‘Stargate SG-1’ and ‘Stargate Atlantis’

Having just recently watched the full Stargate SG-1 and Stargate Atlantis, I cannot emphasise enough how good I think these series are. There are plenty of weak episodes but to keep the overall story and characters so good over a total of 15 seasons is a remarkable achievement.

This time I revisited plenty of episodes I barely remembered which was a very welcome distraction. There are some episodes which I have seen dozens of times, but especially SG-1’s season 10 and the later seasons of Atlantis are less well known to me.

What did irk me this time round was the weird nature of the moral compass of John Sheppard. Also, looking at the decisions the frontline teams make in general there are plenty of doubtful ideas that come through their minds. In some ways, it all feels very conceited, but I guess that is because it is. What can one do… The good episodes are still good.

This overall took me a lot longer than half a year, I would think, and was only helped along by the virtue of dinners that extend into the late evening. I was rarely enthralled enough to divert my full attention to the series, but that is perhaps what it’s really good at: some scenes are mindblowing and others are good background. Just like life.

Review: Babylon’s Ashes

Babylon's Ashes
Babylon’s Ashes by James S.A. Corey
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I think this is the Expanse I have been waiting for. The novel is strong throughout and it is more humane, maybe by virtue of focussing not just on three or four people but on a myriad of characters with their very own hopes and wishes.

I have missed out on the novellas to be fair — excepting the Anderson Station one — so I may know less about the backstory than I should, but I wanted to keep on going with the main story, and I am happy I did. I may not like the ending here — and I do as it feels logical — but it is a partial ending. We know things are going to get better, we know things are going to get worse. It’s a good place to stop.

Although some of the things in the books felt out of character. Maybe it could have been the stress these people were feeling; maybe I am reading them slightly wrong. I also feel that Mars is getting the least good end of the stick, but that’s probably for a good reason (and you can find this one out on your own).

Lastly, I would just stress again the humanity of this book. It feels right. People do righteous things by themselves and they either work out or they don’t. People agree to work together or they don’t. But everything keeps on going, just as it always does.

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Review: Nemesis Games

Nemesis Games
Nemesis Games by James S.A. Corey
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I find the Expanse a thrilling series because of the topics it manages to consider as it goes through the various episodes. This episode here was more about individual people and their relations than the previous books, and the book here manages these topics in a more straightforward manner than previously.

I quite appreciated the move to use the crew of the Rocinante as the POV sources. This created a better atmosphere than some of the previous options, though it was obviously also pleasant to see the return of characters such as Bobby and Chrisjen even if we did not see the situation from their POV.

I am uncertain about some of the actions here though and their overall motive. I don’t want to say too much about this in case people read this review before reading the book, but things look very short-sighted. We’ll see, I guess, we’ll see… And carry on reading…

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Review: Cibola Burn

Cibola Burn
Cibola Burn by James S.A. Corey
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

2.5 really, but I felt that a “3” would be overrating it.

See I read this and wondered, had the authors read ‘The Great North Road’. As both seem to have been published at nearly the same time, I’d say not. And yet, the first half of the book (or more) reads like a poorer copy of that book and that is because Mr Hamilton writes better crime sci-fi.

Neither did I really find the mysteries on the planet compelling — and that’s mostly because even though the authors note a lot of secrets they don’t really come close to even a basic description of what’s going on, and I feel that’s hurting the series as it is.

Lastly, I think that the choice of characters the authors have chosen to represent Sol and everything else is getting pretty bland, having noticed some themes arise. I’ll see whether these still hold true in the next installment (hopefully not) but can’t note really before then. Of the people previously mentioned in the universe, the one actually interesting (and new!) character for most sci-fi readers isn’t covered in anything more than a paragraph (view spoiler).

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‘Into the Black’, E. Currie

Evan Currie’s fourth book in the ‘Into the Black’ saga is out in about a week. With that in mind, I decided to reread the previous three books, to have them fresh in my mind. I finished slightly earlier than what I had previously planned, so I have some time before I carry on with the final statement in that series. What I definitely wish to emphasise is that the author is an excellent storyteller, I enjoy the setting and the characters, even if not all of them are the deepest people in the world. I find they have a reality to themselves, a reality which, if I paraphrase the books, “has a quality all its own”.

