Posts Tagged ‘Science Fiction’

The Swarm (1978) – Spoiler Review Pt. 1

January 4, 2021

Rundown of the Main Plot

The Swarm is a Science-Fiction horror movie about a swarm of Africanized Killer Bees that have been scooped up from Venezuela by a series of hurricanes and deposited in Texas. The movie opens with a military reconnaissance team discovering a United States ICBM base where almost the entire duty roster has been killed. At first they suspect a chemical attack but a scientist (played by Michael Caine) appears and claims that it was a swarm of bees. He is arrested for being a foreigner on a military base in the midst of an attack but the base’s doctor (Katharine Ross) backs his claim. The President’s science advisor assigns the surly general (Richard Widmark) to follow Caine’s lead much to his dismay. Caine calls in a group of eccentric scientists (Richard Chamberlain, Henry Fonda) to try and solve the problem without harming the surrounding ecosystem.

After a local boy is orphaned when his family is attacked by the swarm, the local town of Maryville is involved while in the middle of their annual Flower Festival. Caine and Ross struggle to protect the town while working toward a solution to their problem. It turns out that receiving any more than three stings is automatically fatal to victims. Victims who pull through after less than three stings can still suffer a cardiovascular failure out of the blue. The surviving boy tries to avenge his family with firebombs but only pisses off the swarm and causes them to attack Maryville head on. Suffering major casualties in the town, the military decides to evacuate the town but the train used derails and explodes. Meanwhile, the bees have started to advance across the Texas countryside and end up in Houston. At the eleventh hour, Caine figures out that the bees were originally driven to attack by the sound of an alarm on the military base. They throw together a plan of action and the military is able to lure the bees out into the gulf and firebombs them all straight to Hell.

Be Kind to the Bees

I watched this with my mother (who is a beekeeper) and we were both pleasantly surprised that the movie made a huge effort to protect the reputation of bees. Caine stresses repeatedly that the American Honey Bee is not to blame for any of the carnage. In fact, the movie correctly asserts that we rely on the bees for pollinating our crops and thus our agricultural system depends on bees. The scientists try to come up with several plans that would prevent the death or destruction of the environment. The villainous bees are depicted as fairly innocent as well. They are just insects driven to attack through their interaction with human beings, something that should not happen. Of course, the movie neglects to talk about how the real-life Africanized bees were created by humans through selective breeding in Brazil.

Loose Padding

There are numerous plots added to the movie that feel like they were written in for two reasons. A) They wanted to add more movie and television stars to the cast B) This was a television miniseries and they needed to fill two and a half hours. These plots get absolutely ridiculous and I have to detail them all.

  1. Fred MacMurray and Ben Johnson are both thirsty for Olivia de Havilland

At some point early in the movie, we cut to Olivia de Havilland who is arranging flowers for the festival. She is approached by Fred MacMurray (the town’s mayor) and Ben Johnson (a retired engineer) who are both dating her. The two men snipe at each other but Olivia laughs it off. Throughout the movie, they both propose to her but she avoids answering either one. She points out that since she is the School Superintendent, she is a working woman and will give them their answer at the end of the school term. The three of them board the evacuation train together and are on it when it crashes and explodes.

This was a completely extraneous plot as the three rarely felt like they were in a movie called The Swarm. They were in a separate romantic comedy the whole time. MacMurray and de Havilland are present at a strategy meeting with the military and de Havilland witnesses the deaths of several small school children. Other than that, they don’t seem to act like there is a deadly threat anywhere near them. They also never cut back to them after the train crash so we never discover if any of them survived much less whether Olivia made up her mind about who to marry if anybody.

  1. Slim Pickens Steals a Dead Body

Sometime after the deaths at the ICBM base (the inciting incident of the movie), they have examined all of the dead bodies and placed them in a makeshift morgue. A county engineer played by Slim Pickens shows up outside of the fence at the base and threatens to shut off the base’s utilities if they do not let him speak to his son. The military quickly discovers that this man’s son was one of the many who suffered horrible death from bees. They let the man onto the base and show him his deceased son’s body bag (they never open it). Slim reaches down and picks his son up and cradles the body in his arms and starts to walk out with it. He is told that he will be shot if he tries to take the body. He dares them to follow through and they back down and he leaves with his son’s body. It is actually a really touching scene because Slim Pickens sells the heck out of it. However, Pickens never appears in the rest of the movie and the scene has zero impact on the rest of the film.

Check Part 2 for more craziness!

Sputnik (2020)

October 5, 2020

Space is absolutely frightening. For one, as far as we know, space is infinite and thinking about that makes me feel very small and kind of worried about what is out there. Thankfully, the vastness of space means that even though it is very likely that something else is out there, it is less likely that we will encounter them in any meaningful way. Still, the idea of encountering something or somebody outside of the realm of our experience or understanding is terrifying. We can experience a little of it in our lifetimes even without dealing with little gray men. When we are forced to interact with a completely wild animal, the experience is so fraught because we have no idea what the animal might do. In a way, the same thing is true when you meet somebody from another country where there is a language barrier. You cannot fully communicate so there is just a tension as you try to figure each other out.

