Category Archives: Science Fiction

SUNDAY PHOTO FICTION – September 3rd, 2017- A WRONG TURN

The Sunday Photo Fiction challenge for September 3rd, 2017— two hundred words based on this image–

210-09-september-3rd-2017

Copyright 2017 Douglas A. Daniel

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“Let me see the map.”

“Darling, I told you, we should have turned left, not right.  We’re supposed to be on Dover Five, not Dover Six.”

“Oh, crap, how did we manage that?”

“Well, I told you we should have brought the Sherman.  You go to the trouble of installing a GPS system and then you don’t use it….”

“And what did I say?  We needed better mileage for this trip, and the Sherman just burns gas like there’s no tomorrow.”

“Sweetie, you’re supposed to be a mechanical genius, can’t you do something about that?”

“Oh, yeah, in my ample spare time, sure.  Could you lay off me, please?”

“I’m not making any judgments, I’m just saying…..”

“Okay, never mind, let’s just get turned around….”

“KRAKEN!”

“I see it!  Get in the gunner’s seat!”

“Traversing!”

“It’s a big one!”

“On target!”

“Loading…you’re up!”

“Firing!”

“You got it, honey!  Look at it go!”

“I would too, with everybody in the harbour shooting at me.”

“It’s gone.”

“Thank God.”

“I love you, honey.”

“I love you, dear.”

“Okay, let’s get turned around.  With luck the ferry will be delayed pending the all-clear.”

“….we still should have brought the Sherman….”

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Sunday Photo Fiction – August 6th 2017- Shortcut

The Sunday Photo Fiction challenge for August 6th 2017— two hundred words based on this image–

12-j-hardy-carroll-06-august-2017
© J Hardy Carroll

Copyright 2017 Douglas A. Daniel

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“It’s temporary,” the cop said, standing in front of the sign.  “A technical difficulty in the lab.  Please cross to the other side of the street.”

“Damn it,” Underwood said.  “The office is just over there.”

“Still, we’d better listen,” Hancock said.  “Situations like this, cops don’t mess around….”

“It’s just some construction hold up,” Underwood said.  “The lab’s not even finished, and they have a technical problem?”

“Come on,” Hancock said.

He started across the street.  Underwood turned as if to follow, then dashed behind the cop and up the sidewalk.

“Jim!” Hancock said.

“Hey, you!” yelled the cop.

Underwood grinned over his shoulder, and walked on.  He’d be in the office before slow-coach Hancock got to the door.

Midway up the block he reached the lab’s delivery entrance.  Without thinking he glanced to his left.

Over the building shimmered a silver disk of light.  Underwood stared; it was as if he could glimpse a different sky through it.

The cop yelled again from behind him.  The disk of light pulsed; brilliance surrounded him.

He had time to take in a shocked breath of warm, moist air before he caught sight of the Tyrannosaurus Rex bearing down on him.

Sunday Photo Fiction – July 30th 2017- Talking Heads

A response to the Sunday Photo Fiction challenge for July 30th 2017– two hundred words based on this image–

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© A Mixed Bag 2009

Copyright 2017 Douglas Daniel

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“It is poorly preserved,” Dr. Angg said.  “The slackness of the jaw, the orange tinge of the skin— you’d think even a hundred years ago the curators could have done better.”

I said nothing.  Angg was the Imperium’s leading expert in xenobiology and off-world artifacts.  We had found the alien head in among old displays in the museum’s archive.  There were many relics of humanity’s early, freebooting days in interstellar space in the vaults.  There were alien weapons, and strange religious artifacts, and more than a few trophies of the vicious wars of that era.  Angg and I had already examined a collection of Te’measkini scalps, gathered by the members of the Fifth Punitive Expedition.  It was gruesome stuff, and offensive to modern sensibilities.  Inclusion of multitudinous species was now Imperial policy, and we had been charged with cleaning out the collection.

“How do you think it died?” I asked Angg.

“Probably a victim of the Rilhalan War,” Angg said.  “The species looks correct.  Huge beings, they were—doubtless the head was taken as a trophy, and the body left to rot.”

“A lot you know, buddy,” the head said, as it sprouted spidery legs and scuttled off.

