The New SyFy Channel

the-expanse-series SyFy is headed to space, and it seems as though they're serious. Last week, they announced a 10-episode pickup of The Expanse, a series that will adapt (presumably) the first book from James S.A. Corey, . In the wake of the announcement, I've seen a lot of complaints from fans, noting SyFy's general track record with shows. Despite the last five years of distancing themselves from harder SF stories, this falls in line with the direction the channel is trying to lurch itself towards, shaking off their reputation for something better. It's about time, too.

The Expanse is a good move for SyFy and the announcement that they've picked up the TV show fills me with quite a bit of optimism for the direction of the channel's future. Over the last couple of years, the channel has been talking quite a bit about returning to space, with news over the last couple of years of shows such as adaptations of Larry Niven's novel Ringworld and Sir Arthur C. Clarke's Childhood's End and shows such as Ascension and Defiance. So far, only Defiance (after a really long development period) has aired, and then, to tepid reviews and ratings. But, it's a start, and shows that the channel is starting to think about bigger, more serious projects.

In the mid-2000s, the show was indisputably one of the better outlets for speculative fiction on the small screen: long-running shows such as Stargate SG-1 and its spinoff, Stargate: Atlantis collectively ran for fifteen seasons, while Farscape and Battlestar Galactica, two very ambitious space dramas, had fairly good runs before being cancelled. With the cancellation of Ronald D. Moore's Galactica in 2009, the channel seemed to get nervous about shows set in space. Galactica's ratings had nosed down over the last two seasons (most likely due to some of the narrative stunts they took), and its follow-up successor, Caprica, set decades before, never found its voice or ratings, and was cancelled a year later. A third follow-up, Battlestar Galactica: Blood and Chrome, died a slow death as SyFy executives waddled on the decision to release it to the web or to television. Ultimately, it was burned off on YouTube, effectively ending the franchise for the channel. A third Stargate entry, Stargate: Universe, a grown up, broody and excellent entry never quite captured the same attraction as its predecessors, and ended with a frustrating cliffhanger at the end of Season 2.

SyFy pivoted, perhaps seeing the successes rival networks enjoyed with shows such as True Blood, and went in an urban fantasy and Sci-Fi lite direction. It's not really any surprise: the darker stuff hadn't really succeeded, and shows such as Eureka had done really well. Alphas, Warehouse 13, Lost Girl, Bitten and Being Human have all been developed, and dominated the network's offerings since 2009, alternatively earning praise from fans who enjoyed that type of story, and derided by those who missed the shows set in space.

All the while, SyFy expanded their offerings into reality TV, as well as the frequently-derided WWE on Wednesday nights. Often, their placement on the schedule has been explained as money makers for the channel (or, laughably, that it's a type of fantasy in and of itself), which in turn support the programming of the other scripted shows. I don't know that I've ever met anyone who's actually watched WWE on the channel.

Meanwhile, a revolution in scripted television erupted from various premium and network channels. TNT's Falling Skies, Fox's Fringe, CBS's Person of Interest, AMC's The Walking Dead, and HBO's Game of Thrones all came out, as well as show such as Awake, Under the Dome, Terra Nova, Revolution, Agents of SHIELD, Almost Human, Arrow, Orphan Black and Outcasts, to name a couple, while in non-Science fiction offerings, there's Once Upon a Time, Grimm, Supernatural, Sleepy Hollow, American Horror Story, Vampire Diaries, and others. Science Fiction TV, once largely limited to the SyFy channel, found new homes. While not all have been successful, it shows that there's a new appetite for speculative works on the small screen, and that such shows can not only do well, but do really well. SyFy, while it's had some success with their current offerings, hasn't had any hits on the same scale. They easily could have, with the right mindset.

Major projects such as The Walking Dead and Game of Thrones aren't easy projects to bring to television: they're big, elaborate, and cover subject material that's far from the material that SyFy was putting out between 2003-2008. They're ambitious (and I'll throw Person of Interest in there, too, as an example of what network channels *can* also do.) and have received a disproportionate amount of praise from critics and fans alike, all the while seeing their ratings go up as viewers keep watching.

