Thursday, May 2, 2013

Are Aliens Having Sex With You While You Sleep?

Most of us are familiar with the concept of alien abductions.  If nothing else, we've seen the front pages of tabloids while checking out at the grocery store and read such lurid headlines as "Are Aliens Having Sex With You While You Sleep?" In general, those who claim to have been abducted by extra terrestrials are viewed as anything from attention seekers to lunatics.  When we think of this kind of person, we envision someone like Randy Quaid's character in Independence Day; a harmless quack who just isn't quite right in the head. Like the average American, I believed that alien abductees were anomalies in society; a small group of delusional paranoids who live on the fringes of society.

Recently, while researching for an article on the possibility of extra terrestrial life, my bias regarding alien abductions was shaken.  As I dug into the topic of alien abductions, I expected to uncover a couple of hundred accounts.  Imagine my surprise when I learned that there have been as many as four million cases of abductions in America alone. Four million Americans have been probed by aliens aboard a spacecraft? The thought boggles the mind!

That means that you have a one in 77 million chance of being abducted by aliens in the United States.  Just to put that statistic in perspective, consider the fact that you are twice as likely to be abducted by aliens as you are to win a lottery jackpot. In fact, you have a greater chance of being abducted by aliens than being killed by a shark. So while it may be safe to go back into the water, you'd better keep your eyes on the skies.

Reports of alien abductions hit the news in America in 1961 with the case of Barney and Betty Hill.  The Hills, through weeks of regression hypnosis, were able to reconstruct the details of their experience aboard an alien spaceship.  Since that time, reports of abductions have increased exponentially.  Over the last seven years, there has been an average of 10,000 reports each year of alien abductions.

Most scientists strongly refute allegations that aliens are abducting unsuspecting sleepers.  Psychologist point out that regressive hypnosis is just as likely to plant false memories as it is to bring out repressed memories.  Most recently, scholars have joined to point the finger at sleep paralysis as the most likely cause for the experiences described by those reporting alien abductions.

However, these theories fail to explain the abductions that take place while the subject is wide awake or those, like the case of Travis Walton, where there are multiple witnesses to the same event. After all, the overwhelming number of testimonies cannot be ignored. Something is going on while we sleep and, at least in my case, I'd sleep a lot better if I knew for sure what that something is.

Thursday, April 25, 2013


The Scy Fy channel has joined the post-apocalyptic television trend with its own offering, Defiance. Set on Earth, decades in the future; but it is not the Earth that we know.  Years of terraforming (following an extensive war) have transformed the landscape of the world, making it barely recognizable. The cause of the apocalypse was the invasion of the Voltan (a conglomerate of seven species) and the war that ensued.  The series begins shortly after both sides declare a truce.

The two main characters in the series are former Marine Joshua Nolan (played by Grant Bowler) and his "adopted" daughter, Irisa (Stephanie Leonadis).  The fact that Irisa happens to be Irathien (think Klingon but cuter) adds to the quirky relationship that the two share.  Nolan's character is your characteristic tough guy who knows how to handle himself in a fight, but there is also another side to him that just can't help from trying to do what is right- despite the trouble it gets him into.  Irisa, like others of her species, just loves a good fight and is anything but the kind of girl who needs daddy to protect her in an apocalypse.

The pair, who are trying to get to Antarctica (the legendary Shangri-La of post-apocalyptic Earth), get side-tracked to the city of Defiance. The city, formerly known as St. Louis, made its mark on history by being the first place that Earthlings and Voltans defied their leaders by putting down their weapons and vowing to live together in peace.  Joshua and Irisa soon learn that the peace in Defiance is only skin deep.  Beneath the surface are enough power struggles, intrigue, and drama to last a life time.

This is the first "pure" science fiction show to come out this decade and good visual effects along with a strong story line may elevate this series above the list of failed shows like V and Terra Nova. For the Scy Fy channel, it is a change from their usual entertaining Scy Fy comedies like Eureka and Warehouse 13, but is strongly reminiscent of the wild west feel of Firefly.  Unlike many recent science fiction shows, Defiance has an underlying sense of hope: a hope that the new inhabitants of Earth can somehow pull together despite their differences.

Defiance is still a diamond-in-the-rough. The characters need more time to develop and the writing could use some tweaking, but the potential is there for a show that can be both entertaining and thought provoking.  As we watch the handful of species struggling to understand the strange customs and worldviews of each other, we cannot help but draw comparisons to real life situations going on around us.  Yes, there is a lot of potential for Defiance, but we'll just have to wait a few more episodes to see if the show will live up to that potential.

