Jane Espenson’s Secret to Selling Sci-Fi

Over at The New Republic, Jane Espenson (writer for Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Firefly and Co-Executive Producer on Battlestar Galactica) talks about the how to broaden the appeal of science fiction and fantasy beyond the niche:

It’s a very specific type of Hero’s Journey, the most potent sub-case. It’s told over and over again, and it works, over and over again. Dorothy Gale, Buffy Summers, Harry Potter, Charlie Bucket, Luke Skywalker, even Peter Parker, they all fit a very specific pattern. They’re living a life, sometimes a fine one, often a troubled one, but certainly one governed by ordinary rules, when suddenly the curtain is pulled back and a whole new world, or a new set of rules of this world, is revealed. And what’s more – and this is the important part – in that new world, they are something special. They are The Chosen One.

Filed under: TV

SF Tidbits for 8/8/07

  • Silicon.com interviews William Gibson, who has given up writing about the future. “The trouble is there are enough crazy factors and wild cards on the table now that I can’t convince myself of where a future might be in 10 to 15 years.” [via Tai-Chi Policy]
  • Reuters also has a William Gibson interview: “Personally I think that contemporary reality is sufficiently science fiction for me. Some critics are already maintaining that science fiction is a sort of historical category and it is not possible any more.”
  • Premiere.com has an interview with special effects legend Ray Harryhausen and author Ray Bradbury.
  • CBC interviews Robert J. Sawyer. “My purpose is to shake up complacency, to get people thinking, to talk about issues–abortion, evolution vs. creationism, capital punishment, the genetic revolution, unequal access to health care, you name it. Note that I’m not writing to preach: it’s honestly irrelevant what I think about those issues. What I do is contrive scenarios in which those issues go from being abstract to concrete, so that we can get at the underlying ethics and philosophy.”
  • Pat’s Fantasy Hotlist interviews Daniel Abraham. (A Betrayal in Winter).
  • The Reduced Shakespeare Company Podcast episode for August 3 features an interview with Jasper Fforde. [via Michael A. Burstein]
  • Amazon has an audio-interview (WMA format) with Joss Whedon.
  • Fantasy Book Critic has an excerpt from Joe Haldeman’s The Accidental Time Machine .
  • Awards news: The British Fantasy Society has announced the short-listed nominees for this year’s BFS Awards, for work published or created during 2006. [via UKSFBookNews]
  • Free fiction: “The Right’s Tough” by Robert J. Sawyer, originally published in the Visions of Liberty anthology. [via Robert J. Sawyer]
  • The film adaptation of Jumper, a young adult novel by Steven Gould, has a website. [via Cinematical]
  • SciFi Scanner lists Five Implausible Sci-Fi Robots. Spot on regarding the AT-ATs.

Filed under: Tidbits

Following up our previous discussion of books we’ve read more than once, I was curious to know what science fiction and fantasy books our readers have not finished.

Here’s my list, along with the reasons why I couldn’t finish them.

  • 253 – The Print Remix by Geoff Ryman – This was more literary experiment than a story. I though the piecemeal ficlets would be so consumable in whatever spare moments I could find that I would whip through this. Sadly, it failed to keep me interested.
  • Blindsight by Peter Watts – I’m not entirely sure why I failed to get into this one. I was just not immersed in the material for some reason. I made it halfway through the book then decided to stop. This was the book, in fact, that led to The 33% Rule of Reading.
  • I read Poul Anderson’s Fire Time and as part of our 1975 Do-Over Reading Project. I though it was slow-moving and I stumbled over the awkward prose. I didn’t even last through the first 33% of this book (which I read before I formulated the rule, so there).
  • Half Past Human by T.J. Bass – Another book that I just couldn’t get into. I had issues with the writing style and the plot logic. People came out in droves to defend the book after I posted this review.
  • Return of the Emperor (Sten) by Chris Bunch and Allan Cole – I was reading these books like I was popping M&M’s and I think at this point I was just burned out.
  • Speaking of overexposure, Spin State by Chris Moriarty was last in line of a series of posthumanism stories I read in quick succession. I had a serious Been-There-Done-That reaction to this one.
  • The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. LeGuin – I read this long ago, in the pre-Blog Era, and so have no exact recollection of why I stopped reading. But I do seem to remember stumbling over the super-long passages and tiny type of the old paperback copy I had. I’ve since read other LeGuin stories set in the Hainish universe and found them to be much better…so much so that this is one of the much classics I’d love to revisit one day.
  • The Merchants’ War – This one just bored me to tears, which was wholly unexpected after reading the awesome prequel The Space Merchants.

