aesmael: (sexy)

Sometimes I worry that I am too critical of things and that I am no longer capable of enjoying any new story I encounter. That seeing flaws in a story prevents me from also enjoying that story. But then I read something like the story I am currently reading and it has all sorts of issues and I feel like Data's tone here nicely conveys how I am enjoying it, even aside from any consideration of its various problems.
aesmael: (haircut)

I know I made a post just recently about my wish that adapting sff genre works from prose to television would become commonplace, but now news is going around about one such adaptation that I'm skeptical about, the Foundation series.

The Foundation stories are so much a bundled set of short stories with cast and time period changing what seems like every few thousand words, I wonder how they're going to manage any sense of continuity. At that rate I'd expect a cast turnover every couple of episodes.

Then again, Asimov's writing was so distant and sparsely characterised for the Foundation stories, maybe it would be a great opportunity for writers to dive in and explore character drama at length. Not as if there is much pre-existing material for them to conflict with here.

aesmael: (tricicat)
Has been a while now since I actually read this book and these stories. Long enough that my memory of them has faded somewhat. I meant to write up an index post with maybe some overall thoughts like this approximately at the time. But I've been busy with school and especially I've been lax in cross-posting these from Tumblr to elsewhere; I wanted to wait until I had locations to actually link to with this one. In retrospect I suppose I could have written this sometime in the past and held onto it, but I wouldn't have spared the time to do so while I was so anxious about doing / not doing my assignments for school.

In retrospect, "R & R" might actually have been the finest story in the collection, or nearly so. Even though it didn't wow me so much, neither did the collection over all impress me as much as the previous year's did. Although The Year's Best Science Fiction: Third Annual Collection was exceptionally good, even compared to the others I've read so far.

Others I especially liked according to a quick glance through my notes:

"Fiddling for Waterbuffaloes" was a refreshing change after a stretch of stories centred in North American and Anglophonic perspectives (in some ways, a very, very long stretch), and probably especially with having reached a saturation point of frustrated alienation in Robert Silverberg's immediately preceding story. It was also a lot of fun in its own right, and this too distinguished it from the other stories.

"Into Gold" had some problems, but I rather liked it as a take on the story of Rumpelstiltskin.

"Surviving". Difficult to say exactly was good about it, except in being intriguingly different and capturing my attention. Perhaps in having a spirited attempt to capture being both human and not-human.

"The Gate of Ghosts". Again I struggle to describe in what way exactly, but thinking back on this collection without checking the contents "The Gate of Ghosts" stood out immediately as one to call among the best of the book.

Other stories that provoked a lot of attention from me without necessarily being my favourites: "Covenant of Souls", "The Pure Product", "Tangents", "The Beautiful and the Sublime", "Night Moves", "Down and Out in the Year 2000". I didn't like all of those exactly, but I didn't hate them either, and they all got some strong enough response from me to still be memorable a few months later.
  1. "R & R" by Lucius Shepard
  2. "Hatrack River" by Orson Scott Card
  3. "Strangers On Paradise" by Damon Knight
  4. "Pretty Boy Crossover" by Pat Cadigan
  5. "Against Babylon" by Robert Silverberg
  6. "Fiddling for Waterbuffaloes" by Somtow Sucharitkul AKA S. P. Somtow
  7. "Into Gold" by Tanith Lee
  8. "Sea Change" by Scott Baker
  9. "Covenant of Souls" by Michael Swanwick
  10. "The Pure Product" by John Kessel
  11. "Grave Angels" by Richard Kearns
  12. "Tangents" by Greg Bear
  13. "The Beautiful and the Sublime" by Bruce Sterling
  14. "Tattoos" by Jack Dann
  15. "Night Moves" by Tim Powers
  16. "The Prisoner of Chillon" by James Patrick Kelly
  17. "Chance" by Connie Willis
  18. "And So To Bed" by Harry Turtledove
  19. "Fair Game" by Howard Waldrop
  20. "Video Star" by Walter Jon Williams
  21. "Sallie C." by Neal Barrett Jr.
  22. "Jeff Beck" by Lewis Shiner
  23. "Surviving" by Judith Moffett [bonus: "Her Furry Face" by Leigh Kennedy in The Year's Best Science Fiction: First Annual Collection]
  24. "Down and Out in the Year 2000" by Kim Stanley Robinson
  25. "Snake Eyes" by Tom Maddox
  26. "The Gate of Ghosts" by Karen Joy Fowler
  27. "The Winter Market" by William Gibson
aesmael: (haircut)

27. “The Winter Market” by William Gibson

So far the only stories of William Gibson’s I’ve read are the two published previously in this anthology series and I’ve yet to like any of them.

