Masters of Science Fiction: Volume One

Masters of Science Fiction: Volume One
Fans of science fiction will be pleased to know that the Masters of Science Fiction anthology is focused primarily on the investigation of the "what ifs?” from a moral and philosophical perspective. On the downside, the production values are similar to more familiar sci-fi entries such as Babylon 5 and Farscape, in addition to featuring episodes comprised entirely of awkward exposition and amusingly glib insights and character responses. The biggest culprits being episodes entitled "The Awakening” and "Watchbird.” "Awakening” features Terry O’Quinn (Lost, The Cutting Edge) as a military Major brought out of retirement to investigate alien creatures that have come to Earth and placed several humans under a hypnotic spell with a message of peace. When the aliens begin to appear by the dozens around the world asking all military powers to disarm their weaponry, it is only the U.S. who defends its right to bear arms. While it’s certainly topical and politically correct to mock trigger-happy Americans, it isn’t particularly accurate given current cultural and ideological climates on a global scale. There are other credos far more likely to resist notions of world peace through inherent misanthropy but those observations would likely be perceived as racist or xenophobic where insulting Americans is perfectly kosher. "Watchbird” makes similarly surface observations about the nature of criminal justice being carried out by artificial intelligence. The episode features Sean Astin (The Lord of the Rings, Toy Soldiers) as a scientific genius with a tortured past who develops "watchbirds” who essentially fly around the country killing criminals based on intent rather than action. The standard problems arise as discussed through endless exposition without any effort placed into obvious resolutions. On the upside, this particular episode features some unintentional hilarity, with Astin giving an amusing "WTF?” performance, in addition to having a dramatic suicidal moment that involves an enormous wedgie. It’s almost impossible to take a person seriously who has six inches of pant material up their ass crack. Thankfully the anthology has stronger episodes to balance the scales, like "Jerry Was a Man,” which is based on a Robert Heinlein short story and features Anne Heche (The Juror, Men in Trees) as a very well to do woman who decides to buy herself an anthropoid named Jerry, built to detect mines. It’s slightly more insightful than Spielberg’s poo-fest A.I. in the suggestion that humanity is defined through dishonesty and amoral personal preservation, in addition to poking some light jabs at the North American judicial system and celebrities with "causes.” Also, the inclusion of a miniature pachyderm with the capacity to read and write certainly doesn’t hurt the entertainment factor. While this isn’t a fantastic or particularly memorable anthology, it is definitely engaging and occasionally cheesy enough for a giggle. (Anchor Bay)