November 2009 Archives

November 30, 2009

Eros, Philia, Agape By Rachel Swirsky

A bit late for this weeks Torque Control Short Story Club Story, but better late than never. The story is Eros, Philia, Agape by Rachel Swirsky published on Tor.com.

It’s a story of a woman falling in love with a robot, and a story that seemed to try everything in its power to make me dislike it. It was like a constant challenge to my tastes, which I found a bit annoying, because I wanted to like it, and parts of it I did like.

To start with I thought it was going to be a fantasy story, the description at the start was definitely evoking that feel:

He packed his antique silver serving spoons with the filigreed handles; the tea roses he’d nurtured in the garden window; his jade and garnet rings. He packed the hunk of gypsum-veined jasper that he’d found while strolling on the beach on the first night he’d come to Adriana, she leading him uncertainly across the wet sand, their bodies illuminated by the soft gold twinkling of the lights along the pier.

But then the story reveals the core plot, and I started to like it more. Not an original story, robot love, but the setting was intriguing. Then another hurdle to overcome, the main character was a rich kid, living on a trust fund, which made it hard to like her. Not very sympathetic. I’d have preferred some other reason for her being able to get a robot. But once I’d got over that the story picked up: nice background, got into the characters, nice writing.

Then all of a sudden it turned into a ChickLit story, or worse. Flowery and romantic and overly sentimental.

Then it recovered again.

Then I got bored.

Which is a shame, half of it is a great story that I enjoyed. The other half seemed intent on annoying me.

November 26, 2009

Art From The Early Days Of The Space Race

Berg have a great article on their blog entitled Another Science Fiction: An Intersection of Art and Technology in the Early Space Race by Megan Prelinger. It’s a fascinating discussion of the images used in the early space race including adverts, art and magazine covers. Lots of great retro feel optimistic stuff.

Well worth a read.

November 25, 2009

My story Reboot has been published

My short story Reboot has been published by the webzine Short-Story.me.

Here’s how it starts:

A quantum worm uncoiled itself out of the machine being restored, suddenly collapsing into a specific state and wreaking havoc within the operating system. Alarms sounded and the graphs scrolling across Tom's screen spiked wildly. His laptop was plugged into a large black box of qubits, the liquid hydrogen coolant vented slowly in quietly dissipating clouds. Inside, beneath the desperately stylish matt black metallic exterior, beneath the ultra-cooled chamber, inside the electron traps, sat a countless number of electrons, reduced to acting as quantum bits. The qubit box was plugged into the local network, copying its state carefully in a safe, isolated, two-phase restore of the destroyed machines.

Go and read it and tell me what you think.

November 24, 2009

Paradox Starts Tonight (Soon!)

Paradox, what looks like a BBC version of FlashForward starts tonight. It's on BBC1 at 9pm - 10pm.

I shall be watching.

November 21, 2009

Spider's Moon by Lavie Tidhar

 

Spider's Moon by Lavie Tidhar is published in Futurismic and is the second story of his that I have read, the first being The Shangri-La Affair, which I really enjoyed. I liked Spider's Moon equally, if not more.

The sense of place that Lavie conjures is wonderfully atmospheric, set in Asia and hence lovely and foreign to me. Then layered on top are the cyberpunky elements which are cool and technological. Then on top of that some characters to get involved with and a simple but interesting plot.

Spider's Moon is the story of a business trip to Earth. Well it starts there, read it rather then let me inadequately describe the story.

I liked it a lot.

Unrest - Grace Seybold

This weeks Torque Control Short Story Club story is Unrest by Grace Seybold, published in Beneath Ceaseless Skies.

So, another Fantasy story, none of which have won me over yet.

The story is a chain of scenes, flash stories even, in a land in which war is coming. The shifting characters and story is unexpected at first, but then settles into a pattern. The chain is joined at the end, back to the start. Although predictable in it's full arc the story is quite clever and joining up each link. The sub-stories themselves vary in quality, but generally the writing is atmospheric and kept my interest.

