I originally planned this Sci-Fi Saturday post as a positive review of the Southern Reach trilogy by Jeff VanderMeer, but Burns really nailed it about plans “gang aft agley.” I’ll tell you right now I bailed about halfway through the second book because I wasn’t enjoying the read, was utterly bored by the story, and had found VanderMeer’s writing style annoying from the beginning.
So this isn’t a positive review, but I’m willing to credit much of the lack of connection on my taste, both with regard to content and to writing style. The author and the trilogy are held in high regard, and I don’t at all dispute the quality of the storytelling. It’s just not for me.
His Wiki page says he’s compared to Borges and Kafka (which seems apt), and I’ve never cared that much for their writing, either.
I’ve mentioned quite often in posts, and in comments to posts, is that I’m quite bored by superhero movies. Somehow though I’ve never been moved to post about exactly why in detail. A few recent conversations about it made me realize it might make a good Sunday Sermons post.
The thing is that it does go beyond being just bored. There is a cultural aspect to it that’s gotten under my skin more and more. It has to do with the massive violence and destruction inherent in these movies and with a fundamental aspect of these comic book superhero stories.
They center on fighting, and I’ve never been a fan of it.
Last night I watched a fun little film, Colossal (2016), written and directed by Nacho Vigalondo. Unfortunately it was a financial flop with a box office of only $4.5 million against a $15 million budget. That’s unfortunate, because it makes it harder for such creative efforts to get made.
It stars Anne Hathaway and Jason Sudeikis, both of whom, from a playground in New England, turn out to have the power to manifest and control giant monsters that appear in, and terrorize, Seoul, Korea. (It’s not quite as random as it sounds.)
It’s a very inventive story that delighted me, and I recommend it as more than worth seeing for any fan of interesting movies.
I watched the first season of Chilling Adventures of Sabrina (Netflix) with mixed reactions. It had just enough to keep me watching, but I didn’t think much of the writing. It has the same problem as a lot of modern fantasy — random, irrational, downright dumb (and in this case very unoriginal) world building.
The latter season tipped the scales entirely to an Ugh! rating for me. Television shows are rarely known for their intelligence, but this one has given me a new standard of worst-ever.
To be clear here, ‘I come, not to praise Sabrina, but to bury it.’
Humans have long had fertile imaginations. It isn’t just that we see patterns everywhere, but that we see them and make up stories about them. Whether it be the forest, the wind, or the stars, we have long read into the world around us a rich tapestry of our own imagination.
A thread that runs through it all is the agency we ascribe to the patterns. The gods control our fates, the spirits reward or punish us, the stars foretell our future. Even the remnant of tea leaves in the bottom of a cup gives us an important and relevant message.
But what happens when we don’t exercise our imagination?
I finished Fall: or, Dodge in Hell, the latest novel from Neal Stephenson, and I’m conflicted between parts I found fascinating and thoughtful and parts I found tedious and unsatisfying. This division almost exactly follows the division of the story itself into real and virtual worlds. I liked the former, but the latter not so much.
Unfortunately, at least the last third of the book involves a Medieval fantasy quest that takes place in the virtual reality. The early parts of the story in the VR are fairly interesting, but the quest really left me cold, and I found myself skimming pages.
I give it a positive rating, but it’s my least-liked Stephenson novel.
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.
Science Fiction — or rather Speculative Fiction — has the general quality that it contains all other fiction genres. There is mystery and detective science fiction. There is romance (and sexual) science fiction. Action? Horror? Psychological thriller? Drama and pathos? Allegory? Westerns? Science fiction has them all and more.
In a sense, SF is just a property that fiction can have. I’ve tried to explain what I think that property is. I also took a stab at separating science fiction from fantasy. Now that thread resumes to explore the idea of SF hardness.
But first we return to and start with…
I was tempted — just for a moment — to call this The Lost Oeuvre, but it really doesn’t rate such a highfalutin title. (And until just now, I had no idea “highfalutin” was a single, hyphen-free, word.) Considering that “works” can refer to drug-taking gear, that word seems just right.
Going through some old stuff, I came across typewritten copies of a few scripts from my film student college days. Not just film, but television production, too. I ended up becoming a computer programmer, but for a while I aspired to be the next George Lucas (or more likely, Quentin Tarantino).
For fun, I thought I’d share one of the ones I’m not too embarrassed by all these years later.
I recently asked the question, “What is Art?” Answering that one is a real challenge, and the answer may be entirely subjective. This time I’m asking a question that is almost as difficult: “What is Science Fiction?” The answer may turn out to be just as subjective, and just as much of a challenge, but I’ve always thought the tough questions are the most interesting to explore.
I may, or may not, be an artist (but I know what I like!), and suffice to say I have only dabbled in art over the years. Science fiction, however, has filled my life as long as I’ve been picking my own reading material. I suspect that, overall, my fiction reading (and I read a lot of fiction) is at least 80% science fiction. It could be more. Most normal fiction leaves me disinterested, no matter how insightful it might be. I live in the real world; I want stories that take me far, far away, be it conceptually, spatially or temporally (if only temporarily).
Only authors that bring something newly invented to the table really hold my interest.