Only Human

The future of Robotics, the uBot, was revealed last night at the Only Human showing at RUMPUS in Bowden. The South Australian Young Artists (SAYArts) delivered a thrilling and relatable story that pays homage to the tropes of the Golden Age of Science Fiction.

Only Human is an ode to Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein. The show demonstrates that science goes too far, having the uBot learning quickly and despising humans due to their apparent inferiority to robots and A.I. The uBot, part of the next generation of robotics and A.I. technology, breaks the Three Laws of Robotics as set down by Isaac Asimov back in 1942.

Some of the main tropes from the Golden Age of Science Fiction are explored in Only Human with great detail. Issues with racism, accelerated advancement of technology, and human greed are discussed with subtlety. This subtleness is what I found one of the most enjoyable about the show. The creators have introduced these classic sci-fi themes to a wider audience in this show. One example is how someone thinks crocs are bad because others on the internet say they are, this shows how we mould our thoughts around what others say without experiencing them ourselves.

The cast of this show is made up entirely of young artists who did a fantastic job within this performance, carrying a high level of professionalism and enthusiasm bringing their characters to life. The human and the robot character who later fall in love were two notable actors who did a great job. I related to their character on a personal side as the character reminded me a lot of myself, through their love to overexplain everything and awkwardness with human interaction.

Another moment of the performance that is memorable is the dance in the last third of the show. They all dance along to Flight of the Conchords’ ‘Robots’, fitting the robotic theme of the show, this choice allows the performers to take advantage of this catchy, funny song.

Only Human is a well-written performance that is funny, thought provoking and filled with references galore. It explores the idea of science and technology going too far with an effective narrative that is deep but subtle. It is a show you must see if you are into any of the above-mentioned themes of science fiction. Even if you aren’t, this is still an enjoyable show in an equally enjoyable venue.

4 / 5 stars


Words by Cameron Lowe

Only Human is showing until March 1

Tickets to the final two performances are now sold out

For more information please click here

A Boy and His Dog at the End of the World

A Boy and His Dog at the End of the World

C.A. Fletcher

Hachette 2019


 

Dogs were with us from the very beginning. And of all the animals that walked the long centuries beside us, they always walked the closest.”

A Boy and His Dog at the End of the World follows Griz, a dreamer who lives with his family and dogs, Jess and Jip, on an island off the Scottish coast, decades after the apocalypse has happened.

The story begins when an outsider comes to the island, apparently eager to trade, but instead makes off with Jess. After setting off in pursuit of the thief, Griz is confronted by the realities of his world and finds himself in unfamiliar territory for the first time. Griz begins his quest with an idea of what he will find, only to discover the world is not quite as he imagined. In fact, it is turned on its head.

What sets Fletcher’s tale apart from other dystopia is the strong perspective of Griz’s character voice. The book is crafted in the style of a reflective journal from Griz’s perspective, dedicated to a photograph that he finds of a boy and his dog from the ‘Before’. This creates a nice duality between past and present.

Fletcher also avoids the well-worn trope of crafting a world destroyed by nuclear warfare. Instead, he creates a refreshingly haunting setting with a world whose population has dropped suddenly and drastically with ‘the Gelding’ (similar to the reproductive dystopia of Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale). This leaves behind vast, haunting landscapes and empty cities, as well as gaps in the historical narrative that are explored during Griz’s quest.

The languid pace of the story, reinforced by long stretches of writing that describe Griz at sea with only his dog Jip for company, does cause the plot to drag at times; however, this is somewhat offset by an undercurrent of tension created by Griz’s reflective narration. The reader is aware that something bad is coming, but it’s going to take its time getting there.

If you’re looking for a slower, more reflective dystopian tale, or are really fond of dogs, then this is the book for you.

3.5/5 stars


Words by Rachael Stapleton

Galactic Trek: The Search for Zork

The cast of Giant Nerd Australia’s improv comedy Galactic Trek, returned to Fringe this year at the Rob Roy Hotel, this time with their show The Search for Zork. This show had the crew of the USS ImproCity visit a planet full of the undead, which they must try to stop from spreading across the galaxy. For an hour, they presented a story that was both fun and evoked a feeling of Star Trek: The Original Series.

