Showing posts with label Science Fiction. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Science Fiction. Show all posts

Monday, June 03, 2019

From the Archives (09/03/2007): The Pulps and Their Modern Legacy -- An Interview with Win Scott Eckert Discussing Barsoom, Hyboria, and Urban Mean Streets.

Listen to this blast from the past as the Geekerati panel discusses Win Scott Eckert's book Myths for the Modern Age and the long lasting legacy of pulp fiction. It's a conversation about John Carter of Mars, Tarzan, Doc Savage, The Shadow, French Pulps, and Dashiell Hammett. Who could ask for more?

Win Scott Eckert is one of the leading experts in pulp fiction and one of his major contributions to the continuation of pulp fandom has been his work on the Wold Newton Family and its universe of tales. The Wold Newton Universe was a creation of Science Fiction Grand Master Philip Jose Farmer who asked an interesting question, "What if many classic tales of fiction, literary and pulp, all happened in a shared universe?" Farmer uses the real world occurrence of a radioactive meteor landing in Wold Newton England as the cornerstone event of his shared universe, a universe in which Tarzan, The Lone Ranger, Elizabeth Bennet, John Carter of Mars, Doctor Jekyll/Mr. Hyde, and many more reside. Our conversation with Win begins with a discussion of his book on the topic, but expand into a conversation about what made the pulps successful and why they continue to inspire creators today.

During the Overtime segment, Shawna Benson discusses an unaired pilot for a new Phillip Marlowe show. It is currently available on YouTube if you are interested in seeing whether you think the networks should have picked it up.

In this archive episode, I've re-edited the episode into segments using's functionality. All future episodes will be edited into segments and new episodes (our first one is coming next week) will have distinct segments with unique and consistent introductions.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Judge Dredd: Mega-City One in Development from Rebellion and IM Global Television

Fans of Judge Dredd received some potentially good news today with the announcement that Rebellion and IM Global Television will be producing a television show that takes place in the Dredd-verse called Judge Dredd: Mega-City One. From early press materials, including the interview with Producer Brian Jenkins and Rebellion CEO Jason Kingsley embedded below, it appears that the main character of the show will be Mega-City One and not Dredd. From a creative standpoint, this is will allow showrunners and writers to explore a wider array of stories, and delve deeper into Dredd-lore, than might be possible if the creative team focused on Judge Dredd. Not that there aren't many great tales featuring the Judge, but the comic's biting commentary on American culture will be stronger if the city is a strong character.

Jenkins and Kingsley show a lot of enthusiasm for the project in their interview, but they admit their own novice status as film and television producers and highlight their partnership with IM Global Television. Founded in 2007 by Stuart Ford, IM Global Televsion has recently announced a number of major television projects in development including Judge Dredd: Mega-City One and series based on Glen Cook's The Black Company and Kurt Vonnegut Jr.'s science fiction novel Cat's Cradle. It's a relatively ambitious line-up for the relatively young company, but IM Global's President Mark Stern has a solid resume of work on genre properties from his time at the Syfy network where he was President of Original Content.

It's still very early in the development process, but as someone who owns many Judge Dredd collections, board games, and rpgs, I'll be looking forward to seeing what Rebellion and IM Global Television put together.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Savage Things (Part 1): Savage Worlds Adventures in the World of Stranger Things

Stranger Things is a Netflix Original Series that was released on the streaming network on July 15, 2016. The show focuses on mysterious events which occur in the fictional city of Hawkins, Indiana in 1983 that are related to experiments at the Hawkins National Laboratory. The Laboratory receives its funding through the U.S. Department of Energy and is run by Dr. Martin Brenner who uses the Laboratory to engage in experiments similar to those of the CIA's Stargate Project.

Many have described the series as a love-song to the 80s due not only to the fact that the show takes place in 1983, but also due to the number of references to 80s pop culture the show contains and the number of homages to 80s pop culture which served to influence the show. These influences include the horror of Stephen King, Sam Raimi, and John Carpenter, alternative music from the early 80s, Dungeons & Dragons, and the films of George Lucas and Steven Spielberg. For example, the music during the opening credit sequence references score composed by John Carpenter and the opening shot of Episode 8 is a direct reference to the Imperial Base on Endor in Return of the Jedi.  A complete list of Easter Eggs and influences is beyond the scope of this blog post, but much has been written about the show at The Hollywood Reporter and elsewhere.

Given the supernatural elements of the show, and the fact that it falls into the Spielberg tradition of Tween/Teen Adventures, Stranger Things makes for the perfect setting for a role playing game campaign. To this end, I've put together some basic background material and statistics for important Player Characters/Non-Player Characters for you to use at your own gaming tables. The statistics in this initial blog post are for the Savage Worlds Roleplaying game using the core rulebook and the East Texas University setting book. The Savage Worlds system is particularly good at emulating the kinds of "kids using luck to survive dangerous situations" stories within the Tweenventure genre and the East Texas University setting of Pinebox, TX provides a nice analog for Hawkins, IN.  Future updates will include statistics for BubbleGumshoe, Hero Kids, and other popular role playing games.

Posts in Savage Things Series:
Part 1 -- The Setting and the Kids
Part 2 -- The Heroic Teens
Part 3 -- A Super Heroic Second Take on Eleven/Elle

Hawkins, Indiana (Population 4,936) – Hawkins, Indiana is a fictional city created as a setting for tales in the Stranger Things-verse. The show uses the city of Jackson, Georgia as a proxy for Hawkins and thus all estimations of population and city services are done using real world data for Jackson. 

Hawkins PD – Hawkins law enforcement is overseen by the Chief of Police Jim Hopper manages the City Jail and a staff of 17. This staff includes 13 sworn police officers and 4 communications officers. The Hawkins City Jail has 16 beds for use in housing inmates and provides service 24-hours a day.

Hawkins Library – The Hawkins Library is the central library for the County and thus has a large selection of books and access to all major newspapers dating from 1910 are available on microfiche. In addition to its extensive collection of normal books, the Hawkins Library is also home to a private collection of books about mysterious incidents and the occult (this information is not included in the show, but was added due to The Monster using the Library as a nest in the Upside-Down). The library hours are as follows:

Monday – Thursday: 9:00 am – 8:00 pm
Friday: 9:00 am – 6:00 pm
Saturday: 10:00 am – 4:00 pm

Hawkins Middle School -- As one of the larger cities in the county, Hawkins Middle School (Home of the Tigers) serves as the home of the County School District's Middle and High Schools. These schools serve students from the neighboring cities. Hawkins Middle School has a population of 1,000 students in grades 7 and 8. It has an advanced science program for a school in the 1980s. This is as much due to the enthusiasm of Mr. Clarke as it is to grants and donations from Hawkins National Laboratory. The school district has an annual science competition and Will Byers' D&D group have won their grade level almost every year.

