Archive for February, 2009

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bloginhood’s nominations for the Hugo Awards

February 27, 2009

Continuing with the award nominations, check out my other site, bloginhood, for my nominations for this year’s Hugo Awards (to be given out at Anticipation/Worldcon in Montreal this summer). Now it’s a matter of sitting back and waiting for voting time.

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bloginhood’s nominations for the Aurora Awards

February 26, 2009

Click over to bloginhood for my nominations for the 2008 Aurora Awards – Canada’s highest honour for speculative fiction in literature, art and fan achievement.

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Top 5 worst jobs in SF

February 25, 2009

Say what you will about your abusive boss or your boring, dehumanizing mcjob, there are some gigs in SF that make yours look like a walk in the park.

5) Pizza Delivery Driver – in Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson
Sure there are no speed limits on the highways of this world, but there are no lonely, attractive women answering the door and asking for a 12-inch sausage, rather you have to negotiate the border regulations of independant nation-state neighbourhoods, and if you get to the door late, it’s not just a matter of losing a tip or having to eat the cost of the pie.  If you break the “we’re never late” guarantee here, your boss, who just happens to be a mafia kingpin, will, to borrow a line from Mel Brooks’ Spaceballs, “send out for you.”

4) Janitor, Alien Sector – aboard Babylon 5
When your day-in, day-out job consists of scrubbing methane toilets or cleaning up after carrion-eating Pakmara when they’re suffering from stomach bugs, then a step out of one of the station’s airlocks starts to look pretty good.

3) Any Food Service Job with the Kzin – from The Man-Kzin Wars series by Larry Niven
It’s one thing to have a job waiting tables where you get treated like a piece of meat by the customers or your employer, it’s quite another to be a slave to the Kzin and assigned to food service. When the rat-cat gets a hankering, you ARE meat.

2) Technician 3rd Class aboard the Jupiter Mining Company ship Red Dwarf – from Red Dwarf
It’s not having to clean out the chicken soup dispensers every day that’s the problem, it’s working under Rimmer.

1) Red Shirt – classic Star Trek
Every horrible death and indignity imaginable. ‘Nuff said.
Honourable Mentions:

  • Acid Canal Dredger/Atmospheric Processor Lungpipe Scraper on Heaven’s Gate colony – from Hyperion by Dan Simmons – with a job like this, it doesn’t matter if you’ve had a stroke in cryo-sleep and only have a vocabulary of a dozen swear words; those curses pretty much sum it up.
  • Imperial Star Destroyer Bridge Officer – from Star Wars (original trilogy) – have your will in order for this gig; you may be able to come out on top in a fight with the Rebels, but if you’re playing taxi for Vader you won’t withstand the power of a Dark Side temper tantrum.
  • Imperial Star Destroyer Bridge Crewman – because having to work under the guy in the previous note who’s dealing with that kind of on-the-job tension would be no picnic either.

What do you think are the worst jobs in SF?
Your nominations:

  • Blade Runner operative/Voight-Kampff test administrator
  • Imperial AT-ST driver assigned to Endor’s green moon
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Missing SF on late night TV

February 23, 2009

I was looking at the titles on my DVD shelf the other day and it occured to me that the first time I’d seen a number of the classics of SF cinema was on late night TV.

Remember the time when there were a lot of independant local or regional stations? Before the cable networks started to form in the late 80’s and the rise of the specialty channels in the 90’s? Twenty years ago and for a couple of decades before that, it wasn’t unusual for stations, especially those that weren’t network affiliates, to try to add movies as late-night programming to keep people watching a little longer, and some of them were savvy enough to figure out that geeks were likely to be up, or would stay up to watch the SF movies that just weren’t being shown during primetime.

