Monday, November 2, 2009

Best endings in SciFi and Fantasy

Check out this entry at fellow scifi blogger John Ottinger's site wherein he has collected the musings of several prominent book bloggers regarding their opinions on the best endings in the genre. I think this was a great topic and I'm honored he asked for my input as well. So check it out, and see what my personal picks are for the novels with the best endings in scifi and fantasy.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Latest Battlestar Galactica packing T&A... and then some??

So Battlestar Galactica: The Plan arrives on DVD later this month, wrapping up the series with a prequel of sorts that takes place during the first miniseries. Like a lot of fans I thought BSG was really losing its way by the 4th and last season, and while it held together to the end I thought it could have been stronger, and return to the miniseries and first couple seasons for the best material. So maybe going back to this earlier setting bodes well - but then on the other hand it's another chance for the writers to push the envelope.

According to Grace Park herself in this month's Maxim - " Yeah, there’s going to be a T & A version. Though maybe I should say T, C & A, because it’s not just girls this time..." In case that is too vague she also uses the word "wang" in the next sentence, which pretty much dispels all doubt.

Ok... I know Battlestar has always been a little on the edgy side, but come on - do we really need to see some shaft to push the story along? And yes I am perfectly aware of the double standard here. In the Pegasus DVD we have Tricia Helfer seducing Michelle Forbes and I dug that. When you think about it it is kind of a stupid taboo. The problem is that male nudity in drama is still hard to pull off. HBO's excellent series Rome got away with it, but honestly I don't the creative team behind Battlestar is up to that particular challenge, and they don't need to be. I'm pretty in tune with Ron D Moore and the other writers' strengths and weaknesses by now, and my advice would be: don't go there. Stick to stuff you do well already. Other shows and movies will come along to push this particular aspect into the mainstream, but not this one.

At any rate let's hope that this last hurrah of a much-acclaimed and loved sci-fi series delivers the goods and sucketh not.

Ok. So what started as a highbrow science-fiction literature critique blog has devolved to me posting about the latest T&A on network TV. And in only two months too, I know. So with the exception of V after it airs next month - no more TV crap! Back to the books.

Monday, October 12, 2009

More Artwork from John Berkey

You've probably noticed by now I am a big fan of the late John Berkey's artwork. I'll mix it up later on but for right now I'm putting up one of his pieces every month. I like how his style contrasts spacecraft and machinery against natural backgrounds.

There is a really great book of his artwork published in 2003, The Art of John Berkey, but unfortunately it must be out of print or something with used copies going for at least $100 on Amazon. Apparently there are also pieces of his work available over at ArtOrg Moving Walls Gallery. Based on the prices (5K+), I'm guessing these are the original works! I'll have to ask, though not likely I'd be affording that anytime soon.

This one was used by the US Navy at one point.

No explanation necessary. Powerful.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Flashforward TV show, or how TV writers' reach exceeds their grasp

Ok so last month I posted about Robert J. Sawyer's 1998 novel Flashforward. Since then the tv show based on the book (loosely) with the same name has aired a couple episodes, and I finally got around to watching the first 3 on the ABC website. Since the episodes are available there, I'd recommend everyone check them out, if only so that you can follow along with what I get into here.

Now originally I intended this blog to be pretty much about books and for the most part it will continue to be, but I think this is an interesting example of what happens with creative property that starts as a science fiction novel and morphs to a tv show, and particularly how the two mediums change the nature of experiencing the story by the reader/viewer so I will spend a bit of time on it here.

Now about the TV show. As you may recall (especially if you went out and read the book after I blogged about it, right?), the premise is that all of humanity simultaneously experiences a collective future vision for a few minutes, then returns to reality to deal with it. In the 3 episodes I've seen so far, for a TV show it is pretty good. Now granted, 99% of TV programming is just utter shit, so that's not really saying much, but it is at least ok. I'll give it props for high production values and decent effects. However as I mentioned earlier it is significantly different from the book. Some of the key differences:

- In the book the future events are approximately 20 years ahead. In the TV show the glimpse of the future is only 6 months away
- The characters are completely different. The book focuses on the scientists involved at CERN that inadvertently triggered the event. The TV show invents entirely new characters that initially have no connection to the event.
- The cause of the flash-forward is different. In the book it is the accidental result of a nuclear collider test that occurs at the same time a burst of neutrinos is hitting the earth. In the TV show the nature of the event is so far unrevealed but it is strongly alluded that is was purposefully caused by intelligent agents.
- The nature of the flash-forward is also profoundly different, and I'll get into this more below.

