February 2010 Archives

February 28, 2010

David Mitchell On Science Fiction And Breaking The Laws Of Physics

There's a piece in The Guardian by David Mitchell (comedian) entitled So movies shouldn't break the laws of physics? Don't tell Captain Kirk which surprised me today. It's a great read and I also completely agree with it. Firstly:

Being realistic is a storytelling tool, like lighting, music and sexy actresses. If it's not helping, and you won't otherwise be denying the Holocaust or pushing drugs to kids, then you can lose it.

Then having a bit of a go at scientists:

How typical of a scientist to try to reduce film-making to a formula. He's noticed that enjoyable science fiction sometimes needs to include the impossible, but streams of implausible events don't make a compelling narrative. He's right but he should have left it at that. The happy medium is found by using judgment not maths.

And summing it up with comedy:

Apparently, if a ship blows up in space, it doesn't really make a noise. How silly much of Hollywood's sci-fi output must look to audience members with experience of inter-stellar warfare.

February 26, 2010

Big And Dumb, Week 305

Things that Big Dumb Object loved and hated this week:

Big

  • Lost, still mad and brilliant.
  • Survivors, the second series finishing. Not as good as the first series, but at least one decent episode looking at the aftermath and rebuilding.
  • Recording another episode of the Wordpunk podcast and the first episode hitting the web.
  • The Winter Olympics: snow, ice, speed, crashes.


Dumb

  • TalkTalk technical support. Don't go there. Ever.
  • The ever present problem of having too much Science Fiction to consume and not enough time to do it.

February 25, 2010

Survivors, Series 2



The second series of Survivors has finished and whilst it was entertaining only one episode really lived up to what I wanted from the programme: that being more than just survival, but looking at rebuilding society after the virus wiped everyone out.

The first few episodes were still tying up the plot from the end of the first series: Abby captured, the big conspiracy, the rest of the family searching for Abby. All action and cityscape apocalypse, bleak and depressing. The big conspiracy from the first series turns out to be a secret lab and Abby is the key to the vaccine, which was a bit cliched.

Episode four tried to be interesting: our heroes captured and used as slave labour in a coal mine, with some discussion of what they wanted the future to be, whether slave labour was necessary, the pit boss occupying a stately home and another bleak ending as the slaves escape and turn into a rampaging mob.

Episode five was my favourite episode of the series, as out heroes find a secret valley which looks beautiful and too good to be true. Sure enough the virus mutates and takes out Sarah, before her and Al can really enjoy their new found love. It was a touching episode, with a message that even after everything has gone wrong people will think about the greater good and take selfless acts.

And finally the series wrapped up with Abby finding her son and the conspiracy being revealed fully. There was a lot of action in the last episode, and even some fleeting discussions of what people want to become and how they want to behave. It wasn't a stunning conclusion, but it wrapped everything up perfectly satisfactorily.

All in all an perfectly enjoyable post-apocalyptic TV series with some moments of it being quite good.


Oooh, New Who!

The most recent trailer for the new Doctor Who series is embedded below. Unsure? You know you'll come round after a few episodes.


February 24, 2010

Biting The Snake's Tail by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

February's story in Futurismic is Biting The Snake's Tail by Silvia Moreno-Garcia. It's the story of some murders in Mexico City and a cop who gets pulled onto their cases.

It's another foreign-to-me setting, which I seem to be reading a lot of at the moment, and the writing gave me an impression of Mexico City and the slummy parts in which the story takes place. The dialogue was nice, realistically abrupt in places, and pretty good at painting a picture of the characters quickly. I'm not a fan of gore but thankfully it wasn't too over the top in this story, just enough to convey the violence.

The plot left me wanting a bit, I was hooked in but then wanted more resolution, but (once again) the end is calculated to do just that: no happy endings. I could have done with more, it felt like a great setting for a novel.

Interesting.

February 23, 2010

V Coming To UK Sci-Fi Channel In April

A date has been announced for when the new re-imagined V is to be shown in the UK: Tuesdays at 10pm from April 13 on the UK Sci-Fi channel. That's cable and satellite only, no news on when it will make it to Freeview.


