The Way of the Firefly

The Syfy channel, via Craig Engler, has just announced that they're ending Stargate Universe after they finish out the next ten episodes of the current season, effectively stopping the franchise on the television. It's a shame, because SGU has rapidly become one of the more interesting and compelling science fiction dramas on television, and it was doing good things for the franchise, taking it in a very interesting direction.

Unfortunately, it's also not a surprise. Going out on a short limb, the ratings for the show have been pretty low, on par with what Caprica was getting, and it seems that unlike in prior years, with a solid block of Stargate SG-1/Atlantis and Battlestar Galactica, the combined efforts of Starate Universe and Caprica on a Tuesday night didn't have the same effect on audiences.

There's a recurring lesson here: the reasons for a show getting cancelled are generally up to audience numbers, and fans, just as much as the channel are on the hook. In every instance of a cancelled science fiction show, low ratings have been generally been a universal factor: Firefly, Life on Mars (US), Stargate SG-1/Atlantis, Kings, Battlestar Galactica and Dollhouse are all examples. Off the top of my head, the only shows that haven't been canceled only because of ratings was Babylon 5 (which almost didn't make it) and LOST, (which saw its release altered to lower numbers of episodes per season). The circular logic kicks in as fans don't stick with a show, and the home channels don't do enough to keep them.

In this instance, Stargate Universe had an incredible uphill battle to keep going for even a season. The show as a whole is very much against the grain when it comes to the style of shows that its predecessors were, and opted to go for the darker, edgier route that Battlestar Galactica had gone. It's increasinly appearing that Battlestar was an oddity, which has darker implications in and of itself. Given the dropping ratings and low audience numbers for the show, I can't get too angry at SyFy for cancelling the show. Like any channel, it's a business, and when things get unprofitable, it's impossible to keep them going in that type of environment. For all of the arguments about new media such as Hulu, on demand viewing and the like, Engler has talked a lot on his twitter feed about how there's no model yet for payment, and that a lot of these types of things are still playing out. This is all within an increasing environment where piracy is on the rise, which further impacts a show's audience. (I think that this is a bit of a lesser degree than argued though).

Stargate's long been a favorite franchise of mine, and Universe especially so. They've done some cool things with it: brought on John Scalzi as a creative consultant, brought in a very cool cast, and told some stories that are amongst the best that I've seen in the franchise. There's some great, real-world science things brought in, and a take on military science fiction and characters that makes quite a lot of sense to me. Even the visuals have been fantastic.

The moral of the story comes down to the fans. For all of the rage that's directed at the SyFy channel, it's a bit misguided: they're certainly not going out to cancel major projects that they've sunk a lot of money into. At the same time, as the channel works to put on more and more B-movies for their weekend shows and fairly mindless shows such as Warehouse 13, Sanctuary and Haven, I wish that they would find a way to make some of their investments work better for today's audiences, and use these new means to bring better, compelling and interesting science fiction to the small screen.

The next one on the horizon is Fringe, moved ominously to Friday night (and which moved episode is titled 'Firefly'), which has also seen diminishing numbers. Hopefully, with ten episodes to go, SGU will be able to end on a good note, with a bit of proper closure. Hopefully, they'll get home and remain as brilliant as they've been for the past two years.

Top Geek Things of 2009

Now that it's close to the end of the year, it's time to look back, like everyone else and their mother on the internet, on the past year. 2009 has been a fantastic one for all things geek. There have been a number of fantastic movies, books, television shows and so forth, as well as a bunch of things that really didn't come off as well. Here's what I've been geeking out (or complaining about) this year:

The Best:

Moon Moon is easily one of the best Science Fiction films that I've ever seen. Ever. It's been added to a very small list of films (The Fountain, Children of Men, Pan's Labyrinth, etc) of exceptionally conceptualized, produced and thoughtful SF/F films out there. Moon is one of two really good films this year that I really enjoyed and for a number of reasons. The story is fantastic, playing off of common themes with new eyes, it's visually stunning and it's a largely original story, one that's not based directly off of prior works. And, it has a fantastic soundtrack by Clint Mansell.

Star Trek This appears three times on this list, because I'm still largely split over how I feel about it. The best parts of this is that it's a fantastic, visually stunning film, and really does what Enterprise and Nemesis failed to do: reboot the franchise in grand style, with over the top action, adventure, everything that really comes to mind when you think Big Budget Space Movie. The cast, pacing and visuals made this one of the most successful films of the year, and the best of the big budget films that came out this year.

District 9 When it comes to fantastic Science Fiction films, Moon and Star Trek didn't have a monopoly on this at all - District 9, coming out of San Diego Comic Con with an incredible amount of buzz and a good viral marketing campaign showed that there was still a place for an innovative filmmaker armed with a good story. The end result is a compelling take on first contact. Instead of an us against them, or invaders from outer space flick, we see refugees from outer space, with an acute political message that makes this movie even more interesting.

The Curious Tale of Benjamin Button This was an interesting film, one that got a bit of press, but wasn't a blockbuster by any means. The story of a man who ages backwards from birth, one that proved to be a powerful and somewhat heartbreaking love story leaves much room for discussion, but at points, was slow and ponderous. Brad Pitt did a fantastic job, as did the special effects artists who provided the CGI throughout.

The Magicians, Lev Grossman The Magicians was a book that came out of nowhere for me, until a Borders email let me know about it. Picking it up, with few expectations, I was enthralled with Lev Grossman's take on the fantasy world. Drawing much from C.S. Lewis's Chronicles of Narnia and elements of Harry Potter, this book looks at a boy in a magical academy in a far more realistic sense, injecting a good dose of post-college reality into a field that is often ripe with monsters and epic quests. A quest of sorts is in here, but the buildup is fantastic.

Wired For War, P.W. Singer Wired For War is a book from earlier this year that looked at the developments of robotics in warfare. P.W. Singer takes a long and comprehensive look at not only the state of robots and their use in combat operations, but also looks to how the use of robotics is integrated into wartime planning, and how this impacts command and control structures already in place. From this point, he looks to the future of warfare, where robotics will go through the next decades and what the face of futuristic warfare might look like. It's also peppered with numerous Science Fiction references. I had a chance to speak with and interview Mr. Singer, who was extremely pleasant and eager to talk about his book, and write up several major articles for io9, which was a thrill as always.

