Sci-fi television news: Three endings & three beginnings

Watching Rami Malek win a Golden Globe for his role as Freddie Mercury in the Queen biopic “Bohemian Rhapsody” was so cool, and now he’s been nominated for an Oscar as well. Many of us already knew how talented Malek is, because we’ve been watching him play the gifted and mentally disturbed hacker Elliot Alderson on “Mr. Robot.” (He has also won an Emmy for “Mr. Robot.”) The twisty, futuristic drama is about to come to an end. Season four will be its last.

The show’s creator, Sam Esmail, has said, “We ultimately have too much respect for Elliot’s journey to extend past its inevitable ending. Therefore, season four will serve as a the final chapter of the Mr. Robot story.”

I will miss this trippy series, but like he said, it’s better for a show to not go on too long. A mistake made by the next show on my list:

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We are now 12 seasons into this thing, and it jumped the shark, as they say, ages ago. I’ve loved and laughed with these characters for years, and it’s still amusing enough that I’ve stuck with it, but at this point, Sheldon’s rudeness grates, and Bernadette’s shrillness is less cute and more, well, shrill. It’s just not the same.

The show’s premise – four nerdy scientists and their struggles with women – has changed, as everyone has been paired up. Leonard, Sheldon, and Howard are all married men, and Raj is engaged. Even comic book store owner Stuart has a girlfriend. Without the original “how do we navigate the dating world” plot, the show is flailing aimlessly. There are some great episodes, but there are more misses than hits.

Jim Parsons (Sheldon) finally pulled the plug. “It feels like we’ve chewed all the meat off this bone,” he explained in a recent interview. I couldn’t agree more.

Game of Thrones

Another series whose time has come to an end is HBO’s “Game of Thrones.” This parting will be sadder, as it has been amazing in every way for its entire run. With the eighth and final season coming in April, fans will have to say goodbye to Jon Snow, Daenerys Targaryen, Tyrion Lannister, and all the rest of our beloved GoT characters.

The Long Night

Fortunately a spin-off series is in the works, a prequel called “The Long Night,” set thousands of years before the events in “Game of Thrones.” Normally I groan at the word prequel, but it’s set during a period in which humans shared Westeros with giants and the Children of the Forest, and other  magical creatures, so it sounds like it will be really awesome.

Jean-Luc Picard returns

Patrick Stewart has announced that he will return to his role as Jean-Luc Picard in a new Star Trek series for CBS All-Access. The series will be one storyline, “a 10-hour movie,” Stewart said, rather than the episodic structure used on “Star Trek: The Next Generation.” The still-untitled series will take place after the destruction of the Romulan Empire.

Loki

Disney’s upcoming new streaming service will feature a series about that lovable trickster Loki, and more importantly, Tom Hiddleston will be reprising the role. That’s really all I know about the new show; I’ll post more when I find out more.

Virtual reality movie ‘Ready Player One’ is a fun ride

READY. PLAYER. ONE.

I’ve been excited about this ever since I heard they were making it into a movie (it was a novel first – by Ernest Cline).

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When I heard it was going to be directed by none other than Steven Spielberg, my first thought was Wow, Spielberg! That’s perfect! And then my next thought was that I’m not a huge Spielberg fan. So I had my misgivings. Were they going to mess this up?

The main character is an orphaned teenager named Wade Watts (Tye Sheridan), who is competing in a 1980s-themed  VR contest – in the year 2044. The winner will inherit the fortune of the contest’s deceased creator, James Halliday, a Willy Wonka-esque character who created the virtual reality world OASIS.

OASIS is where much of the story takes place, which I imagined could translate to the big screen in a really awesome way – or it could look totally lame.

Luckily, the special effects were great. My other concern was that there are usually two issues with reading the book first. One: I already know what’s going to happen. And two: “That’s not how it was in the book!” Well there’s really no worries about that here. It was still exciting, even though I already knew the plot, and at this point, I understand that they need to change it up from novel to screenplay. As long as it works, I’m happy. And aside from a few minor gripes, it does work.

