Scavengers Reign (2023) – Joe Bennett · Charles Huettner
It’s been awhile since I have seen a show like this and it makes me wish more animated science fiction was produced. Animation is expensive to produce so a show like this is a big risk to take. I am not certain at how this particular show was received, but I hope it does well so we can see more like this in the future. There seems to be an unfortunate stigma around animation in the western world as being mostly for children. I believe this bad reputation has been improving over the last decade as the new generation starts having more influence over the creation of shows such as this.
The immediate thing that stands out to about this show is how beautiful it is. It’s colorful and soft yet still manages to be mysterious and even creepy at times. The animation felt a little strange to me. It might be a stylistic choice or maybe even a money saving measure, but it felt as if the frame rate was lower than it should have been. It makes it look a bit jerky, but it is consistent so I got used to it quickly. The voice acting felt a bit dull as well. It might have also been an intentional decision as the whole show was quite somber. There were a few situations that had more emotive voice acting, but in general everyone’s speech was mellow and sometimes even monotone. My only other gripe is the sheer ridiculousness of some of the biological horrors as well as the solutions the characters find to particular problems. It is presumed that they haven’t been on this planet for a very long time, but even in the first episode they found solutions to problems that involves several extremely improbable chances of finding in a row. It was interesting for demonstrating the uniqueness of the world but it made it difficult to continue my suspension of disbelief that what they were doing could ever occur.
Overall I enjoyed this show more than I did not. I hope to see more shows like this in the future and possibly a sequel. I think there is still a lot that can be explored about the world of scavengers reign. However, instead of relying on shock value of biological body horror and violence I hope to see something with more critical thinking such as a mystery and fleshed out story.
I suspect almost nobody has seen this series as there is no proper way to watch it with English subtitles. Three Body Problem is one of my favorite books so when this animated series was announced it quickly got my attention. The trailer was magnificent in my opinion and did a great job of showing the very subtle and scary nature of how Trisolaris is always observing and plotting against humanity. Once it actually began airing I discovered that there was no way to watch it and that it was in fact an adaptation of the second book, The Dark forest, rather than the first book Three Body Problem. The Dark Forest is what I believe is the best part of the trilogy so that was great news. After waiting weeks and then months for some kind of translation or way to watch this I lost my patience and decided to do whatever it takes to translate it and create subtitles myself. Knowing absolutely no Chinese myself this was a bit of a difficult task. In the end I found some software that was able to process the video file itself and identify text on screen and extract the Chinese text and the timing in the video into a series of images. Then after feeding the images to OCR software to convert it into Chinese text I used a combination of Google translate and ChatGPT to translate the text into English. After a lot of grammar editing I combined everything back into a properly timed subtitle file and muxed it together with the video. Then I was able to properly watch the episode.
After putting in so much work I was rather disappointed in the end. For the majority of the series they focused on what is arguably the least interesting part of The Dark Forest. On top of that the pacing was awkward and the tone made it feel like a comedy when the source material was much more serious. The plot starts by showing the climax of the first book which involves the destruction of the ETO ship by slicing it into dozens of thin pieces using wires made of nano material. I enjoyed seeing this scene animated as it was quite the spectacular moment in the book. They also did this scene at the end of the recent live action adaptation of the first book. While that version was nearly all CGI for this scene as well I believe the animation did it far better. Another aspect of the animation that I believe they did a great job with is the character design. I don’t know how, but all of the characters are essentially exactly as I imagined them to be. I watched the live action adaptation prior to this one, but I think the actor they chose for Da Shi is not how I imagined him. Without the limitations of finding an actor who can play the role the animation is better able to characterize exactly as the book describes.
One of the aspects of the animated adaptation that I have seen get criticized frequently is the art style. Both the characters and the scenes seem to not appeal to many people. Personally I think the art is my favorite part of this adaptation and possibly the only redeeming quality. Without spending an obscene amount of money to make CGI at the level of Wandering Earth II this is the best that could have been done. With the amount of technology depicted such as space stations, futuristic cities, particle accelerators and alien space ships that are in the book I don’t think it would have looked quite right to use a more realistic style of CGI. The emotions that are able to be expressed by the characters with this style can also a bit more exaggerated as well as subtle which I think suits this show well.
