Category Archives: Science Fiction and Fantasy

Hopeful Science Fiction: Machine of Loving Grace

Click on the tag “hope” at this bottom of this post to read about all of my suggestions for hopeful science fiction. If you have recommendations for future instalments of this series, I’d sure like to hear them. Leave a comment below or send me message about it on Twitter.

Last winter I discovered the Better Worlds series, a science fiction anthology of short stories and films about hope that was published at The Verge two years ago. This is the tenth story from this anthology I’ve covered here, and I will eventually blog about all of them.

Machine of Loving Grace

Content warning: sexual harassment, cyber bullying, and sexism. I will be discussing these things in my review.

A close-up photo of a circuit board. Katherine Cross’ Machine of Loving Grace showed what happened when an AI designed to moderate video games took on a life of its own.

The content warning for this short story might make some potential readers pause. These are some pretty heavy topics, and they’re things that women, non-binary people, and members of the LGBT+ community can often be inundated with online.

With that being said, I encourage everyone who has the emotional bandwidth for it to dive into this tale. Ami, the AI mentioned earlier, was created to permanently end this abusive behaviour in video games. Imagine being able to play any video game you wish without ever needing to worry about other players mistreating you in these ways!

That idea was so remarkable that I had to find out how Ami’s reaction to these interactions evolved over time. She was programmed to be highly empathetic, so reading abusive chat logs was as disturbing for her as it would be for you or I to read them.

The cool thing about the world building in general was how realistic it felt. While we don’t yet live in a world where AI is capable of moderating video games so precisely, this sure seemed like something that we could all live to see happen. The explanations of how she was created and why Phoebe, the programmer in charge of her, was so surprised by Ami’s actions were well done.

So, too, were the reactions of the higher-ups at Rhombus, the company that employed Phoebe, when they realized how Ami was reacting to a problem that has been around since the Internet was in its infancy.

There are so many things I want to say about later plot twists in relation to the differences between how they reacted to online harassment and what Ami thought should be done about it. This truly is something that all of you should experience for yourselves, especially if you’ve ever been in a situation where someone told you to be patient or to not overreact to something that you knew was wrong and never should have been permitted.

Sometimes hope thrives in places you might be least likely to expect it, and that’s beautiful.

A Review of Dollar Tales from the Morbid Museum: Creatures

Dollar Tales from the Morbid Museum- Creatures by James Pack book cover. Image on cover is of two lights shining in a dark forest. Are they eyes or headlights? Title: Dollar Tales from the Morbid Museum: Creatures

Author: James Pack

Publisher: Self-Published

Publication Date: April 23, 2019

Genres: Science Fiction, Horror, Paranormal, Mystery, Contemporary

Length: 49 pages

Source: I received a free copy from the author.

Rating: 4 Stars

Blurb:

Welcome to the Creatures Exhibit. Visitors to the Morbid Museum seek the dark and twisted corners of the world. They are both terrified and intrigued by the unknown. Tales of killers, monsters, and madmen are curated by the Master of Death, Mr. Siris Grim. Mr. Grim collects the darkness that everyone attempts to hide and displays it within the corridors of his gruesome gallery. Who will be next to purchase a ticket and walk the halls of the Morbid Museum?

Review:

Horror fans, I have something special for you today!

As I mentioned in my review of An Imperfect Crime, Mr. Pack excels at taking perfectly ordinary characters and throwing them into situations they never could have anticipated. I love that plot device and was excited to see what he came up with this time.

There were a few tags I left off of this post for spoiler reasons. None of them were things that are commonly known to be sensitive topics, but I’ll happily discuss them privately with anyone who wants to verify if this is the right book for them. There were four stories in this collection, so I’ll give each one it’s own chance to shine in this review.

“The Harpy of Miller Road” began with a 911 call about a naked woman down the middle of a road. The fascinating thing about this emergency was how the 911 operator reacted to it. There’s so much more I want to say about this tale. It really captured the author’s writing strengths beautifully, especially when it comes to expecting his audience to do some of their own legwork to put all of the pieces together.

A man named Peter was questioned by the police after accidentally killing a stranger in “Disengagement.” I’m not normally the sort of reader who sympathizes with murderers, so it came as a bit of a pleasant shock to me to see how much I liked him and hoped the detective in charge of this case would somehow exonerate him. Did the facts seem to be turning against him quickly? Yes! Did that matter? No, not at all. Finding out what really happened and if Peter was as innocent as I hoped he would be made it impossible to stop reading this.

