Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Drumroll, Please

AtWQ's sources reporting live from the Clarke ceremony reveal that the winner is... Richard Morgan's Black Man.  As you'll know if you read my Clarke review, I am very, very pleased with this result, and not the least because I wasn't expecting it--all the buzz seemed to be for The Execution Channel or The H-Bomb Girl.  Black Man is an excellent novel and a stepping stone in Morgan's career, and for all the controversy surrounding the Clarke this year (not that the Clarke is ever not surrounded by controversy), I don't think it can be denied that the judges selected an excellent book.  Congratulation to Mr. Morgan and the Clarke jury.

Self-Promotion: Addendum

Part two of my Clarke award review is now online. Also, in case you missed the update to the previous post, Adam Roberts's Clarke review is up at Futurismic, and Nic Clarke continues her Clarke series with a review of Matthew de Abaitua's The Red Men.

And, of course, the award itself will be announced this evening.

UPDATE: Nic's review of The Raw Shark Texts is also up, completing her overview. Way to come in under the wire!

Monday, April 28, 2008

Self-Promotion

Part one of my review of the 2008 Arthur C. Clarke Award nominees is up at Strange Horizons. The second part will be published on Wednesday, and the award itself will be announced that evening. Over at Torque Control, Niall Harrison has been collecting other reviews of the shortlisted novels, and of particular interest may be two other comprehensive looks at the shortlist--Adam Roberts's over at his blog (according to Niall a while back, there's also a shortlist review forthcoming from Adam.  UPDATE: and here it is) and Nic Clarke at Eve's Alexandria (currently up to four of the six nominated novels).

In other award news, by now you've almost certainly seen the results of the Nebula award. I let my annual short fiction reviews lapse when it came to the Nebula this year, which was partly because I was busy with the Clarke review, but mostly because I was having trouble justifying giving the Nebula--an award whose relevance I've come to have serious doubts about--so much of my time and energy. The results, however, are surprisingly satisfactory--I'm particularly pleased with Karen Joy Fowler's win for "Always," though I can't help but wish she'd triumphed over a more worthy field. It's possible that I'll go back to reviewing the Nebula-nominated shorts next year, and of course, I'll be posting my reviews of this year's Hugo-nominated stories in the near future.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Alien Thoughts

In honor of Passover, a local movie channel has been airing science fiction movie series, and this evening it was the Alien quadrilogy. I've just finished watching the first two films (I could be watching the third film right now but really, why would I?). It's been ages and ages since I saw either one, so I may be stating the bloody obvious, but I was utterly floored by how unglamorous Sigourney Weaver is in both of them. It's not just that she's conforming to late 70s and mid-80s styles and fashion, though this is also a factor. I can't, for example, remember the last time I saw a female lead with curly hair in a blockbuster film. These days they all have shiny, silky perms--but then, as I've noted in the past, sometimes it seems that Hollywood has only one, very narrow, standard of female beauty. It's not even a question of production values, though the color palette on both films felt drab and washed-out compared to modern standards, to a degree that I suspect isn't entirely intentional. Mainly, it's the fact that, though Sigourney Weaver is a beautiful and sexy woman, the films aren't very interested in her that way. The camera doesn't fondle her. Her clothes are utilitarian, neither skintight nor revealing. There are no glamor shots of her, and when she's sweaty and dirty she looks just that, not attractively mussed. The same holds for Sarah Connor. I couldn't stop thinking about Trinity in her pleather catsuit, or the trailers for Doomsday and Resident Evil: Extinction, and wonder if things were actually getting any better.

This is not to say that there aren't troubling aspects in both films' treatment of Ripley's body. There's plenty of body-fondling towards the end of Alien, when the camera practically drools at Weaver in her too-low underpants. Meanwhile, though Aliens keeps Ripley fully dressed at nearly all times, it's hard to chalk this as a win when one considers that the film views Ripley's femininity strictly as it relates to her being (or becoming) a mother, and thus sexless. She even has mom hair.

Something else that occurred to me while watching Aliens was that I wouldn't be surprised if, in the wake of the film's release, some military hardware engineer sat down and started designing an APC that could be loaded onto a plane, or fully-articulated body armor. And then I thought about this article, which cropped up on the net a few weeks ago and finally confirmed what so many columnists and bloggers have been postulating--that the US intelligence apparatus is modeling its behavior towards terror suspects and its techniques in preventing terrorism after the actions of characters from 24. I started wondering--what's the difference? Science fiction fans have always known that imaginary futures can predict the real one by making it, by implanting images in the minds of movers and builders, telling them that this is how the future is supposed to look. Why are we surprised to discover that 24 has the same effect when it comes to the present?

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Yippee

The Sarah Connor Chronicles is now is now officially coming back for a second season.

Between this, Joss Whedon's Dollhouse (now with 100% more Amy Acker), and the new Ron Moore show, next fall looks to be chock-full of SFnal goodness. And all of it on Fox. Go figure.

(Link via)

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Linky Links

Something to tide you over while I battle the dreaded deadline-Passover combo.
  • Andrew Rilstone has been writing about Doctor Who. As usual, I disagree with most of what he says (though he is dead on about Torchwood's full title), but love to watch him say it.

