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Posts Tagged ‘television’

If you have any connection to SF fandom or geek culture, you’ve heard by now that the new incarnation of Doctor Who is going to be played by a woman. You may also have heard that this is going to bring around the fall of civilization, much like, oh, I don’t know, electing a black President.

I have no interest in arguing whether the new Doctor’s gender is a result of left-wing politics, political correctness, feminist pandering, or just a new showrunner bringing along an actress he really enjoys working with, from his current show. (It bears mentioning that he could not bring along the lead actor from his show, because David Tennant has already been the Doctor.) I have no interest in arguing this question because I don’t know the answer. And neither do you, unless your name is Chibnall.

Furthermore, I don’t care. It’s all in the story. If you tell good Doctor stories next season, I’m all for it. If you don’t, well, then, it won’t be Jodie Whittaker’s fault. Unless it is. Who knows? (No pun intended.) But the Doctor’s gender should not be the determinant of whether you watch the show.

As far as I’m concerned, the Doctor could regenerate into an aardvark. (A talking aardvark, of course.) Or maybe Disney will buy the BBC and she will regenerate into a gun-toting raccoon. Or a mouse. The point is: If the Doctor had regenerated into an aardvark, or a mouse, or a dancing bear, it would not have made any difference because this is fiction. Science fiction. They make this stuff up as they go along. Are you an expert on Time Lord biogenesis? Do you have a Ph.D. in temporal biophysics? No? Well then, where do you get off saying the Doctor can’t be a woman?

And what difference does it make anyway? I defy anyone to give me one good story-related reason that the Doctor can’t be a woman. Apparently, it’s been in the cards for years. This is the same reasoning that said John Steed’s partner couldn’t be a woman–until they hired Honor Blackman to play Cathy Gale and TV was changed forever. Oddly enough, The Avengers was not ruined, even by a succession of female partners.

Could a woman have replaced John Steed? Probably not, but I know a lot of guys who wouldn’t have complained if all we got was sixty minutes of Emma Peel

 

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I spent the Christmas break catching up on my laziness. Work has been more than usually busy lately, the ebb and flow having gained flow quite noticeably as the year ebbed.* And one evening, as I flipped through the 4000 channels in search of something to watch, I found a gold mine: a Thin Man movie marathon. I think Nick Charles (as played by the iconic William Powell) is the paragon of Thirties’ suavity, urbane, witty, cool under fire, a genius detective…I want to dress like him, talk like him… yes, I want to be him. But not because of any of those qualities I just described. Oh no. I want to be Nick Charles because he’s married to Nora.

Nora Charles. Brought to life by the incomparable Myrna Loy, Nora is unflappable, game for adventure, and fiercely loyal to her Nicky. What man could want more? The first time I saw The Thin Man, I fell in love with Nora Charles and Myrna Loy. I still love them today. (It’s okay, the wife knows.)

Now, I have all the movies on DVD already, and the only reason I haven’t watched them all is because I don’t want to finish the series: I always want to have at least one to look forward to. So the fact that they were now on TV should not have meant much, but we all know the joy of that serendipitous discovery is greater than that of knowing you could just pull the movies off the shelve and watch them any old time.

And then–disaster. Idly scanning the channel guide during a commercial, I discovered that at the same time there was playing on another network a Godzilla marathon. Great Scott! What to do? There are a lot more Godzilla movies than Thin Man movies, and I don’t have most of them on DVD.

Have you ever channel-flipped between the most charming crime-fighting marriage of the 1930s and the greatest man-in-a-rubber-suit monster of the 20th century? I have–now.

And let me tell you, it ain’t Heaven. First, you miss a lot. No matter which one you favor, you’re going to miss pieces while you’re watching the other. Second, there can be too much of a good thing, even with your favorite shows. I could probably watch two or three Thin Man movies in a row before my eyes started to fall out, but it was late that night and I was getting sleepy, so I stopped after 1 1/2 when I realized I’d seen the next one anyway.

But at the point, I didn’t know what “too much of a good thing” meant. It turned out the Godzilla marathon ran for three days. And for three days, I spent all of my free time in front of the TV sucking down the movie equivalent of empty calories. Big calories, but empty. And I started to appreciate what I had known for years: Although all Godzilla movies are not the same, but they might as well be. Honestly, it’s hard to get invested in the Japanese army with its super-weapons when, even if they manage to hit Godzilla (how do they ever miss?), they can’t stop him. It’s one thing to watch such an exercise in futility once in a while, but for three days straight?

So yes, it is possible to get too much of a good thing, no matter how much you love it. At least, it is as far as television is concerned. At the end of the day, I realized something else, something far more important: The person with whom I spend my life doesn’t watch Godzilla movies, but she left me alone that whole weekend to do as I pleased. So I went back to her. Some things that you love, you never get enough of.

 

*A tortured metaphor, I know, but indulge me.

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As everybody who is not living at the bottom of the sea knows, we have an election in about a month.* And along with most of my fellow citizens, I plan to vote.

