Sci-Fi September

The post’s title is something of a misnomer (as there has been little, if any, science fiction for me this month), but I have an absolute and abiding affection for alliteration. (Which explains Sci-Fi Saturday, Mystery Monday, TV Tuesday, and Wednesday Wow.) I couldn’t resist the title once it popped into my mind.

Seriously, about the only SF in September was opening and shelving a box of books. But since October will be so political, I want to clear some notes. Call it a Fall Clearance — Low, Low Prices!Everything Must Go!

Some rake their lawn of fallen leaves. For me, it’s that pile of notes that I seem unable to ever fully vanquish.

Now that we’re safely below the fold, I’ll mention this post makes no mention of the classic 1951 movie (or the mediocre 2008 remake, which would have been better if it had been another movie altogether). The image is just part of the Fall Clearance Sales effort.

(Actually, it’s another “note” I’m dumping. It’s an image I planned to use in another post, but then I went with something else. It’s been sitting in my “possible headers” folder ever since.)


I’ve got something of a Good, Bad, and Ugly, theme for this post. I’ll take them in that order, so first up: The (Really) Good.

Two weeks ago I mentioned that the movie Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse is really good and well-worth seeing if you’re any fan at all of Spider-Man. I give it a definite Wow! rating on several counts.

It’s an animation, so it’s well inside fantasy boundaries. It’s also well inside science fiction boundaries, since its plot centers, in multiple ways, on multiple universes and involves a super-collider.

The main character is Miles Morales, a teenager trying to adjust to boarding school and life in general. His father, Jefferson Davis, is a demanding father and cop who, when the movie begins, hates Spider-Man, seeing him as a vigilante and a menace.

Miles is bitten by a radioactive spider while down in an abandoned subway station painting graffiti (taken there by his definitely not a cop much cooler uncle).

Soon Miles happens upon a battle between Spider-Man and Green Goblin, who is working for Kingpin, who is attempting to reach parallel realities to regain his lost wife and child.

In the battle Spider-Man is so badly wounded that Kingpin is able to kill him. Miles, currently coming into his spider powers, had tried unsuccessfully to help Spider-Man, whose dying command is that Miles prevent Kingpin from achieving his goal.

Miles is not ready for any of this, but, because of Kingpin’s super-collider messing with reality, he begins to meet alternate “Spider-Men” from different — in some cases very different — realities. They’ve all been dragged here by Kingpin’s machine.

The include Spider-Man Noir, a monochrome Peter Parker from a 1930s universe (voice work by Nicolas Cage). There is Peni Parker, aka SP//dr, a Japanese-American girl who co-pilots high-tech mobile armor with a radioactive spider with whom she shares a telepathic link. Another is a version of Gwen Stacy, aka Spider-Woman.

Then there’s Peter Porker, aka Spider-Ham (you’ll just have to read the Wiki page on that one; you wouldn’t believe me). Compared to these, the 38-year-old Peter B Parker, divorced, disheveled, cynical, and out of shape, seems almost normal.

Overall it’s the story of Miles coming into his own as the Spider-Man in this universe.

Hands down, no contest, not even close, this is my favorite Marvel movie. I’ve watched it twice and could stand seeing it again. (It’s currently available on Netflix.)


Now for The (Oh, So Incredibly) Bad…

The Andromeda Strain

No, certainly not the 1969 book by Michael Crichton, and not the 1971 film adaptation of it, either. Both of those were okay — the movie is a very serviceable, if now somewhat dated, version of the (equally somewhat dated) book.

But in 2008 the A&E network did a TV miniseries version. I’ll tell you right now, that one got an Ugh! rating — my lowest rating (the one suggesting the piece should never have been made, let alone viewed by anyone).

It aired in two parts, on consecutive nights, each part running two hours including commercials. (Doing the math: roughly 20 minutes of commercials per hour, so 120 minutes minus 40 minutes of commercials is 80 minutes of show per night, 160 minutes overall. In fact, the official running time is 169 minutes.)

The thing was, the first part was pretty good. I’d even say very good. It stuck to the book both in spirit and in letter. (To be honest, I’m rarely looking for a filmmaker to put too much of a personal stamp on an adaptation. I’m generally judging it by how well it implements the book visually.)

