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These kids are going to have long, awesome careers if their performances in Super 8 weren’t flukes.
The usual warning: I am not going to be shy about spoilers.
Super 8 is a victim of its own hype in many ways. Something JJ Abrams really needs to learn is to reign in his marketing guru persona when it comes to projects that are betting on a bit more subtlety than, say, Star Trek. Not that there’s anything subtle about a movie that is meant to be a modern retelling of E.T. in specific terms and a grand homage to Spielberg in general. But that works against Super 8 as well. Many of its critics, most of whom are simply disappointed as opposed to out and out calling this a bad film, are probably old enough to remember E.T. and be strongly reminded of it by nearly everything about Super 8. Their issue might boil down to something as simple as that this is not E.T.
Which doesn’t have to be a mark against the movie. Indeed, Super 8 is a wonderfully realized film that also happens to be a fairly original property (every film has roots somewhere) coming from a guy like Abrams who is a known commodity even when his projects aren’t. Read the rest of this entry »
This picture should already pique your interest. If not, this movie is still worth watching.
Cube is another Canadian movie brought to you by Canadian Netflix. It’s a movie that has a cult following and you may be familiar with it. Ostensibly a science fiction film, Cube is also a pretty novel take on the “trapped in a deathtrap” genre of horror movies. It is also Vincenzo Natali’s first feature (he wrote and directed). You might know him by his more recent work: Splice. For my money, Natali has a pitch-perfect sense of balance between high-concept science fiction and underlying horror. Cube is only like Splice in that it is about the interplay of those elements in what is a fairly balanced, if less confident, piece of movie.
You won’t recognize any of the actors but the characters are all strongly presented. How different characters dovetail between our sympathy and enmity is a credit to the film and the cast. For example… one minute you hate the slimy weasel who knows maybe too much about this place, the next you are rooting for him as he stands up to the bullying, semi-insane cop. Though no one is trying to rewrite the book on characterization so there are recognizable types present throughout. As good as the character work is, the main selling point for this movie is the awesome setting. Read the rest of this entry »
The above picture is hilarious but doesn’t really do the movie justice at all.
Just so’s you know, I will be doing a spoiler-free review until I’m not anymore. I will warn you about it, but mostly this is a review for people who have seen the movie or don’t give a fuck about spoilers. Anyway, let the games begin. Read the rest of this entry »
Paul doesn’t give a fuck.
I feel like I’ve spent half my time blogging reviews on ones about alien movies. That’s probably unrealistic but damn, is Hollywood ever in love with little green men once again. Paul is at least quite a bit different from the “invasion” genre and more like the E.T.’s and Starman’s of the world in that it’s a road movie about getting an extraterrestrial fugitive from Point A to Point B. I’m pretty sure this was also what Mac and Me was about. Anyways, you care less about what type of alien movie Paul is and more about whether I thought it was any good. Read the rest of this entry »
Don’t let the stupid image above fool you. This movie is full of inventive special effects and camera work.
Limitless is a movie that should be profoundly lame and stupid, yet somehow isn’t. The premise was idiotic and I thought it would be shallow movie using bad science to veil some over-familiar narrative arc about learning the value of not cheating to get ahead. Or something like that. I’m happy to say that Limitless is surprising. It’s a well-constructed thriller where a huge part of the pleasure is seeing how enhanced Eddie Morra (Bradley Cooper) deals with the world when unrestrained by limitations of personality or cognitive function. It does not dwell on the ethics or the imminence of exactly this type of technology, rather giving us a more personal story that manages to remain more thoughtful than thoughtless. Read the rest of this entry »
I can’t believe this movie was on my radar for so long without me having watched it. Well, I finally did, and it blew my tentative anticipation away. Mr. Nobody is an existential masterpiece, effortlessly blending together complex philosophical themes, entrancing emotional odysseys, and what seems like a dozen versions of the same character to create a pseudo-Science Fiction film that is a cousin to many, but an imitation of none.
The plot, such as it is, navigates layers of fantasy, memory, and narrative reality to tell the story of Nemo Nobody (Jared Leto), an 118 year old man about to die in the year 2092. He happens to be the last living mortal human, and his story is of great interest to everyone. Especially since very little is known about him and there’s no record of his life. Is Nemo the fabrication of a younger version of himself, who writes science fiction as a teen? Is Old Nemo the real one, the point from which all this emanates? The film doesn’t tell you and like whether or not Cobb is dreaming in Inception, it doesn’t really matter. You can believe the story about the Angels of Oblivion and Nemo’s ability to predict the future, or you can chalk it up to cycles of expansion and entropy. The film invites both metaphysical and hard science foundations on which to explore the themes.
