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Monthly Archives: July 2007

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Five Science Fiction TV Shows Whose Time Was Cut Short

We all have our favorite TV shows which we love, the shows we grew up with, the shows we quote endlessly and the shows we collect on DVD. But there are the other shows, promising Science Fiction television series that might have been but were rapidly cut short just as they were getting started. This is dedicated to them.

1. Earth 2

Long before there was Lost, there was Earth 2, a series that shared much in common with Lost, a journey that ended in a crash landing in a mysterious place, individualistic survivors struggling to get along and a hidden agenda among their ranks and a conspiracy that is behind their presence here and is tied to the secret of the mysterious planet. Unlike Lost however, Earth 2’s explicitly Science Fiction elements never resonated with audiences and its pairing with SeaQuest did not bring it the viewers that Earth 2 needed to survive. Despite the vigorous fan campaign which TV Guide noted at the time, Earth 2 was cancelled.

Five Prematurely Cancelled Science Fiction TV Shows

Warren Ellis ‘ Orbiter – An Enthusiastic Review

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Orbiter is probably the graphic novel people least expected from Warren Ellis, the creator of such series as Transmetropolitan or Global Frequency. It is the kind of story that Hard Science Fiction writers regularly make the effort to write about but with none of the casual grace that Warren Ellis’s words and Colleen Doran’s art brings to Orbiter. It is the kind of story that Hollywood regularly makes into movies and usually misses the mark. Take one part Steven Spielberg mix with some Greg Bear and stir with some Larry Niven, Robert Forward and Ben Bova and you essentially have Orbiter, a story about the beauty and wonder of space and the danger of losing it and the loss of leaving it behind.

Dedicated to the astronauts who perished in the Columbia disaster, Orbiter is an articulate and passionate call for manned space exploration haunted by the fear that the Columbia disaster would allow those who support theoretical robotic manned exploration to triumph over manned human exploration with a view to expanding beyond earth.

Orbiter begins with Venture, a shuttle “lost in space” ten years ago, returning home in a fiery catastrophe. With the loss of the Venture, manned space travel had been abandoned and exploration is being carried out purely by robotic probes. The Kennedy Space Center is an encampment filled with Katrina style displaced families and white trash living on its grounds and landing pads. (As can be seen in a panel from the comic book at the bottom of the page.) It’s a scene that implies a larger story in the framework of the issue, so do the grimmer touches such as military personnel empowered to execute anyone breaching security on the spot, but it only forms the background. The story itself arrives with Venture coming out of the sky on a plume of smoke and flame to an unbelieving crowd which has not seen a space shuttle fly in ten years.

What follows then is bloody and horrific and somewhat clashes with the more optimistic and hopeful ton of the second half of Orbiter as everyone in the vicinity dies, some crushed underneath the massive space shuttle and others in the heat of the reentry. To the debris, rescue and recovery teams arrive, sorting out the dead and security the returned shuttle. At this point a military operation throws together a crack team of researchers, some ex-NASA personnel, including Anna, the psychologist in charge of debriefing astronauts on their return from earth and a young genius obsessed with creating engines, to investigate what happened to the Venture.

Like most mysteries Orbiter works by concealing crucial information from the reader by hiding it in a particular place while uncovering lots of clues to begin to unravel the mystery. The hiding place is the mind of the Venture’s commander, John Cost, the only one of the seven man crew who has returned to earth, deemed clinically insane. A video of his first appearance shows him tackling two soldiers who have entered the Venture and attempting to bite them and gouge out their eyes.

But while Anna tries to reach John Cost, the Venture itself turns up large numbers of clues and mysteries, from Martian dust in the wheel frame to the covering of organic skin that covers the metal skin of the space shuttle, to the organic technology of the interior, John Cost’s condition which suggests that he had never even been to space along with the whole mystery of where the Venture had been these past ten years.

The resulting journey is part technology, part speculation and part wonder. The gory aftermath of the Venture’s return and Cost’s attack on the soldiers is left behind, unaccounted for, as the team quickly falls into speculating in awe filled amazement at the answers and mysteries within the reformed space shuttle as team members speculate about an advanced alien technology being responsible for the shuttle’s transformation.