Hawkins High School -- Like the Middle School, Hawkins High School provides services for county residents who do not live in Hawkins proper. Unlike the Middle School, which only serves neighboring communities, the High School serves the entire County. This give Hawkins High School a population of 4,000 students. The High School receives support from the Hawkins National Laboratory and has a history of academic focus over athletics. The Football team typically has a .500 season and the same is true for the Baseball team. The school has a competitive Softball team and both men's a women's basketball have a history of success that exceed expectations from such a small county.

Hawkins National Laboratory -- The Hawkins National Laboratory was built in 1979 as part of a Department of Energy program seeking to research new forms of energy production. A good deal of the research at the Laboratory deals with the creation of more efficient solar energy cells. Given the variations in weather, Hawkins makes an ideal location for study of a solar panel that can operate productively in less sunny climates. Unknown to the public is that the majority of the Hawkins National Laboratory's funding comes from the CIA's Stargate Project. This project investigates whether humans are capable of manifesting psychic and psychokinetic powers. To advance their efforts they recruited Dr. Martin Brenner whose earlier research on the use of LSD and sensory deprivation at the University of Indiana led to early insights into psychic phenomenon. While the CIA initially selected the Stargate title for the project as a means of obfuscating the actual research going on, recent events at the Laboratory have led to the creation of a Portal between our dimension and a Shadow Dimension which parallels our own.

The Upside Down/Vale of Shadows – A dark reflection or echo of the material plane, a place of decay and death. It is a plane out of phase and filled with monsters. It is right next to you and you don’t even see it and it is governed by necrotic and shadow magic. The Upside-Down appears to be a dark and cold version of our world with necrotic growths and no living creatures other than The Monster and possibly its offspring.

There are only two ways to pass into the Upside-Down. The first is through the semi-permanent portal created by Elle/Eleven. This portal is on a lower level of Hawkins National Laboratory and has begun to warp the world around it. Inside the Laboratory these effects can be seen in necrotic outgrowths, a lower temperature, and constant light snowfall. In an area of around 2 miles in diameter around the Laboratory, the effects can be detected through instability in the electromagnetic field. When you are within the diameter, compasses no longer point North. They point to the Portal instead. The other means of passing into the Upside-Down is to use a temporary portal created by The Monster. These portals are created by The Monster as it enters and exits our world, but quickly close due to the amount of energy needed to produce them. They can last as long as 5 minutes. Of course, using them without The Monster noticing is no small feat.

The creators of the show have a 30 page bible dedicated to the Upside-Down, hinting at future adventures in upcoming seasons.

Negative Environmental Effects
Poisonous Atmosphere: anyone non-native caught in the Upside-Down must make a Stamina check once per day or suffer one level of Fatigue. This damage cannot cause the death of a Wildcard.
Cold: Unless wearing warm clothing, a person must make a Stamina check once per day or suffer one level of Fatigue. This damage cannot cause the death of a Wildcard.

Cast of Characters 

The Kids 

Will Byers (Noah Schnapp) – Will Byers' is close friends with Mike Wheeler, Dustin Henderson, and Lucas Sinclair. When the group is playing Dungeons & Dragons, Will tends to play the character Will the Wise and when given the choice between taking risks and playing it safe, he will often choose to cast Fireball instead of Protection spells. He is a good kid, but his current home life is very unstable. His mother Joyce is viewed as unstable by the town and Will is viewed as the easiest kid to bully at Hawkins Middle School.

Attributes: Agility d6, Smarts d6, Spirit d4, Strength d4, Vigor d6
Skills: Driving d6, Notice d6, Stealth d6, Survival d6, Shooting d4
Charisma: -2; Pace: 6; Parry: 2; Toughness: 5; Academics: 0
Hindrances: Loyal, Outsider, Young Edges: Alertness, Be a Zebra, Luck

Mike Wheeler (Finn Wolfhard) – Mike Wheeler is 12 years old and is one of the "point of view" characters in Stranger Things. He is the Dungeon Master for the D&D gang and frequently runs 10 hour sessions on the weekends which end with a climactic battle against a powerful villain. In the first episode, his adventure includes a stressful encounter with Demogorgon. Little did he know that this adventure would shape the perceptions of his friends as they encountered The Monster from the Upside-Down. He is the son of Karen Wheeler and brother to Nancy Wheeler. He was once very close to his sister emotionally, but her recent relationship with Steve and his obsession with D&D have come in the way of their friendship. He is a good student with developing observational skills.

Attributes: Agility d4, Smarts d6, Spirit d6, Strength d4, Vigor d6
Skills: Driving d6, Investigation d6, Notice d6, Stealth d4, Streetwise d4, Tracking d4
Charisma: -2; Pace: 6; Parry: 2; Toughness: 5; Academics: 0
Hindrances: Outsider, Overprotective Parents, Young
Edges: Alertness, Brave, Multitasker
Gear: Binoculars, Walkie Talkie, Bicycle, Compass, RPG supplies
Dustin Henderson (Gaten Matarazzo) is one of Mike Wheeler's oldest friends and a part of the D&D group. He is not native to Hawkins and likely moved here from California (he wears a T-Shirt advertising the Castroville Artichoke Festival).  While all the kids in the D&D group are smart, scientific, and tech savvy, Dustin truly excels in these areas. His permanent teeth have not come in yet due to cleidocranial dysplasia.While Mike is the group's Dungeon Master, and the "hub" around which the group is centered, Dustin is the group's "leader." When push comes to shove, it is Dustin who gets the other kids to reconcile and who is able to rally the troops when the going gets tough. He is skeptical of certain kinds of authority and tends to view the challenges the gang faces through the lens of Star Wars and D&D.

Attributes: Agility d4, Smarts d6, Spirit d6, Strength d4, Vigor d6
Skills: Driving d6, Investigation d4, Persuasion d6, Repair d6, Streetwise d6
Charisma: -2; Pace: 6; Parry: 2; Toughness: 5; Academics: 0
Hindrances: Outsider, Quirk, Young
Edges: Command, Connections (Mr. Clarke), Multitasker
Gear: Bicycle, Compass, Walkie Talkie, Head Set

Lucas Sinclair (Caleb McLaughlin) Lucas is Mike's oldest friend and a key member of the D&D crew. He is smart and adventurous, but he often lacks patience and is not quick to trust anyone. He distrusts Eleven/Elle and wants to take action as quickly as possible to rescue Will. He is a man of action and not waiting.