February 22, 2010

BAFTAs 2010, SF Winners

Well, thankfully Avatar didn't win all the awards at the BAFTAs last night, that was left to The Hurt Locker. However Duncan Jones did win the Outstanding Debut Award for directing Moon, hurrah! Avatar meanwhile won Production Design and Special Visual Effacts.

2009 Nebula Awards Final Ballot

As usual I've read absolutely nothing of this years Nebula Awards nominees, although The Windup Girl is top of my list to read next. So I can't really comment much.

I have however seen all of the nominated films except Coraline:

  • Star Trek
  • District 9
  • Avatar
  • Moon
  • Up
  • Coraline
If you swap Avatar for The Road I think that sums up the best films of last year pretty well.

February 21, 2010

The BAFTAs : Battle Of The Science Fiction Films

I know I'm biased, but I would say that some of the best films last year were Science Fiction: Moon, The Road and District 9. I'd also say that the most over-hyped and over-rated film last year was also Science Fiction: Avatar.

It's the BAFTAs tonight and all of those films have a nomination for something. 

Here's the relevant nominations:

Best Film : Avatar
Outstanding British Film: Moon
Outstanding Debut By A British Writer, Director or Producer: Duncan Jones for Moon.
Director: James Cameron for Avatar, Neill Blomkamp for District 9 
Original Screenplay: Up
Adapted Screenplay: District 9
Animated Film: Coraline, Up
Music: Avatar, Up
Cinematography: Avatar, District 9, The Road
Editing: Avatar, District 9
Production Design: Avatar, District 9, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, The Imaginarium Of Doctor Parnassus
Sound: Avatar, District 9, Star Trek, Up
Special Visual Effects: Avatar, District 9, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, Star Trek

Personally I'd have preferred more nominations for Moon and The Road rather than Avatar and District 9.

The BAFTAs is on BBC1 tonight at 9pm.

February 19, 2010

Big And Dumb, Week 304

Things that Big Dumb Object loved and hated this week.

Big
  • Lost. Full on Woah! What? Eh?
  • Making a podcast for the first time.


Dumb
  • Trying to get a perfectly working laserjet printer to print from Vista using a serial to USB connector. JUST WORK DAMN YOU! I have things to read.
  • Google Buzz.

February 18, 2010

The Language Of The Whirlwind by Lavie Tidhar

The February 2010 issue of Clarkesworld Magazine contains a story by Lavie Tidhar entitled The Language Of The Whirlwind.

It's set in Tel Aviv, after a catastrophe, a mountain has risen up in the city, everything has descended to post-apocalyptic-ness. There's some lovely writing, with great images and descriptions. I particularly loved the quick incisive summation of before compared to after:

He used to like Louis Armstrong music, pizza with olives, fresh cold water from the fridge, cartoons on Saturday morning TV. Now his thoughts were fire and his nights were waiting...

In many ways it's standard apocalypse, a broken city, some broken people. But the flavours added to it is enough to make it feel different. That's what Lavie does well that I like, sprinklings of foreign (to me) spice.

Beyond the images I was hooked into wanting answers, ah a newbie mistake, because there aren't any answers, no reasons for why. It just is. So we follow the priest and the boy and we watch what happens and wonder. My initial reaction was slight disappointment, because I wanted more, but thinking about it, I think the ending is perfect.


February 17, 2010

I'm In Another SF Signal Mind Meld About Old TV Shows

The latest SF Signal Mind Meld poses the question:

Which off-the-air science fiction television show deserves a remake? What changes would you make to update it?

Head over there to see my response.

Kim Stanley Robinson Video: "We Are Living in a Science Fiction Novel We All Collaborate On"

Embedded below is a video of the Science Fiction writer Kim Stanley Robinson taken from    January meeting with the "Ecology and the Humanities" Institute at Duke. There's a transcription here.

I think it's very true that we are living in a science fiction novel that we all collaborate on, and it's because everything that science fiction was about through its historical named period, the twentieth century, has kind of come true.


February 16, 2010

Glitch

Glitch sounds interesting:

Glitch is a massively-multiplayer game, playable in the browser and built in the spirit of the web.