I think this series had a lot of potential that it squandered with poor pacing and choosing the wrong aspects to focus on. The show only adapted a small portion of The Dark Forest so without another 4 to 5 seasons the slow pacing does not make a lot of sense. A lot of plots were clearly set up for later, but their plots went nowhere because the show ended before it could make much progress. Instead it spent a disproportionate amount of time on Luo Ji trying to get away from his responsibilities as a Wall Facer and abuse his position to find a woman from his writing and imagination. Then it turns into an out of place love story that goes on for much longer than it did in the book. They also changed some key plot points compared to the book which ended up devolving into a weird quantum time type nonsense. I didn’t entirely dislike the story they told, but I would have much preferred they stick to the source material more closely as I don’t believe the writers are as good at coming up with as fascinating fictional science as Cixin Liu.
I believe this show could still redeem itself with at least a couple more seasons as long as they resolve a couple of key issues. First and foremost the pacing needs to be sped up if they want to have any chance of making it to the most interesting parts of the book. In the next season they need to have Luo Ji come to terms with his role as a Wall Facer as quickly as possible and get to the part of the book that takes place in the distant future. Secondly the tone should be more serious rather than what I can only describe as a romantic comedy. And lastly and maybe most important of all is the plot should stick to the source material and adapt the story that people want to see. This adaptation could be great and I hate to see it in such an awkward state.
I know this is a bit blasphemous in the world of books, but the cover and title of this one really stood out to me. The contents of the book did not entirely disappoint my vague expectations, but I think calling it a space opera is a bit of a stretch. It has a lot of the elements of a space opera yet lacks one of the more critical ingredients which happens to the space. From what I hear the sequel does a lot to remedy this problem. As a standalone book I think it suffers a bit from having a seemingly grand scope and scale without actually getting there. There are also themes of poetry that is brought up frequently which is implied to be a significant aspect of Teixcallan empires culture despite there being very little poetry explicitly written. This is a general problem I have throughout the book in which the characters mention a lot of places and culture without the story getting there to show you first hand. Perhaps the author thought the imagination of such things was more powerful than if it had been written directly. The places, people and culture that we do see are well described and fascinating. It is relatively easy to extrapolate from what we are shown in detail to what is briefly mentioned and imagine a more flushed out world. The book could have done this itself, but it is already quite long for how much happens.
The book starts off strong with one of our primary characters Mahit Dzmare, an ambassador from a small independent space station, arriving to her newly appointed position on Teixcalaan. Her predecessor Yskander has died and likely murdered for reasons unknown and the circumstances and politics surrounding his death are numerous as they are mysterious. Lsel station where Mahit is from has a unique and peculiar technology called an imago machine that allows the recording and implanting of memories down through the generations. Mahit with her exceptional aptitudes in language and politics awarded her the honor of receiving the imago line of her predecessor despite it being many years out of date. Unfortunately the younger memory of Yskander that Mahit carries within her witnessing the dead body of his older self causes a malfunction in her imago machine. This leaves Mahit without the knowledge of her imago line an direct predecessors knowledge to help her navigate the politics of the Teixcalaan empire.
The murder mystery of Yskander is my favorite part of the plot which is the lure that kept my reading. It’s hard to stop reading something before you learn all of the details of a mystery if it is even moderately captivating. Besides the mystery the various descriptions of technology such as the imago machines and the city run by a perfect algorithm were enjoyable concepts. The city itself being described as a single entity is particularly interesting and I appreciate how the author never uses the terminology “AI” to describe it. This plot point didn’t feel as significant as I think it could have been, but it is possible it will be more important in the sequel. Despite not being completely enamored with A Memory Called Empire I am still looking forward to the possible conclusion in the sequel A Desolation Called Peace. Especially if becomes more space and not just opera.
