ANNIHILATION (2018) – Natalie Portman Leads All-Female Team in this Thought-Provoking Science Fiction Adventure

1
annihilation

The all woman team in ANNIHILATION (2018)

While superhero movies have captured all the hype and box office receipts in recent years, science fiction films have quietly enjoyed a resurgence of their own. The last few years has seen a decent number of science fiction films landing at the cinema, most of them very good high quality affairs.

You can go ahead and add ANNIHILATION (2018) to that list.

ANNIHILATION was written and directed by Alex Garland, the man who also wrote and directed EX MACHINA (2014), one of those recent high quality science fiction flicks, a thought-provoking thriller about artificial intelligence.  Here in ANNIHILATION, Garland takes on a topic that is rather innovative and original.

In ANNIHILATION, biologist and college professor Lena (Natalie Portman) is dealing with the absence of her husband Kane (Oscar Isaac), an army officer who’s been missing in action for over a year. One night, Kane returns home, but he’s different, distant, but before Lena can find out why, Kane becomes violently ill.  She rushes him to the hospital, but before they can get there, the ambulance is intercepted by the military, and both Kane and Lena are extracted from the vehicle.

When Lena awakes, she finds herself being questioned by a psychologist, Dr. Ventress (Jennifer Jason Leigh). Lena learns the truth of her husband’s mission, that he and his unit had been sent in to investigate a mysterious area called the “Shimmer.” Numerous parties had been sent in, and none had returned, until Kane.

When Lena learns that Dr. Ventress is leading an all female team— a scientific decision because so far the investigators had all been male and they had all failed— into the Shimmer, she decides to join them, believing she owes it to her husband to learn what happened to him and what exactly is going on inside the bizarre area.

The Shimmer began when an unknown object struck a lighthouse on the south coast of the United States, and afterwards the lighthouse began to emit an unusual aura which over the course of the year continued to grow, and Dr. Ventress predicts that unless it is stopped it will continue until it covers cities, states, and eventually, everywhere.  The Shimmer looks like a huge oily wall which distorts one’s vision, and so you can’t really see beyond it.  Those who have entered, have not returned, except, of course, for Kane.

When Lena and the all women team enter, they immediately realize that they have entered a place where the laws of nature have changed, and it’s up to them to find out how and why and to survive its hostile environment.

ANNIHILATION tells a fascinating tale that works on multiple levels. Sure, the thought-provoking science fiction ideas are there, in this case some innovative thinking involving refraction and DNA, but ANNIHILATION works even better as an adventure and a thriller.

There are some very exciting sequences here involving some frightening creatures which live inside the Shimmer, in particular an enormous crocodile and later an extremely intense sequence involving something that was once a bear. There are some definite edge-of-your seat moments in this one.

My favorite part though is the female cast.  It’s a fresh take on a science fiction adventure tale like this to have the main players all be women.

Natalie Portman leads the way with a strong performance as Lena. She gets to express two sides of this character.  There’s the cold, clinical biologist side, as she investigates the strange phenomena inside the Shimmer, and since Lena is ex-military, having spent several years in the army, we get to see her no-nonsense kick-ass side, as she takes on the formidable creatures inside this strange land.  Portman excels at both.

I like Portman a lot, and it was fun to see her in this action role after her meticulous performance as Jackie Kennedy in JACKIE (2016).

Jennifer Jason Leigh is also excellent as Dr. Ventress.  As the leader of the group, she is as tough as nails in her determination to reach the lighthouse in the hope of resolving this dilemma. While Leigh has enjoyed a long career, she’s turned in some particularly impressive supporting performances of late, including memorable roles in GOOD TIME (2017) and THE HATEFUL EIGHT (2015).

The other three women are also notable.  Tuva Novotny as Cass, Gina Rodriguez as Anya, and Tessa Thompson as Josie round out the cast in impressive fashion. Thompson was also excellent starring opposite Michael B. Jordan in CREED (2015).

And Oscar Isaac is effective as Kane, Lena’s husband who’s not quite the same once he comes home.  Isaac also starred in Alex Garland’s previous science fiction flick, EX MACHINA, and he’s known now for his recurring role as Poe Dameron in the new STAR WARS movies.

ANNIHILATION is not perfect. It’s slow at times, more so during its third act.  Early on, when the audience is first learning about the Shimmer, the story is so engrossing that pacing is not a problem.  But once we start to get answers, things slow down a bit as the film moves towards its conclusion.

The CGI effects are uneven.  Some of the creatures look fearsome, while others look fake.

The story works if you don’t think about it a whole lot. I couldn’t help but think that if such an event were really happening, there’d be more of a military presence around the Shimmer.  We’re led to believe that there is, but it’s not something we see much of. In fact, we see hardly anyone other than Dr. Ventress and her team.

Still, I enjoyed the screenplay by director Garland, based on the novel by Jeff VanderMeer. The dialogue is strong and the concepts explored in the story rather fascinating.

And the film looks stunning. The mind-boggling world inside the Shimmer contains some memorable cinematic images.

The whole film has a sort of LOST (2004-2010) vibe to it, and if you mix in a little bit of ZOO (2015-2017) with INTERSTELLAR (2014) and INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS (any version you’d like) you’ve got ANNIHILATION, a nice mix of edge-of-your-seat thrills and thought-provoking science fiction.

