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.

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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 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.

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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.

Review of Escape the Bone Yard by RC Scott

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Rating from TwistedSciFi ★★★★☆ 

In Escape from the Bone Yard by RC Scott, Ja Keen is at university at the bequest of his mother’s unlimited funds. He is a genius, who at the young age of sixteen is struggling with the strictures her overbearing nature places upon him. Put simply… he wants to go home. Ja Keen dreams and sometimes these dreams reveal impossible things, things he shouldn’t / couldn’t know.

On another planet Thayan orphans, unloved and unwanted are promised a new home. Telepathically gifted they rarely speak out loud and are universally feared and hated. A new planet awaits them offering hope and home. Cojun, a fifteen year old boy struggles to overcome his Toran heritage from his father and battles daily with his rage.

The Bone Yard is an asteroid in space inhabited by nine pirate captains who fearlessly raid across the galaxy believing themselves to be outside and above the law. Their world is dominating by back stabbing and infighting with each of them trying to consolidate their position above the others. It is also occupied by the beautiful Madam Nar Tana whose brothels are playgrounds for the very rich and powerful. However it is she who holds all the power.

These different worlds and people are about to collide, the consequences of this will spiral across the galaxy.

I will be honest and say it took me a while to get into this book but once I did I couldn’t put it down. There was lots of action, battles and I did mention pirates didn’t I? But what really made this such an excellent read was the complex characters that Scott created. For me, Ja Keen and Cojun simply stole the show and ran with it. It was simply fascinating to view this story about nature verses nurture played across a galaxy. A truly epic read.

Have you read Escape the Bone Yard? 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 Escape the Bone Yard.

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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.

Philip K Dick: Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep And Blade Runner

-Science Fiction author, Philip K. Dick, died in 1982. In honor of his distinguished writing career and influence on the Science Fiction writing community, the Philadelphia Science Fiction Society established the annual The Philip K. Dick Award in 1983. Each year, an original published work of science fiction from the United States receives this honor at Norwescon.

I’ve always wanted to learn my about Philip K. Dick and am especially excited to share this original piece from contributor, Ren Zelen.

More Human than Human

Philip K Dick, as his interviews, letters and essays make clear, enjoyed film and television. In 1981 he had the opportunity to talk with Ridley Scott, the director of the film adaptation of his novel ‘Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep‘. He read and was pleased by the final screenplay of the movie, entitled Blade Runner, and was able to view 20 minutes of footage which caused him to ultimately embrace the altered cinematic adaptation. Less than 2 months before his death, he told an interviewer “The opening sequence is simply the most stupendous thing I have ever seen in the way of a film”. Dick never lived to see the premiere of the movie, nor to enjoy how it has earned its place as a milestone in American Science-fiction cinema.

This tragedy prompts readers of Dick’s fiction to wonder how he would have judged the many movie adaptations that have come after: Total Recall (1982 and again in 2012) Confessions d’un Barjo (1992) Screamers (1995) Impostor (2002) Minority Report (2002) Paycheck (2003) A Scanner Darkly (2006) Next (2007) The Adjustment Bureau (2011). Fans of his work would like to think that Philip K Dick would have had requested some involvement  in these later films, although he had wryly commented in 1980, “You would have to kill me and prop me up in the seat of my car with a smile painted on my face to get me to go near Hollywood…” As it turned out, Hollywood came to him, or at least to his body of work – and kept on coming.

After the release of Blade Runner, ‘Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep’ became Philip K Dick’s best known and most referenced work. The book is a good example and a paradigm of Dick’s recurring preoccupations, ideas and motifs: the enigmatic and shifting nature of reality, the difficulty of distinguishing between the real and the artificial and a constant underlying sense of unease and paranoia. The most obvious difference between Blade Runner and ‘Electric Sheep’ is that the movie had to compress Dick’s 240 page novel into 2 hours of film narrative. This required that Ridley and the screenwriters, Fancher and Peoples, exclude many of the novels events and characters to trim the story into a manageable cinematic length. Dick himself accepted this necessity. He explained in an interview, “The book had about 16 plots going through it and they would have had to make a movie lasting 16 hours, and it would have been impossible…this is not how you make a movie out of a book.”

The movie reduces the quirkiness and fantastical elements of Dick’s novel, losing the  central Religion/Philosophy of Mercerism, the almost non-stop TV talk show, and indeed, the electric sheep itself. The movie chooses to concentrate on the figure of Rick Deckard, a bounty hunter who has to track androids or ‘replicants’ masquerading as humans, and eliminate them. Six of the most advanced models, the Nexus-6, are at large and Deckard is employed, somewhat unwillingly, to ‘retire’ them. Use of the Voigt-Kampff test is supposed to differentiate the androids from the humans by exposing their emotional inexperience and underdevelopment, but as Deckard pursues the Nexus-6 androids, his observations and experiences call into doubt both the value of the test and the differences between the androids and the humans.

