Escape Velocity

A curated Collection of Fantasy and Science Fiction Media

Welcome to the Escape Velocity Collection!

We are an opinionated group of friends reviewing all sorts of fantasy and science fiction media. Don’t forget to get to know the curators and visit our curated Collection, where we discuss the stories that never cease to transport us to another world.

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When the King of Dreams returns to his realm after decades of imprisonment in the human world, he finds that his realm has crumbled and his power has diminished. Soon he must return to the waking world to recover his possessions and restore his power over his subjects.

This review relates to season 1

I have read all of the Sandman comics some years back and I loved them enough that I might even want to add them to our Collection at some point. However, one of the drawbacks of the comics is that they are not very accessible: with thirteen volumes, buying all of them will cost over a hundred euros, and so not many people that I know have read them. Therefore I was excited to hear that Netflix was working on an adaption, as it might bring the story to a bigger audience.

However, as with any adaptation I was also a little worried: the Sandman is a pretty complex story, and I expected it would be hard to do it justice when translating it to the screen.

When I watched the first episode, at first I did feel a little disappointed. The dialogue seemed overly dramatic, and somehow it gave me the feeling of a bad Doctor Who episode (and not because Jenna Coleman was in it). I felt I just could not take it very seriously. However, as we got further into the show this feeling passed, and I started to recognise some of the elements that made me enjoy the comics so much. Just like the comic books, it does not try to overexplain things: it trusts the viewer to accept that they will not understand everything at once. Instead it is happy to just throw around some puzzle pieces and to leave them lying around for a while. I think this is one of the greatest strengths of the story, because by the time everything comes together you will feel like you have traveled a long journey.

Overall, I think the show does a very good job. The casting is great, and the creators have managed to set a tone that feels true to the comics. The next seasons will feature some of my favourite stories, so I am looking forward to that!

This review relates to season 1

I knew Robin was super stoked about this show so I watched it immediately as it came out. I haven’t read the comic but I am a fan of Neil Gaiman’s work, so let’s say I wasn’t worried about whether I was going to like The Sandman.

On the whole, I really enjoyed it. I kind of wish we’d spent a bit more time in the Dream world, but this was only season one so perhaps we will see more of it one day.

You can definitely see that The Sandman is not based on a novel. The pacing is a little strange, presumably because it was based on several issues of a comic. I think if I hadn’t known it was based on a comic I would definitely be complaining about the narrative arc. If you are aware of the story’s origins, however, it’s definitely less frustrating to try to understand how it is structured.

I really liked the characters and found it a bit of a shame that, because of the nature of the source material, we only spent a couple of episodes with some of them.

The main villain was less interesting to me. I’m not usually a big fan of villains, unless I can find a reason to really empathise with them. The bad guy in Sandman is very much just Evil with a capital E, so pretty boring to me.

Can’t wait for a second season, though! I may even read the comics one day.

After playing a pivotal role in the recent political upheaval on the Jewel of the World, ambassador Mahit Dzmare leaves Teixcalaan – and her cultural liason Three Seagrass – behind to find a moment of respite on her native Lsel Station. Once she arrives, however, she finds that she cannot from escape politics even in her own home – and before long, even the long arm of the Teixcalaanli Empire reaches her to drag her off to the front in a new war that is -at least partially – of her own making…

Listened to the audiobook with Amy Landon – it worked, but I feel this is maybe not a series for listening to. Do as I say, not as I do…

Arkady Martine recently won her second Hugo Award for A Desolation Called Peace. That means she’s gone two Hugos for two novels so far, which is an impressive record to say the very least. I just finished the novel as well, so I figured that’d be a perfect occasion to upload the review.

I loved A Memory Called Empire because it was such a great balancing act between the politics, the plot, and the personal. In A Desolation Called Peace, Martine does a similar great job balancing politics, war, and the personal stories and relationships of her main characters. She keeps the story fresh by shifting focus partially awat from the the Jewel of the World (the Teixcalaanli capital) to Lsel and the Six Outreaching Palms (the Teixcalaanli fleet). At the same time, she further explores the themes of intercultural communication that she already introduced in A Memory Called Empire, delving deeper into the relationship between Mahit and Three Seagrass as well as the diplomatic relationship between Teixcalaan and its new enemies. 

