Short & sweet: Anders’ ‘Six Months’ and Saunders’ ‘Fox 8’

Have you ever wondered if the human race was created by aliens? Have you ever wondered what you would do if you were the last person on Earth, or what you would wish for if you found a genie in a bottle? Have you ever wondered what it would be like to travel through time or predict the future?

Well, Charlie Jane Anders has, and her short stories are imaginative and fun to read. Like her novel “All the Birds in the Sky” (which I reviewed a few months ago), this book of short stories, “Six Months, Three Days, Five Others,” is original, fresh, funny sci-fi.

The last story in the book, a side story to “All the Birds in the Sky,” is about a couple who are given a cat by a stranger who tells them it will give them nine years of good luck. (It took me a while to realize it had some of the same characters from Anders’ novel, but when I did, it was like getting bonus features at the end of a great movie.)

Because it’s so rare for me to find short stories I enjoy, and also rare to find original and accessible, readable sci-fi, I wanted to know more about this author. Anders’ bio is an entertaining read.

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Charlie Jane Anders

The pink-haired author’s Amazon profile says she’s the only person to be “a fictional character in a Star Trek novel and in one of Armistead Maupin’s Tales of the City books.”

She co-edited a book called “She’s Such a Geek: Women Write About Science, Technology, and Other Nerdy Stuff,” she organizes Writers With Drinks, and she has put on wacky fund-raising events like a Ballerina Pie Fight. She has won a bunch of awards, including a Hugo for this story collection, and a Nebula for “All the Birds in the Sky.”

Fox 8

Another great book I read recently is George Saunders’ “Fox 8,” a short tale about a fox who learns how to speak the language of “Yumans” by listening at the window of a mother reading bedtime stories to her children.

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 One of Chelsea Cardinal’s sweet illustrations in “Fox 8.” 

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George Saunders

Now you may be wondering, why is this fairy tale-sounding book on a sci-fi blog? And I’ll tell you: Because talking animals aren’t real- they’re fantasy. And I like talking animals. Let’s not get bogged down by technicalities.

It’s a really beautiful book, which is maybe a strange thing to say about a fox who says things like, “Grate Leeder woslike: I have spoken. And something in me woslike: Grate Leeder, bla.”

It is a little bit sad and violent but also funny, and a little bit hopeful too. It’s the first thing I’ve read by the award-winning author (you may have heard of his bestselling novel “Lincoln in the Bardo”), but I’m looking forward to reading more of his books.

These little books would make great last-minute gifts for the (adult) book lover in your life. Merry Christmas!

 

“Six Months, Three Days, Five Others,” Charlie Jane Anders; Tor; October 2017

“Fox 8,” George Saunders; Random House; November 2018

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What to watch/read: ‘Black Panther,’ ‘How To Stop Time’

I know, I know. I haven’t posted in a while. But I’m still here! And I’ve been watching a lot of sci-fi stuff that I can’t wait to share with you, so let’s get started:

First, we need to talk about “Black Panther.” If you’re wondering if this movie is worthy of the hype, the answer is yes. Yes it is.

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Girl power! Lupita Nyong’o and Letitia Wright in “Black Panther.”

I love origin stories, and this one was no exception. It’s beautiful, for starters. The Kingdom of Wakanda blew me away, and the costumes are breathtaking. I went into this movie not knowing much about the comic so it was fun and surprising and I was on the edge of my seat, wondering what was going to happen next. I’ll give you a little bit of backstory:

Black Panther, aka King T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman) is the leader of Wakanda, an African nation which is every bit as fascinating as the superhero himself. Hundreds of years ago, Wakanda was hit by a meteorite containing vibranium, a metal which, unknown to the rest of the world, has given the Wakandan people the ability to create advanced technology, and which also affects an indigenous “heart-shaped herb,” which is ingested by the king and gives him the superhuman abilities that make him a total bad-ass.

Of course, the tech doesn’t hurt either. His little sister Shuri (Letitia Wright) is the Tony Stark-like genius behind T’Challa’s suits/gadgets. And as awesome as Black Panther is, it’s really the women I admired most in this film. I really want to tell you about them but I don’t want to give away anymore. Suffice it to say there are some interesting twists and turns, some laughs and a lot of heart. (And lots of girl power!) Just take my advice and go see it.

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Sam Rockwell in “Moon.”

The next thing I want to talk to you about is “Mute” (Netflix).  I was so excited about this, because it’s directed by Duncan Jones (David Bowie’s son!), who also directed one of my favorite movies, “Moon.”

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Paul Rudd in “Mute.”

“Mute,” on the other hand, is one of those movies where you’re like WTF is happening right now and where is this even going?

