Mini Reviews, Part 11 (FINCH, SWAN SONG, I'M YOUR MAN,
MOTHER/ANDROID) (film reviews by Mark R. Leeper
and Evelyn C. Leeper)
THE SHARDS OF EARTH by Adrian Tchaikovsky (audio book
review by Joe Karpierz)
The "Little Boss, Big Man, Old Man" Series (story reviews
by Dale Skran)
Those Pesky Pronouns (letters of comment by Jim Susky,
Gary McGath, Peter Trei, Kevin R, Keith F. Lynch,
Paul Dormer, and Steve Coltrin)
This Week's Reading (SINOPTICON) (book comments
by Evelyn C. Leeper)
TOPIC: Mini Reviews, Part 11 (film reviews by Mark R. Leeper and
Evelyn C. Leeper)
Here is the eleventh batch of mini-reviews--four this time--all
about robots and androids.
FINCH: FINCH is a post-apocalypse (solar flare/gamma burst) story,
with many nods to earlier science fiction stories: a low-slung
robot named Dewey, an opening sequence reminiscent of THE MARTIAN,
and a humanoid robot built for companionship. There is also a
scene in which Finch (played by Tom Hanks) talks about the four
directives (I don't recall the exact word), which are basically the
Three Laws of Robotics--except after giving the First, Finch skips
directly to the Fourth; screenwriters Craig Luck and Ivor Powell
assume the audience knows the Second and Third.
Hanks is alone again, as in CAST AWAY, but his psychological state
is different--in CAST AWAY, he knows everyone else is alive, while
in FINCH everyone (or at least 99.999% of the people) are dead.
Hanks has been busy lately, with five movies in the previous two
years: NEWS OF THE WORLD, BORAT SUBSEQUENT MOVIEFILM, GREYHOUND, A
BEAUTIFUL DAY IN THE NEIGHBORHOOD, and TOY STORY 4. This one,
however, he has to carry basically alone (Caleb Landry Jones
provides the voice and probably the motion capture for Jeff).
However, even with human, director Miguel Sapochnik manages to
include "the slo-mo march" of the heroes abreast towards the
camera, along in this case it's Finch, his dog Goodyear, Jeff, and
Dewey. Not a lot of new ground is broken here, but it is enjoyable
in a classic science fiction sort of way.
Released 11/05/21 on Apple TV+. Rating: high +2 (-4 to +4), or
SWAN SONG: Remember how when I reviewed SWAN SONG with Udo Keir in
the 12/10/21 issue of the MT VOID, and I said, "There are two 2021
films titled SWAN SONG. One is a science fiction film with
Mahershala Ali. This is not that film. This is a drama film with
Udo Kier."? Well, now I'm reviewing the other one. In other words:
There are two 2021 films titled SWAN SONG. One is a drama film with
Udo Kier. This is not that film. This is a science fiction film
with Mahershala Ali." (And if that seems backward, in the sense
that one expects Keir to be doing the science fiction one, and Ali
the drama, well, that just makes it more confusing.)
Cameron (played by Ali) is dying, and to save his family from
grief, he agrees to a new technique that will duplicate him
completely, with all his memories except the ones that would tell
him he is a duplicate. (This is using cloning technique rather
than robotics.) The plot has similar ideas to FRANKENSTEIN MUST BE
DESTROYED, and also MOON.
The story moves a little slowly, as it has long contemplative
sequences. And the main thrust of the film is on the emotional, psychological, and moral aspects of this very unusual situation,
rather than the science fictional aspects. For example, Cameron's
wife is expecting their second child and says, "This baby is going
to be good for us." Similarly, the creation of Cameron's duplicate
is for the purpose of "being good" for Cameron's family. But in
both cases this is treating a human being as a means to an end for
other human beings, rather than as a separate individual. (This is
why biological duplication is important; creating a robot might not
be considered creating a human being.)
