Tag Archives: science fiction

These Are Good Books — Read Them.

I had a goal to read one-hundred books in 2012. I failed. Although I only made it through about eighty-five books, I still feel accomplished to have added new entries into my library. What follows is a list of books that I read over the past year that I feel everybody should check out (click on the book covers for Amazon linkage).

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  • Wool Omnibus by Hugh Howey: While there is a large crowd of people who still shun e-readers as the inception of the book-pocalypse, e-readers have been nothing but positive for struggling, independent authors. Howey is an excellent example of this. While it is difficult to discuss anything about Wool without spoiling everything about the plot, suffice it to say that it is a post-apocalyptic drama focused around an isolated group of individuals trying to survive in a harsh environment.

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  • The Dresden Files by Jim Butcher: I don’t  usually go in for very long book series. This particular series about a wise-cracking wizard who resides in Chicago has over ten entries in it now, but the quality of the writing and the story only increases with each iteration. There is a valid comparison to be made to the X-Files in that some of the books are very much monster-of-the-week episodes, while others are focused more on the over-arching mythology that ties all of the novels together. Butcher finds a success through his flawless portrayal of humanity in a character (Dresden) while managing to truly bring the “urban” setting into life for the fledgling urban fantasy genre.

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  • Solar Clipper Trader Tales by Nathan Lowell: Science fiction has always been
    a favorite or mine, but it typically tends to favor either a lot of science or a lot of fiction. (Sometimes fiction that, even for Sci-Fi, can stretch the imagination). The books from this series by Lowell feature plot-lines are refreshingly simple. There is no grand enemy. There is no hero’s journey — mono-myth be damned! The science fiction is all in the setting while the story is driven by a young protagonist trying to make his way through a new life aboard a trading vessel. 

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  • Warbreaker by Brandon Sanderson: Sanderson is one of my favorite authors. While fantasy novels are popular right now because of popular media exposure (some still ride the Harry Potter train while others leech from Game of Thrones), Sanderson remains uniquely imaginative. While all of his novels feature inventive uses of magic, Warbreaker features the best combination of a unique magic system coupled with accessibility. Well-written characters? Sure. Humor? Definitely. Magic system based entirely around color? Definitely. 

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  • Airborn by Kenneth Oppel: Steampunk airships. Lost worlds. Alternate Earth biosphere. Classic adventure. This novel feels very much like a throwback to older tales such as Tin-Tin — there is an immediate sense of innocent adventure. The worst enemies are sky pirates and the greatest threats are those created by the environment. Enjoyable reading.

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Of course, my recommendations are fraught with biases toward fantasy and science. I admit that. I will assert, however, that good books are good books, regardless of genre. Even if you have not read or have not enjoyed science fiction or fantasy before, give one of the aforementioned books a shot — in the worst case, you’ll simply be supporting an author. Best case? Good book.

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Promethean Ideology

WARNING: Spoilers ahoy!

Prometheus gave fire (life) to humanity, instilling humankind with the means of its own self-production and longevity. Does that make the Greek hero the ultimate God of the human race, or just another link in the chain of creation?

The eponymous movie, Ridley Scott’s Prometheus, raises much the same question in the course of its own creation myth. As Prometheus is the newest release in the ever-loved Alien franchise, it is natural (and expected) that the release of Prometheus was met with both love and derision.

As I am writing a heavy-worded blog post about Prometheus, it should be fairly clear that I am one of the crowd who genuinely enjoyed the film. While it should be noted that I am a voracious fan of science fiction in general, it should also be noted that I am not a fan (in any way) of bad science fiction.

Bad science fiction includes works like Armageddon, Deep Impact, Star Wars (though I know those films aren’t technically science fiction), and Red Mars. This list could really continue on, ad infinitum, but that list would make up the remainder of this blog post.

The notion of “good” science fiction, on the other hand, is a slippery one. Sci-Fi is a very difficult genre to nail down into one good definition, and it is this self-imposed ambiguity of science fiction that allows it to express the big ideas without taking a pause. When genres become strictly defined by what they can and cannot be, they lose their ability to create new art with new ideas.

Science fiction avoids this pitball by ensuring that it maintains a proper sense of perspective through all of its grand works. When there is an outsider watching and commenting upon an aspect of humanity, good science fiction is made. The presence of an “other” forces a shift in perspective that assures the inclusion of important questions inside the narrative.

What is humanity? Why are we here? Where do we come from? What is our future? All of these questions have been asked, through the means of an “other,” by the great minds of science fiction, including Asimov, Clarke, Herbert, Simmons, Sagan, Card, and (yes), Ridley Scott. (Of course, there are many others who should be in that list. Forgive me.)

Scott’s latest venture into modern science fiction through Prometheus upholds the true standard of what a science fiction work should be through its incessant questioning nature. While some movie-goers may be frustrated by the lack of answers provided in Prometheus, I assert that any movie which leaves the viewer with more questions than answers is a movie well worth watching.

