Perihelion Science Fiction

Sam Bellotto Jr.

Eric M. Jones
Contributing Editor


Curfew Tolls the Parting Day
by Joseph Green and Shelby Vick

Probing For Aliens
by Clayton J. Callahan

Love and Death at 300,000 Metres
by Louis Bertrand Shalako

Hurry Up and Wait
by Holly Schofield

by Eric Del Carlo

by Eoin Flynn

Monologue for Two Voices
by Robert Pritchard

Sleep, Mr. Teasdale, Sleep
by J. Richard Jacobs

In Deep Shit
by Django Mathijsen


Politics and Story Structure in Science Fiction
by Erin Lale

A New Flu Pandemic
by John McCormick




Shorter Stories

Comic Strips



Perihelion Reviews

Leaving Earth in a Mess

“AFTER EARTH” IS THE RARE film that truly stretches the limits of hyperbole. It is wholly unsuccessful in every aspect of its filmmaking; as a piece of science fiction, as a popcorn action flick, and even on the most fundamental levels of cinema, “After Earth” is nothing but an endless series of catastrophes. Not a single positive element emerges during the film’s one hundred minute running time (although it could be argued that the relatively short length is its sole saving grace), and its failures are so listless and unimaginative that it even misses the so-bad-it’s-good glee of M. Night Shyamalan’s previous fiasco, “The Last Airbender.” To call “After Earth” a trainwreck is far too generous; it implies Shyamalan could construct a train that runs competently enough to derail.

The film’s science fiction is surprisingly childish. Elements integral to the plot are introduced without context or reason, then quickly ignored. In 2025, human beings render the Earth uninhabitable and are forced to flee through space, eventually rebuilding civilization on the distant planet Nova Prime. Yet Nova Prime is not uninhabited, and a hostile alien race fills the planet with ravenous beasts called Ursa, forciafterearthng the human settlers to fight a long and bloody war. Years later, human general Cypher Raige (Will Smith) and his son Kitai (Jaden Smith) are on a routine mission when their ship is damaged and crash-lands on a wild, feral Earth. The father-son duo must now fight to escape the savage planet.

This exposition is presented plainly, and the film expects its audience to accept these facts at face value without addressing the numerous holes and unexplained confusions within them. The humans triumphed against the Ursa, but the sentient aliens that started this conflict never appear onscreen and are never mentioned after the first five minutes of the film. We are left wondering whether these aliens continued to fight against humans and the film never bothered to mention it, or whether they dropped a mass of bloodthirsty creatures on a planet’s surface in an attempt to reclaim it, then immediately packed up and left, never to be seen or heard from again. Even Shyamalan’s concept of Earth makes little sense. Cypher (mere mention of the name Cypher Raige tends to induce severe eye-rolling) claims that in the thousand years since humankind left the planet, every one of Earth’s species has evolved solely to kill humans, yet with no humans left on the planet to drive such specific adaptations, this is clearly impossible. And when young Kitai fights to protect a nest of baby eagles, the mother eagle ignores this apparent evolution and instantly gains a conscience, going so far as to nurture Kitai like its own offspring. Mistakes like these litter the film, and are obscured even further by a mumbly future accent spoken by the denizens of Nova Prime. A vague blend of several present-day English dialects, no two characters speak this future affectation the same way and often flit from Southern American to British to Caribbean within a single line of dialogue.

Underneath “After Earth’s” science fiction exterior lies an equally poor action movie, and one with a fundamental lack of excitement. Shyamalan seems incapable of filming an action sequence—during a number of set pieces, Shyamalan focuses the camera unwaveringly upon his heroes’ heads and leaves the action to exist offscreen. Handled with competency, this could be an ingenious idea, but in Shyamalan’s hands, these sequences are bafflingly uninteresting. The warriors of Nova Prime train to rid themselves of all fear. Onscreen, this translates into actors staring blankly into space while never moving from a rigid posture. When the protagonists’ ship fights through asteroids to land on Earth, all we see is the elder Smith gazing at something out of the frame, totally emotionless with only a few jolts of shaky camera to remind the audience that this is an action movie. A similar idea is attempted during the actual crash-landing, but the film is content to let the back of Jaden Smith’s head dominate the camera. The end result is the cinematic equivalent of riding a roller coaster and staring into the haircut of the person in front of you.

