Tag Archives: scifi

Story Time!

8 Mar

Alright, kids, I hate to let life get in the way of my blogging responsibilities, but sadly it does happen from time to time. I’m in the middle of moving so I’ve got to keep this short and sweet this week. No deep insights! Very few ridiculous analogies! Plain old ordinary anecdotes! Possibly even typos. It’s so haphazard and exciting. Sorry. Next week I’ll try to be a badass. If I’ve got my shit together by then. Onward and upward. (Cue campfire ghost story voice. Ahem.)

Our story begins in a dim and dreary bookstore in the rainy depths of coastal California. This particular bookstore has pretty damn satisfactory scifi and fantasy sections (Tin Can Mailman in Arcata – I always leave happy and broke, check it out if you’re close and need a bookstore, plugplugplug). And the scifi section faces the front door so everyone who comes in has to walk right by you, right? I was standing there with (I’m not even fucking kidding) Isaac Asimov, Carl Sagan, Piers Anthony, and Frank Herbert in my hand. In those great old 1970’s-looking mass market paperbacks? I love those. I looked like a walking cheapskate scifi 101 class, though, for real.

In walked these two gentlemen who were clearly on a mission to find a particular book. Which should’ve been right where I was standing. But wasn’t. Of course. And it’s a used bookstore and they’re usually kind of busy and they’re by nature a little disorganized so I usually look two or three times and try random leaps of logic to try to look in other places that it just might have possibly ended up through some twist of fate. But these two gentlemen were being extremely thorough, even by those standards. And they were all up in my space, you know? I suppose at some point my comfort bubble got a bit bent because myopic, fucking overly polite me, I stepped back and started squinting at the books from afar so as to give these dudes the prime scifi section real estate, goddamn it. Because clearly they felt that their used bookstore experience was of a higher priority than mine.

One guy gave me the thank you nod (manners props to Dude #1!) and the other guy. Ooh, the other guy. Homeboy looked like Comic Book Guy’s, geekier more UV avoidant cousin (can you make fun of Simpsons characters for being pale? Does that even work? Fuck, I’m brainfried, just let it go). And you know, I don’t give a shit what people look like, I really really don’t. But sometimes you can just spot them from a mile away. Those haughty kind of LARPier-than-thou sorts of guys. They fall within a bell curve. They usually resemble the bell curve, as a point of interest. So this walking fucking stereotype, this caricature of a human being, gave my books the “I’m obviously being nosy about your books but it’s ok because we’re in a bookstore” head-tilt eyeball situation. And giggled. More of a giggle/scoff, really. A gloff, if you will.

At this point I should’ve asked him “What the hell, bro?” And just intimidated the shit out of him with my meaty social prowess and skillful altercation-starting skills. But those things aren’t real, you see, so I was left in this weird state of not knowing what had just happened or how to feel about it. Which is how I feel most of the time when I deal with other humans. Also why I moved to the middle of nowhere to a county that literally has more bears than people. That’s statistics. Look it up.

Because that gloff had the stink of superiority to it. And I don’t know why. I’m bothered by this not knowing (grammar what?). Are these four really important scifi classics not good enough for Dude #2? Because that’s bullshit. Maybe he was just a fantasy geek who scoffs at scifi in general, but then why the rudeness trying to get past me to the scifi books? Or was he laughing because he assumed I hadn’t read them (three of them I had, I just didn’t own my own copies, for the record)? In which case the proper etiquette of nosy bookstoreness would be to say “Hey, those are really good books” not “You mean you’re in your thirties and you haven’t read those yet?” Or maybe (because we need at least one optimistic prospect) he was thrown off by my being a girl in the scifi section at all and couldn’t think of anything to say that was polite so he opted for the idiot gloff instead. Any of these things is possible.

Anyway. I guess it’s just a mystery. Damn, there’s really no good way to end that story. It was a frustrating nerd moment, you know? I’ve let it roll off my back. After I stopped myself from chasing him down the street screaming “Why?! Why?!” Then I let it roll off my back. I’m not particularly good with people. So, if we need to find a moral here: be nice in bookstores, ok?