This idea is clearly identified in the character of David, who is masterfully portrayed by Michael Fassbender. The viewer never knows where exactly the allegiances of David lie, and it is the uncertainty of David’s set of motivations that confuse and confound the audience (purposefully). How can we expect to possibly understand the thoughts and actions of a mechanical mind? We cannot. We are not meant to.

David is an enigma within the story of Prometheus who is meant to throw a literal wrench (or poison) into the gumworks. His questions of creation and parentage are absolutely central to the overall theme of Prometheus, which is a theme of choice and consequence. Does David choose to poison his crewmate, or is he ordered to? The answer doesn’t matter — only the question does. This insertion of doubt into the story further propels a tense narrative into arm-wrenching drama.

The drama in the film is well done, though there are some points where the characters fall into classic horror movie plot traps. There is some questionable logic apparent. Did the biologist really need to touch the monster worm snake thing? Was that good scientific practice? Clearly, it wasn’t.

That aside, though, the story of the film holds up very well through the course of the film. We want to know “Who, What, When, Where, and Why,” with the ever-popular “How” left by the wayside. Fortunately, the how does not matter as much as the act of questioning in and of itself.

Prometheus brilliantly illustrates humanity’s search for meaning and life in a dark and empty universe, devoid of apparent meaning. Would you have been satisfied for the true answer to a meaning for life found within a two hour movie? I doubt it.

If you have seen Prometheus, I would strongly encourage you to reflect on the questions that the movie raised in order to appreciate the incredible story-telling that took place within. If you haven’t seen it — go to!

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A Clash of Sci-Tans

Let me break it down for you.

This is the Weyland Corporation logo. The Weyland Corporation is the corporation that finances the exploration of the universe in the Alien and Prometheus movies. Because of Weyland, we have experienced chest-busting xenomorphs, face-hugging monsters, and Bilbo Baggins as a robot.

These are all good and valid contributions to the science fiction canon. What if I told you, however, that your favorite sci-fi universes were actually one in the same?

There is no difference between the universe of Alien, Firefly, and Battlestar Galactica. That’s right. Here’s how it happened.

There was once a rich man known as Weyland. He liked spaceships and meta-narratives. Weyland began siphoning money into various space-related enterprises and eventually financed the exploration ship named Prometheus in order to explore the far reaches of the universe. The ship glided through space and several somethings happened. As I am no grand storyteller, allow the feature film similarly titled Prometheus to tell you the story of its life and times (on June 8th, 2012).

Centuries passed. Technology changed. The universe became smaller as humanity found that it could not spread too thinly into the darkness of space. There were technological reasons for this, but they do not matter. Irrelevant. As it stood, the great mass of humanity consolidated onto a planet known as Kobol. As humanity is wont to do as it gathers into one place, it eventually schism-ed into thirteen disparate colonies of homo-sapien.

Twelve of those colonies were situated in a large solar system while the thirteenth flew into the far reaches of space to found a planet called Earth. We know all about this one. It was blue and green with splotches of brown and white. People lived there. Stuff happened. The humanoids of Earth eventually drained the the planet of all of its natural resources and left the Sol system in order to find greener pastures.

A nearby solar system was chosen as the destination of the Earthly refugees, and civilization started anew. Between the efforts of the Central powers and impressive terraforming technologies, the chosen solar system became a refuge for humanity. Unfortunately, we brought most of our existential angst with us to this new system, and wars were the result. The fringe colonies and the central planets fought a war for independence, and this war became the inception of the conflict for the Firefly series.

The Browncoats fighting for independence did not have the same amount of resources that the central, money-grabbing government structure did. As a result, the Browncoats had to requisition weaponry and equipment that was considerably outdated as per their limited budget. The proof can be seen from this image below:

If you look closely, you can see the Weyland logo present in the top-middle portion of the image to the left. This image is part of the user-interface of an anti-aircraft gunnery emplacement that the courageous Malcolm Reynolds used during the tragic Battle for Serenity Valley.

The anti-air gun was a cast-off of the ancient Weyland Corporation from its days of aliens and exploration. Although the individuals who used this technology eventually lost the war, the ancient legacy of Weyland remained.
As any intrepid watcher of Firefly would know, the Firefly-class spaceship that the show was named after was an older cast-off model that was not designed for looks or particular comfort. It stands to reason, then, that Firefly-class spaceships would not be uncommon in the area of space from which they originated (Kobol).

The other twelve colonies formed a galactic government of their own, far removed from the solar system of Firefly. Remnants of technology, however, could still be shared between the two as is seen from the following image:

The spaceship shown in the adjacent image is, in fact, a Firefly-class vessel. This image was taken on the colony planet known as Caprica in the Battlestar Galactica series.

The prevalence of this classification of spaceship in the universe is further support for the success of Serenity and its exploits. While the Weyland castoffs did not make grand appearances into the BSG universe in general (there were mitigating factors like a robot revolution), the fact that they appear at all within the same universe shows a cohesion between what were previously thought to be entirely separate science fiction entities.

Thus ends the great tale of The Clash of the Sci-Tans.

Obviously, this is a severe stretching of established canon for all of the series involved. I’m having fun. 🙂

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