Perihelion Science Fiction

Sam Bellotto Jr.

Eric M. Jones
Associate Editor


Go for the Dome
by Sean Monaghan

Quantum Rose
by Jude-Marie Green

Autumn’s Net
by Matt Thompson

Crawley, I Tell You!
by Tim McDaniel

In the Cave of the Silver Pool
by Peter J Larrivee

How Uncle Larry Became a Shape-Shifting Blob
by Marc Rokoff

by KJ Hannah Greenberg

Through a Poisoned Stream I Flow
by Brandon Ketchum

Shorter Stories

Robot Story
by Robin Wyatt Dunn

by Jeffrey Abrams

Dumb Luck
by Michael N. Farney


Xenophobia Destroys Science Fiction
by Carol Kean

Computed Cryptograms
by Sam Bellotto Jr.



Comic Strips




Perihelion Reviews

Whizz Bang Action in Space

IN THE CURRENT ERA of gargantuan blockbuster franchises, “Star Trek” is the granddaddy of them all. The original “Star Trek” 79 episodes (which lasted three seasons, from 1967 to 1969) has spawned thirteen movies (“Beyond” is the thirteenth) as well as four TV series: “Next Generation” (178 episodes), “Deep Space Nine” (176 episodes), “Voyager” (172 episodes), and “Enterprise” (98 episodes). There was also an animated series that had 22 episodes. That’s a total of 659 scripts!

The impact of the original concept developed by Gene Roddenberry is unquestioned. “Star Trek” went where no TV has been, before or since. “Star Trek” transcends mere entertainment—it’s like an an American faith.

After 659 scripts, it’s fair to ask if “Star Trek” is played out. Does it have anything more to say? “Star Trek: Beyond,” directed by Justin Lin, sidesteps this question with dazzling production values and whizz-bang bling. The exterior shots are amazing, utilizing dizzying transcendent camera swoops that convey weightlessness and a “which way is up?” feeling appropriate to outer space. The interior of the Starship Enterprise also looks fantastic, as does the one scene where the Enterprise pulls into the gigantic Yorktown space station. If Gene Roddenberry had more money and CGI for the TV show, this is what the future would have looked like. (The budget of an average episode of “The Original Series” was $191,000, whereas the budget of “Star Trek: Beyond” was $185,000,000.)

Justin Lin is previously best known for directing three of the “Fast and the Furious” series of films. Given the budget of the movie and the director’s technical chops in handling action, it’s the “thrill ride” aspect of this movie that is its strong point. The plot lacks the gravitas of the best original “Star Trek” TV shows. However, quibbling about the plot is like complaining about tattoos and piercings. It’s a bygone sensibility, an old man screaming “Get off my lawn!”

Let’s remind ourselves that episodes of the original series were penned by many top writers of science fiction like Richard Matheson, Robert Bloch, Harlan Ellison, and Theodore Sturgeon. Now we have a “Star Trek” written by the same fellow who portrays Scotty in the movie (Simon Pegg). It’s no wonder that Scotty receives more than his fair share of hokey screen time. Simon Pegg’s career breakout was penning “Shaun of the Dead”—a well-received zombie spoof that I found unwatchable. I’m not a big fan of horror comedy.

The emphasis on lots of stuff whizzing at high speed is put to great advantage in a fantastic set piece where we witness the destruction of the Enterprise by a swarm of alien ships. This is the high point of the movie—most will reckon they’ve gotten their money’s worth after seeing this. The problem that the swift, irrefutable destruction of the beloved Enterprise poses from a plot perspective is that the Enterprise is so thoroughly trounced by the bad guys that the bad guys seem nigh invincible. The rest of the film pales by comparison—this film offers the climax at the beginning of the movie.

Of course, the utter destruction of the Enterprise can’t be permanent. Kirk, Spock, Bones, and the rest of the crew are too essential to the Trek franchise to stay stuck on a prison planet at the edge of known space for very long. That they manage to make their escape, the result of Kirk whizzing around on a motorbike, seems unlikely; then again, you can’t but help root for Kirk as he literally runs circles around the bad guys.

Our Trek heroes have the aid of Jaylah, a female alien whose whiteface makeup is the second coolest thing about this film. Kirk on a motorbike gives “The Fast and the Furious” director the opportunity to include even more whizzing. Ultimately the plot is no more than a reason to have lots of stuff whizzing around in space. There is some banter between those two “frenemies,” Bones and Spock, but it seems perfunctory. An attempt is also made to humanize the film with insights into the characters of Kirk and Spock. Kirk’s has to do with his future career in the Federation and Spock’s revolves around his romance with Uhura. These are both ongoing concerns of the reboot, but are overshadowed by the whizzing bling.

