November 2008 Archives

November 29, 2008

Heroes versus Terminator : The Sarah Connor Chronicles



It's been no secret that I've been hating Season 3 of Heroes  and loving Season 2 of Terminator : The Sarah Connor Chronicles, so I thought it would be interesting to try and understand why.

Both shows have a big enough budget to look realistic and have high quality production values, so it's not that one show is handicapped monetarily compared to the other, instead it comes down to the writing and the execution.

Heroes tries to throw an endless stream of action at the viewer in the hope to keep them entertained. It seems to me an artefact of confidence, it's as though Heroes doesn't believe that the writing will carry the episode. The Sarah Connor Chronicles on the other hand believes in the writing, it's execution is nicely stylish and often understated, focussing on the characters. Even moments that sound like they could be cheesey are pulled off: take the episode where Sarah Connor was reading The Wizard Of Oz to a young boy, whilst John battled a Terminator; lovely stuff.

What The Sarah Connor Chronicles succeeds at is creating a world of interesting characters, about which we are constantly discovering something. It's the classic story essence of creating a situation to which a character must react, where that reaction shows us something new about the character. And consequently we come to care about the characters, or at least retain interest in them. Even the Ex-Rockstar Scottish T1000, of which I have been critical, had an episode looking after a child, which showed us something about the robot and it's intentions.

In Heroes the characters decisions seem unrealistic and rushed with an emphasis on twists and stunt plots, Sylar becoming "good" for example. Lost is a show that does twists well, because they are often bonkers, entirely unpredictable and planned in there from the start (more or less). Heroes plot twists feel like an exercise in attempted viewer retention.

From the beginning Heroes has bet everything on the big spectacular story arc, almost at the expense of everything else. And it hasn't paid off, because the story hasn't been strong enough. The Sarah Connor Chronicles on the other hand has a well known ending, or at least a possible one, and the story concentrates on the small battles along the way.

I should also mention Lena Headey who does a really fantastic job of being Sarah Connor, I think she's great, and the show never ignores her. Heroes best character, Hiro, on the the other hand is given weak plots and sidelined for long periods. You would have thought that it would be obvious that more should be made of him.

Consequently, as a summation of all these things, I force myself to watch Heroes, and I really look forward to watching The Sarah Connor Chronicles every week, it's quality Science Fiction and I'm enjoying it immensely.



November 28, 2008

Love & Hate

Things that Big Dumb Object has loved and hated this week:

Loved
  • Some great Science Fiction TV: Clone Wars, The Sarah Connor Chronicles and Survivors. All superb in their own ways.
  • The BSFA 50th birthday party. No jelly or ice cream, but still good fun.
  • That Christmas feeling sneaking up, despite the endless gloom of the entire country collapsing into a deep pit of despair.
  • Stumbling across old Science Fiction films on TV at the weekend and then deciding to just sit there and watch them, despite having lots of other things more urgent to do.

Hated
  • Heroes. A new category needs to be invented for Heroes that's below Hated and is something far worse.
  • Not winning the BSFA Short Story Competition. 
  • Not reading very much.
  • Not writing at all.

November 27, 2008

The Day The Earth Stood Still : Compare And Contrast

The trailer for the original film...

(why are there sailors in clichéd sailor uniforms running around?!)

...and the trailer for the new version ...

November 26, 2008

In A Word 26/11/08

Should I watch the new version of Survivors?
Yes.

Is Anathem by Neal Stephenson any good?
Yes

Can Heroes escape the slump?
No.

Will the new The Day The Earth Stood Still be any good?
Woah.

November 25, 2008

Terminator Salvation Poster



Dr. BDO's Problem Page: Keeping Up

Dear Dr. BDO,

I want to keep up to date with the Science Fiction community. It was nice when there were just a few blogs to read, but then everybody started blogging. Feed readers and RSS made it a bit easier, but now I subscribe to  hundreds of blogs and podcasts and have thousands of posts to read every day. I can't keep up. It's stressing me out. I'll be out of the loop. I need to keep up with what's happening. Help me. What should I do?