Attributes: Agility d6, Smarts d6, Spirit d4, Strength d4, Vigor d6
Skills: Driving d8, Investigation d6, Notice d4, Shooting d6, Stealth d4
Charisma: -2; Pace: 8; Parry: 2; Toughness: 5; Academics: 0
Hindrances: Loyal, Outsider, Young
Edges: Alertness, Be a Zebra, Fleet-Footed
Gear: Binoculars (Typical 10×25 binoculars), Bicycle, Walkie Talkie, Compass, Wrist Rocket (d8 2/4/6). 
Eleven/Elle (Millie Bobby Brown) was kidnapped by Dr. Martin Brenner when she was born. Eleven's mother was one of Dr. Brenner's subjects in his experiments at the University of Indiana. While the show hints that she is the 11th child/subject Dr. Brenner has worked with, no other subjects are shown in the series. When Eleven runs away, she befriends a local diner owner named Benny and eventually encounters Mike Wheeler. Even though Eleven is quiet and largely clueless to the mundane world around her, she and Mike become very close friends. Eleven has abilities beyond her "experience" level and is an extremely powerful young woman. She hopes to find a way to rescue Will Byers and free herself from the influence of Dr. Brenner.

Attributes: Agility d4, Smarts d6, Spirit d10, Strength d4, Vigor d6
Skills: Faith d4, Notice d6, Psionics d12, Shooting d4, Survival d6, Tracking d4
Charisma: 0; Pace: 6; Parry: 2; Toughness: 5
Hindrances: All Thumbs, Clueless, Loyal
Edges: Arcane Background (Psionics), Brave, Danger Sense
Powers: Bolt, boost/lower trait, entangle, mind reading, telekinesis; Power Points: 10
Quirk: Loves Eggo Waffles.

To Be Continued...
Later in the week, there will be posts discussing the Teens, Parents, Supporting Cast, and Antagonists of Stranger Things.

Friday, April 22, 2016

ID4 Resurgence: I See Your H.G. Wells Clone and Raise You FOOTFALL and ROBOTECH

Independence Day is probably my favorite adaptation of H.G. Wells' classic tale War of the Worlds. It captures the desperation of defending a world against an overwhelming force and does a nice job of updating "microbes" into a computer virus in a way that requires no small amount of suspension of disbelief, but somehow still seems appropriate. One of the best things about the film was that it knew what it was and didn't care to be anything more. It was just a good time bundled into a nice 2 hours and 25 minutes.

It looks like the sequel, Independence Day: Resurgence, is happy to follow the formula of its predecessor. Just as ID4 borrowed from one of the all-time classic SF stories, arguable THE STORY that established the Invasion narrative plotline that every invasion movie has followed, the new movie looks like it is inspired by a host of classics as well. From the Macross inspired reverse engineering of alien technology in preparation of invasion, to the larger than life "war ending" impact crater of Footfall, this trailer has a little bit of everything.

I cannot wait for this to come out!

Wednesday, October 01, 2014

INTERSTELLAR -- Will Most Recent Trailer Set Off SF vs. Skiffy Debate?

I'm a big fan of both SF and Skiffy, but truly SFnal films and TV are a rarity. This trailer for INTERSTELLAR seems like an attempt to prove that character focused SF narratives can be as compelling - if not more so - than your typical blockbuster.

I have to say that this looks to be one of the best SF films in a long time. I'm also considering making a brief Savage Worlds campaign based on the film if it lives up to expectations.

Saturday, September 06, 2014

Answering SF Signal's Questions/Meme Regarding Science Fiction and Fantasy Reading/Buying Habits

A Small Glimpse at the Bookshelf

I'm a regular reader of the SF Signal blog. I think it and Blackgate blog are two of the best fandom based blogs on the internet. I am also not usually one for answering book memes, but since this one is directed at science fiction and fantasy - my two favorite genre - and since it offers plenty of room to avoid pretentious answers I'm all in. I also think that this is a list of questions that can spur on some discussion.

The questions come from John DeNardo's post earlier today.

Here’s a book meme that focuses on reading habits and buying habits.
You know the drill: Copy the questions below and paste them into the comments with your answers. Answer as many or as few as you’d like.
  • What was the last sf/f/h book you finished reading? David Gemmell's DARK MOON
  • What was the last sf/f/h book you did not finish reading and why? This does not happen. As a "completist," I feel a need to always finish a book. This is maybe especially true when I dislike it.
  • What was the last sf/f/h book you read that you liked but most people didn’t? This is kind of a tough question, but since it is supposedly the worst writing ever done I'll say the EYE OF ARGON. It was nowhere near as bad as I feared, and doesn't compare in syntax/creativity/spelling errors to "The Quest for the Holey Grail" that Luke Y Thompson has been reading on Topless Robot.
  • What was the last sf/f/h book you read that you disliked but most people did? The Wheel of Time series prior to Brandon Sanderson joining the team. While I may love my D&D campaigns to be a patchwork quilt of all the fiction I love - like Mystara - I'm not sure I like my fantasy epics to be.
  • How long do your 1-sitting reading sessions usually last? Depends upon the book. A short book is 2 hours a long one might be eight, but I rarely do longer than an 8 hour 1-sitting read.
  • Do you like it so far? Yes. It's the third book in the series, but it covers a good deal of Bosch's background. I was surprised to see how they integrated the plot from this book into the BOSCH pilot.
  • How long ago did you buy the book you are currently reading (or the last book you read)? About a year ago/just a couple of weeks ago.
  • What was the last physical sf/f/h book you bought? ROGUES and PROMISE OF BLOOD
  • What is the sf/f/h sub-genre you like the most and why? Sword & Sorcery. Have you read Michael Moorcock, Fritz Leiber, Garth Nix, David Gemmell, Elizabeth Moon, C.L. Moore, and James Enge? If so, you understand.
  • What is the sf/f/h sub-genre you dislike the most and why? Steampunk. It's not that I don't like the genre, it's that I don't like the classification. Too little Steampunk has any punk element at all. They all seem oddly conservative in their nostalgia and focus. There are exceptions, but as a rule I think if you are going to call yourself "punk" you ought to have punk elements. So I call it Steampulp.
  • What is your favorite electronic reading device? Kindle.
  • Do you read books exclusively in 1 format (physical/electronic)? No. I like both tablets and books for reading. 
  • Do you read eBooks exclusively on a single device (eBook reader/ smartphone / tablet)? No. I tend to avoid using the iPhone because it can cause eye strain and I don't like reading books on a laptop screen. Tablets and Kindles both work well though.

Friday, April 11, 2014

EN World -- Striking Out on Its Own with O.L.D. and N.E.W.

