The golden age of Science Fiction

Depending on who you ask, the “Golden Age of Science Fiction,” is either “undisputedly,” or just “widely recognized” as the 1940’s (and possibly 50’s). Of course, one person’s Golden Age is another person’s capital-E Establishment, but historically, the 40’s and 50’s are the era when a younger generation of very talented writers weaned on the pulps and unafraid of speculative-fiction-that-incorporated-science took up pen or typewriter. Among them: Arthur C. Clarke, Ray Bradbury, Tom Godwin, and Isaac Asimov.

It is interesting that of the three biggies I review here (Clarke, Bradbury, and Asimov), Asimov was always my favorite, but (perhaps due to story choices?) this time around, I was much more impressed with Bradbury.

All of these writers are masters of creating fully-realized portraits of everyday life in the future, or on space stations, or the Moon, in very few words. Continue reading “The golden age of Science Fiction”

Pulp (Science) Fiction

Yeah. So. I might have been a little hasty in my prediction that all 30’s pulp sci fi would be melodramatic. Too much (over)exposure to Captain Proton. That said, the sci-fi of the 1930’s still seems to have an earnest straight-forwardness to it. That is, with the exception of minor details, it does not read as particularly revolutionary to the contemporary eye. But you know, neither does a Mondrian abstract painting.

Looked at from a purely 21st century perspective, your gut reaction to such paintings (or such short stories) is “So what? Lots of stuff looks like that.” Yes. These days. But then you glance at the year the painting or the story came out and contrast it with what passed as popular design or entertainment in its day, and the work is friggin’ revolutionary. Indeed, any one of these stories can be classed as a primordial example of what is now a common sci-fi trope. If H. G. Wells is the grandfather of modern science fiction, these writers are his sons:

Continue reading “Pulp (Science) Fiction”

The short story of science fiction

In the past couple weeks, I have been reading science fiction short stories. In typical fashion, I have this need to be systematic and thorough, so I am choosing my stories in a chronological fashion. Obviously, I am not reading all of them, just a smattering, but here is the reading list so far:

Poe, Edgar Allen. “The Unparalleled Adventure of One Hans Pfaall”, 1835
Hawthorne, Nathaniel. “Rappaccini’s Daughter”, 1844
Wells, H.G. “The Star”, 1897
Hamilton, Edmond. “The Man Who Evolved”, 1931
Robert Heinlein. “–All You Zombies–” 1959

My descriptions/reviews below are somewhat spoilery in terms of premise and tone, although I don’t out and out describe how the stories end.

The first two stories have been dubbed ‘proto science fiction’ in that they were written well before there was any such genre as science fiction, and were labeled in hindsight as “science fiction-like.” H. G. Wells is the first of this batch to be truly a “science fiction” writer, although he would not have used that term, since it was not invented until the mid-twentieth century.

Continue reading “The short story of science fiction”

I want candy

My life since graduate school: I am a child in a candy store, the one who is told she cannot eat anything until she’s finished her chores.

I have a job, but beyond that, few responsibilities. I am single and childless. I don’t belong to any organizations (anymore, used to be a thing with me). I have a few family obligations, but nothing that taxes on a daily basis. My family (including my GF) gives me lots of space. Even in my job, I am left pretty much alone as long as I get the work done. Sure, sometimes that work is demanding.

But it is safe to say, that for the most part, I do what I want when I want.

Which means there is a candy store of experiences waiting for me to just try them. What’s the candy? Sometimes, it’s a wonderful television program. Sometimes, it’s a fascinating place to visit. Sometimes, it’s feathering this little nest I’ve built for myself. Sometimes, an interesting friend. Sometimes, it’s literally a piece of candy.

But I’m not allowed these things until my chores are finished. So of course, I sneak off and I eat the candy, and then berate myself. No candy until your chores are done.

And what are my chores?

Writing. That’s my chores. “The great American novel.” That should be one of the pieces of candy, the most delicious, enticing candy in the store. Instead, it’s the thing that the mom-voice in my head is telling me to finish before I can taste one little delicious piece of life.

So of course I’m always rebelling by watching TV, working on some personal project, or eating. And then berating myself, bitterly. In an endless cycle.

Self-beratement doesn’t work. The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. All it does is turn the best thing in my life into a cudgel I use to bludgeon myself with.

Are blogs the new journals?

I saw this article recently in my writing blogs:

Are Blogs The New Journals?

It’s been ten years since I kept a “proper” journal. You know, the kind you write long-hand into a private (note)book? Actually, I was in a journaling slump even the early ’00s, so it’s been more like twelve. I’ve kept a journal since I was fifteen (even earlier than that, but in a fit of teenaged angst, I threw that earlier one away). So I believe with conviction that blogs are not the new “journals.” A contemporary form of ongoing letter-writing correspondence, perhaps, but not a contemporary form of the journal.

