The Starving Games

kinopoisk.ruJust learned this little gem is available for watching online. It’s called the The Starving Games, a not-so-subtly named satirical take on The Hunger Games. In addition to spoofing that sci-fi, dystopian YA hit, they also tackled franchises like The Avengers, Harry Potter and Oz the Great and Powerful to pop culture characters and celebrities like Taylor Swift, PSY, LMFAO and Honey Boo Boo.

Directed by Jason Friedberg and Aaron Seltzer, the people who brought us Spy Hard, Scary Movie, Date Movie, Epic Movie, Meet the Spartans, Disaster Movie, and Vampires Suck, this movie promises to be entertaining for people who don’t mind seeing popular franchises being slammed, and don’t care much about good writing, acting, or coherent story lines.

Enjoy the trailer, and then check out the full movie (if you’re so inclined) over at Youtube:

Shatner’s “Get A Life” Explores Star Trek Fandom

In 1986, William Shatner hosted Saturday Night Live and performed the sketch where he told a convention of Trekkers to “Get a life!” A hilarious moment in television history, or an instance of carefully scripted sincerity? Who knows? Either way, anyone who has not checked seen the sketch should do so immediately. I’ll wait, don’t worry…

Wasn’t that hilarious?

Anyway, it just so happens that Shatner is back at it, trying to find out what it is that defines Trekkies and contributes to the phenomena known as Star Trek fandom. Appropriately, he has named this movie “Get A Life” in honor of the satirical remarks he made on SNL. Again, this may or may not be sincere advice. The point is, even after decades of being the big name is Star Trek, he still wonders why the hell grown men and some grown women have spent their entire lives dedicated to this franchise.

Following in the same vein as Trekkies, this documentary goes beyond taking a look at Star Trek conventions and fandom over the years and  delves into the deeper questions of what makes Star Trek so enduringly popular. Much like Star Wars, it’s a science fiction franchise that has become inextricably embedded in our collective consciousness, to the point that even Captain Kirk himself is astounded and left wondering what the hell is going on…

Snippets from the documentary suggest that it was Roddenberry’s optimism that won fans over. His positive view of a future where all our current ills are solved and the worst didn’t happen is certainly one of the a selling points of the franchise. With so many dystopian and misanthropic visions permeating the pop culture sphere, people enjoy hearing a more positive appraisal of humanity and its prospects.

More echoes of Star Wars there, another franchise which captured fans imagination with its upbeat message and tempo. One has to wonder if the timing of these two franchises wasn’t just the slightest coincidental…

Anyhoo, here is the documentary’s official trailer. Enjoy!

My Sci-Fi Drugs!

Hey all, again! Last time I talked about drugs and sci-fi, I mentioned all the examples I could draw from classic science fiction franchises. Today I thought I’d share the one’s I came up with myself, which were partially inspired by some of the examples I mentioned. They all come from the same place, known as the Legacies universe. This is the setting of my short stories, Eyes in the Dark, Flights of the Icarus, Turncoats and Vega Rising. I’ve listed them based on where they emerged in the course of the expanded storyline. Here they are:

Adapted from THC and multiple strains of genetically modified cannabis, Tar is the street name for a form of superhash that grew in popularity during the 21st century. Widely used as an inhalant, usually with the help of a vaporizer, it can also be consumed in solid or liquid form.

With the development of stronger and more effective synthetics, the use of Tar and other cannabis drugs diminished by the late 21st century. However, the drug remained in use well into the late 22nd century and was even a source of income for remote agricultural colonies.

Though it never constitutes more than a small portion of the interstellar drug trade, Tar remains a controlled substance on many worlds. However, authorities have often been known to turn a blind eye when it comes to enforcement. In some port cities, it is even legal and distributed by licensed authorities, often in the same places where one can purchase Tröpic (see below).

By the mid-21st century, deep-space mining operations and off-world colonization began in earnest As a result, private and governmental aeronautics agencies began collaborating on a drug that would ensure their pilots would stayed sharp at the helm and passengers could be brought out of cryosleep and assume their duties without a lengthy recovery period.

Thus the designer drug EBME (endormorphinbenzoylmethylecgonine)was created, aka. “Shine”. Chemically engineered to be a stimulant devoid of side effects, with the exception of a mild euphoric state, the drug became widely used by miners, spacers, and those forced to enter into cryosleep for long journeys through space.

However, it did not take long for long-term effects, such as growing dependency, mood swings, hallucinations and even psychosis to become evident. In controlled use, Shine was a relatively harmless drug with obvious benefits and a low likelihood of chemical dependency. Unfortunately, the psychological addiction factor was underestimated and non-commercial (i.e. recreational) use became widespread.