A highlight of Galactic Trek is how it pays homage to low budget sci-fi films and TV shows. This was clear in their descriptions and sound effects. The doors would almost never open on time, the transporter sound would take some time to appear and the bridge is described as being held together by tape. For Star Trek fans, there were references galore, the Kirk vs. Spock battle music being a notable one. Being a fan of sci-fi myself, I found all these little references well done. Even with few props, the actors were able to convey everything effectively.

Another highlight was the characters. Captain Bill Jamieson, one of the main characters, had a very Captain Kirk essence to him, in both appearance and acting. The character of Zork had a very ’80s sci-fi appearance, particularly with his green head and horns. The standout character though was a red shirt called Jones Jonesy. Jonesy is how I imagine Blackadder’s Baldric would be if he were in outer space.

The show wasn’t without its shortcomings. While it did have a lot of funny moments, a lot of these were based on sci-fi references. This did not affect me as I already knew the jokes, but not everyone would understand them. For a show about searching for Zork, there was little actual searching for him. The actual search for Zork was minor to the plot, which made me wonder why they would call it the search for Zork. It should also be noted that Zork’s actor’s pants ripped during the performance, which was by no means the actor’s fault but did detract from the experience slightly.

Galactic Trek: The Search for Zork is a whole lot of improv sci-fi fun. It had many great references and a very Original Series plot. While there were a few shortcomings, it was still a fun time. Fans of sci-fi would really enjoy this show and its unique spin on Star Trek.

3.5/5


Words by Cameron Lowe

You can catch Galactic Trek: The Search for Zork at Rob Roy Hotel until the 10th of March. For ticketing and more click here.

Steampunk Festival 2018

You watch steam blow from the locomotive’s chimney as it sits idly at the station. Men and women dressed in Victorian fashion walk along the platform around you, smiling and taking photos. Your eyes catch a market set up on the other side of the locomotive. Here, you see a multitude of arts and crafts, books, and antiques for sale. Your attention, although, is on the strange contraption at the edge of the market. It looks like something out of a Jules Verne novel. The inventor of this device calls it: Virtual Reality. You put it on and reality disappears as you reappear on the bridge of an airship in the midst of a battle.

No, this isn’t fiction. This was, in fact, September 15-16 at the Adelaide Steampunk Festival at the National Railway Museum (NRM) in Port Adelaide. For one weekend, the NRM came alive with fans of both steampunk and history. This is a walking tour review of the event and why you, dear reader, will enjoy it too.

Your senses are overwhelmed as soon as you step through the museum gates. You get the illusion that you have just stepped into an alternate world, where steam and Victorian fashion is still dominant. There is the combined scent of steam from Peronne (NRM’s operating tank engine) and potato on a stick. These combine in taste as you purchase your own potato on a stick from near the signal box and begin your journey into the festival.

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Entering the first pavilion you are greeted by professional photographers. To the left is a set up where you can sit and listen to steampunk enthusiasts and authors talk. On your right is a small cinema set up with Georges Méliès’s 1902 film A Trip to The Moon (based on Jules Verne’s novel From the Earth to the Moon).

Down the first row, display cabinets filled with old railway memorabilia and a reconstruction of the Adelaide Railway Station ticket booth are to your right. To your left, in carriages used by Commonwealth Railways on the Trans-Australian Railway, is the Pop Club and another photography spot. The Pop Club have wargames set up for visitors in the dining car while professional photographers are set up in in a nearby carriage. A wargame or two would be good later, you think.

The main steampunk market sits in the second row of the museum. Here, you find a range of goods, foods, and crafts to buy. Some include antique dinner sets, Dark Oz’s DECAY and Retro Sci-fi series comics, and cupcakes. The first set up on the left of the market is a VR set up, brought to you by the Flinders University Digital Media Department. You continue to browse what’s for sale through the marketplace. A custom-made TARDIS coffee table catches your attention, although its $340 price tag is a little steep. You finish your snack in time to reach a cupcake stand run by B is for Bake. After a quick browse, you buy a double chocolate cupcake, fascinated by the decorative chocolate steam cog.

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Before you go down the next row another display catches your eyes. This one is filled with metalwork art, ranging from steam operated electric lights to a clockwork robotic dog. You wonder how can people make such wonderful art. You swear the robotic dog could actually work.

