Tag Archives: science fiction

50 years of Star Trek clips

“Irritating? Ah, yes, one of your Earth emotions,” says Spock with a little smile.

Spock? Smiling? WTF?

I need to watch the original Trek movies again. All of them. Maybe not Wrath of Khan — it’s the best of the bunch, but we’ve seen it relatively recently.

A friend recently said “the one with the whales” is a low point for the series. I may be rethinking our friendship over this. (To be fair, I haven’t seen it in many years and for all I know it holds up like crap. But it was brilliant when it came out.)

Via David Pescovitz, Boing Boing. Thanks!

My review of “Star Trek: Beyond”

I’m trying to just talk about the movie itself here, and not about past Trek movies and TV shows and my own nearly lifelong relationship with the series. I can’t do it.

In the new movie, the characters seemed most true to the original series. In earlier JJ Abrams Trek movies, Kirk especially but all the characters seemed like children. Chris Pine is 36 years old now — a year older than William Shatner was when he started playing Kirk. He’s believable.

I had a lot of problems with the first two movies in this series. For me, there were a couple of themes that were always important to Trek. The Federation sought peaceful solutions to problems, and only resorted to violence when the peaceful solution proved impossible. Of course, this being a science fiction action-adventure series, the peaceful solution was impossible just about every episode. But they tried for peace first.

The new series of movies seemed too bloodthirsty. In the first two movies, Kirk and the gang were going after vengeance. True Trek doesn’t do vengeance. Vengeance is for the bad guys.

A second major theme of the movies was that the Federation was a meritocracy. Captain Kirk was born a nobody, an Iowa farmboy. He achieved his position through hard work and ability (and, sure, cheating on the Kobayashi Maru — but still that was his work). In the new movies, Kirk gets in Starfleet Academy because his Dad was an officer. He doesn’t get his position from hard work and talent. He inherits it.

But all that baggage is gone now. The new movie finds the Enterprise on a rescue mission gone wrong. Kirk has now earned the captaincy he previously inherited — and he has his doubts about what he’s doing. He’s burned out.

I loved the opening sequence. There’s a real sense of the ship being a tiny little bubble of comfort and safety in the indifferent vastness of space. I don’t remember that from any of the series or other movies.

The character interplay was easygoing. They’ve been cooped up together in this tiny bottle for three years. They know each other very well, better than family.

Likewise, I loved the bits at the end, after the bad guy has been vanquished.

In the middle…. too much action. I love a good action movie, but today’s action movies seem to be ALL action. It needs pacing.

Julie got motion sickness from all the swooping camera angles.

The sets and special effects were gorgeous, particularly the Yorktown, one of the most science-fictional things I’ve ever seen on the big screen.

I liked that every one of the major characters got a turn to shine. Scotty and Jaylah stole it. Or maybe Spock and Bones stole it. Or maybe it was Kirk and Chekov. Poor Anton Yelchin — I don’t remember him from the previous movies. In those movies, he seemed like just an extra with a few speaking lines and a Russian accent. He was quite good in “Star Trek: Beyond.”

I liked that the women were portrayed as powerful and self-reliant, the equal of men. The second J.J. Abrams movie in particular was all about the white men, except for one scene where a female scientist strips to her underwear for no particular reason.

I loved the new character, Jaylah. I hope we see more of her in future movies.

I loved that we got to see some real alien-looking aliens, who didn’t just look like human actors wearing rubber masks.

I thought the main storyline was confusing. I get the broad strokes, but I was confused on the details. Who were all the other people on the planet with the main villain? Where did he get the swarming thingies he used to take down the Enterprise? What was the origin of the superweapon?

I could have used more Idris Elba acting, rather than just being a generic science fiction villain.

Overall, I liked it. Didn’t love it. Looking forward to the next movie, and the TV series in January.

“The Martian” author Andy Weir: stun weapons like Star Trek phasers would be fantastic

I say Weir has a vastly overoptomistic view of humanity. Rapists would absolutely love a weapon that could render a victim unconscious quickly and reliably, as would kidnappers and terrorists collecting hostages.