But its strongest attribute is its all-female team, which by far is the most refreshing part of this exciting fantasy adventure.

—-END—

Advertisements

BLADE RUNNER 2049 (2017) – Ambitious Sequel Overlong and Lifeless

1

blade-runner-2049-poster

I guess I’m just not a fan of the BLADE RUNNER movies.

I was never all that into the original BLADE RUNNER (1982) film starring Harrison Ford and directed by Ridley Scott, based on the Philip K. Dick novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? —- now, the novel I do like— that has a huge loyal following among science fiction fans.  The 1982 film just never moved me.

Now, here comes BLADE RUNNER 2049 (2017),  starring Ryan Gosling and again Harrison Ford, a bigger and badder sequel to the 1982 movie, receiving high praise from both critics and fans alike.

I’ve finally been swayed, right?  This film is so good I’ve finally overcome my apathy for BLADE RUNNER, right?

Wrong.

Which is why I said, I guess I just don’t like these movies.

“K” (Ryan Gosling) is a blade runner, the name given to officers who hunt down and “retire” (yes, that means “kill”) replicants, the artificial life forms that the powers that be fear because they are becoming too human.  His latest target is somewhat of an unusual one, and it leads him on a search for Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford), the blade runner and main character in the first BLADE RUNNER movie, who’s been missing for thirty years.

Denis Villeneuve directed BLADE RUNNER 2049, which is another reason I’m surprised I didn’t like this one more than I did.  Villeneuve directed ARRIVAL (2016) and SICARIO (2015), two movies I liked a lot, and PRISONERS (2013), which was also very good.

There’s no shortage of ambition here.  This is a massive movie, filled with eye-popping special effects and a futuristic landscape that rivals the one created by Ridley Scott in the original.  All the technical stuff is there and works.

The story also has a lot to say.  Hampton Fancher and Michael Green wrote the screenplay, and it covers a lot of ground.  The best part of the Philip K. Dick novel is the exploration of the line between human and replicant, and the idea that a thinking sentient being, albeit an artificially created one, would fight for its own survival and not take kindly to the idea that it had an expiration date.  This has always been my favorite part of the BLADE RUNNER universe, and it’s more applicable today as great strides have been made in the field of artificial intelligence, and I believe that soon this concept will leave the realm of science fiction and become science fact.

And yet the problem I had with the original BLADE RUNNER, I have again here with BLADE RUNNER 2049, and that is the film has no soul.  It’s cold and lifeless, and its story, in spite of the scientific and ethical ramifications, fails to resonate.  Nothing that happens in this movie moved me one iota.

Which is too bad because a lot happens in this movie.  So much that it takes a whopping 2 hours and 43 minutes to tell its story.  That’s a long time to sit through a movie that doesn’t resonate, which is another reason I really did not enjoy BLADE RUNNER 2049.

There were parts I did like.  Its opening scene, for example, where “K” hunts down a replicant, Sapper Morton (Dave Bautista) is a good one.  The fight sequence between the two is a rough and violent as they get.

Nearly all the scenes between “K” and his holographic girlfriend Joi (Ana de Armas) are not only watchable but for me were flat-out the best scenes in the movie, but their storyline is secondary to the main one in the film.  The scene in particular where technology enables Joi to enter the body of a prostitute Mariette (Mackenzie Davis) so she can physically love “K” is probably the best scene in the film

And the first encounter between “K” and Rick Deckard is memorable, but it’s an hour and 40 minutes into the movie before this meeting takes place.

So, for me, pacing was certainly an issue, but the larger problem was that the story never grabbed me, the characters never won me over, and so I sat there for nearly three hours being visually stimulated but that was about it.  The story and characters fell flat for me and pretty much bored me to tears.

I like Ryan Gosling a lot, and he’s certainly good here, but “K” is just such dull boring character I just never found myself all that excited about him.

In a strange way, I actually enjoyed Harrison Ford more in this movie than in the original BLADE RUNNER.  It’s too bad he doesn’t show up until 1 hour and 40 minutes into the film.  He’s got some good lines, though, and his character is integral to the main plot and main mystery of this one.

But hands down the two best performances in BLADE RUNNER 2049 belong to two of the women actresses in the film.

First, there’s Ana de Armas as Joi, who happened to be my favorite character in the movie.  Joi is a holographic creation, and yet through de Armas’ performance, she’s more lifelike and possesses more genuine emotion than any other character in the movie.  She previously starred in WAR DOGS (2016) and HANDS OF STONE (2016),  a film about boxer Roberto Duran that was panned by critics but was one of my favorite movies that year.  Ana de Armas was excellent in HANDS OF STONE, and she’s better here in BLADE RUNNER 2049.

Then there’s Sylvia Hoeks as Luv.  She’s the most effective villain in the movie.  It’s a dominating performance, one that I enjoyed more than Jared Leto’s.  He plays the main baddie in the film, Niander Wallace, and he just doesn’t resonate.  While I enjoyed Hoeks’s scenes, Leto’s scenes sadly put me to sleep.