Me Getting All Worked Up About Scifi Again

23 Feb

Long ago and far away I wanted to go to graduate school. There are surprisingly few things that one can do with a non-terminal English/Literature degree, so most of  us end up as retail shlubs, possibly in horrible corporate bookstores because it‘s something nominally connected to our field and we think it’ll make us happy but then it doesn’t even though we get a bomb-ass discount and then we have epic breakdowns and move to California to be farmers and live off the grid. Sorry. That’s just my whole life story. Anyway.

At first I wanted to be a librarian, but libraries are dying (no offense, librarian friends, you do good work, I just didn’t want to end up a hybrid between an IT person and a museum curator). And you have to be really quiet in a library so I wouldn’t be able to talk about books all day anyway. Which made me think maybe I could teach. I’m not particularly good with little kids and teenagers are demons so I’d have to teach college. And colleges are rife with bureaucracy and self-righteous young people. They wouldn’t let me talk about the books I want to talk about all day either, probably. Them and their galdurn curricula.

So I decided not to go to grad school. Because clearly all I want to do is talk about books all day. I just want to own a bookstore. Is that too much to ask?  And I don’t have to go to grad school to do that. Yeah, yeah, I know, it’s the worst possible time to try to start a small business. Worse still to hang all one’s hopes and dreams of possibly achieving a glimmer of happiness on owning a store in an industry that’s on its way out. But still. You gotta have goals. Amazon and e-books have killed off all the big chain stores (except that one, you know, the Evil Green-signed one) so used bookstores will probably have a small boom before society kills them off completely. Right around the time Americans forget what books are and stop reading anything. Maybe I can still have a shot. Don’t step on my dreams, man! (Quick side note: if you bought an e-book reader because you thought it would be greener than buying paper books, look seriously into the fucked up electronics production industry vs just buying used books. If we have to use a buzzword, I’d rather “repurpose” old books than contribute to the pollution caused by making new microchips and batteries. Just give it a thought.)

What was I saying? Grad school. If I did go, I’d want to major in science fiction. Wait, hear me out. I’ve yet to find a program that exists, besides those schools where you can build your own major. There aren’t many of those with anything past a bachelor’s. (But if you know of a super obscure one that I might have missed, let me know.) Because scifi is important. Not in a curing-cancer-and-ending-poverty kind of way, obviously. If entertainment had that kind of power, America would still rule the world. (Sorry kids, but the tech nerds in Asia own our asses because we’re lazy and watch too much reality tv. Ooh, harsh.) No, in an anthropological, sociological kind of way, science fiction has shaped our culture. We have ion drive engines because of Star Trek. Our space program was started and run by people who read pulp scifi novels at the height of their cheesy popularity in the 1940’s and 50’s. You can’t tell me with a straight face that people who work in laser labs don’t ask themselves, at least once, if Greedo shot first. Because it’s really interesting stuff. That’s the definition of scifi, isn’t it? Technically? “Really interesting stuff”? I could look it up in the dictionary, but I’m pretty sure that’s verbatim. Urm.

Why, then, is scifi so frowned upon? Maybe not “frowned upon.” Thought less of? I got a BA in literature and the only scifi books I had to read, out of hundreds, were War of the Worlds and Brave New World, and those only because they’re political satire. Not that that distinction counts them out of being scifi, per se, but if Huxley could see the world after Prozac he’d go into a soma coma, is all I’m saying. Also, Wells was an anti-Semite, if that’s worth anything to anyone. We could use scifi, especially literature, to our advantage, if it wasn’t looked at as stupid fluff by most people. You know, like the way I look at romance novels. Snob.

