Monday, December 20, 2010

1980s Wrap

In the 1980s, 8 out of 10 of the Hugo winning novels were from multi-book space operas. That compares to 1 (arguably 2) out of 11 in the ‘60s; 4 or 5 in the ‘70s; 5 in the ‘90s; 1 in the 00s. In other words, this is the peak of the space opera. Shall we call this "the Star Wars effect"? In the '80s, even as the Cold War flared up again in the early '80s, President Reagan spent more time evoking Luke and Vader than he did nuclear Armageddon. They’re generally pretty good space operas at that, with Hyperion and the Uplift books (and The Snow Queen, for that matter) especially trying to do some different things with unfathomable technologies and aliens to create a fantastic feel.

The Nebula award seemed to go out of its way *not* to give wins to this new wave of space opera classics. They recognized Ender and Startide Rising, and gave an early nod to Bujold, but they also made some odd choices. No Enemy But Time, Falling Woman, and Healer’s War are all of a piece: they’re personal character-driven stories, more fantasy than science fiction, that deal with topical or controversial issues. I’d also say they’re all, to varying degrees, failures that have not aged particularly well.

I always thought of the ‘80s as the era of cyberpunk, but the awards didn’t seem to take much notice. Neuromancer deserved its wide recognition, but other than some glancing references in Hyperion, I didn’t see nearly as much cyberpunk as I expected.

I don’t have a lot of other trends to point to. The awards I’m covering are diverse enough that they’re harder to spot, and there are no clear movements like the New Wave or the ‘70s retrenchment. It was interesting to watch the development of gender in sf over the decade. For several books in a row I noted the lack of strong female characters. It actually started to get ridiculous by ’87 or so. Then, suddenly, there was a wave of sf self-consciously focused on gender, and specifically feminist issues. I don’t know if this is coincidence or the latter is a reaction to the former. Either way, it will be interesting to see where things go moving forward.

Top 5 novels:
Book of the New Sun (kind of cheating, I know – I’d choose Claw of the Conciliator if I had to pick one)

Again, in my opinion, the Hugos do a pretty solid job of capturing the best sf compared to the other awards, though they missed the boat on Gene Wolfe.

Bottom 3 novels:
None are as bad as The Wanderer or the novel that shall be named, but they’re close.

Top 5 movies:
Sorry, sf world, no Blade Runner. It’s up there though.

I actually enjoyed all of the ‘80s films to some extent, so no bottom this time.

I'll probably be back first Monday of the New Year with the beginning of the '90s, unless I find some time after Christmas.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

1990 Clarke and Campbell – THE CHILD GARDEN by Geoff Ryman

In The Child Garden, Ryman brings a welcome quirkiness to the usually bleak genre of the post-apocalyptic dystopia. The novel has a dreamlike quality, and it’s heavy on metaphor. I hate to sound like a literary lightweight, buy I do generally prefer a more narrative-oriented approach; ambiguity can get old for me. But, this novel was effective nonetheless.

In the future, humanity discovers a cure for cancer and spreads it through viruses that prevent the disease among all people. Unfortunately, they later realize that they have shortened everyone’s lives by half or more as an unintended consequence, so that few people live past the age of 35. This is the sort of irony that Ryman builds the entire novel around.

Viruses are the great technology of Ryman’s future world. Viruses have been designed to convey different skills, information, and even opinions, and they propagate through the population, so that babies can be infected with a high school education. At adulthood (10 years), people’s personalities are integrated into a Consensus group mind, which rules their Communist society. Due to the side effects like the above mentioned shortened lifespan, and also apparently due to global warming, most technology has broken down. At the beginning of the novel, London is without electricity and messages are conveyed via runners.

In this world, we meet Milena, a girl who has a resistance to the viruses. She doesn’t have the knowledge or instant-learning skills of the others, but she is better equipped to learn things that are not part of the standard battery of virus-conveyed material. She also better appreciates things that are novel and different. She meets a musically talented, genetically engineered polar bear woman named Rolfa and begins to work on a massive artistic project – a holographic opera based on Dante’s Divine Comedy. Society seems both fearful and hopeful of the new ideas that Milena plans to provide.

