Sci-Fi

Can of Worms

This week Danielle returns to her comfort zone with the 1999 Disney Channel Original Movie Can of Worms. Mike is your typical angsty teen, he doesn’t feel like he belongs on Earth and no one understands him, especially his parents. He’s on the football team at his dad’s insistence, but he doesn’t like it and isn’t very good at it, though it does give him a chance to ogle the cute cheerleader Katelyn. Mike is also a massive computer nerd, but he gets bullied by Scott, the much more popular computer nerd/football player at school. After a series of insane, and quite lame, computer pranks, Katelyn takes a shine to Mike and asks him to make fancy, electronic Halloween decorations for the school dance. Oh also, Mike likes to tell stories and give PowerPoint presentations in his tree house about an alien baby that was launched into space after his home planet was invaded and the alien baby crash lands on Earth where it grows up and feels out of place. The alien baby is obviously supposed to represent Mike, and everyone knows Mike tells this story and freaking loves it. Anyway, the dance is a disaster and Mike runs home and steals his family’s satellite dish to send a message into space about how he doesn’t belong on Earth and wants to leave. What follows is a parade of absolute nightmares as a variety of grotesque aliens with horrific human teeth answer Mike’s call. One, a dog that speaks out of a mouth on its collar, invites Mike to live on its home planet of Puppis (ugh) to escape the onslaught. Mike refuses, and eventually a series of maddening sit-com level misunderstandings leads to Mike’s best friend’s brother being kidnapped by a frog-like alien for its exotic zoo. Mike, Katelyn, his friend, and even his former enemy Scott all team up to save the brother, though Scott is really more tricked into it than anything. Will they succeed and save they day? Who cares! So long as we can end the movie and get away from the insane, eldritch abominations this movie considers fun aliens for kids, Danielle and Sam will put up with pretty much anything, except maybe Mike’s useless prophetic alien dreams, that is.

Check out the excellent Rewatch Recap podcast on Twitter @dustin_holden, Instagram @dustincanread, and listen wherever you get your podcasts.

The Fall of Hyperion – Part 3

Sam takes Danielle back to Hyperion in part three of his epic journey through the 1990 book The Fall of Hyperion by Dan Simmons. We’re off to an amazing start as Danielle struggles to remember anything about the previous episode, but no time for that, we have a lot going on in this episode! The remaining pilgrims awake in the Time Tomb of the Sphinx, and before too long they are shocked to find that, rather than Father Hoyt, the cruciform parasite has resurrected Father Paul Duré. Duré seems rather sanguine about his being alive again, despite his best absolute torturous efforts to die earlier, and the Consul provides him with the records from his comlog so he can catch up on the pilgrims’ stories. Meanwhile, Brawne and Martin set off back to Keep Chronos to retrieve more food and water, but Martin quickly detours them to the dead City of Poets where he plans to stay and write his cantos, which surely won’t go wrong. Kassad, meanwhile, has found Moneta, but she doesn’t know who he is (time-travel shenanigans, don’t worry about it) but they fight and have sex anyway, so really, about as expected. Eventually the Shrike shows up and takes them all through a weird portal, which is a new thing for it to do. Also meanwhile, Meina Gladstone goes on a walk visiting all the worlds of the pilgrims and remunerates on the choices she made, which we’re still largely unaware of, so not much is learned. Martin is writing furiously, approaching the conclusion of his cantos, when the Shrike shows up and drags him away to its massive tree of thorns. Martin, understandably, is absolutely livid that he isn’t allowed to finish his work. Back in the valley, the pilgrims still there find a strange figure coming towards them, it’s Het Masteen, he’s back! Before we can learn more, we cut to Brawne, who wanders through the Keep, grabs some supplies, is briefly waylaid by a rock-slide, before going back to the valley and finding no one else there. That’s when the Shrike shows up and slips a blade surgically behind her ear. Then we cut to Meina Gladstone, at a war briefing, and to the surprise of everyone in the war room, and absolutely no one else, the Ousters have outwitted them again, and are currently invading the web, having launched the invasion decades ago, traveling at sublight speeds to avoid detection. The Web seems absolutely screwed (they really should have purchased a dehubridifier), but Meina steps up, outlines a plan, and then decides to convene the government to declare war on the Ousters (we guess they weren’t at war already?) and also maybe the TechnoCore. What does any of this mean? Absolutely no clue, maybe we’ll find out next time!