By the time the villain Krall (Idris Elba) and his henchman attack the Federation space station Yorktown, there is so much stuff flying around at high speed that everything is a blur. What’s obvious though is that plenty of filmgoers like all of this. They expect it, having been desensitized by massively-multiplayer online video games and similar media. It’s become a necessary aspect of the big-screen star trekmovie theater experience. It’s in all the big franchise movies now. It’s why people pay to sit in front of a large screen. Frenetic fast-action motion has become the raison d’etre of the multiplex. As such, the choice of Justin Lin to direct appears like the right call to breathe more life into a possibly overplayed franchise.

Although the plot doesn’t have the gravitas of some of the original “Star Trek” episodes, it does have elements that are designed to appeal to a new “Star Trek” audience.

There’s a McGuffin that powers the plot forward in the first half of the movie—a piece of a bio-weapon that the evil Krall seeks in his quest to overthrow the Federation. Krall’s search for the weapon leads to betrayal, in a plot twist that is more reminiscent of a thriller than a science fiction film. Krall himself is cast in the well-worn tradition of “loon-wolf” villains in “Star Trek” films. We learn that he was once a soldier, and yearns for the days before the Federation made the universe peaceful. His Hegelian rants are compelling. There is method to his madness—it’s through struggle that we grow and are tested, and Krall objects that the Federation has done away with struggle.

Towards the end of the movie, Krall becomes more human. This is an interesting touch, though I wondered how or why. Krall and his crew are the beneficiaries of a life-extension technology; it is revealed that they were the crew of one of the first Federation starships sent to the edge of the universe. It would seem that the discovery of life-extension technology would be of importance, but nothing is made of it. Perhaps because it makes you look like a lizard creature?

The reviews are in, and they’re mostly positive. The people who will object to “Star Trek: Beyond,” I suspect, are those who believe that, at its best, science fiction needs to ask big questions. Those folks are a minority nowadays. For most people, a thrilling, whizzing ride is what they’re after. In that respect, “Star Trek: Beyond” more than delivers. (“Star Trek: Beyond,” directed by Justin Lin, Paramount Pictures)3stars —Joshua Berlow


This Butt is a Real Kick

“EVERY GALAXY HAS ITS OWN HORSEBUTT Nebula ... an eddy in deep space where every piece of cosmic garbage comes to rest,” according to a campy new space romp by Chet Gottfried, “Into the Horsebutt Nebula.”

The novel is as zany as the title suggests. In an era when storytellers of this most imaginative genre seem to be taking themselves and our world too seriously, it’s a welcome blast of fresh air.

It’s also good news for fans of Captain Quasar, the comical, bombastic star of Milo James Fowler’s short stories and novels. Who ever tires of this trope? With more bravado than brains, like Quasar, Captain Sam Baines is a hoot. Readers have to be smarter than he is to appreciate oxymoronic lines like this: “I visualize a future when zombies will lead productive lives.”

Zombies? What are they doing in my science fiction?

Gottfried’s zombies are a little like those vintage Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup commercials, in which strangers collide and unintentionally combine their food. Outraged cries of “You’ve got chocolate in my peanut butter!” and “You’ve got peanut butter in my chocolate!” soon lead to happy sighs over a great new taste discovery.

That said, I continue to detest literature’s love affair with the zombie and cannot find anything interesting or amusing about dead bodies moving around, reeking, eating, decaying, and doing all the disgusting things zombies do. However, I realize that millions of readers and TV viewers do not share my aversion to the walking, inarticulately moaning, insatiable, disgraceful dead.

Gottfried envisions a space captain who uses bikini-clad zombies to power his frigate. Trouble is, they fall apart frequently and don’t last long. So Baines is forever on a mission to find (or produce) more zombies to fuel his faster-than-light horsebuttdrive. The zombies must be produced from tall, strong women, but Baines is the last living human from Earth, male or female, and humans in outer space are hard to find. If not impossible. For an optimist like Baines, though, anything can happen, and that’s the fun of science fiction in a nutshell.

The zombie gals may be “dead, dead, dead” and have no working autonomic nervous systems, “but that’s no reason they shouldn’t enjoy their lot in life or death,” the alien Voss says. It’s positively oxymoronic. And Baines is moronic, but he has the chutzpah to succeed in spite of getting in his own way.

