Archive for February, 2013

BR25C: Planet of the Slave Girls (two-parter)

February 18, 2013

Buck Rogers in the 25th Century

Planet of the Slave Girls

Season 1, Episodes 3 and 4

Synopsis

As the episode opens, Buck Rogers and Col. Wilma Deering are approaching Earth after a scouting and/or training flight that has evidently lasted some days. A scanner on their starfighter, which Rogers is piloting, calls their attention to an Earth Directorate starfighter that is being attacked by two pirate ships. Rogers successfully engages the pirates, thereby sparing the life of Cadet Regus Saroyan, who has fallen out of formation from a training flight led by Major Duke Danton.

Danton is annoyed both that Saroyan fell behind and that Rogers intervened. Rogers is annoyed that Danton is annoyed, and they spar verbally. Deering comes on the channel to say that Rogers’ actions were fully warranted. (“Wilma!” Danton exclaims when Earth’s top military officer first joins the radio exchange. “I mean, Col. Deering.” “Right on both counts,” she replies.)

After the starfighters land, Saroyan collapses and is sent to a health clinic. Rogers and Danton exchange more heated words. Deering asks Danton to have Rogers as a guest lecturer on 20th century battle tactics; when Danton balks, she orders him to follow through.

Deering then checks on Saroyan, who is among a huge number of starfighter pilots who have fallen ill while she and Rogers have been away. Deering and Dr. Huer visit Dr. Mallory; he and a computer named Carl are researching the illness. They’ve discovered that the disease stems from contaminated food discs, all of which were manufactured on the agricultural planet Vistula.

Rogers’ turn as a guest lecturer for Danton is a fiasco. The major, obviously irked by his guest, goads his class to laugh as Rogers discusses battle strategies in terms of the ancient game of football. The class devolves into Rogers and Danton tackling each other.

Vistula turns out to be home to a very charismatic and belligerent rabble-rouser named Kaleel. He tells his followers that soon they will go into battle and take their revenge on the Earthlings who have enslaved them. Kaleel has the ability to make his hands glow red and kill a person with the barest touch; he demonstrates this ability on a man whose wife calls him out as being skeptical of the leader. The adoring crowd chants Kaleel’s name.

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‘Gattaca’ portrays a chilly, chilling future in which one’s fate is decoded from DNA

February 11, 2013

Literature and film are full of tales of people who steal, borrow or exchange identities. Few have been as carefully thought out as Gattaca, the futuristic 1997 drama written and directed by Andrew Niccol.

The protagonist is one Jerome Morrow, né Vincent Freeman. His parents chose to conceive him without using genetic engineering to select helpful traits and weed out unhelpful ones. A heart defect, detected nearly instantaneously by genetic scanners that seem to be ubiquitous in Gattaca’s near-future setting, prevents Freeman from realizing his dearest dream, which is to be an astronaut.

But Freeman finds a way to cheat. One Jerome Morrow sells his genetic identity to Freeman; having been paralyzed from the waist down, there’s no other way for Morrow to fund his decadent lifestyle.

The two become uneasy roommates and doppelgängers; Freeman mimics Morrow’s hairstyle and has surgery to lengthen his legs to match the recorded height of the man he is impersonating. Morrow diligently collects dead skin, blood and urine that Freeman dispenses as needed to pass for a man with a princely genome.

But Freeman’s subterfuge is jeopardized just days before he is scheduled to depart for a year-long mission to explore one of Saturn’s moons. When an official at Freeman’s organization, Gattaca, is murdered, cops arrive to vacuum up physical evidence. A loose eyelash indicates the presence of Freeman, who isn’t officially cleared to be on site. Thus the protagonist becomes the target of a most inconvenient manhunt.

To complicate matters, Freeman strikes up a flirtation with a co-worker, Irene Cassini, that heats up quickly. At the very moment Freeman should be most eager to shed his Earthly ties, his heart finds itself moving on an unexpected trajectory.  Read the rest of this entry »

Über-detective unravels a Texas family’s tangled legacy in ‘Echo Burning’

February 5, 2013

You can’t beat Jack Reacher one on one. You can only hope to outmaneuver him.