These failings point to the root of “After Earth’s” problem: between 1999’s “The Sixth Sense” and today, Shyamalan has somehow lost his ability to piece together the most basic building blocks of filmmaking. POV shots are consistently placed in areas they should not be. They disorient when inserted into bits of shot/reverse shot dialogue, and action sequences cut to and from POVs so quickly that it’s difficult to register what was just seen. Similarly, Shyamalan can only coach two types of line delivery from his actors: screaming rage or flat monotone. Will Smith, whose natural charisma can usually peek its way through the dullest dud, is completely neutered here. He is the fearless ideal others aspire to, but in the context of the film, total absence of fear requires him to hold those endless blank stares more frequently than any other character. Even the few scraps of comic relief he is given end up tainted by the cardboard nature of the role. Yet the dialogue may be the worst offender of them all. Characters shout at each other about exposition, plot points and conflicts, basic character motivations and the film’s moral messages without the slightest hint at subtlety. Any entertainment value the film might have held is instantly obsolete—we know everything that will happen in the film before it occurs, and we know it because the characters slowly and plainly explained it to us.

The conflict that drives “After Earth” is something inherently simple. The Raiges land in one portion of their aircraft, but the only functional rescue signal is in another piece one hundred kilometers away. The elder Raige is wounded, so the untested youth must make the journey alone. Yet this adventure is stretched into a painstaking mess by an endless stream of screw-ups and poor decisions. “After Earth” is irredeemable in every respect; avoid it at all costs. (“After Earth,” directed by M. Night Shyamalan, Columbia Pictures) 1starAdam Paul


From Light Into Darkness

THE INITIAL “STAR TREK” REBOOT just a few years ago reset the entire franchise and politely bowed its head to the original expansive universe that came before it. “Star Trek Into Darkness” explodes out of the gates as a much darker and more mature effort that is just as accessible to non-Trekkies as it is to exuberant fans. Taking ever so slightly from more recent conventions developed in American blockbuster cinema, “Into Darkness” is action-packed with only a few moments to breathe restfully, and only briefly waves the social and political relevance that made the franchise such a hit.

The film begins with Kirk (Chris Pine) and Bones (Karl Urban) running away from a threatening indigenous tribe on a distant planet a lá “Raiders of the Lost Ark,” in hopes of saving it from extinction. When the Prime Directive is breached, and the events are covered-up, Kirk is demoted to First Officer and Spock (Zachary Quinto) is re-assigned to another ship. When a terrorist attack takes out an archive and scores of innocent bystanders, the entire Starfleet Command is also attacked by key suspect John Harrison (Benedict Cumberbatch) and the hunt is on.

The contemporary themes of mixed ethnicities and race were explored in “Star Trek” and this sequel staunchly places contemporary political issues in the forefront. The opening scene denotes the very real issues of indigenous cultures disappearing, but their confrontation with advanced technology beyond their atmosphere has similarities with theories regarding our own ancient stories of visitors from other planets. Revenge and political cover-ups are just as present, but identity is by far the most outspoken theme of “Into Darkness.”

The expository elements of Kirk and Spock’s elevation to greatness were fleshed out in the 2009 film; themes of identity also sprawl out to this film’s central villain and a new character aboard the Enterprise. We later find out that John Harrison is not exactly who he says he is, and when his identity is revealed, the name itself star trekconjures up immediate distaste regardless of your knowledge of the franchise. A new officer (Alice Eve) boards the ship with clever social engineering and brutal verbal force. Her presence becomes an incredible asset to the crew, and a warm face to a fledgling reboot.

The film’s appropriate subtitle relates to the increasingly sinister intentions of the villain, and a few key scenes in the film are gently taken from the conventions developed in “The Dark Knight.” The terrorist attack on the archive building and on Starfleet Command correlate with real world terrorism and anxieties that require vast defense systems and resources. Although the events of the Boston Bombings took place long after Into Darkness wrapped post-production, Kirk’s success in discovering a suspect is similar to how authorities found and captured the real-life suspects in Boston. It is among the many examples of how “Star Trek,” and science fiction in general, represent issues that affect our contemporary lives.

