After the Hugo’s, some updates

After reading what I could before the voting for the Hugo Awards I have been a bit away from the blog.

However, the scifi has not been dormant. This is the harvest of the last few months :

Been to a small Convention in Copenhagen, the “Fantasticon”

– reading a few of Jim Butcher’s “Dresden Files” books, good fun, but I think it is time for a break after the first three.

– on some long trips I have been listening to audio .
A. The Leviathan Chronicles (podcast audio play)
B. The audio books of the 6 “main series” books of Anne McCaffreys Dragonriders of Pern. I started reading the series when a friend recommended it some 7 years ago, and found them solid pieces of storytelling on an epic scale. The 6 books are :
1. Dragonflight
2. Dragonquest
3. The White Dragon (won the Hugo Award for best novel)
4. Renegades of Pern
5. All the Weyrs of Pern
6. The Skies of Pern
C. Lots of podcasts , Babylon Podcast, Slice of SciFi, Dragonpage cover to cover, Starship Sofa, Escape Pod, and several others.

– watching this years Hugo Award winner for best dramatic presentation, long form : The film “Moon”, very good

– watching the first season of Eureka : Quite enjoyable, not in the heavy weight category

– watching the second season of Fringe : I enjoyed it quite a bit, even if the mid season was a bit light on the story arc. This seems to conform my idea that shorter seasons generally work better than the +20 episode seasons.

– watching the mini series from Steven Moffat : “Sherlock” very enjoyable

I will be writing a bit more on some of the above stuff, so watch this space.

Hugo Nominee, Short Story : “The Moment” by Lawrence M. Schoen

Schoen was a complete unknown to me, so I do not know if this is his usual style.

As stories go this one does not, to me, have a real plot. The closest to a story line is the search for archeological evidence.

The story feels like a series of disjointed images with an extremely loose connection. there is the search (see above), then an image of a generation ship (crash) landing on a moon, and finally a connection to a great machine, apparently near the center of the galaxy.

I found the conclusion a bit anticlimactic, oh, yes, this seems to be about a species (probably humanity) leaving a planet (probably Earth).

While I do not particularly like the story, I respect the author going where few have gone before, even if this did not work out for me. It must have worked for other people, since it was nominated for the Award.

3/10 from me.

The Irony of Charles Stross’ Hatred of Space Opera

A few months ago I had a chat with Charles Stross at a small convention in Copenhagen. He did express his dislike of space opera at that time, though I had no idea he would later write such a scathing attack on this subgenre, beginning with his viewing of the Star Trek: Next Generation pilot episode “Encounter at Farpoint”.

Here is what he considers the most important part :

“The biggest weakness of the entire genre is this: the protagonists don’t tell us anything interesting about the human condition under science fictional circumstances. The scriptwriters and producers have thrown away the key tool that makes SF interesting and useful in the first place, by relegating “tech” to a token afterthought rather than an integral part of plot and characterization. What they end up with is SF written for the Pointy-Haired [studio] Boss, who has an instinctive aversion to ever having to learn anything that might modify their world-view. The characters are divorced from their social and cultural context; yes, there are some gestures in that direction, but if you scratch the protagonists of Star Trek you don’t find anything truly different or alien under the latex face-sculptures: just the usual familiar and, to me, boring interpersonal neuroses of twenty-first century Americans, jumping through the hoops of standardized plot tropes and situations that were cliches in the 1950s.” (emphasis added).

Part 1 : He has recently written “Saturn’s Children : A Space Opera”. I did read this novel as part of my preparation for voting, since it was nominated for the Hugo Award, and I found it a good, solid story, though not my favourite of the four I got to read.

If you have not read Saturn’s Children, and plan to do it here follows a [SPOILER ALERT] brief description of the story :

The robots are travelling the Solar System. They were created by humans because humans are very fragilec reatures, not very suited for space travel. Of course, robots are the servants of humans, to such a degree that humans forgot to live their life, and are extinct at the time the story begins.

The main character is an obsolete sex robot (humanity extinct, remember), trying to find a “life” of her own, being whirled into a dangerous adventure.