And also:

What makes it different? For starters, it's all one big world. Which means everyone is playing the same game and anyone's actions have the ability to affect every other player in the game. It also involves very little war, moats, spaceships, wizards, mafiosos, or tapestries.

Why is it called "Glitch"? It's called Glitch because in the far-distant and totally-perfect future, the world starts becoming less and less probable, things fall apart, the center cannot hold, and there occurs what comes to be called the "glitch" -- a grave danger of disemprobablization. This results in a time-traveling effort at saving the future, going back into the minds of eleven great giants walking sacred paths on a barren asteroid who sing and think and hum the world into existence and ...

Which made me laugh.

Plus it's from a large chunk of the original Flickr team.

February 15, 2010

Space And Time T-Shirt

Space and Time - Threadless, Best T-shirts Ever 
Explore Any Time - All The Time!

February 14, 2010

Should There Be More SF On Stage?

The Guardian asks the question Shouldn't there be more sci-fi on stage?

Well, maybe. But would people go and see it?

February 12, 2010

Big And Dumb, Week 303

Things that Big Dumb Object loved and hated this week:

Big
  • The return of Lost
  • Being Human
  • An issue of Wired in the post
  • Star Wars Decide Your Destiny books.


Dumb
  • Survivors, not doing anything new
  • A PR email asking me to plug a party. Either trying to be clever viral thing, or intensely crazy.
  • The dearth of optimistic news across all media platforms.
  • ebook readers being too expensive.


February 11, 2010

The Final IROSF Is Online

Au Revoir IROSF!

From the IROSF mailing list email:

It has been an honor and a real joy to contribute to the SF community, and we appreciate all the contributions that have poured in over the years: articles, volunteered time and energy, ideas, and money; conversations started and enjoined; and, crucially, all the attention of all our readers. Thank you for reading, for spreading the word, and for welcoming us within the community.

Read the final issue at  http://www.irosf.com

February 10, 2010

Transition - Iain Banks

I haven't read the last two non-SF Iain Banks books (Dead Air and The Steep Approach To Garbadale) because the two before (A Song Of Stone and The Business) put me off. I have however read just about all of his older novels and loved many of them. Transition appealed to me because although it was published as non-SF, no M. Banks, it sounded decidedly Science Fiction. And it is.

The prologue is a montage of characters and places, a mesmerising puzzle of stories, designed to hook the reader in. From then on the narrative is split between these characters, who at the start of the story seem unrelated. Nothing too unusual in that, a story weaved from many threads. However before any time at all it's clear that the story is about parallel worlds. Not metaphorical literary parallel worlds, but real Sliders style parallel worlds.

So why is this book a no M. novel? I think, unfortunately, it's because it is not Culture, because it has no spaceships and because it has a more of a Literary sensibility than many of his M. Banks novels. And by that I mean: more poetic description, longer lingering moments of character, less full-steam ahead plot. All of which I find very enjoyable, and all of which marks it out as good Science Fiction. The character development alone is fascinating, each one in a journey to reveal themselves, and ultimately doubting themselves. Everyone has to face up to who they are, analyse what they've become and decide what they will be.

The plot is still there though, slowly simmering up to a fast chaotic climax, and very well paced. I didn't for a moment want it faster or slower, no dull bits, no fast forward plot jumps, just the lovely momentum of a good story. (Compare this to Matter which I found over long and flabby.) There felt like a few holes, a few moments of rabbits out of the hat (characters and abilities) but nothing too distracting, and ultimately the story was satisfying.

The epilogue ties up the plot, a complete book-end to the prologue. My only complaint is that at least one of the plot threads in the prologue and epilogue appeared unrelated to almost everything else, unless I missed something, which is entirely possible.

All in all a very enjoyable novel, Ian Banks at his best: great writing, big characters and chunky ideas. Don't be put off by the lack of M., it's Science Fiction and I recommend it.



February 9, 2010

She's All Light by LaShawn M. Wanak

Another DayBreak Magazine story about virtual people: She's All Light by LaShawn M. Wanak tells the story of what happens when someone you love decides to get uploaded. In many ways it's the usual SF ideas of what happens when the body is taken away and only the mind exists in virtual space, however the angle is personal, the view from a close relationship rather than the metaphysical questions.

