Wednesday, 31 March 2010

SF Masterworks #26 - UBIK

Another exploration into the great Science Fiction books that I have actually read. Not to say that there aren't more, I've read some pretty fantastic Sci-Fi that as of yet hasn't appeared on this list, though I have to admit I spend too much time on tie-in fiction and graphic novels relative to the classics - anyway, UBIK is another PKD book I've laid eyes on, thanks to a five book bundle I once bought.

UBIK is perhaps my favourite of them all, though I understand it the least - I came out at the end in complete confusion about what I had read (the intention of the author I believe) and also completely satisfied at the story I had just read. Now I'm admittedly not as well read as I should be, but I don't think there are many authors who can leave you questioning everything that happened in the book yet not in the slightest bit disappointed - Christopher Priest is an accomplished head-messer, with The Affirmation and his more famous The Prestige providing similar mental journeys.

Anyhow - I'll leave the review to the professionals at

A review by A.L. Sirois

Glen Runciter's business is beleaguered. The telepaths his telepaths are monitoring -- to prevent them from influencing consumer trends among the population -- are vanishing, and his precogs can't find them. Not even his dead wife can help him, from her stasis tank in Switzerland. Apparently, someone doesn't like Runciter's continuing efforts to get to the bottom of his problems, because he and several of his employees are caught in an explosion that kills him.

Or does it? Before long, Runciter employees, including his right-hand man, Joe Chip, are receiving voice and data messages from the supposedly deceased boss. And their world is warping and changing around them. Is their own time running out? And who is behind it? Joe tails the disturbances past death itself, into the shadowy world where suspended people like Runciter's wife exist. Is Joe able to communicate with her -- and Runciter, or the person posing as Runciter -- because he has been killed, too? Is he himself held in the half-life of suspended animation, where only UBIK, the universal product, can save him? Meanwhile, Joe's co-workers are turning up dead, one by one.

As ever with one of Philip K. Dick's books, the plot -- crenellated though it is -- is less interesting here than the characters, the theme, and the virtuosity of the writing. Dick's explications of his fractal reality look easy to accomplish, but they really aren't. He seems to have taken A.E. van Vogt's self-referential writing a step or two further into territory that even van Vogt, with his own odd grasp on reality, wasn't equipped to explore. Only someone with a very firm grasp on and understanding of their own shifting grip on sanity could map out the less solid nearby terra incognita as successfully as Phil Dick did.

Dick was the first SF writer to really get into playing with the heads of his readers, and getting them to think about the nature of reality and their perceptions. For this reason, his books never really grow stale -- you can come back to them years after the first reading and find new signposts directing you into previously obscure pathways of your own personality. A.E. van Vogt tried to do the same, but from the inside rather than the outside -- he was perhaps too much the product of the pulp era to really be able to focus the glass of his thematic concerns on himself. Whereas that's all Dick could do, after a point.

Dick's better books are less novels than they are explorations of the relationship between reader, writer and story. His explorations became even more pointed after he suffered a mental breakdown in 1981. Whether his breakdown had anything to do with his experiments with drugs remains unclear, but subsequently it became harder to separate Dick from his work. It seems pretty clear that's what he had in mind, or, at least, it's a side effect that he would have found perfectly appropriate.

As a result, reading his stuff is at once a venture into the mind of a highly creative man, and a fictional roller coaster ride -- because Dick's work took on a slightly hysterical apocalyptic tinge as it grew darker. It may be that reading Phil Dick is as close as one can get to the world of the paranoid schizophrenic, without going too far.

It's tempting to point at Dick's work and say, "This is the key to the 21st century," but we ought to resist the temptation, at least for another ten or fifteen years. It may well be that key, but perhaps it doesn't behoove us to examine it too closely for fear of what we might find.

Which is probably what Philip K. Dick wanted.

