Speculative Fiction

Transgender and Androgyny in Speculative Fiction

Drag queen
Image by VOLPE1981 via Flickr

My new story is in trouble.  A lot of trouble.  I can not figure out what I want it to be about.  I really want to do something different, something I want to read, something I want to see, and I've learned that I am a hard target audience.

I only know one thing about the story, I want it to have a drag cabaret in it and I want to play around with gender in a way I've never done before.  I want the character list to include at least 1 drag queen, 1 transgender, and 1 androgyn.  It is hard to deal with this in a way the average reader will be able to cope.

Pronouns and gender words are posing a problem for me.  Also introducing the characters in a way that tells the readers who these characters are without a "coming out" scene or using unflattering language.

When I read iambic kilometer's META: Five+ Ways Being Transgender in Fandom Really Sucks, and Why I Stick With It Anyway, I felt an ache within me to work even harder to get this right.

The trans character is to one I am having the more trouble developing, so I might drop her from the roster.  Is it better to do a questionable job with a character or to leave them out?  I'm not really sure, but I need to figure that out.

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A Rose by any other name

A new story is boiling in my mind.  It scrapes at the inside of my skull like Athena trying desperately to get out.  The cast of characters came to me quickly, but they needed names.

...names...

Sometimes, I feel like names are the bane of all authors.  They have to fit the character and the setting, and work well with each other.  That might sound simple, but for me it spirals into a series of questions just short of the Spanish Inquisition.

Eric's First Rule of Naming

No character in the story can have the same name as a member of my immediate family.

That is hard.  In this particular story, there is a character that feels like a Christopher and another who feels like a Donna, but my sister's name is Chris and my mother-in-law's name is Donna, so both of those names are out.

I made this rule when I was really young, when family thought characters with the same name were really ways to talk about them.  (sigh)

There is a practical reason for this too.  Writers can be sued if people think characters in their stories are based on them.  It makes naming a bit challenging for me, but it is a wise thing to do.

Eric's Second Rule of Naming

Names must flow together well.

Flow is a hard thing to talk about.  The easiest way to think of name flow is that the names need to sound like they belong together.  Families and regions have certain naming conventions, and as a Speculative Fiction writer, determining those conventions are important.

Older fiction didn't bother with this, so we ended up with names like Blork, Gort, and Xanthon.  Names that sounded outlandish, but were just weird.

H. P. Lovecraft thought a lot about the names of the creatures in his fiction.  Cthulhu for example is based on the greek work Cthon which means underground, and he intentionally wanted something that was hard to pronounce and that would be pronounced differently by everyone.  He thought it helped to lend the character an unknowable and alien quality.

Eric's Third Rule of Naming

Love the names you choose.

Writing a novel or series is akin to marriage.  You are going to spend every moment of every day with these characters rummaging around in your head.  It can take months or even years to write and edit a story.  It is a commitment.  Make sure you are committed to the names you choose so you don't end up with a Dwigt in your manuscript.

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A Rose by any other name

A new story is boiling in my mind.  It scrapes at the inside of my skull like Athena trying desperately to get out.  The cast of characters came to me quickly, but they needed names.

...names...

Sometimes, I feel like names are the bane of all authors.  They have to fit the character and the setting, and work well with each other.  That might sound simple, but for me it spirals into a series of questions just short of the Spanish Inquisition.

Eric's First Rule of Naming

No character in the story can have the same name as a member of my immediate family.

That is hard.  In this particular story, there is a character that feels like a Christopher and another who feels like a Donna, but my sister's name is Chris and my mother-in-law's name is Donna, so both of those names are out.

I made this rule when I was really young, when family thought characters with the same name were really ways to talk about them.  (sigh)

There is a practical reason for this too.  Writers can be sued if people think characters in their stories are based on them.  It makes naming a bit challenging for me, but it is a wise thing to do.

Eric's Second Rule of Naming

Names must flow together well.

Flow is a hard thing to talk about.  The easiest way to think of name flow is that the names need to sound like they belong together.  Families and regions have certain naming conventions, and as a Speculative Fiction writer, determining those conventions are important.

Older fiction didn't bother with this, so we ended up with names like Blork, Gort, and Xanthon.  Names that sounded outlandish, but were just weird.

H. P. Lovecraft thought a lot about the names of the creatures in his fiction.  Cthulhu for example is based on the greek work Cthon which means underground, and he intentionally wanted something that was hard to pronounce and that would be pronounced differently by everyone.  He thought it helped to lend the character an unknowable and alien quality.

Eric's Third Rule of Naming

Love the names you choose.