As assumed with big budget summer blockbusters, “Into Darkness” is filled with unrelenting action, and the quieter moments are filled with quippy dialogue that suitably evokes famous lines and interchanges made famous in the franchise. The original Star Trek universe, held sacred by most, is touched upon as an alternative contingency that dictates the potential course of “Into Darkness,” and seemingly subsequent iterations. For a non-Trekkie like myself, this aspect feels respectful for an expansive franchise and universe that existed for nearly untouched for fifty years. Then again, the relationship to the past and the present, linked by a slight convergence, could easily disrupt the hearts and minds of fans throughout the world, much like a breech in the prime directive could disturb the normal evolution of a distant civilization.

Director J.J Abrams, who is now the sole link between “Star Trek” and “Star Wars” debates, has scaled back on an aspect of the 2009 film that was heavily criticized: lens flares. This effect had been an undesirable consequence of scattered light washing out a visual image, but New Hollywood filmmakers began to welcome the imperfection, and J. J. Abrams allowed it to dominate the 2009 film. These flares existed to express the serenity of the final frontier as well as blind us from a future that is just as treacherous as it is bright. With “Into Darkness,” these flares are almost non-existent, perhaps to evoke the film’s darker, more ominous nature thanks to the relentless menace of Harrison’s character and other impeding obstacles.

“Into Darkness” is a much more mature effort for this rebooted series, but it still retains its humble beginnings and the weight of delivering a colossal concept to a mass audience. It is an action film that takes advantage of all that cinema and computer generated imagery can provide. It does so confidently, and offers a safe passageway for another sequel.  (“Star Trek Into Darkness,” directed by J.J. Abrams, Paramount Pictures) 3 starsAaron Weiss


Getting It Almost Wrong

DISAPPOINTMENT IN WHAT passes for science fiction these days is an occupational hazard for agents, editors and publishers. Science fiction has evolved. It encompasses several subgenres. Browse any book store, and you’ll find science fiction novels in the same section as fantasy, often under the umbrella of Speculative Fiction. The geek’s love affair with machines still has its place, but political, social and ecological issues seem to have displaced most of the hard-core gadgets and dials, electrodes and warp speed machines. This has supposedly elevated science fiction from the literary basement to the lofty realm of the “serious.” Today’s most ubiquitous theme seems to be a ruined Earth with doomed, politically oppressed or mutant humans.

Diane Bleyer’s “A Mother’s Right” is just that sort of soft-core speculative fiction. It’s set in a dystopian future where humans have destroyed their habitat (yawn), but the impact of climate change on abortion rights gives this story a new twist. Violent weather has put humans on the endangered species list. Coastal cities are under water. People live in underground shelters. The US government, desperate to preserve a declining population, overturns Roe v. Wade. What caught my eye was the idea of genetic experiments on a new line of humans. If science could save our species from extinction with genetic engineering and cloning, the next generation might as well be brilliant, after all. Readers fully expect that kind of hubris to cause trouble. I should have paid closer attention to the title. The novel is about a social issue, but not that one. “A woman’s right” to choose abortion takes center stage, and science takes a back seat.

The story begins with journalist Lucinda Monticello on the scene with breaking news: abortion is now illegal. Declining populations call for desperate measures, and “The Supreme Court has concluded that preservation of life takes priority over maintaining the act of privacy and a woman’s right to choose.” A short time later, Lucinda learns she is pregnant with an unwanted child. The father, Alex Bennett, is a staunchly pro-life geneticist known for his pioneering work in motherboosting the IQs of unborn babies. Lucinda tells him nothing about her pregnancy or her illegal abortion. She spurns Alex’s marriage proposals and dumps him. Alex, unawares, is hired to work overseas at an illicit, fetus-in-a-jar laboratory. Lucinda hooks up with a stranger and realizes he’s her true love. Marriage suddenly looks good to her, after all. Funny, she can’t stop thinking about that baby she aborted.

Maternal instinct tells Lucinda her aborted baby is alive somewhere, which automatically gives her a mother’s right to reclaim what is hers. Lucinda doesn’t want Alex back, but she does want their baby. When Alex goes missing, prey to medical terrorists who want to exploit his experience in boosting fetal IQ, Lucinda plays investigative reporter. She gets wind of an abortionist who harvests fetuses and grows “stolen” babies at accelerated rates in his secret laboratory. This part of the novel reads like a thriller, which might explain how eight out of ten Amazon book reviewers five-starred the novel. It does not explain how any reader could slog through so much lifeless prose and such undeveloped ideas.

