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Firefly - The Complete SeriesFirefly: The Complete Series

Firefly was an amazing television show. It was created and developed by Joss Whedon, creator of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. The premise of the show is that mankind has spread out across the universe and this has resulted in anarchistic regions almost like the old-West. There was a big war that the Federation won, and the heros of this show were on the losing side. Now they live on the fringes of society, spending most of their time running from authorities, getting into and out of trouble, and having adventures.

The great thing about this show is that it’s so diverse. Yes, it’s Science Fiction, but it’s also a Western. Plus it’s got drama and humor and a wonderful ensemble cast. In fact, it’s the cast that really brings this show home. There are a lot of people who travel on Serenity, from Mal Reynolds (Nathan Fillion), the discontented captain to Innara (Morena Baccarin) the prostitute who uses one of Firefly’s attached shuttles, to Simon (Sean Maher) and River Tam (Summer Glau) two fugitives from strange blue-handed, creepy “men-in-black”.

Fox, in its infinite wisdom, cancelled this show after only a few episodes. This was a huge blow to television SciFi, especially as Farscape was also cancelled. Since it was cancelled so quickly, it’s a very good chance you didn’t see this show, but if you can buy the DVD you won’t be disappointed. There are so many open ends waiting to be filled in, it could go in many many directions, which makes it very exciting.

Plus, Joss Whedon is releasing Serenity in the summer of 2005. This is very exciting!

Tru Calling

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Tru Calling - The Complete First Season Tru Calling: Season 1

Tru Calling is an interesting show about Tru Davies (Eliza Dushku), a woman who can relive days in order to save the lives of people who die before their time. She discovers this talent when she applies for a job at the morgue and the body of a young woman rolls over and whispers “Help me”. She is then plunged back in time to the morning of the same day which she relives and decides to save the life of the woman who asked for her help.

This series was, in some ways, doomed to be canceled, first because it aired on Fox (land of the “reality” shows), and second because of the premise. Don’t get me wrong, the premise is really interesting. But how many times can you show a woman running through her days twice? There are only so many ways this premise can be used. And this first season pretty well ran through them all.

About half-way through the first season, it appears that the writers realized that they were boxed into a very rigid corner, so they added a bad-guy, in the form of Jack (Jason Priestley). Unfortunately, this appeared to be more of a “get a well-known star onto the set to save the show” than any effort to work with the premise in a meaningful way. Unfortunately, the character of Jack was very flat and uninspiring. Priestley did an admirable job making the character interesting in a creepy way, but ultimately his character was just annoying.

If you’re interested in Science Fiction television shows, there isn’t a lot out there for you to watch. And it looks like Tru Calling was cancelled by the Fox network before it could air it’s second season. The DVD of the first season is available with some interesting extras, such as commentary and three shorts discussing the show.

I enjoyed Tru Calling, and the DVDs were fun to watch again. It’s too bad it was cancelled, but not as big as loss as Firefly.

The Tombs of Atuan

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The Tombs of Atuan (The Earthsea Cycle, Book 2)The Tombs of Atuan

After reading A Wizard of Earthsea I, of course, picked up The Tombs of Atuan, the second book in the series. Just like the first book, this book did not disappoint me. It has all of the excellent writing and storytelling that I expect of Ursula K. Le Guin.

One of the best aspects of this book is the point-of-view. It’s not told from Ged’s viewpoint. In fact, he doesn’t show up in the book until the middle. It’s the point-of-view of Tenar or Arha (The Eaten One) and her job as the Priestess for the Nameless Ones. As the reader, we’ve already been given hints that Ged is going to show up in the Tombs at some point because he is destined to do something with the Ring of Erreth-Akbe, at least we’re told that in A Wizard of Earthsea, but he’s not the focal point.

What makes this especially intriguing for me is that in typical fantasy, his would be the obvious focal point. After all, he’s the hero, he’s the one who saves the world, he’s the person with the super powers, and, worst of all, he’s the man. Instead, Le Guin takes us into the mind of Tenar who is, in some senses on the side of the enemy. She’s been raised from age 5 to be the Priestess of the Nameless Ones, the ones who are holding half of the ring. And yet we care about her. In fact, it wasn’t all that clear to me that the Nameless Ones were as horrible as Ged portrays them to her.

That is the weakness of the story. The dreaded evil Nameless Ones aren’t really as evil as the other priestesses that Tenar lives with. They were creepy and scary in a way that the lightless tunnels and the labyrinth were not. In fact, one of Tenar’s friends wants to run away from those priestesses. So when Ged shows up and talks her into foresaking her gods and leaving with him, I don’t completely buy it.