Overwhelmed in Oxford.


Let go! There's probably a line by Yoda that fits this, but he always came across so condescending to Anakin that instead I'd refer you to Merlin Mann and 37Signals. The essence of which is that you need to let go of the need to keep up. Refocus. Get Real. Remember the point.

Even a genre with a TV based component moves at glacial pace compared to the internet, let alone the literary component. To be honest, if you didn't read any blogs for a month you really wouldn't miss anything. Find something you like reading and read it. Or don't read anything. It's up to you, you're under no obligation. You won't miss anything. It's supposed to be fun. Don't forget that.

November 24, 2008

Zombies Top Of The Food Chain T-Shirt

We've known it for some time, now it's on a T-Shirt.... 

The Food Chain - Threadless, Best T-shirts Ever

Most Wanted

Things most wanted by Big Dumb Object this week:

  • The Day The Earth Stood Still. The trailers are on TV and the big explosions have convinced me that I should see it. Must. Watch. Explosions.
  • The BSFA 50th Anniversary Party. That's half a century of the British Science Fiction Association. Which is quite long for a genre that is allegedly perpetually dying.
  • Someone to actually create the 21st Century SF magazine, rather than just blog about it.
  • A new design (and the energy to do it).

November 21, 2008

Love & Hate 21/11/08

Things that Big Dumb Object has loved and hated this week:

Loved
  • Eddie Izzard live! A tangent about weird names in Dune ("the film with the big pants"), multiple references to Darth Vader, live checking of Wikipedia on his iPhone to find out how Walter Raleigh died, giraffes miming an incoming tiger, jazz trumpet playing chickens and so much laughter it hurt.
  • Terminator : The Sarah Connor Chronicles. I'm seriously loving this series now, there's some wonderful characters and story, and some pretty stylish execution. If only they would lose the Scottish T1000 it would be perfect.

Hated
  • Heroes. You can Retcon a back story as much as you want, but we know that you're desperately making it up as you go along chasing viewers and trying to dig out of a hole of  a bad story.
  • Rain. Drizzle. Wet stuff. Water from the sky.

November 20, 2008

Bad SF Novel Adaptation : The Running Man


The Running Man is a science fiction novel by Stephen King, published under the pseudonym Richard Bachman in 1982 as a paperback original. And it's pretty good too, a nice sense of relentless pursual, and a frighteningly close hint at the reality TV to come in this decade. The film however moves the entire game show into a studio, which loses the real terror of the chase, puts Schwarzenegger in Lycra and blows stuff up. Tremendously disappointing. Check out the novel instead.


November 19, 2008

Not A Review Of Anathem

This is where my review of Anathem should be, but I haven't written it yet, so it's not here.

It will be somewhere else at sometime later.


November 18, 2008

Lost Showrunners Talk About Lost


Carlton Cuse and Damon Lindelof the Lost showrunners have been, shock!, talking, in, shock!, English and sense:

The duo stressed that while they have introduced time travel and flash-forwards into Lost, they've firmly decided to never do a paradox story, with Cuse saying, "It's not like Heroes," where the future is always something that can be prevented or changed, but in fact on Lost, "There's nothing you can do to stop it from happening, and the more you try to stop it, the more potential there is for you to be the cause [of that future event]."

Which is cool, the fact that they're actually thinking. And as for are they making it all up?

Cuse said he and Lindelof sat down and discussed, "What the overall mythological underpinnings of the show would be. We quickly landed on the ending, and then constructed this broader road map of other mythological points we'd hit on this story."

So, no, they're doing what a lot of writers do, working from an outline. Cool.

I love Lost. I can't wait for the new series.

Dr. BDO's Problem Page : Writing

I want to write!

Dear Dr. BDO,

I'd really like to start writing Science Fiction but I don't know how to start. Any advice?

Writerly in Wrexham.


