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Fighting Screen Addiction and Getting Your Teen to Read

It’s August, which means we’re almost done with summer, but it is not too late to steer your teen away from screens and toward reading. I have a soft heart for parents of teens. I have two kids and know well the battle parents wage relentlessly to engage their teens with anything other than their devices. (Truth…we parents have an addiction as well…which is why tackling this issue is so tricky!).

But why even fight? Why fight the powerful riptide that sucks our kids into the digital universe?

I interviewed reading specialist, Dr. Marnie Ginsberg, who focuses on training teachers of early readers and has two teenagers of her own. Even she is familiar with the struggle! This is what she says about teen reading…

“Good teen readers read hundreds of hours more each year than average readers. As a result of this reading practice, they keep developing their reading achievement. And reading achievement is strongly correlated with so many positive outcomes for teens and their future selves that one can hardly count them all…”

Dr. Ginsberg’s list included these: “Higher reading achievement leads to…

  1. better school achievement–in all subject areas, including math
  2. stronger oral and written language knowledge and skills
  3. better job prospects
  4. higher wage earnings
  5. better health; and even better life expectancy!
  6. Besides these long-term benefits, time spent reading helps in immediate ways, too, such as mood regulation and stress reduction.”

RISE OF THE ROBOTS

Yet, Dr. Ginsberg said that most teens today are not reading enough to enjoy these varied benefits of high reading achievement. Multimedia usage instead, soaks up most of the typical teen’s day–upwards of 8 hours a day.

If you are an educator and want to learn more about how to better teach young readers the skills that will help them succeed at reading, check out her website. ReadingSimplified

Discovering Great Stories Your Teens Will Love…

The challenge for parents and teachers is to help the teens in their life discover great stories. Our kids still love stories, but they tend to take them in via the screen. Stranger Things, the Netflix hit is my case and point. That series has become a must see event for most of our teenagers. It seems to be as important as any of the Avengers blockbusters. All that to say, stories still matter to our kids. Let this be your best ammunition as a parent. If you work hard at finding good stories in the books you are putting in front of their faces, your kids have a much better chance of sitting down and reading.

There are many compelling stories waiting to be uncovered by you/your teen, but how do you find them? Try going to Goodreads (book review site) or googling something like The Top 10 New Novels for Teens. Also, follow the lead of your teen who might have a favorite author or genre. I would advise heading to a library over a bookstore when looking for the right story because librarians are golden.

A great librarian is like a matchmaker. Librarians read enough to know the answer to a question like this…What is the best Middle Grade book with a female protagonist who isn’t an orphan that is under 300 pages. A great librarian will be able to give your teen one or two books that fit that description.

However, if you’re in a hurry and a little stuck, check out reviews on my website (not all are teen appropriate), but here are a few I would put forward that are teen appropriate.

All these books except for AMERICAN BORN CHINESE are speculative fiction or sci-fi.

  1. FEED, by MT Anderson. To buy the audiobook, click here.
  2. THE HOUSE OF THE SCORPION, by Nancy Farmer. To buy this audiobook, click here.
  3. DOGSBODY, By Dianna Wynne Jones. Click here to buy.
  4. DESCENDER SERIES (graphic novel series), by Jeff Lemire and Dustin Nguyen (See below for links to purchase)
  5. AMERICAN BORN CHINESE (graphic novel), by Gene Luen Yang. Click here to purchase.

    Cover Art for Machine Moon

DESCENDER, Volume 1 Tin Stars

DESCENDER, Volume 2, Machine Moon

DESCENDER, Volume 3 Singularities

DESCENDER, Volume 4 Orbital Mechanics

DESCENDER, Volume 5 Rise of the Robots

DESCENDER, Volume 6 The Machine War

 

 

In addition to finding the right stories. Here are a few strategies that will encourage teen reading

  1. Take a road trip where screens are forbidden in the car and listen to an audiobook that everyone has agreed on. Bonus…if you pick the first book in a series (and there are many of those out there), your teen might pick up the subsequent books on his/her own.
  2. Make it a summer tradition (or an all-year tradition) to read aloud together as a family before bed each night. I know a few families that practice this habit and their kids cherish the time. Think of it in a similar category as watching television together…
  3. Don’t despise the graphic novel. There are sophisticated stories, characters and lengthy dialogue to be had in the modern graphic novel.
  4. Go on a phone-free, screen-free vacation where every member of the family gets to take his/her own book of choice This NY Times article gives tips on how to best unplug in case one phone must come along.

 

And…GOOD LUCK!

 

 

Writing Dynamic Non-Humanoid Aliens, Part 4 of 4

The Hive Brain Alien (Spoilers Galore)

Writing non-humanoid aliens who don’t speak a human language is no easy task. This post is preceded by three others. If you want the earlier insights, link to to Part 1,  Part 2, and Part 3. It occurs to me that I ought to define dynamic. That word is in all four titles.

