Category Archives: Science Fiction and Fantasy

Safe and Sound: A Review of I Am Mother

Film poster for I Am Mother. Image on poster shows a robot holding a baby. In the background are the faces of the main characters. Content warning: death of a pet and blood. I will not be discussing these things in my review.

I Am Mother is a 2019 Australian science fiction thriller about a human girl who was raised by a robot that was designed to repopulate the Earth after some sort of extinction event.

The characters in this tale don’t have conventional names like you or I do. Instead, the human child is called Daughter and the robot who raised her is called Mother.

While Daughter is well cared for, her isolation not only from other people but from anything outside of their isolation bunker is absolute.

Mother insists it isn’t safe out there, and her word is law.

Characters

Clara Rugaard as Daughter
Clara Rugaard as Daughter

Daughter was an intelligent and thoughtful young woman. She’d previously been obedient of Mother’s wishes, but her curiosity about what life was like outside of the UNU-HWK_Repopulation Facility and dissatisfation with what her mother told her about it was growing stronger by the way.

 

Luke Hawker as Mother (performance)
Luke Hawker as Mother (performance) Rose Byrne as Mother (voice)

 

Mother the robot who had raised Daughter and who was making preparations for the next human infant she’d take responsibility for. She was strict and protective of her daughter. While Daughter’s health and happiness was important to her, she refused to compromise on any of the rules she’d come up with on how best to raise a human child in a post-apocalyptic environment.

Hilary Swank as Woman
Hilary Swank as Woman

 

Woman was the injured, dying stranger who stumbled upon the bunker one day. She’d lived a life filled with fear and danger. Every move she made was calculated to give her the highest probability of surviving just one more day.

My Review

Just like with Annihilation, my biggest reason for wanting to watch this film had to do with the fact that all of the main characters in it were women. All of the science fiction films I grew up watching were male dominated. Some of them were comprised of nothing but dudes. Others might have as many as one female hero for every three, four, or five male hero.

I’m elated to see this changing, and I’ll continue to highlight science fiction films that change those old norms as I find them.

You may have noticed that the cast for “I Am Mother” is pretty small. No, I didn’t leave anyone out to avoid sharing spoilers. This tale was so tightly woven around the fates of the three main characters that they seemed like the perfect number of players for the plot.

Mother, Daughter, and Woman were three complex individuals whose goals sometimes clashed sharply. Finding a solution to their conflicts that satisfied all three of them would be a herculean task at best because of how differently they all measured success and how much friction existed between what everyone wanted.

No, I can’t go into more details about that without giving you spoilers. It is definitely something that’s worth exploring for yourself, though. I’m the sort of viewer who picks one character – not necessarily the hero, mind you – and spends the entire film hoping she will succeed. In this case, my loyalties shifted from one scene to the next.

Daughter and Mother having a discussion.
Daughter and Mother having a discussion.

One of my strengths as a viewer is that I always want more information about the science in science fiction, so there were a few things about Daughter’s upbringing that I wish had been addressed with a bit more detail. For example, how was Mother planning to keep her immune system strong when the girl had never been exposed to any outside germs? Were there vaccines for every possible virus and bacteria in this world? How did Daughter get sufficient vitamin D when she’d never been outside and ate what appeared to be a somewhat monotonous diet?

These weren’t exactly criticisms, though, because I came to easily accept other parts of her existence that were spaced even further away from our current scientific understanding of human biology and growth patterns. I strongly suspect that wondering about how this stuff actually worked, alongside many other questions this story brings up, is something the filmmakers did on purpose for their audience.

Some questions become more interesting if you’re not spoon-fed answers to them, especially since the mystery elements of the plot were so simple to put together in my experience. There were plenty of clues about what was really happening with Mother and Daughter for anyone who pays attention to what they’re watching and thinks critically about it.

I figured out the mystery pretty early on. What was compelling about it was seeing how Daughter reacted to the clues she also had access to and what happened when she realized that the information she already had wasn’t fitting together the way it should.

Something was missing.

I’ll leave it up to my readers to discover what that something was. What I will say is that this is a film I’d happily watch again. It was simply that well written and thought provoking.

I Am Mother is available on Netflix.

Hopeful Science Fiction: Monsters Come Howling in Their Season

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.

Recently, 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 fourth story from this anthology I’ve covered here, and I will eventually blog about all of them.

There are mild spoilers in this post. 

Monsters Come Howling in Their Season

Like many of the other stories in my Hopeful Science Fiction series, this might not sound like a particularly hopeful place to begin. Keep reading.

The characters in this tale were ordinary, mostly working class people who pooled their resources together for the greater good. I love seeing this perspective in the science fiction genre. There’s something heartwarming about finding out how characters who aren’t wealthy or powerful protect their community from climate change.