The book fails quite spectacularly as a dystopia. To do a humorous dystopia right, I think a writer would have to lean on wry satire, but Ryman prefers sincerity and quirk. In fact, it seems at times that he’s just thrown all of the quirkiness he can think of against the wall to see what sticks – some of it works, but far from all of it. The novel seems to contradict itself at a fundamental level: the horror of this society is that everyone knows and thinks the same things due to the viruses, and we’re often told how conformist this future world is. But, the characters are all so wildly idiosyncratic that we never see that conformity. The dullest character is Milena, even though she is the one resistant to the viruses.

So, as biting social satire, The Child Garden doesn’t cut it. But I still enjoyed it quite a bit. It is fun and, at times, quite beautiful. Ryman is a skilled writer, and there are wonderful, lyrical passages describing childhood , art, love, and death. Ryman repeatedly refers to the work as a comedy, in the dramatic sense, and the transcendent and hope-filled finale was quite poetic as well.

Grade: B+

Friday, December 17, 2010

1990 Hugo for Dramatic Presentation – INDIANA JONES AND THE LAST CRUSADE

I haven’t taken a formal poll or anything, but I’m pretty sure this is the most controversial entry in the Indiana Jones trilogy. As mentioned before, Raiders is almost universally beloved. While I’ve met people who adore The Temple of Doom and consider it their favorite, I think the vast majority of fans and critics agree that the film is thinly plotted and rushed and/or too screaming-Kate-Capshaw-heavy and/or ethnically insensitive. The third film, on the gripping hand, seems to have dedicated fans and detractors.
I’m firmly in the fan category. I can understand the critique that the film goes too far down the road of self-parody, but I think, due to the character’s pulpy roots, the self-parody has already begun early in Raiders, and The Last Crusade nicely continues the tradition without getting too silly. I mean, it’s not like Harrison Ford survives a plane crash with an inflatable raft or a nuclear explosion in a refrigerator. No one swings through trees on a vine while yodeling like Tarzan in this one.

The film begins with a young Indiana Jones (River Phoenix), and we get to see an early adventure and his neglectful, Holy Grail-obsessed father. Then, we flit back to the 1930s, where Harrison Ford’s Indiana learns that his father has gone missing while on the trail of the Grail. Indiana must journey to Italy to follow the same clues, then rescue his father from the Nazis while discovering even more clues. Most of the film is actually a chase full of humor and action. In the end, the Joneses must compete with the Nazis through an excellent set of booby traps in an old Crusader fort (which looks suspiciously like a famous Jordanian archaeological site).

The main reason this film is so great comes down to two words: Sean Connery. Connery plays the older Henry Jones with his usual charm and derring-do, but he also adds a less common academic awkwardness. It probably wouldn’t be much of a stretch for most actors, but Connery had been cool personified for so much of his career that it really is a noticeable shift. I think this is his greatest performance, and that’s saying quite a bit.

This is the third and final Indiana Jones film (don’t let anyone tell you different), and the series ends on a high note.

Grade: A

Sunday, December 12, 2010

1990 Hugo and Locus - HYPERION by Dan Simmons

Of all the wide range of sub-genres that you can fit under the broad rubric of speculative fiction, I have the softest spot for the space opera. I’m not really sure why – too much Star Wars and Star Trek, I guess – and in some ways it’s the most staid and trope-ridden of them all. In the ‘80s, Brin made some innovations with some really alien aliens and some really bizarre technologies, but otherwise, I’m not sure there’s that wide a gap from Lensman and Foundation to Vorkosigan and Star Trek: The Next Generation. In Hyperion, however, Dan Simmons manages to shake the genre up by melding it with literary history to create a unique space opera setting.

The novel takes place in the 28th century. Earth has been destroyed, but colonists have fanned out to other worlds. Farcasters provide almost instantaneous travel between them and have forged a Web of worlds, ruled by the Hegemony. There’s also a hostile group of earlier, breakaway human colonists called Ousters, and then there are a few other worlds that remain rough frontiers outside the Web. One of these planets is the mysterious Hyperion, home to strange alien artifacts like an ancient Labyrinth and the Time Tombs. It is also inhabited by the Shrike, a murderous and god-like being, covered in metal spikes.

The novel unfolds through the stories of a group of pilgrims who go to visit the Shrike and ask him for favors on the eve of a massive war. These stories span genres and styles – the soldier’s story is military sf (told in 3rd person); the priest’s tale begins exploring the challenges of faith in an alien encounter (a bit like Case of Conscience), is told through journal entries, and ends as Lovecraftian horror; the detective’s tale is pure noir cyberpunk, narrated in first person; the scholar’s tale is family melodrama with horror elements (not so far from Song of Kali’s best features, really). Some of the stories are stronger than others, though the only one I didn’t like was the final story, which is a reprint of an older Simmons’ short “Remembering Siri.” I’m not sure I would cast this novel as literary sf, as some do, but it’s certainly literate in ways that many sf books are not. The structure follows the middle English classic, The Canterbury Tales and the title comes from English Romantic poet John Keats, who we see more of throughout the novel.