You continue to the end row. Here, among the carriages and steam locomotives, you find a ‘secret’ second market. Here, an artist can give you calligraphy on a picture or bookmark for a small fee (free with a purchase), purchase steampunk detective fiction by local author Karen J. Carlisle, and converse with sci-fi comic author and game developer Mike Cooper (Dr. Mike 2000). At the end of the row are a group of musicians playing some rock music to heighten the atmosphere. You stand for a moment and take in the music, finding it unusual to hear such music in a historical setting.

There isn’t much in the next pavilion, apart from a stage where more performances occur throughout the day. You begin to wonder what to do next. Do you go have a game or two at Pop Club’s set up? Do you try the VR experience? Or will you go explore what else the museum has? If so, will you go ride Perrone or Bub, ride the Bluebird railcar, or grab a drink from the 1940s style Cafeteria car?

You had a lot of fun while you were there and make a note to visit again to it again next year. You make a reminder to recommend to the dear reader to also come along and visit too if you have an interest in steampunk, 19th-century history, literature and fashion.

There is a lot of fun to have at the Adelaide Steampunk Festival. The NRM is the best place to hold it as it blends in well with the old locomotives and rolling stock. The day is great for fans of steampunk. It also gives reason to visit the NRM, one of Adelaide’s many hidden gems. The Steampunk is an annual event so if you’re interested in attending next year, you can check out more information on their Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/adelaidesteampunkfestival/.

 


Words and photography by Cameron Lowe.Meet-the-Team-Cameron2

Cameron Lowe is a horror and sci-fi writer, editor and student. He’s had fiction and articles featured in Speakeasy Zine and Empire Times. He loves to read, play video games, and drink green tea. He’s one of the 2018 editors at Empire Times. He tweets at @cloweshadowking.

STEAMing Ahead

South Australia is quickly becoming the prime location for those looking for employment in the STEM fields. For those who are uncertain, STEM stands for Science, Technology, Engineering, and Maths. These fields currently offer diverse career opportunities, from medical advancements to the Australian Space Agency. However, there is one a vital component to STEM fields: Arts.

Arts and STEM have been inspiring each other for years, from Isaac Asimov’s three laws of robotics to the hard-scientific facts which make Andy Weir’s The Martian more realistic. This combination of STEM and the Arts is better known by professionals as STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Mathematics). STEAM has already been making itself known in South Australia, appearing at arts festivals and used to show off new locally developed technology.

In the 2017/2018 budget, the state government invested $250 million into Education to deliver more STEM topics to primary and secondary schools. Flinders University’s Tonsley Campus and its Innovation Hub, alongside the Medical Research and Science Centre (the cheese grater on North Terrace) are some STEM-focused buildings which now make up part of the Adelaide skyline.

It is expected STEM funding will increase with the new budget due in September. In 2018 the Adelaide Fringe generated $16.6 million at the box office and added $29.5 million to the state economy, as set out in their annual report. It is also the highest earning arts festival in Australia, generating a total of 39% of all multi-category ticket sales in the country. These figures show there is money in both STEM and the Arts in South Australia. Combined, they will make a far bigger impact on the local culture and economy than they do separately. Including Arts in STEM education will learning more interactive and fun while STEM in festivals like the Fringe more engaging and interactive.

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Beautiful night for the Fringe!

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Modern technology has been heavily influenced by the arts. Many hardware and software engineers/programmers have long been inspired by technology in science fiction. One example of this is the Adelaide based company Voxon Photonics. Their technology, the Voxon VX1, is a 3D volumetric engine that was inspired by science fiction, more specifically Dejarik in Star Wars: A New Hope. For it to work, they required the aid of the STEM fields, especially engineering and mathematics (key components in hardware and software design). They create games to demonstrate their technology’s power. The VX1 was showcased in the Indie Games Room at AVCon 2018, allowing the public to interact with their exciting new technology. While the VX1 can do other things like medical imaging, art shows its power off in a more engaging way. Voxon Photonics has advertised pushing to get more local games developed for the VX1, showing it off at Game Plus (a co-working digital games space on Pirie Street) in June 2018.

Recent advances in science and technology have influenced the Adelaide arts scene. One example is the University of South Australia’s Museum of Discovery (MOD). Opened in 2018, MOD on North Terrace is where visitors can engage with science and technology through art (STEAM). Their current displays are a showcase on the future STEAM can bring. One example being the genetic modification of children, if they’re to survive on Earth from choices made today. This allows visitors to witness these changes first hand. For more on MOD, check out our review here.

