Perihelion Science Fiction

Sam Bellotto Jr.

Eric M. Jones
Contributing Editor


Quarantine Summer
by Rebecca Birch

Calling Time on Candy
by Mark Patrick Lynch

Revenge in Shanty Town
by Seth W. Kennedy

A Boy’s Apocalypse
by Eric Del Carlo

How to Be a Foreigner
by Karen Heuler

Could They But Speak
by David Steffen

Bob’s Day Out
by Mark Bondurant

Everybody Comes to Rick’s
by Tim McDaniel

Equations in the Mirror
by Therese Arkenberg

by R.W. Warwick


If We Find ET What Will ET Be?
by J. Richard Jacobs

Regarding Fermi’s Paradox
by Eric M. Jones




Shorter Stories

Comic Strips



Perihelion Reviews

Old Man’s War Rages On

JOHN SCALZI BURST ONTO THE science fiction scene in 2005 with a tremendous first time effort, “Old Man’s War.” Seen as homage by some to Robert Heinlein’s “Starship Troopers,” the Old Man’s War universe has spawned four sequels. It is always refreshing to see sequels, “The Human Division” being the fifth, still thought provoking while maintaining the feel of the first.

The Colonial Union (the human military presence in space) is no longer on good terms with Earth. This is bad for two reasons: one, the CU replenishes its forces through volunteers from Earth; two, the alien forces in space have formed the the human divisionConclave (a force of over 400 alien species working in a unified fashion). The Conclave is looking for a way to crush the CU and it plans on reaching out to Earth to join in an alliance against the CU.

Episode 1 starts off with a simple diplomatic mission between the CU and an unaffiliated alien race. Suffice it to say without some significant spoilers, Scalzi rips the rug out from under the reader in the very beginning. I hadn’t been shocked in such a manner since reading Richard K. Morgan’s “Altered Carbon” (Victor Gollancz Ltd., 2002), where the main protagonist is killed in the first few pages of the book.

We are introduced to the CU diplomatic ship, The Clarke, and its B-team of diplomats who are the main protagonists of the book, Lieutenant Harry Wilson, Ambassador Ode Abumwe, and Hart Schmidt. The B-Team is chosen solely because they have a Colonial Defense Force member aboard in Lieutenant Harry Wilson. Right away Wilson finds a trap set for the approaching aliens. Using a shuttle, Wilson is able to destroy all but one missile of the trap. The captain of the Clarke sets off the trap and draws the other missile into her ship, saving the aliens and diplomatic face.

This opening episode pretty much sets the tone for the rest of the novel. Wilson uses his technical knowledge combined with his combat readiness to investigate further acts of sabotage by an unknown party. Abumwe and her crew do everything to make sure they can negotiate to their advantage. And Schmidt plays multiple roles: he is the straight man who helps keep the reader grounded, he acts as the comic relief at times, and he is something of a Dr. Watson to Wilson’s Holmes.

Other episodes include: exploring a wildcat colony (a non-sanctioned colony as humans are no longer allowed to colonize) that has been wiped out; Wilson accidently allowing a dog to become king; the crew getting a new run-down Clarke that is a century old; a murder mystery aboard the new ship; and the Clarke being attacked by a refurbished freighter ship that is being unwillingly controlled by a captive alien brain. All of these episodes, despite being complete within themselves, fit nicely together much like Ray Bradbury’s “Dandelion Wine” (Doubleday, 1957). The underlying story arc is of unseen forces setting up a war between the Colonial Union and the Conclave as the Clark’s crew gets drawn in repeatedly.

While each episode doesn’t hold the same weight quality-wise, there is a great balance with the stories we are given. One story of a Rush-Limbaugh-type character being manipulated is interesting but doesn’t pay off by the end of the novel, which is a bit frustrating.

I was also unsatisfied with the character of Henry Wilson. He never really rebels in the novel. He seems to willingly go along with anything that is thrown at him. This may be a reflection of the fact that he is around ninety in Earth years, but you want him to say no every now and again.