Wait–let me rephrase. Along with many of my fellow citizens, I plan to vote. Whether “most” will is a matter of speculation. If you do plan to vote, you can skip this post. But for any of you out there who plan not to vote, I have a story to tell you.

When I was a child, back in the Middle Ages, we of the nerdish persuasion eagerly awaited the new fall line-up of TV shows, because every year there was one (sometimes a couple) that qualified as SF or fantasy. Usually it stunk, but it was what we had, so we watched. Then, in 1966, something changed. We didn’t know it then…in fact, it didn’t actually change for some years, but the seed was planted. In 1966, Star Trek premiered.

Star Trek was one of the first intelligent SF shows on TV, along with The Twilight Zone and The Outer Limits. It lasted two years, but was not on the network’s schedule for a third season. Fans got into an uproar, there was a famous letter-writing campaign, and a third season was granted. Then Star Trek went away.

For nearly ten years, we were back in that pre-Trek desert. SF was once more a ghetto. Then magic struck, this time in the form of Star Wars. Suddenly SF wasn’t so geeky; millions enjoyed it who weren’t SF fans. In the years since, our field has grown to the point where now there is an entire channel devoted to SF and fantasy (and wrestling, which really fits better than you’d think). But none of this would have happened without Star Wars, and Star Wars would not have happened without Star Trek.

So what does this have to do with the election? Just this. Nerdism is so pervasive that you could probably find more people who can tell you why Captain America should be allowed to lecture the NYPD on crowd safety than can tell you what Mike Pence said about the border fence a few nights ago. Nerds are no longer in a ghetto. Everyone is now a nerd. We’ve won.

And how did we win? By a small group of like-minded individuals demonstrating for what they wanted. Although it appeared at first they only won a small, limited victory, they ended up taking over the world. Not just the comic book world, or the Star Trek world, but the real world. Where things cost real money and the movies create real jobs.

Now how long do you think it would take to affect change if you started in the real world? If fantasy can affect reality, how would real votes affect reality? Your vote doesn’t count? It isn’t enough? If Star Trek fans had thought that, we wouldn’t have Star Wars or the Marvel Cinematic Universe–both of which are worth billions.

Think your vote won’t matter? Small actions have big consequences. I won’t say, “If you don’t vote, you can’t complain.” But I will say, “If you don’t vote, you can’t help make your dreams come true.”

*Those people at the bottom of the sea are, I will admit, probably happier than we are.

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If there’s anything that gets the Internet’s attention, it’s list rankings. If there’s anything that gets nerds’ attention, it’s list-ranking their favorite genre shows. And when you’re talking Star Trek…well now, even I’m interested.

The Los Angeles Times has published such a list, ranking all of Star Trek in its various broadcast/film incarnations, and that’s like throwing chum to sharks.* I will admit that, although I have been an SF fan since before I learned to read, I was not an early adopter of Star Trek. (I didn’t get into it until my college roommate insisted we stop by the communal dorm TV before dinner to catch an episode, and it became a habit we shared with several new friends we found there.) So I never watched the cartoons, nor have I seen the latest movie, meaning that I will leave them out of my rankings. I’m also not going to reproduce the Times’s list here, (a) because it would take too much room, and (b) because they’re comparing movies and TV series, and that’s apples and oranges. I’m making two lists, with a grand champion at the end.

Here’s my list, from best to worst (with comments as appropriate):

Series

Deep Space Nine (best characterizations)

Star Trek TOS (for boldly going where no television had gone before)

Next Generation

Voyager (negative bonus points for worst use of intriguing premise)

Enterprise (negative bonus points for that shower scene)

Movies

Wrath of Khan (of course)

The Voyage Home

The Search for Spock

First Contact

The Undiscovered Country

Star Trek: The Motion Picture (bonus points for the extras in the crowd scene)

Insurrection

Star Trek (reboot)

Generations

Tie for last place: The Final Frontier, Nemesis, Into Darkness (bonus negative points for not destroying all copies)

And the Grand Champion: Deep Space Nine.

That’s how I see it. Have a different opinion? Bring it on!

*Here is another list, but since it’s so close to mine, I’m not arguing details.

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This article caught my eye today. It reminded me of the whole “women can’t write science fiction” kerfuffle that significantly raised the number of viewers to my blog a few months back. It appears that even though I was able to name some very talented authors who could put that whole myth to bed, there were other examples, perhaps even more pointed, that I could have cited.

Now, that original posting claiming that women could not be SF writers was thoroughly trashed, and the scene has been quiet since. But the rise of the Noxious Political Campaign (“NoPC”) this year reminds us that such sentiments still lurk below the surface. (For the purposes of my argument, I equate the NoPC people with those who think women can’t…well, just fill in the blank.) And so, I point to this article. Plainly, women can and always have been able to.

