Category: Science Fiction

When Genres Collide (Part One)

When Genres Collide (Part One)

I was apparently one of the very few science fiction fans who wasn’t blown away by Guardians of the Galaxy, certainly being less impressed than those who voted it Best Dramatic Presentation for both the Hugo and Nebula Awards in 2015.  I wasn’t bored when I saw it in a theater, but it went in one eye and out the other, and at the time, I figured it was because it all too obviously followed the same story structure as The Avengers:  a gang of ragtag but super-powerful and/or talented misfits are gathered together to keep a super-powerful MacGuffin from falling into the hands of a super-powerful would-be conqueror, but must learn to get along with each other and overcome their differences after a crushing defeat so they can achieve a final victory.  When I saw it again on television, I unfortunately was bored, and not just because of the feeling that Marvel was merely putting its characters through a series of repetitive mechanical motions had been further reinforced by the mediocre Age of Ultron. It became clear on this second viewing that Guardians of the Galaxy was a fake science fiction film. Although some hardcore science fiction fans don’t consider the comic book movie as properly belonging to the genre in the first place, what I mean by this is that it is a movie that didn’t need to be told as science fiction, since so much of it is obviously lifted from other genres. Continue reading “When Genres Collide (Part One)”

Movie Review: Arrival

Movie Review: Arrival

 

WARNING SPOILERS AHEAD

There’s a point early on in Denis Villeneuve’s Arrival  where a team of scientists and soldiers, entering the alien vessel for the first time, hike through a tunnel until they reach  the seeming end of it. One character tosses a Glo-Stick up in the air….and it continues to fall upwards. It is at this point that we realize we have entered, to quote Walter Pidgeon’s Professor Morbius in Forbidden Planet (like Amy Adam’s character, a professor of languages ), a completely new set of scientific values. Villeneuve’s film may seem on the surface to be just another alien-first-contact movie but it’s actually something much more interesting and unique. It’s a true rarity, a film adaptation of a quite recent, highly-acclaimed science fiction short story that manages to do its source material justice. Continue reading “Movie Review: Arrival”

In Memoriam: David A. Kyle and First Fandom

In Memoriam: David A. Kyle and First Fandom

First Fandom closed its doors for good last week with the passing of David A. Kyle at the age of ninety-six.  Kyle had been a part of science fiction fandom from the very beginning, as a member of New York’s Futurians, and was one of its ablest historians for half a century. In particular, Kyle’s 1976 book A Pictorial History of Science Fiction had a massive influence on my own development as a science fiction fan. Purchasing the generously-sized book for just three dollars at a used bookstore with the money given to me for my thirteenth birthday, it helped to encourage me to not just read even more of the genre, but to read as much about it as well. Through Kyle’s chronicling of the history of science fiction and the people involved in its development, I learned to respect the writers, artists and fans alike who helped to build it up, and became more determined than ever to know more about what had come before me. Clearly, there was more to this field than just the few prominent authors I had read or movies I had seen, and it had a rich legacy that deserved to not just be preserved, but explored and enjoyed. Continue reading “In Memoriam: David A. Kyle and First Fandom”

In Memoriam: David G. Hartwell

In Memoriam: David G. Hartwell

You only have one chance to make a good first impression on someone. I hope I did so the first and only time I ever met David Hartwell; I know he made a good impression on me. It was at the 2013 conference at McMaster University in honor of Robert Sawyer; I was presenting a paper there and David was one of the guests. After Robert’s keynote address, I had the chance to meet David, as well Robert Charles Wilson and Élisabeth Vonarburg. I remember chatting with one of the Roberts, maybe both of them, along with some other guests when he walked up to our little circle with a drink in his hand and a big smile on his face. I had never seen a photo of him, but seeing his name tag sent a shudder of recognition as I realized that one of science fiction’s finest living editors had just strolled up to me. Continue reading “In Memoriam: David G. Hartwell”

THE OVERPRAISED AND OVERHYPED: A STRICTLY PERSONAL LISTING OF THE MOST OVERRATED SCIENCE FICTION FILMS OF ALL TIME

THE OVERPRAISED AND OVERHYPED: A STRICTLY PERSONAL LISTING OF THE MOST OVERRATED SCIENCE FICTION FILMS OF ALL TIME

Originally, I didn’t plan to follow up my list of Underrated Science Fiction Films with a list of those I consider the most overrated. First of all, such a list would frankly come off as self-trolling if not done right, an attempt to gain page hits by tempting potential visitors with a subtle “come see how much this will enrage you, and if it doesn’t, share it with friends who will be.” Secondly, there’s a not so subtle implication in such essays that there’s something wrong with those who already enjoy these movies (or books or shows or whatnot), instead of simply chalking up any disagreements to mere differences in taste. Continue reading “THE OVERPRAISED AND OVERHYPED: A STRICTLY PERSONAL LISTING OF THE MOST OVERRATED SCIENCE FICTION FILMS OF ALL TIME”

The (other) Conquest of Space

Robert Conquest, one of the greatest and most important historians of the 20th Century, died earlier this week at the age of ninety-nine. His most lasting legacy, of course, was his exposing the fraud of communism to the intelligentsia and the public, although sadly many still remain in denial of his findings regarding Stalin’s body count. I am reasonably certain most readers of this journal are not among those that need to have Conquest’s evidence presented to them; I am in fact quite certain that most of them know his name, and even if they have not had the chance to read his monumental works The Great Terror and Harvest of Sorrow, have read other credible sources that have cited them as impeccable sources on the topic.

