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MIND MELD: What SFF TV, Movies or Books are on Your “To-Watch/Read” List?

[Do you have an idea for a future Mind Meld? Let us know!]

We asked our respondents about the things they *haven’t* read or watched.

There is a limitless amount of classic genre movies, genre tv shows, and genre novels. Even genre music. No one can have seen and consumed everything, even the essentials. So I want to know about one thing that falls into this for you–something that you haven’t consumed, want to, maybe even white lied that you’ve consumed, but just have never gotten around to yet.

Lisa Paitz Spindler
Lisa Paitz Spindler is a science fiction author, web designer, blogger, and pop culture geek. Her space opera novella, The Spiral Path, is available from Carina Press and all the usual e-book outlets.

I’ve been holding this tidbit back for quite some time, so it’ll feel very good to confess. When I unveil this little piece of information, keep in mind that it’s only a tiny chink in my bona-fide geek armor. All of these things are true: I’m a published science fiction author. I’ve read Michio Kaku and Brian Greene for fun. Some of my favorite movies are Contact and Interstellar. I know who Kip Thorne is. I’ve read Hyperion (and enjoyed it). I’ve re-watched all of the Marvel movies to date in chronological order. I make regular “leaf on the wind” and “nothing but the rain” references.

After all this time blogging and podcasting about pop culture, specifically all things science fiction and fantasy, I feel the time is finally right to reveal this — really not so important, right? — information about myself.

I’ve never watched Game of Thrones. I’ve never read any of the books, either, and have no plan to. I have a “Winter is Coming” magnet on my fridge from Loot Crate, but that’s about the only thing I kept from that shipment. I gave the rest of the items away to friends who are actually into the books and series. I’ve even been known to make an occasional Hodor joke or wonder aloud where my dragons are, but in the end I just don’t get the attraction.

It’s not the gore (I watch The Walking Dead). It’s not the bleak nature of the story (I loved Battlestar Galactica). I don’t find the deep fantasy intimidating (my favorite Tolkien novel is The Silmarillion, after all). It’s the rape, incest and bad hair.

Sure, there seem to be women with power in this story, but it also seems like most, if not all, of them have been through horrible sexual experiences to get there. Even a scantily-clad and tattooed Jason Momoa is not enough to get me interested in a story like that.

For a brief time I was all set to watch it. In addition to the Momoa-factor was Gwendoline Christie’s Brienne of Tarth, who seems perfect as a Danger Gal. And then (spoilers…) the Red Wedding happened. And the whole incest storyline with Jaime and Cersei. The first Flowers in the Attic novel was plenty for me, thanks. Every time I think about watching this show and decide to learn a little more about it, I just end up being grossed out.

I know fans will say that it’s more complicated than that. I’m sure it is. I’m not telling other people what to watch or read. I’m just saying that, because of these story attributes, I’m not interested in finding out how complicated it really is.

And then there’s the hair, which ranges from stringy to some of the worst wigs I’ve ever seen. Sure, Gibson’s Braveheart weave was worse, but the generations of inbreeding that beget Daenerys’ platinum locks would have also given her platinum eyebrows. Then there’s Daario in season three, a.k.a the “Desert Fabio”

Now, they keep talking about rebooting Battlestar Galactica. Colossal mistake or brilliant idea?

Martin Cahill
When he’s not begging for the mercy and understanding of Dune fans everywhere, Martin Cahill works for a marketing company by day, and writes by night, (or his lunch hour). He slings words for, Book Riot, Strange Horizons, and his own blog, at You can find him on Twitter at @McflyCahill90, and is happy to talk about books, craft beer, and basset hounds.

I know the key words. I know the phrases. I know the cultural cues and I know the creators involved. Hell, I even have three different copies of the damn tome itself, because hi, I collect far too many books.

But to this day, I have not read Dune by Frank Herbert.