Thursday, April 18, 2013


There is a lot of buzz about Tom Cruise's newest film, Oblivion, which premiers in theaters on Friday, April 19th. The trailers are real teasers; giving us just enough to whet our appetites, but not enough to give away the story line behind the movie. Touted as an "intelligent sci-fi action" film, the movie is set 60 years in the future- after Earth has sustained an alien attack.  The movie revolves around Jack Harper (played by Tom Cruise), who is the last man on Earth.

Trivia: This is the third movie in which Tom Cruise has played a character named Jack.  The other two are Legend and Jack Reacher.

In a recent interview with Fandango, Tom Cruise talked about his perspective of the movie, which is unique in several ways. To him, the movie expresses the personal, emotional journey of Jack Harper. (A large part of the movie is made up of solo scenes with Cruise.) Along that journey, our protagonist finds love when he meets the tough and sexy, Julia (played by Olga Kurylenko). Jack and Julia's romance is set among a backdrop which Fandango calls "visually stunning."

For those who have been disappointed with the recent flood of predictable and recycled sci-fi offerings, this movie is for you.  Oblivion is reputed to provide a fresh and unexpected story line with lots of plot twists and surprises.  Be on the lookout for the scene which Cruise calls "the most unique fight scene I have ever done."

If the previews are any indication of the movie, Oblivion seems destined to be a hit.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

The Nerdist

I became a fan of Chris Hardwick after watching his highly entertaining show, Talking Dead, on AMC. His quirky sense of humor and knowledge of all things geek were the perfect combination for a talk show centered around a zombie apocalypse. (It also helped that he is a southerner like me.)It was a pleasant surprise when the network decided to expand the show from 30 minutes to an hour because of its popularity with the viewers of Walking Dead.

Now, television viewers in Britain have discovered the hilarious Hardwick and given him his own show on BBC America.  The Nerdist comes on Saturdays at 10 PM, following the hit series, Doctor Who. This season's first episode aired immediately after the premier of part two of Season 7 and, appropriately, covered what was going on with the Doctor and Clara.

The second episode covered the zombie craze, a topic of which Hardwick is well versed.  The Nerdist does not allow itself to fall into the quagmire of talk shows in which the guests just sit around and talk about themselves. In this most recent episode, guests Michael Rooker and Robert Kirkman played "Fantiques Roadshow," in which they attempt to rate the worth of several collectibles.

Another highlight was the appearance of former Doctor Who companion, Karen Gillan (Amy Pond), as a zombie in a series of faux commercials for post-apocalyptic cosmetics.  Only Amy Pond could make a zombie look beautiful, sexy, and scary- all at the same time.

Slated to appear on upcoming episodes of The Nerdist are Arthur Darvill, Elijah Woods, Betsy Brandy, and Eliza Dushku.  I don't know about you, but I plan to grab a cuppa, turn on the telly, and enjoy season 2 of The Nerdist.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

What's Up With The Hobbit?

It is practically impossible to take a novel and make it into a movie that its readers like, but Peter Jackson managed to do it in Lord of the Ring. His daring epic series consisted of three three-hour movies, but that was fine.  After all, three movies to cover three books wasn't at all unreasonable or unexpected. LOR fans would have been disappointed with anything less.

However, more is not always better; and this is painfully true in the case of Jackson's newest production.  The Hobbit, stretched to another trilogy through the addition of material from other Tolkien manuscripts, is not the hit with fans that the LOR movies were. With part one, An Unexpected Journey, now out on DVD and part two, The Desolation of Smaug, hitting theaters in December; much of the hype surrounding the LOR movies is missing.

Now, there is no question that The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey delivers on action and special effects.  It is a good movie in and of itself. However, fans of Tolkien's book (published in 1937) will hardly recognize the book and the movie as being one and the same.  While Jackson largely remained faithful to the original in his LOR series, he takes sweeping liberties with The Hobbit.

Unfortunately, the fate of The Hobbit trilogy seems to be the sad but common tale of the desire to make a buck outweighing the desire to make a great movie. There is no question that Warner Brothers will make money from the trilogy.  Already, the first installment has grossed more than a billion dollars. With two more to go, these movies will keep Warner Brothers in the black for some time.

But while the studio prospers, it is the hard core Tolkien fans that suffer. We may never get to see a movie made that is closely based on the original book.  In the meantime, I'll still go and see the remaining two movies.  But I won't buy the DVDs.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Where Have All the Good Shows Gone?

There seems to be a paucity of good science fiction shows on American television today.  But, unfortunately, that has often been the story.  A great deal of the problem lies in the fact that network executives often just don't get the whole genre of sci-fi.   In the very early days of television, sci-fi was largely just a repackaging of the popular westerns.  Flash Gordon and Buck Rogers (even his name shouts "wild west") were recycled cowboys and the original Star Trek was pitched as a Wagon Train in outer space. 

