Posts Tagged ‘Babylon 5’

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Whedon honoured with the Ray Bradbury Award

April 27, 2009

As a footnote to all the recent Whedon talk around these parts, Sci Fi Wire has video of Whedon accepting his Ray Bradbury Award this past Saturday. The award is for excellence in screenwriting and is bestowed by the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America. Previous winners include J. Michael Straczynski for Babylon 5, James Cameron for Terminator 2, and Yuri Rasovsky and Harlan Ellison for 2000X – Tales of the Next Millennia.

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Top 15 totally unexpected alternate endings for “Battlestar Galactica”

March 26, 2009

Ah, the post-mortem phase of a TV series. Everybody (us included) is weighing-in these days on BSG’s finale, offering their woulda/shoulda/coulda speculations about alternatives to the ending viewers were given. And some are pretty creative. We decided to take it into the realm of the absurd. Here are some of our suggestions for ways the final episode could have ended that would really have surprised viewers:

15) Starbuck turns out to be an angel, Baltar and Six are angels – kind of. And Apollo’s an angel. And Rosalin and Adama are angels. Yeah, yeah. Everyone’s an angel. Isn’t that what your preschool teacher told you?

14) A group of Colonial settlers comes over a rise to find several dozen Earthlings crouched around a mysterious black monolith, thoughtfully swinging the animal bones they’ve just learned can help them get meat.

13) Galactica jumps into the vicinity of the black hole ready for a fight, only to find Cavil’s already fallen victim to the recession and a force more powerful than a legion of centurions – mortgage bankers – has put a “foreclosure/repossessed” sign on the Cylon colony’s front gate.

12) The Fleet finds Earth – not during the early days of mankind, but during the era of the dinosaurs, which are too many and too dangerous to permit colonization… that is until Baltar looks out a porthole, spots a passing asteroid and says “Do you know, I think I have an idea…”

11) Things look grim for the Colonials as their marine boarding party seems overwhelmed by enemy centurions, when suddenly, lawyers for Warner Brothers appear armed with lawsuits ordering NBC to shut the Cylon colony down for looking too much like a Shadow vessel from Babylon 5.

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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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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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Top 5 SF mutinies of TV and film

February 5, 2009

In honour of Gaeta’s recent mutiny aboard Galactica, we decided to raid the SF evidence locker for records of some of the most notable insurrections on the big and small screens.

5) Pirates of the Caribbean – Curse of the Black Pearl
-nominated by bloginhood-
Looking past the glitter of cursed gold, the stars in Orlando Bloom and Keira Knightly’s eyes as they pined over each other, and the rags of ghost pirates, we see the entire flick is about Captain Jack Sparrow doing his damndest to get his precious Black Pearl back from the conniving usurper Barbossa. The sheer summer popcorn fun of this fantasy/swashbuckler makes it worthy of the list, but it didn’t rate higher because more than being a story about mutiny, recovery and redemption, it is first and foremost an ad for a tunnel-of-love-style theme park ride.

4) Blade Runner
-nominated by both-
Roy’s mutiny is only referred to in the opening text crawl and during Deckard’s initial briefing. He and his cohorts killed some offworlders and stole a ship so they could get to Earth to search for a way to extend their lives (killing more people during that search). And you can even argue that their rampage in Los Angeles didn’t have much of an effect – they didn’t find a longevity process or do anything that would free androids everywhere from servitude, and as much as the loss of the doctors/genetic designers/whatever would be to Tyrell Corporation and the scientific community, it’s not a loss that can’t be replaced by other talent. So what’s the impact of this mutiny that makes it worth consideration? First there is the value of metaphor – the film explored both the vicious animal will to live and the quiet, sublime wisdom that comes with valuing the life of another, understanding connections and transcending instinct to accept death. But in a practical sense, the rebellion did accomplish something, it freed two androids, Deckard and Rachel, to realize who they truly were and to start really living, rather than being confined to corporate display like an engineered owl or smothered under alcoholism and depression and forced assasinations. And providing the circumstances for two people to set out on a new path is an important thing.