Each of the stories is exciting and skillfully told, and they each reveal further details about the Web and more mysteries about Hyperion while providing rich character development for the pilgrims. Again, it’s the setting that most captivated me here, and I look forward to reading more novels in the quartet. In fact, my biggest complaint is that there’s not much forward motion in the plot in this entry, and it ends, more or less, on a cliffhanger.

Grade: A

Thursday, December 9, 2010

1989 BSFA - PYRAMIDS by Terry Pratchett

Terry Pratchett’s Discworld novels are satirical fantasy stories set in a flat world balanced on the backs of four elephants standing on a turtle that is floating through space. The first, The Colour of Magic, was published in 1983, and there have been more than 30 published since. They are immensely popular in England (Pratchett was the highest selling English author of the ‘90s) and have a cult following in the US. The brands of humor vary: there is some Xanth-like punning, but there’s also some very dry British humor, wordplay and some satire of bureaucracy, organized religion, etc. – there’s a little something for everyone, and it is quite a bit smarter than Xanth.

As I understand it, there are several different storyarcs focusing on different charactes; Pyramids is actually a standalone novel that focuses on the ancient Egypt-like kingdom of Djelibeybe (pronounced like the British candy “jelly baby” – not Pratchett’s smartest joke). The kingdom has spent so much money on pyramids that its going broke, so the king sends the prince Pteppic to learn a marketable trade. Pteppic heads off to the great, crime-infested city of Ankh-Morpork to go to assassin school, and there’s a long sequence early on that’s highly reminiscent of Harry Potter, where Pteppic adjusts to boarding school while attending poison classes.

When Pteppic’s father dies, the manipulative high priest Dios prevents Pteppic from enacting necessary reforms, and Pteppic ends up commissioning the largest pyramid in history for his father. Unfortunately, a pyramid so large bends space and time in some ways that put Djelibeybe in great danger.
It’s a…complicated plot. It meanders in a lot of different directions. In the end, I was left wondering what the assassins school was all about. There are many more subplots that I haven’t even touched on: the Greek-like Ephebe, a condemned handmaiden, the camel who is also the world’s smartest mathematician, time-looped architects, and a visitation by Djelibeybe’s pantheon of gods.

This is my second Discworld book, and while I can certainly see the appeal, I haven’t quite fallen in love with them myself. Pratchett’s funny, but not nearly as hilarious or inventive as Douglas Adams, in my opinion. And, I’m just not that into wacky novels as an adult; I like a good laugh, but I want more in terms of plot and character than I got here. I would have adored these novels in high school though. I wish I’d spend all that time I’d spent on Xanth books on Discworld instead.

Grade: B

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

The Steampunk Wars

I've been following, and enjoying, this debate for the past six weeks or so.

Charles Stross got the ball rolling with an attack on steampunk in October:

But there's a dark side as well. We know about the real world of the era steampunk is riffing off. And the picture is not good. If the past is another country, you really wouldn't want to emigrate there. Life was mostly unpleasant, brutish, and short; the legal status of women in the UK or US was lower than it is in Iran today: politics was by any modern standard horribly corrupt and dominated by authoritarian psychopaths and inbred hereditary aristocrats: it was a priest-ridden era that had barely climbed out of the age of witch-burning, and bigotry and discrimination were ever popular sports: for most of the population starvation was an ever-present threat. I could continue at length. It's the world that bequeathed us the adjective "Dickensian", that gave us a fully worked example of the evils of a libertarian minarchist state, and that provoked Marx to write his great consolatory fantasy epic, The Communist Manifesto. It's the world that gave birth to the horrors of the Modern, and to the mass movements that built pyramids of skulls to mark the triumph of the will. It was a vile, oppressive, poverty-stricken and debased world and we should shed no tears for its passing (or the passing of that which came next).
I think Stross is maybe a tad harsh and probably misses a few very good counterexamples, but his argument did resonate with a lot of what I thought after reading Boneshaker:

Steampunk really is more of an aesthetic than a subgenre . . . everything is in service to the visuals . . . . Steampunk scenarios so often miss the obvious opportunities to explore the real history in their settings while getting distracted by the scenery.