I do like the twist at the end, but will not spoil it here.

[/END SPOILER]

Come to think of it, this story actually has some interesting parallels, in particular with the new “Battlestar Galactica” (BSG). some inetesting differences as well. In both stories humanity has created sentient robots to serve their purpose. In Saturn’s Children the robots were extensively programmed with Asimov’s rules for robots, yet indirectly caused the extinction of humanity – apparently that was not the case in BSG, since the Cylons rebelled, almost bringing on the extinction of humanity.

Part 2 of the irony : (remember : “the protagonists don’t tell us anything interesting about the human condition under science fictional circumstances”).

If we take Stross’ complaint seriously (and literally), Stross himself should have this complaint about his own story, because (a) the main character is a robot and (b) humanity is extinct

On top of that, BSG does exactly what he requires of a good SF story, dealing with the human condition under conceivable (but not existing) circumstances.

Interesting, indeed.

Charles Stross hates Star Trek and Babylon 5 etc.

Here is a comment I made to Charles Stross’ blog post about scifi genre TV.

I find his views rather extreme, though he has, in part retracted his “hate” of B5, and some of the comments he makes are actually a bit on the comical side. Read his post and judge for yourself. I think he makes some sweeping generalisations that do not hold water.

I will add more comments later (yes I have some comments on the irony of what he has posted)

Comment :
*****
As someone possibly more dated as you, Charlie, allow me a few comments on your post.

Apologies for the lengthy comment. If you feel the need, please feel free to edit for length. I will be posting on the subject in more detail on my own blog as well.

I met you and had a bit of a chat at the small con in Copenhagen a few months ago, so I was aware of your dislike of space opera. I am, however, a bit surprised at the strength of that dislike.

I, for one actually like space opera. That you do not is not a problem, we just have to agree to disagree on that.

Since you base the main part of your reasoning about the ST:TNG pilot and the of the Trek derivates, I will start there. You saw some of it and hated it. Then you continue :

– “Babylon Five? Ditto. Battlestar Galactica? Didn’t even bother turning on the TV. I HATE THEM ALL.” (my emphasis)

I see your main complaints as the following (here limited to ST, BSG abd B5, since you imply that they all have exactly the same flaws) :

– “Technobabble”. Agreed, my least favourite aspect of Star Trek. ([tech] the [tech], how awful). I think we can agree that it is most often used as Deus ex Machina in Star Trek.

– “…hit the reset switch at the end of every episode”

– “Sometimes they make at least a token gesture towards a developing story arc but it’s frequently pathetic”

All too true for the majority of Star Trek episodes, even though there are some gems where the technobabble is hardly present and not a part of “the resolution”. Example : “The Inner light” where we get the story of how humans dealt with the situation of a dying ecosphere of their planet (even if they did not survive, they were at least able to tell the story).

I find that none of the above points are true for B5 or BSG, though BSG’s arc seems to have been on hold for a season or two.

Babylon 5 has a planned 5 year overarcing story (with a number of sub-arcs), with excursions into the distant past and distant future, this can hardly be seen as “a token gesture”, even if the last two years had to be compressed into one season, making it truly a 4 year arc due to studio decisions. Not ideal, but the arc was, in general, completed. What came after, when the studio revised its decision is a bit of an afterthought, and filling in some blanks in the original story. Actually, B5 has the structure of a novel, it has just been presented in the audiovisual format.

The BSG ending twist is certainly not very original, it literally has the taste of Deus ex Machina.

– “The biggest weakness of the *entire genre* is this: the protagonists don’t tell us anything interesting about the human condition under science fictional circumstances.”

How can you make such a sweeping generalisation if you have not seen them ? In conjunction with the above statement of “hate them all” I fell that it would be akin to saying “20 years ago I met this [insert *ethnic identity* of choice]. He pissed me off to no end, so now I hate all [*ethnic identity*], – after all they are all the same”. I think we all know what this sounds like, and I doubt that was your intention.

