susipjensen@gmail.com

Posts Tagged ‘robot’

ALMOST HUMAN, A No Spoiler Review

So…I’m on an airplane and thinking it’s my chance to watch something new. Yay! I turn on my personal tele, flip through the film and television options. I see a TV series called ALMOST HUMAN. It looks scifi enough and I see JJ Abrams’ name attached to it. I decide to try an episode. I imagine I am watching something new, but apparently, I’m not.

ALMOST HUMAN aired in the late 2012 and early 2013s (in the media world. 7 years is a lifetime). JJ Abrams, Bryan Burk and JH Wyman produced this series.

The premise of ALMOST HUMAN is not so original. It’s basically a cop drama. The unique aspect to this story is his AI partner. Dorian is a humanoid AI, often referred to as a “synthetic” in the series. John Kennex, the main character, is a cop who frequently bends/breaks the rules. Typical cop drama trope. He also carries a lot of emotional baggage. Also typical. Some of that baggage is introduced in the first episode. What is unique about this cop drama is that his partner Dorian is an AI programmed to be empathetic and does not hesitate to tell Kennex when he sees him making poor choices. Those moments are both poignant and funny. Watching their unlikely friendship develop makes for an interesting story. In a way, both are helping the other to become better humans.

ALMOST HUMAN was cancelled at the end of the first season. Thirteen episodes is all that is available to the viewing audience. However the four episodes I watched were entertaining and would interest most scifi fans, especially if your second love after scifi is cop shows. In case that doesn’t sound gripping enough, here are three more reasons you might want to check it out…

  1. The series puts forward a robocop-type world. In this well-drawn urban landscape of Earth’s future, human cops team up with Artificial Intelligence cops. That’s a nice twist on the typical cop drama.
  2. The series explores a lot of possible future tech for law enforcement like instantaneous DNA identification. Some of how the cops do their work and the ways the criminals try to outsmart or subvert the new tech is fascinating.
  3. There is a satisfying “solving of the crime” in each episode, like many typical cop dramas.

While I do recommend this series, it will cost you money. Amazon Prime and YouTube dangle the fruit of the one season in front of us…for $20. Each episode is $1.99, so if you’re doubtful, rent one or two episodes and see if you like it…or fly Delta sometime in the next few months. I liked episodes 2 and 3 more than the first, so try to watch more than the pilot.

 

Almost Human Trailer

 

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.

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.

 

 

 

 

DESCENDER by Jeff Lemire and Dustin Nguyen, A Review of Volume 6, THE MACHINE WAR

THE MACHINE WAR

The 6th and final post of a 6-day reading fest. I’m excited to recommend this series…all 6 volumes. I would rate DESCENDER as PG-13. This comic series is pretty mild compared to some of the stuff your kids are exposed to. Parents might want to view volume 4 to get a sense (regarding the one sex scene). Overall, the language was extremely tame. The violence was not graphic…not as graphic as many other comic series.

Also…FYI…don’t piss off you machines, those very helpful robots that make your life easier.

Today, I want to acknowledge my dishwasher, for all the hard work and quality service it does every other day or so…also, my robot vacuum machine. Also…the electric toothbrush, and much much more. Thanks to you, machines…I have more time to read amazing comics/stories like DESCENDER, THE MACHINE WAR.

Really, though, I have continued praise for the story. You can view my previous reviews on allscifi I’ve written a review for each volume. As a novel-writer, I am intrigued by the strengths and weaknesses of the comics genre. The visuals in this epic are so gorgeous and add so much to the understanding and the feeling the story. However, I did find myself missing lovely passages of linguistic poetry and the interior monologue that takes place in some novels and short stories.

THE MACHINE WAR does close with a longer interior monologue. A character the reader has not yet met, but one who makes sense in the story overall, she begins to narrate the post-story of DESCENDER, the pre-story of the coming series. This is the bridge character who will take center stage in the sequel to DESCENDER. The next series will be called ASCENDER.

Final word on the review. If you love comics…you will absolutely LOVE this series. The art and the writing are top notch. Furthermore, if you’re a scifi fan…you ought to read this tome. The narrative adds so much to our morality around how we understand ourselves, our machines, our planet and those who work in the shadows to make our lives easier. Let us no forget that real work has to be done by someone. More and more of that is done by machines…but much of it is still done by humans, people who we can easily marginalize and treat as less than human. This is important for all of us to remember. The best scifi stories teach us to be better humans. DESCENDER does exactly that.