After describing my interest in the hard science fiction of Greg Egan to an acquaintance they recommend the author Neal Stephenson to me. They didn’t give me any particular book as a recommendation so I started looking up titles myself. To be honest I picked up Seveneves because the name “Izzy” caught my eye. This is apparently a completely fictional nickname for the International Space Station (I.S.S) that Neal created. It wouldn’t be much of a problem in text format, but as an audiobook I can’t imagine how tedious it would be to be saying “I.. S.. S..” or “International Space Station” 352 times. I queried the ebook and determined that the word “Izzy” appears exactly 352 times throughout the book. That is at least a third of the pages so rather frequent. While I would definitely categorize this book as hard science fiction I’d say it still revolves heavily around characters. Of which there are a great number of in this book. It was actually rather difficult to keep them all straight throughout this exceedingly long book. I believe there are nearly 900 pages total. Unfortunately in my opinion the story that was told did not warrant such a long book. To be fair I don’t think any of the book was unnecessary fluff. It is so long because of both the pacing and the great detail in which the world and events are described.
The moon blew up without warning and for no apparent reason.
This is the very first sentence of the book. I have never seen the threat so quickly established. This immediately brings up a lot of questions. Such as, what is going to happen to Earth? What blew up the moon? What are they going to do about it? Will humanity survive? Only some of these very critical questions get answered which has left me somewhat dissatisfied. Of course once you finish the book you will know that some things were not the point the author was trying to make as the story takes a vastly different turn than expected by the end.
Around two thirds of the book takes place on Izzy. The main protagonist in the first two parts is Dinah who coincidentally is already onboard Izzy at the time the moon explodes. She is a bit of a quirky engineer who is working on developing various types of robots for purposes such as mining. Initially upon the moon exploding all of the large remaining pieces stay gravitationally bound to one another in roughly the same position as the moon had been prior. It is not until further analysis that it is discovered that the large pieces will slowly collide and an exponential rate until it turns into clouds of millions of smaller rocks that will eventually fall to earth. The hard rain will completely burn away the atmosphere and obliterate the surface of the Earth. This sets off a frenzy to create a plan to save humanity by any means necessary.
If this book was half as long or focused far more on the story in the third act I would have enjoyed it far greater. It felt like the third act was the story that the author really wanted to tell, but for some reason spend the majority of the book merely on the setup for it. It also ends so suddenly that it feels incomplete. That said I enjoyed this book more than I did not ironically due to the great detail in which events are described. You can really feel the horror, claustrophobia and futility the characters are going through when trapped in space with no planet to return to or ask for help. I will likely pick up another Neal Stephenson book in the near future. All of his books seem quite long, but Snow Crash and Cryptonomicon look interesting.
I watched Silo back when it started airing in May 2023. I had never read the book and avoided starting the book while it was airing to get the most spoiler free experience. I’m looking forward to season 2 which was announced before the show concluded airing. I suspect I will have read at least the entire first book (Wool) by that point. Like other shows that I have seen while having previously read the book it will still be enjoyable to experience the fictional world in visual format even if there is no longer a mystery. I found all of the acting to be well done and immersive, but one random thing kept poking at the back of my mind. I kept imagining the character Allison who primarily appears in episode 1 was the character Ann Perkins from Parks and Recreation. It’s kind of silly considering any actor is going to play a number of roles, but in my mind this person is definitively Ann Perkins. Thankfully she is really only in the first episode so it didn’t cause a distraction the entire season.
The show reminds me of the situation from the movie 10 Cloverfield Lane. There are people trapped in a kind of bunker and the authority or authority figure is telling you that you absolutely can’t go outside because you will die. The premise of Silo is simple, but where I find it the most interesting is the world building and mysteries. Unlike 10 Cloverfield Lane the bunker in Silo is enormous enough to have an entire self sustaining city. Due to its size and number of people there are naturally a lot of places to explore and a lot of people who could be hiding things. The most obvious mysteries that are presented at the very beginning are whether the outside is actually poisonous, who built the silo, why they built the silo and when they built the silo. They mention these unknowns frequently, but they bring it up most notably in the first episode during a speech on “Freedom Day”. Which is a rather ironic name for a independence day type holiday while being trapped underground.
We do not know why we are here. We do not know who built the Silo. We do not know why everything outside the Silo is as it is. We do not know when it will be safe to go outside. We only know that day is not this day.
I believe the show does a great job at the beginning with hooking you with a compelling narrative and exciting mystery. However, after the first few episode it felt like it dragged on for quite awhile before anything of significant consequence started happening again. The slow middle had plenty of intriguing world building, but it didn’t seem to be bringing the audience any closer to solving the mysteries they so explicitly brought up at the beginning. Thankfully the ending felt satisfying and in some ways even conclusive despite there being another half of the story based on the source material.
