Perihelion Science Fiction

Sam Bellotto Jr.

Eric M. Jones
Consulting Editor


Who By Fire
by Jeff Samson

Shit Eatin’ Dog
by Bob Sojka

Joshua Who Could See
by Elizabeth Streeter

Calliope Muse
by Rebecca L. Brown

Waver of the Image
by Joe Occhipinti

Salvation of Sam
by Ellen Denton

Three Into Two Won’t Go
by Ann Gimpel

3rd Dragoon Regiment and the Liberation of Contagor’e-Mare
by Don C. Ciers

Collector’s Item
by Doug Donnan


Journey Through the Center of the Earth
by Eric M. Jones

Mars: A New Look at the Old Hump
by J. Richard Jacobs





Comic Strips




Perihelion Reviews

Chasing Ice, Directed by Jeff Orlowski, Submarine Deluxe, PG-13

THE MULTIPLE AWARD WINNING documentary, “Chasing Ice” explores a topic so massive that many people cannot realistically grasp its significance. It is, after all, much easier to stick one’s head in the sand and deny its existence. Noted photographer James Balog and his Extreme Ice Survey (EIS) team have attempted to get those people to pull their heads out and to explain to the rest of us just what is happening to our world, using facts and hauntingly beautiful imagery. Difficult subjects are always easier to understand when they involve pretty pictures. “Chasing Ice” artfully uses the imagery of our planet’s disappearing glaciers like a velvet sledgehammer to drive that reality home.

Balog’s filmic poem to the devastation that we are undeniably heading into is directed and produced by Jeff Orlowski, and beautifully edited by Davis Coombe. The film first reminds us of the storms that have flooded Texas and the Gulf waters, events all the more poignant after the devastations of Katrina and “superstorm” Sandy. Articles in recent years in magazines like “Scientific chasing iceAmerican” have regularly pointed out that although we may not see increases in the numbers of storms, we will surely see a rise in their size and power. These destructive weather patterns are not going away and we will be paying attention to them whether we want to believe in them or not. Melting glaciers are a major element in those changes.

Still, this film is not so much about climate change as it is about one man’s life and career exploring what is happening to our ice fields and sharing that information with the world. It’s about the effect this journey has had on James Balog, on his family, on those in his crew and their efforts to chase down these disappearing glaciers over a period of years, in mind numbing temperatures and through severe weather. Yet amidst all those frozen ice fields we feel a heartfelt warmth and at times, some refreshingly honest humor. All the while carrying us to a fearful, underlying message.

Ice is beautiful. Balog discovered this back in 2005, and through the eyes of such an artist, ice is magnificent. While in Iceland on a National Geographic assignment about climate change, he became fascinated by the ice and intimately aware of the speed at which those glaciers were leaving us. We have all heard about the ice melting but to see it in a film such as this with your own eyes is really another thing altogether. It is so much more poignant. With painstaking care and a driving passion, we see the jaw-clenching risks the team took to capture these videos and the devastation they felt when technology failed them and time was lost.

At one point in the film the EIS team travels to where thousands of Icelandic glacial ice core samples are stored. Extrapolating data from the cores, we are shown a graph charting the course of CO2, a major greenhouse gas, over hundreds of thousands of years. Glaciologists use these layered core samples to track, year by year, air quality and give us a carbon history of the planet. Glaciers trap carbon in the form of soot from such things as forest fires, and more recently from manmade wastes such as car exhausts, factories, jet fuel exhaust, and on and on.

When the film presented the chart I actually heard gasps from the audience. Maintaining steady cyclical levels, the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere rises framatically starting from the industrial revolution up to present. Records from the Antarctic aren’t any better. Disturbing projections for the future show that at these rates things can only get worse if we don’t do something about them. From this point on the film only got more interesting.

If I have to criticize the film on any one point that would have to be for lack of even mentioning the southern Antarctic ice fields. In a joint study published in November 2012 by the British Antarctic Survey (BAS), a component of the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC), and NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, they have shown how, though the ice is melting in the Arctic, it seems to be relocating around some parts of the Antarctic. They have also shown that the Antarctic is actually growing slightly. These changes appear to be due to wind patterns and yes, due to climate change.

What “Chasing Ice,” James Balog, and his EIS team have done is to bring awareness of this situation painfully and beautifully into focus. They lay it out in full context and in terms that we can all appreciate, capturing some amazing, first time ever events in HD video clarity. The last ten minutes of this film are not to be missed.

At the conclusion of the nearly packed Seattle premiere that I attended, after the titles ended, after the images faded to black and the appropriately beautiful, original song, “Before My Time,” written by J. Ralph, sung by Scarlett Johansson, with the brilliant Joshua Bell accompanying on violin, the audience paused a moment in humbled silence. Then the theater erupted in applause. You could feel the emotional wave passing through the theater and not for the first time that evening. I have to admit that I was a little stunned by the film. I think everyone was. That, I believe, is the firmest testament I can offer to the quality and impact of this film. It deserves, at last count, its 23 awards. After 75 minutes of being taken to what seemed like a tragic, magical world it was, in the end, all real. We will have to bring the magic into play now, ourselves.