Though the actual technological premises of the reworked Venture are farfetched, Warren Ellis does a good job of balancing them out by focusing more on the crew’s enthusiasm and Colleen Doran’s art lays out panel after panel of the team exploring and investigating the Venture, a prospect that sounds tedious in the abstract but in practice compels with the same fascination that watching the preparations of a rocket launch does, because it possesses that distant sense of wonder at knowing that what we see here is the beginning of something wonderful. As scenes of John Cost’s recollections and the team’s investigations of the Venture’s mysteries are contrasted with grand shots of the Venture’s journey among the planets and stars, to Mars and beyond, Orbiter captures that gleam of starlight which is at the heart of our love for Science Fiction and space exploration.

Warren Ellis never really reconciles the gruesome opening of Orbiter with its most hopeful second half. Nor is there any real explanation for why John Cost’s response to the soldiers was so psychotic, when he appears to be moderately functional and his journey was actually one of amazement and wonder, rather than some scarring and terrible extra-dimensional trip of horror. So the story that begins with a tinge of Event Horizon winds up becoming Carl Sagan’s Contact. But in the end that doesn’t matter.

Orbiter is carried along by the passion of writer and artist for the subject matter that projects easily from the pages. The story is more than a series of pages and panels, it is a paean, a love poem to space exploration and to space travel, to starry skies and the men and machines who dare and struggle to hurl themselves up out of this world and into worlds beyond. One of the more extraordinary things about Orbiter is just how weightless it feels, how lightly the story is told and how easily it is rendered. The look and feel of the Orbiter cover suggests something heavy is about to unfold and while what happens has global and even cosmic repercussions, the story drifts along easily, always headed to its final destination with pinpoint accuracy and while it is not by any stretch of the imagination a new story, it is an easily told and wonderful display of love for the cosmic journey of exploration.

If you have ever looked up at the stars at night and wondered about the planets that whirl around them, the frozen balls of rock and gases circling them in the night, the lifeforms that might dwell on them, whistle through their skies and creep through their forests and deserts and swim through their oceans, Orbiter is for you. If you have ever treasured an Apollo patch, built models of spaceships, fictional and non in your basement, or proudly worn a NASA patch on your jacket, Orbiter is also for you. If you have wondered what happened to the proud tradition of space exploration that has been increasingly sidelined by experiments and probes, Orbiter is also for you.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer the Latest Craze

Turning a TV show into a comic is a matter of tricky choices, what model do you follow first of all? Star Trek ran into that headfirst with its comic book adaptations that made the effort at mimicking Star Trek episodes and were invariably dreary. A lot of the Buffy the Vampire Slayer comics would not have even qualified as episodes, by contrast Buffy the Vampire Slayer The Latest Craze is fairly close to an actual Buffy episode somewhere around Season 2. Unlike most Season 2 episodes there are no true moments of peril or twists but it matches an entirely plausible Buffy episode otherwise and anyone not too familiar with Buffy the Vampire Slayer episodes might be forgiven if on hearing the description they decided that they were hearing about an actual Buffy episode they had just happened to have missed.

One of the reasons The Latest Craze is such a plausible episode is that it’s such a close imitation of Bad Eggs mixed with doses of the Ethan Rayne episodes like Band Candy. It is no surprise than that The Latest Craze features a return by Ethan Rayne himself who is running a new sort of shop in Sunnydale. Like Bad Eggs, The Latest Craze begins with Sunnydale’s kids becoming fixated on living objects that have an unhealthy hold on them. In this case The Latest Craze features a neo-Beanie Babies spawn, namely, Hooligans, little demonic figures dressed in a variety of outfits who have become instantly collectible items with Ethan Rayne cashing in by charging high prices for premium models according to social status and then having the hooligans steal valuable property from their owners.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer The Latest Craze

Japan and America Refighting WW2 Again?

No Godzilla hasn’t visited Japan anytime soon but with Prime Minister Abe’s party getting kicked around royally in the elections, in part because his former Defense Minister had suggested that the atomic bombing of Japan was inevitable and with his Democratic liberal opposition demanding that Japan demand that the US apologize for the atom bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki while the US Congress just passed a resolution calling on Tokyo to apologize for the Korean Comfort Women, WW2 is once again in the headlines and history has the whip hand.

The reality is that most of it is absurd. First of all what Japan did in WW2 was outrageous but the US Congress has no place or business demanding that Japan apologize for it to South Korea. Congress is free to pass resolutions demanding that Japan apologize for Pearl Harbor or for eating US Marines alive in at least one siege… as pointless a gesture as that would be… but is there any sane reason for Congress to get involved in South Korean vs. Japanese bickering? Especially since Japan is actually a solid ally these days, in part because of its terror of North Korean nuclear missiles, while South Korea treats us as the enemy.

