Quite some years ago, poking around Apple’s collection of science fiction eBooks, I noticed Calculating God (2000), by Robert J. Sawyer. I’d never heard of him but got the impression he was a literary author who’d written a science fiction novel about God.
But the book’s description intrigued enough to add to my wish list. It sat there for years. An unknown author, a very long reading list, and Apple’s obnoxious prices, all conspired to keep me from buying it. Recently I noticed Apple had removed it from their catalog.
The library didn’t have it either, but an author search turned up lots of his other SF novels. I tried one, loved it, then tried three more with good result. We seem to have similar interests and sensibilities.
Last night I decided to enjoy a special double feature: Blade Runner (1982), the Ridley Scott classic (final cut), followed by Blade Runner 2049 (2017), the Denis Villeneuve sequel. I’ve seen the original many times, although not in years, so it was great to see it once again. For a 40-year-old science fiction movie, it’s stood the test of time well and is rightfully considered a modern classic.
The Villeneuve sequel, I think, will never be more than a forgotten footnote. It comes out the gate suffering from being an attempt to ride the coattails of an original work by another (better) artist. Stir in Villeneuve’s self-indulgent excessively languid pacing and tendency to put image over substance, and the result is (at least to me) unmemorable.
I started fast-forwarding scenes and ultimately turned it off 45 minutes from the end. I only lasted that long because I wanted to see the part with Harrison Ford.
I learned a very long time ago that, when it comes to movies, it’s the little ones from the filmmaker’s heart I find most interesting and worthwhile. This seems ever truer in an era of endless, empty sequels and mind-numbing blockbusters with no more depth than an amusement park ride. Nothing wrong with amusement park rides, they can be fun, but they’re rarely memorable, let alone creative.
Sorry to Bother You (2018), written and directed by Boots Riley, is exactly the sort of thing I mean when I say my main ask of a story is to take me someplace new.
A bonus for me is that it stars LaKeith Stanfield, whose work I’ve found so delightful in the surreal (and outstanding) TV series Atlanta (which also nails the “take me someplace new” thing).
There have been good science fiction movies and TV shows going at least back to Metropolis. Of course, there is always Sturgeon’s Law, so we’ve also had ten times as many that were bad in one way or another. A few were memorably awful; a few are remembered as classics.
When it comes to fantastical material, I’m convinced books are best. Animation is a distant second, and live action can often be a mistake, depending on the material. Too much realism in visualizing the fantastic collapses the wavefunction of our imagination.
But our imagination is the best part, and it needs exercise!
For Sci-Fi Saturday I have to post about Farscape, a science fiction TV series from 1999-2003 that (on the advice of a friend) I just started watching. I’m only up to episode 18 of season one, but I’m enjoying the series so much I thought I’d post about it. There are four seasons comprising 88 episodes (22 per season), so my opinion could change, but so far, I’m totally loving it.
I also want to mention the third Ben Bova book I’ve read recently. Bottom line, I really enjoyed it. Definitely the best of the three. It restored my faith in Bova.
Lastly, this morning I had, what even for me was, a particularly weird dream experience. Our subconscious minds are quite surprising and just plain bizarre sometimes!
Two weeks ago, for Sci-Fi Saturday I posted about Absolution Gap (2003), by Alastair Reynolds. It’s the third book in his Revelation Space series. If you read the post, you know I didn’t care for it. Really didn’t care for it, especially after some disappointment with his writing style in the second book in the series, Redemption Ark (2002).
Now I’ve read Inhibitor Phase (2021), the last book of the series. For the first three-quarters of the book, I was once again rather enjoying Alastair Reynolds. Unfortunately, the last quarter, not to mention the resolution to the series, was a huge disappointment.
In that previous post I also mentioned Uranus (2020), by Ben Bova. Now I’ve read the sequel, Neptune (2021), and it was… strange.
Because they are intended for mass consumption, there are few modern science fiction movies or TV shows that really hit the mark for me. Sturgeon’s famous statement about everything being 90% crap seems even more true with mass media. It’s no less true of science fiction books, but there are so many more of those that it’s easier to find good ones. The trick is finding good authors.
Neal Stephenson is one author that usually delivers for me. Ben Bova is another good one, although until recently it was decades since I read his work. Alastair Reynolds, compared to them, is a new entry on the scene. All three write hard SF — my favored flavor of science fiction.
Unfortunately, the last Reynolds books I read was a disappointment.
Greg Egan is among my favorite science fiction authors. He especially stands out to me if I limit the field to authors currently writing. Egan might not be a working scientist, but he has a degree in mathematics and his work is known in that field. His math and physics background shine brightly in his science fiction writing and that light is why I like his stories so much. I love hard SF most, and Egan delivers the goods.
I just finished his 2010 novel, Zendegi. There have been some recent disappointments from my reading list (including the last Egan story I read), so it’s nice to read a book that I thoroughly enjoyed and find worth posting about.
Zendegi is about what it means to be human…
Yesterday I finished FKA USA (2019), by “Reed King” — a pseudonym of a “New York Times bestselling author and TV writer.” It was a new book at my library, and the blurb about it concluded, “FKA USA is the epic novel we’ve all be waiting for about the American end of times, […] It is a masterwork of ambition, humor, and satire with the power to make us cry, despair, and laugh out loud all at once. It is a tour de force unlike anything else you will read this year.”
Sounded good. It had a long wait list, so I put it on hold back in mid-October. It became available in mid-December. It weighs in at over 1000 e-pages, so it’s taken me a few days to finish. The length is one reason though. I didn’t find the book to be much of a page-turner, and I’m afraid I skimmed bits of the last chapters.
Victoria wasn’t amused; I wasn’t engaged. Or amused.
Almost three years ago I asked Whither Science Fiction? That post pondered the state and future of what I see as a platform more than a genre and found both were probably doing okay. Authors still find new territory in a populated landscape (although much of it is well-explored by now).
Today’s question isn’t as deep or important, and my answer is much less positive. It regards a TV series I largely ignored in classic form but came to love as a modern reboot. For a while it was my favorite TV science fiction series. Even when it declined a bit in latter seasons, it still was some of the best SF on TV.
But I think Chris Chibnall’s Doctor Who is an unmitigated disaster.