Monday, July 18, 2016

Movie Review: The Martian

Back when I review the book The Martian by Andy Weir, I said that I hadn't seen its movie adaptation.  Well I am happy to say that I have finally gotten around to fixing that problem.  So without further ado let's take a look at Ridley Scott's adaption of The Martian.

In the not too distant future the Ares III mission to Mars has had to return Earth prematurely due to surprise dust storm.  Unfortunately, Mark Watney has been left behind because everyone assumed that he died during the storm.  Now it's going to take everything Mark's got and then some to stay alive, reestablish contact with mission control and get back to Earth.



So how well does the plot stack up to that of the book?  It does an absolutely beautiful job of preserving and replicating the book's plot.  Sure, there were a few scenes cut here and there, but that was to make things more streamlined and better fit the medium of film.  The biggest changes were to a few character.  In the book Mission Control was run by Venkat Kapoor, an Indian-American man.  In the movie we have Vincent Kapoor, who is half-Black and half-Indian.  Originally, an Indian actor had been cast in the role, but he had prior obligations in Bollywood.  So they cast Chiwetel Ejiofor at the last minute.  

In the book minor character Mindy Park was most likely Korean-American, but in the movie she's played by a white actress.  On the more subjective side, Commander Lewis isn't necessarily described as ugly per say, but it is mentioned that Beth Johansson is the good looking one of the Ares III crew.  Personally, I thought that Jessica Chastain was better looking than Kate Mara, but that's just my opinion. 

Andy Weir has even said that he cried tears of joy during the first eight minutes of the movie because he got to see his vision come to life on the big screen.  Suffice it to say, he's very happy with how the movie turned out.  There's plenty of scientists who gave this film their stamp of approval, including Neil deGrasse Tyson himself.  It's really an accomplishment when you can get Dr. Tyson onboard with your film.  The Martian is easily Ridley Scott's best film to date.  

It even made it all the way to The Oscars and was nominated for best picture. It lost, but in The Academy's defense, Spotlight is a really good movie and more than earned its award.  That being said, The Martian did very well at The Golden Globes, BAFTA and the Critic's Choice Awards.  It even won best comedy, which is weird because it isn't a comedy.  Don't get me wrong it's very lighthearted and has many moments of comedy, but I wouldn't call it a comedy per say.  It is great that so many hard science fiction films are getting the recognition they deserve as of late. 

If I had one complaint it would be that the marketing campaign really did this movie a disservice. They made the movie look much darker than it actually is.  I mean, there are serious and dramatic moments, but on the whole it's pretty lighthearted.  Though I am happy to say that the misaimed marketing didn't effect the film's success in the slightest.  

I loved the practical effects involved with this movie, especially how much of it was filmed in Jordan's Wadi Rum desert for the shots of Mars' surface.  Though there were also plenty of soundstages in Hungry.   I also loved the way music from the 1970s was incorporated into the soundtrack.  Mark probably would have screamed his head off if he ever saw this movie, but I liked it.  The special effects were also really well done.  

I haven't been talking much about the actually plot, but I really covered most of that in my review of the book, so you can always check that out.  It is a really fun movie, the science is science is rock-solid and I'm glad I got to share this movie with my family.  Seriously, do yourself a favor and go rent this movie, or buy it if you're so inclined. 

This was a somewhat short and haphazard review, but I figured I should get something out after so long.  I do intend to review more movies in the future so be on the lookout for that.  Well then, that's all for me for now.  I will see you guys next time. 


Sunday, June 5, 2016

Flag of the United American Workers Republic

This is the flag of the United American Workers Republic.  It's ties in with the map I made called Red White and Blue, but Mostly Red.  It comes from a world where Theodore Roosevelt was assassinated early into his presidency and never instigated any of his reforms.  By the 1920s and 1930s socialist and communist movements had gained considerable traction.  Thing came to ahead during the Great Depression, and before long an all-out Second Civil War had broken out.  When the dust settled and the fighting stopped the United States of America had ceased to exist.  It its place rose the United American Workers Republic.  The new nation reformed American society along socialist and communist lines.  It granted equal rights to all citizens regardless of race, gender, ethnicity and (in time) sexuality.  

