Category: Sci Fi/Fantasy

Sense8 “What is Human?” – Best Short Dramatic Presentation

Sense8 “What is Human?” – Best Short Dramatic Presentation

[Note: This is a long recommendation, but much of the last half if explaining each of the 8 main characters in case someone wants to just watch this episode and skip the previous portion of the season.]

Sense8 on Netflix is one of those series that does work as one long season-long story, but strikes a balance of also having each episode work with a full story arc(s) as well. All too often, some of these shows with a strong season-long story wind up with individual episodes just being a piece of a story and not a story on its own. Sense8 manages to avoid that to a large degree.

The series is about 8 people who are mentally linked – able to visit each other telepathically, use each other’s skills, and the like. One thing I love about the series is that it not only explores the ramifications of the sci-fi concept of the story, but also deals with themes building off of it. So it’s not just about 8 people whose minds are linked, but it is about relationships between people – the connections that bring us together and choices that drive us apart. It also has this meta-thing going on (mostly in earlier episodes, I believe) with references to Jean-Claude van Damme, Conan the Barbarian, and Lito’s telenovelas that shows how even ridiculous fun of these stories can have deep, inspiring impact for people (and that even a sci-fi show about 8 people telepathically linked can touch and inspire us as well).

I recommend watching the entire series, it is great – although it is certainly adult. There is recreational drug use, nudity and sex (including heterosexual, homosexual, and what is best described as a psychic orgy early in the series), and violence that is occasionally, but not always bloody. However, if you want to jump to the episode I’m recommending (“What is Human?”), you don’t need a lot of background to understand it (see below).

I have heard some people talking about recommending the season finale “I Can’t Leave Her.” That is another very strong episode, but more than any other episode of the series, it is really dealing with the overall season-long story and that, in my opinion, is what makes it strong. If you aren’t invested in the story of the entire season, then the finale is probably only okay. It does have some great teamwork of the entire cluster of 8, but as a stand-alone, I wasn’t as moved by it as “What is Human?”

With “What is Human?” – the 10th episode of the 12 episode season – it shows off everything I love about this series. In particular, the emotional structure they build into the stories really works for me. I tend to prefer uplifting stories far more than depressing ones, and in Sense8 they emotionally manipulate me perfectly. They have this way of sinking into tragedy right before leading into a moment of triumph. Don’t know about anyone else, but it works for me. It makes the triumphs so much stronger, and has an overall, more hopeful feel to it while definitely avoiding being sappy, feel-good. The lows are certainly low, but they persevere. They survive. Definitely reminds me of The Shawshank Redemption in that regard (at least the movie, haven’t read the original story). Characters bottoming out in miserable conditions, and then soaring to triumph.

This episode also has a beautiful moment near the end at an orchestra performance. Thinking about it, that scene is completely irrelevant to the plot. However, thematically, it is striking and really brings them in touch with their own humanity, and humanity in general, and is a moment of beauty we rarely think about. Like the karaoke scene earlier in the series (which is, in my opinion, one of the best karoke scenes ever), it brings a touch of humanity and connection to the characters, and (to get grandiose) the viewers as well.

I greatly recommend it for a Hugo nomination. Even if I could only nominate one thing this year, I would push aside all the stories I have read, and nominate this episode.

If you want to jump straight to this episode without watching the rest of the series before it, I think the quick summary below should have it make sense. Of course, a lot more happens in the first 9 episodes, but this is enough for “What is Human?” to make sense. If you want to watch the whole series without spoilers, then stop reading now.

Continue reading “Sense8 “What is Human?” – Best Short Dramatic Presentation”

The Shaman – Best Short Dramatic Presentation

The Shaman – Best Short Dramatic Presentation

With decent special effects becoming easier and cheaper all the time, sci-fi short films appear to be booming. Although a fair number of them come across more as teasers and the bare beginnings of a story to entice studios to hire the filmmaker to make a feature, some do tell cohesive stories. Although they face stiff competition from TV episodes for the Best Dramatic Presentation (Short Form) Hugo award, I think some short films are as deserving of consideration as well. Unfortunately, their audiences tend to be massively smaller than, say, I don’t know – perennial nominees Game of Thrones and Doctor Who.