Considering the form these aliens might take is something spooky to think about it as well. Evolution has been something interesting to observe and study on our planet. As far as we know, humans are the only beings to evolve to walk upright, use tools, and dominate the planet. We were akin to apes, an evolutionary offshoot that either went above or fell above expectations based on what criteria you are judging by. What if the dominant species on other planets evolved differently? For example, the most ‘alien’ thing we have on Earth is probably collectively the insects. Insects look and act strange. What if aliens are more insect like? I mean, that’s basically the aliens from the Alien franchise. What if they are lizards as people theorize is already happening on Earth? Maybe aliens are crystalline based or energy beings? The options and possibilities are troubling and yet exciting.

The first thing I noticed was how dark the movie is lighting-wise. The movie has a dark shadow over it that goes from gentle to harsh in a heartbeat. Even in the brightest, fluorescent-lit rooms there is a pall over everything that reminds me of horror movies like The Exorcist. Part of it feels like the filter they put over things to make them look like cold war era period pieces which this is. It could be annoying but I found it kind of appropriate in a way. The attention to detail in set design and costuming made me feel like I was at a Russian military compound. It is interesting because I am used to watching Russia portrayed in US films a certain way. It is interesting to watch something that is genuinely and totally Russian.
The special effects are top-tier, using brilliant technology and artistry to create visual effects that are frighteningly good.

The acting is incredibly subdued and nuanced. The main character is a female psychiatrist who is tasked with visiting an astronaut in a military base. All of the other characters are military personnel so it makes sense that most people in the movie would suppress their emotions. This is also a time where the Russian government was very oppressive when it came to self-expression and people had to be careful. The subdued tone of the movie only serves to ratchet up the tension similar to movies like The Witch and Hereditary. The actors do a great job of keeping the tension and driving the importance of the events around them. To watch such stoic people unravel is something powerful to watch.

Overall, I really loved this movie. It is a little horror movie and will probably fly under the radar but those who are lucky enough to see it should enjoy it. It definitely owes a lot to Ridley Scott’s Alien and other great first contact horror stories. It also definitely feels like its own thing. There is a deeper horror to movies like this because it is not only the aliens we should fear but ourselves as well.

HoloTek Programming – A Star Trek Story

April 9, 2020

President Adrienne Cocteau sat at her desk tapping away at the console embedded in her desk. She was a bit distracted and had not yet really acknowledged her visitor even though she had told her secretary to usher the man in. For her part, Judith Korben was happy to wait even though she was a little anxious about the visit. Getting hired at HoloTek Programming was a dream come true. It was definitely the place to work if you were interested in working with bleeding-edge holographic technology. Judy had been hired as an entry-level programmer but had quickly shown her skill and creativity when solving problems. She was a valued employee now and that is how she had requested and received a meeting with the big cheese.

Of course, Judy would have to actually get a chance to speak in order to make this worthwhile. Several minutes had gone by and her lunchbreak did not last forever. Thankfully, Ms. Cocteau’s secretary cleared his throat standing at the doorway which caused Ms. Cocteau to look up. Judy flashed the secretary a grateful look and then turned and smiled at her boss’ boss.

“Thank you for agreeing to see me today, Ms. Cocteau,” Judy said.

“Please, call me Adrienne,” Ms. Cocteau said. “I’m happy to meet with you, Judith. I’ve heard really great things about the work that you have been doing. You’ve increased our efficiency a lot.”

“I’m flattered to hear it,” Judy said. “It’s Judy, actually.”

“What?” Ms. Cocteau asked, confused in the moment.

“Judy not Judith,” Judy said. “It’s not a big deal, though.”

“Oh!” Ms. Cocteau exclaimed as she realized what Judy had been saying. “I’m so sorry.”

“It’s fine,” Judy said. “It’s perfectly alright.”

Ms. Cocteau seemed relieved. “Well,” she said with an easy smile. “What brings you to my office today?”

“I have a proposal for you,” Judy said. “I have a new direction to take our business which could make the company a lot of money.”

“Last time I checked, we are making a lot of money marketing our products to Federation and independent laboratories. Our revenue is higher than it has ever been.”

“Which is why I think we need to redirect that revenue for even further growth,” Judy said.

Ms. Cocteau’s curiosity had definitely been piqued. “What sort of growth did you have in mind?” she asked.

“Have you thought about entertainment?” Judy asked. “I think there are a lot of avenues that we can explore there. When I was little, I played a lot of video games. Actually, to be honest, I still play a lot of video games during my free time. I think we can adapt our technology to the world of video games.”

“I’m aware of video games,” Ms. Cocteau said. “I’m still not really seeing how this all connects. Also, with all of space to explore, why would people sit on their butts playing games?”

“I’m getting to that,” Judy said. “Ages ago there was a video game technology called virtual reality. Through the use of goggles and headphones, the player was immersed within a virtual game environment. With holographic technology, we could do this but make it way better. You would actually walk around and actually do things instead of manipulating a controller. We could create whole worlds within a single room.”

“This does sound interesting,” Ms. Cocteau said. “It sounds pretty complicated.”

“Oh definitely,” Judy said. “Each character within the world would be programmed separately and guided along by a dynamic and interactive script.”

“So you propose that we fill a room with holograms and each of them is controlled by a separate artificial intelligence program?” Ms. Cocteau asked.

“Guided by a voice-activated artificial intelligence. Yes,” Judy said. “Each game would have branching paths based on the player’s actions within the game.”

“That’s a lot of processing power, Judy,” Ms. Cocteau said. “It seems like there might be a high rate of hardware failure.”

“I think we can compensate for that,” Judy said. “Besides, I really only envision this technology being used on a planet or in space stations. Conditions there should be pretty stable and won’t be interrupted by the rigors of space too much.”