There’s honestly not much I can say about “The Hearing” without giving away the plot twists in it. Obviously, it’s about a hearing that will decide someone’s fate. David, the man in the centre of it all, was one of the friendliest folks you could imagine. The discrepancy between what he was accused of doing and how he behaved reminded me of “Disengagement.” There were so many similarities between the two that I did wish they could have been split into separate collections to keep readers from comparing them, especially since they were right next to each other in the page count. They’re both good stories. I just found it a little tricky to think about them without comparing them.

I’ll admit to being confused by “The Fall of the Foot” at first. There were a ton of characters running around in it and I didn’t immediately catch the cultural reference that was embedded in those scenes because it wasn’t something I knew much about growing up. That quickly changed once I caught up and realized just how cool it was to see these characters in a whole new light. Oh, how I wish I could tell you all who they were. Let’s just say that you’ll probably recognize them much faster than I did and that their adventures were well worth checking out.

If you enjoy this collection, I definitely recommend checking out the rest of the Dollar Tales.  Everything that I’ve read so far from this universe works perfectly well as standalone stories, but they’re even better when understood as a group.

Hopeful Science Fiction: Move the World

Click on the tag “hope” at this bottom of this post to read about all of my suggestions for hopeful science fiction. If you have recommendations for future instalments of this series, I’d sure like to hear them. Leave a comment below or send me message about it on Twitter.

Last winter I discovered the Better Worlds series, a science fiction anthology of short stories and films about hope that was published at The Verge two years ago. This is the ninth story from this anthology I’ve covered here, and I will eventually blog about all of them.

Move the World

A room filled with levers In “Move the World” by Carla Speed McNeil, Margery must decide whether to take the risk of using her once-in-a-lifetime chance to pull a lever and reset the world. Whether pulling that lever will make things better or worse is unknown.

The world Margery currently lived in was cold and harsh. Everyone who survived in it had to make difficult decisions to ensure there was enough food and warmth for all. This included sticking to the rigid roles everyone was assigned from young ages.

I do wish these roles were described in greater detail. Individuals were called various parts of speech like Nouns, Verbs, and Adjectives. Small groups of people were called Clauses or, sometimes, Sentences. I was fascinated by this social structure and wish the meaning of every designation was clearer.

This wasn’t the only possible life for Margery and the other folks in her world. I can’t describe the rest of them or how the audience learns about them without wandering deeply into spoiler territory, but I was fascinated by the many different among them. Each one was unique and made me want to keep reading.

There were so many things about Margery we never learned. I couldn’t begin to describe her age, race, nationality, sexual orientation, or backstory, although I wish they had been included whenever this information might have changed. What I can say is that her personality remained the same no matter what was going on around her.

She was always an intelligent and persistent person who believed that there was something better out there than what everyone was currently experiencing. The fascinating thing was that there was no evidence that supported this belief.

Perhaps she was wrong. Maybe pulling the lever would only make things worse for everybody.

And yet she continued to feel the irresistible compulsion to pull it. She was sure there was a better place out there somewhere.

Our world has seen a lot of suffering this year. I can’t help but to emulate Margery’s approach to situations that feel like they will either never end or will only get worse over time.

None of us know what the future holds, but that doesn’t mean we should ever give up hope that it will be better than our current circumstances.

Extraterrestrial Discovery: A Review of Life

Ryan Reynolds, Rebecca Ferguson, and Jake Gyllenhaal in film poster for Life. All three actors are dressed in space suits. Content warning: blood and death of an animal. I will make one brief reference to the former and will not discuss the latter at all in this post.

Life is a 2017 American science fiction horror film about a six-member crew of the International Space Station that discovers the first evidence of extraterrestrial life on Mars.

Unlike Europa Report, this film makes very few assumptions about what its audience already knows about NASA, space flight, or what life might be like on other planets. This isn’t a criticism, but I’d classify it as something closer to the horror or thriller genres than hard science fiction.

Characters

Jake Gyllenhaal as Dr. David Jordan.
Jake Gyllenhaal as Dr. David Jordan

 

Dr. David Jordan was from the USA and was the ISS medical officer.

He was so focused on his job that it sometimes negatively affected his physical and mental health. While his bedside manner was impeccable, I think I’d want him to have a nap and a hot meal before he treated me for anything more serious than a sprained ankle.

 

Rebecca Ferguson as Dr. Miranda North
Rebecca Ferguson as Dr. Miranda North

 

Dr. Miranda North was from the UK and was the CDC quarantine officer.

