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Archive for the ‘Science fiction and fantasy’ Category

2010 Hugo Award Nominees and download packet

Posted by hyperpat on May 7, 2010

The new nominee list has been out for awhile, but now Aussiecon has put together a very nice download package that is available to any member of the con (either attending or just supporting). This package includes all the novels, novellas, novelettes, short stories, related works, etc that are on the list, which works out to a rather impressive amount of verbiage. An Aussiecon supporting membership cost $70 Australian (about $64 US), and there is simply no way you could assemble all the material in this package for anything close to that price. Aussiecon membership can be purchased online here. Especially for things like the short stories, it is difficult for an individual to obtain copies of all of these works, as they have been published in a wide variety of sources, of which some are fairly obscure. Of course, the intention of this is allow con members to make informed choices for the Hugo awards; it does not obviate the need to support the authors of this material with real purchases that they get royalty monies for.

The novel nominees are diverse, and of those I’ve read so far, well deserving of being on this ballot:

Boneshaker by Cherie Priest (Tor)
The City & The City by China Miéville (Del Rey; Macmillan UK)
Julian Comstock: A Story of 22nd-Century America by Robert Charles Wilson (Tor)
Palimpsest by Catherynne M. Valente (Bantam Spectra)
Wake by Robert J. Sawyer (Ace; Penguin; Gollancz; Analog)
The Windup Girl by Paolo Bacigalupi (Night Shade)

So far, my choice is The Windup Girl, but final decisions will have to wait till I’ve read all of these. As Hugo voting closes on July 31, I need to get cracking (and so do you if you haven’t been doing your homework!).


Posted in Books, Hugo Awards, science fiction, Science fiction and fantasy, SF | 5 Comments »

Science Fiction, The Undead Genre

Posted by hyperpat on August 26, 2009

Probably somewhere around 1930, someone was stating that science fiction was dying, that all the story lines had already been mined for whatever treasure they might contain, and science was overtaking all the good ideas. They’re still saying exactly the same things today. Is there any more cause to believe these doomsayers now than way back when? Let’s examine the issues:

1. Print magazine sales numbers are down. And not just down, but way down. And the number of magazines devoted to SF has tailed downward since the mid-fifties. Surely this is an indication of a moribund and comatose field? I would argue, however, that to some degree this decline is a product of SF being too successful (see also my prior post on the death of the sf short story). Back in the fifties SF was almost totally a ghetto, written and consumed by a very insular group that had almost no contact with the larger literary world. Then came the New Wave, a few SF authors hitting the best-seller lists, a smattering of critical analysis of the field that didn’t totally dismiss it as fantasy for little boys, a few mainstream authors who gingerly put their toes into speculative waters, and the ghetto walls started to crumble. At the same time, real, visible scientific and technological advances and a couple of spectacular movies were making the general public aware that that crazy Buck Rogers stuff wasn’t totally crazy. From the sixties through the late eighties, this broadening trend continued. A few colleges started to offer SF as a course in literature. Science fiction has become at least somewhat ‘respectable’, or at the very least not easily dismissed as just ‘adolescent male fantasy’ . Nowadays a writer has far more potential markets for his science fiction writing than just those magazines that specialize in the form.

2. Science marches on, and stories that dealt with simple rockets to the moon have obviously been overtaken by such advances. This is a congenital hazard to writing stories in this field – regardless of what scientific concept is the driving force for a story, at some point in the future it’s entirely possible that new scientific theories and actual technological gadgets based on those theories may make the story obsolete, old hat, or worse, shown to be impossible. But people forget (especially those who claim that SF is running out of ideas) that SF is not just about possible new nifty gadgets, but rather about how humans live and react and form societies based on such gadgets (or the gadgets’ long term effects, such as all the A-bombs in the world being set off), and that viewpoint, which is outside of what can be achieved via mundane fiction, will never lose its impact or relevance. Which is why it’s still possible to read and enjoy something like Verne’s 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. A corollary to the continuing advancement of science is that new concepts and theories appear, such as string theory or quantum entanglement, which can become fodder for new SF stories based on same. As long as science doesn’t run out of new things to discover, or the engineers can no longer design new gadgets that impact how people live, science fiction writers will have new things to incorporate into their stories.

3. There are only a limited number of human-centric plots (I think it was Heinlein who boiled it down to just three actually different plots), regardless of what genre it is being written in. SF, however, has a greater range than common mundane fiction, allowing for plots that deal with man (or alien) vs universe as their conflict point, rather than just man-vs-man. But within that limited number, there is room for an infinite amount of shading and subtlety. This applies just as much to sf as to mundane fiction; clearly, there will always be room for a ‘new’ story.

4. Some writers and publishers are scrupulously trying to avoid the label ‘science fiction’. Partially this is due to the still not-totally-respectable odor associated with that label in literary circles, and partially due to the general reading public’s impression (still, even after thirty years of acknowledgment that there is some mature value to things written within the genre) that it’s ‘kids stuff’. There’s also a fear by many potential readers of just not being able to understand the concepts and science in today’s works, a fear which is at least partially justifiable, as there are certainly some (but also certainly not all) sf works today that call for far more understanding and knowledge of modern science than the average man in the street has. However, whether works by such writers are labeled sf or not by either themselves or their publishers, it doesn’t mean that they aren’t actually sf. Cormac Macarthy’s The Road is definitely sf, regardless of how academics or the general public view it. Perhaps, however, it does mean that sf, as a distinct, easily separable and identifiable genre of writing, is disappearing, becoming more and more incorporated into the general field of just ‘fiction’, another tool for certain types of story ideas to be used whenever appropriate.

Science fiction is not dying. It has matured some; it has become more ‘literary’, its minimum standards have improved drastically, its markets have broadened and become less easily identifiable. None of these are bad things.

Posted in Books, Science & Engineering, science fiction, Science fiction and fantasy, SF, Writing | 5 Comments »

The Demise of the SF Short Story?

Posted by hyperpat on August 13, 2009

There’s been quite a bit of moaning and groaning in the SF world that the SF short story is dead, supported by the fact that SF magazine subscription and newsstand sales have been falling, falling, falling… While the decline in sales figures are very real (as an example, Analog had sales over 100,000 copies in 1984, it now sports just about 30,000 in sales), does it really indicate a decline in readership for short SF, or is it merely an indicator of something else?

