Review of Starship Grifters by Robert Kroese

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Rating from TwistedSciFi ★★★½☆ 


A space opera adventure with nuggets of comedy, Starship Grifters tells the story of Rex Nihilo, a ‘space-faring ne’er-do-well with more bravado than brains’. After Rex wins a planet in poker game beating (not entirely honestly) a wealthy weapons dealer Gavin Larviton, he finds that the planet is utterly useless and has debt of 1.6 billion credits. Stuck with this debt and fears of a lifetime of torture on the prison world of Gulagatraz, Rex along with his robot assistant, Sasha will do anything and fleece anybody even if it means getting involved in the war between the fascist Malarchian Empire and the rebels of the Frente Repugnante – and even double crossing them both. All while trying avoid a large breasted bounty hunter and space apostles (outer-space Jehovah’s Witnesses) and all with a Martini in Rex’s hand.


The novel is primarily a kind of 1950s Space Opera adventure with comedy peppered throughout it. The entire story is told from point of view of Sasha (a vaguely female looking robot who cannot lie), Rex’s faithful assistant, despite Rex’s incompetence, arrogance and treatment of Sasha as some sort of lackey. What Sasha untimely takes on is straight-man kind of role; someone who is the voice of reason in all the insanity happening around them. It’s very common comedic trope. However, with Sasha because she just faithfully goes a long with Rex, she becomes a little bit of a passive character. She just says “Yes sir” and does what Rex tells her and in order for this to be comedic, I think Sasha could have done with a bit more of a personality. One close example I was remained of was (although it’s a TV show) Zapp Brannigan and Kif Kroker from Futurama. Now I don’t mean that in a bad way at all, I really like Futurama and Zapp and Kif’s situation/relationship is one of its best bits. However every time we see Kif and Zapp; Kif absolutely hates Zapp and hates being around him and that’s what makes it funny. At times it’s just Kif’s reaction to it that get’s the laughs. With Sasha (this maybe down to the fact that she’s a robot) she doesn’t seem to be bothered most of the time. She just accepts Rex’s arrogance and incompetence without so much of a sigh of despair. Once or twice she gets angry, but most of the book it’s all fairly indifference. I know she is a robot, but the some of the most funny and memorable robots have personalities – that’s what brings out the humour.

So I have to ask myself ‘did the novel do the job of making me laugh?’

Now I wouldn’t say it’s up there with what maybe consider as the greats SF comedic novels like: Hitchhikers Guide (there is actual a quick homage to Hitchhikers) or some of Kurt Vonnegut’s novels, but I have to say I did laugh at points. It had some ironic humour/jokes in it, although a lot of the comedy was hit and miss. The tone of the humour at some points seemed to be silly for the sake of being silly and I personally don’t like that. Most of the humour though came from Rex. He is a sort of ironic character; he can be really incompetent yet gets out of situations using only quick thinking. The character is a twist a 1950s brave space adventurers and also a twist on 1970s anti-hero, the sense he’s a loner who is out for himself, but he is the smartest person in the room – or in Rex’s case, arguably the dumbest person in the room. This does create humour, but Rex can get a little bit annoying at times, perhaps because it is told from the point of view from someone else.

In terms of the secondary characters and the world that the novel is set in, I did enjoy the parts with Pepper who I would have liked to be involved a bit more as I found her quite an interesting character, although maybe it is better that she wasn’t used that much. It keeps the mystery about her. The character of Wick was funny and enjoyable as was General Issimo and to a lesser extent Gavin Larviton, I thought the characters were well used in their parts and had a character arc to them. I think the character of Heinous Vlaak could have been less silly, but I think that is what tone the author wanted to get across.

I found to have a good pace and story be well thought out, although the ending revelation I felt was a little bit off tone, as it went from a comedic space opera to a Philip K. Dick like kind of hidden world controlling everything. It just felt it was a bit disjointed and off tone with what had happened previously.

If you’re a hardcore SF reader, it’ll be something that has been done before a little better and maybe find the humour hit and miss. However, despite what problems I have with Starship Grifters, it is fairly short book and I think some people would find it funny.

