thrillers

Orphan Black, the many roles of Tatiana Maslany

Tatiana Maslany as Alison, Helena, Sarah, Beth, Cosima, and Katja.

Orphan Black is a new science fiction television show produced by BBC America and Space, starring Canadian actress Tatiana Maslany. I recently discovered this series, the first season of which just finished airing in the beginning of June 2013, and I plowed through all 10 episodes in two days.  It’s a smart, complex, often dark yet at times quite funny, and well-paced show with a continuous narrative arc that explores the issues of identity and intellectual property. There is fine acting all around but the two standouts are Tatiana Maslany, who plays many roles on the show for which she deservedly won a Critics’ Choice Television Award for Best Actress in a Drama Series, and Jordan Gavaris, who plays the foster brother of one of Maslany’s characters.

Minor spoilers follow, but everything I mention is revealed in the first episode or featured prominently in the official publicity for the show.

The science fiction element of the show is pretty low key. You won’t see much in the way of futuristic technology in this series. Instead, the plot revolves around the controversial subject of human cloning and the early stages of body modification and genetic engineering. Who are we if we are not biologically unique, if there are others out there who are genetically identical to us? How much would our experiences and personal choices shape who we become despite this? What would you do if you encountered to your surprise not one but two or three or more other people who look exactly like you? What is it that makes us human? These are some of the questions explored in Orphan Black.

The series begins by introducing us to the main character of the show, Sarah Manning, played by Maslany. Sarah is an orphan, born in Great Britain, raised by a foster mother, and moved to Canada at an early age. Now a young woman, we meet her trying to escape a wild life of crime, drugs, and an abusive boyfriend. Sarah aims to get her life back together, reclaim custody of her daughter Kira from her foster mother Mrs. S, and scrounge up enough money to make a new life somewhere for herself, her daughter, and her foster brother Felix (played by Gavaris).

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Higher Cause by John Hunt

This review is part of a series covering each installment of the serialized novel Higher Cause, written by John Hunt and published by Laissez Faire Books. To catch up, start with the announcement, the book’s link-rich table of contents, and the first review.

Higher Cause by John Hunt

It has been a long trip. Twenty-two weeks, sixty chapters plus a prologue and an epilogue. With this week’s installment, John Hunt’s Higher Cause finally comes to an end.

We had a lot of adventure, saw a lot of character and relationship arcs, experienced some mystery and intrigue, and all the while saw a libertarian society in operation. It struggled to survive in the midst of statism, full of dedicated men who not only believed in a libertarian philosophy but were willing to live it and work hard to achieve it. It would be nice to see more works of this sort.

The books virtues, as I have mentioned before, are the imagination that went into the concept and the overall grasp of a story arc. The writing is generally solid and Hunt manages to competently weave together a rather complex tale.

It is my opinion that the dialogue could be improved and that certain sections of the prose could be deleted to good effect. At times, there was a tendency to over-explain things.

In addition to the above, and with the story now behind us, there are other aspects I would like to point out as needing strengthening. For starters, the separate story strands could have been synchronized a little better. For most of the novel, they complimented each other and crisscrossed back and forth quite nicely, but things came loose a touch at the end.

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Higher Cause by John Hunt

This review is part of a series covering each installment of the serialized novel Higher Cause, written by John Hunt and published by Laissez Faire Books. To catch up, start with the announcement, the book’s link-rich table of contents, and the first review.

Higher Cause by John Hunt

It is my opinion that John Hunt’s greatest strength as a novelist is in his overall design of the story. This is particularly true when it comes to setting things up in one chapter to get a payoff in another. The last dozen or so chapters have been all about payoff, realizing returns on investments made in earlier chapters. In this the penultimate installment, we see as good a display of his careful planning as we have yet seen. A seed planted way back in the beginning of the book finally bears fruit as a twist to end the installment.

To begin the installment, we saw the conclusion of the cliff hanger from last week. I truly had no idea where he was going to go with it, but his resolution was clever and made sense. Things have, in the main plot line, pretty much come to a close, barring some unforeseen surprise in the next chapter.

One supposes that the last segment will be an epilogue that brings to a close the other plot line, the one about The Bounty, which never quite merged with the central story about The Island and its enemies. This is going to be a bit of a problem for the book. There is nothing about The Bounty story that needs connecting to The Island’s libertarian story. This is not necessarily bad, by any means, but it seems that the two are not going to ever truly be connected, except geographically. It is an odd choice, but The Bounty was never as fully developed and intricate as the rest of the plot. Leaving it to the side, as has been done, makes it feel unnecessary, like a story line that did not need to be there. Judgment must be reserved until the end, but right now it feels like The Bounty story could have been a separate book, maybe a sequel. The present one might have been better without it. We shall see.

As I said, the main story seems to have pretty much concluded. There are some final character moments we are going to need, especially involving Elisa and Petur. And something will have to be done to justify the inclusion of The Bounty in the story. And, of course, we must see how the British decide to handle things if they are to be the mafia institution that oversees The Island. Just one more week, and all will be answered.

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Higher Cause by John Hunt

This review is part of a series covering each installment of the serialized novel Higher Cause, written by John Hunt and published by Laissez Faire Books. To catch up, start with the announcement, the book’s link-rich table of contents, and the first review.

Higher Cause by John Hunt

Higher Cause is a bit of a mixed bag this week. The final showdown continues, but there is an aspect to it that fails to convince. The action and the tension remain, but some of the maneuvering with respect to international law does not strike this reader as very plausible. However, there are two very good moments, one of them being what is probably the novel’s greatest cliffhanger.

The standoff with Mexico reaches what seems like a climax, only to redouble in suspense just a short while later. All in all, this final showdown has been an up-and-down affair. Just when the reader thinks one faction has an advantage, the tables get turned. I expect they will turn again, though how this is going to happen after the aforementioned cliffhanger is beyond me.

There have been a number of things I have criticized in these reviews, all having to do with how information is conveyed to the reader. There has been tell when there should be show. There have been moments when something already understood is explained at length. Sometimes, things that we do not need to know yet, or even really should not know yet, are told to us. All three kinds of these “information problems” are on display in this installment.

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