Perihelion Science Fiction

Sam Bellotto Jr.

Eric M. Jones
Associate Editor


Astronaut Dreams
by Joseph Green
and R-M Lillian

Virus Smugglers
by Erin Lale

Clone Music
by Guy T. Martland

Adventure of the Durham Monograph
by Robert Dawson

by Timothy J. Gawne

Too Much to Dream
by Richard Zwicker

Tour de Force
by Richard Wren

by Stephen L. Antczak

Shorter Stories

Free Wi-Fi at the Bordello
by Santiago Belluco

Ambivalence of Memory
by Jamie Lackey

Welcome, Distant Traveler
by Andrew Vrana


Pandemic: Zika
by John McCormick

Descent and Ascent
by Eric M. Jones



Comic Strips




Perihelion Reviews

Murder Most Thrilling

HOLLY JENNINGS TAKES VIRTUAL reality to a whole new level in “Arena,” one of the most anticipated debut novels of 2016. This action-packed adventure revels in futuristic technology while paying homage to the sheer fun of video games, even those Nintendo and Atari gadgets that belong in a museum full of antiques we no longer have the technology to utilize.

A lifelong gamer, avid reader and fan of speculation fiction and comics, Jennings knows how to hook a reader who’s never played a video game in her life: immerse her in the near-future world of “Arena” and keep her engaged in the story from start to finish. There must be some special prize for that. This is not the kind of book I normally read. Bloody battles, body parts flying, young men and women dying: who enjoys this stuff? Oh, yeah. video gamers, because there’s just not enough violence in the NFL or the World Wrestling Federation.

The story opens in a golden wheat field with two towers and a scent of lavender on the wind. Two teams of five players each face off, trying to defend their own tower and capture the other team’s. Pretty soon, scuffling footsteps beyond the walls are followed by sharp chopping and wet splats, then silence. More footsteps, heavy and rough. There’s a lot of this sort of thing throughout the book—blood squirting from the stump of a shoulder, legs chopped off—but I skim or skip it. Usually.

Here, an overly confident heroine suddenly realizes she’s gonna die. There’re other ways she’d rather spend her Saturday night, but that’s not the point. Fucking bastard,she thinks. Didn’t cut deep. I’d bleed out in minutes, not seconds. He was drawing this out, purposely, to make me suffer. But also to boost ratings. This is a live broadcast, and millions are watching. “Night, night, sweetheart," he whispered as my eyelids fluttered, and my head rolled to the side.

Who knew being murdered could be so thrilling?

Kali Ling, that’s who, “The Warrior,” the unstoppable (until tonight) member of the famous Defiance team. She’s died hundreds of times, felt every blow, every cut and bruise, but when the game is over, the pain is over, and players emerge from their pods unharmed. If this sounds more like magic than science fiction, hang on. I’m still caught up in the story here, not the techno marvels that gamers will love. Jennings does something revolutionary with the image of gamers.

The story: Kali is half American, half Chinese, but it’s her obsession with virtual reality that raises a question of balance. And her team is balanced. Short and tall, male and female, light and dark. Image is everything. Hannah and Lily are lesbian lovers. Derek is black. Pale, blue-eyed, party boy Nathan snorts one drug too many and dies of an overdose—on the very night Team Defiance has lost to those new guys. InvictUS is the biggest, toughest, most organized and united quintet of killers ever to come out of nowhere and defeat the best in the business.

Nathan is buried, forgotten, swept under the rug. Rook, his replacement, is a gorgeous hunk of boring. Rooke’s so busy hiding his internal wounds, he’s forgotten how to smile or have fun. Kali is named captain of the team, first female to hold that honor in the RAGE tournaments or anywhere in the VR league. Next, she and Rooke are ordered to become lovers (or fake it) for the paparazzi and the adoring fans who feast on celebrity gossip until the next bloody game. When everything is for show, for profit, what’s left of the person? Who is Kali? Who is Rooke? And what can Kali do to keep the world from forgetting Nathan?

Kali needs to avoid the night-clubbing, the drugs, the hangovers. She needs to build team spirit. “Bonding” sessions, anyone? She gets her teammates to skip the late nights of partying and stay in to play old video games just for fun. The paparazzi and sponsors won’t like that, but nobody can scheme and manipulate like children, and Defiant is a team of twentysomethings who remember how to deceive their parents. Why not their employer as well?