That, in a nutshell, is the essence of Jack Reacher, the super-competent über-detective who is the star of Lee Child’s series of thriller novels. Reacher is a retired Army MP, or military policeman, an efficient killer with a razor-sharp intellect and in-depth experience with forensics and human psychology. If he had to engage Superman or Batman in man-to-man combat, Reacher could win — given enough time, information and resources to prepare effectively.

Before this week, I was familiar with Child’s work only through the recent movie Jack Reacher, starring Tom Cruise. On a relative’s recommendation, I dove into Reacher’s 2001 novel, Echo Burning, in which the almost oppressively effective hero finds himself plunged into a messy situation in the hot, sparsely populated Echo County in rural Texas.

The book pits Reacher against at least two sets of antagonists. One is the Greer clan, a tight-knit family with extensive roots in Echo that doesn’t cotton to outsiders.

Unfortunately for them, while hitchhiking in Texas, Reacher is picked up by Carmen Greer. A Latina out of California who has married into the family, Carmen is still considered an outsider, despite having borne her husband a lovely daughter. Worse yet, her husband beats her savagely. Even worse he’s about to get out of prison. Worst of all, the improbably named Sloop Greer blames Carmen — correctly so! — for his having been sent to prison on tax evasion charges.  Read the rest of this entry »

Measures of redemption and enlightenment await characters in Jack McDevitt’s ‘Odyssey’

February 4, 2013

Jack McDevitt’s 2006 novel, Odyssey, opens as humanity has reached a precarious point. Early in the year 2235, interest in space exploration is fading just as concern about runaway global warming is ramping up. To make matters worse, the Academy loses a starship while political factions ready their push to cut money from the North American Union’s government-funded astronautics organization.

The person at the heart of this mess is one Priscilla “Hutch” Hutchins, the former starship captain extraordinaire who has traded her commission for matrimony, motherhood and a powerful job as the Academy’s operations director. She takes point on the effort to locate and recover the missing ship even as the Academy’s commissioner enrolls her in public-relations outreach to influential NAU Sen. Hiram Taylor and his 15-year-old daughter, Amy.

Hutch easily wins the affection of the space-happy Amy Taylor, but the search and rescue operation is a bit more problematic. So is the appearance of an immense previously undetected asteroid, which barely misses smashing into Earth but does leave more egg on the Academy’s face.

But, although it takes a frustratingly long time to develop, there are more things aspace in Odyssey than political maneuvering. A private company, Orion Tours, has reported another in a series of increasingly common sightings of UFOs. These so-called moonriders are presumably the work of an intelligent species, which humans have yet to find in exploring numerous star systems near Earth.

Orion and the Academy agree to deploy automatic monitors in the star systems where the mysterious flyers have been seen. And this is where things start to get going.

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The lottery of birthright weighs heavily on novelist Eric Martin’s mind in ‘Luck’

February 1, 2013

If one were tempted to reduce Eric Martin’s 2000 novel Luck to its simplest elements, it could be described as a tale of rich boy meets and falls in love with poor girl.

But Martin isn’t about simplicity. Instead, this is a writer who loves to dive into details and nuance. He’s also a writer whose ability to put a reader into the heat of moment derives in part from his flair for exploring the varied historic and personal factors that have led to the moment.

So Luck is the story of Michael Olive, the intelligent and tightly wound scion of a successful farmer in a small Eastern North Carolina town, and Hermelinda Salmeron, the intelligent, ambitious and beautiful daughter of a Mexican migrant worker employed by the Olive family and living on their land.

But it’s also much, much more. It’s the story of the rivalry between Mike Olive and Harvey Dickerson, a lifelong schoolmate and onetime friend turned bitter rival. It’s the story of the tension between the white farmers in the rural community and the poor and often poorly educated Hispanics who do much of the hard labor of producing and harvesting crops.

It’s the story of the tension between small-town Cottesville and the outsiders Olive brings into their midst one summer, fellow Duke University students who show an unseemly interest in the migrants. And it’s also the story of the tension between Olive, his family and the community that raised him.  Read the rest of this entry »

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