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Movie Review: Zoombies

Zoombies

Released: 2016
Genre: Sci-Fi / Horror
IMDB Rating: 3.6 / 10

Sometimes life gets a bit busy and you just need a good (bad) movie to settle your spirits. The kind of movie that’s cohesive in its stupidity, that laughs at how seriously it takes itself, that stands steadfast in the face of its own inadequacies. Zoombies, dear reader, is sadly not that movie.

This is The Asylum’s answer to Jurassic World in a very loose sense (in that it references Jurassic World and has a park filled with lots of animals), and one would think that that kind of ripoff combined with zombified animals would result in a fantastic hour and a half, but it doesn’t. Something’s gone horribly awry at The Asylum of late where they just can’t seem to pull off making a good bad movie, despite having all of the ideas and none of the budget necessary to make such things happen.

Tis a pity.

Anyone who wears a side scrunchie in this day and age is just asking for trouble.

Anyone who wears a side scrunchie in this day and age is just asking for trouble.

The Plot

Welcome to Eden, the largest and most spectacular wildlife park on Earth! Home to every kind of creature imaginable, Eden is the last refuge for many species on the planet, and will soon open its illustrious gates to the public so that all can admire Mother Nature’s glorious bounty.

That’s what Dr Ellen Rogers is hoping for anyway. Having inherited the park from her grandfather she’s quickly come to realise that it’s rather pricey to maintain a place that has fully thriving replicas of every ecosystem on the planet (because it’s not that difficult to build an artificial savanna next to an artificial polar region), so she’s getting ready for the grand opening where thousands upon thousands of children can get up close and personal with nature with their grubby, sticky little fingers. Of course, such grand openings are never without a few teething problems…

The teething problem being a virus that started out in a monkey enclosure and is rapidly spreading across the entire park. The virus kills its host and then re-animates them, turning once adorable koalas and majestic giraffes into salivating, blood-thirsty predators. It’s up to Dr Rogers and her team of useless interns, inept security guards, and untrained scientists to try and isolate the virus and discover a cure before it can reach Eden’s aviary and infect the birds, who will surely spread the disease across the world.

Doctor, his test has come back positive for death!

Doctor, his test has come back positive for death.

The Visuals

The visuals in this movie are quite astounding, because when you start watching everything’s quite good. I was sitting there thinking that The Asylum had really upped their graphics budget and updated their PCs to run on at least Windows 98, so it was all rather promising. Sadly that promise quickly evaporated as the animals became more and more blurry and poorly animated as time wore on.

Now I understand that it must be difficult, as an actor, to react to creatures that will only be added in in post-production, but even this isn’t enough of an excuse to subject an audience to some of the things that I had to see. I do not believe, for instance, that you can simply bandage up a leg and walk off an injury that was caused by an elephant standing on you. I similarly do not believe that if you were violently thrown from a car that rammed into a tree at full speed that you would walk away with nothing but one or two grass stains on your pants. I’m no zoologist but I also do not believe that a giraffe has the kind of teeth that it would need to viciously gore and mutilate a human as this movie would have you believe.

These are just my opinions as a movie watcher and a specialist in absolutely nothing, but I feel that they are important nonetheless.

The Jungle Book's King Louie had seen better days...

The Jungle Book’s King Louie had seen better days…

The Feelings

Excitement which rapidly gave way to boredom.

Zombified zoo animals. Just ponder that for a moment – let it roll around in your mind and conjure up spectacular images of horror and madness. That’s what Zoombies should’ve been, but wasn’t.

I was really excited when I heard this movie was coming out, but watching it what struck me the most was just how amateurish it was (even by the low standards set by The Asylum). Most of all it committed the one cardinal sin for movies in this genre – it wasn’t funny. If you don’t have the money to make it serious then you have to camp it right the way up until the audience member’s brain is so assaulted by what’s on the screen that they have no choice but to enjoy it. That never happens, and what you’re left with is 90-or-so minutes of “actors” plodding along desperately trying to find their way to some kind of plot.

