Category Archives: Sci-Fi Sunday
(image from wikitvs.com)
Babylon 5 is one of those shows that falls into the cult category of science fiction. Oddly enough, unlike some other rabid cult shows (Battlestar Galactica and Firefly, for example), it doesn’t have much crossover appeal and most of its fans are diehard geeks. Being only a peripheral geek, I heard the name thrown around for a while before I even bothered to seek out the DVDs. Finally, I rented the first DVD of the first season — oh, about a year ago — and sent it back when I couldn’t get into the first episode.
I WAS AN IDIOT. A BLITHERING, DISTRACTED IDIOT.
To be fair, the first episode — hell, the entire first season — IS hard to get into. But after hearing all the fan praise, I decided to give the first season a second try and…well, the cult has another member. Because OH MY GOD, I am mad for this show! Babylon 5 has some of the best continual story arcs of any show I’ve ever seen. Everything is connected. Pay attention when someone has a vision or something bizarre happens, because it WILL show up later. Someone behaving badly? All will be revealed in the next episode or two. A connection between two people? You aren’t imagining things, it’s there. To tell you the truth, I became a fan of Michael O’Hare by the end of the first season and wasn’t too sure about Bruce Boxleitner, who replaces him in Season 2. I mean, the only thing I knew about Boxleitner is that he used to be married to Melissa Gilbert. So, it took a lot of convincing to turn me into a fangirl. Oops, a rabid squeeing fangirl.
The criticism you will hear about Babylon 5 is generally that it’s a ripoff of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. The timeline is dubious on this since Babylon 5 premiered in 1994 but was in production before DS9, which premiered earlier in 1993. Be that as it may, after the first season, the two shows really don’t have much in common. DS9 is a typical Star Trek show, with most of their story arcs lasting a single episode and the focus being on the characters aboard the space station. Babylon 5 has a larger focus, with story lines that take it outside of the station quite often, and a scope that includes large parts of the galaxy including Earth. The story arcs also delve pretty intensely into politics, religion, civil disobedience, the nature of military command, et cetera. I think my love of space opera in Lois McMaster Bujold’s Vorkosigan Saga (reviewed here) is part of what draws me to Babylon 5, because the show really forces me to think outside of my box. Is Londo evil or misguided? Is Garibaldi a good friend or a self-aggrandizing wretch or both? Will the lovers end up together or is their relationship doomed from the start? WHY CAN’T I GO TO THERE? Honestly, I love B-5 so much that I want to tongue-kiss my TV. Which I won’t do because it’s gross and unnecessary and will make the screen blurry.
OH, and I just finished the third season. DO NOT SPOIL THE REST FOR ME IN COMMENTS. Stabby does not even describe how I might feel.
Thanks for all the well wishes on my last post! I think the ear is healing (it seems better anyway) and the swelling has gone down enough that I don’t feel tempted to cut my head in half. Of course, I spent most of the weekend being a laze-about and discovered a new show. Yesterday, I subjected the Hubs to an entire marathon of Oddities on the Science Channel:
See these folks? Their names are (from left to right): Mike, Evan and Ryan and they can find anything for you. Their specialties are antique and vintage items with a gruesome or macabre bent. You want a deformed baby ostrich in a jar? An eighteenth century engraving of bloodletting? A genuine shrunken head? They got it, or can get it for a price. Along the way, they introduce the viewers to their clients (almost as odd as the items they’re collecting) and an assortment of artists and carnival types who are happy to show off their talents for a national audience. There was a guy who swallows balloons — while inflated — and someone who walks on glass. I was completely diverted by the show and now I totally want to meet Mike, Evan and Ryan. I’d like to hire them to redecorate, but I think the Hubs might have some choice words about that, along the lines of airborne swine and spherical ice crystals in hot places.
Also currently watching:
Ok, remember when I reviewed the book Battle Royale here and suggested it was worth the time for sci fi fans? The same can not be said of the movie. I watched it with the Hubs and had to keep explaining things. “It’s different in the book; no, I don’t know why they did that; I’m not sure what the point was; they don’t show it but here’s the back story….” Basically, if you’ve read the book and are curious about the movie? Go ahead and watch because it’ll make some sense to you. If you haven’t read the book, don’t bother. You’ll be lost from the get-go.
