Sunday, February 15, 2009

Grace Bridges - The future is what you make it

A sci-fi author must consume sci-fi, both to stimulate the imagination and to avoid unwittingly using an idea that's been done before. That's why I find this a most worthy exercise in recording what goes in. Perhaps later I'll look back and realise how it influenced what came out!

So, without further ado...

1. Star Risk (book) by Chris Bunch, 2002 - cynical noir space opera rip-off complete with gooey aliens, mercenary political villains, and huge space battles. A few good laughs!

2. Preservers (book) by Judith and Garfield Reeves-Stevens (attributed to William Shatner) 2001 - my first look at the rather curious "Shatnerverse" in which Kirk has somehow returned after dying in "that" movie. Except for the breach in canon, not a bad read - and of course a whole universe is at stake. Just not ours. But Picard and Kirk still rescue it on principle.

3. Captain's Glory (book) authors as above, 2006 - this one has a better premise, as it's actually the real universe in danger this time. Enjoyable battle scenes between Kirk and Picard, stopped only by Riker bawling them out so they can team up to rescue the future of all life forms.

4. Star Trek: Insurrection (movie) 1998 - Wonderful, brilliant, harmless, funny. A political commentary with loads of delightful character moments and in-jokes. Data steals the show.
Picard: "Sing, Worf, sing!"
Worf(shaking head): "No!"

5. Star Trek: Nemesis (movie) 2003? - Deep, dark and significant. Lots of layers, but lots of unanswered questions. How did one little hand-phaser shot (notwithstanding Data's passionate delivery of it) manage to blow up a ship? How did Shinzon get ahold of B4 in the first place? Where did Troi's psychic connection with the Viceroy come from? Well, whatever. One of the deleted scenes really should have been included - where the captain's new chair has seatbelts...

6. After the Fall (Trek book) by Peter David, 2004 - Very dark projection of Starfleet under fire. Some good scenes, but honestly, I miss having familiar characters in it. Loads of goop and gore.

7. Missing in Action (Trek book) Peter David, 2006 - sequel to above. Completes the story by having most main characters killed and just a few get to go home. Neatly sandwiches the events of Nemesis by mentioning them in two sentences or so. Guess the advantage of a book is that the aliens can be ultra-gooey at no extra cost...

8. 100 must-read science fiction novels (book) by Stephen E. Andrews and Nick Rennison, 2006 - A nice collection of summaries of the classics, with an introduction explaining the history and development of sci-fi. A good way to get a handle on some of the early greats of the genre, without having to read them all - and a great way to help find what to read next. But they forgot C.S. Lewis!!

9. Tunnel in the Sky (book) by Robert Heinlein, 1955 - Interesting psychological commentary a la "Lord of the Flies", but ends differently. Minimal technology, but what there is is very imaginative. Character reactions most fascinating when they get picked up after three years on an isolated planet.

10. The Picard Song (video) on YouTube - utterly hilarious. My favourite captain can rap!

11. System47 screensaver with LCARS-inspired animated displays and sound effects. Multi-screen capability. Bring Trek to your, uh, absent moments! Free download.

12. Wikipedia Star Trek portal. Probably deserves several entries since I hang around there so much. Origins, episode summaries, ship specs, characters, you name it. Great place to waste time.

13. Star Trek Hidden Frontiers, Season 6 Episode 1 "Countermeasures" - Fan film. Incredible accomplishment, though it's "not quite the same" - still, good going, guys. I might be back for more...

14. Star Wars, Episode IV (new remastered version) - A return to a classic of the genre. Funny, Darth isn't so scary as I remember. But I was just a kid last time I saw it. A great example of the Hero's Journey in literature, as well as the Three-Act Structure and other stuff they say writers ought to know :)

15. Star Trek TOS: The Trouble with Tribbles (TV) - need I say more? Completely, utterly classic.

16. Star Trek TOS: Triskelion's Gamesters (TV) - A return to medieval-themed Trek. Kirk gets to lose his shirt.

17. Star Trek TOS: The Immunity Syndrome (TV) - The impersonal enemy is believed to be killing everyone. Kirk and Spock record touching tributes for posterity, then figure out how to blow up the monster and fly away.

18. Have Spacesuit, Will Travel (book) Robert Heinlein 1958 - A cozy-type space opera set in a future where moon travel is reasonably common - but TV's are still black and white... Quite cutesy.

19. Star Trek Titan: Orion's Hounds (book) - Christopher L. Bennett, 2005 - A look at Riker's own ship, sometime after the events of Nemesis. Very interesting moral dilemmas as the crew attempt to make peace between spacefaring races of gigantic proportions.