::pause for boos, tomatoes, and calls to stone me::

And I do a pretty good job of covering it, too. Jokes about the Spice? Got those in spades. Sandworms on a cosmic desert somewhere? Yup, I know all about them, kind of. Like talking sports with an older member of my family who has no clue that I have no clue, I know enough to squeak by without someone asking, “Wait, so what do you really think of the Bene Gesserit?” See, that’s an example! I barely know anything of the Bene, and yet I can make that statement here because I’m simply trying not to tell you I haven’t read it.

I’ve come clean a bunch of times, of course, always to cries of, “What the hell do you mean you haven’t read it yet, Cahill? It’s right up your alley!” And I agree with you! It sounds bonkers-awesome. But I just, for some reason or another, have not gotten to it yet. And it burns me up, because I want to, I really want to! But lord, do you know how many books are out there? A lot.

I think I’ve put it on a pedestal, and I’m so scared of reaching for it. What if I don’t like it? Is that worse than just not reading it? Will Frank Herbert rise up in a swirl of sand and spice, and curse me forevermore? We can hope not.

I will read it. This, I promise you. It’s a classic, it’s supposed to be brilliant, and I’m sure I’ll enjoy it. I just need to make the time.

And choose which edition to read from.

Delilah S. Dawson
Delilah S. Dawson is the author of Star Wars: The Perfect Weapon, Strike, Hit, Servants of the Storm, the Blud series, short stories and comics, and Wake of Vultures, written as Lila Bowen. Find her online at and on Twitter @DelilahSDawson. Please don’t be too mean to her about this confession; she feels bad enough as it is.

Here’s my confession: My favorite Star Trek is the new Star Trek because I… never got into any of the old Star Trek. The original series was just something that came on between game shows in the babysitter’s basement. TNG was Picard and All Those People. Voyager was that show that played for three hours every night in rural South Carolina to bore me to sleep. There were some movies, but…. uh… something about whales? *hangs head*

But the new movies? Fine holiday fun. I like the hot young actors, the lens flares, the Macho Spock. The new Star Trek feels like *my* Star Trek, and that makes me feel like a very bad geek. I have handed Nichelle Nichols salad tongs and helped Walter Koenig with a coffee urn, and the whole time, I was thinking, OH MY GOD YOU ARE A LEGEND AND IF YOU SENSE THAT I HAVE FAILED YOU YOU WILL BURN ME WITH YOUR LEGENDARY EYEBALLS OF DOOM. But somehow, they just smiled and were perfectly lovely.

Also, I am forever Team Ewok. Please don’t burn my books.

Violette Malan
Violette Malan is the author of the Dhulyn and Parno series of sword and sorcery adventures (now available in omnibus editions), as well as the Mirror Lands series of primary world fantasies. As VM Escalada, she is writing the upcoming Halls of Law series. Find her on Facebook and follow her on Twitter @VioletteMalan..

It’s been suggested that the 18th century was the last time a person could actually read every publication available in the English language, including translation – though, depending on where you went to school, you were good in Latin, Greek, and French. Not everything published in one year, mind you, everything up to that time. Eighteenth-century readers were able to do this not only because there was no television, but because there just weren’t all that many publications.

It’s also been suggested that in the early days of SF fandom, back when Isaac Asimov was a young man, and John W. Carpenter was the editor of Analog, it was possible to read every new work of Fantasy or SF that came out in a given year. I don’t think that’s been even remotely true since the 1960’s – and again, I don’t think the existence of television has that much to do with it. In fact, it would take more than a year just to read all the absolutely “must read” classics of the genre, and that would mean you read nothing new that year, so you’d already be a lifetime behind, because you’d never catch up.

So what about television? The time you don’t have to read even a sizable percentage of what’s available gets even smaller when you add in all the movies and TV shows that are out there.

Speaking of which, I never watched the The X-Files. I’ve seen the odd episode, enough to know who the characters are, and I’ve read enough about the show, and listened to enough people talk about it to pretend I’ve watched it. But I never actually watched it.

