Friday, December 30, 2011

SF subgenres and plots


Back to io9 for their list of the Ten plotlines you'll find in science fiction: my favorite is definitely interstellar travel, with post-apocalyptic world and alien invasion coming in at joint second place (as long as neither is too militarized). Stargate is given as a modern example of the interstellar travel subgenre, and while that was a fun show, I gotta say I prefer spaceships running around in space to a magic portal and mostly land-based adventures. So Firefly would be my modern example - technically interplanetary travel, not interstellar, but you couldn't tell the difference.

The list does not include body snatcher, which is probably my least favorite subgenre (as a subset of horror). Every TV show had its version of a body snatcher episode. I really don't like watching a story where you don't know if someone is who you think they are, and in books the concept tends to come across as a cheap trick.

Also not keen on godlike aliens, although really powerful ones are fine. Arthur C Clarke said that "any sufficiently advanced alien is indistinguishable from a god" - but magical beings that can poof! things into existence are kind of boring.


What are your most and least favorite SF subgenres?

Thursday, December 29, 2011

2011 and coming up in 2012

io9 lists their best and worst SF&F films of 2011. And, wow, I've seen only 1.5 of the 20! (Limitless and bits of Thor).

So many remakes and sequels coming up in 2012. Here are some of the SF movies I intend to see (eventually) (on DVD) (because Aussie cinema is outrageously expensive):

  • The Hunger Games (still  haven't read it, must read it)
  • Prometheus (Ridley Scott's prequel to Alien)
  • Men in Black III (because Will Smith is awesome)
  • Riddick (because Pitch Black was awesome)
  • Dune (Again?! Well, we have to see what they do with it this time around.)
  • Highlander (ditto)
  • Total Recall (double ditto)
  • John Carter (Edgar Rice Burroughs hero... could be good)

The Goodreads lists its top 10 Science Fiction and Paranormal Fantasy books of 2011. A few in there for my To Be Read pile.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

What's hot for Christmas

What's hot in adult SF books this Christmas? Let's take a look at Bookscan's top 50 bestsellers this week. With a tie at #50, there are actually 51 books on the list and they break down as follows:
  • 16 older books published in the 1950s-1990s, including Snow Crash, 2 editions of Hitchhiker's Guide, 3 Ender's Game series editions and a box set, 2 Philip K. Dick novels, one classic each from Heinlein, Vonnegut, Herbert and McCaffrey, and 3 other books from the 60s-70s. Strangely, the "deluxe" edition of George RR Martin's Game of Thrones (book 1) is also on the list, despite it being Fantasy.
  • 16 media tie-ins (including the #1, 2, 5, 6, 9 and 10 spots: 7 Star Wars, 4 Warhammer, 2 Star Trek, 2 HALO, 1 BioShock)
  • 3 books published in 2008 (2 editions of Meyer's The Host and Card's Ender in Exile)
  • 2 books published in 2009 (The Windup Girl by Paolo Bacigalupi and Boneshaker by Cherie Priest)
  • 5 books published in 2010 (Echo by Jack McDevitt, All Clear by Connie Willis, Cryoburn by Lois McMaster Bujold, Out of the Dark by David Weber and How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe by Charles Yu)
  • 9 books (non media tie-ins) published this year (with links to Amazon):
#4 Ready Player One by Ernest Cline
#7 Hellhole by Brian Herbert
#11 Citadel: Troy Rising II by John Ringo
#15 March In Country: A Novel of the Vampire Earth by E. E. Knight (hardcover)
#16 Earthbound by Joe Haldeman (hardcover)
#21 How Firm a Foundation by David Weber (hardcover)
#32 Mecha Corps: A Novel of the Armor Wars by Brett Patton
#39 Kris Longknife: Daring by Mike Shepherd
#45 The Children of the Sky by Vernor Vinge (hardcover)
So in summary, around a third of the books are old classics, a third are media tie-ins, and a third are newish but less than a fifth are new this year. And only 9 books by women in that top 51, of which 3 are media tie-ins.

How many books do you have to sell to make it onto the list? Well, the bottom 7 sold less than 300 units each. Which, at most likely less than a dollar per paperback going to the author, isn't going to buy a Ferrari any time soon. Only the top 5 sold more than 1000 units each.

What can we learn from this? Don't quit your day job, and if you do, write Romance.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Eclipse: morality obliterated by sparkly lurv

George Takei, who rivals James Earl Jones in the "I'd listen to him reading a shopping list" voice department, sends out a plea for Star Trek and Star Wars fans to unite against the mutual threat of... Twilight. "There are no great stories, characters or profound life lessons to be had in Twilight." He's right.