This may sound a little flippant, but the best way to start writing SF is to sit down and actually start writing. Don't worry too much, don't edit too much, just write and finish something.

If you want some support and encouragement in book form, I really like The Complete Idiot's Guide to Publishing Science Fiction and Fantasy by Cory Doctorow and Karl Schoeder, it's a few years old now but still contains some great advice.

There's also plenty of author's who blog, why don't you start following your favourite author to track down some advice? A few authors who in the past have dispensed some wonderful writing advice are Neil Gaiman, Jay Lake and Jim Van Pelt.

Also read lots of stories, whether they are shorts or novels or Flash.

But most of all, write! Write! Write!

Good luck.


November 17, 2008

Most Wanted 17/11/08

Things most wanted by Big Dumb Object this week:


Einstein and Eddington, it will be nice to see a serious drama about physics and physicists, plus Serkis looks pretty awesome as Albert. It's being shown on Saturday 22 November at 9.10pm-10.40pm on BBC Two.


Survivors. The trailer is all over the BBC, and looking pretty good, and the microsite is live with cast and character info. The first episode is on Sunday 23 November at 9.00-10.30pm on BBC One.


November 14, 2008

Love & Hate 14/11/2008

Things that Big Dumb Object has loved and hated this week:

Loved
  • Anathem. Finally finished it. Woah. Heavy (in more than one way).
  • Spaceships appearing out of hyperspace in The Clone Wars cartoon. Now you don't see it, now you do.
  • Making the shortlist for the BSFA 50th Anniversary short story competition!
  • My story Save Tomorrow With A Smiley being published in Big Pulp.
  • Kirill, which continues to intriguing and cool.
  • The Sarah Connor Chronicles which seems to be getting better and better.
  • Starting a new book, especially when it's a winner of The Arthur C. Clarke Award.


Hated
  • Spaceships falling "down" when crippled in The Clone Wars cartoon. Don't they know that in space there is no down?
  • Heroes. It's so, so, so rubbish now.
  • Rain and darkness, too much of it.

November 13, 2008

Save Tomorrow With A Smiley by James Bloomer

My comedy Science fiction story Save Tomorrow With A Smiley is online now at Big Pulp magazine.


No one can remember the exact day that the smileys became sentient. No one ever dreamt that a smiley would save us all. No one now can imagine a world without them. I tried. I tried to leave it all behind but I kept getting sucked back in. Unwillingly.

The story was inspired by a manger who always put inappropriate smileys into every email that she sent ;-)




SF Classic : Tron

Another eighties classic. Forget your ZX Spectrum graphics or your BBC Micro's BASIC, get sucked inside a computer and ride lightbikes! Cool. More state of the art CGI and Hollywood portrayals of geeky programmer types.



 

November 12, 2008

New Kirill Episodes



Episodes 3 and 4 of Kirill are online now, and in fact embedded here below:





I like it, still intriguing, still bleak and well shot, still don't know what's going on but it feels apocalyptic. There's also supporting blogs etc. on Kirill Uncovered.


Defying Gravity a new TV series - in Spaaaaace!

This just in from BDO's AICN correspondent:

A new TV show starring people of haven't heard of and written by people I haven't heard of, but set in spaaaace. It's called Defying Gravity and the blurb says:

"Gravity" is set in the near future and revolves around eight astronauts from five countries who take on a mysterious six-year mission through the solar system.

Which has got to be the vaguest teaser for a TV show ever. But it is set in Space, so that's good.

Dead Set



I am not an expert in zombie media but I reckon that Dead Set is a standard zombie apocalypse story with two exceptions:

  1. The zombies can run. 
  2. It's set in the Big Brother house.
Admittedly running zombies is not exactly original any more. Remember the scariness of the rage infected pseudo-zombies running in 28 Days Later? It's pretty scary, because the shambling walk was always the zombies main weakness. Well, these are real, human eating zombies and they can run, fast. They are therefore scary, and only have one weakness - they aren't very clever. Whether they are more scary than a lumbering zombie is a topic for discussion across the interwebs and not here.