Sunday Photo Fiction – March 12th 2017- The Suit

The Sunday Photo Fiction challenge for March 12th 2017— 200 words inspired by this image–

spacesuit
© A Mixed Bag 2012

Copyright 2017 Douglas Daniel

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“It’s all old junk,” Clark said.  “The museum stores it here.”

I saw shapes in the darkness— a LEM mockup, dead animatronic dinosaurs, empty helium cylinders, a spacesuit.

“They have to keep the exhibits fresh,” Clark said.  “Kids like flash and bang.  Their parents want to see something new, or they won’t spring for a membership.”

“That’s a real spacesuit,” I said.

Clark looked.  “Yeah– we got a couple of those surplus.  Time for lunch.”

“Can I stay for a second?” I asked.

“Okay– just don’t mess with anything.”

He left.  I stepped closer to the suit.  Now or never.

The suit was on a standing rack.  I unzipped the main closure.  I wriggled my feet and butt inside, then angled my head into the helmet.  I slipped my arms into the sleeves.  I closed the zipper.

The inside of the suit smelled like a locker-room in need of disinfectant.  No matter.

I waited.  For a moment I thought I had miscalculated.

My stomach lurched.  I floated in blackness. I spun; stars and then Saturn came into view.  I looked down on the rings from about nine hundred thousand kilometers.

“Agent Fifteen-Q-zed,” I called.  “Ready for retrieval.”

A few nitpicky thoughts about the new Star Trek

As anyone with any interest in Star Trek knows by now, a new series, Star Trek: Discovery, is in the works.  The premiere date has slipped, but it is supposed to debut sometime this year.  The premise is supposed to revolve around “an incident and an event in Star Trek history that’s been talked about but never been explored”.

Hmm.  Personally, I’m all mixed-up about this.  I basically think television is a barren wasteland without a Star Trek series being broadcast somewhere (I pretty much think the same thing about TV with regard to Firefly,   which should give you a clue about what I think of TV in general).  My first instinct is to welcome the new series with open arms.

The scars of my past viewing history hold me back, though.  Full disclosure: I am one of those Trek heretics who thinks that, the original series aside, the televised Star Trek universe reached its peak toward the end of Next Generation and through Deep Space Nine.  Next Gen actually got more dramatically effective in the later seasons, and Deep Space Nine was narratively vigorous straight through, although not all episodes were equal.  However, the last two Trek series, Star Trek: Voyager and Star Trek: Enterprise, were mere shadows of the series that had gone before, sometimes feeling as if they were just going through the motions, other times as if they were recycling ideas and themes from previous series that were already well-worn, and often not very well written.  For my money, Enterprise, especially, suffered from dwindling narrative power.  Voyager, for its part, was often just plain silly, on a Lost in Space level.

In the end, Star Trek became a safe, predictable series of morality tales with pat outcomes.  Critics said that the franchise was out of gas.  Personally I agreed with them.

However, the universe has now lain fallow on television for eleven years.  In that time, TV has evolved.  We are in the era of Mad Men, Breaking Bad, The Walking Dead, and Game of Thrones.  It is also the age of pretty damn good CGI that can do pretty much anything you need it to do.  Watching episodes of the previous Trek series nowadays, however good they may be in general, is an exercise in realizing what could have been.

So I have a few hopes for the new series.  I will be very interested in seeing if the show-runners have the guts to bring the franchise into the modern world.  In no particular order, here are my wishes, both the small and the great–

