Steampunk Sculpture or Alien Artifact?

It began with the DirecTV guy, Mike.

During the course of troubleshooting our equipment, he set every receiver in my house to the History Channel. That’s how I caught the tail end of an American Pickers episode and learned of the Forevertron.

forevertron
The Forevertron — artwork or a transportation device left behind by crash-landing aliens?

 

It was a steampunk fan’s dream – on steroids. The Forevertron is 50 feet tall, 120 feet wide. And weighs 600,000 pounds. It was created by lifetime scrap metal collector and artist, Tom “Dr. Evermor” Every.

Sure. That’s what they want you to think.

More likely, the real explanation for its presence is something more like this …

 The Wanderlust came down hard — not as hard as it might have, considering that it was a starhopper.

A big boat like that has no business chugging through a planetary atmosphere at 5,000 feet, but the captain was looking for signs of intelligent life on, of all places, Earth.

 When the Firefly Drive, never intended to be used for anything but parking, suddenly quit under the strain of that gravitational proximity, the ship had nowhere to go but down.

The pilot was good. He headed for a dense pine forest and brought the ship’s nose up as much as he could. Slicing through nearly a mile of standing timber brought the ship to a gradual, smoking halt, turning what would have been complete destruction into mere cataclysmic damage. The trees slowed the ship, but they took their toll.

The Wanderlust had found its final resting place, a scenic Earth locale known as North Freedom, Wisconsin. Fortunately, the hopper had been cloaked when it came down. The incident was neither seen nor apparently heard, raising the question: If an interstellar spacecraft crashes in the woods when no one is there to hear it, does it make a sound?

Nobody came to investigate.

The crew took stock. Miraculously, none had perished in the crash. The front third of the Wanderlust had been turned into scrap metal. Navigation, life support and communications were gone. The first two no longer mattered; the third did. The aliens had no ride home and no means of calling for one.

On the plus side, the planetary atmosphere that had flooded the ship when its nose was destroyed was breathable, and it looked as though the local flora could provide edible grains for the distinctly birdlike aliens when homegrown supplies were depleted.

Much of the ship’s equipment remained functional. The transporter showed promising signs of life, but its range was limited to the typical distance from orbit to planetary surface.

The crewmembers knew the drill. They got to work.

 Yes, the Wanderlust would fly no more, but the crew could re-purpose its surviving equipment for alternative transportation. What they couldn’t salvage, they could find in stealthy visits to Terran landfill sites.

Within a surprisingly short time, they had constructed a device that, with a little help from lightning, took them to their nearest outpost.  The device remained behind, mysterious, and nameless, until Dr. Evermor claimed it as his own.

shuttlecraft
Giant bug sculpture, or badly damaged shuttlecraft?

Meanwhile, back in reality (or as close as I get) …

Holy Sith! The Forevertron incorporates such exotic components as a pair of Thomas Edison dynamos, a giant telescope, and the Apollo 11 space capsule decontamination chamber.

Dr. Evermor’s Sculpture Park is only a little more than 100 miles west of me? A must-go day trip went on my calendar. Even Mary, my decidedly anti-science fiction wife, agreed to join me, once she had seen a few Forevertron photos.

Matthew, my 8-year-old grandson, who thinks a trip to the supermarket is a never-ending journey, was the toughest sell. He spotted what he thought were a TARDIS and a Dalek in the photos, so he was in.

crewmembers.jpg
More scrap metal artwork, or likenesses of the alien crew?

Two weeks later, under cloudy skies and a promise of sun to the west, we sallied forth. We wandered about the countryside near our goal for a bit — but we finally found the park, not visible from the highway, hiding behind a surplus store and what appeared to be a junk yard.

We were not disappointed.

Well, Matthew was a little bummed when we couldn’t find a Dalek, and the TARDIS he had seen in the photos turned out to be an old English phone booth — no phone but still bearing instructions for dialing numbers in Ireland.

Thanks, History Channel — and Mike.

Science Fiction Television Experiencing Renaissance?

scifisunrise
Is the sun rising on a new era in television science fiction programming? Yes. Yes it is.

Renaissance might be too strong, but it does seems like science fiction offerings on the small screen are increasing in quantity, if not always quality.