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About the Reviewer: Born in Blackburn Lancashire in the UK, Luke grew up watching the original Star Wars films and found a love for Science Fiction. At the age of 16, while following a career at being a groundsman, he decided to take the idea of being a writer seriously and started reading novels, this is where he discovered the wonderful world of reading, particularly Science Fiction literature. He has studied film making at the University of Wales, Newport and is a big film buff He is a keen writer of Science Fiction and hopes to get his work published soon.

You can keep in touch with Luke at his blog or on Twitter

Review of An Unproven Concept by James Young

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Rating from TwistedSciFi ★★★★½ 


In An Unproven Concept, the year is 3050 and the Confederation Star Ship Constitution is conducting military exercises under the command of Captain Bolan. The Constitution is a hybrid ship, the brainchild of Fleet Admiral Malinverni who will do everything in his power to make sure it succeeds while other factions will make sure that it fails.


Meanwhile the Spacefaring Ship Titanic under Captain Herrod is one of a dying breed. Technology is making ships faster and cruise ships are slowly becoming a thing of the past. In an attempt to go out with a bang instead of a whimper Captain Herrod is under orders to disobey Section 195 of the Spacefarer’s Code, “A vessel whose primary purpose is the carrying of passengers will be prohibited from entering a system until it is properly named.” Considering that the only alien contact so far is from ruins thousands of years old a lot of factions wish to repeal the code. Captain Herrod is caught between a rock and a hard place and the decision he makes will have cataclysmic results.

I loved this book. The action sequences are of epic proportions. It opens on a bang and just keeps going from there. The sense of foreboding throughout the beginning of the book is so well maintained that I had to read the entire book in one sitting to find out what would happen next. What really made this book good for me were the characters. They weren’t heroes or bigger then Ben Hur they were just ordinary men and women who made choices under the worst kind of conditions. Some of the choices were bad ones and some were good but it was this that made the crews come alive for me and made the book such an exciting read.

I would also recommend Ride of the Late Rain before reading this book though I feel that An Unproven Concept stands up quite neatly on its own.

Click here to see our review of the first book in the Vergassy Chronicles series, Ride of the Late Rain.

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About the Reviewer: Yvonne lives on the NSW/Victorian border in Australia so it is always boiling hot or freezing cold, in other words great reading weather. She reads across all genres with the exception of Westerns. During the day Yvonne works at a library and loves her job and can’t imagine doing anything else.

You can connect with Yvonne on Twitter or Goodreads.

Review of Alien: Out of the Shadows by Tim Lebbon

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Rating from TwistedSciFi ★★½☆☆ 


Out of the Shadows is the story of a group of space miners lead by Chris “Hoop” Hooper who discover the planet they are currently mining contains a nest of Xenomorphs. Just as they make this discovery a shuttle crashes into their spaceship, damaging it beyond repair. The shuttle contains, surprise, surprise, Ellen Ripley, the last survivor of the salvage ship Nostromo. (This unlikely coincidence is later explained and the explanation becomes a sub plot throughout the story). The shuttle survives the collision with minimal damage and can be used for the crew and Ripley to escape and return to Earth. However to do this they need to obtain power packs which are stored in the mine on the planet, hence confronting the aliens in their nest within the mine.


In approaching this novel the author has two major problems to overcome: the novel is set between the events of “Alien” and “Aliens” so anyone familiar with those films can easily guess the outcome of this story, while the Xenomorphs being nothing more than voracious predators and egg laying parasites are one dimensional and quickly become boring in the context of a novel. Tim Lebbon is an author that has written almost thirty novels and many novellas and short stories, yet he fails both of these challenges.  There are no unexpected surprises as the story wends its way to its conclusion; there is no attempt to give the aliens any complexity.  More disappointingly the human players have no depth of character, being mainly fodder for the action. True there is some backstory for Ripley and a little for Hooper, though these threads are surprisingly similar.

Four fifths of the book consists of the crew avoiding or fighting off the aliens with various degrees of success. This concentration on action makes for very boring reading, though, with the right, innovative director the plot could make a good Sci-Fi action movie, and this is, I suspect, where the problem with this novel lies: it is written with one, perhaps both, eyes on being turned into a film script.