It’s clever, it’s funny, and it’s a little trip down memory lane for anyone who grew up in the 1980s, because ’80s movie and video game references abound. “Back to the Future,” “Iron Giant,” “Gremlins,” “Star Trek,” “Star Wars” – you will catch snippets of these and many more throughout, but it’s subtle enough as to not be too distracting.

You don’t need to be an ’80s kid to enjoy this movie. The rumor about this being a pop-culture overdose was premature. The ’80s stuff is just background/setting and not the story. (I don’t understand people bitching about this before the movie was even released?)

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Art3mis and Parzival in “Ready Player One.”

For a movie that celebrates ’80s nostalgia, the soundtrack should have been better. There are a couple gems (including New Order’s “Blue Monday”), but the track list is phoned in and too short, especially for such a long movie.

It clocks in at 140 minutes, but it’s so fast-paced you probably won’t notice (unless you have to pee). The pacing is actually perfect, and it’s enough time for our heroes to get to know each other in between all the racing around.

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Tye Sheridan and Lena Waithe

Their friendship is central to the story, and Sheridan, Olivia Cooke, and Lena Waithe were well cast and seem to click. The villains were a little clichéd; Wade’s nemesis, Nolan Sorrento (Ben Mendelsohn), is like a high school principal in a John Hughes film but maybe that’s fitting.

“Ready Player One” isn’t deep or profound, but it’s fun, especially if you don’t mind a sprinkle of Spielbergian cheese on the second half of your movie.

Moving on …

‘The Expanse’

I did not read this book series, which is set in a future where humans have colonized the solar system. I was kind of confused/bored at first, but I stuck with it and my patience paid off. This is one of the most interesting, suspenseful series I’ve seen in a long time.

In case you haven’t heard me sing this show’s praises already: It has all the ingredients you want in a sci-fi show – great writing and effects, complex characters, a diverse and talented cast, moral dilemmas, plot twists, drama, suspense, humor. But what I like best about “The Expanse” is that it’s not like anything else – a refreshing change of pace in this era of remakes and sequels.

Season 3 of “The Expanse” premieres April 11 on Syfy.

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Dominique Tipper and Steven Strait star in “The Expanse.”

A match made in the Star Trek Universe

Terry Farrell (Jadzia Dax from Star Trek: Deep Space Nine) and Adam Nimoy (Leonard Nimoy’s son) tied the knot on Monday, which would have been Leonard Nimoy’s 87th birthday. They went public with their relationship at the Star Trek convention in Vegas last year. Live long and prosper, newlyweds!

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Photos: Ready Player One, Warner Bros. Pictures; The Expanse, Syfy; Terry Farrell/Adam Nimoy photo by Rob Latour/REX/Shutterstock

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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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News and notes on ‘Expanse,’ ‘Guardians,’ and summer sci-fi

The second season of my new favorite TV series,”The Expanse,” is already over! I can’t believe I have to wait another year to see what will happen next! I’m glad I stuck with this show during its confusing beginning.

The second season of the series, which has been nominated for Saturn and Hugo awards, has been awesome. The characters’ storylines have come together, and the newer characters are great additions and fit right in.  Sometimes when you have a big cast like this, it’s annoying when a new character is introduced. But I love Prax (played by Terry Chen, above), and bad-ass Bobbie Draper.

My favorite scene of this season made me tear up. “The Expanse” is no “This Is Us,” so I was caught off guard during Naomi’s emotional scene on Ganymede in the penultimate episode. I know I’m being vague; I don’t want to give anything away. If you’re not watching “The Expanse,” you can catch up on syfy.com or Hulu.

From Toby to Taserface  

Speaking of the aforementioned tearjerker “This Is Us,” Chris Sullivan (who plays Toby), is in “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2”! Sullivan plays a character called Taserface and is unrecognizable under all that makeup.

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Chris Sullivan is Taserface in “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2.”