In terms of a dynamic literary character, I mean a character who is neither pure good, nor pure evil…a character that can change its/his/her mind, can act morally or immorally, and can find its way into the audience’s heart.

Alien, of Ridley Scott fame

This post will be a study of ALIEN, BATTLE STAR GALACTICA, ANNIHILATION and ENDER’S GAME.

Hive brain aliens (or A.I. in the case of Battle Star Galactica) differ so much from human beings, in part because their societies resemble what would be perceived by humans, as dictatorships or slave states. Hive communities, though a perfectly reasonable way of life for many of Earth’s tiny creatures, when translated into human terms, feel unpalatable. All hive individuals think alike. All live for the queen. All work for her good and the good of the community, often at the expense of the individual. So, how does an author drum up empathy for these characters? In the case of Ridley Scott with his Alien creature…almost none. The exception would be in Alien Resurrection, the third film in the franchise, when the newborn hybrid alien is killed by its own mother, Ripley. The audience knows this is necessary, but still…it hurts to see that cute (not cute) little spawn (not little) sucked out of the spaceship.

Mommy?

So, these aliens in the Alien franchise are not sapient. They do not make tools and have no technological civilization of any kind.

They are predators, with one goal…survival. Not only will they eliminate other lifeforms that may pose a threat to them, they will impregnate those who remain and use them to feed their young. Yeah…not a pretty picture, but still, that moment when Ripley turns her back on her offspring…it tugs our heart for a brief moment.

My husband and I have been re-watching Battle Star Galactica (which, by the way is fantastic; the writing, the acting and the overall production hold up to any tv series produced ever after). In BSG, the Cylons are the worker bees of a hive mind (an A.I. computer searching for meaning). The Cylons have destroyed human civilization and are chasing down the remnant who are fleeing in space vessels across galaxies to find a place where they will be able to survive/start over. The Cylons are called “toasters” by the humans who shoot them dead (otherwise, they will likely die by the hands/guns of those Cylons). The Cylons are non-human with little or no individuality…until, the computer brain figures out how to create machines that are VERY human-like. Those Cylons infiltrate the human remnant and take on unique personalities. One even falls in love and is impregnated by a human. So…it all becomes complicated. Including, the episode we just watched which chronicles a Cylon called Scar. The episode is the 15th of the second season and is titled, Scar. It is free for for Amazon Prime members as is the entire series.

This particular Cylon is not only named by the human fleet (naming a hive member changes the way the audience sees this character), it is feared by them. The fleet’s fear of Scar also puts it in a unique category. No longer is Scar a worker bee.

Scar has been able to kill more human viper pilots by learning. The implication put forward by one of the human-like Cylons (the pregnant one) is that each time Scar has been destroyed, its failure in battle remains in its brain. As that brain is downloaded into the new Cylon body, a new pilot is born, only it does not forget. Scar is able to access the lessons of its battle failures and grow more adept at fighting human pilots. In a previous episode of BSG, the human fleet has destroyed the Cylon “resurrection ship”. Therefore, this battle with Scar is to the death. Scar will not be coming back in a new body if it is destroyed this time.

Cylon. Battle Star Galactica

In BSG, the writers want the audience to grapple with a morphing understanding of the Cylons. Cylons start out all evil, but don’t stay that way. Various human-like Cylons enter into human community and help it, many step in with critiques of human society, acting almost like prophets. The Cylons are monotheists, who believe there is a purpose to their existence. The human remnant is polytheistic, worshipping the gods of the Greek Pantheon. Wonderful fodder for philosophical ponderings within BSG.. Through the many episodes of BSG, the audience begins to feel more compassion for the Cylons. The entire series is worth watching if you are a writer who cares about humanizing characters that fall into the category of enemy or other.

In ANNIHILATION, the enemy is mysterious, hive-like in that it reacts en masse and not as individuals…In fact, it can’t be categorized as a hive-brain alien exactly. There is little clarity that the anomaly in Area X is actually an alien takeover. What emerges is the notion (at least in the novel) that the changes taking place in Area X are inevitable and may be good for Earth. The anomaly, however, is impersonal. The alien impact, or whatever it is, is spreading and seems to have no consciousness in the way we think of consciousness, but is more like a fungus or a virus. It has power to change its environment, but any actual “brain” that would become a military target, allowing our government to remove the anomaly is unclear. Lots of mystery, but the writer, Vandermeer, makes it work, especially in ANNIHILATION, the first novel of the Southern Reach Trilogy.

Area X is frightening because it consumes and/or changes all who encounter it. As a writer, ANNIHILATION is worth studying for the utter strangeness of the alien anomaly. There is no verbal communication with it, only physical and psychological encounter. The biologist character in the novel (Lina, in the film) helps the audience see the mystery as beauty. However, the ambiguity remains and is never truly resolved. It’s good to see an alien like this. The presence of it pushes the human characters to their limits and reveals aspects of our humanity that are important to recognize. Really great sci-fi ought to do this.

