Ex Machina (2014)

This review was originally written in July of 2015

Ex Machina starts off slow but remains compelling from the beginning through to the end, and it managed to prove itself to be easily the most well-written and well thought out story to touch on this subject matter.
Chappie was entertaining and sort of sweet, Age of Ultron was exciting, but Ex Machina was the best and most honest exploration of artificial or emergent intelligence I have witnessed on screen.
Everything from the introduction of Ava, through the process of getting to know her as she is put through a protean sort of Turing test by a gifted coder, to the intense and chilling (but somehow still understated) climax of the film is insanely captivating.
The interactions between the relatively naive Caleb (the programmer) and the erratic and controlling Nathan (his boss and the man who developed Ava) fluctuate between bizarre and somewhat friendly but with an ever present sort of tension that builds as the narrative continues.
The true star of the movie is Ava herself, portrayed by Alicia Vikander…and she most certainly shines in her role, showing that it might not be the best idea to strive for human emotional development and sexuality when working towards AI.
Elements of the movie definitely take a cue from Bladerunner…questions of identity, what it is to be human, and how far we might go in simulating humanity when creating a new form of life…in addition to exploring all too common human issues like insecurity, desire, and mistrust.
I want to say more. I want to discuss specific points in the narrative, but I don’t want to include any spoilers. I hope that you’ll see it for yourself. There is no doubt in my mind that this is one of the best science fiction movies I will see in a good long while, and I believe you will feel the same if you take the time to watch it.

War Factory: Transformation Book Two by Neal Asher

This review was originally written in July of 2016.

War Factory by Neal Asher took what he started in Dark Intelligence and amplified essentially every captivating element. This series within the Polity universe (the fictional future in which most of his novels take place) is actually becoming my favorite of his work, and I never expected anything to outshine the fantastic and far reaching story that started in Gridlinked.
Numerous, at first seemingly loosely related, narratives weave together in a puzzle being fabricated and assembled by Penny Royal–a rogue AI with nearly godlike abilities and the associated detachment from conceptions of right and wrong–and when those stories come together it is in as intense a climax as anything else Asher has written, but on a more intimate scale than a lot of the previous novels. It’s interesting how the relatively small scale events of this series can potentially have far more widespread and profound consequences than the massive events of many of his other novels, but it is definitely intriguing to watch it play out on the pages.
Asher happens to be one of those authors who simply becomes better as he continues writing, and I personally hope he never stops. The future that he envisions in these novels that take place within or ancillary to the Polity universe is a future I would be happy to witness for myself. Thankfully, the quality of the author’s writing is such that I am able to experience it in a more visceral way than I would with anyone else at the helm, I suspect.

Seveneves by Neal Stephenson

This review was originally written in 2015.

I felt like I might need a little bit of time to digest Seveneves by Neal Stephenson before giving it a proper review. I loved Anathem and Reamde, but I think that Seveneves is my favorite of his novels aside from The Baroque Cycle trilogy and Snowcrash.
The first two sections of the novel, which constituted approximately 3/4 of the narrative, were some of the most depressing and devastating segments of literature I’ve read.
Beginning with the destruction of our moon, detailing the desperate worldwide push to establish an orbital colony wherein a very small percentage of the human species could weather the thousands of years during which Earth itself would be uninhabitable, and painting a painfully accurate portrait of just how badly we would mess everything up to the point where that small percentage was whittled down to only a handful of women (the “eves” referred to in the title)…the first two sections of the book tease the reader with hope and glimpses of ingenuity and adaptability that we all know human beings are capable of, only to taint that with our propensity for paranoia, infighting, and self-aggrandizement.
The novel jumps forward 5,000 years between the second and third sections and that final quarter of the book is jaw dropping in so many ways. I won’t give anything away, but though there is still ample evidence of a lot of those less desirable human traits that led to the attrition earlier in the book, what we experience as readers is something magnificent, something that would be awe inspiring to see us achieve.
I don’t know if Stephenson had intended it, but I saw the big twist coming from well before the jump forward in time…the surprise awaiting the characters we follow during the final part of the book wasn’t any surprise at all to me, beyond the finer details at least.
I hope that Stephenson expands on this world he’s created in Seveneves; I would love to see where things go from the conclusion of this book, because there is really so much more to be explored.
Having finished the novel, I want even more to see this adapted into a movie or (better yet) a miniseries on one of the cable networks that could provide the budget necessary to do the story justice…and I still want to see Neil deGrasse Tyson and Elon Musk play the characters that were so obviously modeled after them.

Dark Intelligence: Transformation Book One by Neal Asher

This review was originally posted in the summer of 2015.

Having finished Dark Intelligence: Transformation Book One by Neal Asher I am in the unfortunate position of having to patiently wait for the next book to come out.
I recall that feeling well, from the times (not altogether so long ago) when I was impatiently waiting for each of the Ian Cormac novels to be released.
There are exceedingly few authors, maybe a dozen I can think of, who never disappoint me…and Asher is absolutely near the top of that list. He’s right there with Jonathan Maberry, Alastair Reynolds, Peter Watts, Richard K. Morgan, and Neal Stephenson as far as the authors I would list as being the best currently writing material that in any way would be associated with the science fiction genre…though both Maberry and Stephenson tend to cross over a number of genres in the process.
Dark Intelligence, like many of Asher’s novels, weaves together a convoluted plot with a frenetic pace that few could contain in words with the skill that Asher pulls off.
The characters, even relatively minor ones, end up feeling like fully realized individuals…more impressive in the cases of those who are suffering from pretty severe identity crises, and there are a few of those included in this narrative.
I was happy to see both Amistad and Penny Royal back again, having found their previous presences in Asher’s novels to be fascinating. I was also pleased to get more of an introduction to the Atheter; after reading The Technician and some short fiction, I was very interested in delving further into what was going to happen on the planet Masada.
I suspected that I was going to end up loving this book before I had placed it on preorder, but it exceeded my expectations.