Writing a novel or series is akin to marriage.  You are going to spend every moment of every day with these characters rummaging around in your head.  It can take months or even years to write and edit a story.  It is a commitment.  Make sure you are committed to the names you choose so you don't end up with a Dwigt in your manuscript.

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Gunslinger Girl by Yu Aida

Gunslinger_Girl_Volume_OneIf Jack from 24 had a cyborg decoy assistant, Gunslinger Girl would be it. Looking for some high-action fun? You will love this manga. Although there is no horror or fantasy in this book, it is enjoyable. What’s cuter than a little girl in a school uniform sporting an uzi and shooting up terrorists? Maybe that same little girl collecting teddy bears and attempting to play the violin.

This manga raises an ethical question. The premise is that the social welfare agency has rounded up all the physically challenged girls and modified them into cyborg assassins. On the one side, these once disabled kids now have full happy lives where they can walk, go to school, and play with teddy bears. However, the government sees them as cybernetic toys -mechanical- and completely disposable. The kicker is that they also use some sort of drug to “condition” the girls to obey their handlers and risk their lives for them.

What would you do? If you could make a disabled girl walk again, but the trade up was to have them lose part of themselves mentally, would you do it? What if that girl could help track down terrorists and aid homeland security? How high of a price are you willing to put on our safety? If the quality of life is increased, must the life-expectancy be decreased?

All these questions and more will go through your head as you read this. You will also find out what happens when one of the girls starts falling for her handler.

The art in this manga is well done and has a sort of police show feel. There is one glossy color page in the front and no extras in the back.

Get your copy here from amazon:  Gunslinger Girl

The John Hodgman SF Fan Test

I really enjoyed John Hodgman’s speech at the Radio & TV Correspondent’s dinner for the jokes but mostly for the use of Speculative Fiction to communicate complex and emotionally charged political ideas.  Before we get into that let us take The John Hodgman are you a SF fan test, are you more of an SF fan then the President?  Watch the Video below.

  1. What are the name of all 3 types of hobbits?
  2. Who is the Father of Superman?
  3. Do you have a particular technology addiction?
  4. Do you have a picture of yourself in Cosplay or on a pilgrimage to a SF place?
  5. Can you flash the Vulcan solute?
  6. What was the name of the God that Conan the Barbarian worshiped?
  7. Do you know what the Kwisatz Haderach is?
    1. Bonus points if you know which version of dune the picture is from?
  8. What is the name of the giant sandworm?
  9. What is the name of the machine to summon such a sandworm?
  10. What is the name of the fluid that they expunge from the sandworm?

I love his comment on the Constitution as a big faq for the U.S. and the founding fathers perspective of God as a distant Dungeon Master.

The beauty of John Hodgman’s speech is the use of SF to communicate complex and emotionally charged political ideas in an approachable manner.  He was able to reach out to both sides of the political spectrum and get them to think about ideals like

  • Consensus
  • Eagerly looking forward to the future
  • Appreciating our diversity, EDIC

(via Huffington Post)

How Do You Know If You Love SF

batman-blue-grey When asked "Do I love Speculative Fiction?"  The answer is yes I know in my heart that I love Speculative Fiction and would consider myself a fan.  If that question is followed up with "How do you know?"  Then the answer is more difficult and involves a man in a batman suit playing guitar at a street light but more on that latter. One could just claim "I know because that is how I feel."  It is my first answer to this question but people feel many different things throughout the day and even have feelings that contradict previous feelings or their own believed position.  This does not belittle the gut check but it does reduce it's value to one method of discerning one which should be tempered with something else.

Actions speak louder than words.  A phrase that has so much truth to it and is very applicable to this process of discovery.  Our actions toward Speculative Fiction gives us evidence of our true feelings toward it.  Take this real life experience as an example.

Friday, traveling in my car through town I noticed a man standing in the grass near a three way intersection.  This was not ordinary man for he was wearing a Batman costume and jamming away on a guitar with a smile of joy on his face.  I realized by my own thoughts that this is the moment of truth, what are your thoughts about this man?

My thoughts first went toward protection of Speculative Fiction by discerning if the man was doing this out of mockery.  Satisfied that he was not, my mind turned toward fraternal thoughts.  I celebrated in his expression, became excited, thought about which Batman suit he chose and found myself wishing he could have a catwoman singer and a robin playing drums.  If your thoughts turned destructive, toward mocking this man tearing him down and robbing him of his joyous moment then your feelings are in question because your actions say your  not a fan.

How Do You Know If You Love SF?  You know that you love Speculative Fiction if you celebrate it, cherish it and express those feelings in fraternal /constructive actions.  If your actions are hateful, mocking and destructive than you do not love SF.  You are not a fan.

By the way his Batman costume was blue and grey 1960’s style Batman costume.