It’s very difficult to write a review for this film. I almost need to watch it again. I can say that it’s a mistake to approach it as a “puzzle movie” or one that needs to be “figured out”. A lot of people will go into it like that. They’ll wonder, as the young journalist wonders, which of the stories Nemo Nobody tells is the “true” one. As Nemo himself says when confronted with this, “Every path is the right path.” which is to say that life doesn’t have a “true version” but can pick itself up and carry itself off in any direction imaginable.
It’s as much to examine our tendency toward focusing on big, sweeping moments of change than on just how chaotic every single moment really is, that causes Jaco Van Dormael to use three specific points in Nemo’s life as the internal reference points through which we can examine regret, choice, and chance. The film acknowledges that every moment is another chance for everything to change, the specific points of time that have so impacted Nemo are such because they involve formative relationships with his parents and with the three possible women he could spend his life with. It is especially in these relationships, which are all varied and reflect on the man Nemo could become, that we understand why Old Nemo can’t settle on one version. Imagined, predicted, or somehow lived… all three possibilities (and even more variances in each) lead Nemo, and the viewer, down a different path.
The suggestion is that whatever we choose, life is going to happen to us. That seems simplistic but the film is smart enough to tackle the choice vs. chance question. Otherwise you might be left with a tangled web of “is this determined or not?” which is sort of the point of the Angels of Oblivion/Precognitive thing. In other words, the film deals with the choice vs. chance binary in the same way Nemo deals with the question of which life is the true life: the only viable move is to not move. Which is kind of like taking the third option, I guess, as evidenced by 9 year old Nemo who runs off into the country rather than choosing Father or Mother.
Anyway, you need to see this movie. I can’t properly review it. It’s the kind of thing you have to sit down and explore with someone and I was dumb enough to watch it alone. The only other thing I want to say is that philosophically rich stuff like this only comes around every so often. Not to mention that the film, while dense, is very entertaining and also funny in a detached sort of way. It looks good, every performance is moving, and it will leave you feeling uplifted and hungry for life.
So before we begin the review proper, a couple of words about why it’s been like a month since I last posted here:
Basically, December has been a stressful and nutty month. I also hit something of a writing block while working on a novel (I know, I know!) and haven’t really quite worked my way out of it. Unfortunately for you, esteemed reader, that means you get a swath of movie reviews instead of new creative writing or editorializing about varied and interesting subjects. You know, the stuff that this blog is also supposed to be about.
Anyway, on to Never Let Me Go.
So here we have the rare movie that manages to be really good and yet piss me off horribly. If you don’t know already, Never Let Me Go is a beautiful, haunting film about clones who are harvested for their organs in an alternate reality where such a thing has cured pretty well all illness, rendering the moral and metaphysical implications moot to society at large.
They just take this shit at face value. The idea that this is reprehensible is given some weight but mostly it is dismissed by everyone and the subjects, our noble protagonists, bear it all with little complaint. It’s definitely a different approach than the usual fictional account of oppressive, monstrous reality fought by intrepid heroes trying to initiate massive change. Instead, it’s a slice of life for three particular people, sort of a cluing in on a possible world.
In three segments chronicling specific periods of their lives, we learn about three young people who are born into this mess and how it affects them. This is not to mean that it’s all about oppression and whatever, because that stuff only edges in. Really, it’s about how life goes for these three and how it affects their relationships to each other. I was so angry that no one fought back when I first saw the film that I almost didn’t care that this was something new.
Well, I shouldn’t say new. This is the kind of film Andrew Niccol makes (Gattaca) in some ways, but where he’s all about triumph of the individual human will in the face of a cold and inherently oppressive society, Kazuo Ishiguro’s novel deals with more personal and internally emotional issues. I bet there was a notion somewhere out there to take the basic idea and reframe it with something more standard, some kind of rebellion or fighting back, but I’m glad (in retrospect) that we got something more potentially honest and at least faithful to what I assume was the thematic spirit of the adapted material.