In the final fifth the sub story becomes the main plot and the finale concentrates on the human dilemmas created by the preceding events and the book is much improved because of that.  Alien fans will probably enjoy this but there is little of substance for anyone else.

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About the Reviewer:  Bruce Taylor lives in Southend-on-Sea, Essex, England and is married with two grown up daughters. He left school at seventeen, became a computer programmer in 1969 and worked in or around IT until he retired in 2011. He’s an avid reader mostly of Science Fiction.

You can connect with Bruce on Twitter.

Review of Dark Space by Jasper T. Scott

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Rating from TwistedSciFi ★★★★☆ 


-In Dark Space Nobody Knows You Exist

Freelancer and ex-convict Ethan Ortane is in hiding from crime lord Alec Brondi, to whom he owes a considerable amount of money. Brondi lures Ortane out in the open and captures his ship as part payment of his debt. Ortane can pay of the rest by doing one last job for Brondi.


Brondi sends Ortane onto the Valiant, a prime military starship, to sabotage it and bring it down after convincing him that the vessel is bringing danger and further threat of war to Dark Space. Once on the vessel it soon becomes clear that Brondi sent him there on a one way mission.

This is a fantastic fast-paced space adventure from Jasper T. Scott and it makes for an easy and entertaining read. I could imagine a young Harrison Ford in the lead character role.

It has a simplistic, low tech style and doesn’t explore any deep or meaningful themes, which is why I give this book a four star rating as I prefer more complex storylines . So if you’re looking for a quick read that’s not too taxing on the brain cells, this is it.

This is the first book in a trilogy by this young and up-coming author and is already outselling many of the great classics. It’s well worth your time and at only $1.26 (£0.77) in kindle format is also well worth your cash too.

Have you read Dark Space? Please share your comments below, and don’t forget to click on the yellow stars at the top of this post to share your rating (1-5 stars) of Dark Space.

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About the Reviewer
J.M.Tweedie writes Science Fiction and is currently three quarters of the way through her first novel (as yet untitled). When she’s not writing, she can usually be found working hard at her full time day job with the NHS UK, looking after her family or with her head in a good book.
You can find out more about her and sample some of her writing at her website or alternatively follow on Twitter.

Review of Red Rising by Pierce Brown

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Rating from TwistedSciFi ★★★★★ 


-Death isn’t empty like you say it is. Emptiness is life without freedom.

Red Rising is the best book that I’ve read in the last 12 months, and I read quite a bit.


-How clever of them. How much hate they create between people who should be kin.
From a genre classification, Red Rising falls somewhere between Science Fiction and Fantasy. The clips about Red Rising compare it to both Ender’s Game & the Hunger Games, but I also see similarities to Hugh Howey’s Wool, especially at the beginning of Red Rising. As in Howey’s ‘Wool’ universe, the leaders of the society in Red Rising suppress key information about their world in order to manipulate their citizens.

-I’ve been in the mines for three years. You start at 13. Old enough to screw, old enough to crew.
This is a gripping story of Darrow, a boy born to a clan of repressed miners on Mars. Darrow’s miner clan is part of the lowest rung on the societal ladder, the “Reds.”

-Life’s dealt us a hard hand. We’re to sacrifice for the good of men and women we don’t know. We’re to dig to ready Mars for others.
The miners are responsible for mining “helium 3″ which will enable the terraforming of the Martian surface. The miners’ lives are lived exclusively underground. In fact, they don’t even have access to view the surface of Mars or the stars.

-When your wife died, she didn’t just give you a vendetta. She gave you her dream. You’re its keeper. Its maker.
The characters are well-developed and credible; you can’t help but feel emotionally connected to their plight as the story unfolds. The story is chock full of moral dilemmas with blurred gray lines that will make you constantly reevaluate “good,” “evil,” “right” and “wrong.”

It’s difficult to discuss too many details without revealing spoilers. In fact, some of the most compelling parts of the story are the countless unanticipated plot twists revealed slowly throughout the course of the book.

This book hits squarely on all bases. I’m stunned that this is Pierce Brown’s debut novel considering the quality of the work. I’ll be the first in line to pre-order the sequel as soon as it’s available for sale.