My Final Rating: 3 / 10
Buy Zoombies at Amazon.com

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Posted by on April 25, 2016 in Movie Review

 

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Movie Review: Tarantula

Tarantula

Released: 1955
Genre: Sci-Fi / Horror
IMDB Rating: 6.5 / 10

And thus the last of the aborted 1950s SCI-FI SPECTACULAR! reviews is released. During the preparatory phase of this little experiment I decided to watch one of the very few 50s movies I was actually familiar with (outside of those I’ve seen as part of MST3K). I remember Tarantula from my tween years when it aired on the SyFy Channel (back when they could still spell ‘Sci-Fi’ properly) – back then you knew you were serious about a movie when you recorded it and removed that little tab on the VHS tape which meant you couldn’t record over it. Somehow that little VHS tape landed up at our holiday house and it became a tradition that whenever the family went away for the weekend we’d all dutifully watch Tarantula, so it’s suitably steeped in tradition to form part of A World of Weird’s review archive.

God damn it Stephanie, could you science a little less like a woman?

God damn it Stephanie, could you science a little less like a woman?

The Plot

The world was alive with possibilities back in the 1950s. Women had dresses that compressed their waists to around 2 inches, you could smoke in a hospital, men could live with men in the middle of the desert miles away from civilisation but “just be friends”, and mad scientists could concoct anything their demented little minds could imagine so long as they had enough little beakers to put colourful (well, in this case, varying shades of grey) liquid into.

Professor Gerald Deemer just happens to be one of those mad scientists, and believe you me he has enough beakers to leave the small town of Desert Rock, Arizona reeling for years to come. You see, Professor Deemer is very concerned about population growth and how this will affect mankind’s old future. By his estimates there will easily be 3.5 billion people in the world by the year 2000, and there simply isn’t a conceivable way that we’re gonna be able to feed all those people. To tackle this problem he has created a super nutrient by combining pretty colourful water and an atomic isotope. The animals in his lab, including the eponymous tarantula, have thrived on this nutrient but have also grown well beyond the size God intended for them. Unfortunately Professor Deemer is attacked in his lab by a man suffering from very bad prosthetic makeup, a fire breaks out, and the tarantula escapes and begins its unholy reign of marginal terror across the desert.

While all of that’s happening heart-throb Dr Matt Hastings is very concerned about the number of people turning up dead in the middle of the desert, all of whom seem to have suffered the same horrifying case of bad prosthetic makeup as the man who attacked Professor Deemer. He’ll need all the help and perky bosoms that Professor Deemer’s lovely grad student Stephanie “call me Steve” Clayton can provide if he’s ever going to solve this bizarre mystery, as well as trying to figure out why there are so many horse skeletons littered across the desert next to giant puddles of spider venom…

The Wilson's barbeque was another rip-roaring success.

The Wilson’s barbeque was another rip-roaring success.

The Visuals

I’m not sure what you want me to say here. Admittedly I’m not very well acquainted with the movies of this era, and have absolutely no reverence for old-school special effects, so I probably laughed a lot more than I should have at what, at one stage, was perhaps earth-shattering cinematography.

The tarantula is amazing. Obviously shot on a very teeny tiny green screen and then edited into the main movie, half the time part of it disappears as its walking because the little thing must have moved outside the shot. You’ll quickly come to realise that they only have maybe 10 minutes’ worth of spider footage and they’re just gonna keep re-using the one that best fits in with what’s meant to be happening. The spider also can’t seem to decide what size it wants to be, so that changes depending on where it happens to find itself. And just when I thought I’d got the giggles from looking at the spider under control the damn thing went and roared/growled before it ate something, and that was just the beginning of the end.

The prosthetic makeup for the various victims lying around the desert were also a source of some good giggles. Again, I’m sure they were very advanced for their time, but sitting here 60 years down the track they just aren’t quite holding up as well you’d hope. Nevertheless, the giant roaring spider, the lumpily-deformed humans and the I’m-too-sexy-for-my-medical-degree Matt Hastings all combine for a fun little movie.

We can dance if we want to We can leave your friends behind Cause your friends don't dance And if they don't dance Well they're no friends of mine!

We can dance if we want to, we can leave your friends behind. Cause your friends don’t dance and if they don’t dance well they’re no friends of mine!

The Feelings

It was a different time.

I haven’t giggled at a movie like I did at this one for quite some time. The cheesy visuals and story aside (and they’re worth a good laugh on their own), when I was younger I didn’t quite register just how different things were when this movie was made. Some terrific lines from Tarantula include (but are not limited to):

“You give women the vote and what do you get? Lady scientists!”

“I may be a scientist Professor but a woman’s first responsibility is her hair.”