This one might suffer from coming at the end of the anthology when I am especially weary of the battered, wired, struggling cyber-future of the US of A.

Here we have a disabled, dying woman, her mental landscape of drive and suffering and determination, her hate for pity and charity, some of that bafflingly popular dream-weaving trope, and a protagonist who’s a bit at sea wondering if her uploaded self will be really her. Okay, he’s pretty sure it won’t be, but this woman who passed through his life like a corrosive fluid boring through his heart, ah!

But there were some flashes of phrasing I quite liked.

(with an author like William Gibson I wonder about my reactions. is it a case of “you had to be there”? like how Pat Cadigan’s story bounced off me only subtler so I don’t recognise? and how much is built upon the huge influence he had on the genre before I got there, so that perhaps his reflection is all over and when I see the thing itself I mistake it for just another image? and yet, better than meh.)

aesmael: (it would have been a scale model)

26. “The Gate of Ghosts” by Karen Joy Fowler

I approached this story warily. On the one hand, Karen Joy Fowler has a strong reputation among people whose opinions on sf I respect. On the other, the only story of hers I’d read previously, “The Lake Was Full Of Artificial Things” in the third of these anthologies, did nothing for me. And on a third hand - if I may be so bold - the nature of her reputation suggests “The Lake Was Full Of Artificial Things” could be representative of her work, so while she might be an excellent writer, she might also be one who doesn’t suit my taste.

So, reading this was a bit of mental tug-of-war between yes and no as I was a bit distracted by trying to form an opinion of the writer at the same time as the story.

What we have is a young family, white American woman, Chinese American man, and their toddler daughter. It seems like the mother is overprotective, but the daughter says there’s a special place she goes to, which no one else perceives or believes…

You know, I forgot to say this isn’t science fiction. Not something that bothers me, but I like to mention it because the title of the book says these are science fiction stories.

I had to take some time after reading to appreciate what went on here. Possibly it helped having people on IM to whom I could dump my thoughts immediately; the act of doing so prompted re-evaluation.

My immediate reaction was that this story is ambiguous in just the way I don’t like, when not only interpretation of events but even events themselves are unclear. Like with “Chance” earlier in this collection, I tend to feel that if something as basic as ‘what happened’ is indeterminate, the story may as well not be there (I tend to react similarly against stories which end in memory wiping such that for the characters effectively nothing happened).

Thinking about it a bit more I realised there is quite enough here for me to decide what this story is, to decipher it from within itself. Something I still don’t find to be true of “Chance”. “The Gate of Ghosts” as I see it is divided into three parts, three different characters telling their stories of what it is to go to ‘another place’. First Margaret, seeing her life, her relationship with her daughter Jessica, and what it is in her past that brings her to fear and why she sees death. Second Mei, Jessica’s paternal grandmother, telling a story of China that serves as oblique warning to Jessica. Finally, Jessica herself and what happens to her.

I still don’t know if I like this story but I am surely impressed by it.

aesmael: (writing things down)

25. “Snake Eyes” by Tom Maddox

When you let the US military mess with your mind, you don’t get it back so easily.

At the beginning of the story I felt like this was a Vietnam War metaphor. At the end I felt like it was the uncompleted opening to a novel. Although, I’ve trouble imagining where that could go without twisting away from the focus of the story so far.