During Me-Made-May, thanks to Amazon’s used book connection, I became the proud owner of this:
As I was preparing this post, I looked back through my Sci Fi archives and was shocked to find that I’d never reviewed the Vorkosigan saga by Lois McMaster Bujold. I said to myself, “WTF, self? How could you have missed possibly the MOST IMPORTANT space opera ever written? Not to mention one of your own all-time favorite series? Especially because I’m pretty sure you read Cryoburn within the last year. I mean, REALLY….” Because I lecture myself like that.
The Vorkosigan Saga came to my notice because of the book A Civil Campaign, which is often listed by commenters at Smart Bitches, Trashy Books as one of their favorite romance novels. I like science fiction and love space operas [quick aside: if you don’t know what a space opera is, it’s basically a look at humans and human nature but from the viewpoint of our possible interstellar existence. A good space opera has elements of mystery, romance, technology, violence, humor, lots of politics, interspecies relationships, and everything you would expect in a dramatic opera — but in space. Star Trek is a space opera, as are Babylon 5, Battlestar Galactica, et al. Star Wars, however, does not qualify because its view of good and evil is much more black and white. Everybody got that? Ok, moving along…] so I checked out A Civil Campaign but realized two chapters in that I was completely lost. I didn’t know any of the characters and couldn’t figure out what was going on. So! I went back to the very beginning of the Vorkosigan saga and checked out Cordelia’s Honor…and was immediately hooked. As in reading all night and all day, in imminent danger of neglecting my family, HOOKED.
There is a very good timeline of the books in the Vorkosigan Saga at the Wikipedia page here. I won’t repeat the information, except to say that I have missed most of the shorter stories/novellas (other than “Winterfair Gifts”) and also missed Ethan of Athos, but I was still able to keep up with the most important aspects of the Saga storyline. Many of the books have been published in omnibus editions that include the novellas and shorter form stories so it’s worth seeking those publications out if you can — but don’t be dissuaded if you can’t find every story.
I find it hard to describe what the story of Miles Vorkosigan means to me. This series profoundly changed how I view the world — both how I view disabled people, and how I think of relationships. Miles is born with terrifying handicaps, thanks to his mother’s exposure to a nerve toxin while he was in the womb. His story takes a very realistic approach to disability — Miles is in pain sometimes, he’s humiliated sometimes, he constantly has to overcome the limitations of both his body and his mind. He is, frankly, an unlikely hero…five feet tall with stunted limbs, disproportionate, an overlarge head and an intense stare. He is born into an aristocratic family on a planet with zero tolerance for mutations (his own grandfather tries to kill him), and so he spends much of his young life in a desperate attempt to prove that he deserves to exist. He becomes, almost by accident, a pirate — then a soldier and a spy — then a diplomat. It is gradually obvious that Miles’ survival is entirely due to the strength of his personality. He has a knack for winning people (including readers) to his side. By the time you are halfway through the series, Miles’ ability to make everyone fall in love with him seems as natural as breathing and every bit as much of an evolved survival skill.
Cordelia’s Honor is the story of Miles’ parents — how they meet, and the circumstances surrounding Miles’ birth. I strongly recommend starting there, as the series is very interconnected and incidents in every book are referenced in later parts of the story. Miles in Love (the omnibus I own) contains Komarr, A Civil Campaign and “Winterfair Gifts.” A Civil Campaign is actually Bujold’s tribute to the Regency romance (she very much references Georgette Heyer) and is on my list of all time favorite romances. One of the factors I love in this series is that all of the women are considered to have the right to autonomy and self-agency. This isn’t a romance like, “I want to sweep you off your feet and marry you,” it’s more of an “I want you by my side, but to enhance rather than consume you.” Twilight can’t hold a candle to this. It’s not just Miles’ courtship that you end up rooting for, it’s the parallel story of his brother Mark, and by extension the wedding of his friend Gregor. I should mention that there is a subplot of heartstopping political intrigue, as well as several hilarious side plots (don’t ask about the butter bugs). The end of the book makes me catch my breath and grin from ear to ear, and want to cheer for all the couples.