There are shows I didn’t watch while they were on the air, but I’ve watched since, like Buffy the Vampire Slayer,  Angel and Stargate. But there are many others I haven’t ever seen. Farscape. Battlestar Galactica – either version. Sometimes these omissions occur because when you live in the dead of the country, where there’s no cable, and you can’t afford satellite even when it comes to your area, there’s a limit to which shows are actually available. (Don’t talk to me about downloading, the highspeed out here isn’t what you’d call great)

Sometimes these omissions occur because there simply aren’t enough hours in the day.

Did I say the dead of the country? I’m afraid that’s also meant we don’t get to the movies as often as we’d like. The logistics are against us, and after a half-dozen failed, exhausting and expensive attempts, going to a cinema has become something we do only when we can’t live with ourselves if we don’t. So that means we’ve seen LOTR, but not The Hobbit. We’ve seen The Force Awakens but not . . . well, not all of the other movies in the Star Wars canon.

It’s been years since I bothered to pretend I’ve watched something when I haven’t, though there is one film I’ve been tempted to lie about. Ready? I’ve never see Avatar. Shhh. Don’t tell anyone.

Haralambi Markov
Haralambi Markov is a Bulgarian critic, editor, and writer of things weird and fantastic. A Clarion 2014 graduate, Markov enjoys fairy tales, obscure folkloric monsters, and inventing death rituals (for his stories, not his neighbors…usually). He blogs at The Alternative Typewriter and tweets at @HaralambiMarkov. His stories have appeared in The Weird Fiction Review, Electric Velocipede,, Stories for Chip, The Apex Book of World SF and are slated to appear in Genius Loci, Uncanny and Upside Down: Inverted Tropes in Storytelling. He’s currently working on a novel.

I strive to consume as much genre media as possible, but I’m one mortal man, so chances are I never will. At the same time I also had a weird start where I got introduced to genre books in a completely random manner. As a child, I was the only one reading SFF novels and I had no one to curate my reading for me. At the same time, the Bulgarian market was a strange mix of established authors (almost entirely science fiction) and unknown authors with average novels (generic fantasy anyone). Given my preoccupation with fantasy at the time, I landed often on the latter and missed a lot on the foundations and traditions of genre.

Once I moved onto reviewing books, I went for oddball titles and for the first few years had a predominant focus on urban fantasy and paranormal romance. It’s safe to say I’ve missed out on great many big books to come out recently as well. Science fiction is an especially murky, dark place with the works of Asimov, Delany, Heinlein, Clarke, Bradbury, Russ, Butler and oh so many more unknown to me. I’ve been making strides to amend with recently finishing Dawn by Octavia Butler and having lined up a definitive collection of Tiptree’s short work. I started Delany’s Neveryon series, but have yet to read his science fiction novel apart from a few short stories. I’m in the same boat with the roots of modern fantasy, but also intend to do some catching up.

In terms of visual media, I have more success at staying up-to-date with what’s made and also head back and watch key movies and shows. Some I could not really make myself watch like the original Star Trek (I can’t with Shatner; I just can’t. Give me Picard any day), Dr. Who (it just didn’t mesh with me tone-wise; Torchwood is superior) and 2001: A Space Odyssey (I’m in the minority here but Kubrick doesn’t do it for me). Others like Battlestar Galactica, Moon, Brazil, Stargate and its various spinoffs, I’ve simply haven’t had the chance to catch up on.

I have a million more omissions, but then again I highly doubt anyone is going to contest my being a geek when most of my entertainment lands squarely in the speculative field. The great beauty of being a geek today is that there’s so much to choose from, the process of discovery and rediscovery never ceases.