I see a possibility for a whole series of crime stories. Larry Niven did something similar in the 1960s about the criminal possibilities of matter transmitters, like Star Trek transporters. Likewise, Vernor Vinge imagined the criminal possibilities of a field inside of which time stopped.

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Wonder Woman Comic-Con trailer. Looks great!

Great dialogue sequence at the end. Is that Lucy “The Office” Davis?

Overall, the clip reminds me of “Captain America,” in that it looks like a realistic historical movie cross-pollinated with a superhero fantasy. That worked quite well in “Captain America.”

Chris Pine is Steve Trevor. He reminds me of Matt Damon here.

Gal Gadot plays WW. She is not difficult to look at.

The movie is in theaters in June.

I’ve been off superhero movies for years, just because none of them look appealing and we don’t really watch many movies anymore. But recently we saw “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” and liked it. So now I guess I’m back into superhero movies. Got some catching up to do.

Link

Word processing has transformed the way writers work, a transition from typewriters to electronic writing that happened in a  few short years, starting in the mid-70s and ending by 1984 and 1985. The transition has been largely overlooked by literary historians, but now Matthew Kirschenbaum, an English professor at the University of Maryland, has written a history, “Track Changes” (great title!). He talked with Robinson Meyer at The Atlantic: How to Write a History of Writing Software

Writers of genre fiction — particularly science fiction — adopted word processors long before literary writers. That’s not necessarily because science fiction writers are technology focused (I’ve been surprised myself by how Luddite science fiction fans can be in their real-life use of technology), but because genre writers need to work fast, and turn out a lot of work at high volume.

Robinson writes:

[Kirschenbaum’s] new history joins a much larger body of scholarship about other modern writing technologies—specifically, typewriters. For instance, scholars confidently believe that the first book ever written with a typewriter was Life on the Mississippi,by Mark Twain. They have conducted typographical forensics to identify precisely how T.S. Eliot’s The Wasteland was composed—which typewriters were used, and when. And they have collected certain important machines for their archives.

One day, a similarly expansive body of work may exist for writing software—and Kirschenbaum will be one of its first builders.

In the interview, Kirschenbaum addresses the question of which author was the first to write a novel with a word processor.

We can’t know with absolute certainty, I don’t think, but there are a couple of different answers.

If we think of a word processor or a computer as something close to what we understand today—essentially a typewriter connected to a TV set—there are a couple of contenders from the mid- to late-1970s. Notably Jerry Pournelle, who was a science fiction author. He is probably the first person to sit and compose at a “typewriter” connected to a “TV screen”—to compose there, to edit, and revise there, and then to send copy to his publisher. That was probably a novella called Spirals.

But there are earlier examples. Len Deighton, a highly successful author of British high-tech espionage thrillers, bought an early IBM word processor in the late 1960s. It wasn’t recognizably related to the word processors of today; the user typed on an IBM Selectric MS/ST typewriter that simultaneously recorded text on magnetic tape and conventional paper.

Kirschenbaum notes that secretaries, usually women, were the first to use word processors. Indeed, I remember that in the 1980s and well into the 1990s, successful men couldn’t type — typing was clerical, menial work, something that most men simply did not do. The transition to personal computers led to a brief bloom of typing classes — although the word “typing” had girl-cooties, so these classes were called “keyboarding,” or even “executive keyboarding.”

Me, I knew from a young age that I wanted to be a writer, and even in the late 70s it was obvious to many of us that personal computing was the future. I taught myself to touch-type when I was about 12 years old, and I took a typing class in high school to brush up on those skills, along with a few male friends who were also active in the computer club.

Back to Kirschenbaum: Even though the MS/ST lacked a screen, he calls it the first word processor because it stored the text electronically.

