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Showing posts from July, 2013

Beautiful Monsters

Call it the anti-Cloverfield.

Monsters was released in 2010, on a frayed shoe-string of a budget with two unknown actors (Whitney Able and Scoot McNairy) and an intriguing premise. Six years earlier a NASA probe returned from space with some sort of fungus sample. These fungoid life-forms grow to prodigious size and wreak so much havoc in Northern Mexico that the entire border is eventually sealed, half of the country turned over to the 'monsters.' Andrew Kaulder, a photojournalist, is ordered by his boss to escort Samantha Wynden (boss's daughter) from Mexico before the "migration season" starts. Andrew, a selfish, self-involved bohemian takes a fancy to Samantha during a bender on the night before they leave. This leads to some poor decision making and the eventual loss of his and the daughter's passport. The rest of the movie follows this pair as they travel north, hoping to cross over into America through the enormous wall built to keep the monsters out.


Three stories

This summer I set myself the goal of finishing five new short stories and as the end of July approaches I'm halfway there. I haven't updated Ancient Logic in a little while so I thought this was a good time to record some progress on the writing front.

The first story is called "Drop-ins" and it's my attempt at a 'realistic' time-travel story. Realistic because it doesn't involve paradoxes and crazy flux-capacitors but rather a bunch of people using a neurological hack to fast-forward through their lives. Okay, semi-realistic. I don't think this story is the last word on this concept but I think the central metaphor, of sleepwalking your way to the future, is a strong one. I submitted that story this week, I'll see how it works out.

The second story more less showed up, fully formed sometimes in May.  Seeing as how I was still elbow deep in the process of bringing "Drop-ins" to life, I couldn't really stop and figure out what thi…

Reading List

One result of going to a convention devoted to the love of speculative literature is you wind up collecting a few titles to read. Let's say more than a few.

Most of these were mentioned in panels that I attended, and where appropriate I'll mention what interested me about the book. Others are just titles recommended by people I met or book descriptions I found interesting. If you've read any of these, feel free to endorse or warn me away!



I'll start of by a list of books I wrote down from the multiple panels on Utopian fiction. First I have two classics of the genre: "Modern Utopia" by H.G. Wells and "Looking Backward" by Edward Bellamy which sounded surprisingly readable from John Crowley's description of a class he taught to undergrads. In that same class, students read "Pacific Edge" by one of my favorite authors, Kim Stanley Robinson and in looking for that book on Amazon I discovered it was part of a trilogy on Southern California…

These are the Ends

Certain types of movies are really hard to review or even offer opinions about. Gross-out comedies, for example, are meant to shock you into laughing. If you find them funny then you didn't waste your $11, if you don't laugh at that kind of thing, don't see them. Action spectacles, for another example, are an excuse for cheering and saying, 'hell, yeah!' These are not complicated ambitions for movies to have, not too difficult to appreciate, and I mostly watch them and forget them. However, because I just watched two excellent examples of these kinds of movies, I'm going to lump them together in a single review.

"This is the End" and "Pacific Rim" have some weird similarities and some glaring differences. This is the End is a comedy about the end of the world where famous comedians play versions of themselves behaving very, very badly in front of impressive CGI. Pacific Rim is a sci fi spectacle about the end of the world where not so famous…

Where'd All the Aliens Go?

The first night of Readercon was a special, abbreviated (and free) program. After getting a few reading suggestions from the "The Bit I Remember" panel, I made my way to the "Endangered Alien" panel.

The premise of the discussion centered on the notion that contemporary SF has avoided the theme of aliens in recent years. Whether following the near-future ethos of William Gibson and Neil Stephenson, or embracing the near-earth space opera mode favored by Kim Stanley Robinson and Alastair Reynolds, science fiction hasn't had a lot of alien races in the past few years.



I couldn't dismiss this idea out of hand. After a few moments of consideration, I could only remember a handful of novels in the past decade that described truly alien aliens. There have been plenty of virtual aliens (Charles Stross), transhuman aliens (Ian Banks), and human aliens (many examples but 'Shh! It's a Secret which I reviewed earlier this year, sticks out), but precious few tr…

Readercon 24

Today and for the next few days, I will be attending the Readercon Science Fiction and Fantasy convention in Burlington, MA. This convention was started 24 years ago and brings together authors of various speculative fiction genres to discuss topics in panels, sign autographs, and just generally advance the understanding of the medium by bringing together the great minds of the field.

Last year, I caught up with an old friend and saw a number of literary heroes of mine (Peter Straub, Caitlin R. Kiernan, John Langan, among many others). This year contains fewer authors whose work I've read, but it does have John Shirley, who is incredibly great, profoundly influential.

