Reviews: Area 51 1/2: August 2014


alienby Steven Sawicki

Greenings Third Worlders

It is with joy and incredulity that we paraphrase one of your greatest politicians to say We’re back. Little did we realize that completing a five year mission in less than half that time that we would be rewarded with another mission to the very same place for the very same amount of time. Who can truly understand interstellar academics? As Klaarg is wont to say, never turn left at an inner moon. We’re not really sure what that means but since he’s the navigator we’re sure it’s plenty important.

In any case, here we are with extra time on our—well not hands for sure, although we could probably grow something close but let’s just say we have time.

And you, you thirst for forbidden and alien knowledge. Just the kind we have, although it would be a violation of the Armonk treaty of 48262 which regulates the improvement of sub- intelligent life forms, to tell you anything directly. So, because we have no desire to be set adrift in the vicinity of a black hole, no matter how small it may be, we have decided to show our knowledge through the cataloguing and interpretation of your most recent artifacts books, dvds, movies, magazines, comics. In fact if you make it, we ll look at it. I say we but in full transparency I need to inform you that sometimes Klaarg eats first and looks later. Sort of a reader’s digest, if you will.

Let us start by expressing our deepest confusion about what you consider fallacy and what you consider history. When we first arrived here we assumed that all of your writing was factual. This proved not to be the case. In fact, the more we read of your science and history the more we realized that you were, as it were, just making it up as you went along. Then we came to understand that the majority of what you write down is, indeed, meant to be untrue to begin with. Except that it s closer to what is real than when you write about what is real. A dilemma for us indeed. And so, we have decided to treat everything you write as either wholly fictional or wholly accurate. It’s like that cat in a box. Has it lit the dynamite fuse or hasn’t it? Only one way to tell. At some point we’ll utilize the tachyon ray to make a final determination. Until then it’s all, as you say, good. Or not. Depends on the cat.

half-a-king-200wHalf a King, Joe Abercrombie, Del Rey, ISBN 978-0-8041-7832-7, July 2014, $26.00, 273 pgs. Prince Yarvi, seen as a weakling to his father, second in line to the throne after his strong brother, and dedicated to becoming a minister instead of a ruler, finds himself thrust into a life of desperation when his father and his brother are both killed. Born into a cruel society where strength means all, Yarvi must go to battle if he is to have any chance to revenge his father’s and brother’s deaths and take his place on a throne he neither wants nor feels he deserves. Things don’t go as planned and Yarvi ends up captured. He manages to escape though, and, as he works his way across the land, one step ahead of those seeking his death, he finds that his disability )the lack of a functional hand( is not quite the disability he had originally thought, in a world that is filled with cruelty and danger. We enjoyed this history although we could not find any map which contained this kingdom of Gettland. We also found the chronicler, this Joe Abercrombie, to record things with such dark clarity as to be refreshing. His wording is often sardonic, much as your real world is often the same. His ability to bring these long gone figures to life is second to none, barring the necromancers of Gorm. He writes this story with such detail and energy it is almost as if he were there in person and simply recording it all. And the twists, much like your daily political deviations, the twists are plentiful and quite twisty, ultimately very satisfying. And the ending, the ending is no simple linear progression where the waif becomes the hero and gains all. No, this is much more like a true life story where the means hardly justify the end. And yet it is also satisfying. We recommend this and we would suggest you seek out other works done by the Abercrombie person. Why, we are tempted to give him a probing or two, just to see what makes him tick.