Any number of books on self-editing your own fiction are available to help the amateur writer achieve polished, engaging prose. “A Mother’s Mind” is not a self-published book. Readers expect publishers, the gatekeepers of the industry, to screen out the chaff and offer us something fresh, original, polished and worthwhile. Their editing team should do more than proofread. This novel may be free of typos and grammatical gaffes, but the narrative is so wooden, the dialogue and inner monologues so stilted, I’d swear a computer generated each sterile sentence. The social issues are fired like cliches from a pro-choice canon.

“Telling” versus showing is typical of the novice writer. Chapter Two begins, “Lucinda looked down as her phone buzzed in her hand. The call was from her boyfriend Alex Bennett, a Harvard-trained geneticist employed at the National Science Institute (NSI).” Is this a lab write-up or a novel? Line after line reads like a summary or synopsis: “She couldn’t deny they shared amazing chemistry, and as mutual perfectionists, they complemented one another very well. Until the abortion ban ruling, she felt confident that their personality traits and common interests provided a solid foundation for a long term relationship.”

Point of view “violations” occur on almost every page. “Trying to lighten the mood, he kissed the phone” and in the next sentence, “Not in the mood for his humor, she protested and then abruptly closed the viewer.”

Overuse of “as,” “that” and “and then” are other hallmarks of novice writing. Fear of repeating the invisible “said” is another. It’s distracting to read so many substitutes for a perfectly repeatable word on every page. Bleyer’s characters asserted, expressed, announced, explained, interjected, remarked, chimed, professed, blurted out, cajoled, praised, sympathized, and joked. Once in a while they “said” something--unexpectedly, nervously, or suddenly--reminding me that adverbs also should be used sparingly, and good editors should catch this sort of thing in manuscripts.

Verbosity, using too many words to tell rather than “show,” also made this novel a tortuous read. E.g., “He attempted to comprehend the magnitude of the medical announcement.” Too many sentences like that one can lull a reader to sleep, but seeing inner thoughts in italics can work like those noisy road strips that are designed to keep people awake.

In spite of the technically correct but sterile prose, I kept reading to the end. The laboratory, the babies, the work Alex was doing: fascinating concepts. But…didn’t other women feel their intelligence insulted during Lucinda’s abortion scene? “Honey,” the doctor says, “I can give you a safe abortion.” Illegal but safe, I might believe, but “Honey?” That would creep me out. Lucinda asks if the abortion comes with a free massage, and the author doesn’t cue us that she’s joking out of nervousness. She just seems cavalier about the procedure. The honey-tongued quack promises to keep doing abortions, and Lucinda says, “Thank you, doctor, for making the world a better place.” Somehow, I expected more serious dialogue than that from a “social science fiction” novel.

Plot spoilers keep me from discussing the work of the villains and how or whether Lucinda might shut down their secret lab. I don’t want to sound like a villain myself, pointing out all the ways Double Dragon’s editors might have done more for this novel. The political and social issues could have been the redeeming virtues of this story, but Lucinda comes across as so shallow and superficial, I found myself siding with the guy who harvested fetuses and tried to make them smarter than their parents.

When I think of science fiction, I think of writers who love their gadgets, rockets, monsters and alien worlds. I love those “geeks” who write with passion of the strange, weird, surreal and horrible. If they have political points to convey, the message is embedded in the narrative. The author’s beliefs are apparent in what the characters do or fail to do, in what they say or do not say, and not by intrusive telling.

Fans of soft fiction may enjoy this book, along with those who don’t mind the shallowness that’s all too common in thrillers. I wouldn’t tell readers “Don’t waste your money.” But I’d tell fellow fans of literary fiction and hard-core science fiction, “This one is not for you.” (“A Mother’s Right,” by Diane Bleyer, Double Dragon, ebook) 3 starsCarol Kean


Lost in the Publishing Void

AUTHORS TALENTED ENOUGH to write science fiction craft settings, characters and a plot that allow readers to enjoy a few hours in another world. Or on a journey through space. Unfortunately, Don Ciers comes close to not being one of these authors. There is some science fiction worth reading and there is some that is not. “The Enlightenment Protocols” by Don Ciers feels like a monologue about elements that are supposed to be science fiction, without the story.

