May 28, 2020

2011: The Year in Science Fiction.

The Emerald Crusader finally makes it big.

(Credit/Copyright: Warner Bros/DC Comics).

The tumultuous year that was 2011 is about to come to a close… perhaps you’re rightfully wondering why you’re not commuting by jet pack by now, or glad that the post-apocalyptic vision of Road Warriors has yet to occur. The future is nigh, and nothing reflects the mythos of a modern society like the science fiction it produces. What follows is a look back at the science fiction of note that drifted through our mental transom in the year 2011;

The Movies: 2011 was an odd year, as we’re in between Star Trek productions and the Star Wars franchise has moved to Clone War animation. A curious shortage also exists for indie Sci-Fi, or at least any that made it to our attention. However, the fertile grounds of comic-book-dom continue to be mined by Hollywood; hey guys, how ‘bout a Legion of Superheroes flick?

Natalie Portman talks astrophysics in Thor.

(Credit/Copyright Marvel Studios)

- Thor: The “striking Viking” led the way this year for the comic book (or do you say graphic novel?) big screen adaptation for Marvel. Scenes of Asgard resembled a Dali-esque look at “Hogwarts on Acid,” similar to the guardian homeworld of Oa (See below). Naboo queen-turned-senator-turned astrophysicist Natalie Portman did a great job of getting the science across, no stunt double required.

Green Lantern: The long anticipated arrival of the Emerald Crusader to the Big Screen saw Hal Jordan recast as a poor man’s Tony Stark, but hey, we were there, man, to catch one of our childhood heroes in action. As with Asgard, the depictions of Oa where suitably mind-blowing. Too bad it doesn’t look like a sequel will be in the offering, as they set up Carol Ferris to reprise her villainess role as Star Sapphire (her call-sign in the film)… how bout a Green Lantern Corps movie?

-  Cowboys & Aliens: As reviewed in this space, this Zane Grey meets War of the Worlds action flick did not disappoint. Sure, the plot was a little two dimensional, but the film delivered, as promised, cowboys… and aliens. Thar’s gold in them thar spacecraft!

-  Dead Space: An interesting animated film passed our way via Netflix. Dead Space depicts a deep space salvage tale gone furiously wrong, and retold from a point of view of the interrogated survivors. This could have been a pretty good idea, as the characters are all fresh and new, and the animation had a Star Wars: the Clone Wars feel. But C’mon, guys, why can’t we at least have zero-g in space in an animated movie?

- Limitless: A sleeper hit of 2011, Limitless depicts an intriguing idea; a drug that taps an optimal mental potential within. Pretty soon, down-and- out writer Eddie Morra is cranking out masterworks in a meteoric rise to fame. But there is an ugly cost to addiction to this deadly drug. I was reminded somewhat of Stephen King’s The Tommy knockers watching this one… how frightening could blind genius become?

TV: SyFy shows such as Warehouse 13, Alphas, and Eureka have popped up just as quick as the channel seems intent on threatening to axe them. The networks bemoan the budget required for such shows, but hey, SyFy does stand for Science Fiction, right? Plus, Warehouse 13 is the closest we currently have to a Steampunk series… (More on that in a minute!) Alphas is especially intriguing, as it may bring a super-hero motif back in lieu of the cancelation of NBC’s Heroes. With the wrap-up of the re-imagined Battlestar Galactica series a few years back, it’s just strange not to have a flagship sci-fi series out there!

Also, the online show Misfits is worthy of a last minute shout-out; currently only available on Hulu in the U.S., this British drama has just finished up its 2nd season and is a riot to watch. Think Shaun of the Dead meets NBC’s Heroes!

- The Walking Dead: It’s been said that whenever there’s a national crisis (Cold War, 9/11, etc…) War of the Worlds gets remade. A similar phenomenon may exist concerning economic down turns and zombies. But The Walking Dead isn’t your father’s zombie flick; in fact, this excellent series also presents a very “Battlestar”-style question; are we worth saving?

Terra Nova: The new Spielberg TV series melds the future with the past as Steve re-visits his biggest cash maker; dinosaurs. The series is actually pretty well done, and has thus far been a singular recipient of a simultaneous Astro-Atta-boy & Astro-blooper a few months back. This series is still in its infancy; we can only hope there are more Jurassic adventures to come!