What makes it even better is that (1) is said in a flirtatious manner, and (2) is said in a tone that makes you think she was laying her hand on the Bible while she said it. Not that any of this is a bad thing, of course – the fact of the matter is I’ve gotten smarter and more and more politically incorrect as I’ve gotten older, so this means that little lines like these just make the movie even more fun than when I watched in back in the heyday of my youth.

If you haven’t seen Tarantula, I would thoroughly recommend it. You really can’t go wrong when you mix a giant roaring spider with some good old-fashioned, American-style, well-intended misogyny in one movie.

My Final Rating: 6 / 10
Buy Tarantula at Amazon.com

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Posted by on March 11, 2016 in Movie Review

 

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Movie Review: Cat-Women of the Moon

Cat Women of the Moon

Released: 1953
Genre: Sci-Fi / Adventure
IMDB Rating: 3.6 / 10

Some people would have you believe that everything’s fun when you soft science, but I’ve discovered something even better: imagine how much fun you can have when you have no science at all! If attempting a 1950s SCI-FI SPECTACULAR! has taught me anything it’s that it was much easier to make a sci-fi movie in the 50s – with nothing else to go on who was to say that the moon wasn’t inhabited by cat women? Hopefully not these cat women (because these cat women are useless), but cat women nevertheless…

Honey no...

Honey no…

The Plot

It’s a time of unimaginable possibilities, and Earth has sent her first crew of astronauts to explore the moon. Laird Grainger, Kip Reissner, Doug Smith, Walt Walters and Helen Salinger may not have pants that are comfortable, attractive or in any way form-fitting, but they apparently have the wits to pull off this momentous mission (Helen also has an entire desk dedicated to makeup, what with her being a woman and all). Having destroyed only one piece of equipment and setting the lower deck of the spaceship on fire, they land safely on the moon and begin their exploration.

What they find is entirely unexpected – hidden in a cave on the dark side of the moon is a pocket of breathable air, in which dwells rather ridiculous looking spiders in addition to the eponymous cat women. Earth scientists could never have predicted the civilisation our barren little wanderer once harboured: two million years ago the moon was a lush paradise. Now, having lost much of its atmosphere, the eight remnant cat women are forced to live in a rather plush city deep within the discovered cave, the only place left on the home satellite that will still sustain life. They seem friendly and buxom enough, but like a real cat these women have far more nefarious plans in mind.

A telepathic race, the cat women have managed to take over Helen’s feeble female mind and are using her to gain control of the rocket ship. The plan is for three of them to escape back to Earth where they will be able to take control of the female population while subduing the males (death by snoo snoo, I imagine) and bring their dying race back from the brink of extinction. It will be up to the masculine crew in their really high trousers to subdue the cat women and save Earth from possible invasion. That is, if each can get over his really bizarre desire to make bland, lacklustre love to Helen…

Ideal for a starter family or Earth invasion force.

Ideal for a starter family or Earth invasion force.

The Visuals

The 50s tickle me, and not always in a good place.

Bless these people, they tried. That has to count for something. But when you can see the strings that are holding up the spiders, when the background that is the moon cave (and the whole of the moon, in fact) is a different shade of grey to the props, when the mysterious dot on Helen’s hand has been very clearly edited in using rudimentary means, and when the cat women are in outfits so tight yet so unflattering, everyone’s gonna be in for a bit of a rough ride.

The city of the cat women was done up well enough though. Perhaps a little lavish for a dying civilisation on a barren husk of a moon, but still pretty decent. You could probably get it for a steal when the cat women die off (I hear rumours that the property market on the moon isn’t exactly thriving).

The ancient cat-women dance of whatever the hell this is.

The ancient cat women dance of whatever the hell this is.

The Feelings

Ennui.

The problem with Cat-Women of the Moon is that, at first glance, it doesn’t look like it knows where it wants to go. The further into its 64 minute run-time you get, you realise that your first impression was right. I sat there watching the timer count down wondering how the hell this was going to end (since it sure as hell didn’t look like it had the means to actually stage an invasion of Earth). Then the ending happens and I was like “yeah well, that does finish it off, I suppose”.

I guess since it has cat women and the moon it delivers on exactly what the title promises, but I can’t help but feel that a good film needs more than women in tight-fitting black clothing trying to dominate other women and using men for their own nefarious means. Well, certain films need more than that anyway.

