Perihelion Science Fiction

Sam Bellotto Jr.

Eric M. Jones
Associate Editor


Peripheral Hope
by Derrick Boden

by M. Luke McDonell

Penal Eyes
by Frederick Obermeyer

Tells of the Block Widowers
by Jez Patterson

Cretaceous on Ice
by K.C. Ball

Some Quiet Time
by Eric Cline

Three Breaths
by Karl Dandenell

by Kathleen Molyneaux

Shorter Stories

Left Hand Awakens
by Beth Cato

Laws of Humanity
by Alexandra Grunberg

Aggressive Recruiting
by Drew Williams


Remakes, Sequels Sizzle in 2017
by Joshua Berlow

Calderas: Doomsday Underfoot
by John McCormick



Comic Strips




Remakes, Sequels Sizzle in 2017

by Joshua Berlow

HAPPY NEW YEAR. BUT WILL 2017 be a happy year for science fiction films and TV shows? Many upcoming films are eagerly awaited by fans. Some are also remakes. The response to remakes is often a dismissive “why did they bother?” Sequels can sometimes be better than the originals. Here’s a quick summary of the most buzz-worthy movies to be released over the next twelve months. It isn't by any means all-inclusive. The round-up is in reverse order of anticipation. In other words, the film at the end of the list is the most anticipated film of 2017, whereas the film at the beginning is one that I won’t be going out of my way to see.

“Death Race 2050.” The fifth installment in the “Death Race” franchise. By the year 2050 the planet has become overpopulated and, in order to winnow the population, the government sponsors The Death Race. Competitors race futuristic vehicles, scoring points for killing people. It is produced by “the Pope of the B-movie” Roger Corman, and stars Malcolm McDowell, Burt Grinstead, Marci Miller, and Folake Olowofoyeku.

It’s a tiny bit sad to see Malcolm McDowell associated with this flick, as he memorably starred in one of the best science-fiction films of all time: “A Clockwork Orange.” However, if you peruse his filmography, it seems his career hasn’t measured up to this promising start. It looks like he preferred to be continually working to being in quality films, and you can’t really blame him for that.

“Death Race 2050” is directed by G. J. Echternkamp. Echternkamp directed the well-received “Hard Candy” but it is a bit of a mystery as to why he would sign on for this. Maybe it’s so he can put that he worked with Roger Corman on his resume, which was at one time considered a rite of passage in the film industry. I have no interest in seeing this film. Release date: January 17.

“The Space Between Us.” A science-fiction love story. A woman astronaut is part of a team sent to a space station on Mars. Unbeknownst to everyone, she’s pregnant. The baby boy is born on Mars, and his existence is kept secret. Sixteen years later he comes back to Earth to find his father, enlisting the aid of a young woman his age. The movie stars Asa Butterfield, Britt Robertson, and Gary Oldman. Asa Butterfield and Britt Robertson are both up-and-coming young actors who have promising careers. The film is directed by Peter Chelsom, and will be the tenth film he’s helmed. I haven’t seen any of Chelsom’s previous nine films (one of which is “Hannah Montana: The Movie”) which isn’t a good sign. “The Space Between Us” seems pitched to a young adult and teen audience. I won’t go out of my way to see this one, either. After watching both trailers, I feel like I’ve seen it. Release date: February 3.

“Ghost in the Shell.” This is the first live-action film in the “Ghost in the Shell” franchise. The franchise is based on a series of cyberpunk manga books first serialized in Japan in 1989. There have been three stand-alone manga books collecting the serialized installments, four animated movies, three television series, four video games, and numerous spin-offs. A studio exec probably figured there’s a built-in international audience for a live-action “Ghost in the Shell.” Furthermore, I am sure there’s hope that the live-action film will bring a new audience to the existing manga and anime.

