If ET Returns Your Call, Pretend You’re not Home.

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The Cloud by Ray Hammond, a review

***Some Spoilers***

I read The Cloud, a science fiction novel by Ray Hammond, several weeks ago.

What has stayed with me is the premise, a first contact scenario set in the near future. What disappointed me was the lackluster prose and that his characters lacked depth. They were flatter than the skinniest of crepes.

 When a young researcher, part of a research facility on the Moon, discovers a small anomaly in a collection of radio signals emanating from another galaxy, he recognizes a pattern.

The Cloud cover

The cover of Ray Hammond/s The Cloud (from fantasticfiction.com

Others have already reviewed and dismissed this anomaly. Further study verifies this new interpretation and soon every scientist and his brother, sister and distant cousin are beaming a “Welcome E.T.” to “Iso,” the planet in the distant galaxy, where the signal originates. It will take about fifteen years for our signal to reach our new BFF.

Thirty years later, we find ourselves in trouble. In response to our invitation, there’s a galactic cloud of hurt coming our way. When it gets to our neighborhood, it will destroy all life on Earth. Oh dear. Before it gets to us, it takes an off-road trip to Mars and there goes the colony. There’s no one left.

Along with off-world settlements, we now have designer androids, human like and tailor-made for every “need.” One scientist sends his android girlfriend, “Melissa” on a space mission. She and several other androids leave for Iso’s galactic neighborhood. It will take four hundred and twenty-five years to get there and no pesky human thing like dying of old age will slow them down.

When an anti-android group kills all the new baby androids in a current factory batch, the group leader is forced to help the military with their new get-rid-of-the cloud-monster project. The group leader, “Bill” is a super duper computer scientist and there’s a new super-duper quantum computer named Jerome who wants to meet him. Jerome’s avatar looks like a frat boy.

When Bill discovers that our radio signals are beckoning the cloud, efforts are underway to turn them all off.

f.Of course, there’s always someone who thinks he’s knows better. In this case, it’s a science fiction writer crackpot with a cult following. So there’s that and then Jerome, who now looks like a Special Ops Marine decides to clone himself and run what’s left of the world after the cloud visit.

Hammond’s novel warns us of the danger of a super-intelligent computer, an AI that might decide it’s better off on its own. No more spoilers. I’ll leave it there.

As I said earlier, I really liked the question posed by this novel. Is it really a good idea to seek contact with another intelligent species? We risk a lot if it doesn’t go well.

I’ve read other writers whose prose and storytelling style is similar to Mr. Hammond’s.

Many are very successful, but after reading one or two for their works, I lost interest. The emphasis of this writing style is keeping the action and the plot moving, something I can’t argue with. But along the way, I have to care. His characters are roughly sketched in terms of physical characteristics, background and intent. There’s nothing underneath, no surprises.

It’s subjective, a matter of opinion.

For example, I just finished reading VanderMeer’s The Southern Trilogy, three related science fiction novels that offer incredibly rich prose. The intricate plot was challenging. All three novels were dreamlike and the characters enigmatic and complex, posing more questions than giving answers. I devoured them. Other readers weren’t as taken with them and reviews of The Southern Trilogy range from one star to five. Count me as a five.

And I’m positive that many readers will greatly enjoy The Cloud’s fast paced story based on a cautionary premise.

I think they’ll find their time on The Cloud well spent.

The Why of Denise

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My short story, “The Why of Denise,” has been published. http://strangefictionszine.com/the-why-of-denise/

It’s a story taken from my second book, Tales from Babylon Dreams, a novel about the pros and cons of living after death in virtual reality, and how a man’s custom paradise becomes his living hell.

There and back again: Netflix’s ARQ

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*Spoilers*

Netflix feature, ARQ cover image

Cover image for Netflix feature, ARQ from IMDB

ARQ, a 2017 Netflix sci fi feature entertains, but like the three-hour time loop that drives the action, remembering details is a challenge. Written and directed by Tony Elliot (Orphan Black) ARC uses the time loop plot device, similar to Groundhog Day and Tom Cruise’s The Edge of Tomorrow.The protagonist relives the same events, changing his behavior to create a different outcome. Like The Edge of Tomorrow alien conquest, a different outcome for Renton, ARQ’s protagonist, means living rather than dying.

The Edge of Tomorrow is a Cadillac of a time loop film.

Cruise’s movie sports big name co-stars, elaborate CG nasty aliens and a save-the-world ending. Experiencing the same day thousands of times via a time loop, Cruise’s character begins as a self-serving asshole and ends up as a self-sacrificing, much wiser guy.

With its single dreary setting, dinky CG and flat characters, ARQ is a stripped down 1992 sedan.

ARQ’s time loop story is an economy ride but it gets you there. Rather than fighting aliens, it’s dystopia time!   There’s global famine, nasty air quality and a pitiless dictatorship. However, no teenagers show up to save the world.

The film keeps you invested due to its slick editing and a no frills but smart script.

 In a darkened bedroom, Renton (Robbie Amell—The Tomorrow People) wakes next to his lover, Hannah (Rachel Taylor—Jessica Jones). Seconds later, masked men burst in and tie them up. They want Renton’s “scrips” (money). These “Bloc” rebels are fighting “Torus,” a corporation that aims to rule the world. Renton, a scientist in hiding who had worked for Torus, suspects they’re not only after money; it’s Renton’s new invention, the ARQ.

In a world depleted of energy resources and food, the ARQ is a perpetual motion machine.

When someone mentions seeing apples in another room, it has the same affect as shouting, “squirrel” to a pack of golden retrievers. After their apple break, they return to interrogate Renton. When Hannah betrays Renton, revealing the hidden money, Sonny, the oldest of the group, shoots him dead.

Okay then. We’re back in the bedroom. Renton is waking up again.

He remembers dying. He’s not in heaven so what gives? Again, the rebels break in and it’s deja vu. The same scene plays out with different details but Renton dies again. When he wakes, Renton realizes that his perpetual motion machine has another feature: it loops time. So Renton keeps looping the loop, learning what not to do, trying to change what happens. But he’s not the only one who learns what’s going on and on. Hannah remembers. Renton wants to save Hannah but is determined to destroy the ARQ. Hannah will help Renton escape but only if he lets the Bloc have the ARQ. Like Bogart’s Rick in Casablanca, Hannah believes that she and Renton “don’t amount to a hill of beans” compared to saving the world from Torus.

When Sonny, a Torus spy, becomes aware of the loop, it’s game on.

As the scene kept repeating, the story reminded me of a game. With little backstory on any character and only the thinnest sense of a bond between Renton and Hannah, the pacing takes over. Each loop is a round as the players duck and weave, trying to move ahead in the same space. Character becomes superfluous as the game plays out.

As Renton, the cutting-edge scientist, I feel Robbie Amell is miscast.

He’s too young. An older, more experienced actor might have given Renton more shading. Rachel Taylor and the rest of the cast are fine, but the game aspect of this script results in the actors becoming pawns. The only actor I found interesting was Shaun Benson (Channel Zero) who plays Sonny, the bad guy. Whenever Sonny appears, rather than a game, the character aspect dominates. My guess is that Benson is a more experienced actor than the rest of the cast.

Overall, I found ARQ diverting but forgettable.

If you love sci fi and you’re home, looking for something to watch, you might want to check ARQ out, if only to see the variables of each loop. Who wouldn’t like to redo parts of their own life? When it comes stories driven by time travel and time looping, play it Sam; play it again and again.