A Desolation Called Peace is still very much a science fiction novel but like A Memory Called Empire, it feels like it has just a little more weight to it than most stories that feature space battles and first contact. It has conversations that feel like duels, reminding me of Dune. It hits modern and relevant themes. And it even has cute Kauraanian kittens clogging the pipes of a warship to balance all that seriousness out.

The only thing that holds A Desolation Called Peace back a little compared to A Memory Called Empire is that it features many more story lines and relationships, and as a result, it has a little less space to give each of them the depth that Mahit’s relationships with Yskandr, Three Seagrass, and Nineteen Adze have in Memory. That doesn’t mean that it isn’t a great novel in a great setting though, and though I haven’t read any of the other novels on the nomination shortlist, I am convinced that A Desolation Called Peace deserves the Hugo as much as the previous instalment.

Geralt of Rivia is a Witcher, a fighter of monsters of all shapes and sizes. One day he claims a reward for his services, and unwittingly entwines his fate with that of Princess Cirilla of Cintra. When they eventually meet, Geralt is faced with his destiny: protecting Ciri and with her, the world.

I really enjoyed the Witcher. I binged both seasons as soon as they came out. To be honest, I was pretty ready to dislike Geralt, as I’m not usually a fan of the grumpy troubled man archetype. However, I was pleasantly surprised to find that Geralt was not just a grumpy bastard, but was instead a slightly grumpy nice dude.

Anya Chalotra’s interpretation of Yennefer charmed me as well. I’m usually a big fan of a Complicated Woman, and boy is she complicated. However, I didn’t like her motivation at all. As someone who cares very little for babies, I definitely struggle to understand wanting to go very far to acquire one. Still, I liked her vibe.

In season two I struggled with her a bit more. For a couple of episodes, I would have sworn she was another character in disguise. Eventually, I had to come to terms with the fact that Yennefer seemed much softer than she was in season one. Perhaps still complicated, but her relationship with Geralt was much more conflicted in season one. In season two, she’s just really into him and it was kind of jarring to me.

What I really like about the Witcher is that it shows that you can do a gritty fantasy show without excessive violence against women (looking at you, Game of Thrones).

Fair warning: the pacing of the first season is a little bit weird. There are two timelines shown simultaneously, and the execution of this could have been a little bit better. However, I think it’s definitely worth pushing through. It’s very satisfying when everything eventually falls into place.

The Witcher definitely has horror vibes, so maybe reconsider watching it if that’s something you’re sensitive to.

Time to get to know the Escape Velocity Collection’s curators! How? By asking them the questions that really matter! Let’s see what our curators have to say… 

This week’s question is:

What did you think of the first episode of The Rings of Power?

My verdict of the first episode is that it is hit and miss, but more hit than miss and certainly a whole lot better than what I was expecting based on the teaser we’d seen.

Some of the hits: the gorgeous establishing shots and most of the environments, Galadriel, cloak pins, the traveling via the map. Some misses: Elven haircuts, weapons that go SCHWIIINGGG at the merest touch, my god what cardboard armour are they wearing at that ceremony, that one human village (just because they’re not elves doesn’t have to mean they don’t know how to build a fence straight, how to sow clothes that fit, or how to shave).

I’ve come to the conclusion that I should just treat this as a really high budget fan fiction set in Tolkien’s world and not expect them to stick to established canon too much and so far that’s helping a lot. Pet peeves aside, I’m looking forward to watching the rest of it and seeing where they’ll take this!

Peter

Jop

Despite my low expectations, I actually really enjoyed it. In fact, I’m even excited to watch the rest!

The writing was not exceptional, and my inner Tolkien purist certainly frowned at certain lore decisions within the story. All in all, however, these imperfections didn’t bother me that much.

I have to conclude that I might simply be a basic Middle-Earth fangirl. They gave me a glimpse of ents, unnecessarily eloquent elves and beautiful landscapes, and I was just happy to be back in Tolkien’s wonderful world.

The viewing experience might have played a part in it, because it turned out we magically all fit exactly on Peter’s couch, but I was entertained. The pace was slow, but not in a nothing-is-happening kind of way and the music supports the atmosphere of the scenes. Also, we have a badass female protagonist.

I actually was disappointed we couldn’t watch the second episode directly after the first one. Exited to see where the series is headed.

Jasmijn

Lotte

I didn’t have very high expectations of this, but also I’m not some sort of Tolkien purist, so the bar wasn’t too high for me.