Some of the most compelling scenes were the ones that described how the AI was designed to function, especially once it became too complex even for programmers to fully understand. It truly had everyone’s best intentions in mind.

Technology might have caused climate change, but it was also a force for a lot of good in this world. That is such a refreshing change for this genre.

I also appreciated the way the characters’ emotional reactions to hurricane season were portrayed. Violent storms like that are dangerous as Dr. Stevens and her community were far too aware of already. The act of finding hope for people whose lives had been turned upside down by hurricanes that happened before the AI was developed only made these changes in their lives more poignant.

As complete as it story felt in and of itself, I wished it could have been expanded into a full-length novel. There was so much more I wanted to know about the characters and the artificial intelligence they’d created to protect and provide for them during hurricane season.

Maybe someday we’ll get that sequel. In the meantime, this was such a soothing thing to read.

Wholesome Adventures: A Review of Frozen II

Film poster for Frozen II. Image on poster is of Elsa using her powers to create ice against a purple background.Frozen II is the 2019 animated fantasy sequel to Frozen. It is about Elsa and Anna’s attempts to figure out the origin of Elsa’s magical powers and save their kingdom from being destroyed by the elemental spirits of Earth, Fire, Water, and Air.

It isn’t strictly necessary to watch Frozen before checking out Frozen II, but I do highly recommend the first film in this series to anyone who loves the fantasy genre or animated films in general.

In order to avoid spoilers, I will only be discussing characters who were also in Frozen.

Characters

Idina Menzel as Elsa
Idina Menzel as Elsa

Elsa was the Queen of Arendelle and Princess Anna’s elder sister. She possessed magical ice powers whose origins were unknown. While she’d grown quite comfortable with using them, she had a deep longing to understand where they came from and why she had them.

Kristen Bell as Anna
Kristen Bell as Anna

 

Anna was the Princess of Arendelle and Elsa’s younger sister. She was deeply in love with her boyfriend, Kristoff. 

Josh Gad as Olaf
Josh Gad (right) as Olaf

Olaf was a sentient snowman created by Elsa’s magic who was first introduced in Frozen. He was as intelligent and silly as always.

Jonathan Groff as Kristoff
Jonathan Groff (centre top) as Kristoff

Kristoff was an ice harvester and Anna’s boyfriend. He was strong, loyal, and determined to help the people he cared about in any way he could.

Sven was his pet reindeer. He was a good reindeer.

My Review

Prepare yourselves for a story filled with wholesomeness and joy.

I love a good adventure that ramps up quickly in a storyline, so I was glad to see this film move so fast in the beginning. That snappy pacing was exactly what Elsa, Anna, Olaf, Kristoff, and Sven needed before setting off on their journey.

Yes, there was a brief summary of what happened in Frozen for anyone who isn’t familiar with this franchise. It was shared by Olaf and was as hilarious as it was accurate. As mentioned earlier, I think anyone who hasn’t seen the first film would have no trouble getting caught up to speed if they jumped straight into Frozen II. The nice thing about film series written for kids is that they tend to be pretty welcoming of new or distracted viewers, and this one was no exception to that rule.

Every sequel has to live up to the story that began that series. I had high expectations for Frozen II based on how much I loved Frozen. While this was a fun story, I thought it didn’t quite have all of the magic of the first one. Many of the jokes in it were references to things that happened in the first instalment, so they had to be explained for people just tuning into this series. I did find myself wishing the screenwriters had spent more time developing new, original jokes, especially when it came to characters that hadn’t been introduced previously. With that being said, I still enjoyed Frozen II and do recommend it.

Olaf was by far my favourite part of this film. Just like in Frozen, he was a regular source of amusement for both the audience and the other characters. His understanding of how the world works was childlike in certain ways and yet quite mature for a snowman of his age in others. I desperately wanted to include one of his jokes in this review, but I think it’s best if you discover all of them for yourselves.

If you need a lighthearted distraction for viewers of all ages, Frozen II is a good place to start.

Frozen II is available on Netflix and Apple TV. It is no doubt quickly attempting to catch up with Frozen and become available everywhere else in the known universe as well.

Hopeful Science Fiction: A Model Dog

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.

Recently, 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 third story from this anthology I’ve covered here, and I will eventually blog about all of them.

There are mild spoilers in this post. 

A Model Dog

It was written in an unusual and creative way: pure dialogue. That is, the entire story is shared with the audience as we read various conversations between the IT manager and one of their employees.

(The genders of these two characters were never clarified, so I’m making no assumptions about how they identified).

The CEO had a specific vision for how the IT department should handle his request. Not only were they asked to create an android dog, they were supposed to create it to behave just like the living dog who lived with the CEO’s father currently behaved. It was supposed to be such a close replacement that it would be as if the dog would never need to die.

