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If you need a break from the hustle and cheer of the holidays, there’s nothing better than the ultimate escapist genre: sci-fi. For those who enjoy entertainment that is not on our planet or in another universe, this year was a good one. Finally, we got a Predator sequel that isn’t silly; the author of Station Eleven released her highly anticipated new book; Star Wars proved it’s ready to grow up; and the production company A24 brought us one of the most exhilarating movies in years. There are many scifi podcasts that you can listen to while you wrap presents and decorate your home with lights. Here are the top scifi movies, books, and shows that you can consume over the holidays.
If you still miss Northern Exposure27 years after the finale aired, we still consider Wash to be the best part. Firefly, you’ll find something to appreciate in Syfy’s Resident Alien. It’s now in its second series on the Syfy appAnd Peacock, the show follows a doctor, new to a small, snowy town, who’s actually an alien that came to Earth to exterminate humanity – except he’s misplaced his world-killer device. Alan Tudyk plays the extraterrestrial with great gusto. He also pretends to be Harry, the human, while engaging in a lot of sitcom-style hijinks and interacting with a variety of quirky characters.
Two subplots expand the fish-out-of-water story: one about the recent murder of the former town physician, the other involving a secret government organization that’s hunting down the alien and his ship. It’s spit-your-drink-out funny and expertly plays with the small-town TV tropes we know and love. It’s also occasionally touching, particularly in moments between Harry and Max, a 10-year-old boy who happens to be the only person who can see past Harry’s human disguise.
In my personal account Apple TV+This year’s winner of the streaming war is Severanceis among their best offerings. That’s saying a lot, considering Slow Horses, Afterparty, PachinkoAnd Black BirdAll three were available on the streaming service by 2022. Not to mention the pitch-dark, time-traveling serial killer thriller. Shining Girls. This was the scene of visceral, back-alley terror. Severance occupies a cleaner, tech-washed version of reality, but one that’s no less nightmarish.
Weaponizing the ideals of modern working life against us – the minimalist, high-design office, a strict work-life balance – SeveranceThis is the story of Lumon employees. While we’re not sure what they do, we do know they’ve all undergone a surgical procedure to separate their work brains from their personal brains, effectively creating two different people. The fun is in finding out who these people are. It is really are (and what that even means), and sussing out what’s actually going on at Lumon. Gorgeous in a sterile Apple Store sort of way. SeveranceIt is anchored by the exemplary performances of Adam Scott, Patricia Arquette and Christopher Walken. And yes, to keep us from rioting in the streets after season one’s cliffhanger, there will be a season two.
As a source material, a William Gibson novel WestworldCreators are producers The PeripheralHas a strong sci fi pedigree. The assured performance by Chloë Grace Moretz and a particularly lush set design make Amazon Studios’ new production a treat for the eyes and ears – it gives your brain something to chew on, too.
Set both 10 years in the future in North Carolina and 77 years in the future in a post-apocalyptic, hologram-clad London, the show centers on Moretz’s Flynne, a woman trying to make enough money to care for her ailing mother by working her job at the local 3D print shop and by helping rich folks level up in VR games. Flynne, who is a better player than her brother, lands a job to try out a new headset. Turns out, it’s not a sim, but a quantum tunnel into the future in which she controls perfectly rendered robots – the first one modeled after her brother, then one based on herself. Of course, putting on the headset ignites a world of troubles, some of which show up on Flynne’s doorstep.
There’s plenty of Gibson’s characteristic techno-cool terminology, and metaphysical and temporal intricacies that you’ll have to watch closely to figure out – you’ll get little hand-holding here – but the head-scratching opaqueness that obscured Westworld’s later seasons don’t really apply. Look for answers and you’ll find them, plus you’ll have a lot of cyberpunk-fueled fun along the way.