Once upon a time, I used to subscribe to all the SF mags: Galaxy, If, Worlds of Tomorrow, Analog, F&SF, Amazing, Fantastic, etc. When these issues arrived, they got devoured in short order. How did I get started on these things? By seeing them on the magazine racks and checkout counters at just about every grocery and convenience store, where their often garish (and often much maligned) covers really stood out from the rest of the material on those same racks. Which indicates the first point: people won’t get involved with these mags unless they know they are there, that they are positioned and designed to attract the casual browser. How long has it been since I’ve seen one of these mags at such places? Years. Distribution and display space is certainly one item that is causing the decline in their readership. What would it take to attract the casual reader today? In lieu of suddenly being able to place the magazines everywhere due to some miracle change in distribution methods, perhaps something like a YouTube presence or ads placed on Amazon or some of the most popular blogs – not cheap, but somehow these mags have to make their presence known.

How many SF mags do I subscribe to today? Zero. Why? Almost all my current SF reading today is novels, with only a rare (and usually single-author) anthology in the mix. The reason for this is something that Analog’s AnLab highlighted a long time ago, namely that longer pieces are typically more popular due to the fact that there is room to fully develop characters and environments. The SF short story is an extremely difficult form to do well, due to the inherent needs of SF to build entire worlds that the mainstream story can just take as background givens. In testament to this, I can rattle off literally a hundred excellent and highly memorable SF novels, stories that I can remember quite clearly even though I read them forty years ago, but I would be hard pressed to name more than 10 short stories that have had a similar impact. The difficulty in writing a great sf short story also leads to one of the complaints I hear today, that these stories keep treading the same old ground and the only people reading them are a graying and declining in numbers group of people. I don’t really agree with this; a look at the Hugo nominees in short fiction categories shows there’s still vitality here, but as has always been true, memorable short stories are a rarer beast than memorable novel-length ones.

Although having the SF mags run serials was always controversial with some segments of their readership, they were often a great draw to go get the next issue, and at one time the best novels were being initially published this way (Herbert’s Dune, for example). My impression is that there have been fewer serials receiving a Hugo nod in the last ten years or so, which may be due to several factors: limited space in only a few mags, more available ways for authors to market/publish the books from self-publishing to online distribution, more traditional publishers accepting first-novel works without prior magazine exposure, etc. Here is one area where online publication can help, as there aren’t any space/page limitations to be worked around to fit a novel into the magazine, which was (is) one of the constant objections the print magazines see from readers to serials, as they just take up too much space and crowd out a larger number of shorter works.

Which brings up the cost issue. The mag’s prices today are nearly equal to what you pay for a full paperback book. And the price needs to be that high to pay the authors, editors, illustrators, and printing costs. Online publication, instead of the dead-tree format, at least eliminates the printing costs, and allows for more flexible pricing/bundling – the online music model of price per song/story or price per album/entire magazine might make sense here. To make this work, though, would require probably several years of investment to grow the online version and get current readers of the hardcopy format to switch over.

There are new models appearing. Tor.com is one such, kind of a cross between a blog and an online magazine type format, with lots of comments, articles, and even artwork, with the occasional short story, and just recently, a serial novel. Quite noticeable is that its scope is much broader than traditional SF mags, including things like comics, anime, SF convention news, and links to other sites and happenings in the SF world, along with its own sales cart for books and such that are offered by Tor and related companies. Also noticeable is that the site has something new every day, something the print mags simply can’t do, and this may be key in keeping readership in the wide world of the internet – day old news is just so not there. I haven’t seen any readership or page hit counts for this site, but just from the sheer number of comments it gets on a daily basis indicates it has a fair following. So far, I haven’t seen any advertising from anyone outside of Tor itself, nor do they charge anything for access to the site. Which brings to fore the question of how financially viable this model is for anyone else that doesn’t have the deep pockets of a major book publisher to sustain them. Still, it, along with several other online SF magazines, shows that the market for short SF fiction still exists, there are still readers of this type of material. The fact that there are quite a few of these online mags, many started within the last few years, may in fact be a contributing factor in the decline of the print magazine, as more and more people get their SF fix from their computer, not the newsstand rack.

I’m afraid that the SF print-format magazine really is a dying animal, with almost no hope of saving it in that format. If these publications wish to survive at all, they really must embrace the web, and not in just a trivial manner. But the SF short story is not. Actually, there may be more short pieces appearing today that anytime earlier, but the market is far more fragmented. It used to be that probably 90% of all short SF was published initially in the print mags. I doubt if that figure today is more than 30%.

Posted in Books, science fiction, Science fiction and fantasy, SF, Writing | 1 Comment »

People Do Judge a Book by its Cover

Posted by hyperpat on August 12, 2009

There’s been quite a dust-up over the cover art originally chosen for the American ARC edition of Justine Larbaliester’s new book Liar, which portrayed a white girl with long hair, when the actual person inside the book is bi-racial with nappy hair. So much of one that Bloomsbury, the publisher, has now made the decision to change the cover for the hardback release, scheduled for late September. I’m happy to say that the new cover is both appropriate and quite stylish. The cover, along with Justine’s comments about it, can be viewed here.

The reason for the original cover? Unfortunately, it was apparently a marketing decision that felt that a cover with a black person on it just would not sell as well. Now marketing folks should be focused on the color green (as in money), but, as Justine herself says here, this is neolithic besides being racist thinking, fed by bookseller’s impressions with little hard apples-to-apples comparison data to back it up. Plus it showed just how little power an author really has in terms of how their work will be promoted.

The cover art for this book is important. I think the book itself is pretty damned good (see my review), and if it doesn’t get the promotion it deserves, it will be a shame. Because there aren’t many speculative fiction works that have protagonists that are people of color, and covers with white faces will probably not attract (and may actively discourage) young people of color from picking up this book, and discovering a marvelous person who has severe problems with who and what she is and how she eventually comes to grips with those problems. Not bad lessons for any young person of any color, nor for that matter any adult reading this (and they should!).

While I applaud Bloomsbury’s decision to change the cover, it makes me sad to think that this whole fiasco ever had to happen in the first place.

