April 23, 2014

Star Trek: The Next Generation: "Loud as a Whisper"

If something is made for a noble reason, and produced with the best of intentions, but still winds up feeling simplistic and on-the-nose, should we cut it a break? Or should we strictly stick to how an episode is executed? "Loud as a Whisper" is a difficult episode to review, because I applaud its intentions so deeply yet can't deny it's a pretty awful piece of television.

The Enterprise arrives at a planet to collect Riva, a celebrated Federation negotiator, in order to take him to settle a violent civil war on Solais V. The Enterprise crew are surprised to learn that Riva is profoundly deaf, and communicates via three telepathic translators. When all three translators are murdered in a disastrous first meeting on Solais V, Riva must find a way to recover from the emotional blow and learn a new way to communicate.

Guest star Howie Seago is, like Riva, deaf. He proposed an episode about a deaf character directly to The Next Generation's producers, and they happily took the project on. This was a great thing - deaf characters rarely get to be seen on television, and "Loud as a Whisper" does seem like a great idea on paper. That's the problem, however, it seems good on paper.

Judging the New 52: March 2014: Justice League

It's been an age (well, 10 months) since we had a look at the performance of DC's New 52 line. I do wonder at what stage does the New 52 stop being called "the New 52", since it no longer consists of 52 monthly titles and has been around for two and a half years.

As with last time let's break the line down into its seven sales groups, beginning with the Justice League books. Since September 2011 DC has published 18 monthly titles as part of this sales group: 10 of them, or 56%, are currently in publication. The current average issue run of this group is 18.

All sales data is taken from Comichron, and is the estimated sales of comics via Diamond Distribution to retailers - that is, what went into the stores, not what was actually sold to customers.I will be removing sales from September 2013, however, when DC ran its villain month. Some titles had as many as four issues in that months, and others had none, and sales regularly bore no resemblance to the titles they were ostensibly a part of. It's clearer without them.

Charts are colour-coded: anything in green is safely selling about 40,000. Sales below 40,000 move to blue, those below 30,000 to orange, and those below 20,000 to red. Anything selling less than 10,000 copies is listed in black: dead book walking.

April 22, 2014

Hugo Nominations: Best Dramatic Presentation (Short Form)

This Hugo category is often a ridiculous one, because a particularly popular series might dominate the nominees and fans often get together and nominate some really ridiculous choices. Previous nominees in this category have included a joke song about having sex with Ray Bradbury and an MTV awards acceptance speech. With a pedigree like that it's a little hard to take this category seriously.

This year's nominees continue this trend, in that two of the five works listed aren't even science fiction. Of the two, An Adventure in Space and Time is probably the most worthy, however as with Gravity in the long-form category I find it hard to support a docudrama winning an award for science fiction. The same goes for Peter Davison's The Five(ish) Doctors, which is a video spoof made to coincide with Doctor Who's 50th anniversary. That leaves two episodes of Doctor Who, and one each of Game of Thrones and Orphan Black.

Babylon 5: "Sic Transit Vir"

Centauri ambassador to Minbar Vir Cotto returns to Babylon 5, encountering a pleased Londo Mollari, a potential wife hanging on his every word, and some difficult questions from the Babylon 5 command staff. Meanwhile Sheridan asks Delenn out to dinner, and Ivanova is plagued by bad dreams.

I'm finding Vir to be one of the best characters in Babylon 5. He doesn't appear a lot, mainly because Stephen Furst juggled playing him with other roles in other shows at the same time, but every time he does appear he's well worth the time. J. Michael Straczynski writes him well, and Furst performs the character brilliantly. I can't help feeling badly for Vir: he's the Jiminy Cricket archetype, the voice of reason and sense squashed flat by an uncaring Pinocchio. We get that in spades here: he's surrounded by Centauri diplomats and civil servants, all making jokes about the mass genocide of the Narn when he - seemingly the one good man in the Republic - is secretly smuggling Narn prisoners to freedom underneath his own government's noses.

The Pull List: 16 April 2014

Translucid is a new six-part miniseries from Boom Studios. It follows a former supervillain, recently released from prison, and their encounter with their old sparring partner and local superhero. In many ways it reminded me of Bedlam, with its returning-from-obscurity villain and pre-established superhero universe, but the story it's telling here feels much more straightforward.