Released theatrically 12/17/21; available on Apple TV+. Rating:
high +1 (-4 to +4), or 6/10.
I'M YOUR MAN: I'M YOUR MAN is a familiar story, the type that might
even have been in Isaac Asimov's I, ROBOT collection. In fact,
this is very like the "Twilight Zone" episode "The Lonely", in
which a convict marooned on an asteroid is given a companion that
is a robot. In I'M YOUR MAN, the recipient of a robot (actually an
android) designed to be a perfect companion first resists accepting
it to test for three weeks but finally gives in. This is the sort
of thing that is often Hugo-worthy but hasn't a chance of being
nominated, because it lacks special effects or big names.
Released 10/24/21 on Amazon Prime; available on various streaming
services. Rating: high +1 (-4 to +4) or 6/10.
MOTHER/ANDROID: MOTHER/ANDROID is a standard robot apocalypse story
done on a low budget. Georgia (played by Chloe Grace Moretz, the
star of KICK-ASS, LET ME IN, and the 2013 version of CARRIE) is a
pregnant woman trying to escape the androids and reach the supposed
safety of Boston. There are a number of flying-through-trees
scenes seemingly borrowed from RETURN OF THE JEDI, and the villains
of the piece are effectively "Battlestar Galactica"'s Cylons.
Released 12/17/21 on Hulu. Rating: low +1 or 5/10.
TOPIC: THE SHARDS OF EARTH by Adrian Tchaikovsky (copyright 2021,
Orbit, Audible.com, 18 hours and 43 minutes, ASIN: B093CM9Y44,
narrated by Sophie Aldred) (audio book review by Joe Karpierz)
I like to think I follow the science fiction field reasonably well.
While it's impossible to know all the authors and all the books
being published, one would think that I would be able to stay
abreast of authors who have won major awards in the field. Like
Adrian Tchaikovsky having won the Arthur C. Clarke Award in 2016,
the British Fantasy Award in 2017, the BSFA Award in 2019, and the
Sidewise Award in 2020. Me? I started becoming aware of him in
2021. I picked up CHILDREN OF TIME, the Clarke award winner, at
Harvey's Tales, a local independent bookstore when they were
featuring it on a table with a sign that said "if you like X,
you'll like Y". Then his latest, THE SHARDS OF EARTH, was
receiving a lot of attention last year, so I figured I might as
well pick it up and give it a try. I'm glad I did.
The novel opens decades after a war with a group of aliens called
The Architects that has obliterated the Earth and other planets
within the galaxy. The war eventually ended when the Architects
left. The readers learns, in the opening portion of the book, that
the Architects were turned away by Idris Telemmier who is an
Intermediary, an individual who has been altered to be able to
pilot through unspace, Tchaikovsky's way of getting around the FTL
problem. The other character we meet in the opening sequence is
Myrmidon Solace, a soldier in a cloned all female military society.
The Partheni and Idris are part of a multis-pecies alliance that
banded together to stop the Architects. No one knows exactly why
the Architects left, but one thing is clear: Idris was there at
the final battle (as was Solace), and he was instrumental in
turning away the Architects.
In the time of the novel, Intermediaries are in demand as pilots
who can navigate through unspace. The Partheni need them, so they
send Solace to try to convince him to come back and join the
Partheni as a pilot and as a potential weapon should the Architects
ever return. She finds him as part of a spacer crew on the salvages
ship Vulture God. He is their pilot, and the crew take on jobs and
contracts to earn enough money to keep going, as one would expect a
salvage ship to do. The crew of the Vulture God does not trust
Solace. The stories about the Partheni are that they are an all
female clone army hell bent on destroying everyone that is not like
them. Yet, Solace gets sucked into an adventure when the Vulture
God discovers a ship that looks like it has been destroyed by the
So, the questions now are "are the Architects coming back?" and
"are they already back?" The crew of the Vulture God, a diverse
cast made up of individuals with various talents, is caught up in a
game of politics and intrigue, with various factions vying for
their services, and in particular the services of Idris, to either
cover up the possibility of the return of the Architects or help
with the battle with the Architects that is sure to come.