Posted in Book Reviews, Books, Science fiction and fantasy, SF, Writing | 2 Comments »

The 2009 Hugo Awards

Posted by hyperpat on August 10, 2009

The final list:

The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman (HarperCollins; Bloomsbury UK)

Best Novella
‘‘The Erdmann Nexus’’ by Nancy Kress (Asimov’s Oct/Nov 2008)

Best Novelette
‘‘Shoggoths in Bloom’’ by Elizabeth Bear (Asimov’s Mar 2008)

Best Short Story
‘‘Exhalation’’ by Ted Chiang (Eclipse Two)

Best Related Book
Your Hate Mail Will Be Graded: A Decade of Whatever, 1998-2008 by John
Scalzi (Subterranean Press)

Best Graphic Story
Girl Genius, Volume 8: Agatha Heterodyne and the Chapel of Bones
Written by Kaja & Phil Foglio, art by Phil Foglio, colors by Cheyenne
Wright (Airship Entertainment)

Best Dramatic Presentation, Long Form
WALL-E Andrew Stanton & Pete Docter, story; Andrew Stanton & Jim
Reardon, screenplay; Andrew Stanton, director (Pixar/Walt Disney)

Best Dramatic Presentation, Short Form
Doctor Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog Joss Whedon, & Zack Whedon, & Jed
Whedon, & Maurissa Tancharoen, writers; Joss Whedon, director (Mutant

Best Editor, Short Form
Ellen Datlow

Best Editor, Long Form
David G. Hartwell

Best Professional Artist
Donato Giancola

Best Semiprozine
Weird Tales edited by Ann VanderMeer & Stephen H. Segal

Best Fan Writer
Cheryl Morgan

Best Fanzine
Electric Velocipede edited by John Klima

Best Fan Artist
Frank Wu

I was somewhat disappointed that Cory Doctorow’s Little Brother did not win in the Novel category, as to my way of thinking it was clearly better than Gaiman’s effort – but Gaiman has that aura of win to him every time he’s on the ballot. Little Brother did manage to come in second, overtaking Neal Stephenson’s Anathem in the second round of vote counting. (Full voting results are available here).

Wall-E taking the Dramatic Presentation was almost a given; it’s only serious competition was The Dark Knight, and the voting reflected that. Why the Academy Awards couldn’t recognize this movie as the best of the year, well, I’ve expounded on that earlier.

And unlike last year, where almost all my picks ended up winning, the only ones that made it this year were Scalzi’s Your Hate Mail Will Be Graded, Cheryl Morgan as best fan writer (long overdue) and Wall-E. Most of my picks ended up at the very bottom of the voting lists.

There has been a fair amount of yack-yack out in the blogosphere that this year’s list of nominee’s, especially in the Novel category, were all a bunch of mediocre, standard fare, popular but not significant, or that somehow the Hugos are all a conspiracy by the SMOF’s to keep the best (read: their choice) works off the nominee list. With this I must violently disagree. First as to the quality of those that did get on the list: Little Brother is possibly the best YA novel to appear in the field in the last 20 years, and touches on social and political themes that are both important and highly relevant to today’s world. Anathem is cutting edge experimental, and a difficult, mind-bending read, which should put paid to the concept that such books are not recognized as significant by the average SF fan. Scalzi’s Zoe’s Tale shows just what clear, unadulterated space opera can be, with great characterization and not cluttered up with a hundred pages of esoteric scientific theory.

Yes, I would have liked to see Nick Harkaway’s The Gone-Away World or Le Guin’s Levinia make the short list, but the ones that did make it are certainly reasonable. People need to remember that the best literature must be readable and entertaining; those that have these qualities will normally rise to the top of any popularly voted award (as opposed to those awards given out by jury selection). And for those that didn’t like how this year’s nominee’s and winners worked out, I highly suggest they quit whining and become members of next year’s World SF Con, and send in their own nominations and votes. I note that there were 1074 voting ballots sent in this year, more than in past years, but still not anywhere like the number it could be if those who care about these awards would get off their duffs and vote.

Posted in Book Reviews, Books, Hugo Awards, Movies, science fiction, Science fiction and fantasy, SF, Writing | Leave a Comment »

The 2009 Hugo Nominee Download Packet

Posted by hyperpat on April 21, 2009

Like last year, the World Science Fiction Convention is making available a package of nearly all of the Hugo nominated works available for download. This is due to the efforts of many people, most especially John Scalzi, who have done a lot of grunt work to obtain the author and publisher permissions and getting these works into a format that can be easily downloaded and read. The purpose of this is to have a group of informed Hugo voters.  The items included in this package are:

Best Novel

Little Brother by Cory Doctorow (Tor Teen; HarperVoyager UK)
The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman (HarperCollins; Bloomsbury UK)
Zoe’s Tale by John Scalzi (Tor)
Saturn’s Children by Charles Stross (Ace; Orbit UK)

Best Novella

“The Erdmann Nexus” by Nancy Kress (Asimov’s Oct/Nov 2008)
“The Political Prisoner” by Charles Coleman Finlay (F&SF Aug 2008)
“True Names” by Benjamin Rosenbaum & Cory Doctorow (Fast Forward 2)
“Truth” by Robert Reed (Asimov’s Oct/Nov 2008)

Best Novelette

“Alastair Baffle’s Emporium of Wonders” by Mike Resnick (Asimov’s Jan 2008)
“The Gambler” by Paolo Bacigalupi (Fast Forward 2)
“Pride and Prometheus” by John Kessel (F&SF Jan 2008)
“Shoggoths in Bloom” by Elizabeth Bear (Asimov’s Mar 2008)

Best Short Story

“26 Monkeys, Also the Abyss” by Kij Johnson (Asimov’s Jul 2008)
“Article of Faith” by Mike Resnick (Baen’s Universe Oct 2008)
“Evil Robot Monkey” by Mary Robinette Kowal ( The Solaris Book of New Science Fiction, Volume Two)
“Exhalation” by Ted Chiang ( Eclipse Two)
“From Babel’s Fall’n Glory We Fled” by Michael Swanwick (Asimov’s Feb 2008)

Best Related Book

Rhetorics of Fantasy by Farah Mendlesohn (Wesleyan University Press)
What It Is We Do When We Read Science Fiction by Paul Kincaid (Beccon Publications) (Extract only)
Your Hate Mail Will be Graded: A Decade of Whatever, 1998-2008 by John Scalzi (Subterranean Press)

Best Graphic Story

Schlock Mercenary: The Body Politic Story and art by Howard Tayler (The Tayler Corporation)

Best Dramatic Presentation, Long Form

METAtropolis by John Scalzi, ed. Written by: Elizabeth Bear, Jay Lake, Tobias Buckell and Karl Schroeder (Audible Inc) (instructions for download)

Best Semiprozine

Clarkesworld Magazine edited by Neil Clarke, Nick Mamatas & Sean Wallace
Weird Tales edited by Ann VanderMeer & Stephen H. Segal – Year in Review

Best Fanzine

Argentus edited by Steven H Silver
The Drink Tank edited by Chris Garcia
Electric Velocipede edited by John Klima
File 770 edited by Mike Glyer

Best Professional Artist — Art samples by:

John Picacio

Best Fan Writer – Writing samples by:

Chris Garcia
John Hertz
Cheryl Morgan
Steven H Silver

The John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer – Novels and/or writing samples by:

Aliette de Bodard
David Anthony Durham
Felix Gilman
Tony Pi
Gord Sellar

As is obvious from the above list, this is a lot of reading material. And the fact that they’re all Hugo nominees means that the quality level of this material is absurdly high. So how do you get this goody package? Simple. Become a member (either supporting or attending) of Anticipation, the 67th World SF Convention being held in Montreal, Canada on August 6-10.

