Mind Matters Natural and Artificial Intelligence News and Analysis
saturn-and-moon-in-the-sky-of-a-barren-landscape-stockpack-adobe-stock.jpg
saturn and moon in the sky of a barren landscape

Sci-fi Saturday: “The Big Nothing” melds sci-fi and whodunit

The combination of the sci-fi and detective genres takes some skill to pull off but this Australian crew succeeds

“The Big Nothing” at DUST by Sharptooth Pictures (March 4, 2021, 37.54) “When the captain of an isolated mining station near Saturn is murdered, Detective Lennox is sent to investigate the three remaining crew members. Centered around a series of interrogations and flashback, Lennox discovers that everyone has a motive to kill. With otherworldly threats approaching and the killer amongst them, will everybody make it off the station?”

“The Big Nothing,” a sci-fi detective drama, actually premiered in 2018 as a TV miniseries.

The combination of the sci-fi and detective genres takes some skill to pull off. Both genres feature conventions that producers ignore at the story’s peril. For example, sci-fi should feature science. Of course the story can be a thought experiment like time travel. But it should not be magic (wave a wand and whatever we want to see is true). In detective stories, our detective can be flawed but he can’t be a stooge unless the film is a comedy or he is the sidekick of a serious thinker.

Not to worry here. Our detective is a sharp cookie and the atmosphere of the station mining a precious metal (“neodyneum?”) near Saturn amid serious threats from pirates is well maintained.

Briefly, Detective Lennox confronts a crew member, Mendoza, who would like him to believe that the captain’s recent death while floating out on the mining arm in “The Big Nothing” (as he liked to call outer space) was just an accident.

As it happens, he was already dead of asphyxiation when someone loaded him into his space suit. Try another one.

Mendoza, it turns out, had applied three times to be captain herself — and now she is captain by default. This, of course, is the classic red herring. It wouldn’t be a detective story if things were that simple.

The next suspect, Bayfield, thinks of the space station as his home and was threatened with being sent back to Earth. So he has a motive but… murder?

By the time Lennox interviews the third of only three possible suspects, Operations Manager Callaghan, a very dangerous situation is developing outside the ship.

The characters seem believable, maintaining the story tension without resorting to gimmicks.

One suspects, no spoilers, that we could see Detective Lennox again in a new episode.


Other reviews from the “We are but DUST” files:

Sci-fi Saturday: Can we live in more than the present moment? When a tech entrepreneur succeeds with time travel, he gets trapped in his own past errors. In “Container,” the time traveler is locked inside his lab and can only get out by repeated, dangerous efforts to go back in time to when the door is unlocked.

Sci-fi Saturday: What if a new start in life were two pills away? Would you feel the same about suicide? In “Cam Girl,” a woman whose life is going nowhere, largely by her own choice, learns what it means to be genuinely desperate.

Sci-fi Saturday: In a world run by robots, a bot becomes a joker The dull, dystopian atmosphere of an Australia dominated by robots, portrayed in “System Error,” is well done and worth the watch. The story prompted this viewer to consider what thoughts a robot simply couldn’t have without some kind of input from consciousness – always the Hard Problem.

Sci-fi Saturday: Can an alternative universe save a lonely girl?A girl finds fighting space aliens easier than fighting a brain haemorrhage and a sense of guilt. CARONTE ends as it must — not happily but inevitably, and with at least some sense of redemption.

Sci-fi Saturday: “This planet is not in our co-ordinates.” A space courier crew gets a surprise when delivering a mysterious machine to a strange planet. One could almost see something like “McPherson’s Toys” happening, , as an office gag, but 500 years from now.

Sci-fi Saturday: A future where dreams have been privatized Unfortunately, the dream Carlos wants in “I Dream” is to see his missing family again and that’s illegal … More dystopia than science fiction but the post-5G surveillance environment amid mass poverty and oppression is well imagined.

Sci-fi Saturday: What if sweet sleep were a distant memory? In a world going mad in “Don’t Forget To Remember” and dying from insomnia, a young woman may have a cure. The big challenge in writing about insomnia is not to be a cure for it. From the harrowing opening scene on, this film certainly clears that bar.

Sci-Fi Saturday: When virtual friends are a real addiction Animated short “Best Friends” begins with the thirtieth birthday party of a rather glum young man. As is the way with addicts, our hero cannot use his futurist fix for loneliness responsibly and ends up doing desperate things.

Sci-Fi Saturday: Watch what you wish for. There IS a tomorrow! Carl, a lonely guy, is determined to proceed through the warning and try the Luvsik procedure, to make him fall in love at first sight. The short film features strong performances by Momo Dione and Samantha Lester, and the surprise ending avoids cliché.