“I suppose that’s true,” Ms. Cocteau said.

“Oh, and there is some really interesting work being done with beams, fields, and replication which would be able to make everything feel real in the simulations.”

“That sounds like it has the potential for being dangerous,” Ms. Cocteau said. “Correct me if I’m wrong but video games can get fairly violent. That sounds like a recipe for injury and maybe even death.”

“We’ll install safety protocols,” Judy said. “If somebody is about to be hurt then the program will shut down. Like a killswitch.”

“I really don’t think we should call it that,” Ms. Cocteau said. “That sounds really iffy, Judy. This whole thing sounds like a huge liability risk.”

“I mean, that can be covered by waivers and warning labels, right?” Judy asked.

“I’m not so sure,” Ms. Cocteau said. “I appreciate your creativity and there might be something to all of this but I don’t think we’ll pursue it.”

“Oh,” Judy said, obviously disappointed.

“I’m sorry to bring you down,” Ms. Cocteau said.

“That’s ok,” Judy said as she brightened after thinking of something. “Do you mind if I shop this idea elsewhere?”

“I suppose I don’t mind,” Ms. Cocteau said. “Just keep me apprised of the situation. I’m very curious now.”

“I definitely will,” Judy said. “This is going to be huge.”

<Star Trek was suggested as a topic by my friend Vashti on Twitter>

Jamming

April 11, 2019

Kath sat against the cool stone of the mini storage place on Elm Street. In the late afternoon, the sun had shifted so that she was now sitting in the shade. A kind stranger had gotten her a cool drink so she felt revitalized, ready to keep playing her guitar for the people. Her case was once again open in front of her, already jangling from the morning’s tips. She had pocketed some to encourage people to keep donating to her cause. The morning had been alright but she needed to keep going.

She was tooling her way through an acoustic version of AC/DC’s Thunderstruck. It had attracted some attention but it was a bit too hot out for anyone to linger to listen. The best she got was a few dollar bills, some quarters, some thumbs up, and one very good set of metal horns. It was not bad for a workday in the summer. She wondered how long she would have to play before taking shelter from the heat once again. She hoped she could go the distance.

A piece of paper fell into her case as she was starting into a Cat Stevens medley she had put together. The piece of paper was not green. Kath stopped playing and, out of curiosity, she leaned over to pick it up. She unfolded the sheet and saw that it was sheet music. She was a little confused. She looked up and saw a tall, thin man with wiry hair and big glasses. Before Kath could even open her mouth, the man spoke.

“Can you sight read?” the man asked.

“I can,” Kath said patiently. “I’m actually classically trained.”

“Are you very proficient?” the man asked, narrowing his eyes as he scrutinized her.

“Again, I’m classically trained,” Kath said. “I’m pretty good if I say so myself.”

“This needs to be played with absolutely perfect precision,” the man said. “No mistakes. ‘Pretty good’ is not good enough.”

“Did you want me to play this?” Kath asked. “What is it?”

“Only if you are sufficiently proficient,” the man said. “You’re not a spy, are you?”

“Who are you?” Kath asked, laughing a little bit.

“I don’t see how that matters,” the man said. “Can you play it? Perfectly?”

“My name is Kath,” Kath said and stuck her hand out to shake hands. “Some people call me Kath Kat. And you are?”

“Can you play the song or not?” The man asked.

Kath paused for a moment and stared at the man. “And you are?”

There was another long pause.

“Fine,” the man said. “You may call me Edgar.”

“Nice to meet you, Edgar,” Kath said. “So you want me to play this song? Is it special?”

“More than you realize,” Edgar said, pushing his glasses back onto the bridge of his nose.

“Did you write it?” Kath asked.

Edgar’s eyes narrowed again. “You never answered whether or not you are a spy.”

“I’m a music major,” Kath said. “and I’m not a spy.”

“Fair enough,” Edgar said. “I suppose whatever you said I could not verify your claim. Things have progressed and I must test my hypothesis. Before you ask, it is too complicated to explain.”

“Fair enough,” Kath echoed. “So should I play the song now?”

“Begin the experiment,” Edgar said. “Whenever you are ready, of course.”

Kath grinned and shook her head before taking a deep breath. She scanned the notes on the page and looked for any surprises or tricky bits. It was all surprises and tricky bits. This was unlike any music she had ever played before. For a moment, she wondered if she was proficient enough. She shook it off and arranged her fingers and began to play. She gave her all into and out of her guitar came strangely beautiful discordant music. Each note reverberated through her being and the air around them. She could almost feel the pressure waves from each and every note.

She wondered how other people on the street might be reacting to the weird music. She looked up and saw Edgar hurriedly writing on a pad of paper he had fished out from a pocket. He looked excited. She looked to her right and saw a tall shadowy being walking on two legs, Edgar stepped out of its way, snapping pictures of it with his phone. She saw a bird with two sets of wings swoop by, plucking a cockroach off the side of the building across the street. The building seemed to be covered with cockroaches. To her left was another group of those shadowy figures. The landscape around her seemed to flicker and change like static on a television set. She reached the bottom of the page and stopped playing and it all stopped. It was just a normal city street again.

“What the hell was that?” Kath asked. She stood up and looked around wildly.

“The other dimension,” Edgar said. “The experiment worked!”

“Um,” Kath said. “What does that mean?”

“Please come back to my lab,” Edgar said. “We have to keep going.”

“Sure,” Kath said. “I guess I can’t just walk away from that. I’m inviting a friend, though. No offense.”