Alexander Skarsgard stars as a mute bartender searching for his missing girlfriend, but Paul Rudd steals the show as an unhinged surgeon named Cactus Bill, who makes you laugh but in an awkward, uncomfortable way that makes you wonder if you should really be laughing. Rudd is good though, and you’ll probably completely forget the plot while you’re watching him.

I will confess the main reason I wanted to see this movie is because I was promised more Sam Rockwell and I would like to say I was not disappointed but I was totally disappointed; Rockwell appears in “Mute” for about three seconds.

I liked the ending of “Mute,” if that counts for anything. (Does it?)

Next up, let’s talk about “Electric Dreams.” I was even more excited about this series than I was about “Mute.” Unfortunately, I was equally disappointed.

I had high hopes because each episode is (loosely) based on a different story by Philip K. Dick, whose stories have been previously adapted to the films “Blade Runner,” “Minority Report,” “Total Recall,” etc. He’s been called “the father of modern science fiction,” to give you an idea of his influence.

The first “Electric Dreams” episode, “Real Life,” was just OK. It’s been done before and it’s been done better (in the aforementioned “Total Recall”). I kept thinking, I really hope the second episode is better.

It was. “Autofac” is set in a post-apocalyptic world (and you know I’m a sucker for post-apocalyptic worlds), where a group of survivors are trying to figure out how to shut off a factory that keeps sending them stuff they don’t need. (It’s hard to believe this was based on a story written in 1955. Did Dick predict Amazon Prime?)

That’s all I’ve seen so far – the first two episodes. I’ll update if/when I see more.

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Juno Temple and Janelle Monae in “Electric Dreams.”

Moving on.

I recently read a novel called “How To Stop Time,” by Matt Haig. The main character, Tom Hazard, has a condition that causes his body to age much slower than the rest of us. He’s actually over 400 years old, even though he looks like he’s in his 40s.

It’s tempting to make comparisons to Anne Rice’s Vampire Chronicles, but Tom is not a vampire. He’s very human, and that is sort of the theme. What makes us human? What makes life worth living? It’s deep, but it’s also accessible and fun.

A film adaptation is in the works, with Benedict Cumberbatch starring as Tom. I loved Cumberbatch in “Doctor Strange,” and I am looking forward to seeing this story on the big screen.

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The 90th Academy Awards

As I mentioned earlier, I love Sam Rockwell, so I was very happy last night when he won a best supporting actor Oscar for his role in “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri”! Also I love that Frances McDormand won – she’s amazing. It’s not sci-fi so I haven’t discussed “Three Billboards” on my blog, but I highly recommend it. It’s very powerful and moving.

Guillermo del Toro won best director and his film “The Shape of Water” won best picture! Congratulations, Guillermo! If you missed my review of his art exhibit at the LACMA, check it out here:

https://earthtoshawna.com/2016/08/15/new-lacma-exhibit-a-must-for-guillermo-del-toro-fans/

I loved his acceptance speech at the awards ceremony, which he ended by saying, “I want to tell you, everyone that is dreaming of a parable, of using genre and fantasy to tell the stories about the things that are real in the world today, you can do it. This is a door. Kick it open and come in.”

“Black Panther” photos, Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures; “Moon,” Sony Pictures Classics; “Mute,” Netflix; “Electric Dreams,” Sony Pictures Television; “How to Stop Time,” Viking. 

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Mark your calendar for new and returning sci-fi TV series

OK, I need to move on and accept that we won’t get any new “Game of Thrones” for a long time.  To console myself, well, there are so many sci-fi shows on TV and streaming right now, I can’t keep up with everything I want to see.

Let’s start with the ones I already know are good:

“Travelers” will have its Season 2 premiere on Showcase in Canada on Oct. 16, followed by a Netflix release. If you haven’t seen this trippy time-travel series, starring Eric McCormack, I recommend you start from the beginning. You can watch Season 1 on Netflix.  

“People of Earth” is wrapping up Season 2 (the finale will air Sept. 25), but if you’re new to this quirky comedy, you can go back and start at the beginning. I myself missed the beginning, so I need to go back and catch up on the episodes I missed. The series is about a support group called “StarCrossed,” for people who have been abducted by aliens. It’s on TBS.

“Stranger Things” will return to Netflix on Oct. 27. The first season of this retro ’80s sci-fi/horror series was really cool and intense, but it scared the hell out of me. Season 2 is supposed to be “darker” than Season 1. I’m not sure how much darker this show can get. We’ll see if I’m brave enough to find out.