Thinking about it, perhaps the reason this feels unsatisfactorily incomplete is the AI and minions promising our test protagonist subject great agonies, a need to endure some sort of baptism of fire before he can become fit for their purpose. And while he does try to kill himself, and fails, and thereby to have become what they wished to mould him into, and while we do mostly follow his perspective for this… I feel what we get is insufficiently internal. There is not enough sense of what he is going through to get closure on this arc. So I suppose in that sense I should regard this story as failed, or my reading of it was off.

aesmael: (just people)

24. “Down and Out in the Year 2000” by Kim Stanley Robinson

The backdrop makes this science fiction, but I don’t think it needed to be. This is a story of poverty in America as the world falls apart in war, which it feels like I’ve read five times already in this book alone. It could have been a shared world piece with Swanwick’s “Covenant of Souls”, frex.

Normally when I say something like that I mean it as some sort of savage criticism, but I liked this story. And I liked it despite its science fiction elements, not because of them. It could easily have been a work of contemporary non-genre fiction, although maybe I say that because I assume the 1980s were more similar to the 2010s in joblessness, urban decay and unrest than is justified. But I do think it’s so.

The only characters whose ethnicity is marked in this story are white. Something I see too rarely which says to me the great majority of characters in this piece are people of colour (if I had to put money on it, I’d say black, because various contextual clues).

I liked that a lot for selfish reasons - it’s a technique I’ve intended to use myself, so it’s gratifying to see it work for communicating character ethnicity while centring on their own perspective. But of course KSR is himself a white guy so it’s possible this is badly messed up [1] and I’m just failing to see it.

——————————

[1] Such as the one story in this collection centred on black Americans being also the one story that is about falling on hard times and being poor in America. Particularly in that by being so as a science fiction story it immediately stands out and captures interest, whereas as a work of ‘non-genre’ or crime(!!!)[2] fiction it might get lost in the shuffle.

[2] In this context I would count slotting in well amongst crime stories against “Down and Out in the Year 2000”[3], whereas normally I would be all over a good crime / sf hybrid. The problem is that this isn’t one of those, and reading it as crime fiction is clearly the wrong approach. But, that genre is one where it is much more normal to encounter the pattern “black guy hits hard times, takes to selling pot to get cash together for the sake of the sick woman in his life”. The only thing that’s missing is the crisis-crash-object lesson pattern that’s put me off non-detective crime fiction, and is the reason it doesn’t quite fit.

[3] Just realised that as I write this I am equidistant from the year of story setting as the story was in its year of publication.

——————————

What I’m saying, I suppose, is that in isolation I find this a pretty excellent story. Engaging, well-written, well-characterised in ways most I’ve read fall short on. But in broader context the association of blackness-poverty-failed-by-system, while reflecting the reality of the world as it is, stands out among a lack of science fiction positing alternative possibilities.

aesmael: (writing things down)

Reading and writing about “Survival” in the fourth volume of this series naturally brought to mind the other story featuring human-ape relations.

I liked “Her Furry Face” by Leigh Kennedy in the first volume a whole lot less than “Survival”, but not for being badly written. Rather it is an unsettling portrait of the misogyny and victim-blaming logic with which the male protagonist resents the women in his life.

He manages to rape an orang utan student in his care, convince himself it ‘just happened’, and build up a fantasy of childlike innocence and love which he projects onto her as an alternative to dealing with the complications of human women. When he is ultimately reported and fired, he shifts to blaming her for ruining his life, as if rejection or not existing as his idealised fantasy were some sort of betrayal.

This was not a fun story to read or remember. But I do have to admit it is an effective portrayal of sexism in action.

aesmael: (haircut)
Lately I have been noticing people arguing over what science fiction actually is. That is hardly unusual; such arguments are a major preoccupation of just about any interest-community of people.

It does seem however that a lot of people are talking about two different things when they say science fiction. Science fiction as setting, where the story takes place in a 'recognisably science fictional' setting (presumably space, something otherwise future, or alternate history in most cases [contemporary invention or oddity as term for others?]), versus stories which include a not-impossible, not-part-of-present-social-reality idea as a fundamental component.

I've seen a few people over the years frame it as "Can you reskin the story for a different setting or genre?" and if the story can be so reframed, it is not science fiction.