By 2137, the development of the FTL subspace drive system meant that Shine was no longer needed for as cryosleep slowly became obsolete. Thus the UNE officially made Shine illegal on Earth, while colonial administrations, under the Directorate’s power, were slower to respond. It was felt that with the lives of colonists, often marked by hardship and tough conditions, required a little “chemical cheer” to keep things running smoothly.

It was not until the late 22nd century that Shine was officially banned in every corner of the known universe. It remains a popular black market item on every colonized world and the distribution of it is usually handled by one syndicate or another. The most notable of these are the Akuma, the Sadruzhestva, the Lumbre and the Shé, who are responsible for the distribution of this and other drugs on the inner colonies.

In all times, a little departure from reality is always sought after. And if that departure should take you to a place renowned for its bright colors and ecstatic feel, so much the better! That was the idea behind MDD (methylenedioxydiethylamide), otherwise known as Tröpic. Although it is unclear how and where it first appeared, this powerful hallucinogen was in widespread use by the late 21st, early 22nd century.

Initially, its use was confined to Earth to the Solar colonies, where bohemian art cultures and psychedelic music gave rise to Tröpic clubs. In time, the practice of combining this drug with the music scene, specifically music geared to stimulate users (known as trope), became widespread throughout the inner colonies. However, within the outer colonies, where conditions are harder and there is less of an “artistic scene” to speak of, it is considered somewhat pretentious!

The development of cybernetics as a commercially-available option also led the emergence of new drugs. In this case, it was the medicinal narcotic known as Enkavelazepam, a drug designed for the maintenance and regeneration of nerve tissue after cybernetic surgery. Patented for use on many worlds, this drug was also known by the trade names shinkei, koltaziz and nevrikon, and the street name Sharp.

Though it was never officially banned, recreational use of the drug is considered a crime on all colony worlds, particularly when used in conjunction with Pump or Juice to achieve performance enhancing effects. In addition, it would often be used on its own by mercenaries, enforcers and anyone who’s livelihood depended on sharp reflexes and fast reactions.

Here we have another example of a drug that began as a legal substance designed to combat the effects of deep space travel. During the 21st and much of the 22nd century, spacers were forced to travel for extended periods of time in low-gravity of zero-gravity environments. Even with the invention of the subspace engine in 2137, artificial gravity was not an option until several decades later.

As a result, Luyten corporation, a shipping magnate, mandated the use of Hydorzene, a synthetic steroid that promoted muscle growth and bone density. Going by its street name “Pump”, the drug began a wide system of black market distribution, being used by everyone from professional athletes to bodyguards and hired muscle.

Paired with other enhancing substances, such as Sharp and Juice, the term “Juicer” emerged to describe anyone who underwent artificial muscle enhancement.

Much like Pump, Juice was a synthetic steroid and growth hormone that was developed for commercial use. However, in this case, the developer was the TDF (Terran Defense Forces) who developed it give their soldiers the ability to carry heavy weapons and equipment, as well as the ability to function in high-gravity environments.

Naturally, this drug was also made available alongside Pump for civilian use, particularly among planetary miners. Much like military personnel, these were people for whom added strength and the ability to withstand gravity in excess of 1 g was not only desirable but necessary to survive.

Use of the drug was short-lived however, as lightweight nanomaterials and the development of mechs and exoskeletons eliminated the need for augmented strength. But once again, the black market was quick to pick up the slack and ensure that the drug maintained production and was available to all those willing to use it.

By the early 22nd century, the popularity of Tröpic led to the development of even more powerful psychotropics. One such development was known as Oblivion, a Hermian invention which was apparently designed in a chemical engineers own home, presumably in an attempt to attract the attention of the Akuma.

Named in honor of its chief effect, helping its users to achieve oblivion, this inhalant became all the rage amongst connoisseurs and the underclass alike. Reported users quickly became addicted due to the drugs tendency to induce powerful visions, usually of transcendent phenomena or death. It is for this reason that Oblivion has been reported as being used as part of religious ceremonies within several cults and sub-sects as well.

Aside from its addictive nature, side effects include a diminished ability to distinguish reality from fantasy, waking visions, psychosis, and delusions of a messianic nature. It is also for this reason why Oblivion remains a banned substance on all colonized worlds, and the manufacture and distribution of it remain a bone of contention between the Akuma and Sadruzhestva cartels.

Last, but certainly not least, we have the pharmaceutical drug known as Neurozene. Known by its street name “Blinding Light”, this painkilling neurostimulant saw widespread use after it was invented during the early-mid 22nd century. Originally developed as a surgical painkiller, neurozene was different from hydromorphone or diacetylmorphine in that it blocked pain and triggered euphoria through the targeted stimulation of neurons in the brain.

