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Gary Farber

Thanks muchly for the link, Lance! I'm honored.

"This is an area in which science fiction, for all its vaunted imagination, is traditionally quite conservative." That's kinda a bunch of ignorant horsepucky, though. Sf as old as Olaf Stapledon has commonly examined "aliens who were so far ahead of us on the evolutionary ladder that they couldn't even recognize us as sentient beings." In less sophisticated fashion, even E.E. Smith was dealing with those notions back in the 1920s, let alone the countless hundreds of subsequent stories ever since. I'd hardly begin to list such stories and writers, there are so many of them, but in the last few years, oh, Robert Charles Wilson, and Greg Egan, and Iain Banks, and, oh, the list just goes on and on.

"Although SF offers a unique opportunity to examine the way we live as humans in comparison to different ways we might live, the usual answer it gives is that the way we’re living now is pretty much the best we can imagine — alien lifestyles are much more often portrayed as profoundly lacking in some crucial feature of individuality or passion than they are as a real improvement over our current messy situation."

He seems to be talking about tv "sci-fi," not actual written sf. Or about John W. Campbell-era/style sf, at best.


Even our local TV newscaster thought it was no match for the original.

And Gary's right; the theme of humanity as undistinguished blobs in comparison to the alien civilizations we run across during galactic exploration is almost pervasive in SF.


Of course the brainless remake of Robert Wise's science-fiction classic isn't any good. How could it be? When Gort, the robot from the original film shows more emotional and intellectual complexity than Keannu Reeves, where else is there to go but down?

Is anybody really surprised? From the very beginning, the brain trust behind 2009's The Day The Earth Stood Still made it painfully obvious that the closest relationship any of them had with genuine science-fiction was a quick one-night stand with a Star Trek episode.

But, ironically enough, the same problem reared it's misshapen head when "sci-fi" virgins saw Star Trek for the first time. When Star Trek first premiered a hundred years ago, there were literary giants like Samuel Delaney, Roger Zelazny, Theodore Sturgeon, Harlan Ellisons, Robert Silverberg and others sharing their dangerous visions with us.

So any real fan of the genre who knew how smart good science-fiction is couldn't help but be disappointed by Star Trek's imaginative shallowness. What's worse, a rabid mob of born-again "sci-fi" zealots entered stage left and loudly proclaimed how Star Trek was "THE BEST SCIENCE-FICTION IN THE WORLD!!!", and either ignored or verbally abused anyone who tried to tell them differently.

It didn't help when some of these same shallow-minded yahoos became Hollywood producers, directors and screenwriters who endlessly recycled the same dumb sci-fi movies and TV shows. In their minds, "What If" devolved into "How Much Money Can We Spend On Special Effects?" I'm sure the few people behind the remake who actually bothered to watch The Day The Earth Stood Still say,"Y'know, this would be better if they didn't talk so much."

Sometimes accidents happen, and a funny, unique, and thought-provoking film like Groundhog Day shows us what good science-fiction is. Usually, however, it's Transformers or The Dark Knight that gets dumped into movie theaters.

I'm sorry, but I won't get fooled again. Whenever somebody tells me if I want to see a new sci-fi TV show, I reach for the new Neal Stephenson instead.

Gary Farber

"Sometimes accidents happen, and a funny, unique, and thought-provoking film like Groundhog Day shows us what good science-fiction is."

Eternal Sunshine of the Forgotten Mind. 2010. Blade Runner, within limits. 2001. And a smattering of others, of course. But there are relatively few movies that are actually good science fiction (which is an entirely different standard than good movies, to be sure!). The medium is just too short to begin to approach the depth of ideas, characterization, background, actual science, and other aspects of real sf, available in text, I'm afraid. The scope of a film is almost always that of a short story, not of a novel. Even a film that is very good within its ambitions, such as Serenity, is a very tame, watered-down, form of science fiction. Although, to be sure, comparing different media is very much pears and asparagus in many ways, and unfair.

I do loves me neo-Battlestar Galactica, and Firefly, to be sure, anyway. (And am very fond of Star Trek, mostly out of nostalgia, no matter that, again, it can't begin to approach written sf in sophistication.)

Gary Farber

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, of course. Speaking of forgetfulness.


Gary, I wonder if "The Nine Billion Names of God" has made or could make the silver screen.


Thanks for bring up Eternal Sunshine of The Eternal Mind, Next to The Truman Show (another exceptional science-fiction movie), I think of it as being Jim Carrey's best performance.

I'm not entirely sure that we're disagreeing, Gary, but if we are, then I'll reaffirm my opinion of Groundhog Day as being a both a good movie and a good science-fiction story. It wouldn't have been out of place in Galaxy or The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction at all.

Bill Murray, Harold Landis & Co. took a premise that very easily could have been another brain-dead popcorn flick, and did what good science-fiction does: followed it through. It was funny, it it engaged your intellect, and it made a very profound statement about Life and Death without being either superficial or pretentious.

Still, you're entirely right about it being a short story. I can't remember the gentleman's name, but he said the definition of a short story is "one thing happens", and a well-crafted movie understands that. That's why a bogus, overblown "epic" like Australia doesn't work because it's has too many ideas and not enough time.

Besides, the robust landscape of science-fiction has room for ideas big and small, and I must confess I have a love for short stories that squeeze every molecule of a idea into the corners of a story. "Born of Man and Woman" is one, for example, or "Nightfall", or "Passengers", or--never mind, I think you know what I mean.

The trouble with Hollywood and science-fiction unfortunately, is that it doesn't even know what a good short story is. If it doesn't fit on the back of a napkin, it makes their wee heads hurt.

Gary Farber

"I'm not entirely sure that we're disagreeing, Gary, but if we are, then I'll reaffirm my opinion of Groundhog Day as being a both a good movie and a good science-fiction story."

No disagreement at all. I might quibble that since the mechanism is completely unexplained, that it's fantasy, rather than sf, but I'm not really a serious nit-picker in that regard, and I've never believed that genres have anything resembling clear boundaries. Genres are descriptions, not strait-jackets.

Linkmeister, Nine Billion Names of God certainly would have made a perfectly fine Twilight Zone episode, of any iteration of the show. Or of the regrettably extremely short-lived Masters of SF. I thought I had an extremely vague memory of some very bad adaption a decade or so ago, somewhere, but quick googling doesn't find anything, so I'm probably just confused. (I did turn up a band with that name, though. :-))

(It's a shame that anthology shows have such trouble in the contemporary tv market, though the New Twilight Zone did last for several years, and did some excellent work, as well as a lot of medicre work; they successfully adapted Harlan's Paladin of the Lost Hour, and Roger Zelazny's Last Defender of Camelot, for example. Having George R. R. Martin as a producer and story editor helped a lot.)

Let me also add that while Babylon 5 was just a hodgepodge of traditional sf ideas, it was generally pretty well done, particularly after the first season. (Another rule of thumb, with a smattering of exceptions, are that tv sf shows tend to be particularly bad in their first season, while the writers are finding their way; Firefly and neo-BSG are notable exceptions.

Gary Farber

And, oh, yeah, Twelve Monkeys is excellent.

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