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Hugo Nominations: The Picks Are Difficult

Get your copy of Doctor Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog here and help support the project The Hugo Awards nominations are out!  I was so thrilled when I saw that Doctor Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog was nominated for Best Dramatic Presentation, Short Form.  This is great because they are recognizing web series along with television series. Now comes the hard part… picking only one winner.  Doctor Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog and two other top picks from the category is “Silence in the Library/Forest of the Dead” (Doctor Who) and “Turn Left” (Doctor Who).  This is a very hard pick because I really want Doctor Horrible to win as recognition and validation of web series yet “Turn Left” deserves to win since it is the best dramatic presentation out of the three.

Some other categories with difficult picks.

Which one will you vote for?

See the full list of nominations here.

The Hero's Cycle: How to approach a story

Last time, we talked about Myth Makers, and I have say, this is a hard post for me to write.  I have talked about the hero's cycle before, most notably when I defended it from the cretins at io9 in my Why the Hero's Cycle Simply is.  The main reason I am having a hard time with this post is time.  There are books about it, and not one come close to describing it in the depth it deserves.  I will try my best to keep this short and to the point.

Monomyth

Joseph Campbell (circa 1984)
Image via Wikipedia

Joseph Campbell had an insight about the architectural underpining of every great story ever written.  He called this story the Monomyth or Hero's Cycle.  Any time you have a story about good verses evil ,or struggle, or the search to get or destroy something, the monomyth is there.  I have yet to find a story that doesn't follow the monomyth.

He presented it in his wonderful book Hero with a Thousand Faces.  While many writers have used it to inspire their fiction, Campbell's purpose was to teach people how to read a story and discover its meaning.

The Lens of Mythology

Stories look very different when you read them through the monomyth.

Hero's Cycle

Most stories start at the Call to Adventure, but that is always the case.  Any part of the cycle may contain an entire cycle within it, or they may be skipped in their entirety.

How to see the Monomyth

The cycle helps you isolate where you are in the story and dig into it a little deeper.

The call to adventure is the event that leads the hero to embark on the adventure.  The hero is ignorant about the true nature of the world and something causes them to seek a remedy for this ignorance.

Along the way they encounter a helper who is a part of the world they do not understand.  This helper could be good or evil.  Their motives are not important.  Their function is to give the hero the courage they need to cross the threshold of adventure.

A crisis befalls the hero and they find themselves somehow lost in unfamiliar ground.  They have no idea where they are or how they can ever get back.  It is too late.  They are committed to the adventure now.

The hero is tested to their limits, and constantly tempted to give up.  Along the way, the encounter more helpers.  Some may be the same as before, but his real challenge to is realize that there is something about them he has to incorporate into himself.  Unless he grows, taking on their positive characteristics and rejecting their negative ones, he will not be able to complete his task.

Next, he is face to face with the solution to the problem.  He has this last chance to decide if he really wants it or not, and how he is going to acquire it.

After he has gained the solution, he has to go back or get out.  If he was meant to have the solution, he will be aided in his flight.  If not, he will be pursued in his flight, the negative forces trying to destroy him.

The final challenge is to cross the return threshold and survive.  All of the negative powers are allied against him to make their last stand.

On the other side of the threshold, the hero must get the elixer to those who need it, completing his quest.

Every story follows this basic pattern.

How to use the Monomyth

Once you have isolated the individual parts, you can see the underlying core of the story.  The trick is to understand that this entire adventure has been a journey to mature and develop the mind of the hero.  Every element presented a psychological or archetypal piece of the puzzle that would make the hero into a hero.

After a while, it becomes second nature to see a story in this way, and to glean from it meaning that the writer might not have even realized was there.  It is a valuable tool to both the writer and the reader/viewer.

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Myth Makers

All well written Speculative Fiction tales are a part of the fabric of the new mythology.  This is true whether the author meant it or not.  Every story we see/hear/watch is unconsciously compared to the stories we live by.  If the new story aligns with, adds to, alters, or changes that story, it has become a part of an individual's personal mythology.  Simply calling something myth or mythos does not make it so.  Only when that alchemy occurs and the story is adopted by others does the story become myth.

Pure Mythology

While that may sound pretentious or mystifying, it is, in fact, a plain statement of fact:  Pure mythology...

  • is fiction that gives the reader/viewer a true experience of being alive.
  • is drawn from the archetypal well of dream that invests meaning into the text.
  • is written in such a way that it connects with the reader to impart clues to understanding profound mysteries.

Any writer who truly engages their imagination in the creation of their work does all three of these things, often without conscious thought or action to do so.

