Category Archives: Science Fiction

Gene Wolfe is a conservative

I suppose there were elements of The Book of the New Sun that could plausibly be described as conservative, but I never really considered the man’s politics. Here’s an interesting podcast interview with Wolfe from National Review.

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Galactica, Actually

In the midst of an otherwise sensible post on “Battlestar Galactica” and gender violence, Ta-Nehisi Coates drops this head-scratcher:

I think so much of this revolves around the fact that, in the past decade, the ceiling for writing and acting on television has been raised. I can’t have watched “The Wire,” watched “Mad Men,” watched “Big Love” and felt as I used to. I simply can’t go back. BSG isn’t operating in the world that Star Trek: Voyager did. The game is the same, but more fierce. Measured against that backdrop, I think the writing, and acting, on the show is rather lackluster (skipping ahead in time, at the end of season, was incredibly lazy). When narrative isn’t done in a particularly inspiring fashion, it seems that the first people to suffer are women, and minorities. It’s no mistake that “The Wire” is not only one of the best written shows ever, it is also one of the bestdepiction of black people ever committed to television.

Head-scratcher is unfair, perhaps, because I know why people think “Galactica” is a level or two below “The Wire” (or even lesser lights like “Mad Men” and “Big Love”). And if you get a few beers in me, I’d probably concede that the show isn’t nearly as good as “The Sopranos,” “Deadwood” or David Simon’s oeuvre, though I think BSG has earned its place on the second tier of damn good shows that aren’t quite as groundbreaking as their creators seem to think.

That said, this is all a bit too apples to oranges for my tastes. Despite its many shortcomings, science fiction is a genre apart. Unlike contemporary or historical drama, it has no easy reference points or ready-made settings, which is why so many of its best authors rely heavily on some preexisting mythology (the superstructure of Asimov’s Foundation trilogy, for example, is explicitly modelled on Gibbons’ Decline and Fall). Good science fiction requires its purveyors construct a coherent, believable future for characters to inhabit and interact with. Say what you will about “Galactica,” but its best moments marry an ambitious* alternate reality with real human drama, something that conventional shows can never match. At the very least, “Galactica’s” flawed efforts at constructing believable scifi represent a unique achievement in television, and for that I’ll always look back on the show with fondness.

*A caveat: “Ambitious” has become shorthand for “I really like this genre and want it to succeed on screen, so I’ll overlook or downplay its glaring flaws,” also known as “Dark Knight syndrome.” Because I enjoy starfighters and hyperdrives and space exploration, I’m willing to grant BSG a lot more leeway than I would a comparable show in a different, equally exotic setting. So maybe I’m just full of it.

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Faithless

Ta-Nehisi Coates has some sharp words for Battlestar Galactica, Gaius Baltar, and Number Six:

There are many things wrong with this first season–the hokey court-drama during that “tribunal” episode, the long extended nothing of the Helo/Boomer arc (I like Helo, but goddamn, can something actually happen please), the hamfisted War on Terror parallelism. But unquestionably the worst aspect of the show is the acting of Tricia Helfer as “Number Six.” My God. Helfer mistake cooing and grinding for sexiness, the way Karl Rove mistakes reading a book a week for wisdom. Here is an actor who has all the externals of her character down, but none of the internals.

I think this is basically correct, although axing Six would have left James Callis without the opportunity to exercise his considerable gifts for physical comedy. I also think it would have been difficult to develop Baltar’s neuroses absent some sort of internal monologue, so perhaps fantasy was a necessary expedient.

What really bothered me about the Six-Baltar relationship, however, was its shallow treatment of religious faith. Many observers (Joe Carter of Culture11 comes to mind) have praised Ronald Moore and Co. for their treatment of organized religion. Barring an amazingly well-thought out finale, I think the show’s approach owes more to convoluted mysticism than deep religious introspection, and the Six-Baltar dialogues were a particularly bad example of this tendency.

Baltar’s religious inclinations are a bit like my own circa 7th grade: we both pray for instant gratification – avoiding detention in my case, not getting exposed for crimes against humanity in his – and then take the result as conclusive evidence of God’s existence (my religious enthusiasm was highly dependent on the clemency of various teachers). Real faith, of course, is nothing like this, which is why religious belief is such an ambiguous, trying experience. Baltar and Six’s interaction suggests that personalized, made-to-order miracles are a prerequisite for faith, which is a bit insulting to people who pray and go to church without ever encountering Tricia Helfer.

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Khaaaaaaaaaaaaan!

Ricardo Montalban, R.I.P.

This of course begs the question: is Christopher Plummer’s General Chang or Montalban’s Khan the greatest Star Trek villain of all time?

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I love me some Ian McShane

But his latest foray into television seems . . . ill-conceived.

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Not Impressed

The new BSG trailer looks weak. Which makes sense, because the show has been maddeningly inconsistent since the insurgency on New Caprica. Ah, well – two and a half seasons of really good sci fi are all that one can reasonably hope for.

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Fans Only

Your daily dose of BSG nerdcore.

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