Children of Dune Mini-Series

A while back I talked about the Sci-Fi Channel’s excellent Dune mini-series, and said how much I enjoyed it. Well, tonight, we watched the first part of the three-part DVD release of the sequel mini-series, The Children of Dune.

The verdict? So far so good. This first part moves a few years ahead to a point where Maud’dib and his Feydakin armies have swept across human space, defeating the old Imperial forces and sending the former Emperor and his family into exile. But there is great unrest among the Fremen, and a major conspiracy among the Imperial family, the Bene Gesserit and the Spacing Guild. Maud’dib has to deal with all of this, two attempts on his life, the birth of his two children and the death of his beloved Chani. Quite a lot to cram into only the first part!

While the first Dune mini-series covered the first Dune novel, The Children of Dune covers the next two novels, completing the classic Dune Trilogy. This perhaps explains the more hectic pace of the sequel mini-series, but The Children of Dune is none the less enjoyable despite that.

Overall, and so far, this is an excellent sequel to the original Dune mini-series. Well worth a look, and many kudos to the Sci-Fi Channel for producing these two excellent mini-series. I wish they’d keep up the good record of adapting classic SF to mini-series.

Hominids in the House: Distant Relatives

There was a nice article in Nature recently relating a few interesting facts about some startling hominid fossil finds in Kenya, finds which challenge some long-held views on human evolution.

There were two fossils – a broken upper jawbone and an intact skull – nothing too startling in that. But what was startling is that these finds challenge the standard theory that Homo Habilis evolved into the more advanced Homo Erectus, who later evolved into us. Now it appears that they were “sister species”, that they overlapped in time, and lived side by side at some point. Another long-held standard theory bites the dust?

This brings back memories of an article which I read in Scientific American two or three years back. This article stated that, at one point in the past (can’t recall exactly how long ago), no less than thirteen separate species of hominids existed side by side on this planet, each occupying their own little niche. Hard to believe, isn’t it?

It’s even harder to believe that all of them, bar our own direct ancestors, died out solely through natural selection. Methinks our ancestors were just as handy with the old “ethnic cleansing” as many of their dishonorable descendants. Maybe some kind of evolutionary or biological imperative built into us that we’ll have to overcome before we can consider ourselves really “civilized”.

Reminds me of an early episode of Babylon 5, in which a drunken Londo was bragging that the Centauri used to exist alongside another intelligent species on their homeworld, but eventually exterminated them. Londo’s views on this awful genocide? “Good riddance!”

Sounds just like us. The Centauri and Earthers are descended from a common ancestor, if you ask me.

New Sci-Fi on TV

I’ve been watching a few new sci-fi shows recently, specifically the pilots of the Bionic Woman and Flash Gordon remakes, and the pilot of the Sarah Connor Chronicles, a spin-off from the Terminator movies. And my opinions?

I have to say that all three were… okay… not bad to watch, but nothing special either. I was actually slightly underwhelmed after all of the hype. The Bionic Woman, by the same guys who produced the excellent remake of Battlestar Galactica looks promising, despite the relatively low-key start. The bionic babe herself is played by the always nice on the eyes Michelle Ryan (formerly of Eastenders), while Starbuck from Battlestar Galactica manages to look a lot less butch, much sexier, and positively radiating menace as the nasty original Bionic Woman.

Flash Gordon updates the original story to the present day, and replaces the original (quaint but fun) dildo-shaped rocketships spewing sparks and smoke with a Sliders-like wormhole thingy to provide travel between Earth and the planet Mongo. There are lots of sexy babes (Ming’s daughter and Dale in particular), Dale is now a very Lois Lane-like newspaper reporter, and the story is now much more based around Earth and Flash’s family. On the negative side, the guy playing Ming seems a lot less suited to his role than his predecessors (Max von Sydow and Charles Middleton in particular). Overall, it was watchable, but with lots of room for improvement.

The most disappointing of the three was, funnily enough, the most action-packed, and the one that should’ve had the most potential of them all. The Sarah Connor Chronicles is a spin-off of the second Terminator movie, and each episode features Sarah and a more adult (mid-teens) John, running and hiding from a constant stream of Terminators while under the protection of a “teenage girl” Terminator. There was a lot more action and thrills in this pilot than in the other two, but, strangely enough, I reckon that there’s a lot less potential for improvement than for the others. How many times will we be able to watch Sarah and John survive yet another attack by the umpteenth tenth-rate Arnie clone before the series starts to get really monotonous and tiresome? Not too many, I’d reckon. This is the sort of thing that is more suited to the occasional movie, not a regular weekly TV show. I’m really hoping that I’m wrong, ‘cos I was a big fan of the Terminator movies. Time will tell.