Joining is $195 US/$250 CAD for attending membership (which means you plan on coming to Anticipation this August) or $50 US/$55 CAD for a supporting membership (which allows you to vote for the Hugos). When you join you will receive information on how to download the Hugo Voters Packet.

Now you might think this is an awful lot to pay, but consider: the retail value of the included items in this download packet alone are worth more than the cost of an attending membership. In addition, joining gives you the right (and to my way of thinking) the responsibility of voting for what you think is best of all of these works. Many years, the number of people who actually vote for the Hugos, sf’s most distinguished prize, is distressingly small (much smaller than the number of people who are members of that year’s convention, and a terribly small number compared to the number of sf fans). One of the excuses commonly given is that people didn’t feel qualified to vote because they hadn’t read all the nominees. Besides the fact that you don’t have to have read everything to vote – if you think some work is good enough for the Hugo, then vote for it! – this download package will give you the opportunity to get, all in one place, all the material you’ll need to make that informed decision. Besides all of this, membership will give you the right to nominate works for next year’s Hugos, and vote on potential sites for where the next WSFC will be held. And of course, if you actually attend, you’ll be treated to a truly great party amongst a group of people who share your passion for science fiction.

I’ll check back in later with what I think is the best of the nominees, but don’t wait for me. Join, get this package, read, and make up your own mind. You’ll thank yourself for doing so.

Posted in Books, Hugo Awards, science fiction, Science fiction and fantasy, SF, Writing | Leave a Comment »

BSG: The Final Episode Train Wreck

Posted by hyperpat on March 25, 2009

This is perhaps a little late, but my reaction to the final episode of Battlestar Galactica was: WTF? This was perhaps the lamest conclusion to any TV series I’ve ever seen, and it’s made doubly bad due to the prior excellence of the series. Basically the ending wrapped everything up by introducing a huge deus ex machina, and the audience is just supposed to swallow this whole and not choke?

On top of this, the thing that made BSG so good, its gritty, dark tone that wasn’t afraid of making sharp commentary about just about every human and government foible was just thrown overboard in a happy, happy ending (not counting the foreshadow that the whole cycle would repeat many years later). And rather than close the plot holes that had been hanging around from prior episodes (just who is Daniel, what is his relationship to Kara, etc, etc), it managed to introduce some new ones so large you could drive a Mack truck through them. Just for good measure, there’s a couple of places here that have characters acting totally contrary to their portrayed earlier character, without any explanation or even a gloss over to support their current actions.

If you want details about this episode, see the discussion over at Tor.com. WARNING: massive spoilers in this discussion, so if you haven’t seen this episode yet (and still want to), don’t go here.

There was an announcement during this show that there will be a new series starting in the fall that will look at the whole thing again, but this time from the Cylon viewpoint. Given the mess of this conclusion, I don’t think I’ll tune this in. I’m one very dissatisfied customer.

Posted in science fiction, Science fiction and fantasy, SF, TV Series | 1 Comment »

The Lord of the Rings, Happily Revisited

Posted by hyperpat on March 2, 2009

I re-watched the entire Lord of the Rings movie set Saturday and Sunday, and thoroughly enjoyed myself. Now I know that there were some people who were highly upset with some of the liberties that Peter Jackson took with book, such as eliminating the section on the Scouring of the Shire, the Boromir/Faramir thing, the dropping of Tom Bombadil, etc, etc, etc. But regardless of these ‘infractions’, the end result is gorgeous, absorbing, and totally captures the feeling of the book. There are damned few movie adaptations of novels out there that can say that. I sincerely hope, with fingers crossed, that with this example in front of them, the people doing the movie version of The Hobbit won’t screw it up,

I’m also aware of some of the criticism that the book has received over the years, such as the class distinctions between Sam and Frodo, the obvious parallels (no matter how vigorously denied by Tolkien himself) between the industrialization of England and Saruman’s efforts with Isengard and the World War, the book’s simplification of what compromises good and evil, it’s long descriptive passages and side trips to some of the history from the First and Second Ages, it’s heavy borrowing from folk legends of Northern Europe, and quite a few other nit-picks. And in the end, that’s all the criticism amounts to, is nitpicks. It’s a great novel that succeeds of many levels; it’s a great ‘pure’ adventure story, it’s a finely honed commentary on some of the worst social evils of the twentieth (or any) century, it’s characters have deeper and deeper depths to them the more you look closely, and it appeals to nearly everyone’s sense of magical wonder.

I’m sure that eventually someone will write another fantasy work as good or better than this (one candidate for which is currently in progress but which may take quite a while to finish), but for the moment, this work still reigns supreme.

Posted in Book Reviews, Movies, science fiction, Science fiction and fantasy, SF, Writing | 4 Comments »

The Creative Schedule

Posted by hyperpat on February 26, 2009

There’s been a little flap lately over just what an author owes his readers, if anything, especially as it pertains to the time between books in a series. It started with George R. R. Martin’s post to his detractors who are moaning about when Dance With Dragons (the next volume in the Song of Ice and Fire series) will be published, which in turn has occasioned comment by Charles Stross and John Scalzi.

Now to my way of thinking, once an author embarks on a story that’s too large to fit in one volume, he does at least have an implied obligation to those whose purchase the first volume to eventually finish the story. However, and this is a big qualifier, when he does so is strictly up to the author. As Scalzi points out, if the author rushes the job to get that next volume out, the quality will suffer, and those who were eagerly awaiting this next installment in the story are going to be disappointed and unhappy. Alternatively, if the author takes so long to get that next installment out that everyone has totally forgotten the earlier parts of the story, this will not bode well for either his sales or for keeping his fan base (here specifically I’m thinking of things like Stephen King’s Dark Tower series – 20 year gaps are not conducive to maintaining interest).

As Stross points out, there are basically two kinds of extended stories: those that basically have multiple complete stories all based in the same universe, perhaps with same characters, perhaps not (Norton’s Witch World set is a good example of this type), but certainly each volume can pretty much be read independently of the rest of the series; and those where it is really just one long extended story, where you really must read from volume 1 to volume n in order to grasp the entire story (and here Martin’s Song of Ice and Fire certainly qualifies). Each type has advantages and disadvantages.

The first type has the distinct advantage of the reader being able to get full satisfaction from any single volume, and where his expectation level is that he would like to see more stories set in this world, but he won’t feel abandoned if those volumes never appear or only show up many years later. However, the requirement to tell a complete story in one volume limits its scope and does not allow for as complex a world or depth of character building as the second type.

