, the combined might of the world’s militaries; but the second wave is proving harder to deal with.

Right off the bat, this movie gets on my right side, because it gets straight into the business of us watching a handful of “brave men and women” fighting aliens…like, right into it, and it’s got things I like, like air support, and helicopters, and radio chatter, and lasers, and less than seven minutes in someone says the mission is a go, which is always fun. (pause here to note that someone, presumably our hero, flips off an alien with a grenade pull-ring on his finger. HAH.) With one very brief exception, there has been no exposition so far and actually, as of ten minutes, no cringe.

But that may change. Oh, and it’s also set in Australia.

There are also some aliens who don’t want the war to continue, and are helping, supplying, or fighting with the humans. They aren’t very well regarded by the humans who have lost friends and family members to, y’know, alien warfare.

There is also a hot Asian chick and a slightly less hot Australian chick who flies a fighter jet. Both of them show rather more cleavage than is professional in an apocalyptic military situation. I mean….are uniform dress codes really going to go that far downhill after the apocalypse? The guys aren’t going around shirtless. They seem to be in decent order. Odd and also, come to think of it, universal in the lower class of post-apocalyptic movie. Terminator (the good one) did not have this–the soldier girl was wearing pretty much an identical uniform to Kyle. Hm. Mad Max (the second one) didn’t have this, either. The Warrior Woman wore the same kind of cobbled-up hockey pads as the guys. Uh…The Blood of Heroes (that movie with Rutger Hauer, you know. The one I haven’t actually watched yet)–that one didn’t have excess cleavage, either, but it was about professional touring athletes, not soldiers. Well, semi-pro. Well. Kinda.

Anyhow.

So! At the briefing, the squadron leader guy (who is less handsome than the flipping-off-aliens guy and therefore less a) important, b) heroic) is in favor of evacuating Sydney along with all civilians. Some older guy with an indescribable accent points out that they’re still finding civilians. Also, something something, send a ground recon, any volunteers? (Hot Soldier Guy volunteers. I have a feeling he prepared for this role by watching Black Rifle Coffee Company videos, because he’s got that exact attitude and beard.) The other person going along is one of the alien defectors, and they’re riding space horses. What, were regular horses too expensive to film? Were ATVs too expensive to film? Sheesh.

Y’know, now I want to see a movie with the heroes riding tactical side-by-sides into battle.

Black Coffee Soldier Guy continues to act with consummate unprofessionalism towards his alien ally, but never mind, the evac is beginning and jets go vroom and doors go slam, and it’s actually very exciting until it stops happening one brief montage later, hmph. The unprofessionalism continues when the civilian Grays–females and juveniles–are also left behind/refused to be let on the transports, despite Hot Asian Chick speaking up for them.

Anyway, Sydney goes boom.

OK, honestly, I’m bored at this point and don’t really know or like any of the characters except Gary the Alien (Lawrence Makoare, AKA Lurtz, Gothmog, and the Witch King of Angmar). Not that they’re poorly written!–everyone so far is pretty distinct. But they are unlikable.

This movie needed to strip down, go bare-bones on the plot, go small-scale. Take us minute-by-minute on the evacuation. Go house to house rescuing the civilians. Show our heroes going down to the last bullet. Or something like that. That’s how it kind of started out, and being down at the ground level is an interesting and new perspective on an alien invasion (Battle: Los Angeles the only other example I personally could name), without pretending that your heroes are going to make a massive difference in the outcome of the war all on their own–but acknowledging that they can make a difference by saving some lives right here, right now. A ragtag band of brave men and women successfully getting a convoy of refugees out of a warzone? That’s interesting. Saving the entire world and winning the war at one cunning stroke? Dude…it’s been done before and it was boring and unconvincing every single time after the first.

Yeah, and at this point I wandered off.

Review: Beyond Skyline (this movie, seriously)

exeilcptltl51tpmjsjyoooeviI feel like people just really like the idea of Frank Grillo. I mean, he’s a good-looking, charismatic, athletic guy who moves well and acts very naturally when he’s yelling. People like the idea of Frank Grillo being the person who yells at them to keep to the left, hey hey hey I said left! when evacuating a stopped subway train during an alien invasion (or when there’s anarchists attacking), or being the person who takes point during the we-are-slinking-down-a-suspiciously-deserted-street-all-stealthy-like, because, again, he moves well and handles his gun that never runs out of bullets with movie-star-like stylishness. And, mark this: people LOVE Frank Grillo sleeveless, shirtless, in a disheveled and tattered shirt, or in a clinging, wet, easily-seen-through-shirt. And it’s not like the guy doesn’t have range! He gets to whisper-yell encouragement to young kids and frightened women, and yell-coach a pregnant woman through labor (not kidding) even though she’s not due for another six months. WHAT.