Sci-Fi Saturday: We have met the aliens and they are… comb jellies. The alien life form, when it appears in “Seedling,” is very well imagined. Definitely watch it for the sense of isolation when our technology bubble evaporates and for the “comb jelly” space alien.

Sci-fi Saturday: The disabled robot vet in “A Robot Is a Robot” gets a job grooming cats. Definitely worth your five minutes, in part in order to see what cartoonists can do in sci-fi with animated stills. In a research paper, Max Planck scientists concluded that it is not possible to hobble the danger from intelligent AI. This film offers a good illustration.

Sci-fi Saturday: A girl with kinetic powers faces a choice. Should she help relatives with activities she knows to be wrong? “Kinetic” is well executed but it breaks a fundamental rule of science fiction: There must be a clear science basis for the story premise.

Sci-fi Saturday: An asteroid lingers near Earth and devours time Or, at any rate, it devours our perception of time, as one man discovers in “Flyby.” As the asteroid Chrono-7 hazes Earth, a man wakes up in the morning to find that he is living in his future, one he had never imagined.

Sci-fi Saturday: In “This Time Away,” a robot helps an old fellow rediscover life The robot is very well done and how he gets a name is charming. Lots of people abandon their elderly relatives, of course, so finding a helpful robot in the back yard is a pleasant fantasy.

Sci-fi Saturday: What if an old man could see his mother again? “Bygone” is a hard film to watch if you lost a loved one, but worthwhile. The old man is paying to use his own memories, retrieved via neuroscience imaging.

Sci Fi Saturday: A fight for the winning ticket In “Here comes Frieda,” in a 2040 superstorm, engulfing the planet, a young woman gets hold of a ticket out. But does the way out really exist? Or is she just hanging on and clinging to a fragile hope?

Sci Fi Saturday: Terrified by a Scrap Monster Well, if you have never been terrified by a Scrap Monster, as in “Pinki.” you are clearly missing out. It’s fun watching a middle class South Korean business executive try to cope with the Scrap Monster. Perhaps an allegory of our big environment issues.

Sci Fi Saturday: What if there were serious wars over clouds? In a world that still has technology but is desperately short of water, such wars could happen. The short sci-fi film “Oceanmaker” features pirates who steal precious water from the clouds and a pilot who challenges them

Sci Fi Saturday: Can video games save a lone survivor? “High Score” features fine animations of apocalyptic scenes of post-civilization. The “game” that turns out to be an existential struggle usually benefits from a longer treatment but the animation is well imagined.

Sci Fi Saturday: Can a Robot Find a Better Planet Than Earth? The trouble is, the robot in “Avarya” is governed by Isaac Asimov’s three laws of robotics. After 55 habitable planets, the—by then very old—fellow is beginning to suspect something about the robot’s judgment…

Sci Fi Saturday: “Kiko”: A great short but key questions unanswered A lonely retail service robot longs for a world beyond her store. An agreeable short but it never addresses the question of how Charlie acquired a robot that would “want” something different from its programming.

Sci-fi Saturday: What if next-stage evolution children appear? “Vikaari,” a sci-fi short from Sri Lanka looks at the possibilities. The story is very well done as a parable of the social risks of continuous internal warfare.

Sci-Fi Saturday: Can parents get back a dead child as an android? In “Article 19-42,” they aren’t even united in their grief; they just think they must “do something” to get back a facsimile of what they remember. They have no philosophical or spiritual resources to fall back on in order to avoid this dead end.

Sci-Fi Saturday film: The robot tries to learn about grief In “Rewind,” an elderly woman buys a robot to help her when she finds herself all alone, due to tragedy. Investigating the woman’s unhappiness, the robot discovers more than it was, perhaps, intended to know.

Sci-Fi Saturday film: “Speed of Time” at DUST: A computer nerd writing a pizza delivery program discovers that his work is way more important than he, or anyone, thought. Imagine what happens when an accomplished ground warrior busts in from another time on a quiet family at the breakfast table…

Sci-Fi Saturday film: “Alone” at DUST. Space engineer Kaya Torres, the only survivor of a black hole, contacts an “interstellar penpal” to keep her company until she dies. She manages a desperate escape but then experiences one of the astonishing implications of time travel.

Sci-Fi Saturday film: “The Beacon” at DUST. Refreshingly realistic, especially the harrowing Arctic encounter where the grieving husband finds out what really happened. Not to be missed is Mark’s encounter with the bureaucrat from hell.

Sci-fi Saturday film: Rescuing lost people. Animated, in French, with English subtitles, but don’t let that deter you. The professional relationships in “Protocole Sandwich” sound pretty real and make it worth the watch. The animation is very good.


Mind Matters News

Breaking and noteworthy news from the exciting world of natural and artificial intelligence at MindMatters.ai.

Sci-fi Saturday: “The Big Nothing” melds sci-fi and whodunit