Some of the funniest scenes happened in the beginning when the programmer explained to their boss that they already had 11 action items on their to-do list for that day alone and couldn’t possibly take on another project, much less one as massive as this one. I’ll leave it up to all of you to explore the nuts and bolts of that conversation for yourselves, but it was something I think people from many different professions can relate to.

I loved the plot twists in this tale. While I can’t go into any detail about them without sharing massive spoilers, I can tell you all that they were as logical and internally consistent as they were plain fun to read. Building an android dog that can replace the real thing is incredibly complex. Honestly, this must have been set several decades from present day in order to give this plan or anything that happened after it even half a chance of success.

It was also cool to read about a future for humanity that involved such great improvements in people’s quality of life thanks to technology and science. The task the main characters were given was certainly difficult, but it was by no means impossible. Reading about their attempts to create the perfect android dog only made me more curious to know what else was possible in their world that we can still only dream of. What a joyful place that must be.

If this vision of the future is anything close to what will really happen, sign me up!

Safe Haven: A Review of Everfair

Book cover for Everfair by Nisi Shawl. Image on cover is of a pair of hands holding a globe that's illuminated by gold light and surrounded by flying birds. Title: Everfair

Author: Nisi Shawl

Publisher: Tor Books

Publication Date: 2016

Genres: Fantasy, Alternate History, Steampunk

Length: 384 pages

Source: I borrowed it from the library.

Rating: 3 stars

Blurb:

From noted short story writer Nisi Shawl comes a brilliant alternate-history novel set in the Belgian Congo.

What if the African natives developed steam power ahead of their colonial oppressors? What might have come of Belgium’s disastrous colonization of the Congo if the native populations had learned about steam technology a bit earlier?

Fabian Socialists from Great Britain join forces with African-American missionaries to purchase land from the Belgian Congo’s “owner,” King Leopold II. This land, named Everfair, is set aside as a safe haven, an imaginary Utopia for native populations of the Congo as well as escaped slaves returning from America and other places where African natives were being mistreated.

Shawl’s speculative masterpiece manages to turn one of the worst human rights disasters on record into a marvelous and exciting exploration of the possibilities inherent in a turn of history. Everfair is told from a multiplicity of voices: Africans, Europeans, East Asians, and African Americans in complex relationships with one another, in a compelling range of voices that have historically been silenced. Everfair is not only a beautiful book but an educational and inspiring one that will give the reader new insight into an often ignored period of history.

Review:

Content warning: Racism and sexism. I will not be discussing these things in my review.

Strap in for a wild ride.This book has a bit of everything!

Ms. Shawl did a very good job of explaining the political and historical landscape of the setting. I didn’t know a lot about how Belgium colonization of the Congo went so horribly wrong in our world, so I was grateful for all of the details the author provided about why Belgium made that decision and how they expected to make it work before she imaged how things could have turned out much differently for the Congo if they’d already had steam technology when this conflict boiled over.

The cast of characters was massive. Rather than telling this tale from the perspective of one or even a few different people, there were dozens of narrators and other protagonists to sort out as I read. Given the fact that each chapter was written in a form that was pretty similar to a short story and that previous characters often weren’t revisited until many years after their previous entry, I had lots of trouble keeping up with everyone and the plot at the same time. This felt like something that really should have been separated out into several novels or many more novellas. There was so much going on in the plot that nobody got all of the attention they deserved.

There was a list of characters, their relationships to each other, and approximately when and where they lived included before the story began. I was glad to have this information and would highly recommend taking a look at it before beginning the first chapter. As I mentioned earlier in this review, the cast of characters is humongous. Having a basic idea of everyone’s identity and when they lived is crucial in order to understanding the plot, and this list did help with that even though I still believe the plot would have been better served if it were divided into a series and no more than three or four narrators were included in each instalment.

Anyone who loves alternate history speculative fiction should check this book out.

Righting Wrongs: A Review of See You Yesterday

Content warning: death of a parent, police violence and gun violence. I will be discussing the last two items in this list in my review. See You Yesterday is a 2019 science fiction film about C.J. and Sebastian, two high school students who are best friends, fellow science enthusiasts, and inventors. Their latest invention is… Read More

Hopeful Science Fiction: Online Reunion

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. Recently, I discovered the Better… Read More

Hopeful Science Fiction: A Theory of Flight

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. Recently, I discovered the Better… Read More

Unexpected Love: A Review of The Shape of Water

Content warning: racism, sexism, a few brief scenes involving blood, death of a pet, and sexual harassment. I will only mention the first three items in this list in my review. The Shape of Water is a dark fantasy romance about a lonely janitor who falls in love with an amphibious humanoid creature who is being… Read More