So.

The movie starts like most Frank Grillo movies do, with the backstory and character trappings of our protagonist briskly illustrated by having him roll up to the station and drink something we know is futuristic because it’s sparkly and blue. He’s there to (unwillingly) bail out his son, who needs to be bailed out because this is a third strike and Grillo’s ex-partner doesn’t want to book him if he doesn’t need to. The family relationship has been strained since the wife/mother unit died; but father and son still do share a bond. All of this takes roughly thirteen minutes, and then the aliens start zapping people with blue light and beaming them onto their ship, which is hovering over LA.

(This is where the “Hey hey hey stay on the right!” “Watch the rails!” “I SAID KEEP UP!”) part of Frank Grillo yelling at people comes in, and the gun that never runs out of bullets makes its first appearance shortly after the aliens do. And start ripping people’s brains out. Ugh.

This part lasts until Grillo and the group he is trying to protect (including his mesmerized son), all get beamed into the ship. He happens to escape (no, seriously, how come he’s still got ammo?), and, helped by one of the aliens, bumps into the pregnant woman. She explains that the stolen brains are running the alien….machines…and that the one helping is actually her husband and her child’s father. When the aliens get ahold of children…Such as the one who just arrived…damn that was fast…and the mother dies.

And thus we get, which is also always a thing people like: badass guy protecting a child, because one thing people like is Frank Grillo, minimally shirt-clad, holding a baby. Meanwhile, Son and the Cute train Conductor are somehow not having their brains ripped out, and the mission is on to rescue them.

I am just along for the ride at this point.

There’s a bit of yelling and thrashing around and Son gets his brain ripped out in front of Frank. What the actually meaningful part of this story is right now is a fight between the head alien, and the alien who was the baby’s father, who stayed behind to cover their exit….and had a grenade palmed.

In grand and traditional fashion, one explosive, no matter how tiny, in the right place, is enough to bring the entire ship crashing down. It’s somewhere…tropical…and the locals have by this point apparently figured out that GIANT MOTORCYCLE HELMETS PROTECT YOUR BRAINS. Lol. Also there’s a guy with a flamethrower. He gets a close-up for mysterious reasons.

And then there is an ENTIRELY RANDOM kung fu fight. What?

The plot-relevant part of these guys is that they collect a crystal egg-like thing that fell on the ground. I’m guessing it’s a grenade or a computer or something. Our heroes make it out of the ship, with the visibly-larger baby. Also, it might bear mentioning that Cute Conductor is now also shirtless. Well, in a camisole. Heroes plus baby but soon minus blind guy bump into the motorcycle-helmeted duo. Also, the baby is about two years old now with a nice head of hair.

HEY, THAT’S IKO UWAIS UNDER THE HELMET! (That explains the kung fu, LOL.) THIS MOVIE, SERIOUSLY. You could get an entire TV series out of the plot and genre shifts just this far and we’re only fifty-seven minutes in. (Lol at the motorcycle-helmet girl whaling on Cute Conductor Girl. That’s just unnecessary.) I mean, sheesh, they’re FIGHTING IN A MUD PIT WITH CLINIGING WET RIPPED SHIRTS ON. The guys are, that is. BUT THEN! Other guys arrive, necessitating the guys stopping fighting and joining ranks. Well, that was easy.

HEY I RECOGNIZE THAT GUY HE IS THE OTHER INDONESIAN KUNG FU GUY (and had a flamethrower a few scenes ago.) More to the point, he also has a gun in Frank Grillo’s face. But they get the drop on him and decide to shoot him and then take him along. At this point the kid is about four years old and violence isn’t good for Baby Girl to watch.

And our heroes march through Ankor Wat, or at least a nice CGI version of it to an underground base where they are met by a white guy with a British accent (a chemist by trade), and there is also a dedicated prison space for Other Kung Fu Guy. We are now one hundred and four minutes into the movie. (Wait, hang on, is this Cambodia or Thailand?)

This movie, seriously.

Anyhow, the chemist guy sciences Baby Girl’s blood a little and gets freaked out. This leads to an unconvincing scene where Grank….yeah I’m leaving that typo…explains that SHE IS OUR HOPE! But also she’s running out of blood and her system is shutting down due to the demands of constant growth. Grillo volunteers for the transfusion, since he had stuff happen to him on the alien ship blah blah blah. And Ms. Motorcycle Helmet mellows out a little bit seeing Cute Conductor and Baby Girl cuddling up.