But it’s okay. The book is very interesting and fun and a new take on the Ged Sparrowhawk character after he’s found his adulthood but before he’s come into all of his powers. If you read A Wizard of Earthsea you should read The Tombs of Atuan and The Farthest Shore just for completeness sake. And again, you won’t be disappointed. I liked Tombs, I just wish that the character rationalizations were a bit stronger.

A Wizard of Earthsea

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A Wizard of Earthsea (The Earthsea Cycle, Book 1) A Wizard of Earthsea

I last read this book when I was around 10 years old, and I know I enjoyed it then. But when A Legend of Earthsea came out on the SciFi Channel, I decided I needed to read it again. I wasn’t disappointed.

Ursula K. LeGuin is not a member of the Science Fiction Hall of Fame because she writes bad books, and A Wizard of Earthsea is just what you would expect from a Hall-of-Famer. In fact, I would say that anyone who wants to know the Fantasy genre should read this entire series, but especially A Wizard of Earthsea.

Some things you should note:

  1. Books were shorter then. This book is only around 200 pages long, unlike the epics that are coming out as trilogies, 600 pages per book (aka 1800 pages for the trilogy). This makes it a quick read, and fun. Not something that ends up seeming like a chore to complete.
  2. Fantasy doesn’t have to be a Lord of the Rings clone, and this isn’t. I actually stopped reading fantasy for a long time because it seemed like every book that comes out was about a group (usually called a Fellowship) on a quest to stop some great doom from befalling their land. And the hero was always someone you least expected. Plus elves and wizards. UGH!

This is the story of Ged Sparrowhawk and how he comes of age as a wizard in his land. He is a typical teenager in many ways, not too sure of himself, but knowing what he wants and going after it without thinking of the consequences. Because of this, he ends up unleashing something that he shouldn’t have. And so spends the rest of the book figuring out what to do about it.

What I like best about this fantasy is that it was easy for me as a 10-year-0ld to appreciate and it’s still easy for me to appreciate. Ged is an engaging character who is interesting, and while he has character flaws (pride primarily) he does work to redeem himself. The hardest thing for me about the book was the hammering on about his pride. She must have mentioned it five or six times, and it is what gets him in trouble.

I would recommend this book to anyone who is interested in learning about fantasy or wanting to see how a true master of the genre writes. You won’t be disappointed. And if you read it back when it came out (1968) or in the 70s when you were 10, then I recommend you read it again. It stands the test of time, and remains a great book.

A Legend of Earthsea – on the SciFi Network

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A Legend of Earthsea

SciFi Channel

Let me first say that I haven’t read A Wizard of Earthsea or The Tombs of Atuan since I was 10 years old or so. So, bearing that in mind, I watched A Legend of Earthsea on the SciFi Channel without a lot of expectations. I’d watched them mess with their original series Farscape until it was just a bunch of loose ends and then tie it back together again when the fan-base screamed bloody murder. So, I wasn’t expecting a lot from this movie.

That said, I enjoyed it. It wasn’t the best TV movie I’ve ever seen, it wasn’t the worst. It was much better than most TV offerings right now and it held my attention.

The acting was so-so for the most part, and the CGI to create the various cut scenes reminded me of a video game (so much so that whenever they cut to the evil warlord, I thought we had moved to a video game commercial for some RTS war game), but like I said, it was enjoyable and entertaining for two nights.

I then went online and learned that nearly everyone who was anyone in SciFi hated this travesty of a TV movie. What was I thinking that I could say that I enjoyed it?? Even the author of the books it was austensibly recreating was ticked off.

So I re-read the first book

If you’ve read A Wizard of Earthsea any time in the last 5-10 years, don’t watch this movie. You’ll hate it. It’s as if the screen writers took the first two books (A Wizard of Earthsea and The Tombs of Atuan) and cut the scenes into chunks. Then threw the scene chunks into a hat and pulled them out at random. Then, when they didn’t seem to fit right the way they were, they added scenes and changed things and generally made a hash of the books.

For one thing: his TRUE name is GED not Sparrowhawk as they said on the show. I mean, WHY would they make that change? It’s not a huge deal in the grand scheme of things, but crimeny, they got it completely backwards.

It makes me wonder if Gavin Scott read the books back when he was 10 and then wrote a screenplay of what he remembered. Nice work if you can get it.

