Monday, September 21, 2020

At Last! DUNE, Done Right!

Of course I don't really know for sure (yet) that they got this epic science fiction masterpiece right in a motion picture format for the first time in, well, history...but if the trailer gives any indication, fans, we're in for a total sci-fi phenomenon.

See for yourself. (And listen closely for that epic soundtrack. You might just have heard it before.)

It's all there. All the epic feels. The cinematography. The sense of struggle against impossible odds and destiny with a glistening edge. This brought the same visual imagery that I imagined in my head decades ago when I first read the series anchor novel by the late Frank Herbert. 

And much of this was shot with actual sets--not bluescreen!--to add to the realism and tangible sense of place. 

And that soundtrack I mentioned? Yeah, that's Pink Floyd's Eclipse. Like I said. Epic.

But these glowing first thoughts come with just a hint of reservation. There have been many, many years and two less-than-stellar attempts to capture the essence that is Dune on the big and small screen and both, in my humble opinion, fell far short of the goal. 

This trailer gives me hope that maybe, just maybe, they finally did it.


If you're interested in what the (freaking stellar) cast has to say, you can view this interview with the main actors conducted by Stephen Colbert below. (Unfortunately, the *bleeping* commercials take a lot away from the continuity, but it's worthwhile to hear their thoughts and emotions about this monumental undertaking, all the same.) While I admit Stephen Colbert is not my favorite television personality, his enthusiasm for Dune in this clip is undeniable and palpable.


Dune is slated to arrive just before Christmas 2020. Definitely a present I wasn't anticipating that will make my 2020 holidays very bright. And it would be so fantastic to see the wreck that is 2020 go out on a truly awesome cinematic note.

What do you think? Excited? Hopeful? Skeptical? Let me know in comments.

Have a great week!




Friday, September 18, 2020

AWAY: BIG NAMES CAN'T HIDE FLAWS

The international crew of Mars-bound Atlas on Away.

As an author of science fiction romance I’m always on the lookout for new television shows that depict character-driven science fiction, focusing on the people, not just the far-out ideas or the futuristic technology. So I was pretty excited when I saw the previews for Netflix’s original series AWAY, starring Oscar-winning actor Hilary Swank (BOYS DON’T CRY, MILLION DOLLAR BABY). The series, which just uploaded its first season on Netflix, follows the fictional drama of the first international crew mission to Mars, a premise that holds plenty of promise.

By setting the show in the near-future, the show’s creators got around a few obstacles, notably the current stumbling block of any trip to Mars—the fact that it’s a one-way trip, since we lack the technology to engineer a return. We also have no permanent base on the moon from which to launch the three-year round-trip. The show assumes we have solved those technical problems and have also achieved the high level of international cooperation which would be required to pool expertise and resources on a combined mission.

Anyway, the Atlas crew is what you’d expect for a mission of this great historical import (and dramatic flair). You have your representatives of the major space-faring nations—the grizzled Russian veteran Misha (Ukrainian Mark Ivanir, with an extensive character-acting resume and several languages to his credit), the tough Chinese astronaut and only other female member of the crew, Lu (Chinese-American actor Vivian Wu), the na├»ve Afro-British botanist and space newbie Kwesi (Ato Essandoh, lately seen in ALTERED CARBON) and the dewy-eyed Indian physician/second-in-command Ram (British actor, writer, producer and director Ray Panthaki). All are led by American Commander Emma Green (Swank), who has worked her way through NASA’s astronaut corps to be there.

Now, because this is character-driven SF, we learn quite a bit about the members of the crew as the episodes roll along, many times in flashback, but just as often as each person interacts with their family members back home via video chat or email.

Each of the characters gets an episode, or a significant portion of an episode, to reveal and develop his or her backstory. Some of the episodes are outstanding on an emotional level, particularly “Half the Sky,” which details the relationship between Lu and her secret lover Mei, and “Space Dogs,” in which Misha enlists the entire Atlas crew in helping him produce and perform a Christmas puppet show for his grandchildren via video.

Other attempts to pluck at our heartstrings fail, either because they are shoehorned into genuine scientific/technical crises occurring onboard the ship, or because they aren’t really based in believable emotion. Ram, for example, seems to have developed a crush on his commanding officer. But that emotion has come out of nowhere, not to mention it’s completely inappropriate. Fortunately, Commander Green shuts that nonsense down.

There are legitimate technical emergencies onboard which must be dealt with—the failure to deploy of a solar sail, the breakdown of a crucial water recycling system. But the show seems to use these as an excuse for more relational drama than the kind of scientific problem-solving SF fans are accustomed to.

In fact, the crew bickers, complains and pouts to the point of near-mutiny, leaving one to wonder what the hell has happened to the cool, calm and collected spacers we’re used to from the days of Mercury, Apollo and even the International Space Station.