Unlike other drugs, the syndicates do not maintain much in the way of control over this drug’s distribution. Since it is not physically addictive and remains legal and regulated for medicinal use, it is not typically sought after by users and underworld elements very much. For the most part, recreational use is limited to those looking for a positive high without much in the way of side effects.

Well, that’s my list of fictional drugs, all written up by me some eight years ago. I’ve added some here and there, but the core group remains the same. Assuming people don’t mind hearing about sci-fi stuff that strictly mine, I think I’ll do one or two more. I’ve had awhile to invent this stuff, so there’s a fair bit to share ;)!

Crashland – Chapter 7, Now appearing at Story Time!

Well, it was a hard slog, but Chapter 6 has finally concluded with a clear vote from audiences. After finding himself alive and patched up in an abandoned subway station, Holden realized he was in the custody of some rather strange agents. They wanted to know who he was, and intimated that depending on his answers, he might just live to see another day.

He lied and told them he was a simple engineer working for his company. He recounted events as best he could, but ended up realizing they knew more about him than he thought. After a terse conversation, he revealed that he was trying to find his way to the city center to find help and located his wife and family. The man speaking to him, named Jacobs, had bad news…

Yes, it seems audiences have decided that they want to see the story take a dark turn. After some time trying to make his way towards the only lights left on in the city, Holden was told that all he was looking at were some raging fires that were set by the mob. Facing a hopeless situation, Holden must now decide what to do, and its clear that his hosts are more than they appear to be…

Come on by and see what happens. Then, stick around to vote on what happens next! There’s more action, more danger, and more post-apocalyptic adventure to be had over at Story Time! And while you’re there, check out the new cover art for Goran’s Zidar’s serial novels, the YA mystery TJ Thirteen and the paranormal thriller Hunter.

A Review of Repo Men, the movie

The following are the core concepts of the novel The Repossession Mambo, by Eric Garcia (the same guy who brought us Matchstick Men and the Anonymous Rex series). It’s 2025. Thanks to a company known as “The Union”, society has been flooded with artificial organs and just about everyone has one. They have saved and prolonged many a life, and cost a mint! And if you fall behind on your payments, a Repossession agent will come to your house, slit you from your navel to your neck, and retrieve it.

In short, its a dystopian future where a single company an unrealistic amount of power – the power to save live, the power to take it away. Most people are struggling just to make ends meet and as a result, the debt-ridden masses struggle to make their payments and stay alive. Right out of the annals of classic sci-fi. And with all the other cyberpunk concepts that have been done, I’m surprised someone didn’t tackle the issue of artificial organs sooner.

And, let’s face it, the premise is very much in tune with our day in age, released at a time when homeowners and families are struggling to avoid foreclosure on their houses thanks to a series of bad mortgages (and re-mortgages) that they were sweet talked and pressured in taking them in first place. Yes, for people coming through the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression, and who are used to dealing with punitive cost of privatized health care, this movie was sure to resonate. A wonder then why it did so poorly at the box office!

Plot Synopsis:
As already noted, the story opens on the US in the near future. Artificial organs, joints, and even a neurological matrix, have revolutionized life by ensuring that the terminally ill, crippled and people near brain death can live on happily, assuming they can pay of course!

Small hints are given as to what is going on in the world at large, all of it quite familiar and relateable to today. On the one hand, there is loose talk of an ongoing debt crisis and a crippled economy. There’s also the passing mention of US soldiers gearing up to go into Nigeria in what has been deemed “Operation: Hope Springs Eternal” (a parody on “Operation: Restore Hope” or “Operation: Iraqi Freedom” perhaps?)

Into all this, we get Remy (Jude Law) who appears to be writing a manifesto of sorts. He opens it with a reference to Schrodinger’s Cat, which any fan of Big Bang Theory will instantly recognize. He wonders how anything could be considered both alive and dead in the same instant, clearly alleging that his story illustrates just that. The movie then opens in a flashback sequence, all things building towards his session in a slum with an antiquated typewriter.

Basically, Remy was a Repo Man who, alongside his age-old friend and army buddy Jake Freivald (Forest Whitaker), is considered the best in the business. However, Remy’s wife would prefer it if he transferred to sales and stopped doing the grisly work of harvesting people’s organs for money. He agrees, but also tells Jake he will do one last job. He is nearly killed when his equipment (a defibrillator) shorts out and nearly kills him. He wakes up in the hospital and is told that he will need an artificial heart now. His angry, panicked reaction tells us all we need to know about his feelings on that 😉 After years of watching others get screwed over by The Union, he now is facing that very thing himself.

Naturally, he tries to go back to Repo’ing since his wife has already left him and he needs the money. But somehow, he just can’t bring himself to do it anymore. What’s more, time is running out on him making his payments. During a final attempt, he goes into a “Nest” – a slum area where people go to flee The Union’s repo men – where he is attacked and knocked unconscious.

