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Progress Backwards: Star Trek’s Voyage Away From the Leading Edge

My friend Crystal over at Geek Outsider was kind enough to ask for my thoughts on the recent media coverage of Star Trek’s progressive legacy.  So I whipped up this little Op-Ed (basically just an excuse for me to be exceedingly contrarian) that ended up being equal parts criticism and justification.  Here’s a quick look…

Quark as Lumba

This week’s Star Trek hype started me thinking.  How does a series that we in the Geek community so singularly associate with progressiveness become what it is today?  It’s shockingly easy to criticize later iterations of Trek for their failure to live up to the original’s legacy of equality.  But maybe we’re coming at this from the wrong direction.  Maybe it isn’t about what Star Trek became.  Maybe the question should be, ‘what was Star Trek in the first place?’  And to answer that, we need a little context.

For starters, what does ‘progressive’ mean anyway?  Is it just being politically liberal?  Does it have to do with technological progress?  Is it about being ‘edgy?’  What made The Original Series (TOS) progressive?  There isn’t a quick and easy answer to any of these questions, but they lie at the core of what TOS was and why it remains iconic today.  These are also questions that have very different responses today than they did in the 1960s.  And that is my argument in a nutshell.

Now don’t get me wrong.  My argument isn’t that TOS isn’t progressive, just that it was progressive in the context of the 1960s.  It’s not that the ideals of TOS aren’t progressive anymore; it’s that the forefront of being progressive has changed.  So when The Next Generation (TNG) tried to capitalize on the progressive success of TOS by featuring, among others, a blind, black helmsman and a female chief of security, it didn’t manage to resonate the same way that Nichelle Nichols’ Uhura or George Takei’s Sulu did.

You can read the rest of the article over at Geek Outsider.  It’s also a pretty great place for getting some alternative perspectives on SF, fantasy and comic culture.

#CBR4 Maneuver #39 – The Hydrogen Sonata

Target: Iain M. Banks’ The Hydrogen Sonata

Profile: Science Fiction, Space Opera, Expanded Continuity

Summary: From goodreads.com, “It is, truly, provably, the End Days for the Gzilt civilization.

An ancient people, they helped set up the Culture ten thousand years earlier and were very nearly one of its founding societies, deciding not to join only at the last moment. Now they’ve made the collective decision to follow the well-trodden path of millions of other civilizations; they are going to Sublime, elevating themselves to a new and almost infinitely more rich and complex existence.

Amidst preparations though, the Regimental High Command is destroyed. Lieutenant Commander (reserve) Vyr Cossont appears to have been involved, and she is now wanted – dead, not alive. Aided only by an ancient, reconditioned android and a suspicious Culture avatar, Cossont must complete her last mission given to her by the High Command – find the oldest person in the Culture, a man over nine thousand years old, who might have some idea what really happened all that time ago. Cossont must discover the truth before she’s exiled from her people and her civilization forever – or just plain killed.”

After Action Report:

Having reviewed more than half of Banks’ excellent Culture novels, I’m getting to a point where I’ve run out of things to say.  The Hydrogen Sonata continues the series’ exploration of the galactic metacivilization called the Culture with the same strong storytelling and eye for humor.  The themes Banks is exploring are natural extensions of those we found in Look to Windward and Excession.  Of course, the problem with consistency, even good consistency, is that it is boring to read about.

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A few thoughts on Mass Effect and Space Operas

First, read this.  Or skim it.  Or take in the title.  Whatever.

http://www.popbioethics.com/2012/02/why-mass-effect-is-the-most-important-science-fiction-universe-of-our-generation/

I caught wind of this via io9.com (here).

Now, I’ll start out by saying that, yes, for all the reasons above and a few more, Mass Effect is a compelling and fascinating piece of sci-fi literature.  At its core, it is the natural progression, and the shiniest of the new-series space operas.

