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Classification: Plot Device

 

Just in case some reader hasn’t seen any of the Terminator movies (is there such a person?). Here’s a quick recap of the series: In the very near future, Skynet, a super-powerful military computer gains consciousness and declares war on Humanity. It is a bitter and costly war, billions of humans die, and in the end we almost lose: but thanks to John Connor, a resourceful and intelligent leader, we manage to win. However, Skynet has many tricks up its sleeve: in the first movie, it sends a Terminator, a cyborg that looks like Arnold Schwarzenegger to kill Sarah, John’s mother, before he is born, hoping to alter the timeline and assure a victory. But future John is aware of this plan, and so, he sends someone, a trusted lieutenant, Kyle Reese, to protect her (which he does, quite successfully – and becomes John’s father in the process). In terminator 2, John is a young teenager, and Skynet sends a powerful, shape-shifting new type of Terminator (the T-1000) to kill him. However, future John sends a ’standard’, Terminator to protect his younger counterpart (again, oddly enough, one that looks like Schwarzenegger. A pretty bad idea, IMO).

 

Terminator – The Sarah Connor Chronicles is the television equivalent of the Terminator movie franchise. It takes place somewhere between the second and the third movies, and presumably, things will take a different turn of events than they have in Terminator 3. In the show we follow the life of Sarah Connor, and her teenage son, John Connor – future leader of humanity and its savior against the war against the machine.

 

As it turns out, Skynet sends numerous Terminators to kill John and other important figures in the future human resistance. An additional goal of these terminators is setting up operations: machines, weapons, explosives, so that when the war begins, Skynet will be better prepared. Future John is aware of this, so he sends two of his most trusted allies to the past: Cameron, a reprogrammed female Terminator, and Derek Reese, the brother of Kyle Reese – John’s father. He also sends additional agents that work independently – though occasionally the gang has some contact with them.

 

The first season was pretty bland. We follow John’s life as a high school teenager, and episode after episode, he, his mother and Cameron hunt the occasional Terminator sent to the past. It’s not that it was a bad season, but it was just – well – not too interesting. The series does have an additional story, focusing on Cromartie, a terminator sent specifically to kill John (unlike most of the others) that has proven to be quite persistent, resourceful – and very dangerous.

 

After finishing the first season, I nearly gave up the show. It wasn’t bad, but I wasn’t sure it’s good enough to justify spending time watching it. However, in the second season there was a dramatic improvement. The show stopped killing Terminators every week but started developing a much more complex plot, one that involves future flashbacks. The season included elements such as: a T-1000 (the shapeshifting new type of Terminator) being sent to the past and tries to build skynet – and strangely – teach him ethics. Riley, John’s girlfriend – who knows a lot more about the future than she lets John know. Jesse, supposedly a refugee from the future, but in reality following an agenda of her own. In the second season, Terminator – The Sarah Connor Chronicles became much better. In fact, it’s probably my favorite Sci-Fi TV show on the air (and that’s saying a lot).

 

What I particularly liked about the second season is that it became, darker, much darker – and also – what’s the word I’m looking for: philosophical. For example, there is an episode which focuses on Cameron (the reprogrammed terminator). Since she doesn’t sleep, she likes going at night to libraries to read books and watch old movies in an attempt to gain a better understanding of humans (always a smart thing to better know your prey). During one such visit, she spots an anomaly in one of the old movies from the 20s: she recognizes a Terminator that from some reason was sent there. This causes Cameron to initiate an investigation into the matter in order to discover why was a terminator sent to such a far point of time, and how could its mission be averted.

 

(Skip if you don’t like spoilers): as we later find out, this was not the goal of Skynet: as a result of a malfunction, the poor Terminator simply arrived in the wrong time, and accidentally killed someone in a fire, causing the timeline to diverge. Determined to achieve its mission, it spends decades doing various uncharacteristic things (starting businesses, driving competitors out of business, etc) only so it could restore the timeline to what it is supposed to be, and accomplish its mission: which is to kill someone.

 

This episode is completely unrelated to the main story. In fact, a viewer could skip it and not lose anything. However, including such a ‘minor’ plot adds so much to the series. Not only it is a very intriguing mystery (why was the terminator there?) and a compelling story (how did it restore the timeline?), but we also learn a lot about terminators in general, and Cameron specifically. In my opinion, including this type of episode in a show is what turns a good series into a great series. It’s taking the time to fill in the small details. (one comparable example I can think of is ‘Lower decks’, the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode that focuses on several junior officers).