Captain Kali taps the talents of her teammate/schememates to find the equivalent of a “cheat” to sneak past those evil corporate sponsors and do things her way. Meanwhile, she still has to work out a strategy for defeating InvictUS. If Defiance loses a single team member to them in the final game, they’ll lose their sponsors and fans, and Defiance will be history. Game over.

“These guys were brute force, a runaway train,” Kali notices while studying videos of InvictUS mowing down other teams. Trent (Mr. Night, night, sweetheart) looks like “a giant merely swaying an axe side to side, sending men and women alike into the virtual afterlife.” InvictUS is “the epitome of invincibility. Ever since video games had hit the market, characters had been endowed with temporary indestructibility. Mario had sparkling stars. Ms. Pacman had giant pills. But no one had ever thought they’d see it in true form inside gamers themselves.”

I’ve left out lots of intriguing details and plot developments because there are so many, many layers, issues, insights, challenges to overcome and new strategies for Kali and company to discern. Spoilers? Not from me—pinkie swear! Excerpts, yes. This is one of many that I Kindle-highlighted:

Sex, drugs, and alcohol. The staples of any rock star or celebrity. But gamers had something more. Something no one else would ever understand. The greatest high. The biggest thrill.

The arena.

This particular arena exists only in science fiction, and you know what that means: someday it’ll be a fixture in our lives. If you think our offspring spend too much time on smart phones and video gaming now, you won’t like the year 2054. Not in Kali’s world, anyway, where the young study “hours, days, or even years on end,” but “they’d hide away from the real world only to reemerge bright and eager to end up in jobs they’d hate.” If only they could be professional video gamers.

One of the coolest things in “Arena” is that gamers are not techno-geeks whose only exercise is thumbing a control stick. They’re not couch-potatoes whose parents wish they’d do something useful, like get a degree and a job. These arenagamers are beasts. They’re body builders with six-pack abs. They’re movie-star gorgeous. They have to be. The Virtual Gaming League, VGL, pits the world’s best gamers against each other in bloody fights to the death with millions of fans watching every week. Technically, these superstars are merely playing video games but with more hype, more pressure than the Super Bowl.

It’s a revolutionary premise for a novel: video gamers are powerful gladiators whose primary mission is to entertain all those working stiffs. Disappoint the public, let down your sponsors, and you may go back to staying home every weekend, playing online or sneaking out the back door for the arcade while Mom and Dad urge you to move out, get a job, and face reality.

Kali has died hundreds of times, but only in virtual reality. The weapons and armor are digital, but the pain is real. How is that possible? And how did video gamers of the near-future lose the nerd image?

In pro gaming, Kali explains, you are your avatar. What you’re capable of in real life is what you’re capable of in the digital domain. With virtual reality having gone from basic headsets to full immersion almost overnight, pro gamers suddenly faced the dilemma of being unable to physically perform their beloved video games. If you can’t dodge a fist or wield a blade in real life, you can’t chop off arms, legs, and heads in virtual reality. Finding the best gamers in no shape to engage in actual physical combat, the league had to pull in athletes who’d trained all their lives.

But going virtual was a game changer for athletes, too. The strongest, fastest, most agile combatants recruited from the sports arena kept failing the transition to the virtual world. They’d lose the game, lose track of what is real, and go crazy.

“All their lives,” Kali explains, “gamers had learned how to manipulate the virtual, how one action or choice could change the outcome of the entire game. We’d learned to read the lines of digital fate. We’d learned how to make the games do what we wanted. We’d learned that death was nothing more than a do-over.”

It was one thing to die in quaint, cartoonish Nintendo games, another thing to die in beautifully animated, multi-player online games; in VR, gamers feel the physical pain and exertion as if their physical bodies actually experienced their avatar’s wounds. Getting killed in battle feels as horrible as it looks, but combatants wake up safe in their pods. These pods are not for the claustrophobic or the squeamish. Thread-thin wires stick to the player’s face, neck, and arms. After the game, the wires detach and crawl away, scuttling like insect legs across the player’s skin. The egg-shaped pod hisses and opens, double doors sliding back from the center.

