sci-fi

REVIEW: Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets (2017)

When a dark force threatens Alpha, a vast structure home to thousands of different species, Special agents Valerian (Dane DeHaan) and Laureline (Cara Delevingne) must race to find those responsible to not just safeguard Alpha, but the future of the entire universe.

Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets is a wonderful example of adventurous sci-fi. The opening credit sequence is so full of hope, wonder, as people from all corners of the galaxy coming together to share technology and knowledge and that is really the epitome of what sci-fi should be. It’s a weird and vibrant film, the costumes, the sets, everything just pops from the screen. The special effects and creature designs in this film are gorgeous. Honestly, it’s like a feast for the eyes, so much so that it can be a bit overwhelming at times. For instance, there’s so much to see as a spaceship manoeuvres around Alpha that everything can seem like a blur. That being said, when things are more static and you can appreciate how good the CGI is and how there’s so many different creatures, it’s truly wonderful. The sequence in the market, which is like a miniature heist, is an inventive and standout moment.

The human characters are pretty much your typical clichés and while you don’t really get to learn a lot about the alien creatures, besides shapeshifter Bubble (Rihanna), they tend to be more interesting than the humans. In the first scene between them, there’s some clunky exposition where you learn everything you need to know about Valerian and Laureline from a conversation where they point out each other’s flaws and backstories. Exposition continues to often be on the heavy-handed side but when there’s so much to see and appreciate about the environment this story is set in, that it doesn’t really matter too much.

Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets is a fast-paced, visual extravaganza that’s a lot of fun. It has its faults but overall, it’s kind of delightful in how much it loves being big and bold. 3/5.

READ THE WORLD – Russia: Metro 2033 by Dmitry Glukhovsky

It’s 2033, the world is ruined and humanity is almost extinct. Possibly the last of the worlds survivors live in Moscow’s Metro system. There they’re safe from radiation in the city above and societies have formed across the metro system and its many stations. Artyom lives in VDNKh, the north most inhabited station on its line, life there is good, until the station becomes endangered by outside forces. Artyom is given the task to traverse the complex metro system to search for help and to warn every one of the new threat bearing down on his native station, and the whole Metro.

Metro 2033 is an interesting story. It’s quite slow to start with as there is a lot of world-building to do. Each of the different train stations in the Metro have become their own mini society, some have become Communist, some are Fascist while many others have their own capitalist democracy. It’s interesting to see what life’s like underground and how it differs from station to station. It wasn’t till I was about halfway through the book and I felt that I had a fairly good understanding that the story picked up speed.

The whole book is quite exposition heavy really and in some ways, it reminded me of American Gods by Neil Gaiman – both are quite slow reads, with a lot of world-building and main characters who seem to go from A to B without being an active participant in the situations they’re in. That being said, I felt Artyom was a character who actually reacted to the mad and dangerous situations he found himself in and, as the story progressed, he became more proactive and confident in his decision making and abilities.

The people Artyom meets on his journey are all very different. My favourites were those who are old enough to remember life outside the Metro, and everyday normal life in the cities. There memories were often rose-tinted but it was good to see Artyom compare it to what he knows as he was only a toddler when everyone had to hide out in the tunnels. It was those moments where you really got the dystopian aspect of the novel.

Metro 2033 also has horror and sci-fi elements as there’s rumours of creatures who have been mutated by the radiation, lurking on the surface and readying themselves to enter the tunnels. There are some passages on Metro 2033 that are generally creepy and unsettling as Artyom traverses the dark tunnel between stations. There’s some eerie stuff in Metro 2033 but it doesn’t always pay off which is regrettable.

This is the first book in a trilogy and it does leave things on a cliff-hanger. Unfortunately, there was no real build up to the “big reveal” so instead of a plot twist you could’ve figured out yourself, it’s more of a huge surprise. I think I will pick up the rest of the series at some point as I’m intrigued to see what happens next but Metro 2033 didn’t pull me in enough from the start to make me super eager to continue. 3/5.

REVIEW: Illuminae by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff

illuminaeIt’s the year 2375 and two mega-corporations are at war over a small, insignificant mining planet. Pity they didn’t warn the people living there. With enemy fire raining down, Ezra and Kady manage to make their escape on the evacuating fleet. But that’s just the beginning of their troubles. A deadly plague has broken out on one of the space ships, their ships protection is vulnerable and no one will say what is going on. As Kady hacks into the ships mainframe to try and find the truth it soon become clear that Ezra is the only one who can help her. The only problem is that they split up before the war started and she isn’t supposed to be talking to him.

Illuminae is very different from any book I’ve read before and that’s because of how it is written. It’s composed of instant message chats, surveillance footage summaries, interview transcripts, mission reports and more. Files look like they have been clipped into the book or have been printed off and stuck in. It’s really interesting and makes the book quick to read and adds a new spin on things.

