Putting SciFi in its place

There’s been a lot of talk lately about the genre of creative works known as science fiction and its place relative to the total body of creative work and I feel the need to weigh in with my opinion. The recent discussion about literary sci-fi only made this more interesting to me.

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SF Tidbits for 10/29/06

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Star Wars Screen Tests

I stumbled upon this Panopticist post of Robby Benson’s Star Wars audition (he reads for the part of Luke along with a mostly off-camera Harrison Ford). This led me to the YouTube profile of its source, Ghyslain. (Not the Star-Wars-Kid Ghyslain, although that would somehow be poetic, wouldn’t it?) Gyslain has collected a series of Star Wars audition videos.

His notes say there is 90 minutes of footage that features folks like Kurt Russell, William Katt, Fredric Forrest, Andrew Stevens, Charles Martin Smith, Amy Irving, and several others. So far you can see: Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher and Lisa Eilbacher (from Beverly Hills Cop reading for Princess Leia). Here’s another one with someone reading for Leia I don’t recognize and does not identify herself in the video.

A post about Star Wars auditions wouldn’t be complete without including this Saturday Night Live skit (which we’ve posted before) showing Christopher Walken (awesomely impersonated by Kevin Spacey) reading for Han Solo, Richard Dreyfuss (Daryl Hammond) reading for C3PO and Walter Matthau (Spacey again) reading for Obi Wan. What we didn’t post about before was another SNL skit in the series shows Burt Reynolds (played by Morm McDonald) trying out for Darth Vader, Barbara Streisand (Ana Gasteyer) reading for Princess Leia and Jack Lemmon (Spacey again) as Chewbacca.

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MY RATING:

BRIEF SYNOPSIS: Anthology of ten stories with a supernatural element that originally appeared in Isaac Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine.

MY REVIEW:

PROS: 6 stories good or better; two of them standouts.

CONS: 4 stories mediocre or worse. One story (“DikDuk”) is incomplete, but is fortunately available online.

BOTTOM LINE: A decent collection of stories with a supernatural element.

I’ve been collecting the books in the Isaac Asimov… anthology series for years and haven’t read them. (Insert biblioholism admission here. Treat self to new book for the courage to do so.) With Halloween just around the corner, I figured if I wasn’t going to read Isaac Asimov’s Halloween around this time of year, I never would. So I did.

The title Isaac Asimov’s Halloween may be misleading for those who don’t read the fine print. This anthology, like others in the series, collects stories that were originally printed in Isaac Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine. The “Halloween” in the title does not imply stories of the horror genre; Asimov’s is a science fiction and fantasy outlet, after all. But the stories do contain some element of the supernatural and/or inhuman (read: Cthulhu).

Overall, it was a decent collection. As usual in anthologies, stories vary in quality. There were two standout stories in the ten provided: the creepy “He-We-Await” by Howard Waldrop and the humorous “The Shunned Trailer” by Esther M. Friesner.

Reviewlettes of the stories follow.

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SF Tidbits for 10/27/06

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Another thought-provoking read from The Movie Blog’s John Campea – Lord Of The Rings – Why Fantasy Failed To Make A Resurgence – in which he says that Lord of the Rings: Return of the King made it more difficult for fantasy films to be produced. A sampling:

Many people suggested that the massive success of ROTK would OPEN THE DOOR to the fantasy genre for studios. Seems to make sense right? The problem for fantasy, is that ROTK was a little TOO SUCCESSFUL. ROTK didn’t swing the door open for fantasy…it slammed the door shut.

He does note the success of The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe (writing it off as fairy tale instead of fantasy) and the upcoming Eragon which he notes that people are already dismissing it as a LOTR knock-off based on conjecture.

Surely the Harry Potter films could be added to that list of successful fantasy films. As for Eragon, I’ve read it and while I thought it was a very entertaining book, it clearly uses the same plot outline as LOTR, and even Star Wars (as noted in the review).

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SF Tidbits for 10/26/06

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Musings On The Current Science Fiction TV Scene

We’re a few weeks into the fall TV season and science fiction is making an impact on the television scene. I thought I’d go ahead and spell out what I’m watching SF-wise and give you my thoughts on those shows and where I think the are, or should be, headed. I’ll go in order by day, starting on Monday night. Afterward, I’ll look at a couple of other shows that are on or will be on that are of some interest to me. Be advised that I will not be avoiding spoilers so read at your own risk.

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As I quietly sidestep the endless debate to be had on what exactly is meant by “Literary” (I leave you to use your own definition), I was wondering: What do you consider to be your favorite two or three literary science fiction novels?

I’ll start the ball rolling by citing ones that that stand out in recent memory: River of Gods by Ian McDonald, The Healer by Michael Blumlein and The Man Who Fell To Earth by Walter Tevis.

I might also add that my luck with enjoying literary novels, like my track record with sf classics, is mostly hit-and-miss. (For example, my least favorite literary sf novels are 334 by Thomas Disch and The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula LeGuin.) As a result, I tend to gravitate to what literary snobs would call the “lower” side of the literary spectrum…at least until my mood suits me otherwise. Therefore, much to my misfortune, I have yet to read some classics that are sure to be mentioned here, like Gene Wolfe.

What about you?

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Forrest J. Ackerman’s Music For Robots

The Scar Stuff blog has mp3s of an old vinyl record album made by legendary uber-fan Forrest J. Ackerman. It’s called Music For Robots. (Not to be confused with the band.)