  1. Lose the stupid facial makeup that’s supposed denote different alien species.   It got positively silly toward the end of Voyager and Enterprise.  It’s a relic of the days when guys in rubber suits stomped around smashing model cities.  With CGI, we can have whatever alien species we want, without being tied to a humanoid form.  Spend a little money and show some creativity.
  2. For God’s sake, please don’t afflict us with another buxom female crew-member in a skin-tight uniform.  Aside from obvious titillation for fan-boys, there just no reason.
  3. Please, please, please, refrain from holodeck adventures.  These seemed to be a particular plague on Next Gen.  I tended to turn the TV off when they aired.
  4. I beg of you, hold off the sort of episode that I personally call a ‘mind-fuck’, where the story turns out to be a dream from an alien probe, or some rogue nanite, or some ancient artifact, blah, blah, blah.  Like number 3 above, I think that this kind of episode represents creative failure and/or laziness on the part of the writers.
  5. Ditto the sort of episode where the characters go through some radical event, usually ending up in an unpleasant future where things are grim and getting worse, but then find a way, by some sort of time-manipulation-bugaloo, to reset things back to normal in the past.  A prime example of this kind of thing is “Twilight”, episode 8 of Enterprise’s third season.  For me there’s an adjective that describes that sort of episode, basically employing the metaphor of the effluvium of a barnyard fowl.
  6. Please, somebody give some thought to how space battles would actually be fought with the weapons of the Trek universe.  Deep Space Nine, in particular, had totally unbelievable battles, with massed starships meleeing at what in real-life would be point-blank range.  With weapons that can reach across tens of thousands of kilometers, having ships going mano-a-mano is ridiculous and devastating to the suspension of disbelief.
  7. A little actual science-fiction would be nice.  Too often Trek episodes have been more about clever techno-puzzles or quasi-profound ruminations on the Prime Directive or just straight-up adventuring.  In my opinion, we could use a few more episodes, like “Captive Pursuit” from the first season of Deep Space Nine, or, for that matter, “The Devil in the Dark” from the original series.
  8. Above all, invest the new series with some real dramatic meat.  I don’t necessarily need Star Trek: Discovery to be Game of Thrones in space (The Expanse may have that covered), but playing it safe with characters and story-lines is what helped bury the franchise eleven years ago.  I want to see a series with fully developed characters and complex relationships, set in stories that are not mere morality tales.  A return to the narrative style of the later series will personally leave me in a very, very grumpy mood.  Here’s hoping for better stories.

Later.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Rogue One– A review

Let’s get this out of the way first–

***SPOILERS***SPOILERS***SPOILERS***SPOILERS***

So, I held off seeing Rogue One for two whole weeks for several reasons– I hate opening night crowds, I’ve spent the last two weeks helping support a family member who’s been in the hospital, and because, being the spoiler-whore I am, I knew it ended on what might possibly be a real downer, and I knew that I didn’t need any extra downers in my life at the moment.

At least regarding the last item I needn’t have worried.  Rogue One does end with all the good guys, including leads Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones) and Cassian Andor (Diego Luna), dying in a terminal shootout/holocaust with the Empire on the planet Scarif, but it’s the sort of massacre that appeals to me, where the heroes have won although they give their lives in the attempt.  In this instance, they have secured the plans to the Death Star of Episode IV- A New Hope and transmitted them to the rebels, which means that the end of Rogue One is meant to segue directly into the opening of Episode IV, with perhaps the lapse of only a few minutes story time.

The film, in my quite biased opinion, does most everything pretty well.  It has a darker, grittier tone than most of the other Star Wars films; the Empire has the galaxy by the throat and is about to permanently tighten its grip.  The rebel Alliance is on the run, fractured and riven by divisions and conflicting counsels.  You’re not entirely sure who the good guys are; Forest Whitaker’s Saw Gerrera is the paranoid leader of a splinter group too radical for the other rebels, and some Alliance members are willing do things in the name of the Rebellion that are morally dodgy, at best; Cassian, for example, summarily kills an informant in the first moments of the film to keep him out of Imperial hands.

The story bounces from world to world, shifting between Rebel and Imperial viewpoints, as the rebels get wind of the Death Star and desperately try to find clues as to its weaknesses.  Rook, defecting, delivers a message from Jyn’s father, Galen Erso, an engineer the Empire has forced to work on the Death Star, who has built a vulnerability into its structure.  In the end, Jyn and Cassian lead a desperate group of volunteers to the planet Scarif, where the plans for the Death Star are kept.  There ensues one hellacious ground and space battle, as the Rebel fleet joins in and Jyn, Cassian and the droid K2SO try to get the plans.  In the end, the plans are secured and transmitted to the rebels just before the Death Star nukes the Empire’s own base in a vain attempt to keep the information safe.

All the flim’s performances are good, but it’s some of the supporting characters who are the best.  Jyn and Cassian are not quite as engaging or sympathetic as we might want; on the other hand, you find yourself rooting pretty hard for the blind Force monk Chirrut Îmwe (Donny Yen) and his buddy Baze Malbus (Wen Jiang); the defecting Imperial pilot Bodhi Rook (Riz Ahmed) is someone we watch become a hero in his own right as he overcomes his fear.  The reprogrammed Imperial droid K-2SO, voiced by Alan Tudyk, is fun, light-years away from the obsequious C3PO, and has his own hero moment toward the end of the film.