Your “screen” was the sheet of paper you had in your Selectric typewriter. You did your typing on the Selectric—which is the same typewriter, for example, we see in Mad Men; it’s a famous ’60s-era electric typewriter—and if you made mistakes, you would backspace. You would get a mess on the sheet of paper that was currently on the Selectric, but the correct sequence of character strokes was being stored on the tape. Then you would put a clean sheet of paper into the typewriter and it would automatically print out, sort of player-piano fashion, the text stored on the tape’s storage.

This unit sold in the 1960s for $10,000. That’s obviously quite a lot of money, and IBM used the term word processing as a marketing device.

Deighton wrote on a conventional Selectric, then handed the typescript to his secretary, Ellenor Handey, to retype it using the MS/ST. Therefore, I call shenanigans on Kirschenbaum’s classifying Deighton as the first author to use a word processor, simply because he wasn’t the one using the MS/ST. Still, it’s an interesting anecdote — Deighton was on the edge between non-word-processor users and word-processor users.

And importantly, Kirschenbaum says the essential thing about the word processor isn’t the screen, it’s the fluid, electronic nature of the text.

Microsoft Word is still the gold standard for writing software; even people who write primarily for the Internet — including most of the technology journalists I know — use Word. That absolutely flummoxes me. Even today, Word  seems to me to be software designed primarily to produce printed hardcopy, often ornately formatted in ways that writers don’t care about. It’s not designed for articles, blog posts, or books; it’s designed for corporate annual reports.

Until recently, I preferred to write in text editors designed by and for software developers. Now, there’s a new generation of word processing software developed primarily for people who write electronically; Ulysses for Mac is one of those apps, which is the one I use. Scrivener is a more well-known example.

A lot of writing today gets done in email applications and web browsers — specifically the text entry box of Facebook, Twitter, etc. I’m writing this post in the composition window of WordPress. I’m writing on a plane (Kirschenbaum discusses how word processors have changed WHERE we write, as well as how), and I don’t currently have an Internet connection. I really, really hope I don’t lose my work, but WordPress is pretty good about that.

And of course, writing on mobile phones is hugely popular. Maybe the people who are toddlers today will never learn to keyboard; they’ll just thumb-type.

Kirschenbaum also talks about writers he calls “refuseniks,” who were adults in the 70s and 80s and who refused to use word processors. Harlan Ellison is possibly the most outspoken example, still pounding away at a typewriter. Cormac McCarthy is another example.

Another example, not mentioned by Kirschenbaum in this interview: Our friend the science fiction writer Joe Haldeman, author of “The Forever War” and a couple of dozen other, excellent novels. Joe is no refusenik; last time I talked tech with him he was a user of a Mac, iPad, and iPhone. But he likes writing his first drafts in fountain pen on bound, blank books. He says he just writes better that way.

I’ve added Kirschenbaum’s book to my Amazon Wishlist. And, hey, there’s another idea for a book: How digital technology changes the way we read. When I was a teen-ager back in the 70s, I could easily read two or three books every week. Now, I read a half-dozen books a year, if that. I have to make a conscious effort to set aside some time every day to read books. Most of my reading time is taken up reading articles.

 

“Shines the name, shines the name of Rodger Young”

Rodger Wilton Young [Wikipedia]

In the Robert A. Heinlein novel “Starship Troopers” and the movie loosely based on the book, the starship that carries hero Juan Rico’s Mobile Infantry platoon is called the “Rodger Young.” In the epilogue to the novel, we learn a little about Young.

Young was a real person; Wikipedia has more:

Rodger Wilton Young (April 28, 1918 – July 31, 1943) was a United States Army soldier during World War II. An infantryman, he was killed on the island of New Georgia while helping his platoon withdraw under enemy fire. For his actions, he posthumously received the United States’ highest military decoration, the Medal of Honor.

Young is remembered in a song, “The Ballad of Rodger Young” by Frank Loesser, most famously recorded by Burl Ives, which extolled his courage and willingness to die to protect his comrades in arms.

