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Episode 306

In Space, No One Can Hear You Scream

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Posted by Mary Ann

Greg Bear’s “Hull Zero Three” reminded me of a number of science fiction stories. Some books, some movies, some television. The science fiction genre, which started out in book form, has been adapted so vigorously by movies, television and video games, it’s hard to know where to start.

“Hull Zero Three” features terror and dislocation, plus human beings trying to surmount enormous odds to figure out their scheme in a larger order, and on a basic level, survive. Often the larger order is pretty daunting!   I have to say: these kinds of books scare me to death. You literally don’t know whether down is up.

Often, these stories feature some kind of science or technology run amok. The granddaddy of these books was “The Andromeda Strain,” by Michael Crichton, which featured a virus from outer space! How much scarier can you get than that?

Greg Bear has also written a number of books featuring science run amok both on earth and in space. Many feature the human ability to create amazing technology – as we so often say – what could possibly go wrong? Plenty!

I love the premise of Bear’s 2007 book “Dead Lines,” in which some disruptive frequencies produced by a telecom company reintroduce the dead to the living. Ghosts become invisible to everyone, and, as our Seattle Times reviewer noted, “the dead erupt into our world, hungry for life and half-mad, carrying on obliviously with their obsolete agendas. Worse things follow their lead: predatory entities that feed on them and psychic riders that fill the vacancies in those who have lost their souls.” She also called it a “truly modern tale of terror.”

One of Bear’s non-space books was 2007 “Quantico.” In this book, a group of FBI agents are racing against the clock to contain a terrorist threat. This is a biological threat, and Bear, as he is wont to do, is very adept at imagining where biological terrorism might take us. The sequel to this book, “Mariposa,” features vivid examples of how human beings might evolve – for good or ill.

Speaking of biological terrorism, I would like to speak of “The Passage” by Justin Cronin.

Justin Cronin was a literary writer who decided to try his hand at a bigger dystopian novel. What does dystopian mean? It means, imagine that things for humankind are going ….not very well at all.

Cronin had a big hit with the result, 2010’s “The Passage.” In this book, which is set on earth, not on a spaceship, a government experiment goes wrong and unleashes blood-sucking creatures called “virals”upon the earth. These are mutants who live on the flesh of humans and other large mammals. The story has two threads: the first, is set in America, years in the future, when it is under siege by terrorists. There’s a second thread, when the world has been reduced to a post-apocalyptic wasteland in which 100-odd survivors are hunkered down into a California fortress, trying to survive. It’s almost 800 pages long! At that length, you could scare yourself silly for quite a while in your own backyard. And there’s a sequel: “The Twelve.” A third in the trilogy is planned.

Now I would like to mention “Battlestar Galactica.” Ok. I’m cheating here. This was a tv series – actually, two tv series – before it became a series of books.

The original “Battlestar Galactica” was a cheesy 70s space opera. Then, in the mid-2000s, it was reborn as a series on the Sci-Fi channel, and was turned into some of the best TV ever.

The premise has some similarities to “Hull Zero Three” in that it involves humans (in some cases, anyway) on a space ship, trying to figure out what the hell is going on. Here’s what’s going on: A fleet of ships are the only remaining home of human survivors from the Twelve Colonies of Kobol, a group of planets decimated by a surprise attack of the Cylons. The Cylons are part-humanoid robots created by humans who turned on the ir makers. Battlestar Galactica is the big spaceship trying to protect everyone else as they make their way ever so slowly towards that mythical planet earth.

This series could have been perfectly dreadful, but thanks to the amazing writing and wonderful acting, it is TV for the ages. Like the Star Trek series of old, it takes on big questions of identity (are the humans really that much better than the Cylons?), as well as issues surrounding torture, military occupation, abortion, genocide, religious freedom and war crimes. At the same time, there’s always suspense and a thrilling adventure.

If you’ve never seen this series, run out and rent it. Four seasons. And, yes, there are books – five of them. Maybe all this will keep you busy until someone smart decides to bring the show back.

Finally, I want to mention a wonderful movie called “Moon,” which came out in 2009, a creation of British film director Duncan Jones. It’s the story of Sam Bell, who is completing a three-year contract as the sole human employee of a largely automated lunar mining base (I predict that we will see these in our lifetime, or at least our children’s lifetime).

After an accident, he starts having hallucinations and eventually hallucinates…another version of himself! He and what he thinks is his clone start working together to figure out what the hell is going on.

This is an exceedingly well written movie that brings up all kinds of ethical questions we will probably have to face in the future. And it has an evil computer with the voice of Kevin Spacey. What could be more shiver-inducing than that? One reviewer said that “this is a film about what it means, and takes, to be human.”

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