I found the ultra colloquial speak a bit grating, once the story settled down from the stylistic quirks it got better. Experimentation is fine, but the IM txt spk comment threads didn't add much for me and instead seemed like a way of re-enforcing  what I'd already gathered.

The end sections were nice though, the cyberpunky online stuff taking a back seat to the emotional issues of uploading.

February 8, 2010

Robot Painter T-Shirt

The Robot's Renaissance - Threadless, Best T-shirts Ever

February 6, 2010

Lost S06E01 + S06E02


Lost returns for it's sixth and final season. And there was much rejoicing.

It appears that the writers have decided to throw the entire Science Fictional kitchen sink at the plot, making it even more bonkers and huge fun, whilst still being touching. Last season we had time skipping, this season divergent realities. And the fountain of eternal youth protected by a temple and tribe led by a crazy samurai guy. And a man who turns into a smoke monster.

The now traditional Woah moment at the start of the first episode was great, with a crazy underwater flythrough and The Island underwater. The idea of seeing what would have happened if the plane crash hadn't happened is lovely, unexpected meetings, remembering what the characters were like at the start of the journey whilst we now know everything about them. The question is how will the parallel reality touch the original reality? Will they meet? Will they stay as two separate stories?



Meanwhile on The Island our trusty heroes are looking a bit battered, bloodied and tired. Everything has been thrown at them. I particularly felt for Sawyer, again, as Juliet died. Again. When Hurley suggested they venture into a hole in the ground underneath fortifications no one batted an eyelid. They've seen it all now. Even the secret tribe in the temple guarding the Fountain Of Eternal Youth, didn't phase them that much. They look tired and beaten. I don't think they'll stay that way for long.

As for John Locke. He's dead. Long live John Locke, or rather that nasty guy who hates Jacob  and can turn into The Smoke Monster. Aha, so he's the smoke monster? Or another smoke monster? If the Black Smoke Monster was protecting the temple was that Jacob? No idea. The real core question is what are the two sides? And what exactly are they fighting over?

Awesome fun. Welcome back Lost.

If you're in the US, or can magic up a US IP address then you can watch Lost online for free at abc.com, if you're in the UK the only way to watch Lost online is through some Sky Player jiggery pokery, and that's not free.



February 5, 2010

Mandalorians, Designing Them, Drawing Them


The Official Star Wars site has an article on designing the Mandalorians and also a guide on how to draw them.

February 4, 2010

The Road

So how do you film an outstanding, critically acclaimed, prize winning, "unfilmable" literary novel? With conviction, style, soul and absolutely no compromise. Exactly as John Hillcoat has done.

The film is amazing, beautiful, sad, heart-wrenching, distressing and haunting. Just like the book.

The more I've thought about it, the better it gets.

The visual scenes of apocalypse are bleak but restrained, the soundtrack is perfect and emotional. Even the voice-over works in a melancholy way. 

The Science Fictional idea, the end of the world is at the very core of the film because it takes away everything. It is no temporary disaster, not a moment to be survived, but a new, horrible, world.

But there is hope in the film. More so for me that the ending of the book (despite it being the ultimate in faithful adaptations). Maybe it was because I knew the story, second time round as it were? Maybe it was the visual aspects of the film? The love of the father-son relationship shone in the film (with some truly outstanding acting), as did their humanity, giving me more hope, despite the sadness.

As you might be able to tell, I'm struggling for words. All I can say in the end is read the book and go and see this film. Essential Science Fiction. 

February 3, 2010

Small Miracles by Edward M. Lerner

Small Miracles by Edward M. Lerner is a novel about nanobots. 

Unfortunately that's all it's about. There's one idea and it's stretched to a novel length. That idea is that nanobots have been crafted into an indestructible suit, a suit which injects the nanobots into your body in the case of first aid. The first time this happens the bots cross into the brain and begin to take over.

The setting is the corporation where the bots are made and it's uninspiring: offices, factory floors, laboratories. The external location is described multiply, covered with snow and cold, and is not the slightest bit enthralling. The effect is to deaden what should be an exciting idea.