The second type is a great challenge to the author and potentially can be a mesmerizing story that completely immerses its readers in a fully realized world – the canvas is large, with plenty of room to properly develop all the ins and outs of the story, where complex multiple sub-plots can intertwine, characters can change at realistic paces, and be given enough room to become living, breathing people. Its disadvantage is that it is complex, takes a long time write, with always the possibility that other life happenings will eventually interfere with its timely completion, or simply that the author loses motivation to finish it, with other ideas and projects coming to seem more interesting. And it generates an expectation in its readers that more of the story will be forthcoming real soon now. Authors really should consider this factor before embarking on such a project (though I know that sometimes a story just grows, and becomes far longer than what was originally intended). Once he decides he really wants to write this story, he really should do his best to finish it as soon as is possible while still maintaining his own standards of excellence. This is really the author’s only obligation: to do his best.

Those who moan and whine and send nasty emails to the author demanding that the next volume be delivered right now are not helping. In fact, besides being rude and crass, such badgering of authors may end up causing the target author to just abandon the project. Fans who act like this should be beaten over the head with a politeness stick. Creative works are not like cars, producible on a set schedule, and fans really need to get hip to that fact.

I’ll certainly get Dance with Dragons and read it with enjoyment, whenever it makes its appearance. The series so far is both captivating and excellent, and has all the hallmarks of eventually becoming one of the great fantasy stories ever told. If it takes Martin another three years to get this next volume right to his satisfaction, so be it.

Posted in Books, science fiction, Science fiction and fantasy, SF, Writing | 3 Comments »

The Academy and Animation

Posted by hyperpat on February 24, 2009

Stupid me, I went and watched the Academy Awards show on Sunday. What I saw was an almost complete disparagement of animation and science fiction, as if neither of those categories was really worth any consideration by the Academy. Yes, Wall-E took best animated picture, but that was almost a given – there was nothing else out there remotely approaching its quality in animation land. But, and this is a big but, it wasn’t even nominated for Best Picture, even though (IMO) it was clearly better than a couple of the movies that did get a nomination nod. Iron Man was almost completely ignored, and The Dark Knight got only what everyone expected.

Now it could be argued that The Curious Case of Benjamin Button is sf – but I think it really belongs in the fantasy camp, or perhaps ‘magical realism’. Regardless, the focus of this movie is not on the mechanism of his reverse aging, but rather what that does to his personal relationships. It might also be noted that some of film techniques used in this movie are traveling into the world of animation, especially in the early scenes which have heavy CGI graphics. Apparently such work is acceptable if it’s a ‘live action’ movie.

The query becomes, why did this movie get nominated and not Wall-E? I think it has a lot to do with the ‘quality’ of its origin, being based on a short story by F. Scott Fitzgerald – and as such, shows up something that I think has been present in the Awards process for a long time: the snob factor. This is not to say that I don’t think Button shouldn’t have been nominated – it’s a fine movie. But The Reader, Milk, and Frost/Nixon are what I consider to be marginal entries.

Maybe someday the Academy will get hip to the fact that some of the best stories, acting, and overall movie experience today are being produced in animation land, and are given nominations and awards on an equal basis with live action movies – but I wouldn’t count on it soon.

In the meantime, I’ve already nominated Wall-E for the Hugo Award, and will vote for it when that time comes. But getting that award may seem like small potatoes to the creators of this movie.

Posted in Hugo Awards, Movies, science fiction, Science fiction and fantasy, SF | 2 Comments »

BSG: The Final Five

Posted by hyperpat on February 17, 2009

Battlestar Galactica has had a pretty good run. Throughout most of its shows, it has been marked by a consistent level of good-to-excellent writing and acting. Now it’s trying to wrap itself up and complete the story line, which has led to, well, problems…

It became obvious even as early as season two that when the show was created, it really didn’t have a firm vision of where it would end up. As a consequence, the writers kept adding complications and tangential plot threads with little apparent thought to just how consistent the whole thing was. Centurions, Cylons, humans, the thirteen colonies, New Caprica, resurrection, the twelve (13?!) models of Cylons, the ‘Final Five’, the ‘visions’, the hybrids, the revisions the viewer had to make in his outlook as various Cylons were revealed, with some convenient ‘holes’ in these Cylon’s memories so they could have performed their prior actions thinking they were just humans… this list goes on for quite a ways.

Last Friday’s episode saw a massive info-dump that has started trying to make some sense of all these different threads. As could be expected, some items are being glossed over, some actions are just not mentioned, and there are still some rather large questions about how it all fits together. Still, even given these quibbles, I thought that someone, somewhere, did quite a bit of thought to come up with the explanations they did, and they have managed to almost make some sense out of the whole thing, no small achievement given all the things that have happened on the show. For a more detailed look at this Friday’s episode, see the round table discussion over on Tor.com. (Warning: severe spoilers within this discussion – if you haven’t seen this episode yet, don’t go here).

Now they still have five episodes to go, so there’s still room to wrap up some more of the problems. I really hope they can pull it off, without losing either the sharp dark ambiance or the biting social commentary that has been the hallmark of the best episodes of this show.

Science fiction with the quality of this show has been extremely rare, either on TV or the movies. It is no surprise that this show has developed quite a following of avid fans during its run, nor that it has gathered several awards. I’m crossing my fingers that they will end this show with all of its great qualities still intact.

Posted in Movies, science fiction, Science fiction and fantasy, SF, TV Series | 1 Comment »

Special Effects Do Not a Good Movie Make

Posted by hyperpat on December 12, 2008

Science fiction movies, in terms of special effects, have come a long way. Some of the early movie’s effects were so bad as to cause instant laughter (a toy rocket ship tied on a string, string clearly visible, merrily bouncing in the “winds” of space?). Certainly what is being produced today is far better in terms of sheer eye-candy.

However, all too often, today’s movies concentrate so much on these special effects that they forget that they also need to tell a good, convincing story with believable acting. Some of the older movies, as bad as their special effects were (and just as frequently, atrocious science – but that’s still true today), are still watchable today because of  the fact that the directors of these movies remembered that they were telling a story.  I was forcibly reminded of this by a couple of those older movies that I recently had the chance to watch: The Day the Earth Stood Still and Them!

Now clearly the special effects in The Day the Earth Stood Still are nothing to brag about, but both the story and the underlying message do what good science fiction is supposed to do – make you think about the human condition and how people would respond to “What if..?” I’m very much afraid that the new remake due to hit the theaters shortly will have all it’s emphasis on scenes of massive destruction, to the strong detriment of what the story is all about.