What SF/F books could you not finish? For what reasons?

Filed under: Books

Tuesday YouTube: D-War Trailer

What the world needs more of is more movies in which reptilian monsters roam the city streets. Here’s a trailer for D-War.

[via sneakpeektv]

Filed under: Movies

Tube Bits For 08/07/2007

  • Sylar, on Heroes, turned out to be somewhat of a paper tiger in the finale. But Tim Kring says the new baddies for season 2 will make Sylar look tame by comparison. Let’s hope we get a better finale too. Also, David Anders of Alias fame has been signed for the entire season. He’ll be playing the part of Kensei. Funny, he doesn’t look like a Japanese warlord. Hmm.
  • Not necessarily science fiction, but TV Geekery has a list of 100 sites to watch TV on the web. You may have to install plug-ins to do it though.
  • Want to see the casting sheet for Trek XI? Now you can! Thanks to SciFi Scanner and Ain’t It Cool News for the info.
  • Jericho has started production on season 2. But the cast wants you to know that they have no plans to stop shooting with only 7 episodes. So if you want their plans to come to fruition, you know what to do. But no watching on Tivo!
  • Apparently being the OC with superpowers isn’t enough for Smallville. MeeVee is saying that former Superman Dean Cain will appear on the show as well has former Supergirl Helen Slater. Supergirl? It’s a toss up between that and Superman IV for worst Superman related movie. Yikes.

Filed under: Tube Bits

SF Tidbits for 8/7/07

  • The Colorado Springs Gazette profiles Kevin J. Anderson, author of Slan Hunter, sequel to the A.E. van Vogt book Slan.
  • David Louis Edelman has finished writing MultiReal, the sequel to InfoQuake.
  • SciFi Weekly interviews Neil Gaiman.
  • At Strange Horizons, Adam Roberts reviews Doctor Who Season 3 (with some spoilers for U.S. fans). “Not only is Doctor Who a kids’ show, its great glory inheres in that fact.” [via Big Dumb Object and Nicholas Whyte]
  • Also at Strange Horizons, free fiction from Tim Pratt: “Artifice and Intelligence“.
  • At SciFi Wire, John Joseph Adams profiles Matthew Jarpe, author of Radio Freefall.
  • At the newly-redesigned site SF Novelists, Tobias Buckell asks: “Is the novel dead?” — “The exact form of the novel may change, but the act of writing words in order to create an experience in a reader’s head offers an advantage in fiction you won’t find in movies: the ability to live in someone else’s mind for the duration of a story.”
  • Heavy Reading: The Mathematics Behind Quantum Computing in two parts. [via arsTechnica]
  • Real science: Scientists have discovered a new way of levitating tiny objects – paving the way for future applications in nanotechnology. Cool. Now where’s my jetpack?
  • Deadstock author Jeffrey Thomas is “always a bridesmaid and never a bride”.

Filed under: Tidbits

There have been a lot of mixed reviews for Masters of Science Fiction. I caught the first episode, “A Clean Escape“, and thought it was pretty good. As expected, it reminded me of The Outer Limits episodes of the 90’s. (Sam Egan was involved in both productions.)

In a nutshell, the episode (based on a short story by John Kessel) concerns the meetings between a man (Sam Waterston) who is having memory problems and a psychiatrist (Judy Davis). The acting was top-notch. The story they had to work with – a slowly unwrapped plot that’s pure world building – gave them something to sink their teeth into, and they leveraged it well.