What are you waiting for? THE VORKOSIGAN SAGA, people. Read it. You will not be disappointed.
This is what happens when I don’t post for too long; the backlog becomes unbearable and I must spit it all out at once. Oops. In my defense, the kids had their school carnival on Friday and I came home exhausted. This is what I wore on Friday, Me-Made-May day 18:
Top: Sweatshirt from Target, T-shirt from Hot Topic
Bottoms: Butterick 5682, View A, blogged about here
Socks: Hanes ankle
Shoes: Converse All-Star low magenta with snap tongue
Friday’s challenge was green. As much as I like the color green, I generally don’t wear it due to being rather sallow. Even a hint of yellow undertones is bad on me. However, there are green accents on this t-shirt and the sweatshirt is teal, which I suppose could be considered a shade of green. Close enough.
Also, since someone was asking what the snap tongue on my shoes looked like, I thought I’d show rather than tell:
Hopefully, that makes it a bit clearer….
Anyhow, Saturday I had to get up early to drive Oldest to a Scout event in a city 45 minutes away. And he had to be there by 7 am. OY. So, I consoled myself by planning out breakfast at Starbucks and a trip to M & L’s Discount Fabric Store, luckily close by.
M & L’s is a strange place. First of all, a lot of the staff are Eastern European and don’t speak English. The ones who do speak English are exceedingly cranky; God help you if you want assistance. I’ve always gotten my fabric cut by hand signals. The prices and selection are all over the map, although I will say that the nice stuff is super-expensive and the $1-$3 per yard fabric is generally nasty. They have a good quilting selection and they are THE place to go if you need bridal or prom fabric — everything is in house and it’s all color-matched. Generally, I go for the $2.98 knits in the back room and the Kwik Sew patterns (always 20% off). So here’s what I picked up:
The two knits are jersey, which I’m saving up because….(deep breath) I bought a Renfrew pattern from Sewaholic! It is on it’s way to me now, and hopefully won’t get hung up in customs or anything like that. I CAN NOT WAIT!
Sunday and today, I spent working on a pair of sweat shorts. I used the leftover material from this sweatshirt, and the pattern from these pajama shorts. I knew the rise would be too high, so I took out two inches in back, tapering to four inches in front. They’re pretty comfortable but definitely just knock-around shorts:
Me-Made-May, Day 21 (today):
This painting hangs on the wall of our dining room. One of the Hubs’ friends is a painter/poet who was inspired by me reading one of his poems, and painted this. I bought it because it reminds me of the inside of a Tardis, and that makes me happy.
Top: Fangbanger T-shirt from Hot Topic
Shorts: Me-made, blogged about on this post
Here’s the back view:
I put a pocket on the back so it would look less like I am wandering around in my pajamas.
I apologize for not keeping up with Sci Fi Sundays, but Me-Made-May has been taking up a LOT of my time. I actually have a HUGE Sci Fi post to share with you guys, but I don’t want to post it during the week and have it get lost in the shuffle. Maybe we can do that next Sunday?
Most libraries and bookstores classify science fiction and fantasy as the same genre. However, horror is shelved separately which can cause classification issues with authors like H.P. Lovecraft or Poe. Some people have called for sci fi, fantasy and horror to be classified together as SF, or speculative fiction. How do you feel about that? Do you think horror is an appropriate offshoot of the fantastical genre, or should it continue to be considered a separate category?
Currently reading: a book that makes me think about these things
If you went to high school in America, you’ve probably read Shirley Jackson’s short story “The Lottery.” Jackson has a gift for imbuing everyday, humdrum occurrences with a touch of dread. She writes horror, but not the horror of blood and guts or the sudden leap of a zombie. Rather, Jackson specializes in stories about the dark side of human nature — the sort of things that most of us know we are capable of underneath the thin veneer of civilization.