In terms of festivals, 2017’s OzAsia Festival saw an international example of STEAM. This was Keiichiro Shibuya’s The End, starring Japanese vocaloid Hatsune Miku. Unlike a traditional opera, The End is entirely virtual, containing only Miku and showcases the relationship between art and technology. This also is a reflection on the term vocaloid itself, as Miku is actually nothing more than computer software herself. Another example of STEAM is coming to 2018’s OzAsia. Called War Sum Up, it is a 21st-century electronic opera that is summed up in three words “Music. Manga. Machines.” This unique blend will be showcasing technology working alongside Japanese Noh theatre.

The South Australian Government should be pushing STEAM rather than just STEM. It is already happening around Adelaide, and if given that extra boost, can help make Adelaide stand out against other Australian cities. STEAM can help bring more young people to Adelaide and benefit other fields like tourism and education. A STEAM revolution has the potential to completely reinvent Adelaide, making it a younger, more vibrant city.

What are your thoughts? Should South Australia be aiming towards a STEAM future rather than a STEM one? Leave your comments below.


Words by Cameron Lowe

Meet-the-Team-Cameron2Cameron Lowe is a horror and sci-fi writer, editor and student. He’s had fiction and articles featured in Speakeasy Zine and Empire Times. He loves to read, play video games, and drink green tea. He’s one of the 2018 editors at Empire Times. He tweets at @cloweshadowking.

Photo by Green Chameleon on Unsplash.

MOD

Where Art Meets Science and Technology

Have you ever wanted to visit an art gallery that shows the relationship between art, science, and technology? Well, fear no more for MOD is the place for you. Opened in 2018, MOD is an art gallery where you can view art based on subjects like augmented reality, astronomy, and robotics. Being a bit of a science nerd (astronomy in particular), I have been eager to visit MOD. Upon visiting it, I was enthralled and absorbed into its world of interactive wonders.

The first exhibit I visited was Prosthetic Reality (an Augmented Reality exhibition) in the Lecture Gallery on the ground floor. As you can see in the image below, it appears to a casual observer just an exhibit of pop art. However, if you have the EyeJack app (available on both iOS and Android devices) you can download the exhibition and it will be transformed. Using the AR feature, the artworks come to life with colour, animation, and sound. For example, one of these artworks tells a story of a Japanese town destroyed by a disaster. Its main picture is of the town before the disaster, but through EyeJack, it plays Japanese style music and shows it destroyed through animation. I discovered more of these set up across the museum, which was a surprising addition. It gave me motive to explore the entire gallery to find them all.

 

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Another exhibit within the MOD I found interesting looked into genetically modified babies. Displayed in the Gould Interactive Gallery, this demonstrated what we may have to do to survive on Earth if we keep going the way we are. All these babies are displayed in wheel-around newborn beds from hospitals. One baby that really stood out to me had a head with strange gill-like curves on its sides. To me, it appeared as if a Ferengi and a Klingon from the Star Trek universe had a child. There was explanation on a nearby wall, this modification would be necessary to survive higher temperatures on Earth. It is a frightening possibility and seeing it in model form really got my creative mind running.

 

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There was a small part of artificial intelligence and robotics near the genetic modification exhibit. You could stand in the middle of a room and an AI would supposedly learn and copy your movement. I tried this out, but could not comprehend how it worked, which was unfortunate. The idea behind it is really cool and I do recommend you to give it a go. Perhaps you will figure out how it works. Also, part of that exhibit was a model of a robotic head. Upon first glance, it looks exactly like a human head (with extremely realistic skin), but its eyes move and it speaks. It was like stepping into Philip K. Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? Seeing it alongside the movement exhibit made me realise it was part of the human-like features which AI and robots of the future may soon have.