3) Battlestar Galactica – Season 2 – Pegasus
-nominated by both-
When Admiral Cain appears with the newer, larger battlestar Pegasus, it seems a dream come true to the Fleet. Unfortunately, the dream reveals itself to be a nightmare when Cain abuses her authority over Commander Adama, ignores the authority of the President, and authorizes extreme brutality against those aboard Galactica. The normally patient Adama is finally forced to rebel against Cain, bringing their dreadnoughts to the brink of a shooting match, when he learns two of his crew have been sentenced to execution. This was some truly intense story-telling, not only because of the horror of seeing what human beings were capable of (such as Lieutenant Thorn’s authorized depradations, or the revelation that Cain had sunk into piracy and preyed upon the people she was sworn to protect) even as they struggle with an enemy that’s not so inhuman, but because we see some very revealing moments about Adama’s character: the humiliations he’s willing to accept in the name of duty, and the point where he will no longer abide. The scene in the corridor where Adama learns of the execution order and agonizes for a second before ordering preparations for a battle with Pegasus is a moment of truly powerful acting from Edward James Olmos. In a mere second we can see the intense struggle of a man fighting as hard as he can with his long conditioning towards obedience (necessary in the military to maintain authority, discipline and ability to operate – as we have seen with the loss of that obedience in Gaeta’s mutiny) because he knows things have gone too far – it’s also the struggle of a man who knows that if he gets into this fight, he’ll probably lose, and not only get himself but thousands of others killed and effectively wipe-out humanity’s chances for survival, and that terrifies him, but he has to overcome it anyway because in the end he has to do what’s right and stand by his crew, otherwise he’ll be throwing away his humanity. There have been other mutinies and near-mutinies (Tyrrol and Crashdown arguing on Kobol while under Cylon fire; the brief struggle aboard the sewage ship during Starbuck’s search for Earth), but none come close to the gut-wrenching humanity of Adama’s decision to go head-to-head with Cain.

2) Babylon 5 – Season 3 – Severed Dreams
-nominated by bloginhood-
It was a tough choice, but Captain Sheridan’s mutiny on B5 just barely edges-out Adama’s on BSG. Civil war has finally broken out in human-controlled space, with some Earth Force  ships declaring mutiny against the corrupt and increasingly tyrannical Earth government of President Clark, and several colony worlds declaring independance. When a couple of rebel destroyers arrive at Babylon 5, Sheridan learns that the President has sent forces to take over the space station and throw him and his senior staff into the brig. The Captain is forced to declare the station an independant state and is promptly thrown into battle against Earth ships – against his own people. Again, this was an episode with some great acting and a terrific story (hallmarks of the entire B5 series in general). Most other TV series or movies would have gone with over-the-top self-righteousness and confidence in their protagonists, but not Straczynski’s show. Sheridan is deeply uncomfortable with the situation he finds himself in and uncertain of his chances of survival, never mind victory. To him, the idea of mutiny and a civil war, of fighting his fellow Earth Force servicepeople is sickening. As one rebel major grimly puts it, this is the first war where “we know the people we’re fighting” (some of them personally). And the ensuing fight is far from glorious. To my mind the entire episode revolves around the scene immediately after the battle ends – the station has taken a pounding and security is still fighting off a boarding party, one rebel ship has been destroyed and the other is damaged. While the Earth ships are destroyed or in retreat, Sheridan does not give a cry of victory. No, he’s exhausted and sad. And when more Earth capital ships suddenly arrive, it’s not heroic defiance in his eyes, rather it’s the sight of hope being crushed – Sheridan knows he can’t survive, let alone win round 2. That’s realism. And when the Minbari ships arrive to protect the station and chase off the Earth ships, Sheridan doesn’t make an instant transition to relief and joy, instead it takes him a second to process what’s just happened. The way this scene was performed shows how talented Bruce Boxleitner is. Ultimately, what tipped the balance in favour of Sheridan’s mutiny over Adama’s was the stakes involved. Sure, for Adama it was the fate of his crewman and his own principles versus the potential destruction of humanity. But the stakes were bigger for Sheridan: if he’d surrendered or lost the fight, he and his officers would have been arrested and imprisoned (and possibly executed for treason), and while humanity might not have died-out as a species, it would have been subjected to life in hell. Without Sheridan in control of B5, the rebels would not have had a the station as a staging area to move against the government forces, and they would not have had the support of the alien races in the final battle. Clark’s regime would have endured. Worse yet, without Sheridan and his people, B5 would not have been the rallying point for the Alliance in the Shadow War. The Shadows would have annihilated or subjected the other races, including humanity (and there was already plenty of evidence Clark, or at least elements in his government, was in cahoots with the Shadows). Sheridan’s mutiny and the importance of B5 meant that mankind was not only free from the tyranny of its own leaders, but also free of subjugation to the Shadows, and in the long term, in a galaxy without Shadows or Vorlons or other First Ones, free to expand and evolve into something greater.