old-mars-200wOld Mars, George R. R. Martin & Gardner Dozois, eds., Bantam, ISBN 978-0-345-53727-0, $28.00, 486 pgs. We like old Mars. We’ve been there. Well, in full disclosure we have only been there hologramatically through the lens of the tachyon ray. But we feel like we know it well the canals, the glassine cities, the dust, the receding polar caps. But we regress. In this travelogue, fifteen different people join together to tell you about trips to the old red planet. As with any group effort there is some disagreement about particulars but not enough to make a difference. For example, Allen Steele tells us of a professor who journeys to the Martian badlands seeking blood in order to determine whether Martians and Humans are the same. It’s a dicey proposition since being human is no prize and the Martians seem to know this. You can imagine the difficulty it raises. Both for the professor in question and for the guide who brings him out there. Then there is David Levine’s story about a ship that sails to Mars, literally, catching the breeze between the planets. When they arrive on Mars they find crustaceans in command. And, we should point out, when they find out they are intimately infested with humans, they re pretty crabby about it. This causes no end of troubles for the sailors who decide that the old tradition of speciescide should be immediately implemented. S. M. Stirling weaves a story of Earthers on Mars and their involvement with mercenaries and a Martian dog. It’s an interesting story with a few future cultural twists. And it’s got a dog, which we always, for some reason, find enjoyable. A number of the tales in the book involve humans connecting with Martians of the past in one way or another. Mary Rosenblum’s effort is the best of these, as she shows how young people see things differently and how human greed leads to destruction and to loss. All in all the stories in this big book are worth getting through. There is also an introduction by George R. R. Martin who plays no games as he talks about his own experiences with old Mars. We should point out that all of the efforts between the covers are original and have not seen the light before now.

star-carrier-200wDark Matter: Star Carrier Book Five, Ian Douglans, Harper Voyager, ISBN 978-0-06-218399-6, $7.99, 370 pgs. We need to admit right at the beginning that we really like the way this Douglas human writes. We re pretty sure this is future historical based on the way he details space combat. No wooshing about and no tilting of space wings to catch what we can only imagine you imagine to be some sort of interstellar air. No, Douglas does an excellent job of getting space combat right. Not that we have had a lot of experience with space combat we’re scientists and not militarists but we know some militarists and we’ve seen the GoPro videos they have brought back so this is pretty accurate stuff. Honestly, this would probably be enough because, really, who can not get enough of space combat? But, no, Douglas also manages to create a story between the atomic explosions, the destruction, and the magnetic rail cannons. And it’s a story of first contact told in the traditional Earther way. Boy meets girl, girl turns out to be bulbous alien who eats other creatures alive over a period of weeks, boy decides girl needs to be destroyed by particle beam, girl decides to fight back, and so on. Love at first fight, if you will. We liked it. This is the fifth book that we have read in this chronicle that follows the Earth Confederation and the role of the United States of North America in trying to keep the alien Sh’daar from keeping you Earthers from the technology you so love to develop. You should probably read this from the beginning so as to not miss any of the subtly involved. Politics, military command structure, and more nuclear explosions than you can count on whatever extremities you use to count.

transcendence-blu-ray-cover-200wTranscendence (Blu-Ray + DVD + Digital HD UltraViolet Combo Pack) Warner Hime Video, (2014), $35.99, 120 mins So, we had to wait until Klaarg took the mothership out for a run to the dark side of the moon to test some of the control systems before taking a look at this video. He’s not a big fan of robots and we just weren’t sure whether there would be any in this and it’s always better to be careful around the being who has the only set of keys to the only vehicle that can get you home. In any case, we are always intrigued when watching your documentaries about how little you seem to care for who you are as a species. You are always trying to be something different. In this case you want to become one with a machine. We should point out, right away, that this is a bad idea. No species that has done this has survived the encounter. Oh, sure, there are many machine cultures who have survived the experience but that’s not quite the same and they are bombed to the kind of dust that exists only on old Mars. Anyway, this Dr. Caster fellow decides he would rather be a machine than a person, figuring, who knows, that sentience is sentience regardless of the container. The problem with this, as the documentary succinctly points out, well, as succinctly as can be done in 120 minutes, is that machines are insatiable when it comes to information. They always want more and they are not afraid to just go out and get it wherever they can. The second thing with machines is that they quickly realize that there is only one threat to them and that happens to be whatever species created them and still knows where the off switch is located. You can imagine what happens— well, you don t have to imagine, we’ve looked at Facebook and we know what has gone on with your imagination, so you just have to exist, sit back and watch and ultimately wait for your internet connected HD television to decide it’s had enough of your channel switching and off you. On the odd chance that happens before you get to see this we’ll tell you that letting machines think they are thinking for themselves never ends on a positive note. Just try to give us a heads up when you’re about to hit the singularity so we can get away before the planet gets glassed over. On that note we take out leave, although we are not so much leaving as just not continuing to be viewable.

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