Now I get to roll up my sleeves and begin the nit-picking, which is what I love. While there's a lot of cool aspects to the show and I'm glad that this kind of thought-provoking speculative fiction has made it to a larger audience, it has some BIG plot problems, especially when seen in context of the original material. Here is probably my biggest beef - In the book, the future seen by the present observers WAS NOT ONE IN WHICH THE FLASHFORWARD OCCURRED. That is, the future everyone saw was not necessarily one in which everyone in that future had seen the future in the past (present). Get it? That was one of the core ideas of the book, that knowing the future allowed it to be changed. However, in the TV show, many of the future scenes individuals witness directly reference the actual flash-forward of (then) six months ago. A detective sees himself working on the case of the cause of the flash-forward. A criminal sees himself being pardoned because he has helpful information about the flash-forward.

The problem with this is that it becomes recursive. One of the details in both the book and the show is that since the visions seen are part of a collective shared reality, people whose describe interactions with other people during their future scenes can be corroborated by those other people since they were ostensibly at the same place at the same time in the future. So in one instance a detective is doing just that and shows a picture to person A of person B who claimed they were with person A together in their flash-forward, and asks person A if person B (shown in the picture) was indeed with him. But wait - shouldn't person A have recognized person B from the picture during the flash-forward (it was their first meeting) since the detective revealed to him six months ago that they would meet? That is what follows from the writers' assumptions, that we now have all these characters basically traveling about Mobius strip. Any sci-fi writer worth his salt knows all the traditional time-travel logic traps and Sawyer deftly handled them in the novel, but the TV writers blunder straight in.

Another big difference, to me at least, is that in the book, any security cameras and recordings made of any type during the event show nothing but snow or garbled static. The scientists intuit that because the no-one's consciousness was in the present to observe it it exists in undefined states. Which is in line with quantum mechanics' view that a conscious observer must be present to define reality. However in the TV show the feds review security cameras that show everyone slumped over during the event. I suppose that can be justified by the revelation that there is at least one individual conscious and not under the effects of the event at the time and only one observer is required.

To me I think it shows a big difference in how the material is handled in the hands of a scientifically literate author and in the hands of TV writer hacks. To their credit I think the writers are doing probably the best job they can, but when your job has been basically writing brain-dead claptrap for the consumption of the masses and then you step up to trying to write intelligent sci-fi for TV the seams are gonna show. For the most part I enjoyed how Sawyer made scientists the principle characters of his novel and really put the science in science fiction for it. I guess the network weenies thought this would be too drab for a mass audience.

At any rate I'll be following the rest of the series and I think it will be interesting to see how it turns out, and I highly recommend ABC's website for the show, which is very well-done (Check out the Mosaic!). Oh, and while watching it I caught an ad for the upcoming remake of V which for some reason I had no inkling of! Definitely excited about that as V was a killer miniseries back in the day and people of a certain age will recall it fondly. With V and Flashforward ABC may actually be putting out better sci-fi on TV than the SciFi channel. Oh wait, that's the Syfy channel, because the slimy network execs felt they had to change the name to be more relevant. But that's for another post.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Lord of the Rings

In science news today, this just in: Saturn has yet another ring. Of course Saturn's primary rings are it's most well-known feature, this one is distinctly different in that it is far, far larger in scale, at an 8 million mile radius, or 50 times further out than the inner rings, and inclined roughly 27 degrees from them. The ring is very tenuous (some 20 particles per cubic km) and therefore difficult to detect in the visible light spectrum. One of the gas giant's farthest moons, Phoebe, orbits within the ring and scientists believe the gas and dust particles that comprise the ring originate from collisions between comets and Phoebe. I'd say that's a good guess if Phoebe's orbital plane matches that of the ring so maybe someone can look that up for me (I'm far too lazy myself).