She was the sort of person who would double-check even the most mundane of tasks after completing them. This was sometimes a source of mild annoyance to her coworkers, but it’s exactly the sort of behaviour I’d want to see if I were working with an alien life form!

Ryan Reynolds as Rory Adams
Ryan Reynolds as Rory Adams

Rory Adams was from the USA and was the ISS engineer.

He was the jokester of this mission. His teasing was good-natured but could sometimes push the envelope a little bit too far because of how impulsive he could be.

Hiroyuki Sanada as Sho Murakami
Hiroyuki Sanada as Sho Murakami

 

Sho Murakami was from Japan and was the ISS systems engineer.

He was a warm, kind man who truly cared about his fellow crew members. Out of everyone on the space station, he seemed to be the person who was most strongly connected to his loved ones back on Earth.

 

Ariyon Bakare as Dr. Hugh Derry
Ariyon Bakare as Dr. Hugh Derry

 

Dr. Hugh Derry was from the UK and was the ISS exobiologist.

He was a trusting man who assumed the best in himself and everyone around him. One of my favourite moments in this tale happened when he shared a story from his childhood that I can’t repeat here without giving away spoilers. It was fascinating.

Olga Dihovichnaya as Ekaterina Golovkina
Olga Dihovichnaya as Ekaterina Golovkina

 

Ekaterina was from Russia and was the ISS Mission Commander.

She was professional and shared almost nothing about her personal life or backstory during the course of this film. One notable thing I can say about her is that she took her crew’s safety quite seriously.

My Review

Raise your hand if you love imagining what life on other planets might be like!

I don’t know about all of you, but I never grow tired of picturing what we’ll see on our screens if NASA ever calls a press conference to announce that they’ve found life on Mars, Europa, or some other place in the galaxy.

So of course I had to watch and review Life when I found out about it. While the discovery in this story isn’t of a little green man, it’s still something pretty spectacular. The trailer at the bottom of this post will give you a glimpse of it. For the sake of avoiding spoilers, I won’t go into much more detail about it other than to say that just because a creature is small doesn’t mean it’s harmless.

Ryan Reynolds and Jake Gyllenhaal in Life (2017)One of the things that I would have liked to seen done differently with this film had to do with how physically dark it was. While the plot was thematically dark, too, that’s not what I’m talking about here.  I would have loved to see more lighting in the scenes, especially in the beginning. I ended up needing to turn off the lights in my house in order to properly see what was happening in the opening scenes as the characters introduced us to their work environment and gave us the first glimpse of the little alien.

Speaking of the plot, the horror themes were strong in it even though the main storyline was definitely science fiction. The scenes involving blood were brief and only happened occasionally, but this is still something I’d only recommend to people who like horror in general because of how much it affected the way the plot unfolded.

I was pleased with how much thought the screenwriters put into how the International Space Station would realistically react to the discovery of life that isn’t from Earth. While this would obviously be an incredibly exciting discovery, it could also be possibly dangerous. We have no way of knowing ahead of time how such creatures would react to us, if they pose a threat to our health, or if we might pose a threat to their health as well.

So it was nice to see the astronauts take this discovery seriously. They talked extensively about the precautions they took to avoid unnecessary exposure to this alien until they knew more about what it was and how its body worked.

As someone who has seen countless horror and science fiction films, I was able to figure out the twists in it pretty early on. It would have been nice to have more surprises thrown in along the way, especially when it came to how the astronauts reacted once things began to go horribly wrong for them. Their reactions were pretty predictable once the pacing sped up.

With that being said, this was still something worth watching. I liked all of the characters and thought their camaraderie was written into the script nicely. They obviously didn’t have much time to do non-work activities, especially once they made their big discovery, but I did come away from this story with a sense of satisfaction. I got to know them just well enough to genuinely care about what happened to them, and that’s always important in this sort of tale.

If you love horror, outer space, or thrillers, this film might be right up your alley!

Life is available on Netflix.

4 Things That Make Science Fiction and Fantasy Shows Worth Rewatching

A white bowl filled with popcorn and sitting on a wooden table Raise your hand if you love rewatching your old favourite sci-fi and fantasy shows!

Over the last few months, I’ve slowly become more reticent about watching new films and TV shows in these genres.

I’m sure many of them are going to be amazing once I return to chipping away at my humongous to-watch queue, but for now I’m much more interested in rewatching stories I’ve seen dozens of time before.