Similarly, Them! doesn’t have much in the way of special effects. The giant ants are clearly either little clockwork models blown up via camera to giant size, or real ants subjected to the same magnification. And the science involved here is pure hokum – insects can’t physically reach sizes like this, as their physical structure can’t support the weight, and their air system would also fail, due to the square-cube law of area versus volume. But at the same time, there are statements made throughout the movie about the habits of real ants that are very much spot-on, and these details are used to make a believable and suspenseful story. It also doesn’t hurt that there is some decent acting going on here. This one is one to watch with your popcorn already in hand, as you won’t want to get up to go get it after the movie starts – it’s a story that grabs.

I have little real hope that most future SF films will remember story first, visuals second. Hollywood looks for and tries to make what sells, and for a very large percentage of those movie-goers who go to see SF films at all, the blow-em-up, stunning visuals are the main reason they go at all. Hollywood will continue to pander to this demographic, its a given, its how they stay in business and make money. But here and there, hopefully there will be a few gems that still remember to tell a fascinating story.

Posted in Movies, science fiction, Science fiction and fantasy, SF | 2 Comments »

Space, The Same Old Frontier

Posted by hyperpat on October 30, 2008

Over at SF Signal, there is an extended discussion about whether SF has at least partly caused the current general disinterest in space exploration, occasioned by a comment by Buzz Aldrin to that effect.

My answer to that is yes, it’s at least partly true that some of the presentations of SF, especially those by the visual media, have caused a fair number of people to dismiss space exploration as either silly childish dreams not worth spending money on, or have focused the attention on wildly unrealistic expectations of being able to merrily zip around universe in minutes, against which the real space program’s accomplishments look extremely drab and uninteresting.

But it’s far from wholly true. Again and again, when you talk to the people who are actually involved in doing the real work of space exploration, the scientists and engineers for whom this field is their daily bread and butter, you hear the statement that SF was one of the major things that inspired them to get into the field in the first place. What many forget, when they see the overall lack of interest in space exploration, is that those who actually work in this field of endeavor constitute a tiny fraction of the entire populace. For the great majority, all they see and care about is their shiny new tech toys, their ever more capable Dick Tracy phones, their awesome high-definition flat panel TVs, their amazingly capable video game machines, and these people have no idea how these devices came to be, have no idea of how much effort and money it took to create them, have no concept of the deep infrastructure needed to build them, do not understand the economics driving their development, have no clue about the scientific principles and discoveries that make them possible, nor do they care.

Space exploration is merely the most visible result of what science can accomplish. The real ‘final’ frontier is not space exploration itself, nor has it ever been. The frontier is human knowledge, and additions to that mass of facts has always been the prerogative of a small group of people who just have to know what is over the next hill, who have to understand how a bee flies, who are completely unhappy about things that they can’t explain, who continuously dream about doing something no one else has ever done before. It is exactly this type of person that has continuously driven civilization beyond existing boundaries, has made the average human existence much more than pure subsistence. Every once in a while, the dreams of such people have invaded the space of the average person, and for brief moments have ignited a collective drive to accomplish a particular goal. One such moment was the initial drive to reach the moon. But such moments never last for long, and the average person goes back to his everyday concerns, of putting bread on his family’s table, and money spent on ‘dream’ goals again is looked upon with deep suspicion as not doing anything for them.

Science fiction is all about what is possible. It’s roots are deeply grounded in the concept that there is always something new to discover, and as such it mainly appeals to exactly the type of person who is not satisfied with the status quo, who needs something beyond the everyday to satisfy their internal reason to exist. For this type of person, science fiction stories with imaginative ideas can inspire, and in some cases even lead directly to new discoveries and accomplishments, as the inspired person drives to make that idea a reality. But for the average person, SF is merely another form of entertainment, and when the real world doesn’t provide the same level of drama as what he sees on the movie screen, concludes that it is just fanciful fiction, and doesn’t deserve dollars out of his pocket.

It’s not that SF has killed interest in space exploration, it’s the everyday, humdrum demands of living that have killed it in the absence of any great drama or immediately visible economic benefit. Space exploration is merely one more thing that’s barely visible on the average person’s radar, as it apparently has no immediate, direct affect on his life. And this will probably always be true: the very few will drive what’s new, the great majority will merely stumble on.

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2008 Hugo Winners

Posted by hyperpat on August 11, 2008

Well, the results are in. And for the first time in a very long time, my choices were pretty much the ones that won – I mean, this just never happens! The Winners:

Best Novel – The Yiddish Policeman’s Union by Michael Chabon

Best Novella – All Seated on the Ground by Connie Willis

Best Novelette – The Merchant and the Alchemist’s Gate by Ted Chiang

Best Short Story – Tideline by Elizabeth Bear

Best Fan Writer – John Scalzi

Best Dramatic Presentation, Long Form – Stardust

Best Dramatic Presentation, Short Form – Doctor Who, “Blink”

Best Related Work – Brave New Words, The Oxford Dictionary of Science Fiction by Jeff Prucher

Best Editor, Long Form – David G. Hartwell

Best Editor, Short Form – Gordon van Gelder

Best Semi-Prozine – Locus

Best Fanzine – File 770

Of the Fiction awards, these are all my #1 choices except for the Best Novelette, where my #1 was The Cambist and Lord Iron by David Abraham. The Ted Chiang story was my #2 choice. Stardust was also my #1 for best movie. Best Fan Writer went to my #1, John Scalzi, though I imagine this will kick up a little fuss, as he’s so much of a professional besides writing about everything under the sun in very fannish fashion. And he indicates over on his site that his entry in the novel category The Last Colony lost by just nine votes. I haven’t seen the complete breakout of all the voting yet – but this kind of indicates that voting in this category was extremely close. About the only category that wasn’t even close to my choice was the Best Drama, Short Form, as I just don’t see what all the fuss is about in the Doctor Who series.

It’s very rare that my taste corresponds so closely to the general sf fan’s. Many years I’ve been left wondering just how in the heck anyone could have voted for the obviously much poorer piece of work that won instead of my own choice. And it’s also nice to see that sf fans, this year at least, didn’t turn up their noses at a work by someone who is not an integral part of the sf community, Michael Chabon, and gave their votes based on its perceived quality.

All in all, it was a very good year for sf (apologies to Frank Sinatra).