But how many of you are also aware that he was a science fiction fan? Continue reading “The (other) Conquest of Space”

THE UNDERRATED AND UNDERAPPRECIATED: A Personal List, Part IV. The Eighties To The Present

THE UNDERRATED AND UNDERAPPRECIATED: A Personal List, Part IV. The Eighties To The Present

And now, we complete our list! There are two reasons why I’ve decided to include the Eighties and Nineties together with the 21st century in this compilation of overlooked science fiction films. First of all, it takes time to decide whether or not a film is truly underrated, and the older they are, the greater the danger they have of sinking into completely undeserving obscurity. On the other hand, not only are more recent films still fresh in the memory and more readily available, they also get discussed more, and as a result, it becomes much more difficult to judge whether a film is truly underrated or not; if anything, a recent movie is more likely to be overpraised by audiences. Continue reading “THE UNDERRATED AND UNDERAPPRECIATED: A Personal List, Part IV. The Eighties To The Present”

Countdown to Interstellar: The Warp Drive in Hard Science Fiction…1…Charles Sheffield

Countdown to Interstellar: The Warp Drive in Hard Science Fiction…1…Charles Sheffield

The first few years of the Millennium were dark ones for fans of hard science fiction. In 2001, Poul Anderson died, followed a few months later by his frequent collaborator Gordon Dickson. Then in 2003, Hal Clement, who did more than any other writer to develop hard science fiction as an identifiable sub-genre by introducing a new degree of scientific rigor in writing and helped make world-building an art form, also passed away. Between these two massive losses came possibly the most tragic of them all, as physicist and writer Charles Sheffield lost a brief but brave battle with an aggressive brain tumor in 2002. Although he had begun writing quite late in life, Sheffield had nonetheless quickly developed a reputation as one of hard science fiction’s finest practitioners, a prolific and versatile writer whose diverse stories and series combined, as Spider Robinson (who would name the spaceship in his Heinlein paste-up Variable Star after his late colleague and friend) said, “the scientific grounding of Clarke, the storytelling skills of a Heinlein, the dry wit of a Pohl or Kornbluth, and the universe-building prowess of a Niven.” I would also add that he possessed Gregory Benford’s skill at realistic and believable depictions of scientists and science at work…even as practiced many centuries from now. As wondrous and exciting as his many novels and short stories were, there was still the feeling that the best was yet to come; alas, as had been the case with Stanley Weinbaum three quarters of a century earlier, the cruelties of cancer once again stole us of a promise yet to be fulfilled, and we can only surmise as to what might have been. Continue reading “Countdown to Interstellar: The Warp Drive in Hard Science Fiction…1…Charles Sheffield”

Countdown to Interstellar: The Warp Drive in Hard Science Fiction….2….Gregory Benford

Countdown to Interstellar: The Warp Drive in Hard Science Fiction….2….Gregory Benford

Gregory Benford and Relativistic Effects

 

 

I once attended a talk given by renowned mathematical physicist Roger Penrose where he described binary pulsars as the most beautiful objects in the universe, as they fulfill every prediction made by the Theory of Relativity. Similarly, the stories of Gregory Benford are among the most beautifully written in science fiction, not just because of their prose but how they illuminate the laws and hidden facets of the universe. As a physicist himself, much of Benford’s science fiction is distinguished by both his keen observations of the lives of scientists and his finely detailed depictions of them at work, and his ability to vividly convey the sort of cognitive and sensory impressions that are part of their experiences. Continue reading “Countdown to Interstellar: The Warp Drive in Hard Science Fiction….2….Gregory Benford”

Countdown to Interstellar: The Warp Drive in Hard Science Fiction….3….Poul Anderson

Countdown to Interstellar: The Warp Drive in Hard Science Fiction….3….Poul Anderson

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Writers of hard science fiction, that most rigorously realistic of the genre’s subdivisions, pride themselves on their unwavering commitment to scientific accuracy and adherence to the known laws and facts of the physical universe in their stories, yet they find themselves making a necessary exception for one of the most significant of all its invariants. Since the Theory of Special Relativity has established that nothing can move faster than the speed of light, which has only been further buttressed by experiment and observation, the practitioners of hard science are forced to bend their own principles slightly whenever their stories go beyond our own Solar System. Fortunately, the Great Einstein giveth as much as he taketh away, and the many fascinating predictions and outcomes of both Special and General Relativity have provided the “loopholes” many writers are looking for in trying to explain how their characters can traverse such great distances. In some instances, the stories are specifically about faster-than-light travel itself; the brand-new Christopher Nolan film INTERSTELLAR follows a well-worn path to the stars that science fiction writers have traveled many times before, attempting to explain how FTL or the “warp drive” in terms that are consistent with current scientific knowledge, and using it as a platform for both the stories and themes. Continue reading “Countdown to Interstellar: The Warp Drive in Hard Science Fiction….3….Poul Anderson”