The mix of CGI and real sets meshed well in my opinion as it was not obvious what was real and what was CGI without thinking more critically about it. It’s not something I often think about or take note of in shows. Something about the apparent impossibility of the environment on some of the scenes despite looking seamless. For example the scene of one of the larger sections of the Silo showing thousands of people despite only a small section of it being a real. Other notable locations being very bottom of the basement with the extraordinarily large chamber as well as the engine room felt impressive.
I am looking forward to season 2 of Silo despite the high likelihood of having read the first book by then. Despite being satisfied with the conclusion to season 1 I find there are still a lot of unanswered questions. I am fairly confident the story will progress in a way that will address them.
The Final Architecture (2021) – Adrian Tchaikovsky
The Final Architecture is a trilogy that consists of the books Shards of Earth (2021), Eyes of the Void (2022) and Lords of Uncreation (2023) by Adrian Tchaikovsky. These books were vastly different than the previous books I had read by the same author which was the Children of Time trilogy. I had read that the author had studied zoology which made a lot of sense in the context Children of Time trilogy. I was under the impression that all of his books would feature some kind of deep dive into the psychology, biology and culture of hypothetical forms of sentient life. The Final Architecture has plenty of this as well, but it is much closer to what I would consider a traditional space opera with political factions and space militaries at war. Some of the factions just happen to be aliens with biology not typically associated with intelligent life and with motives that are often incomprehensible.
The book starts off on a run down salvage ship called the Vulture God with a ragtag group of misfits that feels reminiscent of space westerns such as Firefly. Our main protagonist Idris is a seemingly unaging human. During the first war against the architects, which are a moon sized species that have the power to reshape entire planets, Idris underwent a procedure to allow him to become an intermediary. This is a highly experimental procedure with a very low chance of success. The goal being to reshape the persons mind to mimic that of the only human who was born naturally with the ability to perceive unspace and allow them to touch mind to mind with the architects. Merely informing the architects of their presence is often enough to convince them to turn away. Now many decades later at the start of the book Idris is working on the salvage ship in order to escape the atrocities of the past as well to prevent the current colonial human powers called the Liason Board from effectively enslaving him as an unspace pilot. The architects have not been seen in all of time and it is believed by many they are gone for good.
The plot takes off when our secondary protagonist Solace who is a part of a separate faction of all female genetically engineered humans called the Parthenon is sent to investigate one of the only known intermediaries not current under the control of the Liason Board. Solace being an old wartime friend of Idris is allowed to accompany the crew of the Vulture God on a salvage operation while she attempts to convince Idris to assist the Parthenon. During a would be routine salvage operation the crew makes a discovery that has far reaching ramifications.
What I like most about these books is surprisingly also what I dislike the most. The sense of mystery that is set up is both brilliant and debilitating. The frequency at which the main character mentions being incredibly close to figuring out the precise nature of unspace and the architects is so high that at times the book seems to break the fourth wall to poke fun at it. Which brings us to unspace which is both the most fascinating fictional science concept in the book as well as this increasingly vague undefinable concept that seems to only get more confusing as the book progresses. Other species such as the Essiel seem to have no problem understanding the very nature of unspace and the universe, but it would be far too convenient if they simply passed on this knowledge to humanity and other species. They also have a religious like belief that only they should be allowed to have this information. The variety of sentient alien life is extravagant. They don’t go into as much detail of their biology or psychology, but there is a lot about their various cultures. Including the culture of the Parthenon with it being a completely uniform biologically engineered all-female faction.
As a space opera enthusiast I highly enjoyed these books. The mysteries with their abstract nature are consistently interesting to think about. The action all the way from ship to ship battles to hand to hand combat were thrilling. However, no matter how much I enjoyed reading these books I don’t believe any more books set in this universe are necessary. It feels like a complete set where any more or any less would not be as solid of a series.