Have you read Red Rising or any works by Pierce Brown? Please share your comments below, and don’t forget to click on the yellow stars at the top of this post to share your rating (1-5 stars) of Red Rising.

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Review of Light by M. John Harrison

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Rating from TwistedSciFi ★★★★★ 


- In a universe where there’s only one thing more mysterious than darkness…

It’s difficult to know how to describe this book, let alone pigeon-hole it into any category. Some have described Light – the first novel in M. John Harrison’s Empty Space trilogy – as a work of literary science-fiction, others more a condensed space opera. More recently it has been described as an example of quantum fiction. That is to say, a story that ‘reflects modern experience of the material world and reality as influenced by quantum theory and new principles in quantum physics.’ It is a label that the author seems quite happy with.


The first of three interlocking strands is set in England, 1999, the following two in the post-Earth future of 2400. Pre-millennium, we learn of Michael Kearney – a physicist and serial killer – whose spent all of his adult life running from the Shrander, a mysterious entity complete with a horse’s skull for its head. Michael murders women to keep it at bay but the Shrander’s never satisfied. Involved with his partner, Brian Tate, on a research project that appears ready to break under the weight of its own uncertainty, Kearney keeps running away from the Shrander with his psychologically frail ex-wife, Anna, for company.


Fast-forward to 2400 and Tate-Kearney transformations are used widely for space travel. Human civilisation is smeared across a host of planets surrounding the Kefahuchi Tract, a space-time anomaly described as a ‘naked singularity without an event horizon.’ The K-tract has beguiled every race that has ever encountered it, a phenomenon that takes no notice of conventional physics and where you can expect to find ancient artefacts and alien technology that can’t be understood.

Seria Mau Genlicher pilots her ship, The White Cat, around the K-Tract, the craft bristling with weapons and capabilities beyond most thanks to this abundance of this alien hardware. It’s run by sentient mathematics and algorithms – known as Shadow Operators – that possess a life of their own and which allow Seria to spend much of her time plugged into the ship. She’s just acquired an mysterious artefact that gets the attention of the authorities because it promises the kind of opportunities that humanity has long lusted after.

On the planet below, in the city of New Venusport, ‘twink’ Ed Chianese – a once famous explorer – is washed up and spending his days in a tank playing out clichéd old-Earth scenarios in virtual reality. Ed’s forced back into the real world when his evil debtors come looking for him, chasing his sorry soul into a strange new life as a visionary in the circus. There, he starts a relationship with a genetically modified rickshaw girl by the name of Annie Glyph as he searches for some kind of redemption.

Into this delightfully twisted and surreal pleat of narratives, the reader is left trying to find out how it all might tie together. About halfway through, though, it becomes apparent it probably won’t, at least not conventionally. At best, objects and circumstances mirror over, such as the white cat in Tate’s apartment becoming the name of Seria’s vessel. It is, however, the nature of the Tract, that unites the overriding theme of senselessness throughout.

The pleasure of this novel, then, comes in the craft of its construction. Harrison’s prose is regularly exquisite, operating at a refined level that demands re-reading, sometimes to unpack hidden meaning but often just for the sheer hell of it. Every word is expertly placed and it becomes hard not to wallow in sentences so evocative and poetic, succinct and packed brimming with wonder.

One criticism of the novel concerns a set of characters which are flawed but also rather unpleasant. However, if it becomes hard to develop much in the way of sympathy for the protagonists, the atmosphere is leavened by a shot of dark humour that enhances the sense of anarchy and fun.

The end, as you’d expect from a novel described as the first in a trilogy of quantum fiction, does not end in the traditional sense. By exploring the idea of quantum physics in such a nuanced way, however, Harrison creates a brilliant, vivid and unsettling work that lives long in the memory. It’s the type of book you want to take some time with, because you can’t help feeling it raises the bar – be it for space opera, quantum fiction or anything else – quite considerably.

Have you read Light or any works by M. John Harrison? Please share your comments below, and don’t forget to click on the yellow stars at the top of this post to share your rating (1-5 stars) of Light.

