Perihelion Science Fiction

Sam Bellotto Jr.

Eric M. Jones
Associate Editor


Crystal Love
by Francis Marion Soty

A Little at All Times
by David R. Bunch

Bounded in a Prison Pod
by Alan Rader

Isolated Incidents
by Nick Nafpliotis

by Barbara Krasnoff

Kella Vector
by Henry Szabranski

Growing Pains
by A.L. Sirois

It’s the Last Ice Shelf!
by Anthony Langford

Time Out at the Café Metropole
by Guy T. Martland

Canvas of the World
by Frederick Obermeyer

by Louis Shalako


Science Fiction and Fidel Castro
by Ricardo L. Garcia

Ebola’s Deadly Path
by John McCormick




Shorter Stories

Comic Strips



Perihelion Reviews

Mad, and Otherwise, Doctors

WHEN A LIVE VIRUS COULD BE USED to engineer a cure for disease, government oversight is sure to kill the idea. How far will a mad scientist go to keep another mother’s child from dying the way hers did? All the way to Mexico, where regulations don’t hinder medical research. What if she takes every precaution to render the rabies virus harmless when she uses it in her first clinical trial? Imagine a worst-case scenario, then read “Reversion” by Amy Rogers. You’re sure to be pleasantly surprised, horrified, shocked, gratified, bereft, and a lot smarter.

This thriller is loaded with medical terminology and futuristic science, but not in a way that thriller devotees would find off-putting. Anyone who can slog through Tom Clancy’s techno-fests should breeze right through the medical experiments gone awry in this story. Amy Rogers, writer, scientist, educator, critic and publisher, advocates for “literate entertainment in the form of great stories with real science.” Amy earned a B.S. in biochemistry from Harvard, and a Ph.D. in medicine and immunology from Washington University in St. Louis. Her first novel, “Petroplague,” drew comparisons to Michael Crichton.

One thing I love about “Reversion” is that no global climate change, no apocalypse, no ruined-Earth scenario forms the premise. What does? Something almost as scary: governments that overregulate medical care and research. The rich seek experimental medical treatments they can’t get anywhere else, and the reversionplace to get it is Palacio Centro Medico, a resort-like hospital on a Mexican peninsula. Dr. Manuel Vargas, founder and director of the medical tourism center, also supplies his patients with a pain killer that isn’t legal even in Mexico. Of course, every law he evades is for the greater good of his patients.

Chapter One opens like a scene from “Breaking Bad,” a TV show so popular we’ve been promised a spin-off (“Better Call Saul”). Cristo, the point-of-view character, is a good medic in the employ of Dr. Vargas, and that puts him on a desert trail, hiking with a backpack full of stacks of hundred-dollar bills. A white powder known as plack is the painkiller of choice for patients post-surgery, and Vargas has assured Cristo the drug, “less addictive than morphine,” will eventually be legal in Mexico and the U.S., “once the ponderous regulatory agencies finally got around to approving it.” In the meantime, the Palacio Centro Medico had clients who needed plack, and Dr. Vargas wasn’t the type to wait around for permission from some bureaucrat. I can’t help but like Vargas for that.

I really, really like Cristo, who grew up in the foothills of the Sierra Madre del Sur. So trusting, earnest, and honest, so intelligent and aware of his environment. When his transaction with the Zeta is disrupted by a rival gang, Cristo flees to a childhood hiding place. Trouble is, it’s now full of—well, you really ought to see for yourself. It’s one of the most vivid, lurid and, worst of all, believable horror scenes I’ve ever read.

The next chapter shifts to the real protagonist, Dr. Tessa Price. For a long time, we don’t know what’s become of Cristo. I can assure you he does survive the horror in the cave, because he plays an active role later in the novel. Sadly, for me, we never again return to his point of view. Did I mention that I really, really like Cristo and wanted more of him?

Dr. Price is determined to find a cure for the genetic disease that killed her son. The U.S. bans her experiments with the rabies virus, and the Palacio is the only place she can conduct a clinical trial of her radical, innovative treatment on seven-year-old Gunnar Sigrunsson.