So, I stand by my original assessment, it was an OK TV movie about a kid coming of age and falling in love (of course) and uniting two forms of magic (of course) and saving the world (of course). It’s too bad that they put the “Earthsea” label on it. But I suppose if they hadn’t I wouldn’t have watched it, as I would have assumed that it was another SciFi Channel botchup job.

But if you’ve read the books it was possibly the worst adaptation of a SciFi novel I’ve ever seen.


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Crucible Crucible by Nancy Kress

When I first picked up this book and read the inside cover, I thought “I haven’t ever read the first book in this series, so I don’t want to read this one yet.” But something made me pick it up anyway, probably that it was by Nancy Kress who’s Beggars in Spain impressed me deeply in the 90s. It turns out that I had read the first book in the series (Crossfire), but the blurb was so different from my memory of the story that it confused me.

Crucible was a disturbing story for me, especially in the aftermath of the United States 2004 Presidential election. It is the story of a planet of farmers. They came to their new world in a colony ship with four approximately equal groups: Chinese, Arabs, Quakers, and whites. I’m not going to describe their colonization, that’s the subject of a different book and review, but suffice it to say that they lived in veritable peace and harmony for a long time. There was some relative wealth and relative poverty, but in general the society was fair and egalitarian and it seemed to work.

Then the spaceship, The Crucible, arrived from earth. It was carrying, ostensibly, a group of scientists and military who wanted to study the first non-human intelligence that had ever been found and that shared the planet with the colonists. But it turned out to contain a lot more than that.

What was disturbing to me was the similarities I saw between the leader of that ship and the elected leaders of the United States. One in particular fell in love with the planet Greentrees, and so did all in his power to protect her. This amounted to declaring martial law, because there was a possibility that the aliens could come back to the planet and destroy all the humans. Of course, this hadn’t happened in decades, but he was able, by increments to convince the populace that what he was proposing was not only necessary, but right and desirable. And the population went along with him and, in general, loved him for it.

I’m not going to spoil the end for you, but let me just say that the parallels between the U.S. right now and this book were scary to me. And I hope that the parallels stop short of how Kress ended her story.

This is a very strong scifi story with lots of twists and turns. There are aliens and space battles, and even sentient plants. But in the end it is really a story with a commentary about life as we live it today.

And as a hint, don’t read the inside cover blurb. While it is essentially accurate, it is very misleading about the true tone of this book.

Farscape: The Peacekeeper Wars

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This was a bitter-sweet mini-series for me, because it appears that they really won’t be making any more episodes of this wonderful series. Without giving any spoilers, let me just say that the ending is even more of an ending than the series ending was.

If you’re not familiar with Farscape, it is a story of an astronaut, John Crichton, who is “shot through a wormhole” and ends up on the other end of the universe. There he meets up with a living ship, named Moya and becomes friends with her crew. It is a story of adventure and drama as everyone on the ship is a fugitive and wants to get to his or her respective home.

Over the course of the seasons, we learn more about the different races and cultures that make up the Peacekeeper universe. It’s not peaceful, let me make that clear right away (as if the title of this mini-series doesn’t give that away). And the wars are just as stupid and inane as they are on Earth, just with larger weapons.

In the course of the TV seasons, John has been given the knowledge to control and manipulate wormholes. This knowledge is highly sought after, because the Scarans and the Peacekeepers believe he can use it to make a super weapon. He can’t, but they don’t believe him.

The Peacekeeper Wars opens exactly where Farscape, the series, ends. [spoiler alert]Aeryn and John are not dead, just crystalized. And Rygel swims around the ocean floor picking up all the crystals so they can be put back together. Of course, they appear as they were when they crystalized – locked in an embrace. But they quickly recover and have their blasters out (yes, Winona is still around) and aimed at the surrounding people.

The action is all there, the humor is there, and the relationships just get better and better. Some of the characters that I was annoyed by in the series are not nearly as annoying in this episode (Jewel – yes, I mean you). There are sad points and happy ones and all in all it’s a very satisfying 4 hours – end of the show notwithstanding.

The SciFi channel went a long way towards redeeming themselves with this mini-series. It doesn’t make up for the show being cancelled, but it’s a very good mini-series a lot of fun and interesting for sci-fi junkies and Farscape lovers alike.

