Perihelion Science Fiction

Sam Bellotto Jr.

Eric M. Jones
Associate Editor


Au Pair, or Else
by Lee Budar-Danoff

Frail World
by R.A. Conine

Electra Had a Daughter
by Juliana Rew

This Long Vigil
by Rhett C. Bruno

Old Clothes
by Eric Del Carlo

Good Behavior
by Genevieve Williams

Saving Time
by John Hegenberger

World Away
by Alan Garth

Shorter Stories

Dreams to Dust
by Jamie Lackey

Virtual Ghosts
by Adam Gaylord

Olympus Mons
by James E. Guin


Science of Dogs
by John McCormick

Not Lost in Space
by Eric M. Jones



Comic Strips




Perihelion Reviews

Make This Galaxy Our Bitch

POETRY PLUS SCIENCE FICTION may add up to the ultimate in geekdom (and “Perihelion” has a policy prohibiting poetry submissions), but Yann Rousselot lured me to the dark side with “Dawn of the Algorithm.” An illustrated collection of thirty-two poems inspired by the looming robopocalypse, catastrophes and cataclysms, movies, video games, aliens, academia—and Facebook memes of the mighty T-Rex with comically short, pathetic little arms? Sold! It was the pathos and irony of a depressed dinosaur that got me. It’s “the micro-apocalypses that spark when you throw together love, longing, friendship, and loss—what some might call The Dark Side of the human experience,” Rousselot sums it up in his blog.

The poems and illustrations are catchy, cute, cynical, yet hopeful, profoundly silly, and all together human.

Rousselot, having lived the past decade in Paris, the capitol of literary pretensions and academic snobbery, having studied at the Sorbonne and paid his dues pondering Greek myths, the Hindu pantheon, and “post-colonial” themes, says he found himself turning to the stuff people talk about outside of academia. What if a “heartache poem narrated by a giant robot was equally legitimate as a lyrical meditation on the first blossom of spring?” he asks. “Why is Kurt Vonnegut literature, when Philip K. Dick is science fiction?”

If we could “sift the oceans with a coffee filter, wring the mountains like a wet cloth,” the way Rousselot does in the poem “A Darkly Iridescent Carapace,” we might find the answer: “everybody knows something is down there between the schist and diamonds.”

I’m hard pressed to explain it to my daughters (who inexplicably dislike all forms of science fiction), but this really speaks to me:

Everyone is so, so ready for this;
We’re gonna make this galaxy our bitch.

The poems speak to me, and they speak for me. Gamers, geeks, misfits and those who inadvertently harm others will find a deft, light touch, and some reassurance in “The Lament of Kid Kaiju”:

I own a giant robot. This should be enough
To make friends in this universe.
Destroyer of cities, crusher of skulls—
This should be enough to convince people
I am a worthy opponent.

I run after cute girls with my mecha robot
Pounding mountain ranges into valleys,
... I lift my tanker-sized feet gingerly
To see if there are any survivors

Maybe it’s not a good sign that I identify so much with that poem, but read the whole thing and tell me you see what I mean. (I won’t tell your kids. Honest.)

The poem that really caught my eye came on the heels of Tam Linsey’s apocalyptic tale of a vegan activist who loses her fight against GMO corporations and is forced to eat meat (“Amarantox”). In “Fresh Content” the poet confesses:

I’ve never really killed anything
But this steak is whispering.
My knife screams
Running across the porcelain.
I’d totally hunt another human being.

“Poetry is considered high literature, almost by definition, but I always wanted my poetry to pop, to be accessible, steeped in the cultural references that you see in algorithmthe media,” Rousselot blogs. “The Purist” does not own a smartphone, but the man whose steak is whispering uses Instagram. Schwarzenegger’s flexed muscles and Russell Crowe’s gladiator headgear are mentioned in “Headmovies,” with lines like these sandwiched in between:

When the cyborgs take over
I will be the first to mate with one
and I know it will be a jagged and metallic experience
but I will suffer through it,
I will gladly birth a new super-race of Aryan robots
with narcissistic personality disorders
and high political aspirations.

I love the way Rousselot expands the “classics” to include icons of science fiction, especially “Welcome to the Doctor Moreau Zoo.” I also like the way math, keyboard symbols, and modern communications can be transformed into a poem like “distress signal: the adventures of comsat icarus nine,” a broadcast by the Command & Control AI of Communications Satellite Icarus Nine:

My distress signal =
Urine in a violin.
My distress > can take.