(By the way, let me add a brief note about the cover art. I can't tell if it's a reprint from an older SF magazine -- it rather looks that way -- but the feral-faced and somewhat sallow woman pressed against what seems to be a grimy spaceport wall in the rain really suits UBIK nicely, although the artwork has nothing at all to do with the books contents.)

Copyright © 2000 by A.L. Sirois

I'd really recommend this one - if you can handle it!!

Thursday, 18 March 2010

SF at the Movies - March '10

OK so there's basically nothing, really I mean no real 'pure' Sci-Fi movies this all. We've got a stack of supernaturally scary stuff like Shutter Island and Legion. But no robots or aliens to be seen. Our one saving grace is coming in at the last possible second and looks like an excellent exploration of the superhero genre by one if it's most popular scribes.


Released 31/03/10

This film centres around a teenager who dons a superhero costume asking the question 'why has no one done this before?' Lacking any powers or gadgets he simply is willing to take the fight to the bad guys and soon finds other young vigilantes willing to follow the call. Making up for all the times when people wish they could stop something bad but couldn't they determine to do something and... well I guess we'll just have to watch the film to see what happens, I'm definitely there.

Saturday, 13 March 2010

Star Wars Legacy: Rogue's End + Stormtroopers

Still a bit of catching up to do on Legacy. With the current four part arc on it's penultimate issue I want to get these done so I can post these at least vaguely current in the future. I have this and another stand-alone to cover, and I'm also going to carry on looking at different parts of the Sith Empire while I do so.

Story Review

The story begins during the Sith-Imperial War that shook the galaxy and brought Darth Krayt to power. On the planet Botajef the Mandalorians, hired by the Galactic Alliance, fight a brutal war against the Empire, which they are slowly losing due to the lack of GA reinforcements. Hondo Karr, confidant to Mandalore himself investigates the problem to find that Yaga Auchs, a leading Mandalorian, has betrayed them, sabotaging the communication centre on the order of his 'master'.
Karr is knocked out and wakes up to find the battle lost, Mandalore dead and Auchs leading their forces in retreat. Karr gets into stormtrooper armour to survive and Vevec, his friend, sacrifices his life to give him a convincing alibi. Karr is recruited into Joker Squad.

As we know from previous stories Karr left Joker Squad and joined Rogue Squadron. The squad prepare for their latest mission, rescuing Mon Calamari refugees in hiding on the Hutt world of Napdu. Karr and new squad leader Anj Dahl land on the planet disguised as traders. They meet up with Azzim the Hutt who is actually an ally of theirs and hatch a plan to evacuate the refugees.
Since bounty hunters know about the refugees and plan to use them to find the GA fleet Rogue Squadron go to defend the decoy freighters, drawing the attention of the hunters. All goes to plan until Tes Vevec, daughter of Karr's friend (and also his wife!) crashes the party seeking to avenge the apparent murder of her father. Eventually Karr convinces her that Auchs is a traitor and the mission is a success, but Karr leaves to restore justice to the Mandalorians.

My Two Credits

This was always a bit of a fan-pleaser as is anything involving the Mandalorians. But it was good to get a bit of insight into the Sith-Imperial war, which we haven't seen too much of. The issue was very fast-paced, almost too much so with so much to cram in, but this is fairly inevitable with one-parters. Still it accomplished what it set out to do, a daring mission for the GA, good backstory and development of one of the more interesting side characters.

There was also a triumph in Azzim, the Legacy team have created likeable and 'good' Hutt characters and not just a bunch of Jabba clones.


Again my new venture thanks to the essential atlas - showing where things go on in the galaxy.


It would be logical, I suppose, to cover the Mandalorians in conjuncture with this post, but I'm a methodical man and so I'm going to continue highlighting personalities of the Sith Empire. This post it's stormtroopers, who have been the backbone of the Empire since it's founding. While the Sith takeover has caused tensions and divisions that vast majority of the men in white are loyal to the throne, these are some of the ones who have featured so far.