“Mr. Robot” will be back Oct. 11.  I’m not usually into psychological thrillers, but this one has this crazy “V for Vendetta” vibe, and it also has Christian Slater. So check it out! You can find the trailer for Season 3 on USA Network’s website:

http://www.usanetwork.com/mrrobot/videos/mr-robot-season-3-trailer

Here are the series I haven’t seen yet, but that are on my to-watch list:

“Star Trek: Discovery” will be set a decade prior to the original “Star Trek” series and will star Sonequa Martin-Green (“The Walking Dead”). I’m glad they’re going with a female lead. (I loved Capt. Janeway.) I was excited about this series – until I found out if I want to watch it, I’ll have to subscribe to CBS All Access. The premiere episode will be on TV at least: at 8:30 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 24 on CBS.

“The Orville” is a sci-fi comedy-drama created by, and starring, Seth MacFarlane. With an ensemble cast (including Adrianne Palicki, Penny Johnson Jerald, Victor Garber, and Chad Coleman) and big-name guest stars (Charlize Theron, Simon Pegg) slated to appear, not to mention several Star Trek vets (Brannon Braga, Jonathan Frakes, James L. Conway, and Robert Duncan McNeill) directing, this one seems like a guaranteed hit. We’ll see. It premieres Sept. 10 on Fox.

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“The Orville” premieres Sept. 10 on Fox.

“Future Man” looks promising. The synopsis on the Hulu site says, “A janitor by day/world-ranked gamer by night is tasked with preventing the extinction of humanity after mysterious visitors from the future proclaim him the key to defeating the imminent super-race invasion.” Sounds intense, but Seth Rogen produces/directs, so you know it’s probably going to be funny and/or raunchy. Josh Hutcherson (“Hunger Games”) stars. Look for it Nov. 14.

“Doctor Who” is one I haven’t watched in a while, but they got my attention when they announced they cast a woman, Jodie Whittaker, to play the 13th doctor. Whittaker will take over the role from Peter Capaldi in the Christmas special episode “Twice Upon a Time” (BBC America).

I don’t have a release date yet, but “Philip K. Dick’s Electric Dreams” is supposed to be coming soon to Amazon Prime (or Channel 4 if you’re in the UK, and Stan if you’re in Australia). The first season will have 10 standalone episodes, each one inspired by one of Dick’s stories. Bryan Cranston produces and stars in the series, which also features Anna Paquin, Steve Buscemi, Juno Temple, Greg Kinnear, and Janelle Monáe.

Photos: “Stranger Things,” Netflix; “The Orville,” Fox.

 

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Sci-fi summer movie catch-up: What to see, what to skip

I haven’t posted in a while, but I’ve been watching movies. If you haven’t, and want to know which ones to watch and which ones to skip, you’re in the right place. Here’s your spoiler-free guide. (Movies rated on a five-star system.)

Colossal
Rated R; available on DVD
“Colossal” is a quirky movie about a young woman (Anne Hathaway) who discovers she has a strange connection to a kaiju in South Korea. If that doesn’t sound intriguing to you, then you probably won’t like it as much as I did. Four stars.

Wonder Woman
PG-13; playing in select theaters; DVD release date Sept. 19
Amazon warrior Princess Diana of Themyscira finally gets her own movie! This was the best film of the year so far, in my opinion. Gal Gadot is amazing as Wonder Woman, and Chris Pine is the perfect Steve Trevor. It’s breathtaking and powerful, and it has humor and heart. I honestly can’t think of one thing I didn’t like about this film. It exceeded my expectations. Five stars.

Alien: Covenant
Rated R; available on DVD
The sixth film in the franchise follows our new crew to an earth-like planet and the usual “Oh shit!” insanity ensues. I love Michael Fassbender, and the rest of the cast was great too, but horror isn’t really my bag. If you’re an Alien fan, you’ve probably already seen this one. And if you’re not a fan, you’re not missing much. Two stars.

Okja
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This movie with a message, directed by Bong Joon-ho, is about a “super pig” bred by a corporation headed by Tilda Swinton’s character. I was a little concerned that I would be scarred for life, after seeing Bong’s 2014 film “Snowpiercer,” and I will admit “Okja” was pretty intense too. But I loved it. Four stars.

Spider-Man: Homecoming
PG-13; in theaters
Tom Holland plays Peter Parker in the newest installation of this comic book superhero flick. There’s nothing groundbreaking going on here; it’s everything you expect from Spider-Man. It was fun, but it didn’t blow me away. It’s a popcorn movie. Three stars.

Kong: Skull Island
PG-13; available on DVD
I had high hopes for this one, in no small part because I like Tom Hiddleston. I will admit it was suspenseful and entertaining and the special effects were awesome, but I would have liked it a lot more if the plot or characters had a little more depth. Three stars.