Finally those very same women forced into brothels stayed on in those brothels mostly when US troops came to Japan and went on servicing them. Mostly the women had little choice and US Servicemen had little understanding of what was going on or even the ability to tell Korean from Japanese, but it does complicate the situation in a way that Congress has failed to acknowledge and knocks away some of the moral triumphalism from the resolution.

As for Japan’s demands of the US. Japan has never accepted that it was the perpetrator of an unjust war, not only against the US but against its Asian neighbors first and foremost, of which Pearl Harbor was only a consequence of US efforts to stifle Japanese imperialism. Japan has insisted on using the atom bombs to play the victim and nothing can deflect Japan from that. But that is not our problem or our concern. The US should apologize for Hiroshima and Nagasaki when Japan is prepared to make a full reckoning of its actions and that’s not likely to happen.

Sony and Rockstar Games, a Marriage Made in Desperation

There’s no smell like the stench of industry desperation. Call it Eau De’Frantike

Rockstar Games, the premium content development division of game publisher Take Two Interactive Software, Inc., will soon load Sony’s PlayStation 3 gaming console with new gaming titles, as per the news on the official US PlayStation blog on Friday.

In the blog, Michael Shorrock, director of third party relations at Sony Computer Entertainment America (SCEA), wrote that Rockstar Games, best known as the makers of ‘Grand Theft Auto’ series of urban crime games, is creating a new franchise exclusively for the PS3. However, he didn’t mention the name of the titles.

You have to wonder who is more desperate here. Sony which has slashed prices on the PS3 and is scrambling for a way to survive when it’s coming in third in the console gaming marketplace or Rockstar Games which has seen investigations, seen Manhunt 2 quashed completely and its games in free fall since the GTA San Andreas Hot Coffee debacle when Rockstar Games had been riding so high it seemed like they could do no wrong. Oh no doubt GTA4 will be a huge tremendous hit for Rockstar Games but here’s the desperate part, since when can Rockstar Games create successful franchises outside of Grand Theft Auto?

Because at the end of the day Manhunt is as close to anything resembling a successful franchise as Rockstar Games has ever come and even it is a pretty far cry from it, especially considering that the second game is DOA. Rockstar Games has basically been riding the GTA games in all their varied forms for a while now. There’s there’s five games with a number of add ons and PSP exclusives, which is probably where Sony got this idea. The problem is that bringing in people with really one hit under the belt… even if it is a massive hit… to save you is not smart.

Max Payne was a great game but when Rockstar got its hands on Max Payne they killed it. The Warriors was a non-starter. Bully died out of the gate. Rockstar does not have a great track record and this truly is a gaming industry marriage made in utter desperation on both the part of Rockstar Games and Sony. Two sinking ships passing each other in the night.

First Look at the Johnny Deep Sweeney Todd Poster

Admittedly I had and still have my reservations about Johnny Depp as Sweeney Todd. For one thing it reminded me too much of the disastrous modern relaunch of Sweeney Todd which was all wrong. I suspected that Tim Burton would prefer the original take but even so Johnny Depp’s ability to actually take on a more mature role, when let’s face it, like most teen idols from the 80’s on, he still halfway looks 16, was debatable. At the end of the day Johnny Depp does his best to compensate for his appearance by adopting increasingly eccentric performances. He should never have been able to pull off a pirate Captain but he managed it in Pirates of the Caribbean by turning in a performance so outlandishly bizarre that you were mainly paying attention to his exaggerated tics and mannerisms, which produced a kind of shadow puppet which you could almost forget was inhabited by a man.

The irony is that Johnny Depp’s career really began with 21 Jump Street with the premise that he was a babyfaced cop whom the suspects wouldn’t take seriously resulting in injuries and assaults and forcing him to be transferred to a special task force that sent young looking cops to infiltrate high schools and such. Now in his 40’s Johnny Depp still doesn’t quite pass for more serious adult parts. That’s why his take on Charlie and the Chocolate Factory brought up memories of Michael Jackson. The combination of a youthful face that’s almost plastic combined with lots of makeup.

But I do have to say that the poster for Sweeney Todd is fairly convincing. Now the whole thing may be simply artwork but if the movie actually looked like that, it would be very cool. And Johnny Depp looks broad, sunken, an aged and weary man hearing the echoing voices of his own demons pinging back and forth through his own skull. It’s interesting and full of potential.