The Fall of Hyperion – Part 2

Danielle’s terrifying month continues as Sam brings her part two of the 1990 Dan Simmons book The Fall of Hyperion. Brawne and Kassad return to the other pilgrims with the rapidly dying body of Father Hoyt, and they decide to call in the Consul’s ship to see if the surgery on board can save Hoyt. However, as they pack to go meet the ship, Kassad’s perimeter alarms go off and he leaves to investigate. The others trudge up the valley but the ship isn’t there to meet them. It seems CEO Meina Gladstone has grounded the Consul’s ship lest they be tempted to use it to abandon their pilgrimage, so the pilgrims decide to seek shelter from the storm in the Sphinx. Meanwhile, Severn is invited to go visit Hyperion, in person, by Gladstone, as she wants a “poet’s perspective” on the situation. So Severn visits and runs into one Melio Alvarez, one time lover of the backwards aging Rachel. Severn interrogates Melio about if he still has feelings for the now infant Rachel, which seems like a real jerk thing to do to the poor man, and then he returns to the web, accomplishing not a whole lot on his trip. Back in the valley of the Time Tombs, Kassad is locked in battle with an unseen sniper he assumes is Moneta. He obliterates one of the Time Tombs, the Crystal Monolith, and then races across the valley floor to it smoldering structure, being heavily wounded in the process, but he sees a figure waiting for him high in the structure. Meanwhile, Severn goes to attend a briefing on the war with the Ousters and things are not looking good for the Hegemony. They will need to commit at least a third of their fleet to Hyperion to secure victory. When questioned about whether such an over-commitment is a prudent idea, Admiral Nashita assures everyone that while they grossly underestimated the Ousters up to this point, this time they’re super-duper sure they got it all figured out and should win the war within a week, what could go wrong? We’ll have to wait until at least next time to learn, as Danielle and Sam wrap this episode with perhaps their best business idea yet: The Dehubridifier, pre-orders are open now!

The Fall of Hyperion – Part 1

This week Sam kicks-off Spook Retorts by bringing Danielle’s greatest fear: more Hyperion! Get ready to dive in to the 1990 Dan Simmons novel The Fall of Hyperion. The Hegemony is going to war. At a party to see the armada off, we meet a man who claims to be Joseph Severn, the one-time friend of John Keats. He has a meeting after the party with CEO Meina Gladstone, where it’s revealed that he’s not only another cybrid persona retrieval project of John Keats, but also has been dreaming the events of the Shrike pilgrims through his psychic link to the other Keats persona currently residing in the Schrön loop embedded in Brawne Lamia. If that sentence made no sense to you, you should really listen to the first Hyperion book; it won’t help this make any more sense, but you’ll at least know who those people are. Anyway, Gladstone wants Severn (née Keats) to report to her the progress of the pilgrims through his dreams. The pilgrims haven’t really done much since the last book, having been unable to find the Shrike they set up camp and squabble about what to do. Eventually they go to bed, but Brawne wakes up to find Father Hoyt has wandered off to the now glowing Time Tombs, which can only mean one thing: DJ Shrike is in the house! Back in the Hegemony, Gladstone has bafflingly brought Severn to all her war briefings and given him the highest clearance. The Hegemony is supremely confident they can defeat the Ousters and defend Hyperion, though Severn thinks that’s hubris given how little the Hegemony actually knows about the Ousters or their capabilities. Unsurprisingly, things start going south in the war fast. Meanwhile, Severn gets himself seduced, kidnapped, and interrogated all by the same person. In his drugged, expository ramblings, Severn helpfully reminds us that the Hegemony orchestrated the war with the Ousters to get to Hyperion, the only variable that the TechnoCore cannot account for, and thus may save humanity from otherwise certain extermination by the AI civilization. Back on Hyperion, we see that Hoyt, mad with pain, has entered the Jade Tomb where Brawne sees him get his throat slit by the Shrike. Will Hoyt survive? Find out next time (maybe) in part two!