I happen to be found of saying that anyone can be a writer. If you have a basic vocabulary and grade-school grasp of grammar, you can write a story. Think you can’t? Have no ideas? Take your day–today–and write it down. Change the names. Change the scene to another city. There, you’ve written a story. Change the date to next week and make your boss an alien, and voila! You have a science fiction story.

Will it be a good story? Maybe not. Would it satisfy the rigorous definition of SF used by those who are invested in such definitions? Probably not. Are you a writer? Sure you are, just not necessarily a good one. But it takes time to be good at writing, like anything else. I’ve been writing since…well, let’s just say those clay tablets are drying out…and there’s precious little evidence I’ve learned to be good at it. But I’m a writer, nevertheless; you could be too, if you wanted. It doesn’t matter your gender, color, age, or religion. We all have a  need for self-expression. Some of us satisfy that need through writing. I’m not going to tell you that you can’t.

And neither will those women who wrote for Star Trek.

#SFWApro

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Science fiction movies have taken over Hollywood. That’s a given. While there’s a lot of room still for other types of movies (and always will be, I hope), it’s the SF films that rake in the bucks. (Okay, it’s superhero films that rake in most of that, but they’re a subgenre,)

Now SF is taking over television. We really should have seen it coming: Fantasy has ruled commercials for as long as TV has been around. SF has always lurked around the edges, maybe one new show every season, but in the last few years it’s strutted into the spotlight, so much so that now there’s an entire network devoted to SF (which shows wrestling. But I guess that’s a form of fantasy. I just don’t want to know whose fantasy.). And again, the rising star is the superhero show. Must be the lousy economy. Everyone has power fantasies.

Okay, practically everybody goes to SF movies. And practically everybody watches SF on TV. (Twenty million people watch a show that’s about guys who watch SF movies and TV.) It’s not a big deal any more. You can cop to it. No one will look at you funny.

Unless you read the stuff. Then you’re a nerd.

I’ve noted before, Sheldon and Leonard and Howard and Raj are the biggest nerds on TV, and they hardly read any SF.* What is it about reading SF that makes “normal” people want to snicker and point at you behind their chai lattes?

I think it’s not what we’re reading, it’s that we’re reading. Reading has never been the #1 hobby for most Americans. And if you are caught reading in an airport or at the beach, it’s escapist stuff–but not SF. At least not the stuff found in the Science Fiction section of the bookstore, er, Amazon.com. It’s “safe” escapist lit, the kind other people also read, you know, NY Times bestsellers. Because if you’re going to read something “out there,” at least make sure it’s safe, i.e., vetted by the popular culture. If you read something nobody’s heard of, you’re a nerd.

And if it’s known, it’s no longer “that sci-fi stuff,” but literature. (With a small “L.”) If it’s Twilight or Dan Brown or anything that’s been made into a movie, really, it’s okay. You’re excused. You’re not a nerd. Why? Because lots of people read it, and they aren’t nerds, right? Same as the TV shows and movies. It can’t be weird if everyone does it. There’s safety in numbers. And you know why that is?

It gives you a place to hide. Right there, in plain sight. A popular book is a sign, a password that lets the rest of the world know you’re just like them. You can watch those movies and TV shows, just don’t read “that sci-fi stuff” if you want to fit in. People will know you’re different. They’ll avert their gazes and roll their eyes.

But you know what? You’ll be so immersed in your book you won’t even notice.

*They do read comic books voraciously. Classic stuff. I am highly envious of their collections. The writers know what they’re doing.

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My mind was recently wandering (as it is wont to do) along paths not traceable by normal means, with odd ideas burbling up from places that probably require spring cleaning themselves (and have since 1995). I don’t think this phenomenon is abnormal, though; I challenge any writer to clear a shower drain and not think about Lovecraft.

Given such a start, however, I naturally (!) began to wonder what various fictional characters of a speculative bent might find themselves doing after they have vanquished all the evildoers in town, or completed their quests, or whatever the show runner has designed them to do. Some ideas follow. And if Hollywood attempts to use any of this, then we will know that they have truly run out of original concepts.

In a Flash Delivery Service. “You’ll have it before you know you want it.” Caution: In case of pizza delivery, be ready to grab it; deliveryman is always hungry.

Stargate Tours. “You’re on time or you’re out of luck.” The routes are rough and you have to carry your own bags, but they do take you places off the beaten track.

Star Trekkers. “Boldly go where no tourist has gone before.” For the more sophisticated traveler. Trips are really long (5 – 75 years), but all incidentals are covered, including a spiffy red company shirt.

Haven B&B. “Pack up your Troubles in your old kit bag.” Quaint atmosphere, but we recommend being very polite to the locals.

Sleepy Hollow Plumbers and Rooters. Motto: “Trust us, we’ve witnessed worse.” Tunneling work a specialty.

Insurance Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. “We’ve protected much better stuff than yours.” Offices are hard to locate, but they do tend to show up when you most need coverage.

Arrow Exterminators. “Your pests will think they have targets on their backs.” Their equipment’s a little unconventional, and they have a high turnover rate, but one way or another they get the job done.

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