New Sulu Star Trek Episode Coming

Well the line between professional and fan based efforts to do Star Trek blurs a little further with the new episode starring George Takei as Sulu. Of course New Voyages has already done an episode with Walter Koenig as Chekhov. This appears to be an episode set at the end of the Star Trek TOS movies timeline based on the photo. It also claims to boast professional makeup personnel, storyboarding and special effects. But those have never been New Voyages’ biggest problems. Anyone can forgive poor effects and even direction in favor of good acting, something Star Trek New Voyages has never been within light years of, or even adequate acting. And based on a cast that’s still drawn from the usual New Voyages types, aside from George Takei himself and apparently an actual Broadway actress and Grace Lee Whitney, we’re still going to be stuck with the usual bunch of awkward amateurs woodenly looking ahead and trying to deliver their lines while sounding like a high school production.

Still despite those basic deficits, you have to admire New Voyages for how much they have managed to accomplish. I mean granted second bananas on TV shows often want a chance to shine and that’s been a bug in George Takei’s shorts for some time, even pushing for Star Trek novels that featured his character, but between Marc Scott Zicree it still seems to blend a whole bunch of professional and amateur talent that lets everyone play fan while upgrading the production quality.

Of course the question is who’s paying for it. If the production quality is decent enough and the acting isn’t too embarrassing, this is the sort of thing that Paramount might conceivably pay for at some point, if only to hawk as DVD’s. But it’s far from a sure thing.

The Simple Life Finally Goes Away

It took the imprisonment of both of its stars but the Simple Life which had migrated from FOX, Home of the Worst Concepts in Reality TV to E! Home of Anything Remotely Celebrity Related is now done at last. It was a long grueling process that began when Paris Hilton was showed down our throats thanks to the conveniently timed release of her sex tape to the ridiculous Simple Life whose premise involved two obnoxious celebrity wannabes wandering around and making asses of themselves in small town America.

Now who knew that you could imprison reality TV stars to make a Reality TV series go away. Granted we jailed Richard Hatch but too late to stop Survivor. Then again Survivor self-destructed on its own. But not before dragging a large chunk of our attention span down with it. The Apprentice seems to be nearly done too. Maybe somebody can finally send Donald Trump to jail and put an end to that misery, the way jailing Martha Stewart helped kill the Apprentice spinoff. Reality TV has taken a battering and a lot of its stars have gone to prison. Frankly we would be far better off imprisoning the whole bloody lot of them and throwing away the key.

And maybe once we have moved on beyond jailing Reality TV stars, we can move on to jailing the casts of Yes Dear, According to Jim and pretty much every ABC and CBS sitcom involving fat loutish husbands with attractive wives and Charlie Sheen. Oh wait Charlie Sheen is probably in jail all over again.

Senator Ted Stevens Corrupt? No Way!

In the “It Couldn’t Happen to a Nicer Guy” department, the FBI and the IRS is searching Senator Ted Stevens’ home. Yes that Senator Ted Stevens, 230 million dollar Bridge to Nowhere Senator Ted Stevens. According to news reports,

The Justice Department has been looking into the seven-term senator’s relationship with a wealthy contractor as part of a public corruption investigation.

Yeah I’m shocked. The Senator who threatened to freeze the budget if he didn’t get a quarter of a billion dumped on his Bridge to Nowhere having a dirty relationship with a wealthy contractor. That’s like John Gotti having mob ties. Granted I never thought the day would actually come and the media is of course only gloating about it because Ted Stevens happens to be a Republican. Had he been a Democrat at this point he could be kickboxing babies and you still couldn’t get the media to notice. But we’ll take what we can get.

Senator Ted Stevens has thoroughly embarrassed himself and the people of Alaska with the Bridge to Nowhere, the whole Tubes argument over Network Neutrality. He’s been a longtime friend of pork in a barrel and he’s made himself very rich doing it. Now it’s past time for Senator Stevens to resign and leave with some dignity, because the longer he stays, the better odds are that his drama queen days will lead him to leaving in handcuffs.

Bye Bye Ted.

Matriarch by Karen Traviss

The problem with a series is that they tend to have beginnings and endings. When a series is well enough written that is a dilemma for readers as with the recent conclusion of the Harry Potter novels with Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows but otherwise they are often a concern for the writer who wants to keep the story going and defer a final conclusion for as long as possible but is not sure how to do it except to further drag things out. While Karen Traviss’ Matriarch does not suffer from this nearly as much as the following novel in the series, Ally, it has the decided feel of a worn sofa that has been padded out a bit too much.