Also joining the cast for the sequel are Kurt Russell, Sylvester Stallone, Elizabeth Debicki (who is in “The Night Manager,” with Tom Hiddleston) and Pom Klementieff.

Reprising their roles as the Guardians are Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Bradley Cooper, Vin Diesel, and Dave Bautista.

If you have read my blog before, you know how much I loved the first “Guardians.” Superhero movies are not my favorite sci-fi genre, but that’s because most superhero movies are not as cool, fun, and funny as “Guardians.” I can’t wait until May 5!

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“Star Wars: The Last Jedi”

I’m also excited about the other big sci-fi film coming out this year – Star Wars Episode VIII will be in theaters Dec. 15. It will be bittersweet, as it will be our last goodbye to Leia. Carrie Fisher will not appear in Episode IX, despite rumors that she would be edited into the film.

I know, December is still a long way off, but after “The Last Jedi,” we will only have to wait until summer – “Star Wars: Episode IX,” set for 2019, will be released in May.

“Star Trek: Discovery”

That other big sci-fi franchise, Star Trek, needs to learn a lesson from Star Wars about getting it done. The series “Star Trek: Discovery” has been delayed yet again. It was supposed to be coming in May, but Bryan Fuller has left his job as showrunner, and now there is no date for the premiere at all. Will we ever see this show?

On Netflix

The only discovery I’ve, um, discovered is “The Discovery.” The movie, directed by Charlie McDowell (who also did “The One I Love”), takes place after a scientist (Robert Redford) proves there is life after death. Unfortunately, this discovery causes a rash of suicides.

Telling you much more than this will be too spoiler-y. Let me just say if you are interested in weird movies à la “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind,” or NDE and OBE (near death/out of body experience) type stuff, you will probably like this. I myself find it fascinating, and while the film was not without flaws, it stayed with me for a while – and it didn’t hurt that one of my favorite actors, Jason Segel, is in it. Rooney Mara also stars.

Also coming up on Netflix is Bong Joon-ho’s “Okja,” about a girl and her best friend, or should I say, beast friend? Okja is a “super pig” in danger from a multinational corporation. The film sounds every bit as strange as Bong’s 2014 film “Snowpiercer,” but will be, I hope, less disturbing.

“Okja” stars Tilda Swinton, Ahn Seo-hyun, Lily Collins, Jake Gyllenhaal, and Paul Dano. It will be screened at Cannes in May and then released on Netflix on June 28.

Summer sci-fi

Now that Alien Day (April 26) has put us in the mood for scary monsters in outer space (right?), I’m ready for the new Alien movie. “Alien: Covenant” is in theaters May 19. The studio released a second prologue for the film:

A special bonus: If you go see “Alien: Covenant,” you will get to see a full trailer for “Blade Runner 2049.” Considering “Covenant” will be opening in the U.K. a week before it opens here in the U.S., the “Blade Runner” trailer might be online before May 19, but it will be cooler on the big screen anyway. (The connection here is “Covenant” director Ridley Scott, who also directed the original “Blade Runner” and produced the sequel.)

I’m really hoping they did Wonder Woman justice in the new film (out June 2), because they aren’t going to make more films about women unless we go see them, and we’re not going to go see them if they suck. Enough said.

“Orphan Black” will return for one more season, but later this year than normal. The show won’t be back until June 10, on BBC America. The show was not canceled; it was the creators’ decision to end it, and while I think it was the right decision, it will still be sad to see our favorite clones go. Here’s hoping the fifth and final season will be the best yet.

“War for the Planet of the Apes” (coming to theaters July 14) looks to be everything a big summer blockbuster should be: action, thrills, and cool special effects, and while I don’t care for, say, alien robots that turn into monster trucks, I’m totally on board with talking chimpanzees. Andy Serkis brings his performance-capture magic back with his character Caesar, and Woody Harrelson is “The Colonel,” a soldier who wants to destroy the apes.