The UAWR fought against Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan during World War II.  It was also a key figure in the founding of the Japanese Workers Republic, the Socialist Republic of South Korea and the People's Republic of Taiwan.  It also supported socialist revolutions in Latin America, who retain strong diplomatic ties with their Tio Samuel.  America also provided support for Iran during their socialist revolution in 1954.  America took in several Jews to Alaska during World War II, so only two million were killed in the Holocaust.  Besides the territory that the USA does in our world, the UAWR also includes the Philippines, Cuba, Panama and Liberia.

Traditionally, the United America Workers Republic has been in a Cold War against the Russian Empire and the Franco-British Union.  In more recent times, however, the three superpowers are beginning to warm up to each other, and have become more like frenemies than outright hostile. On the whole the United American Workers Republic isn't necessarily better or worse than our America, but it is very different, and someone from our world might not feel very comfortable



Monday, April 18, 2016

Flag of the Kingdom of Jerusalem

This is the flag of the Kingdom of Jerusalem.  It comes from a world where the Crusades were a success.  The Holy Land was placed under Christian control, as were Egypt and North Africa.  The Kingdom of Jerusalem frequently changed hands between various Christian kingdoms, but eventually it was established as an independent kingdom in the same manner as the Papal States.  There was a movement to have the Pope and College of Cardinals to move to Jerusalem, and for a few years they did, but it was ultimately decided that Jerusalem wasn't safe enough.  Rome remained the heart of Catholicism, but the church still has several important institutions in Jerusalem.  Similarly, the Orthodox Church has a Patriarch of Jerusalem who lives in the kingdom.

As a result of the successful Crusades many Muslims fled to West Africa.  By the present day West Africa, and Timbuktu in particular, have become the heart of Islam.  The Christian kingdoms of North Africa tend to have Christian coasts and Muslim interiors.  Jerusalem and its fellow Christian Levant kingdoms are...well, predominantly Christian.  Jerusalem comprises most of the territory that modern day Israel and Palestine consist of.

For many years Jews and Muslims have faced discrimination in Jerusalem.  Today, however, people of all religions enjoy equal protection under the law.  Jerusalem has increasingly placed effort into making amends for the past. For example, the Dome of the Rock for many years had been converted into a church, but in recent times it was converted into a secular museum where everyone is allowed to pray.  


This is reflected by the symbolism of the flag.  Christian elements are still dominate, purple and gold represent both royalty and Jesus Christ, and a cross dominates the center.  However, the cross is an equal armed Templar cross the represent the equality of all, and the Stars of David and crescent moons represent the importance of Jerusalem to Jews and Muslims as well as Christians.   


Book Review: Childhood's End by Arthur C. Clarke

What book comes to mind when you think of Arthur C. Clarke's great novel?  Some would say 2001: A Space Odyssey and others might suggest Rendezvous with Rama.  For many people, myself included, the answer is Childhood's End.  As you maybe have guess that's what we're going to be reviewing today. 

The book is told over the span of 100 years and is divided into three parts.  The first part begins when humanity is about to take its first steps into outer space.  This is stopped by the arrival of an alien race, soon dubbed The Overlords.  The Overlords come in peace and have come to save humanity of nuclear annihilation.  They are lead by a supervisor named Karellen, and they keep their true forms hidden.  Fifty years later the Overlords are reveled to be demonic looking aliens from a distant planet.  Despite their outward appearance the Overlords prove to be as good as they claim and usher in a golden age for humanity.  But why are they doing so, and just what are their true motives?



Okay, yeah, it's next to impossible to talk about Childhood's End without spoiling most of the plot.  Not that I was ever stop by spoilers before, but there you go.  But before we get into all of that I'm sure there's a few other things that we can talk about.