Robin Wright has a couple of compelling moments as the stone cold police Lieutenant Joshi, and there are some other veteran actors on hand who add to the mix as well. There’s Barkhad Abdi, the Oscar-nominated actor for CAPTAIN PHILLIPS (2013) who we just saw in GOOD TIME (2017), and there’s Lennie James, who plays Morgan on TV’s THE WALKING DEAD.

And both Edward James Olmos and Sean Young reprise their roles from the original BLADE RUNNER, but their presence is reduced to nothing more than brief cameos.

BLADE RUNNER 2049 is ambitious, cinematic, and loud, but it’s also cold, lifeless, and terribly long and dull, which is a shame because its main premise, the examination of the line between replicants and humans, and its exploration of the idea that artificially created replicants are so close to life that it’s nearly impossible to tell the difference between them and humans, which ultimately leads to the discussion of just what it is that constitutes life, is a thought-provoking idea that is worthy of an epic movie.

Unfortunately, BLADE RUNNER 2049 isn’t that movie.

And that’s because while technologically it scores points on all fronts, emotionally, it’s as barren as its futuristic landscape, filled with eye-popping visuals and ear-shattering noises, but without any life whatsoever.

The replicants deserve better.

—END—

 

Travel through time with TIME FRAME, my Debut Science Fiction Novel

0

time frame cover

If you like time travel stories and exciting science fiction adventures, you might enjoy my novel TIME FRAME.

It’s my debut science fiction novel and it’s still available both as an EBook from NeconEbooks at http://www.neconebooks.com., and as a print paperback edition at https://www.createspace.com/5487293, or at Amazon.com.

I wrote TIME FRAME with the spirit of time travel movies and TV shows in mind, films like THE TIME MACHINE (1960), TIME AFTER TIME (1979), and any number of STAR TREK episodes.  If you enjoy time travel adventures, chance are you’ll enjoy TIME FRAME.

Writing TIME FRAME was a challenge because it’s a story with multiple timelines and I had to make sure that by the story’s end that they all made sense.  I think they do.  I also wanted to take things as far as possible, to write a story where I took those traditional time travel tropes and blew them out of the water.  Not sure if I succeeded, but the story does include a large explosion on the high seas.

I also didn’t want my science fiction tale to be cold and stoic.  I wanted heated and emotional, which is why I wrote as my main characters a close family, with the thought in mind:  how far would you go to protect your family?  Would you break the rules of time travel to save your loved ones?

This one also started with a single idea. I had recently lost my own grandfather, who I was very close to, and I couldn’t get the thought out of my head that I just wanted to see him one more time.  And so I came up with the single scene of a young man opening his front door and finding his grandfather standing there looking perfectly normal, which the man knew had to be impossible because his grandfather was dead.  This scene was the genesis for TIME FRAME, and I built the story around that, as I thought about possible scenarios that could make this scene true.  What could account for a man who had been dead for several years returning to his loved ones looking happy and healthy again?  The answer became the novel TIME FRAME.

TIME FRAME remains available as an Ebook and can be ordered for $2.99 at www.neconebooks.com.

You can also order a print paperback edition for $14.99 at https://www.createspace.com/5487293, or at Amazon.com, or you can order it directly through me by sending me an email at mjarruda33@gmail.com.

Thanks for reading!

—Michael

 

 

 

Print Edition of My Novel TIME FRAME Now Available!

0

time frame coverTIME FRAME – My Debut Novel Now Available!

By

Michael Arruda

It’s time for some happy news.

My debut novel, TIME FRAME, previously only available as an EBook from Necon Ebooks at www.neconebooks.com, is now available as a print on demand paperback edition.

There are several ways you can get a print edition of TIME FRAME.  You can order it at https://www.createspace.com/5487293, you can order it at Amazon.com, or you can order it directly through me.  Just send me an email at mjarruda33@gmail.com with your request and we’ll take it from there.  The print edition is on sale for $14.99.

The Ebook remains available for $2.99 and can be ordered at www.neconebooks.com.

TIME FRAME is a story about time travel.  I love time travel stories, and I set out to write one that played with multiple timelines and had some fun taking traditional time travel tropes to the extreme.

I wrote TIME FRAME with the spirit of time travel movies and TV shows in mind, films like THE TIME MACHINE (1960), TIME AFTER TIME (1979), and any number of STAR TREK episodes.  If you enjoy time travel adventures, chance are you’ll enjoy TIME FRAME.  I hope you decide to check it out.

Thanks for reading!

—Michael

SNEAK PREVIEW: TIME FRAME By Michael Arruda – Chapter 5

0

My science fiction novel TIME FRAME is now available as an EBook from NECON EBooks at time frame coverhttp://www.neconebooks.com. Previously on this blog I featured Chapters 1-4 of the novel.  Today the sneak preview continues with Chapter 5.

This could very well be the final sneak preview.

And remember, if you like what you read, please spread the word and feel free to post reviews on Amazon as well.

Hope you enjoy it.

Thanks for reading! —Michael

 

 

CHAPTER 5

“Kathryn, where’s your mother?”  Papa asked.

The question hit Adam in the face like a brick.  He looked across the living room at his mother, and she looked as mortified as he felt.  He wanted to ask his grandfather, you don’t know?