It could be that Military Science Fiction is an acquired taste. But “Protocols” is an indie (self-published) venture. One of the biggest drawbacks with this brave new print-on-demand world is that anybody can produce a novel, without having to jump a number of literary hurdles that would have, in past times, ensured that your opus met minimal qualifications. I think Ciers is a diamond in tdon ciershe rough, unfortunately lacking a proper jeweler.

The first eight pages of the book is a long and boring prologue—an unnecessary description of the social structure and politics of the civilization discussed. What the author attempts to establish in this section is to chronicle all the stories (chapters) that follow as a history of human tribes within the “11,000 Commonwealth Years,” after the settlement of several different planets by humans.

The technology of how this civilization developed is skipped over—an aspect that might have been helpful for a reader to fully understand what the book is about. There is a mention of the development of void travel, but never a discussion about what this transport is. It’s obvious that the void is the void of space, but without some kind of description of the setting, the reader has little to rest their mind upon. The writing, competent as it is, hasn’t alot to offer in the way of engagement. This is where a professional editor could have made all the difference.

Many of the terms used appear to be military terms with which fiction readers are probably not familiar, other than devotees of Military Science Fiction. So without explanation of the terms, a sense of what is really happening in the book is lost. Again, where is Ciers’ editor when he needs one?

In the first chapter, we’re told a great deal about the Commodore of the CBC Draaken, which is also referred to as the TF Draaken with nothing to distinguish these two titles. The Commodore is never named, though he is referred to as “the Old Man,” on occasion.

We’re told he is despised by politicos, is independently wealthy because he produces movies for the military, and that he is respected by those under his command. A clear picture is never painted of this Commodore. There is no physical description of him, or no change in the point of view that shows us something about his personality. A good editor would have caught this.

In fact, there is no point of view in most of “Protocols,” except that of the omniscient narrator. The bit of dialogue that does take place lacks a setting and the passages that seem to have been written with some thought (in all fairness, there are many), require a break from the story to understand what the author intends.

“The Stellar State military formations had kept their pomp and circumstance and their stiff shipboard traditions. These Regulars though are an amalgam of ostensibly the best of the practices and traditions of all the States. This child of many fathers however looks nothing like anyone of them.”

A military formation is made up of several troops. So one has to assume these troops (groups of officers) or “Regulars” are given the best military training, but as a unit appear as something different from the States. The dense packaging of the paragraph takes a bit of translation ... and could have used an editor.

Consider the last sentence. “This child of many fathers however looks nothing like anyone of them.” Ciers does not go on to describe what the child does look like. In fact, the topic abruptly jumps from the long narration to a dialogue that had been forgotten several paragraphs ago.

Acronyms abound throughout the work. Though many are obvious, others are not so transparent. CCID, CLA, CMR/OMR, HG and many, many more. When using acronyms, most authors initially designate what these acronyms mean. An assumption that the reader has some foreknowledge of a CCID is asking too much.

Areas of text seem to have been left out or cut from the stories, a sure sign of amateur editing. We read, “The Admiralty had never denied the operations took place ...” Previous to this, there is no mention of “operations.” In fact, a reporter is ruminating about the Commodore’s retention being kept secret.

Paragraph length sentences and verbose historic introductions into battle stories with no setting result in a strong desire to drop this literature-in-the-raw hot potato as quickly as possible. There are more than five-hundred pages of non-descriptive, confused and unpolished writing. Getting through the first hundred pages should be entertaining, but it is grueling, nearly unendurable labor. The job of an editor is to undertake the labor, leaving a clear and entertaining pathway for readers to follow.

No doubt Ciers has the skill set to write; reading through the text, that is obvious. His ability to cogently tell a story is absent, however, and there we have the crux of the problem. Too many promising writers believe that because they can now publish without first paying some dues, they should.

No. New technologies may have given everyman greater access to publishing, but it has also allowed Internet publications to flourish. These venues should be the schools, the testing grounds for authors. Writers like Don Ciers should take advantage of them. Learn to walk before trying to run. Readers, and certainly “The Enlightenment Protocols,” deserve better. (“The Enlightenment Protocols,” by Don Ciers, Xlibris, paperback) one star— Carla R. Herrera


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