Karin Lowachee
Karin Lowachee maintains her nominal geek cred by continuing to write in science fiction and fantasy, and being suitably obsessed with Star Wars since she was a child. On a scale of 1 to Wookiee, she is at Wookiee x 100 about the new trilogy. She tweets at

Confession: I have never actually read the Lord of the Rings series outside of The Hobbit (which I read in school). I possess the trilogy + The Hobbit and I’ve seen the films (though not all of The Hobbit films) but I never did get around to reading the series. I’ve never lied about that either and I figure I’ve still got time when I’m in the mood to sink into the world of Middle Earth. I think around the time I got into science fiction and fantasy (as a teenager) I jumped straight into the Middle Earth descendants like The Belgariad. For whatever reason, those books appealed to me more. I didn’t even make it past the first one-and-a-half Shannaras, so it could just be that sword and sorcery fantasy was never a large attraction for me. I’ve read a few over the years but I veered away pretty early and instead grew obsessed with fantasy series like Katharine Kerr’s Deverry (the reincarnation angle fascinated me), Guy Gavriel Kay’s worlds from around Tigana and A Song For Arbonne, and CJ Cherryh’s works in their entirety.

There is just so much to read and so little time.

Megan E. O’Keefe
Megan E. O’Keefe writes speculative fiction and makes soap for a living. It’s only a little like Fight Club. Her debut novel, Steal the Sky, is out now from Angry Robot Books. Visit her website at: or communicate with her via cat pictures on twitter @MeganofBlushie.

This is a confession which goes against all of my better judgement. To start, in the grand tradition of the geek/nerd divide, I’ve never fallen solidly on the geek side of the spectrum. I am, most assuredly, a nerd. While I have a deep love of video games, and a soft spot for certain TV shows (lookin’ at you, Firefly), the usual cultural fare that comes with your standard-issue comic con goes right over my head. I’ve owned maybe three comic books in my life (all X-Men) and the closest I’ve come to cosplay was accidentally dressing up like Jill Valentine.

As you can imagine, there are plenty of movies and TV shows that I’ve missed out on. Many of which would be grounds for revoking my geek card. There is one miss, however, that might not make me just lose what little geek cred I’ve scraped together over the years. It might get me run out of town. Ready?

I haven’t seen Star Wars. Any of them.

Please, save the tar and feathers until the end of this post.

This isn’t necessarily a willful avoidance. The original trilogy came out before I was born, and science fiction and fantasy were never mainstays in my house as a kid. By the time my teenage years came around The Phantom Menace was being released in theaters. While by then I was hooked on D&D… well. Let’s face it: Jar Jar put teenage-me off the movie, and my friends weren’t exactly clamoring to go see it either.

Even though I haven’t seen the movies, I’m not blind to the impact that Star Wars has had on genre. I’ve even enjoyed playing KotOR. I know enough about the stories, their tropes, and why they matter to their fans to be able to discuss them in casual company. At this point I know almost enough about the movies to envision them whole. And while I’d like to check them out some day, I’m a little worried that they won’t hold up to the image I’ve constructed in my head.

Okay. Go ahead, commence the pitchfork wielding mob. Just give me a head start, ok?

Joyce Chng
Born in Singapore, but a global citizen, Joyce Chng writes mainly science fiction and YA. Her fiction has appeared in The Apex Book of World SF II, We See A Different Frontier, Cranky Ladies of History, and Accessing The Future. She has also co-edited a Southeast Asian steampunk anthology titled THE SEA IS OURS: Tales of Steampunk Southeast Asia with Jaymee Goh. Her urban fantasy series is published under Fox Spirit Books. Joyce can be found at A Wolf’s Tale (

I have a confession to make: I am not a true sff geek. I don’t play MMORPGs. I don’t play Dragon Age: Inquisition, Fallout 4 etc. I am not “in” with the in crowd. And oh yeah, I don’t even like Sailor Moon (never watched it, never liked it). I haven’t even watched Mad Max: Fury Road. I did play (a bit) of Command and Conquer, a bit of Gauntlet, like cosplay (but never went for it), liked Werewolf: The Apocalypse and Warhammer 40K, but in terms of popular culture, I am a failure and not a true fan/geek/whatever.

So, have I lost my geek cred yet?