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About Reviewer, Ol Wilson
Born in Kenya but raised in England to British parents, Ol wrote comedy and science fiction as a kid before studying Film & Television at the University of Wales, Aberystwyth. Moving back home to Nottingham, he penned film scripts in the evenings whilst working a succession of day jobs. It was during this time that he rekindled his love for science fiction and started reading and writing it as much as he could.

Ol’s published a number of short stories since, both online and on this website. He also writes reviews for Twisted Scifi.com and continues to work on his forthcoming novel, The Iron Gate. He’s just started working as a freelance proofreader and is currently studying for an accreditation in publishing.

He supports Nottingham Forest, has a love of crazy music and lives wherever he can.

You can keep in touch with Ol at his blog, on Twitter, or you can click here to read Ol’s freethree-part Science Fiction short, The Sleeper.

Review of Kinship: The Covering by Maria Watson

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Rating from TwistedSciFi ★★★☆☆ 


The Covering is a debut novel by Maria Watson, the first of a series of books in the Kinship series which, judging from the writing style, is aimed at the young adult market.


The tale begins with the protagonist, Maela, and a small band of Kin racing to the site of a crashed spaceship from Earth. They must reach the survivors before their enemy, the elves, who will infect the earthmen with “venom”. They achieve this objective and the remainder of the story concerns their attempts to evade the elves and get the spacemen to the safety of the Covering where they will be judged on their suitability to remain within the sanctuary. Watson uses this straightforward, linear plot in an attempt to tackle the difficult subject of racism.

There are some flaws. The characters are thinly drawn and some, particularly Sean Kraige, are stereotypical. Others, Matthew for instance, add nothing to the narrative and seem pointless; perhaps they will be developed later in the series. By far the best character is Ar, the leader of the elves. His passion for evil grows with lustful enthusiasm as he commits each vicious act and these well described passages show Watson has a talent worth nurturing.

There is little in the way of backstory causing irritating questions to arise which interrupt the flow of the story. Why do the crash victims think they are on Earth? Why does it take some of them so long to realise they are not – do they not talk to each other? Why, when he is portrayed as a weak philanderer, is Bruce Shapiro their leader? What does Maela think the crashed spaceship is when there is no hint of the Kin being spacefaring? Answers to these and many other questions would give Watson’s writing greater depth.

However, she writes with a pleasant, almost naïve, style and the plot is very well paced which makes for an easy read. Towards the end of the book she appears to suggest that racism – the venom – is “of the head” and not the heart. If this is to be the theme of the second novel in the series the depth and thought with which she develops such a difficult argument will determined whether she becomes a novelist of note or a lightweight storyteller.

Have you read Kinship: The Covering? Please share your comments below, and don’t forget to click on the yellow stars at the top of this post to share your rating (1-5 stars) of Kinship: The Covering.

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About the Reviewer:  Bruce Taylor lives in Southend-on-Sea, Essex, England and is married with two grown up daughters. He left school at seventeen, became a computer programmer in 1969 and worked in or around IT until he retired in 2011. He’s an avid reader mostly of Science Fiction.

You can connect with Bruce on Twitter.

Classic Science Fiction Film Review: Sunshine by Danny Boyle

“What a great starting point: eight astronauts strapped to the back of this massive bomb, behind a shield, flying towards the sun. Fantastic! I’d go and watch that!” – Danny Boyle

We love our resident film reviewer, Ren Zelen! Ren was kind enough to share her perspectives on Danny Boyle’s under-the-radar film, Sunshine. I must confess that I’ve never seen Sunshine, but after reading Ren’s review, I feel compelled to watch. Enjoy!

THE HEART OF LIGHTNESS: Danny Boyle’s sci-fi classic ‘SUNSHINE’ RE-viewed

A blazing, golden sun slowly fills the screen and we are compelled to regard its terrible, encompassing beauty. This image begins Danny Boyle’s sci-fi movie Sunshine. It’s not the most celebrated, or the most popular, or the most written about movie in my Sci-fi collection, but something keeps drawing me back to re-watch it, and every time I do, I’m more convinced that it is one of Boyle’s most underrated films.