At one point even I (no fan of anime) tried to watch the 1995 animated “Ghost in the Shell” just to see what all the fuss was about. I simply couldn’t get past the fact that it was animated. Animated to me equates with “cartoon” and “cartoon” means “for kids.” I know that this isn’t the case in Japan (and to the degree that anime has caught on here in the U.S.) and that some anime has adult content, but this viewer has never been able to get past the fact that animation equals “cartoon.” I enjoy old Looney Tunes as much as the next person, but those are comedy. “The Ghost in the Shell” manga isn’t comedy. For me the single exception to this anime rule is “Cowboy Bebop.” “Cowboy Bebop” is the only anime series I’ve ever managed to watch all the way through, but even then I had the feeling I was watching a series aimed at precocious kids rather than adults.

Anyway, back to the new live-action “Ghost in the Shell” film, which stars none other than Scarlett Johansson. Johansson has her blonde hair dyed black here, ghostand her casting for the lead stirred controversy. It was alleged that CGI and other special effects were used to make her look more Asian. The complaint is that because there are so few leading roles for Asians, the filmmakers should have cast someone who is, in fact, Asian if they wanted the character to appear Asian. On the other hand, Scarlett Johansson has managed to carve out a niche as lead in at least three science-fiction movies recently (“Her,” “Under the Skin,” and “Lucy”) so her presence in this film guarantees a wider audience than just anime fans.

[Left, Scarlett Johansson portrays a buff Major in the live-action “Ghost in the Shell.”]

I’ve never been a Scarlett Johansson fan, I must admit. From the trailer, the movie seems heavy on special effects; Johansson wears a form-fitting skin-colored suit that makes her look like she’s not wearing anything at all. The visuals are certainly pretty, but is the script up to the bling? The film was directed by Rupert Sanders, whose single previous film was “Snow White and the Huntsman,” praised for its special effects, production design, and action sequences, but ultimately panned because of the confused script. Futuristic special effects, cool production design, and flashy action have never managed to turn an unworthy script into a good movie. Not even a semi-naked Scarlett Johansson can accomplish that feat. My interest in “Ghost in the Shell” is tepid. Release date: March 31.

“The Discovery.” This is another science fiction love story. Sometime in the future, the afterlife is proven to exist. People kill themselves to get there ASAP. The cast includes Robert Redford, Jason Segel, and Rooney Mara. It is directed by Charlie McDowell, who co-wrote the script with Justin Lader. In one of those Hollywood co-incidences, Charlie McDowell is the son of Malcolm McDowell, who is starring in “Death Race 2050,” also coming out in January. Rooney Mara is Charlie McDowell’s significant other, which could explain how or why he managed to cast her—she has a more extensive film resume than he does. Neither explains why Robert Redford is in it. However, the fact that Redford is there explains why it debuts at Sundance Film Festival in January. It has already been picked up for global release by Netflix. I’m not particularly looking forward to this film, but I might see it once it’s on Netflix. Science fiction love stories are a sub-genre with increasing visibility, in the wake of such films as “The Time Traveler’s Wife.” Release date: January 20.

“Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets.” This film is produced, written and directed by Luc Besson, one of the top names in science fiction cinema. Besson made a name for himself with “The Fifth Element,” a stylized science fiction epic that came out twenty years ago. “The Fifth Element” had a huge budget for its time, and was also a critical and box-office success. It has withstood the test of time and remains an important film.

However, Besson’s career hasn’t kept pace with this monumental start. Recently Besson directed “Lucy” about a woman who gains psychokinetic abilities after ingesting massive quantities of an illicit smart drug. Although “Lucy” received some positive reviews, I thought it was a nonsensical mess. Despite that, “Lucy” was a box office smash, returning more than ten times its $40 million budget. With that success, Besson was able to wrangle funds for another film with a massive budget.

At  €170 million, “Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets” is the most expensive film ever made in France. Because it was to be shot in English, it was ineligible for French tax credits. But when Besson threatened to shoot the film in Hungary, the French tax laws were tweaked to make sure those  €170 million stayed in France!