We Have Always Lived in the Castle is the story of the Blackwood family. The narrator, Mary Katherine, begins the book by stating that she is eighteen and lives with her sister Constance. “Everyone else in my family is dead.” Why they are dead and who killed them is the dramatic tale told in an extended flashback by Mary Katherine. The narrator’s childlike voice and odd, ritualistic behavior adds an extra level of creepiness to her story. We see how Mary Katherine is shunned by the village before we ever discover why. The villagers themselves are not innocent in this narrative; they are complicit in the horror that befalls the Blackwood family. Watching their behavior, we start to understand why Mary (also called Merricat) compulsively buries objects and nails things to trees to act as wards around her house. The creeping dread of the story makes her aberrant behavior seem mundane, even necessary. As in Jackson’s other stories and novels, there are several plot twists that take your breath away (and one that seems almost obvious in hindsight). Highly recommend, even if you don’t like horror. Don’t be surprised if your neighbors weird you out for a while after reading this…
Frank Beddor’s The Looking Glass Wars, which is a retelling of the Alice in Wonderland story. This is a YA book that I had put on my “To Be Read” list, but it wasn’t a priority until Dana the Biped reviewed the last book in the series, Archenemy. I said, “Oh, I’ve been meaning to read this,” and she was all “DO IT.” So I did. Because I’m suggestible like that.
Basically, if you’ve read Alice in Wonderland, you think you’re familiar with the story. No, no, you’re not. For starters, her name is spelled Alyss (Beddor won me over with that alone — an avowed name nerd, I’ve always preferred the medieval spelling Alys) and she’s a princess. The Mad Hatter is actually Hatter Madigan, a bodyguard, and the Cheshire cat? Is an assassin. Seriously, how awesome is that? Anyhow, the Red Queen takes over the kingdom and Alyss is forced to flee into what turns out to be Victorian London. At first, she sticks out like a sore thumb and has to learn the hard way to conform. I particularly liked that Beddor has her break with Charles Dodgson (Lewis Carroll) be over the fact that he wrote her story down wrong — in real life, Alice Liddell broke ties with Dodgson but nobody ever discussed why. Anyway, she is settling down to a very boring life when the Cheshire cat shows up and well….alarums and excursions ensue!
This is a really good adaptation of the Alice story. I think it’s improved by knowing the original so you can pick out the references, but it can be read on its own. As a YA novel, it seems pretty tame…I haven’t seen anything yet that I would object to any of my kids reading. Basically, if your child is old enough and sophisticated enough to want to read this, you’re probably ok. As far as adult reading, I think being a fantasy nerd or a literary nerd ups the chances that you will enjoy this book. Highly recommend.
If you’ve been watching Eureka lately, or if you’ve enjoyed Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog, then you’re familiar with quirky/cute actress Felicia Day. The Guild is Day’s pet project, a short comic show about a group of misfits that bond through playing an online MMORPG. To further their online game and watch each others’ backs, they’ve formed the Guild, led by Day’s character Cyd Sherman who goes by the online name Codex. When Cyd decides that their problems might be better addressed by having a Guild meeting in person, hilarity ensues. I have to say here, I am not a gamer and don’t get all of the geek humor. I still thought this was pretty funny, although a lot of the humor veers into the inappropriate (if neglectful parenting, overbearing mothers and someone trying to hang themselves with a computer cable isn’t funny to you, this will not be your show). The production values are kinda low because this was filmed by Day and a few friends, and I think she actually posted it online to begin with. Fear not! The lighting is excellent and the quality is documentary style, not “I filmed this on my iMac so it’s gonna give you a headache.” I recommend this to anyone who is a gamer or familiar with gamer culture. So far I’ve seen Season 1 and am eager to see the rest!
I was going to write a post about how I hadn’t read or seen any new sci fi this week, and I said to myself, “Self, how did this happen?” Not because I expect a good answer but because it amuses me to say, “Self,” when I’m talking inside my head. Then I was browsing on Amazon and realized this book looked awfully familiar:
There’s a good reason why Touched by an Alien by Gini Koch looks familiar, and that reason would be because I read it this past week. It’s actually sitting on my bookshelf, mocking me right now. So you wanna know how it was? Besides forgettable.
Ok, everybody’s seen the movie Men in Black, right? If you haven’t, log off and go watch it right now. We’ll wait. You’re back then? Good. So, this book is exactly like Men in Black, except Will Smith’s character is a girl and all the agents are hot. And Agent Kay is in love with her, except it’s not Agent K but Agent Something-Else-I-Can’t-Remember. Also, scary aliens trying to take over the world. Oh wait, that was in the movie too.