In the before times, in the not now, EN World was a site for news about the upcoming 3rd edition of Dungeons & Dragons. Since that time, the website has evolved into a vibrant community site that not only had news about role playing games, but was also a publisher of exciting campaign materials for both the 4th Edition of D&D and the Pathfinder Rpg. This month the folks at EN World have taken another bold step and have launched a Kickstarter to fund the publication of their own role playing game system N.E.W./O.L.D. or as they have branded it "What's O.L.D. is N.E.W."

Rediscover the fun of pencil and paper, of building anything you can imagine, with rules that are clear but not so thin they'll blow away in a strong wind.
In What's O.L.D. Is N.E.W. you'll do all that and more! Build a starship. Brew a potion. Explore a dungeon. Create a universe. Put your wizard in the starship. Explore *your* world.

Both O.L.D. and N.E.W. are "generic" role playing games for their respective genres - Fantasy and SF - and as such constitute a brave move by Russ Morrissey. While the market for generic SF games isn't overly crowded, the market for generic Fantasy games is saturated. Morrissey is counting on his game's ability to be extremely customizable while at the same time being accessible. It isn't the first game rule set to make this claim, but if Morrissey delivers on that promise the games can gain a good foothold in the market. Savage Worlds, one of my personal favorite systems, shares some of this space and it is the combination of flexibility and playability that I believe makes SW as popular as it is. There's room in my heart for another game that hits that space and I'm backing this project. You can download the playtest documents yourself to see if they might interest you. As I read through the documents, and give them a brief run through with my group, I'll let you know my thoughts.

Thursday, April 03, 2014

THE EYE OF ARGON - or - When A Community Mocks Its Own

I've long been a fan of science fiction and fantasy, and I've long been a person who is pretentiously opposed to pretense. In a way, I'm like an angry Polyanna who aggressively argues against those who mock the "juvenile" or "popular" things in SF/F. I love "skiffy" and have experienced no greater sense of wonder than reading Edgar Rice Burroughs' writings of John Carter. That's right. I believe that ERB's tales of Barsoom are as imaginative - nay more so - than Iain Bank's Culture novels, and I love those too. I'm the fan who loves both the Dragonlance stories and Malazan Book of the Fallen. I love the genre at its most literary, at its most imaginative, and when it falls into the "written by an overenthusiastic fan" territory.

I'm so positive in my passion about genre fiction and geek culture that I wrote an approving review of I, FRANKENSTEIN and have been reminded by my editor at Topless Robot that I need to bare the fangs every now and then because I am usually so enthusiastic.

While it's not for my upcoming Topless Robot article, I did find something that really aggravates me. It's how cruel SFF professionals and fandom can be. There are plenty of examples I could pull out of a hat, often dealing with the treatment of female fans as being "fake geek girls." As the father of twin girls who love Pirates, Pokemon, Paladins, and Princesses, I find that whole "controversy" infuriating. That's why I'm not going to write about that topic. It would be very difficult for me to avoid expletives on what has been consistently a G-rated or PG-rated blog.

Instead, I want to focus on how professionals and fandom have treated on particular enthusiast of Sword and Sorcery fiction, Jim Theis the author of THE EYE OF ARGON.

I've been doing nightly out loud readings of THE EYE OF ARGON. I do one chapter, or half chapter as the book has half-chapters as well, per night. I thought it would be fun to do. I heard that the SF/F community had regular readings of this poorly written work of fiction that were the book equivalent of MST3K...and it had been mentioned by the MST3K I thought it would be fun to do my own midnight readings with my wife.

My takeaway from the experience is that the SF/F community are cruel, judgmental, and full of themselves. I also came to believe that I was part of the problem. By participating in my own personal midnight reading, I was being an SF/F bully.

My sister, Krista aka  Luna McDunerson, bought me a the Wildside Press version of the book, which has a long introduction by Lee Weinstein that discusses the search and discovery of the real Jim Theis. It mentions an interview on a local (Los Angeles) radio show/podcast called Hour 25 where Jim supposedly stated, "that he was hurt that his story was being mocked and said he would never write anything again."

I'll be honest with you. I fluctuate in what to think. Either the whole thing is a hoax, or SF/F authors and fandom are cruel. Scratch that. Even if the whole thing is an elaborate hoax with false scholarship creating a plausible back story of a 16 year old writing the story for OSFAN, SF/F authors and fandom are still cruel. It doesn't matter whether Jim Theis is a real person or a fictional person, what matters is that the community has spent over 30 years mocking him. I became one of those people and it makes me feel terrible. The anger I feel toward myself more than outweighs the joy from any of the small chuckles I experienced during my reading of the work.

The thing is, I think that Jim Theis was a real person and that he did write THE EYE OF ARGON. While the Eaton Collection doesn't have a copy of OSFAN 10, the issue that is said to contain the original story, they do have issue 11 thanks to a generous donation by former UCLA librarian Bruce Pelz. According to the Weinstein essay in the Wildside edition, Theis remained an active fan of SF/F for most of his life. Can you imagine what it would be like to attend conventions where there was a midnight event dedicated to mocking you? It would be one thing if Theis embraced that mockery and made it his own, finding some way to leverage it into a positive thing, but that Hour 25 interview seems to imply the opposite. The mockery killed Theis' desire to become a writer. That's right, the SF/F community's mockery shattered a fan's aspirations. To me, that is the biggest crime that any professional or fan can do. No matter how "bad" a writer is at writing, they are never wrong to aspire to become a published author.

Yes THE EYE OF ARGON is poorly written, but not much more so than Lin Carter's THONGOR stories. Unlike Theis, Carter doesn't have the excuse that he was 16 when he wrote the THONGOR tales. Unlike Carter, Theis wasn't a brilliant editor. If an editor as brilliant as Carter was can write drivel and still be a vital contributor to the field as a whole, who is to say Theis may not have evolved into something more? I can tell you from experience that there are some sentences in ARGON that hint at some talent, if only Theis could set aside his Thesaurus for a moment.

When my wife was in film school, one of her classmates stated that she wanted "to be one of those writers who writes terrible movies" and wanted to know how to do that because it seemed like an easy way to make money. It was a statement filled with pretense and disdain that also lacked an understanding of why and how things are created. I don't think anyone writes with the intention of creating something terrible - baring those things that are done as parody. Instead, most writers are attempting to entertain others and to share their own personal feelings and joys. Jim Theis, like Lin Carter, clearly enjoyed his Robert E. Howard stories. Heck, he might even have enjoyed Carter's THONGOR stories. It seems that a 16 year old Thies wanted to share his love of those tales with others by creating his own version. What was his reward for exposing himself thus?

He was publicly ridiculed for over 30 years.