My Final Rating: 3 / 10
Buy Cat-Women of the Moon at Amazon.com

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Posted by on March 9, 2016 in Movie Review

 

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Movie Review: Devil Girl From Mars

Devil Girl From Mars

Released: 1954
Genre: Sci-Fi
IMDB Rating: 5 / 10

So back when I ran the B-Horror Blog I would occasionally do a themed movie month and was super keen to have the inaugural one for A World of Weird. Following a chain of thought likely driven by excessive caffeine and general sleep deprivation I settled on a 1950s SCI-FI SPECTACULAR! Unfortunately it was only once I had sourced all the movies that I realised that 1950s sci-fi is generally horrible and best watched only when the MST3K robots are around to lend a helping hand.

I hereby throw in the towel with this particular idea for a themed movie month and leave you with the first of the three movies that I actually managed to watch: the black-and-white Scottish dreariness that is Devil Girl From Mars.

Behold the almighty power of this inter-planetary tuning fork!

Behold the almighty power of this inter-planetary tuning fork!

The Plot

Inverness-shire in Scotland doesn’t know what’s about to hit it – Martian women want our Earth men!

Mars is busy recovering from a catastrophic battle of the sexes that damn-near devastated the planet. The Martian women won, but at a great cost – the war has left the male population on the brink of extinction, and basic biology 101 tells you that you can’t have baby Martians without a mommy and daddy Martian. Nyah, a particularly formidable Martian female, plots a journey to London to abduct as many Earth men as possible to help repopulate the red planet. Unfortunately, for all the Martians are clearly millenia ahead of Earth in terms of technology, Nyah is still a woman and driving proves not to be her strong suit and she damages her spaceship on entry into Earth’s atmosphere. With a damaged ship and a less-than-stellar sense of direction Nyah lands up just outside a bonnie little pub in the drabbest part of Scotland, where she will have to make do with the few men that happen to be inside.

This is the basic premise of what’s happening in Devil Girl From Mars, but in reality this film is more of a PSA for walking than anything else. People getting lost and walking to the pub. Nyah landing and walking to the pub. Nyah walking people to her spaceship. Other people walking to the spaceship. Nyah walking people back to the pub from her spaceship. Nyah picking one or two people to go back to the spaceship. Nyah and those people walking back to the pub. Nyah walking to her spaceship to deliberate. Nyah and a robot walking around the spaceship. Nyah walking back to the pub after she’s done deliberating. And that’s not even all the walking that happens.

As Tropical Mary put it, it’s as though whoever made this little cinematic underachiever got no further than the movie’s title and Nyah’s skin-tight outfit and just had to make do until it was long enough to be released as a full-length movie. While this may not be to everyone’s taste, I’m sure it’ll go down a treat in power walking circles.

What shall I do with all this junk, all this junk inside my trunk?

What shall I do with all this junk, all this junk inside my trunk?

The Visuals

On the one hand the visuals, in some cases, are quite impressive. The spaceship and its little journey through our atmosphere are actually quite well done, and the limited examples of special effects (such as getting rid of unwanted shrubbery and barns with lasers) look, at least to my untrained eye, quite impressive for the time.

Sadly the costuming department didn’t seem to have a 10th of the determination the other departments had. Nyah’s costume is quite something to behold since it’s made entirely of what looks like vinyl and almost goes so far as to show off her burning bush. I imagine this outfit would have been deemed quite scandalous and provocative back in the day, but sitting here in 2016 I’ve seen school girls go out wearing less, and admittedly the only thing this outfit looks like now is daft.

The same can be said for Nyah’s sole passenger, the robot “man” who may have had a name but which I can’t remember. I feel sorry for the poor guy who had to walk around in a giant box with a tupperware dish on his head; it’s rather obvious that he can’t see a damn thing as he tries to plot a course around the set.

All in all it’s nothing to write home about, but it certainly ticks all of the cheesy 50s special effects boxes.

A robot's bar mitzvah is always an awkward affair.

A robot’s bar mitzvah is always an awkward affair.

The Feelings

Boredom and patriotism.

The problem with Devil Girl From Mars is that while it doesn’t do anything fundamentally wrong, it doesn’t do anything fundamentally right either. You can laugh at the convoluted and at times strangely progressive plot, Nyah’s outfit, the clunky robot, and the rather bizarre way that characters interact with one another, but those laughs are going to be few and far between because you need to fucking walk to get there! Either give me 50s sci-fi that’s engrossing or give me 50s cheese that’s so bad I’ll laugh the entire way through, not this middle ground that’s as exciting as a piece of boiled chicken breast.

