Thursday, 29 December 2016

What will happen to Fisher's role as General Organa

The sad passing of Carrie Fisher this week left much sadness in the world of scifi and literature, but also left some questions about her role in the Star Wars series.

In Rogue One she was seen as a twenty year old, thanks to CGI effects.

Although the use of CGI was criticised, it would be hard to understand how else the producers could have got around the important link of Princess Leia from Rogue One to the original Star Wars: A New Hope.

It would have been very unsatisfying not to see her face and would have been absurd to use a different actress since Carrie Fisher played the part both before and after the Rogue One timeline. So CGI it was, and was as mercifully brief as possible - just long enough to make the connection.

The continuing Star Wars series is a different question as there is reportedly a much larger role for her character - now a General - in Star Wars VIII which has now wrapped principal photography.

However, it is not understood if the producers will rewrite the movie to include her death, continue with her through CGI or have her die off camera.

But whatever path they take, many may grieve for Carrie Fisher, but many others will also grieve for Leia Organa.

There have also been suggestions that her daughter Billie Lourd will play a larger part in future movies.

In a further sad development, her mother Debbie Reynolds passed away a day after Fisher.

Tuesday, 20 December 2016

Atmospheric Blade Runner 2049 trailer shows Harrison Ford and Ryan Gosling crossing paths

Harrison Ford's Rick Deckard is alive but in hiding from what we can gather from the first trailer for the Blade Runner reboot, which features Ryan Gosling's K searching through a dystopian wilderness.

A synopsis leak has given us more clues about the action, while the trailer provides the atmosphere, with a mix of Mad Maxian desert and original steamy Blade Runner LA.

Thirty years after the events of the first film, a new blade runner, LAPD Officer K (Ryan Gosling), unearths a long-buried secret that has the potential to plunge what’s left of society into chaos. K’s discovery leads him on a quest to find Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford), a former LAPD blade runner who has been missing for 30 years.

Blade Runner 2049 is being directed by Denis Villeneuve, and following the positive reception of his Arrival, hopes are high.

The script was written by original Blade Runner co-writer Hampton Fancher with Michael Green, who was behind the emotion-charged Wolverine movie Logan as well as Alien: Covenant (which recently wrapped in Sydney).

The first movie was based on Philip K Dick's Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, although it famously deviates from the novel. It will be interesting to see where the new story goes.

Original director Ridley Scott is in charge as executive producer.

Skyfall and No Country for Old Men cinematographer Roger Deakins will be creating the look. The cast also includes Jared Leto, Dave Bautista, Robin Wright, Ana de Armas, Mackenzie Davis, Carla Juri and Barkhad Abdi.

It's due to land in October 2017.

Enjoy the trailer below.

Friday, 16 December 2016

Chiang’s circles of life shine in Arrival

Circles are key in Arrival, a thought-provoking movie based on Ted Chiang’s short piece, The Story of Your Life.

Chiang has been described as a literary science fiction writer; and Arrival as intelligent sci-fi. So what I expected to see was something that values science over fiction. But this is intelligent in a different way: ideas are the strength, but it has a strong backbone of beautifully realised story.

And while science is there, it is mainly the “science” of linguistics.

In an early scene the protagonist, eminent linguist Louise Banks (Amy Adams), squares off with number obsessed mathematician Ian Donelly (Jeremy Renner). To me, this suggested a conflict reminiscent of an Ian McEwan novel (Atonement, Saturday spring to mind) where two characters take up the mantle of either Science or the Arts, and fight a battle of left hand versus right ensues.

But with Arrival the conflict of ideas is a little fuzzier, and is more about the power of language, reminding me in some ways of two books about words creating their own realities, one by Iain Pears and the other by Marcel Theroux.

For me, the most engaging aspect of the movie and the script is its circularity, both a key theme and a beautiful story-telling device. The aliens (called heptapods due to their seven limbs) write in a non-linear, circular manner that resembles a tablecloth after a Sambuca party. The written language has no beginning or end, but must be read as a whole; and as Louise begins to understand this, her perception of time changes too.

This is based on a concept called linguistic relativity or the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis in which it is proposed that language actually determines thought, instead of how your average Joe would accept it, which is the other way around.

The execution of translating Chiang’s ideas to screen was superbly handled by Canadian Denis Villeneuve. He is due to direct the upcoming Blade Runner reboot, and based on this it will definitely be worth a look.

But first off, I’m going to dig out some more Chiang, started perhaps with his take on AI in The Life Cycle of Software Objects, or his exploration of fundamentalist religious beliefs in Hell Is the Absence of God.