Born in Tiffin, Ohio, in 1918, Young was “a small-statured boy” but a “keen athlete.” Knocked unconscious during a high school basketball game,  the injury led to significant hearing loss and damage to his eyesight. He dropped out of school when he could no longer hear lessons and see the blackboard.

Still just 5’2″, Young joined the Ohio National Guard in 1940 for extra income, and because he believed his medical problems would disqualify him for the Army. His unit was activated during World War II. Young was a sergeant, and feared that his disabilities might make him a less effective combat commander. He asked to be reduced in rank to private, which request was granted, though Young’s commanding officer initially suspected Young of trying to get out of battle.

A week later, with Young’s patrol under fire by a Japanese ambush, their lieutenant ordered withdrawal. Young, wounded, ignored the order and advanced on the Japanese position, lobbing hand grenades at the enemy machine gun. Young was killed, but his actions allowed his platoon to withdraw without further casualties.

In the novel, the captain of the Rodger Young plays “The Ballad of Rodger Young” as Rico’s platoon goes into battle. Here it is, performed by the West Point Cadet Glee Club.

Weird futurism

Madeline Ashby’s new novel, Company Town, starts out like your average futuristic novel about a ninja bodyguard hired to protect unionized sex workers on a city-sized oil drilling platform off the coast of Canada. Then it starts getting weird. I’m talking time-hopping, artificial superintelligence weird. Serial killers with invisibility suits weird. And I haven’t even gotten to the part about the traumatized children of K-pop stars. If you like your science fiction kaleidoscopically strange yet infused with astute observations about where current technology might take us, you need to pick up a copy of Company Town right now.

You want some weird futurism? Start reading Company Town

[Ars Technica/Annalee Newitz]

Looks intriguing. I’m adding it to my to-be-read list.

Exploring science fiction’s Radium Age

The 100 best stories from Radium Age sci-fi, which ruled the early 20th century [Annalee Newitz – Ars Technica]

The so-called “Radium Age” of science fiction, 1904-33, popularized many themes that seem contemporary today: post-humans, the Singularity, zombie-populated dystopias, and more. It was a period when smart people could still be Utopians, many of them Socialists. The later rise of Naziism and the USSR put an end to that; later writers in the so-called Golden Age of science fiction, the 1940s-50s, considered themselves wised up.

But the Radium Age writers could also be grim, writing stories that reflected the worker uprisings of the period, and the horrors of World War I.

To appreciate these novels, you have to reverse-engineer their historical context and realize that the bomb had not yet dropped and the Soviet Union hadn’t yet coalesced into an authoritarian regime. Imagine a world where we were hopeful about the future because we had no fear of weapons of mass destruction. And where we had not yet seen what fascism would do to the West but were still deeply worried about it. Instead of bombs, the spectre of World War I haunts many of these books with its senseless, overwhelming violence; there’s a good reason why some of them imagine poison gas as the ultimate horror. The Radium Age was also a time when unionization and strike violence were a part of everyday life in industrialized cities, and these conflicts gave rise to fantasies about what would happen when robots took over manual labor. Robot uprising stories begin during the Radium Age, when worker uprisings were changing the social landscape.

Evolution was still relatively new, and even more controversial than it is today. Writers then believed the misconception that evolution inevitably proceeds from inferior to superior forms, with the human race at the pinnacle. Science fiction writers of the Radium age wrote about mutant supermen who would threaten humanity; those themes continue right through until today in the X-Men series.

I recall when I was about 12 years old reading a 1935 story called “Alas, All Thinking,” by Harry Bates, where a time traveler from the present visits the Earth eons in the future, and finds the human race has evolved into a small population of gigantic, immobile heads, with shriveled bodies that can’t even support the weight of their enormous domes. The scientist, repulsed by what the human race has become, smashes the heads – killing them – and then returns to the present, driven mad by the futility of human existence. Even as a boy I thought (1) Killing people who haven’t hurt you first is wrong, even if they are giant heads and (2) It makes no sense for the events of millions of years in the future to make anybody feel life today is futile. The story puzzled me.