What helped me get through this story is that the Fantasy trappings could easily be discarded and swapped for Science Fictional ones, as at the heart it's really just a story about people in war. Having said that I'd much rather read a story about a nameless monster than a Troll for some reason.

Each story is bleak and grim, and the overall tone is depressing. Presumably that's intentional to show the horrors of war, but the result is a rather dark read which I didn't really enjoy. The fragment of hope thrown out to the reader at the end of the story wasn't enough for me. I wanted more hope; from somewhere.

November 19, 2009

A Gattaca TV Series?

Just in case you were searching for some Science Fiction to watch on TV (!), there’s rumours of a TV series based on the truly excellent film Gattaca.

Not sure how that would work. They’d have to keep the style. And refrain from gratuitous action sequences.

Via Dave.

November 18, 2009

The Gender Plague - K. D. Wentworth

The third story from DayBreak Magazine is The Gender Plague by K. D. Wentworth. It's a story of a nano-virus switching peoples gender overnight. It sounds a bit crazy and initially feels like an idea with not much of a story. However the story keeps going and going, taking the idea to it's end. An end which is a bit predictable, but definitely optimistic.

Along the way the story has some clichéd moments but also some moments that made me laugh. My favourite line:

He jerked the bed sheet off and averted his eyes from the wobbling upper portion of his semi-naked body until he pulled on a crumpled T-shirt to hide the offending bioware.

Bioware, ho ho.

It's interesting reading this just after reading The Left Hand Of Darkness and comparing the two. The Left Hand Of Darkness is of course a more subtle study of what a world without gender might be like, whereas The Gender Plague is a full-on fast romp (and vaguely reminiscent of that Mel Gibson film where he can read women's thoughts). Consequently The Left Hand Of Darkness feels more realistic, but not as much fun.

November 17, 2009

The Left Hand Of Darkness - Ursula K. Le Guin

To celebrate the 40th anniversary of the publication of The Left Hand Of Darkness by Ursula K. Le Guin, Orbit have published a new hardback edition. It's one of those lovely sized small hardbacks, that are almost paperback size, handy and yet sturdy. I like them. The cover is nice too, two figures trudging into blinding white. And as befits an anniversary edition there are extras: a foreword by Le Guin, some hand drawn maps, some notes on calendar and language, and a short story. All in all a nice book.

I'd never read anything by Le Guin before, another name on my endless to-read list (and The Dispossessed sitting on my shelf), so I wasn't sure what to expect other than its reputation as a classic.

The story starts with the standard stranger-in-a-strange land idea, with some nice description but disappointingly a whole raft of Fantasy baggage: I mean, can a Science Fiction story really use the word 'breeches'? ;-) The story then gets interesting, with three big ideas:

  • Firstly the stranger is revealed is an alien ambassador, first contact to a lower tech planet which has been invited to join the galactic community.
  • Secondly the planet itself is harsh and cold, not quite Hoth but definitely Arctic circle climate.
  • Thirdly the people of the planet have no gender divide, becoming male or female for a couple of days each month, depending on circumstances.

The story is very political, outlining a struggle between two countries, but framed from a personal perspective. All of these threads are blended skilfully, none of it forced, and the end result is masterfully natural.

Unfortunately I got bored. The initial set of ideas melted away and we're left with a personal survival story. Endless trudging across ice and snow. It's like all those dull bits of Lord Of The Rings. Trudge, trudge trudge. I didn't really care about the characters by that point, I just wanted it to end. It's not the subject that's the problem here, but the way it was handled: Kim Stanley Robinson's Antarctica, which also tackles winter survival head on, managed to awe me with the harsh weather and landscape and make me care deeply about his characters. No such joy with The Left Hand Of Darkness.

The gender idea of the story seems to be the one that people talk about the most, but it left me feeling "so what?". It's an interesting thought experiment, but not one that changed my thinking, or even sparked me to think. Somehow it feels a bit old fashioned. Is that because I'm reading it in 2009, or because I'm a man, or because I'm an enlightened New Man(!), or because I find Feminist issues dreary, or [insert rude comment here]? I don't know.