The Windup Girl, Paolo Bacigalupi Recently selected as one of Time Magazine's top books of the year, Paolo Bacigalupi's first novel, The Windup Girl is a stunning one. Taking place in the near future, in a world without oil, alternative energy has become paramount, while agricultural firms have put profit before common sense and as a result, plagues ravage the world, except for Thailand, whose isolationist policies hold back the outside world and its problems. The book covers a lot of ground, from governmental policy to corporate greed to bioethics, with a wide range of characters who all fall within a gray area. This book is fantastic, and if it doesn't win a Hugo, there's seriously something wrong with the world.

The Moon Reigns Supreme - 40th Anniversary of Apollo 11 & Water on the Moon This year marked 40 years since 1969, when man first landed on the moon with Apollo 11, and with a successful follow-up mission with Apollo 12. Easily one of humanity's greatest accomplishments and it has been followed up with a number of projects. NASA found and restored footage of the landing and EVA activities, cleaning it up a little. NASA also took pictures from orbit of the Apollo landing sites, down to footprint trails with some stunning work from LCROSS. In addition to NASA's efforts to celebrate the anniversary, there were a number of other things out there. The Kennedy Library launched the website 'We Chose the Moon', which documented, in real time, the Apollo 11 mission. I listened at the edge of my seat, following along with the mission transcript and listened as Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin touched down on the lunar surface. Finally, Craig T. Nelson's book, Rocket Men: The Epic Story of the First Men On The Moon, was released earlier this year to also commemorate the mission, which proved to be a detailed and fantastic read, one that helped to influence my thinking on the lunar mission. The Lunar landing wasn't the only press that the moon got this year - the LCROSS mission launched a component that slammed into the surface and let up a plume of debris - analysis revealed that there is water on the moon - a lot of it. And for all of those people who complained about this, keep in mind the number of craters that are already there.

Last servicing mission to Hubble. NASA wasn't just in the news for Apollo 11; this year marked the last servicing mission for the Hubble Space Telescope, which has been in orbit since 1990. Despite its troubled history, the satellite has returned some of the most fantastic, beautiful and stunning images of the universe around us, and will continue to do so for a couple more years. Space Shuttle mission STS-125 was launched in May, where a new camera was placed onboard and several other minor repairs. The satellite is slated to continue operation through 2014, so don't fret yet.

James May's Toy Stories James May, one of the three presenters on Top Gear, has been doing a limited TV show on classic toys, including Mecano, Plasticine, and eventually, Lego, looking a little at their history and then building something supersized out of them. It's quite a treat to watch.

Fringe I called Fringe one of the worst things last year, but it's turned around for me. Picking up the boxed set, I was hooked. It's a bit cheesy, gory, but a whole lot of fun. Walter, weird science, teleportation and alternate universes make this show a huge joy to watch. Season 2 is proving to be just as good, now that they've locked down a story, and I'm eager to see where it goes.

Dollhouse Dollhouse debuted earlier this year with a short, 13 episode season that started off slowly, but picked up an incredible amount of steam. While it's more uneven than Joss Whedon's earlier show, Firefly, Dollhouse's better episodes help make up for the slack by introducing some of the most challenging moments in Science Fiction, and deal with issues such as the soul, personality and consent, while also offering cautionary tales on the uses of technology. Unfortunately, with the show's cancellation right as it gets good, there's a limit to what can be told, but with plenty of time for this show to wrap up all the remaining storylines, I think that this will become a cult classic.

Battlestar Galactica Where to begin with Battlestar Galactica? It's been a rush over the past six or so years, with a miniseries and four seasons of television and two movies, and like all good things, it had to end sometime. Fortunately, it ended when it was good, and while the finale garnered quite a lot of talk and dismay from some people (io9 listed it as one of the bigger disappointments), I think that it was carried off well, with a rich blend of religious allegory, action and a satisfying ending that few science fiction shows seem to get.

Kings Sadly, Kings was another short lived show that was cancelled before its time. Taking the story of David and Goliath from the Bible and updating it in a modern, alternate world with inter-kingdom politics, faith and destiny. The stories were superb, well told, with a fantastic cast. This is precisely the type of show that should have been on SyFy, especially with their upcoming show Caprica.

Stargate: Universe SyFy's latest show from the Stargate Franchise, Stargate: Universe is possibly the most interesting and compelling installment in the series. Taking the very basics of Stargate SG-1/Stargate Atlantis, this show takes more cues from Battlestar Galactica than it does Stargate. The result is a far more realistic show, with more personal stories and situations that are much darker, and more grown up from the first show.

Landing At Point Rain The Clone Wars thunders on, with mixed results, but easily the best episode that's aired thus far is Landing At Point Rain. Taking influences from Black Hawk Down, Saving Private Ryan and other war movies, the show finally lives up to its title: The Clone Wars. There's plenty of action, less of the stupid lines and fantastic animation that really made this episode one of the most exciting moments in the entire franchise.

The Hazards of Love, by the Decemberists The Decemberists have long dabbled in interesting and wordy music, as well as fantasy, with their last album, The Crane Wife, and The Tain, but The Hazards of Love is their most ambitious attempt at a concept album to date, one with an overarching story of Margaret and William, a town girl and a cursed man, their love for one another and the Forest Queen who conspires to keep them apart. The album is filled with supernatural elements, and seems to draw from Lord of the Rings and traditional mythic stories to put together one of their best works to date. The band in concert was also a treat to see.

Do You Want To Date My Avatar? I'm not all that familiar with The Guild, but Felica Day's clever music video is hands down fantastic.

Dr. Horrible Wins an Emmy Dr. Horrible’s Singalong Blog was one of the coolest things to come out last year, and this year, it received an Emmy, which helps to solidify the web as a growing platform for serious and professionally produced entertainment. Hopefully, its success will mean that we’ll see smaller, independent productions going online and succeeding.