The timing is tricky: “It was dangerous to pull anyone out before they died, or before the simulation ended. Sometimes it seemed like there was a trap between reality and the virtual world. Yank someone out, and they might not make it all the way back.”

If the science behind the fiction makes your brain cells stagger away in confusion (speaking for myself here), never mind. It’s a hell of a story. Fast-paced, action-packed, violent, the “Arena” is also philosophical, sensitive, and wise. Kali’s journey, and that of her friends and teammates, is compelling and authentic. The monsters of Team InvictUS are contenders, not villains, the most worthy of opponents. I’d buy the sequel just to see more of them, especially one-eyed Trent. The VGL has the seamy dark side you’d expect of a corporate villain, and Kali must pretend to play by their rules while secretly trying to undermine them.

Managers and sponsors take the fun out of gaming, but Rooke, the stoic, opens a door that Kali had locked shut. “The virtual world is just for fun,” he’s learned the hard way, “and reality is the place worth living.” Kali and Rooke discover more in common with each other than anyone else could imagine, and it isn’t just a mutual interest in Taoism.

Uh, yes, Taoism. And Tai Chi. Balance, meditation, yoga, all the things you’d expect a video gamer to master. (Ahem.) Hey, it’s awesome to watch these characters try anything and see how their game changes as a result. Will it make them win the championship? Ha! Both teams deserve to win, and if you need to know which one it will be, read the book. (Did I mention it’s a riveting page-turner?)

Ultimately, this story is about the players, not the games. The narrative flows seamlessly around endless obstacles: celebrities, drugs, gaming strategy, team building, trust, the death of a teammate, recovering from addiction, forging your identity in a world where others would mold you for their own profit, and that’s still just a partial list. Women in gaming is one of the many issues. No, Jennings doesn’t subject us to more complaints about sexist stereotypes of busty babes in tight space suits. The gals in “Arena” work out like warriors and show off every hard-earned curve for the camera. Sex is on their terms, not the sponsors’.

“Arena” may serve as a cautionary tale, but it’s so much more. It’s a heroic journey, a romance, a blood fest, a thriller. The imagery is awesome, the futurist twists intriguing, the gritty world of gaming visceral and brutal. Above all, in spite of the heartache, physical injuries, setbacks, betrayals and loss, it’s great fun. (“Arena,” Holly Jennings, Ace)5stars —Carol Kean


More Than a New Coat of Paint

IN THE ENTERTAINMENT INDUSTRY THERE was a time where you had one shot to really make something good, so you gave it all you had. There was no sequel or franchise where you could save a failing story or make up for something that was lacking. Of course, that is out the window now. If an idea is successful it is followed by a deluge of movies, TV shows, books, and video games (look at the current trend to overwhelm the public with super heroes). With video games the pressure is high as there are hundreds of studios developing new products for every type of platform. If you have a successful franchise you have to keep pumping out games or the public will get distracted and move on to the next big thing that might not be your thing.

In 2065, the world has been through too much war. The effects of climate change coupled with technology that makes traditional combat methods worthless is changing everything. There is so little for so many, and the superpowers no longer have the advantage. Robotics, such as drones, have changed the face of war. Soldiers need to either be in exo-suits or become cyborgs in order to hold their own. Sacrificing ones limbs for an ideal is one thing, doing it to be better is something altogether different.

“Call Of Duty” (COD) is known for its realistic shooting and depictions of war. “Call of Duty: Black Ops 3” from Activision departs from that realism, jumping into the future for a possible look at how warfare will evolve based on current technology. call of dutyGamers play this first-person shooter as unnamed soldiers who are critically wounded in the opening act and need extensive cybernetic implants in order to save their lives. Aside from new limbs that make them much stronger and faster than normal soldiers, they are given a Direct Neural Interface (DNI), which allows them to communicate with their new limbs, and attack enemy machines. While awaiting surgery, these soldiers are able to use their DNI in virtual training, learning how to handle their new powers.

The game is broken into four distinct parts: Campaign explains and expands on the above; Multiplayer where players compete against each other online; Zombies, where players try to survive against ever increasing waves of the flesh-eaters; and Nightmares, the same story line but with weaker zombies (the entire campaign can be replayed in Nightmare mode once the game is beat).