I definitely enjoyed the first episode! I’ve grown a little bit tired of elves and their whole vibe, so everytime an elf said something pretentious my brain instantly went to that video of Fantasy High dunking on elves for twenty minutes . Not sure if it would have bothered me that much if that video didn’t live front and center in my brain, but I really noticed it during this first episode.

I have to agree with Jop that it’s just really nice to be back in a world that inspired me so much as a child. I, for one, can’t wait to see the rest of the show.

Going in I fully expected to be disappointed, but like my fellow curators I was pleasantly surprised! I liked that the pacing was a lot slower than most major tv-shows in this genre. It did not throw you into the middle of some flashy, attention grabbing actions scene, but instead it took its time and followed its own pace. I’m very excited to see where it will take us!

Robin

Key

I was positively surprised by the real LOTR-vibes. Of course one can nitpick, but I try to look past the nostalgia and see a lot of potential. I am excited for the rest!

That’s it: another soul-searching question answered!

Still curious? Visit each curator’s page to see what they’ve recently been up to!

Check out our reviews of the media discussed in this post here:

This assembly of short (and some really short) films by South African director Neill Blomkamp is a bit of an oddity on Netflix – it’s not a series so much as an assemblage set of cinematographic thought experiments, some more developed than others, but they give some interesting insights into what moves Blomkamp as an artist.

When playing video games, I tend to be a bit of a completionist. Despite many Dutch people saying they’re going to ‘uitspelen’ (finishing a game, literally, ‘to play out’) Netflix if they have some time off, with the amount of content offered, that isn’t really a possibility. Still, I did want to finish all Neill Blomkamp content on Netflix, so I ran into Oats Studios, which is number of Blomkamp’s smaller projects heaped together and put online. I hesitate to call it a collection or an anthology because there does not really appear to be an overarching theme or even style or format. Still, Key and I settled in for a night of varied Blomkamp viewing, ready to be surprised.

Oats Studios is to disparate a set of films to review together, so here’s a couple of lines per project below – I’ve rated the whole thing three stars, assuming you’ll skip over most of the trashy or forgettable stuff.

  1. Rakka

    Worth watching – a post-apocalyptic, post-first contact setting in which the earth is taken over by a hostile alien species and rag-tag bands of human survivors are left to make a home in the ashes, resisting as well as they can. Mostly follows established tropes, but there are a couple of interesting concepts and story hooks, though being just over 20 minutes long, the story sadly only scratches the surface and doesn’t knock down its own set up. Ends making you want more. Also surprisingly features Sigourney Weaver!

  2. Firebase

    Also worth watching – mixes some beautifully weird occult/paranormal and sci-fi elements into a Vietnam war setting: a CIA operative is sent into the jungle to find the lone survivor of a unit of U.S. troops absolutely massacred by Viet Cong with what appears to be an incredibly advanced Soviet weapon system. Oozes Heart of Darkness/Apocalypse Now in atmosphere. Again, feels like a great set up but doesn’t quite get to the pay-off – but that’s short movies for you.

  3. Cooking with Bill

    Skippable – some cringey/gorey sketches spoofing teleshopping ads for imaginative kitchen products. Not bad at what it is trying to do exactly, but not at all my taste.

  4. God

    Skippable – a couple of sketches showing God as a careless overlord throwing random disasters at his worshippers for his own amusement. Neither particularly original nor well executed. Thankfully not to long either.

  5. Zygote

    Worth watching – Disaster has struck a distant mining outpost, and two survivors are trying to get to safety, pursued by a great original monster that I’m not going to spoil for you. Follows established tropes, crams a bit much exposition and social commentary in its first five minutes, and I feel like the set builders could’ve done with a bit more budget, but has all the makings of a blockbuster sci-fi horror movie – and it’s only 22 minutes long, so some allowances have to be made. Really what holds this back most is that Blomkamp shows his hand prematurely – it would’ve probably worked better if he had held back the monster a little longer (for a masterclass: see Ridley Scott’s Alien)

  6. Bad President

    Skippable – a couple sketches showing the president of the US as a trashy guy that prioritises parties over running the country and shows up to the Oval Office hungover. Not not funny, but that is about all there is to be said about it.

  7. Adam

    Worth watching – Netflix only has episodes II and III of the Adam storyline, since Episode I wasn’t directed by Blomkamp. So you’ll have to watch episode I on YouTube (where episode II and episode III are available as well). This is apparently a bit of an out of control tech demo for the Unity game engine that turned into a real story. More than with any of the other stories, you might leave feeling frustrated that there is no game or movie finishing what these three episodes started. The graphics are slightly dated by now but the world and character design are still great.