Symphony of Science Symphony of Science is a project that puts noted scientists (notably Carl Sagan) to music by using an auto tuner. The result is a series of music videos and songs that help to convey some of the beauty and wonder of physics though some fairly clever songs. I've been listening to them constantly, and as a sort of electronica style music, they're quite fun, and very geeky to listen to. Best of all, there is plans to make further songs.

Star Wars In Concert One of the most iconic elements of Star Wars isn't just the action and epic story; it's the music that it's set to. For much of this fall, a travelling show, entitled Star Wars In Concert has been travelling around the nation. Unfortunately, it's winding down, but it will likely continue into next year. The 501st was called out at most of the events, and through that, I was able to watch the show. Combining a live orchestra, clips from the movies and narration from Anthony Daniels (C-3PO), the entire evening was a fantastic experience that gave me chills throughout.

Tauntaun Sleeping Bag The Tauntaun Sleeping bag started out as an April Fool's Joke, but the demand and interest was so prevalent that ThinkGeek actually went out and made it. What a fantastic idea - I kind of want one.

Slingers The final thing on this list is Slingers, a short conceptual teaser for a show that's heading towards production. The 3 minute teaser is easily one of the best moments in SF that I've seen in a while and I've been bouncing around, positively giddy at the prospect that this might be made. It's got humor, some interesting characters and a very cool look to the future. Plus, it's a space show, and there aren't many of those around now. It left me seeing more, and I'm sure that we'll see more in the next year or so.


Fanboys For all the hype, Fanboys was a bit of a letdown. The cancer story was kept in, but so were some of the immature and cheap laughs that brought the entire film down. It's good for a laugh, and there's a lot that went right with it, but still, I was left wishing that there was more to it, without the frat boy humor in it.

Watchmen Don't get me wrong, Watchmen was stunning. It looked, felt and acted like the comic book that it was inspired by, and the transition to the screen worked fairly well. At the same time, for all the hype that there was here, I'm not that enthused to see it more than once or twice. It's still on my to get list, but it's not necessarily a priority. I think my biggest issue with this is that it's too much like the comic book, and that the drive to make everything exact harmed the overall production. It's less of a movie than it is an homage from the director. Sin City was the perfect comic book movie, this wasn't, and it really should have been. Still, it's worth watching.

Star Trek Star Trek, one of the best, one of the eh, moments of the year. It looks and feels spectacular, but when you get down to it, there's the shoddy science, and an incredibly weak story that pulls the movie along. The story's really not what the film was about, this was a character start for more Star Trek, but for me, story is central to Science Fiction, and this just didn't have it.

9 The trailers for 9 looked great, and there was quite a bit of interest in this. I went into the theater with high expectations, and those were largely met - the film looked spectacular, and it was a fun ride, but the story and characters were pretty lacking. It needed quite a bit of story and character development that was needed, and that harmed the film. Plus, it didn't seem to know if it was a kid's movie or one for an older audience. This is probably something to rent, not to buy.

V The new V should have been great - the cast, producers and network put together a good premise, but with the first couple of episodes sped through just about everything that made the show interesting. The themes of first contact, of a ship arriving over earth with a message for peace contain so much when it comes to religion, science and society, all rich territory that could be exploited, but instead, it's gone past too quickly, with crappy teenage romance storylines. I'll probably not pick up watching again, but I'll see what's going on in the show, in case, by some miracle, it's picked up for a second season.

The Prisoner AMC's The Prisoner was another show that should have been great. The trailers presented a fantastic looking story of psychological stress with a weird desert backdrop, but honestly? I can't tell you what it was about. It was convoluted, unconnected and dull, and while it looked very pretty, and had some decent episodes, it was a pretty big letdown.

Spirit gets stuck in the mud The Spirit Rover on Mars got mired down in a patch of sand earlier this year. Put into operation in 2004, and only intended for a 90 day mission, the rover was still going strong until it got stuck. Hopefully, the boffins over at the JPL will be able to get it out and about once again, although if I remember correctly, the last thing that they were intending to try was to back it out the way it came in. I would have thought that would have been the first thing to have tried.

Google Wave - lights are on, but there's nobody there. Late this year, Google Wave got turned on, and like any major Google product with exclusive access, it was, well, popular. But nobody really seems to know what it's for, and unlike Gmail, which could be used as an e-mail client from day one, its limited access restricts a lot of what you can do with this. People aren't using it like e-mail if it was designed today; it's essentially a glorified Gmail chat window, or a really good business collaborative tool. Still, it's pretty nifty, and I really hope that they can integrate it into Gmail someday.


G.I. Joe, Star Trek, Transformers, Terminator & Big Budget Crap I know I've singled out Star Trek a couple times here, but more than ever, especially with far superior, low budget films competing with them this year, we see once again that tons of special effects doesn't necessarily equate to a good film. G.I. Joe landed with horrendous reviews, Star Trek had a smaller plot than a television episode and Terminator: Salvation was a huge disappointment, critically. (I thought it was decent, but nowhere near as good as the trailers led me to believe). My biggest gripe is extravagant use of CGI and an over-reliance on special effects for a dumbed down audience. Among other things, Moon and District 9 demonstrated that a good looking, intelligent film could be done for a fairly low cost, and I know that I'll be going back to those far more than the others. Still, big budget summer movies aren't going anywhere - a lot of these films made quite a bit, and the jury is still out on Avatar, which drops in a couple weeks.

Karen Traviss Quits Star Wars - Twice Karen Traviss was really a shining star within the Star Wars Universe. Her first entry, Republic Commando : Hard Contact, was followed up by several very good novels, with some different and intelligent views on the Clone Wars. Then, there was a bit of a row over Mandalorians, causing her books to come into conflict with the Clone Wars TV series. Since then, there's been a bit of a row about this, and Traviss has left the universe for others, such as Gears of War and Halo, and hopefully, her other works. Karen explains everything here, and makes some good points. She will be missed, however.