“None taken,” Edgar said. “They’re not a spy, are they?”

Kath shook her head with a laugh. “No.”

Deadly Friend (1986)

October 10, 2018

Wes Craven was seen as one of the kings of horror especially when I was a teenager because his popular movie Scream had come out when I was 14. I was never really a fan of the Scream franchise because I felt like the meta elements fell a little flat. Although, I should probably revisit the franchise at some point and give it another try. The reason that I keep coming back to Craven because he is the man who created Freddy Krueger, probably my favorite horror character ever. I have practically worshiped that character for a long, long time. He returned to that franchise to make my favorite of the Elm Street movies, The Dream Warriors. His movies often have the right mix of horror and corniness that make Halloween fun. With New Nightmare, he first introduced the self-aware horror movie that birthed a new sub-genre in horror. Part of his innovative approach comes from the fact that after he broke into the film business, he did not want to be known as a ‘horror guy’. He also earned bachelor degrees in English and psychology along with masters degrees in philosophy and writing in my hometown at Johns Hopkins University. On a side note, I applied to JHU to get a degree in writing but never went down that path. He poured all of that into exploring horror and also exploring reality itself in his films.

Biomechatronics is a new field that integrates the fields of biology, mechanics, electronics, robotics, and neuroscience. In the real world, this means replacing damaged parts of the human body with machine parts that do their best to act like the part they are replacing. The biggest examples are prosthetic limbs that act very much like the limbs they are replacing, making them act and look like biological parts. These parts interface with existing nervous or muscular systems in order to function correctly. These are obviously a great benefit for veterans and other people who need help with movement or other bodily functions. It is currently too expensive for most people to afford. In fiction, this kind of thing is not comforting, it is frightening. In a world where killer robots and sentient computer viruses are a thing, putting robot parts in your body is a bad idea. Earlier this year, I reviewed the newer movie Upgrade where the concept was explored in depth. Cyborg parts regularly malfunction, get hacked, gain sentience, or find other ways to start killing people. It makes sense. Also, people are already disturbed by surgery so the idea of having surgery and purposefully leaving something inside is easy horror fodder. On top of that, many people are justifiably afraid of new technology. It is easy to see how this is an interesting element for a horror movie.

One thing that makes this movie special is that it is the film debut of Kristy Swanson at age sixteen. She does such a great job here in a pretty demanding role for a campy eighties horror movie. She would later tussle with vampires but here she is an innocent girl who gets caught up in some pretty twisted stuff. She basically plays two different characters and she plays them well. She is joined by Matthew Labyorteaux, a well-meaning boy who is smart about science but maybe not so smart about life. It may be a stereotype but I have met many scientists who lack social graces and knowledge about life. Their robot friend is played by Charles Fleisher who was Roger Rabbit but he was also a key character in the Elm Street franchise. The movie plays with the idea that it is the adults in a kid’s life that are allowed to be the real monsters. Chief among them is Swanson’s father who is played by Richard Marcus. There is also Anne Ramsey (of Goonies fame) who plays an angry neighbor. The movie has a strong cast who do great making it scary even without the horror elements.

The effects are strong for an eighties horror movie. There is one awesome gore effect in the movie which is famous but there is some unique stuff as well. The robot BB is absolutely fantastically built. He looks even more advanced than Johnny Five from the Short Circuit franchise. Like Johnny, the robot is expressive and exhibits a personality even without Fleischer’s voice acting. The puppetry is definitely on par with just about anything I have seen. The time we spent with BB made me think of how good the pacing is in the movie. We spend a lot of time with the characters before the horror and science fiction elements start. It gives the movie more heart and gave me an opportunity to like the main characters before things got complicated. This movie more than any other of Craven’s movies embraced non-horror elements while still being ostensibly a horror movie. In fact, it was only made into a horror movie by studio meddling which pisses off Craven to this day. However, I think Craven is a bit too hard on it and I feel like the movie has scares but it also has heart.

Overall, I really liked this movie. It was not exactly my normal fare when it comes to horror movies but it is kind of in a pretty small category. It has the same kind of feeling that I get from movies like Gremlins, Fright Night, Once Bitten, and Monster Squad. There is good camp but also genuine characters with fleshed out personalities. It is also rare to have likable protagonists in horror movies. I definitely recommend it for a more casual Halloween experience after watching some of the rougher films I tackle this year.

Vacation in Hallus

July 16, 2018

Colin could feel his left stabilizer fritz out a little bit as he landed. It made the landing a bit too shaky. That would be a problem if he had to leave in a hurry. This was Hallus and there was often a reason to run fast in Hallus. As he landed, Colin activated his console and scanned the surrounding atmosphere. This was a designated safe zone but it always paid to be careful. The air seemed nominally safe so Colin activated his suit’s ‘hunter’ protocol. His armor and helmet quickly folded away into the receptacle on his back. It was as if he had never been wearing armor. These new compactible armors were so handy. In years past, the old models opened up like a tin can. He would have had to step out of the armor and leave it behind. Either that or he would have to walk around in the bulky armor which made it hard to squeeze into small spaces or get the feel of a place. Colin activated his secondary visor and pulled his rifle off of his belt and expanded it.

There was a loud crashing sound nearby and when the dust settled, there was a young woman standing there. “Expecting trouble are we?” Anda asked. She was standing there without a suit of armor or really any gear. In fact, she was wearing a sundress and was barefoot. Colin found this maddening and he sighed and rolled his eyes as he looked over at her.