When a writer or artist is set free of commercial and popular demands, and allowed to penetrate and explore their own creative vision, the result can be pure unencumbered art.  The more corporate the art of writing becomes, the less interesting, and true the result.

Many fans are tired of the homogenized work that is becoming more and more common in the industry.  We do not need another company driven by profit margins, or another author whose self-important propaganda obscures the art.  We need writers and artists that love what they are doing.  That is why we are here.  We are looking for something better.

Return of the Cultural Cycle

mythos Project: Shadow Manifesto As we discussed in the Project: Shadow Manifesto, In the era before copyright, "stories, heroes, melodies, and lyrics belonged to the people.  Stories were told, and retold.  Numerous visions of each story competed against each other.  The best were remembered, collected, retold, embellished, and built upon.  The rest were forgotten."

Stories used to have to fight for the attention and memory of  the populous.  Now they fight for the attention of an editor or producer who is often more interested in making a quick buck than telling a great story.  But things are changing!

The advent of the internet and the various methods of print on demand have opened up the floodgates for anyone to publish a story, movie, or song that wants too.  We are returning to the old survival of the fittest model but with one major difference.  We lack the common space for this free exchange of stories to take place.

Only a small fraction of YouTube's traffic searches for the video they watch.  Most rely on others.  And when it comes to text or audio, where do you go to find what you are looking for.  The chance of discovery has increased, but so have the odds against being able to find something new.

For the vital role of the Cultural Cycle to return, we have to discover new and better ways to enable discovery of the new stories.

Copyright, not the only problem

Each generation must retell the tales of the preceding generations in their own context to keep them relevant.  This cycle has been broken by copyright, but this is not the only problem facing us.

  • We are not teaching writers to create lasting works.
  • We have not made it easy to find these works.
  • We have not made it easy to share these works.
  • We have yet to find a way for these to writers to easily make a living from their work without repeating the problems of the past.

And there is one last problem, and its a big one:

Marketing Mythos

The word “Myth” has become a marketing term.

It has gotten so bad that people have started rebelling against the very notion of myth making, assuming it is nothing more than a marketing gimmick.

We have to fight this trend and realize that myths are just the stories that give our live a sense of meaning and purpose.  Without them, life is dreary hollow place.  To quote the Manifesto again:

We need writers and artists that love what they are doing.

We need fans who are not afraid to speak their minds.

We need places in our towns/cities and online where we can meet and share the few gems that we find from the industry and from the independent artist, writers, and filmmakers who are still following their bliss rather than the dollar.

Now we need to look at what a myth really is, and how we can spread them easily.

Why Progressive Speculative Fiction?

Individual science fiction stories may seem as trivial as ever to the blinder critics and philosophers of today- but the core of science fiction, its essence, the concept about which resolves, has become crucial to our salvation if we are to be saved at all. Isaac Asimov, "My Own View," The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction

While Asimov was interested solely with Science Fiction, I believe the same can be said about Speculative Fiction as a whole. Many of the problems we face cannot be faced solely by working to fix the present conditions. If we do not explore the possible futures our choices could produce, we walk blindly into the future.

It is change, continuing change inevitable change, that is the dominant factor in society today. No sensible decision can be made any longer without taking into account not only the world as it is, but the word as it will be - and naturally this means that there must be an accurate perception of the world as it will be. This, in turn, means that our statesmen, our businessmen, our Everyman, must take on a science fictional way of thinking, whether he likes it or not or even whether he knows it or not. Only so can the deadly problems of today be solved.

Isaac Asimov, "My Own View," The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction

Again, I would broaden his words out to all of Speculative Fiction.

Lovecraft's Mythos

Cthulhu in the lost city of R'lyeh
Image via Wikipedia

Numerous horror novels/movies have shown us the problems eugenics would unleash upon our societies. Lestat's hope that there is some good in the universe heightens his fear and motivates him to find the answers.

H. P. Lovecraft's fiction had a simple message behind the supernatural horror.  Humankind's chief sin is hubris.  We think too highly of ourselves, and as a result blind ourselves to the fact that somewhere in this vast cosmos, there are creatures who are infinitely more powerful than we are, and whose motives are unfathomable by human logic.

Cthulu, Nyarlahotep, Azathoth, the color out of space, and the color out of time are all horrifying warnings that if we lie to ourselves, pretending there is not a bigger fish out there, we will eventually be devoured by it.

Frankenstein

Mary Shelley's Frankenstein is an all too familiar cautionary tale about scientific and technological advance without the restraining forces of morality and common sense.  The tale has been told and retold, spawning an entire subgenre of horror about the dangers of dabbling in things not understood.

The Resident Evil franchise, Godzilla, and so many others I could spend the rest of the year naming them have picked up the mantle and and shared the horrific future we could create for ourselves if we are not careful to think ahead and not blindly rush into the future.