But as a book person, let me tell you, having a genius IQ counts for exactly shit in this country if you can’t do math. (I was good up until tenth grade chemistry. Then I started feeling dumb. At this point if I can balance my checkbook I call it a win.) Mathy-sciency people rule the world, whether we acknowledge it or not. Every redneck mouthbreather in the world has a smartphone in their pocket, right? All those little things add up. So booknerds are kind of left behind, stranded in our useless piles of archaic paper history. I can’t say “Oh, well, Aristotle tells us that society can be saved with grammar” and be taken seriously. But one astrophysicist brings up Asimov and it’s all “Fuck yeah! Robot revolution!” Because science matters. More than that, science is cool. Science got us to where we are. Science will save us from ourselves. But what are we, really, but our words? We have no history without documentation of one sort or another. They even say “before written history.” The history of science is a kind of historical record of the ways in which we view the world. There are some old ideas that we now look at as quaint, but at the time those people were working just as hard and were just as strong in their convictions as any surgeon or engineer or chemist doing cutting-edge stuff today. Quarks may be just as bogus as the flat-earth model, but it’s the ideas that keep us going. Where reality and imagination meet, you get some really important, innovative ideas. The world, culture, society – it’s all based on “what if?” That’s science. That’s literature. That’s art and music and technology. That’s being human, right?

And science fiction is the artistic representation of that. It’s the place where those groups can come together, that liminal space that’s open to anyone. Where ideas are born. There’s beauty and terror there. Nightmares and dreams in equal parts. Maybe we’re deluding ourselves. Maybe science fiction makes us think we’re better than we are. Maybe someday an After Common Era scientist will find a copy of The Matrix and say “Awww, how precious. They thought they could win.” But I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that. Too much hope is better than not enough. Science fiction gives us hope (man, I tried really hard to work around that sentence, but I couldn’t find a way to do it). There’s a lot of fear and destruction to be had, as well, but that’s just human nature. We’re scared little mammals, at heart. I think the awesome thing about scifi is that we, as a human race, can look ahead together at what we could accomplish. Maybe that’s just me being sappy because I’m a fangirl, but that’s ok. I’ll take it. An intellectual sap, me. I’ll just be over here reading Contact for the fifth time, wishing I could do calculus in my head.

Wormhole Deliciousness

16 Feb

I know I’ll lose a lot of credibility for saying this (ok, let’s be real – I didn’t have any fucking credibility to start with) but man, do I love me some Stargate. It’s one of those things you know you shouldn’t love but you just…can’t…help it. Like that one-hit-wonder song that you turn way up when it comes on and sing at the top of your lungs. But only if no one else is in the car. Guilty pleasures. And I’m a total fangirl about it. I’ve got every season and every spinoff and all the movies on DVD. I’ve watched all the special features and every episode with the commentary on. I know every character’s whole fucking life story, every alien race, every planet, every contradiction, every hanging lantern (look up that writery term, non-English majors, mwahahaha). I’m probably more of a geek about Stargate than I am about anything else. Except books, but that doesn’t count. Booklove is an overarching, penetrating-every-aspect-of-who-I-am kind of obsession. Scifi fandom is way more focused. It’s the difference between breathing air and loving a particular smell. I’ve really got to stop talking in analogies. Or just find better analogies.

Anyway, Stargate’s underrated. It’s cheesy. Like, really cheesy. But not hammy, like Farscape. And it doesn’t take itself too seriously, like Babylon 5. Admittedly, I like both of those as well. The thing about Stargate is that you get really sucked in by the characters. Each episode is different, more or less, because the story arc follows the people, not the people chasing the story arc (like X-files, say, or Lost). It’s a scifi show running almost entirely on a soap opera dynamic. Which can create massive amounts of cheese, but works really well. In a crack-addict kind of way.

I’ve caught a lot of shit for my Stargate fandom. From geeks and nongeeks alike. Nongeeks (civilians, I call them, which is terribly exclusive and offensive but whatever)  make fun of me for my fangirl gushiness. About all this stuff, not just Stargate. Other scifi fans make fun just because it’s Stargate and not something else. And that, to me, is what’s most interesting. How can someone wearing a Starfleet uniform find any leg to stand on to make fun of me or Stargate? Seriously? (Not that there’s anything wrong with cosplay, don’t send me hatemail.)

At the bottom of it, there are two ways to see this phenomenon:

1) People are viciously protective of the things they love and will defend them as better than other things that other people love. It’s an interesting point of modern human nature and can’t be avoided, so why analyze it? Or,

2) there really is some invisible underpinning of scifi hierarchy. Maybe some things really do mean more to geekdom than others. This could be totally made up, and I’d have to leave my abandoned little corner of the world and venture out into civilization to examine it further. If anyone wants to buy me Comic-Con tickets, I’m totally down for a research trip.