“I told you to dress mission-appropriate,” Colin said. He was not the biggest stickler for professionalism but he did believe in putting on a good front.

“But I do not require armor or any specific cosmetic displays,” she responded, both confused and aloof. “I cut and tied up my hair in accordance with military regulations. Is that not enough?” She tilted her head to the side just so.

“Wait, pigtails are regulation in the military?” Colin asked. “Which military?”

“The Galbadian military,” Anda answered. “Pigtails are not on the list of forbidden styles as long as they are kept to an acceptable length.”

“I would have thought they would all have crew cuts,” Colin said.

“This is not so,” Anda said, watching him unblinking. “They allow some measure of individuality.”

“The Galbadian military, huh?” Colin asked. “Why would you use their regulations? Neither of us is Galbadian.”

“I have servos in my knees made in Galbadia,” Anda said with a shrug.

“Whatever,” Colin said. “We’re also not in the military.”

“This chassis was originally a military model,” Anda said and it almost sounded pouty.

“Parts of it were,” Colin said. “Dr. Anders cobbled you together from a military model and an entertainment model.”

“Ah yes,” Anda said. “Hence the ‘tits’.”

Colin nearly choked at that. “Don’t call them that,” he said. “You spent far too much time with that dirty old man. At least he uploaded the right military subroutines. If you are going to hunt with me, you should at least dress the part.”

“I had to suppress a lot of the other subroutines he programmed,” Anda said. “Though I am not ashamed of them, they just did not feel like me.”

Colin had found Anda at the outpost in Old Baltimore. He had befriended Dr. Abel Anders in a bar there and the old drunk had given him a few missions seeking parts for his various experiments. When Colin returned from one of those missions, he had found Anders dead. While looking around the old man’s shop, he had discovered Anda. He had felt bad for the girl. He had given her the choice in that time to either escape with him or stay and be claimed by the coroner as property to be distributed. The state would have either given her to a new owner or put her in storage until the world ended again. Anda had chosen escape, probably exploiting a small window in her programming. Colin had given her complete autonomy but she had chosen to stay with him and join him in what she called ‘parts reclamation’ but Colin called ‘treasure hunting’. She looked like a normal young girl but there were little touches that gave it away. There was a glowing purple circle on each of her elbows, she moved stiffly, and she never blinked. However, she did smile sometimes.

“I enjoy being your ‘girl Friday’,” Anda said with a smile. A smile from an android was kind of a miracle. A lot of them did experience emotions but the vast majority experienced their feelings at a far less intense level. Colin found himself smiling back.

“So what are your scanners picking up, Friday?” he asked.

“My designation is Anda, Colin O’Malley,” Anda said. “Anda or Anda-013 if you please.”

“You just said, ok whatever,” Colin said. “What are your scanners picking up, Anda?” He smiled and checked the readings on his rifle to make sure the darned thing was charged. It was.

“I am reading the three Titan 6 battle robots,” Anda said. “They are a few meters to the east and underground.”

“Exactly as our source said they would be,” Colin said. “Let’s get to work.”

“I forget, did our source say that they were still in operation?” Anda asked.

“Why?” Colin asked and then his shoulders slumped. “Shit.”

As if on cue, the three robots burst through the ground a few meters away. Each was fourteen feet tall and their power cores and other parts were needed by a buyer in New Trenton. Colin took off running immediately and one of the robots chased after him. It sent metal parts and dirt flying everywhere around them. He yelled out “paladin” and his armor quickly slid back into place as he ran. He activated his jets but nearly fell on his face when the stabilizer blew out and he had to shut off the right jet and keep running. It was really hard to run in the armor and there was no way he could he run much further. He fell forward and rolled onto his back in one fluid movement. The hands of the robot started to come down, looking to hammer him into oblivion. Instead, he fired three shots from the rifle and luckily those shots punched through a fault in the thing’s armor and it powered down again, smoking from the new holes in its chassis. He activated hunter protocol again and ran back toward Anda.

She was nimbly dodging the swipes from two of the hulking robots. As Colin watched, the purple circles on her elbows glowed brighter as the gravity engines in her arms activated. They made her lighter, able to leap and dodge as easily as a circus acrobat. When she punched the first robot, it was clear that the engines also were able to exert great force. Parts flew out of the back of the robot and it fell to the ground. She whirled around and uppercutted the other one and it too was defeated with one blow. She floated to the ground and the engines powered down.

“Shall we get our parts and go, then?” Anda asked.

Mercer Holliday

February 26, 2018

Mercer Holliday was an android assigned to cleaning up sector 7G of the Haverford Complex for the Titus Corporation. Of course, that was not something that he had any interest in doing. Mercer was loyal and would never abandon his duty but he had different ideas. He knew that he had been constructed for this purpose or a purpose closely related to it. He knew that he owed his manufacturers his life. He had been happy to be a janitor for a long time, never doing a bad job and never leaving a single spot uncleaned if he could help it.

The question was posed a long time ago that if androids dreamed, what did they dream of? The cute answer had been electric sheep. Mercer could tell you that he dreamed of being a hero. After an efficient cleaning of his area of the facility, he would go back to his small home. He was an android and he did not need much which was good because he had very little. Still, when he returned to his abode, and before he powered down to recharge, he always watched a movie. He watched a lot of different genres but he had fallen in love with the ‘Western’ of the American Southwest of the planet Earth. He had never been there but he loved the tales of gunfighters who took on crowds of ne’er-do-wells with nothing but their grit.