Being set in the Big Brother house is a new twist, but not too far removed from the usual isolated group discovering the apocalypse. Maybe if you're a Big Brother fan you'll love the cameos from old house-mates and Davina McCall, but personally I didn't know who most of them were. I have a feeling that many people will try to draw elaborate analogies between zombies and watching Big Brother and mas media etc. etc. but the show itself doesn't really do that, it sticks to the core zombie themes. And it does that pretty well. There's running and shooting and crazy cops, there's gore and intestines and mutilated bodies, there's isolation and paranoia and desperation.

But in the end it is a standard zombie story: the survivors downfall is their own petty squabbling, which opens the door to the zombie horde. There is no escape, no simple solution, which while nice for mainstream TV, actually seems to be normal in zombie films and hence comes as no surprise.

In fact the real exception that I missed earlier is:

3. It's on UK TV.

The mere fact that it's a full-on zombie story on UK TV has to be applauded, but for those with previous zombie experience it's nothing new. You can still watch Dead Set online (UK only?) if you hurry.

Dead Set was written by Charlie Brooker, who suddenly everyone is proclaiming as a genius writer, not sure why all of a sudden? There's an interview with him on the E4 site in which he is refreshingly honest,


November 11, 2008

Dr. BDO's Problem Page : Classics

Dear Dr. BDO,

I've read a lot of recent Science Fiction and now I want to read some of the classics, but there are so many I don't know where to start. Could ou give your top ten classic Science Fiction novels to read?

Readalot in Reading

Hello, Readalot. You're not going to draw me into one of those cheap traffic pulling lists! Just about everyone would name a different top ten, the real problem is whether you can get hold of them, as disappointingly many books drop out of print rapidly. Consequently I'd suggest starting with classics that are readily available, and no one is doing a better job of that than Gollancz: their SF Masterworks series started in 1999 and contains a great selection of classic Science Fiction, they've also brought out more limited lists of reissues recently as well. You should be able to find them at your local book shop or online, and it's a decent place to start. Enjoy!

November 10, 2008

Atomic Tarantula Sale

The rather groovy T-Shirt site, Atomic Tarantula, has a sale on, all of their cool Science Fictional T-Shirts are $20.

Unfortunately it costs $15.95 to ship to the UK, which makes one T-Shirt cost almost 24 quid. Gulp.






Most Wanted 11/10/2008 : The Forever War

Things most wanted by Big Dumb Object this week:

  • The Forever War film, directed by Ridley Scott, based on the Joe Haldeman classic. He's found a writer, wants to make sure it's believable and reckons it will be out in a couple of years.
  • Avatar, the mysterious film project by James Cameron, back doing Science Fiction.
Scott and Cameron doing Science Fiction again! It's like the eighties again.

November 7, 2008

Love & Hate 07/11/08

Things that Big Dumb Object has loved and hated this week:

Loved
  • Kirill, the first two episodes, stylishly shot and intriguing. Looking forward to the next episode.
  • Dead Set on E4. Fast zombies in the Big Brother house.
  • The Sarah Connor Chronicles, still doing the good stuff, bad stuff edging in though.
  • Anathem, yes, still. A mere few pages from the end, and savouring them.


Hated
  • Adverts on MSN videos.
  • Heroes. It's still rubbish, but I'm still watching.

New Dollhouse Trailer

Via SFSignal here's the new Dollhouse trailer, from Joss Whedon, the creator of Doctor Horrible's Sing-Along Blog.

It's looking okay from the trailer, but what gives more more hope is that it's written by Whedon. Just give it a chance please Mr. Fox TV Person.



November 6, 2008

Classic SF: The Last Starfighter

The film with an awesome message: if you're good enough at videogames you get to fly spaceships! Combine with state of the art (for then) CGI and you have a perfect film for eighties teenage geeks.

 

November 5, 2008

Lots More Survivors Information

The BBC's remake of Survivors will be shown in the last week of November (no exact date yet).

