Tag Archives: Science Fiction

Blightborn (The Heartland Trilogy)

Blightborn cover image
Blightborn, the second volume in the Heartland Trilogy (Image from terribleminds.com)

 

‘Cael McAvoy dreams of flying….Sometimes the dream is interrupted by the reality of falling’

When we left Cael McAvoy in Under The Empyrean Sky, volume one in this trilogy, his reality had well and truly fallen apart.

Life in the Heartland, an arid expanse dominated by genetically modified corn production, endured by overworked quietly desperate humanity, and overseen by the remote repressive Empyrean from their floating cities in the sky, had thrown up some surprises for Cael, his family and friends.

After a dramatic turn of events, Cael, Lane Moreau and Rigo Cozido are on the run when we join them at the start of Blightborn. The formidable resources of the Empyrean are being marshalled by Proctor Simone Agrasanto. Pursuit will be ruthless and relentless.

Just as the three amigos seem on the verge of eluding trouble, author Chuck Wendig works his magic and expertly ratchets up the tension and injects some juicy dollops of drama.

He also introduces some new characters who add extra layers to the story. In  particular, we get to see inside Empyrean society, and gradually learn more of the origins of both these lordly sky dwellers and the lowly Heartlanders far below.

Boxelder we learned in the previous instalment had ‘the tavern, the Tallyman’s office, the doctor’s, the general store,  –  and, beyond that, not much else but the swaying corn’.

Ormond Stirling Saranyu, one of the flying cities,  on the other hand is a place of mansions and opulence. ‘The afternoon sun caught in a hundred skyscraper windows. The many hills with their many homes. Skybridges and elevator conduits.’ ‘Everything clean. Cloud swept. Beautiful. Nothing like the Heartland’.

Not everyone in the dirt below is happy to accept that the Empyrean ‘have everything where we have nothing’ or that they must be resigned to the drudgery and hopelessness of life as they know it: ‘The dead earth. The empty sky. The gods in their chariots above the peasant’s heads.’

Unrest is brewing in the Heartland. But the Empyrean also have their own plans. An epic clash is inevitable.

As change unfolds Cael McAvoy, Lane Moreau, Rigo Cozido, Merelda McAvoy and Gwennie Shawcatch are front and centre in events.

Joining them are some memorable new friends – as well as an array of sinister new enemies. Telling which is which is not always easy.

This second part of the trilogy then is even better than the first. The action occurs in a number of places, not just Boxelder. More is revealed of how this world came to be as it is, but not everything; mystery remains for part three. Female characters feature prominently in all of the story’s plots and subplots – and as could be expected from the writer of the ‘Miriam Black’ books, these women are strong, independent and resourceful.

Most importantly the essence of Blightborn hinges ultimately on human relationships and change, growing up and trying to find out who we are – themes to which all of us can relate. The characters live in a world which like our own is not black and white, a complex world where change happens even when we don’t want it, and not always in the way we like even when we do want it. Confusion, doubt and even fear trouble all of the protagonists in this book at some stage – and those who are the most certain and definite are some of the least likeable.

The book has great pace, a compelling storyline, beguiling characters, tension that’s almost torture, satisfying depth, seriously sizzling dialogue and some wise reflections on human nature and the vagaries of life and love.

Part three of the series is eagerly awaited!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

X-Men: Days of Future Past

The main characters of X-Men: Days of Future Past in front of the US Capitol Building in Washington

 

Albert Einstein would be shocked or ecstatic at how the principles of time, space, matter and movement are upended in X-Men: Days of Future Past. Sports stadiums are wrenched from the earth and fly through the air, dimensions are crossed so quickly that the blink of an eye is like the passing of an age, and – giving the film its premise – time travel is not only possible but necessary.

Anyone who hasn’t seen the previous films in the series will be a little bit at sea initially but there is enough back story artfully included to soon get a bearing on the storyline. We begin in 2023, when the world, marshalled by Dr Bolivar Trask [Peter Drinklage], has declared war on those who are different, the mutants. Invincible, impervious machines, the Sentinels, hunt down survivors where ever they are to be found.

The only solution is for old foes, and older friends, Professor Charles Xavier [Patrick Stewart] and Eric Lehnsherr (aka Magneto) [Ian McKellen] to work together and change the past. Kitty Pryde [Ellen Page] can send the consciousness of a person back in time to occupy their earlier bodily selves – provided they can withstand the physical trauma involved. Step forward the near indestructible Logan (aka Wolverine) [Hugh Jackman].

He wakes up in an interesting not to say compromising and very funny situation in 1973, an old head on young shoulders. Acclimatising, like the viewer, to the vintage glories of seventies style and colour, the rest of the film follows his efforts to find the younger versions of Xavier (James McAvoy) and Eric/Magneto (Michael Fassbender) and convince them of what the future holds and what they need to do about it.

If all went straightforwardly of course we wouldn’t have much of a story, suspense or spectacular scenes. Needless to say then a cosy little chat over biccies and tea won’t sort things out, and we’re soon watching an elaborate prison break to spring Magneto – a sequence that incidentally contains one of the funniest scenes in the whole film.

With the gang all assembled and briefed, the hunt is on for Raven/Mystique [Jennifer Lawrence] who is the key to all that transpires in the future.  To produce a new reality they have to find her. All the while back in 2023 the last refuge of the mutants, including Xavier, Magneto, Pryde and Wolverine, is under fierce assault by legions of Sentinels. Will Wolverine succeed in 1973? Or will the machines complete the annihilation before he can?

It’s a testament to the success of the film – and the assemblage of acting talent on show – that the audience in the cinema where I was stayed glued to their seats all the way through, and tensed ever more on the edge of those seats as the resolution of events approached.

Mixing the fun, including some great one liners, with the serious and artfully blending in real life characters – Richard Nixon turns up at a crucial stage of the plot, complete with a knowing nod to tape recorders – X-Men: Days of Future Past has an emotional depth not always or even often seen in films of this type. A spectacle with substance.

PS.

Almost all of the audience stayed in their seats when the credits started rolling, which puzzled me somewhat. Obviously I was in the presence of informed fans. That or I’m a bit dopey. Or both. Anyway, those who stay till the very end will see a fleeting glimpse of the next instalment in the series: X-Men: Apocalypse.