An Emily Dickinson sort of penchant for hyphens characterizes “Ugly Bags of Mostly Water”:

in the gas giant i call home there are no capitals—
no territory—frontiers—there are no names at all—
that which you call skin—

A threadbare term to describe where I stop and others begin—

Writing is a solitary act, but it also has a social dimension, which Rousselot discovered at open mics and workshops. Community, he says, is a source of inspiration and energy; “It changed everything about my approach to art.”

“Dawn of the Algorithm” is sharp and witty, contemporary and timeless. It’s a great addition to the canon of “genre poetry,” which really deserves a better reputation. In an age where people are more connected to their iPhones than their emotions, Rousselot takes the reader through the dark side of the human experience and into the light. I’m surprised at how much I enjoyed the trip. (“Dawn of the Algorithm,” Yann Rousselot, Inkshares) 5stars —Carol Kean


Lifeless World, Lively Gameplay

THE VAST MAJORITY OF SCIENCE FICTION games have gamers playing as some futuristic character with near superhuman powers. Whether it is an augmented human (“Deus Ex” series), a super suit (“Halo” series, “Crysis” series), or technology is so far advanced it is nowhere near what we have now and seems like magic (most of the other games). Of course there are exceptions to this, but they are few and far between. How about a game that uses current technology, where using your brain is more important than using super weapons?

In “Lifeless Planet,” by David Board of Stage 2 Studios, a crew is sent on a mission to explore a new world that is teeming with life. Three volunteers are selected. They must leave behind everything they know; the journey will take them so far away for so long that they will never see their loved ones again. Something goes wrong and the ship crashes, scattering the three astronauts on the planet. One of them wakes up (our viewpoint character) and discovers he is alone and the planet is completely devoid of any life. Now, our nameless protagonist has to search for his missing colleagues and find the oxygen tanks that have been dropped from his ship before his air supply runs out. As he explores, he sees telephone poles that lead him to an abandoned Russian town of the likes one would encounter on Earth in the 1970s. Our nameless astronaut begins looking for clues as to where these people came from, what happened to them, and whether or not this planet is truly lifeless.

I’m an old school gamer and I like a challenge. “Lifeless Planet” reaches back to the puzzle days of yesteryear when things weren’t just hard, they were a few steps short of impossible.

When the game starts, you wake on a planet that looks a lot like Mars. There is no clear indication of where you should go, so there is a bit of stumbling around at first. This lack of direction actually has more appeal than other games that hold your hand and tell you the way to go. Not only that, there is a great deal of effort put into making the planet itself, and filling in the details. Don’t fret too much; the planet isn’t quite the open world so there is a limit to how far you can travel off the beaten path.

The first time you walk into the abandoned town, for example, you get a creepy feeling even though you know from the cover art it is coming. In fact, there are quite a number of creepy aspects to this game. As you discover various recordings left by the Russians, you learn not only how they had arrived on the planet, but also what happened to them. The entire scenario seems a bit spooky. There are no “jump out and go boo!” moments, however.

“Lifeless Planet” has been out for a while, but it was recently ported to Xbox One. While great that it has moved to a popular platform, it doesn’t seem like the graphics are really on par with the powerful machine on which it is running. The background images and larger buildings are beautiful; they really give players the lifelesssense that they are alone on this huge planet. However, too many of the close-up scenes have a lot to be desired. Then again, puzzle games don’t have to blow away players with amazing graphics. Sometimes graphics are used to cover up obvious faults.

The puzzle aspect of this game ranges from simple to brutal. Some things I figured out on the first try; other things took hundreds of tries and lots of dying. The puzzles all felt like old-school games, back when you kept trying to figure things it out instead of looking for guides online. I strongly urge players to keep trying. If the obvious doesn’t work, try the unobvious.

One thing that was a bit annoying was the drawn out travel aspect. The character is wearing a cumbersome spacesuit and has a damaged jet that only allows for short bursts. There are times where you have to walk for quite a while with nothing really happening. You can’t run or jet past; you have to walk. It felt a little too much like “GTA San Andreas” when you got lost needed to spend a long time trying to get back to civilization. These uneventful stretches do give players time to really take in the sights. Another nagging fault is the threat of running out of oxygen. It should be an everpresent threat throughout the game, but it only occurs a few times when it is convenient for the plot.