I have read the first two books in the saga and last night watched the third movie, Eclipse, thinking to further my education. I'm writing this assuming the scene I'm about to highlight plays out more or less the same in the book. Once again I was stunned by the moral bankruptcy of the very people we're supposed to be rooting for - the Cullens. While the hero is busy impressing us all by saving himself for marriage, something happens at the end that makes me wonder just how badly characters can behave without readers noticing because they're - I don't know, blinded by the greatest love story ever told?

The head of the clan, Carlisle Cullen, has made it his life's mission to encourage and train vampires to not eat humans. He has assembled a family who follow his ways. In Eclipse, Carlisle and his wife Esme offer sanctuary to a "newborn" vampire (a 15-year-old girl named Bree) following a major showdown with the evil vamp Victoria. Victoria has been forming an army of newborns with the sole purpose of killing Bella, as vengeance against Edward for killing her true love (in the first book). Bree is shown in the movie hiding out during the battle. The Cullens take pity on her and she surrenders.

Then the head vampire clan, the Volturi, show up to see what the fuss is all about. They aren't friendly to the Cullens because of the Bella situation, but they don't like Victoria and her army either because they've been drawing attention to themselves. Vampires are supposed to munch on humanity under the radar. The Volturi feasted on a roomful of tourists in Book 2, and I've had a thing or two to say about that - specifically Bella's reaction to it, and the Cullens' complete disinclination to stop such behaviour. This time around, the Volturi decide that Bree must die because she was part of Victoria's army. Carlisle makes a vague protest about how he's given her asylum. The Volturi ignore him and one of them steps forward and kills Bree while the Cullens... all stand back and let him.

How are we supposed to feel anything but disgust for a man who offers zero resistance when a 15-year-old girl, who's already shown the potential to be turned to the good side of the force, has her head snapped off under his pale sparkly nose? Exactly what does "offering asylum" mean?

The take-home message: virginity before marriage = good; preventing the murder of innocents = not even a blip on the moral compass.

Do readers notice these things? Do they care? Why don't they care??

Thursday, December 8, 2011

SFR: What is it and why is it good stuff?

Heidi Ruby Miller writes a column called Geek Girl Underground for Inveterate Media Junkies. Today she's blogging about the sci-fi romance genre: Set Your Phasers to Love. She asked me and some other authors about how we view the genre - and why it works for us!

Monday, December 5, 2011

Geek Girls

Heather Massey at the Galaxy Express asked a bunch of us what being a Geek Girl means. Find out how other geek girls became geek girls and what it's like being a geek girl today.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Terra Nova's upside-down premise

I've been hanging out for a good sci-fi show for nine years - ever since you know what was canceled. So I've been watching Terra Nova. It's 2149, the world is a horrible place to live, and a one-way time portal is discovered that goes back 85 million years. Dinosaurs - yay! (We are asked to ignore the point that living among big hungry dinosaurs without adequate weaponry to deal with them is kind of silly.)

Deadly dinos aside, the world of Terra Nova is a nice one - these people are essentially colonists on a new world, and I'm up for that. They appear to live a self-sustainable lifestyle without being too annoyingly hippie. I've enjoyed most of the episodes although they are remarkably forgettable.

In a recent episode we discovered the (alleged) true agenda of the "Sixers" - a band of outcast rebels working for evil people back in 2149. What is the evil agenda of these evil people? To mine resources from Terra Nova and bring them back to the future once a two-way portal can be developed. Billions of people need these resources to survive. Taylor, the leader of Terra Nova, finds this idea abhorrent and refuses to cooperate.

Some awkward plot holes are apparent in light of these revelations. Firstly, the evil ones have had multiple opportunities to send back an army to take over Terra Nova and do with the past whatever they want. Instead they sent a bunch of rebel misfits who are now banished and live in tree houses, talking tough but accomplishing nothing. Another time they sent an elderly one-armed general to kill Taylor, and Taylor promptly shot him. That's it. That's all they've done to forward their grand mission.

Secondly, just because your plot is all conservationist and such, doesn't mean it's right. What is so bad about sending resources back to 2149 to help humanity, which is facing extinction? It's been established that Terra Nova is a different timeline, so it won't affect the future. There are only a few hundred people in Terra Nova and they don't need a planet's worth of resources. Nor do the dinosaurs. Apparently there are no plans to send everyone in 2149 to Terra Nova - presumably it's not possible - so why not use Terra Nova to save the bulk of humanity?

The lucky ones in Terra Nova are only there in the first place because they're rich, clever, or lucky (a few won the lottery for a ticket). Why should those privileged few get all the goodies and leave billions of innocent people to live miserably and die too soon? Isn't that exactly what's happening in 2149 as well?

I just don't get the moral dilemma here. (Brannon Braga developed both Terra Nova and Star Trek Enterprise - I've had problems with the latter's weird ethical code too.)

On the positive side, the show is filmed in Australia's tropical north-east and it looks great (it should - it's very expensive).