I was going to suggest a couple of things. 1) That by analogy with other genres this could be made to look absurd (frex, that a historical drama could be given a contemporary setting with an analogous set of conflicts, relationships and resolutions this would not mean the original piece never was a historical drama to begin with). 2) That there are likely very few, if any stories which absolutely cannot be made to work in an analogous story that is not science fiction.

After some thought about how to make those arguments I became less sure. What about mystery stories? If there is not a mystery to be solved, then we do not have a mystery story, even if the plot centres on, say, a crime and the people investigating it (although there are certainly mysteries which play with structure by making whodunnit not the central puzzle or sometimes not a puzzle at all - the mystery is elsewhere in those, yes?). And mysteries are very versatile in setting, can be combined with just about any genre and still work, so long as they still have that mystery, that puzzle to be solved. That's precedent. Maybe idea science fiction can work in that sense, requiring a core of genre that is largely untranslatable (with exception perhaps made for the sibling genre fantasy). As for point two, well, I just don't know if it is true or not, and don't care to try and establish either way definitively, although I suspect it is untrue depending how 'very few' is defined.

Now I am wondering if this might be the case for other genres too, that there are stories which are incidentally of that genre and stories which are necessarily of that genre, depending whether it can be successfully translated to other genres or not. I suspect we'd mostly end up with multi-genre blends if we tried that.

Mm. What obvious thing is next for rambling about?
Having brought honour to the Klingons, logic to the Vulcans and somehow all-round brought Star Trek back to previously established conceptions from which it somehow deviated...

They should have ditched the final episode. We should have had this:

Archer collapses against bulkhead, weary.
Archer: Alright Al, I fixed it. Can I go home now?
aesmael: (tricicat)
Been seeing ads for Star Trek recently. Usually I perk up and think it looks like a fun actiony science fiction movie. Then I see which movie it is and get disappointed. Presumably the trailer is misleading to some extent but... the Enterprise crew should not be putting me in mind of space marines from Quake. It does not look or feel like Star Trek to me. It looks and feels like a potentially fun action adventure movie in space, one that happens to have familiar franchise and character names.

So, unless this film has some really magical quality that makes me revise my opinion when I see it... as far as I am concerned they have failed at making a Star Trek film. Which does not mean I think it is necessarily a bad film (though it might be), or that I am opposed to a franchise reboot (actually would have favoured an outright reboot rather than one which, according to what I have read of it, seeks an internal explanation for suddenly altered history).

What it does make me think is maybe we should have a franchise which fills the cultural role this film looks to be aiming for, so we can have that and the Star Trek role both filled. Although there's often been action in Star Trek, and I rather like seeing it there, I think the franchise is let down when it becomes the main focus (cf. Nemesis). Balance of Terror was a great episode not specifically for including combat but for what it used the battle to show about the characters and politics involved. It also happened to, I think, establish starship combat as more akin to submarine combat than dogfights, something which seems to have been forgotten since Generations. Then again, a lot of what has been going on since seems to have been attempts to replicate past successes.

But that's a digression. What I mean is, seeing these ads has had me thinking I would really like to see a science fiction franchise for which they would be accurately capturing the spirit. I want a science fiction series, television and film, in which the standard thing is big explosions and fights and heroic battles against evil with spaceships and all that jazz. I've never actually, really, seen something like that even though it has enough cultural presence already to suggest it would be very welcome. I want to have that show, that series, and I would really like to see it coexist with Star Trek.

As for Star Trek itself, my pre-film thoughts are that I want the franchise to be rebooted, because the existing continuity is worn out. However, I'd rather an outright reboot than the time travel messing about my reading suggests is happening. And it looks like this version might be more action-adventure than I'd prefer, where my ideal Star Trek is offering of utopian future and meditative on human nature (and not infrequently informed by violent conflict, yes).

So that's how it looks to me currently, and what I'd like to happen.
aesmael: (probably quantum)
Was watching Serenity a couple of nights ago. Toward the end I saw what at first appeared to be the Decepticon symbol displayed near the bow of an Alliance ship.

