Category: Science Fiction

I LOATHED LUCY

I LOATHED LUCY

Quick, what does this remind you of? Lucy is a naïve American college student living in Hong Kong, emotionally fragile and seemingly none too bright, who has made the wrong sort of boyfriend, the sort who “innocently” asks you to deliver a briefcase to some fellows who “just happen” to be some big-time Asian drug dealers. And they don’t just take the briefcase, no siree, Continue reading “I LOATHED LUCY”

Dissecting Divergent

Dissecting Divergent

 

Entertaining yet not quite fulfilling, intelligent but underdeveloped, and having provoked an extremely broad range of critical reaction without any clear consensus, Divergent certainly lives up to its title in terms of both its internal contradictions and audience reception. It’s enjoyable enough to merit a viewing and it provides an intriguing fictional society and setting that feels genuinely lived-in. Additionally, the social factions that form the crux of the story’s plot and themes are quite interesting in the way they represent contemporary social and ideological divisions as well as moral virtues. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said of the individual characters in the film, however likeable some of the actors playing them are, and the movie leaves too many questions about its themes and setting frustratingly unanswered. Continue reading “Dissecting Divergent”

Gravity: The Science Fiction Film in Free Fall

Gravity: The Science Fiction Film in Free Fall

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Alfonso Cuaron’s Gravity has received an exceptional amount of critical acclaim for a science fiction film, more so for any other I can remember since Peter Weir’s The Truman Show.   This may be because, as with Weir’s film, many don’t recognize it as belonging to the genre. Yes, it takes place in outer space, the most familiar setting for the science fiction film, but since it (like the 1969 film Marooned) deals with events that could conceivably and possibly happen in the immediate future, it’s probably not unanimously regarded as such by mainstream critics, who don’t realize that the depiction of possible futures is precisely one of the main goals of science fiction. That may be why I’ve found myself less enthusiastic about the film than so many others after viewing it. As was the case with the wildly overrated Moon (2009), over-familiarity with the genre seems to greatly diminish my ability appreciate what others find to be so novel; on a purely visual and cinematic level, it’s certainly a tremendous achievement on the part of Cuaron and his crew, but on a story level, Gravity is (no pun intended) somewhat of a letdown. Not only will it also be overly familiar to other fans of written science fiction, but those well-versed in its cinematic equivalent will also find themselves recognizing various visual and story motifs. Continue reading “Gravity: The Science Fiction Film in Free Fall”

The Europa Report: The Future on two fronts

After seeing the Europa Report (I thought it was a fantastic film), I believe we are seeing the future on two fronts.

The SciFi Front:

This film was an indie project. It was well written and acted. The special affects was neat and showed how hard space travel can be.  It show one thing and it showed that  good SciFi can be good without warp speed, aliens and shooting people up.

Traditional SciFi can be boring. How much shoot em up types can you show? How many actors with plastic foreheads can people tolerate?

What the Europa shows that with a good story, a show or movie like The Europa Report can succeed.

The Space Exploration Front:

On the space exploration front, I believe that deep space exploration will not be done by Governments, but by private industry.  With budgets bursting around the world, space exploration will not be a priority.  Private industry will take up the slack.  It will happen when they do it themselves or by forming partnerships with different companies or with various Governments.

Will it be good or bad who knows.

The Real Thing: An Intellectual Defense of Howard Hawks and Christian Nyby’s The Thing From Another World

The Real Thing: An Intellectual Defense of Howard Hawks and Christian Nyby’s The Thing From Another World

 

If you were to survey most of the reviews on the Internet, you probably wouldn’t realize that The Thing From Another World has not only long been considered to be a classic, but is one of the most important science fiction films ever made. And if you’re using the Internet exclusively as a resource, that’s part of the whole problem. Although even the very best science fiction films of the Fifties have had to struggle against unfair blanket criticisms and mischaracterizations, the case of The Thing from Another World is especially tragic, as not only is it a landmark film in the genre, it was one of the few science fiction films to attain a high degree of acclaim and respectability from mainstream critics and fans alike. Whereas it used to routinely be on the top of all-time best lists in the genre, it now rarely does so; instead it has become the object of sneering derision and contempt by genre snobs who are upset that it’s not exactly like the original novella and by amateur armchair critics who have an ignorant and uninformed bias against older films in general and older science fiction films in specific. Continue reading “The Real Thing: An Intellectual Defense of Howard Hawks and Christian Nyby’s The Thing From Another World”

