And not just this January. Every January stinks. January is our cultural dumping ground, a month where nothing good happens or gets released because everything worthwhile arrived in the final months of the previous year. This is doubly true if you’re a science fiction fan (or desperately need to find a topic for your biweekly sci-fi movie column). The only way for entertainment junkies to stay sane during this time of the year is to seek out recommendations and try out things that are new to us. If no one is going to release something new, the least we can do is seek out things that are new to us!
So let’s shake off the January doldrums. Let’s share some science fiction recommendations. And you know what? Let’s not restrict our recommendations to just movies. What are you watching? What are you reading? What are you playing? I’ll tell you what I’ve been up to, but you’ve got to chime in down in the comments section and let me know what I should be catching up on. Let’s make January bearable. Let’s scratch that science fiction itch together!
If You Want to Watch a Movie: Colossus: The Forbin Project
When the trailer for Transcendence arrived, it was impossible not to think of two films: 1992’s awful The Lawnmower Man and 1970’s terrific Colossus: The Forbin Project. I’m pretty sure the last thing the people behind an expensive Johnny Depp sci-fi flick wanted was to dredge up memories of the former and get compared to the latter, but if you make a movie about a man being transformed into a computer program only for him to try to conquer the world, you’re just plain asking for it. Anyway, Colossus: The Forbin Project is a slightly silly but jaw-droppingly cynical film, the kind of pitch-black sci-fi that could only get made in an era defined by the Vietnam War and the Cold War. The story is familiar enough: scientists create an advanced supercomputer to handle the security of the United States, only for the computer to gain sentience and assume control of the entire world. It may sound like a Terminator prequel, but it has more in common with ’70s political thrillers in tone. There’s no action or huge set pieces, but there are plenty of enthralling sequences of humanity watching an artificial being slowly take control of their lives and not being able to stop it. If you like your science fiction mean and black hearted, this is your new favorite movie.
If You Want to Watch a TV Show: Star Trek: Deep Space Nine
Everyone loves the original series of Star Trek and Star Trek: The Next Generation remains beloved among the initiated. Beyond that point, things get a little more inconsistent. The public perception of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine is that it’s lesser Trek, with you average, everyday person assuming it’s dreck like Star Trek Voyager. However, the public perception couldn’t be more wrong. Deep Space Nine is not only a great television show, but it may be (controversy alert!) the greatest Star Trek series of them all.
To be fair, it’s difficult to find your way into the show. The first season is downright bad and the second and third are entertaining, but hit-and-miss. However, starting with the fourth season, the tale of Captain Benjamin Sisko and his team at the titular space station finds its groove and for the next four seasons, it’s untouchably, unquestionably great. The characters are wonderful and, unlike most Trek crews, go through radical transformations and radically change as people as the show goes on. The story, despite being set mostly in a single location, goes to more exciting and complex places than the others shows ever dared to go. Most importantly, the show pulled off what Star Trek Into Darkness could not: it examined the moral complexities of living in and protecting a utopian society without insulting fans or the Trek universe. All of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine is on Netflix and if you’re a Star Trek fan who still hasn’t seen it, you now have homework.
If You Want to Read a Comic: Black Science
A while back, writer Rick Remender churned out the comic series Fear Agent, which remains one of the best, weirdest and most beautiful science fiction stories in recent memory. Since then, he’s gone on to find tremendous success in the pages of Marvel comics, but his personal, creator-owned work remains his most exciting. Black Science is his latest series and if the first two issues are any indication, it’s going to be something special (and it’s something that you can still get into right now).
A dark riff on Lost in Space, the series follows a brilliant (but not particularly nice) scientist whose experiment in opening portals to other dimensions goes horribly wrong. Now, he, his two young children, his team and the jerk who funded the project travel through alternate realities against their will, struggling to survive as they get deposited into random (and always hostile) universes. Remender’s writing is as sharp as ever, but Matteo Scalera’s gorgeous, detailed art is a revelation, making this a science fiction comic that is beautiful to look at and a joy to read.
If You Want to Play a Video Game: X-Com: Enemy Unknown
X-Com: Enemy Unknown was released to solid sales and critical acclaim in 2012, but with the recent arrival of an expansion pack (and deluxe rerelease for consoles), it may be time to revisit the best strategy game of the past few years. The game puts you in control of a secret international military group charged with defending the planet against an impending alien invasion at all costs. That means you’ll be overseeing the troops as they get into fire fight with extraterrestrial forces, but if also means you’ll be overseeing construction of your facilities, hiring scientists and engineers, maintain a budget and protecting satellites with your own private air force. X-Com: Enemy Unknown is a joy for anyone who craves being able to craft their own narrative in a video game, with the game’s sandbox style letting you choose how to play and how to approach any given situation. The story is loose (and frequently nonexistent), but the story you create through your actions and the men and women you lose on the battlefield is often as compelling as anything scripted. Sure, you may want to move on and play games on your new-fangled PlayStation 4s and XBox 360s, but just remember this: those consoles don’t have X-Com and your old consoles do. Heck, it’s also available on iOS devices now!
If You Want to Play a Tabletop Game: Netrunner
We’re currently in a golden age of tabletop gaming and few modern games are as exciting and beloved as Netrunner, a dueling card game that makes Magic: The Gathering look like the bloated, antiquated dinosaur that it is. The asymmetrical gameplay sees players taking on one of two roles in a dystopic, cyberpunk future: the powerful Corporation or the scrappy Runner, aka hacker. The table in front of you is literally cyberspace and the Corp has to protect his secrets using complex programs called ICE while the runner tries to break through his defenses using his scrappier, more ragtag deck of programs and consoles. It’s a brilliant design and it’s just plain beautiful, with both art and game design feeding the theme and making you really feel like you’re battling it out in a futuristic computer security system.
And now it’s your turn. What have you been watching, reading and playing recently?
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