Voss is the last of a noble race from the now-annihilated planet Rodentia, which Baines confuses with rodents, in part because Voss resembles a four-foot-tall squirrel who wears a baseball cap, backward. He’s a highly qualified engineer, “a Rodan, last surviving member of the starship builders deluxe,” as he keeps reminding his captain, who shows the well-groomed but furry engineer no respect. None.

Baines and his failure to respect and appreciate others will get him in trouble again and again. If he’d seen “Star Wars” he might remember how Luke Skywalker blew his first impression with Yoda. Luke got off easy, compared to the consequences Baine must suffer. But, hey, who takes a potted dandelion seriously, even if it somehow manages to talk? Who would imagine the famed Ultimate-Ultimate (aka U-U) computer would manifest as a sickly dandelion?

The punishments are legion. One is a Pinocchio curse, in which every lie the captain utters will make his hair grow longer. A habitual liar, Baines is immediately shaggy as a gorilla. However, in the same way that Americans are known for being resourceful and intrepid, Baines manages to make good use of the curse in times of peril.

My favorite aspect of the curse is the way to undo its effect: speak the truth. As it turns out, very little that we say is verifiably true, leaving the captain with nothing but math equations to reverse the hair growth.

It’s obvious the author is having great fun with this story. Gottfried’s enthusiasm is infectious, even though several aspects of the novel are off-putting for a squeamish reader like me. Not just the zombies, but the giant female alien who swallows the captain. Unlike Jonah in the belly of the whale, however, Baines gets a womb with a view, and furniture, and other humanoids walking and talking inside this sort of Statue of Liberty woman.

Then there’s his mother’s vacuum cleaner—an android, “full name Rachel Novablast Mach 10, the Armageddon. Trim figure, terrific at cleaning, but her personality is questionable.” She “has more attachments than an actress has shoes.” And she’s on a mission to marry Captain Baines. Even I had to laugh at some of the dialogue and the missteps.

A bottle of Bass Ale is more endearing to Baines than the womanly vacuum. Because, ever in danger of being unwittingly consumed by visitors to the frigate, the ale is actually the latest form taken by Lavinia, a shape-shifter. Baines has fond memories of her incarnation as Marilyn Monroe. What will happen if the jealous, possessive, obsessive Rachel Novablast finds out and smashes the ale bottle?

The most looming concern is the mission that U-U has ordered Baines to undergo, somewhat the way Dorothy had to take orders from the Wizard of Oz if she ever wanted to find her way back to Kansas.

I was getting ready to quote line after line about the Neanderthals and their love of Wagner, but I think it best to leave this for readers to discover themselves. Suffice it to say, I am outraged on behalf of the Neanderthals. As for Wagner, I have to agree with Mark Twain: “Wagner’s music is better than it sounds.”

Come to think of it, that sounds like something Voss would say, and the humor in it would sail right past Baines. The captain is all the more endearing because he has no idea he’s comical. “We’re a warship,” he reminds Voss. “We take death and destruction very seriously, so please behave with the proper demeanor. No whoops, cries, or offering to serve bad guys tea.”

I cannot laugh at feeding a perfectly good, live human (they’re so hard to find!) to zombies. Can’t laugh at women who are part vacuum cleaner. Or a woman who can stash rooms full of people inside her colossal womb (and even labor to “deliver” them, from time to time). But I love lines like this, from a fellow captive who panics on sensing the first throes of labor while inside the alien woman: “We could wind up among cannibals, Neanderthals, or mothers-in-law—you name it!” As a mother-in-law, I should not have laughed at that.

And no, I’m not telling you if I snorted hot coffee out my nose at this one: “Nothing like a couple of nukes to make a person see reason,” Baines says after pushing a certain button.

I’m pretty sure Robert Heinlein himself would love this tale. “I think that science fiction, even the corniest of it, even the most outlandish of it,” he once said, “has a distinct therapeutic value because all of it has as its primary postulate that the world does change.”

Fans of women’s fiction might want to dodge “Horsebutt” like a uranium-enriched soccer ball headed their way. However, fans of that genre tend not to overlap hard core science fiction aficionados.

I haven’t even mentioned the harmonics, a fun and fascinating antidote to the zombies and horrific versions of women who fuel the story.

It’s a little crass, but neither porn nor erotica. Overall, “Into the Horsebutt Nebula” is good science fiction with rollicking humor, some R-rated content, and more than a little redeeming value. (“Into the Horsebutt Nebula,” Chett Gottfried, ReAnimus Press)4stars —Carol Kean