It’s interesting how Kady, Ezra and other characters come across through what’s kind of like second-hand text. Kady is super smart and feisty and wants to know the truth about what’s going because both the good and the bad will affect her and her loved ones. Kady is also stubborn and believes she’s always right which does rub people, including Ezra. Ezra is almost the polar opposite of Kady and it’s difficult to imagine them as a couple (though opposites attract and all that I suppose), he follows the rules and doesn’t really question anything, especially when he’s conscripted into the military.

Illuminae is a super-fast read. That’s down to how it’s written, reading conversations through instant messages will always take less time than “proper prose” but also because it’s an action-packed book. It kicks off with a war and then there’s corporate espionage, military cover-ups and a deadly plague. It’s one thing after another that Kady and Ezra must work together to deal with and how they cope will test them and offer both funny and tense moments.

Illuminae is an exciting sci-fi book that has a lot of surprises and I can’t wait to read the sequel. 5/5.

REVIEW: Star Trek Beyond (2016)

star trek beyond movie posterWhen responding to a distress signal in the far reaches of uncharted space, the crew of the USS Enterprise a drawn into a trap by the ruthless and mysterious Krall (Idris Elba). Stranded on a barren planet, Captain Kirk (Chris Pine) and his crew must work together to find a way to save the universe.

What Star Trek Beyond gets really right, is the characters. The crew of the Starship Enterprise are supposed to be like a family and that really comes through here. It helps that unlike the previous two Star Trek films where they were primarily focused on the relationship between Kirk and Spock (Zachary Quinto), this time they and the rest of the crew are split up into teams that you don’t normally see. It’s a clever move by script writers Simon Pegg and Doug Jung as it allows the film to explore different character dynamics and still gives each character time to shine.

When Scotty (Simon Pegg) ends up stranded, he meets Jaylah (Sofia Boutella), someone who has also been stranded and is fighting to survive. Jaylah is a brilliant character. She’s a badass, she’s funny and she’s also really interesting. She fits in well with the crew of the Enterprise and while she may be a new character, there is neither too much focus on her nor is she pushed into the background.

One of the best character dynamics presented in Star Trek Beyond is that of Bones (Karl Urban) and Spock. They must work together and you see how their personalities clash but they still respect each other. Both Urban and Quinto are funny and give great performances. While Chekov (Anton Yelchin), Uhura (Zoe Saldana) and Sulu (John Cho) may have less to do than their crewmates, they all still shine and have a moment or two of awesomeness. To be honest, one of the best things about the rebooted Star Trek movies is the casting – it has been spot on and each actor brings a lot to their role even when the script doesn’t give them so much.

The script really is great as it combines action, humour and the heart of Star Trek which is hope and unity. There’s never a dull moment in Star Trek Beyond because the film starts right in the middle of a mission and from there there’s always something happening. Justin Lin does a great job directing. He has proved with his outings as director of four of the Fast & Furious films that he can handle action sequences but with Star Trek Beyond there are also quieter moments where the camera barely moves at all. Plus, like the Fast & Furious franchise Star Trek, in amongst the explosions and death-defying situations it really is all about family.

Krall is an interesting villain. He’s foreboding yet pretty mysterious throughout most of the film but when his motivations become clear it offers another layer to his character and everything he has said and done previously makes even more sense. Idris Elba is two of the most threatening and potentially scary villains this year, Krall and Shere Khan in The Jungle Book, and both times you don’t really see his face. That’s some acting.

Star Trek Beyond was truly wonderful. Full of action, humour and brilliant character moments. It is definitely one of the better Star Trek films, not just in the rebooted series but including the previous ten Star Trek films as well. 5/5.

REVIEW: Independence Day: Resurgence (2016)

independence_day_resurgenceTwenty years after the first Independence Day invasion attempt, Earth is faced with a new alien threat. Will mankind, including those who helped stop the first attack, be able to triumph this one?

Independence Day: Resurgence is the long-awaited sequel to 1996’s Independence Day and a lot of the original cast is back, as well as a lot of new characters. That in itself is a bit of a problem. Original characters like President Whitmore (Bill Pullman) and his daughter Patricia (Maika Monroe), go-to alien-expert David Levinson (Jeff Goldblum) and his father Julius (Judd Hirsch) all return and then you have new characters like pilots Jake Morrison (Liam Hemsworth), Dylan Hiller (Jessie T. Usher) the son of Will Smith’s Captain Steven Hiller and Rain Lao (Angelababy) and then there’s scientist Catherine Marceaux (Charlotte Gainsbourg) and a lot of children – a school bus-full of them. The film struggles to give the runtime to all these characters, it tries to give them each an emotional moment or character arc but it doesn’t work a lot of the time.

