Blade Runner 2049 Review

Blade Runner 2049 - Unofficial Photo

I’ve only watched Blade Runner 2049 once. There are no big spoilers, and below I’ve also included a summary of the main plot in the review.

K … (later referred to as K) is a Blade Runner hunting replicants. Sounds familiar, but times have changed now and there are a new series of replicants, some of which are recruited to hunt the older series. K justifies hunting older models who ‘run’, having been steeled for his job by intense psychological training akin to brainwashing (‘cells are interlinked’) that first appear as a way to make K think he is human to protect human interests or to adhere to a baseline of standard operating behaviour that is fit for a Blade Runner. It’s a bit like the Voight-Kampff test in the first Blade Runner, but this time it’s for a replicant working as one, and not to determine whether a human is a replicant.

Blade Runner 2049 - Unofficial Photo2

The first job we see him carry out is to ‘retire’ a replicant who lives and works as a protein farmer, but wasn’t always a farmer, having likely been a replicant working off world as slave labour. Most older-series replicants used to work as slaves. The replicant is extremely strong and well-built, and looks more than capable of ripping K apart, and having seen the extraordinary strength of replicants in the first film we don’t think we’ll be surprised by the result. Understandably, he replicant isn’t happy that K has intruded on his home and does not want to have his eye scanned prior to being taken in, where it can be assumed he will be ‘retired’ anyway. A vicious fight ensues, after which K survives. He does find something interesting on the farm, a casket of bones, and reports the find to headquarters before making his way there.

At headquarters, analysis shows that the bones belong to a woman who had a C-section. What’s strange – and ‘ominous’ to most of the human workers doing the analysis next to K – is that the woman was a replicant! A replicant reproduced! How or why is not known and K’s boss Lieutenant Joshi doesn’t even care so long as the truth is hidden and all evidence, including a surviving child, is erased. The balance between humanity and replicant has to be preserved, for the sake of appearances if nothing else. K is ordered to find and kill the missing child, who has grown up now, but he has immediate misgivings. K is trained to kill replicants without ‘souls’ and children or beings that are born are considered to have souls. Ironically his Joshi comments that K has managed to get along fine without one, until this time, which makes us see how similar in terms of detaching themselves from empathy killer-replicant K is to human Joshi.

This odd parallel between human consciousness and the replicant non-consciousness is apparent on Earth in everyday life. People frequently hurl abuse at K, calling him a ‘skin job’, and these are even the same people who live in his apartment block. K himself seems at first to wholly dismiss human women as potential partners because he has a relationship with a holographic customisable artificial intelligence called Joi. However, as the problem of her unreality hits him he opts for a blurring of the lines, a best of both solution to his needs. Why? He can’t touch Joi, or share physical intimacy. She’s locked in his apartment’s digital network, and if he receives a call or there is interference then she either pauses or disappears. That’s not good, is it? But K instinctively knows he shares something special with her on an emotional level, and seeks to free her from her constraints. She, in turn, wants to help bridge the gap between their realities. I thought it was quite sad how they seemed trapped away from each other. I kept worrying that her behaviour was just programming – I suppose it’s inevitable for a human to think about artificial life-forms in this way – but I really wanted their connection to be real.

A recurring theme in Blade Runner 2049 was the reality of dreams. If our dreams aren’t real, it means we’re not real. Having implanted dreams means somebody has a level of control over your mind  – or had at some point – and this realisation can be terrifying. We live in a world not unlike that of Blade Runner 2049. We have technology where our voices can be recorded and our every movement seen or monitored. It’s this level of technological manipulation, intrusion, and control that is at its most powerful and dangerous to the individual in Blade Runner 2049. To humans as they exist in the film, human lives are expendable and human emotions are secondary in both humans and replicants. Pleasure – human hookers, pleasure models, giant holographic women, and statues – are seen as appropriate substitutes. Despite all the artificial or holographic glamour, we do see a contrast between its falsity and the genuine bonds shared between two beings. Even in a corporate-controlled world where technology is plugged in everywhere there can be hope and true humanity (even if it’s not always between humans as we know them).