As a teenager in the greater Vancouver area in the mid-late 80’s, I was lucky enough to get KSTW out of Seattle, which had “Sci Fi Friday”. (cue the receding multi-coloured graphics in the background and a strange, beating, almost videogamish bassline beneath the announcer’s voiceover) Every Friday at midnight (the girls in my junior high weren’t into guys who read or watched SF, or guys who read, for that matter, so yeah, I was home Friday nights) I’d flick on my little 13-inch Zenith and tune in to be schooled in science fiction and fantasy cinema. “Sci Fi Friday” introduced me to the great stuff like “Alien”, “Blade Runner” and “Close Encounters of the Third Kind”. And for all of the good, there was much, much more of the bad: “Robot Monster”, “Tobor the Great” and “Invasion of the Star Creatures” (What, you don’t remember this early 60’s piece of crap about a plot by alien amazon women commanding giant carrot monsters that gets foiled by two Abbot & Costello-wannabes? I don’t blame you. It’s not worth remembering. It’s kinda unfortunate that it’s stuck in my head.) to name just a few. But even the garbage had its purpose, if not for a few laughs at its expense, then to illustrate how the genre could go wrong and how these mistakes would be repeated in later years.

Sadly, that was the end of the late-night TV SF cinema era. It wasn’t long before infomercials took hold, completely wiping-out programming in favour of desparate grasps at cash, in part motivated by the formation of cable networks that didn’t want to leave room for something that wasn’t exactly the same in every station in every region aimed at the broadest possible audience/lowest common denominator.

During the 90’s, the idea of late-night SF cinema was given a satirical resurrection through “Mystery Science Theatre 3000”. The show, where Joel and his robot companions would heckle old SF movies, shorts and commericals, gained cult status and even got its own movie into national theatres – a re-release of “This Island Earth” with the MST3K treatment. But while the show (through DVDs and websites with its old recordings) and its imitators still have fans, it’s faded from pop culture consciousness.

These days, if you want to dig up old SF (the good or the bad), there are plenty of sites around the web, and of course there are movie rooms at cons. But it’s just not the same.

Watching these films at a con with other fans is cool, without a doubt. It’s especially conducive to giving one that sucks the MST3K treatment. But con-viewing doesn’t give the same feel of watching on your own TV in your own room, or basement.

And sure, there are SF specialty channels now – the Sci Fi Channel in the US and Space in Canada (I’m not sure about the situation in other parts of the world), but, speaking at least about Space, they just don’t do the job. Space’s programming is primarily TV show-based, even later into the evening. Despite it’s genre focus, late-night programming in recent years is primarily infomercials. And while the channel does run movies during the weekend in specified time slots, they tend to be films from the past 10 years. You certainly wouldn’t see anything from the 50’s or 60’s. Most of the films tend to be reruns of the same stable of movies they’ve been showing for years now, unlike the old late night SF features that had so much old material to draw from they rarely, if ever, repeated themselves.

As for the internet, how many movie sites, especially ones specializing in old SF movies, are out there on the net? Probably quite a few, I’m guessing. Where would a new SF fan, young and just trying to figure out the genre(s) start? For that matter, where would an older fan start when looking to dredge up old memories? It’s like walking into a mall full of restaurants when you’re looking for a snack. Too many options. Sure it’s good to have a choice, but there’s something to be said for the old late-weekend-night single or double feature format where you could get a steady, reliable diet of the stuff without having an overload of selections.

Sure you never knew from week to week whether the movie would be good or bad (unless you gave any credibility to the number of stars the movie was given in your tv guide’s synopsis – if you even read your tv guide). but that was part of the fun. Hell, not checking the tv guide at all and being surprised with the title of what they were serving up on a particular Friday was part of the fun too. You never knew what you were going to get (no, leave the Forrest Gump jokes alone).

The timing was part of the appeal too. Online, you can view these flicks anytime. But was just something that felt right about sitting back at the end of the day in a dark room with the blue flicker of the TV, a can of coke (maybe a beer swiped from dad’s beer fridge) and a bowl of pretzels or popcorn, clicking over to the independant channel at midnight and letting the show start. The late night viewing set you apart from everyone else watching “LA Law” or whatever during primetime. Appropriate, since as an SF fan you were probably a little apart anyway. When the flick was over you could step out onto the back deck in the chill night air for a minute and look and the stars and dream. Late night was the geek’s time. It was your time. And it was cool.

Late night TV SF movies brought all of these elements together. And it’s too bad it’s gone.

