Killjoys seems like a worthy successor to Firefly in the fun space opera genre

I’m nuts for original space operas these days, with recent movies like Jupiter Ascending and recent books like The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet to whet my appetite, so giving this show a chance was a no brainer for me. The deal was sealed when I saw it compared favorably to Firefly over at io9. Fortunately, I wasn’t disappointed when I sat down to watch the premiere episode, “Bangarang.”

The Quad is a dwarf planet and three moons.

I can see right off why this show will be heavily compared to Firefly. The Quad is a multiplanet system controlled by an oppressive centralized government (the Company). Nevertheless, there seems to be a little bit of wild west atmosphere going on, where outside of the Company’s direct oversight there are black markets and other illicit goings on. Probably the most notable similarity to Firefly however is the vision of a future cultural fusion between East and West.

The bad news about this is that it feels a little derivative, although for Firefly fans (myself included) it might also be pleasantly familiar. The good news, however, is that whoever is making the decisions on Killjoys has taken notes on the criticisms of Firefly over the years, and the world of Killjoys looks, so far at least, a lot more diverse than Firefly ever managed to be. To be fair, that isn’t saying much, and a glance through the entry for the show at IMDb still shows a pretty white cast, but it’s definitely a step up and in the right direction.

“Bangarang” is a fast-paced episode that didn’t feel very long considering the amount of worldbuilding going on. While there were a couple very obvious straight out infodumps to the audience, I think they handled them as well as is possible to do, and I’m happy to have that out of the way. The story of the episode is fairly simple; it gets our main trio of characters (Dutch, John, and D’Avin) together, and it sets up basically three mysteries that I expect to define the rest of the season:

  • Who is Dutch?
  • Why does someone want D’Avin dead?
  • What’s the deal with the Company?

Honestly, though, this is pretty standard stuff, and there’s not really anything groundbreaking here.

Such a pretty dress, though. And the necklace does something awesome, too.

It’s nice to see a woman of color (Hannah John-Kamen) taking the lead in a sci-fi show, and I think I am going to really like her character, but I found it off-putting to see a rape threat in the first two minutes of the show and she’s of course sharing the spotlight with a pair of square-jawed white dudes. Also, I kind of hate the “She Can Still Kick Ass in a Dress” trope, which was on full display in this episode, complete with an absolutely absurd camera focus on her sashaying into battle in a ridiculously sexy manner.

Just in general, I felt like the cast just didn’t quite gel properly in this episode, but I think this is largely because the episode was so heavily focused on worldbuilding and setting up the story. All in all, I enjoyed the premiere, and I’m looking forward to see how things go once they get a bit more into the meat of things.

Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell Recap: “How is Lady Pole?”

For all that the novel, Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell is often said to be a slow starter, I feel like the adaptation so far has remained pretty remarkably true to the source material while also moving through it at a pretty good clip. “How is Lady Pole?” covers an enormous amount of story, even more than last week’s episode, and things are getting exciting.

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The rain ships.

The episode opens with one of my favorite bits of magic from the book: Mr. Norrell’s ships made of rain. They’re gorgeous, but this scene, to me, isn’t quite right. The problem isn’t the ships, which are great. It’s that I don’t feel any passage of time. In the book, Norrell’s illusory ships are a blockade that keep the French fooled for eleven days. The way it’s presented here, it looks like just the work of an afternoon; the French see the ships, break out their spyglasses, then immediately row out to them and learn that they are just made of rain. I suppose this is still a waste of French time, but it’s not as impressive as the eleven days of the book, and it doesn’t seem to warrant the degree of congratulations Norrell receives from the ministers in London. It just all seems a bit much, and I think it wouldn’t have been that difficult to at least hint at some greater passage of time here.

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This is a Norrell’s wigs appreciation blog.

That said, I love the way the show has done Mr. Norrell’s scrying. It looks awesome. It’s nice to see this attention to detail when they could just as easily have sort of ignored the less flashy magic in favor of just focusing on bringing to life big stuff like the rain ships. Speaking of details, I also really appreciated Norrell’s wigs in this episode. He’s got a variety of them, and every one is either ratty-looking, ill-fitting, or both. Because, obviously he can’t be bothered. It’s a lovely little bit of visual characterization that makes me think that the people involved in the production are really committed to making something special.

Honeyfoot and Segundus at Starecross/the Shadow House.
Honeyfoot and Segundus at Starecross/the Shadow House.

The show has combined the Shadow House and Starecross into one place, and they’ve moved up Segundus and Honeyfoot looking to open a magician’s school on the property. I’m not thrilled with this change, because I want to see as many great magicians’ houses as possible, but it makes a lot of sense with the way the show is generally just shuffling things around and streamlining events. And, really, it doesn’t matter which house it is; what matters is that Segundus and Honeyfoot are in the right place at the right time to meet Jonathan Strange so they can refer him to Mr. Norrell.

Stephen Black at Lady Pole's dinner party.
Stephen Black at Lady Pole’s dinner party.

