Y’all have no idea how hard it was for me to narrow this reply down to only one topic.
I desperately wanted to write at least six different posts in response to this prompt because there are so many specific things I love reading about.
But I will follow the rules and only gush about one of them!
Aliens are something that always make my ears perk up when I see references to them in blurbs or excerpts, especially if they’re written as something other than an antagonist.
1. They make the universe seem friendlier. Since life evolved on Earth, it makes sense that it would develop on other planets and moons, too!
2. They stretch our imaginations. Sentient, humanoid aliens are interesting, but I’m even more interested in the ones that don’t feel familiar at all.This summer I’ll be reviewing a film called Life here about this precise topic.
3. They are thought provoking. How would people really react to new life on Mars, Europa, or some other faraway place?
4. They make learning from history mandatory. To tie into #3, I think we’d need to do a lot of soul-searching as a species when it came to how we’ve treated people from other countries and continents if we were to have any hope of not repeating the many mistakes of the past.
5. They say more about us than they do real aliens. Too often, alien stories assume that beings from other planets would be violent and cruel. I see no reason to believe that assumption is correct.
Content warning: Found footage and mental illness. I will be discussing these things later on in this post.
Europa Report is a 2013 science fiction film about an international group of astronauts who are sent on an expedition to Jupiter’s fourth largest moon, Europa, to see if they can find any evidence of life there.
This story expects its audience to already know the basics of how space exploration works and what astronauts would realistically hope to accomplish on a mission like this one.
While the plot definitely does meander into places that are beyond the scope of our current understanding of other parts of our solar system, I classified it as hard science fiction and would suggest spending some time reading about real-life spaceflights and NASA’s tentative plans to explore Europa before watching this film to anyone who doesn’t already have a basic understanding of these things already for reasons I’ll explain in my review below. (Both of those links are nonfiction and 100% spoiler-free).
I should note that this was shot as found footage, so there is shaky camera work in a few places. This is a technique that has made me a little nauseated when it happened in other films. While it didn’t bother me in this one, I still thought it would be best to make note of it for anyone who has a more sensitive stomach.
Captain Wu was the level-headed leader of this crew who was excited to see Europa regardless of what they discovered there.
Rosa was the pilot and archivist. A risk taker at times, she signed up for this mission because she wanted to go “faster and farther than anyone else before.”
Andrei was the chief engineer. He was highly skilled at his job but found the living accommodations on the Europa One to be less than ideal, especially once he began to deal with his emotional reaction to something difficult that happened earlier on in the mission. My fan theory was that he was a deeply introverted man who struggled to find enough peace and quiet in such tight living quarters even before that experience occurred.
Katya was the science officer. Her background was in marine biology and oceanography, but she was ironically scared of flying when she signed up for this mission. She was adventurous and yearned to fulfill the crew’s mission and discover life on Europa.
James was the engineer. He’d left behind a wife and young son to go on this mission and often spoke of how much he missed them.
Daniel was the chief science officer. His friendship with James provided a few lighthearted moments in an otherwise serious tale.
Don’t let the introduction to this post deter you from giving this film a try if you’re unfamiliar with the topics it covers. While it does expect the audience to come with some prior knowledge of spacecrafts and space travel, the storyline was well written and fascinating.
“The Europa One Mission was the first attempt to send men and women into deep space. For over six months the world watched every moment.”
All of the characters had spent years gaining the education and experience necessary to be eligible for this sort of history-making mission. Since this was a plot-driven story, there wasn’t a great deal of time spent exploring their backstories. I did learn enough about them to become emotionally attached, though.
As mentioned in the content warning and character description, there is a subplot about Andrei’s struggles with his mental health. All of the astronauts had been taught about the dangers that this mission could pose to their mental health, from the effects of Zero G to the natural consequences of living in relative isolation for so long. I appreciated the way the filmmakers handled this topic.
While I can’t discuss the incident that contributed to this character developing a mental illness without giving away spoilers, it was handled sensitively. There was nothing salacious about it, and it fit into the storyline perfectly. Honestly, I could very well have had the same response if I’d been in his shoes. This is something I’d be happy to discuss in more detail privately with anyone who asks for it.
The camaraderie between the six astronauts was well documented and provided a nice contrast to all of the scenes that went into detail about the various scientific studies they were conducting and the many things they needed to do to keep their ship in good shape.
Some of the most exciting scenes were obviously the ones that showed what happened after the astronauts arrived on Europa.