Beyond the subject matter and how you might feel about it, the ups in the film have a lot to do with the immaculate casting. The primary here is Carey Mulligan who narrates and basically carries the film. I haven’t seen An Education or The Greatest yet, but she was good in Wall Street 2 and seeing her here confirms all the buzz she’s been getting the last couple of years. Andrew Garfield deserves all the attention and career momentum and as we know from my discussion about his casting in Marc Webb’s Spider-man reboot, I’m already a fan. He does quiet and sensitive really well and that’s how I first saw him in Boy A. His take on Tommy reminded me very much of the character from that film and is almost unrecognizable compared to his Eduardo Severin from The Social Network. I like Keira Knightley and she is almost always good. Some people say she is bland but I don’t think that’s true, though I prefer her unrestrained. That said, she has the most “star power” of the three leads and it was good to see her doing the strong supporting role thing. Her big confession hospital scene was a major highlight of the film and I can’t think of a similar moment for Carey Mulligan though Garfield gets several throughout, especially the scenes with his art.
There’s simply a lot of quiet, confident acting in this film. The cinematography completely matches up to that, the overall texture is one of subtle self-assurance. Except of course for an awkwardly heavy-handed remark in the coda voiceover. Yeesh.
Aside from the craft and acting of the thing, the score is probably what is going to be most memorable for musically inclined audiences. The score knocks it out and in a year of great film scores (Tron: Legacy, Inception, etc) it holds its own and then some.
It’s going to be a hard flick to track down, it only played the “indie” theater for a week or so, but see it if you can. It might piss you off a bit if you go in expecting a story of rebellion against doom or whatever, but this is a film that is not afraid of the reality of death and in fact, assigns a heroism and grace to the characters that is rarely seen in other films in such an ungarnished way.
If nothing else, you ought to be interested in young actors as talented and skillful as these.
So that title might not be totally accurate given that the show has been canceled, but I can’t help but feel like it fits just a bit when the constant companion of news and rumors about Caprica have been news and rumors about another Battlestar Galactica spin-off (called Blood and Chrome). Apparently, SyFy feels that a cerebral, slow-burning series that is probably the most significant and relevant work of science fiction in television history (eclipsing its parent in this regard, if no other) must go. Meanwhile, bring in the show that SyFy reps are comparing (the tone at least) to The Hurt Locker.
Okay, so it’s kind of a mixed bag. I like the idea of anything BSG and one of the things that worked well was the military motif. Caprica tried to do something different and succeeded on some levels but failing on others. It was one of the more ambitious shows I’ve had the pleasure to watch even when it was a bit of a trial due to undercooked subplots and some hiccups in juggling a large cast of characters. It is also the second very good, very provocative science fiction show to be produced and then canceled due to poor ratings (using a system that is completely outdated). The other show was Dollhouse which has yet to achieve the cult status it deserves but at least that one made it to two seasons and a pretty satisfactory conclusion. We know Caprica won’t make two seasons and by the time the rest of the first season is shown, it’ll have been over a year since the show first aired. I think that’s grounds to say it’s been mishandled.
Anyway, I shower Caprica with some pretty glowing praise in my opening paragraph. I know it isn’t enough to simply say a show is good. I should back that shit up otherwise I just sound miffed cuz a show I liked got the axe. There’s enough of that on the internet without my help. The fact of the matter is, I didn’t even always like the show exactly. I found it difficult to get into, far more than BSG and also a helluva lot more challenging in terms of themes and subject matter. The struggle, which is an exaggeration obviously, was always rewarding. Especially considering the improvements made in the second half the season (which will not finish it’s run until January or something now).
So why do I think Caprica is so good, so important?
Let me start with the meaty science fiction stuff. Like BSG, and naturally so, Caprica is trying to deal with some major philosophical questions while also showcasing technologies which are emerging now, or will in the very near future. Part of the appeal of the show is that it’s more grounded in the kinds of technological realities we deal with today than most other science fiction shows. It also manages to tackle popularized near-future concepts like virtual reality, trans and post-humanism, and robotics.
