Solaris

Saw the movie Solaris last weekend. This sci-fi movie is a remake of the 1972 classic of the same name (I haven’t seen this version). Both are based on the sci-fi novel of the same name written by Stanislaw Lem. The movie is set in the future. Kelvin (George Clooney) is a psychologist who has lost his wife he loved very much. He is called upon to investigate some strange things happening on a space station rotating around a star named Solaris. Once he lands on it, he discovers that most of the crew have killed each other or themselves. Only 2 of them are left. One of them Dr. Gordon is trying to find the cause of the strange visitors on this space station. Kelvin soon gets his own visitor — his deceased wife appears in flesh and blood. And he falls in love with her all over again. Why/how is Solaris creating these visitors from the memories in human minds? Who really are these visitors?

Solaris is a thoughtful movie. Visually it is very similar to 2001: A Space Odyssey. There are stretches of silence, the visuals are exquisite and the background music is haunting at times. The movie questions human relationships and the existence of divine beings. Strangely this topic fits snugly into the sci-fi environment of Solaris. Remember the interpretation-left-to-viewer ending of 2001? Something like that except that it is easy to figure it in this movie.

I liked the movie. Some of the flashback scenes (in the rain, shopping etc.) of Kelvin and his wife are very romantic and sensual though they are set in such sterile surroundings. Clooney is simply fabulous as the cool headed psychologist. There are nice little twists at the end.

Deception Point

Deception Point

Rating: 3/4 (Engaging read)

NASA has discovered a meteorite in an Arctic glacier which has fossils of extraterrestrial life forms! That is the premise of the book Deception Point, the third book by Dan Brown. The protagonists in the story are Rachel, an intelligence expert for the NRO and Tolland, an oceanographer. Rachel’s dad is a Presidential candidate who is hellbent on winning the Presidency by bringing to light the recent inefficiencies and failures of NASA. Rachel is requested to visit the Arctic to confirm the details about the meteorite. Could such extraterrestrial lifeforms have formed the origin of life on Earth? What Rachel discovers there casts a big doubt on all this.

The book is a good read. It is far better than Brown’s Digital Fortress. Much like his other books, though the story might be quite lame, Brown keeps throwing interesting tidbits along the way that keeps the reader quite engaged.

Silicon Sky

Silicon Sky

Rating: 3/4 (Good read)

Silicon Sky authored by Gary Dorsey is a non-fiction book that follows the creation of the Orbcomm Low Earth Orbit (LEO) messaging satellite. The author stayed with the satellite team for 4 years from its inception to launch.

By 1991, David Thompson, CEO of Orbital Sciences Corporation had tasted success with his startup company’s Pegasus launch vehicles for commercial satellite launches. The company now aimed for a new frontier: a low cost satellite messaging system. They planned a constellation of 24 cheap LEO satellites named Orbcomm for this. During this period, competition is hotting up with Motorola raising literally billions of dollars for its mega 66 satellite constellation named Iridium.

The book follows the day-to-day travails of the Orbcomm team, consisting of mostly fresh graduates from university as they try to build the world’s first commercial messaging satellite. The project was planned to be completed in just 1.5 years, but drags on for a full 3 years. During this period, the team is pushed to the extreme by faulty parts, changing requirements and increasing weight of the hardware. Some of the parts that they fashion for the satellite turn out to be ingenious hardware and software hacks necessitated by the failings of the commercial parts at that time.

In the climactic chapter of the book, even after 2 initial satellite launches in April 1994, they fail to respond to the earth station. The team works with almost no sleep for 2 months before they find the problem and fix it, thus bringing back Orbital from the brink of economic collapse. The company later launches all its planned satellites in the constellation. OTOH their competitor Motorola is heavily delayed and even though it finally launches its satellites, it goes bankrupt on its Iridium satellite phone system, not realizing the emerging potential of GSM global roaming agreements.

Gary Dorsey stays so close to the Orbcomm team that sometimes it becomes unbelievable that the book is not fiction. The workings of the management and engineers are covered in microscopic detail. However, the book is boring in some parts since the writing is not interesting. Also, there are just too many team members who are followed up in detail and it gets hard remembering who does what when they all come together. This is a good read.

Trivia: OSX is the name of the custom operating system running inside the Orbcomm satellites.

Mission To Mars

Mission To Mars

Rating: 3/4 (Good watch)

Released in 2000, Mission To Mars is yet another Hollywood sci-fi movie set in Mars. The year is 2020 and a human mission to Mars goes bad when a strange tornado kills all the astronauts except one. The rescue mission to save the one survivor gets into problems but still manages to land on the red planet. Can they survive the dangers of the planet? What is the big secret on this planet that is causing these strange occurrences?

The first hour of the movie is totally unimaginative, a letdown. But then, things start to get interesting. The red aura of Mars is all pervading and is shot excellently. I also loved the details in the depiction of the spacecraft. The climax about the origin of life on Earth and its connection to Mars is really sweet! You cannot help but feel that with a bit more spit and polish, this could have been a great movie. This is a good watch, especially if you have not seen any Mars movie yet.