It was exciting. It’s a decent story, and it was fun having an updated modern version of it. My SF buddy and I looked forward to watching the second part the next night.

The second part seemed to have been done by someone else. It went, as the saying goes, “completely off book” but worse, it was really awful. I don’t even want to read the Wiki synopsis of it; you’ll have to brave it for yourself.

My buddy gnashes his teeth if I mention the thing and curses me for reminding him of it, as he’d managed to finally wall-off those brain cells.

It really was Bad. It’s my example of worse SF adaptation ever.

In contrast, I think one of the best SF adaptations ever, in terms of fidelity to the source, is Sphere, which is both an underrated book and underrated movie. (Call me biased, but no movie with both Sharon Stone and Samuel Jackson can ever be that bad.)


Which brings me to The (Possibly) Ugly.

The first eight (of 43) Xanth books (note a few punny titles).

I say “possibly” because this is an impression I got quite a while ago, and while it’s supported by comments I’ve seen, it’s entirely possible there is neither smoke nor fire here and I’m just over-reacting. Or maybe not.

It concerns science fiction author Piers Anthony, whose early work is among my favorite SF from that era (1970s ±a decade).

His Cluster series, I think, is excellent science fiction, and so is the Of Man and Manta trilogy. I also very much enjoyed both his Incarnations of Immortality series and his Tarot series. All very fondly remembered.

Less fondly his Apprentice Adept series, which seemed oriented at very young minds (serious overuse of exclamation marks). Sadly, his Bio of a Space Tyrant is interesting but brutal and problematic for sensible readers.

And then there is his 43-book (so far) Xanth series. I lasted to #12 or #13. They’re comedy Medieval magical fantasy filled wall-to-wall with puns (even unto many of the titles). Xanth is all about the puns.

I’d experienced a growing discomfort with Antony’s writing and, especially, with his long Author’s Notes. Those at the end of the Xanth books were beginning to make my skin crawl a little. To be blunt, I was getting the sense the guy is a pedophile. His orientation on young girls having sex was seriously creeping me out.

I’d discussed this with my SF buddy (same one mentioned above), so he knew of my concern. Therefore, when he claimed he’d seen the latest Xanth book and its title was The Color of Her Panties, I was pretty sure he was pulling my leg. He insisted he wasn’t, but I walked away unsure.

Oh, dear!

Then I saw it myself, and that was it for me and Piers Anthony.

Judging by what I’ve seen on the internet, I’m not the only one reacting this way, but since I don’t know the guy, it’s quite possible we’re all getting this wrong. Anthony had two young daughters at the time, and it’s possible he was listening to their views of the world and channeling those.

Maybe Anthony was writing for other young girls and doing a very good job of it. My reaction may come from his moving out of my space.

Maybe I’m overly conservative. Or just plain wrong.

Or not. As I mentioned, I’m not alone is these perceptions. Regardless, his older stuff is aces with me, but I got off this bus for good in the early 1990s.


To leave this on a positive note, I mentioned in passing that, despite a negative review of books 4 and 5 of The Expanse, I’d gone on to read books 6 through 8 and enjoyed them just fine.

The longer it gets since I read them the less likely it is I’ll do a post about them. Suffice to say I give the first trilogy a strong Ah! rating, the middle trilogy a weak Eh! rating (almost a Meh!), and the two books of the last trilogy a strong Eh! rating. I’m not entirely thrilled with the villains.

Given how good the TV series has been, overall I give everything a good Ah! rating. Definite thumbs up and definitely recommended.

Stay in the Spider-Verse, my friends!

About Wyrd Smythe

The canonical fool on the hill watching the sunset and the rotation of the planet and thinking what he imagines are large thoughts. View all posts by Wyrd Smythe

13 responses to “Sci-Fi September

  • Wyrd Smythe

    For those keeping score, this removes three notes from the pile, two of which (The Andromeda Strain TV miniseries and Piers Anthony) have been in the pile for a long time — arguably since I started the blog, since they’re both observations that predate it.

