The Orville— first impressions

Orville 2When it debuted, there was a good bit of publicity about the science fiction comedy, The Orville, starring (and produced by) Seth McFarlane. And there are not a lot of shows to compare it to, so I understand why writers had some problems describing it.

Visually, this television show looks much like a feature film, such as the rebooted Star Trek, although it relies on CGI a bit more than an upscale effort like The Force Awakens, and the special effects don’t take center stage in as many scenesThe score, in particular, reminds Trek savvy viewers of the first Star Trek feature film, and certain scenes in the pilot also pay homage to that film. Other Trek elements include the use of shuttle craft to get back and forth from ship to ship (no transporters, however) and FTL travel is accomplished via a “quantum” drive rather than Trek’s warp drive. The uniforms are almost cartoon versions of military uniforms, but the color codes for different divisions again looks a bit like Trek.

The first half of the pilot strives very hard to set the comedic tone of the series, and that almost kept me from finishing it. Such lines as “Can I have a soda on the bridge?” or “Can I wear shorts to work?” from bridge officers are supposed to be funny, but these arbitrary requests seem out of place. Once the crew encounters some baddies and come together to accomplice some goals, the drama and the comedy mesh a bit better. My favorite space faring comedy is still Galaxy Quest, but it never took itself seriously, which The Orville seems to want to do, at least occasionally.

I’ve not seen all of the available episodes, but I will probably take another look, as hubby and I have only one episode left of Dark Matter, which is the best television space opera we’ve seen in quite a while. As for quality, my initial impression is that The Orville has a bigger budget, but the recently cancelled Dark Matter has a far better premise and better acting. A quick check over at Rotten Tomatoes gives DM a 79% fresh rating, but TO only gets 19%. Ouch! There are more episodes of The Orville to come, so we’ll have to wait and see if it gets any better.

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Shameless self-promotion

From Goodreads.comDirtball Cover: “extremely unique”

From Amazon.com: “Well written”

Trina Cole McQueen, the middle child of a wealthy shipping family, had been doing her duty as a pilot in the Confederation Fleet, knowing that when her service was done, she would rejoin her family. One evening, while on liberty from her ship, Trina is abducted by agents of the Confederation’s arch enemy, and soon Trina is on a one-way trip to the most primitive planet she has ever seen.

Instead of being a fighter pilot, Trina is sold as a slave, on a world where a horse is the fastest means of transportation, and weapons have blades. Culture shock ensues, but Trina is a strong woman who has every intention of surviving her experience on “Planet Dirtball,” regardless of what she must do.

Kindle Unlimited readers can journey with Trina for free, but others will only have to pay $2.99 for the trip. Check Pilar Savage’s novel via Amazon:

Link to Once Upon a Dirtball on Amazon:

Steel World by B.V. Larson— quick review and commentary

Steel World cover(Okay, y’all, I am going to be straight with you; even my quick review contains a spoiler or two.)

When I began the Kindle version of Steel World, I was all set to hate it. The main character and action seemed to be lifted right out of one of the first-person shooter war games that my son loves and I don’t. Then, the main character, who was actually playing such a game, is rousted into reality by his mother. His sweet little life of being a bored student has just been interrupted by some economic woes. Then I got interested.

In some ways, this story is a re-tread of many combo “coming of age” stories, melded with some “gung-ho” military action. But, I rather liked this take on the soldier who never dies. Larson’s imagination is really clever, and he writes in such a way to bring the reader into his vision. The cast of characters is a bit flat, but often military yarns suffer from that malady. It’s hard, practically and emotionally, to get attached to people who will either be transferred or killed off, so relationships are a bit more shallow. Very real, but shallow, none-the-less.

The basic premise of this novel is that future mercenaries will be Planet Earth’s contribution to the Galactic economy, as humans are very good at making war. The Galactic Empire’s contribution is the machine that makes clones of the soldiers’ bodies. So, the “undying” part is that when the soldier bites the dust, under the proper circumstances, he can be transferred into a new body and sent back into the fray. This saves lots of training, of course, as experienced personnel are not lost nearly as often as if they stayed dead.

Steel World is the first in a series of novels, and I will probably pick up part two, as I really did enjoy B.V. Larson’s take on future warfare.

The Temporary Agent— review and commentary

Recently, I read the Kindle version of The Temporary Agent by Daniel Judson. While well-written, this novel didn’t grab me and keep my attention. One of the reasons that I (or most folks) read fiction is to get involved with some characters who are embroiled in conflict to see how those characters manage, thus entertaining me and providing some catharsis as well.

In The Temporary Agent, the opening scene has the reader immediately seeing that this is a novel of death and dire straits. “Cahill was no stranger to suffering…but the night he lost Erica was without a doubt the longest of his life.” This novel has really short chapters, and the first five comprise Part One where the exposition and action swiftly intertwine, and I was really getting interested. Then came Part Two, which changes the point of view character and the pace of the story. As the next fifty five chapters unfold (yes, that’s a lot of chapters) the pace does pick up, but the second POV character, who turns out to be the titular character, is not as interesting as the guy in part one. So…that is a huge flaw. Basically, the author grabbed me in part one, but let go of his grip in parts two, three, and four. Again, the novel is well-written with lots of interesting details and plenty of action, but I just didn’t care as much about the characters that came after those in the first part. And, for the reader to be really interested, the main characters have to be multi- dimensional and engaging, and it helps a lot of the secondary ones are fleshed out, too.