Zachary Jernigan
Zachary Jernigan’s debut novel, No Return, is a mythic science fiction story filled with sex, violence, religion, and muscular people in weird skintight costumes living on the world of Jeroun — a place where god really exists and is very upset. Shower of Stones, the sequel and conclusion to No Return, came out in 2015. Collecting both Jeroun novels in a paperback edition featuring a redesigned cover, Jeroun: The Collected Omnibus is expected November 2016. Jernigan’s short stories have appeared in a variety of places, including Asimov’s and Escape Pod. The author’s first short story collection — title TBA — is forthcoming and has already received accolades from prominent figures in the genre.

​​First off, before ​properly ​ beginning, I’ll say this: I recently decided to buy a deck-building game to play with my son. I didn’t buy Marvel Legendary because -No joke- the expansion set that would allow me to play as Silver Surfer ​is out of print and costs $200. I said to myself, If I can’t play as Silver Surfer, I don’t want to play this game at all. So I bought a different game.

​All of which is to say I’m not above having my weirdly obsessive, even geekish, tendencies.​

​At the same time, ​in this discussion I ​may ​sort of act as the control for the g​roup, as I don’t really like that many geeky things. I don’t generally refer to myself as a geek, and I have in life spent a lot more time than is healthy telling people about how much I can’t stand the works of Joss Whedon ​ or Tim Burton, or ​Patrick Rothfuss, or blah blah blah.

I’ve made a shift in the last couple years toward just shutting up about this stuff (because, really, who cares what I think about these things?), which has probably relieved a lot of people who are tired of me. Many of my friends, after all, are geeks in one form or another, and you can only alienate people so much about what they like. I mean, I’m cantankerous, but I hope I’m not a complete asshole.

Anyway, all of that is to say I’m conflicted on the subject. I’m not even slightly concerned about my geek cred, but at the same time I write about very traditionally geeky stuff, I love Galaxy Quest to the point where I read the novelization of it way back when, and an evening of playing Mario Kart is about the most heavenly evening I can imagine. Plus, the aforementioned Silver Surfer thing.

Are there things I haven’t watched that –​ seemingly — everyone else has?

Sure. At conventions, I’ve stumbled my ​way through a lot of conversations, pretending to know what media properties people are referencing. Doctor Who, in particular, is one of the ones I know virtually nothing about. I mean, I know the basic point. Kind of.

Same with Buffy, or Attack on Titan, or… Well, the list goes on.

I’m honestly NOT saying this to be contrarian or anything. I’m not above it all. (I might have pretended to be before, but experience proves that what someone watches, or reads, or listens to, has little bearing on their character. People are measured by their actions; not by their media preoccupations.)

My big question is –​ are there really people who experience discomfort at the thought of not being “educated” enough to be considered a “true” geek? ​I assume there are, but I don’t run in the sort of circles that judge people so narrowly. In my opinion, no one should be pressured to conform in that way, to feel minimized because they haven’t spent the requisite hours to become conversant about whatever thing currently defines geek.

If your peers are making you feel less like the thing you want to be simply because they’re lemmings, then you should walk the other way and watch, read, or listen to the stuff that really speaks to you. If you put down The Name of the Wind after 20 pages and can’t be bothered to pick it up again, you don’t have to be like I was and tell everyone over and over again, lamenting the fact that you thought it stunk and other people loved it ​ but you also don’t need to worry about it impacting your cred.

Gillian Polack
Gillian Polack has five published novels (with her next one due out in March), two anthologies, a medieval history book or two, some academic stuff, a bunch of short stories and a historical cookbook. One of the novels (Ms Cellophane/Life through Cellophane) was a Ditmar Finalist, as was one of the anthologies (Baggage). She was awarded the Best Achievement Ditmar in 2010. Her PhDs are in Medieval History and in Creative Writing and she claims she needs a third to ‘round things out.’ Gillian has received two writing fellowships at Varuna, arts grants, and is in demand at SF conventions mainly because she bribes fans with chocolate. She was the GUFF delegate to the 2014 World SF convention. She currently lives in Canberra, Australia, which explains everything. Some of the places she can be found include her blog, livejournal, twitter, facebook and the History Girls blog.

