han solo

Imagine Han Solo Weilding a Lightsaber

HanSoloI wonder what Han thought of using the lightsaber?  How would it have felt in his hand? Han is familiar with the tales of the Jedi.  Now he is there holding the weapon of legend in his hands.  Would it have tempted him to try and replace his blaster in combat.  Probably not, Han loves the feel of a blaster pistol in his hands.  But do you think he was tempted by the power that a lightsaber holds.

Imagine Han not only the husband of Leia but also the Padawan.

Lightsaber_construction

Literature of Change

We have discussed What Speculative Fiction is, What makes it Progressive, and Why it is important that it is progressive,  but now it is vitally important to clarify some key points about the nature of Progressive Speculative Fiction.  There are two equally disastrous paths we can take from here.  As with everything in life, we have to find the middle path between the opposites:

  • The Light Side: Everything is great, and will only get better.  The future will be a universally happy place.  We are heading towards a utopia.
  • The Dark Side: Entropy rules the world and things are only getting worse.  The future will be a gloomy and sinister place.  We are heading towards a distopia.

Both are extremes, and neither can ever paint a valid world that has any grounding in reality.

Does Speculative Fiction have to be gloomy?

Damien G Walter at the Guardian wrote a fascinating article about the utopian and distopian sins of Science Fiction (read it here).  He asks the basic question that I would love to paraphrase: Does Speculative Fiction have to be gloomy?

From the recent releases, you might assume the answer is a yes, but it doesn't have to be.

Gloomy has its place in any story, but if that story only strikes one note throughout, then it become boring, and the audience looses interest.  We can see this trend with Lost and Heroes, but shows like Torchwood, Battlestar Galactica, and Sanctuary show that it s possible to strike a happy median.

Sometimes a story has to be bleak and gloomy throughout to make the point, like 1984 by George Orwell, but more often then not writers take the gloom to an unnecessary extreme.

The challenge for writers of science fiction today is not to repeat the same dire warnings we have all already heard, or to replicate the naive visions of the genres golden age, but to create visions of the future people can believe in (The Guardian).

Must SF fix the worlds problems?

Kathryn Cramer at Tor had an interesting take on Damien's post (read it here):

I view science fiction partly as a set of perceptual tools we take with us into the world. I don’t think SF can be held responsible for finding solutions to all the world’s problems, but I think it is SF’s task to help us understand them (Tor).

Whether or not the writer understands or believes it, all fiction is a perceptual filter that shows their readers/viewers the world from a certain point of view.  People are influenced by these perspectives to differing degrees.  The quality of the fiction plays a part in that, but so too does the structure and discipline of the reader/viewer's mind.

It is too much to ask any writer to solve the world's problems in their work, but they have to understand that they are responsible for show the cost and consequences of their character's actions.

For example, we like to believe that people are born good or evil, and that it is alright to be amoral from time to time.  This is why so many people reacted negatively to George Lucas' edits of the original Star Wars Trilogy and the addition of the prequel.  He clarified Han Solo's morality and showed how a good person can become evil.  In fact, it has been argued by C. S. Lewis and others that their truly is no such thing as evil.  There is only vile, horrible, and misguided attempt to do good.  If you look at most of the "monsters" in history, they are people who thought they were doing good even though they wrought horrors on the world.

It is the job of every writer to show that every action has an effect.

A Positive Science Fiction Platform?

Jason Staddard over at Strange and Happy put forth his Stranger and Happier: A Positive Science Fiction Platform.  While it is well intentioned, I think it swings the pendulum too far in the other direction.  Let's go through the planks in the platform.

Positive science fiction starts with acknowledging that there are positive things happening, now (Strange and Happy).

Is this necessary? No.

Often an SF writer will start here, but others will start with the fear of the current situation or from the perspective that the current state of affairs in beyond saving, and impose a new solution to avert the mistakes the present state could lead too.