Interview: Silent Film Historian Steve Joyce

Interview: Silent Film Historian Steve Joyce

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If you’ve been around the Internet long enough, you quickly learn that every genre and era of the cinema has its fans, and if you’re curious enough to read up on them, you learn to appreciate just why they have gained their adherents. For those curious about fantastic cinema of the silent era, an indispensable new book, American Silent Horror, Science Fiction and Fantasy Feature Films, 1913-1929, provides what is not just to date the most comprehensive collection of original reviews of American films of this particular genre and time period, but a fascinating journey into the film-making and -watching culture of a century ago. Four authors, John T. Soister, Henry Nicolella, Steve Joyce and Harry H. Long, along with researcher and archivist Bill Chase, undertook this massive project, and they were recently rewarded for their efforts with an Honorable Mention from the Rondo Awards, chosen by the on-line community of classic horror fans worldwide. We spoke with co-author Steve Joyce about the book and science fiction films of the silent era in general. Continue reading “Interview: Silent Film Historian Steve Joyce”

The Admirable Crichton: One of the Most Influential and Unknown Stories of Science Fiction History

The Admirable Crichton: One of the Most Influential and Unknown Stories of Science Fiction History

robots_crichton2The name Crichton pops up in science fiction over and over again. From the irritable know it all robot in Buck Rogers, to the robot butler in Red Dwarf, and again as the lone human surrounded by a universe of aliens in Farscape. Why are all these characters named Crichton and what do they all have in common?

In 1902 J.M. Barrie (yes the same J.M. Barrie who created Peter Pan) penned a short comedy about a butler named Crichton modeled on the real life Scotsman James Crichton who was himself a genius in several disciplines at once (a polymath). In the play Crichton is shipwrecked on a desert island with his employers and quickly proves more capable than those who would profess to be his betters. He is so capable that he becomes the leader of the group of castaways. His knowledge is also so complete and efficient that he turns the desert island into a small self-sufficient colony. On being discovered by the outside world Crichton once again returns to the life of a butler and those whom he saved on the island take credit for everything that Crichton accomplished.

The play itself is in no way science fiction and does not have the fantasy elements of Barrie’s other works. The purpose of the play was to serve as a critique of British society and the class system. Barrie wanted to show that the lower classes could be, and quite possibly were, more level headed and capable of ingenuity than the vaulted upper crust. Barrie had also considered ending the play with Crichton marrying the daughter of his employers. That ending would have stretched even his ability to poke fun at the stifling class system and it was not used for fear of causing an uproar. Little did Barrie know that he would be creating a literary meme that has popped up over and over again in both literature and film. This play has reached  across the entire panoply of literature and it has often found a fertile home for itself in science fiction. It is a perfect match for a genre in which ideas of class, and race are often explored in a fictional milieu.

This site probably owes its name to the meme Barrie created. The Freehold was named after Robert Heinlein’s Farnham’s Freehold. In Farnham’s Freehold the African American servant Joseph not only prove himself the equal to his employers he goes on to save them time and again throughout the novel. Heinlein’s novel shares many characteristics with the Barrie play and while there is no overt proof that the two are linked, such as the name Crichton, Heinlein often utilized classical literary references in his work.

The most obvious references to The Admirable Crichton all occur in television serial science fiction. The Crichton robot in Buck Rogers, the Kryten robot in Red Dwarf, and the human character in Farscape were all named after the lead character of Barrie’s play and all have one or more traits of that character. In all three of these shows Crichton acts as a repository of knowledge and information.

Crichton in the Buck Rogers serial is the least like the Crichton from the play but still retains certain aspects of the character. This Crichton considers himself above his human masters. Refusing to acknowledge that such lowly beings could have created him. While he retains the knowledge of the play’s title character, and his ability to save the crew from certain death from time to time, this Crichton lacks any amount of humility and serves only because he is programmed to do so.