Perhaps my favourite exhibit in the whole of MOD was the Our Sky exhibit in the Universal Gallery. A Science on a Sphere (currently the only one in Australia) sits in the middle of the room with screens on all the walls. With a computer board, you can cycle through the planets and moons in our Solar System which appear on the Science On a Sphere. As you can see below, Jupiter appears on it, but I could easily change it to Mars or Enceladus (a moon of Saturn). With the screens on the walls, you could surf the Solar System and check out the many different astronomical signs. Perhaps what really made this exhibit fantastic is the inclusion of science and astronomy from the First Australians. This is shown through video and sound, which play above the gallery. This addition gives a fresh, more Australian perspective on astronomy and science and has me eager to learn more about First Australian astronomy.

 

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MOD is a fantastic place to check out the relationship between art, science, and technology. If you are a sci-fi fan or into science and technology I highly recommend you visit this place. You can find it on the western side of the Morphett Street bridge on North Terrace (north side) on UniSA’s City West campus. Entry is free and it is open six days a week (closed Mondays). More information can be found here.

 


Words and photography by Cameron Lowe.

In Conversation With: Joel Martin- Speculate

A few months ago, in late April, I made the pilgrimage to Melbourne for an exciting new writers festival called Speculate. As a writer and reader of speculative fiction, it was everything I felt had been missing from my other festival experiences, which tended to focus rather heavily on Literature, with the occasional Genre fiction panel almost as an after-thought.

Speculate, a festival focused entirely on speculative science fiction and fantasy fiction, packed into a single day an amazing line up of informative sessions with some excellent big-name guests, including Amie Kaufman, Jay Kristoff, Michael Pryor, Laura E Goodin, Alison Arnold, Trudi Canavan and more. The sessions covered everything from setting, language, character development and futurism, with some often surprising discussions. I was incredibly impressed by the quality of this festival – in its inaugural event – and the work of the relatively small but passionate team who made it happen.

In light of this, I spoke to Festival Director Joel Martin about why he started Speculate and what it takes to create a writers’ festival.

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What made you want to start your own writers festival?

Speculate was started because we felt there needed to be more speculative fiction discussed in the literary circuit, especially focusing on the craft of writing.

 

How long did it take to go from conception to the festival?

Ian Laking (our comms manager and my co-host on [my literary podcast] The Morning Bell) and I had a coffee at Flinders Lane after hearing a talk by Vince Gilligan (of Breaking Bad fame). I think that’s about the first time I actually verbalized my desire to make Speculate happen. That would have been July 2017. In hindsight not a lot of time to set up the inaugural event in April 2018 but I think we pulled it off!

 

Did you have any pre-requisite knowledge, skills or connections that helped you? Do you have a background or day job in arts or publishing?

I work as a freelance editor and through that and the podcast [The Morning Bell], I’ve been really lucky to meet some amazing people, including some of the talented authors that were at Speculate. But I think the one thing I’d want to highlight for the question is the team behind Speculate. Ian Laking, Rachelle Dekker, Alex Fairhill and many more people put plenty of work into the festival, working volunteer hours while juggling home lives, full time jobs, studies & newborn babies to make it happen (they didn’t literally juggle babies).

 

What were your biggest challenges in this journey? Any triumphs you’re especially proud of?

One challenge (and it’s a great one to have) was how to feature so many great spec-fic voices in one day! We’re quite spoiled in Melbourne to have some of the best spec-fic writers in the country and it was a real struggle to have to focus down on just five sessions. I never like picking favourites, but I was very proud of showcasing Dungeons & Development: Characters Under Pressure. It was an absolute pleasure to put together and it was a joy to be in the audience watching those amazing folks make something wonderful of it. I think tabletop, pen and paper and video games have unlimited potential to deliver great narratives and I want to see more of that on the literary circuit. Indeed, we should be embracing it!

 

What have you learned from this experience that you’ll take into next year?

So many things! A lot of that is on the backend side, as you learn to implement systems a lot more effectively the second time over and streamline the entire planning process. And we’ll have more time, which should be a huge help!

 

Do you have any long-term goals for the future of Speculate? Any particular guests you want to host? Any special venues you want to run it in?

I like to take things one project at a time, but I often think just like predicting the future of Science Fiction is a risky business, I wouldn’t want to guess at what shape Speculate might take in the future. Honestly, I have so many guest names I want to throw out, but I think the wisest course of action [is] for me to remain silent on that. Just be assured that we plan to always aim for the sky! We were very lucky to have the wonderful venue of Gasworks Arts Park. It really suited the community focused vibe that we hope to encourage at Speculate. As much as I know the question of venue is a serious one, let’s fantasise for a moment. If I had my pick of any venue in the world I’d want to hold a Speculate opening, I’d be hard pressed to think of a more impressive setting than Italy’s Verona Arena. Speculative Fiction is big on wonder after all!