I’ve now gotten a look at the complete voting results (available here). The best novel voting went like this:

The Yiddish Policeman’s Union 195 195 231 292 332

The Last Colony 158 158 170 219 323

Rollback 152 152 163 186

Halting State 115 115 148

Brasyl 110 110

No Award 15

After eliminating the ‘No Award’ ballots, in the second round YPU pick up the most votes (i.e, of those who had Brasyl as their number 1 choice, the greatest plurality of them had YPU as their #2 choice). This is not surprising; YPU and Brasyl are probably the two most ‘literary’ works here, and those who like that ‘literary’ style in one are likely to like it in the other. What is a little surprising is that Halting State picked up the next greatest number of votes in this round, as it’s probably the ‘geekiest’ work here.

Round three is also something of a surprise, with YPU picking up 63 votes and being the clear #2 choice of those who picked Halting State as their #1. By this point The Last Colony is badly trailing YPU. But the last round is perhaps the biggest surprise, as The Last Colony picks up 104 votes vs YPUs 40 – clearly those who liked Rollback had a clear preference of Last Colony over YPU.

So the final total with YPU and Last Colony separated by only nine votes is perhaps a little misleading – YPU clearly led throughout the various voting rounds.

That’s this year. But I wouldn’t be at all surprised if Scalzi’s latest, Zoe’s Tale (no, I haven’t read it yet, this is based strictly on how well I know he writes and the few clues he’s let slip over on his site about it), makes next year’s ballot, and probably stands an excellent chance of winning, absent any other blockbuster being published in the next five months (which just might already be out – Doctorow’s Little Brother). His fan base just seems to keep growing.

Posted in Books, Hugo Awards, science fiction, Science fiction and fantasy, SF, Writing | 1 Comment »

The Pessimistic Heinlein

Posted by hyperpat on August 7, 2008

I originally posted this as a comment over on tor.com in response to Jo Walton’s musings on why so many of Heinlein’s juveniles seem to have a dystopian world/society as their background. Looking it over, I decided it might make a good introduction to something I’ve been working on for some time, a fairly detailed look at all of his juvenile novels, which many consider to be his best work, although personally I think that several of his adult novels are better. There has been little critical work done on these juveniles, with perhaps the most prominent example being Joseph T. Major’s Heinlein’s Children: The Juveniles, which unfortunately is not very good as a work of criticism, but does collect in one place a very detailed synopsis of all of these works. Part of my own investigation into these works is to analyze just why these works are so readable, still work well today, and have inspired so many people to choose a career in the sciences. Part of that analysis is below: just what drives and motivates his characters? At least a partial answer is his background societies which have obvious things wrong with them, often very dystopian in nature, driving his characters to do something about it.

For Heinlein’s stories to work, he needed to have his protagonists feel dissatisfied with the way things currently were. This shows up in a lot more than just his juveniles. Even in one of his very early works, Beyond this Horizon, where the portrayed society is one that most people would consider to be a utopia (no hunger, work only if you really wanted to, everyone healthy – well, except for the control ‘naturals’), Hamilton is driven to action because he feels that there must be more to life than just existing, that being a dilettante was not the proper role for man.

Even one of the least dystopian juveniles, Have Space Suit – Will Travel, shows a dissatisfaction with people as sheep, content to just get by (reference his comments about the education system, his parents decision to leave the academic rat-race to raise their son as a role model for non-sheep, his father’s methods of dealing with society’s regimentation via how he files his taxes – and with only such short strokes, defining what was wrong with the fifties conformist culture).

So the various dystopian backgrounds of many of his novels become part of the driving force for his major characters, helping to define why they take the actions they do, while at the same time serving as a strong warning of just what will happen “…If This Goes On”.

Heinlein was definitely a fan of the ‘restless’ spirit, the pioneer, those who drive to change the world, and it wasn’t limited to just his juveniles, but within them he set an achievement bar for all his young readers to try and reach. And that’s the message that I think resonates with young readers, that they can achieve their dreams if they just work at it. It’s a timeless message that runs across all cultures and societies, and is probably why he’s still so enjoyable to read today.

Many times I’ve seen Heinlein portrayed as a pessimist, based largely on these dystopian backgrounds for so many of his works. I don’t think this is really true; rather, he was very much an optimist, as his characters continuously managed to do things to improve at least their own personal situation and often improving the world at large, regardless of how messed up that world was. And this trait is most visible in his juveniles.

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Making Connections

Posted by hyperpat on August 1, 2008

Over at Tor.com, the new website tor has established for interactive discussion of all things speculative, Jo Walton posted a commentary on just what the difference is between sf and fantasy, and just how some books really can’t be pigeonholed into one category or another. Which leads to a problem for brick-and-mortar stores that try to shelve these two categories separately, as wherever they put such books, it will be missed by those expecting it to be in the other category.

The problem is really much more general than just the divide between sf and fantasy, and gets into an entire field of library science dealing with indexing and cross-referencing massive amounts of data, at least some of which is subject to highly subjective evaluation by those irrational and sometimes contradictory beings called humans. Coming up with at least partial solutions to this problem is important. Many, many times in the world of science today, a fact discovered in one field, say entomology, has great relevance to another field, say a search for cancer-curing drugs in the field of medicine. But this fact won’t be noticed by the medical researchers unless they have some tool that properly indexes the discovered fact as being relevant to their field.

The Google model for searches is great for topics of wide interest. What it won’t do is find data that is obscure and of importance to only a few specialists. It’s also completely mechanistic – it can’t get that “aha!” moment that humans do when seeing one data item that suddenly provides an answer to a problem in something apparently totally unrelated. Artificial intelligence probably won’t really be useful (or really ‘intelligent’) until it can make such connections. We’ve still got a long way to go before we get to “Computer! Tell me why these Acturians are blowing up all our grain silos on Deneb IV.” (certain Star Trek episodes to the contrary).

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My Final Impressions of the 2008 Hugo Nominees

Posted by hyperpat on June 9, 2008

I sent in my votes for the 2008 Hugos this last Friday, as I finally managed to read all the entries in the fiction categories. In my prior post about the nominees, I indicated that Chabon’s Yiddish Policeman’s Union had my vote, and after reading the other two entries in the novel category, I find it still held the #1 position in my mind, though Robert Sawyer’s Rollback came very close. Rollback is a very quiet book; there are no explosions or great ahas! – instead it is very much a character driven book, showing just how much our mind-set is influenced by the condition of our bodies and our expectations of what actions are appropriate for a person of n years of age. Very well done.

The other novel nominee that I hadn’t read before my last post was Brasyl, Ian McDonald’s entry. Unfortunately, I found myself disappointed in this work, not so much because of the heavy use of Portuguese words and phrases throughout (though this didn’t help, even with the included appendix of definitions, as it constantly interrupted my reading flow to go look up the words), but because of the basic scientific idea behind it, dealing with an infinite set of quantum analogues of our world and how this should/could/does impact individual’s world view and actions, which I found to be all too fuzzy with too little rationale behind those trying to control the entire continuum. I found the best part of this his detailing of the historical period of the mid-1700’s exploration/exploitation of Brazil by the church and rapacious merchants, and his portrait of a Jesuit priest was quite engaging.