Lastly, ENDER’S GAME. The Formics are the enemies, (the Buggers) that Ender eventually destroys. The novel is about how he is trained to perform this act. Ender commits xenocide without knowing it. It’s worth reading or re-reading ENDER’S GAME to watch how Orson Scott Card pulls this off. The Formics are all evil until very close to the end of the novel. The turn takes place when the innocent, but talented Ender realizes how he has been manipulated and how his power has been used to “save Earth”, but while doing so, he has destroyed another species. His grief is immense. Ender will bear this guilt into subsequent novels. The audience, once it realizes that the Formics have been destroyed, enters into Ender’s regret. A young boy’s conscience has been scarred. The novel then portrays the Bugger queen communicating with Ender, giving hope to him that there might be a path to redemption. The audience wants this for Ender. The queen reveals that the Formics had initially assumed humans were a non-sentient race because they lacked a hive mind. She/they realized their mistake too late. In other words, the war was a BIG misunderstanding. The queen requests that Ender take a dormant egg that has not been destroyed to a new planet where this species can thrive anew and Ender agrees. Suddenly, the audience is rooting for the Formics.

That is a turn around worth studying! The audience goes from hating Formics and seeing them as a monolith, to empathizing with them and hoping for their rebirth.

Make sure you pick this novel up next time you’re at the bookstore or you can order it here.

 

 

Battle Star Galactica, Check Out This Podcast

My husband and I are watching Battle Star Galactica (BSG) for the second time in our married lives. The first time we watched, our kids were always in bed. It was just-for-parents entertainment…Our daughter was a middle schooler, our son, a couple of years behind her. They’re both out of college now. So it was a while ago.

BSG was created for the SyFy channel by Glen A. Larson and Ronald D. Moore.

There is much pleasure in the re-watching for me. Last night, we viewed The Hand of God, episode 10, one of many amazing episodes in that first season. Our re-watch has me reflecting on what makes BSG so good?

  1. The writing is absolutely spot on. No-nonsense story-telling that provides the audience with a solid long-term arc of purpose and meaning: humanity, betrayed by A.I. known as Cylons, must leave their home and find another habitable planet. An epic journey in a space ship. Grafted onto the journey narrative are countless subplots that will draw in scifi and non scifi fans. How do the writers do this?  That leads me to my second point…
  2. This story is inhabited by heroic, but flawed characters most of us can relate to.
  3. The production value is superb. Even in the 2019s, the set, special effects and costumes create a believable fictional world.
  4. The actors embody their characters well, extra dramatic heft carried by the Commander of the fleet, William Adama and President of the survivors, Laura Roslin (played by Edward James Olmos and Mary McDonnel respectively).
  5. The themes around protecting a way of life, more specifically, a democratic society in the midst of battle, are extremely poignant in our current political environment.
  6. Ethnically diverse cast of characters and women in key leadership roles.

If this will be your first time viewing the series, or if you’re re-watching like me, consider this podcast aptly named Galacticast to augment the full depth of each episode. It’s a fun and easy way to be extra nerdy about BSG. Click below for the link up.

A Podcast Discussing Each and Every Episode

As an aside, I find myself wishing The Expanse would produce an episode by episode podcast…Sometimes, I feel like I’m not quite getting it. Maybe in the re-watch, I will.

To watch the entire series, click here.

Five Female Science Fiction Authors You Need to Read ASAP

I write this post in honor of International Women’s Day and I hope it might spur you to pick up a novel or download an audiobook that you might not have read without a little urging. You won’t be disappointed!

With that said, here’s the list:

  1. Octavia Butler
  2. Ursula K. Le Guin
  3. Margaret Atwood
  4. N.K. Jemisin
  5. Julian May

Octavia Butler

Octavia Butler, author of KINDRED, passed away in 2006.  She was one of a handful of women to win multiple Nebula and Hugo Awards, as well as the Arthur C. Clarke Award. If you’re starting out and want a great taste of Butler’s writing, order or pickup BLOOD CHILD AND OTHER STORIES The novelette, BLOOD CHILD, won both the Nebula and the Hugo. If you’re a fan of graphic novels, try this version of KINDRED: GRAPHIC NOVEL

 

 

 

 

 

Ursula K. Le Guin

Ursula K. Le Guin, author of THE LEFT HAND OF DARKNESS passed away last year. Many love her for her fantasy, but she is perhaps chief among our mothers in the pantheon of many fathers who have written the most important science fiction in the last 40 years. She was the first woman to win a Nebula award and a Hugo, for THE LEFT HAND OF DARKNESS. My review of the novel is here. Much adored by her fans is the THE EARTHSEA CYCLE  novels that were intentionally targeted at the young adult audience (Le Guin was encouraged by her publisher to do so.)