Looking back through some erstwhile reviews, it seems I’m not the only one who thinks so – it was described as the director’s “most misunderstood and underrated film” by influential critic Mark Kermode in his BBC blog. Critically it received acclaim, yet on cinema release, it barely made a dent in the cinema-going public’s cultural psyche, at least in comparison with his much lauded movies Trainspotting or Slumdog Millionaire. Let’s not forget that Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner wasn’t a hit on first release either, though any self-respecting sci-fi geek would not deny it is now seen as a milestone in movie history. Not that I think that Sunshine is destined for the same kind of impact, mainly because it is a very different kind of film – more pensive, more subtly philosophical, more idiosyncratic. It blurs the boundaries between science and spirituality and addresses the idea of what might happen to a mind when faced with the most powerful and terrifying forces in our solar system. The sun here represents the giver of life but also is a receptacle for mysterious, implacable knowledge.

The movie begins in a pragmatic tone – a group of scientists are trying to save the Earth which is trapped in a solar winter, caused by the dimming of the light from the Sun. Their ship, called the Icarus 2, carries a bomb which they must launch in hopes of reigniting the failing star. Professor Brian Cox was brought in to advise on the (rather dubious) scientific aspects of the film and to spend time with Cillian Murphy who played the fictional physicist, Capa (Murphy reportedly incorporated some of Professor Cox’s mannerisms into the character). Professor Cox commented, “Just for once there’s a film where the physicist looks like Cillian Murphy rather than some old man. That’s a good thing!”

The film initially moves with a quiet slowness which reflects the pace and silence of the journey and the fragile and claustrophobic mentality of the eight people who have been trapped together in a ship in the depths of space for sixteen months. Their mission has been calculated and assessed to the nth degree in order to allow them to deliver their ‘payload’ and return to earth. As they approach their launching destination for the bomb, they begin to receive a beacon signal from the first ship, the Icarus 1, which disappeared on its mission seven years ago and a now appears to be stranded in close proximity to the sun. A tough decision has to be made. Do they deviate from their course, jeopardising all their careful mission and life-support calculations, in order to pick up the bomb ‘payload’ from the first ship, which would give them another chance in case their launch is ineffective, or do they stick to their route? The decision falls to Capa, the physicist. He runs a simulation to better inform his decision, but as the simulated bomb enters the sun, the computer states that the variables are ‘infinite’. Capa then turns to captain Kanada and states: “The velocity of the payload will be so great, space and time will become smeared together. Everything will distort, everything will become unquantifiable.”  I think this statement becomes the key to understanding the events that take place later in the movie.

Meanwhile, chance and human error disrupt their carefully laid plans, and the events that the crew might have initially seen as fortunate and redemptive soon become tinged with a growing sense of unease. Bad luck seems to follow as the crew begins to unravel, and the increasing proximity of the sun and its relentless glare seems to instill an underlying disorientation and hysteria. John Murphy’s euphoric soundtrack also helps to bring out both the beauty and horror of the universe, and the insignificance of man’s place in it. The serene, meditative tone established by Boyle also forms a striking contrast to the increasingly dominant presence of the fiery sun.

The aspect of the movie that seems to bother most viewers is the troubling third act – “the film suddenly goes a bit Event Horizon,” conceded one review, referring to the advent of Mark Strong’s disfigured Pinbacker, captain of the failed Icarus 1 mission that disappeared seven years previously. Assumed to be dead along with the rest of his crew, he arrives clandestinely on the Icarus 2 vessel and begins murdering the occupants, intent on sabotaging their mission. Many viewers were disturbed by this change of tone, which they considered as a betrayal of the philosophical elements and which suddenly turned the movie into a ‘monster on the loose’ slasher film, introducing aspects of the paranormal.

In an interview with Lumino Magazine, Danny Boyle addressed the issue, saying: “Some people find that Pinbacker breaks the realism too much. Which is fair enough, but I always love taking a huge risk in films where you risk everything by doing something that breaks the pattern…So that was always the plan, to take you and see how far we could stretch realism. Push it as hard as we could.”