“Ma?”  Kathryn said.

Papa nodded.  His eyes were expectant, but Adam also saw fear in them, as if he knew what Kathryn was going to say.

“Ma died,” Kathryn whispered.  “Three years after you.”

“Died?”  Papa said, his voice barely audible.  He closed his eyes, squeezing them tightly together. His bottom lip quivered.  His cheeks flushed red, and as he sat there, with his eyes shut tight, he looked like a child blocking out the world.

“Daddy, are you okay?”  Kathryn asked.

He opened his eyes.  They were puffy and swollen.  He sniffled.

“How?”  He asked.

“Just old age,” Kathryn said.  “She went peacefully, in her sleep.”

“Good,” Papa muttered.  He sighed.  “I really wanted to see your mother.”

“I’m sorry,” Kathryn said.

Adam thought about his grandfather’s words and wondered, “Why didn’t you?”

“If you don’t mind my asking,” Adam said.  “Why didn’t you pick a date when Nana was still alive?  Why come back when she’s— how come you didn’t know?”

“I don’t mind your asking,” Papa said.  “I didn’t pick an exact date because I couldn’t.  The machine I used worked with decades.  I couldn’t pick one date.  I couldn’t even pick an exact year.  I had to pick a decade.  I chose the first decade after I died because I didn’t want to come back while I was still alive.  You’re not supposed to do that.  I don’t really understand the reasons why, but supposedly you’re not supposed to travel to a time in which you exist already because with two of the same people in the same time frame, I think that’s what they called it, a time frame, it would have a dangerous effect.  You’d both be sick, and they say, you’d both die.  I didn’t want that.”

“What kind of a time machine doesn’t let you pick an exact date to travel to?”  Adam asked.  It was a rhetorical question.

“A cheap one,” Papa answered.  “It was the only model I could afford.  Yes, even five hundred years from now, everything still comes down to money.”

“I w-want to go for a ride in one,” Sandy slurred.

“No can do,” Papa said.  “The machine doesn’t exist anymore.  It disintegrated.”

“Did you have an accident?”  Kathryn asked.

“No.  The cheap model also happened to be the one way model,” Papa said.

“What’s the one way model?”  Adam asked.

“It only goes one way, then disintegrates.  It’s like a paper plate.  Use it once, throw it away,” Papa said.

“What’s the point of that?”  Adam asked.  It didn’t seem to make much sense to him.

“It’s just cheaper,” Papa said.  “Most people don’t use them because you can’t get back.  I didn’t want to go back.”

“But why even make them?”  Adam asked.  “If you can’t get back, what’s the point?”

Papa shrugged.  “Why make a Slinky?  Because it’s cheap and someone will buy it.”

“Sounds like they’d be illegal,” Adam said.

“In some places they are,” Papa said.

“So, you’re stuck here, then?”  Kathryn asked.

“I wouldn’t put it that way.  I want to be here.  But no, I won’t be hopping back into my time machine to revisit history, or to see your mother.  I can’t do that.  I’m here to stay.”

—END Chapter 5—

And that also ends today’s sneak preview of my novel TIME FRAME ( available from NECON EBooks at time frame coverhttp://www.neconebooks.com.)

Once again, thanks so much for reading!

-Michael

 

 

 

TIME FRAME – Sneak Preview: Chapter 4

0

time frame coverMy science fiction novel TIME FRAME is now available as an EBook from NECON EBooks at http://www.neconebooks.com.

Previously on this blog I featured Chapters 1-3 of the novel.  Today the sneak preview continues with Chapter 4.

Hope you enjoy it.

Thanks for reading!

—Michael

 

CHAPTER 4

The bald-headed bartender, with a white towel slung over his shoulder, turned from the cash register by the whiskey bottles and approached the two strangers sitting at his bar.

“Would you like another?”  He asked.

The two strangers each had been nursing their drinks for the past half hour.  The one who did most of the talking was a heavy set stocky fellow with dark curly hair and a chubby face that looked friendly.  He had a soft somewhat high voice and nodded a lot when he spoke.  He sipped a Guinness.

His friend was the one who made Duncan uneasy.  A big man, close to 6’ 6”, an imposing figure who looked incredibly fit and strong for someone who appeared to be past his prime, perhaps in his early 40s, as his hair sported spots of gray and his face weathered lines.  It was his face that disturbed Duncan the most, and more specifically, his eyes.

The eyes were cold, a killer’s eyes.  Duncan knew the type because he’d worked at the prison once, a long time ago, and he’d seen his share of murderers.  Not all of them had this particular look, but the ones that did, he’d always kept clear of.  It was the look of a predator, a wolf, eyes that spoke out loud, that said no one they encountered could best them.  I’m the top of the food chain.  The tall man sitting at his bar had these eyes.

The man made Duncan uncomfortable, and Duncan was not spooked easily.  After all, he was the champion arm wrestler of Kilgarvan, and at six foot one inch, he was an imposing figure himself who not only owned Duncan’s Pub and tended bar but also served as resident bouncer.  Still, it was one thing to throw out a drunken lug from your establishment, and quite another to tangle with a killer.  After all, Duncan used his muscles to prevent bloodshed, not inflict it.

