Archive for July, 2022

Slow Bullets

Posted: July 29, 2022 in Book reviews, science fiction

By Alastair Reynolds

It is the far future and a huge conflict encompassing hundreds of worlds is coming to an end. Scur is a conscripted soldier fighting for one of the factions. She is relieved that war is ending, but then she’s captured by Orvin, a vicious renegade fighting for the other side who intends for her a slow, painful death.

She escapes this fate and wakes up aboard an unfamiliar ship, lightyears from any recognisable world. It soon becomes clear that the ship is filled with war criminals from both sides of the conflict, plus a large number of civilians. It also soon becomes clear that something has gone very wrong with this ship, and the worlds they left behind may no longer exist. In the midst of this chaos Scur then discovers that she knows one of the other passengers It’s Orvin. Can she overcome her desire for revenge when an uncertain future faces the mismatched crew of this ship?

As anyone who’s a regular reader of my blog will know, I’m a huge fan of Reynolds, and when I earned from free money via my Waterstones’ card, I decided to spend it on Slow Bullets, because the price had always put me off given it’s only a novella.

Whilst I’m not sorry I bought this, and it is an interesting read, it’s safe to say that I wouldn’t put this in the upper tier of Reynolds’ work. Lacking the punchiness of a short story, and the room to breathe that a full novel would have provided, Slow Bullets falls between two stools. At times it feels too long, but mostly it feels way too short.

There’s an interesting premise here and I think Reynolds should have either written it as a short story, or gone all in and made it a novel, which would have allowed him to expand on a lot of elements and flesh out the characters, most of whom, including Orvin, are quite two dimensional. Scur is interesting, as is her friend Prad, one of the ship’s original crew, but even so it would have been interesting to find out more about both of them.

The concept of the Slow Bullets themselves is intriguing (they’re not remotely what you might think) and like I said there the basis of a great novel here about survival against the odds and about the possibility of rebooting civilisation, and I did enjoy it, it just left me wanting a lot more. That being said, as a gateway into Reynold’s work this might make for a good start.

Top Gun: Maverick

Posted: July 5, 2022 in Film reviews

Directed by Joseph Kosinski. Starring Tom Cruise, Miles Teller, Jennifer Connelly, Jon Hamm, Monica Barbaro, Glen Powell, Lewis Pullman, Ed Harris and Val Kilmer.

Seen in June.

Thirty years after his time at the Top Gun fighter school, Captain Pete “Maverick” Mitchell (Cruise) is a navy test pilot flying the top secret Darkstar scramjet. After disobeying orders to prove the plane’s viability Maverick is approached by Admiral Cain (Harris.) If he could Cain would bounce Maverick out of the navy, but instead he is being sent back to Top Gun on the orders of Maverick’s friend, and former rival, Admiral Tom “Iceman” Kazansky (Kilmer.)

Kazansky wants Maverick to train a group of Top Gun graduates to fly a dangerous mission to destroy a rogue state’s uranium enrichment plant. The commander of naval air forces, Vice Admiral Beau “Cyclone” Simpson (Hamm) thinks this is a terrible idea, and makes it clear that Maverick won’t be going on the mission.

Maverick reluctantly agrees to train the group, but it won’t be easy, especially given one of them is Lieutenant Bradley “Rooster” Bradshaw (Teller) the son of Maverick’s former buddy Goose. Things are further complicated by the presence of Penny (Connelly) an old flame who Maverick rekindles romance with.

As the mission draws closer can Maverick find a way to inspire these pilots to be the best they can be, and can the mission really succeed without Maverick’s involvement?

I still remember seeing the original Top Gun at the cinema as a 16 year old and I’m embarrassed to admit that it did encourage me to look into how easily one could become a naval aviator! It was an iconic film, and there has been much talk over the years of a sequel. I don’t think anyone expected it’d take over thirty years, and I don’t expect anyone thought it would work anywhere near as well as this does, and it does work really well.

It’s preposterous, it’s predictable, it was written by someone clearly obsessed with the Death Star trench scene in Star Wars (and one really hopes by extension the Dambusters) and yet it’s also hugely enjoyable.

Cruise makes no attempt to suggest Maverick has grown or changed in any way. He’s still flying by the seat of his pants, still bucking authority, still wearing the same leather jacket and sunglasses and still riding a motorbike without a helmet!

But he does it so well!

There are a few sops to Maverick aging, but it doesn’t help that Cruise looks infuriatingly good for a man on the cusp of 60 (he’s 60 now but he wasn’t when he made this, ok!)

The character shouldn’t work. He’s Peter Pan, a man who never grew up, a man who won’t follow orders and a terrible role model (seriously, how many billions does he cost the US taxpayer with that little stunt at the start of the film?) but he gets by with his innate flying ability and that damn smile. And clearly every senior officer, with the exception of Iceman, is a risk averse idiot by comparison.

As Rooster, Goose’s son (see what he did there?) Teller is very good, although this film has taken so long to make that not only is it necessary for Rooster to have unresolved issues with Mav over the death of his father, they also insert another issue, namely that Maverick got his initial application to the academy refused which put him four years behind, how else to explain how he’s an up and coming fighter jock when he’s several years older than everyone else? Teller plays it well though and there are hints of Anthony Edwards in his performance, and not all of them are subtle, just take the scene where he sits at a piano playing Great Balls of Fire in one of many call-backs to the original.

Another call-back is the presence of Kilmer in a very moving cameo. Kilmer’s health issues are well documented and the fact that his voice was recreated by AI is simply amazing.

Of course some people are notable by the absence, namely Kelly McGillis and Meg Ryan, one of whom is killed off camera, the other of whom isn’t mentioned at all. I’m sure they had their reasons, too many call-backs perhaps, but you can’t dismiss the arguments of good old fashioned Hollywood sexism, heaven forbid a woman ages.

Maverick still has a love interest however, and Jennifer Connolly is, well she’s ok, but frankly her character is one of the few missteps in the film. Supposedly she’s the admiral’s daughter Maverick had a dalliance with back in the 80s. The main problem with her is a distinct lack of chemistry between her and Cruise, and their relationship feels oddly inert. Given a huge part of Top Gun’s appeal was the electricity between Cruise and McGillis, it’s strange for this sequel to feature a romance that’s such a damp squib.

Ed Harris deserves better than the stock one note admiral he gets to play, and while he’s still nominally an antagonist, Hamm at least is allowed some nuance.  Monica Barbaro and Lewis Pullman make for an amiable double act as Phoenix and Bob (they do at least let women fly planes now), and whilst he’s something of a dick, Glenn Powell’s turn as hangman shows potential star quality in the making.

The plot is ridiculous and though it did veer off into surprising Behind enemy Lines Territory towards the end, I pretty much saw every beat coming a mile away. Subtle or unexpected this film is not.

But the action is soooo good! Yes it would be a misnomer to suggest this was a film that eschewed CGI for reality given Hollywood didn’t have access to any SU-57s, or in fact an F-14 given the only ones still flying are in Iran (just in case you were wondering who the rogue state was) but all the F-18 footage seems to be genuine, with actors sitting in the rear of two seat Super Hornets to make it appear like they were flying them and it looks AMAZING.

It lacks the sexual spark and testosterone fuelled in your face attitude of the original, but the flying scenes are so much better and at least this time they didn’t have to pass off some Northrop F-5s as “Mig 28s”

This is a film that does exactly what it says on the tin, and you know what? Sometimes that’s no bad thing.