Topic: The SCIFI Thread! :) (not about the TV channel)

I've been kicking around this idea since listening to the Dredd commentary as to what makes good science  fiction and what is poor science fiction. Teague discussed a good starting point for creating new science fiction is to theorize a world and then make an argument against it.
Science fiction is an interesting piece of work, because it can take many different forms. So, to start this thread out, feel free to define what you consider to be good or bad science fiction and any examples you would like to share.

I'll start with my own. I think that good science fiction fuels your imagination to consider possibilities beyond our own world. It can also comment on the human condition through these new worlds, but I don't feel that it has to have that to be successful. I consider some of the best science fiction to be works that challenge the reader to imagine the world, rather than providing all the details.

Examples of my own personal favorites (its a long list)

"Legends of the Star Wolf" by veteran Star Trek writer David Gerold
"Space Cadet" "Starship Troopers" "Tunnel in the Sky" by Robert Heinlein
"Dune" by Frank Herbert
"Mars" by Ben Bova

Feel freed to add on. Movies are obviously welcome too, but that's an even longer list smile

Edit: Clarified the title smile

Last edited by fireproof78 (2013-02-17 04:25:17)

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Re: The SCIFI Thread! :) (not about the TV channel)

I think that science fiction at its best always says something about the human condition, because every future world it creates is commentary on where the author thinks we will go (or wants to prevent us from going) as a society. I agree with you that sci-fi is better when it challenges the reader's imagination; it annoys me when a science fiction book has a huge glossary in the back. The author should provide enough details that the reader has a solid understanding of his world, but not so specific that were bombarded with meaningless details we have to look up. For this reason, I'm not so much a fan of "hard" sci-fi; I tend more towards "literary" sci-fi (PKD, some of Kazuo Ishiguro's work) or science fantasy. The exception is cyberpunk; I loves me some dreary, noir-laced computer fiction. I tend to like my sci-fi in short story form; Night Shade Books tends to publish really kickass reprint anthologies centered around specific subgenres.

Personal faves:

Fahrenheit 451, The Martian Chronicles, A Sound of Thunder and Other Stories, and The Illustrated Man by Ray Bradbury
A Scanner Darkly, Ubik, and Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K. Dick
Infoquake, Multireal, and Geosynchron (Jump 225 Trilogy) by David Louis Edelman
Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson
The Windup Girl and Pump Six and Other Stories by Paolo Bacigalupi
I, Robot by Isaac Asimov
Spin by Robert Charles Wilson
A Talent for War, Polaris, Seeker, The Devil's Eye, Echo, and Firebird (Alex Benedict Novels) by Jack McDevitt
The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, The Restaurant at the End of the Universe, Life, the Universe, and Everything, So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish, and Mostly Harmless (Hitchhiker's Trilogy) by Douglas Adams
Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro
Brave New Worlds: Dystopian Stories (anthology) edited by John Joseph Adams
Wastelands: Stories of the Apocalypse (anthology) edited by John Joseph Adams
The Best Science Fiction and Fantasy of the Year (annual anthology series) edited by Jonathan Strahan

And for a great book that's about sci-fi and fantasy (one of my favorite books of all time, and it won both the Hugo and the Nebula):

Among Others by Jo Walton

Last edited by Abbie (2013-02-16 17:32:32)

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Re: The SCIFI Thread! :) (not about the TV channel)

Quick addition here with a link from bullet3 who posted this in chat and is well worth a watch:
http://farm9.staticflickr.com/8211/8339465641_7e97efc45e_h.jpg
http://vimeo.com/seaquark/c299792

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Re: The SCIFI Thread! :) (not about the TV channel)

It's come out at last! Thanks for the heads up fireproof (and bullet3).

Imagination will often carry us to worlds that never were. But without it we go nowhere. - Carl Sagan

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Re: The SCIFI Thread! :) (not about the TV channel)

redxavier wrote:

It's come out at last! Thanks for the heads up fireproof (and bullet3).

Glad you liked it smile
Thanks again to bullet3 (or blame bullet3, depending)

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Re: The SCIFI Thread! :) (not about the TV channel)

I'm bumping my own thread to ask a question of the scifi nerds out there:
In the Phantom Menace Commentary our brave panelists discuss politics in space and how it doesn't work for Star Wars, much to the fans horror.