Blade Runner 2049 - Unofficial Photo3

Blade Runner 2049 has amazing visuals, just like the first film. There was a motorbike sound throughout town that pressured the audience into thinking something deadly was always on the verge of occurring. Holographic scantily clad women and brands advertising were to be seen everywhere. You could be forgiven, in some shots, of thinking the world bore some resemblance to Star Wars’ Coruscant, in scope, but the lack of aircraft gave it that post-apocalyptic hunter-in-his-car feel. There was more action than the first film, but there were enough characters and depth to appreciate it as equal to its predecessor, and the audience kept wondering who was to be trusted. K was a contrast to Deckard, being emotionally suppressed and psychologically trained for his job – as well as being a replicant – and without the emotional human vulnerability side that Deckard shows. K cast his emotions aside, and like fought a robotic thug, even though we know he is disturbed by dreams that later threaten to ask himself questions about his identity.

Official Blade Runner Website

(The website requests cookies, but for what purpose, now or in 32 years’ time, we’ll never know.)

Electric Dreams – Episode 3: The Commuter – Review

The Commuter - train photoWritten by Jack Thorne

Directed by Tom Harper

Electric Dreams is a science fiction anthology of unrelated short stories based on the stories of renowned science fiction writer Philip K Dick, who is best known for his dystopian depictions of human life.

I’ll be reviewing some of these short stories to cover the themes that resonate in these inspiring episodes. Though an avid fan of Philip K Dick’s stories, I haven’t actually read some or all of the short stories that inspired the episodes in this adaptation.

‘BAFTA-winning actor Timothy Spall (Mr Turner) will star in “The Commuter.” He plays Ed Jacobson, an unassuming employee at a train station who is alarmed to discover that a number of daily commuters are taking the train to a town that shouldn’t exist.’

Ed Jacobson and his wife have a psychotic son. A therapist suggests that if he is not treated soon then he will get worse. Their son has gone now, and they both try to forget about him and live in a bubble of happiness that only includes the couple. It’s only later that we get a hint that Ed’s son, Sam, has been taken to Macon Heights, which is a mysterious place that according to travel routes doesn’t exist.

And that’s not all. Ed keeps seeing dark-haired Linda, an apparition, who first introduced him to Macon Heights. He wonders if she is real. Even his wife expresses the worry that she is more frightened of Ed’s insincere smile than she is of her psychotic son. It’s at this point we begin to wonder who the story is about; if not Sam, then maybe the person with the problem is actually Ed. After all, he is seeing people he isn’t sure are real.

Out of curiosity he visits Macon Heights, which is an ideal town where everybody appears happy. You’d expect to see something amiss sooner or later, but it’s not what you think. Ed keeps returning home and telling his wife not to worry about ‘what could have been’ regarding Sam’s notable absence from both Macon Heights and home.

*SOME SPOILERS BELOW*

Later we see that Macon Heights isn’t a real town, or even an illusion conjured by any other malevolent entity. It is a representation of Ed’s mind. He buried the truth about Sam’s past offences and wanted to live in an ideal marriage instead of a truthful one. At some point he realises why he got married in the first place: for love. Ed fights to get his son back from Macon heights (and the place he has put him in, in his mind).

Ed has to reconcile the parts of his mind that want a happy ideal reality and the actual reality where he makes the ‘right’ choices. Denying or removing Macon Heights, as he did with actual reality, may not solve the problem.

It is confusing at points whether the son he sees in his mind is Sam or whether it represents Ed’s inner child that he has been denying. To consolidate the fact that it is all in the dad’s head we see the son in the kitchen at the end, as if he had never been taken to Macon Heights or anywhere else and it makes sense, for though it is suggested Sam should go for treatment we never saw him admitted or taken to a particular place.

