Ah, the beach episode, a classic of the 1980s crime fighter genre, brought to vivid life in last night’s episode of Knight Rider, when Mike Traceur must infiltrate a band of (what else?) surfing mercenaries to locate a missing secret agent. Fortunately, an episode on the beach creates a perfect opportunity to bust out what has to be one of the coolest, if not always the most useful, things a super car can do, which is go into submarine mode. In last night’s episode a rocket actually blasted KITT off a cliff and into the water. Kitt’s shielding protected Traceur and this week’s sidekick, Zoe Chae, and he made a mid-air transformation to Aqua-KITT. Safe below the waves, Traceur and Chae pondered their next course of action.The episode got me wondering: Could we actually build a submarine car? As you can see from the video clip (skip ahead to 2:35 in the video): yes.
For all the giant exploding Death Stars in SciFi, its really the mundane devices that stay with us for years after. Doctor Who‘s sonic screwdriver, Picard’s replicator, and Spock’s tricorder have at least as much resonance for us as any gigantic space laser that ever turned a plot. In Knight Rider, our resident crime fighters rely pretty heavily on KITT’s ability to find people. He accesses a government database — usually the DMV — and then connects to various surveillance cameras in the area (Knight Rider crooks do tend to like Vegas casinos). The ability to access closed-circuit cameras aside, what’s really amazing here is KITT’s ability to digitally match photos to a moving image. For modern law enforcement and software search companies, that’s something of a holy grail.
Looking for some fresh science fiction? The Fast Forward series of anthologies, published by Pyr, prides itself on featuring original stories from science-fiction heavyweights. I love Gardner Dozois‘ annual The Year’s Best Science Fiction collections, but sometimes its great to get something really new, and Fast Forward doesn’t disappoint.. The latest installment, Fast Forward 2, will be officially released next week (but Amazon claims it’s in stock now.) The FF2 author list includes Cory Doctorow, Ian McDonald, Mike Resnick and Pat Cadigan.
It’s a great collection, with a good mix of stories ranging from hard science fiction to near magic realism. Stand outs for me included “True Names,” a novella by Doctorow and Benjamin Rosenbaum set in a post-post-post-human universe, and “An Eligible Boy,” written by Ian McDonald, that takes place in the mid-21st century India that McDonald has used as the backdrop for his 2004 book River of Gods.
City of Ember opened on Friday, a beautifully visualized adaption of the book of (almost) the same name. The eponymous city is actually the ultimate bunker, a settlement located in a vast underground cavern and designed to sustain a community for 200 years following the apocalypse. Unfortunately, more than 200 years have passed and the systems that sustain the city are beginning to break down, most notably the giant generator that is the sole source of electricity. This is a particular problem as the inhabitants are sealed in, with no memory of any existence beyond the boundaries of the city. The exit instructions eventually fall into the hands of two youngsters who must battle social inertia and a corrupt mayor to escape the coming darkness.
The ignorance of the population is actually the result of a deliberate decision by the city’s builders. In order to keep the population tucked safely away for 200 years, the builders decided to remove the temptation of the surface world by excluding any record of its existence–and to make sure curious inhabitants stay within the cavern, technologies such as batteries and candles are excluded as well, literally tethering would-be explorers to a power outlet.
Last night CBS premiered it’s new science-fiction detective show, Eleventh Hour, which revolves around a scientist investigating misuses of science, accompanied by his FBI minder. The first episode focused on human cloning and the show deserves big kudos for wringing out a fresh take from what has become a very hackneyed topic in science fiction. The writer and producers managed this feat by actually sticking close to today’s science: most stories that incorporate reproductive cloning introduce a successfully created clone (whether a child or an adult) and go from there. The messy details of actually creating a clone are glossed over, or not mentioned at all. Not so on Eleventh Hour.
The DVD box set of the first season of The Sarah Jane Adventures was released this week. A spin-off from Doctor Who, the show was developed for the BBC’s children’s channel, CBBC, and features a band of teenagers teaming up with former traveling Companion of the Doctor, Sarah Jane Smith, to defeat various alien threats (which is also the basic formula for the much more adult Doctor Who spin-off Torchwood.) Sarah Jane Smith first appeared in 1973, and she is one of the most beloved characters in the Doctor Who universe, played by Elisabeth Sladen (you can read yesterday’s Science Not Fiction interview with Sladen here).
So, what are The Sarah Jane Adventures like?
Sarah Jane Smith is one of the most enduring figures in the Doctor Who universe, appearing as a regular companion to two incarnations of the Doctor (Jon Pertee’s third Doctor and Tom Baker’s fourth Doctor) between 1973 and ’76 and occasionally popping up ever since. The character currently has her own spin-off show, The Sarah Jane Adventures that is nominally intended for children. BBC America has just released the first season of The Sarah Jane Adventures on DVD (look for Science Not Fiction’s review tomorrow), and so I got to talk to the woman behind Sarah Jane, actress Elisabeth Sladen, about playing such a popular character and other things Who.
This year’s New York Musical Theater festival included I Come For Love, a musical comedy inspired by classic science-fiction B-movies. Claiming to be the real story of what happened at Roswell in 1947, the tongue-in-cheek plot revolves around a female alien (dubbed “Nine-Oh”) who has landed in her UFO in a bid to find out just what is this Earth thing called love.
An enjoyable romp, I Come For Love juxtaposis the “dissection’s too good for ’em” sensibility of the classic 1950’s B-movies with the “save the innocent alien” ethos that came along in later decades. Nine-Oh and a hard-bitten reporter called (what else?) Scoop end up falling in love and must overcome diverse obstacles, viz, the U.S. Army and a mob of local townsfolk.
Which leads me to two questions: a) why are shows like I Come For Love so rare, i.e., why is there so little science fiction on the stage? and b) could humans and aliens ever interbreed?
Sculptor Christopher Conte combines his artwork and his experience making prosthetics to create mechanical, science fiction–inspired work with a touch of the dark side.
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Amanda Tapping is tall, which was a surprise to me, even though I’ve been watching her performance as Samantha Carter on the Stargate franchise for years. I suspect the kind of framing that has enabled Tom Cruise to gaze down at his various female leads. I got the chance to discover the truth about Tapping’s height last night at a preview screening for her new show, Sanctuary, which airs tonight at 9/8c on the Sci Fi channel.