Long, long ago, in the primitive years before cable (B.C.), television science fiction was doled out in small doses by the Big Three broadcast networks. Its artistic merits were not an issue. Good or bad, like it or not, if you were a science fiction fan, you watched what was available — and you were grateful.

Fast forward to 2015 A.D. (after digital). Science fiction offerings are so plentiful that you can actually pick and choose what you will watch. Quality and personal taste have come into play.

Take the barrage of programs you got this summer. Some, including Killjoys (Syfy) and Humans (AMC/Channel 4)have been gems. Others, like Dark Matter (Syfy) and Extant (CBS), have been just so-so. Still others, including Zoo (CBS) and The Whispers (ABC), have been abysmal.

I usually give each new series several episodes to win my heart before I decide if they stay on my DVR recording schedule. Getting a feel for the settings and characters often takes a bit.

I have given some shows extended opportunities to convince me that they are watchable. I so badly wanted to like Defiance (Syfy) that I stuck with it for the first half-season. I could not bring myself to like any of the characters, and the show suffered from alien overload.

I watched and enjoyed Continuum (Syfy) for its first full season. I had to bail midway though season 2 when the time travel paradoxes became too mind-boggling.

I didn’t quite make it to the opening season halfway mark of 12 Monkeys (Syfy version of the Bruce Willis movie) for the same reason. Time travel is an entertaining concept, but it really needs some basic rules. I suppose that if I were able to turn off my brain’s logic function, I might enjoy it more. I can’t, so I don’t.

On occasion, a show has gotten the ax before my first episode viewing has ended. The show which most recently got that reaction was Syfy’s Z Nation, which is such an obvious cheap rip-off of The Walking Dead (AMC) that it is a global insult to zombie fans — and zombies.

Some shows have such a dumb-ass premise that I don’t give them a shot. These have included Under the Dome (CBS), an up-sized version of Big Brother (CBS – coincidentally?). Let’s trap a bunch of people in an mysterious forcefield and see what happens. Frustration? Personality conflicts? Drama, drama, drama? Oh, my!

Another that went into this category was Revolution (NBC). The world suddenly loses its electricity, and nobody knows why? The trailers for this offering did their best to jump on the Hunger Games blockbuster film bandwagon, but I was not tempted.

Regretfully, I made an exception for Zoo (CBS). Animals organizing to rid the world of planet-destroying humans, as appealing as that premise may have been to animal rights groups, was a dumb human trick the show could not perform.

I’ll try anything featuring zombies, my favorite showbiz monster; but I have little interest in shows featuring vampires or werewolves. I tried True Blood (HBO) after it was recommended by a friend, but I just couldn’t get into a supernatural soap opera romanticizing blood-sucking killers.

One exception was the wittily comical Buffy the Vampire Slayer (WB/UPN), but even that show eventually fell prey to a soap opera element. Sorry, Sarah Michelle Gellar, your schoolgirl crush on David Boreanaz was the low point of an otherwise stellar show, although that star-crossed love had tough competition from Alyson Hannigan and Seth Green as cutest witch and werewolf couple  — ever.

So much for grousing over the past. Several promising new series are on, or just over, the horizon.

The Syfy will continue to churn out bona fide science fiction offerings in the next few months. These include Childhood’s End (http://tinyurl.com/ChildhoodsEndTrailer), a mini series slated to launch in December. With a great book author source in Arthur C. Clarke and a cast which includes Charles Dance (Game of Thrones) and Colm Meaney (Star Trek: The Next Generation), fans could be in for a super-sweet sci-fi treat.

The Expanse (http://tinyurl.com/TheExpanseTrailer), another series with potential, is also scheduled by Syfy in December. Based on the works of a pair of best-selling sci-fi authors, Daniel Abraham and Ty Franc, jointly writing as James S.A. Corey, this series might fulfill the promise of Ascension, had that Syfy mini-series ever gotten off the ground.

AMC will add Into the Badlands (http://tinyurl.com/BadlandsTrailer) to its high-quality program schedule in November. Think Mad Max meets Bruce Lee. Well-choreographed martial arts scenes are always entertaining, and AMC has an admirable habit of doing everything well.