This time round, one of the things I noticed was the number of inconsistencies between the books — the regrettable oversight of swapping Doctors Palin and Rame in Books 1, 2, and 3 (or rather, swapping them in Book 2 but not keeping to that mistake for Book 3 where he could have been written in properly); the countered statement from Book 2 in Book 3 which implied the Archangels were not at full strength after battle losses; etc. These inconsistencies make me unhappy because I can’t imagine they would have been difficult to flesh out in the direction the author wanted to take the books from the beginning. However, they weren’t. I shall only hope that the final instalment will be more consistent with the previous ones.

On the rest of the books, I find that I enjoy the story more and more. The concept of duty is explored so thoroughly I could not wish for anything more. Similarly treated is an odd quality we might call ‘sanity’. Who or what is sane? Is life? I can’t say I know, but it is interesting to think about. It is this (and the famous lifted statement from Battlestar Galactica) which led me to reflect a few days back how interesting the universe would be if we saw with our eyes some different frequency, some different wavelength. Imagine how our perspectives would be different…

And the Drasin allow for such imaginations. They are killers, certain, but there is nothing to indicate they are malevolent. And that may be the interesting bit about it all — anger is the emotion which is common to both these creatures and the humans. Nothing else. Will we be ever only capable of understanding things which are different from us through anger? One would hope not…

In any case, the last book awaits. I shall let you know what I think of it after I am finished. I am sure, however, it will not disappoint.

‘Matrix Revolutions’

As I had started it, I had to finish the series. I am not entirely confident I enjoyed the third movie as much as I did once upon a time, but finding out why might be difficult.

The third installment in the Matrix series has a far more serious moment than the previous two: humanity is about to die. How can we save it? What do we need to do? Admittedly, the right question to ask might be “Should we save humanity?” but no one there wants to do that. So, we’re left with trying to save them.

One thing that does not change from the previous two is a number of decent fight scenes. The final moment of combat between Smith and Neo is quite enjoyable — the soundtrack is incredible for those scenes as well. There is, however, an additional great part to this duel that only enhances the experience.

That would be the dialogue. Smith is as excellent as ever before.

Why, why, why? Why do you do it? Why get up? Why keep fighting? Do you believe you’re fighting for something? For more than your survival? Can you tell me what it is? Do you even know? Is it freedom? Or truth? Perhaps peace? Could it be for love? Illusions, Mr. Anderson. Vagaries of perception. The temporary constructs of a feeble human intellect trying desperately to justify an existence that is without meaning or purpose.

I don’t know how enjoyable a task it was to try to think of things for Smith to say, but they have come up with a very interesting range of philosophical statements. Sure, Smith’s own vantage point is not very easily approachable for most of us, but what he says could be: how do we differentiate between what is actually real and what is a constructed value?

That indeed is probably why I enjoy this scene so much. It makes me think of how emotions work, and what is the actual basis for emotions.

On the side of the other major battle, the defense of Zion, I am not as confident as I used to be. Those battle scenes were quite enjoyable for me, and now they seem as nothing special. There are plenty of similarities with a number of other movies that can be watched, and these scenes do not really add to the quality of this movie. It purely makes for more entertainment.

However, there is plenty still which is worth taking a look at, and as I said above there is a bit of material in here which can make a person think — that is, if they want to think about complex issues.

‘Nova War’, G. Gibson

‘Nova War’ is the second book in Mr Gibson’s Shoal series. The situation has developed from what we saw in ‘Stealing Light’ to a full scale war between the two most powerful civilizations known to humanity. What does a full scale war mean? For people who have not read the books and yet want the imagery, let me describe the following situation.

In one hand, you hold a star. You close the hand, and the star is no more. Any planets orbiting the star disappear in a supernova along with all the people who lived in the system.