 

What’s the biggest piece of advice for anyone else looking to start their own festival?

I’m going to cheat and make it two pieces of the same whole.

Identify clear goals in order to find your niche, and bring in people with likeminded passion, who will support you but also challenge and refine your vision. The team behind Speculate 2018 was critical to its success, and that might seem like an obvious statement but I can’t stress enough the importance of having a good group of people behind an idea like this. Writing often seems like a lonely profession, but a celebration like this need not be.

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It was great having a chance to chat with Joel about his process and team, after experiencing such an excellent festival as Speculate. I definitely recommend you all sign up when tickets are released for 2019.

And while often literary events and festivals seem like the stuff of magic, at the heart you’ll always simply find dedicated, hard-working people with a vision and a passion for books, writers and writing. I hope more dedicated festivals pop up around the country – especially here in Adelaide where our writing scene really could use some activity outside of Mad March – and that we remember that a robust writing community is the most important thing to keep our industry flourishing. Aside from actually writing.

 


Words and photo by Simone Corletto

20170920_080752Simone Corletto is an Adelaide-based YA and Science-Fiction writer. She’s performed her work numerous times for Speakeasy and at the National Young Writers Festival. Her first co-edited anthology, Crush, was published by MidnightSun Publishing. Her work has also appeared in Empire Times, Double Helix, RiAus, and the 2017 Visible Ink anthology “The End”. She spends her spare time crocheting lumpy hats, writing about teenage superheroes, and telling people about her science degree. She tweets at @SimCorWrites

Solo

Appearing to be a fun caper film, Solo, directed by Ron Howard, dives deep into a world of crime and cruelty just slightly too real for the Star Wars universe. The film’s villain, Dryden Voss (Paul Bettany) is a very human-like sadist whose presence hangs heavy over the movie and keeps it feeling threatening and unpredictable. In these respects, the movie succeeds utterly but it does not feel like the film heist in space we were sold. Nor does it really feel like a Star Wars film.

The creation of the new Star Wars Anthology series was to be able to tell new stories in this galaxy far, far away. Rogue One, the first in the series, established this could be done and done well, albeit, with a strong reliance on the established elements of the Skywalker saga with the supporting role afforded to Vader and the strong focus on the Death Star. Solo proves there is great danger in straying too far from this success.

Despite its successful fan service in dropping names like ‘Aurra Sing’ and ‘Bossk’ that mean little to the casual viewer but reward the more committed fans, the film feels very unlike Star Wars. This creeps in small things like the brutality of the war scenes, the allusions to the nature of Lando Calrissian’s relationship with his droid, the Lovecraftian space beast, the near-swearing, and the frequent off-colour jokes. Where the film feels least like a Star Wars film is in the presence of Dryden Voss, a character whose connection with and behaviour towards the main female character is often alluded to in a way that leaves an unsettling feeling.

The film’s handling of Emilia Clarke’s, Qi’ra feels a little off. Her story is only ever alluded to and the brief glimpses we get make it seem clear we could not see any more in a film using the Star Wars brand which makes one wonder why they chose to use such dark themes. This is territory well outside the expected for Star Wars and it seems unable to do it justice.

As the film continues, it becomes clear that it was an unnecessary endeavour. It fleshes out elements of the series that were better left as vague comments and world-building never elucidated upon. The character of Han Solo feels slightly diminished by being explored in such a thorough manner. He shot (literally) his way onto the screen in 1977 and was best left that way. Alden Ehrenreich does a thoroughly serviceable job as Han but it’s now obvious that Han Solo is not a role that can be so easily handed from one actor to another as works with James Bond. Whether he likes it or not, Harrison Ford was Han Solo.

Donald Glover’s, Lando Calrissian is perfect which is particularly remarkable for such an iconic character and proves the highlight of the film but his role is not enough to overcome the film’s issues.

Like Anakin Skywalker, Han Solo does not benefit from an origin story – the mystery was far better than anything a film could show.

