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Interstellar Movie Review – The Best Science Fiction Movie of the Decade

interstellar-nolan

Christopher Nolan’s big movies are overstuffed, wobbling shopping carts full of stuff that are always about to topple over. The Hitchcock and Kubrick shots, the frantic editing, the acting that varies between overwrought and flat, the plots that make less sense the longer they go on, but they’re still incredible to watch.

Interstellar is just that. A barely coherent mashup of 2001 and Contact, it’s a glorious mess that gets worse as it goes  along, that, like most big Nolan movies could have been 40 minutes shorter, and that’s still the best science fiction movie of the decade.

In an age of CG cartoons, Nolan is still trying to make movies and it shows. Spaceships, robots and explosions are in every other movie, but Interstellar is actually based on a science fiction premise, instead of playing with scifi toys.

Interstellar self-consciously references 2001, but also humanizes it. Interstellar may be much looser and messier than anything Kubrick would have tolerated, but it also provides the audience with human stakes in its stories about multi-dimensional evolved humans, black holes and temporal variances.

It’s an optimistic movie about the importance of space travel and human potential. It’s a science fiction movie that is about the strangeness of the universe.

The plot of Interstellar is a train wreck, but Matthew McConaughey drags it along with him in overwrought scene after scene with extra ham on top. He embodies the passion of a messy project. His character and his performance is Interstellar’s rejection of abstract idealism in favor of specific human needs.

Michael Caine’s Professor Brand and Matt Damon’s Mann prove to be unreliable sociopaths whose speeches about the greater good cover for their selfishness. But Cooper’s selfishness is always front and center. He leaves his family behind, not to save the world, but because he loves the idea of flying a ship. And he wants to leave the mission to get back to his family. It’s his human needs that allow a transhuman future to connect to his world.

It’s a subversive message that challenges the authoritarianism of so many science fiction movies.

2001 showed people becoming inhuman. Interstellar humanizes even the robots whose design abandons the humanoid form, but whose personalities pick up human traits. Becoming less human isn’t the path to evolution. Embracing our humanity is. It’s a clunky message, but there have been worse messages in movies.

Interstellar is badly broken and yet its ambition and dysfunction is a breath of fresh air. It has little in common with the usual Marvel or Hasbro toy line movie. Instead it’s a science fiction movie about messed up people making mistakes in a universe with a limited tolerance for human error, but also a universe with amazing possibilities.

And that is what science fiction used to be before it became the background for brand merchandising movies.

2312 by Kim Stanley Robinson Book Review

2312 is a bad book by a bad writer. It’s a pretentious book by a pretentious writer which is why it has a Nebula.

Kim Stanley Robinson can write well about terraforming. That is his whole career. Unfortunately he can’t write 11830394characters that you don’t want to punch in the face or come up with plots that are any better than those of a bad movie and he tries to disguise that with the usual scifi hack’s toolbox of orientalist references and random scientific terms.

2312 is the kind of book that John Varley’s Steel Beach should have killed. Not only did Varley thoroughly cover every new idea that Robinson holds up as if it’s a trophy he won at the fair, but he also showed why these neo-futuristic societies in which everyone sits around using super-technology to play with themselves in every sense of the word are dead. Kim Stanley Robinson didn’t get the memo. Neither did the writers who keep farting out the same crap.

But 2312 is worse than most of the bunch. David Brin’s Existence was deeply flawed, but it had new brilliant ideas in the mix. Kim Stanley Robinson doesn’t have those. 2312 has some great terraforming descriptions and that’s it.

Its plot makes so little sense that it would be unfair to blame it on drugs Its main character Swan is the most obnoxious main character in a novel ever. She’s either whining or throwing tantrums for hundreds of pages. The destruction on Mercury and the qubes aren’t a grand conspiracy, but petty fallout from something completely unrelated. There is no reason for most of the novel and its events to even exist. At one point the characters decide that the problem is income inequality on earth and so they dump a lot of wild animals on it. The wild animals eat some people in villages, but the characters explain that it’s okay and the animals also fixed all the poverty somehow.

You really have a problem when Philip K. Dick novels have plots that make more sense than yours.

To distract you from this, Kim Stanley Robinson inserts “lists” after every chapter to seem literary. But it would be more “literary” for him to construct a new plot instead of engaging in lit gimmicks that are as mediocre as his novel.

There’s not much to write about 2312 because despite its size, there is nothing there. There are some pretty descriptions of sunrise on Mercury. But if you want anything more than terraforming ideas and descriptions of sunrises, you’re out of luck. 2312 takes the kind of society Varley wrote about decades ago, subtracts anything that might be interesting and throws in annoying characters who still somehow lack the personality to be memorable.

2312 is a terrible book. By a terrible writer. I might have mentioned that.

Echo by Jack McDevitt book review

There’s an entire industry built on turning the music you love into easy listening elevator music. Jack McDevitt‘s books are mostly elevator music versions of older Science Fiction novels. They’re easy to read and they carry a soothing mood along with them that feels like riding in a glass elevator while listening to a completely unrecognizable, but somehow recognizable, easy listening piece of music that once belonged to a great composer.

echo jack mcdevitt

Don’t let the cover fool you. This isn’t really space exploration or hard science.

The Alex Benedict novels are the weakest of Jack McDevitt‘s work. Like the rest of his books they’re set in what feels like a future Canada, where most people have the tastes and attitudes of the 1950’s and 1960’s. But the Benedict novels happen to be set tens of thousands of years in the future, which makes the whole thing less credible than the Academy novels.

Like so many Jack McDevitt novels, Echo is about a quest for something deeply meaningful to the human soul with profound blah blah. In this case, as in so many cases, that’s aliens. The problem is that the last Alex Benedict novel, The Devil’s Eye was about a showdown with a powerful race of aliens who eventually help save an endangered planet. But in Echo, everyone acts like Sunset Tuttle, a researcher who spent his life looking for aliens and then left behind a mysterious artifact, is insane for searching for a third alien race, even though there’s already a major alien race that everyone knows about.

But the artifact catches the attention of Alex Benedict and Chase Kolpath who try to hunt down its origin. There are a few attempted assassinations, lots of conversations, a chase scene and eventually a journey to find a mysterious alien world that is more and less and more than it’s supposed to be. If you’ve read these before, then you know what to expect. Jack McDevitt is channeling some classic movies here and the twist is, like the rest of the book, adequate.

Echo is easy listening. It pretends to be about something important, but it’s not. It pretends to make you think, but it doesn’t. All the portentous quotes at the beginning of every chapter, that still sound like Jack McDevitt even though they are meant to be from fictional writers who aren’t him, are just as light as the book.

If you have to take a trip somewhere, Echo is an acceptable companion. It’s junk food dressed up as something classier and more nutritious. But that doesn’t mean it’s bad for you. Just don’t expect anything from the science or the ideas. When you encounter aliens who talk, think and look exactly like us, and are also run by a matriarchy which worships a goddess of reason, along with about pages of ponderings on how first encounters change societies, without ever really showing it happen in the book, except with a place called “Alien Pizza”; don’t be too disappointed.

It’s only easy listening.

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