For a community to spend 30+ years making a game that amounts to nothing more than "Taking turns mocking one's own" is something for which I have nothing but I have disdain. I'm not saying to end the readings of THE EYE OF ARGON. There is humor to be found in the mixed metaphors and odd misuses of words that Theis clearly didn't understand. But there is also an enthusiasm to the writing, a sincerity, that should be acknowledged. Readings of THE EYE OF ARGON can be humorous and educational experiences, but they should exclude mockery for mockery's sake. Acknowledge the enthusiasm of the author. Point out how his errors are the errors that many new authors make. And remember that the writing in THE EYE OF ARGON is so "bad" that many of the early myths of its origin required that it be written by someone of respected talent.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Little Geek Girls: Don't Say Superheroes are "Just for Boys"

On Tuesday, Kirk Hamilton at Kotaku shared a music video by The Doubleclicks entitled "Nothing to Prove."  I'll be honest and say that the song itself doesn't do much for me and sounds a bit like a song that would be performed by Carrie Brownstein on an episode of Portlandia, though I guess comparing a song to a song by a member of Sleater-Kinney isn't exactly an excoriating review. The aesthetics of the song notwithstanding, it was the visual content of the music video that really resonated with me. In particular the woman holding the "Don't tell my daughters that Lego, Robots, and Superheroes are for boys."

That sentence struck me like lightning and with almost perfect timing. As regular readers of this blog know, I am the father of two young girls I call History and Mystery in my blog posts and who are the two "Twin Princess Superheroes" referred to in the right sidebar. To give you a picture, this is them on a "Fancy Day."

As you can see, they are wearing Fancy Nancy-esque clothing with sunglasses, domino masks, and History is holding forth a Captain America shield. This is them at their "Princess Superheroiest," well accepting when they where their Bell and Aurora dresses kitted with Merrida bow and arrow and Iron Man masks and "Boomers." All of which is to say that they have acquired many of their mom and dad's geek obsessions. I cannot express how much fun it is imagining playing D&D with the twins when they get older. I'm giddy right now thinking about it.

As you might guess, my daughters live a pretty happy life. They have parents who share their interests and who play are willing to play any game or support any interest. But that's not to say that these young innocents haven't already faced the dreaded "you aren't allowed to be interested in that" assertion by some of their peers. There was one student at their school - a student that History had a crush on no less - who saw that History and Mystery were wearing superhero tennis shoes (Cap and Iron Man) and who took it upon himself to point out to my daughters that "Superheroes" are for boys. What's more, the boy also pointed out the "Blue" is for boys too.



Are you kidding me?! This kid tried to lay claim to a color? Ugh.

Back to the story. This young boy's attack upon their preferences was the first time that my daughters had been told that something was outside their purview. Sure, Jody and I have told the girls that we cannot afford certain things or that they have to wait until they are "bigger kids" to play Advanced Squad Leader with dad, but we've never told them that any given entertainment was reserved for a particular subset of society. Jody and I find that concept to be absurd on its face. No one is going to stop me from DVRing REAL HOUSEWIVES (OC and Jersey only), and certainly no one is going to tell Jody she cannot watch JUSTIFIED or THE AVENGERS because she's a woman.

So after this boy attacked my daughter's love for superheroes Mystery comes home weeping. She's upset that she's no longer allowed to like Captain America - who has fought off more Closet Monsters than I care to imagine - because he's for boys. Needless to say, it didn't take me long to inform my daughter that Captain America is for everyone and to give Mystery several real world examples of the women in my and Jody's life who are fans of "Steve." After which we watched a couple episodes of EARTH'S MIGHTIEST HEROES and called it good. My daughters seemed satisfied. Heck, History started wearing blue (Mystery's favorite color) in solidarity with her sister.

But the story doesn't end with having a supportive mom and dad who have supportive friends. Sadly, this little punk has already sown the seed of a mental weed that must be constantly pursued and extracted as quickly as possible. I've already had History ask me if there REALLY are any female race car drivers and heaven knows what the next moment will be. One thing I do know, I'll have to be vigilant. It's no longer enough to just share the things I'm passionate about with my daughters. I now have to be prepared to help my daughters defend their enjoyment.

I'm happy to do it, but it's something that shouldn't have to be done. Stop attacking "Fake Geek Girls." Some of the kindest, warmest, and giving people I know are Geek Girls (yes I'm talking about you Jody, Susan, Shawna, and America...and many others). There is nothing fake about them.

And for those of you who spend the time "vetting" to see if a "Fake Geek Girl" is actually a real geek. You know that vetting time would be far more enjoyable if it was just a normal conversation where you both geek out right? Sure, you might end up fighting about whether Alan Scott or Hal Jordan are the better GL or how big a jerk Dan Didio is, but I guarantee that you will be more likely to leave that conversation with a friend than you will if you begin your "conversation" with an oral exam in which you scrutinize even the slightest error.

Friday, July 19, 2013

Geekerati Radio Flashback Friday -- Susan Palwick Discusses SHELTER

Susan Palwick is an award winning Science Fiction and Fantasy author who currently teaches English at the University of Nevada Reno. Many of her novels and stories deal with emotional trauma or questions of identity, and that includes her novel SHELTER. Susan kindly discussed her book with me and the other Geekerati hosts back in 2007.

It was a special moment in the Geekerati history as it was one of our first author interviews. We've done many more over the past six years, but this one was quite special. It isn't special solely for its place as an early episode, it is also special because Susan was one of my mentoring professors as an undergraduate. There is absolutely no way I would have been able to complete my degree if it hadn't been for her compassion - and the compassion of a couple of other wonderful academics.

Listen to internet radio with Geekerati Radio on BlogTalkRadio

Sunday, June 09, 2013

RIP: Iain M. Banks

I first encountered the brilliant writing of Iain M. Banks when I was an undergraduate at the University of Nevada, Reno. I was working in a computer lab and, having read Heinlein/Asimov/Farmer,  claimed to be a science fiction fan while in conversation with one of the technicians. The technician started asking me, and not in a gotcha way, my opinions on a wide range of authors - authors who had names I was completely unfamiliar with. One of these names was Iain M. Banks. From the conversations I had with the tech, Banks' writing seemed something both new and old. It combined the Space Opera grand tapestry background of Herbert or Asimov (I hadn't heard of Niven yet, but would soon) with stylistic prose that captured the imagination.

The first Banks book I read was Consider Phlebas, the first in the splendid series of "Culture" novels. The book describes a "small action" that takes place within a grand interstellar war between the Culture and a race of aliens called the Idirans. The story was - in some ways - an argument against "Death Star" moments and against "super kid" style SF. At the same time, it was deeply human and evocative of emotion. It was a book that made me think and ask for more, and Banks delivered a great deal more. I consider the Culture novels to be the best collective works in all of science fiction. There may be better individual stories, but as a body of work they are canonical and magnificent.