So we cut to…some random woman (who died in the intro) waking up in a hospital bed…

…wait…noooooooooo….she has a wedding ring like the one Grillo has been playing with periodically, around her neck…

No, now I’m really confused.

So cut back to the science guy sciencing a little bit more, blah blah. Did he really just say, “Scientifically speaking”–? Sure did. Heh. And then at minute one hundred and thirteen, it turns out that using Baby Girl’s blood plus one of their canons will free all of the machine-soldier-brains. (“You sure he’s not doing the drugs?”) And thus the world will be saved. Suuuuuuuuuuure, and I believe you guys are going to do that all on your motorcycle-helmeted own, even if you do have a Vietnam-war era base with a punji stick trapdoor.

Anyhow, our peaceful interlude is interrupted by brain-stealing aliens attacking the girls. Ms. Motorcycle Helmet runs into a minefield, drawing the brainstealing thing after her….but steps on something that goes click. It blows her up and destroys the Stealer. Cute Conductor flees back to base, horrified (and we get some more Reassuring Frank Grillo action, also getting Baby Girl somewhere safe. D’awww, he gives her a headbutt.)

But then (have I mentioned we are one hundred and nineteen minutes into this movie?) the Indothaibodians prepare to DEFEND THE BASE while Grillo heads out with the magical blood syringe to rescue the brainwashed (literally? Ew) machines. (“Fucking Americans.” Hah.)

The aliens start to move down into the underground base (which has been lavishly booby-trapped) while Grillo slinks around topside, action-movie-star-style. He makes it back up to the ship, but the civilians are forced to also flee the safety of the base. But it’s OK, because Iko Uwais launches a grenade at the glowing blue thingy and it blows up. BUT IT’S NOT OKAY BECAUSE THE ALIEN LEADER IS ACTUALLY THERE IN HIS ALIEN GIANT MECHA SUIT OH NOES.

I think that’s about as much as I’m going to be bothered with. They’re fighting in the ruins of Ankor Wat and then the good mecha piloted by the Son who’s been rescued by the power of seeing his dad’s wedding ring shows up and lets just say Ankor Wat is going to be a little bit more ruined than it was before. Baby Girl arms the torpedo canon and then it gets fired off by Son and the alien machines’ eyes turn from blue (evil) to red (good). The family unit reforms….they’re gonna name Baby Girl after Grank’s dead wife Rose…and…

Cut to the woman from the beginning….Rose, all grown up, I assume…and despite the fact that she’s dressed in street clothes….look, SERIOUSLY, YOU GUYS COULDN’T HAVE STUCK HER IN A BODYSUIT OR SOMETHING? HELLO SHE IS A SEMIALIEN WEAPON IN COMMAND OF A SHIP ABOUT TO TAKE THE WAR TO THE ENEMY WHY IS SHE DRESSED UP LIKE SHE JUST HIT FOREVER 21? She gets hailed with “Captain on deck!” YEAH RIGHT but whatever because they’re taking the fight to THEM NOW.

(GUITAR RIFFS)

(Things blowing up spacey)

Hah, there’s a blooper reel over the credits.

Overall, I feel a sense of impatience and pity for this movie. It tries so hard, and it has such energy and promise, and Iko Uwais fighting alien soldiers with dual knives and no sleeves and Frank Grillo fighting alien soldiers a tight wet shirt, and whatshisface, the other Indonesian guy, fighting alien soldiers with a machete and no shirt, and yet still it falls so short. I think it honestly could have worked really well as a series. With this budget (…per episode…) and cast, and enough time to flesh everyone out and make us care that Motorcycle Helmet Girl just got blown up and her chemist boyfriend is sad? With more time to watch Frank Grillo running around yelling at people? With a little more explanation of what the heck Baby Girl is? And then at least half an episode to follow up on the whole we-are-taking-the-fight-back-to-them? Absolutely this could have been a masterpiece. As it is, though…

Rated: This movie, seriously.

Oh ye gods. Just die already.

Lucasfilm, not content with letting people just quietly erase the sequel trilogy from their memories, has decided to dig its own hole just a tiny bit deeper. Of its own accord! No economic pressure is forcing them to write and release these stupid books! In fact it’s the exact opposite: they’ve recently been forced to re-release books in the maligned and discarded Expanded Universe instead of their own, main-cannon series. 

And yet they keep doing it.

So, what is the source of my bemused fan-rage this time?