More information about Electric Dreams

Missed it? Watch it on Channel 4’s Catch Up

 

The Player of Games by Iain M Banks – 5/5 Stars

The Player of Games by Iain M Banks - front coverThe Player of Games by Iain M Banks - back cove

Takes substantial intelligence to get into the story, but once you’re in you don’t want to leave. Morat Gurgeh is The Player of Games. In the advanced civilisation known as the Culture he can adapt and play any game across the galaxies. He has lost before, but the thrill of not knowing whether he will win or not is partly what drives him. But he’s bored of requests to play, and seeks a challenge.

 

 

When Contact, a special division of the Culture, makes ‘contact’ with Gurgeh it is because they have something special planned for him. Across a breadth of space the Azad Empire is notorious for its cruelty and aggressive militaristic expansion. The empire’s board game, also called Azad, is what determines the hierarchical structure of their society. And Contact wants Gurgeh to learn and play Azad, but it’s not clear why to Gurgeh. When Gurgeh lands on a planet of the Azad Empire, he soon realises he is in way over his head. The Culture and his friends are forgotten about as he witnesses the barbarism of these humanoids. As a reader I wondered if Gurgeh would ever escape from the clutches of such evil, and if such evil would expand and eventually swallow the Culture, being as pervasive and authoritarian as it was.

This is a must-read!

Iain M Banks’ website

The Player of Games on Amazon

The Player of Games at Waterstones

Electric Dreams – Episode 2: Impossible Planet – Review

Impossible Planet - photo

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

(Written and directed by David Farr)

Electric Dreams is a science fiction anthology of unrelated short stories based on the stories of renowned science fiction writer Philip K Dick, who is best known for his dystopian depictions of human life.

I’ll be reviewing some of these short stories to cover the themes that resonate in these inspiring episodes. Though an avid fan of Philip K Dick’s stories, I haven’t actually read some or all of the short stories that inspired the episodes in this adaptation.

‘Life is a Dream’

Norton works for the budget space travel company Astral Dreams, showing (creating) glamorous spectacles in the form of colourful interstellar dust clouds for passengers, among other spectacles, but he needs to leave the company because his partner Barbara is fed up. Barbara wants to move to Primo Central, away from their remote outpost, and she has waited four years for Norton to show some promise. Now, Norton checks his vid-mail as she advises him to do in a call, and yet again Primo Central has rejected his application. The stakes are high: if he doesn’t get his act together she could leave him and he’ll feel it’s his fault.

When somebody repeatedly knocks on their office door, Norton has a feeling that something remarkable is going to happen and decides to open the door, against boss Andrews’ protests. It’s a 342-year-old woman! Not something you see every day. And she’s accompanied by her robot helper RB29, who translates because Irma Gordon, the old woman, is partly deaf. Irma Gordon is here to return to Earth, and she’s offering 2 kilo positive (five years’ salary) for their services; something Andrews is quick to exploit. Norton isn’t sure about it, until desperation with the situation between him and Barbara forces him to accept. What Norton doesn’t know is that this is Irma’s last trip; she has a heart condition and will die in a few months; and he and Andrews are both taking advantage.

The problem is that Earth ‘no longer exists’. It is extinct save for solar gases. Irma isn’t aware, or more accurately, doesn’t accept that the particular place she wants to visit can no longer exist. The specific place she wants to visit in Carolina before she dies is a pool in Elk River Falls where her grandmother told her she and her husband swam naked! Andrews searches for a practical solution and finds a similar planet, though duller and less beautiful than Earth in the belief that it can be made to look like Earth. Andrews is morally corrupt on a daily basis, watching pornographic aliens when he’s supposed to be working so he’s not going to worry about Irma Gordon being told the truth when 2 kilo positive is involved, and Andrews reminds us later this is their job: to create happiness. Of course, Norton has reservations about how Andrews is handling the journey; it’s not usual for Andrews to be present on the ship itself. RB29 is not to be hoodwinked and engages them in questioning and undertakes a bit of liberal investigation.

However, Irma Gordon is not just a very old lady; she has a sparkle in her eyes and deduces more than she should. Like the translator she uses to read what is said to her, she picks up some sentences more than others, which may be more meaningful. It’s this greater meaning behind what she reads, or sometimes hears, that makes us wonder if she knows much more than Norton and Andrews about life and the universe. We forget that she doesn’t actually need RB29 to translate, and he is only there to look after her.

