Sunday, June 14, 2015

Multi-Media Review of Reviews: Sense8, Tomorrowland, Oryx and Crake, Pandora's Star

I thought I'd try a multi-media review of reviews focusing on a TV show, a movie, and two books.  There's no music here, although I have written a post on sci-fi music with a second, all metal edition.  Maybe I'll say something about video games in the future (like the amazing Portal games), or maybe I'll discuss other media like board games, roleplaying games, live theater, podcasts, radio, YouTube videos, etc.  So many media, so little time!


I love the Wachowskis.  I'm a big fan of The Matrix.  I also loved Cloud Atlas, based on the excellent David Mitchell novel.  I even defended Jupiter Ascending!  I've also finally been watching J. Michael Straczynski's Babylon 5 (I'm in season three: no spoilers, please!).  When I heard that the Wachowskis and Straczynski were teaming up to make a TV show filmed in several locations around the world, I wasn't sure what to expect, but I had high hopes.

I've watched the first seven episodes, out of twelve in the first season.  (The whole season was released simultaneously on NetFlix - I know, I know, I'm a bad binge watcher.) I'm happy to report that the show has so far lived up to my hopes.  I especially love the diverse cast of characters and international locations.  Especially in the sci-fi/fantasy world, with its diversity-phobic Sad Puppies, it's good to remember that not all humans are American, nor is everyone straight, white, or cis gender.

The deepest philosophical point so far is that we are all connected, but that this connection doesn't erase our differences, either.  Sense8 dramatizes this idea through the idea that the sensates feel each other's feelings and have each other's thoughts.  The American political and moral landscape has turned more to a sort of hard hearted individualism in recent years (and maybe also in other countries, especially those undergoing austerity measures). Given this context, it's refreshing to see something that reminds us of what should be an obvious fact about human beings: we're all in this together.

I have a feeling (and if you're a sensate, maybe you have my feeling, too) that I will be writing more about Sense8 after I finish watching the first season.


I thought Tomorrowland was a Disneyfied, but worthwhile, answer to the prevailing dystopian resignation of our zeitgeist (and the Disneyfication wasn't too overwhelming, either).

This review by Andrew O'Hehir draws a comparison with Interstellar, which occurred to me, too (although I apparently liked Interstellar more than O'Hehir, as you can see in my posts and my talk on Interstellar).  For an interesting counter-point to the alleged optimism of Tomorrowland, see this review by Charlie Jane Anders.

Whether or not Tomorrowland is the response to the down sides of embracing dystpoic tendencies that we need right now, it is nice to see someone taking up the utopian-leaning side of the cultural conversation on where we're going and what we should hope for.

And if that doesn't interest you, jet packs and shiny retro-futuristic cities just might!

Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood

Atwood has said some laughable things about why this and The Handmaid's Tale supposedly aren't science fiction, but this is science fiction.  Having recently watched the new Mad Max movie, which was dystopia done right (see my review on this blog), I was finally in the mood for Oryx and Crake, which has been on my list for years.

First of all, Atwood writes beautifully.  The structure unfolds in a non-linear way that nonetheless feels organic.  As far as dystopias go, I find the "thou shalt not play God with thine science" motif tiring as it borders on the kind of anti-science attitude that doesn't help (I'm bracing for more of that with Jurassic World).  Atwood doesn't play into that as much as it might appear, but it's there.  Oryx and Crake lacks some of the depth of world building that I like to see coming from my geeky sci-fi corner, but there were some intriguing details.  I especially enjoyed learning about the children of Crake.  Maybe I'll learn more about them in the sequels...

Rating: 88/100.  See my Goodreads review.

Pandora's Star by Peter F. Hamilton

I had mixed feelings about Hamilton's earlier space opera behemoth, the Night's Dawn Trilogy, especially the first book, The Reality Dysfunction (see my review here).  But overall there was enough cool stuff to outweigh the bad.

My feelings about Pandora's Star, the first of Hamilton's two part Commonwealth Saga, are similar.  The biggest problem with both books (aside from their heft at around 1,000 pages each) is that the world in hundreds of years is too much like the early 21st century.  Most oddly, characters in Pandora's Star say several times how much society has changed now that everyone can rejuvenate to remain young and even get a "re-life" rather than die. But, aside from the fact that nobody expects marriages to last more than a few decades and some quelling of our exploratory spirit, this massive edit of the human condition appears to have little effect.

Also, some of the story lines are boring (there's a 40 page scene of super rich people at a party... yawn...).  New characters are introduced in almost every chapter and it's not always clear who's who or what they contribute to the story.  Occasionally even the exploration of the central mystery of the book got dull.

Here's the good: most of the story lines are cool (especially the story of one human's trip among the alien Silfen), as are the ideas of wormhole technology, rebuilding starships after hundreds of years, and especially the aliens.  I will read the sequel, Judas Unchained, to find out what happens, since Pandora's Star ends on cliff-hanger (almost literally, which I find amusing).  Maybe I'll write a blog post on the series after I finish it.

Rating: 85/100.  See my more detailed Goodreads review.  

1 comment:

  1. See my review of the full first season of Sense8 here: