Posts Tagged ‘Red Dwarf’

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Adding comics to the mix: Introducing Steve

April 27, 2009

From the very beginning, we’ve planned on bringing other voices to the Not A Planet Anymore forum to offer different opinions on the discussions of the day, as well as their expertise in their own sub-genres of geekery. Today I’m pleased to introduce our newest columnist: Steve.

You’ve probably seen me refer to Steve in the past, usually in reference to items from the British SF Invasion. A buddy from work who I happily discovered was a fellow SF fan, he’s been the vanguard of the SF redcoats – my pipeline to the new Red Dwarf episodes (which, shockingly, I haven’t managed to watch yet) and a ton of tidbits on The Doctor. He’ll even inflict some hard-core Starfleet damage on you if you’re not careful (although, with my own fondness for The Black Hole, I really, really shouldn’t be judging anyone).

But beyond that, Steve is a comic kingpin. With a collection that would put Mallrats‘ Brodie to shame – hell, his inbox stack alone would put many comic stores’ back issue shelves to shame – Steve is The Man when it comes to the comic scene. As the newest member of our team, Steve will be, among other things, adding some representation from the world of comics to our site with his columns.

Welcome, Steve!

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The Doctor and the Dwarf comin’ at ya

April 1, 2009

What’s better than a teaser for a cool British SF TV special? Teasers for TWO cool British SF TV specials, of course!

For your viewing pleasure, here’s the trailer for the new Doctor Who special, Planet of the Dead. Good job on the part of harrysaxon and Steve for catching this.

Also, a very Transformers-esque teaser for the upcoming 3-part Red Dwarf special, Back to Earth. Thanks again to Steve, our intrepid reporter for all sorts of UK SF goodness – just don’t get him started on old Starfleet reruns. Please.

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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 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.

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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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The “Boys from the Dwarf” are back!

January 28, 2009

Grab your Fijiian hotdog stand uniform, a chicken vindaloo and a lager, Red Dwarf, the unapologetically goofy BBC science fiction series, is coming out of stasis.

The BBC site’s reporting series co-creator Doug Naylor is reuniting the original cast for a new installment that sees them finally make it home after being lost in deep space for more than three million years. The two-part special, “Back to Earth”, will air Easter weekend on digital channel Dave.

When we last left the “Boys from the Dwarf” (as Lister referred to them at least once, although I seem to recall he may have used the term a couple of times) – plus the love of his life, Christine Kochansky – at the end of series 8, the recently-resurrected crew had left Lister, Rimmer, Kryten, Cat and Kochansky to die aboard the ship as it was seemingly on the verge of destruction. The final image (and I don’t feel that this is much of a spoiler ’cause it’s been nearly 10 years since the show ended and if you cared about it, you know what went down, and if you didn’t watch the show then you don’t care and the spoilage factor is irrelevant): Death was coming for Rimmer (again); the little smeg-head canned the Grim Reaper a good one in the junk and high-tailed it down the corridor.

To me, that wonderful final scene pretty much summed-up the series: a bunch of unimportant guys drifting through life trying to get by and have a little fun, fequently trod-upon by their alleged betters, occasionally confronted by huge forces beyond their comprehension and doing their damndest to survive one way or another – not with heroism to be remembered down through the ages, but instead possibly with a little cleverness, some quick timing and maybe a dash of physicality, but mostly with luck and definitely full of fear. Kind of a metaphor for how a lot of people on this world get through life, and one that was all the more effective by showing itself through laughter.

Special thanks to my co-worker and fellow fanboy Steve for passing along the article from the Beeb.

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Culling the herd

January 6, 2009

The one and only downside to getting a big stack of books for Christmas is that in the post-holiday season you’ve got to find some place to put them. In my house, that’s a bit of a problem. The shelves in the den are already full and my wife refuses to let me invade new territory elsewhere in the house to set up new colonies of books. Refile them, reconfigure your stacking plan, move the other brick-a-brack of the shelves, stand on your head for an hour and to view the storage problem from a whole new angle – try whatever you like, but sooner or later you’ll run out of room. That’s when tough times call for tough measures. You know what I’m talking about: culling the herd.

I know, I know, it’s a painful subject. For bookworms the world over there’s little quite as painful as facing the prospect of having to get rid of pieces of their collection. It doesn’t matter if you haven’t read some old rag for a decade or two and have no time or interest in picking it up again. It doesn’t matter if you downright loathe the thing. Most book lovers I know clutch their collections with more ferocity than Smaug perched atop his hoard in the Lonely Mountain. Even the thought of loaning a book to a trusted friend who you know is going to return it safe and sound at some point (I’m looking at you, harrysaxon!) is enough to make a die-hard book buyer a bit antsy. But getting rid of a few books? That’s like having to leave your home – a little piece of you dies. Doesn’t matter if you’re selling them and putting that little bit of cash towards another book purchase. Doesn’t matter if you donate them to the local library or to a charity that’ll sell them and put the money to a good cause. You still have to say good-bye to one of your precious books (Gollum, Gollum – sorry, I had something in my throat for a minute there).

There are even some people out there who are totally incapable of it – I had a buddy in Winnipeg who absolutely refused to give up any of his books, no matter how bad – even old novelizations of “Space 1999” episodes. This made each move more painful than the last – it’s amazing any of us were willing to help him haul boxes of heavy pulp from one apartment to another every couple of years. Truly a militant packrat.