Campaign mode was actually terrific. First-person shooters usually aren’t known for their campaigns. In fact, I known several people who barely play this format, opting instead to jump right into Multiplayer. But the story is rich, emotionally stirring, and in-depth. Christopher Meloni’s (“Law & Order: SVU,” “Oz”) performance as John Taylor brings a certain gravitas to the game that is usually missing from video games. “Black Ops 3” is still a bit formulaic, but the producers have to maintain a certain familiarity to keep the diehard fans happy. There are also lots of customization options with weapons in Campaign, which can make the game a bit easier or at least more fun. You can choose what you want instead of what the game gives you (not quite the extent to customize like “Fallout” or “Borderlands” but still quite a bit).

Multiplayer adds new elements such as specialists (soldiers with special abilities) and tons of customization. Multiplayer is where most COD players spend all of their time, and it shows; how quickly opponents could dispatch me in a variety of embarrassing ways! Once the maps are figured out and the playing field becomes a bit more level, one can easily get lost playing Multiplayer over and over for hours.

Zombies used to be dumb fun. Players would get stuck in an area and would have to fight waves of zombies that became progressively harder to kill. Through the years, more and more elements have been added; this time, characterization and world-building have been added, not to mention actors like Ron Pearlman, Jeff Goldblum, and Heather Graham lending their voices and likenesses. As always, Zombies is fun, but too difficult if you want to play it solo (which is partly the point). Many new elements are added, and I have to wonder why Activision doesn’t just spin it off and make it its own game and focus more efforts on their core games.

Nightmares was a way of merging Zombies with the main story line but seemed completely unnecessary. There are already several soldiers-fighting-zombies games on the market (talk about an overused idea) and this mode didn’t really add anything to the concept. It had a similar feel, access to the weapons one gets used to in Campaign, but with some generic zombies pasted in.

All in all, the story was fantastic, the graphics were amazing (although the weird “dead eye” seen in movies like “The Polar Express” is present here as well), and Multiplayer makes the game well worth the purchase. The studios put in some effort to actually deliver a good product from end to end, and that is not something many try with franchises anymore. There is lots of downloadable content that Activision want you to buy, but so does everyone else at this point. “Balck Ops 3” is a COD game you may actually want to buy for the story, and then hop online and shoot your friends for hours on end. (“Call of Duty: Black Ops 3,” Activision, PlayStation, XBox, PC)4stars —Adam Armstrong


Special Delivery

SINCE 1971, SOME OF THE BEST SCIENCE FICTION authors have made their debuts in the pages of a DAW book. Could an IT professional and coding guru named Gerald Brandt end up quitting his day job now that he’s been discovered and published? Judging a book by its cover, “The Courier” should top the best seller list. The bike-riding, leather-clad heroine looks truly bad-ass in a Girl with a Dragon Tattoo kind of way, and it’s not easy to find a tough chick even in the broad-minded, futuristic field of science fiction.

Kris Ballard, orphaned at fourteen, molested by her aunt’s drunken husband, hides out in rat-infested tunnels in the worst part of the city until she moves up in the world—to her own apartment in a somewhat less terrible layer. “Every society needs the downtrodden, the poor, the homeless,” after all. “It made the richer people feel good about themselves when they gave money or time, made them feel like they were giving back somehow.” Not that it works. For Kris’ people, life goes on, and it’s “A life filled with drugs and hate and disease.”

Whose fault is that? Every genre’s favorite villain: corporations, who’ve “stripped or covered up so much land and water that sustainability has become almost impossible. Without the mines on Mars, without the water they are extracting, we would be on the verge of extinction.” Naturally, when good people try to protect the Earth from those greedy bastards in starched white shirts, they get assassinated. The poor get poorer, but there’s plenty for them to die of. Also, they’re restricted to the basement of the city, invisible to the lucky (aka, heartless) few.

Kris keeps herself alive and hopeful, thanks in part to the kind, fatherly owner of a good Chinese restaurant in a bad part of town (some clichés I can’t help but love). She barely earns enough money to eat, much less to keep her old motorcycle running, but she takes out a loan to pay for the helmet and jacket that really (really!) are necessary for a now-going-on-seventeen courier driving alone to deliver messages in the dark underbelly of San Angeles.

Which do you want to hear about first, the jacket, or the seven-story megacity known as San Angeles?