However, the Dune novels explore politics in great detail of a galactic empire, including many different organizations, houses and armies. Even in the movie adaptations, the politics of the situation are never denied but explored as each side vies for position.

This may be an oversimplification, but can political scifi, like Dune, work, even in screen adaptation?

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Re: The SCIFI Thread! :) (not about the TV channel)

Take any normal movie about politics that works, put them in funny outfits. If it still works, the answer is "yes" smile I think most of the problem is related to the one Teague had with Dark City (except this time justified): with a SF tale, you first have to understand the background before the politics become interesting. Unless the tale can be broken down to its most basic components (they must do THIS to stop war!), politics often IS local and doesn't translate well. This is true with foreign films, and is going to be even more true in a fictional universe. In both cases most viewers will just follow the character arcs and ignore the actual political details.

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Re: The SCIFI Thread! :) (not about the TV channel)

Babylon 5 had tons of politics going on (both Human and alien). It worked... at least for me.

Stargate SG-1 had some as well.

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Re: The SCIFI Thread! :) (not about the TV channel)

A TV series lets you ease people into it. Plus, Babylon 5 started with a mystery, and worked in the politics later. It was the UN in space, which then branched out to deal with the various alien governments.

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Re: The SCIFI Thread! :) (not about the TV channel)

And Sg-1 didn't really start to become really political until at least season 4 or 5.

My movies: ZangrethorDigital.ca
Let's plays: youtube.com/bigdamnartist
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Re: The SCIFI Thread! :) (not about the TV channel)

Invid wrote:

Take any normal movie about politics that works, put them in funny outfits. If it still works, the answer is "yes" smile I think most of the problem is related to the one Teague had with Dark City (except this time justified): with a SF tale, you first have to understand the background before the politics become interesting. Unless the tale can be broken down to its most basic components (they must do THIS to stop war!), politics often IS local and doesn't translate well. This is true with foreign films, and is going to be even more true in a fictional universe. In both cases most viewers will just follow the character arcs and ignore the actual political details.

Then why the success of Dune? Is the Dune political system that easy to understand?
On the surface, it is not.
You have the balancing effect of the Imperial House and the Landsaraad (the Council of all the other Houses), and the Spacing Guild, which has a monopoly on space travel.
Compare that to the Star Wars Old Republic government which is a massive Senate and the Supreme Chancellor and the Court system (referred to, not seen).
Is it not as well define as a system?

Marty J wrote:

Babylon 5 had tons of politics going on (both Human and alien). It worked... at least for me.

Stargate SG-1 had some as well.

I like SG-1's political maneuvering, especially when O'Neill became leader of the Stargate Command. But, I think SG-1 was more easily to relate to because of the military elements.

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Re: The SCIFI Thread! :) (not about the TV channel)

fireproof78 wrote:
Invid wrote:

Take any normal movie about politics that works, put them in funny outfits. If it still works, the answer is "yes" smile I think most of the problem is related to the one Teague had with Dark City (except this time justified): with a SF tale, you first have to understand the background before the politics become interesting. Unless the tale can be broken down to its most basic components (they must do THIS to stop war!), politics often IS local and doesn't translate well. This is true with foreign films, and is going to be even more true in a fictional universe. In both cases most viewers will just follow the character arcs and ignore the actual political details.

Then why the success of Dune? Is the Dune political system that easy to understand?

Dune is religion. And, yes, the politics is easy to understand. It's feudal families back stabbing each other. All else is gloss. Everything the reader really needs to know is set up in the opening scene (kid may be messiah, family going into danger willingly because they think knowing the danger limits it). As for the success, the first movie flopped, and the TV versions had more time to deal with the politics (I haven't seen them). There's also lots of action (poisonings, the attack, etc). Really, I don't think of it as a "political" story, at least in the book version.

I write stories! With words!
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Re: The SCIFI Thread! :) (not about the TV channel)

Invid wrote:

Dune is religion. And, yes, the politics is easy to understand. It's feudal families back stabbing each other. All else is gloss. Everything the reader really needs to know is set up in the opening scene (kid may be messiah, family going into danger willingly because they think knowing the danger limits it). As for the success, the first movie flopped, and the TV versions had more time to deal with the politics (I haven't seen them). There's also lots of action (poisonings, the attack, etc). Really, I don't think of it as a "political" story, at least in the book version.

