Showing posts with label Alien Invasions. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Alien Invasions. Show all posts

Thursday, May 09, 2019

Blast from the Past: The Geekerati Crew Discuss Alien Invasions in Film, TV, and Games

It will have been 12 years this August since the Geekerati Team live streamed our Alien Invasions episode. Give it a listen and let me know your thoughts.

How well does it hold up?

Do I need to do an updated one that discusses upcoming Alien Invasion films like Rim of the World?

Monday, March 12, 2012

The SF Library: Mandatory Anthology #1 "Adventures in Time and Space"

If you want to get a good sense of the "Golden Age" of Science Fiction, there is no better volume to have on your Science Fiction bookshelf than the Raymond J. Healy and J. Francis McComas edited Adventures in Time and Space.

 Adventures in Time and Space is an anthology making an argument for the literary merit of Science Fiction as a genre.  It was originally published in 1946 -- one year after the dawn of the Atomic Age and the end of the Second World War.  I own the 1957 Modern Library Edition, and it is a book I return to often when I think about what Science Fiction is as a genre and where it can go "literarily."  The genre has had some fine wordsmiths -- Heinlein, Asimov, Iain Banks, C.L. Moore -- come immediately to mind, but it is a genre that still suffers under the shadow of the poorest written "Space Westerns" of the genre.  It is this shadow that Healy and McComas were trying to destroy.  These editors believe that by 1946 Science Fiction as a genre had found its place as a literary genre, a genre of truly imaginative literature.  And they believed that the elevation of Science Fiction as a literary form was largely due to the work of one editor, John W. Campbell Jr.  As they put it in the introduction to the Modern Library edition:

"Critics have called this the 'definitive' anthology of science fiction stories.  We agree -- not just because it flatters us, but because it is an accurate judgment of the magazine editor who first published most of the stories in this collection.

That man was John W. Campbell, Jr. And perhaps no one man ever had a greater influence over a literary form, for Campbell single-handedly revolutionized the writing of -- and possibly more importantly -- the thinking in modern science fiction.

He created what all of us -- readers, writers and editors -- refer to as the Golden Age of twentieth-century imaginative literature. You are about to read the golden bests of that golden time.

Prior to Campbell's advent as editor of Astounding Stories in 1937, science fiction had badly deteriorated from the standard set by its great founders, Wells and Verne. While some editors strove for genuinely interesting scientific speculation, they allowed such challenging postulations to be presented in a framework of atrocious prose. Generally, however, magazines nominally presenting science fiction offered science that was claptrap and fiction that was graceless and dull.

Campbell changed all that...

As I read those words today, I don't think that Healy and McComas are overstating Campbell's influence.  Campbell is an editor whose shadow looms large over the genre, just as Lin Carter's looms over fantasy, or August Derleth's looms over the Weird Tale.  There have been great editors since Campbell, but he was among the first great editors of the genre.  This is especially telling in the themes of the stories he edited.

Read Asimov's Foundation stories and A.E. Van Vogt's Space Beagle and Slan stories in one straight run, and you will notice themes emerging.  Asimov's "psychohistory" and Van Vogt's "nexialism" sound very similar to each other thematically, and they are applied in similar ways.  Both of these disciplines are collections of the skills of other disciplines, they are a kind of "master science."  This optimistic theme of a rigorous social science that could better our lives is a common undercurrent in Campbellian fiction.  It is one of the hallmarks of his is optimism itself.  It is sometimes striking how optimistic Campellian fiction is.  Even when it is skeptical -- like Herbert's Dune -- it contains optimism.  For what are Mentats and the Bene Gesserit, but practitioners of Nexialism and Psychohistory?

Adventures in Time and Space doesn't include Dune World or Slan, but it contains stories with many of the same themes.  Among my favorite tales are:

  • Robert Heinlein's "Requiem" and "The Roads Must Roll"
  • Henry Kuttner and C.L. Moore's "Time Locker" and "The Twonky" -- written as Lewis Padgett.  Moore and Kuttner seem to be to be vastly under-read by the modern SF reader.  C.L. Moore is arguably my favorite SF author, her combination of the weird and the wondrous are magnificent.
  • John W. Campbell, Jr's "Who Goes There?" which is the story that the classic SF films THE THING FROM ANOTHER WORLD and THE THING are based upon.  Campbell published this story under his Don A. Stuart pseudonym.
  • Isaac Asimov's "Nightfall"
  • A.E. VanVogt's "Black Destroyer" -- possibly my favorite SF story.  Readers will notice its influence in Ridley Scott's ALIEN and in the STAR TREK franchise.  The Space Beagle and its mission are surprisingly similar to that of the Enterprise and nexialism and Mr. Spock have a lot in common.
  • Harry Bates' "Farewell to the Master" was the inspiration for THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL and stands as a classic tale far better than the "cold war bigger bully scares us straight" narrative of the film.
There are 35 tales in all in the anthology and they are tales that I return to again and again.  Much like Carter's "Adult Fantasy" series with its many fantasy anthologies, Adventures in Time and Space belongs on your bookshelf.

If only Erik Mona and Paizo had managed to get the rights to do a Planet Stories edition of the book before that line went on hiatus.  I would have loved to see this anthology with some artwork from their stable.  If only because the Coerl of "Black Destroyer" is also the influence behind the D&D monster the Displacer Beast.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Falling Skies -- Alien Occupation TV Done Right?

