District 9 (2009) Mini-Review

While a mysterious alien spacecraft is stranded above Johannesburg for two decades, its seemingly clueless inhabitants form a slum beneath it. As tensions mount in the human population of the city, an eviction plan is set in motion. As the government agent, Wikus Van De Merwe, enters District 9 to inform the alien inhabitants of the eviction plans, odd things happen.

District 9 is a very original film. It combines really well done CGI effects with a hand-held documentary style, superb sci-fi designs and unknown actors that deliver top performances. The result is quite good, and will work well both the big and the small screen. I’m already looking forward to the sequel.

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Other movies I’ve rated 4 (beta):


The Ringworld Throne Mini-Review

The inhabitants of the Ringworld are adapting to the effects of Louis Wus world stabilization efforts. As such, various homonid species find themselves with unlikely allies, uniting against the surging common vampire enemy. On the other side of the world, Louis Wu, now an aging and ill man reunites with his old friends as he is captured by a Ringworld Protector.

The Ringworld Throne continues the adventures of Louis Wu on the spinning Ringworld in this sequel to Ringworld and Ringworld Engineers. It’s clear, rather early on, that the main effort of this book is to give a sense of the sheer scale of the ringworld, Larry Niven trying to author grand adventures on the inside of a ring which has 3 million times the surface area of Earth. Perhaps this grand scale is simply too much for Niven, as the end result is, unfortunately, a rather dull affair.

Chasm City (2001) Mini-Review

Tanner Mirabel is a security specialist bent on revenge. In the chase of his prey, his travels take him to the plague-ridden Chasm City where things are no longer as they used to be. As his journey winds down, flashes of memories begin to haunt him.

Chasm City is nothing less than steam-punk sci-fi. That is, while set in a high tech future, Chasm City has reverted to using steam-driven machines and archaic tools to power their various devices. That is a feat, and part of why this is a very readable book. Add to that some very modern and “up-to-date” sci-fi and some delicious twists and turns and you have a very good book.

Chasm City is a pseudo-sequel to Revelation Space and Absolution Gap — set in the same universe but with different main characters.

Ringworld & Ringworld Engineers Mini-Reviews

During a trip to Sicily (( Summary to follow. )) last week, I read the first two books set in Larry Nivens Ringworld space epos.

Ringworld (1970)

Louis Wu is a 200 year old explorer, enjoying unnaturally long life by boosterspice. For his experience, he is recruited along with a colourful set of teammates to journey far outside Known Space to explore a mysterious artifact spotted on long range telescopes. The artifact turns out to be a massive ring circling a sun, providing outwards gravity to the soil and water on the inside. The habitable area of the Ringworld is three million times that of Earth.

Classic BDO sci-fi at its best, Ringworld is a must read for any true SF connoisseur. Extra points for the book being a delightfully quick read, as opposed to most modern brick-sized verse-building desert-walks.

The Ringworld Engineers (1980)

It’s been 23 years since Louis Wu visited the Ringworld. As Louis is once again drafted for an expedition, he learns that this mission is no longer one of exploration, but one of repair. The Ringworld is slowly drifting out of its circular orbit around the sun. Unless something is done, the artifact will be destroyed, brushing against the G3 star in only a few years.

In the introduction to The Ringworld Engineers, Niven points out that he initially had no plans for a sequel. So when he finally decided to write one, it was as a dedication to the fans that—fascinated by the artifact—had actually done the math and found flaws in the theoretical construction of a ringworld. One very clever gentleman had pointed out that a spinning ringworld must be rigid due to its outward spin-induced gravity—rigid and hence vulnerable to being pushed out of it’s orbit. “Fixing” this and other such … issues … seems to have been the main focus of Engineers. While Niven succeeds to do so without the use of retcons, Engineers can’t top its predecessor in imaginative storytelling. Even so, it is entertaining and—like its predecessor—a very quick read; for that, it’s well worth a four heart review.

Ringworld and Ringworld Engineers are followed by The Ringworld Throne (1996) and Ringworld’s Children (2004), both of which are in my reading queue.

