Tag Archives: sci-fi

Movie Review: Prometheus

When I was younger, I was absolutely obsessed with the Aliens movies. Well, correction: I was obsessed with Alien and Aliens. The other two movies were of such questionable quality that I’d rather pretend that they never happened.

It was one of the first bits of horror I watched growing up and it had a deep and affecting impact on what I consider scary. The alien in these movies is not something to be reasoned with. It’s not evil. It’s just a very well-designed killing machine; incapable of remorse or mercy. It has no back-story, no motivation, no explanation; it does what it does and the protagonist has no recourse but to simply deal with it. It’s shadowy and elusive and brutal.

So when I heard about Prometheus, Ridley Scott’s prequel to Alien, I was concerned. The Alien creature lost a lot of its mystique because of mindless and pointless repetition. The boogeyman is not scary when it’s dragged into the light, kicking and screaming. In the latter sequels, the Alien is put onto the dissection table and pointlessly and needlessly over-analyzed. There was no more fear; it just became a part of pop culture, something that used to scare us.

And now, Scott was once again returning to the well. Except, instead of revisiting the alien and telling that same damn story all over again with a pointless origin story, he showed another aspect to the story. Instead of a direct prequel, he created a story that took place in the same universe and, while it does shed some light on the story in Alien, it is not directly about those later movies.

And in some ways, this is the best kind of prequel. It’s not like the Star Wars prequels, where Lucas shoehorns in pointless contrivances just to work in familiar characters and uses needless and tedious exposition to elaborate on parts of the back story that no-one cares about. Scott attempts to tell a new story that just happens to take place in the Alien universe. By the time it was over, I had re-examined the events in Alien and re-contextualized them, but in a way that didn’t cheapen or lessen the fear or impact of that movie.

Even better, he avoids explaining everything fully. By the time the movie is done, you’re still left wondering and that, I believe, is for the best. For horror, it’s always better if the audience is guessing at the end, at least just a little bit. There should be an element of doubt and curiosity. It is the unknown that people, in general, fear the most. And by leaving questions unanswered at the end of Prometheus, Scott has left a lot unknown. He fleshes out the universe without taking anything away from the fear and the unknown terrors of the original movie.

And so while Prometheus is not a great movie, it is a great prequel. It has its problems and its “the hell?” moments, but it doesn’t detract from its predecessors.

If you’re a fan of the series, check it out.

-D

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Book Review: Chasm City by Alastair Reynolds

It’s been a while since I’ve read any new science fiction, meaning anything written in the last twenty years. Usually I just stick with Neal Stephenson, with occasional flirtations with folks like William Gibson and Orson Scott Card. Most of the time though, I stick with the old timers: Bradbury, Asimov, Heinlein, those guys. They’ve got brand name recognition. Delving into science fiction unguided leads to reading stuff, like Island of Fear.

So Chasm City was an unknown for me; I had no expectations about quality. Luckily it turned out to be extremely well-written.

The science fiction that resonates best with me is the kind that uses these fictional worlds to examine humanity. It’s not the tech or the aliens or the newest pop science ideas crammed rudely into the plot: it’s how the author imagines people responding in these strange new worlds.

For Mr. Reynolds, people act, more or less, as they always have. It doesn’t matter that (for the very rich anyway) immortality is a distinct possibility. It doesn’t matter that near-light speed travel is a real thing or that nanotech is commonplace. People are still people and the technology has little to do with it. His cast of characters would fit into any time period, in spite of their genetic modifications or extra long lifespans.

They’re a wide collection of ne’er-do-wells, heartless bastards, desperate poor, cynical optimists and bored aristocrats. Reynold’s future is not exactly hopeful but nor is it apocalyptic. Humanity is surviving, as it always has. The only thing that has changed is the location.

Chasm City also spends a fair amount of time talking about memory and its effect on personality. What truly makes up a person? Are they just the accumulation of their memories or are they more than that? It’s a topic that authors like, say, Philip K. Dick have talked about at length. But Reynolds put together an even more intricate scenario than even Dick, a plot strand that’s almost hard to track at times, which is fine by me.

Everyone has something to hide and everyone has secrets, the main character having the most to hide, even from himself. Figuring out the main character’s past and not quite knowing the main character’s past was done so well and added so much to the general theme of the book, that it didn’t strike me till just now how big of a cliche it is to have a mysterious past.

I’ll be going back to the rest of the series at some point, I think. Mr. Reynolds has shown me that the genre still has more to offer.

Dylan Charles

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