I’m torn between admitting something that I missed seeing and admitting the famous show I tried to watch three separate times and dismally failed. I think I shall admit to both and maybe entirely lose my geek cred. Better to go out in a blaze of inglory than to hang my head in hidden shame.

The show I failed to get through was Twin Peaks. I wanted to watch it to the bitter end. I wanted to discover all. I wanted to, so very, very much. Three times I wanted to. Three times I tried. Three times I fell fast asleep. The particular embarrassment of that is that I write interstitial fiction that is not action-paced. Laura Palmer ought to be my BFF. My very dead BFF. Maybe if I watched it with Swedish subtitles? Swedish subtitles improve everything. I watched three episodes of Castle with Swedish subtitles last week and my life was instantly elevated to something special. Not only that, but I now understand five words of Swedish.

The show I missed is still a mystery to me. I believe it has cult status. It has, nevertheless influenced me ever since I first discovered that it existed and that I’d missed it. My excuse is that it never showed in Australia, but these days, that’s a pretty ordinary excuse. To make up for the ordinariness of my excuses, I’ve tracked down my first encounter, especially for SF Signal. Here it is, in all its splendour:

Erika Ensign
Erika is podcast-happy. She’s technical producer and co-host of the Hugo Award-nominated Doctor Who podcast Verity! She co-hosts The Audio Guide to Babylon 5 and Lazy Doctor Who, is a frequent panelist on The Incomparable, and reads for and co-produces Uncanny Magazine’s short fiction/interview podcast. As if that isn’t enough, she plays Dungeons and Dragons online on Total Party Kill (available in both video and audio formats). She’s active on Twitter @HollyGoDarkly and blogs about Doctor Who, media, mental health, and more at

I am a prolific Doctor Who podcaster, so my answer may come as a surprise, but the one thing I haven’t consumed is televised Doctor Who. Or rather, I haven’t consumed it in its entirety. I’ve seen enough to talk about it (a LOT), and I’m familiar with the canon because I’ve read about it and listened to oodles of DW podcasts. Thus I manage to squeak through quite a few conversations without people recognizing just how much I haven’t seen. I can talk about the weird music in “The Silurians” even though I’ve never heard it. I can discuss how Vicki leaves the show, even though I’ve never watched the reconstruction of “The Mythmakers”. (And see? I even know “The Mythmakers” is one of the missing episodes that exists only in the form of audio set to still photos.)

Please note I’m not actually ashamed of this. There are only so many hours in the day, and there are 52 years of Doctor Who. If someone asks a direct question, I’ll happily admit what I haven’t seen. On Verity! I always point out the bits I’ve missed because I don’t want listeners to feel shamed for not having seen it all. And on Lazy Doctor Who I am, in fact, working my way through the entire show, so this lack won’t be in place forever.

But if I had unlimited time right now? Watching all of Doctor Who would be my first media-based priority. And now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to buy a lottery ticket.

Judith Tarr
Judith Tarr’s first novel, The Isle of Glass, a historical fantasy, appeared in 1985. Her most recent novel, Forgotten Suns, a space opera, was published by Book View Café in 2015; she’s currently writing a sequel. In between, she’s written historicals and historical fantasies and epic fantasies, some of which have been reborn as ebooks from Book View Café. She has won the Crawford Award, and been a finalist for the World Fantasy Award and the Locus Award. She lives in Arizona with an assortment of cats, a blue-eyed spirit dog, and a herd of Lipizzan horses.

As long as we’re confessing to our lapses in True Geekitude, I have two that always shock those who know me:

1) Firefly
I ought to be a devoted fan. Gritty-sweet space adventure, great cast, Joss Whedon fresh off his run with Buffy and Angel–it should be totally in my wheelhouse.

I have never been able to sit through more than ten minutes of any episode I’ve tried. And I have tried. Time after time.

Same goes for SerenityI fall asleep. I wander off. I change the channel. I cannot watch this show.

First there’s the complete lack of any Chinese presence anywhere in this universe, despite the fact that everyone is dropping Chinese words everywhere. It’s as suburban-American as can be, and that just bounces me off.

