Curiosity Draws Us To Mars This Week In Science Fiction

By David Wharton | 8 years ago

Martian Mega Rover
(National Geographic, Thursday 10/9c)

It’s always exciting when the boundaries between science and science fiction blur, and there was definitely a sense of that last night while people around the world watched as NASA’s Curiosity rover (otherwise known as the Mars Science Laboratory) landed successfully in Gale Crater at 1:31 a.m. EDT. Watching not just the live feed from mission control, but also the Facebook updates coming from friends who were doing likewise was powerful and moving. If only that feeling could last.

To most people, after all, the Curiosity rover was merely that: an idle curiosity soon forgotten. But let’s be better than that. Wiser men than I have pointed out that when we stopped making the space program a priority, we also stopped dreaming. If you thrilled to Curiosity’s landing with the rest of us, maybe check out National Geographic’s special on Thursday and just what Curiosity hopes to learn from its new Martian stomping grounds, and just how much work went into getting it there. Maybe take a few minutes to look upward and marvel. Maybe take a few minutes to dream.


Alphas (Syfy, 10/9c) — “The Quick and the Dead”
The team has to take down a speedster. Which, in TV terms, means a guy who can run slightly faster than everybody else. I realize it’s a way of getting around the fact that a person with super-speed could win pretty much any fight before it’s even really started, but still. Also, I’m detracting major points for making me remember that Sharon Stone movie.

 Warehouse 13 (Syfy, 9/8c) – “An Evil Within”
Crowds are randomly suffering group hallucinations and turning into angry, violent mobs. Do you think it’s related to an artifact? I bet it’s related to an artifact.

Alphas: Season One (Netflix Instant Watch)
If you’ve been meaning to give Syfy’s excellent no-spandex superhero series a shot, you can now watch the entire first season via Netflix. The current season is only three episodes in, so hurry and you can catch up.

Battlefield Earth (Netflix Instant Watch)
John Travolta’s Scientology passion project, based on the shelf-breaking 1,000 page novel by L. Ron Hubbard, has become something of an easy target over the years. It’s the go-to target for “Worst Ever” movie lists, and it’s hard to suppress a grin at the sight of Travolta in his dreadlocks and platform boots. But let’s be honest for a second. It can’t possibly be that bad, right? People just like to pile on a film once it’s earned a bad reputation, often without actually sampling it themselves. So I say we all give Battlefield Earth a chance, dang it, an honest chance. Who knows, maybe it’s amazing? Now then, you go ahead and press play while I step behind this lead shield…

The Clockwork Rocket” by Greg Egan
I’m not familiar with Egan’s writing, but he’s definitely got my attention with a fascinating premise that imagines a universe where the fundamentals of physics work very differently. Here’s the synopsis from Amazon:

In Yalda’s universe, light has no universal speed and its creation generates energy. On Yalda’s world, plants make food by emitting their own light into the dark night sky. As a child, Yalda witnesses one of a series of strange meteors, the Hurtlers, that are entering the planetary system at an immense, unprecedented speed. It becomes apparent that her world is in imminent danger – and the task of dealing with the Hurtlers will require knowledge and technology far beyond anything her civilization has yet achieved! Only one solution seems tenable: if a spacecraft can be sent on a journey at sufficiently high speed, its trip will last many generations for those on board, but it will return after just a few years have passed at home. The travelers will have a chance to discover the science their planet urgently needs, and bring it back in time to avert disaster.

Destination Truth (Syfy, 9/8c) – “Vampire Monsters/Island of the Damned”
Do they wind up on the Island of the Damned because things go poorly with the Vampire Monsters? They really should have made some sort of anti-vampire precautions. I mean that’s just common sense.

The Dog Stars” by Peter Heller
A longtime NPR contributor, Heller explores well-trodden ground — the apocalypse — through the eyes of a pilot exploring the wastes in a 1956 Cesna. From Amazon:

A riveting, powerful novel about a pilot living in a world filled with loss—and what he is willing to risk to rediscover, against all odds, connection, love, and grace.

Hig survived the flu that killed everyone he knows. His wife is gone, his friends are dead, he lives in the hangar of a small abandoned airport with his dog, his only neighbor a gun-toting misanthrope. In his 1956 Cessna, Hig flies the perimeter of the airfield or sneaks off to the mountains to fish and to pretend that things are the way they used to be. But when a random transmission somehow beams through his radio, the voice ignites a hope deep inside him that a better life—something like his old life—exists beyond the airport. Risking everything, he flies past his point of no return—not enough fuel to get him home—following the trail of the static-broken voice on the radio. But what he encounters and what he must face—in the people he meets, and in himself—is both better and worse than anything he could have hoped for.

Narrated by a man who is part warrior and part dreamer, a hunter with a great shot and a heart that refuses to harden, The Dog Stars is both savagely funny and achingly sad, a breathtaking story about what it means to be human.

Downward to the Earth” by Robert Silverberg
Originally published in 1970, Silverberg’s classic is an homage to Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness. This new publishing includes a map and a new introduction from Silverberg. Via Amazon:

Who knoweth the spirit of men that goeth upward, and the spirit of the beast that goeth downward to the earth? –Ecclesiastes 3:21

Okay, they did resemble elephants, it can’t be denied. That led many people to underestimate the Nildoror and their obviously more fearsome commensals, the Sulidoror.