If any blogging platform comes close to journaling, it’s Dreamwidth/Live Journal, which in my experience is more intimate than your average blog. People talk more about their personal lives, their highs and lows. But blogs and “online journals” are social media. They allow you to interact and form communities. I remember when I first heard about Live Journal from some ATPo friends ten years ago. I was flabbergasted. They keep their journals ON LINE? It seemed the height of exhibitionism to me.

Because at the time, journals were, for me, a private space where you wrote your innermost thoughts, didn’t censor, poured out emotions you wouldn’t reveal any other place, engaged in self-indulgent naval gazing, and kept the metaphorical pressed flowers of your daily life preserved for later nostalgia or mortification. Assuming you could even pick up that volume 20 years later without wanting to kick your younger self in the shins.

Journaling isn’t better or worse than blogging, it’s just different. You blog for attention and validation, in part, and you risk criticism and rejection. It’s the school yard, the neighborhood coffee clache, the backyard barbecue. A journal, on the other hand, is just You, and sometimes Your God (my mom, forex, thinks of her jouraling as a form of prayer. Self-indulgent whining at God kind of prayer, but cathartic for that very reason).

There is a gray middle ground, of course. I sometimes write private entries in my Live Journal that are more like my old journal than a blog entry. But I do censor myself in those entries a bit in the paranoid fear some security bug will sweep through LJ and make them public ever so briefly. But I don’t often just journal with a notebook and a pen like the old days anymore. The only time I still feel compelled to write in a notebook that is totally disconnected from online blogging and emails is when I’m hiking and feeling kinda spiritual. Computers and the woods don’t mix for a lot of reasons.

Confessions of a Hero Whore

dresdent_files

More often than not when you ask me who my favorite character in a book, film, or television series is, it’s the hero. Not that I don’t appreciate the grayer characters, the morally ambiguous types–tricksters, shady allies and informants, double-agents, self-serving baddies with sympathetic pasts and motivations. But I think sometimes those grayer characters get overvalued, proclaimed “way more interesting” than the heroes, who are decried as boring and predictable when the do the right thing, and lambasted when they make a mistake. Similarly, fans who like hero characters are made to feel like throwbacks to 1952.

But where would we be without the heroes? A story full of characters whose primary motivations are self-serving or up for grabs may make an interesting read/viewing experience, but an abundance of stories like that leave me feeling ungrounded. Morally gray characters are like icing without the cake. I need to have someone in the story who I can root for without feeling like I washed myself with a dirty rag. Someone far from perfect, but who shows genuine courage, and who I know is trying to do the right thing, even if they mess it up a lot along the way. Even if, in the end, they fail.

An engaging hero character requires work on the part of the writer. Many heroic characters face odds so steep that their success, or the traits they possess that allow their success, make them larger than life and difficult to relate to. Giving them flaws that humanize them, though, is tricky. If a hero character is flawed in ways that make him or her unlikable, a reader/viewer can feel manipulated by the narrative–as if they’re “supposed” to like them, even if they don’t.

One thing to remember, though, is that there is a difference between the viewer/reader rooting for the hero even though s/he’s a better man than you, gunga din, and being able to “relate to” him or her. I often don’t relate to the heroes that I find myself rooting for. I can’t imagine being them. But I root for them nevertheless, because the writer has made them sympathetic, human, and likeable.

It’s a bit embarrassing, though, to be asked who your favorite character is and have to “admit”:

Oh, Highlander? Duncan Macleod
Harry Potter series: Harry Potter
Merlin BBC: well, Merlin, of course
Angel the Series: Angel
Star Trek Deep Space Nine: Ben Sisko
Once Upon A Time: Emma Swan
Harry Dresden: Harry Dresden

…and so on.

It’s not always the case though. My favorite ST: TNG character was Data. But of course, he was the epitome of the awkwardly sincere trying-to-be-the-best-of-humanity. And my favorite character on Lost was Hurley, but y’know, Everyman with a Heart of Gold, he was. On ST: Voyager, I liked Be’lanna Torres. I have a thing for the fucked-up tough girls. But I’m not sure I would have stayed glommed onto the angry, screwed-up babes if they weren’t flawed-but-trying-to-be-a-good-person. To wit: Faith on BtVS/AtS. Although she was never my favorite character on Buffy the Vampire Slayer. I never really had one, except possibly the foursome of Buffy+Giles+Willow+Xander. The collective heroic.

Do I get points if my favorite Anne Rice vampire was Armand? He was no saint. I could never stand Lestat, but I liked Louis quite a bit. I prefer my vampires with a soul.