All-in-all, the film captures the desperate struggle of the rebels against the overwhelming power of the Empire.  ‘Rag-tag’ is pretty apt for these guys, who only agree on a united course of action when it is forced on them.  The battles are solid action pieces, and the power of the Death Star, even when only employed on low power against individual targets on planet surfaces, is jaw-dropping.

There are problems.  The connection the end of the film makes with the beginning of A New Hope is less than perfect in terms of continuity.  In Episode IV  when Leia confronts Vader for the first time she pretends that her ship is on a diplomatic mission; Rogue One’s ending makes that pretense unsustainable (or even nonsensical), as her ship is shown detaching from the crippled rebel flagship and fleeing, as Vader watches.  Episode IV’s screen-crawl states the rebels have won their first victory against the Empire; if the battle over Scarif is a rebel victory it sure looks Pyrrhic;  all of the ground forces were lost, and what looked to be a good portion of the space fleet– not a good way to start a civil war.

And then there are the CGI images for the Grand Moff Tarkin and Princess Leia.  Personally I think I was able to suspend my disbelief enough that they didn’t throw me, but they were odd, particularly Leia’s; for the brief moment we see her face, she kinda looks like an anime Kewpie Doll.  It’s strange how the images turned out, especially as a lot of effort was expended to get them right, particularly Tarkin’s (Peter Cushing).

On the whole, though, the film works, and works well.  This may be the best Star Wars film since The Empire Strikes Back.  Certainly it leaves the prequels and The Force Awakens in the dust.  This is the first of a projected set of “anthology” films about different characters and situations in the extended cinematic Star Wars universe that are not part of the main trilogies.  As this expansion proceeds, we are liable to get both good and bad films .  Rogue One, thankfully, starts the anthology off right.

 

 

Carrie Fisher, 1956 – 2016

leia-armed
© Lucasfilm Ltd.

This just sucks.

I’m with Anna….

John Scalzi said it best.

She and I were not far apart in age, and I am feeling my mortality now.  The great thing about Carrie, though, was how much she accomplished while she was here.  We should all do half as much.

RIP, Carrie.

Two films looming huge on my horizon, I mean, HUGE!….

Oh, boy, oh, boy, oh, boy—

I mean, holy frack, just this little peek left me alternately giggling and gibbering with delight.  If all else fails, I have at least one reason to live until May next year.

On a completely different note–

This movie wasn’t even on my radar until I spotted its trailer on IMDB.  Oh, my God, what a grim looking tale, perhaps worse, on a personal scale,than the imagined alternate future in Days of Future Past.  Here’s the premise from Wikipedia

Set in 2024, Logan and Professor Charles Xavier must cope with the loss of the X-Men at the hands of a corporation led by Nathaniel Essex. With Logan’s healing abilities slowly fading and Xavier’s Alzheimer’s hampering his memory, Logan must defeat Essex with the help of a young girl named Laura Kinney, a female clone of Wolverine.

There could be some weeping involved here.  Just saying.  Oh, and whoever put this trailer to Johnny Cash’s Hurt— genius.

According to the Wikipedia article this should be Hugh Jackman’s last outing as Wolverine, not surprising as he’s been playing the character for about fifteen years.  Not sure anybody can take over after Jackman, but then I said the same thing about the Joker after Heath Ledger, and then Jared Leto came along.

All the same, it looks as if Marvel/Disney is ringing down the curtain on this incarnation of the X-Men, and Wolverine.  An era is passing.  I have no idea what comes after this, particularly as there are so many different alternate versions of the team in the comics, and, of course, Disney has shown it is not bound by previously established canon with the new Star Wars movies.  However, at the very least, they have my attention.

 

Five awesome movie scenes

My personal taste in film runs largely, although not exclusively, to the epic and the heroic, with largely dollops of the tragic and the sort of romance in which true loves die happy because they’re together. After I see films like Les Miserables they generally have to carry me out on a stretcher (it’s not just the film, of course– the stage production does the same thing to me, and I’ve seen it live three times. My daughter finds it soo embarrassing that her father has to bring a full box of kleenex with him to the theater).