From the trailer, “Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets” looks like a return to the highly-stylized futuristic scenes that made “The Fifth Element” great. Special effects have improved in the intervening twenty years so we can expect impressive eye candy from “Valerian.” Valerian (Dane DeHaan) and Laureline (Cara Delevingne) are cops “charged with maintaining order throughout the universe.” To me they look too young to be employed as intergalactic special agents. Valerian is romantically interested in his work partner Laureline, but is rebuffed. The trailer is enticing, and for many viewers this will be enough to justify the ticket price. However some critics will expect a decent plot as well. Will this be yet one more special-effects-laden movie, with a cool production design and flashy action scenes, without a worthwhile screenplay? “Valerian” could be another box-office success for Besson, but it remains to be seen if it will garner critical praise comparable to “The Fifth Element.” Release date: July 21.

“The Expanse—Season 2.” I was late to the party with this one, but once I discovered it, I binge watched Season 1. The show takes place in a future in which humans have colonized Mars, as well as the asteroid belt. The fact that there are no aliens lends realism. Also, space travel and colonization are limited to the solar system—another realistic point. Finally the depiction of life in space is lent yet more realism because it’s grimy and difficult. There’s trash on the ground and shortages of clean water and air. Contrast this with the squeaky clean fantasy future of “Star Trek,” where no one has to pay (or work) for anything.

The "Expanse" special effects are at the level of a feature film—it didn’t seem like they cut corners because it’s TV. The plot is ambitious and occasionally bites off more than it can chew. Sometimes plot threads and characters are brought up only to be dropped and not mentioned again. This may be a way of setting up future seasons, but in the meantime might confuse viewers.

There is a three-way struggle between Earthers (people born on Earth), Martians (people born on Mars), and Belters (people born in the asteroid belt). Most of the action takes place in The Belt. Belters are underdogs, having spent their entire lives in the grimy claustrophobic tunnels of the asteroid colonies. Because they have never lived on a planet with gravity, their bones are brittle. Because Belters are the underdogs, they have revolutionary tendencies, and see themselves as exploited by Earth. The major worry of Earth (ruled by The United Nations) is that Mars and The Belt will unify in a war against Earth.

The politics of the grand solar system is the background against which various plot narratives take place. A detective named Miller (Thomas Jane) is looking for a missing woman named Julie Mao. In addition, the remnants of the crew of an ice-hauling ship get a small Martian gunship of their own, as the result of being attacked by a mysterious stealth ship. The third narrative thread concerns a UN executive on Earth (played by Shohreh Aghdashloo) who is trying to keep war between Earth and Mars from breaking out. I like Thomas Jane as detective Miller. He carries the story well and is as realistically grimy as his surroundings. Jane has an extensive acting resume despite the fact that prior to “The Expanse” I wasn’t aware of him.

“The Expanse” has potential, and so far the positives outweigh the negatives. The SyFy channel has a lot of confidence in “The Expanse,” having ordered Season 2 before Season 1 even aired. I am curious as to whether there will be a Season 3. It would be too bad if “The Expanse” is cancelled because it didn’t attract viewers. The Second Season premieres February 1.

“Star Wars: Episode VIII”. “VIII” is the second film of the Star Wars sequel trilogy. Coming off the box office successes of “The Force Awakens” and “Rogue One,” “Episode VIII” is guaranteed to be another box office blockbuster. The movie is timed like “Rogue One” to come out in December, in what is becoming the prime movie release slot of the year. Even though “Rogue” has grossed more than $300 million already, it’s behind where “The Force Awakens” was at the same time in its run. This demonstrates that film quality is not necessarily a predictor of box office, as “Rogue” was the better film.

Will “Episode VIII” beat out “Rogue” at the box office? Will it pull off a miracle and even beat out “The Force Awakens?” Whatever critics decide about its merits as cinema, the release of “Episode VIII” will be an important pop culture event.