The man sipped his whiskey, straight, no ice.  He licked his lips, all the while keeping his eyes on Duncan.  He didn’t blink.

“No, thank you.  We’ll keep to these,” the man said.  His voice was emotionless, yet penetrating, like a gun with a silencer.

Duncan swallowed.  “Just let me know if I can get you anything.”

“Certainly.  Thank you so much,” the chubby man smiled. “You’re very thoughtful.”

“And you two are the oddest couple I’ve ever seen,” Duncan thought.

He turned away from the two men, and his eyes fell upon the welcome sight of O’Leary, one of his regulars, the regular in his opinion.  Duncan’s Pub had been open for 11 years, and Duncan remembered clearly opening for business that first day and within the first five minutes of unlocking the front door, seeing O’Leary saunter in with a big smile and saying, “Pour me a stout, why don’t ya?”  That’s how it had begun, and now 11 years later, that’s how it continued.

“Pour me a stout, why don’t ya?” O’Leary said.  He looked over at the two strangers sitting at the bar to his right.

Duncan opened the tap and poured a frothy dark one into a tall mug.  He slapped it in front O’Leary.

“Ah, I thank you,” O’Leary said, lifting the mug to his lips and drawing in a long sip of the hearty brew.

“No. Thank you,” Duncan said.

“Me?  What for?  You’re the one who’s working,” O’Leary said.

“You keep me sane.  It’s good to see you every day,” Duncan said.  His eyes roved back towards the two strangers, and O’Leary followed them.

O’Leary nodded.  “I know what you mean.”

Duncan was able to have this conversation with O’Leary, in such close proximity to the two strangers, because as usual on a weekday afternoon after work, Duncan’s Pub was packed, packed and loud.

Funny about noise, Duncan thought.  It starts off low, then grows louder as the next guy raises his voice so his friend can hear, and then the next guy does the same, and so on and so on.  You’d think it would reach the point where it would burst the eardrums, but it doesn’t.  Day after day the same thing happens.  Suddenly, it gets quiet, all by itself, and inevitably someone makes a loud off color joke, breaking the silence, allowing the cycle to begin again.

It was loud now, and though the two strangers sat close to O’Leary, separated only by Tim and Tina, two other regulars who Duncan didn’t know as well as O’Leary since they only came in once a month or so, it was easy to hold a conversation without worry that they’d be heard.

Duncan didn’t know how old O’Leary was.  He had looked to be in his 60s on that day 11 years ago when he had first come into the pub, and he still looked like he was in his 60s now.  He was thin but had a round frame, and Duncan imagined he must have been a chubby young man.  He had very fine hair and very coarse skin, no doubt from his career as a fisherman.  He was retired now.  His face could be harsh with all its weathered lines, but as soon as he smiled, all the harshness disappeared and he became as warm as everyone’s favorite grandfather.

Duncan didn’t know if 11 years ago O’Leary simply looked older than he was, or if nowadays he simply looked great for his age.  Duncan just hoped the man remained healthy and kept coming in.  Sickness in old age came on fast.  He had seen it with his dad, and now with his mother.  They go on and on in apparent good health claiming they’re going to live to 90, but when sickness comes to a 70 year-old, serious sickness, the body just doesn’t recover.  Duncan didn’t want to see O’Leary sick.

“Just how old are you, O’Leary?”  Duncan asked.

O’Leary sipped his stout and placed the mug on the bar.  “Old enough to drink as many of these as I want.”

“You watching your health?”  Duncan asked.

“Take my medicine every day,” O’Leary said, raising his glass.

Duncan laughed.  He happened to notice the clock on the wall opposite the bar.

“You’re here early today,” Duncan said.  “What’s the occasion?”

“The wife’s out shopping,” O’Leary said.

“You rascal,” Duncan said.

He noticed the two strangers looking around the bar, as if they were looking for someone.  He told himself to leave well enough alone, to attend to the customers at the other end of the bar, but the man with the cold eyes suddenly looked perplexed.  The expression caught Duncan’s curiosity.  Still, he wanted nothing more to do with these two men, at least not until he had finished with the customers at the other end of the bar.  Duncan was about to turn to those customers when he realized the man had caught him staring.

“Oops,” Duncan thought, and he grinned.  How to get out of this one? He decided to simply do his job, and that would take care of it.  He stepped towards the two strangers.

“You look like your wheels are turning,” Duncan said.  “Something on your mind I can help you with?”

“No one’s smoking.  A pub without cigarette smoke.  Why is that?”  The tall stranger asked.

“Welcome to the 21st century,” said Tim, who sat just to the men’s left.

The stranger turned towards Tim and glared at him with wide opened eyes.        “It’s a new law,” Duncan said.  “No more smoking in the workplace, which includes the 10,000 pubs here in Ireland.  If you want to smoke, you’ll have to go outside.”

“Ireland, the world’s healthiest place to live,” O’Leary said, lifting his beer mug.  “Damned health minister!” Tim said.

The tall man turned to his chubby friend.  “Why didn’t you know about this?”

The chubby man shrugged.  “I don’t know.  I didn’t see anything in the literature about it.”

