Crossovers…

June 24, 2009

The cover of this weeks 2000AD shows a group of Ro-Busters breaching Fortress Britannia.

If this means nothing to you, suffice to say that the Ro-Busters are a group of decommissioned war robots who sometimes take part in whacky adventures, and Fortress Britannia is Britain after a thinly disguised Russian invasion.   The significant thing is that the Ro-Busters are invading another character’s strip, that of Bill Savage.

It’s an oft noted comment that there is something very appealing about crossovers, particularly in Science Fiction.  Tharg (2000AD’s alien editor) himself notes this in this week’s editorial.  Pat Mills, the writer of Ro-Busters and Savage, the strip the robots are invading, has used the crossover to good effect over the years.  Part of his success, I think, is the disparity between the stories he joins:  putting the swords and scorcery of Nemesis together with the robots of the ABC warriors, or joining the Dinosaurs of Flesh with the 22nd century adventures of Judge Dredd.

Crossovers are everywhere, from the brief glimpse of the Cafe Obi Wan in Indiana Jones 2, to the first Ringworld book by Larry Niven where the artefact of the title was built by characters that didn’t even appear in that novel, but in completely seperate novella.  They are common in music, too, with themes from one piece turning up in another, a device much favoured by so called classical composers.

There seems to be something very satisfying about the crossover.  If I knew what it was I doubt I’d be any richer, but maybe I’d be better informed.


Truth is Stranger than Science Fiction 2

June 18, 2009

Two things

1) My wife won a prize in a raffle this weekend.  The raffle was for a local brass band, and we were expecting the usual bottle of wine, or maybe a box of after dinner mints that was three months past its sell by date having done the rounds of bring and buy sales and church fetes for the past four years.  Instead she won…

… a 1Gb USB flash drive.  I remember handing one of these round at a meeting about five years ago and having to explain what it was.  It’s astonishing how quickly new devices go mainstream nowadays.  Think how long it took VCR to catch on.

The most amazing thing is, of course, the fact that she won something useful at a raffle.

2) A friend of mine has just returned from Australia.  He’s telling me all about it, not by phone, not by email, but via the game messaging system in between turns on Facebook Scrabble.

No SF author ever predicted that.


New Website

June 13, 2009

You may have noticed that I’m in the process of updating my website http://www.tonyballantyne.com.

Following the success of this blog, I’ve now installed WordPress on my webserver, and I’m currently in the process of transferring new content across.  Once this is complete I’ll get to work on the theme.  Bearing in mind WordPress is free, the least I can do for them is to plug their services.  Follow the link at the bottom of this page to find out more.

I’d apologise for the inconvenience, but let’s face it, if the unavailability of an SF author’s website is the biggest incovenience you face over the next few days, you really do need to get out more.


Millionth English Word Coming

June 10, 2009

Gosh, two blog entries in one day.  But apparently the millionth English Word is due anytime now

http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/americas/8092549.stm

so I thought it would be nice if I could be the one who coined it.

So here we go

Accordiobot-  A robot constructed for the specific purpose of playing the accordion

Sploons- Vegetarian spoons used solely for eating lentils

Fruze- That little patch of hair some men get left on the front of their heads when all the hair around has receded.

 

Hopefully one of those will hit the mark.  I’ll keep you posted


Primeval and Schismatrix

June 10, 2009

I watched the last episode of Primeval last night. Although I’m not a huge fan, I’ve nothing against it. I find it does what it sets out to do- entertaining families on a Saturday evening.

But is it Science Fiction? Well, I would say yes. It features time travel and exciting gadgetry, and I’m sure that an eight year old would find the idea of someone going back in time to wipe out the first human beings quite a mind blowing concept. (I remember being similarly awe struck when I first read Ray Bradbury’s A Sound of Thunder). But to us SF fans the idea is an old one.

Does that matter? There are always writers who do an excellent job of putting a new spin on old ideas, they present well structured and excitingly told stories, seasoned with just a hint of their own philosophy. (Eric Brown’s Helix and Peter Hamilton’s Pandora’s Star are good examples of these excellent but oddly old fashioned tales). I like to call these Level 1 stories.

The point is, though, that SF has moved on from the level of Primeval and other TV shows like it. There are a lot of Level 2 stories out there, waiting to filter through to the mainstream. New ideas that are built on the foundations of the Science Fiction that has gone before us. Read Bruce Sterling’s Schismatrix, for example. Written more than 20 years ago, and, by today’s standards, oddly pre-singularity  (and if you don’t know what I mean by pre-singularity you’re not reading modern SF), but it’s crammed full of new ideas. The spaceships and spacestations and spacepirates of Level 1 SF are there, but they are in the background, barely seen, the platform from which a mind blowing array of new concepts are launched. I often wonder, though, if level 2 books like Schismatrix would make any sense to someone who hasn’t read their Asimov (or, maybe nowadays, watched their Star Wars).

Anyway, getting back to the beginning, that’s why I support shows like Primeval. It’s not just that they keep families entertained, it’s that they’re grounding kids in the Level 1 concepts they’ll need to read the Level 2 SF of tomorrow.


Hard Times by Charles Dickens

June 1, 2009

Every SF fan should read this book.  Why?  Because it is an anti SF novel.  

Let me explain…

The book begins with what would be a classic (though oddly punctuated) SF line.  

Now what I want is, Facts.  Teach these boys and girls nothing but Facts.  Facts alone are wanted in life.

The words are spoken by

Thomas Gradgrind, Sir. A man of realities.  A man of facts and calculations.

In other words, a sterling SF character of the old school.  The thing that makes this book the opposite of SF, though, is that it sets out to show that Thomas Gradgrind is wrong.  How?  By demonstrating what happens to his children due to their logical upbringing.  Gradgrind realises the error of his belief in a world of facts and logic when he sees his daughter married to the wrong man and his son exposed as a thief, and all because they believe they are doing what he wished.

Now, this entry is not intended to criticise Dickens (that’s not what this Blog is for, after all.)  Hard Times wasn’t written as SF (nor should we expect every book to be), it was written to “Shake some people in a terrible mistake of these days” (Dicken’s own words), and it contains some excellent descriptions of life for the working classes in Coketown.  Anyway, I love Dickens work. 

However, Hard Times does beg the following question:

Does SF have an answer to this depiction of Gradgrind’s supposedly flawed character?    

Of course it does.   A good SF novel finds beauty in facts, it can find emotion and sensitivity in the cold equations of the universe.  That’s one of the many things that makes SF worth reading.

That’s what’s original about the genre.