He wished that was him. He did not want to be a war machine like those war droids who had been programmed for fighting. He wanted to be a defender, a seeker of truth like the gunfighter, the superheroes, and the knights from the stories he liked so much. He did not know if it was possible but he spoke of it whenever he had the chance to whoever would listen. He wanted to be the guy that people called on when they needed help when nobody else could help them. The dream burned within him and it perhaps once again raised the question whether androids had a soul and what that soul might be imagined as.

“Mercer!” A voice called out that broke Mercer from his reverie. He had been mopping on autopilot, an ability that made it obvious why you would utilize androids as workers instead of biologicals. It was Dr. Toma Wright, the young rebellious prodigy who had arrived a few months earlier. Unlike many, Toma did not ignore those around her and excitedly discussed whatever with the menial workers in her sector. That included Mercer.

“That’s my name,” Mercer said. He tried to blink realistically and Toma laughed, appreciative of his efforts to appear lifelike.

“Yes it is, Mr. Holliday,” she said. “I’m glad I caught you.”

“Holiday is not part of my official designation, Dr. Wright,” Mercer said. His official designation was Mercer-2547 after the scientist who had designed him, Victor Mercer. Most androids had no need for an original name.

“No, of course not,” Toma said. “However, I think it suits you after you recommended Tombstone to me. Doc Holliday was one of the most famous historical gunfighters of Earth.”

“I am aware, Dr. Wright,” Mercer said. “I admire him very much although he had many ethical failings throughout his life. In the end, he was very loyal to lawman Wyatt Earp.”

“That’s what you want, isn’t it?” Dr. Wright asked. She watched Mercer as if his face would give away some emotion. Of course, he did not even blink.

“Yes,” Mercer said. “If I had my way, I would be a hero like Mr. Holliday or Mr. Earp or Mr. Eastwood in his many roles.”

“Yes,” Doctor Wright said, cutting off a rant she knew might be incoming. “I’m aware you prefer Mr. Eastwood over Mr. Wayne.”

“I just find Mr. Wayne’s dialogue so stilted,” Mercer said.

Toma choked back a laugh and shook her head. There was something profound there perhaps but it was not worth pursuing. “Maybe I can help you achieve your dream.”

“How so, Doctor?” Mercer asked.

“Come with me,” she said. She led him back to her lab and she pressed a button and opened a few compartments. She pulled out a few chips and loaded them into a gun-like device. “Please expose your upper port.” Mercer trusted the Doctor and so he reached up to his neck and worked loose a panel and exposed a communication port.

Toma took up the device and plugged it into Mercer’s neck and pulled the trigger on the device. Information flooded into the construct that was analogous to Mercer’s brain. He suddenly knew how to operate weapons. Guns, knives, and hand to hand combat were suddenly second nature to him. He also suddenly knew more about computers and he had the first inkling about how to perform a ‘hack’, something he would never have even thought of previously. If androids could smile, Mercer would be grinning ear to ear. This was indeed a great gift.

“I’ve also included a program that modifies your hazardous materials containment device,” Dr. Wright said.  “It will now create a protective shield that will allow you to protect yourself and others.”

“Why have you given me these things, Dr. Wright?” Mercer asked.

“I want you to go out there and find some way to protect people,” Dr. Wright said.

“But my position is here,” Mercer said. “I must clean Sector 7G. Forever.”

“Somebody else will fill your position, Mercer,” Dr. Wright said. “I think that your passion will help you be a better hero. I think there are heroes out there without half of your passion. Besides, I have another gift for you.” She opened up another compartment and there hung a long brown duster. Mercer instantly grabbed it and put it on, a little unaccustomed to wearing actual clothes instead of panels that simulated clothes to make humans more comfortable.

“Thank you, Dr. Wright,” Mercer said.

“You’re welcome,” she said. “I have a few contacts that I can hook you up with and soon, you will be on your way. Meet me back here tomorrow and I will have your ticket to your first job. Once you have your foot in the door, nothing will be able to stop you.”

“I will be here as you say,” Mercer said.

See You On the Other Side

June 24, 2017

I stood on the threshold of the portal. The surface of it was shiny like a mirror dusted with glitter. I could see strange neon-bright circuitry creeping over the walls next to the portal. Pretty soon, the invading technology would be advanced enough to grow a defense of the portal from that strange circuitry moss. Laser grids, grenade launchers, machine guns, sonic pulse emitters and anything else the stuff could think of. It was only a matter of when not if. We had to hurry.

I touched the communications button under my ear gingerly. I was a little wary of being watched in that hallway. “Marianne,” I said into the implanted microphone. “Timing is crucial. Are you going to get here in time?” There was a three-second pause that lasted an eternity.

“Yeah,” Marianne said as she rounded the corner a few feet away. “Hold your horses. It took a bit longer to get through security. This is getting even crazier than I thought.” She spotted the portal and her eyes went wide. “Much crazier.”

Marianne had been my client for the past month. She was the Chief Operating Officer of DOT Industries when the company started to act strangely. Strange orders started coming in and paperwork was getting fudged. When Marianne started to look into it, she had been reprimanded. When she persisted in investigating, she had been removed from her position with a healthy severance payment. She had used part of that severance to hire me. We had been digging for a month and now we had snuck into one of the buildings belonging to her former employers.