That being said, this movie should bring out a spark of patriotism in anyone who watches it. No matter what problems we Earthlings may have, I think we can all stand together and agree that our men are our men, and no damn Martian floozy should be able to invade whenever she feels like it and just take them away. Earth girls have enough problems without having to compete with interplanetary broads.

My Final Rating: 4 / 10
Buy Devil Girl From Mars at Amazon.com

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Posted by on March 7, 2016 in Movie Review

 

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Book Review: The Swarm

The Swarm

Author: Chris Pearson
Genre: Horror / Sci-Fi
Published: 2014

So there I was, innocently flipping through my Kindle, trying to imagine a world without bears banging in the shower or where doctors don’t tie up their patients with stethoscopes, when this book happened to me. I say that because I really was trying to force some of the more grotesque erotica out of my mind by replacing it instead with grotesque giant bees, and at only 99c I thought this might do the trick.

Ultimately you can look at The Swarm in one of two ways: either it’s a complete waste of 99c, or it’s a complete bargain in that it provides hours and hours of non-stop rage and irritation that you sometimes have to spend upwards of $3.99 to find. I tend to go with option number two, but even that optimistic outlook on life doesn’t change the fact that this book was rubbish.

The Plot

Mother nature is an unforgiving bitch of a woman sometimes. As if some insects aren’t revolting enough in their minuscule forms, she’s gone and decided to mutate the damn things so that some of them aren’t only the size of busses but also come equipped with row upon row of razor-sharp teeth!

Meg Donner is in Dallas when the swarm initially strikes and is one of the lucky few in the city to make it out with her life and face still intact. She doesn’t know how and she doesn’t know why, but she is completely certain that her younger brother is still alive in their small hometown in Kansas, even if she’s also certain that her parents no longer tread this mortal path. With a goal in mind she sets out to find her brother.

Along the way she meets a rag-tag team of generic characters whose names are unimportant because they’re easier to identify by the stereotype they bring to the table (buff nice guy, older father figure, cop with a dark past, useless crying woman etc.). These strangers also seem to have a bizarre intuition about what’s going on in the world. Over time the group comes to call this intuition ‘the Bind’ and agree that it seems to have arisen to counter the swarm’s hive mind. With the Bind hopefully able to guide them the group sets off, each to fulfill their own destiny and set of premonitions in the face of the growing intelligence of the swarm that’s sweeping backwards and forwards and decimating the United States.

The Writing Style

The writing in this book is a problem, which can be largely attributed to two things: (1) the construction of the plot, (2) the editing (or lack thereof).

In terms of the actual plot the main issue is the Bind; while an interesting idea, that every character is able to tap into the thoughts and premonitions of the other means that there’s no need or scope to either develop the characters’ relationships or to slowly show the reader what it is the swarm wants – the Bind makes everyone know one another instantly, and the Bind will tell you want the swarm wants. I’m not one who favours unnecessarily padding out a story, but a little buildup and tension would be nice.

Without the tension and the buildup the rest of the story falls rather flat – you’re never wondering what’s going to happen just over the hill because the characters already know, you don’t become attached to any of the characters because most of them know (and tell you) if they’re going to survive or not, and you don’t wonder what caused the swarm to mutate because the characters guess it in the first few chapters and are subsequently proven right. By the time we got to members of the Pentagon believing in telepathy I was ready to tap out.

Then we get to the editing of the book. In all honesty the version I read (and I maybe it’s been updated to fix this) reads like a first draft where the story was more or less nailed down but some consistency checks were still waiting in the wings and just never happened. The best example of this lack of consistency is during an attack on the group where the lead insect goes from initially being a dragonfly, then becomes a butterfly for the next two pages, and then dies as a dragonfly. Some characters’ names are also spelled inconsistently and random phrases are repeated too close to one another, almost as if the author wanted to use them but wasn’t quite sure where they would work best. In a book that’s already a bit on the thin side (clocking in at only 180 pages) and lacking most of what it takes to drive an effective plot, the complete lack of checks just pushes The Swarm ever closer to bottom-of-the-barrel territory.

The Feelings

Primarily irritation.

Unlike with movies I’m not one to generally slog my way through a bad book. As with so many things that I seem to land up reviewing here The Swarm has a very interesting concept (who doesn’t like giant bugs or the idea that humans can also work under a pseudo-hive mind?), but none of the strands that Chris Pearson was working with came together properly. What you’re left with then is a plot that borders on ludicrous, following characters that are completely two-dimensional, and an apocalypse that should be really cool but whose explanation is so Youtube-conspiracy-theory that I really struggled to take anything seriously.