Karen Traviss is best known for her Star Wars Expanded Universe merchandising novels but the Wess’har novels best reflect her concerns in what might be called the genre of Environmentalist Science Fiction. And like the previous Wess’har novels, Matriarch is heavily concerned with ecology and planetary environments as the center of everything. This is a far cry from the usual sort of Science Fiction novels where planets are terraformed and humans expanded throughout the stars. This is more the sort of novels that walk a step beyond even Ursula LeGuin to regard humans as basically brutish and uncivilized and a menace to the stars. That leads to some rather awkward science and an awkward future because ultimately Karen Traviss is far more interested in commenting on the present day than the future.

As a result despite being set centuries in the future, Matriarch still features a humanity with many of the same political structures of the present day, a Western and European hegemony, contrasted with a Muslim Australia and a Native American Canada (current demographics would indicate the situation is more likely to be reversed) and humanity may be able to travel between the stars but has only a temporary base on Mars. The humanity in the Wess’har mirrors Karen Traviss’ disgust with the species which barely has a right to exist compared to cockroaches for their environmental depredations. Even the BBC appears to still exist (and a future for humanity in which the BBC still exists centuries from now while we can’t even manage to settle Mars is truly a fate worse than death) and things are much like the way they are now, except everyone is taking environmental issues seriously, more seriously than now anyway.

Ideology and politics aside, Matriarch could still make for an interesting novel but Karen Traviss insists on filtering most events through characters who have little or nothing to do with them or are capable of altering them. Thus we have endless scenes of Eddie endlessly watching the Eqbas Vorhi dealing out destruction to the Isenji with no real reaction and with dulled emotion. None of the characters in the Matriarch much cares about the use of explosive and potentially even biological weapons on a planetary population by the Eqbas Vorhi raising the question of why we should or why we should care about any characters as apathetic as that?

Much of Matriarch is dedicated to Shan Franklin, not doing much of anything but romancing Ade while stewing in her fury at everyone. Shan Franklin is probably one of the more obnoxious characters I have ever had the misfortune to endure in a novel. Unfortunately she is the main character of the Wess’har novels. More unfortunately in Matriarch, Karen Traviss thinks it’s enough for her to just show up and agonize over her endless reams of self-pity and hatred for the rest of the universe that she doesn’t feel a mild tolerance for. It isn’t. Her romance with Ade is fantastically soporific. While a world over, a civil war is being waged, Karen Traviss repeatedly cuts to the romance, ironically the same set of priorities Eddie stews over when BBChan overlooks his Isenji war broadcasts for local stories.

The only genuinely interesting part of Matriarch comes from Lindsay and Mohan Rayat, the perpetrators of the bombing on Bezer’ej, infected with the c’naatat virus, adapted by it to life undersea and helping the Bezer’eji rebuild their home by locating their maps and records. Here and only here does Karen Traviss fulfill the potential of Matriarch, examining the paradoxes of morality and learning to interact with an alien race while balancing questions of moral responsibility. Though the author’s viewpoint on them seems little better than that of Shan Franklin, the reality is they are the only interesting characters in Matriarch because they are actually interacting and learning and becoming something different.

That is nothing something that can be said about Eddie who wanders apathetically through interstellar events and Shan Franklin who broods and stews. Shan Franklin, is essentially a bully’s fantasy, the sort of self-righteous character capable of doing anything which writers create to beat up all the other characters morally inferior to them, which proves that a female writer is equally capable of generating such a bully’s fantasy as a male one. Yet in Matriarch, Lindsay and Mohan Rayat emerge as the characters worth reading about. As Lindsay finally becomes the Matriarch, the final matriarch of the several matriarchs in the novel, Matriarch, she represents the only plot twist in the novel. But in her case it is a title she only has the right to because as flawed as her decisions may be, she does what she does out of a genuine concern for others. By contrast Shan Franklin is a Matriarch simply through force of personality with a generalized loathing for the rest of the universe. The Matriarch of the Eqbas Vorhi is simply doing a duty she wants to end as quickly as possible and has no concern for the lives she takes in the process, including those of the people she is supposed to be helping. Ironically it is Lindsay who emerges as the only character who cares about people rather than mere ideology and environmental principles.

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