In parts the book reminded me of Iain Banks Culture novels, but without the fun bits. Yes, I know that's backwards, and maybe that's the problem, I read this book first in 2009 and not 1969.

I can't go back to 1969 to see and feel the impact, I can only tell you the impact on me right now. It's like trying to imagine hearing Jimi Hendrix for the first time in 1965 after growing up listening to Van Halen. Impossible.

November 15, 2009

Doctor Who - The Waters Of Mars

It's felt like a long time since the last episode of Doctor Who. More than eleven months.

Was the wait worth it?

Yes.

I liked The Waters Of Mars a lot. It's a simple story, an alien water virus thingy breaks out and starts spreading amongst the first Mars base, at which The Doctor has just arrived.

It could have been a simple adventure story, where The Doctor defeats the monsters with vinegar or some equally annoying get out. But that doesn't happen. Instead The Doctor has to watch everyone die, because he can't change that point in time. I liked the zombie-esque apocalypse. No one survives a zombie film. (Well, almost no one.)

The only grumble I had was the sonic screwdriver managing to change a robots physical capabilities. A turbo charged robot was a bit silly. But I'll forget that.

I really thought everyone would die. So when The Doctor came back to save them, I thought he was going to fail. And he kind of does. He knows that he can't change anything. And then he realises he can. But he can't can he?

There was plenty to scare the kids, but maybe it's a bit bleak for that core audience? (Target demographic 6 - 11 years ?) Playgrounds will probably be full of kids talking about it tomorrow either way.

And enough for the adults I think. Enough for me anyway, I liked it.

A Weeping Czar Beholds the Fallen Moon by Ken Scholes

The first rule of Short Story Club is that you have to talk about Short Story club. Unfortunately for this weeks Torque Control Short Story Club story, A Weeping Czar Beholds the Fallen Moon by Ken Scholes, I can find much to say apart from (once again) it’s just not my type of story.

I read a few pages, gave up, read the last page.

Sometimes I like making sweeping statements, as a challenge (to myself and others). I often say that I don’t like Fantasy. This story was another data point in the model describing my SFF tastes, and another step towards its proof.

Of course the model (and my taste) gets blurry at the boundaries, but in general I don’t like stories set firmly in the historical analogy / traditional Fantasy quadrant of the multi-dimensional genre space.

November 14, 2009

The Lifecycle Of A New Doctor Who Episode

  • New Doctor Who episode, where are you? Emptiness.
  • New Doctor Who episode announced! Yay! Hurray! And yay again!
  • Trailer for new Doctor Who episode revealed. Oooh, looks awesome.
  • Trailer for new Doctor Who episode is on heavy rotation on the BBC. Looks even more awesome.
  • David Tennant is on every TV and Radio show in the universe, talking about the new Doctor Who episode. Sounds even more awesome.
  • New Doctor Who episode tomorrow!
  • Watching new Doctor Who episode, started well.
  • Oooh.
  • Oh. The ending was rubbish.
  • Let down. Exciting, cool but  that ending. Oh I can’t forgive you.
  • A year passes.
  • New Doctor Who episode nominated for lots of awards.
  • New Doctor Who episode endlessly repeated on BBC3.
  • Oh, that old Doctor Who episode is on BBC3, time to watch it again.
  • Not as bad a the memory. Ending still rubbish.
  • New Doctor Who episode, where are you? Emptiness.

November 12, 2009

Utopias Full Of Opportunities For Science Fiction

Via Niall at TorqueControl comes two interviews with Kim Stanley Robinson: one in The Guardian which I’d seen and one at Shareable which I hadn’t seen.

In the Shareable interview KSR talks about utopias and how they are full of opportunities for Science Fiction. He argues that people who complain about utopias being boring are usually well off, and that he has shown that an interesting story can be written in a utopia with Pacific Edge.

Niall and I have had this conversation before: gushing about Pacific Edge, how wonderful it is and how it’s set in a utopia!

If you haven’t read the orange county trilogy by KSR you really should (they are a trilogy in theme, not story, so you can read them independently).