Kristin Baver’s Skywalker: A Family at War is….

….well…

See, turns out that when Rey Force-healed Kylo in the movie, she also removed his Dark Side brainwashing.

She cured him from the Dark Side. Oh, oh, oh, and healed his scar. (What a weird detail. Chicks dig gnarly scars on males because they tend to indicate said male has been in badass fights. In Kylo’s case, the scar is all he had going for him so why…ohhh.)

Man.

If only, I DON’T KNOW, THE ACTUAL CHOSEN ONE OF PROPHESY AND HIS ACTUAL SON OR DAUGHTER HAD BEEN ABLE TO MANIFEST SOME SUCH ABILITY, RIGHT? AND VADER ACTUALLY HAD MASSIVE PHYSICAL INJURIES THAT COULD HAVE USED MAGICAL HEALING TOUCH. Sheesh.

See, I’d say these people need to shut up and go away…but they’re going to go somewhere else and destroy something else if they do. 

We need to bring back tar and feathers…

B-Movie Review: Cosmic Sin (2021)

2_cosmic_sin__00060_zoomSurprising!

That’s not to say it’s actually good.

Just…that it surprises one who was expecting it to be a lot worse. But the actors (with the exception of Bruce Willis, who isn’t particularly happy about having to work for this particular paycheck) aren’t having to deal with dialogue that is completely cringily insane, and even manage to sell some fairly decent scifi exposition. They’re mainly character actors, with character-actor type faces, and when they get their chance a close-up, they’re good at it. And then you’ve got stuff like Frank Grillo rolling up to a firefight on a spacebase in a pickup truck, which is all kinds of unintentionally awesome and a wrench wench who is rather suspiciously fond of her motorcycle nevertheless being excellent at nervously-selling some technobabble to some other characters who are not really reassured.

Unfortunately, there is a point at which the concept of a semi-intelligent sci-fi First Contact And It’s Not Positive, What Do We Do (pssst the answer is genocide)?-movie (which had the makings of a good movie!) gets buried under a low-budget generic action movie which, well, the best I can say about it is that it did try, it just also didn’t succeed.

And, yeah, the alien-zombie infectees escape quarantine and kill their military guards, on a military base, with suspicious ease but the resultant firefight is actually quite well-done, including one character-based scene that would have been a genuine punch to the gut if there had been a little more setup for it. (In fact, that previous sentence kind of sums up the entire movie. If there had been a little bit better writing and a little bit more time to set things up it could have really, genuinely connected. Alas.)

Anyway, the titular Cosmic Sin is actually rather nicely explained as the peacenik doctor lady’s term for what humanity is going to have to do to survive first contact, which is completely destroy the other side or at least annihilate their capacity for harm. Something called a Q-bomb is going to be involved. (Bruce Willis’ character apparently lost his rank and pension because he dropped a Q-bomb on some planet that, in hindsight, shouldn’t have been.) General Grillo decides that he is going to sin cosmically without waiting for official orders. (Which is a usually a huge no-no in the context of genocide but never mind.)

It might also be mentioned that at this point, in-story, four hours have passed since the actual first contact and fifty-three humans have been killed, and also the humans don’t actually know where the aliens’ home planet is. On the other hand, the aliens probably do know where Earth is.

(“Q-bomb, please.”)

So our heroes snickersnack themselves into armor/suits which actually look a lot less impressive than the costume designer probably thought they did, because they only cover the ribcage and forearms and they’re very bulky in those areas without seeming to provide any kind of benefit or support to the wearers. The team appears to be: Grillo, Willis, Peacenik Doctor, Grillo’s weedy nephew who demands in, two other miscellaneous guys, and Wrench Wench who gets drafted to handle the Q-bomb.

Apparently traveling to wherever they’re going doesn’t require a ship, just a spinny glowy thing and a platform. (“It’s just quantum displacement, it’s not…rocket science…”) Hah, lol.

And again, there are little touches that show me that someone at least wanted this movie to be a decent movie and thought about the actual characters, and thought about the actual setting. Willis and Peacenik Doctor used to have a thing and discuss maybe having a thing later again if they get through this. Grillo and his sidekick have a quick discussion about the philosophy of war and looking after the kid if one of them dies…and then his sidekick has a discussion with Wrench Wench that isn’t halfway bad, either. (“Apparently the Aztecs were doing quite well before Cortez showed up.” “Uh…are we the Aztecs or are we Cortez?” “We’re about to find out.”)