I also think Stross overstates the differences between the Victorian world and our own, however. There's no question that there are major differences, and that billions of people have greater access to the rights and stuff of the modern world, but I do think we're still living in that modern world that the Victorians made. My favorite counter to Stross (I haven't read them all), is by Jean-Christophe Valtat, and he makes much the same point:

It is very naive to think that we are through with the 19th century: it is, in many respects, a nightmare we haven't quite woken up from. Most of what we experience today - in urban life that is - has its origins in the 19th century. I always find it fascinating to think of a time where the things we are used to, and pretend to be adapted to, were felt for the first time: huge capitalist production and commodification, enormous cities and crowds, speed, networking, mass media, the rise of a visual culture, unprecedented destruction in warfare etc... And what makes it more interesting is that it all fell on dazzled, unprepared brains. The impact of this mode of life on the nervous system and the way that people tried to shield themselves from it (self-mechanization, neuroses, alcool, drugs etc...) were analyzed and debated instead of simply regarded as normal. It could be one of the ambitions to steampunk to go back to the source of the life we live and, by exploring those "first times," try to make our times a bit clearer for ourselves.
Finally, I wanted to post this today after reading the finest summation of the debate yet, by Henry Farrell. Farrell discusses Cosma Shalizi's notion that the Industrial Revolution was a singularity, and points out a couple of excellent steampunk works that Stross missed:

The two books which really brought steampunk to a wider audience – William Gibson and Bruce Sterling’sThe Difference Engine and Neal Stephenson’s The Diamond Age. Both of these are unabashed exercises in sociological speculation, which use nineteenth century forms to explore modern anxieties. Gibson and Sterling’s book is indeed arguably a Singularity novel as well as steampunk – but the singularity is the emergence of an unusually baroque form of the ‘vast, inhuman distributed systems of information-processing, communication and control, “the coldest of all cold monsters.”
Check it out for yourselves.

Anyway, I think the upshot of all of this is that I must read Felix Gilman's Half-Made World, posthaste!

I'm on a posting frenzy this week. There must be grading I'm trying to avoid...

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

1989 Nebula – THE HEALER’S WAR by Elizabeth Ann Scarborough

As I started to write this review, I realized that I had a lot more to say about the Vietnam War and presentations of that conflict than I did about this novel itself. At one point, I had an entire essay composed in my head about Full Metal Jacket vs. Platoon, The Deer Hunter vs. Apocalypse Now, and all-of-the-above vs. Forrest Gump. Then I realized that said essay had almost nothing to do with The Healer’s War. In the end, I think this nicely illustrates my general feelings about the novel: I wanted to like it due to it’s challenging subject matter, but I think the final presentation failed on several fronts: the fantasy aspects are unnecessary and uncomfortable and the final product is far duller than a novel on Vietnam by an actual female veteran has any right to be.

The novel focuses on an Army nurse in Vietnam named Kitty McCulley. During the first half, we follow Kitty around her ward, where she sees the horrible injuries suffered by American troops and Vietnamese civilians and encounters the poverty of the latter and the casual racism and sexism of the former. Scarborough was an Army nurse, and this section is close to memoir. However, Scarborough introduces a fantasy element. One of Kitty’s patients is a Vietnamese village elder with a mystical healing amulet, which falls into Kitty’s hands. With it, she can see people’s auras and focus her healing energies to help (very slightly) the sick and injured. In the second half of the novel, through a series of events that I won’t spoil, Kitty journeys through the Vietnamese countryside with a berserk American soldier and a one-legged Vietnamese boy.

There are interesting observations here, especially in the first half based closely on Scarborough’s own experiences. The attitudes of the various officers, doctors, enlisted men and patients were illuminating, and, I assume, based to a large extent on reality. The fantasy element clashes though. Scarborough seems to have realized this, as she writes a five page afterward called “Why I Don’t Tell It Like It Is, Exactly.” I think the lady doth protest too much. She admits that the amulet was an invention to allow Kitty to move into areas of the country that she herself could not have gone. I’m all for the idea of illuminating historical or contemporary issues with sf metaphors, but I’m much less interested in inventing fantasy elements to fix plotholes. This very simple role for the amulet really cripples the book – it doesn’t have any thematic resonance, nor does it tell us more about the characters or world. It simply pops up occasionally to help Kitty survive in a few situations. As a result, The Healer’s War works neither as a memoir nor as a fantasy – it’s a few intriguing reminiscences buried in a bad Vietnam adventure story.