If you’ve seen the movie or read Chiang’s stories let me know what you think on my Facebook page.

Saturday, 10 December 2016

Who forgot to put the cover on the Death Star exhaust port?

Recently departed space pioneer John Glenn has many famous quotes.

The best perhaps was "I felt exactly how you would feel if you were getting ready to launch and knew you were sitting on top of two million parts - all built by the lowest bidder on a government contract."

The orbits had to be cut short after a malfunction.

It made me wonder who tended for the Death Star? A higher bidder would probably have forked out a few more galactic credits for an exhaust port cover.

Below is a diagram of the Mercury craft. You see more on that mission here.

This is also fun:

Friday, 9 December 2016

Space pioneer John Glenn passes away aged 95

Vale John Glenn, aged 95, (July 18, 1921 – December 8, 2016), space flight pioneer and the first American to orbit the Earth.

He restored US pride after first Yuri Gagarin and then Gherman Titov had successfully put Russia ahead in the space race. And at the age of 77, after a career in politics he did it all over again, becoming the oldest person ever to travel into orbit.

Below is a short doco on his famous flight in 1962, flying the Mercury spacecraft Friendship 7 for a space journey that would last more than four hours. During the trip Perth citizens flashed their lights so he could see the city as he passed over, for which he thanked them. He also saw weird flashing lights, like fireflies in space, but NASA seemed uninterested in his observations.

A malfunction occurred, so they forced an early splashdown after three orbits into the Atlantic.

He became so popular the president, John F Kennedy, allegedly refused to allow him to return to space the following year, lest he become a presidential contender. Instead, he became a senator in his home state of Ohio.

Tuesday, 29 November 2016

Did we literally come from comet dust?

The existence of life outside Earth appears much more likely following the discovery of key organic compounds on a comet studied by the European Space Agency (ESA).

The ESA's Rosetta spacecraft made several detections of the amino acid glycine, used by living organisms to make proteins, in the cloud of gas and dust surrounding the comet.

Extrapolating the find, the argument goes that these and necessary building blocks may have been instrumental in life forming on our planet if brought here by a similar comet. (Glycine was actually found on a comet in Utah in 2006, but there were questions about contamination of the samples.)

As other planets would also be peppered by these amino acids, including planets suitable for establishing life, then the possibility of life in other parts of the universe is seen as much more likely.

The picture shows the comet in question  (Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko) taken from Rosetta spacecraft.

Read more about it here.

Saturday, 19 November 2016

Sexy scifi coming to TV with adaptation of Stranger in a Strange Land

Following the news that Robert A Heinlein's Starship Troopers is going to be rebooted, comes the news that his most famous book, Stranger in a Strange Land, will be made into a series for cable channel Syfy.

While Starship Troopers dealt with issues of military defence and citizenship, Stranger in a Strange Land looks at religion, free love and empathy. It tells the story of Valentine Michael Smith, a human who comes to Earth in early adulthood after being born on the planet Mars and raised by Martians.

In 2012, the US Library of Congress named it one of 88 Books that Shaped America.

Elon Musk's 4400 satellites could provide worldwide wifi

An immense network of satellites capable of providing global wireless internet access is the latest plan of Elon Musk's SpaceX.

The Washington Post reports that an application was filed with the US Federal Communications Commission, proposing a fleet of what will eventually include more than 4400 satellites, covering the entire globe. SpaceX needs regulatory approval from the FCC to use the wireless airwaves that would power the network.

Orbiting more than 1100 km in the exosphere, the satellites could provide speeds as fast as 1 gigabit per second per user according to a technical attachment to the filing. SpaceX plans to start by launching 800 satellites.

Clever Cleverman writer picks up $10k John Hinde Science Fiction Award

Cleverman co-writer Michael Miller has won the Australian Writers Guild (AWG) 2016 John Hinde Award for Science Fiction.

The awards, funded by a bequest from the late Australian film critic John Hinde, offers $10,000 for the best produced script and professional support for the best unproduced script submitted each year.

The award was established to encourage, reward and foster creativity in the development and showcasing of science fiction writing for feature film, short film, television, radio and interactive media. It also provides an avenue for unproduced works to enter.

Miller won for the one for his produced script, while Graeme Burfoot for his unproduced screenplay, Red to Blue.

The AWG judges said Cleverman won the award for its intelligent and meticulous worldbuilding, fearless foregrounding of science-fictional elements and its creative exploration of current social issues.

Miller, who won for episode five of the Cleverman’s first season A Man of Vision, told IF magazine he believes sci-fi is a form that allows a writer to convey things not always so easily said in traditional formats.