My only complaint with the episode was that it felt a bit too long. They probably could have done it in 30 minutes. There were parts where I tried to move the story along by sheer force of will. That didn’t work, so instead I focused on the world building and the acting; it worked much better then.

I’ll tune in for episode 2 of this limited run series. Or at least my DVR will be tuned in. It isn’t bad enough that ABC is only showing only four of the six episodes, but they also squirreled it away to summertime Saturday nights.

Filed under: TV

REVIEW SUMMARY: 4 standouts + 18 good stories – 6 less-than-stellar = a very good anthology.

MY RATING:

BRIEF SYNOPSIS: Anthology of 28 science fiction stories first published in 2006.

MY REVIEW:
PROS: 22 stories worth reading; 4 of them outstanding.
CONS: 6 stories mediocre or worse.
BOTTOM LINE: Maintains the consistent high quality of previous editions.

The Year’s Best Science Fiction #24 is the sixth edition of this series I’ve read (see SF Signal reviews for editions #19, #20, #21, #22 and #23) and it continues to present a wide range of stories likely to offer something for anyone. Of course, that same strategy may also mean that there are some offerings that are not to taste, but overall this volume maintains a consistently good level of entertainment as compared with previous editions. As usual, editor Gardner Dozois also offers a comprehensive – though not as much as last year – summation of the science fiction landscape and a huge list of reading recommendations.

Even though there were some misses by this reader’s estimation, it must be noted that Dozois has an eye for well-received stories. Several of the ones included here have been chosen by other editors to be in their respective “best of” anthologies. Additionally, some of these stories were nominated for awards. (For more meta-sf Zen, check out SF Scope’s statistics for this edition.)

Of the twenty-eight stories in this volume, twenty-two of them were good or better, with four of those being outstanding. Six stories were of mediocre entertainment value or worse. The four standouts are “Tin Marsh” by Michael Swanwick, “Far As You Can Go” by Greg Van Eekhout, “Dead Men Walking” by Paul J. Mcauley and “Nightingale” by Alastair Reynolds. (Like last year’s edition, Alastair Reynolds grabbed two slots in the table of contents.)

As noted below, nine of the stories contained in this volume have been previously reviewed by me. Also, stories that are available online are linked.

Reviewlettes follow…

Read the rest of this entry

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Filed under: Book Review

SF Tidbits for 8/6/07

  • Boston.com has a Q&A with Doris Lessing. “With Shikasta (1979), Lessing branched out into science fiction, occasioning the sort of condemnation from certain quarters that Bob Dylan elicited when he went electric.”
  • New website: Sci-Fi for Women, whose mission is “to provide a place that provides a ‘Gender Trancendent’ view of characters and stories.” Registration required.
  • PS Publishing shows off the new cover of Starship Summer by Eric Brown.
  • Entertainment Weekly issue #947 (August 10, 2007) reviews William Gibson’s Spook Country (Rating: B) and the SCiFi Channel’s Flash Gordon premiere (Rating: C)
  • Orbiting Frog lists The 10 Strangest (Real) Things in Space.

Filed under: Tidbits

Tube Bits For 08/06/2007

  • La Dolce Vita reminisces about about Time Tunnel, and contrasts his/her childhood memories vs. the realty of the show. Verdict: fun if you’re a kid, not so much as an adult. this can be said of much early TV science fiction. I wonder how well the newer stuff will hold up?
  • Charles G. at Blog Space has a short piece on the Sci-Fi Drive-In at Disney-MGM Studios. As with Charles, I’m from the Star Wars generation, but this place does look kinda fun. I’d definitely visit if I ever get to Disney-MGM. Additional links about the drive-in at the bottom of his post.
  • Bankrate.com has a short interview with Damon Lindelof, executive producer of LOST. Damon says LOST wasn’t supposed to be a big hit, they were aiming to be a cult success. Looks like they over achieved.
  • SyFy Portal has an article detailing the future plans for the internet TV show Sanctuary. Apparently a video game is in the works and a jump to the small screen isn’t out of the question.
  • Periodically we find a post about re-imagining/re-booting or updating Star Trek. A poster on SF Fandom is the latest to do so, positing a couple of scenarios that don’t mesh with Rodenberry’s vision, but would certainly add some spice.
  • Variety has a short article covering DVR use in Los Angeles. The upshot being that popular shows display a distinct uptick in ratings when the Nielsen “day plus seven” ratings are viewed. Even less popular shows show an increase in ratings. The results seems to indicate that shows that people are interested in will be recorded. These results are somewhat consistent with our post Does Tivo Kill Science Fiction?