Click here to buy this final in the series: DESCENDER, Volume 6 The Machine War

Click here to buy the first installment of the sequel to the DESCENCER, series ASCENDER, Vol. 1, The Haunted Galaxy

DESCENDER by Jeff Lemire and Dustin Nguyen, A Review of Volume 4, ORBITAL MECHANICS

Vol. 4 DESCENDER

Day 4 and the 4th review. I’m tired as I write this because I had a full day and hosted 10 people at my house for a dinner party. They’re all gone now and the dishes are washed or are in the robot machine that cleans them (thank you, Kitchen Aid!)

So, here it goes…The DESCENDER saga continues, a ramping up of tensions across the Megacosm.

Slight spoilers if you haven’t read 1-3 yet. This volume confirms the PG-13 rating. There is a sexual encounter, not explicit, but emotionally portrayed/drawn by the artist. It’s not graphic in that there are no x-rated body parts on display, but still…it’s a sex scene. Some parents will want to view this before passing it onto their kids.

With that said, this sexual and emotional relationship doesn’t seem to be the main thing and doesn’t dominate the storyline from every angle, but it is one angle. The couple that gives into sexual desire has its relevance to the overall plot. I can’t say more without spoiling the story.

What continues in ORBITAL MECHANICS is character revelation while the battle lines become drawn.

Since I’ve written a couple of novels, I will say that the messy middle is the most difficult part of writing something of epic proportions. DESCENDER has the potential to be epic, so this volume works, yes, to pull us in and draw us deeper into caring about the characters and the outcome of the world in which they live.

Highlights for me emerged as curious plot turns took place. Not every turn surprised me, but many did. The story telling and the art are still fantastic. I know I will read to the end.

Buy it here

 

 

DESCENDER by Jeff Lemire and Dustin Nguyen, A Review of Volume 3, SINGULARITIES

Tim-22, used, abused and almost scrapped

YES. Read on, you won’t be disappointed!

I continue this mad and highly pleasurable dash of reviewing 6 volumes in 6 days. Today is day 3, so I’m reviewing volume 3 of the DESCENDER series. No spoilers (unless you haven’t yet read volumes 1 and 2 yet…in which case there are tiny spoilers).

I’m going to have to call SINGULARITIES my favorite volume, so far. It’s filled almost completely with the backstories of all the important characters. If you’re like me, now that you’re hooked on these characters, you have the patience to read back into their histories and you’re going to love it! I also picked up volume 1 again to re-read the first few chapters.

Don’t you admire an author can draw you in with action and plot-driven narrative, when all the while, his/her real aim is to make you fall in love. I do. Kudos to Jeff Lemire for this original and expansive story world inhabited by not just humans, but aliens and robots as well, many of whom we are coming to love.

You will not be disappointed regarding the various bot characters. The backstory of Driller the Killer is included in this volume, as well as that of Tim-22, the sinister and perhaps, alter-ego of Tim-21. In the 19th century novel, Dr. Jekyll, Mr. Hyde, evil and gentleness exist in one human, split personalities. In DESCENDER, the two Tim A.I. characters take on the representations. This is a captivating and common archetype in countless narratives we love…think, Darth Vader/Luke, Voldemort/Harry Potter, Edmund/Lucy. Opposite and rival archetypes reflect human experience. We all know we are not pure good or pure evil, we’re somewhere in between, but understanding the extremes must help us in some way, otherwise, why do we crave these stories? Does it help us live a more balanced life and make choices for “good” or not?

I will draw a conclusion by the end of DESCENDER in regard to its moral relevance for the average scifi reader, but for now, I’m enjoying the ride. I hope you are too…Here are the links for the last 4 because if you’re like me, by now you’re hooked.

DESCENDER, Volume 3 Singularities

DESCENDER, Volume 4 Orbital Mechanics

DESCENDER, Volume 5 Rise of the Robots

DESCENDER, Volume 6 The Machine War

 

DESCENDER by Jeff Lemire and Dustin Nguyen, A Review of Volume 2, MACHINE MOON

Cover Art DESCENDER, Volume 2, MACHINE MOON

 

Yes! Read this second volume and you might want to order the rest of the series now because if you’re like me, you’re pretty much hooked. This review of volume 2 will have a few spoilers if you haven’t already read volume 1.

