The Literary Ghetto of Science Fiction

Following up his recent “Beer-Money SF vs. Literary SF” post – and Velcro City’s thoughtful response – Andrew Wheeler has posted “Beer-Money SF Redux“. In it, he tries to pin down why science fiction is in, and will most likely remain in, a literary ghetto.

My general theory here is that most readers are primarily interested in books that are described in words they already understand. There will be exceptions, but, for most people, being told that a book is about something incomprehensible (in a more convoluted way than that) will not be a point in its favor. If someone tells me that some great novel is about the inevitability of frammis, and that it distims the doshes in a way no gostak can, I’m probably not going to be interested. If the same person tells me it’s a great new First Contact book with a neat new idea about picotech and a different take on “The Cold Equations,” then I’ll probably look for that book. You have to have some handle on why you might like a book before you can even decide you want it.

In a similar vein comes thos article from the satirical site The Toque, “Science Fiction and Fantasy Don’t Mix“.

Those science fiction fans were one weird crowd. Everything needed an explanation. Space ships had to have a logical means of propulsion, and there always needed to be schematic drawings. Strange new worlds had to be described in great detail, right down to the composition of the atmosphere. And the physics of time travel always had to be explained. Nothing was ever accepted as is. There was certainly no room for staff-carrying magicians with long flowing robes.

Brian, on the other hand, read fantasy fiction–sensible magical stories about dungeons & dragons, swords & sorcery, elves, goblins, and trolls. With fantasy the impossible was plausible, and worlds could be saved with the wave of a crystal-wearing hand. Science never interfered.

Brian didn’t need rational explanations for unexplained phenomena; he read for pleasure and a simple “it’s magic” was just fine by him. Anyways, it was all about the “quest”. But for some reason, the sci-fi reader had some obsessive need to rationalize. He needed to know how hyperspace works, and why a pulse rifle is able to both stun and kill.

SF Tidbits for 9/30/06

Doctor Who, Series 2

The SciFI Channel aired the first two episodes of Doctor Who series two tonight. I like the show. It has a nice mix of adult “nudge-nudge, wink-wink” humor and good ol’ fashioned camp, which the kids seem to like. The new Doctor seems to be good fit. (And I still think he has a bit of a Davy Jones thing going on.)

As per usual, I watched with my daughter, who loves it. On one of the episodes, one of the characters loses a hand in a swordfight, to which my apparently geek-in-training daughter replied, “That’s just like Star Wars. I think the people that made this saw Star Wars.”

Could I be more proud? I think not. :)

Has Science Ruined Science Fiction?

Genre pulp writer Emerson LaSalle is not a fan of science. Or, at least, according to his blog Count Pulpula, he’s not happy with How Science Ruined Science Fiction.

The biggest problem with science is that it eventually undermines sci-fi staples. Take Mars for example. Thanks to that useless tax drain NASA, we now know Mars to be a lifeless rock which may or may not have had water on it at one time. Gee, thanks, science.

While it’s true that many science fiction novels have been shown to scientifically false in restrospect, I still find classic sf quite appealing. I find it interesting to see how yesteryear’s visionaries envisioned the world we see today.

But I gotta wonder about the Mars comment. Has the recent Mars exploration doomed the Mars story? Has science really ruined sf?

SF Tidbits for 9/29/06

Star Trek Away Team

The familiar crew of the Enterprise face another certain doom scenario.

Fortunately, five members can transport to the planet below.

[also via Milk and Cookies]

SF coming to life

More in the category of ‘sci-fi coming to life’ is a Philips technology that allows for true fiber optics – in this case, fabric fibers. The technology called Lumalive puts an array of LEDs into the fabric itself and thus allowing you to have moving graphical images presented from your clothing. I can only imagine the potential uses for such technology – jackets for use while jogging at night that warn vehicles of your location, shirts that allow you to promote the latest craze (your favorite blog maybe), and underwear that … well … perhaps that’s best left to the imagination.

Can the world envisioned by the movie Blade Runner be that far away?