“Don’t come down on your buddy too hard,” Duncan said.  “It’s a brand new law. I’m sure it’s not in any of the travel guides yet.  I hope you weren’t looking forward to that smoke too badly.  You gentlemen on vacation?”

“No.  Business,” said the tall man.

“I see.  What do you do?”  Duncan asked.

The man made direct eye contact with Duncan but didn’t offer an answer, at least not by speaking.  His eyes, they did the talking, and Duncan knew what they were saying, “Stop asking me questions.”

“We’re in the travel business,” said the chubby man.  “That’s why we’re a bit put out that we didn’t know about the ‘no smoking’ law.  It’s our job to know these things.”

“Travel business,” Duncan repeated.  “Are you going to write up a report on my pub?  Should I be on my best behavior?”

The chubby man chuckled.  “No, it’s not like that.  We’re more interested in the people doing the traveling than the places they travel to.  We’re sort of like the People’s Choice awards.  We don’t rate the places we visit ourselves, but we talk to the real life travelers and see what they have to say.  Do you get many travelers here, or do you serve mostly locals?”

“Locals, for sure.  Very few travelers,” Duncan answered.  “On any given month you’d be the only ones, but it must be the week for visitors.”

“You’ve had some tourists in this week?” the chubby man asked.

“One.  A man.  Pretty sure he’s an American. He talks like an American.”

“He sounds like the kind of man we’d like to talk to,” the chubby man said.

“Really?  Too bad, because you’d learn much more if you talked to one of the regulars,” Duncan said.

The chubby man smiled.  “Don’t worry.  We don’t publish negative reviews.  That’s not what we’re about.  We’re interested only in people’s experiences in foreign lands.  We’re not critics.  We’re about human interest stories.  It’s too bad we missed this guy.”

“He’s been in more than once.  Maybe he’ll come in again today,” Duncan said.  He looked at his watch.  “Around this time, too.  Maybe you’ll get lucky.”

“Maybe,” the chubby man said.

Duncan noticed the chubby man’s beer mug was nearly empty.

“Are you sure I can’t get you another?  Duncan asked.

“You know, I think I will have another, thank you very much.”

“Another Guinness?”  Duncan asked, just to make sure.

“Yes.”

Duncan looked at the tall man, still nursing his whiskey.  The tall man shook his head.

“No thank you,” the man said.

Duncan moved to the tap.  “You are one creepy looking guy,” he thought.  “The sooner you’re out of here, the better!”

As he poured the beer, he thought about what the chubby man had just said, and he didn’t buy it.  Travel business.  He didn’t think so.  They didn’t look the part.  At least the tall guy didn’t.  He had killer written all over him.  Maybe to other people he didn’t look so obvious, but it was Duncan’s job to know people inside and out, and the vibes he got from this guy weren’t good.  Whether he was some sort of international agent, CIA perhaps, or hired gun or even terrorist, it didn’t matter.  Duncan wanted him out of his bar.

“Your kind is the last thing we need,” Duncan thought.  “Ireland has enough of its own problems.  We don’t need violence from the outside.”

Duncan filled the mug with a fresh Guinness.  He turned and gave the chubby man his drink.

The front door opened, and Duncan saw the American visitor.  His gut told him to keep his mouth shut, but the chubby guy had said the American was the type of person they wanted to talk to, as part of their travel business.  Maybe he’d call their bluff and see what happened.

“You gentlemen are in luck,” Duncan said.  “Our American tourist just came in for his afternoon brew.”

The two men looked over their shoulders.

The tall American, about 6’2”, and lanky, had the slim yet fit look of a runner.  He wore dark clothing, blue jeans and a dark blue sweatshirt with a hood which bunched up behind his neck.  His white running shoes helped him bounce when he walked.  His hair was jet black, wavy, and it possessed a gel shine.  He had handsome blue eyes that put people at ease.  He appeared a friendly chap.

He approached his usual table, a small circular job meant for two.  Though the pub was packed, the small table was still available.  Most of the patrons of Duncan’s Pub preferred to either stand or hang out by the bar.

Duncan and the two strangers weren’t the only ones who noticed the American come through the door.

Brenda, Duncan’s best waitress, was already moving his way.  He had just sat down, when she leaned her attractive body against him so that her hips touched his shoulder.   She made it a point to touch all the male customers.  Duncan let her do it because it was good for business.  She had a way of doing it without coming across trashy.  She came off like a kid sister who hadn’t seen her “brothers” in months.  The men loved it, and they loved her.  They rewarded her by giving her the best tips in the house.  Duncan didn’t mind because they also stayed longer and bought more beer.

She and the American struck up a conversation, and Duncan knew Brenda would soon be approaching the bar with the man’s order, a mug of frothy ale.

“Does he always come in alone?” the tall man asked.

“Yeah,” Duncan answered.  “Always picks the same table, right there, gets himself a beer and some dinner, and has a good time.”

“You’ve never seen him with anyone else?”  The tall man asked.

“No,” Duncan said.  “Why do you ask?”

Again, the man answered with his eyes, and they were none too happy.

“We ask different questions of solo travelers compared to couples or groups,” the chubby man said.  “Just doing our homework before we go over there and talk to him.”

“I see,” Duncan said.

The tall man reached into his pocket and tossed some money onto the bar.