There are actually 3 main books in this series with a couple spin-offs. The first book in the series is called The Quantum Magician. I read all three of these one after another awhile ago so it would be hard to distinguish exactly how I feel about them individually. There are clear and distinct plots in each book and I do remember where the plot ends and starts again, but my thoughts and opinions are going to be influenced by one another. So instead I am going to write a single post about the series as a whole. I find that in order to fully enjoy this book I had to suspend my disbelief about a number of things. Especially in regards to one of the primary premises this book hinges on. That premise involves the ideas behind quantum wave functions and how it can effectively “collapse” when observed by consciousness. I am not an expert on the matter, but from the many hours of documentaries I have watched and articles I have read I am not convinced that quantum mechanics and conscious observers could work anything like is demonstrated in this book. I believe one of the main points of the famous Schrödinger’s cat experiment was precisely point out the absurdity of applying these quantum mechanics on a macroscopic scale. Regardless, I do not feel like this detracts from my enjoyment of the book. One of my favorite things about science fiction is when it goes off into the deep end in its fictional science. This just happens to stray close to a real scientific phenomenon and extrapolates it into something fictional.
The protagonist Belisarius is a genetically engineered human who is capable of perceiving the quantum world without collapsing its wave functions through observation. This is explained as being possible due to their engineered ability to turn off their sense of self. While in this fugue state of mind they have no understanding of who they are and can’t easily respond to stimuli. These quantum engineered humans are called the homo quantus. Belisarius has left the comfort and safety of his own people to explore what it is he is meant to be doing and partially as an act of self preservation due to the risky nature of the fugue state on the body. Due to his engineered superior intellect he has found a way to live as a con man. Soon after he catches the attention of leaders of an oppressed nation and is contracted to help them bring numerous war ships through one of the most defended wormholes in human civilization.
The universe of The Quantum Evolution series feels incredibly vivid and well imagined. All of the companions that Belisarius recruits for what is basically a heist are unique and lively. There are many other forms of engineered humans that exist for various reasons from the homo pupa who were engineered to serve their masters and the homo eridanus who were engineered merely to survive at the crushing depths of an ocean planet. One of my favorite characters is a homo eridanus that is recruited for the job. He could be described as an incredibly ugly bulbous fish monster of a human. They are under no disillusion of what they are and how they look. One of the ways they cope with this unfortunate fate is their constant expression of nihilism as well as vulgar language. Despite its excessive repetition I found it consistently amusing.
Sometimes people describe a convoluted, but masterful plan as playing a game of 4-D chess. This is usually a wild exaggeration of the complexity of whatever scheme they are trying to pull off. However, in The Quantum Magician I feel that this is the closest thing to what could be described as 4-D chess moves that aren’t deus ex machina tier nonsense that completely changes the rules of the game after the fact. I enjoyed the incredible resolution and climax of each book and really hope there is a fourth book as a sequel to The Quantum War. I get the impression that there is more to tell about The Quantum Evolution universe.
This is now the second book that I have read by Greg Egan and I believe I will at some point work my way through the entire collection of books. I don’t think I could read two of these books in sequence as they are rather heavy. I don’t believe hard sci-fi begins to describe what you can expect from this book. I find myself to be reasonably knowledgeable of what is possible in regards to physics, mathematics, biology and computer science, but this frequently goes above and beyond that. I enjoy this aspect of the book, but it does present a couple of problems. I had trouble distinguishing at what point the book transitions from science of today, to science of the future to entirely science fiction. It is easy enough to know when real science is happening and then it gets more difficult when transitioning to theoretical science that could maybe be real, but humans of today simply lack the technology to make it feasible. The line between theoretically plausible science and science fiction is a bit more muddy. Regardless I had a great time thinking about and trying to comprehend exactly what it was the book was trying to have the reader imagine. There is everything from the real world of flesher humans, completely virtual worlds, 5-dimensional universes and the tunneling of the infinite multiverse.
The beginning starts off with the birth of a virtual human in a process called orphanogensis. It feels like a deep dive into the processes behind the conception of a virtual human and the precise mechanisms by which it transforms from merely a collection of algorithms and information into a true general artificial intelligence. This is the birth of our main protagonist Yatima and thus begins our journey from the perspective of a newborn orphan inside a virtual polis. Problems start to arise when it is discovered that a relatively nearby pair of neutron stars are going to inevitably collide and release enough gamma wave radiation to destroy all flesher life on Earth. This sets Yatima and Inoshiro off on a quest to make contact with the fleshers and warn them of their impending doom by uploading their minds into gleisner robots. By this point the flesher humans have already split off into so many factions that have such diverse biology that their modes of thought varies enough to make comprehending one another difficult.