One of the significances of this is that is that the presence of this large, diffuse ring of debris helps explain unusual albedo differential of the moon Iapetus. Astronomers earlier speculated a of causal relationship between Iapetus 'dark' side and the moon Phoebe, and the newly discovered ring material completes the inference. The picture of Iapetus from the Cassini probe clearly shows one side of the moon pitted with lower-albedo (that is, darker) surface material, this comes from material from the ring falling inward to the saturnian system and impacting the moon "like bugs on a windshield".

What I find fascinating is the sheer size of this structure. 'Ring' is kind of an understatement, it is more like a donut in that the thickness is several times the diameter of Saturn, which itself has a diameter some 11 times of Earth. It's an awesome discovery that really highlights the advances in astronomy that have been made in only a short time. And in space flight too, as a great deal of the data we have about Saturn comes from the probes we sent there. When I was a kid first reading about astronomy and the planets we knew Saturn had something like 17 moons. Now we know it has at least 60 and now this giant donut field of extra crap around it. It's obviously an important new (to us) part of Saturn's already complicated planetary system. It makes the Earth-moon system look positively quaint. Speaking of which, I wonder if some day we'll have our own ring from all the shit we've left up in near orbit.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Cool vid!!

This one has been making the rounds of the blogosphere and no exception here! Someone did a damn good job. Carl Sagan + vocoder = radness!

I've been listening to this all day now and love it! Sagan's speaking voice always had it's own distinct rhythm that fits in perfectly with the mellow backbeats. A fitting tribute. Even long dead the man still inspires creativity.

Mad props to the author. For that I will give him an absolutely free website plug. Check him out at

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Books on my plate right now

I'm rarely able to read a book all the way through without a beginning another one halfway or so through the first. Sometimes I'll have 4-5 books going at one time, and the first one will be the last one finished. Not the most efficient way I guess but that's how I roll.

Here is what I'm in the middle of reading or is queued up for the near future

Stand on Zanzibar - John Brunner
The Mote in God's Eye - Larry Niven/Jerry Pournelle
Downbelow Station - CJ Cherryh
Moon of Skulls - Robert E Howard
The Quincux of Time - James Blish

I told a friend about this blog and he recommended Hyperion by Dan Simmons. Apparently it is quite the epic. Also This Perfect Day by Ira Levin, recommended by my first commenter Craig B. So with that and the above I think I'm good for October. Anyone else have recommendations? I'm all ears...

Monday, September 21, 2009

The Science in Science Fiction

1982 Peter Nicholls

This non-fiction book from Australian writer Peter Nicholls is an intriguing book that examines the elements of popular science fiction through the lens of science. It is very readable and does not go deeply in to technical terms, but treats concepts with sufficient depth for the layman. There is a lot of ground covered here - space travel, terraforming, nuclear fusion, teleportation, time travel, cybernetics, cloning, future ice ages, and much more sci-fi good stuff. In some cases it is shown how some sci-fi concepts, like invisibility, are pretty much outright impossible, but for most it is shown how science can theoretically support them which I found highly interesting. It's the kind of cool science writing that can really spark an interest into further study. After reading this I knew about Dyson spheres, Dirac transmitters, space arks, and that the movie Scanners has an exploding head scene.

Some might find this book a bit dated now as it was first came out in 1982, but much of it is still relevant. It is well-illustrated throughout and has a lot of pictures from movies of that era, which appeals to the inner child of the 80's. I first read it in my high school library in 1993 or so, and decided to hunt down a copy on Amazon earlier this year and it was great fun to re-read it. An excellent addition to any sci-fi fan's library.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009


I love this site! It is so rad.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Ronald Reagan sees the upside of an alien invasion

Wonder if the Gipper got a chance to see Independence Day before his dendrites disconnected...

Saturday, September 12, 2009


1999 Robert Sawyer

Sometimes novels more or less languish in obscurity, then all of a sudden they are everywhere at once. Such is the case with Flashforward. I ony recently picked up this book earlier this year from a bargain bin at Half-Price Books, mainly because it was cheap and I really liked the premise (again - start with a great premise, and the book practically writes itself).

In the book, hapless scientists running an experiment with the Large Hadron Collider inadvertently cause a spacetime shift wherein every human being objectively experiences their future self at a point some 20 years ahead of the present for roughtly two minutes. Note this is the same supercollider in the news last year - the one some folks thought might cause some collosal cosmic neutron fart to humanity's detriment and sued to stop it from being activated.