He awakens to find a woman named Beth (Alice Braga) – a lounge singer that he’s seen playing clubs before – living in one of the abandoned buildings and decides to help her. After standing watch as she goes through withdrawal, he agrees to help her since they are in the same boat. Seems she has mucho enhancements, including artificial joints, organs, eyes, and ears.

He breaks into the company storeroom and begins filing the bar codes off of all the spare parts they currently have. No bar codes, no scans will be able to detect that they have organs with are past due. However, Remy is caught by his friend and told to get out while he can. Back at their slum lair, Beth has set him up with an old typewriter she found. He sets to work banging out a “cautionary tale” about what he did and what he’s learned, until at last a repo man finds them and they are forced to kill him. Naturally, Remy outsmarts the man and he dies, but Beth is injured in the course of things. They are then forced to find a black market dealer who will fix her up, which takes them to another “Nest”.

Unfortunately, Jake finds them there and reveals to Remy that he is responsible for shorting out his defibrillator. By forcing him to meet the payments of an artificial organ, he figured his friend would never leave the business. The two fight, and in the course of it, Remy is knocked unconscious. What follows is a total mind-f*** which is comparable only to Inception! I shall break it down succinctly.

Basically, Remy wakes up to find that Beth incapacitated Jake. They then flee together and decide the only way they can resolve this is to break into corporate HQ, find the “Pink Door” where repo personnel make their returns, and physically scan their organs. After an over-the-top scene where Remy fights everyone between him and the “Pink Door” (which is ridiculously labeled as such), they break in and begin performing field surgery on themselves so they can scan the bar-codes.

Jake and their boss walk in a moment later, and Jake decides to switch sides and kills their boss. They blow up the repossession machine together and escape to the tropics, where Remy has apparently published his manuscript under the name The Repossession Mambo. However, this idyllic scene is interrupted when things begin to get fuzzy and some hiccups appear, as if it were all a recording…

Oh wait, it is! You see, in real life, Remy was rendered near brain-dead from the blow Jake gave him. The medics who arrived shortly thereafter hooked him up to one of the new neurological matrix’s in order to keep up his brain function. Hence, all this stuff about beating the company and escaping to the tropics was all a lie. Jake also tells them to leave Beth (unconscious but not dead) alone for him to deal with later. He then picks up Remy’s manuscript and notices the title, the same one featured in his little reverie.

I seriously wasn’t expecting that, but respected the movie more for the little dystopian twist at the end. It was in keeping with the whole tradition of cyberpunk tales, making sure that things like happy endings only happen in the movies… or not!

Final Thoughts:
I’ll be honest, this movie didn’t suck. It was very hard to take Jude Law seriously as a cynical, bad-guy, but for the most part, it was ably acted. It was also hard to believe that a former jarhead turned repo man, a man who for all intents and purposes seemed to like killing and didn’t care about the pain he caused, could maintain a marriage and a family. Somehow, these two sides of his personality didn’t fit. And lastly, the gore level, especially in that scene behind the “Pink Door” seemed gratuitous. It’s like, if they can invent scanners that can read a bar code through flesh and clothing, why do they need to slice opens their own bodies to scan the bar-codes for the big machine? I might have mentioned that the fight scene which brought them there was also pretty stupid, but of course, that was all in a dream! Technically, it doesn’t count 😉

But other than that, I actually liked this movie. It had plenty of thematic elements which landed for me. For one, there was the issue of a company pressuring people to sign-up for a product no one seemed to be able to afford. The scenes where we see the salespeople do their thing, or the boss’s BS about “you owe it to your family to do this” and “we can come up with a plan that fits your financial standing” were just too perfect. Tell me that wasn’t a parody of the banking industry, pressuring people into taking sub-prime mortgages when they could barely afford their current payments!

What’s more, the high costs of the new organs, which people had to turn to payment plans, credit, and whatever else to afford were clearly a reference to the health care crisis in America. People need life-saving procedures, have no choice but to sign up for them unless they want to die and leave their families behind. But in the end, its more than they can afford, and all the smarmy reassurances of the salespeople can’t change that very fact.

Yeah, it kind of bombed at the box office, but I’m thinking that rentals, DVD sales and Netflix might help it recoup its losses. And I strongly recommend people, at least those who aren’t turned off by blood and gore, take the time to watch it. If you’re a fan of dystopian sci-fi, you might just like it. And if you’re a writer of dystopian sci-fi (for example, me!) then you might just find it inspiring.

Repo Men:
Entertainment Value: 7/10 (not really a nail-biter, but definitely not boring)
Plot: 8/10
Direction: 7/10 (nothing special, but ably shot)
Overall: 7.5/10