Overall, so far, all three shows are watchable, but nothing special. Definitely nothing approaching the quality of Battlestar Galactica, Doctor Who or Heroes. But it is early days yet, so here’s hoping all three pick up a bit. I’m still waiting for someone to do a Battlestar or Babylon 5-level quality series adaption of E.E. “Doc” Smith’s classic Lensmen stories. Pretty much every space opera series or movie (Star Wars, Babylon 5 and others) have shamelessly ripped off the Lensmen and (to a lesser extent) Lord of the Rings. LOTR has had the big movie treatment. It’s about time that the Lensmen also got the movie or TV honours. Why it hasn’t been done a long time ago beats me.

A Good Day at the Shops

I’ve had an interesting and fruitful day at the shops. Picked up a load of DVDs, a book, and a new set of plug-in earphones.

The book is the new hardback release of the final Harry Potter novel, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, which my local Tesco’s was selling at a huge 50% discount.

The earphones (bought at my local HMV) are the absolutely gorgeous Sennheiser CX300 plug-in ear-canal earphones, to go with my equally gorgeous Cowon iAudio X5 DAP. I needed phones to do the excellent sound quality of the X5 justice (the iAudio X5 blows the iPod out of the water, when it comes to sound quality). The earphones cost just under £40, and are worth every penny. You’ll be lucky to find anything better under £100.

Finally, to the bulk of today’s haul: five Doctor Who DVDs from my local Virgin store, at only £9 each (most Doctor Who DVDs are selling at over twice that amount right now). Genesis of the Daleks, Revelation of the Daleks, The Hand of Fear, Earthshock, and the 1996 Paul McGann Doctor Who TV movie.

I’m a huge fan of both the classic Doctor Who series and the new series, and Genesis of the Daleks and The Hand of Fear are particular favourites of mine from the classic series. So I’m well chuffed with this lot. Now, if only the rest of the classic Doctor Who DVDs would come down from their relatively high price of around £20 apiece, I can start replacing my tatty old Doctor Who VHS video collection with a bunch of pristine new DVDs.

It’s going to be an enjoyable week going through this lot. A load of nice music, DVDs, and a good book… what more could any self-respecting geek ask for?

Silver Surfer: Requiem

One of my current favourite comics is a four-part mini-series published under the Marvel Knights imprint, Silver Surfer: Requiem. The series is is written by none other than J. Michael Straczynski himself (yep, he of Babylon 5 fame), and the beautiful, painted art is by Esad Ribic, someone whom I haven’t come across before, but I’ll certainly sit up and take notice if I see the name again.

As you might have guessed, the overarching theme of the mini-series is the impending death of the Silver Surfer, due to the molecular disintegration of the silver “skin” which covers his body, and which is part of him, right down to the deepest level of his nervous system. Even Reed Richards, one of the smartest humans on the planet, can do nothing to help. So the Surfer, in his own stoic, pragmatic fashion, resolves to accept his coming fate, and enjoy his remaining time to the utmost. He hops on his surfboard, and heads off into the big blue (or black) yonder, to see as much as there is to see of the world and universe before he dies.

So far, there have been three parts published out of the four, and each issue is a separate-but-linked segment of the whole story. The first part deals with the visit to Reed Richards, who confirms the diagnosis of the illness, with a bit of a recap of the Surfer’s origin and the fateful adventure in which he rebelled against Galactus and sided with the Fantastic Four and the people of Earth against his former master. The second revolves around a fascinating encounter with Spider-Man, with a nice ending to that segment of the story. And the third issue takes the Surfer away from Earth out to the stars, where he gets involved in a “Sacred War” between two interplanetary races.

The series looks beautiful, and is very well written (as you’d expect with Straczynski at the helm). What I really like about it is the way it deals with people, examining with a critical eye both the beauty and the ugly flaws of humanity (even when the “humanity” is two alien races), the religious fanaticism, the aggression, and the corruption and greed of powerful rulers. Powerful stuff.

Excellent story so far. Can’t wait for the fourth and final segment of the mini-series.