Black Matrix Publishing Row With harder times coming around, some publishers found a new revenue stream: aspiring writers who have little common sense. One notable SF ones was Black Matrix Publishing, called out by author John Scalzi recently on his blog, Whatever. While Scalzi had quite a lot of very good advice in his usual up front fashion, there were a number of people who went on the offensive and critizised him as an elitist writer, issuing some of the most ridiculous arguments for why Black Matrix had been wronged. I'm not necessarily involved in either side, but Scalzi presented a reasonable argument. Why is that so hard?

The ending to Life On Mars I really got into Life on Mars. It wasn't as good as the UK version, but it was unique, interesting and divergent from it. While the show basically adapted the original show to a large extent at first, they had an interesting pace and storyline starting up, and far better than the first pilot that was shot, which was just terrible. The creators had a delicate balancing act to follow, and did a very good job with giving their characters their own personalities and stories that diverged from the UK version. Then, the show was cancelled and they ended it, and the last ten minutes of the show just dropped like a rock. Clunky, very, very poor production values that made me wonder if this was all slapped together at the last minute, and quite honestly, it dimmed the entire series for me, especially compared to the brilliance of the UK version. I'll watch the show again, but I'll be doing my best to forget about the conclusion.

SciFi becomes SyFy, nobody cares One of the biggest furies of the year was when SciFi became SyFy, and the internet erupted into such indignation that I thought the world was going to end. Quite simply, the channel changed names to create a stronger brand, not change content, and so far, they seem to be doing pretty well, with Warehouse 13, Stargate Universe, Alice and presumably, Caprica doing really well in the ratings. All of which is good, for the network to expand further and really show that geek is really in right now. While the name looks silly, it's really a superficial change. Now, if they would just get rid of wrestling. Or pick up Slingers for five seasons.

Orbiting Carbon Observatory crashes - Mission Failure This was a satellite that I tracked earlier this year while really watching the space stuff. The Orbiting Carbon Observatory was an expensive one, designed to monitor global carbon levels to get a better idea just how climate change is progressing and providing us with a very good look at just how the environment is changing around us. Ultimately though, part of the nose failed to separate from the capsule, and with the extra weight, the rocket crashed into the south Atlantic.

Heroes continues. Meh. I've given up on Heroes, after the dismal decline in quality, storytelling and characters. They should have stuck with the original plan, and killed off the first season's cast when they had the chance, instead of bringing people back time and time again. The fact that ratings are declining is just stunning to me, especially now that the show is into it's fourth season, and I have doubts that it will return. Hopefully not.

FlashForward Look, if I want to watch LOST, I'll watch LOST. I'm not going to watch a show that's a poor copy of it.

Deaths: Every year, there are a number of deaths in the geek genre/fan community. A couple notable ones were Ricardo Montalbán, who played Kahn in Star Trek: The Wrath of Kahn, Michael Jackson, who's song Thriller places him on the Geek spotlight, Kim Manners (X-Files/Supernatural Producer), Philip José Farmer, author of Riverworld and numerous other SF books, Dave Arneson, one of the D&D co-founders, and Norman Borlaug, who saved the world through science. There are others I'm sure, but it's still hard to see people in the genre leave us forever.


A couple of unknowns for me include The Lovely Bones, Sherlock Holmes, Avatar and Zombieland, which I haven't seen, Deathtroopers, which I haven't read, and Halo ODST, which I haven't played. (Okay, haven't played much. I've liked what I've played. And the soundtrack. And the fact that the entire Firefly cast is somewhere in there)

What's coming up for next year? The new Tron movie is coming out, which I'm horribly excited for, especially after watching the trailer and then the old movie. Slingers is likely going to get some more buzz. Iron Man 2 will be big, as well as Clash of the Titans, Inception (Really want to see that one), Chronicles of Narnia 3, The Book of Eli, and Toy Story 3. Hopefully, Scott Lynch will have his third book out, and Caprica will be beginning (High hopes for that one), as well as the second half  and second Season of Stargate: Universe. Who knows what else?


I came across a 'Sizzler Reel' for a project known as Slingers the other day, and I have to say, it this project doesn't get made as planned, I will be very, very unhappy. A couple of plot summaries have appeared, and the gist of the show is that it takes place in 2263 A.D., following an interplanetary war. The show is about a group of people onboard a spacecraft and use it to conduct a number of high stakes heists around the galaxy while on their way home.

There's a couple of reasons why this has had me absolutely giddy over the past couple of days. I've posted up links and shown a number of friends, who've shared much of the same excitement. When watching, I was reminded of Joss Whedon's now defunct show, Firefly, as well as a bit of Ocean's 11. While only a short clip/trailer, I think that this sort of thing has an incredible amount of potential for a television show, and hopefully one that can help fill out the real lack of space shows on the television at the moment.

I wonder why we don't have anything nearly as compelling as this on the television right now, with horrible shows such as FlashForward and Heroes on at the moment. This reel has humor, what looks to be an interesting story, good production values and a well concieved world in which it can play. After just three minutes, I'm left wanting more, in a very bad way, and have been absolutely thrilled to see the incredible amount of press that the clip has generated. According to the creator, Michael Seizmore, talks in LA have been moving forward, most likely to the massive positive response to what we've already seen.

To some extent, I hope that no networks pick this up, but that a show like this will screen only on the internet, such as Joss Whedon's previous effort, Dr. Horrible's Singalong Blog, which did quite well. Interference from a network, worries about stories and ratings in a time when these are becoming even more irrelevant or convoluted makes me worried that something like this won't succeed on a major network. At the same time, I'm worried that my own expectations have been raised to an unrealistic level for something like this, and I know that I need to dial it down, lest this is never picked up at all. The creation of this as a show is far from certain, as it still needs to be picked up as a pilot, then it has to be picked up as a show, and so on.

Still, there's this little bit of enthusiasm for something that's essentially just starting out. Already, there's been a fantastic response from a number of SF websites, including io9 and the SciFiWire, and already, there's a growing number of people who want to see this made into a series or something larger. I have to wonder if this is how shows will be made in the future, with small teases to a mass audience to build up support, with networks building an audience before the show is even created. This is easier for some of the more established franchises, but for a small independant production as this seems to be, it's remarkable.