Species: Human
Position: Lieutenant (Stormtrooper Corps)
First Appearance: Legacy #3 (Broken, part 3)

This lieutenant served Lord Krayt's forces on Bastion. Unbeknown to him, a large number of forces still loyal to Roan Fel had been secretly rotated to Bastion. When Fel arrived with his Imperial Knights to claim the world Kiefer resisted, trying to incite the stormtroopers to be loyal to the throne, but was instead shot and killed when attempting to arrest the former emperor.

Ran Harkas
Species: Human
Position: Sergeant (407th Division)
First Appearance: Legacy #4 (Noob)

Nicknamed 'Hardcase' by his men, Ran Harkas was a long-serving stormtrooper known for his demanding nature, but more for his determination to get his men trough battle alive. He was in command of 'Joker Squad' and had good relations with the lieutenant in charge of their unit. He served in the battle of Botajef, surviving against the Mandalorians and recruiting ex-Mandalorian Hondo Karr into his squad. He faced his toughest trial when ordered to Borosk to fight the 908th division who were loyal to Fel, the difficult battle made harder by their leader Darth Maleval. Despite questioning their orders he has stayed loyal to the Empire and was assigned to investigate Ossus by Darth Stryfe.

Gil Cassel
Species: Human
Position: Lieutenant (407th Division)
First Appearance: Legacy#4 (Noob)

Cassel was a leading officer in the battle of Borosk, which pitted stormtrooper against stormtrooper in a bid to stop force loyal to Fel. The lieutenant was brave and led from the front, though his option of accepting surrender drew negative attention from Darth Maleval and caused them to question their orders. Maleval ordered him to execute his own brother, an officer in the renegade forces. He refused and was executed by the Sith.

Anson Trask
Species: Human
Position: Stormtrooper (407th Division)
First Appearance: Legacy#4 (Noob)

Trask joined through 'continuity of service' which allowed him to join his father's unit. His first combat was the tragic battle of Borosk which forced him to fight other stormtroopers. He struggled with this until he found purpose in defending his squad. This continued when he shot and killed Darth Maleval who killed Cassel and was attacking Hondo Karr. Despite his actions he has remained in the Empire and was in the scouting mission on Ossus.

Jes Gistang
Species: Human
Position: Stormtrooper (407th Division)
First Appearance: Legacy#4 (Noob)

Gistang was recruited through the Imperial Mission on Corellia, who offered her better choices than she had on her own. She was the squad's heavy weapon specialist and closest friend of Anson Trask during the battle, helping him get settled. She was killed when a stray blaster bolt hit the power paks for her heavy weapon.

Vax Potorr
Species: Human
Position: Stormtrooper (40th Division)
First Appearance: Legacy#4 (Noob)

Potorr joined the Empire early on in the war because of his hate of the Yuuzhan Vong. Formerly an underdweller on Coruscant where the effects of the invaders are felt most strongly he found his skills worked well in the forces, he was able to trade supplies within the division to get the best gear and was nimble and good at evading danger. He served in the Battle of Botajef where he killed Vevec and later fought in the Borosk encounter. He was killed when he stepped on a mine while taking out a turret.

Well that's pretty much it - Armang and Kniffler were part of Joker Squad during the battle of Botajef and either transferred or died after the war. Orland was a new recruit to the squad, present during the search on Ossus.

As you've seen most of the corps are still human, but aliens can serve in the Stormtroopers and a few have been spotted here and there, including this guy...

Well that's it for now - expect more Legacy this month.

Wednesday, 10 March 2010

Stuff Transformers 2 part 2

Ok, it's been a while since part 1 now so let's roll with this huh? Here are the new Autobots introduced in the film.


I did like this quirky character and hid decision to switch sides to the Autobots - which seems logical. He points out that always talking about destruction and death gets dull after a while, plus I'm starting to wonder why anyone would consider being a Decepticon when the Autobots always win with significantly smaller numbers - oh well, this guy was good and morphing with Optimus was great.