Unfortunately, the hospital is taken over by the same brutal drug cartel that so violently interrupted Cristo’s plack purchase in chapter one.

What do they want with a hospital? They’re the suppliers of plack, so it isn’t that. Their leader needs a kidney transplant, and he can’t get one anywhere else. Dr. Vargas will do anything to placate an evil drug lord, even risk the lives of all his patients. Luis Angel de la Rosa orders the entire hospital evacuated so that he will be the only patient there. Vargas complies, even though it’s his hospital, his patients, displaced for the convenience of a villain who never should have gained access to the premises.

Shouldn’t I deny that I ever liked Vargas at any point in this narrative? I would, but it’s easier to blame Amy Rogers for delivering such complex, well developed characters, we aren’t always sure who to hate and who we most want to see tortured, dismembered and—wait. I have never wished to see that sort of thing—honest! Rogers will make you see bloody justice (and injustice) whether you want to or not.

While Cristo, a dog, and a certain gangbanger are my favorite characters, Sameer also steals my heart. His devotion to Tessa is endearing, but Tessa is obsessed with her work, not with men. A pity, considering the great men who are right at her fingertips. Sameer goes to great lengths to spare Tessa any sort of suffering, trauma or mere inconvenience. Her fear of needles would get no sympathy from me. I’d jab her, quick, draw the blood, scan it and tell her to shut up and take it like a man. Ah, Sameer. The things we do for love. (Did I mention that I love Sameer?)

The evacuation scene is a nightmare of patients on stretchers being flown out, planes blowing up, and gangbangers overtaking the hospital. Tessa manages to elude the evacuation. She can’t take her patient anywhere else, so she hides Gunnar and his mother, with the help of an unlikely trio: a rich Texas patient, the wise-cracking Lyle Simmons; his young Brazilian lover, Isabella, who takes his lame humor in stride; and his guard dog, a well-trained German Shepherd named Dixie. Instead of posting excerpts as proof of the dog’s greatness, I’ll just say she’s one of the best protagonists in a thriller, ever. #GottaLoveDixie, as I’d say on Twitter, but the ARC (advanced-review copy) didn’t allow me to Kindle-share.

Drug lords and gangbangers aren’t the only deadly threat Tessa and her cohorts face. A mysterious rabies-like infection appears in the Palacio’s chimpanzees and spreads to humans. It appears to be the result of a “reversion” unleashed by Tessa’s own tinkering with the rabies virus to combat Batten disease, an inherited disorder that wreaks havoc on the nervous system. Child victims gradually develop progressive vision loss, intellectual and motor disability, speech difficulties, and seizures. Gunnar had gone downhill and close to the abyss until Tessa’s treatment not only stops his decline, but reverses it. She modifies the rabies virus to carry the healthy gene Gunnar needs to survive. She uses “every molecular safeguard in the book to disable the virus,” and she vaccinates Gunnar against rabies, just to hedge her bets. Everyone working with the modified virus has taken the vaccine, “in case through some one-in-a-billion chance the virus overcame its genetic handicaps and found a way to breed. In case the virus reverted to wild type.”

No one could anticipate the circumstances that bring an actual case of rabies to the vicinity. The resulting “reversion” unleashes a whole new host of micro/bio/chemical catastrophes. Anyone who’s read “Shardik” by Richard Adams will remember how lurid nature can be when an animal attacks a human. Some scenes, once “seen” in our minds, can never be unseen. I advise squeamish readers to speed right through the bloodshed.

I cannot resist this semi-spoiler: fans of “Breaking Bad” who will never un-see a certain demise of a certain villain can look forward to an equally horrifying scene in “Reversion.” There’s more than one villain in this novel, so you’ll just have to read, read, read at breakneck speed to see who suffers most.

This novel is as smart as it is lurid. The prose is tightly crafted. Every little event holds some significance. What it is, the reader cannot guess until the story unfolds. Gradually, inexorably, we begin to see how everything happens for a reason.

Rogers says her goal is to do for science lovers what Harlequin did for romance fans. In addition to writing her own thrillers, she founded ScienceThrillers Media, a niche publisher of hard science fiction, medical thrillers, technothrillers, “LabLit,” and popular nonfiction. “The science need not be one hundred percent real,” the website informs aspiring authors, “but should be believable to scientifically literate readers.”