Star Trek

star-trek-crew-tm.jpgShowed us a future we could hope for.  Imagine a world  where hunger and poverty were removed from the equation.  New challenges would raise their heads, some of which would threaten to return us to the barbaric world we had left behind.

Gene Roddenberry kindled a vision in the hearts and minds of his fans of a world of limitless possibilities.  A world were our only limitations were our imagination and our character.  It is a world to strive towards.

Lord of the Rings

In the Lord of the Rings books, J. R. R. Tolkien showed us a world on the cusp of transition from one age to another.  His mythic prose illuminated the choices that people have to make when culture finds itself on the crossroads of history.

The basic choice is demonstrated through the characters of Sauroman and Gandolf.  Their world, their age was ending.  They had the choice to either embrace the future and try to make the new world a better place to live, or to hold on the past and seek the destruction of the new world before it comes.  Gandolf chose the first path, Sauromon chose the latter.

Star Wars

Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith
Image via Wikipedia

Anakin Skywalker is faced with the same choice in the Star Wars saga.  At first he fights the future out of his attachment, but when he is faced with the ultimate decision, watching the future be destroyed in the person of his son, he learns that he must let go of his attachments and help the future come.

I wonder if that is why more people don't love the prequel trilogy.  It touches a nerve in them, and despite our bravado, no one really wants to think of themselves as Darth Vader.  No one wants to entertain the thought that they could destroy everything they believe in and care for as a result of trying to protect it.

Like all great stories, Star Wars holds a mirror up to us and says, this could be you.

We need Progressive Speculative Fiction

Many things are hard to talk about.  Stories can often show us things we would not or could not have seen otherwise.

Next time, we will discuss the differences between Positive Scifi and Progressive Speculative Fiction.

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What makes you think?

I ran into a great question: What Makes Writing A Blog Post Unique? from Blogopolis Blueprint:

In the end, the question really is, What makes you think?

It is probably a  result of growing up Baptist, but I think a lot about culture:

  • Where are we now?
  • Where are we going?
  • How can I make the culture better?
  • How am I making the culture worse?

The issue is, I am not a person who is into confrontation.  I believe that consensus is very important.  I have been writing a series about Fandom and Speculative Fiction over at dashPunk, and it never ceases to amaze me how often the topics I think are going to be controversial are not, and the ones I think won't are.

As I watched this video, it really got me thinking: What makes you think?  How can someone who is not confrontational spark a thought in their readers mind to get the conversation going?

Please let me know what you think.

Speculative Fiction: The Lost Art of "What if?"

I feel alone lately as a fan of Speculative Fiction.  Many of the people I talk to have never heard of it, and others have had a hard time wrapping their head around the concept, so I have decided to talk about the lost art of speculative fiction.

Art of the Imagination

Speculative Fiction (SF) is the art of the imagination.  Any story, video, image, or song that answers the question, "What if?" is SF.   There are five main subgenres of SF:

  • Science Fiction
  • Scifi
  • Fantasy
  • Horror
  • Alternative History

I meet a lot of people who lack an imagination.  Most are not fans of SF, but what frightens me more than anything is the number of writers/would-be writers who don't have an imagination.

Many people believe that SF is easy to write, when nothing could be father from reality.  Great SF requires more imagination and work than any other genre of fiction.  Not only does the writer have to create a good story, but they also have to construct a new world that is internally consistent and filled with an immaculate reality that will engage the reader/viewer/listener in the setting and story.

The problem with the industry is that too many writers with little to no imagination have found employment making SF because their work is commercially viable to the mass market and lacks any of the qualities great or even good works should have.  They too often forget the one thing that SF should do:

Transcend Limits

Stellar Spire in the Eagle NebulaThe last time SF was popular in the mass market, a spirit of activism, adventure, and dream pervaded the works.  Not all of them, but enough for the the majority of SF fans to be satisfied with many of the films and series launched.  Since then, post-modern fiction styles have dominated print, television and movies, as a result the recent SF works have lacked any depth.

Pioneering SF writers/creators like Frank Herbert, Gene Roddenberry, Harlan Ellison, David Gerrold, et al, believed that SF could challenge peoples preconceptions and inspire them to transcend the limits imposed upon them by their upbringing and culture. They wrote and produced SF that attacked our sacred cows, presenting the world as it could/should be with all of the ambiguity and possibility that this world offers us.

This is the SF I love, produce and support. The trite cynicism that has again become en vogue is antithetical to this spirit of transformative fiction that inspired so many to fall in love with science and hope for a better world. It does not have to go this way. We must reclaim the spirit and art that made SF great.