“Game of Thrones” will return for its seventh season on July 16 on HBO. Even without the final books in the series, we can tell this story is getting close to wrapping up. The dragons are grown, the zombies are closing in, and they’ve killed off most of the characters. That’s not to say I’ve grown bored of the show – far from it. I’m super excited to see what happens next.

The one thing I am not happy about is the fact that we’re only getting seven episodes this summer, and then we won’t get to see the final six episodes until next year. Bummer!

“Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets” will be in theaters July 21, and I wish it would hurry up because I keep writing about how maybe it’s going to be cool and maybe it will suck on “Jupiter Ascending” level proportions, and I haven’t heard any buzz about it either way. It’s not the same director as “Jupiter” (the Wachowski sibs are responsible for that mess). “Valerian” is written and directed by Luc Besson, so I want to say it will be as awesome as “The Fifth Element,” which is a crazy movie that I love beyond reason and which I have wasted many hours of my life re-watching.

If you haven’t seen “The Fifth Element” yet (or even if you have), you can see it on the big screen (with 4K restoration) on May 14 or 17, in select theaters. The screenings are part of a 20th anniversary celebration of the film, and will include a new introduction by Besson and a sneak preview of “Valerian.”

The 20th anniversary edition will be released on DVD sometime this summer.

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Photos/media: “The Expanse,” Syfy; “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2,” Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures; “Star Wars: The Last Jedi,” Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures; “Alien: Covenant,” 20th Century Fox; Game of Thrones, HBO. 

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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.”

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:

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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.

 

Clones and starship captains: New books for sci fi lovers

If you had a chance to have a new body, would you take it? To have your memories transferred to a body cloned from your cells and given growth hormones to age the new body from infancy to your current age? A healthy body, free from disease, injury, scars, or wrinkles?

If you’re one of the characters in Jessica Chiarella’s debut novel, “And Again,” you would do it. The four main characters are suffering from injury or disease, and are among the first to undergo the new procedure.

It is a fascinating concept, and inspires questions like, How much of our memories are in our brain, and how much is in our bodies? Is it muscle memory that enables my fingers to type these words?

One of the characters, Hannah, is an artist, and she finds her gift is lost when she receives her new body. She also finds she misses her scars and tattoos. We may not realize how much of our body’s history is a part of our personal identity.

So much of others’ behavior toward us is a response to our physical appearance, which was evident in Connie’s story. As a former actress suffering from AIDS, she was treated like a pariah, but when she gets her beautiful, new body, the attention she receives is a double-edged sword. It is rather telling that her only friend – before and after the procedure – is a blind man.

The other clones, a woman paralyzed in a car accident, and a corrupt Congressman, also struggle. David seems to think he can wipe the slate clean with his new body, and be a better man, but old habits die hard. Linda, on the other hand, may as well be a complete stranger, as far as her children are concerned. She had lain in a hospital bed for eight years, while her husband and children have gone on with their lives without her.

The patients meet regularly in a support group to discuss their experiences, as no one else understands what they are going through, but when two of the clones have an affair, and David’s shady dealings threaten the future of the SUBlife program, all hell breaks loose. I won’t say any more than that; you will have to read it yourself.

‘Born with Teeth’

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For me – a lover of juicy memoirs AND Star Trek – Kate Mulgrew’s book, “Born with Teeth,” was a special treat.

I have only seen Mulgrew as the indomitable Capt. Janeway of “Star Trek: Voyager,” so I didn’t know much about her life or her career before that, but I was hooked from the first page, when Mulgrew was, literally, born with teeth. Her mother decides Shakespeare would have a field day with that, and thus is planted the seed of Kate’s career.

Mulgrew, from a big, free-spirited Irish Catholic family in Iowa, participated in a poetry contest in fifth grade. Her mother, invited to hear Kate recite her poetry at the contest, instructed her daughter to also read “The White Cliffs,” by Alice Duer Miller. Her own poetry elicits only polite applause, but when Kate finishes her dramatic reading of “The White Cliffs,” the audience is moved to tears.

