Praise I continually give: I'm watching a new show on Netflix and it's great! From House of Cards to Daredevil to the Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt to smaller successes like Love, Netflix's original programming is on fire. The latest show to lure me into a binge-watching coma is Stranger Things, a science-fiction thriller that plays out like a mix between Goonies and The X-Files. Set in small town in Indiana in the 1980s, Stranger Things is one of those shows that you don't want to know anything about before you view it for yourself. Even Netflix's basic program summary gives away too much. Just watch it.
I'm five episodes in, and am thoroughly impressed with the writing, acting (even all of the child actors are great), and moments where it becomes unbearably intense. Stranger Things nabs this week's Golden Grok award (given to the best sci-fi entertainment each week), and is a welcome throwback to the star-gazing entertainment I loved as a child. No, it's not as light and bubbly as films like D.A.R.Y.L. or Flight of the Navigator, but it has a similar flow and pacing to these "classics," which are more about the characters and their place in the world than the science-fiction trappings that surrounds them. What's interesting is that the '80s sci-fi shows were designed with kids in mind, but Stranger Things, while delivering that same style of coming-of-age story, is darker and for the adults who watched those shows as kids.
The Solus Project, a science-fiction survival game from Grip Digital, could have benefited from that '80s love. Although the premise is strong – Earth no longer exists, and mankind has taken to the stars to locate a new planet to call home – there's no pulse to the alien world of the character you play. Lifeless planet meet lifeless human, good luck having fun together.
The Solus Projects' survival mechanics are nicely designed, but the hunt for water and food quickly becomes a rote process that has more to do with messy item management than fulling the need of your character. I love the idea of fighting for survival on a mysterious alien world, but the progression reveals are rarely shocking, the character hardly ever emotes, and well, if the game ended with a M. Night Shyamalan twist that showed I was actually exploring a park in North Dakato, I wouldn't be that surprised.
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If you are in the market for a good "mankind is screwed" story, check out Daniel Arenson's Earth Alone, a novel that I thoroughly enjoyed from start to finish. All you need to know: 50 years have passed since aliens destroyed Earth. It's now time for an army to fight back. The book goes places that I didn't expect, and Arenson does a great job of establishing characters that you want to see succeed. The great news: Arenson already has two sequels in the works. Here's hoping he writes faster than George R. R. Martin.
The other book you should put on your radar is Timothy Zahn's upcoming Star Wars: Thrawn. If you haven't read Zahn's Star Wars: Thrawn Trilogy yet, do so now. It's no longer considered canon, but it remains one of the greatest Star Wars stories to date, and a big reason why centers on the character Grand Admiral Thrawn. We thought we'd never see him again after Disney blew up the expanded universe, but he's making his return in Star Wars Rebels: Season 3 this fall, and later in the novel I noted. How much of the original trilogy will be referenced? We'll have to wait to see, but in an interview with Star Wars' official site, Zahn says "Thrawn will span several years of the Star Wars timeline, beginning with his first encounter with the Empire and ending just before the opening of Rebels: Season 3." When asked if he would incorporate story content from the original Thrawn Trilogy, Zahn said he's thrown in bits and pieces, but nothing too blatant, which suggests the trilogy still isn't canon in any capacity.
Although Rogue One: A Star Wars Story was the primary focus at last weekend's Star Wars Celebration in London, Rian Johnson did take the stage to discuss Star Wars: Episode VIII. Johnson didn't go into too much detail about anything in the upcoming sequel, but did say that it starts right where The Force Awakens left off, with Rey handing the lightsaber to Luke Skywalker. Johnson said that his film dives deeper into the lives of the new characters and challenges them more, drawing inspiration from such films as Bridge on the River Kwai, and Gunga Din. John Boyega also revealed that his character Finn is not in a coma for the entirety of Episode VIII, although Johnson teased that he thought about keeping him in one.
Hasbro's annual "Vote for the Next Black Series Figure" poll is live on Star Wars' official site. Star Wars: The Force Unleashed's Starkiller is on the list! Given the weak competition he's against, you should probably cast a vote for him right now. The other options are Mara Jade (the only other second choice I will accept), Captain Rex (who is already getting a Black Series figure), Dengar, Darth Talon, and Jaina Solo. Do the right thing and give Starkiller the vote.
That's it for this week's Science-Fiction Weekly. I'll be back in seven days with a review of Star Trek Beyond, which opens this weekend, and perhaps even a write-up for Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice's extended cut. Calm down, Superman is an alien, so it's science fiction to a degree. Also, I'm morbidly curious about the 30 minutes of new footage. I hated (emphasize that word as much as you can) the original cut of the film, and just need to know if this new version makes it better or even worse.