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The interplanetary Bechdel Test

25 Oct

With apologies to the actual Bechdel Test, which is about gender in TV, film, and other fictional media.

I am reading Fluency by Jennifer Foehner Wells, which got 4.3 out of 5 stars on Amazon with 1,115 raters. Honestly, I am not sure how it got that rating. The story was pretty good up to the point where Aliens, aliens, always aliens

The golden age of Science Fiction

13 Jan

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 short story of science fiction

9 Dec

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

When is a geek not a geek?

26 Jul

Apparently, I’ve lead a sheltered life.

But I know why.

First, a rec from the man behind Wesley Crusher:

http://wilwheaton.net/2013/07/nothing-to-prove/

I have only been aware of this misogyny-in-geekdom problem in the past year or so via blog links and posts on the topic. The short version is Continue reading

Confessions of a Hero Whore

30 Mar

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.

Fall TV and the Politics of Merlin

23 Dec

Once Upon a Time is proving better than the pilot would have suggested. I like the non-linear way it is telling the back story of the characters, and how it is embellishing the fairy tales to make them more complex and interesting. I think of this show as Lost in reverse—characters from a fantasy place all trapped in the contemporary U.S. together.

And I am hoping, like Lost, it is able to successfully reinvent itself each season without losing its charm or forgetting its roots. Lost was brilliant in that respect.

In other news, the show Merlin has become a bit of a new TV obsession for me.

One thing I don’t like about it is the poor Morgana character development. If you want an effective villain, you have to give some glimmer of her having the sorts of character weaknesses that lead to such villainy, and show a more gradual evolution of the character as she falls prey to those weaknesses, and that’s something they just didn’t do very well.

Also, the politics of the show are a bit dodgy. Maybe I’ve watched way too much Deep Space Nine (in fact, I’m sure of it), but showing nearly every Freedom Fighter character as corrupt and evil and having the heroes essentially being collaborators who are playing a very long game and allowing innocents to die in the interim…. Well, it makes me uncomfortable.

But the show hits so many of my story kinks I can grumpily overlook these flaws. It has gorgeous scenery, myth, swords and sorcery, secrets and secret identities, a charming, powerful, overlooked hero, interesting complex family relationships, long lost parents, faeries, trolls, dragons, and griffins.

And ironically, I seem to have developed a Merlin/Morgana thing after Servant of Two Masters. More in a Epic Destined!Enemies kind of way, although I would not object to a few brief moments of hate lust.

‘Tis a pity…

22 Jul

…the Star Trek series Enterprise was cancelled. It actually started to become interesting in its fourth season, to become the show I’d wanted to watch when it first aired. The prequel; the show that actually paid attention to its future canon and told the story about the first days of Starfleet and the founding of the Federation, and tread those already sketched-out paths in imaginative ways that couldn’t be predicted (their take on how the Klingons lost their forehead ridges for a while, ribbing off the human Eugenics Wars? Inspired, because it was so, so in character for the Klingons).

I suppose it was a show that was doomed to failure from the beginning. You can’t explore strange new worlds and seek out new civilizations when your characters are just getting to know species that to the audience are familiar faces. You either have to take the story far afield into alien species we don’t understand why we never heard of before (which they did a lot of, for three years), or write that prequel that could fall so quickly into predictability.

In the end, I didn’t watch the show because I didn’t bond personally with any of the characters. There was no one who intrigued me, or got under my skin. And so many of the early plots seemed warmed over [insert TOS/TNG/DSN/Voy episode here].

I finally got done catching up on the entire series on Netflix. Now to figure out what to catch up on next.