On the way home after the contest, her mother tells her, “You know, Kitten, I watched you today, and it dawned on me that you can either be a mediocre poet or a great actress. Now, which do you think you’d rather be?”

Kate throws herself into acting, and through the many hardships life throws at her, she clings to her work, and not only survives, but thrives, through determination and grit. It’s no wonder she won the part of the fearless leader of the “Voyager” crew.

Mulgrew has led an amazing life, but I won’t give it all away and ruin it for you. Suffice it to say, I knew she was a wonderful actress, but I was pleasantly surprised to find she is also a great writer, and as I read her exciting, and sometimes heartbreaking, life story, I discovered that Kate is not only talented, but courageous and passionate as well.

 

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“And Again”
By Jessica Chiarella
Touchstone; January 2016

 

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“Born with Teeth”
By Kate Mulgrew
Trade paper
Back Bay Books; Reprint edition; January 2016

 

Celebrate Back to the Future Day with time-travel favorites

Happy “Back to the Future” Day! Today is Oct. 21, 2015, the day Marty and Doc traveled to the future to stop Marty’s kid from getting arrested. The Internet is abuzz with questions of “What did the movie get right?” If you’re not sick of hearing how close you are to having your own hoverboard, you will be soon.

I love the BTTF trilogy as much as anyone, but they’re not the only cool time-travel flicks in the universe. Time travel is a fun subject, even though it’s not possible – and thank goodness, because we really do not want to “unravel the fabric of the space-time continuum!”

Some characters get to go back in time, some go forward, and some just go back a day and are forced to keep repeating the same day over and over until they get it right. Here are some of my favorite time travel movies.

  1. Back to the Future trilogy. But of course. Michael J. Fox and Christopher Lloyd are stellar as teenager Marty McFly and his kooky inventor friend Doc Brown. The DeLorean is arguably the coolest time machine of all time. These movies are so cool, we’ll forgive them for predicting we’d have flying cars by now.
  2. Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure. Keanu Reeves and Alex Winter play a couple of rock ‘n’ roll-loving teenagers whose time-traveling mentor is an older guy (George Carlin). It seems that Bill and Ted copied BTTF – I’ve heard their time machine was originally a van, but they thought that would be too similar to the DeLorean, so they changed it to a phone booth. Apparently they never saw Dr. Who. It’s still a fun movie.
  3. The Terminator and Terminator 2. The time travelers in the Terminator movies are androids sent from the future to kill Sarah Connor and her son John, who becomes a leader of the resistance in the future. Arnold Scharzenegger’s catchphrase “I’ll be back” comes from The Terminator. Fun and action-packed. What more could you want from your time-travel movie?
  4. 12 Monkeys. Bruce Willis stars as a prisoner who is sent back in order to collect information on a deadly virus that has forced the survivors to live underground. I love this crazy movie, directed by Terry Gilliam, and also starring Brad Pitt and Madeleine Stowe. I think this was the first time we saw that Pitt was a versatile actor, and not just a pretty face. He won a Golden Globe and earned an Oscar nomination for best supporting actor for his role as a mental patient.
  5. Groundhog Day. Bill Murray stars as a grouchy meteorologist who is forced to live the same day over and over. What would you do in this position? Commit crimes with no fear of consequences? Learn to play the piano? Phil Connors uses it as an opportunity to woo the beautiful news producer, played by Andie MacDowell. The first time I saw this movie, I hated it. I felt like I was trapped in Feb. 2, along with Phil. But after forced repeat viewings – it’s one of my husband’s favorites – it became one of my favorites too.
  6. Army of Darkness. OK, I know this one also made my Halloween Top Ten, but … it’s good. Bruce Campbell, as a discount store employee who has the worst luck, gets sucked into a time portal and ends up in the Middle Ages and has to fight an army of undead before he can go back to his own time.
  7. Star Trek: First Contact. The crew of the Enterprise travel from the 24th to the 21st century after the Borg destroy Earth by altering the timeline. Patrick Stewart, et al, as Captain Jean-Luc Picard and his crew, are wonderful, but I especially love James Cromwell as Zefram Cochrane, who is famous for having created the first warp-capable vessel. The crew is delighted to meet Cochrane, because he’s a legend, but Cochrane doesn’t understand why they’re so impressed. “I wish I had a picture of this,” Geordi tells Cochrane. “You’re standing almost on the exact spot where your statue is going to be!” “Statue?” “Yeah, it’s marble, about 20 meters tall. You’re looking up at the sky, and your hand is sort of … reaching toward the future.” Cochrane replies, “I’ve got to take a leak.” Too funny.
  8. Men in Black 3. My favorite MIB movie sends Agent J (Will Smith) back in time to save Agent K (Tommy Lee Jones) from a Boglodite (Jemaine Clement) who has gone back in time to murder him. In 1969, K is a young man, played by Josh Brolin. This is such a fun movie, also starring Emma Thompson, Will Arnett, and Bill Hader, with cameos from Lady Gaga and Tim Burton.
  9. Edge of Tomorrow. Tom Cruise in yet another futuristic action movie? But wait – this one is good. Think “Groundhog Day” meets “Starship Troopers.” Earth has been invaded by an alien race, and Cruise’s character gets caught in a time loop that sends him back to the day before, every time he dies. He teams up with a badass Special Forces sergeant (Emily Blunt) to hone his fighting skills.
  10. X-Men: Days of Future Past. This is my favorite X-Men movie. Logan (Hugh Jackman) goes back to 1973 to – what else? Save the world, blah blah blah. This could get old, but it doesn’t. James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender as young Professor X and Magneto are soooo great, and the cast also includes Jennifer Lawrence and Peter Dinklage. But arguably the best part of this movie is the prison break scene in which Quicksilver (Evan Peters) dashes around to the tune of Jim Croce’s “Time in a Bottle,” moving bullets out of the way and giving cops wedgies.