There is a connection between Irma Gordon and Norton, which maybe could have been represented better, for Norton’s dreams didn’t have a noticeable effect on his day apart from when he came into contact with Irma. Not only does Irma have a benevolent influence on him but they both desire a return to nature; life as it is instead of the prevalent ‘pre-digested’ happiness such as his partner Barbara’s wish for a perfect life and his own job creating visual spectacles in space and making people think their dreams have come true. Like Irma Gordon we want to believe that not everything is accounted for in the universe and that some mystery remains, to excite us and inspire us. This would be especially important for a very old woman, but no less so for many of us I believe.

In times that are rapidly heading towards greater knowledge of science, technology, and space, is it true that a part of us longs for that hidden mystery that cannot be understood, and can only be embraced?

More information about Electric Dreams

Missed it? Watch it on Channel 4’s Catch Up 

Electric Dreams – Episode 1: The Hoodmaker – Review

The Hoodmaker - photo

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Electric Dreams is a science fiction anthology of unrelated short stories based on the stories of renowned science fiction writer Philip K Dick, who is best known for his dystopian depictions of human life. 

I’ll be reviewing some of these short stories to cover the themes that resonate in these inspiring episodes. Though an avid fan of Philip K Dick’s stories, I haven’t actually read some or all of the short stories that inspired the episodes in this adaptation.

The Hoodmaker aired on Sunday 17th September on Channel 4.

Episode 1: The Hoodmaker

(Adapted by Matthew Graham.)

When the episode starts during a protest against the use of telepaths, or ‘teeps’, we see Clearance, the authority/police, making use of the skills of female teep, Honor. Agent Ross is standing close guiding Honor and benefitting from her reads of the protestors. Once the protestors become aware that they are being read, the awareness of which is a remarkable skill itself, they launch themselves against the assembled agents, and the riot police step in to clear the way. In the tumult, a lone protestor with their face hidden by a metallic mask as part of a hooded robe pushes their way forward and throws a fire-bomb. The assailant is then chased through streets by Agent Ross, and captured. After interrogation of the assailant, it becomes clear somebody – the Hoodmaker – is distributing hoods and arming ordinary human beings to take up the fight against the teeps.

After the Anti Immunity Bill, teeps are used to detect threats, however, it is clear there is still much resentment about the bill among ordinary people and police. ‘Teeps’ is used in a derogatory way; they are seen as a threat to the human race. It’s the argument that they could be the next stage in evolution and if they are not suppressed then they could take over. As a result, there are trust issues between the teeps and people, and with Honor and the authorities. Honor grew up with her kind, but does that automatically mean she should side with them? This question becomes more important as we see a hint of attraction, triggered by her proximity with Agent Ross. A few times, she tells him she thinks he is special – maybe she doesn’t want to read him.

The theme that most intrigued me was ‘trust’. Many people, and certainly the guilty, do not want their minds open to be read by teeps. There is even propaganda in the station that says ‘Keep an Open Mind: Telepathy’, as if to say ‘show you have nothing to hide’ and ‘be a friendly human being’. I’m sure many in our society can understand the fears that our mental privacy would be intruded by teeps, to be used by law enforcement agencies or teeps, but perhaps not for our benefit directly. However, we are also shown a glimpse of a teep being taken advantage of by being privy to someone’s horrible thoughts. In the course of the first scene, some people have thoughts that are considered a direct danger to society, after all it was the hooded person who threw the fire-bomb, whereas most people’s thoughts, though emotionally complex, were not dangerous to anybody. Could it be that if we opened ourselves to teeps and formed trust and friendship with them as individuals then society could be reunified, its wounds healed? Close proximity with a teep can often be damning for a person who wants to keep their thoughts to themselves, and groups of teeps are downright terrifying.