If I really need to say any more than I already have, it would have to be simply this: see this film. 5 stars—J.Z. Murdock

Weapon Brown: Blockhead’s War, by Jason Yungbluth,

IT’S A DYSTOPIAN FUTURE, Charlie Brown. In what has to be the most inventive science fiction parody of its genre, visionary comic book artist Jason Yungbluth presents a post-nuclear-holocaust populated by reimagined versions of all your favorite (and maybe not so favorite) comic strip characters. At the center of this Sunday Funnies gone mad scenario is an adult, beefed-up, out for blood and revenge Charlie Brown of “Peanuts” fame, half-cyborg, going under the nickname of Chuck “Weapon” Brown.

The “Weapon Brown: Blockhead's War” saga begin on April 7, 2008, and has been running almost steadily, twice a week, since that time, on Yungbluth’s What Is Deep Fried website, accumulating an impressive following of dedicated fans. The story has been reprinted in, so far, six comic books, with a seventh on the horizon that wraps up the epic tale. According to Yungbluth, he hopes to eventually publish the complete story in a single graphic novel.

Weapon Brown was first introduced in Yungbluth's “Deep Fried” comic book. The original arc, “A Peanut Scorned,” tracked Weapon Brown and his dog Snoop as they crossed the ravaged landscape of post-World War IV Eweapon brownarth looking for Chuck’s kidnapped girlfriend. Along the way they encounter gritty adult versions of the entire “Peanuts” cast. At story’s end, Weapon Brown and Snoop are on the road again, heading for parts unknown.

Explains Yungbluth of the latest adventure: “Weapon Brown has returned to bounty hunting and scrapes out a living earning the only things of value his world has to offer: electricity and famine rations. When his latest quarry turns out to be carrying something valuable, something that could save what’s left of humanity from extinction, Chuck ultimately finds himself throwing in his lot with a tribe of refugees that guard a secret coveted by his creators, the evil Syndicate.”

Nearly every comic strip icon is revisioned, adapted, and cast in an all-new, often surprising, role—from Beetle Bailey, to Popeye, to Little Orphan Annie, to The Pointy Haired Boss from “Dilbert.” Probably the only thing keeping Yungbluth out of the courts for massive copyright infringement is that the work is clearly, and hilariously, a parody of the first order. It is also some of the best science fiction adventure I have read in a very long time.

Adds Yungbluth: “After I had exploited all the Charlie Brown jokes I could in the original one-shot, pitting Weapon Brown against every other comic strip in existence was an obvious next step. I guess since I’ve always wanted to be both a comic book and a comic strip artist, this was my way of having my cake and eating it, too.”

The artwork, in gorgeous black-and-white, is amazingly detailed. The characters are all immediately recognizable despite the fact that they have been seriously upgraded to a level of realism on a par with the best work from any DC or Marvel comic. For example, Snoop now looks like a real dog but he still does the famous “Snoopy dance” after vanquishing one of his arch enemies. Clever touches like these from the mind of Yungbluth have the reader savoring every page. The artist’s sense of composition is almost cinematic. Many installments of the series are one very large page with a single scene that soars with depth and detail.

If any criticism can be made of the comic, at times there is so much detail, so much going on that it is a bit overwhelming. Yungbluth gets carried away, but penning two installments per week over nearly half a decade, one can be excused for one’s excesses. Presumably, Yungbluth will have enough time away from the strip before he compiles it into a graphic novel to make some judicious tweaks. Until then, get the comic books. four stars—Sam Bellotto Jr.


Cloud Atlas, Directed by Andy Wachowski, Lana Wachowski, and Tom Tykwer, Warner Brothers, R

WHAT COULD HAVE BEEN a messy attempt to tell a complex story, Directors Andy & Lana Wachowski and Tom Tykwer have skillfully maintained as central themes and motifs across disparate characters and timelines with love and compassion. Adapted from the eponymous novel from David Mitchell, “Cloud Atlas” is a post-modern ode to the most seminal science fiction narratives, navigating through the past, present, and future of the excess and abuses of totalitarianism, regardless of whether politically or economically motivated.

Providing a concise synopsis of the stories and players in “Cloud Atlas” is a trying endeavor. Actors who are central characters in one time period are secondary characters in another, oftentimes attempting to blend into the scenery. Each character’s minute actions in one setting have implications in another, connecting humanity through one time-line made up of distinct experiences throughout several generations, making each human’s internal and external struggles synonymous. Each generation slightly leans on the adjacent generation, passing its most inherent themes, motifs, and learned experiences off to the next through different artistic mediums.