My advice is to steer clear of this one. I don’t know of any better giant bug apocalypse novels off the top of my head but I’m sure they’re out there, and one day I’m gonna find them!

My Final Rating: 3 / 10
Buy The Swarm at Amazon.com

 
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Posted by on March 1, 2016 in Book Review

 

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Book Review: Landfall

Landfall

Author: Stephen Baxter
Genre: Science Fiction
Published: 2015

I was always a little sad that Ark didn’t receive a “proper” sequel, and I’ve never really been one for short stories. The main reason for this is that I’ve never really come across a short story that was able to be coherent and fully realised, and I was often left feeling that they should have been turned into full-length novels.

Not one to disappoint, Stephen Baxter went out of his way to provide not one but three fantastic shorts that provide a far better set of stories than any single full-length sequel could have given to the Flood/Ark universe. The first two were originally published in Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine, with the third being available in a rather expensive and limited edition hardcover collection. This Kindle-friendly version makes all three stories available at a reasonable price, and are utterly essential reading for anyone who’s read Flood and Ark.

The Plot

Earth II (400 years after the events of Ark)

Xaia Windru is one of the effective monarchs of Zeeland, an island nation on Earth II that has gradually begun to build an empire out of the islands that make up the Scatter, one of the few areas on the planet that’s inhabitable year-round.

As part of the social design established by the colonists of Earth II warfare is carried out predominantly by women, and Xaia wants to leave a lasting legacy of empire and secure her family’s place as the rulers of Zeeland. Having conquered the island of Brython she sets her sights further afield to the Belt, a slim continent that runs the length of the planet. The Belt is home to the city of Ararat, the original landing site of the Founders, and beyond that lies the fabled City of the Living Dead.

Earth II shows signs of having previously been inhabited – there are ruins on the island of Little Jamaica, and the complete absence of most metals and the local equivalent of fossil fuels despite a fossil record that indicates that such fuels should exist. The City of the Living Dead, according to the few legends that have developed on Earth II, is the last remaining structure left by this lost alien civilisation, and Xaia’s determined to be the one to find it.

The journey, however, will be perilous. At the extreme North of Earth II the planet is either in perpetual baking sunlight or left in total snow-covered darkness, depending on the time of year. Beyond that there is the additional danger discovered by the scientists and philosophers on Zeeland and at Ararat: without a moon to stabilise Earth II’s axis, the planet’s gradually being tugged at by the two Jovian planets further out in the solar system. Ultimately this may make Earth II similar to Earth in terms of its seasonality, but it will take a lot for the human population and its imports from Earth to stand a chance of surviving this monstrous shift on their new home world.

Earth III (1000 years after the events of Ark)

Life on Earth III is centred entirely around the worship of the Designers and the Controllers, mythical beings who have created the simulated reality in which all human beings live. This religion is maintained by the Speaker of Speakers, the ruler of a loose empire of territory and alliances. The heart of this empire is the Navel, the substellar point on Earth III that’s home to the Eye, understood to be part of the complex machinery used to maintain the Simulation.

Tripp, a woman from the north polar region of Earth III, doesn’t believe that at all. She has dedicated a lot of time to collecting the scattered pieces of what is known as the Venus Document. This document, supposedly written by a now semi-mythical figure that descended from the Ark, gives insight into humanity’s journey from a distant planet to make a new home on Earth III. To say these things out loud, however, borders on heresy.

To prove her point Tripp plans an expedition to the antistellar on the other side of the planet, which is covered by perpetual snow and darkness, to find a monument similar to the Eye which was identified by the writer of the Venus Document. It will be an enormous undertaking, spanning half of the known world and then half of the unknown world. Tripp is accompanied by Vala and Brod, two star-crossed lovers trying to outrun an army, on a journey that may forever change humanity’s understanding of where it comes from and why it now lives on this strange planet.

Earth I (10 000 years after the events of Ark)

10 000 years have passed since the Ark made a desperate scramble to the stars, and mankind has finally become an interplanetary species. At this point, the religious teachings of Earth III have been combined with the historical knowledge of Earth II and Urthen (Earth n), with the result being a mythology of the Sim Controllers and Designers who sent the Ark into space to seed the stars.