It's clearly a balancing act: Game of Thrones and The Walking Dead take on popular properties and subject matter, all the while they're fairly well written and scripted. Others miss out: Awake, while fantastic, never caught on. Terra Nova was silly and stupidly expensive. Fringe lasted on critical glee, but wanted for viewers. Others just do really well with the right combination of characters and story, building year after year: Supernatural is well into its tenth year, and has a spin off in the works, while Arrow doesn't seem to be going anywhere but up (and also has a spinoff in the works).

SyFy's clearly got the vision for ambitious projects, but they're held back; from themselves. It's a business, and accordingly, the material they're turning out needs to be successful. However, it's always seemed as though this very risk-adverse mindset percolates down into what's being picked up. They say that you never make the shot that you don't take, and the channel has been on a course where they're only taking shots where the basket is five feet off the floor. Until Defiance, it's seemed that there's no sense of risk to the shows that they've tried, but rather gone back to the well time and time again for material that is proven to run with a certain audience.

In many ways, SyFy pivoted one way, anticipating an audience that they wanted to grasp, only to end up missing an audience that's since moved beyond the SyFy walls. Game of Thrones, Walking Dead, Orphan Black and Doctor Who have become the destination shows that would make a dynamite portfolio for a dedicated genre-channel. Even the ambitious Defiance feels like it's a compromise, existing only due to the momentum that a $100 million show causes. They've got a season 2, but the show won't take off until the show becomes something a bit more interesting. Shows such as Helix have demonstrated that they're ready to bring back some serious scripted drama.

Recently, SyFy seems to have realized something was up, and has been shaking off like a wet dog. VP Mark Stern, who oversaw the Battlestar-Defiance years at SyFy, and who's been replaced by Bill McGoldrick. McGoldrick shift earlier this year has come with a lot of talk about bringing SyFy back. In an interview with Adweek, he noted that they've realized that scripted drama is what the channel's reputation lives and dies by. The current reputation? Wounded from reality TV and crappy films. But, with the rise of shows such as Game of Thrones, they're starting to see serious offers for new shows, one of which was apparently The Expanse.

If there's a show that'll demonstrate that the channel is serious about bringing back 'proper' science fiction, it's Leviathan Wakes. The show has just about everything: spacecraft, epic world-building, military science fiction, conspiracies, and a huge cast of interesting and diverse characters. It's large, hits all of the right notes, and it comes with a built in audience of readers who've made the books hits. The first novel was nominated for the Hugo Award, and along with a bunch of shorter entries in the series, an additional three novels were ordered after the first three. The fourth book in the series, Cibola Burn, hits this summer, this time as a more expensive hardcover novel (as opposed to trade paperback, like its preceding three books.)

Moreover, SyFy seems to realize that story's paramount. Rather than putting together a pilot and worrying about ordering a full, 22-episode season, they've committed to a run of ten episodes - enough time to tell the story, but not so much that they'll have to really stretch their special effects budget. In addition to The Expanse, SyFy has recently announced a limited 12 Monkeys series and Ascension, a limited series about a group of colonists, all the while cutting back on the B films.

Most of the complaints genre fans have had about SyFy are true. The channel's shifted direction and gone the safe route, and accordingly, they've really missed out on both the opportunity to do great things, but also hitched themselves to the wrong horse, one that's slowly running down. The Expanse has the potential to be an innovating move that can get the channel restarted with good stories, and can bring back an audience that they really want to attract. Already, shows such as Alphas, Being Human and Warehouse 13 have been wound down and ended, while SyFy is keeping shows like Lost Girl and Haven (which picked up a 2-season, 26 episode order) to have a balanced set of offerings for the foreseeable future. If you're going to shake off a reputation, you've got to start somewhere.