  • Star Trek starts with a world war and global catastrophe that nearly brought about another dark age.
  • Lestat saw the system of mandated belief an filial duty as corrupt and corrupting.  It wasn't until he became a vampire that he started looking for a better way.

That does not mean we should ignore this plank, but simply take it as advise rather than a rule.

Positive science fiction is about the possibility of positive change (Strange and Happy).

Absolutely.  In the Project: Shadow Manifesto, I call this simply "hope for the future."  Things can get better, but that doesn't mean they are destined to.  If there is no hope, there is nothing at stake for the characters and no tension in the story (What is Progressive SF?)

Positive science fiction has a protagonist or protagonists that can effect change (Strange and Happy).

Definitely.  This is the problem I have pointed to time and time again with SF media, and why I didn't like Battlestar Galactica for a long time.

This ties directly into hope.  If it is impossible for a character to affect change, then there is no tension.  The villain will win.

Positive science fiction isn’t afraid to look at challenging definitions of “positive (Strange and Happy).”

This is where the writer has an important question to answer.  "For whom is the change positive?"

Anakin Skywalker's fall to the dark side is necessary to bring balance to the force.  There are many ways to take this, but it is fundamental to Progressive Speculative Fiction.

Positive science fiction inspires people to act and influence positive change (Strange and Happy).

So long as it is not preachy, I agree.  If the story inspires the reader/viewer to make a possitive change within themselves, then the story succeeded.  There isn't enough time or space for me to list all of the stories that have influenced me positively.

Literature of Change

There is a common thread weaving through this discussion.  Jetse de Vries on his blog, In the Plane of the Ecliptic found the middle ground between gloom and naivite, the answer we have been looking for:

I disagree with the cliché that SF is the literature of ideas (they help, but they're not the core): to me, SF is the literature of change.

Roughly speaking, there are two kinds of change: things change for the worse, or things change for the better (I realise life is much more complex than that: some things improve, other things worsen, and some things don't change very much. I'm looking, admittedly roughly, at the net result here) (In the Plane of the Ecliptic).

Even the simplist horror and fantasy deals with the nature of authority and friendship.  Change is the only constant in the universe, and Speculative Fiction is the literature of change.  Writers ask themselves, "What if this happened?"  The answer is usually, everything would change.

How writers explore the changes is the difference between and great and a mediocre story.

What makes a fan a fan?

In August last year had a bit of back and forth over the definition of a Fan with Eoghann Irving from Solar Flare:

Eoghann Irving has posted an interesting rebuttal to my post, Fandom v The Scifi Channel, where he tackles the question What makes a fan? The critique of my position is an interesting one, and I have to say, I agree with his assertion that it sounds like I am trying to say that fans define themselves by their interest in SF.

While there are some who have adopted the fan culture for themselves, cultural adoption is not a requirement to be a fan.

What is a Fan?

We are fans.

We love music, stories, characters, settings, and images. We know about what we love. We participate in what we love. We support what we love. What we love supports us.

Fans are special.  We are more than just enthusiasts who enjoy a piece of work, fans connect with the work.  We feel it.

Fans love

Fans share a bond with the works they love and with one another.   Fans' passion is infectious, spreading the the works they love to others.

The love of a fan is a blessing to a responsible creator, but it is a curse to the reckless.

  • Farscape fans kept the series alive despite the many attempts by the network to cancel it.
  • Star Trek fans helped kept the series alive until the death of Gene Roddenberry when studio pushed the franchise away from its heart.
  • Heroes and X-files fans fell in love with disparate aspects of their respective franchises, but when the series lost their way through a lack of focus on the part of the studios.

If a fan's love is scorned or goes unappreciated, the fan reacts in the same way a jilted lover would.  If a fan's heart turns cold, it is almost impossible to rekindle it.

Fans Know

Ulic Qel-Droma
Image via Wikipedia

Fans know things about the things they love and enthusiasts don’t.