Finally, here comes the biggest surprise for me :
– “….modern audiences want squids in space, with added lasers!”
WHAT !? You can not be serious ! … If this is not a massively sweeping generalisation, I do not know what is. I am glad not every TV viewer in the world sees that statement. Are you psychic (and did not tell us), since you seem to know what all of the TV audience wants ? 😉

I should, however thank you, Charlie, since your post here has given me some input to an article comparing B5 and ST, you know, what it has in common and what not.

I have a few more things to say, but it is already a long comment, so that will have to wait.

Steven Moffat to take the helm on Doctor Who

I am very excited to see that Steven Moffat will replace Russell T. Davies as the lead of BBC’s Doctor Who Team

BBC’s own news item

I consider his episodes in the previous seasons some of the very best Doctor Who stories ever.

2005 : “The Empty Child”/”The Doctor Dances”
2006 : “The Girl in the Fireplace”
2007 : “Blink”

I am very much looking forward to seeing his two parter this season : “Silence in the Library”/”Forest of the Dead”

While RTD has been instrumental in reviving Doctor Who, I think it is the right time to have a new head of the team , and I think Steven Moffat is the right choice. We shall see …

Fantasticon2008, Copenhagen, 26 – 27 April

This is a small Danish convention with a few hundred people attending. Only foreign Guest was Norman Spinrad. The con was held in the “Vanloese Kulturhus” (cultural house) in nice large rooms and a terrace. Even the weather cooperated and we could sit outside chatting along between the programmed events. I arrived there after a long (12 hour) drive and a few hours of sleep.

On Saturday I went to the interview with Niels Brunse who has translated a large amount of English language books into Danish, and also written stories of his own. He was, among other subjects, talking about the difficulty of making a good translation, something I can relate to in a limited capacity, having attempted translation in both directions between Danish and English. Some elegant words or phrases in one language translate *very* poorly into the other.

Sunday had a surprise guest speaker, the Danish physicist Holger Bech Nielsen, giving a presentation of his version of the “theory of everything” : “Random Dynamics”. He is a *very* lively lecturer, and it is always fun to see him, his enthusiasm for the subject is just radiating from him. This was the first time I saw him “live”, the other times were just on television.

Arthur C. Clarke :

For me the best part of the programme on Sunday was the panel discussion about Arthur C. Clarke, the panel consisting of 3 Danish fans and the guest speaker Norman Spinrad. Spinrad had sopme cooperation with Clarke in the 1960’s and could tell us that the final scene of the movie “2001 – A Space Odyssey” was in fact not the one we saw in the movie. Clarke had envisioned a scene with very beautiful aliens, but it was not technically possible to do to his satisfaction – meaning the scene had to be rewritten.

Clarke’s relatively optimistic view of the future has by some been regarded as naive, but it most probably is an expression of his dream about the future.

Finally there was a discussion of Clarke’s unusual combination of hard science fiction and the “mystical” (for lack of a better word), something very prominent in “2001”, but it is in much of his other work.

Of course, you cannot mention Arthur C. Clarke without talking about his strong influence on science and technology (as well as science fiction), interesting to see how many of his early thoughts have come true already.

All in all a very nice week end , I will try to make it again next year.

Arthur C. Clarke died at 90

I know this happened last week, but the preparations for going to the Eastercon/Orbital2008 have overshadowed most other things. See also previous post.

I first became aware of Atrhur C. Clarke through the movie/novel “2001 – A Space Oddyssey” which made a considreable impression on my young self.

One of my favorite longer stories by Clarke is “Rendezvous With Rama”.

I have on my shelf a brick of a book with about 100 short stories by Clarke , I think I will slowly work my way through those.

At the convention I found a signed copy of “Tales From the White Hart”, and despite the (understandably rather high) price I just had to get it. Should read the short stories in that one, too.

I see Arthur C. Clark as one of the giants in science fiction, and a very influential science writer – one of the few science fiction writers with a scientific writer’s background.

It was good to see a last minute addition to the Eastercon programme of a panel discussion about Clarke’s influence in science as well as science fiction. On top of that, one of the panelists had been the secretary for Arthur C. Clarke for about a year, and he could bring light on theless public sides of the author. Nicely done.

He will be missed in the scifi community.