Forty Signs of Rain

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Forty Signs of Rain Forty Signs of Rain by Kim Stanley Robinson

I don’t generally like books that don’t have clear cut endings. Bad guy is caught, white hats save the day, etc. Forty Signs of Rain isn’t like that. In a way, the white hats fail and the bad guy is mother nature taking back what she gave. It’s not really a story of hope. But then again, it could be.

In this election year, I find myself thinking a lot about politics and how we govern ourselves. Clearly, Mr. Robinson had that in mind with this book. He very blatantly discusses the politics of Washington D.C. and the NSF and is not terribly impressed. And as we vote ourselves more bread and circuses, I have to say I don’t particularly blame him.

But this isn’t a political novel, not really. It’s set just a few years in the future (“Phone, call Roy” is the most technological advance you see – and that’s around now) and global warming has taken a turn for the worse. The arctic ice pack has broken up and the gulf stream may have stalled causing, possibly, rapid climactic change.

This was a fascinating look at the way that politics and science collide. And while it is a disaster novel, it also has suggestions for what we can do about it. I found the references to game theory and “The Prisoner’s Dilemma” interesting, but Frank, the character who brought them up spent 3/4ths of the story a flat, boring character who was only interested in analyzing life rather than living it. Luckily, Frank was not the only character.

Charlie, the work-at-home dad who was the environmental adviser for a member of Congress, was by-far, my favorite character. His discussions with his toddler son Joe were humorous and he had very strong beliefs that he was happy to expound upon. His wife, Anna, works at the NSF and is just a little less flat than her co-worker Frank. Then there’s Leo back in California, who seemed to be introduced mostly as a foil to all the rain in Washington, D.C.

But we don’t read SciFi for characterizations either. The science is interesting and inventive, the moral is not too heavy-handed, and the destruction is ultimately quite satisfying. This book is not Robinson’s best, but it’s a fun read with some interesting twists and turns throughout. If you find yourself feeling preached at, that’s probably a common feeling, but Robinson didn’t let the preaching get in the way of showcasing how science and government collide.

For Us, The Living : A Comedy of Customs

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For Us, The Living : A Comedy of CustomsFor Us, the Living by Robert A. Heinlein

Heinlein is one of my favorite authors. He has been for years. I would read and re-read his books no matter where I was and always found something to love, whether it was Pixel the cat or the doors that dialate or Friday killing a man in the first paragraph of her book.

So, when I saw For Us, the Living available years after his death, I knew I had to buy it. Perhaps Virginia Heinlein had found an old manuscript or maybe this was an unpublished work from his early years. Whatever, I had to have it.

If you are a true Heinlein fan, you will recognize many of the subjects that he would cover later in his books and stories like “The Roads Must Roll”, Time Enough for Love, and The Cat Who Walks Through Walls and so on. What’s interesting to me is that this book was written before any of them, and before his “juveniles” and other stories. He wasn’t making up the ideas he had about money and society, in fact his ideas and discussion about economy and socialism are based on Social Credit, an economic theory.

It’s clear why this book was banned from being published, as it’s very rough. In many spots, Heinlein sounds more like he’s preaching than he sounds like he’s telling a story. But even with that it becomes clear that he’s got a lot to tell in this story. And the fact that many of his later stories seem to come from this book is not surprising, as there’s a lot here.

If you’re a Heinlein fan, you should read this book.

Broken Angels

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Broken Angels Broken Angels by Richard Morgan

After I finished Altered Carbon I wanted to read every book I could find by Richard Morgan. While Broken Angels is not the gripping story that Altered Carbon was, it was still interesting and enjoyable, and true Science Fiction, which there seems to be a lack of in US bookstores these days.

This is the continuing story of Takeshi Kovacs, a mercenary who can change bodies, or sleeves, when his current sleeve is too damaged. His mind and memories are stored in a computer to be re-downloaded. But this story is less about that, than it is about corporations and how they manipulate people.

Kovacs joins a group of archaeologists who have possibly found the ultimate prize that will make any government all-powerful or any corporation who can control it as rich as they wanted to be. But power corrupts, as they say, and ultimate power… But that would be giving things away.

This is a surprising book. I thought I had the whole book figured out and then right near the end Morgan changes the rules one final time. It was fun and interesting. But if you’re looking for the clarity and diamond-hardness that Altered Carbon brought, then you should look again. This is not a book so much about science as it is about how people use those discoveries, for good or ill.

But it’s set in a war-zone and Kovacs is a mercenary, so expect action and excitement throughout the book. I read it in about 2 days and then turned around and read it again as there is so much to miss the first time through.