So my final list for novels looks like this:

1. Michael Chabon The Yiddish Policeman’s Union

2. Robert J. Sawyer Rollback

3. John Scalzi The Last Colony

4. Charles Stross Halting State

5. Ian McDonald Brasyl

In the short fiction categories, I found a few standouts: Connie Willis’ All Seated on the Ground, a novella with her patented brand of satire coupled with an interesting idea, in the Novelette category David Abrahm’s The Cambist and Lord Iron, another somewhat tongue-in-cheek story with a nice commentary on just what ‘value’ is, and in the Short Story category Elizabeth Bear’s Tideline, a very quiet, post-apocalyptic story about what is important to remember. The rest of the entries were usually average-to-good, but these three definitely met my expectations of works worthy of a Hugo.

Posted in Books, Hugo Awards, science fiction, Science fiction and fantasy, SF, Uncategorized | 1 Comment »

The Hidden SF Treasure Box

Posted by hyperpat on May 14, 2008

There’s been a fair amount of discussion lately about a trend in science fiction that has become quite pronounced in the last few years, namely, the near moribund adult sf market and the strong surge in YA sf, as practiced by the likes of Scott Westerfeld, Justine Larbalestier, Garth Nix, and recent entries by the likes of Cory Doctorow.  At least some of this has been driven by the fantastic success of the Harry Potter books and movies, which phenomenon has certainly had an influence on young people looking for more of the same. Which at least helps explain why the YA field has enjoyed good sales numbers, but does nothing to explain why adult SF has not enjoyed similar growth – after all, the young teens who cut their teeth on the first Harry Potter book are now in their twenties, and could reasonably be expected to have graduated to more ‘adult’ fare.

But what makes this dichotomy even more puzzling is the fact that YA today is not the YA over-the-hill types like myself grew up with, the Heinleins, Nortons, Asimovs (Paul French), etc. The most obvious difference is that during the day these writers were publishing their ‘YA’ material, any reference to sex was an absolute no-no. Heinlein’s run-ins with his editor at Scribners about this subject are now legendary, and his methods of getting around her very puritanical attitudes are somewhat hilarious – “Raising John Thomases” in The Star Beast, the title of Tunnel in the Sky  (TITS),  as well as being ingenious. Even back then, the authors writing material for teens were well aware that teens knew what sex was and had very normal concerns and issues about the subject that they wanted to see addressed, but the rules of the day were that sex was an off-limits subject, not ‘appropriate’ material for teens to be reading about, which certainly frustrated the writers.

Nowadays, the subject is not off-limits, though there are still concerns about being too graphic. Most of the better writers in this field today do inject something about it in their works, as after all, teens do think about sex, and presenting characters where this is not even a little part of their lives is highly unrealistic. In some cases, they do much more than indicate that sex exists, but explore in detail the concerns and problems teens face in this area.

But given this new freedom to present teens as more complete, real people, it starts to beggar the question of just what the difference is between YA and adult sf. And for the life of me, I can’t see any difference except YA books have young protagonists, and most often the problems they face involve some aspect of growing up to be mature adults. Vocabulary, situations, scientific detail, concepts, and portrayed societies are seemingly identical between many YA and adult sf books. Except, perhaps, that most YA sf is more accessible and/or relevant to the average reader than a lot of current ‘hard’ sf.

But for whatever reason, YA material is selling better than adult sf, and it is attracting some very competent writers. Those adult sf readers who turn up their noses at such books are, IMO, missing a lot of decent reading, and need to develop the habit of browsing the YA shelves in the bookstores, as most bookstores do not double-shelve in both the YA and SF areas. Perhaps it is just this separation in shelving that might be part of the reason for the disparity in sales and why those reading YA don’t seem to be graduating to the adult section later in life, as they’ve never formed the habit of looking in the SF section, just as the adults quit browsing the YA section a long time ago.

Good writing is good writing, and there’s a lot of it in the YA section. Go give it a look.

Posted in Books, science fiction, Science fiction and fantasy, SF, Writing | 3 Comments »

Predicting the Future

Posted by hyperpat on April 17, 2008

Besides all of its other great qualities as a novel, Robert Heinlein’s Starship Troopers, written almost 50 years ago, had one great technological prediction, that of powered armor suits for the poor foot soldier. These suits, in addition to greatly multiplying the effective physical strength of the soldier and provide at least some protection against stray bullets, also had weapon racks for carrying and launching some really heavy-duty firepower, head’s-up displays of the tactical situation, and multiple comm-link channels to allow the soldier to stay in constant communication with his buddies and the higher ups. Now, at least part of that prediction is coming true. Under contract for the U. S. Army, the first prototype exoskeletons, unimaginatively named the XOS, that can help increase the soldier’s effective physical strength have been developed.

There’s obviously still a long way to go before reaching anything close to Heinlein’s vision, but it’s at least a start.

So how did Heinlein come up with such a prediction in the first place? Basically I think he looked at what a foot soldier really needed to aid the soldier in his mission, and designed his suit around those requirements, not paying any attention to the then current state of technology or how it would be possible to physically implement such a gadget, other than some hand-waving about negative feedback systems. He did much the same thing in The Door Into Summer, where he predicted the invention of robots specifically designed to do household chores, which has also become partially real, with the introduction of the Roomba vacuum cleaner.

Which is probably not a bad way to come up with a new gadget in the real world. Figure out what you need, then worry about the implementation details. But it works really well in the world of science fiction, as all those pesky implementation details can be ignored.

Posted in Books, Science & Engineering, science fiction, Science fiction and fantasy, SF | 1 Comment »

Web Site Demise

Posted by hyperpat on April 8, 2008

My web site hosting service has, once again, and one time too many, updated its servers/database, and in the process has made access to my site (HyperPat’s Science Fiction) impossible. Each time this has happened before, it has taken me a week or more to get things fixed, usually involving emails, phone calls, and sometimes re-writing some of the html code, adding up to quite a bit of effort.

This time they apparently can’t even be bothered to answer my emails about the problem. So I’ve decided to call it quits for that site, which I started in 1999, and move some of the better and more useful information from it to here (no dummy I, I always kept backups of everything I had posted there). Over the next few days you will see new PAGES appear in the top line header containing what used to be on that site; I’ve started with my suggested reading list and my essay on why SF is worth reading. Please peruse these new pages if you’ve never visited my site, and comment appropriately!

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