There are countless people calling. Andor the best product in the Star Wars franchise aren’t wrong. Turning the camera away from the galaxy’s royal Skywalker family, the new Disney+Cassian Andor is the series, which you may be familiar with. Rogue OneAs the relative nobody in the band of nobodies that made sure the Death Star plans reached the Rebel Alliance so Luke can do his thing,
The series is set five year before the events of Rogue OneIt replaces the melodrama and grandiosity that characterize the Force’s saga and grandiosity with a human story on an intimate scale. It’s about a man who makes his own journey towards rebellion, instead of that rebellion being a predestined fact. Faced with an Empire that’s disturbingly bureaucratic in its repression, Cassian assists with a heist that prods the Empire to bring down its fist across the galaxy. Watching it gives you a detailed sense of the universe where Star Wars takes place, with fully realized worlds, mature storylines, and characters that don’t feel far, far away.
The sci-fi action masterpiece of 1987 PredatorThis is a battle between macho and heavily armed soldiers against an extraterrestrial who sometimes drops by Earth to kill humans. The last man standing is Arnold Schwarzenegger, who looks a bit ragged after his final helicopter ride out of the jungle. How would a young Comanche woman from the early 1700s do against an alien encounter like this? It turns out, pretty damn well.
The Predator sequel is by far the best. Hulu’s PreyThe story takes place on the Great Plains. Naru, played with steel and Amber Midthunder, hopes to be a hunter-warrior. Naru has her dog at her side, and a throwing knife in her hand. As she faces predators of animal and human kind (bears & mountain lions), and finally, one from another world, Naru gets the chance to do just that. Hollywood can be proud of its historical fidelity, with On-Set Indiginous advisors, and a largely Indigenous cast as the Comanche tribe member. It is a testament to Hollywood’s commitment to excellence.
Everything, Everywhere, All at Once
We need films like Everything Everywhere All at OnceThis is to remind us how much we can enjoy the joy of watching movies. Picture a mashup of multiverse tropes, Kung Fu action, family drama and absurdist comedy, and you’ll get a sense of what to expect from EEAAO. Michelle Yeoh plays Evelyn a Chinese-American immigrant who lives with her husband and their daughter in Simi valley. The IRS examiner is uncharacteristically dowdy Jamie Lee Curtis is auditing their laundromat. But before Evelyn makes it to her IRS appointment, she’s told she’s an important player in an inter-dimensional battle against a chaos-loving force known as Jobu Tupaki. Eveyln flits through parallel universes, gaining skills and perspectives as she does, ultimately braiding threads together to figure out what existence “means.”
A24 is the production company behind the film. It has a knack for making original movies in an industry saturated with remakes and franchises. EEAAOIt already has awards and nominations that match its overwhelming public acclaim. If you haven’t done so already, watch it and never see hot dogs, rocks or RatatouilleAgain, in the same manner.
After the psychological terror of Get Outthe grisly horror of Us, director Jordan Peele made Nope to prove he’s not out of ideas. As he did in the original, Daniel Kaluuya plays lead. Get OutAnother laconic cowboy, this time wearing a trucker hat. Kaluuya’s OJ and Keke Palmer’s Emerald are a brother and sister team running a struggling ranch outside of Hollywood where they train horses for the movies. When nickels and house keys fall from the sky and the horses start running off, they see there’s something parked above the ranch, hiding in an immovable cloud – something that’s not from here, and definitely not friendly.
Like all things Peele makes Nope has plenty of humor to shoot through the tension, and there’s a dose of abounding weirdness – particularly in a side plot about a sitcom chimpanzee. There is also a clear love of movies in the film with nods and nods to classics such as Jaws, Close Encounters with the Third KindAnd Alien. In fact, the idea to make movies drives the team who comes together against the UFO. The need to capture the alien is as important as self-preservation.
Sea of Tranquility
You might have seen the post-apocalyptic dream series. Station Eleven on HBO last December and wondered if there were any more ideas where that came from, check out Emily St. John Mandel’s latest novel, Sea of Tranquility. St. John Mandel wrote the book upon which the HBO series was based, and this time around, she’s exploring what life on a colonized moon would look like while also considering the effects of a space-time anomaly that links together a British Columbian forest, an airship terminal in Oklahoma City and four points in time running from 1912 to 2195. The narrative threads are tied together by a time traveling agent who is sent back from 2401.