 

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Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2
PG-13; available on DVD
I didn’t think this would be as good as the first one because origin stories are always the best, but I loved this sequel. Just like the first one, there was plenty of wacky outer-space adventure, lots of laughs, groovy ’70s tunes, and some touching moments about what it means to be a family. I could watch this a dozen times, and I probably will. Five stars.

Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets
PG-13; in theaters
I really, really wanted to like this. Luc Besson’s “The Fifth Element” is one of my all-time favorite movies, and “Valerian” does succeed in creating a visually impressive universe, but it lacks the heart of its predecessor. The characters were flat and uninteresting, for the most part, and the plot could have been better. Two stars.

Photos: Wonder Woman, Warner Bros. Pictures; Okja, Netflix; Guardians of the Galaxy, STX Entertainment. 

 

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Tune in to trippy TV series ‘Travelers’ and ‘Mr. Robot’

I’ve been telling everyone about the Netflix sci-fi series “Travelers,” starring Eric McCormack. This is a series I want to keep watching even though it’s late and I should go to bed. (Unfortunately, I am done watching all 12 episodes of Season 1, and there is no release date yet for Season 2.)

There are so many new series out right now and they’re really hit and miss. I picked this one sort of at random, but I will admit that the star of “Will & Grace” was also a draw. I also thought the premise sounded similar to that of “The 4400,” which I loved.

“Travelers” exceeded my expectations. It’s unpredictable and suspenseful, and even though it’s not totally original (shades of “12 Monkeys” and the aforementioned “4400”), I like that it’s not another ubiquitous remake/reboot/adaptation.

The show was created by Brad Wright, who did the “Stargate” series but “Travelers” is decidedly less nerdy. The promo pictures make it look like a police procedural drama, and I don’t know if they’re trying to make it a crossover hit or what, but don’t worry, this is not CSI: Time Travelers. There is more going on than meets the eye.

I’d like to keep this post spoiler-free, so I’ll just say that there is some cool time-traveling stuff going on and some interesting characters. This is one of those shows where the quality of the acting can make or break it, and this cast is doing a great job. I can’t wait to see what happens next. OK, enough of that. Just go watch it.

Let’s talk about “Mr. Robot.” This is also an original series – it was created by Sam Esmail. However, I have a hunch Esmail is a big fan of “Fight Club,” because there are some obvious similarities. (It is also reminiscent of “V for Vendetta.”)

Mr. Robot - Season 1

An argument could be made that this is not a sci-fi show per se (which is why I haven’t talked about it before now, this being a science-fiction blog), but I think it is safe to say that it veers in that direction. This show premiered in 2015, and the third season is probably coming sometime this summer, so you have time to catch up.

You may have heard of Rami Malek, who has won awards for his role as the main character, a hacker named Elliot. You might also recognize him from some of his other work, such as his role as King Ahkmenrah in the “Night at the Museum” films. (What!)

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If you’re already watching this show, you already know how twisty and turny and trippy it is. If you’re not watching, I won’t spoil it for you.

While we have seen some of the themes elsewhere, the characters are unique, and the actors are killing it. Portia Doubleday, who plays Elliot’s friend Angela, and Carly Chaikin as fellow hacker Darlene, are amazing.

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Portia Doubleday and Carly Chaikin, in USA Network’s “Mr. Robot.”

Last but not least, Christian Slater is in it, and like a lot of women who grew up watching his movies in the ’80s, I love me some Christian Slater, who seems to have barely aged in the last 30 years. I suspect he’s drinking from the same fountain of youth frequented by Paul Rudd.

Anyway. “Mr. Robot.” Catch up.

Cloak and Dagger

Speaking of the ’80s, I used to read the Marvel comic “Cloak and Dagger,” back in the day. They’re making it into a TV show, and I have to admit, my initial reaction was “Won’t be watching that one!” Ever since “Daredevil” (the 2003 film), I’ve been a little wary of adaptations of comics that I’ve read. Maybe I’m just one of those nerds who says things like, “That’s not how it was in the comic book!” OK, I don’t always say that. I do think that “Watchmen” and the X-Men films were done well.729023

The new show is geared toward teens and young adults, so I’m not the target audience (also true of “Riverdale,” the series based on Archie comics, which I also read as a kid). But … it could be interesting.

“Cloak and Dagger” will air on Freeform, and has cast its lead actors. Aubrey Johnson will play the role of Tyrone, who can engulf people in darkness, and Olivia Holt will be Tandy. Tandy can shoot “daggers of living light” (this phrase was repeated ad nauseum in the comics). The teenagers are a vigilante crime-fighting duo, and they need each other to survive. No air date has been released.

Photos: “Travelers,” Netflix; “Mr. Robot,” USA Network.