November 11, 2009

The (New) Prisoner Online Graphic Novel

Yet more online stuff for the remake of The Prisoner, this time an online graphic novel.

The style is quite nice, flowing animation between the panels, and sparse animation in the panels. It’s a ten part story, and there’s not much to go on from the first part, it’s a bit short,but  presumably it’s not tied to the main plot of the series?

November 9, 2009

Russell T Davies Introduces The Waters Of Mars

Less than a week to some new Doctor Who. Hurray!

The Waters Of Mars looks like the scariest Doctor Who episode ever: zombies spread by water. Or something.

Here’s a video of Russell T Davies talking about it (UK Only).

There’s more videos and images here.

I’m quite excited now.

November 8, 2009

The Shangri-La Affair by Lavie Tidhar

This weeks Torque Control Short Story Club story is The Shangri-La Affair by Lavie Tidhar, published in Strange Horizons.

The story is set in near future Asia; Thailand and Laos. There's war and confusion. The story follows what appears to be a war-tourist, flying into the region to gawp at the mess, although it's revealed that actually the protagonist is after much more.

I loved the style of the writing, it had a great sense of place, with some really groovy description: funky, cool and foreign. It has plenty of background tech scenery, the sort of layers that give the future a good sense of believability, combined with some striking descriptive images.

The POV is a bit slippery in places, along with the nameless protagonist, and I liked both, producing a tale-of-the-past feel combined with a kind of Ludlum-esque Bourne style espionage.

It doesn't skimp on ideas either, leaving a rather large question for discussion at the end: is peace enforced by biological means something we should use? Peace or slavery?

I thoroughly enjoyed the story. Probably my favourite of the entire story club so far. Highly recommended.

November 6, 2009

November's Ansible Is Online

November 5, 2009

International Science Fiction Reshelving Day Is Dead

The mischief that was International Science Fiction Reshelving Day has been killed off before it’s first debut.

Okay. ISFRD is a bad idea. Hell, it’s a terrible idea. It’s not my first, and I’m sure it won’t be my last. But this one I can do something about.

ISFRD is cancelled.

Which got me wondering if maybe some people heard about it, then went into hiding, off the grid in preparation, and come the day there will be an outbreak of SF books being moved, all over the world AND NO ONE WILL BE ABLE TO STOP IT.

There’s a TV series in that.

November 4, 2009

V, Episode 1

The new, re-imagined version of V was shown last night in the US. In the UK it will be shown in the new year, however I saw a preview of the first episode yesterday, courtesy of the UK Sci-Fi Channel.

If you’re unaware of the original V then go and read about it. What’s important is that it was a Science Fiction series which achieved mainstream success, and delivered some classic SF moments.

As a re-imagined show it has work to do to win me over. I can’t help feeling: why? Yes BSG was a success (for a while) and offered something new, but that’s the exception so far. I’d rather new shows be developed, with new ideas, or at least new fusions of old ideas.

Most fans will know the plot of V, and hence the original surprise is lost. So it has to win us over in different ways. The initial appearance of the spaceships is handled in a pacey set of cuts that introduces the main characters. As a pleasant surprise this includes Elizabeth Mitchell (aka Juliet from Lost) and Alan Tudyk (aka Wash from Firefly and Alpha from Dollhouse), both of whom I like and play FBI agents. On the downside it includes the annoying teenage son of the FBI agent, who does things like argue with his mom and lust after aliens.

I’m not convinced by the actual initial reaction of the population to the arrival of the spaceships: they stand in the Manhattan streets, point upwards and scream. There’s one mention by a teenager that it’s like Independence Day, but it’s there as a fanboy joke, and the rest of the population are assumed to be in a vacuum, cut off from SF films and literature. And perhaps cut-off from real world events. You’d think that the Manhattan population would run first. The doubt over the aliens is at least handled, with some exploration of how religion would cope, but it was a bit shallow, crammed into a single episode.