But aliens should never be judged by human standards, as the Company learned to its cost when Holman’s World, now once again known as Belzagor, was given back to the natives and the Company sent packing.

Now Edmund Gunderson, once head of the Company’s operation on this world, has come back across the galaxy to settle old scores with the Nildoror. If he can even get them to acknowledge his existence.

Some Remarks” by Neal Stephenson
Stephenson has made a name for himself over the decades with fascinating novels such as The Diamond Age, Snow Crash, and Anathem. Some Remarks is a mix of both short stories and essays on subjects ranging from technology, economics, history, science, pop culture, and philosophy.

Spaceballs: 25th Anniversary Edition (Blu-Ray)
Yes, it has indeed been a quarter century since Mel Brooks introduced us to the Schwartz, Pizza the Hutt, and Ludicrous Speed. And now I’m going to need to go to Ludicrous Speed in hopes of traveling back to a time when anniversary DVD releases didn’t make me feel old.

Star Wars X-Wing #10: Mercy Kill” by Aaron Allston
It’s my firm belief that if I were to decide to start reading all the Expanded Universe Star Wars content, I could never finish it all because I wouldn’t be able to keep up with the rate of publication. For those of you in the mood to tempt fate and time, via Amazon:

The intrepid spies, pilots, and sharpshooters of Wraith Squadron are back in an all-new Star Wars adventure, which transpires just after the events of the Fate of the Jedi series!

Three decades have passed since Wraith Squadron carried out its last mission. Taking on the most dangerous and daring operations, the rogues and misfits of the elite X-Wing unit became legends of the Rebellion and the Second Galactic Civil War, before breaking up and going their separate ways. Now their singular skills are back in vital demand—for a tailor-made Wraith Squadron mission.

A powerful general in the Galactic Alliance Army, once renowned for his valor, is suspected of participating in the infamous Lecersen Conspiracy, which nearly toppled the Alliance back into the merciless hands of the Empire. With orders to expose and apprehend the traitor—and license to do so by any and all means—the Wraiths will become thieves, pirates, impostors, forgers . . . and targets, as they put their guts, their guns, and their riskiest game plan to the test against the most lethal of adversaries.

Futurama (Comedy Central, 10/9c) – “Free Will Hunting”
After deciding that, since he’s a robot, his free will is actually just an illusion, Bender sets off on a quest for the meaning of life. Didn’t he already meet God a few seasons back? You’d think he could have just asked then…

Star Wars: Lost Tribe of the Sith – Spiral #1” (Dark Horse Comics)
Here’s an interesting bit of cross-medium coordination. This new series picks up directly on the heels of John Jackson Miller’s book, Lost Tribe of the Sith: The Collected Stories, which hit bookshelves on July 24th. Granted, I’m guessing this sort of thing is easy to organize when you’ve got George Lucas money and an entire Expanded Universe cranking out content. At any rate, here’s the scoop:

On a planet ruled by a tribe of Sith-marooned thousands of years ago and cut off from the galaxy – the throne holder is about to be challenged by a power-hungry Sith rebel from the slums…and a thwarted royal Sith princess! Their few shared interests set them on a quest together — but most certainly not as partners!

Through the Wormhole with Morgan Freeman (Science, 10/9c) – “Did We Invent God?”
No. Weren’t you paying attention? I just told you that Bender met the Guy in person on Futurama.

Martian Mega Rover (National Geographic, 9/8c)
Didn’t get enough of Curiosity during Monday’s Science Channel special? Check out this one-hour look at the years-long process of designing, building, and eventually landing the Mars Science Laboratory.

Misfits (Logo, 10/9c)
“Curtis is reunited with his old girlfriend, and tries to set things right using his powers, with serious consequences.”

R.A. Salvatore Book Signing (Book People, Austin, TX)
While the author is primarily known as a fantasy writer, we’re guessing there are some Salvatore fans amongst our readers. He’ll be speaking and signing copies of his latest, Charon’s Claw.

The Bourne Legacy (In Theaters)
The Bourne series by no means embraces the SF genre, but given all the talk of modified genes in the trailers, I think we can sneak this one in without anybody noticing. Can Jeremy Renner fill Matt Damon’s shoes? More importantly, why didn’t they get him his own shoes? The man’s a movie star, for crying out loud!

Dark Matters: Twisted But True (Science, 10/9c) – “Positively Poisonous, Medusa’s Heroin, Beauty and Brains”
The John Noble-hosted series explores the dark corners of science. My question: do you have to avoid looking at Medusa’s Heroin while injecting it? Is it okay to use a mirror, or do you just have to stab blindly at your forearm?

Doctor Who: The Women of Doctor Who (BBC America, 9/8c)
There have been quite a many of them. The Doctor does get around, you know, what with the whole time-and-space hopping. Would a “companion in every port” joke be inappropriate here?

Falling Skies (TNT, 9/8c) – “The Price of Greatness”
“The 2nd Mass meets new faces, while Tom comes across his former mentor and professor Arthur Manchester (guest star Terry O’Quinn). But it’s difficult to know whom to trust. Maggie begins to realize that Pope may not be sticking with the group very long. And Tector embraces his military past.”

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