MACHINE MOON did not disappoint. The stage is set and the characters are on the stage (although I’m sure there will be a few new faces in coming volumes) and the heat is cranking up for an epic conflict. In volume 1, the reader is introduced to Tim-21, an A.I. of extraordinary talent, intelligence and empathy. Tim-21 was created by scientist, Dr. Jin Quon, as a companion for humans. The hero, depicted as a gentle-spirited little boy, wakes after 10 years of sleep. He had been companion to a human child and living with him as a brother on a remote mining colony. He wakes to find hundreds of corpses of human miners, dead now for 10 years, and two other robots, lesser A.I. models still active. Following Tim-21’s awakening, the Megacosm made up of nine planets, becomes aware of his presence. His particular intelligence chip is perceived as having brought about a disaster which has wiped out much of civilization. As a result, Tim-21 is targeted by a number of powerful factions who want to destroy him or use him to gain power. He has few human allies, though a couple seem to be emerging. Moreover, his relationship with robotkind turns complicated in this second volume. The reader roots for Tim-21 knowing he is a pawn for nearly every other character, which adds to the tension and the page-turning nature of the story.

I need to take this opportunity to comment further on the gorgeous art of Dustin Nguyen in this series. You too can actually hold this artwork in your hands and it is amazing, worthy of your hard-earned cash.

 

Video game world

On Voyage

The colors are intense when the story requires it and muted at other times. For example, backstory and memory are mostly color-less. There are precise pen drawing-style features of characters, with water-color wash to add to the texture and the dreamy quality of the world.

Click here for DESCENDER, VOLUME 2, you won’t regret it.

DESCENDER, vol 3, SINGULARITIES

DESCENDER, vol. 4 ORBITAL MECHANICS

DESCENDER, vol. 5 RISE OF THE ROBOTS

DESCENDER, vol 6 THE MACHINE WAR

KNOW THY ROBOT, Original Fiction

Leti took up the feeder from its holder and squeezed a few drops of tea into her mouth. Coffee was not going to help, not when her stomach was already churning like Jupiter’s poles.

Christian hovered at the viz, monitoring the debris field from which they had just emerged. “I believe we’re through the worst of the junk, Leti.” He settled into his seat and strapped in.

“You think?”

“Yes, Leti.” He answered confidently, a confidence she did not trust.

Leti did not want to verbalize what was flitting through her mind. The last 40 hours had been hell. Her ship, the Artemis, had hit a shitload of space debris…losing a portion of its landing gear, an escape pod and two blasters. She and her two crew members were limping through space, totally defenseless. It brought Leti no comfort that the Sino-Nissi, her main competition, was probably arriving at the drill site.

“God, I miss my porcelain mug.” She squeezed up another mouthful of tea, moving the lukewarm liquid along the seam of the pouch, pushing the dab between her lips. “Fucking space.” She had given up multiple sleep sessions trying to figure out a way through the debris. “I’m so pissed off right now.”

“You’re sleep deprived,” said Christian.

“My brain’s not firing on all cylinders, that’s for sure.”

“That’s a funny saying,” said Christian.

The expression was her grandfather’s, who in his youth had understood and worked on all things automobile. He had been a mechanic, one of the last of a breed of humans on Earth put out of business by robots. He had switched to fixing those bots by the end of his life. He was lucky to have been clever enough to understand the complex machinery operating in the earliest AI.

“We could not have anticipated this anomaly.” Christian must have read something into her silence. Now he was trying to reassure her, yet not invalidate her feelings. He was programmed to be an encourager and a diffuser of tension, which on occasion, left Leti feeling massively grumpy.

She punched the empty feeder pouch into the trash chute and slammed on the blue button, the one that sent all of her waste and hers alone, since Christian didn’t create any waste, into the compression tank. She snarled at her co-pilot. “We mastered this scenario in our training. What happened to us is inexcusable.”

“That’s not true, Leti. Unknowns can be found in all corners of the cosmos. We may have mastered the training scenario, but we are not masters of the universe.”

She let out a coarse laugh. “You made a joke, Christian. Do you know who the Masters of the Universe are?”

“No, Leti. I do not.”

“Search the net. I think you’ll be pleased,” she said.

“Fair enough, but I won’t embark on such a search until you deem us safe,” said Christian.

Leti glanced over the readouts. “I deem us safe for now, as safe as we can be inside the belly of the beast.”

Christian waved her over. “There’s one more thing. Can you come here?” He pointed at the viz, tapping the screen lightly. “You can see it for yourself, Leti. Come here, Leti. Leti, Come here.”

These redundancies made her want to smack him. So far she had refrained from doing so. Abusing her co-pilot more than she already did was not an option she wanted to entertain. She unbuckled and floated in behind him. His slender back arched delicately, like a dancer’s.

“Is the Sino-Nissi still on the radar?” she asked.

“Yes, they’re descending.”

“Shit, they’re gonna beat us.”

Christian kept tapping at the viz. “The debris. I think it is all rock, probably a small body.”