  8. Gdansk

    Literally a four minute tech demo. Looks cool.

  9. Kapture: Locust

    Skippable. Another tech demo, though this one is a lot more cheesy (while also casually really violent) than the others. Also looks worse.

If there is anything of an overarching takeaway, it is that Blomkamp loves gore and guns, and will not miss an opportunity to put them front and centre in his films, at the expense of the deeper message that he does seem to want to send. Also, he loves cyborgs and exploring the borders between man and machine. But maybe all that is already apparent from his other works we reviewed.

Overall, a bit of a mixed bag, but well worth watching if you feel like an evening of low-threshold, low commitment, but throught-provoking television. Especially the longer and more serious stories Rakka, Firebase and Zygote are well made and made me wish there was more. If you go on YouTube for the other parts, Adam isn’t too bad either.

Oats Studios is a collection of director Neill Blomkamp’s idea’s that were never  developed into something big. And they are exactly that: interesting (and less interesting) ideas. Don’t expect neatly tied-up story arcs or well thought-out worldbuilding (if you can speak of any of that in the other Blomkamp movies…). For stories so incomplete, I was surprised by the amount of great actors and performances, the special effects and the production in general. The themes I could discover throughout the season were typical Blomkamp: guns ‘n gore, goo, plugging machines, experimental medicine, human hubris and AI consciousness. The season provided a nice evening with Peter, but no more.

A short review of the episodes (I left the descriptions to Peter):

  1. Rakka

    Felt very unfinished to me, even for this series. An interesting start, then another one, and then another one, but without something to connect the dots.

  2. Firebase

    Apocalypse Now meets Rambo. Interesting and slow setup, but then a quick reveal. That might be because because in contrast to the other episodes, this one had an end goal in mind that was tied to a strong theme.

  3. Cooking with Bill

    A cringe fest of sketches. First one was predictable, but good. The rest was unnecessary.

  4. God

    A two-parter with not much originality and no point. Could have been interesting when well-executed and with something to say.

  5. Zygote

    I love this trapped-in-a-spaceship kind of stories. It might be easy, but it works. However, the more I thought about it, the less good it became. There were quite some plotholes, it acts only as if there is social commentary, and after the (early) reveal the monster was a bit too ridiculous to be truly scary. Nevertheless quite enjoyable watch, who know what could have been when this were a feature film.

  6. Bad President

    A bit like God. Not really funny, not really original, not really a point. Moreover, reality has become too absurd to parody like this.

  7. Adam

    I liked these two episodes the most. It really felt there was a world behind this short story. And there is, to some extent: there is already a prequel short film (on YouTube). These three short stories build an interesting and original scifi world and deal with moral dilemma’s about killing consciousness and religion that feel true. However, they also feel als pure setup for a greater story, without a resolution of their own. Would have loved more of this.

  8. Gdansk

    Knight from Middle Ages meets space ship. He has shiny armour. The end.

  9. Kapture: Locust

    Cruelty with a thin layer of social commentary. I don’t see a larger story in this, but it might have worked as a scene in a movie about something else. Reminded me a bit of Squid Game.

Time to get to know the Escape Velocity Collection’s curators! How? By asking them the questions that really matter! Let’s see what our curators have to say… 

This week’s question is:

What Fantasy/Sci-Fi Author is most well-represented on your bookshelves, and how do you feel about that?

I recently moved and when I was putting books back in my bookcases (and trying to figure out logical ways to sort them), I was wondering who takes up most shelf space. I did a quick count to find out that Julian May narrowly inches out Tolkien with eleven books to ten. I figured I’d ask the other curators to do the same!

 

I was quite surprised by the result (and a bit ashamed to admit that I haven’t had the chance to read most of those May books yet…), but really May coming out on top is largely due to recent thrift store finds. It’s just that I loved the Saga of Pliocene Exile and since her books aren’t in print anymore, I pick them up any chance I get.

Peter

Jop

For me, it seems to be a tie between J.R.R. Tolkien and Robin Hobb, with an impressive (or shocking?) number of sixteen books each. Tolkien would win if I also counted several encyclopedias of Middle-Earth that were technically not written by him, but simply collect his worldbuilding notes. Alternatively, if I were to attribute The Children of Hurin to Christopher Tolkien instead of his father, Robin Hobb would win.