The problem, as identified by the crew, is Commander Emma Green, and, so far, I’d have to agree with them. Captain James T. Kirk she is not. Green’s leadership style is hesitant, unsure, uninformed, distracted. And did I mention she’s got a shuttle-load of problems going on at home?

AWAY almost lost me in the first episode with its presentation of Green’s character. In that episode we see her as a loving mom who attends her teenage daughter’s soccer games and celebrates small triumphs with her family. We learn her husband, Matt (Josh Charles) is also a member of NASA’s astronaut corps, but he was grounded because of a serious genetic brain disease that makes him prone to strokes. And yet, NASA selects her as the commander of the first manned mission to Mars (unlikely) and she accepts this mission (even more unlikely). This means she will be away from her family for three years, unable to communicate intimately with her husband or teenage daughter, exposed to all the untold and unpredictable dangers of space. But, hey, hell yeah, sign me up!

The central problem here is that the writers didn’t set Green’s character up as a hard case, someone who never had time for her daughter’s games or concerns—which, by the way, is not inconceivable. Lots of busy parents exist out there all points of the gender continuum who can’t be bothered to leave work on time or have family dinners or participate in their kids’ lives. But they chose not to craft the character that way. She was supposed to be an ambitious astronaut with dreams of going to Mars and an involved, caring mom. Somehow, the writers didn’t see that three-year gap in the middle of her daughter’s high school life as a problem. As the mother of two daughters myself, I couldn’t help but view it as a disaster waiting to happen.

Then, of course, there is Green’s husband, whose brain disease acts up just as the Atlas crew prepares to launch from the moon to Mars, leaving him paralyzed on one side from a stroke. What woman would continue the mission under those circumstances? Who could leave their paralyzed husband and 15-year-old daughter at home and go off for three years with the very real possibility she wasn’t coming home at all? If NASA would even allow her to continue as commander under those conditions?

At the very least NASA would insist any crew members selected for this dangerous three-year mission would have a strong family backup system at home. Commander Green does not meet even that basic minimum. She leaves her husband and daughter on their own, with no grandparents or aunts and uncles and cousins but only a family friend as backup.

And the situation at home very obviously affects Green’s decision-making ability on Atlas. This is because the writers want it to, of course, not because it necessarily would in real life. But it demonstrates a weakness in the character they have created. Is Commander Green a sensitive, emotional type, in which case she should have stayed home? Or is she a clear-thinking, hard-driving astronaut commander, in which case she might have gone ahead, but wouldn’t have let things at home distract her to the extent they have on the show. This is a big flaw with AWAY, in my opinion, one they’d better fix before Season Two, if they hope to improve on the dismal 6.5 rating they’ve currently earned on Imdb. And, even more, if they hope to keep this science fiction fan watching.

Cheers, Donna

 


 


 

 

 

 

 

Thursday, September 17, 2020

A handful of screen offerings

 

As the days shorten in the Northern Hemisphere, people's thoughts seem to lean toward indoor activities, such as watching movies.  Or at least, that was what used to happen before covid-19. These days I suppose indoor activities are the norm. for many people.

There are a few interesting offerings for science fiction fans.

I'm looking forward to season two of The Mandalorian.


Then there's a new version of Frank Herbert's classic SF Dune. I have high hopes for this one. I was seriously unimpressed with the 1984 movie (Sting was in it) and although I didn't mind the first episode of the mini-series with John Hurt, I quickly ran out of steam with that one, too.


This next one I happened across by accident, one of those titles listed down the right side of the screen when you watch YouTube. It piqued my interest. Books and movies are always throwing up possibilities for new stories. A minor character might end up getting his own story. Admiral Philip Guthrie in Linnea Sinclair's Dock Five series comes to mind. Or you might read something in a novel and find yourself wondering how that happened? In my Morgan's Choice, Admiral Ravindra has a tattoo, something men of his class just don't have. I turned that into a short story (Ink).

Back to YouTube. I noticed a short film entitled Birth of a Monster – a Star Wars story. Half the fun of this one was trying to work out how it fitted into the Star Wars universe. I won't spoil it by telling you – if you've watched the original trilogy, you should be able to work it out. It's about twenty minutes long.


It adds depth and understanding to an otherwise puzzling scene.

 

Monday, September 14, 2020

The Inherited Stars Series: You Are Here

Things are moving forward nicely in my Book Mom life, so this seems like an excellent time to stop and talk about where I am and where you are on the series timeline. 

So first the big news...

SpyDog is out on Kindle. Hurray! 