SF Tidbits for 9/28/06

Authors Name Their Favorite Books

From 2002 P.B. (Pre-Blog), there’s a Washington Post article in which authors name some favorite books. The short version:

  • Michael Chabon: R Is for Rocket by Ray Bradbury.
  • Thomas M. Disch: Melmoth the Wanderer by Charles Maturin.
  • Neil Gaiman: Nine Hundred Grandmothers by R.A. Lafferty.
  • Ellen Datlow: Dangerous Visions edited by Harlan Ellison and The Playboy Book of Horror and the Supernatural.
  • James Hynes: Chronopolis and Other Stories by J.G. Ballard.
  • Sheila Williams: What Mad Universe by Fredric Brown.
  • Daniel Handler (aka Lemony Snicket): Weird Women, Wired Women by Kit Reed.
  • Peter Straub: The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson.
  • Terry Pratchett: The Evolution Man by Roy Lewis.
  • Nancy Kress: The Dispossessed and The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. Le Guin.
  • John Clute: Her Smoke Rose Up Forever by James Tiptree Jr.
  • Gordon van Gelder: In Signs of Life, Course of the Heart by M. John Harrison.
  • Daniel Pinkwater: Mount Analogue by René Daumal.
  • Diana Wynne Jones: Sing the Four Quarters by Tanya Huff.
  • Poppy Z. Brite: Love Ain’t Nothing But Sex Misspelled by Harlan Ellison.
  • Kelly Link: The Wolves of WilloughbyChase by Joan Aiken.
  • John Crowley: The Priest by Thomas M. Disch and Being Dead by Jim Crace.

REVIEW: Crossover by Joel Shepherd

REVIEW SUMMARY: It’s important to be able to relate to the main character in a character-driven novel.


BRIEF SYNOPSIS: Military android goes AWOL and tries to live a normal life among the enemy.


PROS: Well-written action scenes; avoids “robot wants to be human” cliché.

CONS: Little reason to care about main character; poor pacing; somewhat mired down in politics.

BOTTOM LINE: Shows signs of being a first novel.

Continue reading

SF Tidbits for 9/27/06

UPDATED: WIth link to EW BG Story.

Robotic Tractors & more…

Not to be confused with robots on TV or in the movies, these robots are real. John Deere has instigated a research program designing fully unmanned robotic farm tractors. And by tractor, I don’t mean the tiny 4-cylinder device you might use around the house. In this case, I’m talking about about the big farm tractors that roam the acres of commercial farmland in middle-America.

Completely automatic driving systems already exist – and in fact are already being used today. But today the operator has to hang out in the cab ready to control the more esoteric aspects of farming. A farmer today can start up his tractor and get in some reading (sci-fi no doubt) while the computer in the cab drives whatever machine he’s got to either sow or reap. And the systems can automatically switch between crops depending on what field you’re on – doing the right thing for soybeans and a different thing for corn. Again, while the driver barely has to look up. The researcher at Deere are unashamed of promoting the fact that eventually they will get the farmer out of the silo entirely. Luckily I don’t fear a War Games scenario with this like I might with missile launch systems.

Second, at the recent Big Iron farm show in North Dakota, total-farm WiFi systems were pitched. Not designed to allow the farmer surf the web, but instead being utilized for remotely operated watering, feeding, and other systems used today on a farm.

Eventually our farmers will merely sit down at the operations center inside their massive farmhouse and direct the operation of the farm, much like a power planet operator or network administrator does today.

Reader Challenge #5A – The Coolest Science Fiction Setting (Written)

It’s that time again boys and girls, time for another, patented, SF Signal Reader Challenge! This time, the challenge will be broken into two separate challenges, with associated polls (although John doesn’t know that yet, though, it will make the next few polls easy for him…). This time, I’m looking for your coolest/favorite science fiction setting in the written form. The rules:

  1. List up to 3 settings in the comments below.
  2. Please restrict your settings to those in written form. In this case, novels, novellas, novelettes, short stories, poems and the like, in short, anything published in writing. Screenplays do not count.
  3. For those settings that have cross-pollinated between the visual and written media, only those settings whose original story was in written form should be considered and listed. For instance, the film 2001 won’t be accepted, but the short story “The Sentinel” will be. Star Wars and Star Trek are right out, this time.

I’ll collate the answers, then we may have a poll to see which setting is the coolest or the most favorite of the SF Signal readers. I’ll run this challenge through this coming Sunday (10/1) and then make John put up a poll starting next Monday, and then another challenge covering the visual media.