There’s also a level of caution here. I don’t think fans should expect a return to the same SciFi channel that existed in the early 2000s. The landscape has changed, and accordingly, so has viewer tastes and viewing habits. Hopefully, we’ll be seeing a new channel that takes both storytelling and genre seriously, recognizing exactly what makes a good show that’ll not only do well season to season, but help the channel’s reputation and build on its audience year to year, which will mean more excellent projects will be attempted. More importantly, SyFy needs to learn to take risks. Even for projects that aren’t necessarily successful, the effort not only counts, but helps all involved figure out what to do next, in theory making things better in the future.

The Expanse is far from certain: it's an ambitious project to run, and likely expensive. But, I'm optimistic. It's got just about everything that science fiction fans have been asking for, and in an adaptation model that's worked in the past. Let's hope that the show-runners will do the books justice, but more importantly, tell a great story.

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.

Stargate Universe Joins the Stargate Universe

The shared groan that my girlfriend and I shared as the end title card for the last episode of Stargate Universe’s first season, Incursion (Part 2), has become a familiar reaction to the ending of each episode of the series that we've been watching, and reminds me of the reaction that I've generally had for the season enders for Stargate SG-1 and Stargate Atlantis, as well as Battlestar Galactica. The ending to SGU's first season was shocking, frustrating, and ultimately, a fantastic end to a really strong season for the Stargate franchise's latest television entry.

The SyFy channel has a really annoying habit of leaving a viewer hanging, and it was something that largely characterized SG-1, with a small story arc that would be resolved within the first couple of episodes of the next season, and while it's annoying, it's a good way to make people really look forward to the upcoming season - already, I'm eagerly awaiting September, when new episodes return to the small screen. The finale demonstrated that the franchise, with its much darker nature, can continue to tell a good story, but also link back to the regular Stargate franchise and storylines that had been started earlier on, something that was a welcome surprise.

The start of Stargate Universe led me to believe that much of the storylines would be somewhat ignored, pushed to the side for some background context for the characters, but that was it. As the story has progressed since that first, fantastic pilot episode last October. The show has taken a couple of hits with its characters and some of the smaller elements, but overall, it has come out the other side in good form, telling some truly fantastic stories, and leaving the audience really wanting a bit more as the story of the crew of Destiny shows that there are some pretty cool things planned.

The surprising element that I've found over the course of the show was the connections to Earth, and the recent reintroduction of older storylines that had begun to creep in at the end of SG-1's run, namely, with the Lucian Alliance. While it's pretty clear that the show is going to remain on Destiny for now, and that much of what we've seen thus far will continue, the introduction of other storylines gives this show something a bit different than what we've seen in other shows, like Star Trek: Voyager and to a lesser extent, Stargate: Atlantis. The ongoing storylines that we've seen show that some of the groundwork that was set up in SG-1 will still apply, and unlike in Atlantis, where a whole new story arc had been put into place, with some of the prior story elements coming in only occasionally. Hopefully, this new approach will work better, resulting in a series that lasts for longer than Atlantis fared. SG-1 demonstrated the lasting appeal of the show, and thus far, nothing has been able to replicate that.

Universe also shows that the franchise can move beyond SG-1 by incorporating more mature and darker elements to it. SG-1 was a fairly lighthearted affair most of the time, but Universe can be downright grim, but it maintains much of the fantastic storytelling and characters that the Stargate franchise is known for. This makes quite a bit of sense, given the prior successes of Battlestar Galactica, and that as the surrounding times change, the context for the show changes as well. The original Stargate came out in 1997, preceded by a movie, with the United States facing off against an evil empire that wanted to enslave humanity, just seven or so years after the fall of the Soviet Union, where the United States faced off against a singular power that threatened its influence in the world.

Universe seems to mirror that change in politics, with the crew of the Destiny moving into an ambiguous world where the enemy is not clearly known. While I doubt that it is an example of the show's creators explicitly going out and looking at political science and social theory to help construct the show, it is a good example of how the show, and the entertainment arts are generally influenced by the world around them. I think that this is the key element that allows for something to become relevant, notable and ultimately successful, because an audience will respond to something that they themselves can understand and perceive.