The Search for Meaning

The root of the problem is simple:

  • We hope for a meaning and purpose for our lives and when we find that nature does not provide us with an easy answer we can slavishly follow after, we assume life is devoid of meaning and purpose all together. Nihilism is an easy trap to fall into, but is also an easy one to escape.

Sure, life has no grand overriding purpose... or does it? Life seems to exist to survive, thrive, and evolve. With the exception of evolution, these are not very inspiring goals, but the urge to better ourselves and grow throughout our life is a fundamental function, if not purpose of existence.

This is no reason to despair. The fact that life does not impose a purpose on us allows us to find or invent one for ourselves. What a liberating gift from the universe! We are free to choose our purpose and to find meaning for ourselves.

Now, I won't lie to you. This is a burden to bare, there is no doubt about that, but it is a burden that is easy for us to take up, if we choose to live boldly.

For too long, we have lived our lives under the constraints and limitations placed upon us by society. We have to rise above the nihilistic stupor, and make the world we want to live in.

Let's All Dream Again

We have to rise up, stand up, speak out, and most of all dream. If we do not, then the future is indeed lost, but not because of destiny, but because we have let it follow that path.

Dream again, and dream big. Find something to be for, not something to be against. We are strong and imaginative enough to rise above any darkness that comes upon us. Rise up! Let's take our future back!

This post was inspired by The Lost Art of Speculative Fiction, which I originally posted on March 14, 2008.

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Review: The Day the Earth Stood Still

This is a group review of The Day The Earth Stood Still.  Brian, Emerian, and I each watched the movie and developed separate opinions about the film. As Progressive Speculative Fiction movie:

Overall Rating: 10

I am a huge fan of the original, in fact, it is my favorite SF movie.  I was surprised how well they pulled off the remake.

Brian: It’s not very often that I get a chance to write a review of a remake movie where I can give my praises for a job well done.  As the final credits began to roll I knew with great joy in my heart they gave me this opportunity with The Day The Earth Stood Still (2008).  This movie was a brilliant remake of the classic film, an excellent example of what speculative fiction should be, and poorly promoted film that will unfortunately get it many bad reviews.

I must give my kudos! to Director Scott Derrikson when I read about how he tried to update the movie yet stay true to it’s core message I was very skeptical but he nailed this one and deserves our accolades for a job well done!  You can read about his approach in Exploring: The Day the Earth Stood Still (2008).

Emerian: I have never seen the original 1951 version of this movie.  I have to assume it had a better ending than this one.  When seeing the title The Day The Earth Stood Still I have to wonder if it meant the moment that the credits rolled and everyone in the theater stared motionless at the screen thinking, "Huh?"

Even Roger Ebert, who I usually agree with about SF movies didn’t like the movie.  He like many of the reviewers missed the point of the movie.  He like most reviewers took the movie as little more than a film with an environmental message, when it is so much more.

The Day The Earth Stood still is an “Idea as Hero” story.  The idea behind the story is evolution, and whether or not humankind is capable of evolving before we destroy the all life on earth.

jaden-smith-the-day-the-earth-stood-still Throughout the film, Klaatu (Keanu Reeves) witnesses the senseless violence humans perpetrate on each other.  The vehicle for the idea is Jacob Benson (Jaden Smith) who through out the movie is engrossed in violent video games and who constantly  argues that the aliens need to be killed.

Our violence to ourselves, the other animals, and to the world itself is why Klaatu has been sent to earth to preserve a life sustaining world from us.

This message is made clearer when Klaatu and Professor Barnhardt (John Cleese) are talking.  Barnhardt argues that people can change, but Klaatu is unmoved.  He believes that humankind is too lazy and mired in its ways to even try to change.  That is the real question.  What would it take for people to be willing to change?

Brian: Speculative Fiction is supposed to ask a “what if.”  To be even better it should also maintain the tradition of making a social commentary of some sort and aspire to humankind’s better nature.  Star Wars and Star Trek do this brilliantly it is why those franchises inspire it’s fans to be better then what they originally are.  The Day The Earth Stood Still classic also did this with it’s warning about humans violent cold war nature in the 50’s.  With great pleasure the 2008 remake also does this by asking what if we are not alone in the universe and how would advanced alien societies see humankind’s behavior.  The social commentary is that they would view us as a violent, delinquent child who treats each other as poorly as we treat our surrounding environment.