Anyone can quote Star Trek or Star Wars because many of the aphorisms have gone mainstream, but a Star Wars Fan knows who Ulic Qel-Droma and Exar Kun are.  They have become such an important part of the Saga.  They know the Chewbacca died on Sernpidal during the Yuuzhan Vong war trying to save Han Solo's youngest son.

Fandom is not defined by obscure knowledge.  On the contrary, a fans love for a franchise causes them to seek out everything they can from that franchise.  We read the books and watch the OVAs.  A fan remembers the details and more often than not knows the minutia.

Fans participate

Fans create and enjoy filk, fanfiction, fan films, fan art, costumes and conventions.  We often play role playing games, video games and MMOs in the settings we love.

Fan participation is the most commonly mocked aspects of SF fandom.  No one mocks a music fan's attendance of a concert or a sport fan attending a game.  They don't even mock the wearing of band shirts or sports jerseys, or fantasy football or rock and roll camp.  These are not different from conventions, or filk, or role playing, or cosplay.

Fans support

Fans support what we love.  We buy the books, DVDs, and games.

This is where modern fandom is in the most trouble.  The studios and publishers have not offered fans the options they want for media they consume.  DRM (digital rights management) and region codes restrict how and where media can me viewed.

International fans often have few options for obtaining media other than piracy.

Media companies have to listen to the fans and make media available in as many ways as possible to they do not drive money away.  They also must learn that they are not owners of their franchises, they are caretakers and conservators.  The tighter they hold on to outdated and outmoded concepts of ownership, the smaller market they will have and the most desperate they will become.

What we love supports us.

"Never give up, never surrender!"
Image by barcanna via Flickr

Fans often gather insight and inspiration from the franchises they love.  In moments of fear, I have found myself reciting the Bene Geseret prayer from Dune.  It is also not uncommon for fans to quote dialogue to make a point.

These franchises are not just shows or books we like.  More than we realize they are the myths that help us:

  1. talk about the aspects of life that are impossible to discuss straight on.
  2. see the connections between our lives and the transcendent mysteries.
  3. develop a pattern of living with honor, integrity, and purpose.
  4. react the trial, tribulations, and joyful moments of life.

This is why fans embraced the movie Galaxy Quest.  It is a love letter to fandom, showing at its most extreme, but also showing it for what it is.  A culture that gives hope and inspiration to millions.

Are you a fan?

Here are a few questions to ask yourself.  The more times you answer yes, the better the likelihood you are a fan.

  • Have you ever connected with a work on a deep level?
  • Have you ever enjoyed something so much you rushed to tell someone?
  • Have you ever played a game, watched an OVA, or read a book that is part of the extended universe of a franchise you love?
  • Have you ever debated or conversed with someone about an aspect of a franchise's setting or the minutia of a setting?
  • Have you ever dressed up as one of your favorite characters?
  • Have you ever attended an SF convention?
  • Have you ever bought a boxset?
  • Have you ever quoted SF to make a point?
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Randal Graves and the Empire Top 100

randaltop100 Randal Graves from Kevin Smith’s brilliant film Clerks has is number 92 on Empire’s Top 100 Greatest Movie Characters.

Why He's On The List: Randal is the voice of countless generations - anyone who's had a shitty customer service job in their early twenties will understand his attitude, wishing they could have articulated their frustration with his artful profanity and supreme disregard for, well, anything. But the key to Randal is that he doesn't necessarily hate his job, it's just that he remembers not to care (Empire).

Also on the List:

It is great to see how many Speculative Fiction characters make the list, especially in the top 10.  It makes me wonder if we should make our own list.

(via News Askew)

Sending a Message: Carbonite Solo Desk

Would you do business over Han solo in carbonite desk! Part of me thinks this is the coolest desk ever and part of me thinks that this should have been made into a wall hanging for an office... you know Jaba couldn't have used it as a desk.. That being said I bet there would be many nervous employees and business partners who would have to conduct a meeting with the business person who owns this desk. Just think if the client was an attorney!

(via Boing Boing)