“That was definitely part of the logic behind setting Cleverman in the future. It's exciting to think that Cleverman is one of several sci-fi-inspired shows on television at present,” he said.

“Science-fiction is clearly alive and well at the moment and awards like this help to keep the  dream alive. So again thanks to John Hinde for his vision in supporting and celebrating sci-fi in this country.”

Vote for your favourite scifi book of 2016

You still have a short time to vote for your favourite science fiction book of 2016 at Goodreads. The finalists are:

Dark Matter by Blake Crouch 
“Are you happy with your life?” Those are the last words Jason Dessen hears before the masked abductor knocks him unconscious. Before he awakens to find himself strapped to a gurney, surrounded by...

Morning Star (Red Rising, #3) by Pierce Brown 
Golden Son changed the game and took the story of Darrow to the next level...

A Murder in Time (Kendra Donovan, #1) by Julie McElwain
Beautiful and brilliant, Kendra Donovan is a rising star at the FBI. Yet her path to professional success hits a speed bump during a disastrous raid where half her team is murdered...

The Long Cosmos (The Long Earth, #5) by Terry Pratchett
Nearly six decades after Step Day and in the Long Earth, the new Next post-human society continues to evolve. For Joshua Valienté, now in his late sixties, it is time to take one last solo

Sleeping Giants (Themis Files, #1) by Sylvain Neuvel 
A page-turning debut in the tradition of Michael Crichton, World War Z, and The Martian, Sleeping Giants is a thriller fueled by an earthshaking mystery—and a fight to control a gargantuan power...

Crosstalk by Connie Willis
Science fiction icon Connie Willis brilliantly mixes a speculative plot, the wit of Nora Ephron, and the comedic flair of P. G. Wodehouse in Crosstalk a genre-bending novel that pushes social media...

Underground Airlines 
It is the present-day, and the world is as we know it: smartphones, social networking and Happy Meals. Save for one thing: the Civil War never occurred...

Bloodline by Claudia Gray
Witness the birth of the Resistance. When the Rebellion defeated the Empire in the skies above Endor, Leia Organa believed it was the beginning to a lasting peace. But after decades of vicious...

The Last One by Alexandra Oliva
Survival is the name of the game as the line blurs between reality TV and reality itself in Alexandra Oliva’s fast-paced novel of suspense. She wanted an adventure. She never imagined...

Lies, Damned Lies, and History (The Chronicles of St Mary's, #7) by Jodi Taylor
'I've done some stupid things in my time. I've been reckless. I've broken a few rules. But never before have I ruined so many lives or left such a trail of destruction behind me.' As Max would be the...

Final Round Voting Nov 15 - 27

Monday, 14 November 2016

Scarlett Johansson leads latest version of manga cyberpunk Ghost in the Shell

Paramount Pictures launched the trailer for Ghost in the Shell in Tokyo, a new take on the manga classic featuring Scarlett Johansson as lethal cyborg Major Motoko Kusanagi.

Comparisons have been made with Matrix, due to the uncanny ability of Major to move as though everyone else stands still while sorting out her various adversaries. However, her more serious enemies don't attack with force, but attempt to hack into her system to reach her hybrid brain.

There have been several versions made previously, most recently the 2015 anime Ghost in the Shell: The New Movie.

Sunday, 13 November 2016

Chic scifi director Luc Besson takes on French cult comic Valérian and Laureline

Luc Besson digs into his auteur quiver and pulls out the superstyle moves in this take on 60s French comic series, Valérian and Laureline. Cool music, freaky aliens, not so subtle sexual undertones and even - a' la Fifth Element - flying cars.

Besson has the skill to captivate the intellect, loins and fashion sense all the same time, and while he always includes some cerebral elements, he never forgets his job is to entertain.

Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets stars Dane DeHaan as Valérian and belle de jour Cara Delevingne as Laureline. The cast also features Rihanna, Ethan Hawke and John Goodman and even has a cameo from jazz legend Herbie Hancock.

It will be a long wait till its release in July 2017.

Friday, 11 November 2016

The Trump presidency could see the post-apocalyptic genre make a big comeback

The Donald Trump presidency is going to be a boon for speculative fiction writers, especially amongst those nervous NATO members and the countries in the South China Sea. Various apocalyptic scenarios seems a touch more likely than a week ago - especially as he seems to have an itchy trigger finger with the nukes.

This quote is from an unnamed US source via CNBC on a security briefing with the Donald prior to him becoming the most powerful man in the world.