Keep scrolling for spoiler-free references to some of my favourite

Familiar Plot Twists

Okay, so don’t laugh at me, but I get pretty attached to certain characters. I cheer when they reach their goals and cry when sad things happen to them.

Empathy is a gift, but there are also times when I’d rather not ride the emotional rollercoaster of are these characters going to be okay?

Sarah Michelle Gellar as Buffy Summers in Buffy the Vampire Slayer. She's holding a glowing orb. Yes, most of them will be fine by the time the credits roll. But thanks to earlier experiences with Joss Whedon and the unpredictable things he likes to do with the lives of beloved characters, I don’t fully trust any director or screenwriter when my favourites are involved.

The beautiful thing about rewatching something you’ve seen many times before is that there are no big surprises around the corner. You might forget a funny line here or a minor plot twist there if it’s been a while, but for the most part you roll the opening credits  knowing full well what’s to come.

There’s something soothing about that, especially when other things in life might not be so predictable.

Predictions That Do (or Don’t) Come True

Michael J. Fox in Back to the Future Part IISpeaking of predictions, the science fiction genre in particular is filled with them.

I’m the sort of viewer who takes note of what fellow storytellers in this genre think will happen in the near future and then likes to check again five or ten or twenty years later to see what they might have gotten right.

Fashion trends of future decades have never been accurate in my experience. (Here’s looking at you, 2015 scenes in Back to the Future Part II!)

But some films do predict the future more accurately. Rediscovering those scenes is like finding buried treasure.

Jokes That Never Get Old

If you ask me, the best films and TV shows are the ones that still make you laugh the third or thirtieth time you see them. Case in point: The Princess Bride. This fairy tale was framed as something a grandfather was reading to his sick grandson.

A few minutes into Princess Buttercup’s adventures, the kid interrupted to ask if it was a kissing book.

Boy from The Princess Bride saying, "Is this a kissing book?"

As someone who avoided kissing books as a kid and rarely reads them as an adult, I laugh every time I hear this line. It’s classic.

New Details in the Story

Alakina Mann in The OthersAnyone who has followed this blog for a long time may remember my love of the paranormal film The Others.

(Someday I need to write a full-length review of it for this site! It’s a modern-day classic).

The first time I watched this film, I missed the major plot twist in it until the last possible moment.

It was only after rewatching it that I picked up on the clues about what was really going on with the main character and her two young children who were living in a remote house during the World War II era while waiting to hear news about her husband who was on the front lines of the war.

This was always a good story, but it became even better once I knew what on Earth was going on with this strange, reclusive family. Every time I rewatch it, I pick up on even more subtle foreshadowing or small moments of character development I hadn’t noticed in the past.

Respond

What are your favourite science fiction, fantasy, or other speculative fiction shows to rewatch?

Hopeful Science Fiction: Skin City

Click on the tag “hope” at this bottom of this post to read about all of my suggestions for hopeful science fiction. If you have recommendations for future instalments of this series, I’d sure like to hear them. Leave a comment below or send me message about it on Twitter. Earlier this year I discovered… Read More

Hopeful Science Fiction: A Sun Will Always Sing

Click on the tag “hope” at this bottom of this post to read about all of my suggestions for hopeful science fiction. If you have recommendations for future instalments of this series, I’d sure like to hear them. Leave a comment below or send me message about it on Twitter. Earlier this year I discovered… Read More

Happily Ever After: A Review of A Tale of Two Princes

Title: A Tale of Two Princes Author: Victoria Pearson Publisher: Self-Published Publication Date: January 1, 2014 Genres: Fantasy, Romance, Contemporary Length: 36 pages Source: I received a free copy from the author. Rating: 3.5 Stars Blurb: Sleeping Beauty meets The Frog Prince in this short but perfectly formed modern fairytale re-telling. Doctor Prinze is happy… Read More

Hopeful Science Fiction: The Burn

Click on the tag “hope” at this bottom of this post to read about all of my suggestions for hopeful science fiction. If you have recommendations for future instalments of this series, I’d sure like to hear them. Leave a comment below or send me message about it on Twitter. Earlier this year, I discovered… Read More

Creative Star Trek Parodies to Watch for Expanded SFF Month

Earlier this year I learned that May is Expanded Science Fiction and Fantasy Month. This challenge is a simple one. Pick any science fiction or fantasy universe and read or watch stories that were set in it but that were not part of the original canon. To give one example, you could read Star Trek… Read More