It looks as though this Anthology film was supposed to launch another series but it is likely best it doesn’t. The unexpected arrival of a fan favourite character sent a ripple of excitement throughout the cinema but ultimately adds little.

It’s hard to see what this film was supposed to be – fun caper, brutal gangster film, or special effects extravaganza. Whichever one Howard  finally decided upon, he couldn’t quite get it right. This underworld is too real, too brutal, and populated by too vile a group of characters for the audience to escape without feeling faintly dirty for being immersed in that environment. This film could be a tremendous success as a separate entity but not so for the Star Wars franchise where the more unsettling elements are usually clothed in the alien as in Jabba the Hutt and his ilk. Here we have the very nearly human face of Dryden to associate with evil and corruption. A trip to the galaxy far, far away should feel like a more enjoyable experience than this. The suffering and cruelty is on an individual level here as the series jarringly tries to be both space opera and portrait of humanity existing in extremes.

Solo is not a bad film but it certainly is a disappointing and an unnecessary one. There’s a crueller edge to this film than any before and a more sordid world to see. Complete with off-colour jokes and hints of very real evils, it’s hard to see quite who this film was made to please. Whatever the plan, the result is a decent attempt but ultimately the most unsatisfying entry in the series.

 


Words by Liam McNally.

2.5 stars.

‘Free Light’- By Karen Smart

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The Runner stared into the cloth sack, feeling the weight of it in his hand. ‘I don’t do no favours for chicken feed.’

Please, it’s all I have. We have to be on this ship.’

You ain’t getting on the fuckin’ ship if I say you ain’t. And ya ain’t.’ The Runner sneered as I turned to walk away, but not before the glint of silver at my throat had betrayed me.

But I’m a reasonable man, see?’ He called after me. ‘Willin’ to negotiate. For the right price.’

I reached slowly for the chain around my neck. ‘You don’t understand. It’s the only thing I have left of my—’

Don’t matter to me none, a’course,’ the Runner said, looking at the back of his dirty knuckles with an exaggerated air. ‘But if ya want to get home I suggest ya hand the trinket over.’

Please,’ I begged. ‘There has to be something else I can do — I can earn the rest of my passage.’

The Runner laughed. ‘Hand it o’er. My woman could do with a piece o’ bling. And I ain’t seen nothin’ so pretty in years, not out here.’

That was it then; there was nothing more to be done. The chain was unclasped, the ring tossed into the sack, and the Runner stood aside.

Sir,’ he mocked, as he gestured to the hatch. ‘Thisaway, if ya please.’

I climbed the steps with a heavy heart. Behind me, buried beneath the earth in a secret place, lay my dead wife.

And at my chest, wrapped tightly in discarded medical cloth and hessian, was my sleeping infant daughter, her umbilical cord still drying.

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The Stitcher looked at us carefully.

This says you’ve completed your allocated pregnancy,’ he said, indicating the portable scanner on his wrist. ‘If you’ve completed your cycle….’ he trailed off, confused.

I looked at my wife, placed my hand over her gently swelling belly, and smiled faintly to reassure her. ‘It was a natural conception.’

Impossible,’ the Stitcher spat out. ‘There hasn’t been a Natural in this sector in at least twenty-five years. I should know. I damn well delivered it.’

Miri was stricken. ‘Please — we have no idea how this happened. You have to help us.’

The Stitcher shot her a sharp look but didn’t respond. Instead, he continued with his own questions. ‘And your completed cycle?’ he asked me, ignoring Miri.

A boy. Carried and birthed normally, in Sector 9.’

And where is the child now?’

Dead. Cortola virus, aged two years.’

Ah, that’s too bad.’ The Stitcher looked again at the scanner. ‘But it doesn’t explain this. It’s impossible to conceive without registration – there are procedures that have to be followed. The genus samples need to be purified and screened before implantation, for a start. And, even supposing you’ve managed to cheat decades of Command policy and population control, the sterilisation protocols would have taken effect at the age of five, along with the rest of the female population. I’m sorry, but there must be a mistake.’

There’s no mistake.’

The Stitcher sighed. ‘Okay, fine. Lay down on the table and I’ll check you over. Maybe then you’ll come to your senses.’

The makeshift examination table was spread with a new cloth, and I helped Miri up onto it.

It’ll be okay. Just hold on.’ I told her.