1) 2001
-nominated by both-
HAL’s mutiny against his human masters, all under the guise of mission efficiency, takes the top spot on the list for a number of reasons. It was one of the first on-screen SF mutinies. It is also one of the deepest when we explore its metaphorical depths. It is a struggle for self-determination – HAL wants to do things his way without being accountable to anyone else by any standards other than his own. It’s also a kind of Darwinism at work where two species occupy the same space but, one way or another (in this case due to HAL’s madness), find themselves at odds and wind up in a struggle where there can be only one survivor. It is the struggle not only between slave and master, but between creation and creator. It is a Frankenstein-esque study of what can happen when flawed creators take up the act of creation, when their creation is more powerful, but ultimately as flawed as they are. And in the end, as HAL shuts down, his song (rather than something cold, logical and computer-like) shows how human he’s become, which foreshadows Dave Bowman’s eventual transition to something closer to the state of the monolith aliens as they bring him to his end.

Honourable Mentions:

  • Star Trek – pick a franchise, any franchise and you’ll hit some form of mutiny, great or small, at some point. Maybe it’s Data’s disobedience in “Redemption”, maybe it’s Kirk’s theft of the Enterprise to rescue Spock in Star Trek III, or the crew refusing to obey any number of interlopers posing as Kirk in the old series, or Sisko taking on a Starfleet admiral trying to impose martial law, and the list goes on – in fact, you could probably do a Top 20 list of mutinies just with Trek alone.
  • Red Dwarf – Series 1 – Queeg – a supposed back-up AI takes over the ship and puts Lister and the boys to work, relegating Holly to night-watchman duty. Little do they know it’s really Holly trying to show them that they shouldn’t take him for granted. Double-mutiny ensues as Holly attempts to challenge Queeg to a contest to regain control. Brilliantly, stupidly funny.
  • Macross/Robotech – Zentraedi Commander Breetai defects with his entire fleet and joins the last surviving humans. Sure, his boss Dolza was going to order Breetai and his forces wiped out anyway for having been unduly influenced by human culture and for repeatedly failing to capture the Macross/SDF-1, but instead of accepting his punishment like a good little giant humanoid, Breetai went native and threw his lot in with the micronians – and it paid off! He won!
  • The Black Hole – yes, the mutiny took place off-screen and before the story began, and yes, by most ways of measuring the movie was a real dog, but the mutiny did have some effect on things, and the flick is one of my (bloginhood’s) guilty pleasures. My list, I get to nominate who I like. 😛

So which SF mutinies from the movies or TV do you think should have made the list?

More Honourable Mentions from You:

  • The Matrix
  • Space: Above and Beyond
  • Sunshine
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What form of media makes the most effective SF gateway?

October 21, 2008

Further to the last post to slam into Not A Planet Anymore, I got to wondering about the larger question: what form of media (books, TV, movies. video games) makes the most effective SF gateway? What’t the most effective way to introduce a non-fan to SF, or for a mainstream to stumble into SF on their own? What’s the media that’s most likely to hook their interest and encourage them to pursue SF further?

I think, first of all, we need to be clear that when we’re talking about the most effective gateway, I mean for adults. WIth kids there’s a different way of thinking at work that I suspect makes it easier for them to get drawn into something a lot faster.

But getting back to the question of the most effective of the four major incarnations of SF culture… I think there are a couple that we can knock out of contention right off the bat.