 

 

 

 

Margaret Atwood

Margaret Atwood, author of THE HANDMAID’S TALE, for which she won a Nebula award, The Arthur C. Clarke Award and the Booker Prize, has a contemporary fan base since her novel was adapted to television by HBO. That novel is worthy of your attention, but so are many of her others, like ORYX AND CRAKE, the first in the The MaddAddam Trilogy.

 

 

 

N.K. Jemisin

N.K. Jemisin is blowing the socks off the scifi community with her brilliant story-telling and characters that breathe prophetic.  The Broken Earth Trilogy belongs on every scifi fan’s shelf. She is the first author in the history of the Nebula to win three awards in three consecutive years. For a dip into her writing, try some of her short stories, many of which are award-winning and/or brilliant in their own right. This collection is what you need. HOW LONG ‘TIL BLACK FUTURE MONTH: STORIES

 

 

 

Julian May

Julian May passed away last year and will be the most obscure recommendation I make. I do so because I recently discovered her and feel her scifi to be completely wonderful, different and imaginative in a way I had not expected. She’s written a series called The Saga of Pliocene Exile which is a riveting tale with fantastic and memorable characters. I reviewed THE MANY COLORED LAND in the Fall. You can read the review here.

 

 

 

Women bring a unique voice to the science fiction landscape and they have mostly been welcomed by those who love the genre. They are still out-numbered on the shelves of your local bookstore and it’s good to be reminded of the best.

Who are your favorite female authors within the genre? I’d love to hear who you love.

 

COLONY, Season 2: A Review Without Spoilers

 

High praise for COLONY, Season 2. In case you have not seen the first season, this review will contain a few spoilers for those first episodes, but none for season 2. You can read my review of Colony, Season 1 here

There is a third season of this show that will come to Netflix sometime this year (a few fan blogs predict as early as April 2019), having already aired on USA Network. Beware of going onto the USA Network site. You might stumble upon a few spoilers. USA Network features a number of still shots from season 3 in their promotion of COLONY.

Short Review…

The main reasons I recommend watching Season 2 is for the superb story and the characters. The writing is spot-on, a continuation of Season 1. Let me elaborate…

  1. The characters, whom the viewer has come to admire, love and/or mistrust in Season 1, develop and continue to feel real and relatable
  2. The mystery of the invasion is explained a bit more, but the story still holds plenty of tension
  3. The narrative continues to raise important moral questions around living under occupation…The moral conflict goes deep and is unique for each character. The show highlights this well.

Long Review…

I loved all of season 2, but found the early episodes incredibly fun to watch because they are a goldmine of backstory.

Season 1 of COLONY drops the viewer into an already occupied, alien-invaded planet. The viewer attaches to the characters first and then begins watching for clues to explain what is taking place. Even the characters living through the ordeal don’t know much. Some mysteries are explained, but many remain.

What is wonderful about season 2…Three key backstory events are provided.

  1. First contact with the aliens
  2. What took place on the actual day of the invasion
  3. How the invading aliens strategized with an early group of collaborating humans

Episode 1 of season 2 begins with another day in the life of the Bowman family, but in this case, it is the day of the invasion, hours before the wall comes down, isolating the LA Bloc from the rest of Southern California. (During season 1, the audience slowly learns that similar events have taken place in cities across the globe)

Packed into this episode is a window into how Snyder was chosen to rule over the masses.

Snyder: Proxy Governor of the LA Bloc for most of season 1

Two men in suits, collaborators who know that the invasion is imminent, recruit him. They recruit him because he has embezzled from an educational institute for which he works. They recruit him not in spite of, but because his integrity is compromised.

“Even great men make two or three mistakes in their lives,” Snyder says, when confronted.

The men in suits answer: “It’s the choices you make today that will determine your future. All you have to do is say yes.”

Snyder says yes to this Faustian bargain. We already know he is an important character. The audience has followed his career, his successes and failures and the ways he has and continues to intersect with the Bowmans. His presence is constantly a tension, but always interesting.

Episode 2 is delightful as it gives a few interesting point of view shifts via some clever cinematography

  1. A view of what the Raptor’s see, those are the robotic drones (if they are truly robotic) that rule the skies on occupied Earth.
  2. A view of what lies outside the LA Bloc, including Santa Monica, but also beyond, outside of the Urban landscape
  3. A peek into the alien mindset and culture…I can’t say more without a spoiler

I’m looking forward to season 3, which might come to Netflix as early as April, but sad because USA Network has confirmed its end. Three seasons of COLONY and no more. That’s the bad news…the good new is…

Season 3 of COLONY is being touted as outstanding and possibly better than both the first and second. I look forward to watching it and following my binge watching, I’ll be sure to post a review here.

 

 

 

 

THE EXPANSE Fans: Take Notice! You Can Stream (Free) All Three Seasons on Amazon Prime, Starting Friday

Frankie Adams as Marine, Roberta, “Bobbie” Draper

In two days, Amazon Prime makes three seasons of THE EXPANSE available to members. This comes in advance of their release of season 4 and fans of the show, across the globe, are celebrating. This series almost came to a bitter and premature end. Firefly fans know exactly what I’m talking about.