"Several months ago, a foreign policy expert on the international level went to advise Donald Trump. And three times [Trump] asked about the use of nuclear weapons. Three times he asked at one point if we had them why can't we use them."

Tuesday, 8 November 2016

New Starship Troopers movie to be penned by Baywatch writing duo

Cult Paul Verhoeven 90s film Starship Troopers - based on the Robert A Heinlein scifi classic novel  - is about to be remade by Columbia Pictures.

The writing team behind it are Mark Swift and Damian Shannon, the duo who wrote the soon to be released Zac Efron/Dwayne Johnson Baywatch movie, according to the The Hollywood Reporter.

Neal H. Moritz, the producer behind the Fast & Furious franchise, is producing with Toby Jaffe, with whom he worked on the studio's remake of another 1990s sci-fi pic, Total Recall.

Starship Troopers is about the military life of soldier Johnny Rico in an intergalactic battle against alien bugs. He progresses through the ranks as his the humans continue to get killed in the brutal battles.

His commanding officer was famous for his line: "Come on you apes, do you want to live forever!?"

The thrust of the book is about military service and citizenship, themes which Verhoeven ramped up to an almost satirical degree. It starred Casper Van Dien, Denise Richards and Neil Patrick Harris.

China launches its largest ever space rocket

The biggest rocket China has ever launched blasted off on November 3 from the Wenchang launch center on Hainan Island.

The Long March 5 rocket will deliver into orbit an experimental satellite designed to test electric-propulsion technology. It was the second rocket they've launched from Wenchang, and considerably bigger than the previous Long March-7.

The 57 metre Long March-5 is powered by 10 liquid-fueled engines generating more than two million pounds of thrust.

Watch the launch below.

Monday, 7 November 2016

See exactly what it's like in the International Space Station thanks to NASA's UHD video

Ever wondered what it's really like inside the International Space Station? Wonder no more - this ultra high definition video from NASA gives you an astronaut-eye view. It's amazingly calming to watch the world move underneath you, accompanied by haunting music.

The fly-through of the International Space Station was produced by Harmonic exclusively for NASA TV UHD, the footage was shot in Ultra High Definition (4K) using a fisheye lens for extreme focus and depth of field.

Sunday, 6 November 2016

Physicist proves wormhole travel might be possible

An MIT physicist has given hope to the prospect of distant space travel, thanks the theory of entanglement.

Just to get to our nearest neighbouring star system, Alpha Centauri and the recently discovered and potentially habitable Proxima B, would take 4.37 light years, or about 25 trillion miles. Of course, if you could travel at the speed of light that would only take 4.37 years, but that's not going to happen. Quora has a good rundown of how long it would take at different speeds.

Russian exploratory company Breakthrough Initiatives reckons it can fly a miniscule nanocraft powered by laser beams to Proxima B in only 20 years. But at the speed of the fastest recorded manmade object ever (Helios 2 as it swung by the sun), it would take more than 4000 years. Neither would be suitable for manned travel.

But the weird world of wormholes might provide an answer, thanks to entanglement.

Essentially, entanglement involves two particles, each occupying multiple states at once – a condition referred to as superposition. For example, both particles may simultaneously spin clockwise and counterclockwise. But neither has a definite state until one is measured, causing the other particle to instantly assume a corresponding state.

The resulting correlations between the particles are preserved, even if they reside on opposite ends of the universe.

Now Julian Sonner has found that, looked at through the lens of string theory, the creation of two entangled quarks – the building blocks of matter – simultaneously gives rise to a wormhole connecting the pair – effectively creating a shortcut through the universe.

There are a lot of dots to connect before it means we can travel through wormholes, but the research proves it might be possible – at least in theory.

Saturday, 5 November 2016

Have we found Spider Zero?

Ever wonder why there's so many spiders in Tolkien?

And the Tolkien influence has been considered a forerunner for other speculative fiction writers to load up with arachnids, including notables in Harry Potter, Doctor Who and of course the eponymous movie Arachnids.

Of course people have always been scared of spiders - not only are they literally creepy but they can kill you with one bite! (Well, some of them can.)

Emily Asher-Perrin thinks she's found Spider Zero. The tarantula that bit JRR Tolkien when he was a kid, sending him on his negative PR campaign to give all spiders a bad name.

Most spiders, as we know, are quite friendly and helpful - imagine how many more mosquitoes and flies we'd have to put up with if there were no house spiders.

Even these wolf spiders below, photographed during a spider plague near the Australian regional town of Wagga Wagga, are relatively harmless. The bite hurts a bit, but it's not going to kill you.

That's not going to make the term "spider plague" any less frightening.