  • I and several other more qualified and informed people sound off on the state of the short fiction market on another edition of SF Signal's Mind Meld.

  • Against my better judgment, I am somewhat intrigued by the premise of Ron Moore's new show. Hey, it sounds better than Caprica.

  • Small Beer Press have made John Kessel's collection The Baum Plan for Financial Independence available for free under a Creative Commons License. Two of the stories from this collection, including the title piece, made my list of favorites when I made my review of the Sci Fiction archives a few years back, so I'm quite eager to read the rest.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Two Great Tastes?

Via Bookslut comes this surprising report:
Heroes creator Tim Kring is collaborating with literary critic and novelist Dale Peck on a sci-fi/alternative-history trilogy that was sold at auction to Crown yesterday for an advance said to be worth a staggering $3 million.
I... just don't know what to say about this.

Sunday, April 06, 2008

Flotsam & Jetsam

I watched three major SF-related shows this weekend, and I was hoping to get a blog post out of at least one of them, but instead I find myself with very little to say. So, I'm going to smoosh all three reactions into a single catch-all post, and hope that there's something more substantial for me to write about in the pipeline. (That said, I'm anticipating a bit of quiet around these parts during April.)
  • Battlestar Galactica, "He That Believeth in Me" - That was surprisingly enjoyable. The first act plays to the show's greatest strength--cool and intense space battles--and wraps up in one hell of an interesting way which makes one of my favorite characters even more interesting, and might even get me over my dubiousness about the identities of the Cylons revealed in "Crossroads." The rest of the episode is also strong, as the show finally starts paying attention to an issue that should have started cropping up in discussions and conversations in the second season premiere--the question of what it means to be a Cylon, not physically or biologically (though some answers on that front might be nice), but emotionally and morally. I liked that this issue was being considered from both sides of the divide and from several perspectives, and that discussions of it called back earlier entries in the conversation such as Boomer's attempts to hold onto to her identity and Baltar's Cylon detector. In general, the characters feel more grounded, more like real, semi-rational people rather than the shouty, angsty messes they were last season--in fact, there's almost a sense that season 3 and its histrionics have been swept away, and that season 4 is picking up from season 2 and maybe moving in a direction that might make the show watchable again. Here's hoping.

  • Southland Tales - oh, hell no. I've been very, very dubious about this film, not just because of its by-now infamous brutal reception at Cannes and the two-year delay in its release, but ever since I watched the Donnie Darko director's cut, and discovered that instead of reinstating some great character scenes, which would have fleshed out Donnie's family and Drew Barrimore's character (why doesn't anyone else get Barrimore to play bitchy and sarcastic? She's so great at it) Kelly tried to make his film comprehensible, and to foreground the dodgy SFnal plot device driving it. As if anyone fell in love with Donnie Darko for its plot. That same crucial failure of priorities is what drives Southland Tales into the ground, which is not to say that Kelly strove to make an easily understood movie. Quite the opposite--I doubt I've seen a messier, bittier, more non-linear and nonsensical film in my life.

    To even begin to understand the events of Southland Tales, I'd have to read the graphic novel prequel, trawl through the interactive website, and wait for the six-part mini-series version, of which the film is only the truncated latter half. For some reason, Richard Kelly thinks I'd be interested in doing this--in slowly puzzling out the details of his imaginary future--though he's given me no reason to do so. No interesting or appealing characters or relationships, no clever dialogue, no funny or touching set pieces. At its very best, Southland Tales is beautiful--several sequences towards its end recall the camera's dreamy dance around the characters during "Head Over Heels" or the powerful kinetic quality of the "Notorious" dance in Donnie Darko (it's pretty clear that what Richard Kelly really wants is to direct a musical--there's even a dream sequence in Southland Tales in which Justin Timberlake's characters lip-syncs to The Killers' "All These Things I've Done" while a bevy of chorus girls flit and flounce around him)--but this is hardly enough to sustain the film through 2.5 tedious and ultimately frustrating hours.

  • Doctor Who, "Partners in Crime" - Pleasant, though not much more than that. Plot-wise, there's not much there there, but this is Doctor Who, and surely by now we've learned that unless Stephen Moffat or Paul Cornell's names are on the title page the plot will be something we've seen twelve times before, and an unbaked, unengaging thing at that. What's worth talking about in this episode is Donna, and here I see reason to be optimistic. The impression the episode gives off is that the writers have gotten as tired of the show's romantic subtext (and just plain text) as we have, and Donna is literally introduced as a character whose relationship with the Doctor is not in any way romantic. It remains to be seen whether the show will stick to its guns in this respect (and whether it will resurrect the romantic plotlines with either Martha or Rose--the latter, at least, seems almost certain), but I do like the dynamic that's developed between the Doctor and Donna. I like her acknowledgment that it's one thing to say that you're going to cast off mediocrity and live in an adventure, and quite another thing to make that adventure happen on your own--most especially because that adventurousness is something that Donna needs from the Doctor (as you may recall, my first inkling that something wasn't right about Martha was my realization that she had no need the Doctor could answer, and sure enough, that need soon appeared in the form of an unrequited love) but that is different than what Rose needed from him. I'm still waiting to see what Donna brings to the equation, other than companionship for the Doctor, but at least I have an understanding of the foundation of the relationship. This could turn out alright.