I could go on, but you catch my drift. Read it, don’t read it, what the hey. It’s amusing enough.
Anyhow, the Hubs is out of town for the week so I’m severely discombobulated. I need another adult around to make sure I don’t eat ALL THE THINGS or stay up all night reading or watch trash TV for eight hours straight. I read somewhere that your self control is like a muscle — not just that you can expand it, but that you have an upper limit and if you try to exceed your limit, your muscle (or your control) fails. So, this week I am trying to make it to the gym four days, cut back on sugar and refined carbs, finish at least three mending projects (really, my “needs alterations” pile is embarrassing), keep the kids alive and post more often.
I’m guessing I’ll end up drinking White Russians in the corner in the fetal position. Close enough.
Stay tuned tomorrow for a garden party!
While discussing The Hunger Games online, I ran into several commentators who said, “Pfft, it’s just a reboot of Battle Royale.” So I considered it a omen when I was at Target last week shopping for Easter items and saw this:
Of course, I tossed it (all 632 pages of it) into my shopping cart in a fit of MUST HAVE NAO. I started reading it in the carpool line on Thursday and finished it the same day, while boiling eggs to dye. Battle Royale is about a totalitarian government which kidnaps a middle school class every year (Japanese school years are different so these kids are in the final year of middle school, about 15 years old). The classmates are forced to fight to the death until only one is left, then that one is paraded on television as a reminder of the government’s control. Ok, so there ARE some parallels with The Hunger Games but only in the sense that they share a similar theme. The similarities are: totalitarian government, kids forced to kill each other, the government uses the game as a form of political intimidation, and the kids in that year find a way to turn the situation to their advantage. There are some marked differences, though:
1) Battle Royale is a lot more violent. There are 42 students, and the majority of them die by violent means. They are assigned backpacks rather than having to fight for them, but the weapons are unevenly distributed to add to the element of chance. One girl ends up with a fork, someone else with a musical instrument, while other students have fully automated weapons. Oh yeah, they get to use guns. And grenades. And there’s some pretty impressive chemical pyrotechnics. Some pretty nasty descriptions of death scenes too. The book was a runaway bestseller in Japan but almost immediately got slapped with accusations that it was exploitative, and it’s easy to see why.
2) There’s no real preliminary. You meet the class as they’ve already been hijacked, and aside from descriptions of some of the main characters at the beginning, you’re thrown straight into the action. Getting to know the characters comes as we watch them fight for survival. There’s quite a bit of flashback used to give character depth, but we don’t really see the action outside of the fighting area. Life in this fictional Japan is described through the memories of the kids and the stories they tell about their families. On the one hand, that makes it a bit easier to regard the bloodshed with some detachment because there’s less of an emotional connection. On the other hand, by the end of the book, you’re really invested in the last few kids.
3) This is an entire class, not a bunch of kids who don’t know or barely know each other. Think about your high school class. Think about the romances, the petty jealousies, the rivalries, the cliques. Yep, they’re all here and they play out as you would expect, with some surprising twists.
4) The battle isn’t televised — the students have collars by which the game makers can track them and blow them up if they try to escape (the collars have detonators). However, there seems to be no interest in having the public watch the game; it’s enough to show them the victor on TV afterwards. Interestingly, we find out that unlike the acceptance people show to the Reaping in the Hunger Games series, some of the parents do protest (and are beaten back) when the government informs them their children have been taken.
5) The level of technology is fairly sophisticated — cell phones and computers are mentioned and used. Food and water is scavenged for, so no need to hunt. That makes it more plausible that urban kids would survive in such an environment.
The reason the book is so long is because of all the flashbacks and explanations, but in the end they make the story stronger and it’s still a pretty quick read. I’m not sure who the target audience for this book is; some people who read The Hunger Games will not like Battle Royale and vice versa. Also, Battle Royale is aimed at an older audience and is definitely not appropriate for the under 13 crowd. I enjoyed it a lot and the final twists and turns in the plot left me breathless. I’ll probably read it again at some point, but it’ll take a while for my first impressions to fade.