What “Lifeless Planet” lacks in graphics it makes up for in storyline and engaging puzzles. There are some dry moments—it feels like the game was stretched a little too long to give players their money’s worth. Overall, it is a lot of fun and this video game offers plenty of challenges. For the dry spells, just grin and bear it. The story makes up for it in the end. (“Lifeless Planet,” Stage 2 Studios, PC/Mac, Xbox One) 4 stars —Adam Armstrong


Last Lettuce on Earth

NAKED GREEN LADIES AND transgender celebrities seem harmless enough, but pacifists who vandalize research labs set my teeth on edge. So do apocalyptic warnings about man’s capacity to destroy the planet. Tell me a vegan anti-GMO activist loses her battle against Frankenweed, the plant that takes over the world, and I won’t even bother to sample chapter one. But tell me Tam Linsey wrote this one, and suddenly I’m desperate to get my hands on “Amarantox.”

The opening is tense. Vegan eco-activists go army-crawling by moonlight into a greenhouse and sabotage the computers that scientists are using to genetically engineer new crops. Of course it’s illegal, ridiculous, and dangerous, especially with the FBI’s cybercrimes technology, but “someone had to do something to stop corporations from shoving genetically modified food down humanity’s throat.”

Put it that way, and I can’t help but hope the militants get caught.

“Every animal and plant is one of Earth’s children,” Jaide Acosta reminds her nervous co-conspirators. Nature is “kind and harmonious.” She obviously hasn’t tested the Einstein quote at the opening of the book: “The most important decision we make is whether we believe we live in a friendly or hostile universe.”

The fast-paced narrative explodes with action, yet every character is clearly drawn and well developed. I’m especially a fan of Lucas, who’s level-headed and self-sufficient long before Jaide learns to swallow meat along with her principles. Mother Nature shows no mercy, and neither can Jaide. Gradually, inexorably, we watch her transition from gentle vegan to a woman who must kill her dinner to keep loved ones from starving. The ultimate test is whether she can bring herself to kill another human rather than let a stranger steal the last vegetables on Earth from her heavily fortified garden. Even if you’ve read the rest of the series, you will not be prepared for the new tradition known as “taking the knife.”

Like most of my favorite authors, Linsey came to my attention via Twitter. (A novelist, wife, and mom who reads scientific studies for fun? Hit that follow button, fast!) She toured the superconducting supercollider (“green” with envy is a myth, right?). She karyotyped DNA from the HIV virus. Instead of pursuing biomedical engineering—“I might never see the outside of a lab again!”—Linsey decided to earn a degree in English instead. She convinced her husband to move back to Alaska, had two children, became a Certified Master Gardener, “and met the challenge of gardening and farming in the High North. Thus began my obsession with self-sufficiency. Newly attuned to the land and our food supply, my mind created futuristic scenarios of a world without plants. A world without food. A world where bio-engineering might be the only thing that could save humanity,” she blogs.

After reading “Amarantox,” you might discover a new love of grocery shopping (my least favorite chore). What a privilege, what a luxury, to have so many varieties of food to choose from, even if you suffer food allergies that severely limit those choices. I’d mention that Tam Linsey also writes cookbooks for people who are gluten intolerant, but then I’d remember that YouTube comedian who makes “gluten free” sound like a fad for people who are too stupid to know what gluten even is. Linsey knows that merely swapping spoons at a potluck is enough to set off a toxic gluten reaction.

That comedian lampooning gluten-free diets might stand on firmer ground if he made fun of the anti-GMO crowd instead. Though GMOs have yet to be proven harmful to human health, it’s trendy to oppose them while blithely consuming products derived from genetically modified commodity crops. Since the dawn of man, humans have recognized plants with desirable traits, crossbred them with other plants, collected seeds, grew the offspring, waited to see the improved traits show up, then hoped they’d continue showing up in subsequent generations.

With today’s computer models (the kind Jaide sabotages), we can predict inheritance patterns. “It's breeding without breeding, plant sex in silico,” Ben Paynter writes (“Wired,” January 21, 2014). “In the real world, the odds of stacking twenty different characteristics into a single plant are one in two trillion. In nature, it can take a millennium. Monsanto can do it in just a few years.”

In Linsey’s novel, human engineering transforms the world, which in turn changes us. As Yann Rousselot put it, “Which sin of man will cause the downfall of mankind? Who, or what, will survive?”

Set in the near future, “Amarantox” takes us back four hundred years from “Botanicaust,” Linsey's post-apocalyptic two-book series.