The actual story results from the ramifications that follow from such an experience. All of humanity has experienced a fragment of the future and returned to the present. Some saw nothing - because their future selves have already died before that point. Some see murders, stock market quotes etc, whatever their future selves where doing at that time. The themes that arise are primarily of free will and determinism - many don't particularly care for their future selves' condition and vow to change it. Some realize they've been killed and vow to survive. Sawyer is not a particularly strong character writer though, so none of these are especially compelling, but he sticks with the core premise enough to carry it through to the end.

As I started reading it an interesting coincidence was that the novel, written ten years ago, is set in almost the very same week I was reading it, in April 2009. No cosmic meaning here, I just thought it was a cool coincidence. I guess he was also somewhat optmistic as to how fast work on the LHC would progress... it was only turned on for an initial test last year.

And now it is the basis of a new ABC tv series. What is it about TV execs that takes them 10 fucking years to get with it? (Same thing with Terry Goodkind's Wizard's First Rule, which I would plug if I didn't think it sucked). Of course they are taking all kinds of liberties with the characters and plot and it is only loosely based on the novel, but who knows it might still be watchable. I won't know though as I don't have cable. If it turns out to be worth a damn let me know.

Thursday, September 10, 2009


a piece by John Berkey - one of the giants of sci-fi art. Click for high-res sweetness!

Intrusion-An Unpleasant Visitor 1990

Monday, August 31, 2009

The Crucible of Time

1983 John Brunner

Currently reading this one, should finish it in a couple days. It is really good. I love John Brunner's work, he is one of the (increasingly few) original sci-fi writers still out there. The book is actually a series of novellas that combined tell an overarching story of a race's evolution from primitives to spacefarers racing to escape their doomed planet. Epic!


UPDATE - So a week later I have finished it. This novel is decidedly more space/alien sci-fi than Brunner's other works like The Shockwave Rider and Stand on Zanzibar which are by comparison more down to earth. My favorite feature of the book is how he takes a race of decidedly non-human creatures and makes them familiar to the reader through repeated jargon and context rather than outright exposition. Excellent writing style in this regard. Needless to say, highly recommended.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Friday, August 7, 2009


1985 Philip Jose Farmer

Part of Farmer's genius is starting with a truly imaginative premise. You can see this in his other works like Riverworld. Start with a compelling premise, and from there, the story just flows. In this case he imagines a world where overpopulation is such that the average person is active only one day out of the week, spending the other six in suspended animation, during which other people take their day until next week comes around and it is his day again.

So, one person might be a 'monday' and every monday he comes out of his stasis capsule, lives his life, then returns to the capsule promptly at midnight. A few minutes later, all the 'tuesdays' come out and so on. Humorously, Farmer refers to the suspended animation as being 'stoned' - as in molecules slowing down to the consistency of stone - and the capsules as 'stoners', so of course I have a little chuckle everytime I read a sentence referring to someone as being stoned.

This system is of course implemented and enforced by the gub'mint, ostensibly for reasons of resource shortage and overpopulation but of course there is the real, hidden reason as well. Not adhering to this is a serious crime, and being caught on a day that is not yours -daybreaking-without a temporal passport is bad news. So of course one man bucks the system, and instead of returning to his stoner every night, he goes from one day to the next, with a different identity and a different life (and a different wife!) every day of the week. His life as a daybreaker is the focus of the book.

This premise has all sorts of interesting conclusions that follow. Since these citizens are only active one day out of every 7, this affects the calendar. Time as we know it is objective time, called obweeks, obmonths, obyears, etc. Time to these people is subjective, so one week to them looks like a line drawn vertically through 7 mondays on a calendar, called one subjective week or a subweek. So in theory a citizen may live 50 subyears which in real time is 350 years. Furthermore, since everyday consists of a different pool of persons actively living, different trends, cultures and societal norms arise, though all share the same resources and living space etc.

The premise would be nothing without a story, and luckily Farmer delivers this as well. The protagonist's need to maintain seven separate identities means he gradually develops a dissociative identity disorder and Farmer superbly explores this effect, as well as weaving a compelling plot revolving around secret societies and government conspiracies against this highly original setting.

This idea was first developed by Farmer in the short story "The Sliced-Crossways Only-on-Tuesday World" some years before the publication of Dayworld. It's a great short story, which you can read here