THE SHARDS OF EARTH is a story in the grand tradition of space
opera. There are space battles, aliens, unknown artifacts, and
political intrigue. While the space battles aren't on the scale
of those found in any Peter F. Hamilton novel --they are more
personal and intimate (which is weird, all things considered) -
they are still worthy of battles in the space opera tradition. Can
we call this "wide-screen" space opera, as Hamilton's books have
been called? I don't think so. In some sense, this is a more human
space opera than what Hamilton writes, but each have their place in
the pantheon of space opera writers, and they complement each other
Sophie Aldred is an interesting choice of narrators for this book.
Long time Doctor Who fans will recognize her as the actress who
played Ace, the companion to Sylvester McCoy's seventh Doctor. It
took me a long time to get used to her narrating this book. Not
because she wasn't good at it; to the contrary, she was quite good
at it. I don't know what it was, but eventually I came around to
her voice and style of narration.
THE SHARDS OF EARTH is a pretty good novel, and I do recommend it.
Now it's time to get on the Tchaikovsky bandwagon and find out what
I've been missing over the last several years. [-jak]
TOPIC: The "Little Boss, Big Man, Old Man" Series (story reviews by
A while back I found an interesting story in Asimov's, "Helping
Take Down the Old Man," by William Preston, and noted that it was
part of a series of related tales. Recently, I decided to re-read
the series in time order [not order of publication], and review
them, so here goes. The stories concern a person whose name is
never actually mentioned, but who goes by a variety of nicknames
and monikers, and who is obviously based on the pulp hero, Doc
Savage. The stories are far more literary than those by "Kenneth
Robeson," but not the sort of pastiche one often sees. Instead,
they delve into deeper questions about what such a hero might have
been like were he a real person. At their best, these are
powerful, imaginative tales.
"Unearthed", Asimov's September 2012 [Novella]
This is the weakest of the four stories. It deals with an early
period in the career of our hero, when he apparently is working for
his father as a global troubleshooter, and is assigned to
investigate a mysterious mining disaster in South America. The
"man of bronze" is referred to as the "Little Boss" since he works
for his father, the "Big Boss," one assumes. The menace is suitably
pulpish, and a Mohawk female writer tells the story in first
person. Later in the series it appears that she became a
"chronicler" of his adventures, and perhaps one of his many
"assistants." One purpose of the story is to introduce the obscure
language the "Little Boss" uses in his diaries. Another is to
introduce the fairly obvious but little noted observation that the
"Man of Bronze" is almost certainly not a Northern European.
Either his unusual coloration is a side-effect of genetic
tampering, or more probably, his mother was a person of color that
his father met during his global adventures. I've long thought
that Dwayne Johnson would be the perfect person to cast as Doc
Savage. Johnson is Samoan on his mother's side, and Black Nova
Scotian on his father's side. In addition to having the right skin
tone, Johnson possesses the massive physique associated with Doc
Savage, and is more than capable as an actor of portraying the
"Clockworks," Asimov's April/May 2011 [Novelette]
Told first person from the viewpoint of someone who was clearly a
very dangerous villain, but after the "Big Man" has performed the
miraculous surgery that allows an evil person to become a good
person, this story is powerful. Much of the story takes place
inside the "Big Man's'" secret arctic base, and is of great
interest to fans of Doc Savage. Although the menace is, again, a
pulpish triumph, and we meet avatars for many of the old Doc Savage
crew, the main focus of the story lies in what it might mean for an
evil person to choose to do good.