In Book One, “Botanicaust,” the only crop left is human. Some resort to cannibalism. Others, like Dr. Tula Macoby, believe photosynthetic skin can save the human race. Her people try to convert the cannibals roaming what's left of Earth. Sometimes they swap converts for new technology from the Fosselites, an underground society of mad scientists. Then there’s Levi Kraybill, a devout amarantoxmember of the Old Order, a hidden people similar to the Amish. They preserve a bit of Earth that can still grow crops and livestock, though the rest of the planet is ruined by human greed and bio-irresponsibility. Genetic manipulation is a sin, and those green-skinned people are an abomination, but Levi must travel through cannibal land, interact with a naked (gasp!) green (gasp!) doctor, and find the Fosselites in hopes they’ll have a cure for his terminally ill son.

Humans genetically engineered for photosynthesis? Cool idea for speculative fiction, but it sounds like fantasy. Then I remembered the tweet that brought Tam Linsey to my attention in the first place: scientists have discovered a photosynthetic animal. For real, Elysia chlorotica (a small-to-medium-sized species of green sea slug) make proteins via photosynthesis from chlorophyll genes it gets from the algae it eats. Completely awesome—but is it within the realm of science for humans to have green skin implanted with chloroplasts? I don’t know, but I’m all for it. Sign me up. I say this not because of my resentment at having to wear clothing in hot weather, and not because I “like” a certain irreverent Beer, Bacon and Burkas page on Facebook, but because nudity and skin color are an issue in “Botanicaust.”

The chemistry between Levi and the green woman, Dr. Tula Macoby, is so intense, I had a really hard time setting down the book to go cook dinner. The way Levi's attitude evolves is believable and beautifully written. The clash when he returns home with a green woman, two cannibal girls, and a new attitude is epic.

A similar theme occurs in "Taking the Knife," a novella told from a cannibal's point of view.  Some people would actually choose death rather than an alliance with someone of the enemy culture. Should Sefe "take the knife" or take the woman he's supposed to hate? To find out what taking the knife means, you might start with "Amarantax," now that the long-awaited prequel is here. (“Amarantox,” Tam Linsey, Twin Leaf) 5stars —Carol Kean


Jurassic Brawls

AS FAR BACK AS 2002, Steven Spielberg was talking up the idea of a fourth “Jurassic Park” film. He had an idea; a secret new angle the filmmaker knew was pure gold. In interviews, Spielberg boasted of how “Jurassic Park 4” had the best script since the 1993 original, how it would revitalize the franchise, how it was something no one had ever seen before.

In 2004, Spielberg’s email was hacked and an early “Jurassic Park 4” draft hit the ’net, yanking the curtain back from Spielberg’s golden vision. The pitch: a mercenary hardass leads of a squad of genetically modified Deinonychus (essentially the real-world equivalent of “Jurassic Park’s” Hollywood-enlarged Velociraptors) in paramilitary operations. A rootin’ tootin’ all-dino “A-Team” (although if you actually read the draft—now readily available online—it’s not nearly as campy as it sounds. But also not as interesting). The concept was laughed off the Internet, one part fanboy ire and one part point-and-laugh derision. A year later, Spielberg (along with writer John Sayles) hit an impasse with the concept and scrapped the whole thing.

A decade since, “Jurassic Park 4” (well, “Jurassic World” now) is finally in theaters, helmed by Spielberg’s hand-picked successor Colin Trevorrow. In interviews, Trevorrow claims he trashed the entire Sayles draft when he got the gig, save for the concept of two small boys trapped in a dino-park run amok. Maybe that’s the case ... but it seems like there’s been a bit of seepage. Both sequels latch onto a core ideal—that “Jurassic Park” can never again function like it usejurassicd to. We had one perfect dinosaurs-run-amok movie in 1993. Then two sequels—both attempting the same general shtick and both met with diminishing returns. If anyone’s going to get excited about a “Jurassic” film again, it won’t be by tossing a few hapless humans into a prehistoric jungle. It’s going to need a shot in the arm (and a pile of nifty 21st century gimmicks).

The fictional “Jurassic World” mirrors that same dilemma. In the film, Jurassic World—a fully-functioning dinosaur park built on the carcass of the disastrous ’93 one—has been operating successfully for years. Too many years, probably. Kids once gaped in awe during live shows in the T-Rex paddock; now they shrug and go back to playing on their smartphones. So the brass orders the dinosaur equivalent of a gritty reboot: the Indominus rex. A good head taller than T-Rex (and without those spindly little forearms) and spliced with a grab bag of other creatures, giving it a host of nifty natural abilities (dare I say it? Superpowers. It’s a dinosaur with superpowers). Eventually, the Indominus escapes (as it must—this is a “Jurassic Park” movie after all), and cuts a swath of destruction through the park.