Childhood's End was published in 1953 and is based upon Clarke's 1950 short story "Guardian Angel".  In fact, the first third of the novel is basically a rehashing of "Guardian Angel".  It's sorts of like how 2001: A Space Odyssey is an expansion of Clarke's short story "The Sentinel".  Also, while we're on the subject, Clarke was knighted shortly before is death in 2008, so it's Sir Arthur C. Clarke to all of you.  

I listened to this book shortly after having finished Rendezvous with Rama.  I found it interesting that they're almost mirror images of each other.  Rendezvous with Rama emphasized the wonder and grandeur of its science fiction world, but was a bit lacking with regards to the human element.  It was also quite heavy on the science, but a bit light with regards to what exactly Rama was and what purpose it served.  By contrast, Childhood's End did a good job of balancing the human element with the spectacular and grandeur.  You'd better believe we get some answers to why the Overlords have come to Earth, and we'll get to the soon enough. 

I really liked the point of view the novel portrayed.  We see the benevolent alien invasion from the perspectives ranging from a world leaders to average people.  It goes back to what I said about Clarke doing a good job of balancing the human element with the fantastical.  We even get to see certain parts from the Overlords' point of view.  

Now we get into the really spoilery stuff.  So turn away if you don't like that sort of thing.  Okay, so why did the Overlords come to Earth?  They are servants of an entity known as The Overmind.  I can best describe the Overmind as the collective consciousness of several sentient beings.  Apparently, after a species advances to a certain point they transcend their physical bodies and become one with the Overmind.  The Overlords' job is to help usher in that next step in evolution.  The Overlords do this because they are an evolutionary dead-end and can never be one with the Overmind.  

When I first read this book I assumed that humanity joined the Overmind because of something the Overlords did.  Then, a few days later, I finally got it.  Humanity evolving to join the Overmind was a naturally occurring process.  Had the Overlords not intervened when they did their would have been a nuclear war and the Last Generation would have been killed before they were even born.  The Overlords merely kept things peaceful so that evolution could take its natural course.  



The Overmind itself has kind of a supernatural vibe to it.  In fact, there's even a scene where character play with a ouija board.  Though they acknowledge that they might just be seeing what they want to see.  Karellen and his fellow Overlords reaserch quite a bit into psychics and the occult.  They call it humanity's attempt to understand the Overmind, though remark that it's tangled up in quite a bit of mysticism and other such nonsense.  Clarke, being an atheist, didn't intend for the Overlords to have an religious undertones.  In fact, the Overlords pretty much disprove all religions save for Buddhism.  Clarke did, however, write Childhood's End back when he still believed in the supernatural.  In later years Clarke would grow a bit embarrassed because of this.  

Oh, and why do the Overlords look so demonic?  Well it's not that they look like demons, but that demons look like them.  Humanity had vision of them that came from the future.  They were associated with the end of times, because that's what they helped usher in.  The end of humanity's existence as a separate entity from the Overmind.  As a side note, they only kind of vaguely look like demons.  Remember, they're the product of a different evolutionary history than that of life on Earth.  Also, their home planet has lower gravity than Earth so they use their wings to fly everywhere. 

Being the classic it is, Childhood's End has proved extremely influential among other works of science fiction.  Works which reference or homage Childhood's End include, but are not limited to: Neon Genesis Evangelion, Independence Day, Stargate SG-1, Xenogears, the Genesis song "Watchers of the Skies" and Pink Floyd actually wrote a titled "Childhood's End".   

For those of you who prefer audiobooks there is an audio version narrated by Eric Michael Summerer.  It also includes and introduction by award winning author Robert J. Sawyer.  Robert is one of my favorite science fiction writers, and it's always a joy to hear from him.  When talking about how great Childhood's End is he made a really interesting point.  He said that perhaps humanity's childhood will end when we stop hoping for men from the sky to save us and instead work to save ourselves.  It's a powerful statement and certain make great food for thought.