I dream of the day science fiction outsells paperback romances. Novels like “Reversion” and “The Neanderthal’s Aunt” (by Dr. Gina DeMarco, published by ScienceThrillers Media, reviewed in April, 2014, “Perihelion”) are an excellent start. Maybe if Rogers had sneaked a romance into the story (as DeMarco did), her fan base would rival Harlequin’s. While I don’t care much if I ever see Tessa in a sequel, have I mentioned how eager I am to see more of Cristo? (“Reversion,” Amy Rogers, ScienceThrillers Media) 5 stars —Carol Kean


To Boldly Go Where They Shouldn’t

“STAR TREK” HOLDS A SPECIAL PLACE in most science fiction fans’ hearts. With all of its iterations, “Star Trek” has given us hope that in the future technology will rid us of disease, take us to the farthest reaches of the universe, and as a society we will be able to work together for the greater good of humanity. But what if the current generation set the tone for the future? If humanity stepped into intergalactic travel with a society obsessed with social networking sites, kitten memes, sports paraphernalia and stats, and pop music, the future may look a bit different from Gene Rodenberry’s idea. So begins the premise of “Willful Child,” by Steven Erikson.

An electromagnetic pulse hits the Earth in the near future leaving mankind in the dark. Unknown beings, the humans come to think of as benefactors, leave mankind with advanced technology letting them catch-up to the same level as other intelligent life forms in the galaxy.

Sometime after, mankind has made its presence known to the rest of the universe, and the universe is not happy with it. Captain Hadrian Sawback, an impossibly young, handsome, and completely self-centered jerk, is in charge of a new vessel, the Willful Child. Sawback has selected his crew based solely on their looks and realizes quickly that his crew won’t second-guess him. He immediately blasts off against orders to see what kind of action he can dig up. Sawback enjoys teleporting himself and his essential crew to dangerous encounters with aliens, in which he engages them in hand-to-hand fighting, often losing. He wears tight fitting, non-regulation clothing that often rips for no reason and finds that most alien landscapes look “an awful lot like Northern California.”

Along the way the ship picks up an AI that quickly takes over all operations. The AI, Tammy Wynette, wants to find out where he (the AI seems to have some gender confusion issues) came from and who created him. Sawback tries to fight Tammy and toss him out of the ship. But as Tammy adds improvements, including beam weapons, Sawback begins to allow Tammy to take over as he adventures more and more into what Tammy refers to as “episodes.” And because Tammy wants to run the crew past the known rim and into completely new adventures, Sawback can't resist.

“Willful Child” is mainly a homage/parody of “Star Trek” and the science fiction it has inspired. There are plenty of pokes at the original “Star Trek” series: everyone who shouldn't join the landing party does; the captawillful childin is way too young for his position, and is frequently sexually harassing the female members; the planets look like Northern California and often have fake “props” in the background; the characters are confused when they have to wear spacesuits, and so on. There are a few nods to some of the other series. One “episode” has the crew of the Willful Child run into a Borg-like species, the Plog. Instead of being assimilated, Sawback just trades with them and suggests they evolve into something like a cosmic

Along with the over-the-top silliness and references to “Star Trek,” Erikson also adds some social commentary. Jokes are made about it being a good thing that all communications are monitored by someone. Sawback comments how nice it would be if everyone everywhere could add their two cents to anything (like trolls on the internet). And the characters lament on mediocre media that leads entire cultures to become mindless sloths. Erikson just sprinkles these gems in here and there in a non-preachy manner, mixing them in perfectly with the story.

Erikson handles the science in large info dumps that usual go right over the characters (and most likely the readers) heads. There is never anything broken down to layman's terms but all the characters nod their heads as though they understand everything they are being told.