On the other hand, there is the ‘hood’ itself, which protects people’s minds from being read. People are still capable of manufacturing tools to give them then edge, even in the tension between them and teeps, and since people outnumber the teeps, who is really the dangerous group? The mass fear of teeps extends not just to their psychic ability, but as is seen later, to Honor’s use of it to access information across distances and jump to investigative conclusions. Human brains cannot do that without the internet – and we can control the internet. People see the teeps as being able to read minds, use higher intelligence, and replace them at work. Seeing the co-operation between Agent Ross and Honor, it seems irrational to me to only focus on the fear that all teeps are going to automatically replace people and there isn’t a lot of evidence of teeps abusing their powers before discrimination and violence.

What are your thoughts about the episode and the questions posed?

More information about Electric Dreams

Missed it? Watch it on Channel 4’s Catch Up 

Dawn of the Vie by Laura Diamond – Launch and Giveaway

Dawn of the Vie by Laura DiamondSince their Arrival less than 30 years ago, immortal Vie rule the planet like the super-predators they are. Enslaved humans are their servants…their entertainment…and their food. Anemies—humans with various types of anemia—are simply exterminated. Their nutritionally deficient blood is useless to the Vie.

Or so it’s thought…

Alex, an Elite Vie, is a bit of a Renaissance Alien. Part scientist, part Raid Specialist, part drug addict, he knows Anemie blood is valuable. Rather than blindly carrying out his boss’s kill order, he convinces some colleagues to spare a few Anemies, not only for study, but also to reserve a secret stock.

The more Anemie blood Alex drinks, the more he slips into delusion, and the more his double life threatens to crumble. But quitting Anemie blood is not an option. Every Anemie has their own personal flavor. Each gives a unique high.

When Alex takes a hit of Justin’s blood, his hallucinations bleed into reality…

_________

Anemie Justin knows his little sister, Sammie, and he are living past their expiration dates. It becomes a guarantee when they’re bitten by a Vie named Alex during a raid. (The bite is fatal, thanks to a toxin carried in Vie saliva.) Alex adds insult to injury by promising Justin a second chance—an antidote in exchange for agreeing to be a lab rat.

And a mule…of his own blood.

When Justin says no, Alex takes off with Sammie.

All Justin has to do is find them, beat Alex, and cure himself and Sammie. All he has is a stake and serious lack of self-preservation.

No problem.

_________

Alex wants Justin’s blood.

Justin wants his sister back.

GAME ON.

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Laura Diamond - author
AUTHOR BIO:
Laura Diamond is a board certified psychiatrist currently specializing in emergency psychiatry. She is also an author of all things young adult—both contemporary and paranormal. An avid fan of sci-fi, fantasy, and anything magical, she thrives on quirk, her lucid dreams, and coffee. When she’s not working or writing, she can be found sniffing books and drinking a latte at the bookstore or at home pondering renovations on her 225 year old fixer upper, all while obeying her feline overlords, of course.
Author Links:

The Unlucky Man by HTG Hedges – 4/5 Stars

The Unlucky Man by HTG Hedges

I don’t know what my expectations were for The Unlucky Man – I was looking for something dystopian, dark, and that I hadn’t read before – and believe it or not that’s what I got! I’d classify it as an urban dystopian fantasy with supernatural and thriller elements. Ultimately, it’s about ordinary man John Hesker who is talking with best friend Corg when a body smashes on top of their car. They’re questioned by an investigator called Whimsy, who is a man only half-interested in what they are saying and seems to ask his questions ‘on a whim’, so he was well-named. However, it’s not long before the dark elusive organisation called Control will send its most accomplished assassin Wychelo (like a witch with dark unnerving pools for eyes) to kill Jon and therefore hide its secrets. When a disturbing supernatural force is injected into Jon, he goes on the run, over Old Links bridge where there is no law and only savagery awaits.

Well, HTG Hedges has an eye for atmosphere and setting, which places the reader into a three-dimensional world that brought clarity and richness to every description of setting, and was applied consistently throughout. I’d say this was the best feature of his writing, and made me feel as if I was reading something new or rare. The writing from 76% captured me fully, immersing me into complete disorientation, which was the intention, into a graphic hell that was also somewhat pleasant on the senses to witness.