Fans of espionage novels, military action, or crime fiction will probably enjoy The Temporary Agent. While I did finish it, I kept thinking that it would have been a better story if the POV had stayed with Mr. Cahill and his lost love, Erica.

Dark Matter— review and commentary

Dark Matter from FBFor the most part, the SyFy channel has seemed more like the “Horror channel” to me. So many of their original works seemed to rely either on horror or even fantasy that I seldom watched it, back when we were cable subscribers. However, the series Dark Matter: Season 1 [Blu-ray] (which I’ve been binge watching lately) is certainly an exception to that. Here is a series which blends elements of hard and soft science fiction writing, plus some really good acting and nifty special effects, into an entertaining and occasionally thought provoking original science fiction series.

The initial premise is a fabulous launching point: Six people wake up from stasis pods on a ship, and none of them remembers their respective pasts. Action ensues almost immediately, as the ship’s android viciously attacks. Once the android is sorted out, then this motley crew sets about sorting out who they are and what the mission of this ship might be. All of the cast members do a good job with their parts, but Melissa O’Neil is particularly watchable as her “Two” character quickly becomes the center of this strong ensemble.

Each episode helps unravel the mysteries, while bringing in new characters and situations. As the series unfolds, most of the characters learn of unsavory bits in their past lives, which affects how they interact with each other and the characters they meet as they travel though space. Hard science fiction elements (the science part) include the technology of stasis, of artificial intelligence, faster than light space travel, and genetic engineering. Softer science fiction elements (the emotional and social aspects of technology) include how the characters react to their collective amnesia, how they interact with other cultures, the ethics of certain criminal activities, and how the politics of their time and space play out.

Among the players of this futuristic universe are large corporations, mostly depicted as being at war with each other. Government is largely a pawn of the corporations. Science fiction grand master Robert A. Heinlein played with similar themes in his novel, Friday, which also dealt with genetic engineering and the ethical dilemmas which accompany it. Science fiction requires good writing, as “fiction” is part of the term, and the writers of Dark Matter seldom disappoint. If there is a weakness, some of the space travel effects are a bit cheesy compared to modern movie making, but hey, it is a television show!

Science fiction is mythology for modern man. (I’d love to take credit for that, but I got the idea from reading about science fiction and mythology, including The Hero with a Thousand Faces (The Collected Works of Joseph Campbell)  There is much to like in the series Dark Matter, which is on currently on the SyFy channel, as well as via streaming services and on DVD. I highly recommend it.

Love dirt roads? Really?

For some reason, country music songwriters (and singers) seem to love dirt roads. Think “Dirt Road Anthem” by Colt Ford and Brantley Gilbert, “Red Dirt Road” by Brooks & Dunn, or even “Dirt” (recorded by Florida-Georgia Line) written by Chris Tomkins and Rodney Clawson.  For some reason, modern listeners seem to revel in the thoughts of gravel beneath the tires, red dirt swirling, and mud when it rains. I don’t get it, but lots of money goes to these artists, so I guess there is an attraction to dirt for lots of folks.

A few years ago, I heard Alan Jackson say that he doesn’t get that trend, and his song, “Blacktop” celebrates the paving of his country road, “back in ’65.” Since I’ve ridden a bit on dirt and a lot on pavement, I’m like Mr. Jackson, I’m all for paved roads.

Indeed, I prefer to avoid any dirt roads, or any roads that connect with dirt roads. The other day, I was the victim of the hour for a state trooper who told me that I should have slowed down by the dirt road, a narrow one that I didn’t even notice. I guess I’ll never write a lucrative country song, because I don’t even see dirt roads, much less worship them.

The Winter Over— quick review

I just finished a Kindle book, The Winter Over, by Matthew Iden, and it is a very suspenseful yarn. The setting is a station at the South Pole, and the scenario is that a select group of scientists and support personnel are going to spend nine months, most of it in total darkness, at the station. Of course, with just a few people confined to a fairly small space, having genial personalities is a requirement. During the exposition of this novel, an astute reader might begin to question whether or not this diverse group was properly screened. Perhaps the greatest flaw in this story is trying to keep the cast of characters straight.

(spoilers ahead)

The main point of view character is an engineering tech named Cass, who seems to be able to repair darned near anything, as might be expected, but she also has some skeleton in her mental closet. An accident, which might not be an accident introduces a “who dun it” plot line, but the story is more complicated than that. Indeed, as the group goes through the winter over, and as the situation becomes more and more stressful, in part due to intentional sabotage, Cass comes to realize that this station has become some sort of psychological experiment. The author skillfully blends the man vs. man and man vs. nature conflicts inherent in this setting.

Despite the extreme cold, things get hotter and hotter in the station, and the suspense builds. The ending, while not especially satisfying, is certainly organic. Overall, this is a good book, and I intend to see what else this author has written.