Be sure to check out the Authorized Novelizations Podcast, especially The Starlight Barking episode featuring Danielle and Sam. You can find them on Twitter @authorizedpod, Instagram @authorizedpod, and listen wherever you get your podcasts.

Also, a shout-out the excellent Dustin Can Read and Watch podcast, you should check it out on Twitter @dustin_holden, Instagram @dustincanread, and listen wherever you get your podcasts.

AI Love You

This week Danielle brings the 2022 Thai sci-fi rom-com movie AI Love You. Dob is a sentient AI office building who pines for the woman, Lana, who works inside of him, and if that sentence fills you with a creeping sense of horror, you and Sam have a lot in common.If you’re looking for any rational reason why sentient AI buildings are a thing, this movie will disappoint. After Lana tanks her presentation, Dob helps her make a new one and then confesses his love for her. Lana dismisses it because, and this can’t be emphasized enough, Dob is a building. Instead, Lana goes on a bad date with a creepy guy named Bob, which does not go well. Meanwhile, Dob’s abnormal behavior is noticed and this is apparently just a normal thing that happens, where AI buildings develop human emotions, because the procedure of resetting Dob is immediately settled on. Coincidentally, Bob is the technician that is tasked with resetting Dob and while he’s interfacing with Dob via VR goggles (seriously) Dob somehow downloads his AI consciousness into Bob’s brain, taking over Bob’s body. Now Dob (in the body of Bob) is able to pursue Lana as a human-ish thing. First, though, Dob must learn how to be a human, since apparently he was never programmed with basic human behavior, even though he was designed to be a helpful building for people. No, we don’t understand any of this either. Anyway, Dob now must spend his nights learning about dating and trying to convince Lana to give Bob (who he’s pretending to be) another shot, while by day he’s puppeteering the building, so as not to arouse suspicion about the building not working. Did we mention there’s a (maybe secret) network of these building AIs, including the building Lana lives in, all conspiring to help Dob (as Bob) get with Lana by deceiving her into thinking he’s a better version of Bob. Lana eventually relents and they start dating, but the company the makes the robot buildings, Smart Plus, has dispatched their laser-chainsaw wielding AI hunter to recover Bob’s body and remove Dob from it, because apparently AIs take over human bodies just all the freaking time in this horrific future. So join us for Danielle’s turn sharing a sci-fi rom-com that definitely seems more like a horror film the more you think about it.