The lack of resolution is a bit annoying, as well. Most of the major plot points are tied up with the exception of the underlying story arc. We are given plenty of clues but no real answers as to who is behind the attacks. Tor and Scalzi have announced a second “season” so, hopefully, all of the loose ends will be neatly wrapped up.

If you had already bought the episodes individually, sorry to say that the only difference is that there are two more short stories at the end of the book. Though both stories are very good, I don’t know if they justify the price of the book to get them.

If you are a fan of the series I definitely recommend this one. The exposition is beautifully and seamlessly woven in. If you’ve never read an Old Man’s War novel but are looking for a great read you could dive into this one without getting lost. (“The Human Division,” John Scalzi, Tor Books) 4stars—Adam Armstrong


Visionary Tale for All Ages

POINTS OF VIEW IS A YOUNG adult hard science fiction/high tech thriller about a blind boy who receives artificial eyes called Nanotronic BioVision. Horace Mayberry doesn’t think too hard about the price he will have to pay to get them. In fact, the “price” sounds like the fulfillment of his fondest dreams, literally, because he dreams at night of being a secret agent. Mayberry is soon on his way to becoming an agent of the British Crown. The first hint that there is a shadow over this scenario is when he learns that there are sighted people being considered for the implants if the points of view experiment on him proves a success. He shrugs off the nagging suspicion that as members of the military, they might not be strictly volunteers. After all, he now not only has sight, he has super-sight and a host of odd abilities that come from his new eyes, and Mayberry is emotionally invested in the program, his mentor, and the technology that has made over his life.

When Mayberry starts his career, he enjoys going on missions and gets a kick out of being a kind of bionic superman and the one who makes the missions succeed. Then he finds out that the “bad guys” want his eyes, with or without him attached. That puts everyone he knows in danger, including his new girlfriend. In trying to save them all, foil the villains, and complete his missions, Mayberry discovers that his eyes are evolving. They are creating new abilities for themselves, linked to his thoughts and wishes. The inventor of Nanotronic BioVision reveals that these eyes are self-learning machines, and even he doesn’t know what they will do next. All anyone can say for certain is that because Mayberry controls the eyes with his brain, their self-learning capabilities will respond to his desires, both conscious and unconscious. Although the eyes always seem to save the day, this uncertainty is creepy. Mayberry attempts to suppress his fears about what his implants will learn to do in the future, and embrace being the body that carries the real hero around, but the tension is always there in the back of his mind—which the eyes themselves can do doubt sense.

As a young adult book, “Points of View” focuses more on the exciting adventures of Mayberry the secret agent than on how this new technology might impact society, but it certainly impacts Mayberry. He has a completely different life than he would have had without the technology. Indeed, without the science, there would be no story, which is the very definition of hard science fiction.

In the tradition of hard science fiction written by scientists, Tony Thorne is an accomplished scientist who was awarded the MBE, Member of the Order of the British Empire, for his engineering inventions in extreme temperature technologies, namely carbon fiber furnaces and cryosurgery tools. Thorne has also worked with artificial intelligence systems. His science fiction projections about self-learning AI combined with bionic/cyborg technology and nanotechnology in the Nanotronic BioVision are realistic and believable as bleeding-edge technology just around the corner from our time. (“Points of View,” Tony Thorne, Eternal Press) 5stars—Erin Lale


Making Up Monsters

WHEN I WAS A SMALL CHILD, creature features gave me nightmares. So I tended to avoid them. That didn’t last very long. Whatever bothered me about them soon evaporated and I became addicted to all those B-pictures from the ’50s with bug-eyed invaders, Godzilla and his friends, and especially science fiction. What attracted me the most about this genre of film was the special effects and the makeup. Whether it was an actor in a rubber suit, or an actor in face paint and prosthetic devices, I developed a burning curiosity to learn how it was done. Anything that hinted of “behind the scenes” drew me in like an alligator to a flock of ducklings.