It’s only reading Lewitz’s essay that it occurs to me that this is really a story about good, muscular middle Americans conquering effete intellectuals, with their evil socialist and free love ideas. At about the time the story was written, Nazis were putting intellectuals in concentration camps, and not long after, the Communist Chinese and Khmer Rouge targeted intellectuals for genocide.

I don’t mean to suggest that Bates was a Nazi sympathizer, or supported the USSR, Communist China, or Pol Pot. Science fiction writers pick up ideas that are lying around on the ground and often don’t explore the roots of those ideas. Stephen King wrote about that in his book Danse Macabre, noting that many midcentury monster movies saw their monsters created by nuclear explosions. These moviemakers were tapping into fears of nuclear weapons, but it’s not like these guys were experts on nuclear policy. They were just picking up on what was lying on the ground.

Science fiction and fantasy has always had a strain of anti-intellectualism, which is baffling because writers and editors are intellectuals. Self-loathing much?

More about “Alas, All Thinking.”

Wikipedia: Harry Bates

Bates’s best-known story was “Farewell to the Master” (1940), basis for the movie “The Day the Earth Stood Still.”

Link

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine In 82.5 Hours – Max Temkin, Medium

In Deep Space Nine, “a man and his son arrive at a frontier town on the edge of known civilization.”

Not just a man – a widower. That’s a very Western thing.

DS9 is essentially a Western with an ensemble cast. Writer Robert Hewitt Wolfe said, “We had the country doctor, and we had the barkeeper, and we had the sheriff and we had the mayor, we had it all, it was all there. We had the common man, Miles O’Brien, the Native American, Kira.”

But also:

Reader Evan Jacobs sees a more contemporary theme in the politics of Deep Space Nine: “To me, DS9 was largely about the Jewish diaspora. Cardassians are Nazis, Ferengis represent Jews as the world sees them (i.e., anti-Semitism), and Bajorans represent Jews as they see themselves (i.e., Israel). Perhaps I’m reading too much into this, but it always seemed that way to me.” I’ve always read themes of Jewish history into Deep Space Nine as well (in my view: the Federation is the Catholic church, it’s post-currency society is the prohibition on usury, and the Ferengis are the Jews) it’s one of the reasons the show speaks so personally to me.

We’re slowly rewatching Deep Space Nine. We’re a good way into the first season, which Temkin says is a turkey, but I’m enjoying it.

I’ve already watched most of Deep Space Nine — not when it first aired, but in reruns. I’ve forgotten almost all of it. We stopped watching a few episodes after Terry Farrell left, when the TV station stopped airing reruns. This was in the primitive dark ages before Netflix.

Link

Coming to TV this fall: Science fiction comedy about a 21st Century college slacker who goes back in time to 1775 to party in New England, screws up history. Surprisingly, it looks good.

Star Trek actor turns Eastern monk

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The actor Bruce Mars is known today for his appearance on Star Trek as Finnegan, the Starfleet Academy cadet who terrorized young James Kirk.

Finnegan appears in the episode “Shore Leave,” where the crew of the Enterprise beams down to a new planet for some R&R, not realizing the planet was created by advanced aliens as a playground where all the mind’s fantasies would instantly materialize.

As of 2013, Mars was a senior monk in the Self-Realization Fellowship, going by the name “Brother Paramananda.”

Brother Paramananda discusses his conversion briefly in a 2004 LA Times article about Eastern religion in LA, by Anne-Marie O’Connor.

Link

A retrospective (“Trekstrospective?”) by Darren Franich in EW:

You could say that the whole problem of Star Trek – or a problem that many brilliant creators and actors have grappled with – is how stilted the core ethos of the franchise is, on narrative and visual levels. Star Trek must have a cast of characters who obey authority and work together. Everyone’s an officer in some codified organized military or other. Everyone wears a uniform. Because most of the action happens with the main characters on “The Bridge,” most of the climactic sequences in Star Trek history happen with all our heroes sitting down.