In London, Lady Pole is a wonderful dinner hostess. I love how loud and opinionated she is, which make the rest of what happens to her in this episode extra horrifying. I’m kind of surprised by just how much I love the show’s Lady Pole, to be honest. I adored the character in the book, but seeing her brought to life is even better. She definitely improves in adaptation, and I’m especially pleased that the show seems to be making just as certain as the book ever did that we know that Lady Pole is not actually crazy. Rather, she’s enchanted and spitting angry about it.

Stephen Black and the Gentleman.
Stephen Black and the Gentleman.

This episode introduces Sir Walter’s butler, Stephen Black, who is exactly how I imagined him, if a bit more taciturn than I would have liked. Some of that is because basically all the characters that Stephen interacts with in the book have been cut from the adaptation, so he speaks very little except with the Gentleman, and then it’s mostly utterances of confusion and helpless dismay. In the book, Stephen is a complicated character who doesn’t say much but who does think a lot, only here we don’t have the insight into his private thoughts that the book offers. Additionally, I don’t think it helps that they seem to light most of Stephen’s scenes to flatter the white fairy, which makes Ariyon Bakare’s very dark face hard to read at times simply because he nearly fades into the background.

Lost-hope.
Lost-hope.

We do get our first proper look at Faerie in this episode, in flashes in Lady Pole’s dreams and then more thoroughly when the Gentleman takes Stephen there. I absolutely loved the dark forest, the path Stephen follows the Gentleman down, and the outside view of Lost-hope. Once they get inside, though, I was disappointed. Everything is so positively gray, and I would have much preferred to see some color. I’ve always felt like part of the horror of Lost-hope is the dissonance of the place–bright colors and whimsy and dancing, but surrounded by an ancient battlefield and a dark forest and with gloomy tolling bells. There’s too much of a sameness to everything here, and while there is some sparkle, it’s not enough to keep the place from just feeling terribly bleak when I feel like it ought to have instead been disturbing and strange and awful in that way instead.

Strange and Norrell at work.
Strange and Norrell at work.

Probably the most important thing that happens in this episode is the meeting of Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, and it’s so very like it was described in the book that I felt a little teary. Again, though, the show seems to struggle a little with portraying the passage of time. I love how they show the early days of Strange and Norrell’s partnership (and I laughed out loud at Norrell’s ten year plan written out), but it felt like just a single afternoon and didn’t convey months or even weeks passing before things quickly moved along to other meetings and scenes between character pairs.

Drawlight and Lascelles
Drawlight and Lascelles

This focus on pairs of characters is something else about the book that I’m very glad to see preserved in the adaptation. Indeed, most scenes in the show are between pairs of characters, and this episode in particular either works to pair characters off in significant ways (Strange and Norrell, Stephen Black and the Gentleman, Lady Pole and Arabella) or expands upon our understanding of the relationships between already existing character pairs (Childermass and Norrell, Drawlight and Lascelles, Strange and Arabella, Honeyfoot and Segundus). Like the book, the show is constantly pairing off characters and then switching them around and seeing how they interact in various combinations so that we can see a variety of fascinating contrasts and parallels between them.

Norrell finishes creating his sea beacons.
Norrell finishes creating his sea beacons.

In a sequence that is perhaps a little heavyhanded, we get to see two feats of magic at Portsmouth. First, Mr. Norrell finally completes the series of sea beacons that he promised the government. While a good number of people have gathered on the beach to watch him finish the spell, it turns out that there isn’t anything to see. As one might expect, everyone is terribly disappointed.

Horse Sand.
Horse Sand.

The next morning, however, they are in for a treat. Probably because of the sea beacons, a ship has run aground on a shoal. Norrell claims to have a headache that prevents him from doing anything about it, but Jonathan Strange comes back out to the beach to see if he can help. After a couple of bad ideas, Strange thinks to use the sand itself to upright the ship, and because the shoal is called Horse Sand, he forms the sand into horses that go out to the ship and set it back up in the water. It’s extremely impressive, perhaps even excessively so, and it’s definitely the coolest piece of magic we’ve seen performed so far. Mostly, though, it establishes Jonathan Strange’s reputation as a powerful magician in his own right, and it plants the idea in the ministers’ heads that maybe they could send a magician to the war after all.

Jonathan and Arabella say farewell for now,
Jonathan and Arabella say farewell for now,

By the end of the episode, this is what indeed happens. Although Norrell was at first very opposed to the idea, knowledge of an imminent book sale (provided by Lascelles and Drawlight) convinces him that perhaps Strange would be better off out of the country for a while after all. I hope that Norrell is getting a lot of new books, since Strange is taking forty or so of Norrell’s books with him to the Peninsula.

Weekend Links: June 20, 2015

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Velociraptor Disney Princesses by Laura Cooper of XP (the webcomic).