It occurred to me that might make a pretty good basis for a live action Transformers program in which I would not cringe to see the humans take centre stage. Can easily see some Alliance officials reporting to Soundwave about their latest failure to recapture River, or the Decepticons being responsible for the destruction of Earth-that-was as part of a plot to infiltrate and corrupt human society among the stars, leaving the Autobots stranded at first on the wreckage of the old world.

Of course, then it is no longer Firefly, but there are times I'm not averse to parallel canons or interpretations.
aesmael: (tricicat)
As ever, I am reminded how much I wish The Hedge Knight had been made instead.
aesmael: (friendly)
I had heard about Doctor Horrible's Sing-Along Blog a couple of days ago but only took a look at it this afternoon at [livejournal.com profile] mantic_angel's suggestion.

It is pretty neat, and I am calling this to people's attention because if I had not watched it today I would have missed out. It goes offline at midnight, July 20th. Presumably US midnight although which one I do not know.

Anyway, there are less than 24 hours available for people to watch this unless they want to wait for a DVD or other means.

Factors which might influence people: it is a musical, it is done by Joss Whedon, it is rather quite well written.
aesmael: (tricicat)
Although the galaxies depicted in Stargate: SG1 and Stargate: Atlantis exhibit a remarkable frequency of terrestrial, habitable planets, it is also notable that such worlds in each galaxy exhibit generally a distinct, consistent terrain.

Specifically, nearly every world on each show is a forest, and the same forest within the show, but a different one between shows. Clearly significant - this researcher thinks the Atlantis forest looks greener and has higher resolution leaves than the SG1 forest, and possibly indicative of seeding by a hitherto unknown precursor species separate to the Ancients, or possibly merely a shift in Ancient aesthetic.
aesmael: (friendly)
aesmael: (friendly)
[05:35] Jayde: At least Lucas did not have the Death Star turn out to be Unicron.
[05:35] Jayde: Although that may have been awesome.
[05:36] ami_angelwings: that WOULD be awesome
[05:36] ami_angelwings: XD
[05:36] ami_angelwings: unicron is basically vader mixed with the death star tho
[05:37] Jayde: So what you are saying is we should have Vader fuse with the Death Star and transform into a giant sith robot?
[05:37] ami_angelwings: yus
[05:37] ami_angelwings: :D
aesmael: (transformation)
(10:37:16 PM) flynnacatri: http://www.sluggy.com/daily.php?date=980814
(10:38:06 PM) aesmael: Medic flowers are very rare, but have tremendously fantastic properties.
(10:38:20 PM) flynnacatri: Zigactement!
(10:38:24 PM) flynnacatri: Like bezoars
(10:38:31 PM) flynnacatri: ...and sleep...
(10:38:36 PM) flynnacatri: and anithistamines. Dammitr
(10:38:47 PM) aesmael: Sleepistimines.
(10:39:14 PM) flynnacatri: yesssss....
(10:39:20 PM) flynnacatri: frog pils
(10:39:22 PM) aesmael: Bezoars live deep in the forest. Their quills make extracting the healing juice a risky prospect.
(10:39:27 PM) aesmael: Dessicated.
(10:40:06 PM) flynnacatri: Requires gloves of the northern silver thistle leaf and tongs from sapient pearwood to fend off the individually attacking bristles
(10:40:07 PM) aesmael: http://www.gocomics.com/calvinandhobbes/2008/04/01/
See? You are real!
(10:40:23 PM) flynnacatri: No. I am a typing autobot.
(10:40:57 PM) aesmael: Alt-form?
(10:41:06 PM) flynnacatri: Invisible
(10:41:38 PM) aesmael: Translucent.
(10:41:46 PM) flynnacatri: Dryers are evil consumerism
(10:41:46 PM) aesmael: Transparent aluminum.
(10:43:12 PM) flynnacatri: Yes! IT CALLS ME! A great disturbance in the ocean mesopelagic zone! As if many phytoplankton CRIED OUT in sudden terror
(10:43:33 PM) aesmael: =^____^=
aesmael: (sudden sailor)
I never read Childhood's End. I just thought I had because I have read the short story it is based on a couple of times.

Must fix that.

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