After a spectacularly sinister opening shot, “Jurassic World” yanks back the throttle and slows to a very blah crawl. We meet our four key players: Claire (Bryce Dallas Howard), a Jurassic World bureaucrat in charge of the Indominus rex, Zach and Gray (Nick Robinson and Ty Simpkins), Claire’s nephews who’ve stopped by the park for an all-access visit, and Owen (Chris Pratt), a rugged dino trainer attempting (and only half-succeeding) at domesticating a pack of Velociraptors. All of the actors have spark (Pratt especially, even if Owen is not nearly the wiseass Pratt’s grown so adept at playing), but there’s only so much they can do with the lumpy, generic place-setting in the script. Claire’s a total stiff— Jurassic World’s owner, Simon Masrani (Irrfan Khan) asks her for a status update on the park. She replies with figures and focus group findings, but he’d rather know what she sees when gazing into the animals’ eyes. Real heart—something Claire obviously doesn’t have. When her nephews arrive, workaholic Claire passes them off on her assistant. Whaddaya bet that by the time the movie’s over, Claire will grow into a compassionate, dino-loving family woman? Every character is established the same way: belching out paragraphs of exposition and character arc blueprints, rather than behaving like real human beings.

But then we meet the film’s other, scalier cast of characters. These guys (ladies, actually—all of them) are where “Jurassic World’s” heart lies. Which is impressive, considering how heavily “Jurassic World” leans on CGI and not the practical wizardry that made “Jurassic Park” so famous in the first place. Indominous rex is skulking and power-hungry, cold not like an unfeeling predator, but a predatory sociopath. The raptors are our gnarled antiheroes—sometimes vicious, sometimes compassionate, sometimes verging on adorable (well, as adorable as all those fangs and claws will allow). One of the film’s most arresting scenes comes when Claire and Owen find an Apatasaurus that’s been savaged by the Indominus rex. The dying animal’s head (and a few feet of neck) are one of “Jurassic World’s” only practical effects, and Trevorrow makes the most of it, building a gentle connection between human hands and real, tangible dinosaur hide.

The further we get into “Jurassic World,” the further the film’s emphasis shifts. Those pesky humans are on rails, just here to move us from set piece to set piece. It’s the dinos who execute all the double-crosses, earn the hero shots and perpetrate moments of true villainy (the human villains can’t even get through a “this is my evil plan” monologue without an interrupting dinosaur in the doorway).

By the time we reach the climax (the details of which should be kept as secret as possible—but believe me, it’s a doozy), “Jurassic World” has utterly abandoned the reverent man vs. nature intentions of the original. In print it would come off like silly fan-service, written by a nine-year-old trying to come up with the awesomest dinosaur showdown ever. When you see it in motion, it’s spectacular. Bone-jarring dinosaur insanity that flattens every legitimate criticism that might come to mind. You’ll have precisely one thought in your head: “coooooooool.”

We’ve reached an age of fanboy filmmaking—where the filmmakers behind the latest “Star Wars” or “Jurassic Park” were the kids whose minds were blown away by the originals. “Jurassic World” could only come from someone with years of experience mashing “Jurassic Park” toys together in fantasy dino-brawls. And while we’re light-years away from the genetics and hard science of Crichton’s original “Jurassic Park,” “Jurassic World” accepts its limitations. And its blissful, action-figure silliness. There’s a reason it’s not titled “Jurassic Park 4,” after all. “Jurassic Park” means chaos theory, respect for dinosaurs and the natural world. “Jurassic World” now means a genetically engineered super-dino battling a pack of trained raptors. Embrace it. “Jurassic World” certainly does. (“Jurassic World,” directed by Colin Trevorrow, Universal Pictures) 4stars —Adam Paul


Eight is Not Enough

GIVE THE WACHOWSKIS $176 MILLION and they’ll build you a clunky blockbuster behemoth: Channing Tatum in eyeliner and a pair of elf ears, lo-cal reincarnation philosophy and more wasted pixels than an orgy of drunk Xboxes. This, of course, would be their latest feature film, February’s bad-to-the-point-of-embarrassment “Jupiter Ascending.” But give the Wachowskis a more modest sum (enough to finance shoots in nine major cities around the world, little else), and you get something much sharper. Something that almost (just barely) harkens back to the fresh, young Wachowskis behind “The Matrix.” Even if it’s still occasionally as dumb as a fencepost. This would be the Wachowskis’ most recent undertaking: the Netflix series “Sense8.”

