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).
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…
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.
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.
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!