Tag 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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City Limits

First Morrissey, now Darth Vader? City Journal seems like a pretty hip, happening mag (both articles are quite good, by the way).

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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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The Long Trek Home

At the tail-end of a long conversation on the future of Star Trek, a friend accused me of “not getting” Rodenberry’s utopian vision. The core of Star Trek, he argued, is a society that has radically reoriented its approach to war, diplomacy, and exploration. Maybe. But I think Rodenberry’s own mythos – while certainly utopian – is also peppered with conflict, intrigue, and militarism. Peter Suderman describes the original series as a sort of “Horatio Hornblower in space,” and I think this comes close to capturing its appeal. One thing I liked about The Next Generation was its portrayal of a liberal society’s interactions – peaceful and otherwise – with alien powers. Watching Picard and Co. try to resolve conflicts in a manner consistent with the Federation’s deeply-held ideals was one of the series’ most successful themes.

Moreover, I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that Rodenberry’s saga mirrors much of what bedevils United States foreign policy today. Both the Federation and the United States are liberal hegemons who prefer peace and diplomacy to war, but are inevitably drawn into a variety of tangled conflicts. The way we deal with these challenges are a persistent problem in real life (see Iraq, Invasion of), but they also create space for all sorts of dramatic possibilities. Reenvisioning Starfleet as a latter-day American (or Victorian) navy would allow the the series to explore these issues – something, I think, that is embedded in the show’s founding mythos – against a more compelling military backdrop. I don’t think this requires Star Trek to jettison its focus on exploration, diplomacy, or science. After all, the US Navy does that sort of thing all the time. Revamping the fleet’s institutional character would simply lend an air of renewed plausibility to the proceedings.

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