Seeking a Friend for the End of the World

[3.5 stars] [IMDb Link] [Amazon Link]

It's a mini-boomlet in humanity-faces-Armageddon movies. But this is much, much more fun to watch than Melancholia, even though it lacks Kirsten Dunst's bazooms.

The culprit in this movie is "Matilda", an asteroid that's on track for an inevitable collision with Earth. We're informed right at the start that the usual Bruce Willis/Robert Duvall mission to save the planet has failed, so what's left is to follow the odyssey of Dodge (Steve Carell) as he tries to deal with his wife (literally) running out on him. (Nice touch: Dodge's wife is played by Steve Carell's actual spouse, Nancy.)

The large-scale reactions to doomsday are as expected. Some engage in violent anarchy; some seek out hedonistic excess in various combinations of sex, booze, and drugs; some plan for survival; some wallow in the mellow fellowship of family and friends. But Dodge becomes obsessed with reuniting with his high-school sweetheart, Olivia. He pairs up with Penny (Keira Knightley), a ditzy weed-loving free spirit. They set out in search of Olivia, but encounter a number of colorful characters on the way.

It's unpretentious and (although not billed as a comedy) very funny in spots. And mawkishly sentimental in other spots. But overall, very watchable. It probably helps that Steve Carell is an expert in portraying sympathetic characters; in less capable hands, Dodge would come across as a whiny, effete loser.

Last Modified 2014-11-09 11:31 AM EST

The Robots of Dawn

[Amazon Link] This 1983 book is another "late Asimov" novel, a followup to his two robot/mystery books written in the 1950s. Asimov's detective is Elijah "Lije" Baley, who's once again partnered with R. Daneel Olivaw. Where the "R" stands for Robot; Daneel is the only robot in the galaxy that can reasonably pass for human.

Or, specifically, he is now the only humanoid robot. Because the positronic brain of the only other humanoid robot, R. Jander Panell, has been sent into an irreversible lockup. The prime suspect is Daneel's and Jander's creator, Dr. Han Fastolfe; even he, with a characteristic lack of modesty, admits that he's the only one with the requisite skills and knowledge to "kill" a robot in this manner. Yet he denies that he's the culprit.

Baley is sent to the scene of the crime: Aurora, the first planet to be colonized by Earth. By a convoluted (and not too convincing) argument, the very future of mankind depends on the outcome of Baley's investigation: unless Fastolfe is cleared, his political enemies will gain the upper hand. And his political enemies believe that Earth must never be allowed to participate in futher settlement of the galaxy's inhabited worlds.

Things are somewhat enlivened by the confession of Gladia (a reappearing character from the previous book in the series), for whom Jander was working. It turns out that she and Jander had been canoodling in secrecy; that sordid revelation would probably not have made it into a 1950s Asimov novel.

But otherwise—as usual with an Asimov novel—it's talk, talk, talk. Page after page of wooden dialog. It takes until page 319 (in my 408-page copy) before something resembling normal mystery action occurs. Asimov makes up for this with his fantastic world-building and plotting skills.

This book also continues Asimov's project of tying together his Foundation series with his robot series, with Fastolfe working on something he calls "psychohistory"—a key element in the Foundation books—and tantalizing hints about the upcoming Galactic Empire (where, as we know, the Terran origins of humanity have been forgotten).