“The jacket produced power from air. The manual said something about absorbing local electromagnetic charges and storing them in built-in batteries,” Kris explains in Chapter One, which also explains how I got hooked on a dystopian thriller. “I didn’t care how the thing worked, as long as it kept my comm unit charged and gave the bike a bit of extra juice when it needed it.” This reminds me of a beloved Carl Sagan quote: “We live in a society exquisitely dependent on science and technology, in which hardly anyone knows anything about science and technology.”

The helmet, you can read about yourself. The jacket (you know you want one too!) is so awesome, it comes with a Taser, tiny enough to hide in the small of your back, while the jacket keeps it fully charged. If I were a motorcycle courier, I’d want one, and I’d want my employer to pay for it, but those greedy, self-serving bastards (or bitches, in the case of Kris’s boss) will just hire a replacement if someone is killed on the job. Kris hopes never to need the Taser, which is actually way more than a mere “Taser” but Kris can’t remember what the thing is called (#GottaLoveKris).

Why would any 21st century personage hire couriers to hand-deliver messages? “Corporations used us as couriers to move information they didn’t dare put on the Net, where it could easily be intercepted,” Kris narrates. “Then they bombarded the couriers with fake packages, so it was harder to know when real ones were being delivered.”

Human couriers remain the most secure way to deliver anything in a future that includes mining colonies on Neptune? So much for technology. I can believe electronic ccourierommunications between the Sat Cities and Earth are spotty, but how secure is a confidential message when the couriers are tagged with some kind of GPS under their skin, and their dispatches are coded by a computer? No matter. I’m more interested in how Kris handles “Dispatch,” the only name she knows for her surly boss, who acts like she’s doing Kris a big favor when she dumps a rush job on her at the end of a very long day. Kris was so looking forward to a hot shower, which is literary code for “Honey, you won’t get a shower, or a bed to sleep in, or a moment’s rest, for the next three days.” Back into rush-hour traffic she goes with a delivery that must not be a decoy, not at this hour of the day, not with Dispatch making such a big deal over it.

Meanwhile, I’m waiting to hear more about mines on Neptune, but that intriguing subject only comes up briefly in a future chapter where we get the roughly five percent of this novel that reads like the hardest of science fiction.

Trying to deliver one little dispatch, Kris faces various setbacks. The pesky street kids on Level Three slow her down more than usual. Kris finally gets to the right place, only to witness a gruesome murder in progress. Off she goes, dodging bullets and would-be rapists, fighting like the leather-clad hellion who makes the cover of this book so compelling. If there’s a bright side, it’s that she’ll finally get to see all seven layers of San Angeles.

“My little piece of it used to be Downtown Los Angeles; now it was just a small piece of a megalopolis that stretched from San Diego to San Francisco,” Kris explains. “Roads on Level 3 were pretty bad and only got worse down to Level 1, Hell. It was my dream to see Level 6 or 7, but access was controlled, and I knew someone like me would never be allowed in.”

Poor Kris has never seen the sun, the moon, the open sky, except in videos. “The world is bigger than this city,” a pudgy business executive tells her. “Did you know there are still areas of Earth open to the sky? It’s not all shrouded in layers of concrete and humanity. Ever see a sunrise? This ... this ball of flame just seems to pop up from the horizon, throwing its light and heat everywhere it can.”

More sniper fire brings that dialogue to a sudden close, and Kris wonders again: “I was just a fucking courier. Why kill the messenger?”

She’s a fresh, quick-thinking character in a fast-paced thriller that treads very little new territory, but it’s like Willa Cather said: "There are only two or three human stories, and they go on repeating themselves as fiercely as if they had never happened before." And let me tell you, that little Kris is fierce.

Page after page, Kris keeps kicking ass (or groins) and eluding trained killers, in part because she has the fast reflexes of the young, along with that part of the brain which takes more than twenty-five years to finish developing its sense of caution and aversion to risk-taking. She’s lucky, too. How many snipers miss, in real life? I’d google the statistics, but nobody reports the top-secret number of humans targeted, shot at, and killed (or missed) by hired assassins. Damn it. Now I really want to know how often snipers miss their targets, but there’s no way for me to find out.