THE EXPANSE (based on books by James S.A. Corey) had been canceled by NBCUniversal’s Syfy channel after season 3. Fans exploded in fury and came out of the woodwork to figure out how they could keep this series going.

The story of how the EXPANSE survived is one worth reading. It includes fans hiring a plane to fly a Save THE EXPANSE banner over the Amazon headquarters as well as George RR Martin and Craig Newmark (founder of Craig’s List), writing emails to Bezos. Bezos and his Amazon studio head, Jennifer Salke, paid attention. Season 4 went into production last year and will be released sometime in 2019. I’ll post the release date when announced.

If you are a scifi nut or you just love great characters, epic story telling and the casting of strong men and women, including a number of kickass women of color and you haven’t already stuck your nose into this series, I highly recommend. For a no spoiler review, see this guest post of THE EXPANSE written earlier this Fall by friend and math professor, John Mayberry.

BIRD BOX: A Review with a Couple of Spoilers

Watch and Enjoy. BIRD BOX is an Entertaining Film as Long as you Know that These Images and Themes Have Been Seen Before

BIRD BOX was produced by Netflix and released for public consumption on December, 21, 2018. According to Netflix data, 45 million people watched BIRD BOX in the week before Christmas.

For those who didn’t watch it over Christmas, like me, here’s the review…

This story is a Quiet Place, but without the husband (there is a stand-out dude…Tom, played by Trevante Rhodes…who becomes a stand-in husband and Father, but for a short portion of the film). The story portrays a mother, Sandra Bullock, as Malorie, who gives birth shortly after a catastrophic alien invasion? The film does not make this clear…Is it really aliens? At one point, there is a reference to North Korea and bio warfare…but one can be pretty sure it’s more along the alien invasion spectrum. Creatures are mentioned in one of the early scenes. Most eager scifi fans will swallow yet another apocalyptic scenario and accept the tragedy as instigated by something otherworldly that impacts every person, mostly in a negative way. (99% of the human race does not thrive under its influence…yes, that’s a spoiler of sorts, but then you probably knew this).

There is some challenge in writing a review of this film with zero spoilers, because the narrative is so familiar to so many of us, but I’ll try. 

Here’s the premise…After an alien invasion (I think) every person becomes infected with a psychosis. This is spread from person to person through what they see. What do they see? That remains a mystery, but the results can be seen and they are catastrophic. Those infected figure out ways to kill themselves. Society drifts into destruction. Those who survive either do so by covering their eyes or a few see and don’t kill themselves right away. However, they become crazy people who attempt to get everyone else infected. The aliens are never seen by the audience, though they are heard and they are drawn in charcoal on paper by one survivor (one of the crazies). The aliens appear (in his drawings) as demons or devils. It’s possible this is some kind of bio-tech warfare and the creatures/aliens are all imagined, part of the psychosis. The audience isn’t in the know on that one.

Sandra Bullock finds herself responsible for two children and needs to figure out a way to get them to safety and a place where they can thrive. For that to happen, she needs to float them down a river, blindfolded. The story opens with her getting on the boat after lecturing the two little ones on the dangers of the trip and the importance of never taking off the blindfold, but the real body of the film takes place in backstory.

BIRD BOX portrays what A Quiet Place never did…the immediate aftermath of a catastrophic alien invasion that jacks up humanity. In BIRD BOX, the audience sees the unraveling. In A Quiet Place the viewer needs to imagine that unraveling. However, in BIRD BOX, the audience needs to imagine the villain. In A Quiet Place, the audience gets a clear view, eventually, of the alien that is bent on destroying humanity and by the end, a possible way to defeat it. That “ending” note is missing from BIRD BOX. It does not deliver enough answers about the mystery. Does an unseen villain ruin this film? Not exactly, but if a sequel is ever made, I will expect answers.

Regarding the similarities between the two films…It did strike me right away that in BIRD BOX, covering eyes is important, while in A Quiet Place not speaking is essential…which begs the questions…is this a theme that our current audiences want to explore? What if we had to survive in a post apocalyptic world without our sight or without speaking? Maybe the post apocalyptic universe is too easy…or maybe too familiar? I suppose, the next film of this ilk will explore surviving without hearing, or how about without tasting. Apparently, the public hungers for the answers to these question. I suspect, the quandary has to do with our over-teched and over-connected reality, but maybe there is another yearning I don’t yet comprehend. Another similarity between the films is the prominence of a pregnant mom as a survivor during a horrid moment of human existence.

I will say, the film (free for Netflix users) BIRD BOX is an entertaining jaunt. If you can get past the unknowns that are never explained…watch it and enjoy the drama that can only unfold at the end of the world.

 

COLONY for Educators: A Discussion of the Holocaust and Other Atrocities

showers as gas chambers

Rating: PG-13 or thereabouts. This series was made for television by USA Network. There are a couple of steamy sex scenes in season 1, but no explicit nudity. In the photo you see here, the nudity is not explicit and is also relevant to the story.

