Tag: scifi

Book Review: Pandora’s Star by Peter F. Hamilton

larry-rostant-pandoras-starGetting though this long book felt like a chore but I dont want to give it a bad review because I think it was me and not the book. I’m having trouble connecting with fiction lately.

Trying to be objective, it’s a rich story both in terms of settings, characters and development. Aside from some of the fantastic tech, it feels very real. It is hard or impossible to know where the story is going most of the time. It’s one of those books with many threads that get joined towards the end. And I’d you like it, you’ll want to continue the series due to the obligatory cliffhanger.

★★★☆☆

Buy Pandora’s Star in USA
Buy Pandora’s Star in UK
Buy Pandora’s Star in Canada

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The importance of context

Since I watched 2001: A Space Odyssey for the first time when I was 15 years old, I’ve been wanting to watch it on the big screen. Last Sunday I realized that dream.

A little story about why that movie was so important to me. There’s a before and an after 2001 in my life. I think it was the first movie that really challenged my brain. The first movie that when the credits rolled up I asked myself “What the fuck just happened?”.

It was recommended to me by a teacher, so I went and asked him… without the “fuck” I suppose. He told me that if I wanted to understand it, I’d have to read the book. I read the book and I understood more, but I had even more questions. So I read the next book, and the next, and the next. And by the time I had finished I was hooked into reading science fiction for the rest of my life.

Back to the topic, context. It’s not an entertaining movie. It’s slow, it’s abstract, it’s art. But hey, even if you watch Alien it doesn’t look like entertainment, it’s slow and looks artistic. Honestly, go and watch it, you’ll see. 2001 was released before Armstrong put a foot on the moon, in 1968.

Let me put that in context for you. Star Wars wouldn’t come out for another 9 years. Star Trek was on it’s second season and not many people were paying attention, yet. I bet for most people, 2001 was the first time in their lives when they saw outer space in the big screen.

But 2001 isn’t just another silly space opera (of which the space age was probably full of). In 2001, space is silent, like it really is. How important is that? I watched Firefly just because space was silent. That important.

2001 doesn’t have some magic solution for artificial gravity, like almost all other movies and TV shows. We have huge revolving space stations as well as spaceships with revolving sections. We see amazing shots of people walking on this curved floors. Or using sticky shoes. We not only see space… we see ourselves, for real, in space. I don’t think I’d seen anything that treated outer space as realistically as 2001, ever. And it happened in 1968.

Put that movie in context, ignore the long psychedelic scenes (hey! it was the 60s!), and it’ll blow your mind. Context is important.

I also recently read Snow Crash. When the book started describing a kind of physical virtual reality, with people walking on virtual streets, companies putting buildings on those streets, etc. I was honestly disgusted. I couldn’t stop feeling that the author somehow missed the last 10 years of history when we realised that VRML (remember VRML? Virtual Reality Markup Language) was not the way to go. And then I saw the book was released on 1992 and all made sense to me. Reading it in context was awesome and I enjoyed it a lot.

Thanks to Daniel Magliola and Romina Roca for reading drafts of this.

Science fiction fans: would you put your money where your mouth is?

The SciFi channels changes its name to Syfy to be able to attract people that don’t like science fiction, pissing off scifi fans. Then they cancel good shows and keep crappy ones. Recently they’ve cancelled Stargate Universe and people is all pissed about it. Meanwhile Star Trek, once a magnificent series, is rebooted into a dumb lens flare designed to make money out of idiots.

SciFi fans, it’s clear mainstream media no longer cares about you and as time goes on they’ll care less and less. I’m not sure why, I have a couple of hypothesis but that’s not important. What’s important is what you are going to do about it. First, you’ll have to make a sacrifice, you’ll have to forget about Star Trek, Stargate, Babylon 5 and all those great franchises. They have owners and the owners are saying “screw you!”.

The future is independent media, even user generated content. There’s no much of it yet, but it’s growing and it requires your support. For example, Pioneer One is an independent series released straight to BitTorrent. Have you donated to it already? It might not be exactly what you want, but if it succeeds it’ll send a clear message that it’s possible and maybe someone else will create what you want. You don’t have any money? Cancel your cable TV and use that extra 50$ or so per month to donate to Pioneer One or the next interesting thing.

Meanwhile technology is getting better and better and creating great content is getting easier, just look at this beautiful short:

As people get the ability to tell any story they want, instead of the sceptic, bland, non-challenging and generic stories Hollywood tells we’ll get much more interesting and fascinating tells. The future is going to be awesome but we may need to push, to band together and collaborate, to have it sooner.

Is it Science Fiction?

I go to a book store and after looking around I’m forced to ask.

– Excuse me, where’s the science fiction section?

The woman points to the back of the book store, to a poorly lit section, next to the book for kids sector full of toys and little chairs. Well, at least they have a section. From where I’m standing it look like a whole section, it probably has around 500 books. There must be something that I haven’t read.

When I arrive I notice that a whole shelf consist of Lord of the Rings books. I continue scanning and I see a lot of stuff about dragons and vampires. There’s even a copy of Harry Potter left over when it wasn’t popular enough and didn’t deserve the huge tower of books in the middle of the bookstore.

Where is the science in wizards, dragons and magic rings? You know, Science Fiction is called that way for a reason. If I wanted to read fantasy I would have gone to the fantasy section, thank you very much.

This is not the worst. I’ve seen countless top ten science fiction TV shows list that included Buffy and Angel. “Science Fiction” is not a label for weird. I was throwing a huge tantrum about it and my wife, in her infinite understanding said:

– Maybe they don’t know it isn’t science fiction.

How could they not know? It says “science” in the name. But apparently people are not very logical and never think what a name means (and keep calling the United Kingdom England, The Netherlands Holland, and United States of America, well, America, which is a continent, not a country).

I’ve decided to solve this problem once and for all in the geek-programmer way, which is of course, a web site with voting. I created:

Is it Science Fiction?

Of course, if everybody voted we would end up with a mess the world is today, but I hope only geeks will put up with my bad graphical design skills and actually vote and comment so we’ll end up with pretty good results. So far Star Wars is 4th from the bottom, heavily on the not-sci-fi side of things, so I’m pretty sure it’s working. You have to be very hard core to believe Star Wars is not Science Fiction.

My goal is to build the canonical place to point to when the discussion about whether something is or isn’t science fiction starts. You won’t have to explain it yet again why Lord of The Rings is fantasy, not science fiction, just point to http://isitsciencefiction.com/items/the-lord-of-the-rings. If your favorite pet peeve is not there, feel free to add it.

Of course we are only judging whether something is or isn’t science fiction, not whether something is good or bad. Batman is great, but it’s not Science Fiction. Plan 9 From Outer Space sucks, but it is Science Fiction (well, I don’t know, I haven’t seen it yet).