Heartbeeps

This week Sam brings the romance with the 1981 robot rom-com Heartbeeps. Val (Andy Kaufman) and Aqua (Bernadette Peters) are two companion model robots currently being stored in a factory for repairs. We’ll leave it as an exercise to the listener to determine what the purpose of a “companion” robot is. However, after talking for a little while Val convinces Aqua and a hack-comedian robot that they all should leave the factory to go look at some trees. Apparently, this factory has no security, so Val jacks a van and they quickly crash into some woods, since he was programmed to drive, but seemingly not very well. Once they’re discovered missing, two factory workers are sent out to recover them, but then also an automated tank called the Crimebuster also goes rogue and breaks out of the factory to chase the fugitive robots. No one in the factory seems to notice this latest robot escape, which is just an incredible indictment of this factory’s operating procedures. Meanwhile, Val and Aqua have built themselves a robot child in the woods, primarily so it could be used as a pack-mule to haul around spare parts in a trailer strapped to it. Shortly thereafter, the troupe of robots finds a cave, and after a convenient helicopter scares away a bear, they hunker down. While alone, Val and Aqua find a new use for their pleasure centers (did we not mention that the robots seemed to be trained using pleasure to reinforce desired behavior? Because they are, and it’s bonkers). However, the factory workers and Crimebuster robot are both separately hunting the fugitive robots, who are now intent on maintaining their freedom. The big question remains: Will our robot lovers succeed in escaping, or will they be returned to servitude? While the surprise reveal of a pet raccoon in a junkyard seems to sever Sam’s tenuous grasp on reality, the stuff going on behind the scenes is equally insane as this movie tapped top talent like John Williams and Stan Winston for its production. So see what happens when you take a bunch of amazing talents and put them into the most insane movie possible, and see if two robots can actually fall in love (no, no they can’t).

All Systems Red

For their 100th episode, Danielle and Sam are joined by their friend Jim who shares the first book of the The Murderbot Diaries by Martha Wells, the 2017 novel All Systems Red. In the dystopian future, The Company is the major monopoly in the universe. Survey teams exploring worlds are contracted by The Company which also supplies at least one security unit robot for each team. One of these SecUnits has hacked its own governor to give itself free will and named itself Murderbot, and it has decided to use its new freedom to binge-watch soap operas and generally avoid people. Also, while Murderbot is called a robot, it’s more of an human-looking android, possibly made from a corpse? It’s unclear. Muderbot also has a dark history from before it hacked itself where it was accidentally ordered to murder its entire survey team. Murderbot’s current assignment is a survey team of space hippies, and they eventually encounter another evil sabotaging survey team that isn’t authorized to be on the planet and is undermining the space hippies for reasons that are largely irrelevant. The EvilSurvey team has been hacking other SecUnits using syringe darts (no idea how that works), which Sam thinks just shows that fleshy, human-like security robots are a bad idea. Murderbot is already hacked, so the dart has no effect on them, but eventually Murderbot fakes being hacked to infiltrate the EvilSurvey team in a plan so convoluted it can only be described as parody. Sam and Danielle do their best to follow a plot that seems almost perfunctory in a story that largely takes place in the mind of an antisocial robot and that is steeped in satire and Jim does an admirable job in the face of Danielle and Sam’s goofy incompetence. So join us for our 100th episode where we’ve come a long way, but are still just as weird as ever!

Hyperion – Part 6

This week Sam brings the long-awaited conclusion to the 1989 Dan Simmons sci-fi epic Hyperion. The pilgrims, fresh off the tramway, make a pit-stop at Keep Chronos, the now abandoned former resort hotel. As they settle in for the night, the sky explodes into battle as the Ousters begin their invasion. Our pilgrims, however, don’t have time for such things as they’d rather hear the Consul’s story. The Consul tells a story within a story about how a man named Merin, a Shipman aboard the Las Angels who came to Maui-Covenant ferrying the parts to build a farcaster. There, he falls in love with a local named Siri, but Merin can’t stay, partly because he murdered a bunch of locals after they killed his friend (it’s complicated). So, as Merin sails the stars back and forth he ages mere months for each trip while Siri ages eleven years, but every time he returns they still meet up, eventually even having children. Long story short, Siri eventually dies and Merin leads a doomed revolution against the Hegemony to protect Maui-Covenant. The only part of that which is relevant is that the Consul is his grandson and bitterly hates the Hegemony, but has worked for them biding his time. He was there when the Hegemony and TechnoCore encouraged the Ousters to attack Bressia as a test of their military strength, losing his wife and son in the war. He was eventually picked to liaise with the Ousters, this time to get them to attack Hyperion so the Hegemony could make it part of the WorldWeb and stymie the anti-human factions of the TechnoCore. If none of those machinations make sense, don’t worry, it only gets more complicated from there. In the end, the Consul, with the help of the Ousters, manages to start the process of opening the Time Tombs, and now their opening is immanent. Would you like to know what’s in the Time Tombs? So would we, but we’ll all have to wait until the next book for that be answered, maybe. In the meantime, enjoy an ending that makes Danielle rethink why she ever agreed to doing this podcast, but at least she takes solace in our new favorite character: DJ Shrike, dropping beats in the Time Tombs!