The fun of this story is seeing a mere 16-year-old girl keep moving no matter what the corporations throw at her. She’s “an anomaly. Something that didn’t fit into the boxes” these evil businessmen continue to get stuck in no matter how many seminars urge to think outside the box.

She’s also dead meat, until another hired gun is sent to protect her. With so much commotion over one undelivered package, you know other bad guys are going to find out about it, and the only way they can get their hands on the package is to get their hands on the little courier.

Her protector is a hot guy named Miller, hired by ACE, the underground Anti-Corporation Enterprise. “As long as the corporations were making money, they didn’t care how they were destroying the planet,” and if civilians ended up dead for trying to save the planet from evil entrepreneurs, “ACE made the old-fashioned Greenpeace look like a bunch of kids at a petting zoo.” Miller’s mission is just to deliver the courier, alive, to his employer.

He hadn’t expected the courier to be a poor, pathetic, petite teenage girl coated in the dust of tunnels and rat-infested ruins. The kid has gone three days without food or sleep, so he takes her home, tucks her in, feeds her, gets her cleaned up, and inadvertently annihilates her tough act.

Sheer exhaustion, terror, and prolonged stress might weaken a girl, but this is no ordinary girl, so the sudden shift to clingy, grateful, vulnerable Kris is a bit jarring. If you like a few tropes of the romance genre in your thrillers, you’ve come to the right place. This story came to me as an ARC (advance reader copy) with a disclaimer that reviewers should not quote excerpts because this isn’t the final, polished version, so it’s possible the published version in April won’t include lines like this: Could he be falling in love with her? There was a four-year difference between them. (At sixteen, she is too young for a man of twenty-two.) So what was it then? He’d never had a sister. Was this how you felt about a sister, protecting her? Somehow he didn’t think so. Maybe I’ve seen too many romances, and those who don’t know the genre will wonder what my problem is with those lines.

Various stupid things happen to keep the story moving. One of the worst: those pesky street kids show up again, but this time, Kris offers them the keys to a stolen vehicle that can only get them mistaken for her. Apparently she doesn’t care if they live or die, or she’s just too busy saving her own skin to think that one through.

With something like Skype, Kris finally hears from the man who started this wild goose chase. “Ahh, yes, the package,” he says from light years away. “I find it almost as interesting that you still have it as I do that you’re still around to tell me you have it.”

Who is this man? What’s in the package?

This is where we get the science fiction. Sequels, I’m sure, will take us to the mines of Neptune and into the interstellar war that’s brewing. Let’s just say a certain corporation’s Research and Development department has made a breakthrough in interstellar travel. A specially modified ship has made a quantum jump to the Andromeda Galaxy. In no time at all this ship materialized thirty AU from the P1 nucleus. The cabinet members “had no idea what an AU or the P1 nucleus was. Simply stating that the ship had reached the Andromeda Galaxy was enough.” Time now to “Forge ahead. Grab hold of a market no other company has the ability to enter.”

There’s more than a quantum jump drive to fight over. R&D already had a way to move matter instantaneously across small distances, but now the distance and the amount of matter they could move “ increased exponentially.” Corporate needs to bring this project out of the military’s purview and into sales, get some return on their astronomical investments, before other corporations activate their moles and insiders to gain access to the new technology. There will be war.

This is a lot of big stuff for interstellar Armies to fight over, much less a teenage courier and a hired gun named Miller, but this is also fiction. Escapism is what I’m after. I love the fairy tale of Kris at almost seventeen staying one step ahead of her killers. I especially love the last page and the lovable Chinese restaurant owner, and I really hope to see more of him in a sequel. With his grandson.

“The Courier” reads more like a thriller than the “far-future science fiction debut/action adventure with a cyberpunk tone” that Berkley Publishing Group promised, but DAW Books was the first publishing company devoted exclusively to science fiction and fantasy, so if the science fiction is a little soft in Book One of this series, I trust the science will get more attention in the sequels. Interstellar warfare waged by corporate villains fighting for the hottest device ever to come out of R&D is a subject worth pursuing, especially if that motorcycle rider on the cover swaps her wheels for an interplanetary fighter. (“The Courier,” Gerald Brandt, DAW) 4stars—Carol Kean


Not Your Father’s Superhero

“DEADPOOL” MARKS DIRECTOR Tim Miller’s feature directorial debut, and it’s an
entertaining romp indeed! It stars Ryan Reynolds reprising his role as the eponymous Deadpool, with Morena Baccarin as Deadpool’s romantic interest Vanessa. Ed Skrein is Ajax, Deadpool’s putative nemesis. Coming out of the gate with a hard “R” rating, this flick isn’t for the kiddies. However, you can be glad you’re not going to a showing in India, where the Central Board of Film Certification (India’s film censors) cut all references to male and female reproductive organs, and a shot of a head being blown up. The Indian film censors did leave in the fart jokes.