The other thing is that it’s supposed to be adventures in space, and every time I turn it on, it looks like a generic American Western town, like, six-gun era. I live in the Old West, Tombstone is right down the road a piece, so I’m kind of not into mashing that up with alien planets that could be so much more, and so much less, well, ordinary.

I vaguely remember some shipboard adventures and a professional sex worker (don’t get me started on that trope), but I guess I keep coming across the Generic Planet sequences. And they feel lazy and unimaginative and can I watch “Farscape” instead?

I don’t get it. I guess I’m just not a real geek.

2) A Song of Ice and Fire
This one is a real shock to my readers especially. They figure I write epic fantasy, and I write historical fantasy, and these are epic fantasies based on the Wars of the Roses. I should eat them up, right?


When the first couple of books came out, I’d was writing Fat Historicals with minimal fantastic elements, so they passed me by. Later, the horse farm happened, time was short, and reading big fat novels was not on the schedule—I had time to write but not to read Very Long Books With Very Large Casts of Characters.

Eventually, there was that television show on HBO. Now that I did get into, problematical elements and all. So I’m not a total failure as a genre geek, television division. But the books still haven’t managed to suck me in.

So very long. So very full of so many words. I hang my head. I blush for my lack of True Geek Cred.

So what happens to me now? The dungeon full of rabid mole rats? The conga lines of Stormtroopers chanting, “Shame! Shaaaaaaaame!”?

Rhiannon Held
Rhiannon Held is the author of the Silver series of urban fantasy novels. She lives in Seattle, where she works as an archaeologist for an environmental compliance firm. Working in both archaeology and writing, she’s “lucky” enough to have two sexy careers that don’t make her much money. In her proverbial copious free time, she sings in a community choir, games online, and occasionally enjoys betting on the ponies.

So here’s my guilty secret: I’ve only watched perhaps half a dozen episodes of Dr. Who, ever, and only one of Torchwood. In mentally running through the other shows and movies I haven’t watched, and books I haven’t read, to decide which most threatened my geek cred, I realized something intriguing, however. In many ways, the fact that I’ve watched only snippets of Dr. Who doesn’t matter to my geeky interactions.

I think that’s because Dr. Who has enough geek cultural saturation that the directionality of allusions can actually flow both ways. As well as hearing “sonic screwdriver” out of context and knowing Dr. Who is being talked about, you can hear someone talking about Dr. Who and Rory’s interactions, and pick up that there’s a character named Rory without having ever seen him on screen yourself. You have to pay attention, but I think for media with enough saturation, you can build an “allusion space” picture, like a negative space picture, of what you didn’t actually see. Tardis, wibbly-wobbly-timey-wimey, companions, Daleks, Cybermen… I’ve picked up information about all of those through reverse-flow allusions, so now I have a compendium of knowledge I can use to comprehend regular-flow allusions. I could never hold a detailed discussion of how different writers handled the plot-arcs of Dalek episodes, but I can certainly find it funny when someone holds out a toilet plunger and yells “exterminate!” at me.

And I suspect that that’s sometimes all you need. In reading and watching things, there’s the personal connection you have with the material, and what it makes you think and feel. I don’t have that for Dr. Who, but that’s simply because I spent my limited leisure time on other books and shows I had just a little bit more personal resonance with. Then there’s the interpersonal connection you forge with other people by sharing a cultural element, and my allusion-space Dr. Who knowledge works very effectively for that. If someone wants to talk about what Dr. Who made them think about gendered character arcs, I know enough to follow their arguments. If they want to make a joke, I can find it funny.

While this process is to some degree instinctive, I think I first learned how to harness it purposefully in undergrad Honors English classes. Literature of a given time period has a whole suite of allusions that were obvious to them and I found a struggle. I could hardly read every Greco-Roman myth I dimly remembered from childhood in time for a paper due in two weeks! But over time, by reading enough literature from the same time period and with help from profs, I built up an allusion space of those myths, biblical references, and other shared cultural elements that only appear in the public consciousness now in a much less detailed way.