Leti squinted at the images he was showing her. “By small body, you mean small bodies.”

“I mean it started out as one small body. I am working out a theory on why it became a debris field. This debris field was not on any of our maps.”

“Well…I sure can’t tell if it’s all rock…How in the hell can you?”

Christian laughed. “It’s a guess, but as we were passing through, I took the opportunity to scoop up a few fragments with our research net. I will analyze what we collected, after which we might be able to determine their origin. In the meantime, you should get some sleep, boss. You know what they say, early to bed, early to rise, makes a woman healthy, wealthy and wise.”

He had a way with old timey sayings. She had to hand him that.

Ty woke her four hours later and unstrapped her from the bunk. Ty, the third crew member, was her personal assistant and a different breed of AI than Christian. He existed in an aluminum cylinder and rode on four wheels. The wheels were magnetized, so even in space he motored across the floor as if he were moving on Earth. He performed most of his duties with mechanical arms and though his body was the carapace of a bot from an earlier era, his intelligence chip had been upgraded for the trip to Titan.

“You are due at the bridge in approximately five minutes,” he said in his low male voice.

Leti ran her tongue across her teeth and floated to upright. Ty began setting out her work clothes while she pushed off her bunk and glided over to the sink. She squirted a bubble of recycled water into her wash cloth and rubbed it over her face. Glazed anew by micro gravity water, she reached under the sink. She knew where her pouch of Scotch was by feel. She squeezed out a shot and swallowed it down. The throat burn jolted her awake. Good.

“Did Christian find anything interesting?” she asked Ty.

“There was metal wreckage in the debris he collected, along with rock.”

“Weird.” she said.

“Indeed,” said Ty.

“What was the name of the unmanned ship that crashed on Titan last year?” she asked her assistant.

“Two years ago, Santa Maria, the Vatican’s unmanned space vessel disappeared into Titan’s atmosphere. We don’t know if it truly crashed. Six months ago, Freya, the Nordic research vessel exploded somewhere above Titan. Two humans and one AI were lost.”

“The metal could be pieces of the Freya. Has Christian done a full analysis yet?”

“Christian maintains a working theory,” said Ty.

“Give me the synopsis.”

“Based on the velocity of the debris as it hit us, Christian suspects the Sino-Nissi might have intentionally blasted apart a small body of some sort.”

“And not warned us?”

“That is correct,” said Ty.

“What about the metal?”

“Perhaps, the Sino-Nissi was damaged in the process.”

Leti whistled through her still-wet lips. “Crazy theory…Strike it from the log until we verify.”

“I will strike it from the log,” said Ty.

Leti dressed quickly, then pulled her parka out of the hatch. She had lowered the internal temps to save fuel.

“Call coming in,” Christian said as Leti entered the bridge.

“From where? The mining company?” She launched herself toward her seat.

“From Earth, your hometown. It’s your ex-husband.”

“Great,” she moaned, settling herself. She buckled and zipped up her parka until the metal pull was dangling under her chin.

“I’m about to connect. You want visual?” said Christian.

“Not really.” Leti ran her fingers through her greasy hair and used her sleeve to scrape some of the water off her cheeks and nose. She waited for Blake’s face to appear and lifted her hand in greeting as he came into focus.

“Can you hear me?” she asked. “Can you see me?”

“Yeah,” he said.

Blake’s new wife was toiling in the background, cooking something over the stove. It must have been morning there. She was still dressed in a slinky pink robe.

“How’s Tommy?” she asked, then remembered her manners. “How are you and Bing?”

“We’re fine. He’s fine. Trying to figure out a few things for the summer. Tommy wants to go to that soccer camp I told you about, so we need an extra six thousand.”

Leti noticed his request came rapidly, with no eye contact and no obligatory small talk.

“What are you reading or watching?” she asked.

“What?” he said.

“You’re not looking at the screen, at me. You’re multi-tasking. Right?”

He scratched above his left ear and forced his eyes on her. “It’s business, Leti…the business of parenting our child. I didn’t call to be social.”

“I’m going to differ with your opinion here. Even though I’m a billion kilometers from Earth, I still have feelings…not to mention, I’m sacrificing for the Americas.”

Blake laughed. He had a beautiful, sonorous laugh. Bing approached the computer behind him and flicked him on the cheek playfully, after which her youthful face took over the screen. “She’s right, Blake. Hi, Leticia,” she said, “How is it going up there?”

“Hi, Bing.” Leti allowed herself a smirk. “You hear that? Even your wife is nice to me.”

“Okay, okay…So HOW ARE YOU?” Blake asked.