There is no more powerful weapon by pure destructive force. The star is indefensible and when the hand is closed, nothing can open it again. Is there anyone who is qualified to decide when to close that hand?

And, yet, that is what the Shoal do. Or, maybe not the Shoal. That is what Trader does. And so begins a war of proportions few people can imagine with hundreds if not thousands of suns wiped out. The ultimate casualty of such a war is of course the people who are too weak to defend themselves: the Shoal forsake some of their former protectorates and their enemies advance. Which is not to say that the superpowers do not suffer: The Shoal and their enemies die in the billions along with everyone else.

It is this situation that Dakota and Lucas need to navigate first from their position as Bandati prisoners and then as independent actors in this war that is about to begin. The Magi ships have a greater role to fill, and Dakota can continue trying to figure out how to redeem herself. Yet, this book is less about her and more about the possibilities of the universe. After all, we learn of the species called the Emissaries. The Emissaries of God, that is.

I have to admire Mr Gibson for the inventiveness he has put into creating new races. The Emissaries are a very good example of something I am not sure I like or dislike. I do know that they are unique. I mean, what else could I possible call an elephant who yells “Where is God?” and crushes flying aliens (and anything else in their way)…

The Shoal are as excellent as before, and we gain a bit more insight into humanity as well. The Freehold is one place we learn some more of, but a particular specimen of the species, Hugo Moss, is the character that turns quite a bit more relevant in this episode.

What we learn towards the end of the book is a different type of power. We’re not speaking of destruction by explosions and force any more. No, instead as the FTL drive can be used as the supreme weapon of destruction, then what we hear rumours of is a weapon that operates on morals. Or, at least, that is what the highly unreliable Trader says. If he can be trusted this time, Dakota might have a chance at saving us all. If not, well… let’s say I would not prefer to meet one of the Emissaries on the ground although the likelihood of that will increase by the day.

‘Stealing Light’, G. Gibson

I recently finished Gary Gibson’s Shoal trilogy (or rather, series, for I hear there’s a fourth book around somewhere), and I enjoyed it very much. Yet, I have decided to comment on these individually as I can time-wise because I don’t feel that they are similar enough to warrant just one post.

The first book started slow: the flashbacks were an interesting way to bring forward an event the significance of which I could not understand until I experienced it through the words and images the author drew in my mind. It was an interesting concept, and I could not quite understand the horror and anger against mental implants until I read that chapter. It allowed for everything to make sense again. Imagine hearing the voice of God and then losing it. How could anyone cope?

What I liked very much in this installment was the way in which Dakota Merrick was manipulated by the infamous Shoal member, Trader-in-Faecal-Matter-of-Animals. What a name! Trader is also probably my favourite character of the entire trilogy: I just enjoy the way in which he speaks to humans, plus he is quite the manipulator of events. In addition, naturally, he is infallible.

“Mellifluous greetings.”

How can anyone top that?

Getting on to the other characters, I think that a part of what makes Mr Gibson’s first Shoal book so interesting is the conflict within Dakota. And the hatred that everyone else invariably directs towards her. The question in my mind is how would any of us cope in that situation? I think the moment in the very beginning where she contemplated suicide was quite instructive in that way — it gave us an insight into what she thought of herself.

I guess that times change and years can pass but those thoughts at least remained. And then Dakota notices the wake of destruction left in her path, and it is all there again. In the present and very much alive, those feelings from years past.

I’m not going to say anything else about the content to avoid spoilers for the people in whom I have managed to rouse some interest in, but I will point out that Mr Gibson’s world is quite unique. I always like seeing how sci-fi writers come up with new and innovative worlds that are pleasant to look at. In the Shoal, he has created a truly brilliant race as I see them. Aside from being extremely long lived fish, the thought of them ruling the galaxy could probably be called sobering. How can humans cope with not being the best? But then again, the Shoal really are not that impressive, are they? For that reason, for that insight, I quite enjoyed the moment where the author described a moment where a Shoal member thought of the destruction possible if the humans ever found out how much infighting and politicking there was inside the Shoal.