“Thank you for the drinks,” he said.  He stood from his seat, and his chubby friend followed.  Together they approached the American.

Duncan took the money, nodded in approval at the size of the tip, and turned to deposit the cash in the cash register.

“Is it a full moon tonight, you think?” O’Leary asked.

“Why do you ask?”  Duncan said, looking over his shoulder.

“Those two.”

“You noticed?”

Duncan closed the cash drawer and approached his friend.

“Noticed?  I felt it!”

“The only thing you feel is a hangover in the morning!” Brenda said, coming up behind O’Leary and planting a friendly kiss on the back of his ear.

O’Leary smiled upon seeing Brenda.  “I can still feel more than that, just ask my wife!  Or perhaps you’d like a demonstration?”

“I have asked your wife, and I don’t have the two hours it’ll take to get you started!”  Brenda shot back, bringing howls from the patrons on both sides of O’Leary.  “Our American friend will have his usual,” she said to Duncan.

“Thank you, Brenda,” Duncan said.  He looked into the crowd to see the two strangers approaching the American’s table.

“Travel business,” Duncan muttered, shaking his head.  His stomach suddenly felt sour.

O’Leary made another off color joke causing more hearty laughter from the crowd around the bar.  Duncan smiled and poured the ale for the American.

“Good old O’Leary,” Duncan thought.  “How can anything bad happen with him around?”

 

And that ends Chapter 4.  Once again, thanks for reading!

—Michael

TIME FRAME by Michael Arruda – Sneak Preview- Chapter 3

0

time frame coverMy science fiction novel TIME FRAME is now available as an EBook from NECON EBooks at http://www.neconebooks.com.

On January 21 I featured  Chapter 1 of the novel here on this blog, and on February 13 I unleashed Chapter 2.  Today the sneak preview continues with Chapter 3.  Hope you enjoy it.

Thanks for reading!

—Michael

CHAPTER 3

“How is it possible?” Kathryn asked.

“It’s not,” Sandy said.

“If you don’t mind, could I — hug you?” Papa asked his daughter.

Kathryn paused to consider the request, and then she nodded and stepped towards the man who looked exactly like her deceased father.

Papa opened his arms, and gently, very gently, Kathryn allowed herself to enter the man’s grasp. Papa closed his arms around her back, drawing her close, and Adam watched as the man’s face burst into tears.

“Excuse me,” Sandy said loudly, “but am I the only one here who remembers that this man friggin died seven years ago!”

Kathryn gently broke away from her father.

“No, you’re not the only one,” Kathryn said, sobbing.

Adam grabbed a tissue from the dispenser on the end table by the couch and handed it to his mother. Kathryn thanked her son and used the tissue to wipe her eyes and nose.

“He has an explanation,” Adam said.

Papa looked directly at Kathryn. “I am your father, Kathryn, and I am your grandfather, Adam, but — I’m also not him.”

“Damn it, old man, make some sense!” Sandy said.

“I’m not trying to speak in riddles,” Papa said. “Let me tell you the whole story. Then, you’ll understand.”

When they had settled into the comfortable seats in the living room, Papa began.

“We have to go back some years, to when I used to work for the gas company, to get to the beginning of how this happened. They were always shoving different forms in front of our faces. From ‘do you want to give to this charity’ to ‘do you want to be an organ donor?” That sort of thing. I remember distinctly this one time, there was a form from a private research company. They wanted permission to take blood samples from us. I remember it because it was the only time anyone ever asked us for blood, other than the blood bank, of course. I didn’t know what they wanted it for, but I believed in the principle of helping scientists, so a few of my buddies and me filled out the forms and gave these people some of our blood. Years went by, and we never saw or heard from these people again, and I never thought about them again. I went on with my uneventful life, and as you know, eventually had that stroke, and nothing was ever the same again.”

“You got that right,” Adam thought.

The stroke had knocked his grandfather out of the real world. His heart had taken such a hit his doctors had pretty much told him his career at the gas company was over.

He had to quit smoking, which to his credit, he did, cold turkey, and he had to be on medication for the rest of his life. He wasn’t allowed to exert himself in any way, which meant little or no exercise, activity, or travel. What he could do was eat and sleep and sit and watch television all day. In short, he was through being a whole person. He was only 62.

Still, it could have been much worse. He didn’t lose any of his mental faculties. He remained sharp and alert until the end. Of course, the end was a long time coming. Because of the advances of modern medicine, Papa lived on for 18 years this way.

The way Adam remembered it, the bulk of those years weren’t so bad for Papa, but the last couple had been brutal for the man. In the end, he was doing nothing for himself. Adam’s grandmother Nana could no longer take care of him. Nurses came to the house to bathe him and dress him. He even needed help going to the bathroom and cleaning up afterwards, it was horrible. As many family members remarked at the time, it was no way to live.

Eventually Papa succumbed to pneumonia and died at the age of 80.

In spite of his illness, he had always made Adam feel special, and Adam had always loved to visit him. He missed him dearly after he passed on.

“Do you know that my last memory was seeing your mother,” Papa said, looking directly at Kathryn, “in the hospital room. I was in bed. She stood over me. I told her I loved her, and we kissed each other, and she left for the night.