They had a long list of samples they wanted to take from the ice and sea beneath the ice.
What would they find there? How would the readings of this moon taken from Earth compare to what it was actually like?
I had so many questions about this part of their journey, so I was thrilled to see what happened after they arrived and began analyzing everything. Yes, there were certain acronyms and references mentioned during this portion that weren’t explained to the audience. Some of them could be figured out from context clues. Others might require searching online for viewers who aren’t already familiar with this stuff.
Honestly, I think doing a little of research is well worth figuring out exactly what characters are talking about when they’re testing a sample of water or discussing how to fix a damaged portion of their vessel. While that may make this film a little less accessible to the average viewer than it would otherwise be, I thought writing it that way was the right choice. Actual astronauts wouldn’t pause to explain every technical term they used, after all!
To share one final note, the plot was shared out of chronological order in certain scenes. Everything you need to know is included if you pay attention, and the reasons for filming it this way will become clear if you stick with it.
This was something I had a wonderful time watching. I highly recommend it to anyone who is willing to put a little effort into piecing everything together.
Today’s post was inspired by yesterday’s breaking news about a lake of salty, liquid water being found on Mars. This is exciting news for the scientific community and humanity in general. We may now be a little closer to discovering life on another planet.
As a sci-fi writer, I can only hope this leads to that outcome and paves the way for humans to live there someday. Maybe we’ll even be lucky enough to both find life on another planet and figure out how humans could live there longterm, too.
Stranger in a Strange Land by Robert A. Heinlein
The first time I read the premise of this book, I wondered how the main character, Valentine Michael Smith, managed to survive on Mars for his entire childhood when there weren’t any adult humans around to take care of him. Where did he find air? What did he eat and drink? Where did he get his clothing? Who looked after him when he was sick or too little to take care of himself? How did he know how to speak English?
Without giving away spoilers for these questions, I loved slowly figuring out what Valentine’s childhood had been like and why he was bewildered and even horrified by a long list of what I would think of as quite ordinary Earth customs.
While there are topics that Heinlein and I strongly disagree on,* I will always appreciate the way this book explored what it meant to be human and how life on Mars could be radically different from anything people have experienced on Earth.
*See also: the ways he treats and describes many of his female characters.
The War of the Worlds by H.G. Wells
This is a little embarrassing to admit, but the concept of The War of the Worlds scared me the first time I heard of it. The thought of aliens coming to Earth in order to harm people was something I’d never considered before. Before that point, I’d always assumed that any alien species that found Earth would be friendly with us. (Yes, I was pretty young and naive when I first stumbled across this book!)
I’ve since come to interpret The War of the Worlds as a reflection of humanity’s fears more than anything else. Just because we have a long history of harming those we can’t or won’t understand in no way means that sentient aliens would have the same reaction to us.
Or at least I hope they wouldn’t…..
Red Mars by Kim Stanley Robinson
Let’s assume that there are no forms of life blissfully swimming their microscopic lives away in a salty Martian sea. A “dead” world might be the perfect setting for terraforming a planet to better suite the needs of humanity.
One of the things I loved about this trilogy was how long it followed the same storyline. Generations passed as Mars was slowly transformed into an Earth-like planet. Nobody who was alive in the first scene knew how everything ended by the final scene of Blue Mars. Writing it this way gave the author many opportunities to explore what happens when the original intentions of a scientist or explorer are reinterpreted by new generations as fashions change and people’s ideas of how best to manage a resource as large as a planet shifted.
I’ve often wished humans could live long enough to see how their ideas still influenced people several generations later. The world might be a better place if everyone took such a longterm approach to the things they advocated for (or against).
The Martian by Andy Weir
Yes, I know I’ve bloggedabout this tale before. As much as I try to avoid talking about the same science fiction and fantasy books over and over again here, there are times when simply have to circle back and repeat myself.
One of the things I loved the most about The Martian was how hard the author worked to make the events of the plot scientifically plausible. While there were a few discrepancies between it and how such a mission would really play out in real life, much of it was pretty close to what any astronaut would go through if he or she really were to be accidentally abandoned on Mars.
I could see something close to these events happening if humans decided to try to live on Mars only to suffer massive setbacks early on. Hopefully, any future residents of the Red Planet would be just as resourceful as Mark was in this adventure.
What are your favourite sci-fi stories about what it would be like to either live on Mars or discover that another species already lives there?