But think about it. When you think “scifi geek” what comes immediately to mind? Star Wars and Star Trek, right? There’s a big beef between these groups of fans, which I plan to dissect another time. Coming soon to a blog near you. Point is, everything else kind of falls below and between these two megaliths of nerdism. But why, damn it, why? There’s structure here. I just can’t quite figure it out. For the record, I love Star Trek and Star Wars equally. But they’re very different. And they’re related. It’s like loving your creepy identical twin sisters the same way even though one’s a goth and one’s a jock. (True story.)

I feel like the things we love in the scifi universe (multiverse?) are more like a spectrum and less like a Venn diagram. Or should be, anyway. Maybe a color wheel. Something less dividey, is what I’m saying. None of them is, intrinsically, any more or less silly than another. We think they are, but they’re not. If we’re talking about production value or acting, some things are definitely “better,” but only in technical terms. Some shows have more money or better marketing or a worse time slot or they’ve been rendered absurd just by virtue of time having passed. But that doesn’t change the content or the intent. It doesn’t change the love of the fans. Scifi is all about suspension of disbelief. If I can buy that a Federation of planets would send out multiple ships to peacefully explore the far reaches of the universe, why would I then turn around and not believe that a telekinetic dictator would want to rule a galaxy far, far away with a Nazi-like iron fist? I wouldn’t. I don’t. Equally ridiculous and fun. So don’t tell me that it’s out of the question for a bunch of American Air Force officers, a clueless linguist/archaeologist, and a rogue alien soldier to go through an ancient wormhole device every week for ten years and explore new planets, under presidential order via a big fat government conspiracy. It could  totally happen.

 

Also, just as a fangirl side note, if you did want to start watching Stargate, for whatever reason, a few points:

– Watch the original movie first. The show picks up right where it leaves off.

– The first season and a half or so is the cheesiest. But it gets way better, and their budget gets bigger. Plus you need those episodes to get a few key story points.

– There are some contradictions in the rules. Ignore them. All the characters do.

– Don’t get attached. Everyone dies at least once.

– Let me know what you think. We can gush together. Or not. Whatever.

Long-winded Thoughts on Nomenclature

26 Jan

So this is a nerd blog, right? And of all the species of nerds, I’m undoubtedly, unquestionably, first and foremost, a booknerd. Books. Mmm. Books, booky book books. I could talk about them all day. And I have. And I probably will again. True to type, though, I read mostly science fiction. Some fantasy, some horror. Right now I’m trying to work my way through the whole list of Pulitzer winners. You know, just for giggles. I quite enjoy historical nonfiction stuff, too, lots of biographies and science books and things about abandoned hospitals (don’t ask). But I’ll read whatever. If it’s been collated, I will probably at least peruse it.

However.

I’m deeply irked by the label Speculative Fiction. There’s a lot of wiggle room on the term “speculative” in the first place. Isn’t all fiction, by its very nature, speculation? Isn’t that what the whole thing is about? In a meta-sense? In an it’s-humanity’s-duty-to-tell-stories kind of way? The Speculative Literature Foundation (I’m not even kidding) defines the genre as “Any piece of literature containing a fabulist or speculative element.” Could they just go ahead and make my point for me? It would save you guys a lot of reading.

I worked for a huge chain bookstore for a long time. And (disclaimer) I’m bound to say some nasty shit about them so I won’t name names, but it’s the only one still standing after the Amazon and e-book revolutions. The one with the green signs? And the shitty coffee? And the & in the middle? You know the one. Anyway, they sell tons of scifi and fantasy, so they put them off to one side in their own little section. With the graphic novels. Between self-help and romance, which seems either really insensitive or just outright mean. What a weird cross-section of humanity. Walking past those few aisles is so fucking pitiful I can’t even stand it. So ten thousand times I’d get some college freshman standing lost and confused in the scifi/fantasy aisle asking me “Where are Dracula and Frankenstein? I need them for a class. They should be right here.” And I’d say, “No, no, come along, moron. Let’s go to the Literature section.”