This wouldn’t be part of the new BSG universe without socio-political commentary and it is in this element that Caprica probably has the most to say. Dealing with the problems of a fanatical monotheistic religion (in this case a very Abrahamic-seeming one, like a mix of Christianity and Islam) with a militant branch and its effect on an urbane, technologically sophisticated society is risking getting too close to some uncomfortable realities. But true to form, Caprica confronts this boldly and earnestly without pausing to wink and say “look how current we are”. Some of the statements being made here are so subtle or such a part of the background that they are overshadowed by the plot-integral stuff. For example, homosexuality (at least among Taurons) is accepted and without ceremony. It just is. Same with group marriages which seem uncommon but are definitely another accepted social structure. The people in Caprica are caught up in matters of business, politics, and religion in similar ways as we are but they have gotten over the sexual hangups which plague contemporary society in such a way as to suggest that just as the denizens of the show’s reality make no bones about this stuff, nor should we. It’s a bold, subtle statement that most people are going to miss. I can also see some being uncomfortable with how frank Caprica can be about sex. It’s really a mirror held up to our society with the steam-written words “what if” barely visible.
That half the characters in the show are wrapped up in religious terrorism and that some of these characters are pretty sympathetic adds dimensions to what we usually take for granted in the moral discourse of our culture. I would say that Caprica falls on the side of “religion is evil” but I’d rather it be that than characterizing all of the fundamentalist characters as backwards idiots with Tea-Party level awareness. Most of them are shrewd, ambitious, and scarily capable.
Without getting into a bulky discussion of specific characters and plot, it’s important to note that in the midst of all this technology, religion, and business politics it’s a very specific story that’s being told. Caprica is about the myriad factors involved in the genesis of the Cylons, including keys to their development of cyborg replicants (“skinjobs”) and monotheistic religion. Business espionage and backroom deals with gangsters play as important a part as the religious strife plaguing the entire society. All of these elements play a part and thus various characters and subplots exist and sometimes have little to do with each other. This was a narrative weakness in the early part of the show. Now, extraneous characters and plots are being resolved at an impressive speed and with an extremely deft touch. Characters who were once connected only by events and relationships decentralized from the primary thrust of the plot are now being brought into each others’ orbit.
In effect, Caprica has been canceled at what must be its peak. Even though this is the case, I urge people to watch this show.
I am adding the following after finishing the show and learning that it was Jane Espenson no longer acting as showrunner that probably contributed most fully to the upswing it took in the second half of the season.
One of the things I basically said but didn’t realize I was saying is that Caprica isn’t just a mirror held up to society but a mirror held up to America. It posits that business (particularly capitalist corruption of scientific research and development) mixed with organized crime in tribal fringe societies (think Sicilians) and religious strife produce a society on the edge of collapse not only from forces within but from forces without, forces for which the society is directly responsible.
Caprica is a show very much about the decline of Empire. Maybe THAT is why it has such a hard time finding an audience. Some days I don’t like looking in the mirror either.
So why are aliens so popular right now? Probably owes something to District 9, last year’s sleeper hit. Monsters, an excellent low-budget alien movie definitely feels like a distant cousin to the richly textured, gritty South African film. They are very different, but with the many upcoming alien movies from Skyline to Cowboys and Aliens, it seems like we’re going to be able to start making distinctions in terms of specific flavour.
In the case of Monsters, we get the realism and world-building of District 9with some truly inspired use of implication over explication in terms of revealing details about “the creatures”. Their effect, however, is felt everywhere and after 6 years of occupation in the “infected zone” area of Mexico, the locals are plain used to it.
Monsters follows an interesting and gripping odyssey taken up by two young people, Kaulder (Scoot McNairy) and Sam (Whitney Able) who are forced to make their way across the zone and back to the United States. They are strangers in this land and we are made to experience the texture of the world Gareth Edwards has envisioned through them. Six years ago, a NASA probe brought alien life back to Earth. Are these creatures, massive Lovecraftian octopi, just dangerous wild animals or something more? Regardless, suppression and containment seem to be the policy of the United States and Mexico as their respective militaries try to fend the creatures off with mixed success.
Evidence of this state of affairs is at the edges of nearly every shot, from destroyed tanks and fighter jets to the booming lights of heavy ordinance seen and heard just over the next hill. We don’t learn much about the aliens, but a lot is implied both about their natures and that of our response. It seems like there are some socio-political themes but they are never explored fully and may exist simply to flesh out the backdrop of the narrative.
Monsters is kind of a love story and definitely a road movie. Because of the demands of these respective tropes, it’s sort of a slow-burn. Edwards made expert use of his obviously limited budget and there are some truly stellar shots and great moments of tension with the nightmarish creatures. Mostly, its strength is found in the commitment to realism and the subtle, naturalistic performances of the actors. It feels like a documentary in an unfettered way (unlike District 9, which used that as a narrative device).