He finds himself drawn to Rachel Rosen, introduced as the niece of Dr. Eldon Tyrell, the head of the Tyrell Corporation, but who it transpires, has unwittingly been implanted with the niece’s memories, imagining herself ‘human’ and thus making it necessary for a much more rigorous empathy test to be performed before she can be identified as ‘not human’. To quote Tyrell himself, the motto of the corporation is to make androids ‘More human than Human’. Deckard is conflicted by his growing feelings for Rachel, and begins to doubt the morality of his task as assassin.

In Dick’s novel, the androids are exposed as being little more than cold and pitiless automatons. Deckard’s sexual encounter with Rachel is an empty and false imitation of intimacy and the story ends with his degeneration into a spiritual and emotional numbness. Blade Runner revises this bleak conclusion by blurring the differences between the human and the artificial and presenting the replicants as dynamic beings on a fervent quest to confront their ‘creator’ and question him regarding their shortened term of existence and to try to persuade him to extend it. They feel the sting of prejudice and bondage and hope for  the chance to further explore ‘human’ sensations and gather experiences – they have the, not unreasonable, wish to live an authentic life. Whereas the androids in ‘Electric Sheep’ seek maliciously to demolish the tenuous religious system that supports the sad inhabitants of a post-apocalyptic culture, Blade Runner’s replicants ask questions about life and spirituality that might shake the complacency of the human residents of a hyper-industrialised and technologically dependent society.

Deckard is a loner, who in the early scenes of the movie, behaves much like an emotionally distant automation himself, but as his sexual attraction to Rachel surfaces, he is forced to confront rising hopes and feelings that he had buried long ago. Their hunger for life and experience makes the replicants of the movie appear more ‘alive’ than the jaded humans – or as Tyrell had unwittingly asserted, it makes them ‘more human than human’. One of the final scenes of the movie, the replicant Roy Batty’s death scene, (beautifully played by Rutger Hauer) emphasises this point. As Batty’s short four year life-span comes to a close, he utters the most famous speech of the film, “I’ve seen things you people wouldn’t believe…”   It evokes the memories, experiences and passions that have driven Batty and his fellow replicants to seek more out of their lives. At the last he has a respect for all life – he reacts to save Deckard from falling to his death. The reason why he saves Deckard’s life’s remains ambiguous. In his last moments, gently holding a white dove, Batty resembles a  fallen angel – at odds with and cast out by his ‘creator’, but his final act of mercy to his antagonist shows a spiritual transformation – the replicant appears more compassionate than his pursuer – at the end he is a more ‘human’ man than Deckard. If indeed, Deckard is human…

There is a school of thought regarding the ending of the movie which has led some viewers to consider whether Deckard himself is not also an advanced ‘Nexus 7′ replicant with implanted memories, in the way that Rachel is. Gaff, second-in-command to Deckard’s replicant-hating boss, has some enigmatic last words as he leaves after inspecting Batty’s dead body on the roof. As Gaff turns to go he declares over his shoulder, “It’s too bad she won’t live. But then again, who does.”

It is specifically the presence of the tiny silver origami unicorn that is discovered in the corridor outside Deckard’s apartment during his hurried escape with Rachel, which indicates that Gaff has been there and has seen Rachel asleep inside. The unicorn happened to be a feature of Deckard’s dream and Gaff’s parting origami gift suggests he may have had access to those dreams, or implanted memories? (Viewers who are unsure of such a conclusion should watch the movie again and note whether Deckard’s eyes ever ‘glow’ like those of the replicants when seen in semi-darkness, and then make-up their own minds).

In general the movie, despite its changes to the novel, is considered to be a successful adaptation of the book. Philip K Dick himself supported this point of view: “If you start off with the book. Then you can go to the movie, and then you get more material…The book and the movie do not fight each other – they reinforce each other”. The success of the movie is not simply due to the stunning visual representation of the future world presented by Ridley Scott and the haunting soundtrack by Vangelis, but also in its willingness to embrace the ambiguities  of morality, identity and the fragile nature of spiritual fulfilment that make life so complex and uncertain in a twenty-first century world.

Copyright held by Ren Zelen (2013)

Have you seen Blade Runner or read Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? Please share your comments below.

If you’re a fan of Philip K Dick, you may also want to read our review of ‘The Man In The High Castle.’

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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.