Independence Day: Resurgence is also a bit slow to get going. It has to set up all the aforementioned characters and the type of world they’re in now that humanity has pulled together and has used the alien technology to improve their own. Plus, there’s this whole bit in Africa with David Levinson at the beginning that almost feels like it’s just a reason for him to be away from America when everything really kicks off.

That being said, the effects are pretty spectacular and the action-sequences are thrilling – though when there’s dogfights in the air it’s a bit difficult to keep track of which planes are the good guys since humans have combined human technology with alien tech. No one quite does worldwide destruction like Roland Emmerich!

Independence Day: Resurgence is mostly entertaining but doesn’t live up to the original. While it still has some humour, it doesn’t always hit the spot and I think the film misses the charm and charisma that Will Smith brought to the original. 3/5.

REVIEW: The Great Zoo of China by Matthew Reilly

FullSizeRenderBeing a skilled vet who specialises in reptiles, CJ Cameron is difficult to faze. When the Chinese government invite her and some other respected guests to the unveiling of their magnificent, top-secret zoo, CJ is intrigued but not expecting anything too different. Then the Chinese announce what is really going to be in the zoo. For decades, they’ve been breeding deadly creatures believed to be the stuff of myth. Despite the danger, the staff at the zoo stress that everyone is safe and they’ve prepared for every eventuality. But CJ spots flaws in the zoo’s security and believes it’s only a matter of time before the beasts break free.

The Great Zoo of China is a thrill ride from start to finish. There’s a great build up of anticipation as CJ and the other guests, including her photographer brother Hamish, arrive at the zoo and finally realise what the Chinese have on offer for the public and soon after all Hell breaks loose. Once the inevitable happens and the animals break free, the action is non-stop and the book speeds along as you’re with this group of characters and you just know that it’s not particularly likely that they’ll all survive.

Now I don’t think it’s a spoiler considering what’s on the cover and how the books been marketing but the deadly creatures in question are indeed dragons. These creatures are described as terrifying and deadly animals akin to the dinosaurs because that’s what they are. They are smart creatures and are described so vividly you can picture all the different types of dragons in your head easily. The Great Zoo of China doesn’t hold back when everything goes wrong. There are people torn or bitten in half and blood is splattered everywhere when the dragon attack.

CJ is a badass and a great protagonist. She’s calm under pressure, especially as she’s already had some experience of being in a struggle with a deadly creature with a lot of teeth, and she’s good at making the best out of a bad situation. Some might think she’s a Mary Sue but you could say the same think about Indiana Jones.

While I’ll admit The Great Zoo of China is no literary masterpiece, the science side of it is semi-plausible which is always a plus and it is a lot of fun and exciting. If you love Jurassic Park then this book will be right up your street. 5/5.

REVIEW: American Gods by Neil Gaiman

FullSizeRender (5)Days before his release from prison, Shadow learns his wife Laura has died in mysterious circumstances. As he makes his way back home, he encounters the enigmatic Mr Wednesday, who claims to be a God who is getting ready for a war. Soon Shadow finds himself in the service of Mr Wednesday as they go on a strange journey across America whilst all around them a storm of epic and supernatural proportions threatens to break.

American Gods is a much-loved, epic book full of Gods, mysterious and lies. I can see why so many people love it but for me it was a bit of a slog to get through. American Gods is a very descriptive story full of characters who each have their own story which may or may not be true. There’s long passages that are dedicated to a myth or legend or some story or character that you’re not sure will ever reappear again or have any effect on the main plot. Also Shadow has these vivid dreams that often make little sense to you or him, at least they don’t till near the very end of the novel.

Shadow is quite a passive main character. He accepts everything that’s going on around him, he takes each encounter with a God or myth or legend in his stride and when weird things happen he just shrugs it off. I found him too easy-going and accepting of the situations he found himself in. You’d expect a character in that situation to have more questions or at least have a little freak out every now and then but Shadow didn’t so it was hard to connect with him.

American Gods is a long book and I never really felt pulled into the story or that I just had to read on until the last 200 pages. I don’t know if it was because there was so much to set up or so many characters and events that didn’t seem that important or interesting but I just felt like I was reading American Gods for the sake of it. As I said, the last 200 pages is when I really got interested in what was going to happen to Shadow (though I never particularly liked him a lot) and the other characters I’d come across.

American Gods is structurally a good book, it’s got twists and turns, death and mystery, suspense and a lot of weirdness, but I never really felt fully-invested in the characters or the story. If anything I now feel glad that I can say I’ve read American Gods when t’s mentioned as an example of a work of great fiction. 3/5.