There are two mp3s from the album actually. In the first one, Forry reminisces about robot lore with lost of juicy classic sf references. Cool stuff! The second mp3 is the advertised “music”, which really is just a lengthy series of mostly-annoying electronic beeps and stuff.

[via Boing Boing]

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Very Short Stories

Wired asked a bunch of genre writers to come up with a story of exactly 6 words. Here is a sampling:

  • Computer, did we bring batteries? Computer? (Eileen Gunn)
  • Gown removed carelessly. Head, less so. (Joss Whedon)
  • Epitaph: Foolish humans, never escaped Earth. (Vernor Vinge)
  • We went solar; sun went nova. (Ken MacLeod)
  • Don’t marry her. Buy a house. (Stephen R. Donaldson)
  • TIME MACHINE REACHES FUTURE!!! …nobody there… (Harry Harrison)
  • whorl. Help! I’m caught in a time (Darren Aronofsky and Ari Handel)

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SF Tidbits for 10/24/06

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SF Tidbits for 10/23/06

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REVIEW: Wings to the Kingdom by Cherie Priest

REVIEW SUMMARY: More of a story with ghosts than a ghost story.

MY RATING:

BRIEF SYNOPSIS: Eden Moore uses her ability of seeing dead people to solve the mystery of Old Green Eyes.

MY REVIEW:

PROS: The wonderfully somber atmosphere; the ghosts play a more active roll here than in the previous book.

CONS: The mystery is not very complex. The steady pacing is perhaps a bit too slow.

BOTTOM LINE: A fine companion for a cold, quiet night.

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POLL RESULTS: Robot Smackdown!

Here are the results of the latest SF Signal poll.

QUESTION
Which of these robots from literature, movies and TV is your favorite?

RESULTS

(120 total votes)

Perhaps its interesting to note that robots from literature received 41.7% of the votes, movie robots received 30% of the votes and tv robots got 28.3% of the votes.

Be sure to vote in this week’s poll on the coolest setting in sf literature!

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R.I.P. Jane Wyatt

R.I.P. Jane Wyatt, who played Mr. Spock’s mother on Star Trek: The Original Series and Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home and also played, more notably, the mother on Father Knows Best.

See: Wikipedia entry.

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SF Tidbits for 10/22/06

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EW Reviews SF/F

Issue #904 (October 27, 2006) of Entertainment Weekly offers some brief reviews of science fiction and fantasy books. Here’s a snippet…

Farewell Summer by Ray Bradbury

For Fans of: Sherwood Anderson and Bradbury.

Lowdown: Summer draws poignancy from the half-century dividing it from Dandelion Wine, but feels like an afterthought.

Grade: B.

The Toyminator by Robert Rankin

For Fans of: Douglas Adams, Mother Goose, and masochism.

Lowdown: Some clever running gags don’t make up for the self-conscious cheekiness or witless plot.

Grade: D.

Eifelheim by Michael Flynn

For Fans of: Brainy first-contact tales (Carl Sagan meets Umberto Eco).

Lowdown: Bursting with pungent historical detail, and Big Theme musings, this dense, provocative novel offers big rewards to patient readers.

Grade: A-.

Sagramanda by Alan Dean Foster

For Fans of: “Johnny Mnemonic” (the Gibson, not the Keanu), Blade Runner, and Monsoon Wedding.

Lowdown: Foster’s world is convincingly thought-out, but there are too many plot threads (even a man-eating tiger).

Grade: B.

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The Top 5 Movie Magicians

As a sidebar to their review of The Prestige (which they give a B+), Entertainment Weekly lists the Top 5 Movie Magicians:

  1. Merlin (Excalibur)
  2. Gandalf (Lord of the Rings movies)
  3. Albus Dumbledore (Harry Potter movies)
  4. The Wicked Witch of the West (The Wizard of Oz)
  5. Yoda (Star Wars movies)

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Art vs. Entertainment…Again and Still

Adding to the recent (and forever-recurring) debate of Art vs. Entertainment, SF author Chris Roberson weighs in:

I don’t spend too much time worrying about this, myself. I came to the realization early this year that what I’m writing isn’t Art, but Entertainment. There’s meaning and substance lurking beneath the surface of everything I write, though how successfully encoded or thought out is up to readers to decide, but my principle goal is to craft smart entertainment. To my way of thinking, though, a successful work can’t have one without the other.

Entertainment without substance is nothing more than empty calories: it tastes good, but doesn’t do you any good. Substance without entertainment is bitter medicine: it’s good for you, but it’s too often hard to swallow. A successful work– one that provides both entertainment and substance — is good and good for you: delicious and nutritious.

Meanwhile, The Movie Blog’s John Campea opines (yes, I said “opines”) The Lack of Art in Entertainment.

To me, “ART” is what happens what an artist uses their gifts to EXPRESS something through their particular medium. ART is when an artist has something to say, a thought to express or a feeling to emote through their talent. ART then elicits a response from us, a reaction to the message, thought or feeling it conveys. Maybe joy or anger or fear… perhaps we approve or disapprove… but either way it is what art does.

Entertainment needs no message or feeling to accomplish it’s goals. A guy prancing like he’s on a horse with another guy running behind him slapping coconut shells together to sound like galloping hoofs isn’t art… but it is entertaining (depending on who you ask). Entertainment without art has value in and of itself.

It has a movie focus and an “audiences should demand more” bent, but it’s a good read with some correspondingly good comments.

UPDATE: Charles Stross says Let’s put the future behind us.

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