Disclaimer – I do know Grant Piercy as a friend. He did not request I write this review, nor am I being paid for it.
Agent of Truth is a high-concept sci-fi thriller, and is book 2 of The Erased series. While it explores familiar cyberpunk concepts like AI, the singularity, and identity transfer, it also includes fresh, inspired twists like transgender representation and mature approach to the material; themes like Dante’s Inferno and references to Gonzo journalism shouldn’t work in the same book, but do because they are both interrogations of the human condition. Antagonists make seductive points, and protagonists sometimes do the right thing for the wrong reason. Various characters have complex family dynamics with relationships that feel real and have depth. Character motivations are mostly clear and understandable. The plot takes a nuanced view of different characters’ desires to transition or change, or who resent the various gynoids and androids present in the world. All of this is presented with bold prose and vivid description.
I gave the book 4 out of 5 stars because the characters’ voices sometimes blended together and I had to check the chapter titles to clarify who was who, especially in the Architect segments. Sometimes the short chapters were jarring, but other times they were effective as the reader internalized the character’s disorientation or frantic headspace, as with Regina or Cassia (some of the more clearly recognizable POV voices). The ‘Chorus of the Overmind’ segment felt misplaced – it was too long for an epilogue and introduced new characters at the book’s end. I assume it is meant to open doors the next book will close, but it seems more fitting for an anthology taking place in the same universe, or in a sequel.
Those very minor observations aside, the book is a gripping read and contains some brilliant observations on human relationships, the future relationship between humanity and AI, and identity. I recommend Agent of Truth to fans of cyberpunk, science fiction, and cerebral romance. It’s an excellent read and a superb entry to the genre. I look forward to reading more of his work.
I love when I run across something that reminds me of all the good things people can do.
This sci-fi short imagines an alien running across the Voyager 1 spacecraft and its precious cargo of music, greetings in multiple languages, and children singing. The alien is understandably entranced, and falls in love with humanity and a human woman, causing him to seek out Earth. Yes, it’s the plot of the first Star Trek movie – cut me some slack, I’ve had a rough week.
I love being reminded that despite the news, Good Things are still happening. People are still communicating messages of hope by making art and music and working together on passion projects.
I love that technology amplifies crystalline notes of hope, and that anyone with the bandwidth and computer access can experience it.
I love that someone imagined an alien falling in love with the best of what humans are capable of.
I love this, and that I’m still alive to appreciate it.
After all the buzz surrounding it and a few recommendations from friends, I decided to see A Quiet Place in theaters. Being a horror fan, how could I not?
What A Quiet Place does well, it does very well. Tension draws out and there are genuine emotional scenes with real payoff, such as those moments when a character is finally, finally able to scream or even speak. However, I admit to being underwhelmed.
I am not saying this film was bad; far from it. I would rank it as above average for a mainstream Hollywood horror movie, which any horror fan will recognize as damning praise. From a technical filmmaking perspective, it was beautiful: John Krasinski, who stars and also directs, knows how to frame beautiful compositions, how to work with ambient lighting, how to film action so it’s exciting and tension so it’s heart-pumping, and how to draw evocative performances from his actors. The creatures look cool and their CGI is great.
As mentioned, the actors’ performances are strong, and there are several character moments that really resonate. Krasinski is great as a patient paternal figure, Emily Blunt is his tired, blonde, and eventually pregnant wife, Millicent Simmonds and Noah Jupe as the children work well together and the whole ensemble effectively portrays a nuclear family.
Most filmgoers and horror fans will enjoy the jump scares and leave the movie rattled, but I found myself frustrated by the end. There were a number of weaknesses that leapt out and jarred me right out of the narrative, and created what ultimately felt like a missed opportunity.
A more detailed unpacking appears below the cut. As always, there will be spoilers.
By now, some of the shine has worn off the novelty of Netflix Original movies. For me, this is largely due to the fact that there are so damned many of them, with everything from horror to comedy, both foreign and domestic. It’s far, far too much to keep up with and as a result, a lot of titles slip through my net unless something about them stands out – such as a director I really like (Duncan Jones!) a cast I really like (Paul Rudd! Justin Theroux! ALEXANDER SKARSGARD!), and an intriguing premise (Amish man searches a futuristic dystopia for his missing girlfriend). Thus we have Mute.
Overall, Mute‘s appeal was also its biggest drawback – it had a rawness that a big studio would have no doubt filed and sanded down, which was what I appreciated about it. There were also so many characters and fascinating paths to follow that it was hard to stay focused on the main story. Although its parts seem sci-fi, the sum is actually a story with its roots in film noir. It finds Skarsgard playing Leo, who was silenced as a child in a boating accident and now works as a bartender in a club in Berlin. After his girlfriend disappears, he embarks on a journey through the city’s underworld, crossing paths with the likes of Rudd, Theroux, and even Dominic Monaghan in a bizarre and fun cameo.
I would recommend Mute to fans of cyberpunk and noir, with the proviso that it’s definitely got its own strange, bloody flavor. The world it posits is brutal and cruel, which makes Leo’s kindness and compassion stand out all the more. Skarsgard is eminently watchable doing anything and his Leo is fascinating and communicative. Paul Rudd makes an interesting diversion from his usual Likeable Snarky Guy to an edgy bastard. The real standout performance though is Theroux as Duck. From the very moment of his introduction Duck is difficult to pin down, seeming alternately warm, friendly, and predatory. He and Rudd’s character, Cactus Bill, are in a toxic relationship, and he ends almost every line of dialogue between them with a creepily murmured ‘Babe.’ Bill’s verbal and physical abuse wounds him openly, and Theroux does a great ‘hurt’ face, but after finding out what he’s been up to the very sight of him made my skin crawl.
Mute is a familiar story made more engaging by its characters and their performances; we’ve seen this kind of grotesque dystopia before so seeing it again with a somewhat fresh take involving the Amish was definitely entertaining. I wish there had been more female characters but we can’t have everything.
Hi all! Today I’ve got something really special – my dear friend Achariya Rezak, writer for hockey site SB Nation and master of Jungian archetypes, wrote a review for sci-fi short ‘Real Artists.’ Please enjoy! She’s included a link to the original Ken Liu story, too!
Title: Cameo Wood’s Real Artists is a Jungian romp through the politics of creation
When I read Ken Liu’s short story, I was immediately struck by his ability to translate our modern discomfort with the uncanny valley into terms of movie making. His short story is about the meta-process of filmmaking, told through the eyes of a “real artist” (“Real Artists” is the title of the film and the short story) Sophia, who has spent her whole life loving — and wanting to work for — a certain film company. Cameo Wood’s twelve-minute short based on this story adds yet another twist, layering on an additional intensity to this parable about creation.