My coolest settings? Glad you asked:

  • The Culture from the mind of Iain (The M Stands for SF) M. Banks. Eccentric, overprotective AIs, ginormous ships, immortality (if careful), and Special Circumstances. What’s not to like?
  • Alastair Reynold’s Revelation Space universe. Sure, FTL is more trouble than its worth, but the society mankind has made is really cool.
  • David Brin’s Uplift series. Just plain cool. If only he’d finish the story of the Streaker.

Now it’s your turn!

INTERVIEW: Meme Therapy – On The Grid

The blogosphere is a-buzz with the good stuff being posted at Meme Therapy, and with good reason. Their interviews and Brain Parades are attracting some big names in science and science fiction.

SF Signal had the opportunity to turn the meme-tables on the good folks at Meme Therapy, putting them under the microscope like they’ve done to so many others…

  Jose Rosie Charlie
Mug Shot
First sf book you read Splinter of the Mind’s Eye by Alan Dean Foster. Oh God, can’t remember. Probably either one of Asimov’s Foundation novels or something by Robert A. Heinlein. My mother’s a sci-fi nut so I was exposed at a very young age. Not sure, but it could well have been Dolphin Island by Clarke when I was about 8 or 9 – I remember being captivated by the giant hovercraft he depicted roaring across land and sea, and by the tropical techno-idyll eventually reached by the young stowaway protagonist. Not sure I’d enjoy it quite as much if I re-read it now, though ;-)
Last sf book you read. Cyrptonomicon by Neal Stephenson. The Diamond Age by Neal Stephenson. The last one I finished was Infoquake, I’m currently reading Brass Man.
Favorite sf book. I’m going to wimp out and go with my sentimental favourite A World Out of Time by Larry Niven. I’m going to cheat and say Kim Stanley Robinson’s Mars Trilogy, rather than giving any single book. The character development is just amazing and the science fantastic. I’m hopeless at picking favourites, but off the top of my head, Ringworld and Red Mars would have to be up there (sorry for cheating). I love tales of exploration.
Favorite sci-fi author (living) Larry Niven. Apart from KSR, Neal Stephenson for Cryptonomicon and The Baroque Cycle. Even though they’re set in the past they’re still science fiction. Argh…Well, if you base it on how far in advance I pre-order their books, I guess it would have to be Iain M. Banks, but really, there are far too many brilliant and varied writers out there (to choose just one, I mean…), and I have to register a protest at the meanness of only allowing one pick.
Favorite sci-fi author (dead) Gotta be Heinlein. Heinlein for being impossible to pin down and for annoying just about every sector of American society in his career. Hmm…for some reason this is easier, and I find myself having to choose between Wells and Verne…and it’s got to be Wells, really, hasn’t it.
Hard SF or space opera? Another tough call. Hard SF. Depends on my mood, I tend to go for hard sci-fi more though. Hard SF.
Military sf or cyberpunk? Cyberpunk. Cyberpunk as I tend to find most military sci-fi incredibly tedious and uninventive. If I see one more WWII/Vietnam/Trafalgar-in-space novel I’ll scream. Cyberpunk, I guess, though I’m not sure the boundary between the two is that clear cut. And I will admit to a (probably) unhealthy fascination with weapon systems through the ages.
Favorite sci-fi movie 2001: A Space Odyssey. Knowing Rosie can’t stand it makes me love it even more. Bladerunner for the style, Gattaca for the acting, plot and gnarly politics, Starship Troopers for the satire. Tough one. I have never seen a sci-fi movie which inspired the same sense of wonder in me as the best literature. I was going to go for an intellectual choice like 2001, but if I force myself to be honest, probably Star Wars. It may not have the science part right, but it has that strange depth of field that makes it compelling and makes you wonder about what might be going on just out of sight of the camera.
Zombie fight: Night of the Living Dead vs. 28 Days Later – who would win? I’m rooting for the British vampires. All those years of living in a poor climate make them extra surly in unlife. 28 Days Later. Hey I’m British. Neither. Shaun of the Dead would have them both.
BG or Doctor Who? It feels like a betrayal to say this but BG. Battlestar Galactica any day. It’s the only overtly political show on American T.V. and the space battles are cool. Erm…I’m on thin ice here, as I don’t really watch that much TV, so I haven’t seen more than a couple of episodes of either. On the balance (and possibly because of ethnic bias) I’d have to go for the good Doctor, though.