 In the early days of television (which consisted primarily of variety shows), anthology science fiction, like Outer Limits and Twilight Zone, were popular.  However, as the television series took hold (I Love Lucy and Gunsmoke), networks tried their hand at the science fiction series. Historically, traditional science fiction series (stories set in outer space and involving species from other planets) are short lived. Star Trek struggled to survive four seasons, Lost in Space made it three, and Battlestar Galactica a mere eighteen months. Only during the Golden Age of science fiction on American television (in the 90's), did traditional science fiction find its niche with the Stargate  and new Star Trek franchises. By the new millennium, however, these shows were again on the decline and exceptional sci-fi shows, like Firefly (which, ironically, was a western in space), quickly got the axe.

More palatable to the tastes of the average American viewer were shows that fell into the category of urban science fiction (stories set primarily on earth, but including elements of science fiction).  Among the early shows of this genre are Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea, The Time Tunnel, and My Favorite Martian. The appeal of this style of sci-fi series is evident in the success of shows like Mork and Mindy, The Incredible Hulk, and the Six Million Dollar Man.  Even during the Golden Age, urban sci-fi reached the masses with shows like X-Files and Third Rock from the Sun

The new millennium showed a marked decline in traditional science fiction televisions series.  The Star Trek and Stargate franchises were in their decline, but shows like Lost, Eureka, and Fringe were all the buzz.  As this decade began, apocalyptic shows were all the rage; from Falling Skies to Walking Dead.  Only one traditional sci-fi show seems to be taking hold of Americans- and it isn't even produced in America.  The new Doctor Who has taken sci-fi fans by storm and promises to be as brilliant as its predecessor (which aired for an amazing 26 seasons).

We can only hope that American television networks will sit up and take note of the popularity of Doctor Who and decide that it is time to create our own traditional science fiction series. Until then, I'm not about to miss the Doctor's new exploits, but I am keeping my fingers crossed that American television will soon be back in the game.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Doctor Who: The New British Invasion

In the 1960's, the Beatles burst onto the music scene, taking the American public by storm in a media frenzy that was dubbed "the British Invasion." Now, again, the Brits are making their presence felt across the pond, but this time on television with the incredibly popular series, Doctor Who. Like the Star Trek franchise, the original Doctor Who series premiered in the 1960's; but unlike Star Trek, the British sci-fi show managed to survive an astounding 26 seasons. The new series, which premiered in 2005, has proven to be just as popular as the original series.

Doctor Who was revolutionary in its concept; the story of a Time Lord who could travel through both time and space.  The creators of the show took another daring step by creating a main character who periodically regenerates into a completely new persona; thereby regularly employing a new actor to play the part of the series' main character. It was a risky endeavor, but it apparently paid off.  At present, the series is portrayed by the eleventh doctor in the series, actor Matt Smith.

The Doctor, who is the last of the Time Lords, seems to have the mission of tying up the loose strings of time and space.  He knows what events are fixed points in time and which are fluid.  The Doctor makes sure that the fixed points remain constant, managing to repeatedly save Earth in the process. He travels with one or two companions, usually humans and always young adults.  He gives them the adventure of a lifetime and they help to keep him from becoming a brooding megalomaniac (like the Master).  It's seems like a fair enough trade off- if they survive the adventure.

The series manages to keep a whimsical side by disguising the Doctor's ship (a Time and Relative Dimension in Space vehicle known by the acronym, Tardis) as an old, blue police box. Over the years, the Doctor appears to grow younger rather than older and each manifestation of the venerable Time Lord is unique and original.  Some are more popular than others, but all bring their own depth to the character of the Doctor.

If you are new to the franchise, I recommend that you begin with the newer series.  It took the writers of the new series a year or so to really get into stride, but a little patience will pay off.  You'll love the quirky contradictions in the tenth doctor's personality (played by David Tennant, who is my favorite doctor in the series) and the innocent charm of the current doctor (Matt Smith). Many of the old villains are back, including the Daleks; but the new series introduces some chilling new ones- such as the infamous Weeping Angels.

However, the characters that viewers most identify with are the Doctor's companions.  Whether it is the sweet and loving Rose or the brash and loud-mouthed Donna, we share their fears, their courage, and their admiration for the Doctor. We laughed and loved right along with Amy and Rory- and by the time that they left us, it was like losing our own family. And who could not love the funny (yet deadly) River Song?  Can't wait to hear that familiar phrase, "Hello, Sweetie," again!

For those of you who are already fans of the series, I'll be joining you on Saturday, March 30th to watch the newest episode of season 7.  I'll be the one wearing a Tardis blue t-shirt that says "Stay calm and don't blink." (I found this, and other great Doctor Who merchandise, at Amazon.) See you there!