Other than a previously mentioned excursion tomorrow to see the opening of Pacific Rim, I intend to be there until Sunday attending panels, collecting autographs, and buying stacks of books. Hope to see you there!

To Buy a Ticket

In two days I'm going to see Pacific Rim, a movie I've talked up a little bit here at Ancient Logic. I'd see it anyway, but ever since the first trailer depicting epic robotic/kaiju mayhem showed up a few months ago, it's been an article of faith that I'd see the thing with as many of my friends together as possible. Call it a pre-planned field trip.

Now a few days ago, one of my friends, currently trapped in the internet bereft wilderness of Maine, asked me to get a ticket for him. No problem. This friend has gone to bat for me numerous times and, in any case, it's a movie ticket - not a big deal.

Or so I thought. What follows is the saga of buying a ticket for a movie that hasn't opened yet at the Jordan's IMAX theater over the phone.



First off, I myself was on a trip this weekend, having gone back home to Upstate NY for a few days to see my brother. Not a big deal, except my grandparents' ranch (and yes, that's what we call it) is sheltered s…

Upstream Color

Hypnotic, beautifully filmed, disturbing, and incredibly frustrating, Upstream Color by Shane Carruth is also my favorite movie this year. A number of reviews compared it to Tree of Life by Terrence Malick but I'd say you'd have to throw in Videodrome by David Cronenberg and Scanner Darkly by Richard Linklater as obvious influences as well. This is a movie with less of a plot than an order of events that make a kind of stark, emotional sense when viewed together.



Shane Carruth was the director of 2004's Primer which remains one of my absolute time-travel movies. Part of the problem of describing a movie like Upstream Color is that the film is intent to dissolve such boundaries. Upstream Color is no where coherent enough to describe in terms of a genre but it is the superior film simply by being the more personal artistic statement.

So while I can't really tell you what the film is about, there are certain things I can describe. A woman named Kris (played by Amy Seimet…

Variations on a Theme: Review of 2312 by Kim Stanley Robinson

More difficult than portraying technologies of the future, or alien worlds, or even of believable alien species, is that of creating human societies and customs of the future. The uncanny valley is in full force once a writer sets as his or her task creating the beliefs, motivations, and prejudices of human beings. One of the biggest complaints I hear about science fiction in general, and far-future hard SF in particular, is that the characters are not fully developed, not convincing.

Perhaps the reason is that most writers, when looking at the future, fall into one of two traps. The first trap is of changing human life too little. The future, these writers suggest, will be exactly like today only with more/less technology. Examples of this are not hard to recall, think of Vonnegut's many social commentaries, or 1984, or even SF greats like Clarke and Asimov. People in the stories basically behave as though they were contemporaries of the author, not children of future societies.

Hull Zero Three by Greg Bear

Teacher wakes up after a beautiful dream of arriving at a new world, the destination of an immense generation ship finally reached, a beautiful blue world hanging below, ready for colonization. The dream ends abruptly, leaving him to confront a very different reality. As a small girl insistently tugs him away from his hibernation (?) pod, they begin to run, chasing receding light, the air already lethally cold.


That is the promising beginning of Greg Bear's 2010 novel Hull Zero Three, a thrilling, if somewhat opaque hard SF thriller. The protagonist of the story, Teacher, has no memory of his identity or knowledge of his purpose, only slowly learning that he has been reborn on an immense ship, a ship that appears to be doing its level best to kill him and all other humans.
"It's a ship," one of the characters he meets pronounces, "A sick ship."
Bear's best work combines a naturalistic touch for characters with speculation on truly epic scales. His early…

With the title World War Z

Early on in the mostly disappointing zombie epidemic thriller World War Z, UN Investigator Gerry Lane (Brad Pitt) hides out in a Newark apartment, trying to convince a family living there to flee with him from the hordes of sprinting, chomping maniacs infesting the city. The phrase he uses, drawing from years of experience in the world's troubled war-zones is "movement is life." Ultimately he's unsuccessful, the family barricades their door behind him and they join the ever-swelling ranks of the undead.


As far as a guiding philosophy goes for a pop-action thriller like World War Z, 'movement is life,' isn't bad. And for the first half of the movie or so, it follows its own advice. Similar to other recent zombie movies (Dawn of the Dead, Shaun of the Dead) the warning signs of what the rest of the movie will bring are subtle and buried until all hell is ready to break through. The television mentions 'martial law,' Philadelphia traffic snarls, and …