"Helping Them Take the Old Man Down," March 2010 [Novelette]
This is the first story published, and the one that initially
caught my attention. Told first person by one of the "Old Man's"
assistants, it explores what might motivate a loyal follower of a
good and heroic person to assist the federal government in
capturing a pulp hero in the aftermath of 9/11. This is a strong
story with a fully realized character and many clever ideas. One
oddity is that at various points two different female assistants of
the "Old Man" commit suicide. In one case, this happens after the
Old Man is captured by the government, and is reasonably plausible.
In the earlier case it makes less sense, and causes the reader to
wonder what the author might be trying to communicate.
"Each in His Prison, Thinking of the Key," April/May 2014
The only story that gets cover art, it is perhaps the best in the
series. The "Old Man" has been held for many years in a special
high-security prison. Told first person by "Jimmy," an
interrogator brought in as a last-ditch effort to break the "Old
Man," it details an interesting approach to interrogation, and a
character, Jimmy, who, in his own way, is as much a superman as the
"Old Man." But, as Jimmy finally realizes, "He's too good." It
should come as no surprise that the "Old Man" contrives to escape
and rejoin his aides, rising to battle a new pulpish menace. The
story suggests that the greatest power the "Old Man" wields is not
his numerous Phds, vast martial arts prowess, apparent agelessness,
or many brilliant inventions, but an unbending will and loving
heart. Also, as Jimmy learns, just because someone is in a prison
does not mean the jailors are in charge.
You can find all four of the stores on Amazon as ebooks for a
modest price, or free as part of kindle unlimited. A 5th story is
promised to conclude the series, but it appears from Preston's
really out of date blog that he never quite finished the story.
Preston has written a few other stories, mostly for Asimov's, a few
earlier than the "Old Man" series and a few after, but he is not
It is hard to find details about Preston on the web, almost like he
doesn't really exist except as a writer telling tales of the "real
Doc Savage." Makes you think. Anyway, highly recommended series
to any SF reader, and especially to fans of Doc Savage. The
stories combine pulp action, good writing, strong characterization,
clever ideas, and solid speculation into something you will want to
read more than once. [-dls]
TOPIC: Those Pesky Pronouns (letters of comment by Jim Susky, Gary
McGath, Peter Trei, Kevin R, Keith F. Lynch, Paul Dormer, and
In response to various comments on pronouns in the 03/04/22 issue
of the MT VOID, Jim Susky writes:
Evelyn wrote, "There is ample historical evidence for the use of
the 'plural' pronouns as indefinite singulars (e.g., Jane Austen).
For that matter, 'you' used to refer to only the plural, and 'thee'
and 'thou' were the singular. There was also a ruckus over the
change to 'you' as a singular.
As a whelp, with no knowledge of Jane Austen (who was *not* closely
related to a famous Texan) and a dim awareness of England and that
Americans were once Englishmen, I was at the mercy of my
Michigan-educated mother regards "automatic grammar" (and not the
esteemed Madam Austen).
Thee and Thou were the province of the KJV. One site cites (!)
3,881 instances of the latter and 2,736 of the former.
In SHOGUN, James Clavell used those terms to indicate discourse in Japanese--mainly between Mariko and Blackthorne,
"while generations of English teachers insisted (and maybe still
insist, AFAIK) that 'everyone' et al are singular and hence should
take singular pronouns, I doubt that any of that impressive
assemblage would accept the correctness of the sentence 'Everyone I
knew was there, and he had a good time.' "
Collective nouns still grieve me--for instance:
"The Olympics *is* a great sports spectacle (or *was*)"--this
(automatically) sounds okay to me--though I realize I am nearly
alone in this. [-js]
Of course Jane Austen is not related to Stephen Austin.
And while in the United States we say, "Corporation X sponsors this
program," in Britain they would say, "Corporation X sponsor this
Gary McGath elaborates:
More precisely, "you" was used as more respectful, formal pronoun
than "thou," analogous to the "tu/vous" distinction in French and
"du/Sie" in German. This seems to have arisen in late Middle or
early Modern English. While I don't know Old English, it appears
that it made a consistent distinction between single and plural
second person, regardless of social relationships.