Fair points, though there is a lot of politic in there as well, especially the concept of kanly, loss of fief and the need for the Sardukar (Imperial Troops) to be hidden in Harkonnen uniforms due to the Emperor's needing to stay out of the House fighting. But, these might be details I didn't understand when I was younger and had to take time to get. I always loved the fact that there is a glossary in the back of the book. I wish more scifi books did that.

The success I referred to was largely the TV mini-series since they were able to at least get a sequel out of the deal. I highly recommend watching at least the first Dune series, though it is about 6 hours long so pace yourself. It is at least divided in to the same three sections as the original novel so it has natural breaks.

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Re: The SCIFI Thread! :) (not about the TV channel)

It doesn't work in the Star Wars prequels because only lip service is paid to the politics. It merely states a political intention, but neglects to develop either the background to the argument, or the argument itself. And without a social or financial argument at its heart, and at least two sides to that argument that you can understand (and actually make sense), it's just a half-baked idea. And I find that a poorly communicated/told political story is one that breaks down more noticeably than others. I had similar misgivings about the politics in 300 (see that thread).

If you pick up a random Star Trek episode, you'll find it did this much better, where often within its 45-minute running time it will present a commentary about a political topic. And it does it well because it lends credibility to both sides of the discourse.

In TPM, the taxation of trade routes alone isn't interesting, but it's also nowhere detailed enough to make it interesting. That the motivation of the villains remains vague and seemingly at odds with their desires also hinders its effectiveness as a driving plot force. Why would a Trade Federation block trade? It's just thrown in there but never developed beyond being mentioned a couple of times. Worse, the whole manner of its dealing in the senate is laugable, and stretches plausibility to the extreme because we can't see how this political organisation can ever function. Remember, the senate cannot even agree that Naboo is blockaded, and yet it allows a vote of no confidence regarding the 'non-existent' crisis. What? Did someone even read that twice when they wrote it?

When you create a make-believe world with its own political institutions, demonstrating that they make sense and work is vital. And that requires a fair amount of thought and research in the writing process.

Imagination will often carry us to worlds that never were. But without it we go nowhere. - Carl Sagan

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Re: The SCIFI Thread! :) (not about the TV channel)

fireproof78 wrote:

I always loved the fact that there is a glossary in the back of the book. I wish more scifi books did that.

My father refused to read any book that needed that, at least with regard to invented words smile It was a thing for awhile. It also brings up something brought up at a convention panel long ago. An author asked the audience WHY they bought things like the later Dune books Herbert wrote (which I actually liked). Someone stood up and said readers have learned all this detail about fictional universes, and wanted to keep reading something that made use of it. The more complicated the universe, the more they needed to keep reading new stories to keep from feeling like the effort was wasted.

I write stories! With words!
http://www.asstr.org/~Invid_Fan/

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Re: The SCIFI Thread! :) (not about the TV channel)

Invid wrote:
fireproof78 wrote:

I always loved the fact that there is a glossary in the back of the book. I wish more scifi books did that.

My father refused to read any book that needed that, at least with regard to invented words smile It was a thing for awhile. It also brings up something brought up at a convention panel long ago. An author asked the audience WHY they bought things like the later Dune books Herbert wrote (which I actually liked). Someone stood up and said readers have learned all this detail about fictional universes, and wanted to keep reading something that made use of it. The more complicated the universe, the more they needed to keep reading new stories to keep from feeling like the effort was wasted.

Which is why I find it funny that so many people criticize a glossary and yet Dune books keep coming. I agree with you that the incredible world built (similar to Middle Earth) and having more stories allows that world to expand even more. I actually am glad that Brian Herbert has decided to continue on and his Dune prequel books are very well done.

redexavier wrote:

It doesn't work in the Star Wars prequels because only lip service is paid to the politics. It merely states a political intention, but neglects to develop either the background to the argument, or the argument itself. And without a social or financial argument at its heart, and at least two sides to that argument that you can understand (and actually make sense), it's just a half-baked idea. And I find that a poorly communicated/told political story is one that breaks down more noticeably than others. I had similar misgivings about the politics in 300 (see that thread).

If you pick up a random Star Trek episode, you'll find it did this much better, where often within its 45-minute running time it will present a commentary about a political topic. And it does it well because it lends credibility to both sides of the discourse.

