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Shiny Science Fiction

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I have been trying to get around to this post for a couple of days now, but Life has been intervening–and not, as is usually the case, with downers and trouble and general cussedness.

I’ve just had actual work to do, and Spring Break arrived and I shut the alarm off on the clock, and then one day I slept in until past eight.

And I didn’t care.  That was the serious revelation here.

At any rate, I’ve been pattering around not doing much of anything organized, and in the middle of all that, I read a book–Larry Niven, Jerry Pournelle, and Michael Flynn’s Fallen Angels.

Now, for those of you who are science fiction fans, I want to make one point perfectly clear.

The following are notes about WHAT I HAVE READ AND SEEN in science fiction movies, books and short stories.

There may very well be all sorts of other things in science fiction movies, books and short stories, but if they are not WHAT I HAVE READ AND SEEN, then they are completely irrelevant to anything I will say here.

Having gotten that out of the way, and knowing full well that the comments will be full of passionate declarations about how I said x and y about “science fiction” even though I ONLY said x and y about science fiction I HAVE READ AND SEEN–

Let’s start here.

Fallen Angels is a novel about a time in the near future when the United States has been taken over by anti-science Greens and Feminists.  Most technology has been banned, and the changes have caused the start of a new ice age.

And the first thing it made me think of was this:  the only reason Apollo 13 isn’t science fiction is because it’s science fact.

Apollo 13 is my favorite movie of all time.  I’ve probably watched the thing over a hundred times.  I own it, but in spite of the fact that I own it, if I come across it on television while flipping channels, I’ll stop and watch it through to the end.

There is never a time when this movie fails to make me happy.

And yet, if the Apollo 13 incident had never happened, somebody could have made that exact same movie as science fiction, and it would be good science fiction, and I would still love it.

Granted, it makes me happier because it really happened, because that tells me that we were once these people, and that therefore we could be again, for real–

But that’s a kicker.  It’s a really, really, really good extra-added, but it’s not at the core of what I love about things like that.

And Fallen Angels is a thing like that–it gets the villains right, and it gets the heroes right. 

That’s part of it.

Thinking about it, I realized that an awful lot of the science fiction I have watched as movies has consisted of Faust narratives of one kind or the other–stories about how Humans and especially Scientists have screwed up the world in one way or the other and doomed us all.

This is especially true of the old black and white American International movies, where you can’t be in the same room with a microscope without causing worldwide ecological disaster of one kind or another.

And the kind is always whatever the fashionable we’re-all-going-to-die scenario is this week.  The Atomic Bomb (pick any of several), the hole in the ozone layer (Arctic Blast), climate change (The Day After Tomorrow).

It doesn’t matter what we’re doing, it doesn’t matter that the last twenty things we’ve thought were going to doom us all haven’t–if we’re doing ANYTHING, it’s a bad idea.

In an odd way, Fallen Angel sort of has this kind of plot, because things we are doing–ill-considered environmental regulation, a fear and terror of “technology”–have indeed caused the mess the earth is in.

But in Fallen Angels, the problems are not caused by science but by the rejection of science, which is the first good news.  Our Heroes do not exist to beat back the human ability to change the world through scientific and technological experiment and innovation, but to bring it all back.

 So that’s the first thing.  I’m not a big fan of the kind of science fiction where science is the enemy, and the ability to do science is a Bad Thing. 

What’s more, as far as I’m concerned, Fallen Angels gets the villains exactly right:  the crystal-gazing morons trying to bring back magic, the people-are-the-worst-thing-that’s-ever-happened-to-the-earth people, the precautionary principle people, the kind of “feminist” who runs around trying to constrict and inhibit everybody’s behavior in pursuit of making everything “safe”–I could go on, but the writers do that themselves.

But Fallen Angels also gets the heroes right.  They’re the people who will not be “appropriate,” who insist on living a politically incorrect life at nearly every level, who like risk and who like challenge.

And that brings me to the kind of science fiction I actively like, although I’ve only seen it in movies and not read anything like it in books or short stories.

Of course, I see more science fiction than I read.

The best example of it would be the two movies of the Star Trek reboot, the ones in which Kirk is–well, maybe you have to see it. 

There’s a sequence in the first of the two where Spock shoots Kirk–not yet captain of everything–off the Enterprise and onto a Godforsaken frozen planet.

It’s the kind of thing that would normally make me at least somewhat uncomfortable, but in this case Kirk isn’t scared,  he’s just royally pissed off and roaring about it, and the entire thing ends up being fun.

But that’s what I want.  And not just in science fiction.  I was the risk takers and the intellectual outliers.  I want a good clear statement against the sort of people who are so afraid of everything that their entire lives become a frantic and unrelenting attempt to regulate everybody else’s behavior.

And those people exist at least as much on the left–if not more–than on the right.

Of course, it helps that Fallen Angels is a book about actions on the level of plausibility by people who are plausible enough as actual people who would live now.

The action is improbable but not impossible, and does not require me to leave the realm of plausibility for…whatever.

(FWIW–I find space travel to other galaxies perfectly plausible; I find intergalactic war less so.)

On the downside, I have the same problem with Fallen Angels as I do with a lot of Niven and Pournelle–there’s not a lot of character development, and the action tends to take place on the surface.

But I had a very good time.

Written by janeh

March 16th, 2014 at 10:38 am

Posted in Uncategorized

2 Responses to 'Shiny Science Fiction'

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  1. As I said on FB, Fallen Angels is one of my favorite books.

    My husband & I are fans of a bad SF movie on Saturday night, popcorn mandatory. We joke that the “lazy man’s science fiction movies” all have the same essential plot, thrown together by the “one from column A” method.

    Take one beautiful female scientist, divorced or estranged from the male rescuer role, and/or the daughter of the discredited older scientist with the radical, derided theory. Add (disaffected) teenage children at random. Take an evil military/corporation (or both in concert) and add an ecological disaster brought about by hubris and/or greed. Then solve the whole thing by blowing up an atom bomb. Generally much of the so-called plot deals with the problems of delivering the bomb.

    I don’t know why it’s always a bomb, but it sure seems like it is. The discredited scientist always gets proven right, the estranged couple learns that their differences are unimportant in the face of their persistent love for one another, and the teenagers learn their parents aren’t so bad after all. Oh yeah, and the bad military/corporate types generally die badly.

    Although there was one movie whose title escapes me….they followed the normal plotlines to the end, where the scientist insisting that his radical ideas to save the earth would work, despite what every other scientist said, counting down to the usual deadline. Finally given the go-ahead, he pushes The Button at the last second, and *blows up the Earth*. The End.

    A cautionary tale, I guess.


    16 Mar 14 at 12:33 pm

  2. Well, there are exceptions, but generally I’d agree: SF movies–unless they’re space opera–tend to be about science being used malevolently or incompetently. (This does not keep me from enjoying BATS, you understand.)

    Written SF is another story altogether. If you want to see the triumph of the intelligent over the stupid and ignorant in well-told stories, try Heinlein’s “Future History” stories, beginning with “Life Line” and running through METHUSELAH’S CHILDREN and ORPHANS OF THE SKY. Or Poul Anderson’s main continuity, including the “Polesotechnic League” stories and Anderson’s two great standalones, BRAIN WAVE and TAU ZERO. After that possibly H. Beam Piper, who NEVER suffered fools gladly. But Heinlein and Anderson ARE science fiction. The movies are just movies.


    16 Mar 14 at 3:58 pm

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