A fairly minor character, but nonetheless a pretty cool one with his dual swords and quote of 'Damn, I'm good!' after finishing off a Decepticon. Seems like he was brought in to replace the equally flashy Jazz who died in the first movie. He didn't have an awful lot to do, but he certainly added more than just another generic robot to the team.

Skids and Mudflap

I liked these on first viewing, but they get tiring after a while. Their takedown of Devastator was quite amusing and to see them transform from the ice-cream truck into the new vehicles was great. I don't see what else you can do with them, but they were fun characters.


I did like the motorbike triplets as they added a good amount of variety to the Autobot team. With a lot of the robots looking the same with slightly different colour schemes. it was good to have a vivid set of robots that were a different type and also a different gender to the rest of the crew - these really hooked me into the idea of the new Autobots and NEST.

Well I think that's it, apart from the little one that fancied Megan Fox, but I think he's just as well left alone.

Back soon folks!

Tuesday, 2 March 2010

The New Star Wars?

I hate to say it, but there is a competitor to Star Wars for my nerdy heart's affections. While there's no question of my undying devotion to my first love, it must be said that I am drawn to a newer, shinier Sci-Fi giant these days.

It is, of course, Halo. And while Mass Effect 2 is currently vice-gripping my attention on my first play through, my time on message boards and 'pedias is roughly equally split between the other two franchises and I think that the ringworld games have the potential to be an equally powerful medium.

Note that I said potential, because the Star Wars franchise has a massive leg up on Halo. A massive expanded universe has been established since the movies first aired. It also looks set to continue and expand further with innovative titles such as Legacy leading the way. But I have to admit the current all-hardback novel series has curbed my ability to shell out on additional fiction and perhaps dulled my ardour.

Halo is going from strength to strength, with novels and short stories, successful comic lines and the recent anime series Legends all successes. If this continues it has the potential to build an equally powerful universe in addition to the games that are the main focus of the franchise.

Both franchises have achieved something very hard to do, they have both built a world larger than themselves. The original Halo game showed one battle as part of a massive war. If that wasn't enough they added a planet sized artifact which also contained a devastating alien race with the potential to destroy all life in the galaxy. All this made Halo 1 very exciting, but left you wanting more. You got it in 2 and 3 as we 'finished the fight' but we still hadn't had the full picture. Novels fleshed out the details, but also every game since has been a prequel, from Halo Wars in the early days of the Covenant war to forthcoming Reach, which is an immediate precursor to the trilogy - very satisfying prequels they are too!

You have to be ambitious to pull this off and maintain it. With spin-off novels and also comics now commonplace on bookshelves it's hard for a franchise's 'expanded universe' to stick out. I have to admit I was initially sceptical of the novels because of this, but the wide-ranging Halo universe made getting my hands on one inevitable so I could explore more of the war with the Covenant and the tragic upbringing of the Spartans. This was also triggered by the purchase of The Halo Encyclopedia - and I think that is a benchmark, does your universe have enough in it to fill an encyclopedia?

Are there other competitors - yes, of course, but none have quite hit the same bar...yet! Gears of War has a rich and gritty setting with a host of gruesome enemies and a desperate war being fought, but it doesn't have the added element of the wider backstory that Halo does with the Forerunners and the Flood. Mass Effect does possess an equally powerful story and universe with their very similar Protheans and the Reaper threat and a truly diverse range of planets and species.

The only problem this franchise has at the moment is it's too well done. The story has been perfectly designed to be told in the RPG medium and while there have been some decent novels I can't really imagine a movie or anything other than the excellent game series - but I'm willing to be proven wrong!

So what does the future hold for Halo? It has the potential to go from strength to strength, the final game by original developer Bungie, Reach, is out soon - we will have to see how the franchise fares without them but I'm confident in the new 343 industries team to take it to new heights.