I think the very coolest thing about reverse-flow allusions is that as a writer I can have characters make them in my fiction, referring to cultural elements…that don’t actually exist! When one character says a second character is as sneaky as the Coyote King, I’m not actually saying something about the second character, even though that’s what it looks like I’m doing. Instead, I’m saying something about the Coyote King—he’s sneaky, he’s a figure in some kind of myth, and most important to building my fictional world, his myth is something that most people in my world are familiar with. My reader doesn’t have to know the Coyote King myth—which is good, because they can’t, given it doesn’t exist outside of my brain. Instead, they can use the reverse-flow illusion to get the interpersonal benefit, just as I use reverse-flow Dr. Who illusions to have great geeky interactions with people!

Aliette de Bodard
Aliette de Bodard writes speculative fiction: her short stories have garnered her two Nebula Awards, a Locus Award and a British Science Fiction Association Award. She is the author of The House of Shattered Wings (Roc/Gollancz), a novel set in a turn-of-the-century Paris devastated by a magical war, which was shortlisted for the British Science Fiction Association Award. She lives in Paris.

I came late to SFF as a genre (I was 16), and as a result, though I read a lot and voraciously, there is stuff that I missed. By far the most egregious is that, since I didn’t watch a lot of TV series, I never really got a chance to watch the seminal ones. Case in point: I have not seen any of the Star Trek TV series. I watched one of the reboot movies, and read one tie-in book, once, which made no sense to me by dint of being thoroughly unfamiliar with the universe and characters therein. I’m fully aware that it’s a really important and groundbreaking series (and linked movies, and books, etc.)–it’s just that I never got around to it, and now that I’m watching TV series a little more, there’s always something newer that I feel like watching more than old episodes. But I’m told a new series has been greenlit, so maybe I’ll finally get to catch up on Star Trek on the small screen.

About Paul Weimer (366 Articles)
Not really a Prince of Amber, but rather an ex-pat New Yorker that has found himself living in Minnesota, Paul Weimer has been reading SF and Fantasy for over 30 years and exploring the world of roleplaying games for over 25 years. Almost as long as he has been reading and watching movies, he has enjoyed telling people what he has thought of them. In addition to SF Signal, he can be found at his own blog, Blog Jvstin Style, Skiffy and Fanty, SFF Audio, Twitter, and many other places on the Internet!

4 Comments on MIND MELD: What SFF TV, Movies or Books are on Your “To-Watch/Read” List?

  1. So the thing about Dune is, when you consider all the prequels and sequels, if someone asks the correct order to read them in, the answer is “Read Dune, and then stop.” Oh, Dune Messiah is good enough, and Children of Dune, but there is definitely a decline, and there’s a slippery slope in there at some point you realize you’re reading books that just aren’t very good. And the prequels? It’s midichlorians all the way down. Dune’s just a lot better not knowing all the nitty-gritty details of how things ended up the way they were.

  2. I was wrong! Max Headroom was shown in Australia…. just not when I was round. My geekcred is now triply fried! Thanks Grant Watson for letting me know.

  3. Let’s see. If I’ve watched a total of 4 episodes of BABYLON 5 and X-FILES combined, that would be a lot. Both shows were on during my years in college when I really didn’t watch much TV.

  4. Is there anything in SF that should be on a SF Common Core list? Our genre is just too vast to expect anyone to be familiar with all the famous examples of science fiction from stories, books, movies, television, games, or feel guilty for missing any particular work. How many people even read Jules Verne and H. G. Wells anymore? With science fiction I tend to feel guilty over not keeping up with the latest SF rather than worrying about all the stuff in the past I missed. Now that I’m older science fiction appeals to me in two ways. First, is the shiny new stuff. Second, is nostalgia for old favorite SF. To avoid becoming an old guy who lives looking backwards, every year I wish I’d find more just published books to read. I’m pretty sure there are new novels by new writers that will blow me away. The trouble is finding them.

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