The vast majority of "Alien Invasion" SFnal storylines follow a very familiar pattern. The aliens arrive, sometimes pretending to be friendly. The aliens attack. The aliens defeat us. We keep fighting. For some reason, either because of some gimmick or because of human tenacity, the aliens are defeated/leave. We all rejoice.

This pattern is used in H.G. Well's "War of the Worlds," Edgar Rice Burroughs' "The Moon Maid," Larry Niven's "Known Space," Jerry Pournelle/Larry Niven's "Footfall," Robert Heinlein's "Starship Troopers," L. Ron Hubbard's "Battlefield Earth," etc., and too many movies and television shows to list. The fact that it is formula doesn't mean that it isn't good. It is a tried and true formula that allows for narrative excitement while also allowing for a cathartic happy ending. When done extremely well, it also allows for sfnal commentary on modern human affairs.

The new TNT series "Falling Skies" is the latest television addition to this storied tradition. In "Falling Skies," the aliens have already invaded, destroyed most of the world's large cities, and crushed the military might of Earth. All that remain are ever increasingly small bands of humanity. Groups that get smaller as the aliens begin scanning for smaller and smaller communities. In the first episode, we are informed that the aliens are now tracking and attacking communities of 500 citizens and may soon move on to communities of 300 people. When the aliens encounter communities, they kill all the adults and capture the teenage children in order to put the teens in "mind control harnesses." The overall purpose of the harnesses is unknown, but hinted at. The aliens have established permanent bases, in the form of large structures, and their flagships have left our world to unknown locations. The initial shock and awe of the alien assault is over, "Falling Skies" is a tale of occupation and resistance.

"Falling Skies" follows the struggle of one band of the human resistance. That community includes a number of key players.

Porter -- the former military officer who believed that his fighting days were over and must now command a group that has all too few fighting men and women.

Captain Weaver(Will Patton) -- the military man who wants to take the fight to the aliens, and who resents the "civilian baggage" he is responsible for -- forgetting why it is that soldiers fight in the first place.

Tom Mason (Noah Wylie) -- a former professor of American History who has a deep knowledge of military history, but lacks practical experience in the art of war. He has read his Caesar, but had not used a firearm before the invasion.

Anne Glass (Blood Moongood) -- a pediatrician turned omni-doctor, who must minister to all the medical needs of the community.

There are a number of other important players, but Mason, Glass, and Weaver form provide a nice conflict triangle for the first two episodes. Weaver is solely concerned with preparing for combat, Glass is concerned with the health of the community, and Mason tries to balance the needs of society with the necessities of war.

Professor Mason provides the lens through which the narrative of the show progresses. He believes that the struggle of the survivors against the aliens is analogous to the American Revolution and believes that if we fight hard enough that it becomes a more expensive/difficult for the aliens to remain than the benefits they gain from occupation, then they will leave. It is Mason who describes the strategy needed in a way that exactly mirrors the traditional sfnal alien invasion tale. It also happens to mirror George Washington's strategy against the British.

The first episode is an engaging introduction to the stakes of the series. The survivors need food, and they need to find out why the aliens are capturing human children. Mason, and a small squad of the resistance, backtrack into the area the community is fleeing to find food and to see if they can locate any harnessed children. It is hoped that they can rescue the children, and find out what the harnesses are for. So far, all attempts to remove the harnesses from children have resulted in the death of the child and no increase the understanding of their purpose. The episode is engaging, and hints that "Falling Skies" can be an occupation/invasion story of the best kind.

It is in the second episode where the edges begin to fray, and the show risks becoming a retread of previously explored narratives -- and uninteresting narratives at that. In the second episode, "The Armory," the resistance is exploring an Armory in pursuit of additional weapons. They soon discover that there are more dangers than the alien "Skitters" that wander the post-invasion landscape. There are also wandering marauders who are on holiday from 80s post-apocalyptic narratives. The marauders of "The Armory" are led by the morally ambiguous ex-con John Pope (Colin Cunningham) who has found that the lawlessness of the post-invasion world suits his brutal nature.

[rant]Why is it that we always have to have the "morally ambiguous leader of wasteland marauders" in these stories? Can't we just do without them? Maybe have the morally ambiguous threat, or even sinister threat, lie hidden in the civilian population rather than as a leader of a roving band of maniacs.[/rant]

As disappointing as the John Pope narrative is, all hope for a good series is not lost as the upcoming third episode adds some interesting narrative conflicts. "The Armory" also includes some good character growth in the Weaver, Mason, and Glass characters.

I have pretty high hopes for the show. I also have a prediction regarding why the kids are being harnessed. I think that the children are being harnessed so that they can become the "pilots" of the alien's dreaded Mechs.

"Falling Skies" combines many elements of past human/alien conflict stories, including some similarities to the "Tripods" trilogy/quadrology of books by John Christopher. In fact, it is the fact that "Falling Skies" has tropes from so many of my favorite alien occupation stories, rather than just one series, is one of the key reasons I have hope for the series. It seems as if the writers of the show are steeped in the tropes of the genre and are comfortable using them, rather than thinking they are reinventing the invasion genre.

I eagerly await the next episode, "Prisoner of War."

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Last Night the Geeks and I Discussed Alien Invasions

Hollywood loves alien invasion stories, and so do we. Whether they are special effects extravaganza's like War of the Worlds or powerful social commentary like Invasion of the Body Snatchers there is something about alien invasion stories that deeply resonates with the human condition.

What are your favorite alien invasion stories? The Moon Maid by Edgar Rice Burroughs? Invasion of the Body Snatchers? Independence Day?

We discussed all these and more last night on Geekerati.

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