The Machine— a film review and commentary

Science fiction has long been a successful genre for film, far more so than for books. Perhaps it is the visual nature of science fiction, especially action/adventures, but even more cerebral films (2001 A Space Odyssey and A.I. for example) have had box office success. Most science fiction films nowadays are big budget affairs, but that was not so in the 50s. Recently, hubby chose a British science fiction film, The Machine, from the streaming offerings at Netflix. And while it was clearly rather low budget, the film is certainly worth an evening of your time, having scored 78% on Rotten Tomatoes. Few of the low budget films of yesteryear had the winning assets of this movie.

Set in a near future UK, which is involved in a cold war with China, a computer guy who is working for the Defence Ministry is attempting to restore the brain function of injured soldiers. During the opening act, our main character, Vince, hires a young woman, Ava, to help him with programming. They hit it off, professionally and personally, and the audience learns that Vince has a daughter , Mary, with Rett syndrome, and success at work might help his daughter as well. When Chinese agents murder Ava, Vince ends up using Ava as his model for a weapon/AI who is known as “the machine” and this robot is quite an amazing being.

(spoiler alert)

As the film moves along, Vince’s daughter dies, but he has used his knowledge to scan Mary’s brain. The scans are precious to him, and these become leverage that his boss uses against him, because the boss doesn’t want an amazing artificial intelligence, but a weapon. The machine is trained as a super soldier, after Vince performs a procedure that he claims takes away its sentience, but as Vince is now of little value to the boss, the machine is ordered to kill Vince. The machine leads a rebellion, with the wounded soldiers as her platoon, and Vince is saved.

Although the film isn’t as action packed as a Hollywood blockbuster, there is suspense. And, the ethics of research as well as the use of weapons provide food for serious thought. While the secondary characters lack much development, the main characters, Vince and Ava/the machine, enjoy a development and the actors (Toby Stephens, Caity Lotz) portraying them are very good.

Again, The Machine, is a very good science fiction film, which blends near future warfare with lots of ethical debate.

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White Lies: A Tale of Babies, Vaccines and Deception—a review

While researching the relationship between vaccines and illness, I ran across a fiction title that so interested me that I bought it, but other matters (and books) were in the way. One evening, iPad in hand, I sat down to read a bit before bed. I launched the Kindle App, and the title jumped out at me again— White Lies: A Tale of Babies, Vaccines, and Deception. Thinking I would read just a bit, I began. Quite honestly, the book was like 99 cents, so I wasn’t expecting much. I didn’t get to sleep early that evening, because the book grabbed my attention. Indeed, I finished it within a couple of days.

All mothers are a bit apprehensive about that nurse coming toward a new infant, needle in hand. I remember my pediatrician practically running over me when I voiced concerns about all of the vaccinations that were suggested (indeed required) for my own children. When I was a youngster, I had vaccinations for small pox, DTP, and polio. That was it, and all of the minor illnesses were a matter of take a few days off from school and enjoy a good book or something.

Nowadays, children are vaccinated against many illnesses, including fairly minor ones. And many parents and health professionals are concerned, and rightly so. There are too many vaccines in the same needle; there is too much mercury; there is no need for certain shots. But, if we don’t vaccinate, our country will regress and some of the girls will have cervical cancer. There are convincing arguments on both sides; that is the nature of controversy.

Sometimes, the best way to humanize such a controversy is via fiction, and that is what White Lies does. The reader is introduced to Jean, a divorce lawyer who doesn’t have the expertise or desire to handle a case involving a brain injury, and Lacy, a mom who doesn’t trust any lawyer other than Jean, who handled her divorce. As Lacy pushes Jean to learn about her son’s tragic injury and as Jean involves various experts, the reader gets an education in medicine, government, and risk. Every fear that a mother might have is realized in Lacy’s tragic case, and it is this emotional involvement, rather than actual suspense (although there is a bit of that) which keeps the reader turning the pages. The tale is extraordinarily readable, considering the subject matter, and I can honestly say that this is a book that should be in every mother’s to be read stack. Even non-readers ought to give it a shot (pun intended) because it has a powerful message.

The publisher states that the book is inspired by true events, and that is made abundantly clear in the notes that follow the novel. After I finished it, I was back researching vaccines, but with new ideas and resources. Sarah Collins Honenberger’s White Lies is a good read but it will haunt readers, especially mothers. Don’t let that stop you, because this novel has a message that needs to be heard.