Friday, 4 November 2016

Jessica Jones director pitches scifi series: Martian meets Picnic at Hanging Rock

Aussie director of Jessica Jones fame, Michael Rymer, is pitching a new outback sci fi series to producers in LA.

According to IF magazine, Rymer hopes to start shooting in Melbourne next year.

The series is called Tremula, based on a feature script written by Queensland writers Shayne Armstrong and Shane Krause, and it's about a group of international astronauts who go missing while doing a Mars training simulation in the middle of the Australian desert.

He describes it as "The Martian meets Picnic at Hanging Rock" as the astronauts get caught in a time warp.

Rymer recently won a Hugo  for Jessica Jones, and has a long list of LA credits including Battlestar Galactica, American Horror Story, Longmire, The Killing, Hannibal and The Man in the High Castle.

It sounds intriguing and we hope it comes off.

Another Outback scifi in development is Gary Ross's simply titled Outback with Cary Mulligan attached, and of course there was the 2002-2004 "found footage" Jeopardy kids TV series about backpackers being chased by aliens through the Aussie desert.

By the new Rymer films sounds like it has potential, so hopefully it will get up.

Thursday, 3 November 2016

NASA gives us five days to hide from asteroids

NASA has set up the Scout System to warn us of asteroids heading our way, and the good news is, it works!

The bad news, however, is that if it's big enough to wipe out the planet, we really don't have anywhere to hide, no matter how many days warning we have.

Recently, a telescope in Hawaii detected asteroid 2016 UR36 and three other telescopes confirmed its existence and its trajectory. They also learned its size, between five and 25 metres diameter.

They worked out it would "just" miss Earth by 498,000 km. But if it had been going to hit, it would have been another story.

For big asteroids there's probably not much we could do with five days except maybe play or watch a test cricket match. But for smaller meteorites like the one in Chelyabinsk, they might be able to evacuate towns and avoid casualties.

And in any case, the really big ones NASA already knows about - or so we hope. It has plans to launch a Deep-Impact-type redirect mission if they look like getting too close, and will commence the program in 2020, giving it time before a near-Earth event due in 2028.

If you want to see what a small piece of an asteroid can do, here is some amazing dash-cam vision of the Chelyabinsk meteorite crashing into the Urals in 2013.

Wednesday, 2 November 2016

Alien civilisation may be farming solar energy

NASA’s Kepler space telescope has found a star that acts so strangely, they believe it may be due to a structure built around it to harness solar energy.

Senior SETI Institute astronomer Seth Shostak believes the stellar system KIC 8462852 might be home to an advanced civilization.

The star shows surprising behavior that’s odd even by the generous standards of cosmic phenomena. KIC 8462852 occasionally dims by as much as 20 percent, suggesting that there is some material in orbit around this star that blocks its light - and they don't believe it's a planet.

However, it could be other natural phenomena such as comet debris, but the SETI Institute isn't discounting the more exciting possibilities.

Indigeneous superhero Cleverman back for second series

Michael Lallo (SMH) reports that acclaimed Indigenous superhero series Cleverman has got the green light for a second season.

ABC's head of television, Richard Finlayson, says:

"I think we're well aware that when you're venturing into new areas – in this case the sci-fi zombie genre – it's going to be a bit challenging for audiences. But it's a beautiful relationship drama, really. It's important for us to commit these highly awarded shows, and it would be a poor message to the industry to quit after one series. We believe they've got plenty of future."

At last, the Lost ending explained by Ben Linus

SPOILER ALERT if you're still watching the show from 2010.

Michael Emerson, the actor who played the morally ambiguous Ben Linus on mystifying SFF TV series Lost, has finally explained that the characters are not dead, as many assumed, but in a sort of ante-chamber to full-blown death, as it were. To progress to the afterlife, they need to go two-by-two into eternity.

"They’re all gonna pass through to a happy afterlife. Just as in a Shakespeare play, everybody goes two by two. It’s couples. That’s because, I think, by the rules of Lost , you can only pass into heaven - if you want to call it that - with a mirror redeemer. With someone who has loved you without reservation, for yourself. Everybody had that I think, except for Benjamin Linus. That’s why he can’t go. He has to wait; he needs to find his mirror redeemer."

So they weren't dead (except in Season 6 flash-sideways timeline).

Tuesday, 1 November 2016

A touch of Alien in this alien film

It's got to make you wonder. Literally the most out-of-the-world thing you can find - an alien lifeform - with all the big questions about existence hanging over it and limitless potential to do us harm. Certainly worth serious and considered observation. Then someone has to go and touch it...