The novel is populated with quite a few quirky, but memorable characters. Captain Hadrian Sawback, an obvious reference to Captain Kirk, is an arrogant, impulsive maniac but at the end of the day he usually ends up saving everyone. Doctor Printlip is an air filled sack; when he talks he deflates and his dialogue shrinks to tiny text. Galk, an apathetic to the point of suicidal Varekan (a spoof of Spock), goes charging into battle with a death wish. Tammy, the AI that takes over the ship, begins to act like and even encourage Sawback when he sees that the Captain is usually right. And the Superchicken, a chicken that is super intelligent, fights the crew by building itself a mech-suit, reprogramming cleaning bots to attack, and then stealing a ship to make the Willful Child follow it.

If there were one weakness with the book it would be the plot. The plot is broken into smaller arcs that flow from one to the other (the episodic format of “Star Trek”). While there is one encompassing storyline it is pretty thin. However, Erikson gives you enough jokes and action to make most readers overlook this.

For “Star Trek” fans, “Willful Child” is sure to be great fun with the feel of “Futurama” and “Spaceballs,” with a little bit of “Star Trek” mixed in. (“Willful Child,” Steven Erikson, Tor Books) 4 stars—Adam Armstrong


Two Big Heroes

“BIG HERO 6” IS A BIT OF A MISNOMER. Yes, the latest feature from Walt Disney Animation Studios is based (however loosely) on the Marvel comic of the same name, featuring a team of six super-powered persons. That’s what you’ll see in the ads, on the back of DVD cases and the packaging of endless “Big Hero 6” merchandise.

But at its core, four of those six heroes don’t matter much. Really, “Big Hero 6” is the story of just two: a young boy named Hiro Hamada (Ryan Potter) and Baymax (Scott Adsit), the robotic nurse assigned to maintain his well-being. What follows is, in essence, the tale of a boy and his dog (or perhaps a boy and his robot, in the vein of “Terminator 2: Judgement Day” and “The Iron Giant”).

And Hiro is a kid in desperate need of some robot companionship. At the start of “Big Hero 6,” he’s your classic Disney troublemaker—precocious like Simba, rough around the edges like Aladdin, perhaps a little too eager to walk into a fight (say, Mulan?). The only chance Hiro has for a reasonable upbringing rests on the shoulders of his older brother, Tadashi (Daniel Henney), but tragedy strikes and soon even Tadashi is gone from Hiro’s world (oh, and in case you’re wondering where this boy’s parents might be—they’re long deceased, leaving Hiro and his brother in the care of a loving yet ineffectual aunt).

Just one item of Tadashi’s lingers on—his life’s work, a poofy white balloon of a healthcare robot named Baymax (based off the very real concept of soft robotics). Baymax wants to be an effective grief counselor, and nothing quite saps away the sadness like tracking down your brother’s killer. So Hiro (who, conveniently, is also a robotics whiz) outfits his cuddly nursemaid with some power armor, and when reinforcements are required, does the same for Tadashi’s former nerd college clique. Thus, the Big Hero 6 is born.

Let’s pare things down even further—Hiro and Baymax may be “Big Hero 6’s” heart and soul, but Baymax is the star here. In a word, he’s ... well, perfect. The product of a thousand master Disney craftsmen, a combination of cuddly childlike warmth and technological power, able to flip effortlessly between the two. Baymax is white and soft and squishy and huggable, a crossbreed of iPhone and teddy bear. Without a single distinguishable marking, save for the two dots and a line that constitute his face. Or, once he’s strapped into a very “Iron Man”-looking suit of power armor, he’s the polar opposite—that goofy white pillow of a beer belly moves with the deliberate power of a six-ton, steel-plated linebacker.

Played with just the right delivery by Adsit (sterile and cleanly robotic, with just a little nick of sarcasm), Baymax is a character you always want more of—another line, another mannerism, another character booted off the screen to make room.

And as entertaining a feature as “Big Hero 6” is, it never really uses Baymax to his full potential. The first half or so is ideal—boy meets robot, robot counsels boy through grief, chases after masked man armed with potent nanotechnology—but the ending is a pretty substantial whiff. All along the way, “Big Hero 6” tries to be big herotwo things at once. It wants to be the touching story of boy and ’bot, and also a superhero origin story. It wants to teach about coping with loss and about the dangers of technology in the wrong hands (that potent nanotechnology is actually Hiro’s design—a building tool morphed into a superweapon by our masked villain). It’s far too much to do in one climax, and what should be the film’s knockout blow is it’s biggest source of “eh.”