Pinbacker may be murderous, but he is not so simple a monster. For a start, it’s damn hard to see him. He blurrs and flickers and is never quite in focus. There are glimpses which hint at disfigurement and mutilation – a body burned almost out of recognition by prolonged exposure to the sun (effects created by DOP). Why is he so hard to focus on? Remembering Capa’s words at the simulation, “Everything will distort, everything will become unquantifiable” it appears that this has certainly happened with Pinbacker (at least symbolically). It suggests he has tried to ‘commune’ with the sun for so long that his body and space-time around it have become distorted. His mind has also become distorted and deranged.

Pinbacker’s madness is a symptom of the psychological effort of coming to terms with the importance of the mission, which in his mind, crumbles to insignificance when faced with the enormity of space and the sun itself. He feels his insignificance in the face of the universe – we came from stardust and we shall return to the same. He becomes fanatical in his determination to let the universe take its natural course, even if it means the absolute destruction of mankind. For Pinbacker, only ‘God’ can fill the unbearable void that is space and palliate the feeling that man is meaninglessness. For him, the sun is the messenger of God, whereas for Capa it is an outward expression of the payload, the scientific means by which he can deliver man’s salvation (God helps those who helps themselves).

There are many references to the divine and the spiritual, most obviously in Pinbacker’s fundamentalist language, but also obliquely in imagery and statements made by others, serving to imply that we are imperfect creatures constantly reaching out to the divine – represented here by the sun, the giver of life. Ultimately it is the scientist Capa who achieves a kind of divinity, becoming one with the sun, but only by self-sacrifice, lifting himself above his cynicism to finally see the miracle inside nature that science strives to deconstruct and emulate. What Capa sees at the end of the movie affects him beyond the rational.

Pinbacker does not see, because he has lost all hope. Overwhelmed, he has lost all desire for intervention and all desire to save humanity. He embraces the catastrophe – embraces the fading sun. Even as the crew of the Icarus 2 sacrifice themselves in order to reignite the sun and save Earth, Pinbacker is ruthless in his mission to let the sun fade, forgetting that science itself can engender a form of spirituality. As we strive to understand the secrets of the universe, as we explore, we evolve, and that is our purpose.

So, we find an affecting human story of self-sacrifice emerging from Alex Garland’s clinical script. What is one man’s life against that of all mankind? This scenario was made credible by an impressive array of international actors including Cillian Murphy, Mark Strong, Rose Byrne, Michelle Yeoh, Cliff Curtis, Hiroyuki Sanada, Troy Garity (son of Jane Fonda) Benedict Wong and Chris Evans, who, out of superhero costume, finally gets the chance to show his acting chops.

Impressive camerawork allows us to inhabit the space of the vessel’s incumbents – physically and emotionally – with numerous dazzling shots of the space craft contrasted against the blazing surface of the sun and also from the perspective of the astronauts from inside their slitted space helmets. But I loved Sunshine for its radical message that humans will strive to do something about catastrophe, and that our deadliest weapons could be used in the service of preservation rather than destruction. A rehabilitation of the more sinister aspects of science?

Boyle had already turned down the opportunity of directing the fourth of the Alien franchise, and on Sunshine worked with a modest budget of just $20 million, but the visual quality of the movie outstrips many more expensive films. Should we lambaste or celebrate him for taking such a creative risk? What certainly didn’t help was the marketing of the movie, which sought to entice viewers by playing up the ‘slasher film’ qualities of Pinbacker’s involvement. No wonder audiences were confused. The film deserved better. Its high concept premise doesn’t weigh it down – and if Boyle takes some unusual turns, it doesn’t stop it from being an absorbing, tense and thought-provoking sci-fi.

Have you seen Sunshine? Please share your comments below.

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Copyright R.H. Zelen – ©RenZelen 2013 All rights reserved.

About Reviewer, Ren Zelen
REN ZELEN describes herself as “a writer, academic editor, reviewer, pop culture junkie, movie buff, rock music enthusiast, science nerd and Sandra Bullock lookalike”. Her fiction and past reviews can be found on her own website: Lethal Lexicon.

Her post-apocalyptic science-fiction novel ‘The HATHOR DIARIES’ is available from Amazon in both the UK and USA.

Her book/film/TV reviews can be found on various sites on the web. Information and contact on twitter.