Luckily, I’m not that far gone. It hasn’t been easy, but I’ve started The Discard Pile.

The first of the SF-related books to make the cut was Robert Foster’s “The Complete Guide to Middle-Earth“. I bought this back in the 80’s when I’d first discovered “The Lord of the Rings” and was grabbing anything Tolkien-related that I could get. For some reason I’ve held on to it, even though I tend to reread LOTR, “The Silmarillion” and “The Hobbit” every couple of years and know them backwards and forwards. And if there is some piece of minutia about whether some Petty Dwarf made a wrong turn at Albequerque once that I’d have to consult this book about, it wouldn’t be worth my time to do so and I wouldn’t bother. While this book has been a familiar sight on my shelves for a couple of decades, it really serves no purpose anymore and might as well make way for something else.

Next is S.M. Stirling’s “The Sky People“. I appreciate his effort to revive the naive adventures of yesteryear when pretty much every planet was inhabited and dinosaurs were common as deer, and the story moves along quickly enough, but ultimately I didn’t much care once I was done reading it. That seems to be the case with the one or two other solo efforts of Stirling that I’ve read over the years. For whatever reason, his style just doesn’t grab me enough to make it worth buying any more of his books or keeping this one around.

Michael Crichton’s “The Lost World” is also going out. I felt a brief – very brief – stab of guilt for getting rid of this one since the author died not long ago, but it’s certainly not one of his more memorable books. The original “Jurassic Park” was much better.

Colony” by Rob Grant is on the donation pile too. It wasn’t a bad book, in fact, admittedly it did have a funny moment or two. It just wasn’t as good as Grant’s other stuff (especially his Red Dwarf collaborations with Doug Nalor). I can’t see myself reading it again, so…

Matthew Hughes’ “The Commons” was another one that wasn’t bad, but at the same time didn’t really grab my interest. To be fair, I got a real chuckle out of Hughes’ multi-sided pun on the Commons, where the Commons is the name in the story for the human collective unconcious that is explored by people who observe recurring metaphors and archetypes at the risk of becoming lost or going mad. It’s pretty clear that Hughes is making a reference to John Stuart Mill’s famous example of The Tragedy of the Commons, where people who have access to shared, public land will plunder its resources in their own self interest rather than husbanding them responsibly. I think it’s also pretty obvious that Hughes (drawing from his observations from years in Ottawa), in talking about how the Commons can sidetrack a person until they cannot find their way out, is making a joke about the risks of spending too much time working on Parliament Hill. That being said, the various short stories that have been cobbled together to form the novel felt too disjointed. Maybe this is one of those books that might grow on me given another read in a few years, but with too little room on the shelf, I’ll take my chances and maybe give another of Hughes novels a try some other time.

Gregory Maguire got a double-whammy in this purge. I enjoyed “Wicked”, but his other fairy tale re-do’s “Mirror Mirror” (Snow White) and “Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister” (Cinderella) both earned a resounding “meh”. Gone.

Another twofer in the pile – this time for Charles DeLint. “Spirits in the Wires” and “The Onion Girl” are on their way out. Don’t get me wrong, I actually enjoy DeLint’s stuff once in a while. Problem is, his stories all feel too similar to one another – he’s got a formula that, admittedly, works, but is too annoying in its sameness if read too often: Supernatural critters and spirits from European folklore rub shoulders with North American native powers in some generic city; add a plucky, caring, and usually good-looking group of living at or near the street-level but basically wholesome artsy-fartsy usually 20-somethings and teens who quaff gallons of tea while sharing their feelings; nudge one of these kids into some sort of ill-advised collision with the afore-mentioned sprites (sometimes as a result of a personal problem that’s driven them in the wrong direction); send the rest of the gang off to the rescue, usually with a wise elder to give some backup, and you’ve got a DeLint story. These two books certainly aren’t bad by any means, they’re just not my favourites. And when DeLint’s books are so similar to one-another, there’s no point cluttering the shelves with the ones that aren’t qutie as good as the others.

Lastly, oh yes, it had to happen, I’m finally getting rid of “The Divorce of Buddy Figaro – A Taoist Comedy Novel” by David Silverberg – the most hated book on my shelf. Ever. This waste of paper is so absolutely awful that I’ve considered keeping it just as proof that some of the worst writing ever did actually get published. That’s probably the reason I’ve kept it for the past couple of years rather than pitching it as soon as I was done with it. Proof that I suffered through the whole thing and actually had my sanity at the end of it. But if room has to be made for more books, I’d have a hard time justifying the loss of a bunch of mediocre stories while keeping this steaming pile. I almost feel bad about putting this thing in a pile for donation, but who knows, someone out there might connect with it in some way I’m incapable of understanding. I can’t bring myself to say more power to them, but, well, whatever makes your boat float. At least it’s out of my home once and for all. Good riddance!

That’s my post-holiday bookshelf cleanup. Now I’ll have room for new, hopefully worth-while acquisitions.

What’s your take on getting rid of books in your collection? Are you able to cull them without much regret? Do you feel a pang of guilt when parting with them? Are you one of the few who’s actually unable to do it?

What are some of the SF books you’ve recently culled from the herd? Why did you give them up?