Archive for September, 2015

Rain on Mars

Back in the the 1970s, the viking landers carried dreams of humanity expanding out into the solar system. The revelation of a barren and desolate Mars that they transmitted back to Earth only helped to underline our sense of isolation in a vast and seemingly empty universe. A universe for which the intervening forty years is less than the smallest human measurement of time, and yet here we are suddenly with a very different appreciation of our neighbouring celestial body.

Yesterday NASA confirmed that, during the summer months on the red planet, there was evidence of brine flowing – read ‘seeping’ – down from higher ground. It’s an amazing piece of science and one that brings the likelihood of extraterrestrial life much closer. Unfortunately, the discovery isn’t one that the still operational Curiosity Rover will be able to corroborate, such is the difficulty of the terrain where these water flows occur. As such, it’s down to the Mars Global Surveyor to do all the capture and analysis work from orbit.

In a freakish instance of synchronicity, this planetary activity occurs just as the promotional hype for the film adaptation of Andy Weir’s The Martian kicks off. The trailer for which didn’t endear friends and associates of this site, but that’s not to dismiss any Sci-Fi film prematurely. That said, the film’s going to have an uphill struggle on its hands if it’s to shake the stigma of the box office “curse of Mars”. In fact when the best rated movie in the selection is Total Recall (IMDB 7.5) – no reference to Robinson Crusoe on Mars (1967) we note – it’s a high benchmark for Ridley Scott to aspire to. Early reviews, while mixed, do seem promising.

So the news feeds are awash with flowing water on Mars. And yet while still a far cry from the deluge laden heavens depicted in Destiny’s original trailer, the myriad potential sparked by its mere presence remains outstanding. As NASA’s science mission chief, John Grunsfeld, so aptly pointed out when asked during yesterday’s live conference what the team intended to do with the water, he said – reaching for a glass in front of him – “We’ll drink it!”

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Taken King Awoken Queen

One year ago, Drozbot was celebrating the SciFi meta story that was interwoven throughout an epic videogame called Destiny. We talked about the return of courtly drama to the genre, and recognised the fact that the game’s creators had packed in enough additional tropes to delight even the most cynical. Now, 12 months and two content updates on, we have the first proper expansion in the guise of The Taken King. And, to paraphrase the game’s perpetual credo, it is a legendary upgrade for anyone who likes their sciffy. Here’s why…

Nathion Fillion’s character, Cayde-6, takes a more predominant part in the narrative this time around. But to focus on just one role would be missing the audio heritage that exists throughout the cast. With the inclusion of names like, Gina Torres, Claudia Black, Dominic Keating and Michael Horgan you have, in effect, a background sense of four of the strongest SciFi TV series ever made being gently poured into your ears.

Let’s return to Mr Fillion for just a moment to exemplify the sheer love the designers have for their chosen genre. There is as scene, a few missions into the single-player segment of the game, where your character has to locate and secure a stealth drive. Upon doing so, Cayde-6 explains that he keeps such items as back-up for “special circumstances”. If that isn’t a cultural reference to the late, great Iain M Banks, then what is?

To be fair, some have argued that the game’s appeal is more a byproduct of the Fantasy genre, and we have previously touched upon that compelling crossover here on this site. Ultimately though, this argument overlooks all the subtle touches experienced while out in the field. Derelict space ships, an ongoing obscurity regarding the motivations between the warring factions, a mind controlling antagonist who can bend any race to his will, visitations to Saturn, Mercury and Phobos, energised melee weapons that pay direct homage to Star Wars… Once again, the list just keeps rolling with no sign of letting up.

That said, there is an interesting shift in the rhetoric that’s now being delivered into the public domain. Gone is the ambitious talk of a 10 year plan, and instead there’s a more human focus on listening and reacting to the voices of the game’s fanbase. Which, unsurprisingly, carries much more credence among those associated with Drozbot. If there’s anything this site is very aware of, it’s the good-natured passion and influence of the fans within any given setting. As such, we’re certain that Destiny’s er… destiny, is in the very best of hands.

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Altered states have always provided fertile landscapes for speculative writers. From the early interweaving of psychoanalytic tropes during Sci-Fi’s New Wave, to the virtual phantasmagoria of William Gibson’s cyber space and beyond. Perception; it’s failings in the face of the truly alien, its warping through this use of mind expanding/damaging drugs, its body swapping, use in teleoperation… The applications remain myriad.

It’s tragic then to lose two influences on the real and fantastical manipulation of perception in such a short space of time.

Oliver Sacks, the renowned neurologist and author, died on the 30th August. A self-confessed, hardcore fan of Sci-Fi in his earlier years, his collective work has extended far deeper than the more populist recognitions of Awakenings and The Man Who Mistook His Wife for A Hat. Like his peer, Jonathan Miller, there was always a restless invitation to question, triggered with every TV appearance, and – for Sacks especially – a constant challenge to the ‘accepted norms’ of how we see the world around us. Most notably, for Drozbot however, it is his influence on Will Self and the creation of psychological maverick Zack Busner that resonates most poignantly.

Some might think shifting from Sacks to the master of slasher horror, Wes Craven, would be a jump from the sublime to the ridiculous. But the uncanny was shared territory for them both. Just consider the perceptual, psycho-sexual shock of the bath scene from Nightmare on Elm Street – as well as the overarching theme of dream states becoming manifest. You can see that there’s more alignment here than might first meet the eye. On a pure Sci-Fi front, Craven’s output wasn’t as prolific as his horror offerings, but in March this year he was named as direct on a TV series adaptation of Steve Niles space horror The Disciples. Sadly, his death on the same day as Sacks, means that another of his Sci-Fi outings will now never experience the fans’ desire for a ‘director’s cut’. Deadly Friend (see trailer above), was panned by the critics around its release in 1986 and went on to become a box office flop. However, this was after some major tampering and re-shooting by the studio leaving it unclear as to what Craven’s original vision might have been.

Regardless, it’s hard to get our heads around their mutual and synchronised disappearance from our mortal perceptions. Perhaps a virtual journey is destined for them now as their joint – and not altogether dissimilar – influences live on as afterglows in the memories of those they leave behind.

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