Although the X-Men comic-book universe is complicated, the moviegoer who doesn’t know a New Mutant from a re-booted X-Man will easily be able to follow the somewhat conventional story line. If you know the convoluted X-Men backstory going in, you might enjoy the film even more, but it’s not necessary.

This movie is the origin story of the Deadpool superhero, although he’s really an anti-hero. The modern anti-hero is self-deprecatingly funny, and has no qualms about breaking The Fourth Wall. We learn how Deadpool—whose real name is Wade Wilson—managed to acquire his superpower, and even the name “Deadpool.” Deadpool’s superpower is his ability to regenerate his body from damage and disease—a good power to have if you’re diagnosed with terminal cancer. It’s an awesome superpower to behold!

After Wade Wilson is diagnosed with cancer, he’s proffered a black business card by a mysterious henchman who bears an uncanny resemblance tdeadpoolo Dracula. The mysterious henchman offers a too-good-to-be-believed cancer cure by a sadistic British doctor named Ajax. Ajax manages to activate Wade Wilsons’s dormant mutant genes. It’s an uncomfortable and tortuous ordeal to be medically transformed into a superhero, even (maybe especially) when you’re being cured of cancer. There’s a super-sized downside to receiving his regenerative super-cure, though. Wade Wilson becomes scarred, ugly, and sociopathic. Deadpool isn’t just a mutant X-Man, he’s an insane, grotesque freak who has to don a blood-red full-body costume to conceal his ugliness. It wouldn’t be so bad if Deadpool could keep his sociopathy to himself, but even before he gets the cure he was known as The Merc with a Mouth. Now that he’s been transformed into an anti-hero, there’s little to slow his barrage of one-liners, pithy comments, and f-bombs.

Deadpool is recruited to be an X-Man, kicking and screaming all the way. For Deadpool, it’s another low-paid day job, and it doesn’t make him happy. What will make Deadpool happy is wreaking revenge on Ajax, the doctor that cured him of his cancer. This is because the horrible scarring that resulted from Ajax’s sadistic medical procedure affects his chances with his main squeeze Vanessa. Along the way, Colossus and Negasonic Teenage Warhead try to convince Deadpool to get with the program and be a good X-man instead of a foul-mouthed sociopath.

Dr. Ajax is British and evil. Ed Skrein has a convincing British accent, perhaps because he really is British. The movie raises the eternal question: Is being able to speak with a British accent a superpower?

Leslie Uggams is Blind Al, Deadpool’s roommate. Uggams is a Broadway musical legend and TV star. At 72 years old, she can still bring it as the blind straight woman to Deadpool’s comedy. Uggams won a Tony award for her performance in the Broadway musical “Hallelujah, Baby!” in 1967. She had her own TV variety show “The Leslie Uggams Show” in 1969, and had a starring role in the TV miniseries “Roots” in 1977. And her 1968 album answered the question everyone was asking: “What’s an Uggams?”

This brings us to the movie soundtrack. If a movie has a good soundtrack, I will forgive a multitude of faults. “Deadpool” is scored by Junkie XL, aka Tom Holkenborg. Junkie XL’s film credits are impressive, including: “The Dark Knight Rises,” “Inception,” “300: Rise of an Empire,” and “Mad Max: Fury Road.” I must give a shout-out of approval regarding Junkie’s choice of the song “Shoop” by Salt-N-Pepa.

To sum up, this is a wickedly fast-paced and hilariously irreverent send-up of the comic-book superhero genre, while at the same time being a comic-book based superhero film itself. It’s a fine line to walk, but the folks at Marvel and 20th Century Fox manage to bring home the goods. (“Deadpool,” directed by Tim Miller, Marvel Entertainment) 4stars—Joshua Berlow