I think I learned more about the Vietnam War and an author’s experiences therein from The Forever War…a novel with no ostensible connection to the historical war itself.

Grade: C+

Monday, December 6, 2010

1989 Hugo for Dramatic Presentation, 1988 Saturn Fantasy – WHO FRAMED ROGER RABBIT?

I remember how highly this film’s technical achievements were lauded when it first came out. The melding of live action and animation got lots of attention at the time. Now, it looks pretty pedestrian, and I wouldn’t quite call it seamless. The saving grace is that the filmmakers (once again, a Spielberg-backed Zemeckis directs) didn’t pass on story and simply rely on special effects. The film is actually a moderately successful neo-film noir.

Another latter-day film noir, Chinatown, is considered by many to have the best-written screenplay in movie history. Who Framed Roger Rabbit? borrows liberally from it. A troubled detective in 1930s Los Angeles investigates a seemingly simple adultery case and uncovers a massive conspiracy to reshape the developing city itself. The twist here is that, in this world, the stars of the popular cartoons of the era are real, and humans can interact with them. The detective in question, Eddie Valiant (Bob Hoskins) has descended into alcoholism after the crushing death of his brother at the hands of a violent cartoon. He hates cartoons, but he takes a job concerning the wacky Roger Rabbit out of financial need. Roger’s wife Jessica plays a risqué game of pattycake with the head of the Acme corporation, who ends up dead the next day. Roger is the obvious suspect, and the dreaded Judge Doom (Christopher Lloyd) is ready to erase him from existence. Roger takes refuge with Eddie, who must now clear the silly cartoon’s name by delving deeper into the Toon community.

As I suggested before, the effects have not aged well into the era of digital effects. And, I can’t help but feel like the movie could be a lot funnier. Roger Rabbit is just downright annoying and cameos by the likes of Daffy and Donald Duck provide most of the cartoon laughs. Still, the plot and script are pretty effective, even if they are knock-offs of a much better film (Chinatown is about as good as it gets – if you haven’t seen it, rent that first), and I actually liked the juxtaposition of some fairly dark material, and lots of sexual innuendo, with silly cartoons. There are even a few musings about the legal and social status of cartoons that make this halfway interesting as speculative fiction. It's worth a look, even if it probably won for the wrong reasons.

Grade: B+

1989 Hugo and Locus - CYTEEN by C. J. Cherryh

Cyteen takes place in Cherryh’s expansive Alliance-Union universe, the same universe that was home to the 1982 winner, Downbelow Station. It focuses on Cyteen, an important Union planet and the home of radical genetic and psychological engineering. As I said with the earlier Alliance-Union novel, I have a lot of respect for Cherryh, but again, I was disappointed.
Cyteen is the longest winner I’ve covered so far (my edition was 680 dense pages), and it took me, by far, the longest to read. Frankly, this was a trudge.

Cyteen focuses on Ariane Emory, a supergenius “Special” who had steered Cyteen society through political and scientific challenges for almost a century at the novel's beginning (circa 2400 AD). Cyteen consists mostly of clones divided into two castes – CITs are citizens while the azi are closer to proprietary people, almost slaves. Both groups learn through an artificial programming method called “tape,” though the azi are much more heavily programmed and therefore have a hard time with free will. The elderly Ari (though not that outwardly elderly due to rejuvenation treatments) has overseen this system’s development, and she has grand plans for keeping her society stable. These plans happen to involve molesting the teenage son of one of her chief rivals, Jordan Warwick. Shortly thereafter, Ari is killed. The rest of the novel follows the attempts of Ari’s allies to raise her clone and to guide her development so that she is just as brilliant and ruthless. So, it’s sort of a twisted bildungsroman.

It’s also fascinating world, and the characters are very rich and complicated. The themes are certainly intriguing as well, as the book uses the technology of cloning to examine the concept of free will. Will Ariane II end up as cold and ruthless as the original? How immoral is it to control the pre-programmed azi? These are fascinating questions, though Cherryh doesn’t offer much in the way of answers. There are also some big problems here. First, there’s a lot of dense exposition, and Cherryh throws way too many concepts and characters at the reader in the first chapter. I also had this problem with Downbelow Station, but I did manage to catch up with the myriad characters and factions more quickly here. Nonetheless, I think it would have helped to have more familiarity with the Alliance-Union universe. The Chanur stories come up a few times, and another novel, 40,000 in Gehenna, is quite heavily referenced and becomes a central plot point.