COLONY, particularly the first season, is a methodical and painful study of society fracturing under the strain of a foreign occupation. The occupiers happen to be a technologically advanced alien invasion force, but for whatever reason (this is not fully explained in the first season of COLONY), those aliens have decided to rule through human governors.

The first season of this series portrays how human survivors figure out ways to continue life following a traumatic takeover of the globe. Writers, Carlton Cuse and Ryan J. Condal, draw in the audience and give their viewers a window into the psychology of the various groups of people as they cope. (Note: regarding the writers, I have tried to give credit to writers who are on the team. It’s important for students, in particular, to know that television often utilizes teams of writers to keep the story going and flowing. Those writers will get credit for their episodes. They are named below, episode by episode.)

For youths studying the Holocaust and other historic occupations, like the Belgians in The Congo, The USSR across Russia and Eastern Europe and the Roman Empire across much of the ancient world, just to name a few, the opportunities for discussion come with each episode.

To order the first season dvds, click here.

Cuse, Condal and the rest of their writing team don’t shy away from giving a few more obvious discussion starters, like the gas chamber scene in episode 2. It’s horrific and frightening as it should be, but what should be just as frightening is seeing weak and fearful human beings turn so quickly against one another. Watching COLONY has the potential to draw out more reflection in those who might be bored by a history they think they understand in full. Most youth (and to be fair, most adults) do not comprehend what it was really like to live in Nazi occupied Holland for example, where some courageous citizens hid Jews and/or helped them escape. Everyday people performed heroically even though their actions endangered their lives. Their families also assumed huge costs. I know of one family that sent their youngest children away, out of the city, to protect them from any retribution that might come if they were discovered. Those children were raised by relatives, their family life shattered not just by the occupiers, but because of the choices their parents had made to do what they understood as right and just. This family also had to kill a neighbor who was about to turn them into the authorities.

We all like to think we would be heroes, but what would it really feel like to pay the costs and resist an occupying power? COLONY gets under the skin and forces the viewer to think about these questions.

Here are a few potent questions that emerge out of COLONY…episode by episode…to get the discussion juices flowing. (Warning: spoilers written in this next section)

Episode 1…Pilot written by Carlton Cuse and Ryan J. Condal. This episode juxtaposes Katie with Will. Will Bowman, after a failed attempt to find his son, decides to collaborate with The Transitional Authority. What convinces Will to work alongside the collaborators? What lengths would you go to in terms of collaborating with the occupiers, if you or your family were directly threatened? Katie decides to go a different route, which will involve her spying on her husband. What do you think of her choice?

Episode 2…Written by Wes Tooke. Being sent to The Factory has been mentioned a few times. This episode culminates with the gas chamber scene. How do the occupiers use fear to ensure order? How does fear impact normal citizens in the LA bloc? Do you fear people in power in our society? Who? How does that impact you?

Episode 3…Written by Daniel C. Connolly. In this episode, Katie takes part in the hijacking of a supply truck, in which civilian and Resistance lives are sacrificed to determine drone response times. Do you think the Resistance has a right to sacrifice these lives for the greater good? Why or why not?

Episode 4…Written by Anna Fishko & Dre Alvarez. In this episode Broussard, a key friend to Katie and Resistance member, executes Phyllis (one of the heads of Homeland Security) and her bedridden husband. They do this to send a message to Homeland Security and to the Transitional Authority. Strange sacrifices are made by those living under occupation. Why do you think Phyllis pleads for Broussard to shoot her husband when she knows she is about to die? What does that say about the living standards under the occupation, even for those who are most elite?

Episode 5…Written by Carlton Cuse. Watch the interrogation scene that starts around minute 15. Does the Transitional Authority understand who is on its team and who is rebelling? If you were living in this world, would you resist and if so, how? 

Episode 6…Written by Ryan J. Condal. More and more, Will is disillusioned with the Transitional Authority as Katie is with the Resistance.  In COLONY, what is portrayed is a broken system on either end of the spectrum. There are good people trying to make sense of the world who are collaborators. There are bad people, trying to overturn the system within the Resistance. The world is complex and it forces choices on human actors at every turn. What do you think would be the most difficult choice for you if an occupier took over your city/state/country and why would that be the most difficult choice?

Episode 7…Written by Sal Calleros. An insidious character, introduced a few episodes before, is the Bowman’s personal tutor, Lindsey. Lindsey is a true believer in the occupation. She understands the coming of the aliens as an answer to a prophesy, associated with a religion promulgated by the alien invaders and the collaborators. Why do you think Lindsey believes and why does she try to convert the Bowman’s daughter, Gracie, into this belief system?