It's promising stuff, with Sanchez and Echert writing an intriguing opening chapter that promises a gripping story down the line. That said, it doesn't feel entirely perfect. In some moments stuff with seems like it should be archetypal comes across as stereotypical instead. Daniel Bayliss' artwork is superb, as is the vivid colouring - check out the eye-catching cover to the left.

As with Lumberjanes last week, I'm hooked tightly enough to keep reading. This is a promising start, and with luck it'll wind up an excellent miniseries. (3/5)

Boom Studios. Written by Claudio Sanchez and Chondra Echert. Art by Daniel Bayliss.

Under the cut: reviews of quite a lot of Batman. We've got Batman, Batman and Wonder Woman, Batman Eternal and Batwoman. We've also got Ms Marvel, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: New Animated Adventures, Thor: God of Thunder and Wonder Woman.

April 21, 2014

Hugo Nominations: Best Dramatic Presentation (Long Form)

Best Dramatic Presentation is one of the Hugo categories I always pay attention to: I'm actually fairly poorly read as a reader of science fiction, comparatively speaking, so in any given year I'm unlikely to have a clue what each nominated short story is like. Films, however: these I know. In this case I've seen all five nominees for the Long Form section. They are:
  • Frozen screenplay by Jennifer Lee, directed by Chris Buck & Jennifer Lee (Walt Disney Studios)
  • Gravity written by Alfonso Cuarón & Jonás Cuarón, directed by Alfonso Cuarón (Esperanto Filmoj; Heyday Films; Warner Bros.)
  • The Hunger Games: Catching Fire screenplay by Simon Beaufoy & Michael Arndt, directed by Francis Lawrence (Color Force; Lionsgate)
  • Iron Man 3 screenplay by Drew Pearce & Shane Black, directed by Shane Black (Marvel Studios; DMG Entertainment; Paramount Pictures)
  • Pacific Rim screenplay by Travis Beacham & Guillermo del Toro, directed by Guillermo del Toro (Legendary Pictures, Warner Bros., Disney Double Dare You)
I think far and away the best film of the five nominees is Gravity, but I do question whether it qualifies as science fiction. Apart from a few bits of what I'm told are 'shaky physics', there's nothing in the film that wouldn't happen in the real world. I know that there is scope within the Hugo rules for 'or related' genre works, but that's the sort of catch-all with which I don't really agree. Truth is, from this shortlist I think it's almost a lock to win.

The Infidel (2010)

Mahmud Nasir (Omid Djalili) is a Pakistani Muslim living in suburban London. He’s pretty relaxed about his religion, but he’s a loving husband and father. When his mother passes away, and he needs to clear her possessions from her home, he discovers an adoption certificate. It turns out that Mahmud, a proud (albeit slack) Muslim, is not only adopted but he was born Jewish.

The Infidel (titled The Reluctant Infidel here in Australia) is a 2010 comedy from the United Kingdom. It was written by popular comedian and novelist David Baddiel, and directed by Josh Apignanesi. This is a really funny movie. It’s also, fairly obviously, a pretty bold and brave one. It walks a very narrow tightrope – it pokes an awful lot of fun at Islam and Judaism, particularly the extremist ends of organised religion, but at the same time it comes across as largely respectful of both.

April 20, 2014

Hugo Nominations: Best Novel

The nominations for the 2014 Hugo Awards, which form a key part of the annual World Science Fiction Convention, have been announced. They're actually pretty interesting this year for a whole pile of reasons, none of which are exceptionally promising, but at least there's grist for a lot of late night conversations about the relative merits of what's nominated.

I don't read a huge number of short stories each year, so a lot of the professional categories aren't something I can speak to. I thought I'd post up some thoughts on categories where I do have an opinion, however, starting with Best Novel.

This is a very surprising shortlist to me. The oddest omission I think is Neil Gaiman's The Ocean at the End of the Lane. Everyone had been praising it as the best work of Gaiman's in years, and yet it didn't even make the top five. The inclusion of Robert Jordan and Brandon Sanderson's The Wheel of Time saga is even stranger, however, taking advantage of an old rule about serialised novels to justify nominating all 14 novels published over the course of 23 years.