Archive for the ‘Science Fiction’ Category

I really wanted to see what Hollywood did with the “colony starship” trope, a genre staple.  The previews looked promising, as did the high-octane cast (Jennifer Lawrence, Chris Pratt, Laurence Fishburne).  I  should have known better.  There will be spoilers ahead but I promise you:  nothing will ruin your experience of this movie more than actually seeing it.  The starship Avalon, its cargo of 5000+ ensconced in cold sleep, encounters a cloud of dust and rocks in deep interstellar space some 30 years into its 120 year journey. The ship’s defense systems deal with most of the debris, but a large rock gets through and the ship suffers some damage.  Implausibly, one of the thousands of suspended animation pods malfunctions, awakening Jim (Pratt), a mid-level techie.  The ship has plenty of amenities and we sit through endless filler scenes of Jim playing basketball, exploring the creepy-shiny Mariott future, and hanging out with an android bartender, Arthur (Michael Sheen), who is a little reminiscent of Lloyd from The Shining with none of the edge and menace.  Of course, Jim gets lonely, grows a scraggly beard, and becomes obsessed with one of the sleeping colonists, Aurora (Lawrence). He figures out how to revive her and, after talking  it over with  Arthur, decides to go ahead with it.

Okay, I thought, I might as well just get up and leave now.  The movie is basically over.  They’re going to try and normalize this horrific violation via the enduring mythology that romantic love can emerge from a raw, brutal exercise of sexist authority if only the right circumstances allow it to flourish.  But, for me, this was such an amoral act, so deeply pathological and wrong, that there was nothing the mechanics of plot could do to make it okay.  You just can’t go back from there.

I didn’t leave, but my instinct was spot on.  He wakes her up, lies to her, fucks her …  the story machine is a goddamn power shovel at this point, digging itself into a deeper and deeper hole.  When she finds out what actually happened, she’s kinda mad!  At one point, she is kicking the shit out of him and reaches for a huge-ass garden implement which surely would have crushed his skull but she sets it down after some deliberation, a huge disappointment.  Then a bunch of other things happen, but it hardly matters.  The ship’s systems are deteriorating.  A crew member, Gus (Fishburne), gets awakened so he can explain some stuff and die.  Aurora’s still mad but she and Jim have to work together to figure out how to fix the failing ship.  Shit gets gnarly and he makes the ultimate sacrifice to save her and the ship, which is supposed to redeem his dark, obsessive idealization and objectification of her, his deception, his rape.  (It doesn’t).  The ultimate sacrifice turns out to be not so ultimate since she was able to revive him in the Autodoc.  He figures out how to tweak it to support her (but only her) returning to cold sleep for the rest of the voyage, but she says, no, it’s really okay that you ruined my life and turned me into a fuck doll.  I love you!  They live happily ever after.

This movie fails on so many levels it’s hard to know where to begin, but its failure as science fiction is worth underscoring, since that’s the package it’s wrapped in. At its best, SF uses its rich, evolving heritage of tropes to entertain us, to enlighten us, to explore questions about who we are as individuals, as a patchwork of cultures, as a species: where we come from, where we are, where we’re going.  Passengers uses SF’nal eye candy as window dressing to frame a deeply creepy idealization of romantic love that seeks to normalize misogyny and rape.  If you like that sort of thing, check it out.

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I will be lurking about most of the weekend, but will be reading from new work at 4:30 PM on Friday in the Santa Rosa room.  See you there.

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Checking out the ACC award longlist and shortlist (as well as the award itself, of course) is a great way to get yourself provisioned with interesting reading material.

From Award Director, Tom Hunter:

“It’s important to remember that prizes like the Clarke Award are first and foremost celebrations. We celebrate new books and new writers, but most of all we celebrate alongside all the readers and lovers of stories who are given a unique invitation to encounter something new, something strange and something wonderful whenever a new shortlist is announced. The love of books and the sharing of stories is the true legacy we should aim to create.”

2015 Winner  Station Eleven, also a National Book Award Finalist.  This was a great read, and I’m delighted to see it getting the recognition it deserves.

2015 Shortlist. Man, The Girl With All The Gifts made it onto the shortlist.  If you haven’t read this yet, check it out. Possibly my favorite SF book of 2014.

2015 Longlist. No guarantee that everything on this list will kick ass, but there are some really fine titles and authors represented here.


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Discouraged after an unusually long string of short story rejections, bouncing “good” stories off of the usual markets, then the unusual ones, then the really unusual ones.  After receiving the last “send more stuff, just not this” email this morning, I thought, rather petulantly, What do I have to do to sell a goddamn story?  The answer came immediately, with almost comical clarity:  Write better ones.

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I’m reading new work at 10:30 AM, running a workshop at 1:30 PM and generally shmoozing about the rest of the weekend.

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Clarion West Writers Workshop is a nonprofit literary organization based in Seattle, Washington, with a mission to improve speculative fiction by providing high quality education to writers at the start of their careers. As an extension of its primary mission, Clarion West also makes speculative fiction available to the public by presenting readings and other events that bring writers and readers together.

Every year, hundreds of writers commit to a summer tradition: to spend six weeks working on their writing goals while supporting Clarion West.  I will be writing a short story a week for the 6-week duration of the workshop — the same goal that each workshop participant must achieve.

Clarion West made a tremendous difference in my life when I attended over 20 years ago.  Please help me give something back by sponsoring my participation in the 2014 Write-a-Thon.  Go to my Write-a-Thon profile page and click “Sponsor Daniel Marcus.”

All sponsors of my 2014 Write-a-Thon goals will receive a digital copy of my short story collection, Binding Energy, described by Salon.com as “a cross between Raymond Carver and William Gibson.”

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First published in Asimov’s, July 1996.  Hey, it’s old enough to vote!

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Boss cover

12 hours of unabridged fun. Wells’ Martian invasion as witnessed by various luminaries of the time, told by the likes of Connie Willis, Robert Silverberg, Walter Jon Williams, and yours truly in “Blue Period:” a young Picasso watches the tripods lay waste to Paris and works on his portfolio.

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Here’s the syllabus:

Session Topic
#1 Introduction and Recap
A brief introduction to SFF 2, and a recapitulation of the elements of fiction discussed in SF1
#2 Suspension of DisbeliefIn which we discuss how to persuade your gentle readers to enter the fictive dream.
#3 The Story QuestionIn which we discuss this very important question that defines the heart of your story.
#4 Conflict
A great followup to the story question.  Conflict is the prevention of fulfillment and is the gasoline for your story’s engine.
#5 Narrative, Dialog, Action
In which we delve into using narrative, dialog, and action scenes to advance the story
#6 Exposition and Theory
In which we discuss paradigms for various forms of speculative fiction, and then get sane again with a discussion of exposition and how to introduce it into a story
#7 Story Logic
It’s one damn thing after another.
#8 Advanced Worldbuilding
More worldbuilding …
#9 Details
Sweating the small stuff
#10 Revision
This topic subject to change without notice

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Gotta say, Fowler and Griffith are head and shoulders above a very strong field.  Both remarkable books, utterly different.  If either of them wins, we all do.

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