When I started reading this I didn’t realize that the books title was an actual word. Upon looking up the definition it made a lot more sense and I believe it to be a great single word summary of the story.
Diaspora (/daɪˈæspərə/ dy-ASP-ər-ə) Any dispersion of an originally homogeneous entity, such as a language or culture.
The book seems to follow the concept of trans-humanism all the way to its inevitable conclusion which has humanity in some form or another spreading itself throughout the universe and through the multiverse. The lengths at which people will go to discover truths when they can virtually live until the end of the universe is limitless. You might just lose what made you yourself along the way and never be able to return.
I don’t recall anyone ever mentioning this movie back when it released in 2018. I don’t know what it was about this movie, but it ended up being far less known than I would have expected. It is not the biggest budget movie ever so perhaps they did not do much in the way of advertising. I would never really notice as I try to limit my exposure to ads as much as possible.
The thing I like most about this movie is its beautiful retrofutrism style and its strange alien like color saturated forests. This movie felt like it was as much an art project as it was a story. The details of the spacesuits, weapons, spaceships are what I’d expect of a modern day recreation of what people would have designed as a science fiction in the past. In other words if the current level of film making technology was possible 50+ years ago this is what I’d expect a science fiction of the time to look like. I may be a little biased here, but I think the color palette of this movie is the most beautiful of any that I’ve ever seen. Perhaps Blade Runner 2047 would be greater simply due its greater diversity of environments.
The plot of this movie involves the characters Cee and her father Damon who are rare gem prospectors. While attempting to descend from the space station to their designated prospecting site they encounter a malfunction and end up stranded far away from their intended location. Without any immediate way off the planet they decide to prospect the area and quickly find a rare gem. Despite the gem being enough to make their endeavor worthwhile Damon insists continuing to the intended prospecting location. However, it seems they eventually push their luck too far when they encounter some mercenaries.
I like that this movie seems to know exactly what it is trying to be. There are no plots to nowhere, irrelevant characters, plot armor or contrived nonsense in attempts to drive the movie forward. Everything makes sense and is relatively straight forward. The science fiction themes of this movie while beautiful are technically not critical to the plot. I imagine this movies plot could be nearly identical if it were taking place in the old west during the gold rush. This kind of science fiction isn’t usually something I’d rate so highly as it is primarily about the characters and their journey, but their no nonsense approach made it far more enjoyable. Sometimes you have a science fiction where its technology or setting is absolutely critical to telling the story you are trying to tell and other times it is putting a plot that would make sense in modern day Earth and putting it in space or the future and this is definitely the latter.
I hope more movies or TV series get made in this retrofuturistic style.
After being mostly disappointed by Artemis and The Martian I was quite wary of this one. Perhaps my expectations were more reasonable this time around, but I think it was also a better book. Considering how those other books were trying their hardest to stay within a reasonable level of scientific accuracy and plausibility I was completely surprised that there turned out to be an alien in this one. An intelligent sentient species no less. He also just kind of showed up out of nowhere and I was in disbelief that that was the direction the story was going for a bit.
I often found the book to be a bit too light hearted at times. Like it was intentionally written so that it could some day be a PG movie for all ages. There is nothing wrong with this, but it felt off at times as the emotions and tone did not match the current circumstance. I also found it a bit eye rolling at times that the level of competency this supposed average teacher showed in nearly any subject that was brought up. Rocky was clearly the best character in my opinion. If he wasn’t there to offset the lone savior trope like in The Martian and Artemis I don’t think I would have enjoyed this book.
The science bits were a bit too sciencey and not enough fictiony for my tastes, but I don’t think it is Weir’s style to try and make up his own fictional science. Almost all of the science was just real science and math. I think the only thing that was pretty much entirely made up was the idea that something like Astrophage the its neutrino harvesting amoeba could exist. I did like the mostly simple mathematics and science details given for everything Ryland and Rocky were doing.
I’m on the fence about whether I’d read another one Andy Weir’s books as the writing style feels a bit bland to me, but I’m sure I’ll watch the inevitable movie adaptation. I’m really curious to see how they manage to portray Rocky and his and Ryland’s attempt at communication. Jazz Hands ♫ ♪ ♪ ♬