This mythology forms the backdrop to the story of ‘Earth I’. SheLu, a monk/astronomer, believes that there is some truth to the story, and she is determined to find the mythical lost home world. Paradoxically she believes that finding this planet will prove the existence of the Controllers and Designers, as it would give the mythology some grounding in fact. PiRo, a philosopher, believes that the mythology is flawed and that there is no home world, with humans being the result of convergent evolution on the different planets.

The voyage to find the lost home world will take approximately 100 years to complete (50 years there, 50 years back to Urthen). Anti-senescence technology will keep SheLu, her daughter LuSi, PiRo and his son JaEm young for the duration of the journey as they visit Airtree (Earth III), Windru (Earth II) and gather data that will direct them to an ocean planet that just might be Earth I.

The Writing Style

Earth II

The entire culture that has developed on Earth II is a marvel to read. The people of Earth II, all ultimately descended from the same 15 colonists from the Ark, are acutely aware of where they come from, the deaths of billions back on Earth, and the struggle in took for the Ark to reach its destination. And that is the inherent problem in their society – Earth II does not have the necessary resources to recreate the technology that Earth had, but its inhabitants are nevertheless beholden to the idea that one day Earth II might become a close facsimile of the drowned home world. All of this is perfectly brought to life, as is Xaia’s struggle to reconcile what the Founders accomplished (and recognition of those accomplishments) with the need to create a proper society for the people of the present. The story is only 50-odd pages long, but it’s as well constructed and realised as any of Baxter’s other works.

Earth III

While ‘Earth II’ is a story about a civilisation struggling to free itself from the past, ‘Earth III’ follows a society that’s trying to understand where it comes from. Throughout the story Baxter has managed to entrench this sense that something is wrong: humans shouldn’t be bathed in perpetual sunlight, they shouldn’t be on a world where it’s always too cold to go without layers of clothes, and it doesn’t make sense that the planet has so many animals that all seemingly do not belong there. This comes through with each character, however different they may be or how close they are to the established theocracy that rules the planet. What is also fascinating is how little ideas that were first brought up in Ark have had long-lasting and, at times, damaging consequences on Earth III – mankind was meant to set up a new home world, not establish a religion based on the loose memories of children conjured up by the mind of someone whose psyche was slowly fracturing.

While ‘Earth II’ was primarily established around Xaia’s character, here all of the characters are important as they work together to establish not only who they are and how they came to be on Earth III, but also what civilisations may have thrived before their arrival. It works well as a story in its own right, but is best when used as a contrast to the story and the culture of ‘Earth II’.

Earth I

Much like the mythology in this story is a combination of what is found in ‘Earth II’ and ‘Earth III’, the concepts it deals with are a mashup of what was dealt with in the previous two stories. SheLu does eventually find Earth, and all initial indications are that it is the fabled lost home world – all the animals form part of the “Human Suite” (things that we can eat or things that can eat us) and the rotation matches up with the timescales used on all planets inhabited by humans. More horrifyingly, they discover the form of humans evolved to live on a water world – voracious hunters that are similar in appearance but devoid of all rational capabilities (intelligence being an expensive commodity that these creatures cannot afford).

What Baxter deals with here is the question of whether knowledge and the truth is always useful. Will knowledge of mankind’s origins (and what became of mankind on this drowned planet) be of any benefit to the inhabitants of the other planets, or will the idea that humans magically appeared on the different planets, while untrue, be a healthier belief? There isn’t a right or wrong answer, but it’s one that the characters must deal with and resolve before leaving Earth and starting the return trip to Urthen.

The Feelings

Satisfied.

While Ark had a brilliant ending that was so characteristically Baxter (in that it is both very good and soul-destroying), it did beg the question: “what happened to all the colonists?”. These stories answer all those questions and then a few more, and wrap up the series in a way that few authors manage to achieve.

That’s not to say that I wouldn’t read a sequel to ‘Earth I’, because if that ever comes out I’m gonna be all over it like white on rice.

My Final Rating: 9 / 10
Buy Landfall: Tales From the Flood/Ark Universe at Amazon.com

 
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Posted by on February 19, 2016 in Book Review

 

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Book Review: Ark

Ark

Author: Stephen Baxter
Genre: Science Fiction
Published: 2009

And so my jaunt through the Flood and Ark universe continues.

When I first read Ark a few years ago it was many books after I’d read its predecessor, which made it, to be entirely honest, confusing as hell and incredibly difficult to follow. This isn’t one of those stand-alone sequels – you need to know your history for it to make any sense.