The other two Crichtons are much more in line with Barrie’s creation. The Kryten robot in Red Dwarf is the closest. He is a mechanical butler who has been shipwrecked, has vast amounts of knowledge, and who saves the crew of the Dwarf with his ingenuity. Kryten is far more capable than anyone else on the crew and is only held back by his programming from becoming the defacto leader. He is also constantly encouraged by his fellow crew mate Lister to act beyond this programming. It is very likely the fact that this show is British that it comes so close to the original idea. The idea of class struggle has become a common trope on British television.

The latest version  of Crichton comes in the form of John Crichton of the television show Farscape. At first glance this version does not seem to match the Barrie play. John Crichton is a scientist, and an astronaut. He does not seem to meet the classic idea of the servant who finds himself preforming above the abilities of his betters. However, once you scratch the surface it comes closer philosophically to the original play than either of the other two television iterations. The best example of this is the episode “Crackers Don’t Matter”.


In this episode the show explores the idea that all the aliens consider themselves superior to John Crichton. It is constantly reenforced on the show that Crichton is a barbarian from a technologically primitive society. The reality of the situation is that, while Crichton may not have the luxury of coming from a society with advanced technology, he is willing to learn how that technology works. His alien adversaries and friends take this technology for granted and don’t understand the first thing about how it actually functions. Crichton soon understands their technology better than the aliens and uses this knowledge to his advantage.  John Crichton stranded millions of light years from home turns the tables on those who profess to be his betters. An exploration of class, race, and culture that rivals and even surpasses Barrie’s original work.

Interview: Author Robert J. Sawyer.

Interview: Author Robert J. Sawyer.

There was once a time when Robert Sawyer could merely be considered Canada’s leading science fiction author, but those days are long past. Now, with a Hugo, Nebula and John W. Campbell award under his belt, among other awards and a host of best-selling novels, one of which was adapted into an acclaimed TV series, FlashForward, it’s safe to say he’s one of the world’s leading science fiction authors. In addition to FlashForward, his other novels include End of an Era, Frameshift, Factoring Humanity, Calculating God, the Hominids Trilogy, and the WWW trilogy. His most recent novel is Triggers and his next novel, Red Planet Blues, hits the shelves March 26. Continue reading “Interview: Author Robert J. Sawyer.”

The Jeffersonian Rocketship: Heinlein’s American Ethos in Destination Moon

The Jeffersonian Rocketship: Heinlein’s American Ethos in Destination Moon

 

With today’s review of Destination Moon, we begin a three-part look at three of the most important science fiction movies of the 1950s, films that have had an immense impact on  genre cinema since their release, and are also united by their conservative political leanings, either explicitly stated or in the form of subtextual undercurrents. And just to make it clear, the approach I take to film criticism is one of strict formalism; in other words, I do not care a wit as to what the politics expressed in a film are, or the politics of the artists involved are, as long as the final product is good. Unfortunately, such an approach is not shared by many left-leaning critics who feel it is their imperative to knock a film either down a peg or several notches for not adhering to their progressive ideology, or reflecting attitudes of the day that seem regrettable in hindsight, while in turn ridiculously overpraising any movie that does conform to leftist bromides. These reviews are an attempt to redress that imbalance, and provide intellectual criticism of fantastic cinema that is politically provocative while avoiding demagoguery. Continue reading “The Jeffersonian Rocketship: Heinlein’s American Ethos in Destination Moon”

The Poet as Prophet: T.S. Eliot’s “The Waste Land” as Post-Apocalyptic Speculative Fiction

The Poet as Prophet: T.S. Eliot’s “The Waste Land” as Post-Apocalyptic Speculative Fiction

T.S. Eliot

 

There are so many distinct levels in The Waste Land that this short essay will not even begin to touch the surface of the work. The Waste Land goes beyond simple poetry and reaches into story telling in a way that is both poetic, prose, and song all at once and with many voices telling many stories that coalesce into one single overarching narrative. The Waste Land tells the story of a world that has lost it’s innocence and spirituality. Moving from prophetic warnings  of utter desolation, to a world of barbarism and war. The spirits of  dead warriors return to the desolate destroyed city of London seeking to speak to the living. It is a poem of the loss of spiritual and physical reality. It can also be seen as one of the finest examples of post-apocalyptic literature.