Unfortunately this movie was promoted poorly.  Their promotion lead the public to expect an action packed, aliens invade earth and attack us.  Kind of like the modern War of the Worlds movie.  The actual movie is a much more thoughtful exploration of human nature, with most of the tension occurring in the mind rather than visually.  There are some great effects and action sequences but not nearly as much as what should have been.  If only they had described the movie like this:

The Day The Earth Stood Still is about how human society lives in a solipsistic state of mind where they treat each other as poorly as they treat their environment and give into their terrible and violent nature.  The collection of other alien societies decide that they must save the earth from the humans since there are so few planets in the galaxy that can support complex life forms.  Now Helen Benson and her son Jacob must convince Klaatu that humans do have the will to change but only after they are brought to the precipice by a tragedy.

Minor Spoilers between the lines:


Emerian: This film was well cast and I think the majority of the film was worth seeing, but the ending was flat and made little sense.  Keanu played a good alien with his emotionless responses.  We also get to see him naked and covered with mucus again, which is always a strange but somehow addictive thing to watch.  Jennifer Connelly played an adequate smart lady.  Jaden Smith showed his ability to stand with his adult counterparts and not be overshadowed in the least.  It was also a pleasant surprise to see John Cleese and Kathy Bates.

As far as visuals, the orbs are rather interesting and the fly shaped nanobots that go about devouring the land are worth the price of your theater ticket.  However, I would advise waiting to see it on DVD.

The ending was a big let down and not just to me.  As we sat, wondering what had gone wrong, I heard comments from exiting audience members that ranged from unconvincing to anticlimactic.


The end of the movie was a call to action.  A challenge to the audience.  I will deal with the ending of the movie more in a separate post.

So who is right about this movie?

Was it good or anticlimactic?  Honestly, we post are.  This film is like music in a particular genre.  If you like this sort of movie, you will love it.  If you don’t, this movie is not for you.

I have read many reviews, and in the majority of them, the reviewers either rejected the message, missed the message, or thought the film should not have been updated.

Roger Ebert approached the movie with certain preconceptions that kept him from seeing the message of the movie.  It is clear from his review that he did not want to like the movie, and mocked Klaatu for having to learn the lesson of the film.

I would not recommend this movie to everyone, but I would say that there is a couple simple tests to see if you will like this movie:

  1. Did you understand and enjoy the ending of Hedwig and the Angry Inch?
  2. Did you enjoy Grave of the Fireflies?
  3. Did you enjoy the work of Akira Kurosawa?
  4. Have you ever enjoyed a book by James Joyce?

The fourth one is most important.  Joyce believed that a good story should just hold up its object to be beheld by the audience neither pushing them towards or away from anything, and Kurosawa said that a film should have an immaculate reality, allowing the story to just happen without and over abundance of exposition.

For more info on The Day The Earth Stood Still: Theater or Renter: December 2008

Watch The Trailer here in the P:S HQ

Likes

  1. Brilliant remake of the original movie:
  2. Maintains Immaculate Reality
  3. It’s true art where they bring us to static arrest and hold us there.
  4. the message was not so much about ecological concerns but about societies solipsistic attitude (behaving like a spoiled little child with a me me me attitude) leading them to treat their environment as badly as they treat each other.
  5. The great balance between the warning about societies current state and the hope of our capability of change.
  6. Gort was really well done including a little joke about how he got his name.
  7. The Ending:  it shows the solution but does not show nor tell the audience that the solution happened it just ends leaving that conclusion up to the audience.
  8. The acting was well done.
  9. John Cleese was brilliant in his role, I wish they would have advertised this fact.
  10. Keanu Reeves did a good job playing Klaatu

Dislikes / Concerns

  1. the ending: I would have liked to hear Klatu give the ultimatum “It is no concern of ours how you run your own planet, but if you threaten to extend your violence, this Earth of yours will be reduced to a burned-out cinder. Your choice is simple: join us and live in peace, or pursue your present course and face obliteration. We shall be waiting for your answer. The decision rests with you.”  Unfortunately if he had given this then there would have been complaints about it being cliché
  2. The intro could have done without the first five minutes and just started with the present day.  problems of the well written story.
  3. The promotion of this film was poorly done, they advertised an action aliens bringing about the end of the world film when in reality this was a thoughtful Science Fiction social commentary film where a lot of the tension is cerebral instead of visual.
  4. I could not hear the other classic line “Klaatu barada nikto!”  They left the background noise too loud only Keanu Reeves’ mouth moves.

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Forrest J Ackerman, Deceased.

According to the LA Times

Ackerman, a writer, editor and literary agent who has been credited with coining the term "sci-fi" in the 1950s, died Thursday of heart failure at his home in Los Angeles, said John Sasser, a friend who is making a documentary on Ackerman.

Ackerman was 92 when he passed away and an inspiration to many. One of the ways he influenced our generation and those that came before us, was his position as editor of Famous Monsters of Filmland. Though of his more famous achievements he was the writer/creator of the characters Vampirella and Jeanie of Questar.