“Later I felt myself slipping away. It was like hanging onto a ladder and then letting go. I was so content with the knowledge that I was going to die. You can’t imagine the pain I’d been feeling for so long. I couldn’t take it anymore. It was so peaceful, drifting off, thinking of your mother, of all of you, of happy times gone by. No regrets, just peace and contentment that I had been blessed with a wonderful life. And that was it, that was the last thing I remembered, that was the end, until — .

“Until I woke up again in a different time in a different place, five hundred years from now, five hundred years in the future, give or take a few. That research company that had taken my blood all those years ago, they had frozen my DNA. Four hundred years from now another company buys my DNA. Five hundred years from now, they take my DNA, and they bring me back to life.”

Kathryn grimaced. “Why?”

“Simply put, my dear daughter, because they can,” Papa answered. “Science in that day and age has progressed so far, it’s unbelievable. Cloning there is like sex. Everyone does it. Parents sometimes even create their own children from a catalogue, like the way we pick out patterns for a room. DNA research is that advanced. Time travel is possible, which of course, is how I got here.”

“You came here in a time machine?” Sandy asked.

“Yes.”

Sandy burst out laughing.

Adam gently removed the wine glass from his wife’s hand.

“Sorry,” Adam said. “She’s had more than she’s used to.”

“It’s okay,” Papa said. “I know it sounds crazy, but it’s true, and the fact that I’m sitting here in this room with you now is proof that it’s true.”

“Are you a clone?” Kathryn asked.

Papa chewed over the question for a moment before answering. Adam wondered what he was thinking about. “I guess it’s cloning since this isn’t my original body, but it is exactly the same. I can’t tell any difference. Can you? And all my memories are intact, my whole life, from childhood to that last day in the hospital.” He pointed to his head. “It’s all in here. I don’t think of myself as a clone.”

“You’re not wearing your glasses,” Adam observed. “Can you see without them?”

“Yes, they made improvements,” Papa answered. “I’ve got perfect vision, even better than I had when I was a young man.”

“You look better too,” Sandy said with a hiccup. “He looks better.”

“I don’t know what to believe,” Kathryn said. “Daddy, let’s just say for the sake of the argument that everything you said is true, that you were brought back to life five hundred years from now using your frozen DNA. What are you doing here?”

“I missed my family,” Papa answered. “Who do I know five hundred years in the future? Nobody. I was homesick, and I’m not afraid to admit it.”

“Were you brought back to life as an adult or as a child?” Adam asked. “Did you have to relive your childhood all over again?”

“No, I came back as an adult,” Papa answered. “Both ways are possible. The company that resurrected me wanted me as an adult. They wanted me to tell them about my experiences in World War II. They still study history in the future. They’re fanatics about it.”

“Excuse me,” Adam said, “but it’s my understanding that clones don’t come with memories. If I were to be cloned today, my clone wouldn’t be born with my memories.”

Papa nodded. “You’re right, and that’s true of the clones today, but five hundred years from now, it’s quite the different story.”

“You’re asking me to believe that they harvested your memories from just a sample of your blood?” Adam asked. “I find that impossible to believe.”

“Not from my blood,” Papa answered. “From my atoms.”

Adam didn’t understand.

“It goes something like this,” Papa said, “and don’t expect a scientist’s explanation, because as you know, I’m not a scientist. The scientists from five hundred years in our future were able to break down my blood to an atomic level, atom by atom, and supposedly, what they’ve discovered, is at that level, memories are stored, and it’s possible to bring them back. That’s what they told me. All I know is, I have my memories.”

How could Adam argue with a science not yet invented?

“So, the people of the future. They wanted you to teach them about the past?” Adam asked.

“Yes, that was my job, to relay firsthand accounts of the war, and when I wasn’t working they went out of their way to make me feel comfortable and be a part of the culture of the day. Life in the 2500s is pretty good, let me tell you, but I missed my family. You know how much I love my family.”

Kathryn nodded. “Yes, I know.”

“Anyway, I soon learned that time travel was possible, and in my spare time, I read all about it, how it was done, how much it cost, and I started to save up for it, because I asked myself, what am I doing here? The ability to go back to my family, in the past, exists. Why not take it?”

“And that’s allowed?” Adam asked. “I mean, I would think there’d be problems with it. Interfering with history, for example?”

“It’s legal. Up to a point.” Papa didn’t elaborate.

“Up to what point?” Adam asked.

“Do we have to talk about this now?” Papa said.

“Daddy, what did you do?” Kathryn said.

“Well, I — I’m not supposed to make contact with any of you.”

“Ooops!” Sandy giggled.

Thank God for wine, Adam thought. He turned to his grandfather.

“What happens if you do?” Adam asked.

Papa shrugged.

“I don’t know. But listen, I didn’t return to change history,” Papa said. “I returned to see my family. That’s it. In the big scheme of life, I’m just a little man, and we’re just a little family in little old New Bedford, Massachusetts. What’s the worst that could happen?”

 

—-END Chapter 3—-

Okay, that’s Chapter 3.  Again, if you’d like to read the entire novel it’s now available as an EBook from NECON EBooks at http://www.neconebooks.com.

Thanks!

—Michael