Regardless, I'm thrilled to have seen it. Even if it's never made into a longer story, this short tidbit was the best 3 minutes that I've spent in a while. Hopefully, more will come in the next year or so. If so, I'll be there watching.

Substance vs. Style in Science Fiction

Producer Jesse Alexander just wrote up an interesting guest column on website io9 recently, (which you can read here), where he talks about a couple of subjects that I've been thinking about lately: the vast difference between substance and visual appeal of the science fiction genre, particularly in movies.

In his piece, he notes that CGI-laden blockbusters have really taken over the movie theaters over the summer season, almost completely. This past summer, we've had Terminator 4, Transformers 2, GI Joe, Star Trek, and Harry Potter all costing in the hundreds of millions of dollars to produce from beginning to end, none of which were really all that great, while the two standout movies in the SF genre were Moon and District 9, both of which cost $5 million and $30 million to create, respectively. This begs the question, as Alexander does, where did these two films succeed where the others failed.

The above films all did really well at the box office, grossing back quite a bit of money (although Terminator: Salvation did pretty poorly, but it will warrant a sequel, if the rumors are to be believed) but of everything that was released this summer, only Moon and District 9 really captured the essence of science fiction on all levels. They were wholly original, influences aside, and are the ones that have come out of this summer that will be remembered for a long time as solid entries in the genre's film side of things.

One of the things that charges are laid against is the use of CGI in films, which has become far more sophisticated and prevalent in films, especially science fiction films. I'm not totally sure that CGI is really the thing to blame here, but the effect that it has on filmmaking and the entire process. CGI is a fantastic tool for filmmakers, especially in the science fiction field. The problem comes when the glamor and expanded visual field overtakes the story in terms of importance.

For me, story is everything with a film or television show, and the Science Fiction genre is a fantastic place for any number of possible stories. There have been a number of fantastic films out there that I can put forward as an example for good storytelling: Minority Report, The Prestige, Serenity, The Fountain, Pan's Labyrinth, and of course, Moon and District 9. These movies utilized special effects throughout, but did so in a way that didn't jeopardize the story to the extent that other films might have. A couple of television shows, such as Battlestar Galactica and Firefly have followed much the same philosophy with their approaches to CGI: the visuals are placed in the film/show to support the events in the story.

My favorite example is 2005's release of Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith and Serenity. Both films with significant fanbases, but with very different approaches to the stories. Serenity was a much smaller film, with a killer story to finish up the Firefly TV series, while Revenge of the Sith was a far more bloated and cumbersome film that cost a significant amount of money to produce. Given the financial troubles and uncertainty of the next couple of years, I would bet that that type of filmmaking will continue, but there will be a rise in films such as Moon, Serenity and District 9. Each of these films received a large amount of critical favor, and while none approached the same amount of money that these larger films pulled in, they didn't cost as much as the much larger films.

One thing about these huge CGI films that I noticed is that the ones this summer were already part of a larger storyline or franchise - there were a lot of numbers after the titles, and I have to wonder if that is part of this empty storytelling trend that Science Fiction seems to have picked up over the past couple decades. I don't mind sequels - There's a number of stories out there that I love seeing more of. But, when does a good franchise become a cash cow, with more of the same to it? Transformers was reportedly like that, even up to the director's level, where more of the same, but just more intense was better. Harry Potter has largely been like this from day one, and Star Trek wasn't all that impressive after you started thinking about it. This, to me, is a sad thing for the genre, one that I've always seen as being far more creative than most of the other genres out there, if only for the exotic subject matter.

There are a couple of things that bother me about this sort of thing, mainly that people are more than happy to take any sort of mind-numbing entertainment and expect nothing more. While this is a bit of a leap, it seems like this is a problem that extends far beyond the entertainment realm, from education to politics. Moon and District 9 worked brilliantly together this summer because they were two films that had intelligent plots, good characterization and an unconventional way of presenting the stories. Despite that, I read a number of reviews that noted that the plots didn't make sense, that there weren't enough explosions and the like. These sorts of reviews usually bother me, as they did with reviews about Lev Grossman's The Magicians, where people just didn't, or couldn't understand what the stories were about, and because they didn't like them, refused to think any more about the subject.

What I am hoping will come out of this is that smaller, cheaper, genre films will become more popular, with producers who are willing to take a little more of a gamble. The films this summer proved that filmmakers could get around expensive effects, by using models, preexisting locations and actors who might not necessarily be as well known. If there are any lessons to be learned from this summer, it is that when a good story is in place, the film can succeed toe to toe with any of the big blockbusters. For me, I'm happy that there's something out there that's a little different, a bit challenging and above all, something that makes me think about what I'm watching.

What is Science Fiction?

The Guardian Newspaper posted up an article about the label of Science Fiction when it comes to regular literature. Science Fiction as a broad genre has a number of connotations and images associated with it, for sure, but what exactly is the definition of the grouping?

According to Isaac Asimov, one of the greatest science fiction writers to ever live, Science Fiction is: Modern science fiction is the only form of literature that consistently considers the nature of the changes that face us, the possible consequences, and the possible solutions. (There are some other fantastic takes on this here.)

Over the past couple of years, as I have gotten more interested in the history and study of the genre, I'm leaning more towards an anti-genre sort of bias. I am a fan of the genre, and of the elements that commonly make it up - space ships, time travel, aliens, etc. What I find interesting though, is at how horror, science fiction and fantasy genres are generally grouped together, and how fans from one genre tend to be interested in the others.

According to the Guardian article, there are several authors whose books tend to fall under the SF/F genre heading, but aren't generally considered part of the genre, either by the publisher or the author. For example, the following paragraph raises some eyebrows:

"The Gone-Away World by Nick Harkaway has just had its paperback release, and is a tour-de-force of ninjas, truckers, Dr Strangelove-type military men, awe-inspiring imagery and very clever writing. It's also undeniably science fiction. Harkaway is an unrepentant fan of the genre, but his publishers William Heinemann have taken a lot of care not to market the book as such. Harkaway himself said in a recent interview: "I suppose the book does take place in the future, but not the ray-guns-and-silver-suits future. It's more like tomorrow if today was a really, really bad day.""