He was a huge fan of all things fantasy, horror, and sci-fi which as stated in his LA Times Obituary, he was

a man who actually had known Lugosi and Karloff and whose priceless collection of science-fiction, horror and fantasy artifacts ran to some 300,000 items.

Which could possibly be the largest in the world, if not close.

Watch Forrest J Ackerman brief history of early Sci-Fi video here

His death is a great loss to all of fandom across the greater Speculative Fiction genre.

Interview With Jeff Carlson

**Possible Spoilers**

The Plague series by Jeff Carlson is about a nanotech plague that erupts in California and soon takes over the world. Supposedly a cure for cancer, this plague begins to eat away at anything under roughly ten thousand feet. People are forced up into the mountains for fear of dying from the completely debilitating flesh-eating nano. Soon, the global population is hiding on various heights seemingly floating above the invisible sea of computer plague. These books are so real that you begin to find yourself asking, “What if this happened tomorrow?” According to author, Jeff Carlson, it could. What makes him the authority on the realness of the computer plague? He’s been talking to scientists working on similar projects as we speak.

The trilogy has been called ingenious, thrilling, and cutting edge. Here are my thoughts on each of the books:

Plague Year

The first few pages of Plague Year confused me because I am not used to reading a book that jumps so quickly into action. I thought perhaps it would be too "fast-pace thriller" for me to finish. However, Jeff’s ability to make you feel emotion about the characters when you hardly know any back-story on them really amazed me. He did get into their back stories as the novel progressed. There were exciting surprises later on as far as who did what before the plague. These characters are real and once you start reading, you begin to feel like they are your buddies out on that hill. It’s as if you are standing in the huddled masses with them.

This book can scare the crap out of you. Living in Nor Cal, the news reports about what cities the plague takes over as it eats its way across the country seemed too real. Jeff makes you feel like you are watching the news reports on TV. Maybe you’ll be the one making a call to your mom in the hotzone. Maybe you’ll be the one gathering supplies and heading for the hills.

While I was reading Plague Year, I found myself thinking about how long it would take me to pack up my family and flee. My mind would start charting ways to get to Tahoe if the roads were blocked. Then I'd remember it wasn’t really happening and calm down.

As far as all the scientist and military stuff is concerned, I am not an expert. Jeff explained well enough for me to understand what the nano does without making me bored or feel inadequate.

One portion of the book I thought he did particularly well was where one of the characters is in a wheelchair and unable to express himself. The anger and desperation Jeff creates is quite powerful.

While reading the Plague series, you might find yourself taking a few more showers than usual as his descriptions of grime, bugs, sores etc... are excellently detailed.

When I read the first book I thought the end of the book portion where they finally go into a city could have been longer. I felt like I missed out on what they actually did while hiding. Good news! He goes into that more in the sequel.

Overall I was surprised how much this book pulled me in and I would recommend it to anyone wanting to read something no one's ever done before.

Plague War

I was surprised to find that although this sequel was in the same style as the first, it had a different sort of tone. The relationship between the two main characters Ruth and Cam is infectious. They each have their issues and it’s interesting to see how they interact with each other. The sexual tension that Plague War delivers is amazing considering all the characters are grimy, nano-bitten, unwashed, scrappers who will do anything to survive.

This book causes you to feel the desperation of a world that is in constant threat of annihilation. However, the characters have the hope to survive and the power of the human spirit to carry on, no matter what the obstacle.

Some of the untouched mountain people infuse this story with a newness, that by this time you would expect not to exist. The contrast of the beaten down warriors against these innocent, fresh-snow-like individuals is really an excellent contrast in a book that is about fighting for life.

There is a lot of war talk in this book. Military actions, governments colliding, plots foiled, plans carried out. Since I am not a fan of military stories, I was slightly distracted by this. However, the human relationships of the people in those uniforms carried me through those sections of the book. If you are a military enthusiast, I think you will be pleasantly surprised by how detailed this book is.

I was happy to see the reappearance of some of the characters from book one that I did not expect. Hernandez was a pleasant returnee. His point of view was intriguing because of his lack of control over the situation that was happening to him. I felt his struggle between what he knew was right and how he was going to survive.

Ulinov, who I disliked the most after book one, was one of the most interesting characters to read about because we get to see his allegiance to his country. It may not be a very popular thing to say, but I think I was actually on his side when the bomb hit.

With the set up of possible resolution in book 2, I am expecting great things from book three, Mind Plague, which comes out Summer 2009.

To find out more about Jeff Carlson, visit his site at: http://www.jverse.com and listen to my podcast interview on the Project Shadow Informant podcast:

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