Episode 8…Written by Wes Tooke. Betrayal at the top of the Resistance. The episode drives home the truth that in an occupation, even the rebels have a messy house. Those who collaborate with the occupiers  and those who resist must watch their backs. Information becomes a commodity for both sides. How do you respond to the betrayal of trust by Quayle? If you were to have a conversation with him before his betrayal, how would you try to convince him to remain true to the Resistance?

Episode 9…Written by Ryan J. Condal. Loyalty is a confusing maze in the case of the occupation What do you value? Who is most important to you and what would it take for you to betray that person? At the first anniversary of the alien invasion, those who remember it are persecuted, those who rebel are at risk by one of their own and those who collaborate understand that their positions of power are always in question. In a situation such as this, who does one trust? Who would you trust? 

Episode 10…Written by Carlton Cuse & Ryan J. Condal & Wes Tooke. One might get lucky…friendship and loyalty might make a difference…In the case of Will Bowman and his relationship with the collaborator, Snyder, this might be the case. In the case of Will and his relationship with Jennifer (the Homeland head) will friendship make a difference? In the case of Katie and Broussard, how will it all shake out? There are many questions emerging in this season finale. Katie and Will epitomize the conflict regarding loyalty. Both want the same thing…the recovery of their son, Charlie, but they take different tacts. Does their loyalty hold when everything is on the line? What does loyalty mean to you? Is there someone in your life you would be loyal to even if it meant you might die for that loyalty?

 

 

 

 

Review of THE EXPANSE, No Spoilers

John Mayberry

I am excited about this post, a first guest post for allscifiallthetime.com, written by a PhD and a math nerd at that…

It is my pleasure to introduce fellow SciFi fan, Dr. John Mayberry, an Associate Professor of Mathematics at the University of the Pacific in Stockton, CA. Dr. Mayberry teaches a wide range of courses in applied math and statistics. He first became interested in science fiction and fantasy after reading Susan Cooper’s the Dark is Rising in fifth grade and found it such a welcome and imaginative escape from the real world that he has been hooked on the genre ever since. He is married with three kids and has enjoyed sharing this love with them through bedtime stories and weekend movie nights.

Here is Dr. Mayberry’s review of THE EXPANSE:

The Expanse made the news last year after its cancellation on the SyFy channel led to massive protests and rallies from fans who wanted more. Their pleas were so convincing that Amazon picked up the show, released it on Prime, and started work on Season 4. Comparisons between the Expanse and Firefly, one of my personal all-time favorite space operas, coupled with its newfound accessibility to us non-cable folks encouraged me to give it a shot. I was not disappointed. In fact, after watching all three currently available seasons in just a few weeks (no small feat for a parent of three little ones), I believe that The Expanse has surpassed Firefly and even (dare I say it?) Battlestar Galactica in the pantheon of epic SyFy channel originals.

The Expanse takes place three hundred years from now in a future where humankind has populated the far reaches of our solar system, thanks to a series of technological breakthroughs in “high-g” space travel. The United Nations controls Earth and “Luna” while Mars is under the governance of an independent military coalition. The outer reaches of the system (referred to as “the Belt”) consists of a series of asteroids and space stations operating on artificial spin gravity. The Earth and Mars depend on the Belt for resources while “Belters” are treated as second-class citizens by the “inners”. Season 1 centers around three distinct storylines that respectively follow a cop in one of the largest belt stations, the crew of a deep space ice freighter, and a high-ranking Earth diplomat as they independently discover evidence of an unfathomable plot to destroy the solar system’s fragile peace. It turns out to run so much deeper than any of them could have possibly imagined.

The show accelerates you into a “high-g burn” from the start of episode one and never really lays off the juice thereafter. BSG, for all its glorious moments, suffered from some pretty lame episodes and character inconsistencies (like Lee’s sudden “you never let me fulfill my dream of being a lawyer, dad” moment), but no episode of The Expanse is wasted on such side plots and trivialities. Everything builds towards major epiphanies that aren’t dragged out indefinitely (like in Lost), but instead brought to fruition within the scope of seasons or even half seasons and then turn into bigger questions and realizations which keep you coming back for more. In fact, at the end of Season 3, my wife and I felt like the whole first three seasons, for all they accomplished, played like a prologue leading up to an even greater space adventure in the seasons to follow.

Underlying the compelling storyline is a charismatic and well-cast group of actors whose chemistry on screen is reminiscent of the Firefly cast at times. The Tarantino-esque convergent storylines woven throughout the show merge in extremely satisfying fashion throughout the series. New characters are introduced with purpose and have important roles to play in driving the overarching plot towards its objectives. Even for sci-fi skeptics (like my wife), the characters and political backdrop of the Earth-Mars-Belter coalition will draw you in and force you to imagine what the future could be like…and whether it is the future we want to build towards or not.

 

Review of THE RAIN, Season 1

A Danish star is born. Alba August as lead character, Simone

I recently binge-watched the final 5 episodes of the NETFLIX series THE RAIN…finishing the first season. Here is my take on the potent Danish production, dubbed for English-speaking viewers. By the way, I wasn’t annoyed by dubbing. I thought it was done well.