Small Miracles suffers in comparison with other books about nanobots, most notably The Diamond Age by Neal Stephenson. The Diamond Age is dense and mysterious and exciting and stretches the idea of what may be possible with nanobots to the edge. Small Miracles is unfortunately thin and weak and the opposite end of the spectrum to The Diamond Age.

I assume that the science in Small Miracles is accurate, but to be honest I have no idea. After several paragraphs of Biology speak I switched off, forgot the acronyms and ignored the science. This is exactly my argument against Hard SF, when done badly it's tedious, even detracting/distracting. To enable all the science speak there was a lot of "So, Bob, what about the CSF?", "The CSF Alice? You mean the Curly Straight Foobars?" etc. 

Which brings me onto the execution of the novel, the actual writing, which was not to my taste at all. Far too much telling. Far too much thinking out loud, italics, and spelling things out. I found it hard work, struggling to ignore the words and get pulled into the story.

Perhaps the market for Small Miracles may be the non-SF fan who wants a thin airport thriller? But for me, ultimately, nothing worked in this novel and I didn't enjoy it. 



February 2, 2010

Dollhouse

So, Dollhouse ends and despite the shaky start it turned into one of the most interesting and Science Fiction laden shows of the last few years.

The first four episodes of season one did it no favours, being nothing more than an adult Joe90 and playing up the sexy futuristic whorehouse in a way that obscured the heart of the story. Things started getting interesting when the technology started going wrong. It's hard to care about a main character who changes every week, who seems happy sleeping with rich LA men, whose only problems lay in minor tussles during engagements and whose origins remained clouded. Without knowing how Echo ended up in the Dollhouse it was hard to feel sympathy.

When the technology started glitching and Echo began to grow a personality the stories became more interesting. And not just Echo, but Siera and Victor too. And Topher and DeWitt. Suddenly everyone transcended the cardboard characters that they originally appeared to be, although this transformation didn't really shine until season two.

The Alpha plot of season one was a traditional good guy gone bad, turned psycho, story. At times it felt cliched, a bit too traditional. Once again though, over time, its true purpose was revealed: Alpha was a plot device to unleash Echo.

Come season two suddenly everything made more sense, hung together more, asked more questions, felt more risky and felt like Dollhouse had not only discovered what it intended to be, but had the convictions to stick to it. (Or maybe by that time the TV executives had given up on it and stopped meddling?) It doesn't matter, season two was really enjoyable Science Fiction, the technology moving from a plot enabler, to the core of the story and the cause of the apocalypse.

The timeboxed limit of twenty-six episodes in the end helped Dollhouse. Much fuss is made about cancellation of TV shows in the US, but the best shows are complete stories, with constraints, not never ending soap operas. In the UK a complete six part story is the norm, and even successful shows like Life On Mars try and wrap things up after a couples of series of eight. So in twenty six episodes of Dollhouse we got a full story, from nascent technology to all hell breaking loose. I'd argue that the story would have been better with even fewer episodes. The end brings focus. As the final few episodes of Dollhouse proved: dense, exciting, unexpected deaths (very Joss Whedon) and unexpected plot twists. It took chances with hive mind dream worlds inside mainframe computers. It pulled out a plot thread and revealed it winding through everything we had seen. It showed us an apocalypse. 

(Let's for a moment forget about Epitaph Two, which provided an optimistic ending via a big reset button. It was a stylish pilot episode for a season that couldn't be made: Alpha as a good guy, Victor as a cyborg, Little Safe House On The Prairie, Topher crazy, Adele gentle. Thirteen episodes of that could have been good, trying to tie up the plot in one episode was a stretch too far.)

As you can tell, I liked Dollhouse a lot. It got better with time and the complications of the plot, when it turned from the early black and white into murky grey.

Complete. 




February 1, 2010

February's Ansible Is Online

Alt.Fiction 2010

Alt.Fiction the one day alternative fiction convention is back in 2010 after a break. The date is 12th June, in Derby, at QUAD "Derby's brand new state-of-the-art multi-media venue". 

The line-up has yet to be confirmed but it looks like there will at least be a posse from BBC books.

I've been to a couple of the previous Alt.Fiction events and found them very enjoyable, with the single day format being quite convenient.