Some actors who appeared in earlier Star Wars films are again reprising their roles in “VIII.” Carrie Fisher managed to complete filming her role as General Leia Organa in “VIII” before her untimely death. That Fisher died before thestarwars release of her last film role will contribute morbid curiosity, much as the death of Heath Ledger did for the film “The Dark Knight.” Mark Hamill is back as well, forty years after appearing in the first Star Wars film. Peter Mayhew returns as Chewbacca, the hirsute Wookiee.

[Right, Mark Hamill returns as Jedi warrior Luke Skywalker, forty years older, in the “Star Wars: Episode VIII” sequel.]

“VIII” is written and directed by Rian Johnson, an interesting choice to helm the latest installment of the venerated franchise. That J.J. Abrams—who directed “Force”—is not back for “VIII” some folks see as a good sign. Rian Johnson is best known for writing and directing “Looper.” “Looper” was an excellent time-travel tale, so I have guarded hopes for “Episode VIII.” Release date: December 15.

“War for the Planet of the Apes.” This third of the “Planet of the Apes” reboot/prequel series, “War” takes up where the second, “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes” left off. The first in the reboot series was “Rise of the Planet of the Apes.” To recap “Rise,” medical researchers are looking for a cure for Alzheimer’s. They think they’ve found it in a drug called ALZ-113. It does temporarily reverse the symptoms of Alzheimer’s, but more importantly, when used on other primate species besides humans, it increases their intelligence. However, it has the unfortunate side effect of causing a world-wide plague that wipes out most of humanity.

Ten years after the events of “Rise” is when “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes,” the second film in the rebooted series, takes place. In “Rise” there is a small community of humans left in San Francisco composed of people who were immune to the plague. There is also a community of intelligent apes residing in Muir Woods, not far from San Francisco. This colony of intelligent apes lives near a defunct hydroelectric dam. The humans want to fix the dam to provide electricity to San Francisco, but need the permission of the apes to gain access to it. Although the humans manage to repair the dam, the contact between the ape and human communities takes a turn for the worse, leading to the third movie, “War for the Planet of the Apes.”

“War for the Planet of the Apes” is directed and co-written by Matt Reeves, who also directed and co-wrote “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes.” “Dawn” was a critical and box-office success. My guess is that “War” will be another hit at the box office, and so we can expect more intelligent-ape films to come. Woody Harrelson stars as a human general in “War.” Harrelson is usually an enjoyable actor to watch, even when he’s chewing scenery. I’m old enough to remember the original “Planet of the Apes” movies from the sixties, films that contributed to the zeitgeist of the era. While I don’t put the reboot series on the classic science fiction pedestal of the original series, in which Charlton Heston fell to his knees upon seeing the beached remains of the Statue of Liberty, I’m still looking forward to seeing “War for the Planet of the Apes.” Release date: July 14.

“Mr. Robot—Season 3.” This is my favorite television series at the moment. Only “Better Call Saul” is any competition. It’s difficult for a plot summary to concisely describe what this complex cyber-drama is about, but suffice to say it deals with a group of hackers led by Elliot Alderson. Alderson is played by Rami Malek, an actor with preternaturally large eyes that make him compulsively watchable. “Mr. Robot” has set a Rotten Tomatoes record, with Season One being the only television show to have every episode garner a “100% Fresh” rating.

“Mr. Robot” keeps the viewer guessing as to what is real and what isn’t, as the main character is an unreliable narrator who suffers from a grab bag of mental disorders, including paranoia, delusions, depression, social anxiety, and dissociative identity. Elliot’s sister Darlene is assuredly portrayed by Carly Chaikin in a role that has increased her visibility. Christian Slater’s role as Elliot’s father has garnered him three awards for Best Supporting Actor in 2016: The Golden Globe, The Critic’s Choice, and the Satellite. Not many movies and TV shows are convincing when portraying hacking but, among its other plusses, “Mr. Robot” seems to even get this right. The quirky scripts of Season One and Two have made Season Three of “Mr. Robot” my most must-see TV show of 2017. There is no release date for Season Three yet, other than it will be sometime in 2017. In the meantime, if you haven’t yet seen Season One and Two, they are available on many streaming services.