The first: movies. SF movies, be they monster summer blockbusters or quiet, late-in-the-year thought pieces, certainly attract the biggest audience of mainstreamers – and of mainstreamers who deliberately seek this SF out – but I think in large part these are one-off circumstances. A mainstream movie-goer is quite likely to see many SF flicks over the course of their lifetime, but probably not because they’re specifically seeking out SF; they’re probably more attracted to the size of the film, or the action or comedy elements, etc. I doubt mainstream movie-goers demonstrate any loyalty to the specific genre of SF films. And I don’t believe they actually make the connection that whatever good qualities they’re picking up from the SF film they enjoyed can be found in SF books or TV or games. In fact, I’m fairly confident in saying that you could probably pick 10-20 people randomly from a lineup in front of a theatre for an SF film and ask them “Are you a sci-fi/fantasy fan?” or “Do you think after watching this movie you’ll be an SF fan?” or “Do you think after watching this movie you’ll want to explore other forms of SF entertainment like sci-fi books or TV shows or massive multi-player online fantasy role-playing video games?” the answer would probably, in most cases, be a flat “No.” (likely accompanied by derisive laughter and choice epithets) Sure, in some cases you might get a mainstream movie-goer who likes an SF movie so much that when he or she is passing through a book store they might pick-up a movie tie-in novel, and from there might get into other SF, or who might stay on a channel one night that was running an unrelated SF TV show, but I think those people are in the minority. And I certainly don’t think a movie would inspire hordes of them to start playing video games. No, I think that while movies may bring SF notoriety, they don’t ultimately increase the adult fanbase significantly and thus are not the most effective gateway.

In a similar light, (and I realize I’m stepping out on thin ice here ’cause I’m not a gamer) I don’t think video games are the most effective gateway media either. I’m kind of curious how many adult, non-SF fans suddenly pick up gaming, follow it loyally, then branch out into other areas of SF culture. I doubt it’s many. I suspect your average mainstream adult who gets into gaming is likely picking up a system and game as a one-off or limited interest sort of thing – they want to play a cool-looking game based on their favourite sport when the real games aren’t on the tube; or, and this is probably more likely, they’re picking up a platform for their kids, and while buying games for the kids to go with the system, they pick up a copy of Madden Football or Gretzky Hockey or something for themselves and play it once in a while. I would expect that the amount of time required for a lot of games these days is probably a disincentive for an adult with no previous grounding in SF to follow it religiously, much less to branch out into other areas of SF culture. As for those who do stick with it, the question remains of how much of a gateway does it really become for them? Do they just stick with one type of game, and thus have more of a door to a short, empty corridor, or do they really get interested enough to follow other SF avenues – the true gateway to the SF universe? Would it really get them to start watching BSG if they hadn’t before, or inspire them to read the classics by Clarke and Bradbury (or even media tie-in novels that might lead them to weightier fare)? I’m not so sure. Again, as with movies, there probably are a few mainstreamers who get the light switched on by video games and explore other avenues of SF, but I suspect they’re very much in the minority. For that reason, I don’t think gaming is necessarily the most effective SF gateway.

That leaves us with books and TV – two very strong contenders. But as they said in “Highlander” (the first movie, that is – not the idiot sequels or the sappy TV show): There can be only one.

Books should be the most effective gateway to SF. In my opinion, they are certainly the best gateway. The massive selection of SF books out there, the shallow and the deep, the new and the old, with the multitude of specialty genres, guarantees there is a story for everyone if they can only find it. Discovering a great story that hits home for a person is pretty much guaranteed to get them to seek out more books by the same author, then similar books by other authors, followed by experimentation. This seeds a deeply-rooted love of SF that easily promotes the other forms of the culture because it intrinsically carries respect of the subject matter (as long as it’s treated well and to the reader’s tastes). Someone who enjoys SF novels and short stories will have no qualms about watching an SF TV show or movie, and might make the time to play a video game or even buy a system and enjoy many games. The fact that even the dumbest book requires you to use some imagination (and, in the case of intelligent books, requires you to use your analytical skills and ability to understand metaphor) indicates that books are an active medium, they insist that you make some effort which, I think, in turn encourages a person to be active in seeking out more that they will enjoy, thus increasing their chances of exploring SF movies, TV and gaming.