The last sentence is revealing one: "It's more like tomorrow, if today was a really, really bad day." Off the top of my head, I can list of a number of science fiction novels and films (Halting State, Children of Men, Wess'Har series, Firefly, etc), where this fits the description perfectly. Science fiction, in my opinion, is little different than most regular fiction, while just taking on a fantastic premise.

Margaret Atwood is somewhat misguided when she states: "Science fiction is rockets, chemicals and talking squids in outer space."

Science fiction is not just about rockets, chemicals and talking squids in outer space, although these can certainly be elements, but it is not the individual elements that really make up the core of a science fiction story. The core premise is the story. The best science fiction stories, the ones that hold up, are the ones that explore the human condition - not unlike most "literature". However, these elements do help to define the genre, and, if present in a story, help to define the novel. Stories with things like this are invariably labeled SF/F. It doesn't necessarily matter what the point of the book is.

Matthew Stover posted an interesting view up on a message board a couple months back:

"Literature is narrative fiction in which the author's intent is to express his individual vision of a fundamental truth of existence.

[Feel free to substitute other pronouns. I say "his" because, y'know, I'm a guy.]

The label of capital-L "Literature" is not a judgment of quality. It is a statement regarding the author's objectives. If the author's objective is simply (not "merely") to entertain or divert, the work in question is not Literature. It's still small-L literature (by definition), but that's not really what we're talking about. (I use the capital L to keep the distinction clear.)

And there's plenty of crummy Literature out there. It may be bad, but it's Literature nonetheless. "

At this definition, at a very broad angle, this encompasses a majority of SF/F genre stories, and separates out the ones that are essentially tie-in novels. The split is at the point where the view is either the author's, or someone else's. I'm content with this definition, because I've never seen the term Literature as something that automatically means quality. From there, everything can be broken down into the general elements that help to qualify the book. Science fictional type books tend to be grouped together with the ones that have the space ships, the aliens and things like that, but, above all, the story is such that the reader needs to be able to accept the premise, no matter what the story elements are. Battlestar Galactica and Firefly are two television shows that really did a good job at this - they took a situation, and focused on the way the characters reacted. Ron Moore has said that they didn't want to do a science fiction show, but they wanted a drama in space. It has science fiction elements, but that's not the focus.

Now, that might not be the main focus of these books that the Guardian has laid out, but they do contain science fiction elements. The article cites Jeanette Winterson with the following quote:

""People say to me, 'so is the Stone Gods science fiction?' Well, it is fiction, and it has science in it, and it is set (mostly) in the future, but the labels are meaningless. I can't see the point of labeling a book like a pre-packed supermarket meal. There are books worth reading and books not worth reading. That's all.""

I think she hit the nail on the head - essentially, it doesn't matter what the book's label is to the reader or storyteller - these labels seem to be more a thing concocted by publishers and booksellers in order to target certain audiences who might be more inclined to buy something with weird aliens and space ships as opposed to something else. That being said, even though Cormac McCarthy's The Road wasn't published or marketed as such, it's still gained quite a bit of a following in the SF/F genre crowd.

I'll always be a fan of the SF/F label though, despite the elitism and mockery that it might get - it's really the only genre that has a real geek following, and no matter the status that the genre gets from other authors and critics, it is still one of the sources, for me, of some of the best literature out there.

December is SciFi Month

I know exactly when my tastes in Science Fiction and Fantasy began to change to what they are today - December, 2003. While driving a friend up Burlington, we stopped by the University Mall in South Burlington, ostensibly to do some Christmas shopping. Earlier that week, I was reading a copy of SciFi Magazine, which had run a review of the recently released Firefly DVD set. It had an outstanding review, and with a little more followup research on, I was stunned to see this with a full five star review almost universally. I hadn't seen any of the show, so picking it up from the mall that day was a somewhat whim purchase. It looked interesting, and with the coming vacation, I would have plenty of time to watch it.

When I returned home, I sat down and watched the first episode. It wasn't until a couple minutes into the show, after the opening introduction that the show hooked me, hard. There was something about it - the superior CGI, witty dialog and interesting storytelling that I really hadn't seen in a whole lot of television shows before. To be fair, I hadn't really watched a lot of SciFi TV prior to this - some Stargate, some Star Trek, but not a whole lot beyond that. For the next three days, I watched the entire series, bouncing around the house humming the theme song, before telling my siblings about the show and marathoned it with them over the next couple days.

I can extoll the virtues of the show endlessly. After Star Wars, Firefly became a new series for me to completely obsess over. Watching the show from that point, and eventually watching the commentaries, I began to view science fiction in a far different manner than I had before. Whedon's technical commentaries on how the show was shot - how they did the lighting, what the dialog meant, and how the characters came to be - as well as seeing something completely different - made me begin to look at television and how science fiction should be in a far more critical level.

Shortly on the heels of Firefly came a second franchise that I like just as much - the 2003 version of Battlestar Galactica, which was released as a pilot miniseries in December. I watched it after reading several articles (again from SciFi Magazine) and like Firefly, fell completely for the show, but in a different way. Like Firefly, Galactica presented a non-conventional approach to space sci-fi with its presentation and storytelling, and I really liked that, along with the fantastic CGI, characters and stories.

Both shows are rarities in the genre. There are very few shows that have similar content, which is a huge shame. I like space ships, visiting new planets, especially in the manner that Battlestar Galactica and Firefly went about it. A third show that I came across several months later, Farscape is also up there.

The way that I viewed these shows percolated down to other elements of how I viewed television shows, movies, books and comics. I began to take in these while paying far more attention to the story, characters and the smaller details that I'd previously missed or never paid a whole lot of attention to. Instead of taking things at face value, liking things simply for the sake of liking them, a critical perspective helps to fully realize and enjoy the story for all of its points.

So, this December, I'll be back to my roots and revisiting some of my more favorite episodes. It's liely been a year or so since I've actually sat down to watch an episode of Firefly, and it's been a while since I've watched Battlestar Galactica. It will be a fitting thing to do as that paticular show draws to a close with the final season this spring.