Actors portray characters throughout different centuries as different races, classes, genders, and partialities. Essentially, it is not external features that make up the vessel as much as it is the importance of the cargo it holds. In fact, vessels are a theme throughout the film. Not only as human beings, but actual vehicles. Each century and subplot in the film portrays how that society’s time period dealt with vehicles and transportation. Whether it is the physicality of a sailboat, mid-20th century’s dependence on petroleum, the digitization of analog processes, flight, or even a hybrid of them all.

Joseph Cambell’s monomyth suggests that all stories share an innate core, but the message of each story is unique to that society’s codes and conventions. It is this same concept in whicloud atlasch we can see similarities between the story of Hercules and the story of Jesus, and even those stories in the Wachowski’s “The Matrix.” The different forms of media portrayed in the film—whether a charming novel, a grand symphony, muckraking journalism, or even a suspense film—serve as a document to transport ideas to larger audiences through art. Much like how talents portray different characters, how vehicles appear throughout time, media tends to adapt to society and technology, and the central theme of those stories can relate to characters across both space and time.

Like the evolution of transportation, the evolution of media also tends to link these seemingly disparate characters and times together, and having a keen sense of contemporary and classic science fiction novels and films will augment the understanding and embrace of “Cloud Atlas.” Sonmi-451 and her story is a futuristic reference to both “Fahrenheit 451” and “Soylent Green” that are apparent not only in Sonmi’s name but also explicitly quoted earlier in the film in a different time period. While the film employs a pseudo-theme of reincarnation, it is media that tends to reincarnate over and over again.

Not only do humanity’s creations tend to link these stories together, but each character central to that time period is linked by a birthmark in the shape of a saber. Whether it is a coincidence or a mark of destiny, this birthmark is embraced by those who wield it, giving them the strength to overcome the adversity that faces them.

Media, characters, vehicles, birthmarks—they are all linked themes and motifs that allow humankind to transcend nature. The constant greed that begets oppression signifies of the abuses of mankind. “Cloud Atlas” portrays oppression through conspiracy. Each time period and story exposes a certain oppression and an active force to rebel against it. Furthermore, each central character procures a vehicular medium to pass along their struggle against adversity, only to be discovered by a new generation who applies such stories to their own current struggles.

Director Lana (Larry) Wachowski’s personal life has been a well-documented affair. Although her recent transgender experience should not overshadow “Cloud Atlas,” it certainly should not be ignored. Acceptance of an inherent character, despite the external features, is a central theme to the film. Taking comfort in one’s own body, connecting it to the mind, and expressing that struggle is what this story is all about. While there are many well-known sibling teams that have written, produced, and directed films together like the Wachowskis, “Cloud Atlas” poses a new threat to auteurism, the inclusion of a third director: Tom Tykwer (“Run Lola Run”). The themes in this film support those throughout that filmmakers’ oeuvres, inviting closer viewings of his films, and a chance to revisit previous efforts with a clearer artistic map.

Produced for slightly over $100-million, the film is technically an independent picture; a major studio, Warner Brothers, only picked up distribution rights. Even for that amount of money, “Cloud Atlas” tends to have more value than films produced for twice, even three times the sum. The ability to produce CGI effects in contemporary science fiction and fantasy films has, in most cases, shown to be easily abused and superficial. In “Cloud Atlas,” special effects are introduced carefully and augment the story, never pulling attention away from the central themes and story. The artificial images appear natural, even during scenes that depict apocalyptic and dystopian futures.

Although I have not read the book “Cloud Atlas,” there is indeed a sense of completion that this adaptation has, compared to many others. The passion and love that encapsulates the film is relayed tenderly to the audience without being overwrought or insincere. The three directors have produced an epic film that retains its epic nature. At nearly three hours in length, I could sit and watch the world depicted in Cloud Atlas for days on end.

Many of the themes in the film are not readily apparent and are revealed through self-awareness. Each time period in the film caters to the aesthetics of that period, whether it is romanticism, futurism, impressionism. “Cloud Atlas” hides its post-modern core, particularly because the film’s center is transposed across incongruent times, societies, and technologies. Yet, there are conclusive ideas that match the dualities that exist in the id, ego, super-ego, and society at-large.

While oppression and conspiracies work to invoke weakness amongst the crowds, art is where there will always be a level playing field. Although many of the artists depicted in the film are not recognized during their own time, their masterworks are cherished in another, giving hope when there seems to be little to live for. This is the most important theme in the film: how simple acts transpire across generations, centuries, classes, genders, races, etc. “Cloud Atlas” smashes the most intense scientific, religious, and philosophical theories together to make complex themes and specificities more tangible, leaving a peaceful impression about the complexities of humanity. 5stars—Aaron Weiss


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