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The top 10 doctors of SF

February 19, 2009

Not too long ago my family doctor announced that he’ll be retiring soon. After my initial twin reactions of “Good for him; he’s earned it” and “oh crap, now I’ve gotta find a new doctor!” (most docs with practices in this neck of the woods aren’t taking new patients – many people have to put up with the impersonal service at walk-in clinics), I got to thinking about physicians in general, and the roles they’ve had in SF. So harrysaxon and I put our heads together and came up with this list of our favourite doctors of the genre(s) in books, TV and film.

10) Tachyon – Wildcards, edited by George RR Martin
-nominated by bloginhood
Sure he had a hand in creating the wildcard virus that dealt humanity a bad hand, but this purple-eyed alien sawbones made it up to the people of his new home by setting up the Jokertown Clinic to help ease the suffering of those who survived the bug but were left with freakish disfigurements.

9) Martha Jones – Doctor Who
-nominated by bloginhood
Smart, tough, adaptable, easy on the eyes, and most importantly, able to recognize that pining after The Doctor won’t do her any good. Others may have theirs, but Martha’s my favourite among the Companions.

8 ) Tyler Dupree – Spin, by Robert Charles Wilson
-nominated by bloginhood
The world-changing events in Wilson’s brilliant novel are seen through the eyes of Dupree, but it’s not his exploits with a scalpel that are important. His bedside manner with an old friend proves to be more valuable in a story about relationships set against a backdrop where unseen forces of immense power have the Earth seemingly on the brink of disaster.

7) Clemens – Alien 3
-nominated by bloginhood
It’s pretty impressive when a supporting character is so compelling that he outshines Ripley in an Alien movie. Whether he’s trying to figure out what Sigourney Weaver’s character is hiding during an autopsy on Newt, standing up to the prison warden, or telling the story of how he lost is license and was sent to do time on a maximum security prison, Charles Dance’s performance is so absorbing that they pretty much had to kill him off so we’d pay more attention to the castaway who brought the big mean bug – that and because pretty much everybody becomes Alien chow by the end of the flick.

6) The Doctor – Star Trek: Voyager
-nominated by harrysaxon
During the long years of Voyager’s trek across the Delta Quadrant, this holographic healer did pretty much everything you can think of, from coming up with radical cures for strange alien diseases to taking a prototype ship into combat to writing a novel. Ultimately, he picked up the mantle from Next Generation’s Data of the Tin Man looking for a heart in his quest to be recognized as a sentient entity with equal rights among the crew.

5) Doc Cottle – Battlestar Galactica
-nominated by both
Sure we don’t see much of him, but when we do, every second counts and all other characters fade into the background. His crusty badgering of his patients is possibly more ferocious than Cylon bullets and is always entertaining.

4) Simon Tam – Firefly
-nominated by bloginhood
Most of the attention is focussed on his troubled little sister, but this fugitive physician is an integral part of Serenity’s crew, and springing River from the lab, he’s played an important part in exposing the government’s Miranda virus experiments and their consequences to the ‘Verse.

3) Abraham Van Helsing – Dracula, by Bram Stoker
-nominated by both
Doctor and ass-kicking vampire hunter. Without his fearlessness and expertise, Harker, Mina and the rest of their gang would have been lost and Dracula would have been gulping his way through London like a drunk in a wine cellar. Anthony Hopkins’ take on the character in Coppola’s cinematic take on the story was great. We shall not speak of Jackman’s Van Helsing flick.

2) Steven Franklin – Babylon 5
-nominated by bloginhood
Franklin’s expertise in med-lab have made him one of the finest doctors in the Earth Alliance (and possibly the Interstellar Alliance), add spy and revolutionary and you’ve got a pretty impressive resume. But what ranks B5’s chief of medical staff so high on the list is how well-written his character is. Sure, it took a season or two to find his pace, but we see eventually saw different aspects to his personality beyond that of the earnest doctor, and his is a personality that changes over the course of the series in believable ways. For someone who was so fiery in many early episodes, it was interesting to see him leave the station quietly, humbly and alone at the end when he took the new job on Earth.