Individual movie scenes that kill me with epicness have certain common attributes– a desperate struggle against long odds, someone you want to see succeed (or at least survive) and the ticking clock of looming disaster. Usually for maximum effect you need some really effective music. For extra points, throw in children in jeopardy.

Here’s five scenes from five very different films I find really riveting. NOTE: inevitably each of these scenes involve spoilers. Be warned.

1. From the 2009 J.J. Abrams reboot of Star Trek, the opening scene in which James Kirk’s father sacrifices himself to save his wife and soon-to-be-born son–

This is a wonderfully effective scene, scoring high because it’s basically a father defending his family and sacrificing himself to save them.  Does me in every time.

2. From Captain America: The First Avenger, here is the climactic scene where Cap (Chris Evans) has to intentionally crash the Hydra flying wing into the Arctic ice-cap to save New York City, while talking on the radio with his true love, Peggy Carter (Hayley Atwell).

Cap must not only sacrifice his own life in this scene, but also his chance for happiness with Peggy, which brings a poignancy to the interchange between them, and which has continued to resonant through the subsequent Captain America and Avenger films.

3. From the 1993 film Gettysburg, Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain’s downhill bayonet charge at Little Round Top, which by itself just might have saved the Union–

Whether Chamberlain actually saved the Union is a matter of debate, but he knew his position was vital (the utter left flank of the Union Army), and he and his men held the position with incredible courage and endurance.

4. From the 1964 film Zulu, the famous ‘Men of Harlech’ scene–

Unfortunately, unlike Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain’s charge at Little Round Top, this scene never happened, at least as far the singing is concerned.  But the film captures the spirit of the true story of a tiny force who held off an overwhelming enemy through grit and good tactics.

5. From Return of the Jedi— a fan edit/compilation of the climactic confrontation between Luke and Darth Vader, with the Emperor egging them on. Most particularly, watch the section from 3:17 to 3:53 and listen to the soundtrack .  Those thirty-six seconds have more tragic drama in them than many movies have in their entire running time.

The interesting aspect of this scene is that Luke is trying to save not only Anakin Skywalker from the dark side, but also his sister, and, ultimately, himself– and, in the end, he does it by not fighting.  A nice twist on the classic climactic confrontation between the hero and the villain.

Each of these scenes contain attributes I hope my own writing at least occasionally captures.  I like stories and films in which something genuine is at stake, and the protagonists have to give of themselves to protect or rescue it.  In one way or another, I’m not sure why you would make a movie that did not have this sort of tension at its core, but they get made (e.g., in my biased opinion, American Hustle).  But I try not to dwell on such creations– there are plenty of films out there that spark my imagination and touch my heart.  I focus on them.

Later.

 

Sunday Photo Fiction – March 27th 2016– A Vessel for Dreams

A flash fiction for the March 27th Sunday Photo Fiction challenge—  200 words based on this image–

149-03-march-27th-2016

More than usual, this is clearly an excerpt from a larger story.  On the positive side, it’s a concept for a larger story that sprang into existence the moment I saw this picture, so the challenge is certainly helping my creativity.

Copyright 2016 Douglas Daniel

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I came around the corner and stopped.  I stared. “It’s a bus.”

“Yeah, isn’t it great?” Steven said.  “I got it cheap.”

“It’s a bus.”

“Don’t fixate on externalities, John,” Steven said.  He threw an arm around my shoulder.  “Think of this as the vessel into which we can pour our dreams.”

I removed his arm.  “You’re crazier than I thought.”

“No, just willing to see the possibilities,” Steven said.  “We can do this.  I’ve got the concept, you’re the nuts and bolts man, Cecelia is getting our fuel….”

“If she doesn’t get arrested,” I muttered.

“You are so negative,” Steven said.  “Look at it this way– we need to be inconspicuous, or we’ll get shut down.”

“Inconspicuous?  How the hell is a red, double-decker bus inconspicuous?!”

“They won’t be expecting it.”

I stopped.  “Okay, you got me there.  But will it be strong enough?”

“Yeah, with our gear in it!” Steven said.  “With our equipment we can take this baby anywhere.”

“That’s what I’m afraid of,” I said, but I sighed.  “All right.  I volunteered for this insanity, so I guess I can’t complain.”

“Great!” Steven said.  “You won’t regret this, John– building the world’s first starship is worth it.”