One short film that really struck me this year was The Shaman. It manages to strike a balance of hinting at a larger world and story but still being a complete tale itself. The summary from IMDB is:

The dark year 2204, in a world that has seen 73 years of continuous war. A Shaman is sent on a mission to convert the soul of a giant battle colossus.

The story is an amazing and seamless blend of ancient and futuristic with a shaman entering a netherworld to try and convert the soul of massive robotic engine of destruction. The worldbuilding really worked for me, and it definitely got me wanting to see more of this world, or even better yet, reading stories based in this setting. The film didn’t just rely on showing off their special effects chops, but instead went deliberately low key and psychological.

THE SHAMAN – a mind-bending short by Marco Kalantari from Marco Kalantari on Vimeo.


On a side note, One-Minute Time Machine is one that I wanted to recommend but unfortunately first came out in 2014. It’s not necessarily NSFW but has some innuendo and language. It does a great job of telling an amusing little story very simply.

Unlikely Story – Best Semiprozine Recommendation

I have been trying to read through some of the magazines in preparation for this week, and one stood for me that I hadn’t heard of before. Unlikely Story is the sort publication that hits my sweet spot – sci fi and fantasy mixed in with quirky pseudo-academics. They publish online 3 issues a year, plus often a bonus April Fools issue of shorter flash fiction. Each issue is based around a theme of an academic journal.

So far this year they have published:

The Journal of Unlikely Cryptography (a regular annual theme) that focuses on short stories related to technology. To quote from the opening editorial:

“In these digital pages, you’ll find stories exploring the limits and possibilities of technology and the various ways it defines, enhances, and intersects with humanity. An unorthodox application of a 3D printer; the creation of private worlds; hacking the human brain with extreme video sequences; parents customizing ideal children through knitted code; a self-aware AI taking up the pirating life; and a cult seeking transcendence through transformation — all of these stories explore coding, hacking, cracking, and our relationship with technology in most unlikely ways.”

Journal of Unlikely Coulrophobia – Their flash fiction issue, this time with a focus on clowns – and all the terrible and wonderful things that implies. Apparently, it was a popular enough topic, they are publishing an anthology for it as well.

“In the exaggerated greasepaint features of the clown we find reflected none other than ourselves, the internal made external, both our internal beauty and our hidden evils.”

The most recent issue is The Journal of Unlikely Academia – Which the opening editorial explains as thus:

“This time around, rather than offering you a specialized subject, we are exploring the pursuit of knowledge itself. From the hallowed halls of venerable supernatural institutions, to fieldwork on an alien space station, and the shelves of your university library and beyond, the authors in this issue are celebrating learning in all its forms.”

This issue is the one that most caught my eye since it includes a story by Eric Schwitzgebel, a leading philosopher of mind. He often discusses the connections between science fiction and philosophy and how they can inform each other. In my spare time, I am pursuing a Ph.D. in philosophy with a focus on mind as well as medical ethics, and have taught a class in Metaphysics and Science Fiction. So our interests overlap quite a bit. His story “The Dauphin’s Metaphysics” fits well into that. It takes a classic philosophical thought experiment and posits it in a reality that may or may not be fantasy, exploring questions of identity and memory, with an interesting question of whether we can make a better, happier version of ourselves.

Another aspect of Unlikely Story that I enjoy is that they also include interviews with all of their authors on their blog. It offers an interesting look at the thoughts behind the stories as well as at the authors themselves and their other interests.

Overall, I am really impressed with Unlikely Story and it’s quirky focus issues and ideas that set it apart from many other publications out there. I am looking forward to the last issue of the year, which should be The Journal of Unlikely Entomology – their other annual topic (this time insect related), and the one odd idea that started the whole publication.