The good thing in all of this is that the show has come around full circle, leaving a lot of the familiar elements of the prior shows, where it finds itself in the middle of larger storylines that had been in progress. Universe, which had tried to largely escape from the rest of the franchise's image, has come back, serious, determined and ready to take them on. The Goa'uld ships look better than they ever have, and the villians are just as evil and ready to kill people, but without the costumes and things that made the show a little more difficult to take seriously. In short, Universe is the grown up Stargate SG-1.

The good thing in all of this is that the show has come around full circle, leaving a lot of the familiar elements of the prior shows, where it finds itself in the middle of larger storylines that had been in progress. Universe, which had tried to largely escape from the rest of the franchise's image, has come back, serious, determined and ready to take them on. The Goa'uld ships look better than they ever have, and the villians are just as evil and ready to kill people, but without the costumes and things that made the show a little more difficult to take seriously. In short, Universe is the grown up Stargate SG-1.

As such, this was one of the strongest points of Battlestar Galactica, and with the follow up show, Caprica, and it remains a strong, if somewhat subdued element with the new show. As such, it is a good thing for the franchise, giving the show relevancy and some new ground to cover for the characters in the show. There’s absolutely no doubt in my mind: I’ll be tuning in for Season 2.

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?

Stargate Universe

On Friday, the SyFy channel unveiled its latest addition from the Stargate franchise, Stargate: Universe to high ratings, showing that the third series has a good potential at life for the newly relaunched channel. This new version is an enormous leap forward for the series, evolving characters, storylines and the entire universe in which the show is set to bring about what looks to be a very promising addition to both the franchise and the genre.

Stargate: Universe opens quietly, with several location shots of space and the Destiny, the ship on which the show will be taking place, with an eventual cut to the familiar image of an active Stargate. A single soldier flies through the opening (Lt. Matthew Scott), falling and quickly checking his surroundings. What happens next is a mad rush of people and equipment. There is no explanation, no introduction of characters or their situation. It proves to be one of the most compelling moments in the franchise to date, and is so out of character for the Stargate Universe that this could very well be a different show, unrelated to the Stargate franchise, one that utilizes only one of the elements of the original show to any large degree, the titular Stargate.

The rest of the episode is shown through alternating scenes, the frantic scenes onboard the Ancient ship and the moments leading up to their predicament. Notable characters, such as Daniel Jackson, Jack O'Neill and Samantha Carter all make short cameos, which helps transition this universe from the familiar world of SG-1. I was happy to see that the characters got their moments, (they did the same for Atlantis), but I was equally happy that these appearances were just placeholders, showing that the franchise and storylines moved on after SG-1, and that there were other things to explore. The episode storyline is also very different from what longtime viewers of SG-1 or Atlantis might expect, both in story and execution. With the unconventional start to the episode, we go back to see Eli Wallace, a typical geek-type, solves a puzzle on an MMORPG and is visited by O'Neill and Dr. Rush, who tell him that the puzzle was to help solve a problem that the SGC was having off world. Eli is brought to a spaceship (where we see Daniel Jackson at his best, explaining things in long form) and brought to Icarus Base, where Rush is working out an equation to uncover the meaning behind the 9th chevron of the Stargate. Because of the planet's unique properties, this is the ideal place to study, for power reasons. Shortly after the delegation's arrival, the planet is attacked and the team, with Eli's help, is able to dial the new address with the 9th Chevron, bringing the storyline to The Destiny, an Ancient ship designed to explore, but that is also falling apart.