In TPM, the taxation of trade routes alone isn't interesting, but it's also nowhere detailed enough to make it interesting. That the motivation of the villains remains vague and seemingly at odds with their desires also hinders its effectiveness as a driving plot force. Why would a Trade Federation block trade? It's just thrown in there but never developed beyond being mentioned a couple of times. Worse, the whole manner of its dealing in the senate is laugable, and stretches plausibility to the extreme because we can't see how this political organisation can ever function. Remember, the senate cannot even agree that Naboo is blockaded, and yet it allows a vote of no confidence regarding the 'non-existent' crisis. What? Did someone even read that twice when they wrote it?

When you create a make-believe world with its own political institutions, demonstrating that they make sense and work is vital. And that requires a fair amount of thought and research in the writing process.

I agree, red, and that is well written. A thought occurred to me and I'll throw it out here for consideration. Anakin becoming Vader was inevitable the way the prequels are written. He could have been in Starfleet, or the Alliance from Firefly or any other scifi world and Vader is inevitable. Because of that, the politics have no bearing in the prequels, like you said, because they are just window dressings for the big event (as the DiF panelists expounded upon in their commentary).

So, Politics in Sci-fi can be done, could even be done in the Star Wars universe, but only if the system makes sense?
Agree? Disagree?

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Re: The SCIFI Thread! :) (not about the TV channel)

A random comic about kit-bashing starships:
http://www.foxtrot.com/comics/2012-05-27-b20a1a78.gif

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Re: The SCIFI Thread! :) (not about the TV channel)

I highly recommend, for anyone who hasn't heard of it before, a little sci-fi themed game called FTL. It's a simple game (made by 2 people and funded by Kickstarter) where you have a ship and have to jump from beacon to beacon and at each there's a random event, usually a battle with an enemy ship. It's glorious, and yup, really rather hard what.

Imagination will often carry us to worlds that never were. But without it we go nowhere. - Carl Sagan

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Re: The SCIFI Thread! :) (not about the TV channel)

Huh.  I've seen FTL on Steam, but I confess I never bothered to look into it.  I'm still not sure it's my cup of tea, but that Let's Play and the $9.99 price tag has me tempted.  Thanks for sharing Redx.

Re: The SCIFI Thread! :) (not about the TV channel)

I have the game. It's OK, but to be honest I've never tried to win: I stop as soon as I'm at the final sector. What I DO find amusing are its fans in various forums. Whenever anyone has ANY comments on things they don't like, or features they'd like to see, the response is: "It's a Rogue-like game! What do you expect!" As if genres are absolute smile

(I had never heard of Rogue until FTL, but assume it's an early example of the style)

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Re: The SCIFI Thread! :) (not about the TV channel)

Quick bump because I just decided on a new theory:
The Goa'uld symbiotes are actually cousins to the sandworms of Arrakis.
http://www.chrismorton.info/wp-content/uploads/2011/04/sandworms.png

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Re: The SCIFI Thread! :) (not about the TV channel)

The Sarlacc is actually bigger than any of the others...
http://images4.wikia.nocookie.net/__cb20080928223023/starwars/images/6/60/Sarlacc_Body.jpg

Last edited by Snail (2013-06-11 04:37:28)

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Re: The SCIFI Thread! :) (not about the TV channel)

Snail!
You took all the fun out my analogy with your super detailed diagram  tongue

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Re: The SCIFI Thread! :) (not about the TV channel)

That's some impressive imagineering with that cross-sectional!


Over the last week or so, I've been playing this game called Kerbal Space Program. It's a sandbox, physics-based space exploration game where you take on the role of designing, building and flying rockets and planes for this race of weird aliens called Kerbals, launching manned or robotic missions into orbit or far out into the solar system to land on moons and planets. It's tricky, requires planning as well as keyboard skills, and is suprising addictive. It's also probably one of those few games where watching someone play is just as fun (since everyone seems to approach things differently). Youtube has lots of really good Let's Play series - Chickenkeeper, Scott Manley and kurtjmac are ones that I've been following.

The below video is Scott Manley's opening tutorial (a charming Scotsman).

Imagination will often carry us to worlds that never were. But without it we go nowhere. - Carl Sagan

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Re: The SCIFI Thread! :) (not about the TV channel)

I had to bring this thread back, one, to explore Xavier's fun game smile

and to share an article talking, at first about Elysium specifically, and then more realistic science fiction versus blockbuster science fiction. It is an interesting read, and raises the question about the differences of different types of scifi.

http://www.theawl.com/2013/08/elysium-a … ce-fiction

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