To understand Eliot’s work in terms of speculative fiction we must look at his influences as a poet.  In many ways Eliot builds on the legacy of Mathew Arnold. Arnold’s poetry is considered in some corners the first of the modern poets. His work delved into classical Greek and Roman ideas putting them into a Victorian and early modern. His work combined these classic elements with more fantastical  ad dark elements creating such works as The Forsaken Mermaid and Dover Beach. Dover Beach with its dark prophetic themes and apocalyptic nature could almost be a  prequel to Eliot’s later work. The poem’s theme even inspired Ray Bradbury and appears in his novel Fahrenheit 451.

Arnold, who died in the same year Eliot was born, is seen generally as one of the progenitors of Eliot, but Eliot adamantly disagreed, “[W]hile Mr. Eliot assumes the same general position as Arnold in criticism; he will own no connection with him.” (Loring 479). Eliot admitted no connection between their work but he stated that he understood “deeply” what Arnold was saying as a poet. Arnold stressed in his poetry that man should look inward for meaning between nature and spirituality. His work is introspective and contemplative. Arnold considered himself the concluding poet of his own age the last of the romantics. Eliot seems to have picked up the torch where Arnold dropped it, building on Arnold’s dark romanticism and creating a modernist approach from it. Eliot’s approach was to seek out the introspective nature of man and draw it out. For example we can look at the second section of  “The Waste Land”. Here Eliot seems to be trying to draw out that inner contemplative world into the open. “What are you thinking of? What Thinking? What?” (Di Yanni 458). This drawing out of the inner world is especially evident in the section of the poem which describes the prophetic tarot reading. Eliot exposes the innermost self to the world transcending the romantic poetry of Arnold and the Victorian period. He creates a new canvas for poetry and uses that to explore a dark future.

Another author and thinker upon whom Eliot drew inspiration is  Alfred North Whitehead. Whitehead was particularly important when looking at ideas of metaphysical and physical balance in Eliot’s poem. Where Matthew Arnold was introspective and contemplating of self in his poetry, Whiteheads work concentrated on the conflict between the physical world and on the spiritual world. Whitehead was a philosopher rather than a poet, a contemporary of Eliot. His work was highly influential in Eliot’s day and may have helped solidify the spiritual and scientific aspects of Eliot’s work. Whitehead also pioneered a philosophy that postulated the world must give up science and embrace spirituality. Whitehead stated that we must find, “an end of the dominance of scientism and materialistic naturalism, and the beginning of the re-construction of a livable and believable world out of the fragments” (Waggoneer 101). This was also the theme that Eliot was attempting to explore in The Waste Land. Mankind had embraced physics and science and with that emphasis on the material world he has lost his soul. These same themes can be found throughout modern post-apocalyptic literature. David Brin for instance expresses almost the exact same sentiment at the beginning of The PostMan.

      The Waste Land is a multi-layered narrative that defies easy classification. Is it a poem about a spiritual wasting away of the human spirit, or is it about the wasting away of our physical existence, or could it be both at once? I believe that it is both and neither. I think it defies those simple classifications and is a creature all on its own. It transcends the inner contemplative work of Arnold and embraces the ideas of the new modern “god” and new metaphysical reality envisioned by Whitehead. Here is a poem that is truly modern in scope and essence. The Waste Land exposes the duality of modern man set adrift in a world beset by the physical on one side and seeking meaning in the metaphysical on another.  In embracing this duality Eliot uses it to speculate on the fate of man. He asks the question have we lost our souls while embracing science and materialism? Questions like these are at the very heart of speculative fiction. Eliot gives mankind a choice, he must find a balance between the spiritual and the scientific or forever be lost in the apocalyptic wasteland.

Works Cited

 

 

DiYanni, Robert. Modern American Poets: Their Voices and Visions. New York: McGraw Hill, 1994. Print.

Hyatt Howe Waggoner. T. S. Eliot and the Hollow Men American Literature , Vol. 15, No. 2 (May, 1943), pp. 101-126. JSTOR. Web.

M. L. S. Loring. T.S. Eliot on Mathew Arnold, The Sewanee Review Vol. 43, No. 4 , pp. 479-488. December 3, 2012. JSTOR. Web.