Bing exited the frame, waving as she went.

“I’m a mess. This mission sucks. Christian and I almost wrecked the ship a few hours ago and the mining contract has just been forfeited.”

“Wow. I’m sorry. How is Christian? It sounds like you’re not happy.”

“Christian’s always upbeat, perfect in all the ways one hopes, you know, an ideal space traveler.”

“Okay…Well…Will you think about the soccer camp because I have to get to work soon.”

“Yeah, yeah…I’ll transfer the money. Is Tommy there? Can he talk?”

“In the shower,” said Blake.

“Avoiding me?” said Leti.

“What do you think?”

Leti said nothing, so Blake filled in the silence, like he often had in their relationship. Strange how Christian often did the same thing.

“It’s a bummer about your issues up there. It’s dangerous, I know…but you’re a great pilot. I’m sure you’ll figure things out.”

“I don’t know shit out here…I make it up as I go…”

“You sound stressed,” he said.

“We almost died.”

Blake glanced left. He was disinterested or protecting himself from making an emotional connection. “I don’t know what to say, Leti. You love space. You chose this career.”

“It pays well,” Leti said. “One of us needed to make money for things like expensive soccer camps.”

Blake’s head snapped up. He was focused on her now, glaring and hating on every inch of her semi-gloss face. “So. That’s great, yeah…awesome. I’ll monitor whether your money comes through. God bless the Americas and all that shit.”

Leti planted her cheeks into her palms and rubbed her eye sockets. Her eyeballs were itchy and by God she was an asshole.

She heard Bing’s voice. “Leticia. Are you still there? Tommy’s out of the shower. I think he wants to talk to you.”

Leti lifted her face as she heard her son’s greeting.

“Hey, Mom.” He was wiping his spiky hair with a towel, seeming way too mature for fourteen.

Leti sprang into cheerful mode. “Hi-ya, Tom Tom. Is that you?”

“Um…yeah…”

“You’re not looking like that freshman I left behind. You sure you’re the same person?”

Tommy chuckled, pleased with her observation. “So, how’s it going out there?” he asked.

“Not like I planned, but I think the job will get done, one way or the other. On the up side, if I complete this contract, I’ll be set. No more long trips away.” She blinked a few times. Damn, her eyes were a mess. “Anything you want to tell me?” she said. “I’ll probably need to get going soon.”

“Dad told you about the soccer camp? The Canadian one?”

“Canadian,” she said. “Okay. That’s why it’s expensive. Anyway…Yeah, he told me. It sounds good to me. You have some friends attending?”

“Jordan and maybe Edgar.”

“How’s Español?” she asked. She had seen his mid-year report card earlier in the week.

“Not like I planned, but I think the job will get done, one way or the other.”

She laughed and shook a parental finger at the screen. “That’s an A+ for snarky humor, but don’t fail that class. Save yourself the agony of repeating.”

“I know,” he said. “Hey, you’re sort of breaking up.”

“Ok. Let’s talk soon, but remember that I love you. Only 9 months and 26 days. When I come back…no more trips, I promise! Can’t wait.”

“Okay. Bye. Love you too.”

The screen went dark. She was shivering.

“Christian. Can we bump up the temps. One degree.”

“No problem, Leti,” Christian said.

“Ty,” she said. “Would you put some of those drops in my eyes?”

The robot motored to the first aid kit and pulled out a tubular bottle. She tipped her head back and prepared for the application.

He placed a suction cup attached to the bottle over her socket. She forced her eyes open.

“Ty…Am I a bad person?” she asked. She could not read him. His one camera lens, its black glass-like bulb revealed no emotion, no connection to the subtext of her question.

“You do your duty,” he said.

He shot three or four drops into her right eye and waited to make sure the liquid had entered.

As he removed the suction cup, Leti pressed against her eyelid. “Does that make me a good person?” She rubbed the lid back and forth.

“You would do well to avoid rubbing like that,” Ty said.

“I know.” She opened her eyes for the second application.

“It makes you good by machine standards.” Ty shot the drops into her left eye.

She blinked repeatedly to incorporate her eye juices with the medicine. The coolness was soothing. She did not rub her lid.

“Thank you,” she said.

“Doing my duty is a great pleasure,” said Ty.

Ty was the perfect slave.

Christian had finished initial tests of the collected debris. He reported that some of the metal fragments were in fact off of the Sino-Nissi, which neither proved nor disproved his theory, and Leti made sure he understood her skepticism.