As you probably know SYFY, formerly known as The Sci-Fi Channel, created a miniseries adaptation of Childhood's End.  I haven't seen it yet, but I plan.  So expect a review of that sometime soon.  The miniseries is part of the reason I finally got around to listening to the book.  As I ranted in my World War Z review, I simply cannot stand tie-in covers.  I know this may seem petty, but with physically books if you don't like the cover you can just buy a copy with a cover more to your liking.  You don't have that option with audiobooks.  You get one cover, take it or leave it, and if it changes to the movie tie-in you're out of luck.  

Thankfully, Childhood's End has avoided this fate.  Plus it's not like Audible always switches to the movie tie-in.  I'm forever thankful The Lightning Thief and The Sea of Monsters dodged that bullet.  Still, it's always something you have to worry about in these situations.  Better safe than sorry is all I'm saying.

Still, even without all of that I still probably would have listened to the book around this time.  It was on my to-read list for a while.  It's a classic science fiction novel, and I think it's Clarke's personal best.  As a bonus tidbit, it won the 2004 Retro Hugo Award for Best Novel.  It's well respect for a reason, so check it out for yourself.  

Well that about does it for me from now.  I will see you guys next time. 

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Flag of Spanish Australia

I meant to do something special fro Easter, so to make up for it here's a new flag:

This is the flag of Spanish Australia.  It's from a world where Spain launched an attack on the British colonies in Australia in 1790.  This was because the Spanish believed British Australia was a treat to their Pacific colonies.  A few years prior to the invasion the British colonies suffered a number of setbacks that made their future uncertain.  The Spanish filled Australia with colonist not only from Spain, but also from across their colonies in the Americas.  This diverse group of colonists have Spanish Australia a very cosmopolitan feel to it as the years went on.  

Spanish Australia comprises most of the continent plus the north island of New Zealand.  The French establish a colony of their own in Western Australia and the South Island of New Zealand.  The Spanish and French mutually supported their colonial efforts in order to keep the British out of Australia, and the two Australias are allies to this day.  Spanish Australia is also quite loyal to its mother nation and is a happy member of the Spanish Commonwealth.  Spain did a much better job administering and retaining its colonies and in time organized them into a Commonwealth.     


The red and gold stripes are a reference to the nation's Spanish heritage.  The bull is a reference to the important role that ranching has played in the history of Spanish Australia.  The purple stands for wealth gain by the opal and gold rushes as well as the nation's loyalty to the Commonwealth.  


Sunday, March 20, 2016

Comic Review: Snowpiercer, The Escape

For today's review we're going to do a little something different.  We're going to review a comic book.  Specifically, Snowpiercer: The Escape by Jacques Lob and Jean-MarcRochette.  It all start with a war.  It's unclear who started it or who were, and frankly that's kind of unimportant.  What is important is that somebody launched a weapon that plunged the Earth into a planet-wide ice age.  Billions died, but a few managed to find ways to survive.  Before the war a perpetual-motion train known as Snowpiercer had been constructed.  It is 1001 cars long.  It circles the world on a globe-spanning track.  It is humanity's last refuge.  

The story follows a man named Proloff and a woman named Adeline Belleau. Proloff comes from The Tail, the very back of the train and the lowest of the low in the social pecking order.  Adeline is from third class and is part of a movement to integral the members of The Tail into wider society aboard Snowpiercer.  A series of events causes the unlikely duo to make their way towards the front of the train, and towards answers about the nature of Snowpiercer itself. 


So before we begin I thought we could talk a bit about comics in general.  First of all, are they comic books or graphic novels?  Personally, I use the terms interchangeably.  Some people will use graphic novel more because they claim it sounds more sophisticated.  I really think Robin Williams put it best, the different between the terms comic book and graphic novel is about the same as the difference between the terms porn and adult entertainment.  

Now let's talk about French comics, since Snowpiercer is a French comic after all.  French comics are kind of like how American comics would have turned out if the Comics Code of Authority had never happened.  You don't really see that many superhero titles, but you do see a great diversity of other genres.  Don't get me wrong, I love superhero comics as much as the next guy, but American comics really need more diversity of genre.  So I guess you could see French comics as somewhere between American comics and Japanese manga.  You get the full colors and western writing tropes along with the diversity of genres.  