20. Web Site Story (book) Robert Rankin 2001 - Very British, very ridiculous tale of a virtual suburb of virtual London.

21. Keeping It Real (book) Justina Robson 2006 - Okay, so the girl is a cyborg. But that's the only SF aspect. She variously fights and seduces elves, faeries and demons. Kinda weird.

22. Star Trek Voyager: Section 31 (book) Smith & Rusch 2001 - Nice little episode containing internal and external conflicts and some nice character moments for Seven and B'Elanna.

23. Doctor Who: Stealers of Dreams (book) Steve Lyons 2006 - Intriguing tale of a society where fiction is illegal. The Doctor and his cronies find the scientific reason and save the world. Of course. Pretty good actually.

24. Star Trek TOS: Metamorphosis (TV) - Kirk, Spock and Bones encounter Zefram Cochrane alone on a planet with a powerful alien being.

25. Chion (book) Darryl Sloan 2006 - An apocalyptic thriller set in Northern Ireland. Highly recommended.

26. Ringworld (book) Larry Niven 1972 - An outdated hippy sets off with a girl and two aliens to discover a mysterious giant artifact two hundred light years from Earth. A bit cheesy in places, but the setting is really amazing.

27. Warp Speed (book) Travis Taylor 2006 - A scientifically oriented story of the development of warp drive. Unusual and often unorthodox writing style, takes some getting used to. Quite a fun read nonetheless.

28. The Cat who Walked through Walls (book) Robert Heinlein 1985 - A good start soon gets bogged down in oversexed dialogue. Interesting settings could have used a bt more development. Lacks the freshness of his earlier work.

29. Fallen Angels (book) Larry Niven/Jerry Pournelle/Michael Flynn 1991 - Space dwellers exiled from Earth fall back to a cooling planet in the grip of a coming ice age. Technology is frowned upon; the only hope for gravity-lamed spacers is a bunch of illegal sci-fi fans. Quite brilliant.

30. Sunstorm (book) Arthur C. Clarke/Stephen Baxter 2005 - Interestingly, the exact opposite of Fallen Angels (see #29). Sunflares threaten the existence of the world by superheating it (way beyond global warming) and only a global effort can save the future of humanity. Book 2 of a trilogy, but it stands up fine on its own as well. The library didn't have the others.

31. Star Trek TOS - The Man Trap: An alien in dire need of salt haunts the ship.

32. Star Trek TOS - The Naked Time: A virus causes everyone to behave drunk, and even Spock has a cry.

33. Star Trek TOS - Errand of Mercy: Kirk wants to battle the Klingons for dominance of a planet. But its inhabitants refuse to allow the war to begin.

34. Star Trek TOS - Court Martial: The computer says Kirk killed a man. He says he didn't. Do computers lie?

35. Star Trek TOS - City at the Edge of Forever: All of human history after 1930 hinges on one woman in that time. Deeply psychological.

36. One More for the Road (book) Ray Bradbury 2002. A collection of short stories, not all SF but often bordering on it. Highly imaginative and in places, disturbing.

37. Uncharted Territory (book) Connie Willis 1994. A rather slow-moving novella which I'd nearly finished by the time I realised the narrator's meant to be a woman. Two short stories are added at the end, these were interesting reading, particularly Firewatch, involving a future history student's time travel study of the London bombardment in WWII.

38. Star Trek TOS - Amok Time

39. Star Trek TOS - Mirror, Mirror

40. Star Trek TOS - The Doomsday Machine

41-42 and so on: Borrowed a set of Star Trek TNG and have watched most of Season 3 in the past week. Also further reading from authors such as Kathy Tyers, Timothy Zahn, Melissa Scott, Tricia Sullivan, Philip K. Dick...

So I guess I'm done now. What have I learned from this exercise?
- It takes no particular effort to consume a lot of sci-fi. It's a big part of my life.
- I'm a Trekkie of rather more serious proportions than I imagined!
- There is a LOT of SF literature out there. A lot of it is dystopian.
- Since beginning this list I've completed two new SF novels of my own, due for publication this year. Reading widely has helped me create something new and different, avoiding similarities with the other stories I've encountered.
- SF is the perfect genre to explore difficult issues by putting them in a different scenario. It's great for getting a message across because often that message is the only parallel we see to our own reality amidst the worlds of fantasy.

So thank you for the opportunity to take part! It's been interesting.

My links in case anyone wants to drop by: - My first SF novel (2007) - My new publishing venture for SF - News from the Lost Genre

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