Entries in Sci-Fi (3)


Review: Solaris audiobook

I just finished listening to Solaris by Stanislaw Lem.  Before I even get into the book, I have to commend Audible.  They actually commissioned a new translation of the book from the original Polish directly into English.  All of the others were translations of translations as I understand it.  So this one is as close as you can get to the original work in English.  On top of that, they picked a phenomenal narrator in Allessandro Juliani, better known (to me anyway) as Lt. Gaeta on the Battlestar Gallactica reboot.  His voices were distinct, well done, and he didn't overdo it on the female character.  I was really amazed at how well he narrated this book.  I think he even channeled a little bit of fellow BSGer Michael Hogan for one of the characters.  I can't say enough about the quality of the reading.  But enough about that.

On to the book proper. On a high level, Solaris is about a small group of researchers on a station on a highly unusual planet experiencing highly unusual phenomena. More specifically, it is a firsthand account of psychologist Kris Kelvin's time on the station. The book is roughly split into a mix of Kelvin's experiences and historical, anecdotal, and scientific data about the planet. You quickly find out that the planet, named Solaris, shouldn't even exist.  It has two suns, which should destabilize it, but it somehow endures. On top of that, nearly the entire surface is covered by a single organism that is very similar to an ocean. On top of that, the ocean seems to be sentient. Most of this is expressed through Kelvin thumbing through some histories of Solaris in the early chapters.

What I found really interesting about these parts was that they not only piqued my interest about the planet, but they also served to foreshadow some events of the book.  For example, in that early part, there are anecdotes about strange things that the living ocean did, and how people got the feeling that it was aware of them, if not impressed.  The following sections involving Kelvin were about a feeling paranoia and semi-dread that he experiences since landing on the station.

The book really starts getting interesting when Kelvin's 10 year dead wife suddenly appears in his room one morning with no prior memories or recollection of how she got there.  Their interactions are very believable, and really made the story for me.  As the story progresses, you find out Kelvin was partly responsible for her death.  Which begs the question:  Why is she there?  Is it for redemption?  To torment him?  The other researchers have visitors of their own, but you never find out anything about them, which I thought was a good idea.  Kelvin and his wife Harey are the real focus.  There are moments of incredible tenderness and intimacy between them.  At times it's hard to believe this is a translation because it feels so genuine.  It just works on so many levels.

In the end there's not much more to say.  I absolutely loved it.  I'd been wanting to read it for a while, and the audio book turned out to be a real treat.



Mega Shark Vs. Giant Octopus: A Review


As mentioned previously, I found this little gem in a Fred Meyer bargain bin (of all places!).  I don't think my wife was too keen on me getting this, but how could I resist?  It was too juicy to pass up.  I didn't even know at that point that it had one of the greatest scenes in film history.

Starring Lorenzo Lamas and Debbie Gibson, this was made by The Asylum, which seems to specialize in this type of Creature Feature, as well as apocalypse movies, weird religious movies that usually also deal with the apocalypse, and possibly softcore porn comedy.  I'm not sure about that last one, but #1 Cheerleader Camp doesn't strike me as particularly religious or a creature feature.

So for starters, Debbie Gibson surprised me in this one.  She's got some acting chops.  I don't know what I was expecting, but she came across as very natural to me.  I thought everyone did a respectable job, but she impressed me the most. Lorenzo Lamas was good, but I forgot he was in this for about half the movie.  I guess I just don't have a good enough image of him in my head. Also, and this was weird, the teacher/mentor of Debbie Gibson kept reminding me of the dad from Family Ties.  It couldn't be, of course, since he looked like the dad did back in the show, but he gave me that vibe.

We join the heroine at the genesis of the plot, cruising the arctic in a stolen mini-sub.  She witnesses some military shenanigans which releases the sea beasts.  Apparently the titular shark and octopus were frozen in the midst of mortal combat.  I guess it was a fast freeze, or they're slow fighters.  Debbie's (sorry, I can't remember her character's name and don't want to find it) not sure what she saw, and goes on with her life.

Most of the movie is about the carnage the two beasts cause, ranging from the aforementioned best scene in a movie ever (accoding to that guy), to the octopus destroying a Japanese oil refinery in a scene that reminded me of one of my new favorite band's album covers.  How can they stop these monsters before they eat everything in the ocean?  I won't give away any spoilers, but it shares a certain sensibility with Clash of the Titans.

One thing I definitely have to comment on is the production values.  I think the typically low budget for these movies is both a blessing and a curse.  The downside is that CG is really the only way to go for movies like this.  CG is expensive, though, which means there's a lot of recycled shots of attacking and moving.  There's also not enough crazy over the top moments, like with the plane, or the shark eating the Golden Gate bridge.  The upside is the creative ways they overcome some of these problems.  What do you do if you need a scene in a prison, but you dont' have access to a prison?  Set it in an interview room, which is basically any office building, add red lights, smoke, and a guy in a military-esque uniform, and voila!  Instant jail!  My favorite, though, was when the scientists had to find a way to lure the creatures using pheromones.  I thought it was odd that all they were doing was mixing beakers and vials of different colored liquids.  Shouldn't they use a computer?  Just when I started to wonder how they would know it worked, I got my answer:  Apparently the two critters not only shared pheremones (since they never made another or different batch), but those pheremones are neon, glowing green.  Seems obvious in hindsight, doesn't it?

Overall, I enjoyed it quite a bit.  These movies are made for me.  It would have been better with a bigger budget, but I guess that can be said for a lot of things.  I think in the end, I prefer they make that movie with the issues I raised than not make it at all.



One of the challenging things for me about going to school and having a full time job is that my reading time has dropped to essentially 0.  I literally have a stack of books over 2 feet high that I want to read.  Until I can find a way to juggle studying and leisure reading (and personally, I think I'll be done with school first), I need to find an alternative.  Podcasts help, but my preferences for those are either tech news (thank God for twit.tv) or comedy, with a few short story casts thrown in for variety.  While those stories are usually good, I don't exactly have a hand in picking them, and they're short stories.  I find myself wanting more.

I heard about Audible on the twit netcasts, and found myself initially dubious.  After listening to a book or two, though, I'm finding myself really enjoying them.  I signed up, and the first book I'm reading (listening to?) is Daemon, by Daniel Suarez.  This got picked for book recommendations on a few of the twit shows, and it sounded too geeky to pass up.  I'm only a few chapters in at this point, but it's got me hooked.  There are some weird murders and I want to know what's going on.  What's strange is, it reminds me a little bit of Jaws so far.  The main protagonist seems to be a down-on-his-luck cop who resents the wealthy, successful people that make up his jurisdiction, not unlike Brody from Jaws.  I don't think a really big shark is behind this one, though.  Probably not even a regular sized one.  Don't hold me to that, though, I'm only a few chapters in.