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What to watch on TV: New and returning sci fi in 2017

I’ve more or less given up on George R.R. Martin’s “Winds of Winter” (the next book in the series on which “Game of Thrones” is based) but at least we can depend on HBO to satisfy our need for dragons and dire wolves. I’m really excited for Season 7, which is expected to come later than usual this year (in the summer rather than the spring). We’re also going to have to savor it not only because this will be the penultimate season but because the last two seasons will have fewer than the usual 10 episodes.

We will have to say farewell to our favorite clones this year, with the fifth and final season of “Orphan Black” (BBC America). The last few seasons premiered in April, so we can probably expect the show to return in April.

If you like quirky comedy, I recommend “People of Earth” (on TBS), about a support group for people who have been abducted by aliens. I wasn’t sure at first what to make of this weird show, but it’s grown on me, and I will be watching for the second season. It will likely be back in the fall.

“The Expanse” (Syfy) will return on Feb. 1 – finally! I’ve almost forgotten what happened last season, since it has been nearly a year since the Season 1 finale. It took a while for the plot to gain momentum in the first season, so here’s hoping the second season hits the ground running.

A new Star Trek series is coming in May. “Star Trek: Discovery” will air on CBS All Access and Netflix. Taking on a beloved franchise like Star Trek is risky. Hopefully the show’s creators Bryan Fuller and Alex Kurtzman are up to the task. Sonequa Martin-Green (“The Walking Dead”) will play the lead role; Michelle Yeoh, Doug Jones, and Anthony Rapp also star.

A new mini-series, “Electric Dreams: The World of Philip K. Dick,” is expected to come out sometimes this year. You may recognize the name Philip K. Dick – he wrote the stories behind so many science-fiction films: “Total Recall,” “Blade Runner,” “Minority Report,” “The Adjustment Bureau,” and “Paycheck,” to name a few. The popular Amazon series “The Man in the High Castle” is also based on one of Dick’s novels.

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Philip K. Dick

“Electric Dreams” is produced by Ronald D. Moore (“Battlestar Galactica,” “Outlander”), Michael Dinner, and Bryan Cranston, who will also appear in one of the episodes, each of which is a stand-alone drama.

There is no air date as of yet, but it is slated to premiere on Channel 4 in the UK and distributed internationally by Sony Pictures Television.

I can barely keep up with all the new series out right now. Two that I have been wanting to watch but haven’t yet are “Travelers” (Netflix) and “Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency” (BBC America).

The latter might sound familiar to you, as it is also a Douglas Adams novel, which has been adapted to TV before – in 2010 on BBC. (Adams also wrote the novel “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy,” which was also adapted to a BBC TV series, as well as a movie, in 2005.)

Photo at top: Dominique Tipper and Steven Strait star in “The Expanse,” on Syfy. “Game of Thrones” photo, HBO. 

P.S. Check out this recap for Syfy’s “The Expanse.”

Four new sci-fi flicks – coming soon to a theater near you

Lots of promising science-fiction films are in the works right now – “Replicas”; “Annihilation”; “Blade Runner 2”; “Guardians of the Galaxy,” “Pacific Rim” and “Planet of the Apes” sequels;  and film adaptations of “Ready Player One,” “Station Eleven,” “Descender,” and “Chrononauts” – but we’re going to have to wait a long time for most of those. For now, let’s look at some new films coming out in the next few months:

First up, we have “Arrival,” adapted from a short story by Ted Chiang. The story, about deciphering alien communication, is directed by Denis Villeneuve and written by Eric Heisserer and stars Amy Adams as a linguist hired to communicate with aliens, Jeremy Renner as a mathematician, and Forest Whitaker as a U.S. Army colonel. The film, which had its premiere at the Venice Film Festival, has had mostly good reviews thus far.

Sasha James at The Mary Sue said the movie “proves to be much more than the standard first contact flick, and Villeneuve maintains his track record of turning all expectations of genre on their head.”

“Arrival” will be released Nov. 11.

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Above, Amy Adams stars in “Arrival.” Below, Asa Butterfield in “The Space Between Us.”

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“The Space Between Us” has an original, intriguing concept: Asa Butterfield plays a teenager born on Mars who goes to Earth for the first time, experiencing our planet with fresh eyes. (You may remember Butterfield from “The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas,” “Hugo,” or “Ender’s Game.”)

The movie also stars Carla Gugino, Britt Robertson, and Gary Oldman, who plays a character inspired by Elon Musk.

It could be a hit, as long as it doesn’t veer too far into schmaltzy territory. Another potential problem is timing – right now it’s up against the new Stars Wars film which has the same Dec. 16 release date.

Don’t expect to see Luke Skywalker or R2 in “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story.” These are (mostly) new people in a sort of side project to tide you over till the next chapter of the saga.

Set sometime between episodes III and IV, “Rogue One” stars Felicity Jones, Diego Luna, Ben Mendelsohn, Donnie Yen, Riz Ahmed, Mads Mikkelsen, Alan Tudyk, Jiang Wen, and Forest Whitaker.

Jones plays Jyn Erso, a Rebel fighter who teams up with Cassian Andor (Luna) and some other Rebels to steal the Death Star plans.

There are a couple familiar faces: Genevieve O’Reilly will reprise her role as Mon Mothma, and Jimmy Smits is back as Bail Organa. There will also be a familiar voice – James Earl Jones as Darth Vader.

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“Rogue One: A Star Wars Story” will be released Dec. 16.

“Passengers,” a sci-fi romance/thriller, stars Jennifer Lawrence and Chris Pratt as astronauts accidentally awakened from hibernation 90 years too early.

The original script (by Jon Spaihts) has been floating around for years and at one point had Keanu Reeves and Reese Witherspoon set to star as the stranded pair.

The film is directed by Morten Tyldum, who also directed “The Imitation Game” and “Headhunters” (a cool film starring Nikolaj Coster-Waldau from “Game of Thrones” – check it out if you haven’t seen it).

“Passengers” is slated for a Dec. 21 release.

Photos: “Passengers,” Columbia Pictures; “Arrival,” Paramount Pictures; “The Space Between Us,” STX Entertainment; “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story,” Lucasfilm/Disney

 

New LACMA exhibit a must for Guillermo del Toro fans

One great thing about living near Los Angeles is being close to all the cool exhibits at the museums, and one that I did not want to miss was Guillermo del Toro: At Home with Monsters, at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.

Guillermo del Toro is a science fiction and horror writer, director, and producer whose movies include “Pacific Rim,” “Mimic,” “Crimson Peak,” “Hellboy,” “Hellboy II: The Golden Army,” “Blade II,” and the Spanish-language films “Pan’s Labyrinth,” “The Devil’s Backbone,” and “Cronos.”

From Guadalajara, Mexico, del Toro now resides in Los Angeles, where he is currently working on a film called “The Shape of Water.” He also is the creator of the FX series “The Strain.”

The collection displayed at LACMA is huge and very impressive. Of course it includes memorabilia from his films – costumes, drawings, notebooks, and props – but it also includes a lot of cool stuff from his collection of art, books, artifacts, and life-sized sculptures of people including Edgar Allan Poe, H.P. Lovecraft, Ray Harryhausen and several others.

The exhibit is organized by the themes that run through del Toro’s films. The first is “Childhood and Innocence,” and includes props and drawings from “Pan’s Labyrinth” and other items in his collection that pertain to this theme.

Another theme is “Victoriana,” evident in his gothic romance/ghost story “Crimson Peak.” The name of del Toro’s residence Bleak House was taken from a Charles Dickens novel. (And in case you’re wondering, this is a separate house from the one he lives in with his family. This one is just for all his cool toys.)

In the “Magic, Alchemy, and the Occult” section, we learn that del Toro is heavily influenced by the writer H.P. Lovecraft as well as a series he loved as a child called “Man, Myth & Magic: An Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Supernatural.”

A room themed “Movies, Comics, Pop Culture” displays del Toro’s collection of comic books and movie memorabilia. He loves Alfred Hitchcock and Luis Buñuel.

Inspired by “Planet of the Apes” (1968), a young del Toro filmed a display of his toy figurines with his father’s Super 8 camera, a pivotal moment: “When I first projected that first Super 8 reel, something happened that was absolutely life changing,” he said.

Del Toro’s self-described “Frankenstein fetish” is evident in the exhibit “Frankenstein and Horror,” an homage to Mary Shelley’s famous monster, as well as other famous movie monsters. “Freaks and Monsters” shows del Toro’s fascination with sideshow “freaks,” and how this influences his work.

There are also areas dedicated to “Death and Afterlife,” lucha libre (Mexican masked wrestling), a recreation of del Toro’s rain room (not to be confused with the other Rain Room at LACMA), and so much more.

 

Guillermo del Toro: At Home with Monsters is at LACMA until Nov. 27, and will travel to Minneapolis and Toronto in 2017. For more information, go to http://www.lacma.org/guillermo-del-toro#about-the-exhibition

Photos by EarthToShawna

 

 

‘Game of Thrones’ Season 6 finale not terribly shocking

If you haven’t seen the Season 6 finale of “Game of Thrones,” you may want to come back after you’ve seen it. This is your spoiler warning.