“I find it difficult to imagine the crew of the Sino-Nissi blasting away at a piece of rock to create such havoc that might slow us down or even end our journey and our lives. They would not do something so dangerous and unethical. Sure, they’re speeding toward Titan, attempting to beat us and win first drilling rights, but you’re talking about murder.”

The group for which her competitors worked maintained a stellar reputation in the solar system. They were known to be aggressive in business, but not reckless. Not destructive. Five years before, Leti had considered accepting a job to fly for the Asian Space Cooperative, but South American Mining had wanted her badly enough to double their offer. Her choice to pilot for SAM was all about money. She did not consider the Sino-Nissi her enemy.

“So you want to rule out sabotage?” he asked.

“I have ruled out sabotage, ” she answered.  “Put it in the log.”

Leti and Christian flew their semi-disabled ship around Titan, as far away from Saturn as possible. Leti used the moon’s gravitational pull to draw lower toward the massive ice-rock, thus saving fuel. After a few hours, she needed to unbuckle and relieve herself. Ty assisted her, but even with his help, the process always took a while. Christian stayed at the viz and monitored their trajectory.

Before Leti had a chance to resettle, Christian reported, “We lost radar contact with the Sino-Nissi about seven minutes ago.”

“They’re probably way under the haze or on the other side of the moon,” she said.

“Should we look for them?” With a tilt to his head and lifting of the eyebrows Christian wore his best question mark face. What an AI marvel he was. Of course, his question was genuine and Leti needed to take it seriously. To spend energy and time looking for the Sino-Nissi would be off-script, therefore not permitted by the company. However, there was a protocol for rescues. Space law required that competing entities always be ready to abort a mission for the sake of saving lives. Few pilots had to be convinced of this international norm.

“We ought to scan for them,” she said. “That we must do, at least.”

Titan’s faint gravitational pull anchored them poetically in a yellow-orange methane haze. The colors in this part of space were view-worthy, but Leti was ignoring them and zeroing in on the barren surface of Titan. Titan, the moon of promise, that which was about to become the prize of Earth’s corporate giants. Rare minerals and methane, so many necessary elements for robot technology were assumed to be hiding under its frozen shell. She brought the ship through the haze and into a closer orbit. Christian had been working for 20 hours straight, so Leti sent him to recharge.

She tugged the hood of her parka forward, but was still shivering. She turned up the heat another degree.

Ty commented. “Was it your wish to turn up the heat, Leti?”

“Yes, Ty. I turned up the heat,” she said.

“I will recalibrate our fuel needs,” he said.

Leti brought the Artemis around, circling the area where the Sino-Nissi had gone off grid. Visibility was next to impossible, but on her third pass, she spotted the vessel, buried nose first in the Kraken Mare. The wreckage was difficult to see because of the low lighting of the crashed ship. Low lighting meant there would be very little power for life support…it was a bad sign. Not that a crashed ship in deep space could ever be interpreted as anything but catastrophic. There were always challenges and unknowns associated with space travel, but one could usually count on precision engineering to figure a way through a disaster. The wreckage of the Sino-Nissi indicated that something both very bad and unexpected had taken place.

Leti contemplated her next moves. For her to fly in closer, she needed Christian’s help. Reviving him would be no easy task given that he had not recharged to full power, but moving quickly was crucial in case any of the crew had managed to survive.

She floated across to Christian and unplugged him from the recharge dock. She floated back, carrying him to his seat. She buckled him in. She gently slapped his cheeks with the pads of her fingers. It was really more like tapping him. The scenario reminded her of pulling her adolescent son out of bed. Christian, like Tommy, woke up slowly, reluctantly.

Christian’s software eventually buzzed to life and began pairing with the ship, alignment taking place within his spinal tube, from tailbone up. He moaned and nodded, in and out of consciousness though that comparison was not quite accurate. After about 15 minutes, he emerged from the fog as his cheerful self.

With Christian assisting her, they flew toward the Sino-Nissi, observing the wreckage 100 meters above the surface. She hailed the crew multiple times and waited for a response, knowing there might be a delay.

“Sino-Nissi. This is Artemis. Do you read? Are you in distress? she asked and waited.

Nothing. Not even the buzz of an open radio channel.

It was fair to assume all those on board were ice cubes. The Sino-Nissi was home to six humans and one AI. Three engineers, three scientists and one corporate executive. The crew had voyaged to do research on Titan and to stake a claim on behalf of the Asian Space Cooperative. The Sino-Nissi was poorly equipped for anything other than that.

“I think they’re all dead,” she said finally.

“All the humans, most likely,” said Christian. “Are there any AI on board?”