So they jump through hyperspace to planet Ellora, thirteen light-years from Earth. There’s some sort of space battle going on above the planet, which we see none of and by the time the team lands it’s been split up. Now…see, this is where the film’s ambitions outran its budget….and abilities. It’s still trying and here and there it has a bright spark, but it’s nowhere near able to pull off what it wants to pull off.–not without a way higher budget and some much better writing and a lot more time to set things up.

Anyhow, Weedy Nephew and Wrench Wench (and Q-bomb) plus the quickly-injured Sidekick (weird, given that he’s the only actual veteran in the group), land together, get into a firefight, and then get rescued by some local humans….who are mostly civilians who have been trying to protect their own homes and planets. (One of them is wearing a baseball cap with a thin blue line patch. I call that quality costume design and I’m only being slightly sarcastic.) Although a new character, a woman with very large braids and moderately-large boob armor and what looks to my inexperienced eye to be an entire 50-cal machine gun with extra stuff glued on it, is introduced. She’s an enthusiastic fan of ex-General Willis, it turns out. (“Do they not know it takes a monster to kill a monster?”)

He, it turns out, has also survived and landed, but he’s got a concussion (his suit helpfully informs us and him) and is also surrounded by low-budget-costumed menacing figures. Actually, this next few set of scenes isn’t half bad if you take into consideration that Willis is concussed and therefore a little bit of trippiness then works, theoretically. However, since none of the movie has been from his perspective before, it’s a little offputting.

But then the away team returns to a refugee center where the injured guy was taken and General Willis ….does something to his suit, killing him quickly. (“He was gonna die anyway.”) They then all brood about this for a moment, as though one of our major characters has not just murdered another one. What the hell?

Meanwhile: the aliens have a giant spinny teleportation gate in orbit which they can use to bring their entire fleet through and thence to Earth. The heroes will have reach orbit in order to use the Q-bomb safely (or shoot the Q-bomb into the space gate). However, without the ability to shut the gate down after they throw the bomb through, they will end up dead as well. Okay, so this scene? Got the point across and did it without involving a single scientist in a lab coat explaining it to the heroes. You have got to give credit where credit is due.

Willis has a monologue here to Wrench Wench that is supposed to be touching and meaningful, but I keep getting distracted by the way his armored crop top keeps bumping his chin.

Meanwhile, Grillo makes contact. He’s up in orbit with a damaged suit. He…tells her to send the Q-bomb to him via the orbital cannon. I think. (I initially thought he asked to be mercy killed.) –and not to tell his nephew that he’s still alive.

So our heroes are….I’m not sure what the plan re the Q-bomb is, but in the meanwhile there’s thumping music and they’re planning to make a “killbox” and the braids girl is up on a water tower somewhere, and everyone else in hunkering down behind those fiberglass tank things everyone tries to make garden planters out of and Bruce Willis pops open a flare and strides down the middle of the aisle and then, OHHHHH SNAP the aliens got to the peacenik doctor and she’s zombified now. Whoops.

But anyway, the aliens speak through the former-doctor and, eh, turns out they also think preemptive genocide is a fair response to first contact. So, first contact resumes and the aliens are suddenly ninjas for some reason and the rest of this firefight is distractingly bad. But Willis grabs on to the outside of the alien vessel as it flies off. I guess that’s one way of getting into orbit. But if he’s trying to rescue Peacenik Doctor, he’s way too late. She/it faces him and says “We never wanted peace.” And then things get wonky.

Grillo, meanwhile, is still in orbit and trying to take control of….something? But it’s not letting him override.
Wrench Wench launches the Q-bomb at the glowy teleportation gate.

Grillo sends her the coordinates for his suit and tells her to fire directly at him. He’s going to use what fuel he has left as the catalyst to, I dunno, make the Q-bomb go boom. His weedy nephew, who overheard, has a moment and then puts his hand over Wrench Wench’s and is the one to pull the trigger. Heavy, man. And ohhh, okay, that was the catalyst boom that closes the teleportation gate so the rest of the human planet doesn’t get sucked into a black hole when the Q-bomb goes off on the other side.

Weedy Nephew then goes and starts stabbing the hell out of the surviving alien ninja power ranger to the accompaniment of….harmonica music?

We cut to seven days after first contact, with the remaining cast drinking their sorrows away in a bar, the Alliance Senate taking credit for the attack’s success and announcing a dramatic military expansion, and Bruce Willis, who somehow survived being up in orbit when all the explosions started going off, fades out into the night like an old soldier always does.

It’s not nearly as bad as anyone seems to think it is–and it has some aspirations of being great.

Rated: Hell, I’m a fan of all seven.