 

Although the series is not over, and things may very well deteriorate, right now I’d give the first season 3.5/5.0, and the second season: 4.5/5.0. However, so far the second season just keeps improving: and I expect greatness from the next seasons. All in all, highly recommended. I just hope it won’t let us down like other shows that used to be good.

 


Terminator – The Sarah Connor Chronicles: the first season on Amazon.com

Terminator – The Sarah Connor Chronicles: the second season on Amazon.com

 

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Classification: Effects of Time Travel Technologies on Society

 

Imagine: one day you are outside, lying on your back and watching the stars with your two best friends. Suddenly, something happens: the stars vanish, all at once. Just like that. This is how Spin begins.

 

In Spin we are introduced to Tyler Dupree, the protagonist, and his two closest friends, the twins Jason and Diane Lawton. Tyler, Jason and Diane were doing exactly what I described in the previous paragraph: watching the night sky when all the stars suddenly vanished. This event which has occurred everywhere has come to be called the “Spin”.

 

At first no one knew what happened. It seemed that the Spin is some sort of an artificial barrier created around the Earth, by someone with clearly an infinitely greater understanding of technology than humanity. For reasons of their own, the Hypotheticals (as people have started calling them), have chosen to erect this barrier.

 

The barrier’s goal is actually not to hide the stars: that’s merely a side effect. The goal is much subtler than that. Although the barrier is permeable, meaning, objects can pass through it, time goes much faster outside the barrier than in it. Much, much, much faster: for every year that passes on Earth, 100 million years pass outside. Think about it: every minute that passes on Earth is equivalent to centuries outside the barrier.

 

This is a truly scary situation Humanity has suddenly found itself in. Current predictions give the Solar System 4 additional billion years: in human terms, this is infinitely long: but with the Spin intact, this will happen in only 40 years. Meaning, most adult humans will live to experience this. And what then? Is that the goal of the Hypotheticals – to destroy humanity and Earth?

 

In Spin the way humanity is dealing with this event is examined from two different perspectives. The first is the practical one: obviously, many nations attempt to destroy the barrier, multiple times. But there are other ways of dealing with this issue. I don’t want to give too many spoilers, but the fact that time goes MUCH faster outside the barrier is a huge advantage from some aspects. For example, what if one attempted to terraform mars with Earth microbes. If one does this correctly, this could work. Of course, it could take a couple of hundred thousand years… but that’s only a few days from Earth’s perspective. And if that worked.. what if a spaceship with settlers was sent to colonize Mars with the goal of inhabiting it, and eventually work on a way to neutralize Earth’s barrier from outside. A day in Earth would mean centuries have passed for them. Very interesting ideas, don’t you think? I won’t elaborate beyond that.

 

The second perspective is how humanity collectively deals with the fact that in just a couple of decades it will probably cease to exist. Is there a point in having kids, if their lives are going to be so short? Is there a point in investing in a pension fund, if you won’t live to that age? Maybe there’s no point in living at all? Spin does a superb job in dealing with these complex issues and questions. [Note that in The Chronoliths, another novel by the same author that I reviewed, similar issues are examined from a different perspective (and reason)]

 

Spin is an excellent novel on every conceivable measure. It has a fantastic and imaginative plot. It has deep and well developed characters. It feels completely realistic (in fact, I’d be surprised if there wasn’t a movie made at some point). Finally, it it extremely well written: one frequent criticism of science fiction is that often the ideas they present are good, but as for the writing, well, that generally leaves much to be desired. Well – I think that Spin could win awards for writing as well. (It did win a Hugo, but surely that’s “only” because of the brilliant concepts and ideas it raises).

 

In summary: highly, highly recommended, Spin is immediately a classic. Every year there are 1 (sometime 2) book I consider my personal favorite book of the year. In 2006, Spin was that book. You can’t go wrong with Spin. If you pick one book to read this year, pick Spin.

 


The book’s details on Amazon.com

 

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Classification: Plot Device

 

Donnie Darko, the protagonist of the film, is a seventeen year old strange teenager living in Virginia suffering from some serious mental issues (for which he takes medication). Donnie is a social outsider: he has difficulties interacting with his teachers. He is also not very good at making friends. The only person who understands him – at least more than the rest – is his girlfriend, Gretchen.