Thus, the series begins, not with the very typical elements that defined the earlier shows, but with even more basic ones - air supply (the first three episodes are called Air, Parts 1, 2 and 3, with 3 airing next Friday) food and water, with the very survival of the people, all unprepared for this unexpected journey. This is a huge change from the two prior series - the characters were laid out, the story generally involved a new planet or technology, and everyone was home by supper. This changed over the evolution of the shows, but by and large, this formula didn't change all that much. This, on the other hand, takes the formula and throws it through the Stargate. While this isn't BattlestarGate like a lot of people had thought, it's clear that SyFy has realized that the method of storytelling that Battlestar Galactica utilized would work well for this show, and from all appearances, it's been utilized very well.

What I liked most of all was that this isn't a rehash of SG-1 like Stargate Atlantis was. SG-1 was a very fun show, one that really grew with time, but a show that really held to many of the same conventions throughout. Thus, it was consistent, but as viewers tastes in shows matures, the show did not. Atlantis was essentially a rehash of SG-1, just with different characters in a different galaxy, but with many of the same stories and even situations carrying over. This show, on the other hand, seems to seek out a very different path with the overall intent of the storyline, going over some new territory and retreading some very basic older ground.

What the show does to the franchise is that it removes many of the assumptions that the earlier shows held. Travelling to another planet, after a while, became very routine and as such, much of that energy and enthusiasm vanished in the first couple seasons, and were aptly replaced by the major storylines that developed. This is in no way a bad thing, but it was a noticeable thing. With Universe, that sense is back, but with it is much of the danger and feeling of the unknown. Where SG-1 sprinted through stories, Universe is taking the slower and more deliberate route, which should be more realistic, but more interesting to the modern viewer.

Like in SG-1, the core of the story is exploration; really capturing what I believe is the central essence of Science Fiction, exploration. This is demonstrated after the refugees from the base find themselves on the ship, and it is explained that they can fulfill something important while onboard, exploring the universe around them, essentially making the best of what is a really terrible situation. This is where the show delves into new territory, with a race for survival for basics - security and air. This was explored a bit in Atlantis, but not nearly with as much urgency as here. SGC members tread around the ship, almost getting killed when they open the wrong doors, and they race to repair the atmospheric conditions on board by plugging a couple of leaks that they find and fixing the air scrubbers. This is something that never seemed to happen in the original shows, and to some extent, it feels a little more like the original film upon which the shows are based. This is something that will most likely continue with the rest of the series, as the characters begin to inventory what they have - tape, paper, but not much when it comes to necessities. Hugo Award winning author John Scalzi has been brought in as a consultant, and noted that the crew has a finite number of resources, such as bullets and food, and that this figures into the style of the show.

What is also very promising for the rest of the series is the characters. While initially reading over the early plots and character descriptions, I wasn't very hopeful for how the show looked. Fortunately, SyFy has assembled a very promising cast of characters, each with their own moments in the limelight as the story progressed in the first episode. There is enough background hinted at for each character for a whole multitude of upcoming stories, somewhat along the lines of what was done in LOST, which is good. We have a number of characters that really aren't the cut and dry, good and bad sort of characters. Rather, we're treated to numerous shades of gray, and I'm not sure where these characters will end up by the end of Season 1. Of the entire cast, however, Dr. Nicholas Rush, played by Robert Carlyle is the most intriguing, with a hinted tragic past and unclear motivations, and will clearly be a person to watch during future episodes. A number of the other characters are also quite interesting, and I am eager to see what they do with a couple of them.

Universe, when it was first announced, was not a show that I was looking forward to. Early news reports did not look good, and even with the first trailers, I wasn't won over by the premise. It was not until I began to hear that this show would be different, not only in how it was shot, but how it was structured, that I began to take more of an interest, and watching the results, I was amazed at how the franchise had grown up to what I saw before me. This is a good move for SyFy and the Stargate franchise, because it shows that the story can move onto different story models and styles, rather than essentially rehashing much of the same, as Atlantis did with SG-1. Atlantis failed after only five seasons, compared to SG-1's massive run of ten seasons. Indeed, the eventual failure of SG-1 is most likely the same as Atlantis's - the show simply did not change enough from the original model, even with a fairly new cast and set of storylines that would have carried it into future seasons. Universe seems to be that change that the franchise has so desperately needed, one that retains the familiar aspects of the shows that we know and love, but with newer elements that have been shown to work very well in a number of newer shows.