First of all, as a point of etiquette, don’t wait until the last minute to buy your books for class from the only bookstore in town. They will not be prepared for forty kids to come in all on one day. Just so you know. Secondly, Dracula and Frankenstein are both horror novels and do not, by any stretch of the imagination, belong in scifi/fantasy. And finally, what the fuck does “Literature” even mean in this context? Comparatively speaking? Does that mean that scifi/fantasy or romance or mystery aren’t good enough to be Literature-with-a-capital-L? What do you call them then? Books? Stories? Tales? Yarns? The term Literature carries this onus of heady intellectualism which is completely arbitrary and made up. It’s an invalid connotation of some sort of classicism, one that can be used against people. Note the two different reactions I usually get in the following situations:

I have an English degree.

– Oh. That means you read a lot, right?

vs.

I have a Literature degree.

– Wow, that’s really interesting. Tell me about Shakespeare.

Sigh. Yes, I read a lot. Also, fuck Shakespeare. I’ll get crucified for saying that, but the guy was a hack and I stand by my statement. But you see my point? It’s the word. Not even the whole word. The capitalization of the word. You can hear it when people say it out loud. Drives me batshit crazy. So when I capitalize these somewhat subjective categories, please know that I’m doing it in the Big Evil Green-signed Bookstore Chain way and not in an I-have-a-literature-degree sense. I’m bitter, not pretentious. For the record.

Here’s the thing: I’ve always had a problem with these labels, specifically “scifi/fantasy.” It’s that slash. These are two separate entities. This is not an and/or/if/then slash-worthy situation. When you say it out loud, it’s different. It’s like a pause: “I read scifi, fantasy, horror, computer manuals…” You see? But when you write it down it becomes amalgamated. That’s the issue here. And I understand that this is trickle-down vernacular. It comes straight from the marketing imps of Satan who lump scifi and fantasy together because of the fan base overlap. Like how Velcro gets put in the same category as all the other lowly hook-and-loop tape. Urm. Sort of. For the most part, the bottom line is that bookstores don‘t want to split up an author‘s work. They want to be able to put everything in one category so that shoppers only have to look in one place. Take Stephen King. (And let me preface this part of my little rant by saying that I have a deep and abiding love for Mr. King that borders on unnatural. But that’s a whole different blog. We’ll get to it, friends. Fret not.) So Stephen King has written mostly what would be conventionally labeled horror. With a few really notable, important exceptions: the seven books in the Dark Tower series, Eyes of the Dragon, and the graphic novels all fall squarely into the fantasy category. But one has to file all of these under Literature so as to keep them all together on the shelf. Because some fuckwit can’t be bothered to walk two aisles over and find the K’s again. This is why America is obese, people. Because those tricksy marketing bastards are calling all the shots.

I digress. Speculative-Fiction-seekers want to further confound this whole situation by just shoving everything somewhat wacky into one big mushy mess. A mess where Twilight seems to be invited to the party. And that, frankly, is not a party I want to go to. I like my categorical language neat and tidy, right? Science fiction has to have some science in it. Or something remotely science-y. I want robots and spaceships and lasers and germ warfare. Get it? Fantasy is a little more ethereal. Fantastic, if you will. Maidens, dragons, quests, swords, magic. Horror has all the delicious gory bits and the occasional ghost, possession or serial killer. Possibly a demon (but not a daemon, those go in fantasy). There are a few things that successfully cross the line. Star Wars had a princess, right? Albeit one who was apparently from some futuristic braless utopia. And the Force seemed like magic until Lucas fucked up and explained it all away with science (which is a bullshit maneuver to pull in a prequel, George – yeah, I said it). Blurry lines aside, to put everything in one big honking category is simply not ok. But if we’re going to conflate, let’s just go whole hog and really conflate, right? Screw mystery, scifi, classics, romance, Literature, and especially Speculative Fiction – get rid of them all. Label everything Fiction and be done with it. With a capital F.