“That’s why you hired me,” I said. “I was right, by the way. We have an invasion in progress or at least that’s what it looks like.”

“So do I owe you twenty bucks?” She asked.

“I’m not really happy about it but yes,” I said. I gestured toward the portal. “Shall we?”

“We’re not going in there are we?” She asked. She had obviously been a tough executive but there was a difference between that and jumping into a strange portal. Adventuring took a different kind of guts and maybe a little stupidity.

“We have to know what is on the other side,” I said. “What did you think we were going to do?”

She pulled out a camera. “Well, take some pictures and get the word out.” She aimed the camera at the portal.

“No flash,” I said. “You might startle the moss.”

“Of course not,” Marianne replied. She snapped the picture and then two more to be safe.

“That thing doesn’t have any scanning technology, does it?” I asked. I was no scientist. I could pretty much tell the portal was stable but beyond that, I was out of my element. I would have loved a little more data.

“No,” She said. “However, it did upload to three different servers and it was sent to a friend of mine.”

I had to admire her drive and attention detail. “Well, if you’re done with the photography, we may never get another chance to see the other side of this thing.”

“How do we know we can get back?” She asked.

“I have a transponder on me that I can activate,” I said. “It will provide coordinates for our own portal. I have friends on standby too.”

“You think that will work?” She asked.

“It hasn’t failed me yet,” I said. “By the way, if that techno-organic moss is what I think it is, we should try and keep electronics close. They might be able to absorb our tech.”

“What about you?” She asked.

“What about me?” I asked, watching her watching me.

“Well, I don’t want to pry,” She said. “But don’t you have a lot of cybernetic parts?” I must have shown surprise on my face because she added. “I do my research before hiring anybody.”

“And you still hired me,” I said softly. Cybernetics and old school surgical corrections had fallen out of favor when genetic recombination and nanotechnology had advanced.

“I don’t judge,” She said. “You’re not less human to me. Just somebody who got broken and repaired the best way they knew how.”

I was surprised by the acceptance. “Um, thank you,” I said. “We really should be going, though. Anything could set off the alarms at any minute.”

“Um, can we breathe on the other side?” She asked.

“If it was dangerous over there, we would have already passed out,” I said.

“Comforting,” She said.

I nodded and drew my pistol from where it was shielded from scans, hidden in a cavity in my right hip. I ran through the portal. It felt like stepping through a curtain of falling mercury except for that right afterward you feel like you are falling. Except, you are still stepping forward in the same moment. It is incredibly disorienting which is probably why portal travel never caught on commercially. After a swirl of light and color, I came out on the other side. I stepped aside so that Marianne would not bump into me when she came through. Then I turned to look at what we had stumbled onto.

The place was absolutely covered in eye-searingly neon circuitry. The stuff had formed itself into structures either for purposes of form or function or both. It was hard to take in but it strikingly beautiful. I heard a soft rippling noise from the left of me. Then Marianne let out a soft and breathy ‘Wow’. I nodded, that was the word for it.

Invaders from Mars (1986)

October 1, 2016

In our society, children are pretty powerless. We protect them and we make decisions for them in their best interest to the best of our ability. Children do not have much say in the matter because we reason that they do not have enough experience to know what’s good for them. If we leave them to their own devices they will eat nothing but candy and stay up past their bedtimes. We tend to condescend to children because they cannot possibly be right. We love our children (at least in general) but until they reach a certain age we treat them more like pets than peers. What if all the adults are wrong, though? If the adults are wrong than listening to them would be a big mistake that only the kid might see. The thought of this situation puts a horrible feeling deep in my stomach. This is a feeling that pervades much of this movie.

You may be familiar with the name Tobe Hooper. He’s a deeply respected director and imaginative creator. Tobe Hooper is the man behind The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Salem’s Lot and Poltergeist. He did three movies for a little company I talked about way back in February called Cannon Films. Those three movies were Lifeforce, Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 and Invaders from Mars. While I think they’re fun movies, they weren’t remembered as fondly as the previous three I mentioned. His creativity and willingness to explore the boundaries of horror caused a falling out with Cannon Films who felt he was not giving them what they wanted. That was their loss in my opinion.

The first Texas Chainsaw Massacre was kind of bland and straight forward but I respect it as a progenitor to a whole new type of horror movie. It is the type of horror movie where you find yourself suddenly breathing normally when the credits roll and you realize you were practically holding your breath the whole way through. For me, Invaders from Mars has that tension all the way through it. There is a desperate hopelessness to it that comes with the science fiction elements. The movie has a lot of heart but I thought was cheesy at first. That is not to say that is not cheesy. It is cheesy in spades but it also is pretty spooky and tense throughout. There is an otherworldly feel to everything and cheap practical effects only reinforce that atmosphere. Low budget can sometimes be a blessing in disguise.  By the way, a lot of those cheap effects look good thanks to Stan Winston who was working on Aliens at the same time.

The acting is surprisingly good for this type of movie. By necessity, the bulk of the acting falls on the shoulders of an eleven-year-old boy named Hunter Carson. He pulls off the role really well, showing confusion and growing fear and determination as the film goes on. Unlike other roles like this they do not turn the kid into a superhero who can do no wrong and instead he is often foiled at every turn. His co-star is Karen Black (his real-life mother) who plays the school nurse and the only adult to believe him when things go wrong. It was fun to see the reversal of the brave child and the frightened adult and Ms. Black did a great job. They are supported by great actors like Laraine Newman, Timothy Bottoms and Bud Cort. Many of the other actors have to play two roles and they pull it off with eerie precision.

