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Tom DeMichael’s MODERN SCI-FI FILMS FAQ is Entertaining but Redundant

REVIEW SUMMARY: Modern Sci-Fi Films FAQ reads like a series of well-written Wikipedia synopses, and while the book might qualify the author as the best undergrad film course essayist ever, he’s a long mile off from convincing anyone that he’s a film expert.

MY RATING:

BRIEF SYNOPSIS: Modern Sci-Fi Films FAQ recaps the plots of genre fans’ favorite movies from the last 40 years and offers some behind the scenes trivia along the way.

MY REVIEW:
PROS: This book is chock full of very thorough synopses written in an entertaining tongue-in-cheek tone.
CONS: There aren’t actually any FAQs in this book, which makes the title both misleading and confusing.
BOTTOM LINE: Modern Sci-Fi Films FAQ would have been an extraordinary book if it had been published twenty years ago, but IMDB and Wikipedia have long since rendered it redundant.

AMAZON SYNOPSIS:

“This FAQ travels to a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away… visits a theme park where DNA-created dinosaurs roam… watches as aliens come to Earth, hunting humans for sport… and much, much more. Filled with biographies, synopses, production stories, and images and illustrations many seldom seen in print the book focuses on films that give audiences two hours where they can forget about their troubles, sit back, crunch some popcorn, and visit worlds never before seen… worlds of robots, time travel, aliens, space exploration, and other far-out ideas.”

At one point, I found myself read this volume during a power outage. When a family member asked what I was doing, I simply explained “Coping with Wikipedia withdrawal,” and that’s about as accurate and succinct a review as it’s possible to give this book. Despite its misleading title, Modern Sci-Fi Films FAQ is not a list of answers to Frequently Asked Questions at all. In fact, the book features neither questions nor answers. Rather, the book is a conversational recap of the best science fiction movies released since the seventies.

Modern Sci-Fi Films FAQ starts with a forward written by Academy Award-winning special effects artist Dennis Muren, then proceeds to examine each of the biggest sci-fi movies of the last thirty years, beginning at the genre’s literary roots. Written in an easy, casual style, the book covers films from 1970 onward, including such fanboy favorites as Alien, Alien Nation, The Matrix, and Stargate. There are twelve chapters in total, covering topics like the Wonders of Time Travel, Sci-Fi-entists and Their Experiments, and Robots and Robot Wannabes. Each movie entry includes a point-by-point plot synopsis along with the vital statistics that sideline any movie’s Wikipedia article. These entries are entertaining and thorough, but succinct, making this book easy to browse whenever the mood strikes.

Though the book is ambitious in its a attempt to cover over four decades of film, it is by no means comprehensive, choosing instead to cherry pick the most significant films of that period. That may be understandable, given the physical restraints of a trade paperback, but it would quickly become frustrating to anyone looking to use the book as a research reference. DeMichael includes the first Star Trek film, for example, but not the fan favorites The Wrath of Khan or The Voyage Home, which are arguably the best of the franchise. What’s more, while some sections are quite informative, offering trivia that I hadn’t read before, the vast majority of the book is devoted to recapping the plot of movies it discusses, which renders it redundant once a person has seen the movies in question. If you haven’t seen the movies in question, watch out, because DeMichael doesn’t shy away from spoilers.

All in all, reading Modern Sci-Fi Films FAQ has left me with a great deal of respect for DeMichael’s writing skills. His friendly narrative voice made a brick of a book an easy read, and for that, I’ll be on the look out for other titles bearing his name in the future. However, on the balance, I have to recommend giving this book a pass. It simply doesn’t contain enough new information to validate the book’s expense for hardcore fans, and there’s no reason for anyone who’s not a hardcore genre fan to read nearly four hundred pages on the topic.

EXCERPT:

Let’s be honest – a guy named “Snake” is always going to raise a few suspicions.

Imagine the parents of a young girl when they’re introduced to her new beau.

“Mom…Dad – This is Snake, and we’re engaged!”

Hoo-boy.

The Snake in our case is, of course, Snake Plissken. He’s the ex-soldier, turned bad guy (then turned good guy) in John Carpenter’s 1981 sci-fi action flick, Escape from New York. Set in 1997, World War III has left America in shambles (the long-recurring dystopian future sci-fi setting) and the Manhattan Island in New York has become a maximum security prison (in other words, the Big Apple has a lot of worms in it.) The US government recruits a reluctant Snake to save the President, who has become a hostage of the inmates. He accomplishes the task, but the whole affair leaves Snake in a more cynical state than when he started.

About PipedreamerGrey (464 Articles)
Pipedreamergrey is a hardcore geek who has never met a fandom he didn't like. Whether blogging, gaming, or programming, he can usually be found online hiding behind a web handle created back when web handles were still cool. His twin passions are vintage science fiction and the modern day technologies making that fiction an everyday reality.
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