There is a very obvious emotional path Disney is aiming for with the film’s ending. It’s painstakingly clear we’re meant to cheer, then sob, then bask in the comforting warmth of a happy ending. But they zip by far too fast; barely enough time to register one emotion-bomb before the film detonates the next one. “Big Hero 6” dawdles, sharing too much screen time with four secondary heroes (who aren’t much more than a single trait: the uptight straight man; the tough biker chick; the slacker) and filling in backstory for a villain whose motivations are weirdly detached from the rest of the film. Thus, what should be a “Baby Mine” or a Bambi’s mother of a gut punch feels like something tacked on two weeks before the premiere.

Baymax deserves better than that. A character this superhumanly endearing, who can be the face of a thousand TV spots and come out just as charming on the other end deserves the emotional peaks of his Disney predecessors. And while there are moments in “Big Hero 6” that come close (one spot, where “child struggles with grief” and “technology in the wrong hands” converge in a particularly dark place, stands out) it’s just not meant to be. What we end up with is about 85 percent ideal and 15 percent so-so; not enough to ruin a perfectly good day at the movies, but enough to make you wish this one ended on a higher note.

Still, that makes “Big Hero 6” into a particularly rare breed—the film that genuinely warrants a sequel. Disney’s done the legwork; they’ve got their star character. Now go get us a cry-worthy ending, already. (“Big Hero 6,” directed by Don Hall and Chris Williams, Walt Disney) 4stars —Adam Paul


Earth or Bust

POST-APOCALYPSE, DYSTOPIAN SCIENCE fiction seems to haunt every new book I investigate. Climate change, GMOs, evil pharmaceutical companies, an Earth ruined by stupid humans—it’s enough to drive me to watching cat videos on YouTube. But yesterday I fell, hard, for the promise of lighter fare: a bald little alien named Dean (ha! I love it) heads out in search of Earth, wins the trust of the most feared warrior in the galaxy, evades murderous monsters, and eats way too much bacon. All right, fake bacon, but I confess, that was the hook that pulled hardest and got me to buy the debut novel “A Space Story,” by Tig Carson. Another hook was the author’s honesty: “Tig Carson is an author of suspense, science fiction, and fantasy. His books have sold quite a few copies, none of which have been adapted into feature films, television movies or comic books.”

Make me laugh. That’s what I complained Kim Stanley Robinson failed to do with his epic novel “2312.” (I always have to look that one up. Whoa, I got it right!) Matt Haig had me laughing throughout “The Humans,” but as science fiction goes, the science was pretty weak. What I love most about Haig’s novel is the alien’s affection for humans, however flawed, irrational and foolish we may be.

“A Space Story” opens with the same irresistible (to me) premise: aliens who find Earth’s humans fascinating and lovable. Indeed, their cities are modeled to look like replicas of Moscow, Paris, New York, and whatever else fits in the small continent (no bigger than Japan) on a planet covered mostly with water. How these aliens found transmissions from Earth to study, translate, preserve in a museum and idealize, we don’t need to know or comprehend. What matters is that on page one, we learn that once a year they choose a candidate from their species to go off in search of Earth. “Historically, the smartest and bravest were chosen,” but no one ever returned, and so what was once an honor became a way to rid society of undesirables. Like Dean.

By the end of the first page, our underdog has met an Earthling. This is a fast-paced story.

Far, far from Earth, Dean meets this female Earthling, who remains unnamed until the final chapter. Dean’s little ship does not survive this first contact with a human, nor should he have any hope of surviving his accidental encounter with the most feared creature in the galaxy. With fire-red hair, fabled patchwork armor, weapons of all types clinging to her body, and an infamous rifle named Whip, she aims to kill the little alien until he surprises her by speaking English.

This unassuming little alien named Dean is full of surprises.