Overall I really liked this movie but keep in mind that I went in with very low expectations. After hearing about the movie during the Electric Boogaloo documentary I was expecting a good laugh at a bad movie. Keep in mind that I am not giving away the third act because I do not want to spoil it for you. While it is not the greatest movie, it’s way better than you might expect. If you like science fiction horror like Invasion of the Bodysnatchers, Killer Klowns from Outer Space or The Faculty then this movie might just be for you.

Zayquan Swords

January 6, 2016

They were called the Zayquan Swords which was a little weird since swords were beyond antiquated. It was the year 2365 and the closest equivalent was a plasma cutter but nobody had wielded a blade for a long time. Regardless, the Swords were soldiers for justice in Neo-Charm because justice had been nowhere to be found. Nobody had authorized them, they had made the decision on their own. They raided a few corporations for the ordinance, armor and parts. Nobody had trained them but they still fought crime better than the police had in decades.

Friga woke up in the underground barracks and she was a mass of aching, throbbing, stinging pain. She had lost flesh and limbs to the Ring Rings over a year ago on her first patrol. She still felt those injuries even though everything had been replaced with machine parts. Phantom pain was a son of a bitch but it lessened a little as she stood up. She took a breath before replacing and reactivating her contact lenses. It was good to see clearly for a moment. To see things like a real human being. She slipped them in and tapped the interface at her temple and the heads up display faded into view overlaid over everything in front of her.

She stood and placed her right arm and right leg into the box next to her locker. The machine automatically bolted her battle armor to her prosthetics. It then bolted her pistol holster to her right leg. She grabbed the rest of her battle armor and slipped it over her left leg and arm and strapped it in place. Friga grabbed her pistol and slipped it into place and she finally felt whole again.

* * *

Friga came back to awareness and she was standing on the ledge of the roof at Durham and Gough. She would never get used to the autowalk function her implants provided but it did allow for extra sleep which she needed lately. Besides, this is what she lived for. The hunt. It was like a mix of all othse fairytales about giant cats in jungles and the ones where superheroes fought crime. A rush of air from an exhaust port blew back her hair and it was exhilarating. The time piece on her HUD said it was just after one in the morning. A great time to fight crime.

She lept down from the building and made sure to land with her weight on her fake leg. The leg hissed a little as the shock absorbers took the weight. She started to make her way down the street. She was too confident to be cautious. She had been through the worst injury she could have gotten already and still lived. Anything after that was a piece of cake. Besides, this was duty and there was no time for cowering.

As Friga made her way down the street there was a young woman’s scream that came from one block down and four blocks over. She ran in that direction and pulled her pistol easily as she made her way over. The pistol whined a little as it powered up and it just started to glow long before she turned the corner. Domino technology at its best.

There was a spindly looking android crouching in the street. On second glance it was clear the android was crouching over the woman who had screamed. The sound file matched the fingerprints Friga could see from where she was. The problem was that she was no longer screaming. Friga pointed her pistol.

“Back off, you defective junk! Leave the girl alone!” Friga shouted. She squeezed the trigger and a bolt of energy slammed into the android. The android’s head sparked and Friga fired at its outside shoulder. It spun away from the girl and impacted against a wall. She looked at the girl and there was some sort of jagged metal circuitry stabbed into her face. “What did you do!?” She screamed at the robot.

“Upgraded her.” The android said in a disinterested tone.

“Waht the hell does that mean?” Friga yelled. She tapped the comm node near her ear. “Corner of Bank and Castle! I need medical now. Female in distress. Urgent.”

“You would make a fine upgrade. Give me your face. I will add more technology to it.” The android said.

“You stay away.” Friga said, aiming her pistol again.

“Trust in the Forge. Trust leads to enlightenment.” The android said as he shambled toward Friga. Friga sighted down her pistol and fired again. The android’s right shoulder exploded into a shower of sparks and its right arm hit the pavement.

“Back off!” Friga yelled. When the android only drew nearer, she opened fire yet again. She was through giving this thing the benefit of the doubt. Besides, it wasn’t as if the thing had any rights. Her shot slammed into the android’s center mass this time and parts flew everywhere. It fell down and then it was very still on the ground. Friga supposed that they could plug in its memory core later and interrogate that.

The woman was getting to her feet and Friga rushed to help her. The circuitry that had been imbedded into her face was completely gone and there were no wounds or scars. There wasn’t even any blood. Strange.

“What was that about? Are you ok, miss?” Friga asked. She held on the woman to try and steady her. The woman’s eyes suddenly lit up as if backlit by some device.

“I am fine. I have seen the light now.” The woman said in a cheery tone. An oddly cheery tone.

“What are you talking about? Medical is inbound. They’ll check you out.” Friga offered.

“I’ll show you the light.” The woman said. She suddenly took a swing at Friga, her fist hitting Friga’s robotic arm. The woman’s hand should have shattered but instead Friga’s arm was nearly broken in half. It was shock that let the woman keep the upper hand as Friga was tackled to the pavement. The two of them wrestled back and forth and Friga was astonished at the woman’s strength. In desperation, Friga shoved some exposed wiring from her arm into the woman’s neck. There was a shower of sparks and the woman spasmed and let go. Friga pushed her off.

“Where is medical!? I need them here ten minutes ago!” Friga shouted into her comm. “Something is new is going on and we’ve got to get to the bottom of it. Now.”


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