The Last Sci-Fi Blog: A Faked Moon Landing, A 'Star Trek' History and More

The Last Sci-Fi Blog: A Faked Moon Landing, A 'Star Trek' History and More

Sep 23, 2016

As expected, a lackluster summer for science fiction has led to an equally lackluster September. While we wait until November for Arrival to show up and save the day, you do have other options to scratch your sci-fi itch. Let’s run down the ways to keep yourself occupied for a little while, shall we?

 

Operation Avalanche

Director/co-writer/star Matt Johnson has managed quite the balancing act with Operation Avalanche. It’s a faux documentary period piece comedy that slowly morphs into a paranoid conspiracy thriller that was largely shot guerrilla style, with the cast and crew literally talking their way into NASA to shoot key scenes. The fact that it hangs to together is astonishing. The fact that it’s pretty dang good is a miracle.

This isn’t science fiction by the typical definition of the term, but it is an alternate history tale about the early days of the space race between the Soviet Union and the United States that follows the enthusiastic CIA agent (and amateur filmmaker) who successfully fakes the moon landing when it becomes clear that Apollo 11 won’t be ready for that mission in 1969. Johnson makes for a charming lead and he surrounds himself with capable actors and fills every frame with tiny details that make this whole endeavor feel a little more authentic than it has any right to feel. It’s a hoot, a funny and ultimately intense twist on the found footage movie and the “hidden camera” prank movie. Whether you’re a science fan or just dig conspiracy theories, there’s plenty of fun to be had here.

Operation Avalanche is in limited release right now and expanding soon, so check your local theater.

 

The 50-Year Mission: The First 25 Years

Mark A. Altman and Edward Gross’ The 50-Year Mission: The First 25 Years proudly dealers itself to the be the “complete, uncensored, unauthorized oral history of the Star Trek” and the 500 pages tucked between the covers certainly lives up to that description. There are no frills here – just decades worth of interviews from the cast and crew (both living and dead) of the Star Trek franchise in all of its incarnations. Like all comprehensive oral histories, it sometimes feels a little like homework (come prepared to learn everything about the creation of Star Trek), but the sense of overwhelming completeness also makes it remarkable. It’s hard to imagine finishing this book and having any questions about who this show and the movies that followed it came together.

Also like any good oral history, The 50-Year Mission is chock-full of gossip from people who are years past giving a f––k about working in this town again. Come for the stories of how people from all backgrounds made the best science fiction series of all time, but stay for the often shocking anecdotes about creator Gene Roddenberry’s behavior, the scuttlebutt about Leonard Nimoy’s contract negotiations, conflicting tales of poor William Shatner behavior, and consistently depressing stories from poor Walter Koenig, who has seemingly earned the right to feel bitter about this series for the rest of his life.

The 50-Year Mission: The First 25 Years is so good that I immediately went out and bought the second volume, The Next 25 Years, which covers everything from Star Trek: The Next Generation through J.J. Abrams’ films. I can’t wait to dig into it.

 

Paper Girls

Writer Brian K. Vaughan has crafted his fair share of great science fiction comics, from the iconically great Y The Last Man to the whip-smart post-9/11 superhero tale Ex Machina. More recently, he’s found tremendous success with the adults-only space opera Saga, which remains the best comic available on stands over three years into its run. However, his newest series, Paper Girls, is already giving it a run for its money.

As its name implies, Paper Girls follow four newspaper delivery girls in 1988. What that title doesn’t tell you is that their usual delivery schedule is rudely interrupted one morning by…something. Let’s just say that monsters and time travelers and conspiracies that span dimensions interrupt their lives, forcing them to battle for their lives and pick a side in a conflict they can’t even begin to comprehend. Vaughan describes this series as “Stand by Me meets War of the Worlds” and that’s certainly apt.

Just as important as Vaughan’s words is the art by Cliff Chiang, whose unique style is a perfect fit for this material. Chiang is equally comfortable drawing subtle reactions and amusing conversations as he is penciling grotesque beats and spaceships. Vaughan may put the dialogue in the mouths of his four leads, but it is Chiang who brings them to life and endears them to us.

The first five issues of Paper Girls are currently available in a trade paperback and the single issues have gone through #8. In other words, it is definitely not too late to jump on this series while it’s young.

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