Filed under: Tube BitsTV

POLL RESULTS: Masters of Science Fiction

Here are the results of the latest SF Signal poll.

QUESTION
The sci-fi anthology show Masters of Science Fiction airs this week. Do you plan on watching?

RESULTS

(71 total votes)

Be sure to visit our front page and vote in this week’s poll about whether Harry Potter is destined to be a classic!

Filed under: Polls

Harry Potter And The Aftermath

Unless you’ve just returned from a round trip to Alpha Centauri, you know that the last installment in the Harry Potter series has been released to much fanfare (see our review). With the story finally at an end, you’d think everything would be wrapped up neatly. But you’d be wrong. Harry Potter fans still have questions. Lot’s of questions. That’s 120000 questions submitted during an online chat with J.K. Rowling. Rowling gives more details on life after Voldemort and fleshes out the stories of some of the other characters (too bad that didn’t make it into the book). If you’re interested, and haven’t seen it yet, you can read the full chat transcript over on MuggleNet.

With all this attention on Potter after the last book’s release, The Meadville Tribune wonders whether Harry Potter has what it takes to be a classic? And by classic they are referring to things like The Chronicles of Narnia, The Lord Of The Rings, and Winnie The Pooh, among others.

Now this is a very interesting question. I’d say from a purely writing standpoint that the Potter series doesn’t stand up too well to those other books. Certainly Rowling has become a better writer, but I don’t think Potter has the depth of Chronicles or LotR. Yes, the Potter series is full of interesting, fantastical ideas, but it’s really a pastiche of ideas and themes that already exist, from mythology to modern day fantasy. Woven into an enjoyable tale, yes, but really nothing terribly new.

The interesting thing to me is: Will Potter achieve classic status by virtue of its immense popularity? I’d say this is almost a certainty, if by classic we mean something that will be read and re-read by generations to come. I’d bet that the younger set who’ve read Potter will read the books and share the stories with their children. And since we’re talking millions of readers, that’s a lot of kids. I’m sure we’ll see that Potter books in print for a long, long time, and the Potter franchise will still be in the public’s eye with the last two films to go.

So, I think Potter has a decent chance to be regarded as a ‘classic’ but due more to its popularity than to how good of a story it is.

Filed under: Books

Sci-Fi Week at XFire

August 13th – 17th is Sci-Fi Week at XFire, bringing you 5 days of chats with the top authors, artists, and creators in the field of science fiction.

Here’s the schedule:

  • Monday August 13: Authors Charles Stross, Peter Watts, Vernor Vinge and Artist Michael Whelan.
  • Tuesday August 14: Brian Herbert and Kevin J. Anderson.
  • Wednesday August 15: Jim Butcher, Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle.
  • Thursday August 16: Author James Patrick Kelly and Webcomic Artist R. Stevens.
  • Friday August 17: Dan Abnett and Spider Robinson.