I’m quite pleased with the end result either way, I must admit. Robin Hobb, being my favourite author, certainly deserves the whole bookshelf I’ve dedicated to her. In fact, I would gladly welcome some new additions. On the other hand, Tolkien is one of the primary reasons I fell in love with Fantasy in the first place. Middle-Earth will always have a place in my heart and my bookcases.

Addendum by Jasmijn: “In addition to your 16 books, I think we have some of my Robin Hobb copies lying around in our appartement as well, so in numbers she would definitely win in our household.”

Whether it is to be considered fantasy or not is an ongoing debate, but on my bookshelf Winnie the Pooh by A.A. Milne is very well represented. I love collecting the book in different languages as well, and since I know a lot of the stories by heart I enjoy reading those copies as well from time to time. The start of this collection was a Latin copy I happened upon in a secondhand bookshop. This was the beginning of the end, haha.

Jasmijn

Lotte

I’m not much of a book hoarder, to be honest. I live in a studio appartment and have moved around a bit, so I’ve had to keep the volume of books I own down as much as possible. I also have two sisters, so growing up our books were exactly that: OUR books. As a result, most books I have on my shelf now are recent acquisitions.

Robin Hobb and Terry Pratchett come in at a tie, with 6 books each. However, I’ve read two of the Robin Hobb books, and none of the Terry Pratchett ones. Let me explain:

I thrift most of my books. This means you never quite know which books you’re going to find. A long time ago, I found two beautiful hard covers of the last two books in the Farseer series by Robin Hobb. I only recently acquired the first book in that trilogy, so I wasn’t in the position to start reading them.

Half of the Terry Pratchett books are a collaboration he did with Stephen Baxter. I thought it was a series, but there’s no discernable order to them, so I’ve never picked one up to read. I just don’t know where to start. When you have plenty of other books still to read, that’s a little bit of a death sentence. The other three are The Colour of Magic, and two more books in German. I can mostly read German, so I figured I’d give them a try. Can’t guarantee I’ll have understood them well enough to review them, though…

After I counted I was not surprised that Robin Hobb was at the top of my list with 12 books, considering she is my favourite fantasy author. However, it did surprise me that Neil Gaiman followed closely at 10. I don’t have one long shelf dedicated to his work as I have with Robin Hobb, but instead his books have infiltrated the different shelves where I keep my fantasy novels, short story collections, childrens books, graphic novels, and books about mythology. I did not even realise how many of his books I have picked up over the years! But I have enjoyed every single one, so I am happy to have them around.

Robin

Key

First, I must excuse myself, because I am not an owner of many sci-fi or fantasy books. Most I read, I lent from others or I listened to them. The second excuse: I regularly clean up my bookshelves and do not keep every book. So, with that out of the way, what do I have left? A whopping 5 books of Douglas Adams, namely the whole Hitchiker’s Guide to the Galaxy-series (without the 6th of Eoin Colfer). They are however easily matched in volume by three George R.R. Martin-books – which I did not read but my wife did. The good news is: there is room on my bookshelves for improvement!

That’s it: another soul-searching question answered!

Still curious? Visit each curator’s page to see what they’ve recently been up to!

Check out our reviews of the media discussed in this post here::

Review: The Sandman – Netflix

When the King of Dreams returns to his realm after decades of imprisonment in the human world, he finds that his realm has crumbled and his power has diminished. Soon he must return to the waking world to recover his possessions and restore his power over his subjects.

Read More »

Review: A Desolation Called Peace – Arkady Martine

Part two in the Teixcalaan Duology – after playing a pivotal role in the recent political upheaval on the Jewel of the World, Mahit Dzmare returns to her native Lsel Station to find that she cannot escape politics – nor the long arm of the Teixcalaanli Empire – even there.

Read More »

Review: The Witcher – Netflix

Geralt of Rivia is a Witcher, a fighter of monsters of all shapes and sizes. One day he claims a reward for his services, and unwittingly entwines his fate with that of Princess Cirilla of Cintra. When they eventually meet, Geralt is faced with his destiny: protecting Ciri and with her, the world.

Read More »

Review: Oats Studios – Neill Blomkamp

This assembly of short (and some really short) films by Neill Blomkamp is not a series so much as an assemblage set of cinematographic thought experiments that gives some insights into what moves Blomkamp as an artist.

Read More »