However, (and here comes the kicker) anyone who is foolish enough to hail Mass Effect as the most important SF Setting of our generation hasn’t been getting out enough.  Mass Effect is fundamentally built upon the foundations laid by the current generation of Space Opera writers.  Authors like Iain M. Banks, Alistair Reynolds, and to lesser extents, Peter F. Hamilton and Ken MacLeod have been toying with the ideas present in Mass Effect for more than two decades.  But if Mass Effect was simply reaching great heights by standing on the shoulders of giants, I wouldn’t have a problem.  The flaw of any media is that in order for it to be successful, it must appeal to its audience.  Mass Effect has had to dull the edges of its social commentary, its science, it’s very philosophical message in order to be a marketable version of its predecessors.  It may hold up to the even more popularized television and film worlds, but to hold it up as superior, simply because it is closer to the goal than its ugly cousins is an affront to the literature and to our intelligence. Read the rest of this entry

CBRIII Maneuver #28 – Look to Windward

Target: Iain M. Banks’ Look to Windward

Profile: Science Fiction, Space Opera, Expanded Continunity.

Summary: Edited from goodreads.com “The Twin Novae battle had been one of the last of the Idiran war, one of the most horrific. Desperate to avert defeat, the Idirans had induced not one but two suns to explode, snuffing out worlds & biospheres teeming with sentient life. They were attacks of incredible proportion–gigadeathcrimes. But the war ended & life went on.

Now, 800 years later, light from the first explosion is about to reach the Masaq’ Orbital, home to the Culture’s most adventurous & decadent souls. There it will fall upon Masaq’s 50 billion inhabitants, gathered to commemorate the deaths of the innocent & to reflect, if only for a moment, on what some call the Culture’s own complicity in the terrible event. Also journeying to Masaq’ is Major Quilan, an emissary from the war-ravaged world of Chel. In the aftermath of the conflict that split his world apart, most believe he has come to Masaq’ to bring home Chel’s most brilliant star & self-exiled dissident, the honored Composer Ziller.

But the Major’s true assignment will have far greater consequences than the death of a mere political dissident, as part of a conspiracy more ambitious than even he can know–a mission his superiors have buried so deeply in his mind that even he can’t remember it.” Read the rest of this entry

CBRIII Maneuver #23 – Excession

Target: Iain M. Banks’ Excession

Profile: Science Fiction, Space Opera, Expanded Continuity.

Summary: From the back of the book, “Diplomat Byr Genar-Hofoen has been selected by the Culture to undertake a delicate and dangerous mission.  The Department of Special Circumstances–the Culture’s espionage and dirty tricks section – has sent him off to investigate a 2,500-year-old mystery: the sudden disappearance of a star fifty times older than the universe itself.  But in seeking the secret of the lost sun, Byr risks losing himself.  There is only one way to break the silence of millennia: steel the soul of the long-dead starship captain who first encountered the star, and convince her to be reborn.  And in accepting this mission, Byr will be swept into a vast conspiracy that could lead the universe into an age of peace… or to the brink of annihilation.” Read the rest of this entry

A Brief Examination of ‘Hard’ SF

When I started pulling my thoughts together for my review of Alistair Reynolds’ House of Suns, I found myself getting bogged down in a pile of science fiction terminology and information that might be useful for people who aren’t big SF readers, but just slows down the book review.  So I thought I’d break up the review into a quick examination of the subject matter, followed by the review of the actual literary work.  We’ll see how this goes.

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CBRIII Maneuver #1 – Use of Weapons

Target: Iain M. Banks’ Use of Weapons

Profile: Science Fiction, Space Opera, Expanded Continuity

Summary: Taken from the back cover, “The man known as Cheradenine Zakalwe was one of Special Circumstances’ foremost agents, changing the destiny of planets to suit the Culture through intrigue, dirty tricks, or military action.  The woman known as Diziet Sma had plucked him from obscurity and pushed him toward his present eminence, but despite all their dealings she did not know him as well as she thought.  The drone known as Skaffen-Amtiskaw knew both of these people.  It had once saved the woman’s life by massacring her attackers in a particularly bloody manner.  It believed the man to be a burnt out case.  But not even its machine intelligence could see the horrors in his past.”

Vital Stats:
Pages: 478
Difficulty: 6 out of 10
Rating: 4/5 Stars

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