The special effects of the spaceships are mediocre. The main spaceships don’t create the looming sense of menace that the ship in District 9 did, and they hover over stereotypical landmarks such as The Houses Of Parliament, The Eiffel Tower and The Pyramids. The shuttle craft special effects didn’t look that great either.

However after the initial reaction to the Visitors the episode starts to show some promise. There’s a bit of intrigue, a splash of action and a disappointment, all of which could develop into something promising in later episodes.

In summary: shows some promise but must tread carefully and aim higher.

I’m now going to talk in more detail about the episode and there will be…

 

SPOILERS….

 

Continue reading V, Episode 1.

November 3, 2009

Paradox, 5 Reasons It Will Be Better Than FlashForward

Paradox is a new show to be shown soon on the BBC (no confirmed date yet). Here's the blurb:

If you could see the future, would you change it? That's the dilemma facing Detective Inspector Rebecca Flint (Tamzin Outhwaite) and astrophysicist Dr Christian King (Emun Elliott) in Paradox. They find themselves thrown together when a series of rogue images are transmitted into Dr King's laboratory from space.

The fragmented images appear to be of a major incident, but shockingly they suggest it has yet to happen; it's in the future. Christian, Rebecca and her team, DS Ben Holt (Mark Bonnar) and DC Callum Gada (Chiké Okonkwo), have just 18 hours to work out the clues and prevent a tragedy.

Sounds like FlashForward right?

Except that there are a few reasons why it's likely to be better than FlashForward:

  1. No one is doing a terrible fake American accent.
  2. There is no Jack Davenport character, played by Jack Davenport.
  3. It's a five episode series. Not a (hopefully) five year series. Which means that the story will actually be concluded.
  4. There's a hard and fast time limit. Eighteen  hours, five episodes means all thriller, no filler.
  5. They're already talking about "the moral and emotional implications of changing the future".

Check out the trailer embedded below:


November 2, 2009

Love, Trailer. Cool Looking SF Film

Love looks like an interesting SF film. Astronaut trapped aboard the ISS, going crazy.

Here’s the trailers on the Apple site. Embedded below is a YouTube version.

Awesome xkcd Character Interaction Charts

I presume you all read xkcd? In which case you will have seen the amazingly awesome Movie Narrative Charts. Which is so awesome I had to blog it. The Primer chart especially made me laugh.

If you don’t read xkcd….what are you doing?

Dollhouse Season One Now Showing On ITV4

ITV4 are now showing Dollhouse season one, starting last Monday and continuing every Monday at 9pm. ITV4 is a free digital TV station, so this is the first time Dollhouse has been shown in the UK on free TV.

Straight after Dollhouse, ITV4 are showing Sanctuary, which is now three episodes in.

Dollhouse doesn’t appear to be available on the ITV Player though.

Defying Gravity, First Impressions

Defying Gravity is now being shown on BBC2, and after three episodes, I like it.

The story is about a round the solar-system trip, following the crew of eight and their back-story. Although there’s clearly more to it than that, something else is going on, something probably alien that hasn’t been shown yet.

The back-story flashbacks blend seamlessly into the present time plot. Sometimes with flashbacks and back story there’s a jarring effect, but Lost set the standard higher, and Defying Gravity follows in that vein. Each episode so far has felt like one story, not a story with infodumps.

There’s a lot of focus on the characters and their relationships, both in the present and throughout their training. It’s all handled well, and the acting is pretty good. I like the interplay between the characters.

The visuals for the spacecraft Antares are quite nice too, they look like CGI but manage to capture the sense of scale of the ship, something which I feel is lacking from SGU.

The main annoyance is the voiceover, which feels lazy and unnecessary. Pandering to the TV stations?

Overall I like it. I know the show has been cancelled but I’m going to watch all of it and hopefully continue to enjoy the psychological investigation of the characters.

(On a side note, it really annoys me how US shows get cancelled before a series is finished. I much prefer the UK way of doing things where we get shorter series (== seasons), some times as few as six episodes, but at least we get a complete arc. Production is complete before the episodes are shown, and then if it’s successful another series gets commissioned. Rather than the guillotine of cancellation hanging over the show.)