I read earlier today that Banks, who had been revealed his cancer earlier this year, has died. I am filled with the selfish sorrow of the fan. For now I know that the amount of new experiences that this talented writer will bring into my life has hit its termination. I can only read his final work and reread all that he wrote that has brought me joy - time and again. I cannot imagine the sorrow of his family and newlywed wife - who he asked if she would do him the honor of being his widow earlier this year - I can only know the self-centered sorrow that I feel. I never met the man, neither at a con or a signing, but his work has affected me deeply. It will be shared with my children. I would like to thank him for the gift he gave me.

In memoriam of Banks, I'd like to do two things. First, I'd like to share an excerpt from the poem The Wasteland from which the novel Consider Phlebas acquired its title. Then I'd like to present a quote from the book itself.


Phlebas the Phoenician, a fortnight dead,
Forgot the cry of gulls, and the deep seas swell
And the profit and loss.
                          A current under sea 315
Picked his bones in whispers. As he rose and fell
He passed the stages of his age and youth
Entering the whirlpool.
                          Gentile or Jew
O you who turn the wheel and look to windward, 320
Consider Phlebas, who was once handsome and tall as you.

One of the reasons Banks impressed me as a writer was his ability to capture human struggle in a post-scarcity society. He had a much better grasp on such things than most writers. His economics were not as confused as Star Trek's, which as much as I love the show meander from post-scarcity to smuggling/black market. He understood one of the drives that makes us human. He sums up nicely the human spirit in post-scarcity societies with the following:

The only desire the Culture could not satisfy from within itself was one common to both the descendants of its original human stock and the machines they had (at however great remove) brought into being: the urge not to feel useless. The Culture's sole justification for the relatively unworried, hedonistic life its population enjoyed was its good works; the secular evangelism of the Contact Section, not simply finding, cataloguing, investigating and analyzing other, less advanced civilizations but - where circumstances appeared to Contact to justify so doing - actually interfering (overtly or covertly) in the historical processes of those other cultures.
The human spirit is inherently anti-Prime Directive, as Kirk and crew so often demonstrate, because we wish to matter. We want to make things better. This is a wonderful impulse, it can lead us to beautiful acts or base ones, but it is a quintessentially human impulse.

Banks mattered.

Tuesday, May 07, 2013

RIP: Ray Harryhausen (1920 - 2013)

To say that the work of Ray Harryhausen had a significant impact on my life would be an understatement.  Not only are JASON AND THE ARGONAUTS and THE SEVENTH VOYAGE OF SINBAD two of my favorite films, films I cannot wait to share with my twin daughters, they are also parts of some of the happiest memories of my childhood.  I remember watching these films with my mom and dad when they ran as matinee films.  I remember my parents "secretly" smuggling me in to see SINBAD AND THE EYE OF THE TIGER at the Drive-In.  I hid under a sheet in the back of the Gremlin and they pretended I wasn't there. It turns out that they paid the family rate and that the subterfuge was just for my entertainment.  

The movies were undeniably magical and one of my two favorite Comic Con moments is sitting in the audience at a "Ray & Ray" panel (that's Ray Bradbury and Ray Harryhausen) where they both talked about their life's work.  Our local science fiction/fantasy bookstore in Glendale would frequently hold Ray & Ray signings. It was one of the things that makes Glendale the perfect place to live.

Finding out that Harryhausen has passed is sad.  That sadness is lessened by the truth that Harryhausen added so much joy to the world -- joy that will long outlive me.

Thank you Mr. Harryhausen for my childhood joys, and thank you for the future joy I will be able to experience thanks to your imagination.

The Harryhausen Family formally announced the death on Facebook with the following message:

Raymond Frederick Harryhausen
Born: Los Angeles 29th June 1920
Died: London 7th May 2013.

The Harryhausen family regret to announce the death of Ray Harryhausen, Visual Effects pioneer and stop-motion model animator. He was a multi-award winner which includes a special Oscar and BAFTA. Ray’s influence on today’s film makers was enormous, with luminaries; Steven Spielberg, James Cameron, Peter Jackson, George Lucas, John Landis and the UK’s own Nick Park have cited Harryhausen as being the man whose work inspired their own creations.

Harryhausen’s fascination with animated models began when he first saw Willis O’Brien’s creations in KING KONG with his boyhood friend, the author Ray Bradbury in 1933, and he made his first foray into filmmaking in 1935 with home-movies that featured his youthful attempts at model animation. Over the period of the next 46 years, he made some of the genres best known movies – MIGHTY JOE YOUNG (1949), IT CAME FROM BENEATH THE SEA (1955), 20 MILLION MILES TO EARTH (1957), MYSTERIUOUS ISLAND (1961), ONE MILLION YEARS B.C. (1966), THE VALLEY OF GWANGI (1969), three films based on the adventures of SINBAD and CLASH OF THE TITANS (1981). He is perhaps best remembered for his extraordinary animation of seven skeletons in JASON AND THE ARGONAUTS (1963) which took him three months to film.

Harryhausen’s genius was in being able to bring his models alive. Whether they were prehistoric dinosaurs or mythological creatures, in Ray’s hands they were no longer puppets but became instead characters in their own right, just as important as the actors they played against and in most cases even more so.

Today The Ray & Diana Harryhausen Foundation, a charitable Trust set up by Ray on the 10th April 1986, is devoted to the protection of Ray’s name and body of work as well as archiving, preserving and restoring Ray’s extensive Collection.

Tributes have been heaped upon Harryhausen for his work by his peers in recent years.

“Ray has been a great inspiration to us all in special visual industry. The art of his earlier films, which most of us grew up on, inspired us so much.” “Without Ray Harryhausen, there would likely have been no STAR WARS”
George Lucas.

“THE LORD OF THE RINGS is my ‘Ray Harryhausen movie’. Without his life-long love of his wondrous images and storytelling it would never have been made – not by me at least”
Peter Jackson

“In my mind he will always be the king of stop-motion animation”
Nick Park

"His legacy of course is in good hands
Because it’s carried in the DNA of so many film fans."
Randy Cook

"You know I’m always saying to the guys that I work with now on computer graphics “do it like Ray Harryhausen”
Phil Tippett

“What we do now digitally with computers, Ray did digitally long before but without computers. Only with his digits.”
Terry Gilliam.

"His patience, his endurance have inspired so many of us."
Peter Jackson

"Ray, your inspiration goes with us forever."
Steven Spielberg

"I think all of us who are practioners in the arts of science fiction and fantasy movies now all feel that we’re standing on the shoulders of a giant.
If not for Ray’s contribution to the collective dreamscape, we wouldn’t be who we are."
James Cameron

Thursday, April 04, 2013

Iain Banks Has Cancer -- Ugh!