Oldest and I went to see The Hunger Games on Saturday. We both read the book and the initial reviews were very promising, so I knew we had to go. I have to say that the movie lived up to the hype, and then some! First off — reading the book isn’t necessary, but I think it really helps. There are some details which are glossed over in the movie but expanded in the book.
Secondly, the casting is perfect! The only person I was initially unsure about was Josh Hutcherson as Peeta Mellark, but five minutes after he showed up on screen I was officially Team Peeta. He really captured Peeta’s open and charming nature. Jennifer Lawrence as Katniss is amazing, believably awkward in a dress and at home in the woods. LOVED Haymitch, played by Woody Harrelson.
The movie is pretty violent, but then the book and its subject matter are violent also. The Hunger Games is less of a teenage romance than a political thriller, basically an indictment of everything from reality TV to consumer culture to fascism. There are a few shots of people getting killed close up, which I think are more shocking because we simply don’t see young teens getting killed in that brutal fashion very often. None of it feels gratuitous. For me, the Reaping was more emotionally distressing than much of the Arena scenes.
Oldest did have one criticism, which I think is valid. Since the story takes place in the future, a future that has been repressed until it resembles the past, he was baffled as to why there weren’t more ruins and evidence of earlier civilization. In particular, District 12 is a mining area and we found it odd that they chose to have it resemble a mining town during the Great Depression. The book makes it clear that there is very little technology allowed in that area relative to the Capitol, but it still seems like there would be remnants of tech, books, clothing and so on dating later than the 1930s. My one criticism was actually answered in Catching Fire — I noticed that all the boys stayed clean shaven in the arena and wondered how. Then I went home and started the second book and Katniss wonders the same thing. HA.
Overall, Oldest gave the movie 8 out of 10. I gave it 9 out of 10. Definitely not for kids (the PG-13 rating is well earned), but I think the books are best for thirteen and up in any case. Younger kids will miss the symbolism, and the next two books — Catching Fire and Mockingjay — get progressively darker. In fact, I’m not sure how they will avoid an R rating for the next few movies. I just finished Mockingjay last night and still cannot get Panem and these characters out of my head. I even have a suggestion for the next movie — the character of Finnick Odair should be played by Dave Franco. His looks and swagger would be awesome.
I’m currently reading two different urban fantasy series that feature the afterlife:
Grave Witch by Kalayna Price is the first book in the Alex Craft series. Alex Craft is a broke private investigator who is also a grave witch — she solves her cases by raising the dead and speaking to them. She’s even on intimate terms with Death himself; a bit of a problem as he seems to have a crush on her. In this world, fae have come out of the closet because human disbelief was causing their numbers to dwindle, so fae and humans coexist in something of an uneasy truce. Alex is threatened when she takes on a case for the police that will result in the first ever ghost taking the witness stand. Detective Falin Andrews would happily remove Alex from the case, but her exposure to dark magic makes her determined to solve the question of who is trying to kill her.
This is an enjoyable read if you like urban fantasy; nothing extremely new or shocking here, but there’s enough creativity that the story doesn’t feel recycled. Alex is a likable character although I saw some echoes of other fantasy heroines in her, particularly Anita Blake and Rachel Morgan. All in all, probably best for die-hard fans of the genre. I’m now on the second book, Grave Dance.
And now for something kind of different, Darynda Jone’s First Grave on the Right.
Charley Davidson sees dead people, mostly murdered ones, and has been helping her uncle and father (both cops) solve crimes since she was five years old. Technically, she’s a grim reaper — ghosts are attracted to her and pass through her to the afterlife. She also has a sizzling hot romance with a dream lover who is both incorporeal and irritatingly anonymous. Solving a string of crimes and ferreting out her lover’s identity occupies most of Charley’s time.
I don’t know how to categorize this book. It won an award for Paranormal Romance, although I’m not sure it fits a standard romance arc. It’s also — and I mean this sincerely — laugh-out-loud funny. There were several moments reading this in the carpool line where I’m sure people walked by and thought I was having a seizure or something. I don’t know if I can compare this series to anything in the paranormal genre. It actually reminds me most of Janet Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum series, so if you liked those then you’ll like Charley. I’ve already read the second book, Second Grave on the Left and have Third Grave Dead Ahead on hold at the library.