This series might earn an R rating if released on the big screen, so beware parents. This story contains some great characters and interesting ideas for discussion, but there are a few non-explicit sex scenes, some nudity and a lot of f-bombs…it is the end of the world, after all.

THE RAIN’s genre designation is probably more speculative fiction than science fiction. The story is driven by new science, so this is where the overlap lies…no aliens or spaceships (at least none so far), but there is a biological discovery that rests in the hands of a few and this technology is about to transform the world. The future tech is an element that would appeal to many science fiction fans…(Think TERMINATOR). And now for my review.

First, a short review without spoilers…

Season 1’s narrative follows a sister and brother pair, Simone and Rasmus Anderssen. They survive a deadly virus that infects the population through the rain. Their physician father is somehow in the know and connected to a biotech company called Apollon. They understand little about what is taking place, but they slowly discover the truth, as does the audience with them. Here are three reasons to consider watching THE RAIN.

  1. See the world’s end through the eyes of the Danes.  Sure, THE RAIN follows a well-worn storyline, but rather than the typical American/Canadian or British view on the apocalypse, we see survival through the eyes of Danish youth this time. I appreciated viewing wanderings through cities, towns and topography I don’t typically see on the screen. Moreover, the survivors’ attitudes about who they will be in this new, empty world are also markedly more Scandinavian than American.
  2. The main players in the drama are well written and interesting. Similar to a few other speculative dramas, like The 100, the youth are smart, naive at times, attractive and slowly becoming a family.
  3. The overall plot makes sense, yet some mysteries are withheld in a good way. The narrative shows potential for a longer, more complicated drama, including the introduction of a sinister villain by the final episode.

And now for the longer review, with a few spoilers…

Martin, played by Mikkel Boe Følsgaard,

Simone (about 16 yrs) and Rasmus (about 10 yrs) enter the bunker having never seen its like before. Their father brings them on the first day of the rain, but then leaves, saying he can help with finding a cure. He promises to return to them, but never does. Their mother dies early as the rain touches her skin. This is the most dramatic reveal to Simone and the audience. The rain is absolutely toxic.  Simone watches as droplets fall from the sky, strike her mother’s skin and within moments, she convulses and dies.

For a short time, Simone is able to connect with a few individuals outside the bunker via the internet, but that contact comes to an end within hours as civilization breaks down. Simone and Rasmus are alone and know nothing of what is happening outside the bunker.

Simone raises her brother, holding onto the belief that her father will return for them at some point, but six years pass. When food begins to grow scarce and Rasmus shows signs of going berserk from being cooped up underground, Simone sneaks out of the bunker one night to explore a local town and figure out if there is safety outside. She finds decayed corpses and an abandoned town.

Without knowing someone has been watching her, she returns to the bunker. Three young men and two women follow her back. They sabotage the ventilation system forcing Simone and Rasmus to emerge. The sister brother pair face a group of strangers, all of whom are desperate for food.

The strangers seem bent on killing Simone and Rasmus, but a quick witted Simone convinces them that she knows where there are other bunkers and where there are bunkers…there is food.

The unlikely group sets out. Discovery takes place with each new bunker they find. In addition, episode by episode the audience becomes acquainted with the backstory of the various characters and so doing, the viewer learns some of what has transpired outside the bunker following the apocalyptic rains.

The backstories all come via flashbacks. This particular story-telling method has been utilized by many tv and film types, including the creators of LOST. However, I thought the short snippets of flashbacks in THE RAIN felt less heavy-handed than those in LOST and contributed to multiple layers of the plot, besides revealing character. So, if you’re not a fan of flashbacks…never fear, I don’t think they were overused.

Martin’s story (see photo) is presented in episode 2. Martin is the gruff leader of the survivors, former military and not afraid to kill anyone who endangers his group. He, along with Jean, Patrick, Lea and Beatrice and finally, the father to Simone and Rasmus, receive screen time that explains some of their history.

Specific spoilers included in paragraph below, but pay attention if you are a writer of speculative fiction

Regarding the writing of this series and typical tropes that populate end-of-the-world narratives, one can find many in THE RAIN. For most of us, we like them and don’t find them annoying. I also appreciated the little deviances around the various tropes.  For example: 1. the chosen child who will save humanity and must be protected at all costs, he’s actually the one who can also kill everyone 2. the evil corporation that sees its technology as a way to control humanity is seeding storm clouds with a virus…such a sophisticated weapon of mass destruction. 3. having sex just might just lead to your death…especially, if you’re even remotely slutty, but THE RAIN’s slut is a really sweet character and finds her way into our hearts before she is killed off 4. those seemingly happy survivors who are really a cult that practices cannibalism, they allow our young survivors to choose in or to leave freely…So humane! So Scandinavian!

Overall, I recommend THE RAIN. Add it to your Netflix queue and enjoy a wet winter!