Anyway, let's talk about Snowpiercer.  I'm willing to bet that if you've heard of Snowpiercer it's probably via its film adaptation staring Chris Evans, John Hurt and various other celebrities.  That's how I found out about it; though I haven't yet see the movie, but I do plan to.  The Snowpiercer comic originally came out in 1982, but it finally got an English translation thanks to the movie adaptation. The movie might not have replicated the plot, besides the general setting.  That having been said, it does capture the spirit of the comic, and the two other installments of the comic followed other trains so it does kind of fit in with the scheme of things. 

Okay, now we will officially begin talking about Snowpiercer: The Escape.  The plot itself is very much an excuse plot so that we can see what life is like aboard the train.  This is certainly not a bad thing, and I rather enjoyed getting to know the people of Snowpiercer.  Excuse plots can be done quite well.  Besides this comic there's also the Dinotopia books by James Gurney.  They're also very much excuse plots, but you'd be hard pressed to find anyone who would fault them for that.  

We get to see where the train gets its food from, we see the forms of entertainment, we see how culture has adapted to the endless journey and so much more.  The middle class dine on vat meat, while the first class keeps rabbits to supplement their diets, and as for The Tail...well, the less said about that the better.  There's also a few greenhouse cars for vegetable and fruits.  A scene in the movie car was a bit funny since it showed one of the movies playing as Star Wars Episode VII, which at the time didn't exist, but now it does.  If you're wondering where they get their water from it's collected from snow and ice as the train drives along.  I guess you could kind of view Snowpiercer as a generation ship of sorts.  People are born, live their lives and die all within the confines of the train; and death is but a broken window away.   

There's been a cargo cult religion that's sprung up that worship's the engine.  I also found it interesting that many named characters had French and Russian sounding names.  We never find out where Snowpiercer was before the disaster occurred, but certain hints suggest that it was in Russia.  So the mixed of Russian, French and other European passengers does make sense.  There is some really great worldbuilding within this comic.  Bonus points for taking two things I always viewed as kind of magical, trains and winter, and making them absolutely terrifying.  

Let's talk about the art.  The whole comic is in black and white.  I know that black and white comics were a bit of a trend with American comics during the 1980s, but I'm not sure of that was also a trend with French comics of the time.  Either way, it kind of works out.  The world of Snowpiercer is bleak and desolate with very little hope left in it.  The black and white art does a lot to emphasize all of this.  Plus, in a world covered in snow and ice, you probably wouldn't see a whole lot of color.  I've read enough manga so that the lack of color wasn't that big of an adjustment for me.  The drawings themselves were quite well drawn.

Snowpiercer: The Escape has wetted my appetite for the other entries in the Snowpiercer series, as well as for French science fiction comics in general.  If you're looking for a good post-apocalypse science fiction comic then Snowpiercer can't be beat.  I look forward to reading many more French comics, and maybe I'll even get a few more comic reviews over here.  

Well I think that's enough from me for now.  I will see you guys next time. 


Friday, March 11, 2016

Flags of E Pluribus Unum

Well I'm back with another flag haul.  This is another project I did in collaboration with Lynn Davis.  You may have heard that Lynn and I have had a bit of a falling out and...well, it's true.  To be perfectly honest it was only a matter of time before this happened.  Lynn has some strong opinions, and she doesn't take kindly to those who disagree with her.  Well, that's the Tumbler set for ya.  I could have kept quiet, but I figured if Lynn was really my friend she wouldn't break off out friendship over a disagreement of opinion...apparently not.

But you didn't come here to talk about my personal life, you came for the flags.  These flags come from a world where the American Revolution was peacefully avoided, and Britain's former American colonies were organized into a European Union-esque organization.  These flags were a spin-off from Lynn's previous map Excelsior.  Let's meet them, shall we?


Here we have the flag of New York.  It's orange, white and blue to reflect New York's Dutch heritage and the design reference's New York's Iroquois heritage.  It comprises New York and the Ontario Peninsula.  Like most entire's on this list it's a European style liberal democracy with separation of church and state and a healthy advocacy of democracy without being too OTL French style.