Taking two 100 level classes and a 200 level class has it's advantages and disadvantages. Advantage 1 : The work is brainless and easy. Especially Politics. Disadvantage 1: Everyone else in the class is a freshman with no brain. Or they just ask incredibly stupid questions.

And a fan in my computer is making a lot more noise than it should be. It's irritating, and I can't figure out how to make it stop. Gah!

Firefly marathon with the Tactics club is today, right now in fact. I'm taking a short break for lunch while people are there and will be back in a bit to close everything out and catch another episode or two. People actually showed up, which is good. I'm thrilled with the Tactics club this year. It's really taken off and become a real club.

Depressing News

I just read some kinda saddening news on the SciFiWire this morning: There will be no more Firefly, according to Joss Whedon. However, that doesn't mean the end of stories from that universe:

Whedon: No More Firefly
Firefly/Serenity creator Joss Whedon told USA Today that he still hopes to tell more stories set in the futuristic universe, but added that there's no chance he'll do another Firefly TV show. "We'll never make Firefly again, because that was a thing that existed and is now gone," Whedon told the newspaper before Christmas. "And Serenity isn't Firefly, and whatever comes next won't be, either. But I would love to tell more stories of this universe and to hang out with these people on and off for the rest of my career."
Serenity, based on the canceled Fox TV show Firefly, hit theaters last September and has pulled in a disappointing $25.4 million domestically since opening Sept. 30, 2005. The movie is now available on DVD.
"The best-case scenario is that the DVD is such a spectacular, monster hit that we get to make another movie," Whedon said. "Then we get to make another movie. After three movies, we're all very tired. After Serenity: Revolutions, we feel like we've played it out. And then we make another series."
Whedon is currently writing the script for Wonder Woman, which he is slated to direct once Warner Brothers signs off.

Let's hope that there will be more from him someday about this.

Info on an Unfilmed Firefly Episode

I was surprised when I saw this - it's been three years since the show went off the air, and while I knew of one episode script that was up online, but not this concept. It does certainly seem to explain one thing that popped up in the show that was still unexplained with the movie: What was Inara doing with that needle in the first episode just before the reaver attack?

Here's what came up on a couple of websites:

What were some of the Firefly stories you never got to tell? He hemmed and hawed, “Should I tell you this?… Oh well, what’s he going to do, fire me?” The original show was darker and this story was more in keeping with that tone.
It opens with Mal and Inara fighting (as they do). Mal tells her she pretends to be a lady and wants everyone to bow before her and kiss her hand but she’s just a whore. Then the Reavers attack and take Inara. While trying to get her back they learn that she had something that would make anyone who had sex with her die. When they finally track down and board the ship they find all of the Reavers dead and Inara shaking and traumatized.
They take her back to the ship and Zoe guards her room. Mal tries to get in to see her and Zoe tells him he’s the last person Inara needs to see. He pushes past her, kneels before Inara and kisses her hand.
Of course someone asked, “Is that what the syringe [that Inara gets out when the Reavers approach in the pilot episode] was for?” To which he replied, “I don’t know. Next question.”

That is an extremely dark thing, even for Firefly. Also, considering that there was some intentions for a trilogy of movies, and of the various storylines that we had hanging off of the series to movie, one, River's storyline made up the bulk of the movie, two, Book's storyline was ended with Book's death, Inara's/Mal's storyline, along with that needle thing, and a couple other random ones that I can't think of. I'd go and rewatch Firefly this week, but I'm going through the entire run of Farscape. Currently on Season 2 out of Four + the miniseries.


When you see this on your flist, quote Firefly.

Mal: "Well look at this! Looks like we arrived in a nick of time. What does that make us?"
Zoe: "Big Damn Heroes sir!"
Mal: "Ain't we just."

Jayne: [into radio] Testing. Captain, can you hear me?
Mal: I'm standing right here.
Jayne: [into radio] You're coming in good and loud, too.
Mal: 'Cause I'm standing right here.

Jayne: You know what the chain of command is? It's the chain I go get and beat you with until you understand who's in ruttin' command here. Now we're finishing this deal, and then maybe maybe we'll come back for those morons who got themselves caught.

Jayne: Time for some thrilling heroics.

[after slashing Jayne with a knife] River: He looks better in red.

Mal: Ah, the pitter-patter of little feet in combat boots... SHUT UP.

Jayne: Let's move this conversation in a not-Jayne's-fault direction.

Zoë: We're getting him back.
Jayne: [staring at Mal's severed ear] What are we going to do - clone him?

Mal: If someone tries to kill you, you just try and kill 'em right back!

Firefly Soundtrack- OUT NOW!

Fox has released a Firefly Soundtrack! It's a downloadable format, picky, and apparently lacking in a couple songs, but we now have a series soundtrack! I'm planning on getting it later today, and I'll post up my own review, but here's the track listing:

1- Firefly - Main Title
2- Big Bar Fight
3- Heart of Gold Montage
4- Whitefall/Book
5- Early takes Serenity
6- The Funeral
7- Rivers perception/Saffron
8- Mal fights Niska/Back home
9- River tricks Early
10- River understands Simon
11- Leaving/Caper/Spaceball
12- Rivers afraid/Niska/Book
13- In my bunk/Rivers eyes/Boom
14- Inaras Suite
15- Deserted Ship/Empty Derelict
16- Books hair/Ready for Battle
17- Goodbye Early

They're missing the Hero of Canton, which is a shame, but it looks like a good lineup. Unfortunently, I can't access the main website, because none of these fucking school computers have Flash.

Random Things

First, some very interesting things from Chris Buchanan on the official Firefly boards. It looks like a Firefly soundtrack is seriously in the works!

I can confirm that serious discussions about a "Firefly" soundtrack are taking place. Long time coming, I know! Stay tuned.

Outstanding news! The Firefly music is some of the more interesting TV music that I've ever really listened to, with a huge variety of sound, from folk, world and random other things thrown in. It'll be a certain pickup for any fan, that's for sure.

