Category Archives: Sci-Fi Saturday

Our Existence (part 2)

Recently I wrote that I was reading Existence (David Brin, 2012), a novel I found so striking I had to post about it before I was even halfway through. Now I’ve finished it, and I still think it’s one of the more striking books I’ve read recently. (Although a little blush came off the rose in the last acts.)

Central to the story is the Fermi Paradox, with a focus on all the pitfalls an intelligent species faces. The tag line of the book, a quote attributed to Joseph Miller, is, “Those who ignore the mistakes of the future are bound to make them.” Brin’s tale suggests that it’s well neigh impossible for an intelligent species to survive their own intelligence.

I’ll divide this post into three parts: Mild spoilers; Serious spoilers; and Giving-away-the-ending spoilers. I’ll warn you before each part so you can stop reading if you choose.

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SF or Fantasy, Pick One?

It’s Science Fiction Saturday, so today I want to consider a fairly common question a fan might encounter: “Science Fiction or Fantasy?” The implication is that one tends to exclude the other. In these polarized times, it can amount to a declaration of your tribe.

One problem is there’s a spectrum from hard SF to pure fantasy with everything in between. But let’s take them as two legitimate poles and consider the question in terms of configuration space. (See posts #1 and #2 if you need to catch up.)

I think you’ll see that using a space give us a new take on the question.

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Our Existence (part 1)

I’m not quite halfway through Existence, by David Brin, but I’m enjoying it so much I have to start talking about it now. For one thing, it’s such a change from the Last Chronicles, which was a hard slog with a disappointing ending. (Still worth the journey, though.)

The novel is a standalone, not part of his Uplift Universe, but it apparently can be viewed as a kind of prequel to that reality. However: so far no alien contact, humanity is still on Earth, and computers are not conscious (but AI is very, very good). The year, as far as I can tell, seems to be in the 2040s or 2050s.

At heart, the novel’s theme is the Fermi Paradox; it examines many of the potential Great Filters that might end an intelligent species. But now an alien artifact has been found, a kind of message in a bottle that appears to contain a crowd of alien minds…

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Fantasy Chronicles

Earlier this week I posted about all the TV (5.0!) that I watched while dog-sitting Bentley. There I mentioned how days were allocated to reading in hopes of reducing what has grown to be a rather long To-Read list. (Not to mention the books in my To-Buy list; I really do need to spend more time reading.)

Central to the plan was, at long last, finishing The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant, by Stephen R. Donaldson. Specifically, finishing The Last Chronicles, the third (presumably final) set of the series (“set” because while the first two were trilogies, the third is a tetralogy, with four books).

Unfortunately, for various reasons (or various naps), I only managed to get halfway through the second book.

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Underrated SF Movies

Art, famously, is a matter of taste, and as a general rule of thumb, you have it while others often don’t. Just goes to say. Because you know what you like, even if you don’t know anything about art. Simply put: taste is personal.

With commodity art like most films, many people weigh in, and opinions are often split, but sometimes, even with, or perhaps because of, so many, a consensus grows — thumbs up, thumbs down. Everyone, or nearly so, seems to agree one way or the other. In particular for today, there are the films everyone hated.

I’ve found some of those despised films are underrated gems — or at least are not as bad as popular vote makes them out to be.

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Whither Science Fiction?

Judy, Judy, Judy!

I’ve been a fan of science fiction since the early 1960s. I was already an avid fan and ready audience for Lost in Space (1966–68; Judy was one of my earliest childhood crushes), It’s About Time (1966–67), and I was glued to the TV set enthralled when Kirk, Spock, and the rest, first boldly went in 1966.

By then I’d already consumed all I could of Asimov, Clarke, Heinlein, along with Verne, Wells, and Burroughs (I didn’t discover Tolkien or Howard until high school a few years later).

Movies like The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951), 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (1954), and Forbidden Planet (1956), all had me avid for 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968).

It’s been a whole lot of years, and a whole lot of science fiction, is my point.

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The 13th Doctor

The Doctor is in!

I’ve written before (twice) about how much I love Doctor Who (even more than Star Trek, and that’s saying something). I’ll tell you right now: nothing’s changed; it’s still my favorite TV science fiction show, hands down. I am enjoying the big changes this season: a new The Doctor and a new show runner, Chris Chibnall.

The big change to The Doctor, of course, is the first ever female incarnation, played by Jodie Whittaker. For some this is a bit like a female James Bond, but the idea that Time Lords (slash Ladies) are gender-fluid is canonical. (Statistically speaking, it’s past time The Doctor was female. As the season promos put it: It’s about time!)

In many ways, I find the fan reactions to these changes as interesting as the show itself!

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Fans: Not A Fan

Star Trek wasn’t hugely popular right off the bat, or even for a long time. The first series, after all, lasted only three years and had to fight for survival for most of that time. But it did catch on hugely with us fans; many of us fell in love right away.

From an early point even within the fan community, let alone to mundanes, some of us were careful to identify as Trekkers rather than Trekkies. As I used to put it, “Trekkers are grown ups who love science fiction. Trekkies own a pair of Spock ears.”

Then, because of a little movie, named Star Wars, science fiction went mainstream. And so did the divide between two rather different kinds of fans…

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I Don’t Like Dinosaurs

I should probably start by hastening to add: I don’t dislike dinosaurs, either! It’s an ambiguity of English that when one says, “I don’t like X,” it can mean one has negative feelings about the ‘X’ in question, or it can mean just that one has no positive feelings for it — that one is neutral (or perhaps not interested enough to have an opinion).

It’s an easy jump from “don’t like” to “dislike,” so the phrase, “I don’t like X,” is usually taken that way. But I have wiring in my brain that makes me see it more literally — as failing to have a liking for ‘X’ — so I often have to clarify what I mean.

And what I mean is that I have zero interest in dinosaurs.

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Surreal Science Fiction

It’s been a long time since I’ve written a Sci-Fi Saturday post. (I didn’t post at all in 2017, so it’s been a long time since I’ve written a lot of things.) But last night I watched Mr. Nobody (2009), a slightly surreal science fiction film that I found hugely engaging and affecting, and it inspired me to write about it.

The truth is that Mr. Nobody isn’t actually surrealism — it does have a concrete narrative, but it’s a jumbled, imaginary, and fantastic one. That can sometimes be the case with really good science fiction. A common trick SF authors play is keeping you guessing until they reveal their mysteries.

Mr. Nobody isn’t particularly mysterious, but it does require that you pay close attention!

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