Here we have the Confederated State of America, or CSA for short.  It comprises Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Wisconsin, Michigan, Delaware, northern Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, and some of Minnesota.  I made it look kind of like the Freedom Party flag from Timeline-191 for purposes of allohistorical irony.  


Here we've got the flag of Vermont.  It's basically the same as the northern states, but with more of a libertarian bent to its politics.  It's design is based on the historical flag of Vermont.  


Next up is the flag of Manitoba. Comprising OTL Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta, Yukon, Northern Territories and Nunavut. It is a very liberal and progressive democracy based on the radical democratic ideals of Thomas Spence, who founded the state. It's not very religious and believes absolutely in the ideals of democracy and the people.  It features Liberty leading the people with a sword at the ready to strike down tyrants, and the motto is emblazoned above her. 


Now on deck we have Louisiana.  It comprises the southern half of the Louisiana Purchase. It's a French Revolution style democracy due to the failure of the French Revolution leading many refugees to flee to Louisiana, which later joined the United States. It's Catholic, French speaking and kind of does its own thing compared to the other states.  Based on the historical flag of Louisiana.


Here we've got New England.  OTL New England minus Vermont. You might be wondering why New England has six stars, well it's beacuse each subdivision gets a star and there's also a star for New England as a whole. Alternatively, the stars are purely decorative (that's my story and I'm sticking to it). Anyway, New England is a social democracy in the style of Europe, but without being too French. It has separation of church and state. It is very religious without being very conservative, and religion rarely factors into its politics.


Next up is Florida.  OTL Florida plus the coastal regions of Mississippi and Alabama. Like most of the southern nations it's a conservative democracy like Poland or Italy, and usually has a lot of crazy politics and backwater bumpkins running things. Not as progressive as the other states and religion factors a lot into day-to-day operations.


Up next is Georgia.  The Xs can be interpreted as Saint Andrew's crosses, but I thought it would be funny if such a conservative nation inadvertently had a reference to hard core porn on it's flag.



Here we have Carolina.  Comprising Tennessee and the Carolinas.  The cotton bush is a reference to the state's primary economic engine.   


Next up is Canada.  Comprising OTL Quebec, Ontario minus the peninsula, Prince Edward Island and Larbador.


And here's the flag of Maryland.  I thought he knight was a night touch. 


Say hello to Oregon. Comprising OTL Oregon, Washington State, British Columbia and Idaho.  The killer whales reflect the region's native heritage and the wave symbolize the importance of the sea to the people of Oregon.


Here we have the flag of Alabama (Alabama and Mississippi minus their coastal regions). It's the only majority black state of the United States and as such is a Switzerland style direct democracy with emphasis on everyone being represented. It's very religious, but religion doesn't really factor into politics. There's also strong feelings of Pan-Africanism throughout the state, and that's reflected in the flag.


 This is the flag of Acadia, comprising OTL Nova Scotia and New Brunswick.  Yeah, it's basically the flag of Acadia Parish, this one beat me up.  


This is the flag of Lakota.  Comprises the northern half of the Louisiana Purchase.  It’s red and has tepees to reflect the high native population.  It’s a pennant flag to mix things up. 


This one's the flag of Virginia.  Comprising Virginia, West Virginia, Kentucky, southern Ohio, Indiana and Illinois.


Finally, we have the flag of the United States as a whole.  I used purple because it's such an under-utilized color.  I went with a Romanesque/Futuristic design because it pleased me and I liked that it seemed slightly sinister, even though this isn't a dystopia.  Well, that and I'd been watching The Hunger Games movie.  

Well we've reached the end of our list.  my teamwork with Lynn is over, but at least I got some good flags to show off.  Also, if you'd like me to make some flags for you let me know and I'll see what I can do.  I can't guarantee it'll be a showstopper, but I'll certainly try my best.  No charge of course.  

Well that about does this for this flag haul.  I'll see you guys next time