 

One night, while sleepwalking, Donnie goes outside his house. When he wakes up, he sees a man-sized, horrific looking bunny. The bunny, who calls himself Frank, tells him that in 28 days, 6 hours, 42 minutes and 12 seconds, the world will end. The strangeness doesn’t end here: while Donnie is speaking to Frank, an engine falls of a plane and crashes on the roof of Donnie’s house, destroying his room in the process. This bizarre sleepwalking incident saved Donnie’s life!

 

In the next few days, Donnie’s life turns even more surreal than it is. He begins hallucinating about Frank: at first Frank instructs him to vandalize the school mascot. Then he tries to convince Donnie that he can’t get into trouble anymore. Despite taking medications, and even undergoing hypnotherapy, Frank continues appearing to Donnie. Donnie is confused, more so by the fact Frank hints he can see him by usage of Time Travel, thus, making Donnie obsessed with the subject.

 

This is where I stop. I don’t want to say anything anymore, since the rest may spoil the plot.

 

Donnie Darko has one of the most unusual premises I’ve seen. When I first heard of it, I knew I absolutely had to watch it. And it doesn’t disappoint. Although it basically describes the life of one (almost) average teenager in high school: it’s not the average teenage movie by a long shot. Instead, Donnie Darko is a highly atmospheric, gloomy, creepy film, populated with grotesque characters. On top of that, the acting is superb and the soundtrack is exceptional (have you heard Gary Jules’ Mad World?).

 

While watching the movie, at first I was hooked by the big mysteries: Is Frank real? And if so, who is he? Why does he look like a large mutated bunny? Will the world really end in 28 days? But the film is memorable for other reasons. Although I don’t normally like surreal movies, Donnie Darko can be said to be a spiritual journey: it’s as if we are going on a journey with Donnie; during the course of the movie, we start to deeply care about the pitfalls he faces and his overall fate. I rarely get this feeling from movies or books (in fact, the only other example I have is of a novel I reviewed, An Exaltation of Larks).

 

The best part is the ending. It’s the kind of emotional yet unpredictable ending that makes you want to watch the whole thing again. Better yet, if the message speaks to you, you are changed by this story. Uplifted by Donnie’s journey.

 

I know some consider Donnie Darko to be highly overrated. Perhaps that may be true. But it is definitely one of my all time favorites. it is also quite hard to understand at times. Some say that to completely understand it, one must watch all the extra scenes in the special edition DVD – a claim I agree with.

 

In summary, Donnie Darko is not a cult movie by accident: it is thought provoking, surreal and beautiful. Unusually bizarre, and yet highly compelling, Donnie Darko is a must for lovers of the genre. That being said, it is likely that many would probably not like the film for these very reasons.

 


Click to see Donnie Darko (The Director’s Cut: Two-Disc Special Edition) on Amazon

 

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chrnoliths

Classification: Effects of Time Travel Technologies on Society

 

Imagine that one day, a 200-foot indestructible blue obelisk suddenly appeared in your home town, killing hundreds and causing great destruction. Now what would you say if the inscription on the obelisk commemorated the town’s military conquest, and declared that this unpleasant future is only 16 years away? This is the premise of this novel: in the year 2021, one after the other, enormous obelisks (suitably named Chronoliths) begin appearing all over the world announcing its upcoming conquest by the enigmatic “Warlord Kuin”, a military commander no one has heard of.

 

Although the underlying premise is fictional, the novel focuses on what would’ve happened to society if something like this were to happen. Consider this: what would happen to the world, if everyone knew, for a fact, that in merely a few decades some previously unknown military organization would change life as we know it. Such a belief has powerful worldwide ramifications, in fact, these are strong enough to trigger unrest, and potentially result in the very future everyone fear coming true. Then again, who knows whether this future is fixed – perhaps there is a way for this impending disaster to be averted?

 

These issues, through the eyes of the main characters, are the focus of the book. It offers some of the best developed characters I have had the pleasure to read. Unsurprisingly, this makes for a very dark and depressing novel: it is not an optimistic novel that cheerfully describes a bright future. But that is also its strength: it just feels real.

 

In summary, this book will appeal to people who are interested in the “what if” scenario of such a cataclysmic event. If if you find that interesting, you will love the book.

 


Link to the book’s details on Amazon.com

 

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maroonedinrealtime

Classification: Future Reality

 

Although Marooned in Realtime continues the plot which begins with The Peace War, it is a completely separate novel. In fact, The Peace War only serves as the background: Marooned in Realtime is a very different novel.

