Wednesday, 27 July 2016

Star Trek Beyond

After the disappointment of the confused, incoherent Star Trek: Into Darkness, Star Trek Beyond is at least a film that can be enjoyed on a surface level without too many objections. I confess that I'm not a huge fan of the rebooted series as a whole, finding the films to be visually spectacular, excellently cast, genuinely moving and/or funny in places, but otherwise shallow, with gaping inconsistencies in basic plot logic - a failing I also found in the first of the new Star Wars films, which started unravelling in my head almost before I'd got to the carpark.

But Star Trek Beyond is probably the best of the three, and a desperate improvement on the second. Once again, I can't find anything to complain about in the casting; all the central roles are beautifully handled by their respective actors, with the recurring parts inhabited with a wonderful conviction, while also bringing fresh touches to these long-established figures. It also, for the first time, felt much closer to what a Star Trek film ought to be like, with a clear narrative line and a strong sense of Starfleet both growing out of and emblematic of a Better Future - and we could certainly use a bit of that optimism now.

The opening sequence - after a comedic episode with Kirk trying to negotiate a peace treaty with some scrappy, puppy-like aliens - is terrific, with the Enterprise docking inside a ridiculously vast Starbase, with some lovely shots of the ship sliding through glassy tubes that penetrate the main living space of the enormous structure. It's also completely bonkers, with several cities worth of skyscrapers folded up into a gravity-defying Escher-like interior landscape, so complexly visualised that it's a fair bet it's going to have to turn up later in the film just to justify the rendering costs. Minor quibbles were starting to circulate at this point: if it's the twenty third century, and this structure has been built anew in space, why is the civic architecture of these buildings so crushingly familiar, as if all the skyscrapers had been transplanted from Toronto, Sydney, etc? Why do the plazas and malls look like they're contemporary civic settings CGI'd into this virtual space? Because they are, I suspect, and perhaps it's no bad thing as the entire sequence functions as a loving throwback to those episodes in the original series where a Starbase would look suspiciously like a 1960s university campus or shopping complex. It did, however, all remind me of the similar alien mall-scape in Guardians of the Galaxy.

Things quickly go awry when the Enterprise leaves the Starbase to respond to a distress signal, which in grand Star Trek fashion turns out to be a trap, and before long we're back into the same "villain with superweapon" plot which underpinned the two previous episodes. But at least the story is well handled this time, cross-cutting between the main groups of characters in a way that was mostly followable and developing a story that, while in no way groundbreaking, at least still feels narratively satisfying by the time you've left the cinema. The main new character, Jaylah, is very good and it would be nice to see more of her in the follow-up, presuming such a thing happens.

So it's a colourful, fast paced action film with some very enjoyable character beats, impressive effects and a plot that does at least withstand superficial scrutiny. What it isn't is a film in any way interested in new ways of thinking about the future. It's put together very well, and it's thrilling in parts, but if science fiction is the literature of ideas, this isn't science fiction.

Thursday, 21 July 2016

Beyond the Aquila Rift is out

Today sees the UK publication of my huge Best Of collection, "Beyond the Aquila Rift" - around two hundred and fifty thousand words of short fiction, plus exclusive story notes. Here's the UK cover:

And here's a link to the Amazon page for the book:

None of this would have happened without the indefatigable efforts of Jonathan Strahan and Bill Schafer, who worked together to produce the Subterranean Press edition, which eventually appeared a few weeks ago. I am grateful to both of them, and the whole Sub Press team, for their enthusiasm and support over many years. I am also indebted to Gillian and Robert, my editor and agent respectively, for working hard to make it possible to have this near simultaneous release of the UK edition.

Publishers Weekly said:

“This collection of 18 long and short stories by Reynolds (the Poseidon’s Children series), one of the most gifted hard SF writers working today, displays his facility for building fascinating settings and integrating romance and mystery plots into space opera… Readers will greatly appreciate the breadth and variety of this deeply enjoyable collection.”

While Paul di Filippo, writing in Locus Online, said:

"Combining the melancholy fatedness of early George R. R. Martin, as found in Dying of the Light, with the clear-eyed cosmicism of Stephen Baxter, Reynolds gives us a galaxy where the gravity of astronomical phenomena is counterbalanced by the dark energies of the human heart. This collection should stand as a cornerstone of the contemporary SF edifice, showing us exactly how to elegantly fuse those separate but overlapping magisteria."

The complete story selection is as follows:

Great Wall of Mars
Beyond the Aquila Rift
Minla's Flowers
Zima Blue
The Star Surgeon's Apprentice
The Sledge-Maker's Daughter
Diamond Dogs
Thousandth Night
Trauma Pod
The Last Log of the Lachrymosa
The Water Thief
The Old Man and the Martian Sea
In Babelsberg
Story Notes

Quite a lot to get stuck into, and a nice selection of material covering different modes and themes, I think. The Orion cover, illustrated above, is gorgeous, but I'd be remiss in not showing the equally lovely illustration done by Dominic Harman for the Sub Press version. Dominic and I communicated closely during the execution of this illustration, as Dominic was determined to get the lighthuggers just right - and he did.

The Lettered edition is sold out, but Sub Press still have copies of both the Trade and Limited versions, and if you go for the latter, you'll get the slipcased one with my cover:

Rather pleasingly, this edition also has a fold-out rendition of Dominic's artwork, and splendid it looks as well. Really you can't go wrong with any of them.