So as part of the re-read I read the two one after the other, and it really did make a world of difference. Not that I didn’t enjoy Ark the first time round (I’ve never not enjoyed a Stephen Baxter book), but a combination of better remembering the events that lead up to this book and now being more familiar with Baxter’s style of writing made for a far more gripping and harrowing story than I remembered, and one which raises many questions about the general human condition.

The Plot

The first third of Ark overlaps with Flood, starting in 2025 in the early years of the flood that will eventually cover all of the Earth’s land. We follow a group of billionaires who, seeing that the world is at the tipping point, decide to build an ark that will save mankind from extinction. While several arks are considered by the group, Edward Kenzie, Patrick Groundwater and Jerzy Glemp do not believe that there’s any chance of the Earth sustaining a sizeable enough human population in the long-term. They instead begin work on Ark One, a ship capable of superluminal flight that will carry mankind to the stars and a new home world.

The main characters throughout the book are the Candidates, primarily the children of those funding Ark One’s construction. Holle Groundwater, Kelly Kenzie, Zane Glemp and Venus Jennings will spend their entire lives training to become the Ark’s crew and the hope for mankind’s future. Somewhere out there is Earth II, waiting to be colonised, but getting there will not be easy. A place on the Ark isn’t guaranteed, and the Candidates have led very sheltered lives. When launch day comes these four will make it onto the Ark, but many of their loved ones and fellow Candidates won’t, as the launch site becomes the target of people trying to escape the rising flood waters.

The journey to Earth II takes the Ark the better part of 10 years to complete, but Earth II is not a welcoming home. Its axial tilt is similar to Uranus’, resulting in violent seasonal and temperature changes that leave much of the planet’s land surface uninhabitable for humans. With no natural satellite its axis is also not stable, which could result in violent shifts in the future. The planet is also devoid of most minerals, meaning that re-building a technological society will be impossible. The crew makes a choice: some will land and attempt to colonise Earth II, some will return to a flooded Earth and make do with what they find, while the rest take the decision to journey on to Earth III, a more promising potential home that will take an additional thirty years to get to. Each choice presents risk, not least the fact that the Ark was not designed to support a decades-long mission, and each group must face the consequences of the choices they make.

The Writing Style

My summary of the book’s plot doesn’t really do anything justice, primarily because Ark is a very dense book that deals with a lot of different characters, locations and plot points and the various emotions and conflicts that go along with these.

Given the density of the story Stephen Baxter writes with a remarkable level of clarity so that, so long as you can remember the important bits from Flood and pay attention to the dates at the beginning of each chapter, you’re never going to get lost. The only thing that can get a little bit complicated (and admittedly dry) is when the scientific concepts behind superluminal flight are explained in significant detail – I just glossed over these, to be honest. I only need to know that the Ark can do it, and I’m not particularly concerned with how it does it since it all sounds convincing enough.

What I think I enjoyed the most about this book is how relentless everything is, whether it’s the encroaching flood, the gradual degradation of the Ark, or the inevitable conflicts that arise purely because of human nature, the reader’s never given a moment of respite so far as problems faced by the characters go. This allows the reader to relate to the characters, since they themselves are never given a moment of respite from the issues facing them. Thrown into that are some good philosophical questions that, depending on how you wish to proceed with the book, will either give rise to some self-reflection or simply be a nice little footnote in each character’s backstory.

If we ever do take to the stars, I hope they give the crew a copy of Ark as part of their training.

The Feelings

Hopeful, and morally conflicted.

If Flood is ultimately a book about hope that gradually fades as reality sets in then Ark is the opposite of that, where human defiance will laugh in the face of the problem and go out of its way to do something that even we don’t believe is entirely possible.

What gave rise to the most consideration for me was the question of whether survival or humanity is more important. Human beings inherently believe in a sense of fairness, at least on a personal level – deserve to be treated in a particular way because possess x, y and z qualities/capabilities. How can that be balanced in a world where life and death become arbitrary, and the survival of the human race depends on humans doing some very inhumane things and making very inhumane decisions? The flip side to that, of course, is that if we don’t focus on our survival, then there won’t be anyone left to carry on the better part of mankind’s achievements and capabilities.

Good, light-hearted questions to ask yourself, in other words.

My Final Rating: 10 / 10
Buy Ark at Amazon.com

 
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Posted by on February 15, 2016 in Book Review

 

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