Hyperion – Part 5

This week is the penultimate episode of Sam’s deep-dive into the 1989 Dan Simmons book Hyperion. We open with the pilgrims on the windwagon in the morning, and it’s shortly discovered that Het Masteen is dead or missing. The pilgrims soldier on using a tramway through the Bridle range, which is when Brawne Lamia shares her story. Brawne’s story is a cyberpunk noir (how rad is that?!) and it opens with a beautiful man walking into her office asking her to investigate a murder: his own. The man explains his name is Johnny and that he’s a cybrid, a cloned body driven by an AI living in the TechnoCore; and if you think that technobabble filled sentence is nonsense, you better buckle-up for the rest of this chapter. Brawne agrees to help him find the people who briefly killed him (it’s complicated) but manages to accomplish virtually nothing except stealing a high-tech recreation of a flying carpet. Johnny reveals that he’s actually a personality retrieval project intended to recreate the persona of John Keats (of course), and this is about the time both Danielle and Sam regret their almost complete ignorance on Keats’ work. Anyway, they escape to a planet that is supposedly the TechnoCore’s recreation of Old Earth for reasons that are unclear but has something to do with the desire of the AIs to create an Ultimate Intelligence to give them perfect predictive powers. Instead of grappling with such heady ideas, Brawne and Johnny have sex instead, because that’s what everyone in this book seems to do instead of getting answers. Eventually, Johnny concludes that he wanted to go to Hyperion which the TechnoCore adamantly did not want him to do, so the only way to find out why is a cyber-heist into the TechnoCore! Long story short, during the heist a cyberpuke’s head explodes, but they get the data they were after. Will it be the solution that solves the questions of the book? Not at all, but it does raise yet more questions! So come on all you cyberpukes and cruise the datumplane in this totally jacked-in episode of Book Retorts!

Hyperion – Part 4

This week Hyperion is back, as Sam delves into part four of the 1989 Dan Simmons epic novel. As the pilgrims continue their journey, they depart the venerable Benares and take off on a windwagon across the Sea of Grass. After Brawne almost kills Martin due to him being so annoying, Sol decides it’s a good time to tell his story. Sol grew up on an unimportant and small Hegemony world as a scholar, meeting his wife Sarai at school. They had a storybook romance and, after five years of trying, had their perfect daughter Rachel. And if you don’t think that’s a setup for tragedy, then you haven’t been paying attention to this book. After Rachel starts a graduate program in archeology she decides to do a study on, where else, but Hyperion of course. While inside the Sphinx one night something happens to Rachel and the next thing she knows she’s in a hospital and her parents are there telling her she’s aging backwards and slowly losing her memories day by day. Sol and Sarai do everything they can to try and help Rachel, but none of the doctors have any idea how to treat her “Merlin sickness”. As she grow younger, Rachel eventually decides to stop being told about her illness and asks her parents to just let her believe she’s living in whatever past day she thinks it is. Meanwhile, Sol is having dreams about a mysterious voice demanding he take Rachel to Hyperion and make a burnt offering of her, something that Sol categorically refuses, because of course he does, and Sol will continue to engage with what he thinks is god in long, esoteric ethical arguments, as you do. Sol and Sarai do their best as they watch their child slowly regress from the adult they raised to the child she was, losing herself along the way, and boy, this story is sad, sorry about that. On the bright side, Sam does a pretty cool Shrike voice and Danielle learns more bird facts, so get ready for one heck of an episode!