    Inch by inch, note by note, post by post,… I will vanquish that pile!

  • SelfAwarePatterns

    Spider Man Into the Spiderverse sounds interesting. I’ve never gotten around to watching it. Sounds like they take it in some weird places.

    It’s interesting. I watched the first part of that Andromeda Strain miniseries and remember enjoying it, but I just realized I never saw the second part. I’m not sure why I missed the second part. Something must have been going on that night to make me miss it. (It could have just been something else on back then.) Just skimmed the Wikipedia and it doesn’t seem that bad, but I fully realize that’s different from actually watching it.

    I’m generally not a fan of most of Crichton’s fiction (although some of the movie adaptations are fun). I find him too much in the humans are acting with hubris mode. And the one or two books of his I tried to read, the writing turned me off. The one exception, which I did enjoy a lot: Eaters of the Dead.

    I never realized that about Piers Anthony. I read a few of the Xanth novels, but they never had that much of a hold on me. I did find them kind of fun. I also read one or two of his other books, but I can’t remember their names and scanning the list on Wikipedia isn’t jogging my memory.

    • Wyrd Smythe

      I’d seen all the raves about Into The Spider-Verse but figured it was comic book fans and didn’t take it too seriously. When I finally did watch it, I was blown away too. It’s definitely not the usual Spider-Man, but apparently these are all established comic book characters. What the movie might have done is find a way to bring them together. I have no idea if that’s ever happened in the book pages.

      The thing about both the Bad and Ugly topics is the contrast. The first part of The Andromeda Strain was so good (and so faithful), but the second part was a whole other thing with no connection to the book. (Almost kind of a vague channeling of 2001, IIRC.)

      As I’ve said, when it comes to adaptations, I’m usually on board with modifications and deletions, but I’m equally usually askance at additions. I think adding new material requires serious justification.

      It’s a bit like what I said about the remake of The Day the Earth Stood Still. It would have been a decent SF movie if it were some other movie.

      Jurassic Park (famously so), Sphere,… yeah, I can see it. To me Crichton has always been a “commodity author” — generator of serviceable reads, especially for airplanes or beaches (i.e. places with lots of time and lots of distractions). He’s like King or Grisham or Clancy.

      I did like Disclosure and Sphere (books and movies). As I’ve posted, I never liked dinosaurs, so the whole Jurassic park thing never lit my fire.

      Anthony is another big contrast. His early stuff compared to… whatever was going on later on. I’m willing to believe he changed his focus to a YA female mode, but a lot of people have commented on his skin-crawling sex scenes involving very girls (not women, girls) and older men. Apparently Anthony has tried to justify this — pointing at arbitrary social norms that he says don’t reflect human reality. Maybe he’s an iconoclast; maybe he’s a creep; maybe he’s even a visionary. I just know I’m turned off by later Anthony way more than I am with late Heinlein, and that’s saying something.

  • Anonymole

    I read way too many Piers Anthony books in my 20’s… Enjoyed them though.

    • Wyrd Smythe

      So did I! Until I didn’t. (I still think his early stuff is very good.)

      • Anonymole

        Alan Dean Foster was also a favorite. Well, I guess I had dozens of favorites.

      • Wyrd Smythe

        In the sense of “things I like a lot” favorites can be a very large class, so likewise. The SF buddy I mentioned in the post used to disdain Foster as a hack who mostly wrote novelizations, but I finally convinced him to take Foster seriously (it was a collection of short stories that finally did it, “With Friends Like These…”). But I was a big fan of the Flinx and Spellsinger series. I’ve always enjoyed humor in my SF, and Foster has turned out some funny and charming stuff.

  • Fred M R

    Have you read The Company Man? It’s an interesting scifi book with a dieselpunk vibe.

  • Wyrd Smythe

    😀 😀 It occurs to me that the movie title, The Day the Earth Stood Still is vaguely prescient in restrospect…

  • And Four Movies | Logos con carne

    […] but did recently produce Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (2018), which I very much enjoyed (see: Sci-Fi September). It was originally going to be released theatrically in 2020 as Connected, but COVID blocked that […]

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