As in Station ElevenSt. John Mandel combines wondrous speculation about the future with deeply human stories. Even minor characters are multilayered and complex. Her philosophical explorations feel important, but don’t seem like academic exercises. Her sentences are beautiful, too. Read it now and you’ll be ahead of the game when the adaptation, which is currently in development at HBO Max, comes out.
The Candy House
Jennifer Egan won the Pulitzer Prize for her 2010 work that was simply perfect. A Visit from the Goon Squad and this year’s The Candy HouseThis is the sequel. Like Goon SquadThis novel is told in stories and shift perspectives. But where the first book focused on music and Gen X aimlessness, this time we’re looking at the technology we willingly give all parts of ourselves to. It’s not hard science fiction, but it does what the genre does best: speculating on a probable future and seeing how we humans react.
Bix, a tech titan (a brief but important character in the near future), will emerge. Goon Squad) creates the next big thing in social media, called the cube, into which you can upload your unconsciousness and share it. Needless to mention, there are consequences. But the effects of the cube aren’t the focus. Technology slips into the lives and lives of the characters, much like the seemingly impossible-seeming technology we have today. Egan is one of the most assured writers I’ve ever read, and the prose is top-form literary stuff. It’s never boring and, like the cube’s teeming memories, it’s impossible to look at it.
Pulitzer Prize-level literature can be great. Sometimes you just want a gripping story about a luxury cruise-liner spaceship that has gone missing, in which all the passengers have died. S.A. Barnes was previously a writer under a penname in the YA space. Dead SilencePart shipwreck scout, part pirate hunter Event HorizonHorror, and part Newt Aliens’ epilogue.
The novel takes us to the year 2149. It centers on Claire, who is the leader of a repair team responsible for maintaining communication beacons near the edge of the solar systems. The team receives a faint distress message from a Titanic-esque spaceship, which disappeared halfway through its maiden voyage. They investigate and find bodies after bodies inside the ship. Claire was also the only survivor from a viral outbreak at a Mars outpost in her twenties. This experience left her with PTSD, as well as a lack of trust in the narration. The book is scary, disturbing, and mind-trippy. It reminds of the twitchy pleasure of reading Stephen King when I was a teenager.
Creators of Celeritas(available on Apple Podcasts, Spotify and others) bill it as a “cinematic podcast,” which doesn’t mean it’s about movies, but rather that listening to it feels as immersive as experiencing something with both sound and picture. That description is accurate. The story centers on an astronaut who takes off for the first light-speed space flight and ends up deep in the future when things go wrong.
Episode one CeleritasThis expands the possibilities for the aural medium. You first notice it in the intense and densely layered sounds design. Then there’s the storytelling, which ditches the audiobook “once upon a time” formula for an approach that takes full advantage of radio-play dynamics. Instead of an astronaut talking to us about space, we hear him instead record a message for his daughter while he handles mundane EVA procedures. The eighth episode of the 12 planned episodes was released in November. New episodes are released approximately every two months.
Initially referred to as In the Future, StillIt was launched in 2015 Flash Forward(available on Apple Podcasts, Spotify and others) isn’t usually a sci-fi podcast but rather, one that takes a speculative notion – say, what if all the world’s volcanoes erupted at the same time? – and then talks with experts to try and answer the question.
It’s a fascinating show in its own right, but then in October of this year, 27 three- to six-minute episodes dropped all at once. They tell the story of Vanguard Estates, an AI-automated retirement home where “you” are deciding whether or not to leave your father. It’s a choose your own adventure podcast that cleverly brings up the increasingly entwined issues of aging, healthcare and robots. Rose Eveleth, the creator, explores these issues in the usual way. Flash Forward style.
Throw a dart at any of the 865 (and counting!) episodes of Escape Pod(available on Apple Podcasts, SpotifyTheir website and more) and you’ll be transported elsewhere. Each episode is a short sci-fi story that is written by a variety of writers and narrated each week by talented voice actors. The episodes are between 20 minutes and an hour long and cover all aspects possible of sci-fi, including cyberpunk and space exploration, time travel post-apocalypse and AI. It has won numerous awards for podcasting, short fiction, and while I wish that each episode had a brief description to make it easier to choose and choose, you can always grab an episode at random.
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