There’s definitely a lot of work going into making the human characters as interesting as the dramatic background of alien invasion and whatnot. This is a mixed bag. I felt a lot of sympathy for Kaulder who has a son whose mother will not let him into their lives, but only so far. I felt less attuned to Sam who seems to be something of a spoiled rich girl off trying to save the world in quarantined Mexico, running from an engagement she obviously doesn’t want but doesn’t have the guts to fully eliminate.
That said, the slow buildup of attraction between these two, and the understated way its handled do make for a poignant ending. There is no posturing or standard Hollywood cliches: Kaulder is not forced to overcome impossible odds to save Sam from danger, in fact they both walk through their experience pretty bravely and their spectatorship and silent awe and confusion mirrors ours.
Belonging in the pantheon of super realistic science fiction films which currently features such notables as Children of Men, Moon, and District 9, this film is going to provide a strong counterpunch to the upcoming BOOM BOOM scifi flicks which will no doubt scratch a different itch. Monsters is unassuming, small, and intimate as well as being a very strong debut for Gareth Edwards who comes from a visual effects background (which shows).
There are two things about the ending that weren’t immediately apparent until after the movie was over. One of them was that the aliens are intelligent. The way they are interested in our televisions and seem to be processing info received from them is a clear sign. Then there’s the way the two are interacting at the gas station, they seem to be showing affection for each other or sharing information. I think there’s something affectionate going on there if only because it is such an intimate moment as Kaulder and Sam watch in total awe, out in the open and completely ignored by the creatures.
In other parts, people talk about how they don’t bother you if you don’t bother them. We are given little if any justification for the massive military campaigning. This is part of the subtext of the film obviously. Still, it’s interesting that we aren’t explicitly told why these things are on Earth or if they have an agenda. They are totally inexplicable baby Cthulus romping around Central America like it ain’t no thang.
The other thing is that what seems like an abrupt and open-ended final shot really isn’t. This is one of those films where the end happens at the beginning. You don’t realize it right away either and it’s kind of the neatest trick Edwards pulled off, creating an after-the-fact emotional punch that a lot of people are going to miss. The fact that Kaulder and Sam walk into an America that’s been breached adds another layer of horror to the ending, suggesting that America is as doomed as their love and probably adding another layer of criticism to American foreign policy, militarism, etc.
This may be one of the best films of the year.
This story was written by me for a Saskatoon Writers’ Club Challenge I issued. The challenge was “space detective”. Here is my figurative, and hopefully original entry.
Paxton was sitting at his console and minding his own business. Atropos and Clotho were minding Sirius on commission while Paxton’s favorite, Lachesis, was pointed straight at Kepler. He wasn’t fully awake yet and Lachesis was recording. He was used to Kepler’s sound, like the insistent din of an alarm his brain had long since learned to sleep through. Gulliver rolled up with his espresso and handed it off to him with its one metallic arm. To indicate task completion, Gulliver beeped out an approximation of the first few seconds of “Major Tom”. Paxton grinned and sipped.
He switched Lachesis to stream and listened for a while. There wasn’t much going on, but the signal quality was sweet. Later on he unbuckled and floated down to his maggies. He put them on and tried a few steps. The maggies pulled him down and made him feel disoriented, he would rather be floating. From its track, Gulliver seemed to watch him. Maybe the little robot felt a kinship as Paxton dragged his feet around his own track. He stumbled a bit and had to adjust his stride so he’d stop stepping off the magnetic path that ran through the orbital platform. He hadn’t exercised in some time and it wasn’t long before he had to stop and catch his breath.
Just then, a window popped up. Glover’s face glowered at him. Paxton didn’t react but his mind was going pretty fast. He hadn’t expected to ever see Glover again, for one. For two, no one was supposed to have his addy. It seemed that even orbit wasn’t far enough to go.
“Paxton,” Glover said.
“Glover,” Paxton said.
“You’ve lost weight,” Glover looked him up and down. Paxton was unimpressed.
“I’ve been in space for two years,” he replied. “it happens.”
“Yeah, it does,” Glover seemed to be thinking of what else to say, as if small talk was required between them. Paxton decided to unburden the old bastard.
“What do you want, Frank?” he asked.
“Oh just to see how you’re doing,” Glover said casually.
“I’m sure,” Paxton said.
“Aren’t we old friends, Paxton?” Glover smiled. Too much.
“Not really,” Paxton replied, “so why don’t you cut the shit and tell me why you’re bothering me up here.”