“Sense8” is Neo × 8: eight diverse characters in eight diverse locations, all waking up to the real reality with a bit of Keanu Reeves stoicism. A Chicago cop, an Icelandic DJ, an African van driver, a Korean entrepreneur/MMA fighter, a Mexican telenovela actor, an Indian pharmacist, a German safecracker, and a transgender hacker out of San Fran. After a lot of breathy mumbo-jumbo from Daryl Hannah, the lives of these eight random figures are suddenly intertwined. Or were thesense8y linked from the very beginning? No idea. The Wachowskis play things as vague as can be, but soon our eight heroes are blinking into each other’s lives via some kind of astral projection/mind-meld/teleportation.

All they do is blink, for a solid three episodes. Capheus (Aml Ameen), our African van driver, accepts a chicken instead of a fare from a customer with no cash. Sun (Doona Bae), his Korean counterpart, immediately spots the same chicken ambling across her desk. Wait, what? Or, maybe one character looks in the mirror and sees another person staring back. That kind of thing.

It’s the slowest of slow burns, but one that’s absolutely worth sitting through. At least until you hit episode three, which acts as the tipping point. Capheus is robbed at gunpoint by a local gang, and they’ve taken his mother’s AIDS medication. This cannot stand. So Capheus foolishly gives chase, and foolishly ends up circled by very angry, very well-armed crooks. The end is near ... until Capheus subconsciously swaps minds with Sun, and her MMA skills become his (another quick mind-meld and he’s firing a pistol with the steady hand of that Chicago cop). Soon after, there’s a pile of unconscious gangsters in the dirt. It’s a lovely burst of action after three slow hours, like watching gears spin closer and closer until that wonderful, cathartic clunk.

It’s that conceit—eight brains, roped together—that provides all the spark in “Sense8.” Whenever one of the eight adds a meaningful skill to the pot (early on, the cop’s ability to pick handcuff locks comes in very handy), there’s an instant rush of level-up satisfaction. And the drive for more—more abilities, more power, more complicated mind melds—is in large part what will coax you into cueing up the next episode. Paired with the group dynamic, it all feels very comic-bookish (not surprising, given the series was co-written and produced by veteran comic writer J. Michael Straczynski).

The characters? Spotty at best. The Latin soap star, the hacker, the cop and the van driver all show genuine personality; the others are stiff, carbon-copy introverts (due to the mistaken assumption that “quiet” automatically equals “deep”). The philosophy? Limp and feeble. Like every Wachowski work, there’s an underlying Christ-like reincarnation theme that the characters will occasionally discuss in broad strokes. But “Sense8” touches on it so rarely (and in such vague terms) that it seems included out of obligation.

Instead, they turn their eye towards new topics. One of “Sense8’s” most impressive feats is the way it plays with genre, with each character’s story built in a different style. Our Chicago cop’s haunted by a tragic disappearance in his past—a mystery, like any good cop thriller. The telenovela actor’s love life—“dating” (not really) a female co-star and keeping his real boyfriend hidden at home—is a miniature Pedro Almodovar sex comedy. The hacker’s transgender status makes her a target, in ways that play out like a conspiracy thriller. That “Sense8” can flit between all of them without ending up a nightmare mess of mismatched parts (it’s relatively cohesive, actually) is either a minor miracle or proof that the Wachowskis are back in top form.

They’re also delving into sex. Hardcore sex. The kind of sex that would have “Sense8” slapped with an obvious NC-17 rating if someone ran it past the MPAA. Not that it’s immature—“Sense8” tinkers with the idea of a telepathic connection becoming sexual, and it can be fascinating. And genuinely artful, at times. The show’s sexual peak is a free-for-all orgy, which comes off like a study of the classical form instead of an excuse to titillate. Although the Wachowskis really could have used an extra pair of eyes to point out when “Sense8” gets too gross for its own good. The show’s very first sex scene closes with a used sex toy hitting the floor. Fluids spray in all directions. No one thought to cut that?

“Sense8” is far from perfect. It’s slathered in a thick layer of mumbo-jumbo and tends to amble like a lazy tortoise. But it’s also the most inviting piece of work the Wachowskis have done in years, with just enough of a hook to make for satisfying binge-watch material. At the very least, it’s about as far off the beaten path as you can get, in terms of modern TV. Plus, it’s nowhere near the stinker “Jupiter Ascending” was. Take comfort in that, at least. (“Sense8,” directed by The Wachowskis, Netflix) 3stars—Adam Paul