To avoid spoilers, let’s just say he wins a place on her ship, where he meets a robot named Rusty, and—nobody else. One woman, one robot, piloting a stolen ship, terrorizing the occupants of whatever planets they visit in search of ... I won’t say what. Meanwhile, the evil villain Kilroy is forever in pursuit of them and the ship they stole from him.

Rusty is one of the best robots in all of science fiction. His dialogue is priceless. His upper body is heavily dented metal with mismatched arms, and his lower section, of all things, is—a yellow tricycle. For a clever, competent AI who’s older than the known universe, this indignity just cracks me up.

Kilroy is a fascinating robo-creature, but the reader unfortunately doesn’t get to know him very well. Then again, how well do we get to know the Wicked Witch of the West in “The Wizard of Oz?” This story reminds me, in a good way, of that story. I love the scene where our little bald alien is encased in a bubble and lifted into the sky to the escaping ship. “A Space Story” is chock-full of memorable images and great lines. One of my favorites is the list of questions Dean is supposed to ask the Earthlings, if or when he finds any:

• How does Santa know who is naughty or nice?
• What was in the suitcase?
• Who, in fact, let the dogs out?

By the time I got that far into the story, it was too late to spurn the book for leading us to a ruined Earth. No! No! Not another post-apocalypse! On the bright side, it wasn’t human stupidity that caused it. Let’s just say the thing that most likely took down the dinosaurs turned North America into a desspace storyert (again). Oh, come on. You know Dean is going to make it to Earth somehow. You know he’ll find humans there. It’s how he gets there that keeps us turning pages, who he kills along the way, what he learns, what he achieves, and how he grows as a character.

When Dean finally sets foot on the little blue planet, third from the sun, only to find desolation, one of the humans tells him “our world is going through some changes. But do not fear. She has seen such times before, and will endure.”

Now that’s the message I wanted to hear, not that the world is going to hell and the universe will end all too soon. Wait a minute. Rusty says the end of the universe is, in fact, imminent. But there’s a sequel. Rusty must be mistaken for once, or Dean must have more surprises in store.

There’s plenty of futuristic science in here for fans of the hardest science fiction. That Dark Matter Vortex Bomb? I want one. I thought I wanted the kitchen, too, until I learned what was in the freezer.

A number of typos distracted me from a ripping-good story, but not enough to slow my page flipping. I consumed this little novel in short order, and I have no qualms about recommending it to anyone who craves action, adventure, sarcasm, a little mystery, a few poignant moments, and a lot of laughs. This is a light read, exactly what I wanted, after too many in a row of heavy themes.

There is some unfinished business. I’m totally in denial about the death of a certain minor character who’d better be resurrected in a sequel or I shall make the author’s life a living hell. You hear that, Tig? (“A Space Story: The Journal of a Bald Little Alien Named Dean Kilmer, Volume 1,” Tig Carson, Illustrated by Adam Barutis, Death Fox Publications) 5stars —Carol Kean


Space Saga Delivers in Bulk

THERE IS A GREAT AND TERRIBLE irony in “Interstellar,” that a film that speaks so deftly on the concept of time can still stretch to a whopping near-three-hour length. But that’s “Interstellar” for you. It’s a strange collection of contradictions— deeply insightful, then laughably pretentious; as wide and mesmerizing as the cosmos itself, then a little silly and a little stupid.

“Interstellar” finds humanity in the not-so-distant future, and in dire straits. Sometime in our current generation, overpopulation, a crop-eating plague and massive Dust Bowl storms have combined to sour the Earth over. Those after us call themselves the “caretaker generation,” a dwindling few that cling to the hopes of earnest farming and repopulation as humanity’s last hope. But who are they kidding? We’re down to one farmable crop (all others are plagued by wildfire) and the atmosphere’s flooding with nitrogen. There’s precious few years left.

That’s where Cooper (Matthew McConaughey) comes in. He’s a genius engineer/NASA pilot born to a generation with absolutely no interest in anything other than corn; as such, he’s been stewing away on a family farm, building self-guided combines and trying to instill pro-science values in his kids. But a curious anomaly leads Cooper straight to a secret, underground NASA mission, humankind’s last mission, ever. They’ve found other, similar anomalies that may point to the cure for humanity’s ails—a planet far more hospitable than this dry, bitter Earth. Now, it’s up to these brave explorers (and the crack pilot who conveniently stumbled onto their doorstep) to save all of mankind.