Iain Banks is, quite simply, my favorite science fiction author. His Culture novels combine compelling SF-nal content with extraordinary writing talent. It is too soon to mourn his loss or write obituaries, but I would like to share this brief BBC report.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

The Best in Fantasy Fiction -- A Reading from "The Shadow War of the Night Dragons"

Many of the best works of Science Fiction and Fantasy are meant to be read aloud.  Ursula Le Guin describes the power of prose meant to be written aloud in her description of Tolkien's narrative prose in The Lord of the Rings in her essay "Rhythmic Pattern in The Lord of the Rings."  The essay was published in the book Meditations on Middle-Earth: New Writing on the Worlds of J. R. R. Tolkien, and like the book she is describing, the essay is a joy to read.  She describes such works as follows:

The narrative prose of such novelists is like poetry in that it wants the living voice to speak it, to find its full beauty and power, its subtle music, its rhythmic vitality.
It's a wonderful description, and it captures Tolkien's work perfectly.  There are places in The Lord of the Rings where my "silent reader mind" recoils from the page, but when the passages are given voice they come to life.

Some fiction was just meant to be read aloud...and that includes John Scalzi's Hugo Nominated masterwork The Shadow War of the Night Dragons Book One: The Dead City.  Like most works of sublime Fantasy, Scalzi's true genius is revealed by the voice of the reader -- in this case Mark of  As Mark reads the pages, the reader is given the pleasure of seeing how masterfully Scalzi combined Shakespeare's opening of Hamlet with one of the most endearing story openings of all time -- second only to Once Upon a Time in its familiarity to readers -- and wraps them in a stylistic bow of genius.

I dare you to watch this video and not be moved to tears.

Do you see what I mean?  What is striking about listening to this, as opposed to merely reading it as I have done before, is that it has affected the way that I read Patrick Rothfuss and Iain Banks.  Thanks to John Scalzi, the Culture Novels will never be the same again as they are surely sequels to Shadow War.

Thursday, June 07, 2012

[Gaming History] Star Frontiers -- A Look Back at a Classic SF RPG

When TSR released the Dungeons & Dragons role playing game in the early 1970s, they created a new mode of gaming the role playing game.  What is interesting is that they failed to rapidly follow up the success of their "fantasy" themed role playing game with a succession of game releases in other genres.  While many of the first role playing games were shallow imitations of D&D...some were even Vacuous to use Gygax's terminology, it was other companies who first entered the marketplace with non-fantasy RPGs.

It wasn't long after the publication of D&D that Ken St. Andre drafted a set of rules for a science fiction themed role playing game entitled Starfaring, and Marc Miller published Traveller in 1977.  Where Starfaring was whimsical, and is a quintessentially 70s artifact that feels a bit like John Carpenter's Dark Star the rpg, Marc Miller's Traveller set the standard for science fiction rpgs.  In fact, Traveller truly set the standard for any rpg product line that was going to compete in the rpg marketplace.  Marc Miller's creation had a large following among the Space Gamer readership, and the publication of support materials for the game led to the growth of FASA -- one of the classic old RPG companies.  Traveller's success extends to the present, and Marc Miller currently has a Kickstarter campaign that promises a new edition that harkens to the old version.

Even though Traveller established science fiction as a viable genre for role playing games, it took TSR five years after the release of Traveller before they released their SF entry into the RPG marketplace, the Star Frontiers game.  When Star Frontiers came out, there were those who tried to compare it to Traveller, but I have always felt that the comparisons were slightly off base as they represent different kinds of SF.  Traveller's rules and back story, as well as the overwhelming influence D&D had on the early RPG market, gave the game a specific feel.  Characters created in the game are typically former military who are now retired, or as James Maliszewski has pointed out a good many were former Mercenaries.  Traveller campaigns had narratives along the lines of the Firefly television show, though it would be more chronologically accurate to say that Firefly has a Traveller feel to it.  Traveller's own backstory was heavily influenced by Asimov's Foundation series with it's dying empire.  Traveller campaigns were often gritty SF adventures filled with mercenaries and retired Imperial Officers spanning the Spinward Marches in pursuit of wealth and notoriety.

The D&D influence could also be seen in many Traveller campaigns, where players essentially wandered around the galaxy as pirates raiding Imperial space ships for their loot.  This isn't to say that all Traveller campaigns were "spacey dungeon crawls," the official adventures certainly weren't, just that some people played it that way.

The science fiction background of Star Frontiers was quite different from that of Traveller.  Where Traveller took place in a galaxy dominated by an interstellar Empire in a fairly settled area of the galaxy, Star Frontiers took place on the Frontier of civilization where a major corporation "Pan Galactic Corporation" -- later multiple corporations -- was sponsoring the exploration and attempting to profit.  The Pan Galactic Corporation had come into existence to promote exploration and trade among four major alien races -- Human, Vrusk, Dralasite, and Yazirian.  These races have only just begun to interact with one another, and have banded together on the Frontier of explored space.  At that Frontier, they soon discover a new enemy that threatens to destroy any civilization that chooses to explore the Frontier.  That enemy is the Sathar, a wormlike race with hypnotic powers on the edge of explored space.  The exploring races have only recently completed their First Sathar War, during which they formed the United Planetary Federation, and are now having to deal with terrorist attacks and sabotage by agents of the Sathar...agents from among their own people.  In response to the Sathar's new warfare strategies -- espionage and terrorism -- the UPF has formed the Star Law Rangers who track Sathar agents and attempt to foil their plots.

The universes of the Traveller rpg and the Star Frontiers rpg have parallels in history.  One is of an empire in decline, the other is of mercantilism on the rise.  The tones of the settings are very different, but so are the rules.  Where Traveller characters are retired from former professions and already have a number of skills at which they are proficient -- especially if the characters were generated using the Mercenaries or High Guard supplements -- Star Frontiers characters are relatively inexperienced.  Even in the Expanded Star Frontiers rules, the characters have training in only two major skills -- and that training is at the lowest level.  The characters start near penniless and are in need of employment.  Players can be thankful that the Star Law Rangers are always looking for recruits, that the corporations are always looking for someone willing to risk Sathar attack while exploring planets on the Frontier, and then there's always the possibility of playing a group of Sathar agents...