Ten times real life reminds me of science fiction

Do you ever ask your husband or wife, “When is second breakfast?” Or wish you could “beam up” to your destination when you’re stuck in traffic? I often find myself thinking of science fiction in my ordinary life. Here are a few examples.

  1. Whenever I have déjà vu, I wonder if it means something, like in “The Matrix” when Keanu Reeves sees that cat again and says “Whoa. Déjà vu.” I love it that everyone takes him seriously, because in real life no one cares if you have déjà vu. They also don’t want to hear about the weird dream you had last night.
  2. Every time my First World existence isn’t quite cushy enough, I wish for one of the nifty gadgets in science fiction, like the holodeck or the medical tricorder on Star Trek. And the food replicator. Pretty much anything on Star Trek.
  3. When I’m delirious from lack of sleep, I sometimes wonder if the world as I know it is a replica, manufactured to trick me, and that my life is really being broadcast all over the world. What if everyone can see me obsessively overplucking my eyebrows, or hear me talking to myself? And it is then that I wish I’d never seen “The Truman Show.”
  4. Lately, I’ve been thinking about Jadzia from Deep Space Nine. She was a Trill: an alien species who serves as a host to a symbiont called Dax. Jadzia retains all the skills and memories from the previous hosts. When I look back on my life 20 years ago, or even just five years ago, it hardly seems like I’m the same person, like I’m a Trill or something.
  5. Admit it – sometimes you wish you had a time machine so you could have do-overs, like in the completely nonsensical “Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure.” “After the report, we’ll time travel back to two days ago, steal your dad’s keys and leave them here. … How about behind that sign? That way, when we get here now, they’ll be waiting for us!”
  6. A lot of us spend a lot of time online. Our world seems to be becoming more and more like that movie “Surrogates,” in which people in the future live in front of their computers, controlling robotic avatars who stand in for them in the real world.
  7. When I see news stories about scientists trying to recreate the woolly mammoth, or selling genetically modified pet pigs, or abusing science in some other similar asinine fashion, I think of Jeff Goldblum’s character in “Jurassic Park,” Dr. Malcolm, who said the scientists were “so preoccupied with whether or not they could, that they didn’t stop to think if they should.”
  8. When I’m feeling lazy, I think maybe I should do some pull-ups, or learn how to drive a motorcycle, or hotwire a car, in case there’s some future emergency and I need to be strong and fast and skilled. Like, for instance, what if a cyborg from the future is sent to kill me? Oh wait, that’s the plot of “Terminator 2.”  Which is mostly unlikely to happen.
  9. As my kids get older, I am reminded of Sil from “Species,” who ages 12 years in like, three months. I keep doing double takes at my son, like, “Weren’t you a toddler a few minutes ago?”
  10. We all have our favorite movie quotes that we use conversationally. Most of the movies my husband and I quote to each other are from sci-fi/fantasy movies: “Aziz, light!” “Do or do not. There is no try.” “These aren’t the droids you’re looking for.” “You keep saying that word; I do not think it means what you think it means.” “I am altering the deal; pray I don’t alter it any further.” “My precious!” And my favorite faux curse word, “Frak!”