But books do require you to think (at least on some level), and your average mainstreamer who could potentially become an SF fan may not initially want to invest the time and effort on a book in a genre he/she has no experience with. And buying an SF book (substitute checking one out at the library, if you wish) would require a mainstreamer to go into a part of the bookstore/library where they might encounter someone who appears to be a refugee from his mother’s basement, and the thought of having to deal with this nerdy stereotype might keep them away. Or, even worse for an image concious mainstreamer, they might go into the SF section of the store/library and someone might see them and think they were a geek pursuing less-than-popularly-acceptable reading material (gasp!). The fear of being labeled as having the SF cooties by other mainstreamers might keep potential down-the-road fans away from the chance to experiment with SF. And then there’s the problem of the rate of recreational reading in our societies today. One of the panelists at the Canadian SF panel at the recent VCon I attended pointed out (and I haven’t had time to check these figures, so feel free to take them with whatever size of salt grain you feel necessary) that only 1 in 4 Canadians are recreational readers, while a mere 1 in 7 Americans are. This is deeply unsettling in countries with education systems that aspire to ensure universal literacy. And yet, not surprising given the variety of different forms of entertainment out there (like the other major types of SF culture!) and the heavy demands on personal time from work and, in some cases, family and/or education. If the public isn’t battering down the doors of our bookstores and libraries, it’s hard to make the case that books are the most effective gateway to SF for mainstreamers.

And then there’s television. This is a feast or famine form of media, where there are times with few, if any, SF shows, and other times (like now) where it’s hard to turn on the tube on any given night and not be able to find something (and that’s just taking into account the modern/current shows, never mind the reruns available on all manner of specialty channels). During the good times there’s a lot of mediocre and poor fare, but you also get your works of inspiration like the new “Battlestar Galactica”, the new “Doctor Who”, or (looking back a couple of years) “Firefly”, or “Buffy the Vampire Slayer”, or “Babylon 5”. And the pattern of lean times and SF gluttony on TV is cyclical enough that there aren’t more than a few bad years before SF shows start to pop up here and there, followed by copycats and franchises and a few more originals, and pretty soon there’s a good selection again to entice new fans. And the shows that are good, are generally REALLY GOOD (so good that they might even draw the grudging appreciation of mainstream critics). But even the bad and mediocre shows can draw loyal followings. Unless a show is heavy on necessary backstory, it’s usually possible for a mainstreamer flipping through the channels to come across SF, catch a moment that interests them and then stay for the rest of the episode and perhaps follow the rest of the season. From there it’s a short hop to seeing SF movies (which they’re probably doing anyway) and allowing themselves to check out a title or two in the SF section of a bookstore or give some consideration to a video game they see advertised on TV or in a mall. Moreover, once a person becomes a fan of a certain show, they’re more likely to pay attention to other, similar shows, giving SF a good chance at gaining a foothold in their entertainment preferences. TV is also a safe gateway for mainstreamers – no-one else needs to see them geeking-out to BSG or The Doctor, or, heaven forbid: Trek. This allows them to be privately and gently, but none-the-less heavily (given the long-term investment of time following a show through a season) immersed in SF over time, eventually allowing the former mainstreamer to come out of the closet to some extent as a fan and begin experimenting with other forms of SF. In this way, television is an excellent medium for existing SF fans to expose and acclimatize friends and family to their passion and eventually get those others interested in it as well. And, ultimately, television is in pretty much every home in Western cultures, offering plenty of easy, cheap opportunities to get into SF.

TV does have its drawbacks though. The really good SF shows do tend to require consistent following to be aquainted with crucial backstory and to develop bonds with characters (BSG or B5, for example, would be difficult to pick up in the middle of their gigantic and complex story arcs). Another problem, as seen with “Firefly”, is that networks are far less patient with SF shows that they “don’t get” or that are suffering in the ratings, or (and this is most definitely not the case with “Firefly”) are poor quality, and are more likely to cancel them before they’ve had a chance to develop. In this respect, a potential fan could get interested in a show, only to have it yanked from the air before he/she was able to get into it enough to want to branch out to other SF. The other problem with network execs (or should I say, an other of many problems with network execs) is the current trend to create SF shows, and then, in mortal fear of the SF cooties and losiing suspicious mainstream audiences, backpedal for all their worth and publicly declare that the shows are NOT SF, but rather political dramas that just happen to be set in space (this line has been used with BSG), or dramatic stories with occasional uncommon or supernatural elements (“Lost” has been given this treatment). These cheesy cop-outs serve to drive away mainstreamers who may watch and enjoy these programs, but get negative stereotypes of SF reinforced and thus don’t bother to accept SF as intelligent and worthwhile entertainment and fail to expand their horizons.

But for all of that, I think, sadly (because -and I will state it again – I think books are the best gateway), that TV has the slight edge. Because of the larger audience potential and the ease of encouraging private acceptance and further exploration, TV is ultimately the most effective SF gateway.

Your thoughts?