Had Christian not seen the crew manifest? Where had she seen it? She couldn’t remember. “Yes. One.”

“If we were in trouble, we would hope the Sino-Nissi would come to our aid,” said Christian.

“Yes, but we know…”

“The AI might have survived,” interrupted Christian.

“Maybe,” she said. International rescue law included most AIs.

Leti let out a long, slow breath. “With our current deficiencies, we would probably have to give up the mining site to rescue any AI. No mining on Titan. Do you know what that means for me?”

“No bonus?” said Christian.

“No bonus. No retirement,” she said.

Leti had to slow down her mind. Some bullshit feels were building in her chest and she hella did not want that creature to emerge. She often visualized her feelings as a feline, back arched and hissing. She reached out her hand to stroke the fur of the cat. With care, she was able to calm it into a purring mass. She had been encouraged to develop a technique for compartmentalizing emotions during her first year of pilot’s training. This visualization had gotten her through more shit-hole situations than she cared to count.

“I propose we scan one more time,” she said. “If we see or hear any sign of life, we attempt a rescue. Is that valid?” Leti actually turned her torso to her First Officer to see directly into his green-pixel eyes. Had they flickered?

“Yes, Leti. I think so,” he said finally. “I think your proposal is valid and moral. Any rescue will risk our mission and our safety on the return voyage, but I commend you for your morality.”

“That’s an interesting answer.” Leti turned back to controls. She hated that Christian had brought up the money or had she brought it up?

They flew in, closer still. Leti hailed them. “Sino-Nissi. Do you read?” She repeated the message 20 times, at least, pausing to listen between each hail.

The silence yawned, howled and screamed. Leti peered through the viz, then the telescope viewer where she was able to see more details. The hull of the ship appeared to have buckled, maybe due to its landing.

Christian shifted nervously in his seat. “Our proximity is unwise,” he reported.

She ignored him. “Have our ship record everything.”

“Yes, Leti.”

She studied the wreckage, the rip in their hull and the obvious pummeling the body had taken, maybe as it had traveled through the debris field. It looked almost…pockmarked…

“They must have encountered the same debris field we did,” Christian said.

“You still believe in the sabotage theory?” she asked him.

“I do. It explains what we see before us. The Sino-Nissi was hit by the debris that they created,” he said.

“To mention this in the log now will only taint the memory of the dead,” said Leti.

“What shall we do?” asked Christian.

“About your theory? We forget you ever mentioned it.”

“No. About the bodies?” he said.

“We leave them. We change course and fly to the mining site.”

“What about the AI?” said Christian.

“It did not respond to our hails.” She glanced his way.

His fingers hovered over the controls. Was his hand shaking? “Though frozen, it could still be revived,” he said.

Leti paused, making the calculations in her head. “You’re right. It would also give us an answer about what happened to the Sino-Nissi. Of course, we will come back for its body, but first, we set up the mining infrastructure and we drill.”

Christian seemed to appreciate her will, her decision. Although he was programmed to counter her assumptions, he was also programmed to obey her orders. Deep down, he was just a robot.

For the next 15 hours, Christian and Leti maneuvered into the swirling atmosphere above Titan. They hovered about 400 meters above the mining site. They deployed the drill machines and watched them sink into the surface according to specs, after which, they set loose the mini-bots. As the hive created the mining environment, Leti monitored the data that streamed into their ship’s computer. Based on the early readings, Titan’s wealth was going to exceed the company’s expectations. She sent the data onto headquarters along with a copy to her accountant.

She was sure that after viewing the numbers, her boss at SAM would set in motion the launching of at least two harvest vessels. That communication was the second to last item on Leti’s mission checklist. Half of her bonus would go into her account at its receiving. The other half would be delivered when she returned with the Artemis and her crew. She would message her accountant about wiring money to Blake for Tommy’s soccer camp when she got confirmation of the deposit.

Leti raised her arms overhead and whooped. “We did it, Christian. We just made bank and we’re famous. You and I and even our buddy, Ty.” She patted the robot across his top. “We will be celebrated as the first. I can’t believe we did it.”

“Leti, you have ensured a valuable contribution to South American Mining and to the Americas. Congratulations, Leti.” Christian bowed.

She responded with a bow of her own. “I couldn’t have done it without you, Chritian.” Her screen was still filling with amazing numbers. She ought to celebrate with a squirt of Scotch, but needed to plan for the next phase. “We have a few hours for you to recharge before data collection is complete, and then, we head home.”

“Except we’re going back to the Sino-Nissi wreckage, to collect the AI, right?”