For the last four TV seasons, the Syfy Channel has aired a reality show competition styled around creature design and makeup, “Face Off.” It isn’t half bad, if you can get past the inherent silliness of the entire thing.

The premise is that a large number (I believe this season started with 16, including eight returning veterans as a new twist) of young and upcoming makeup artists each week design and create an original makeup on live models to be judged by a panel of experienced professionals comprised of Glenn Hetrick (“CSI: NY”), Ve Neill (“Pirates of the Caribbean”), Neville Page (“Prometheus”), and an advisor, Michael Westmore (“Star Trek”). Except for Westmore, they all remind me of my high school English teachers. Each week one of the competitors is faceoffdeclared that week’s winner, and one of the contestants is declared that week’s loser, packs his or her kit, and goes home. By the last show of the season, only three or four contestants remain. One lucky artist is judged winner of the entire season, gets a boatload of money, enough art supplies to stock their own studio, and a new car. The also-rans get to go home, but at least they can brag that they made it all the way to the final episode.

With this silliness out of the way, I can honestly say that the bulk of each episode is devoted to how each contestant dreams up their creature design, fabricates it, and applies it to the model. We see the design from a basic sketch take on form as sculpture, cast as prosthetics, applied to the model, and finished with airbrushing, costuming, and props. I never grow tired of seeing an attractive model transformed into a hideous dwarf or otherworldly alien.

To give the show due credit, after four seasons it hasn’t devolved into an hour long personality conflict amongst the contestants. For the duration of the competition, they live in a communal mansion provided by the show’s producers and work in the same lab. Hardly anything is seen of their interaction outside of the lab. Four thumbs up for that.

Each episode is a creature of the week. The contestants don’t have the luxury of playing it safe with what they do best. Another plus for the series. Creature themes have included warped visions of Mother Goose characters, a Frankenstein monster from the future, the requisite aliens, and zombies. Some of the makeups are remarkably good, while others are laughably awful.

During the judging phase, the camera moves in with the panel of judges for a close look. This is a real treat because having decided that several of the makeups are winners after seeing them head-to-toe from a distance, you get to see the flaws pointed out by the experts, and you get to change your mind! By the same token, a creature that you might have dismissed is proven to be skillfully crafted by the judges. By the time the decision is handed down, I rarely find myself in disagreement with it.

“Face Off” is all about the art of movie makeup. That alone probably would not lure in enough of an audience to sustain the series. Turning it into a competiton was undoubtedly a marketing decision made to give the show a wider appeal. That’s too bad. I could do without all the derivative drama. But I don’t think there would be enough viewers around like me to assemble a viable audience. (“Face Off,” Tuesday, 9/8c, Syfy) 2 stars — Sam Bellotto Jr.


Diesel Fuels Riddick Trilogy

NESTLED WITHIN THE BLOOD and slime and machismo of “Riddick” is a simple theme—the struggle between man’s civilized side (that man being Riddick) and his savage one. The film is eager to present its thesis. The very first shot places Riddick firmly in the role of a predatory animal; his outstretched hand acting as a lure for an unsuspecting alien beast. The smaller creature takes a few nibbles of the bait, and in a quick flash of motion the hidden predator seizes upon its prey. It’s Riddick using a move cribbed from the playbook of anglerfishes everywhere.

The entire first act of “Riddick” follows the example set by that first shot. Its purpose is to place the titular hero onto a specific rung of the food chain, then watch him slowly ascend, step by step. Handled almost entirely without dialogue, this first third of “Riddick” is absolutely enthralling. The indigenous wildlife, despite consisting of only a handful of species—a few fish, the bird-ish beast Riddick snatches in that opening shot, a breed of hyena-like dogs and a host of swamp-dwelling horrors with lethally spiked tails—comes across like a full ecosystem. riddickRiddick makes his way through this world, graduating from predatory animal to caveman. He outfits himself with bone tools and treks through the wasteland with a newly-domesticated dog and a large haunch of meat. Framed against a sprawling orange desert, the film is the cover of a pulp science fiction novel come to life.