On Worldbuilding

The Fantasy Worlds That Short Stories Built at Book Riot

Guest Post: Goldilocks and the Art of Worldbuilding by Marc Turner at Fantasy Book Critic

On a Lack of Originality in Science Fiction and Fantasy Game Settings at Gamasutra

Sense8 and the Failure of Global Imagination at Racialicious

The Future of SF

Muslim fiction writers are turning to genres like sci-fi, fantasy, and comics at John Hopkins Magazine

Race, Speculative Fiction, and Afro SF at the New Left Project

Bring the Structure of the Hugo Awards into the Modern World by Eric Flint –Also worth a read is Eric Flint’s real talk piece on the futility of trying to keep literary awards from having literary standards

Miscellany

Michael Moorcock: My Family Values

The joy of reading role-playing games

One Star Reviews of The Handmaid’s Tale

 

The first teaser for Fear the Walking Dead is pretty “meh.”

I’m pretty sure that part of my lack of enthusiasm for this show is because I never made it past the second season of The Walking Dead. I’ve still been somewhat following the promotion of the prequel spinoff series, though. Between the boring as fuck title (Fear the Walking Dead, really?) and this first teaser, I can’t say I’m very encouraged.

Jurassic World is exactly what I expected it to be

Jurassic World is full of dinosaurs, which is pretty much all I wanted. I went to the drive-in (which I highly recommend, as in my opinion this is the best way to see these sorts of movies) to see dinosaurs eat people, and that’s exactly what I got.

It’s not a cinematic masterpiece, and the story isn’t great or even very good. I’m still not entirely sure I understand why the military would think training dinosaurs for battle would be a good idea, and I don’t really understand what B.D. Wong was getting out of the arrangement since he was already living in paradise getting to make dinosaurs for a living. I also don’t know whether the parents actually got divorced or not, which I guess doesn’t really matter, since all of the characters were basically cardboard cutouts of people who only existed so we could see a two hour movie about CGI dinosaurs.

Chris Pratt’s velociraptors were predictably silly, but that doesn’t stop me from feeling like it would really be pretty rad to ride a motorcycle with my own personal pack of prehistoric killing machines. The mosasaur was gorgeous, although I don’t see how it could be kept in any way that would be safe for people or healthy for the animal. The pterosaurs were pretty cool, and I loved the dinosaur petting zoo. Of course there’s a dinosaur petting zoo, and it’s adorable.

Bryce Dallas Howard was fine as Claire. I’ve seen some complaints about the shoes she wears throughout the movie, but they’re plain old less-than-two-inch pumps that were perfectly sensible for the day the character planned on having. The way some people went on about the shoes, I rather expected some kind of six inch high spiked monstrosities, but that wasn’t the case, and I actually kind of appreciate the ability of the character to stay tough in a crisis. Honestly, I’m more amazed by her decision to wear a completely white outfit for a full day–personally, I’d have a stain or smudge on it by 10 am on a good day. I also kind of like that she’s the real hero of the movie. Chris Pratt and his raptors have gotten most of the attention, but Claire’s the one who orchestrates the, frankly, epic dinosaur fight at the end of the movie, and it’s nice to see a heroine being rewarded with a man at the end of a story for once rather than the other way around.

My only complaints are, first, that I really like Irrfan Khan and would have liked for him to get more screen time and, second, that the first death of a woman by dinosaur was so damn torturous. Zara’s death felt unnecessarily gruesome and drawn out for someone whose worst trait seems to be that she is easily outwitted by a couple of asshole kids. I know I said that I basically saw this movie just to see dinosaurs eat people, but I’d generally prefer that the really nasty deaths be reserved for actual bad guys.

Finally, the dinosaurs are the real star of this movie, just as they’ve been since Jurassic Park came out in 1993. I have to say that I’m not super impressed with the CGI. It’s okay, but I disagree with the people who say this movie’s dinosaurs are as good as the originals. It may just be that there’s no way I’m ever going to quite recapture what it felt like to see Jurassic Park when I was ten years old, but I felt like the comment in Jurassic World that people want their dinosaurs bigger, with “more teeth” is also true of audiences now.

Jurassic World is so packed full of dinosaurs of all shapes and sizes that they do start to seem a little commonplace. While there are a couple of new species in this movie, the overall look of the dinosaurs is the same as it’s ever been. It’s at once comforting and boring, to be honest. I do think that for it to still be a Jurassic Park movie, they can’t change the raptors or the t-rex that are so emblematic of the brand, but it would have been nice to see at least some of the last twenty-odd years of paleontological advancement shown on screen.

The indomitus rex and mosasaur were neat, but I’m starting to be a little concerned about the responsibility of continuing to portray dinosaurs in the same way they were shown decades ago. Jurassic Park was the definitive dinosaur movie of my generation, and I’ll probably always get teary-eyed watching the first big dinosaur reveal, but I’d hate to think that dinosaurs were being defined the same way for my daughter’s generation when we know so much more about them now.

Sci-fi and Fantasy books, tv, films, and feminism