It's based on the book by Terry Nation who is best know for creating the Daleks.

The writer and executive producer is Adrian Hodges whose writing credits include Primeval, Ruby In The Smoke and Charles II.

I haven't read the book, or seen the original, but it sounds promising, there's a decent cast  including Julie Graham, Max Beesley, Paterson Joseph, Zoë Tapper, Phillip Rhys, Nikki Amuka-Bird and Freema Agyeman and the intro blurb sounds pretty good:

Imagine being the only survivor of a disease that kills every member of your family, that kills lovers, strangers, friends, nearly everyone you've ever met. You are among the lonely few to live and now you must start over in a strange new world where everything that was once safe and familiar is now strange and dangerous.   

Set in the present day, the drama series focuses on the world in the aftermath of a devastating virus which wipes out most of the world's population.   What would we do? How would any of us cope in a brave new world where all traditional 21st-century comforts - electricity, clean running water, advanced technology - have disappeared?   

These are the questions faced by the bewildered but resilient group of survivors at the centre of the drama. It is an opportunity for new beginnings but, with no society, no police and no law and order, they now face terrible dangers - not just the daily struggle for food and water but also the deadly threat from other survivors.

The BBC Press Pack has even more information.


Apocalypse Watch Further Update

At the start of the year I said I was going to read a selection of apocalyptic books this year. It's turned out to be a highly enjoyable task, with a good mix of horrible despair and joyous hope. Here's an update on how I'm doing:

Read

Still to read
  • Wastelands - Edited by John Joseph Adams
  • Canticle for Leibowitz - Walter M., Jr. Miller
  • The Last Man - Mary Shelley
  • The Stand - Stephen King
  • Summer Of The Apocalypse - James Van Pelt
  • Oryx And Crake - Margaret Attwood

I've decided to extend the reading past the end of this year, mainly because then I can ask for some of these books for Christmas. Wastelands, which inspired the whole task, unfortunately sold out at Amazon when I requested it for my birthday, so despite being the first on my list it still hasn't been read. Thank goodness for imminent present giving social ceremonies.

Extending the task also means that I can read some of the books sitting on my shelf waiting for me, most notable Black Man.


November 4, 2008

The Real Election

It's Lando vs Palpatine:

See more funny videos at Funny or Die

If you live in the USA this will either make you chuckle or scream depending on how much you have been bombarded by TV election commercials. For those outside the USA you get to  hear a rubbish Palpatine impression and see how fat Lando is now.

Dr. BDO's Problem Page : Ken MacLeod

From deep within the sunny West Midlands comes a rebuke... 

Dear Dr. BDO,

At your recommendation I decided to read The Night Sessions by Ken MacLeod, I am not a massive reader of Science fiction, I generally read thrillers, and this is the first MacLeod book that I have read. Although I found the world intriguing, the plot was too slow for me and I didn't really get into it until the very end. Should I read any of MacLeod's other books? Can you recommend any to me?

Worried In West Midlands

Hello worried. I'm sorry that you didn't enjoy The Night Sessions as much as me, perhaps this is because I was continually guessing where the plot was going from a SF point of view? Or maybe I appreciated the intellectual thought game of it more? Not sure, it's not important. However, don't give up on MacLeod just yet, I definitely think you should read The Execution Channel. This is a near future thriller, which I think may capture your attention right from the outset. It is Science Fiction, but it's got a blend of espionage that you may enjoy.  

Have fun, and keep reading that Science Fiction!

November 3, 2008

David Tennant Video Interview

David Tennant was interviewed on BBC Breakfast this morning and you can see the video of it here.

Not that there is really too much to say, he's leaving!

Most Wanted 03/11/08 : The Next Doctor


Things that Big Dumb Object most wants this week:

  • The Next Doctor, both the Christmas Special which is looking Christmassy and awesome, and news of who will be the next Doctor.
  • Clone Wars on the Wii. More trailers reveal the gameplay.
  • Fireworks!