Star Frontiers is a game that has a background that is rich in ideas for development...but it is also a game where one has to dig in order to find these ideas.  Trying to find out the history of the Star Frontiers universe is not an easy task.  Prior to the publication of Zebulon's Guide to Frontier Space there was not a clear timeline of the development of civilization.  One had to induct heavily from the introduction in the Basic Game rule book, read and reread the racial descriptions, and scour every module for minutiae to get a sense of what was going on.  Zeb's Guide did some of the work for you, as it advanced the timeline to a point after the modules and to a point where the Sathar had developed mind controlling organisms that latch on to the victim's back to take over the nervous system (fans of Puppet Masters and Iron Empires take note).  Taking the Frontier beyond an outline and into a fleshed out campaign setting takes time, but it is worth it.

I've read the rules many time, but have never actually played the game.  It's an easy system, though I've recently come up with an even simpler version of their Basic Rule with my own Extremely Basic rules, but I might just use the setting and play the game with another game's rules set.  Maybe d20 Modern/Future, they did write a Star Frontiers setting section for the d20 Future book and had a web expansion with stats for the Sathar, maybe Alternity, or Savage Worlds.  Heck...I might just use the Traveller system for it, when I get my copy of the 5th edition.  It's a great game too.

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.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Why "The Brave" Trailer is Superior to "Wrath of the Titans" Trailer

Before I post the two trailers in question and critique the "Titans" trailer, I just want to state for the record that I am jazzed to see both of these movies. They both look like fun and appeal to my inner child.

Now take a minute to watch the trailer for "The Brave." It's only a couple of minutes long.

The trailer is essentially 2 minutes, or so, taken straight out of the film. Two minutes that encapsulate a story on their own, that hint at the stakes surrounding the situation, and that entertain. I now want to see the movie now more than ever, and have the sense that the film will make me weep as its twists are revealed.

Now take a minute to watch the trailer for "Wrath of the Titans."

From the opening BWAAAAAM -- straight out of "Inception" -- there is cut scene after cut scene of ever escalating action that reveals that our hero will have to battle many mythical beasts over the course of the film. Never mind that a releasing of the Titans, and their war against humanity, would make for an exciting series of films let alone a single picture. A fact that makes it appear as if this film will be trying to do too much in too little time, and at the expense of creating an actual narrative. The action scenes are compelling, and heighten my desire to see the spectacle of the film, but they do little to invest me emotionally in the film.

Both trailers make me want to watch the films, but one demonstrates that the film I will be watching will make me feel something emotionally while the other bludgeons me with spectacle.

I can't help but feel that the reliance on a spectacle oriented trailer, rather than an emotional one, for the upcoming "John Carter" film is a bad move. There is action in the John Carter series of tales, to be sure, but there is also a great romance. It is a mythic romance and the trailers have done little to convey that fact. I would even go so far as to say that the Super Bowl trailer made me want to watch the film less.

Compare the "John Carter: Virginia" clip to the Super Bowl ad. The Virginia clip makes me want to watch the movie, the Super Bowl ad makes me believe that Disney doesn't really believe in the story or that the characters are worth highlighting. Thankfully, the Virginia clip exists and lets me know that there will be character development -- even if it is apocryphal -- and not just spectacle.

I'll take Virginia over spectacle any day, and I'll take a short continual glimpse into the world over clips featuring the soundtrack of "Inception."

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Max Brooks is Better than C.L. Moore According to NPR

I hate top 100 lists.  They force reviewers, participants, and readers to ranks books in order of "importance" or "quality" in a way that is truly unhelpful.  Matters of which book is better or worse are not merely a matter of subjective standards, the subjectivity often lacks any real weight of opinion.  As someone what their 54th favorite book is, and the answer will likely be different each and every time.  This is even true if the individual hadn't read any books between askings.

The one thing that top 100 lists are good for is spurring discussion and possibly, just possibly, highlighting works that may be overlooked by those who want to explore a particular subject or genre.  But the 1001 "blanks" to "blank" before you die books do a similar thing and don't have any arcane selection systems.

Recently, NPR finalized their "Your Picks: Top 100 Science-Fiction, Fantasy Books" list.  It was a list that seemed to have rules constructed specifically to rule out Harry Potter and to guarantee that Tolkien would be placed at the top of the heap.  It's a list that contains some truly excellent examples of genre writing, but it is also a list that demonstrates the flaws so apparent in top 100 lists.  One wonders what "new shores" or discoveries the individual seeking to delve into SF and Fantasy will find if they pick from this list -- a list filled with well known names and tilted toward New York Times best-sellers, as well as some writers favored by the literati.  The list is sadly lacking in some truly excellent names, while including all of the "modern favorites."  One knows they are reading a flawed list when the first Michael Moorcock book is listed at spot 90 behind such longstanding and influential works as <em>World War Z</em> and Timothy Zahn's "Thrawn Trilogy" of Star Wars media tie-in fiction.  I loved <em>World War Z</em> and the Zahn is one of the best writers in the Expanded Universe, but neither of these contain the literary merit or influence of the Elric books -- or Moorcock's work in general.

There are authors on the list, high ranking authors, who consider Moorcock to be mandatory reading, yet he ranks in the bottom 10 of the top 100.

If only this were the worst of the sins.  Low rankings on a list can be dismissed as mere subjective differences, but out and out exclusion of important voices -- while other writers receive multiple entries -- is nigh unforgivable.

Who was excluded?

Are you a fan of fantasy history and look to the past for great writing? Are you looking for some names you might remember from English Literature courses?

Never mind Samuel Butler or Edmund Spenser, you won't find them on this list.

Patrick Rothfuss' "The Name of the Wind" (a wonderful book btw) comes in at #18, but "The Faerie Queene?"  Nah that's not a top 100.

The writer who created one of the most entertaining genre's in all of SF, the Planetary Romance, should be there right?  Nope.  Edgar Rice Burroughs is a less important contributor to SF/F than Terry Brooks.  Friends who know how much I love and defend Terry Brooks know that I make that statement not out of lack of respect for Brooks, but for those who think he has more "important" works than Burroughs.

Where are C.L. Moore, Leigh Brackett, C.J. Cherryh, Elizabeth Moon?  Thankfully Connie Willis and Lois McMaster Bujold manage to make the list (at #97 and #59 respectively) or the list would be a complete fraud.

Edmond Hamilton, Manly Wade Wellman, David Gemmell, Gordon R. Dickson (wtf? no Gordon R. Dickson?!), Harlan Ellison, or Jack Williamson?  All of these writers are of lesser contribution than Max Brooks.

John Brunner, who wrote a book that one could argue paved the way for Brook's World War Z entitled <em>Stand on Zanzibar</em>?  Nope.

Worst of all.  There are two Stephen King books and not one by Howard Phillips Lovecraft or Edgar Allan Poe.

What books or authors do you think were left off the list that are top SF/F writers?

Do you prefer "to be read lists" to "top 100" lists?