“Have it your way,” Glover said. His face abruptly disappeared from the window and was replaced by a stellar chart. Glover’s voice superimposed over the display, which began to animate normal stellar activity. It took less than a second for Paxton to recognize the cluster but Glover said the words anyway. “This is the Cetus Constellation which–”
“–I know very well,” Paxton cut in.
“Well yes, that’s part of the reason I’m talking to you,” Glover tried to bite back his
annoyance, he didn’t like to be interrupted. Which is why Paxton did it. “Can I continue?”
“Please,” Paxton replied.
“Obviously you’ll know that Tau Ceti was checked out a hundred years ago by SETI,” Glover said.
“And they didn’t find anything,” Paxton intoned.
“This isn’t the same old speech, pal.”
“Trust me, Frank, I’ve heard them all.” Paxton then turned away from the window and didn’t see the frustration cross Glover’s face.
“You need to listen and listen good,” he said, but Paxton was not. He had begun taking the maggies off, which was never easy to do. Then Glover said something that made him stop.
“Please say that again,” he said quietly.
“I said that Ozma is MISSING.”
Paxton was back at his primary console, all three Sisters pointed at Tau Ceti. A window hovered behind him. Glover, still talking. Paxton didn’t look at the window, concentrating on the monitors and controls for the sisters. He momentarily wondered if he should fire the thrusters and optimize his orbit. Then an obvious question occurred to him, he thought he could piece together the answer but this would save time. And he wanted to know exactly.
“How’d you know it was gone?” Paxton asked.
“NASA called me, remember them?” Glover answered, “they had a visual on Tau Ceti for an art project believe it or not. Their old ‘scopes are cheap now, artists rent them out at premium and the proud history of space exploration is shamed.”
“Didn’t figure you for sentimental, Frank,” Paxton grinned and was ignored.
“They got confirmation from a few other major observatories and telescopes around the world and with no visual…”
“Get a noise collector?”
“No one listens to space music anymore,” Glover went on. “We don’t really bother unless we can get a probe out for video, meanwhile the small potatoes point their binoculars.”
“So that’s why you called me,” Paxton said.
“No one listens to people like you anymore, either.”
“We need someone who still uses radio and knows what to look for,” Glover said.
“Last time we talked about Ozma, I was laughed off the planet.”
“Yeah what can I say, things have changed.”
“I’m curious so I’m taking a look,” Paxton said. “I never said I was going to help you.”
“I’m just trying to be convincing, Paxton. If you find Ozma, you’ll at least have that much credit,” Glover replied with his salesman’s smile. “If you turn out to be right about it, I suppose a lot more is apt to change.”
“I may not care anymore, Frank,” Paxton said. His hands keyed coordinates for scheduled rotations over the next 20 hours. The sisters would be busy. “I’m beginning to like it up here.”
“Oh sure,” Glover said. “I can see from here that you’re perfectly cozy with your little robot and all.”
“Very cozy,” Paxton replied.
“But if you want to go home, Paxton, this is how you get there.”
“I’ll think about it, give me 20 hours.” Paxton said and closed the window.
Now it was just the sisters, Gulliver, lots of espresso, and the melodies of a distant star
which had lost its child. Paxton had decided pretty much immediately that he would work to reunite Tau Ceti with Ozma but wasn’t yet sure how. Or if his best would be an explanation for an entire vanished world, or perhaps a whisper of a clue and nothing else. The most likely case would be some fluke or mistake, or perhaps an unusual interference or event in the system. No way to guess, but he would start by trying to track Ozma. The novelty alone was worth that.
A few years ago, Paxton had known Glover as a managerial type in charge of keeping book for a research lab he worked for. With extrasolar exploration privatized to stimulate the search for habitable worlds, there were guys like Glover all over the place. Paxton was a brain, recruited straight out of MIT to conceptualize novel theories for finding Earth 2.0. In the meantime, he became very interested in “space noise” and collected hours of recordings. People assumed he was looking for aliens out there, like SETI in the mid-20th century. Paxton didn’t care much about finding artificial signals or intelligent life, he just liked music and loved the idea of harmonies vibrating across space. It gave the universe a texture for him, made it less abstract.