Let’s talk about Cersei’s industrial goth dress. I’m guessing someone in the costume department has seen the “Hellraiser” movies way too many times, because I feel like I’m watching Clive Barker’s “Game of Thrones.” Let’s not forget the Night King looking like Pinhead’s distant cousin:

Everything is happening, and it’s about time. We knew Cersei was planning something sinister, but who knew how big it would be? That wildfire explosion was crazy. One thing I didn’t see coming was the end of Margaery, Loras, and Mace Tyrell. But I was happy to see those pesky Sparrows go down.

Walder Frey also had it coming to him, after the carnage of the Red Wedding. They say revenge is a dish best served cold, but Arya apparently believes it’s a dish best served with one’s sons baked inside. Gross.

The truth of Jon Snow’s parentage was figured out by readers of the books some time ago, so last night’s “shocker” wasn’t much of a revelation, but it was satisfying to see it finally play out on screen, even if we knew all along Jon wasn’t Ned’s bastard son. I think Ned would be proud of the man his nephew has become. “The King in the North!”

Daenerys’ scenes – some of my favorites in the first few seasons – have lately been a batch of fries sitting under a heat lamp while the other stories catch up, so it’s nice that she’s finally going somewhere. The part where she dumps her boyfriend was blah, but it’s so darn touching when she names Tyrion the Hand of the Queen, it almost makes up for it.

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It’s nice that we got to see a little bit of everyone, since it’s the last episode we will get until 2017. But come on, that was not enough of Sam and Gilly. (Cool library! And then we move on.)

I think the most unexpected and breathtaking moment of the finale was Tommen’s suicide. But the most heartbreaking was Davos confronting Melisandre about Shireen’s murder. “I loved that girl like she was my own,” he tells her. “She was good, she was kind, and you killed her!” (Stop making me cry, Onion Knight!)

I love GoT, and I’m going to miss it while it’s gone. Until next year.

In other news

I’m reading Hugh Howey’s post-apocalyptic “Wool” series (which is awesome – go read it right now if you haven’t), and hopefully I will have more news to report about this soon – “Guardians of the Galaxy” writer Nicole Perlman has reportedly been hired to re-write “Wool” for 20th Century Fox and producers Ridley Scott and Steve Zaillian.

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“Wool” began as a stand-alone novella, which Howey published through Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing system. Interesting note: Ridley Scott’s “The Martian” also was based on a self-published book. Self-publishing seems to be gaining more respect.

Maybe anyone can write a novel. Maybe even … robots? Yes, as Hugh Howey himself predicted, a novel has recently been written by artificial intelligence. The AI had some help from humans, so writers aren’t obsolete just yet. The novel, a team effort led by Hitoshi Matsubara, a professor at Future University Hakodate, was an attempt to win Japan’s Nikkei Hoshi Shinichi Literary Award. The novel, “The Day a Computer Writes a Novel,” didn’t win, but it passed the first round of screening.

The idea of robots taking over the world is just science fiction, though. Right? Well, not if you believe in a theory known as “technological singularity.” Singularity theorists say that superintelligent machines will one day overtake humans. Of course, there have been multiple books, movies and TV shows about cyborgs, androids, robots, or machines overthrowing humans. Most of them seem too far-fetched to come true, but some of them (“Ex Machina” and “Her”) seem eerily possible.

Moving on to a more scientifically plausible prediction about non-human intelligence, a Cornell student recently estimated that Earth won’t contact alien life for another 1,500 years. This might sound like a wild guess, but it’s based on math: Evan Solomonides and professor Yervant Terzian presented a paper earlier this month, at the American Astronomical Society meeting, which explains that because we have only been sending signals to space for 80 years, we’ve reached less than one percent of the galaxy. We shouldn’t expect to make contact until we’ve reached at least half of the solar systems in the Milky Way.

The astronomers address what’s known as the Fermi Paradox, which asks: “There must be other planets like Earth, so why have we not heard from them yet?” Solomonides’ answer is a good one, but I will offer up another possibility: Maybe the aliens are just waiting to see if this Trump thing blows over before they decide if we are worth talking to.

“Game of Thrones photos,” HBO. 

 

 

News & musings: ‘Expanse,’ ‘Oddfits,’ ‘Ready Player One’

I have been wanting to write about the new Syfy series “The Expanse,” but it took me a while to process my thoughts and feelings about it. I was wary at first, as the show was being compared to my all-time favorite TV series, “Battlestar Galactica.” How can anything live up to that hype? And I found the name distracting because the entire third season of “Star Trek: Enterprise” is set in the Delphic Expanse, which was usually referred to as “the Expanse.”

But I gave it a try. I needed a good show to tide me over while “Game of Thrones,” “Orphan Black,” “Vikings” and “The Last Kingdom” are on hiatus.