Check out these binge-worthy sci-fi, fantasy TV series

  1. “Battlestar Galactica.” There are four seasons, but you have to start with the miniseries. My favorite TV show of all time, it stars Edward James Olmos, Mary McDonnell, and so many other great actors. It is epic, dramatic, suspenseful, and just plain awesome. So say we all!
  2. “Star Trek.” Any and all. I came in at “Deep Space Nine,” so I’m more a fan of the later series. I sometimes think if I had watched Star Trek when I was younger, I would have set my sights on science, rather than journalism.
  3. “Game of Thrones” is the first science fiction-fantasy series ever to win an Emmy for best drama, so you know it’s something special. GoT has knights, dragons, wolves, witches, giants, and ice zombies, and the special effects are amazing. But the real magic is the plotting and political intrigue, and the stellar performances of the ensemble cast. My one complaint is that HBO goes too far sometimes, adding violent scenes that weren’t in the books.
  4. “Orphan Black.” If you haven’t seen this BBC show yet, you’re in for a treat. Tatiana Maslany stars as a young mother and con woman who has just discovered she’s a clone – one of many. And then the plot thickens. Stick with it; it keeps getting better.
  5. “Heroes.” With the “Heroes Reborn” premiere this week, what better time to re-watch the original series, about ordinary people discovering they have random superpowers? The series has a huge cast of great actors playing interesting characters, and Zachary Quinto (who plays Spock in the new Star Trek films) is amazing as psychotic supervillain Sylar.
  6. “The 4400.” This series drew a lot of comparisons to “Heroes” but actually came first. In the pilot episode, 4,400 people suddenly appear near Mount Rainier. All of them have disappeared at some point during the past 50 years, but no one knows where they have been all this time, or how they got back, and some of them have returned with special abilities.
  7. “Life on Mars.” Jason O’Mara plays a New York City cop who is hit by a car in 2008 and wakes up in 1973. I’m a sucker for a good time travel tale. It was canceled after one season, and some say it wasn’t good as the BBC version, but I ask of you, did the BBC version have Harvey Keitel?
  8. “Caprica.” I didn’t love this prequel series as much as the series from which it was spun, but it satisfied my craving for more “Battlestar Galactica.” Starring Eric Stoltz, Esai Morales, Paula Malcomson, Alessandra Torresani and Polly Walker, “Caprica” tells the story of how the Cylons were created.
  9. “Defying Gravity.” Another good show that was canceled after one season, “Defying Gravity” starred Ron Livingston as one of eight astronauts on a mysterious six-year mission. This was pitched as “Grey’s Anatomy in outer space,” which may have sold the series, but was maybe also its downfall.
  10. “Dr. Who.” I confess I have only seen one season of this goofy time-travel series, but I’m planning to go back and watch more. It’s on my list.

(Photo: “Battlestar Galactica,” Syfy)