Favorite sci-fi TV show (current) Battlestar Galacti ca. Hated the original ironically. Battlestar Galactica. See above, if I say any more I’ll just reveal the depth of my ignorance.
Favorite sci-fi TV show (canceled) Firefly. Firefly. There’s just never been anything else like it. (Although for traditional space opera I have to say I have a penchant for Babylon 5.) I’m not sure it’s really the answer you’re looking for, but The Future’s Wild was wonderful. I have been a fan of Dougal Dixon’s wonderful imaginings of evolutionary potential since reading After Man: A Zoology of the Future, and I just wish they’d make more stuff like this.
Boomer, Six or the Bionic Woman? I had a crush on the Bionic Woman growing up but now it’s definitely Boomer. I don’t get the guys who wear “Six of Mine” T-shirts. Boomer. Oh bloody hell, I don’t know…Six, purely because I prefer the unknown and I have no idea who she (hopefully) is.
Harlan Ellison or a punch in your gob? I’m not a member of the Stone Harlan movement so I pick Harlan. Since I think “I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream” is possibly the best sci-fi short story ever I’d have to go for Harlan Ellison. Harlan Ellison punching me in the gob.
Occupation outside the blog Headset Whore. But I blog at work so I consider myself a covertly pro blogger. Politics student and professional grumpy bastard. I work for a game testing company. It’s not as interesting/fun as you might think.
Celebrity you most resemble Chewbacca. It’s a toss up between Jesus and Che Guevera. A mutant hybrid of Oscar Wilde and Hunter S. Thompson.
Favorite Meme Therapy post. It’s still our third post. The Unmanned vs Manned Spaceflight Brain Parade. Ooh, there’s so many. To be honest I really don’t have a favourite. The first one, where I conclusively prove that heading out into space is essential to the psycho-socio-spiritual welfare of our species, naturally.
Favorite scientist Spock. Richard Dawkins for being utterly uncompromising in his defence of evolution and criticism of religion. Freeman Dyson.
Favorite website Rudy Rucker’s Blog. The Guardian Unlimited. The Guardian‘s the only newspaper which actually seems to get the internet and is prepared to adapt itself and use tools such as blogging and podcasting to present its stories. Aww, c’mon, man…no comment ;-)
Favorite superhero Matter-Eater Lad. I’ve never really been into comics that much but I guess it’d have to be Batman. Judge Dredd.
If you could have one of Superman’s powers, what would it be? His incomprehensible staying power. The ability to fly. Then I wouldn’t have to catch the bus to work every morning. The power of flight, of course…
The biggest disappointment in sf That I can’t use it to pick up women. Apart from Firefly being cancelled? The lack of really good and incisive social commentary in American sci-fi at present. Come on guys, your Nation’s in the midst of an existential crisis, write about it! That no one has yet made a film of Rama. Or The Mote in God’s Eye.
Or any of the other brilliant books and short stories I read when I was growing up.
Science fiction personality you most admire I don’t know much about Science Fiction authors on a personal basis but from what little I’ve seen I really like Joe Haldeman. I’d like to get drunk with the man. Stanislaw Lem (although he’s dead now). Way smarter than any other sci-fi writer I’ve ever read. If by admire you mean “would most like to meet”, I guess Larry Niven.

SF Tidbits for 9/26/06

RIP: John M. Ford

Author John M. Ford has passed away.

See the Making Light blog for more info and related links…

SF Tidbits for 9/25/06

POLL RESULTS: Your Favorite Robot from Film

Here are the results of the latest SF Signal poll.

Which of these is your favorite fictional robot from film?


(69 total votes)

I would have thought that the people would be all over the metallic T-1000. It seems that there is a fondness for the classic robots of the 50’s. But they still didn’t edge out those pesky replicants!

Be sure to vote in this week’s poll about online book reviews!

Doctorow Concludes “0wnz0red” Podcast

Cory Doctorow has completed the 4-part podcast of his Nebula-nominated short story “0wnz0red“.

Here are links to the MP3s:

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

Part 4

SF Tidbits for 9/24/06