I found the first couple episodes of “The Expanse” confusing, and I wondered if the books (which I haven’t read) were just not translating well to the screen – something seemed to be missing. Or at least, I felt I was missing something. I’m hearing impaired and use closed-captioning, and sometimes get lost when the action and/or dialogue are fast-paced, so that might have had something to do with it.

But I was intrigued enough to stick with it, and I reminded myself new series sometimes take a few episodes to hit their stride.

Here’s what you need to know: In the future, mankind has colonized the solar system, and there are three groups at odds with each other – Earthers (from Earth, duh), Martians (people who have settled Mars – not little green men), and the oppressed, working class “Belters” – people born in the asteroid belt. It gets more complicated than that, but I don’t want to give it all away.

Once I figured out what was going on, I was hooked. There’s all sorts of stuff going on in this show – mystery, political drama, and outer space action/adventure. (I will also confess that I like some comic relief in my science fiction. They had me at “donkey balls.”)

I love the complex characters, there’s a talented cast, and the special effects are amazing. The two-hour finale was crazy, in a good way, and left me feeling sad that the season is already over.

If you haven’t been watching, I recommend you check out season one (you can watch on syfy.com or Hulu). If you have been watching, I would love to hear what you think! Comment here or on the Earth to Shawna facebook page:

https://www.facebook.com/Earth-to-Shawna-1476049362698628/?fref=ts

Books

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I’ve been doing a lot of reading lately (see my last blog post, in which I reviewed Jessica Chiarella’s “And Again” and Kate Mulgrew’s memoir “Born with Teeth”).

I just started “The Oddfits,” by Tiffany Tsao. It’s about this misfit kid named Murgatroyd Floyd (how cool is that name?) and there’s this huge freezer called the Great Freezer, which contains 736  flavors of ice cream, including Sunset, Quiet, Darkness, Rainbow, and Stars (shown on the book cover above), which tastes like violets, chocolate, warm honeyed peaches, coconut milk, and the sensation that the universe is a very vast place. (If magic ice cream doesn’t make you want to read this book, nothing will.)

I’m picking up hints of “Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy,” “Doctor Who,” “Twilight Zone,” and also something new that I can’t quite identify … but so far, I find it very palatable.

What are your favorite new sci fi titles?

‘Ready Player One’

Speaking of books, I’m super excited about the new, Spielberg-directed film adaptation of Ernest Cline’s dystopian novel “Ready Player One,” to be released in April 2018. (The film was previously slated for December 2017, but it was announced Tuesday that it has been pushed back – to avoid a box office clash with the next “Star Wars” movie.)

I loved the book, about a futuristic, ’80s-themed competition. The winner inherits the fortune of the contest’s creator, who has been dead for five years.

Olivia Cooke has been cast as Art3mis. (Cooke played Rachel in “Me and Earl and the Dying Girl” – an excellent movie. Check it out if you haven’t seen it.) Ben Mendelsohn is reportedly in talks for the lead villain, and Nick Robinson is reportedly a favorite for the role of Parzival.

The film has launched a worldwide casting call for three of the main roles: Wade, Shoto, and Daito. The deadline is Feb. 16, so if you’re an aspiring actor who fits the part, you have five days to upload an audition:

http://www.readyplayeronemoviecasting.com

When the book was released, Cline announced that the book contained an Easter egg, a clue which formed the first part of a series of staged video game tests, similar to the plot of the novel. A DeLorean was awarded to the contest’s winner. I wouldn’t be surprised if another contest will be announced when the movie is released, so keep your eye out!

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Olivia Cooke (“Me and Earl and the Dying Girl”) has been cast as the female lead in Spielberg’s adaptation of Ernest Cline’s dystopian novel “Ready Player One.”

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New Star Trek series

It has been announced that the showrunner for the upcoming Star Trek series (which is not related to the 2016 film) will be Bryan Fuller, who wrote “Pushing Daisies, “Hannibal,” “Dead Like Me,” and “Wonderfalls.” He has also written for “Voyager” and “Deep Space Nine” so he’s no stranger to the Star Trek franchise.

In a 2013 Den of Geek interview, Fuller said he would love to see Angela Bassett as captain and Rosario Dawson as first officer. How cool would that be? Of course, that was three years ago, and the series has not yet been cast, so I’ll try not to get my hopes up.

The new show is set to premiere in January 2017 on CBS before moving to All Access.

‘Battlestar Galactica’ 

And last, but definitely not least, my fav show ever may be turning into a feature film! Let’s not get too excited – this might be a case of “all of this has happened before and will happen again.” (Yes, that’s a BSG quote.)

The newest news on the matter involves producer Michael DeLuca (“The Social Network”), Bluegrass Films (“Battleship”), and Universal Pictures. Nothing else has been announced thus far, but stay tuned and I’ll keep you posted.