1) Leonard “Bones” McCoy – Star Trek
-nominated by bloginhood
Come on! Who else could top a list like this? Bones is probably the best-known among his profession in SF, if only for his often-lampooned insistance that he’s a doctor, not a – (insert the profession/trade/craft/general labour category of your choice).

Honourable Mentions:

  • Julian Bashir – Star Trek: Deep Space 9
  • Beverley Crusher – Star Trek: The Next Generation
  • Ash – Alien (okay, he was the ship’s science officer, but he doubled as medic when he wasn’t scheming about how to kill the crew)
  • Victor Frankenstein (we weren’t sure whether it was more appropriate to classify him as a natural scientist using medical/surgical techniques to assemble his creation)
  • Henry Jekyll (again, another uncertain one – doctor or chemist?)

Your Nominations:

  • Janet Fraiser – Stargate: SG-1
  • Dana Scully – X-Files
  • 2-1B – the Star Wars franchise
  • FX series – the Star Wars franchise
  • Moira MacTaggart – X-Men
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“Lost”, season 5, episode 5: “This Place Is Death”

February 12, 2009

Please click through to see this post on harrysaxon.com.

Sorry for the inconvenience!

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The top 5 SF sidekicks who wouldn’t make the cut as “Doctor Who” companions

February 12, 2009

We’ve known for a while now who’s been selected to play the 11th Doctor, but despite an active rumour mill, there’s still no confirmation from the BBC of who will be Doctor Who’s next Companion.

To that end, I’ve assembled a list of five notable sidekicks from around the SF universe who just wouldn’t cut it as one of the Doctor’s famed cadre of tag-alongs.

5) R2D2
In many respects, this little astromech would make a welcome addition to the Doctor’s team: he’s brave, loyal, able to figure ways out of a tough spot, and he doesn’t take up much room. That being said, there’s no place for Artoo in this exclusive club because with his vast array of built-in tools, there’d be no need to use the Sonic Screwdriver, and we couldn’t have that, now could we?

4) Chewbacca the Wookiee
The big walking carpet is a good friend to have at your back in any kind of situation, whether it’s scouting for fares at the bar, fixin’ droids, puttin’ the boots to Imperial stormtroopers, piloting your starship, or keeping you warm in a damp cell. Chewie’s the kinda guy who would have looked the werewolf from “Tooth and Claw” in the eye and said “Bring it on, bitch.” (not that anyone would be able to understand what he said) The problem with Chewbacca is that he likes his guns, and the Doctor does not. That, and he’d probably shed too much, and you’d never be able to get all the hair out of the TARDIS.

3) Jack Burton
The swaggering, John-Wayne-imitating owner of the ol’ Porkchop Express is good to have at your back in a fight (sometimes) or a game of fan-tan (definitely). Problem is, he’s pretty clueless and would probably spend most of his time ogling alien women rather than helping the Doctor solve the mystery behind whatever big trouble they’d get themselves into from week to week.

2) Arnold J Rimmer
If you need to clean out the chicken soup dispenser on your interplanetary mining ship, Rimmer’s your man. Want to have someone constantly whine, complain, be rude to you, and find new ways to humiliate himself? This technician second-class is the hologram you need. Sadly, the Red Dwarf’s most famous deceased crewmember would probably be too cowardly (unless it was his alter-ego Ace) to even step inside the TARDIS, never mind join the Doctor on an adventure.

1) Marvin the paranoid android
In “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” books, we encounter strange methods of powering and moving spacecraft, like the improbability drive and the bistromath drive. If only they’d learned to tap the bottomless resource of Marvin’s depression, Arthur Dent & co could have had the powers of gods. The Doctor is probably smart enough to harness the potential of this self-pity, but this is never likely to happen. Marvin’s ability to be a downer is so utterly relentless that it might even be able to crush the Doctor’s seemingly boundless optimism. It would be the irresistable force meeting the immovable object. Matter and anti-matter colliding. They’d simply cancel each other out. That’s why there’s probably a sub-clause somewhere in the Shadow Proclamation that decrees that these two never meet, and thus Marvin would be the last entity, anywhere, anytime that would have a shot at being a Companion.