Criticism: it took me a while to remember who the villains were, especially their names and what distinguished them, because they had small parts and mainly from the point-of-view of Jon. Closer to the end there was a touch too much background information on the villains, which though missing before to add mystery, was inserted a little late in this relatively short novel. Third-person omniscient was used to re-shine a light on the villains at 67%, which though I worried the plot was crumbling at this point it did actually put things back into perspective where they had been missing in the car-chases and well-directed action scenes. Third-person and first-person point-of-view was mingled, which lent the story inconsistency and did become more noticeable as it progressed. On that same note, the author was adept at using first-person to add depth, colour, and contrast that I haven’t seen before when reading from first-person POV, but his use of third-person omniscient from 76% was a display of incredible writing. It seems the author needs to decide on where his strengths lie and how to use point-of-view with consistency to deliver maximum impact. I would have enjoyed this more if it was better balanced as well: two-thirds action and one-third background/conclusion didn’t move events forward in a way that I had hoped.

Overall, I don’t think HTG Hedges’ readers will be disappointed by his writing. The atmospheric descriptions, combined with metaphor, worked consistently well throughout. I was often curious where the plot was going, and when things turned chaotic I was utterly absorbed, with mouth agape. Piecing together the sub-elements of the plot didn’t come immediately to me, but when parts did they made sense and piqued my interest. There’s some terrific writing in this.

HTG Hedges’ Website

The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins – 3/5 Stars

The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

The Hunger Games is a controversial young adult dystopian novel that is a highly competitive death-dealing game, and a fight for survival. I couldn’t watch the film – there wasn’t enough to grab my attention – but the book was bought as a gift and was the only dystopian one on my shelf. As a result, I didn’t begin reading with much expectation that I would take to the novel: I’m not a fan of the young adult genre in general, with some exceptions.

The novel had quite a potent political message, especially early on. It illustrates simply and yet strongly how inequality can lead to resentment between the starving and the better-off, even if both groups know better on a full stomach. It’s a clever ploy of the Capitol’s system to divide the people so that their hold on power is relatively undisrupted. The Capitol uses official excuses for those who have starved to death, burying their guilt and complicity at ridding many of the districts of their inhabitants. The population are not fooled, but what can they do to act against the Capitol when the Treaty of Treason is an intimidating warning to those who would oppose them, in the form of a reminder that past uprisings have bitterly failed. It’s at this point the reader must wonder how accurate this history is, and if it is, why do the Capitol need to remind the districts not to rebel if there weren’t weaknesses?

Let’s start with the positive. There were more than a few lengthy passages that sustained my interest, mostly between Katniss and Peeta’s struggle to understand and trust each other before they entered the Hunger Games as the two Tributes representing District 12. The battle for survival in the arena started off very well, capturing my interest and impressing upon me the severity of Katniss’ predicament. The conclusion as well, was well written, emotionally tense, and with enough peril to make it impressive. First-person point-of-view worked well at intervals, bringing Katniss’ personality, likes, and dislikes to the fore and engaging the reader.

Katniss’ voice did bother me, rendering her emotionally numb to any related or past events. This is where first-person point-of-view didn’t work well, and the switches were occasionally noticeable. Katniss and Peeta’s mostly passive and tolerant attitude to following rules irritated me. I know why they did it – to protect their families – but it almost seemed to justify the need for a sycophantic totalitarian regime, bloated by wealth and superficiality. It made the characters sick, and it made me feel sick, but the characters still went along with it more often that I would have liked. I’m obviously only commenting as a reader/observer here and not a participant in the Hunger Games; maybe that would make a difference to my opinions.

Katniss’s boundaries were pushed once or twice, causing her to act in rebellion, but her actions only really made a difference where it concerned the Capitol’s perception of her and to me reinforced the idea that if you have enough talent you can become popular enough that it doesn’t matter that most districts are starved and oppressed. The bottom line is that Katniss and Peeta were absolutely helpless, and had to do as they were told. I didn’t think this philosophy did much to encourage young adults in life, even if the suspense and gory deaths were appealing to some.

Suzanne Collins’ Website