The Big Bang friends as the Justice League…

(Credit/copyright: CBS Studios).

The Big Bang Theory: Now in its 5th season, The Big Bang Theory is a science comedy that, like the universe, just gets better with age. Sheldon just gets more obsessive (“He’s one lab accident away from becoming a super-villain” quips Leonard) and Howard may have a chance to baby-sit a payload experiment on the International Space Station… never mind that will never happen, as his girlfriend Bernadette observes… “He’s like a baby bird…” Also be sure to check out the science behind the show at The Big Blog Theory. Probably the biggest threat to the show is the brewing Penny-Leonard re-commitment which seems to be engulfing the show Friends-style over multi-seasons.

The Books: Pyr Books continues to lead the way in all things science fiction this season: notables started off with The Buntline Special, Mike Resnick’s Wild West/Steampunk offering of the year. In the cyber-thriller realm, we also touched on and reviewed The Restoration Game by Ian MacLeod and Planesrunner by Ian McDonald. One of the best reads we had in 2011 was The Cowboy Angels by Paul McAuley, a multi-dimensional Cold War thriller that’s begging for a TV series. Book 2 in the Burton and Swinburne Steampunk series entitled The Curious Case of the Clockwork Man made its debut; expect our review of book 3, Expeditions to the Mountains of the Moon to be forthcoming in early 2012. Likewise for the excellent City of Ruins, book 2 in Kristine Kathryn Rusch’s Diving into the Wreck deep space salvage series; Book 3, entitled Boneyards will be hot off the press with accompanying Astroguyz review in early 2012!

A Science Teacher Breaking Bad!

(Credit: AMC Networks).

The Best: OK, we’re going to shamelessly “break” with tradition to plug a drama series that oozes science. Breaking Bad is an AMC series that centers on a science teacher’s desperation as he turns to crime to offset the cost of his cancer therapy. Ethos aside, it touches on some amazing science… and hey, we just like to see a down-and-out high school science teacher get portrayed as the good guy! Much like Dexter, Walter, aka Heisenberg often comes across as a superhero-vigilante, complete with a secret alter-ego. Definitely one to watch!

The Worst: We were glad that we didn’t make the effort to journey to a theatre for the Battle for Los Angeles, but instead caught it on the instant play rounds on Netflix. Aliens and humans fight it out in war torn L.A., and the film contains such laughable B-movie lines as “what the hell are you doing to my Air National Guard?” The one glimmer of intelligent banter is mention of the original Battle of Los Angeles, prompted by hysteria in the months after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. I think even SyFy turned this one down!

Aboard the Heart of Gold from Douglas Adams’ Hitchhikers’ Guide to the Galaxy.

(Credit: BBC Television).

Retro: Long before it made it to the big screen, Douglas Adams’ Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy was adapted as a BBC Series in the mid-80’s. Although the author was said to have been dissatisfied with the series, we thought the retro-Dr. Who feel lent itself to the long form comedy, certainly better than the movie adaption. Certain characters  like Marvin the Paranoid android and Deep Thought will always be personified by the series, although the movie did get Trillian’s character right. Actually covering the first two books, the original BBC series is still a hoot to watch!

A Look Ahead: With Caprica gone, all eyes are on the Battlestar Galactica franchise to see if they can get the new series entitled Blood and Chrome off of the ground. A retro-look at the wartime career of young Adama (much like the Razor mini-series), word is that it may be offered initially as online-only fare; let’s hope it’s more than the 2 minute snippets that the BSG online mini-series have been in the past. On the Star Trek front, word is of another year prior to the next movie release slated for around Memorial Day 2013. That lets us think that Hollywood knows that the world won’t end anytime soon… also, keep downloading those Escape Pod and Drabblecast episodes… that’s where the cutting edge sci-fi is at, man! Finally, a plea; Steampunk is in need of a flagship TV series! The fans are out there; lets give ‘em Steampunk while it’s still hip!

The one the only Zaphod!

(Credit/Copyright BBC TV).


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