Speaking of plot, there isn’t much of one. Characters have a lot of tense, manipulative conversations, and that’s about it. There are two or three major turning points, and a quick action sequence in the final chapter (which, ironically considering the novel’s length and general interminability, feels rushed), but most of the time, people are talking - usually about the same couple of political issues (azi and foreign relations). The novel is short on plot and long on words. Things are just getting moving when the book finally ends; a year or two ago, Cherryh actually published a sequel, Regenesis, that sounds more interesting, though I think I’ll skip it. As I said, it’s a richly developed world, but perhaps Cherryh is too wrapped up in it. She seems to think that every word her characters speak to each other is important. Instead, most of their discussions are redundant and concerned with cultural subtleties and minutiae. And the prose is dry as a bone. There’s a lot to like here, and at three-hundred pages this could have been a dense, thematically rich and relevant thriller. Instead, it’s mostly bloat.

Grade: C+

Sunday, December 5, 2010

On Grading

The end of the semester approaches, and I find myself buried in papers and (soon) final exams. I say this not as an excuse for a coming slowdown in posting (I actually think I'll finish the '80s before Christmas), but to explain a new policy here: I've got grades on the brain, and I'm going to start assigning letter grades to the works I review.

I originally decided not to include any sort of rating because I considered these posts to be more off-the-cuff responses or brief musing than formal reviews. I still think that's the case, but, considering that a lot of my day job consists of assigning arbitrary-seeming ratings to other people's hard work, it comes pretty naturally to me now. And, I think it will resolve two minor issues going forward: 1) as the number of works I review builds and builds, it will help to encapsulate and record my initial responses to everything for my own future reference. 2) It might clear up my views of works. I do think I have a tendency to write negative-sounding reviews of works that I thoroughly enjoyed because I want to focus on a minor, but interesting, flaw, or because I expected more.

So, future reviews will conclude with a letter grade, and I'm going to go back and edit in grades for previous reviews.

The scale is:
A = excellent, a classic
B = good, interesting but somehow flawed
C = average, a mixed bag
D = poor work with a few redeeming qualities
F = an absolute failure, all around

I expect that grades lower than a B- will be rare among these award winners. Let me know if you hate what I'm doing (or how I'm doing it).

Thursday, December 2, 2010

1988 Saturn – ALIEN NATION

District 9 received a lot of praise for the originality and social relevance of its premise. A few people noted, however, that the film Alien Nation had already used the concept of a small number of enslaved alien refugees facing racism from humans. I complained a bit that District 9 didn’t actually live up to its humanist metaphor because of action and horror tropes. Alien Nation, unfortunately, fares even worse, as the premise is largely ignored in favor of presenting an ‘80s buddy cop movie.

Buddy cop films seemed to dominate the 1980s. They’re extremely formulaic. You start with too miss-matched guys who are partnered up: tough guy/smart guy, about-to-retire guy/suicidal young guy, black cop/white cop, American cop/Asian cop, human cop/dog cop, Whoopi Goldberg cop/dinosaur cop, etc. Then, you put them against powerful gangsters who are about to introduce a new superdrug to the streets. Their boss yells at them for their unorthodox methods, and they get taken off the case, but they solve it anyway in a bloody action sequence. Sometimes it’s really dumb; sometimes it’s quite fun. Alien Nation, despite the unusual set-up, follows the formula so closely that you can forget you’re watching a science fiction film at times.

Matthew Sykes (James Caan) loses his best friend to a criminal Newcomer, one of the alien refugees that have recently settled among the general human population. He wants to find the killer Newcomer and decides that he should take on another Newcomer, recently promoted to detective due to alien affirmative action, as his partner to get on the case. At first he hates his new partner, Sam Francisco (Mandy Patankin, at the height of his career), but they grow closer as the case goes on. They discover, of course, that a whole series of Newcomer slaying are related to…wait for it….a powerful new superdrug that they must stop!

It’s a perfectly fun film, and Caan and Patankin are great actors who build some pretty decent chemistry. It seems a shame to waste such a good concept though. The film never delves into the social issues sitting just beneath the surface. I was hoping for In the Heat of the Night with aliens, but instead I got Lethal Weapon with aliens. And I'm getting too old for that shit.

Grade: B