The first book then, as I look at it, is more about looking into oneself and judging oneself. Dakota tries her best, always; she doesn’t look for trouble — and yet trouble is there. And our heroine has to navigate that gauntlet of problems… If she does, the one sound that will be there at that moment will be the one saying:

“Mellifluous greetings.”

And the world continues.

‘Matrix Reloaded’

I have dreamed a dream, but now that dream has gone from me.

I guess that after watching the Matrix it was only natural that my path would lead me to take another look at the two sequels as well. This week it was the second one, and I am confident I’ll get around to the third at some point in the near future. For now though, my impressions on the renewed second part of the trilogy.

The one scene I really like is the massive party in Zion. It does give somewhat an apocalyptic feel which is, I guess, what the producers aimed for. If every single soul was to be matched number-to-number by an enemy drone, I also would have an apocalyptic feeling. So this party manages to capture the moment well enough for me to believe it.

One of the other scenes I appreciate is the one where Neo fights Smith if only to see and hear Hugo Weaving and the dialogue that has been written for him. It carries the same charm that it had in the first movie, and I know that it is one of the things I used to appreciate in the final episode as well. I’ll be able to see if that is still true when I get around to it.

Otherwise, I think somewhat refreshing to see that even in the quite literal possible end of humanity, humans are still infighting. There is no greater collective interest that takes precedence — there’s factions and disputes. The human character has not changed. Can the human character change if even the very end of the race doesn’t prompt some reaction?

I found the questions asked by Councillor Hamann have particular relevance in proving that even though humans are at war with the machines, they also depend on other machines. There is no choice in that, as he tells Neo: the water is purified by machines, and the air is kept cool by the machines. If it were not for machines, life would be impossible. And yet, machines are the one thing hell-bent on exterminating free humanity.

Morpheus has the same philosophical attitude as he always does, and one of his statements that I would like to leave you with sounds extremely beautiful to my ears. I guess that in an ideal world instead of our infighting, these words would be representative of our attitude.

Locke: Not everyone believes what you believe.
Morpheus: My beliefs do not require them to.

‘Matrix’

Have you ever stood and stared at it, marveled at its beauty, its genius? Billions of people just living out their lives, oblivious. Did you know that the first Matrix was designed to be a perfect human world, where none suffered, where everyone would be happy? It was a disaster. No one would accept the program, entire crops were lost. Some believed we lacked the programming language to describe your perfect world, but I believe that, as a species, human beings define their reality through misery and suffering. The perfect world was a dream that your primitive cerebrum kept trying to wake up from.

‘The Matrix’ used to be really big — people used to talk about it and say how much they like it, how much they enjoyed it. And I recently decided to watch the movie again because I remembered having liked it the first time round. What I didn’t realize before I watched it was that it was an entire fourteen years ago that it was big. Fourteen years! It certainly doesn’t feel like fourteen years…

Having watched it again, I have to say I still enjoy the premise of the movie — that of a future and a dream. The science fiction side of the story is very compelling: after all, what is this world? Can it be that we live in a dream? And what is the difference between a dream one cannot wake up from and the reality? How do we know the truth?

Of the characters present, my favour falls upon Agent Smith. Hugo Weaving’s portrayed agent has so much style and elegance that, after everything, he is the most memorable. Morpheus is great fun and Neo isn’t too bad either, but Agent Smith has a certain charisma that none of the others do. And his dialogue is superb.

So, what is the main value of ‘The Matrix’? I think that the answer there is the thoughts present. Like so much of good science fiction, this film manages to raise quite a few questions. These questions may not seem relevant in our everyday lives, and they indeed probably are not — but they certainly have a value when we start thinking about why we are here. And those thoughts are worth pondering over every now and then.

And it is for these radical thoughts (and I say “radical” while I mean “interesting”) that I would say ‘The Matrix’ will also be worth watching in 2019 when twenty years will have passed from its original release.

I’d like to share a revelation I’ve had during my time here.