Revelation Space (2000) Mini-Review

Revelation Space tells the story of Dan Sylveste, an archaeologist in the far future who uncovers a startling find on a desolate planet called Resurgam. The find points way back in the past and warns of dangerous world-changing events that happened, and might happen again.

Being the first book in a series of 5, Alastair Reynolds sets up his universe of the same name. It’s a ‘verse populated by intricate characters who lead very long lives; be it through medicines, nanotechnology or machine consciousness. Super-high technology and multiple identities permeates the entire series, of which I’ve also read Chasm City—book 2. While other authors, both Arthur C. Clarke, Greg Bear and Larry Niven have explored these areas of science fiction, Reynolds details it in a depth I haven’t seen before. Which works really well.

Revelation Space is an alright book. It’s fairly easily digestible, and the cover of the book has a space-ship on it. It’s the kind of book that you’d buy prior to a long flight or train ride. That earns it 3 hearts. For the potential this holds for subsequent books (a potential I sneakingly know will be fulfilled already in book 2), it’s very much worth reading, more so than the three hearts suggest.

The Ethics of Human Teleportation

Sure, Star Trek-style teleportation seems like the next big thing. Sure we could go on vacation in July just by stepping on to a transporter pad and be instantly moved from A to B; B probably being Acapulco or somewhere really nice. Off the bat we would love it, but have you ever pondered the moral and ethical implications of teleportation?

The basic form of teleportation involves you being disintegrated, your particle pattern stored in a buffer, transmitted and then reassembled elsewhere. Does that come with your soul? As the godforsaken semi-determinist I happen to be, sure, I can believe that the—for lack of a better word—the soul is simply a momentary configuration of molecules. What you are, right now, your hopes, your hurting shoulder, your innermost secrets and your latest monument to human achievement; all of that is simply a pattern of particles. So when you teleport, Trek-style, all that veltschmerz is teleported right along with your flesh.

Except, for the briefest of moments, you reside in a pattern buffer; a computer so powerful that it can not only hold your entire chemical configuration, but it can even run Photoshop CS3. Given that, what’s there to stop you (or the prop-like teleporter chief) from making a copy of you?

Therein lies the ethical considerations. The duplication that happens in teleportation is way beyond that of human cloning. Dolly can hop and dance happily unknowing that she is a a clone of what her mom was when she was born. At least she’s not a replica so exact that even memory, history and everything is carbon copied.

Could it be done any differently? Could your actual particles be transferred instead of duplicated? Probably, but it would still mean moving matter across distances. Duplication style teleportation, on the other hand, would only transmit matter-less information, and as we all know: Einsteinian law dictates that as the speed approaches that of light, weight approaches infinity. So in order to travel at the speed of love, that which travels must have no weight. It’s a conundrum. Either we teleport comfortably, implicitly trusting our transporter chief, or we don’t teleport at all. Maybe now Acapulco doesn’t sound so interesting after all.

On a closing note, there is a subtext to the above. It says: I’m going on vacation and I’ll see you again in July. Or August. Whichever comes first.

Blade Runner – The Final Cut Mini-Review

Replicants, more human than human robots do humanitys dirty work. Given time, they will develop their own emotional responses. To prevent revolts, they are given only a four year lifespan. When they’re a hazard, Blade Runners are sent to “retire” them.

Blade Runner has been through its share of troubles. The first one with the voice over was marred by producers wanting to control the young art director, Ridley Scott, whose experience hadn’t yet been proven (not even by Alien). The second version, “The Directors Cut”, felt rushed and the DVD release was grainy and VHS like. The Final Cut has finally been given the proper treatment. Tweaks and fixes have been made and a near-perfect, cleaned-up transfer make this the ultimate version of Blade Runner.

Blade Runner works on many levels. There’s the gorgeous dystopian design. There’s atmosphere oozing from every sound of Vangelis’ soundtrack. There’s the vision and the philosophical aspects: life, death, the time we’re given. They don’t make movies like this anymore and Blade Runner is the peak of a period. It’s an absolute delight to marvel in the polished and crisp picture and to notice details like the eyes of replicants reflecting light differently. Who’s replicant and who’s not? And does it matter? And what’s that about a unicorn? Find out.