Eventually he listened to Tau Ceti and its planets. Most were gas giants, but there were thirteen major celestial bodies and one of them was Ozma. From the beginning, Ozma was strange. It had an unusually strong signal strength for what seemed to be a rocky planet. Data suggested it was highly metallic, or was very dense due to some pseudo-metallic mineral humans hadn’t discovered anywhere else. It was especially perplexing because Tau Ceti herself was metal deficient. Paxton had spent hours listening to Ozma.
One day, the signal had dramatically increased in strength and complexity. Paxton started to believe that Ozma might be the source of an old school holy grail: an alien
civilization. The signal was recorded but blamed on the launch of some satellite from China by the company analysts. Then his recordings were confiscated and he was given the boot.
Paxton spent three weeks checking and rechecking his math but was ultimately ignored. Aliens were generally considered an adolescent fantasy that people had gotten over when things became strange enough on Earth. What did aliens matter when superbugs were building giant sandcastles to house Micronesian refugees? On a planet that now had an expiry date, no less.
So he went into space to keep listening to the music. He wasn’t a romantic and never saw his journey as Quixotic but rather as a natural evolution of his interests. Glover had been the one to give him his pink slip and Paxton had immediately sold everything he owned and made preparations to spend a few years in orbit. The sisters were dinosaur antennae, reliable and cheap but also enormous. He’d had to construct them in orbit himself, with the help of Gulliver. It had taken almost a year but now he was doing what he loved.
He hadn’t even pointed his array at Tau Ceti since coming out here. Almost 20 hours into his search for Ozma, the irony was finally starting to cease tickling. He was absorbed.
Lachesis was fixed on a gas giant called Nimea while Paxton kept Clotho and Atropos moving around the vast space where Ozma had once been. Nimea was the nearest planet and he hoped that if Ozma was still out there, Nimea would pick up any noise bouncing around. While his girls worked, Paxton kept his attention 75% focused on the most recent data about Ozma’s stellar orbit, gravitational relationship to the other bodies in the system, and so on. He looked for patterns, anomalies and anything the least bit unusual. The other 25% listened. But he found nothing.
When Paxton finally tracked Ozma down, it was one of Nimea’s moons that spilled it. The same signal he remembered from his last encounter with this mysterious planet rang in his ears with a sound kind of like validation. Glover listened from a window. The signal was weaker, degraded by the other noise floating around in Nimea’s orbit, but this was why Glover asked Paxton to do this in the first place. Only Paxton could have found that signal in all the symphonies of the star system, identified it for what it was, and told Glover what it meant. And all with a straight face.
“It moved,” Paxton repeated.
“You’re telling me that a planet MOVED?” Glover was struggling.
“Yes,” Paxton said. He had something in his voice that Glover hadn’t heard since the old days.
“I’m going to get visual confirmation, okay?”
“Be my guest.”
About an hour later, long enough for various beams of information to shoot around the Milky Way, Glover was back with a look that could only be described as wonder. Paxton had never seen this look before and knew that the man was woefully unprepared for what he was about to hear.
“We have confirmation,” was all Glover could say and even he knew it sounded stupid.
“But Frank, have your people figured out what this implies yet?” Paxton asked, milking it.
“They say that, for one thing, this could only be the work of an advanced civilization,” Glover replied.
“Yeah, obviously. What else?”
“Well what else do they need to say, Paxton?”
“Have they decoded the signal yet?”
“They’re a bit stuck on this whole planet-moving technology thing,” Glover said. “Not to mention that, you know, we’re not alone in the universe anymore?”
Paxton laughed and made room for Glover to see some software. Low-tech stuff, probably cobbled together while the company guys did their checking and rechecking. Paxton was something else.
“What am I looking at?” Glover asked.
“This is a software I wrote to decode part of the signal.” Paxton said, “Now that I can hear it again it wasn’t
all that hard.”
“Almost like–” Glover said, hushed.
“–Like they didn’t want it to be too hard.” Paxton interrupted. This time, Glover was unphased.
“Or It. Him. Her. No way to be sure yet.”
Paxton keyed his software to display what he’d found. A thousand images from Earth’s history played across the screen and Glover recognized his own handiwork.
“The Clarke probe,” he said finally.
“The Clarke probe.”
Paxton called up a subroutine, a little media player. A childlike voice echoed through the platform and the room Glover occupied on Earth. The pair of them heard it, along with several hundred analysts and monitors.
“You found me!” it said. And there was pleasure in the voice.
“They… it… whatever… speaks English!?” Glover exclaimed.
“Yes Frank,” Paxton replied. “the moving, seemingly intelligent planet speaks English.”