HBO plans to present Westworld (http://tinyurl.com/WestworldTrailer), a remake of the 1973 film thriller, “coming in 2016.” Alas, this will be more than 30 years too late for the late great Yul Brynner to make a cameo appearance. Maybe through the miracle of CGI?

Broadcast networks are also bellying-up to the sci-fi happy hour bar via the film rehash route.

Fox will begin airing its series reincarnation of 2002’s Minority Report (http://tinyurl.com/MReportTrailer), set for launch, Monday, Sept. 21. Can the network that killed Firefly and Almost Human, after running episodes of both shows out of order, redeem itself? I won’t be holding my breath.

CBS will take another shot at sci-fi with 2011’s Limitless (http://tinyurl.com/LmtlssTrailer), scheduled to debut on Tuesday, Sept. 22. Something tells me that Bradley Cooper’s screen time in this series will be somewhat less than limitless.

Other new shows in the fall channel lineup include Heroes Reborn (NBC. Sept. 24) and Supergirl (CBS October). No doubt I have missed some, but a quick Google search should unearth any additions for die-hard couch potatoes who thinks they need more shows to fill their time.

Think of this season as a sci-fi potluck dinner. Everybody is going to bring something to put on the table, but not all of these dishes are going to bring you back for second helpings.

Dark Matter Dazzles

WARNING: CONTAINS SPOILERS

The Dark Matter premiere June 12 on Syfy was a wow inside a holy cow!
Rarely have I been as enthused about the premiere of a new show. It has been a verrrry long time since Syfy has offered anything with this kind of potential to stay on my watch list. Space opera, ho!
The show swims in mystery. Six individuals emerge from life support in a mystery ship, later revealed to be the Raza. Each person is a mystery within the mystery, having no clue to his or her identity or access to memories. Each has skills that (dare I say it?) mysteriously materialize when needed – how to restore life support, fire up a shuttle, go martial arts bananas, repa
ir electronic equipment...
More mystery. The Raza's cargo is a shipment of weapons. Exploration reveals a door which can't be breached by what could be the largest hand-held weapon in the universe. What's behind that door? It's a mystery.
Initially, crew members (?) are given numbers corresponding to the order in which they came out of stasis. They don't bestow a number on a hostile, kick-ass android after she is activated. Had they done so, she would logically have been designated “Seven.”
To physically resist Seven is futile, the boys on board painfully learn, until a security protocol (that would be Seven) is overridden and she is hastily reprogrammed to behave. Reactivated, she is directed to establish a neural link with the collective, er, I mean the ship, which immediately proves extremely useful.
Not long into the episode, the ship comes under hostile fire from, you guessed it, a mysterious vessel. The android keeps the Raza intact through a series of impressive evasive maneuvers while also restoring the ships faster-than-light drive (like I said, extremely useful), and the Raza warps away from a pair of very persistent missiles.
In her spare computational time, Seven has been attempting to recover some portion of the Raza data bank, which was wiped along with the crew memories. She learns the ship's original destination and takes it there. Did I mention that Seven is quite useful?
The Raza was heading for a mining colony which is awaiting the arrival of a weapons shipment as well as corporate enforcers who will wipe them off the planet. The miners are hoping that the weapons get there first.
Seven also recovers the crew members' names and their rap sheets. Not so useful. Murder is frequently cited among multiple transgressions. They are not regular churchgoers.
They conclude that they are not delivering defensive weapons, but they are actually the dreaded enforcers. Viewers will need to tune in next week to learn whether they turn to the dark side. Despite the show title, I'm guessing not.
Dark Matter is the brainchild of Joseph Mallozzi and Paul Mullie (all three Stargate shows). It definitely shows its Stargate heritage in its humorous banter and regular understatement. Further cementing its Stargate foundation, one upcoming episode will be directed by Amanda Tapping; and another four will guest star David Hewlett. I also see elements of Firefly, which can never be a bad thing, in its motley crew.
The attractive cast offers eye candy for every viewer: Marc Bendavid (as “One”), Melissa O'Neil (“Two”), Anthony Lemke (“Three”), Alex Mallari Jr. (“Four”), Jodelle Ferland (“Five”), Roger R. Cross (“Six”) and Zoie Palmer (“Seven”).
I'm already thinking this series will have a place with its SG siblings on my video shelves. Don't make me wrong about that, Syfy.