Air, Parts 1 and 2, are a fantastic start to the new show, and if they are any indication of how this season will fare, it will be very interesting indeed. Already, it is amongst the best two hours in the entire franchise, and I have a feeling that the rest of the show will put Universe as one of the better shows in the franchise, if not the best of the three. I am now eagerly awaiting the rest of the season.


I'm at home now. My new home- Northfield. My roommate, Kyle, moved in the day before I got back, and the place is still a mess while we put our things away. It's weird adjusting to a completely new routine - right now, it's getting everything sorted away, getting bills sorted, food, various things for the apartment, etc. We've spent a lot of time catching up on our summers.
School's next week. A lot of people are heading home, so I haven't gotten a chance to see anyone yet. Most of my friends are coming in this weekend, can't wait to see them. A couple other friends are going out to the same program that I was in for London, kudos to them.
And, I have Prison Break on DVD. Great show.

I miss camp.

EDIT: NOOOO! The SciFi Channel just announced that they're not renewing SG-1 for an 11th season. Curses.

Happy Halloween

Happy Halloween everyone.
Hope that people are having fun and all that, I haven’t had the occasion yet… I’ve got some back homework that I’m trying to plow through, plus writing up a presentation on Drumlins for tomorrow that’s loads of fun, let me tell you…
And, I was distracted by my sister watching SG-1. I’ve gotten her hooked on the show, so when it’s playing the next room over, there’s no way that I’m going to sit around doing homework…
As I was sitting, watching the last episode of Season 8 and the first episode of Season 9, I realized that Halloween is the premier geek/fanboy/fanatic holiday. 1- It gives us an excuse to dress up as an alien, monster, hero, you name it, without having people question it. Granted, we have things like conventions, where no one will look twice (in dumbfound curiosity) at a group of storm troopers walking down a hallway or some such thing. 2- Free candy. This is the best holiday for geeks, on just those two alone. Now, I’m a little annoyed, because I’m sitting at home working on homework (and, incidentally, this), instead of running around in my storm trooper armor. Usually, I’m hesitant to have it on in public, mainly because I feel extremely out of place, but for something like this, I’m actually in the mood to wear it.
So, I’m stuck at home, but doing things to make doing homework easier. I’ve got the Battlestar Galactica Miniseries, Season 1, Children of Dune, Firefly, Halo, Halo 2, Hitchhiker’s Guide, Jurassic Park, Republic Commando, Serenity, Star Wars (Selections from all), Stargate, Atlantis, Taken, The Island and War of the Worlds soundtracks, as well as a couple other random songs thrown in, to listen to, shuffling. Great music selection. Coupled with a cup of tea and a blanket, I’m comfortable for now.

Also, the SciFi channel printed one of my recent letters in their weekly newsletter:

The Book Isn't Broken
I'd like to respond to a couple of the letters regarding the future of publishing, about the material and the
medium. First, I believe that there is no need for the medium to change—why fix something that's
not broken? Books have been around for hundreds of years, and best of all, don't require batteries or anything but a good pair of eyes. E-books require a reader, electricity and that they don't get erased by mistake somehow.
Material-wise: There are a number of good books coming out that seem to have a fairly "updated" view of the world. Specifically, I'm a big fan of Karen Traviss' Wess'Har series, which has really taken a very different view
of first contact and humanity, and which employ some extremely complicated plotlines before you get to the second book. (Book three being released this week.)
The other is Karin Lowachee's War Child trilogy, which have employed some more adult themes and views that differ from anything that I've read from Asimov's era of writing. I've found both trilogies to be extremely well written, with outstanding storylines and very complicated and mature concepts that wouldn't have been written a long time ago.
Times are changing, and what needs to be changed has been, and will continue.
Andrew Liptak

Now, back to homework. Enjoy the candy!