Friday, April 17, 2009

Gardens Of The Sun - Cover Copy

The Quiet War is over. The city states of the moons of Jupiter and Saturn, founded by descendants of refugees from Earth’s repressive regimes, the Outers, have fallen to the Three Powers Alliance of Greater Brazil, the European Union, and the Pacific Community. A century of enlightenment, rational utopianism and exploration of new ways of being human has fallen dark. Outers are herded into prison camps and forced to collaborate in the systematic plundering of their great archives of scientific and technical knowledge, while Earth’s forces loot their cities and settlements and ships, and plan a final solution to the ‘Outer problem.’

But Earth’s victory is fragile, and riven by vicious internal politics. While seeking out and trying to anatomise the strange gardens abandoned in place by the Outers’ greatest genius, Avernus, the gene wizard Sri Hong-Owen is embroiled in the plots and counterplots of the family that employs her. The diplomat Loc Ifrahim soon discovers that profiting from victory isn’t as easy as he thought. And on Earth, in Greater Brazil, the democratic traditions preserved and elaborated by the Outers have infected a population eager to escape the tyranny of the great families who rule them.

Meanwhile, in the outer reaches of the Solar System, a rag-taggle group of refugees struggle to preserve the last of the old ideals. And on Triton, fanatical members of a cabal prepare for a final battle that threatens to shatter the future of the human species.

After a conflict fought to contain the expansionist, posthuman ambitions of the Outers, the future is as uncertain as ever. Only one thing is clear. No one can escape the consequences of war -- especially the victors.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Star Trek: The Next Next Generation

Down into town today to see a preview showing of the new Star Trek film, the eleventh, and a major reboot of the series. I've always had a soft spot for the original flavour Star Trek - along with Doctor Who and Thunderbirds, it was an important part of my media landscape when I was growing up. So I was relieved to discover that the reboot dutifully hit all the major nostalgia points while cleverly subverting its predecessors.

The plot involves time-travel, branching universes, and the usual one-dimensional villain (a rogue Romulan called Nero - presumably because he burns down the Rome of the old franchise). Eager to avenge the death of his wife and his planet, Nero attacks a Federation starship and leaves Kirk growing up to be 'a genius-level repeat offender' without a father or any particular direction until he meets up with Uhuru and Captain Pike and joins Star Fleet Academy. So in one stroke, things are changed forever; the previous ten films and six TV series are consigned to the dustbin of an alternate history. Kirk and Spock first cross blades when Kirk is suspended after breaking the rules by reprogramming the famous Kobayashi Maru test. When a crisis looms and the fleet is dispatched, fellow cadet Leonard McCoy sneaks Kirk aboard the Enterprise, and thereafter the tearaway Kirk begins to explore his potential and exert his authority.

The heart of the original Star Trek was the friendship between Kirk and Spock, and both Chris Pine (Kirk) and Zachary Quinto (Spock) convey the storied essence of their characters while bringing some subtle variations into the mix. The ensemble of supporting characters is pretty good too: Zoe Sanatana's Uhuru has more to do than answer the phone; Karl Urban is a very credible McCoy; Simon Pegg successfully plays a broadly comical Scotty. There are plenty of iconic moments to please the fans; the plot is reliably daft and full of holes; the physics is as dodgy as ever; an ice planet features the usual monsters with no ecological rational. State-of-the-art SFX renders the space battles dizzyingly kinetic, and with a lot of story and introductions to pack into a little over two hours the pace is often frenetic. There's a short scene when we track a hapless crew member who's sucked out of an exploding corridor into the vacuum of space, and the view expands to take in other drifting bodies in sudden silence; a few more moments like that would have been nice. And it would good, too, if we could finally get away from the plot cliche in which the hero has to prove himself worthy of his father - in Kirk's case, not only his dead father, but the father-figure of Captain Pike, and the uber-father of the Academy. Been there, done that, got the Starship Troopers T-shirt.

But despite the cliches and Bad Science, there's a lot more wit and sass in this space operatic reboot than in most of its too-often ponderous predecessors, and you're left with a sense that the franchise is ready to head off into new and unexpected directions. And also, in my case, having seen Winona Ryder play Spock's mother, feeling rather old.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

There Are Doors (15)

In Bradford for Eastercon, I stayed in the Hilton in the city centre, which meant that when I was in my room I couldn't see the Hilton's somewhat shabby box, or the multistorey carpark next door to it, but had a good view of the very fine Victorian town hall. I didn't have much time for sight-seeing, but did manage to sneak a couple of hours of early-morning exploration around the cathedral and the heart of the town; despite some despoilation (and the huge hole right in the heart of the city, which someone told me was fifteen years old), there was plenty of good Victorian stuff to admire, including what looked like a Gothic reimagining of a Florentine palazzo (appropriately enough: many Florentine bankers built their fortunes on wool exported from Yorkshire and the Cotswolds).

The size and ornamentation of these doors and gates gives some idea of the municipal pride and wealth of days gone by.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Keep Watching The Skies

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