The timing is great, because this story has some ties to my October release, Juggernaut (Pets in Space® 5), though it takes place five calendars (years) after Juggernaut

Set on planet Banna, aboard a Network ship, and ultimately on MONA Loa station, Spy Dog fleshes out a behind-the-scenes mission that ends up being paramount to the pivotal event, Operation Reset. 

SpyDog literally takes place at the same time as the anchor novel, Inherit the Stars, shedding new light on the building insurrection in the anchor novel as Sair and Drea (aboard Specter) have their own confrontations with the Alliance. 

There are a few scenes that intersect with the novel, though from very different perspectives. The two books together flesh out the story in the same way that Rogue One gave new insights into the plans to blow up the Death Star in Star Wars: A New Hope. 

For those that read Inherit the Stars, there are some big surprises in store in SpyDog! (And vice versa!)


Juggernaut,
as part of Pets in Space® 5) is coming on October 6th and now available for pre-order. Pets in Space® 5 has already done quite well in the Amazon rankings, hitting #1 in one category and the top five in three others. We're hoping that's a good omen so we can make this the best year yet on donations to our charity, Hero-Dogs

As I mentioned, Juggernaut goes back five calendars in the timeline, and reveals something major in a big twist. (Thank you StarDog Cassie for your service. wink wink ) This "wrinkle in the universe" was one I had first planned to introduce in a later book, and then I had an epiphany--this discovery needed to be made earlier in the timeline.

And that's how Juggernaut transformed from an important story to a major event in the series timeline.

By the way, you can read an early review on Juggernaut by clicking here.

So what's next?

Courting Disaster

This fifth installment in the Inherited Stars universe was originally planned to release before SpyDog, but I've been wrestling with some issues that I felt needed close attention in the rewrite, as well as the planned expansions on the book. (It was originally published in Pets in Space® 2, but what's coming will be quite a different story from the original, character-arc wise.) 

I'm aiming for a release date in late October or November. Courting Disaster has just been listed on Goodreads, where readers can see regular updates, countdowns, excerpts and teasers and you can now add it to your Goodreads bookshelves as a Want to Read along with your book tags. 

If you're interested in following my updates, feel free to friend or follow me on Goodreads, too. (Please and thank you! I always love more friends so I can keep track of books you read/add to your shelves/or release.)

Courting Disaster is the latest book on the timeline to date, taking place three calendars after Operation Reset. It becomes clear the struggle with the Alliance has not necessarily ended in an HEA for everyone. There's more to the story, and Captain Jagger and Ketsia Tayah (from Inherit the Stars) find themselves thrust right into the midst of a sinister new threat.

____________________

Captain Navene Jagger’s certainty he will be promoted to command a new battleship is doused when the admiral instead assigns him to what appears to be a suicide mission. If that isn’t bad enough, he finds his self-imposed status as a military monk in jeopardy when he is ordered to escort Ketsia Tayah and her StarDog through the treacherous, rogue-infested Bradley’s Rift in a battered derelict of a vessel – a task that also forces him to confront his painful past.

Ketsia’s experiences have made her stronger. She knows the universe is still a dangerous place, but it also turns out to be a lot smaller than she would have liked. Ketsia is rattled when she discovers that she and her StarDog are to be escorted by a man she once secretly adored. Can life get any more complicated when they are captured by dangerous rogues and must pretend they are married?

After Jagger learns the ship, the mission, and the StarDog are all much more than they seem, will he be able to protect Ketsia and salvage his career? Or will self-sacrifice be the only way to save those under his protection?

What are the Plans for the Series?

Let me add a figurative place marker arrow here to tell readers where they are in the series.

All of these books are standalone, but as you read them, familiar characters (human and otherwise) may get involved and add more layers to their part in Operation Reset, the struggle against the Alliance, and their contributions to the over-arching story.

Though these books can be read in any order -- and they certainly weren't published in order -- each new story adds more detail and insight into an epic conflict. Along with a romance, of course!

If you'd like to see the chronology this is where each book falls on the current timeline:

Juggernaut (Pets in Space® 5) - five calendars before Operation Reset

StarDog - six moons (months) before Operation Reset

Inherit the Stars - just prior to and during Operation Reset

SpyDog - just prior to and during Operation Reset

Courting Disaster - three calendars after Operation Reset

Farewell Andromeda - approximately 200 years after Operative Reset.

Why is Farewell Andromeda set so far in the future? Because there are more books coming, including a sequel to Farewell Andromeda that will make it clear how crucial this story is to the series timeline.

There's also a trilogy and many more books that will take place before the current times in the series. 

After all, there's a reason this series is called The Inherited Stars. Others must have come before who discovered these many Goldilocks worlds in a distant part of our own galaxy, and they in turn had to add their part to history before passing them down to future generations. 

Have a great week!





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