“Alien: Covenant.” Of the four major science-fiction movie franchises, Alien is my favorite. Star Trek, Star Wars and even Planet of the Apes take a back seat to Alien. Yes, the franchise went off the rails with the two “Alien vs. Predator” spin-offs but when it comes to the main Alien franchise, all is forgiven. The Alien films are movies for grown-up science fiction fans as well as horror fans. The horror pulls no punches in the Alien franchise. This is the second film in the Alien prequel series (after “Prometheus”) and the sixth film in the overall main Alien franchise. Of the six Alien films, this is the third to be directed by Ridley Scott. With Ridley Scott’s name on it, I’m there.

What we know of the “Alien: Covenant” plot is threadbare. A colony ship named Covenant lands on what they think is an uncharted paradise planet. There they find David, a “synthetic” (why do they call androids “synthetics” in the Alien franchise?) who is the sole survivor of the doomed Prometheus expedition. They also find the inexorable xenomorph monster, as well as its eggs and larva. Not much plot is revealed in the trailer, but jump-scares abound. I’ll likely re-watch “Prometheus” to remind me what happened in that before I see “Covenant.” Release date: May 19.

“Blade Runner 2049.” The original “Blade Runner” came out in 1982 and was directed by Ridley Scott. However, Scott has been busy directing “Alien: Covenant” so this second Blade Runner film is directed by Denis Villeneuve. Villeneuve has recently scored a success with “Arrival,” so this film comes with a high amount of buzz. Before I say any more about this sequel, I have to say that the original “Blade Runner” was simply one of the best science fiction films ever made.

The complicated history concerning the production of the original “Blade Runner” is an interesting story in its own right, having inspired a book entitled “Future Noir: the Making of Blade Runner” by Paul Sammon. In addition, there are two film documentaries about the making of the original “Blade Runner,” both of which I found free online. I recommend “On the Edge of Blade Runner,” an hour-long BBC documentary that came out in 2000. The original “Blade Runner” film was plagued with rewrites and squabbles amongst almost everyone involved, including fights between screenwriters, tension between the actors and the director, and cost overruns that led to the Director’s Guild being brought in to arbitrate. What makes the original “Blade Runner” even more interesting is that upon release, it was a commercial and critical flop. However, its reputation grew as home video caught on, and eventually it was recognized as a masterpiece of cinema.

A sequel has been in the making since at least 1999, so there’s been plenty of time to get it right. It was assumed that Ridley Scott would direct the sequel. It’s telling that Ridley Scott isn’t involved in “Blade Runner 2049,” after working on it for years before dropping out. The screenplay for the new film was written by Hampden Fancher, who was the writer of the original “Blade Runner” until David Peoples was brought for a rewrite. Since writing the original “Blade Runner,” Fancher’s output has been negligible. He’s only written screenplays for two other films, “The Mighty Quinn” (1989) and “The Minus Man” (1999), neither of which I’ve seen.

“Blade Runner 2049” is set thirty years after the original “Blade Runner.” The protagonist of “2049” is a blade runner (a law enforcement officer who hunts replicants) named Officer K (Ryan Gosling). K must find out what happened to Rick Deckard, the blade runner who went missing after the events of the first film. Harrison Ford reprises his role as Deckard. Whether this sequel turns out to be good or bad, the reputation of the original “Blade Runner” is enough to make “Blade Runner 2049” the most anticipated film of 2017. Release date: October 6.

Well there we have it. My predictions for some of the more eagerly awaited science fiction movies and TV shows coming out in 2017. It’s not a comprehensive list. But I think I’ve covered the films worth marking on your calendar. It is going to be a very interesting year. END

Joshua Berlow is the Movie Critic for “Perihelion Science Fiction.” When not writing reviews, he is the CIO for the International Psychogeography Institute and editor of the Journal of International Psychogeography. He lives in Baltimore.