Filed under: Web Sites

SF Tidbits for 8/5/07

  • Award news: The winners of the Sidewise Awards for Alternate History are Charles Stross for The Family Trade, The Hidden Family, and The Clan Corporate (Tor 2004-2006) and Gardner Dozois for “Counterfactual” from The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, June 2006. [via James Nicoll]
  • StarWars.com has a new subsite dedicated to The Clone Wars. [via TheForce.net]
  • Author Karen Miller has a three-part interview with Lois McMaster Bujold. “Tolkien and Pratchett are two other writers who, notably, have come the long way around to get home: the landscapes of Tolkien’s own late 19th Century childhood informing aspects of his tales, Pratchett most recently with the Chalk, home turf of Tiffany Aching and himself. And not just home ground: it’s the lost place, the refuge of distant memory.”
  • Only interviews William Gibson (Spook Country). “I think that I’m pretty much a complete urban life-form at this point. The distinction between being urban and not being urban has more to do with bandwidth than where you live. Your little kids in Omaha with their bedrooms are totally urban creatures, but there’s no city outside their window.”
  • Marissa Lingen talks about what she wants from science fiction. “I would like more upbeat-cool futures we could get to from here. [...] FTL all you want, but don’t pretend that we have a working space program at the moment or, y’know, in my lifetime.”

Filed under: Tidbits

Tube Bits For 08/04/2007

  • I Am Addicted has some interesting Dr. Who links for you, including a Dalek cake, a DIY Dalek and a knitted Dalek. Which looks sweet.
  • Sybil’s’ Garage has a slight rant on the paucity of good science fiction on TV. They use Erueka as an example of non-good SF TV. I can see their point, as the technobabble has increased this season, but I still like it because it’s goofy fun, and it isn’t about science, but the characters. But the bigger point still stands: there really isn’t much good science fiction on TV.
  • It appears that The Dresden Files has finally been cancelled by Sci Fi. Too bad they didn’t stick to the books, those stories are better than what we got on TV.
  • Fox seems to be at it again, this time with New Amsterdam. The show has been moved to mid-season when people actually watch Fox. That’s a rather interesting reason, and I’m not sure I buy it. It will be replaced with Don’t Forget The Lyrics, which has too much contestant, not enough Wayne Brady.
  • If you didn’t get enough Comic-Con 2007 and you own a (working) Xbox 360, then Xbox Live Marketplace has a ton of content for you to download and watch, including panel discussions and new trailers.

Filed under: Tube BitsTV

SF Tidbits for 8/4/07

Filed under: Tidbits

[via Cynical-C]

Filed under: Star Wars

Harlan Ellison Profiled in Documentary

From Jewish Journal:

…the celebrated writer is the subject of a new documentary, “Dreams With Sharp Teeth,” the title taken from a three-volume collection of Ellison’s stories.

The documentary by Erik Nelson traces Ellison’s life from his tumultuous childhood in Painesville, Ohio, where Ellison lived as “a Jew in a world where there were no Jews.” Ellison’s Jewish heritage made him a favorite target of physical and verbal abuse by the local bullies. He retaliated years later by naming the villains in his story after his childhood nemeses. “What gets you passionate and angry enough to write are the hurtful memories,” he told Tom Snyder during a 1974 television appearance.

Filed under: Books

SF Tidbits for 8/3/07

Filed under: Tidbits

Tube Bits For 08/03/2007

  • Heroes news: Buddy TV covers the Heroes conference call held on 08/02 with Tim Kring and Masi Oka, which covers wide range of things, including tidbits about the villains for Season 2. MovieWeb has a more in depth article on the Heroes Season 1 DVDs. Remember, the DVDs are released on August 28th. And now you can check out the Heroes Comic-Con 2007 panel for yourself, courtesy of NBC (nice job NBC). [via TheTVAddict.com]
  • Speaking of Comic-Con 2007 panels, over on DarkUFO, you can view the entire LOST panel. Dang, Lindelof and Cuse are funny guys. When does 2008 get here again? And Buddy TV has a short article on the rumored addition of two new cast members.
  • The San Jose Mercury News has a pre-post-mortem on the sure to canceled show Caveman. Wondering if the show will actually air, they say, ” Me? I putting my money on ‘never sees the light of day.'” Now that’s an observation so simple, even a caveman could make it.
  • HubPages has an interesting article on How 5 Science Fiction Series Were Destroyed, that is, how they stayed on too long and spiraled into a grisly end. The only one I ever watched any of, and I’ve seen every episode, is Star Trek. The others never did much for me.

Filed under: HeroesLOSTStar TrekTube Bits

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