“Yes…” she said and cursed her shaky voice. “We’ll check for the machine.” She avoided looking at Christian while attempting to modulate her heart rate in case he was paying close attention to her vitals. “That’s what I meant. In the meantime, you should plug in. We’ll need you in top form, so we can manage the rescue.”

She pretended to ignore Christian as he plugged into his recharge dock. After a few minutes of quiet, she unbuckled and glided over to where he sat, stiff as a corpse, his head bent and resting on his chest. She touched the back of his neck. It was as cold as the temps in her ship.

Yet, he was a work of art, resembling any number of Anglo pop stars that had populated Earth in the past 50 years. Even his skin was a glittering tan. She moved her fingers, feeling around his hairline above his left ear. She found the tiny latch and opened his main brain. She pulled out his red memory square and floated back to her station. She inserted the square into the viewing port and re-watched their search for the Sino-Nissi. She highlighted the portions of their conversation that included the AI, being careful to make her edits artfully. A sloppy job here might alert Christian as to her meddling. After a few goes, she was satisfied with the result. She ejected the square and held it tightly in her hand. As she floated back to Christian, she heard the buzzing of a camera eye. Ty was watching her, tracking her every movement. She had forgotten about Ty.

“I see you, Ty,” she said. There was a slight tremor to her voice despite her best efforts to calm herself. “You probably don’t understand what I’m doing right now.”

She was hoping to draw him out, to understand his programming, what he might relay to the bosses, or more importantly, what he might relay to Christian.

“I aim to please, Leti,” Ty said. “I know full well that mistakes are a part of being human.”

“You feel this a mistake?”

Ty did not answer.

“I mean…you THINK this is a mistake?” said Leti.

“In this case,” said Ty. “I do not think. I only report.”

“But YOU used the word mistake. I did not present that idea. Therefore, you do have a thought about what I am doing.” Leti was nearly certain that if her actions were reviewed by the mining company, her decision would be praised as practical and perfectly legal.

Ty spoke again. “Remember that you asked Christian to record everything with our ship’s cameras. The ship’s memory will not line up with Christian’s, nor will it line up with mine. What you have done will not remain a secret. Do you wish your decision to leave the AI body behind to be a secret?”

Leti turned and faced Ty’s convex lens, her own bloodshot eyes reflected in the dark glass. “Why are you telling me this?”

“I have been programmed to help you succeed,” said Ty.

“So, what should I do?” asked Leti.

“That is for you to decide,” said Ty, as patiently as a Holy Priest might say to his parishioner.

 

Lost In Space, 2018 Netflix Series, a Review

Danger Will Robinson?

Let’s say you’re a single male/female scifi fan or no-kids couple and both of you are scifi fans. I say…YES, watch this. Let’s say you’re a family that likes scifi or even…you just like great stories, I say…ABSOLUTELY, YES! Watch LOST IN SPACE together. This series is totally fun and so far, it is blowing my socks off.

I couldn’t wait to give this review. I confess, I have not watched the entire first season of LOST IN SPACE, but I’ve watched enough  to give an initial review.

In particular, I want parents to see this review early in the summer. It’s fun to find a tv series that the entire family can watch together. Summer is the perfect time to take on such a community watching experience. I’ve seen five episodes of season one and feel confident this one is worthy of our attention. If you’re comfortable with a PG-13 rating, LOST IN SPACE is fantastic and here’s why…

This series contains:

  1. Action packed storylines, kid-centric in a good way, but still entertaining for adults.
  2. Deft story-telling, internal family tension, external forces that threaten the family and their survival…characters that are smart, but also clunky in their own ways and real-seeming (ok…those kids are all brainiacs, but they were chosen for the journey because of their intelligence).
  3. Perfect villains. Two main villains so far: Parker Posey as Dr. Smith and the robot(s). Posey plays a great devil within. Is she a time bomb waiting to go off, or is she on the road to becoming a more balanced human being? Stay tuned for that one. The great thing is, she creates tension in the system and has potential to draw out the best or worst of the characters around her.
  4. The robot character is wonderfully mysterious and yet lovable. Its relationship with Will is going to win over children of all ages not only because it is super cool, with the strength of a super hero and the loyalty of a dog, but she/he/it is also a mystery. The robot truly feels obliged to protect young Will…the relationship emerges in the pilot (first episode).
  5. Non-stop adventure. Thousands of potential storylines exploring a new world and learning how to survive…plus characters that have the potential to grow and in doing so, grow on us.

Congratulations to Netflix for re-imagining this beloved series in a way that honors the original and surprises us with the new. The stories are imaginative, the characters feel real and the special effects are soooo much better than the original!