But an imbalance in the ecosystem will soon find the planet overrun with those spiky-tailed swamp creatures, so Riddick must bring his hero’s journey to an end and call in a ride from modern man. Help arrives, in the form of two teams of mercenaries looking to collect Riddick’s head. From here the film abruptly switches from “A Boy and His Dog” to “Predator.” Yet that central theme remains—Riddick stalks the technologically gifted mercs like a horror movie monster, picking off characters one by one while staying well within the shadows and well out of frame. The action is as exciting in the second act as in the first, but the film sags under the weight of its human characters. Unlike “Predator,” where every last victim has at least one defining trait, “Riddick” has far too many nameless, identity-less men who arrive only to up the body count.

Acts two and three of “Riddick” never hit the same high reached in that first half-hour, and the film’s final sequence devolves into a surprisingly generic action sequence. The swamp monsters, which in the first act have signature markings, predatory habits and a solid place in the ecosystem, are stripped down into cannon fodder for the film’s race to the finish line. As well, the formulaic happy ending that appears onscreen feels like something tacked on out desperation at the last minute.

But it’s easy to forgive “Riddick,” warts and all. The goodwill earned by that early brilliance carries through to the end, and even at its lowest point the film is still an entertaining action romp. It’s even harder to fault the film knowing the precarious place it occupies in what is now a “Riddick” trilogy. As a sequel to “Pitch Black” and “The Chronicles of Riddick,” this third installment attempts to position itself as a sequel to two vastly different films.

It’s far closer to “Pitch Black” then “Chronicles.” This third outing hits every story beat in the first film—Riddick stalks a band of wayward humans, reluctantly joins them to combat a swarm of hungry creatures, and makes a few allies and a few enemies along the way. But “Pitch Black,” unlike its sequels, is decidedly a B-movie. David Twohy (who helmed all three films) employs a style akin to low-budget horror with a dash of ’70s flair. Monster-vision, shaky-cam and quick montage editing are the film’s bread and butter, and the mood is lightened up with occasional snap zooms or a goofy “Star Wars”-esque wipe that transitions us away from a mutilated corpse.

“Riddick” takes the story of “Pitch Black” and adds the intellectual ambitions of “Chronicles,” which is no mere monster movie. The latter plucks Riddick out of his self-contained story and builds a sprawling space opera around him. “Chronicles” sees Riddick as the hero of classic literature rather than low-budget horror, but the film is too ambitious for its own good. Riddick is prophesized to overthrow the head of the Necromongers, a cult that bears more than a passing resemblance to the Crusaders—decked out in medieval armor and conquering a predominantly Muslim planet in the name of their own religion. The Necromonger leader pulls a Macbeth and has his potential usurpers killed in youth, leaving Riddick one of the last of his race. Yet a second Macbeth waits in the rankings, urged on by his wife to kill the reigning ruler and take the crown for himself.

“Chronicles” does an admirable job of bringing Shakespeare into the 28th century, but its epic leanings feel far removed from Riddick’s actions. Throughout “Chronicles,” Riddick does what Riddick does best. He slays mercenaries, breaks out of jail, and alternates his facial expression between a scowl and a wry smirk. It’s only at the very end that Riddick’s story and the grand space opera actually converge, leaving “Chronicles” feeling ambitious yet unwieldy.

“Riddick” doesn’t make the same mistake. It hastily ties up the loose ends of “Chronicles” and uses them as a jumping-off point for its defining statement. The civilized life Riddick gained at the end of “Chronicles” provides the contrast for his current ordeal—fashioning bone tools and lumbering around with a side of cured monster meat. The epic science fiction has been scaled down to meet Riddick’s needs, and what didn’t work has been pared away. In doing so, “Riddick” accomplishes what so few sequels aspire to (and even fewer achieve): it admits mistakes were made, and actively seeks to correct them. (“Riddick,” directed by David Twohy, Universal Studios) 4starsAdam Paul




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