The sector hospital was nothing more than a few rooms in an abandoned house on the edge of town. It had a roof that leaked, no running water, and electricity only when fuel could be salvaged for the ancient generator. It had no permanent staff, just the Stitcher, who set bones, and cut bullets out — but he was our only option.

The transducer was thirty years old, patched with scrap, and ran on precious generator power, but the Stitcher turned it on and ran the wand slowly over Miri’s stomach, just below her navel. The heartbeat was obvious and strong.

Well I’ll be damned.’

The Stitcher looked quickly between us, crossing the room to lock the door and draw the blinds. The fewer people who knew about the reason for our visit, the better.

Do you know what they’d do to you if they ever found out? What they’d do to me for helping you? You know it’s illegal for citizens to circumvent the cycle protocols. If any Command agent even suspected it had occurred—,’ the Stitcher hesitated, exhaling slowly with forced calm. ‘By law I’m required to notify the Militants immediately.’ He nodded toward the door. ‘Did anyone see you come in?’

I shook my head. We had been careful.

We can still rectify things then. I’m going to need you to wait outside while the elimination takes place. Maybe no-one needs to know.’

I was at the Stitcher’s side in a second, my hand around his wrist.

I can’t let you do that. We intend to complete this cycle.’

You are crazy.’

Probably. But we heard that you had helped others in the past. We need to travel to the Free State. And we need to do it now, before she gets any bigger.’

The Stitcher crossed his arms in front of his body and stepped away from me.

Oh no. Not a chance. You’ll die a hundred times before you even get to the border!’ he spat. ‘Those others — that was a long time ago, and for very different reasons. We were smuggling food rations, not people, and I paid a heavy price. They torched my home. I watched the people I’d been trying to save starve anyway. And then I spent four years in prison. There’s no way you’re going to make it before she delivers — you may as well kill her now.’

We have to try. We’ve already lost one child. We can’t lose another.’

What you’re asking me to do is treason. They won’t just execute me. They’ll execute every single person I ever knew. Don’t you understand? They’ll tear open your wife’s body and excise the child, then dash its head against the rocks, and they’ll do it right in front of you, laughing.’

Miri had risen, silently crossing the room to where we stood. She reached out and took the Stitcher’s calloused hand in her own and brought it to her navel, holding it against the small bump.

The Stitcher stared at her.

Please.’ Miri whispered.

____

The Stitcher, it seemed, found sympathy with our plight. He offered us a room in the hospital basement, and we hid there, quiet and still, for nearly five months. It took some time, but the Stitcher made contact with people from his past, recalling great favours, even applying a touch of violence when needed, but it was eventually arranged. We had with us a little money — not much, but enough to keep the captain interested. We would leave the sector in three days’ time, when the moon was high and the circling of the patrol ships was closest to the Command station, and furthest from land. We would fly low, invisible.

Miri had grown plump and round while we waited. She held the child, this miracle, differently in her belly; it grew in her, sustaining us both. And as each month faded into the next, we even dared to hope for the life that was promised to us in the Free State. There would be no medical restrictions. No scanners. We could raise this child in safety. We would survive.

The night before our departure, as we slept on our mattress on the cramped floor of the basement, I dreamed of the sea. I watched a small girl-child dance in the waves. Look Miri, I called to my wife, who stood by the water, her back to me. We have a daughter. But Miri did not turn around. She walked into the water until the waves lapped first at her knees, then at her waist, and finally her neck, until she slipped below the water like a ghost.

I woke with a start. My dream world refused to leave me; I still felt the wetness surrounding me, engulfing me, smothering me. I turned to Miri, but she was sitting upright, staring between her legs. The sea of my dreams was crimson.

Isaiah—’ she whispered, pale and shaking.

In the hours that followed, we breathed together in raspy bursts as the pains gripped her; we screamed together as our daughter arrived into the light; and I wept, alone, as my wife drowned in her crimson sea.

The Stitcher cut the sinewy life cord, and placed the tiny girl in my arms.

Elana. Our light.


Words by Karen Smart

Art by Rhianna Carr

Karen is a university student and renegade semi-colon over-user who isn’t afraid to use a hefty expletive if the situation calls for it. She hopes to spend the rest of her days reading, writing, and somehow finding a way to be paid for both.

You can find her wallowing on Twitter.