You can say this about “Interstellar”—it’s huge. Staggeringly huge; huge on a scale that comes as close to justifying that mammoth run time as a film ever could (well, a modern film, anyway—there have been perilously few “Gone with the Winds” in recent years). It’s an immense film with immense ideas, and director Christopher Nolan wants to delve far deeper into the weirdness of space than most are willing to travel. This is no “Space Cowboys.” “Interstellar” pushes its camera through wormholes and black holes, alien planets and dimensions numbering well above the number three.

That’s where the visuals come in—one aspect where “Interstellar” absolutely delivers. Nolan isn’t shy about sampling from others who’ve come before him. At one point, a space station spins lazily to a tune very much like “The Blue Danube,” as though Nolan was winking and pointing to a copy of “2001,” just off-screen. It’s an absorbing film, vast and beautiful, and there’s almost no visual that doesn’t fulfill its intended purpose with gusto (the one exception—going back to the same semi-POV shot of a spacecraft, again and again every time the craft takes flight. If it’s meant to be a repeated motif, it’s not a particularly interesting one).

The sound design is just as grandiose. At times (say, when a shuttle goes blasting off or comes crashing down), “Interstellar” is loud to the point of physical discomfort, and genuine worry that the speaker system may explode and spark a theater fire (don’t worry, for those of you flinching on instinct—deafening moments are very, very rare). At other times, the audio disappears completely. “Interstellar” often mingles the two—say, a blast of noise that, just when the theater seats threaten to disassemble, suddenly clicks the mute button. The effect is tremendous.

The story is another matter. This one smacks very heavily of “Inception” (the last Nolan film without a single Batarang), in that its concept is brilliant, and that it executes that concept with pizzazz—but only at the beginning and at the very interstellarend. And everything in the middle is kind of a slog. The similarities continue. “Inception’s” most egregious error lays in a snowy dream-world where its ingenious dream-weavers did little besides grunt and shoot and duck behind cover. “Interstellar’s” Achilles heel lies in a snowy planet, where its high-minded space adventure is given the boot, so we can divvy the cast into brave heroes and cartoon villains, adding in an entirely out of place fistfight. Maybe if this was left on the cutting room floor, the run time wouldn’t be so staggering.

And, as you’d expect from a film about adventures in relativity and quantum mechanics, “Interstellar” can get a little wordy. For those without a working knowledge of quantum mechanics: pay close attention and you should be OK. “Interstellar” takes great pains not to leave anyone behind when characters debate how gravity passes through multiple dimensions, or the inner workings of a wormhole (luckily, Nolan and co. have devised a character who exists only to explain things in layman’s terms: “time is like an oyster,” “a wormhole is like this Post-It note,” and so forth).

And besides, “Interstellar” is very much a conversation piece—not only for those interested in the harder side of science fiction, but those interested in tearing apart the harder side of science fiction. All those who took giddy pleasure in pointing out the “could happens” and “could never happens” in “Gravity,” please prep your arguments in advance. (Neil deGrasse Tyson, of course, has already weighed in. It seems he approves.)

Do expect to roll your eyes, though, and hard, when characters start to debate the quantum physics of love. Boy, does that sour fast.

“Interstellar” succeeds on its purest, most basic level. Does it work as an adventure film? The answer—an enthusiastic “yes.” “Interstellar’s” space is rich and deep, and it will plunge you into its darkest, most unexplainable corners. It will pique your curiosity, and it will (most likely) leave you satisfied. Despite having Nolan’s name plastered all over it, there’s a sense of Spielberg to this—warm, all-ages curiosity, rather than the chilly detail you expect from a Nolan film (it’s no surprise, then, that this was originally developed with Spielberg in mind). Seek it out on the widest screen and the loudest sound system you can find. Three hours is a lot of sitting, but this one’s worth it. (“Interstellar,” directed by Christopher Nolan, Paramount Pictures) 4starsAdam Paul