The Quakers pushed for the abolition of social distinctions in
pronouns by using "thou" and "thee" for everyone. The language
accomplished the same thing by going in the opposite direction,
with "you" for everyone. The accusative "ye" disappeared around
the same time, further simplifying the language.
Perhaps because of the King James Bible, the use of "thou" for God
hung on after other uses of the pronoun became rare, giving the
impression it's a more formal pronoun, when the reverse was
originally true. [-gmg]
And later corrects himself:
I got it backwards. As explained there, "ye" is the nominative and
"you" the dative or accusative, which are rarely distinguished in
"Ye" survives in some expressions, such as "Hear ye, hear ye."
Kevin R adds:
Also used to ID certain bipolar rappers. [-kr]
And "God rest ye merry, gentlemen." [-ecl]
Peter Trei asks:
So, it's like 'youse' , or 'you all'? [-pt]
Keith F. Lynch asks:
Was there ever really such a word as "ye," or was it just a
misreading of "the" spelled with a thorn in place of "th"? The
letter thorn looks a lot like a "y." [-kfl]
Paul Dormer answers:
Chambers says there were two different words "ye":
ye /ye or yi/ (now archaic, dialect or poetic)
The second person plural (sometimes singular) pronoun
Cf you. Formerly, eg in the Authorized Version of the
English Bible, ye was always used as a nominative, and
you as a dative or accusative
Later ye was sometimes used for all these cases
ORIGIN: ME ye, nominative; your, genitive; you, yow, dative
and accusative pl, from OE ge, nominative; eower, genitive;
eow, dative and accusative
ye /the, thi or (reflecting the spelling) ye/
An archaic spelling for ‘the’, arising from printers' use
of y for the letter thorn, . See Y (n)
Paul also notes:
I was certainly taught--primary school, north of England, early
Sixties--that they and them were to be used for singular persons of
There's someone at the door.
Ask them what they want.
Steve Coltrin adds:
That's unremarkable in my experience too.
A thing I've noticed I do is use singular they for persons of known
(to me) presenting gender when they're highly distal to the person
I'm talking to. [-sc]
TOPIC: This Week's Reading (book comments by Evelyn C. Leeper)
SINOPTICON: A CELEBRATION OF CHINESE SCIENCE FICTION translated and
edited by Xueting Christine Ni (Solaris, ISBN 978-1-78108-852-4) is
a collection of thirteen stories written between 1991 and 2019. The
longest is A Que's "Flower of the Other Shore", which I estimate at
about 26,000 words, or novella-length; the rest are considerably
All the stories are good, but I'll comment on just two of them. I
am a big fan of Bao Shu (a.k.a. Baoshu, in both cases a pseudonym
for Li Jun), so it should come as no surprise that I liked his
story, "The Absolution Experiment". (**SPOILER** I am sure I read
a somewhat similar story years ago in Asimov's, but with
re-animation instead of immortality. **END SPOILER**)
The other story that also rang a bell was "The Tide of Moon City"
by Regina Kanyu Wang. Even if I had not just read Ursula
K. LeGuin's THE DISPOSSESSED, I would see a lot of similarities: a
double planet, one of them inhabited by colonists from the other,
with conflicting economic/social systems, and engaged in a
stand-off that prevents people from traveling freely between them.
Scientific research on one of them promises to be extremely
valuable ... to the other one. And so on. Was this in response to
LeGuin? Or was this inspired more by tensions between China and
Taiwan, or China and Hong Kong, or some other aspect of Chinese
politics that I don't even recognize?
There have been quite a few anthologies of Chinese science fiction
("kehuan") recently, this is distinguished (according to the
introduction by Xia Jia) by focusing "more on young writers an the
relatively later works of female writers, putting more emphasis on
the diversity of style and subject matter." [-ecl]