Other things. A while ago, I found a trailer for a movie called Elizabethtown, starring Orlando Bloom and Kirstin Dunst. On the first viewing, it was a little bit of a turn off, because I'm not really one for romantic movies. However, a trailer was released, more of a feature, on the music, and through that, they showed a bit of the movie and what it was about. Much more interested this time around. Looking more closely at it, it reminds me quite a bit of Garden State, one of my favorite movies. From what I've found out about it, a guy has a bad turn of luck. The company that he runs fails due to mistakes, and he's out of a job. On top of that, he learns that his father died, over in Kentucky, and he goes out to get his body to bring it home. There, he meets a number of relatives and sees a completely different side to his family. On the plane ride over, he meets a flight attendant, played by Dunst, who he falls in love with and as a result, pulls his life together.
Sounds and feels very similar to Garden State, which is a huge plus for this. Not sure about Bloom, although he could pull through and do some decent acting. Plot's a little lacking, but it could very well be interesting. Some of the imagry, like the on the road parts look very well done. The soundtrack is also extremely well done, well thought out and picked out, another very cool thing. I picked it up this morning, and it's proving to be an excellent listen. I'll probably end up seeing this sometime when it comes out.

Now, for homework.

14 Days until Serenity! And thus starts the epic Firefly Marathon. Starting with the pilot episode: Serenity.

The Phoenix Phenomenon

Who heard about a little show called Firefly three years ago? How about recently?

Okay, for those of you who don’t know anything about this, listen up: Firefly was a short lived show that FOX aired during the fall of 2002, and quickly cancelled it after 11 episodes. The show, created by Joss Whedon, who was also the creator of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel, centered upon a group of misfits in space, on board a little pile of scrap called Serenity. In the first episode, the crew picks up a pair of siblings, Simon, a naïve doctor and River, his psychic and sometimes insane sister. They also pick up a guy named Dobson and a preacher named Book. Dobson’s later shot in the face, but he wasn’t important. Rounding out the rest of the crew is Mal, the captain, Wash, the pilot, Inara, the ‘Companion’ (A high class prostitute), Kaylee, the ship’s mechanic, Zoë, Mal’s second mate and Jayne, the ship’s gun expert. Together, they have their various adventures, although now, the interstellar government is now after River and Simon. Sound like fun? FOX didn’t seem to think so.

So why has Firefly died, and now coming back as a feature film called Serenity?

The main and simple answer: The fan community, who call themselves Browncoats.

While Firefly was still on the air, it gathered a fairly small but extremely devoted group of fans, who a) knew what a good show was, and b) knew how to tell people. Unfortunately, it wasn’t enough to keep the show online due to poor ratings. However, it was when the DVD was released that the show really took off. The DVD Boxed set, available at and anywhere you can buy movies, became gold and quickly sold out in some places, taking some people by surprise.

It was also enough to spurn Joss and crew to begin looking for a new home for Firefly, and a feature film, called Serenity, went into the works, this time under Universal Films, which owns the SciFi channel. Great news. The fan community went nuts, and support for the film and series grew. When the first trailer hit, the Firefly boxed set jumped from about 200 on the charts to the top twenty for science fiction DVDs. Two out of three comics have been released to stores, which have also sold out and gone to reprints due to demand. Actors in the movie and series have gone on film and told us that it was our support that brought the movie to life. For once, it pays to be a fan of something. And now, we have something cool to watch again.

Firefly - The Complete Series

This is probably the first time that a movie has been made out of a TV series that was cancelled due to poor ratings. But it’s not the first time that outcry from a fan community has brought back their special show.
During the winter of 2004, Farscape came back in spectacular fashion as a SciFi channel miniseries. Farscape was another TV show, this one run by the SciFi channel, which was cancelled due to lower than desired ratings. Farscape had a more successful run than Firefly did, burning through four full seasons before it was pulled. Once again, the fan community pulled itself together and websites formed that brought the show back to life in a similar, but new form.

Farscape - The Complete Season One

This doesn’t seem to work all the time though. Anyone watch Enterprise? That show was on for several full seasons as well, and despite being on a broad access channel, it was pulling in lower ratings than the SciFi channel’s new Battlestar Galactica. (SciFi doesn’t reach as many people) We saw the same thing here; a small, dedicated group of fans came together, made webpages, went to conventions, wrote letters and all the usual things, even went to the point of trying to finance the show themselves, but only to have the show cut completely.

Why did Firefly and Farscape succeed where Enterprise failed? Surely not because Firefly and Farscape both begin with the letter F, where Enterprise begins with an E. There’s a number of other reasons and influences that probably caused those to continue whereas Enterprise did not.

First, Enterprise is a Star Trek show. They’ve been around forever, and have been one of the main influences on how Science Fiction TV is perceived. It’s huge, and when something like that starts to go wrong, people realize it, and back off. This happened with Enterprise, which started off strong, but lost a huge part of its audience quickly. Firefly and Farscape, on the other hand, were fairly new. The main reasons that they succeeded were mainly because they both had to work extremely hard to expand the audience AFTER they went off the air. This can probably be attributed to the quality of both shows, which are well written and acted. Enterprise was still on the air, had been on for longer and already had enough bad press against it that it was becoming hard to find a bigger audience.
Second, Star Trek has been around for a very long time, and has gone through a number of incarnations in the form of TV shows, movies, books and computer games. It’s essentially flooded the market. People are looking for something else, something new. This is probably one of the reasons why shows such as Stargate and Battlestar have surpassed Enterprise in the ratings game. In addition, it’s also fairly easy for Paramount to begin work on yet another incarnation of Star Trek, in hopes that this one will be better for the fan community. I wouldn’t hold my breath yet, but you never know…

Finally, Firefly and Farscape were highly original shows. They broke a number of the rules in science fiction up to that point and backed it up with some incredible stories, acting and set work that was completely different than Star Trek. The same goes for Battlestar Galactica, which seems to show that the networks have finally realized what a good thing is.

Battlestar Galactica  - Season One (2004)

So, while you go to watch Serenity in theaters later in September, remember that it was a huge uphill battle that was mainly fueled by the fan’s enthusiasm and sheer energy that brought it to the big screen. As they said in the show: We’ve done the impossible, and that makes us mighty.
Well said.