 

As mentioned in my review for The Peace War, somewhere in the early 21st century, the Peace Authority, an unknown organization at that point, was able to conquer the world using an irresistible weapon, the “bobbler”, which creates an impenetrable force field that surrounds key areas, essentially freezing these areas in time. What the Peace Authority did not know is that these force fields eventually dissipate, thus, releasing their contents to the world. From the occupants’ perspective, no time has passed at all – they suddenly find themselves in the future. The length of the stasis can range from a few hours to thousands of years.

 

The story begins in the very far future: some 50 million years from now. The Earth has been long abandoned – something happened in the 23rd century which caused all humans to disappear – and several bobbles which were created in The Peace War and the centuries afterward are finally beginning to unfreeze.

 

The survivors of these bobbles find themselves stranded in a desolate place, and slowly begin to rebuild civilization in the empty world. In order to increase the population size, this group of survivors periodically bobbles itself for periods of time, looking for new survivors every time it unfreezes. However, after one such event, it is discovered that Marta Korolev, one of the most popular members, was stranded behind – essentially “Marooned in realtime”. Although for the group no time has passed at all, Marta has been trapped alone for many decades, and when the bobble finally dissipates, the group finds her long dead. Quickly it is discovered that this is no accident, and that someone has done this intentionally. This is effectively murder, made particularly malevolent by the fact in the empty Earth, every human is extremely precious. Who is doing this, and why?

 

This is the premise to Marooned in Realtime. Unlike its predecessor, the book is a murder mystery, and a very good one. Although it is based on The Peace War, it very different in story and tone. However, as before, the story is well written and the characters are well developed: one really starts feeling for them.

 

Marooned in Realtime also discusses a secondary mystery: why did humanity vanish? This introduces the reader to the Singularity: one of Vinge’s favorite topics, and makes for a very interesting back story.

 

Overall, I thought this is a great book: It’s intelligent, imaginative and enjoyable. I highly recommend it.

 


Link to the book on Amazon.com

 

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peacewar

Classification: Plot Device

 

I wasn’t sure whether I should review The Peace War. Although it is a fantastic book, it does not exactly involve time travel, though a time altering device is used. However, in order to understand the second novel – an excellent and worthy novel in its own right – it is important to be familiar with The Peace War.

 

The Peace War describes the near future: only a few years from today, the Peace Authority, an unknown organization until this point, appears and begins conquering strategic points using a new type of irresistible weapon: the “bobbler”. The bobbler creates an impenetrable force field that surrounds key areas, essentially freezing these areas in time. By very quickly creating bobbles around military bases and other strategic areas, the Peace Authority is able, surprisingly quickly, to take over the entire world.

 

The plot begins fifty years after the Peace Authority has conquered the world. By now The Peace Authority is a well established, tyrannical organization, that has banned all research in technology for fear that someone may be able to discover a way to defeat it. Although it appears that the Peace Authority cannot be stopped because of their ultimate weapon, small groups have began working in secret on research with the goal of discovering a weapon to defeat the authority.

 

The Peace War describes the story of Paul Naismith, the inventor of the Bobbler technology who’s now working in secrecy with the rebellion in an attempt to undo the harm he has done.

 

Overall, I thought this is a superb book. It’s very well written and highly enjoyable. The plot advances very quickly, and it’s very easy to imagine it being made into a movie (mark my words, it will happen!). Highly recommended!

 


Link to the book on Amazon.com

 

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primer

 

Classification: Personal Alternate Reality

 

I’ve heard a lot about Primer and was excited when I finally got the chance to see the film. Primer is very unusual, even for a Time Travel story. In Primer, four engineers attempt to create a machine in their garage in order to sell the technology. However, they get more than they’ve bargained for: a side effect of the machine means it can effectively be used as a time machine. At first the guys attempt to use it to make money using the stock market, but later on they begin using it for other purposes, like attempting to prevent a maniac from getting to a party.

 

All in all, the film was interesting but I can’t say I enjoyed it. First, the story is filled with technical jargon. In fact, the first 10 minutes are nothing but technical jargon. It’s not really hard to understand but it is as interesting as watching someone make a tax report. Furthermore, about halfway through the movie, the plot becomes so confusing that is practically impossible to understand what is going on.

 

One quote I saw in Wikipedia summarizes it very well: “anybody who claims [to] fully understand what’s going on in Primer after seeing it just once is either a savant or a liar.”

 

My summary: make your own decision. I don’t think this movie is worth it, but maybe I need to see it more than once to make a final decision. That being said, I have no plans whatsoever to watch it again.

 


Link to the movie’s DVD on Amazon.com

 

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Time Travel Movies