Archive for the ‘Opinion/Analysis’ Category

4 Phrases Spawned by Sci-Fi — Friday Four

Shot of General Grievous from the Star Wars Prequels.

Some movies are just so eminently quotable that the dialog takes on a life of its own. People sometimes won’t even realize what it is that they’re quoting–the film has just become that pervasive in popular culture that even people who haven’t watched it might reference it. For a recent example, we’ve seen almost every line of dialog from the Star Wars prequel trilogy turned into a meme over the last few years. Post a comment online somewhere that says “Hello there,” and you’ll have a reply within minutes adding “General Kenobi!”

Of course, this sort of thing is not limited to the prequels. Let’s look at some of the most famous lines and phrases in pop culture and how they got their start.

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A Subjectively Obscure Sci-Fi Primer: Galaxy Express 999

Galaxy Express 999 title card

In a shocking turn, the Obscure SF Primer is back, ready to look at Galaxy Express 999, after nearly a year’s absence. If you want to know why, you can read here about what’s kept me from writing. Enough of that, though; let’s get on with the article!

Galaxy Express 999 is a 1977 anime that’s both little known in the west and extremely influential. It was created by Leiji Matsumoto and set in the so-called “Leijiverse,” which consists of other classic anime series such as Space Pirate Captain Harlock and Space Battleship Yamato. It has the fairly bizarre premise of being set on an intergalactic train which travels along the invisible space rails from planet to planet, stopping only for one day’s worth of local time (which can be as short as a few hours to several days) before moving on to the next destination–whether all passengers are aboard or not. You might think this doesn’t sound very sci-fi; after all, a space train is just whimsical fantasy, especially when it seems to literally operate like a steam engine. Still, the core ideas at the heart of this series are the same ones that play a role in countless others, regarding what it means to truly be human, and the cost of achieving immortality. With that said, let’s dive into Galaxy Express 999.

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Back to Business

Hello to any remaining readers, or anyone who stumbles across this site once again. Thought I’d explain a little about what’s been happening to me before I start posting content again. The real article will be posted right after this, so you can skip on ahead to that if you aren’t interested.

Since the last post, I had quite a lot happen that’s kept me from working on… well, anything I wanted to. A number of bad things happened, but there’s one major incident that’s influenced everything else. In September 2018, I was hit pretty hard by hurricane Florence. The damage still hasn’t been repaired; I ended up leaving town due to dangerous living conditions a few weeks afterward, and spent the proceeding months living as a guest with my girlfriend’s family while trying to get what of my belongings had survived together, find a new job, and find somewhere to live more permanently. Finally, just a few months ago, I managed to do all of that and am now living outside of Raleigh, NC. It’s been busy, but things are much better overall, and I’m settled in enough that I can get back to writing for the site. Views have unsurprisingly tanked, given the lack of activity, but I don’t think it’s unsalvageable, so I’m gonna give it another shot starting with this month.

I’m likely going to aim for posts on a monthly basis from this point forward; I can’t promise you what they’ll be, necessarily, but it’s likely going to be a mix of what we’ve seen in the past and some new twists. One of the main changes I’m planning on is a greater inclusion of anime, as I’ve hit on a lot of the live action shows I intended to already and anime’s is a relatively untapped area of sci-fi as far as this site goes. If anime’s not your thing, I get that, but it’s always been one of mine and hey, it’s my site after all. You don’t have to watch it, in the end, but I hope these articles will be interesting even to those who aren’t invested in anime, as many of these works have been influential both inside and outside of Japan. With works like Battle Angel Alita and Ghost in the Shell receiving western film adaptations, and series like Cowboy Bebop getting the Netflix treatment, a working knowledge of anime just might come in handy. It’s been going the other way, as well, with Blade Runner 2049 having inspired an in-the-works anime adaptation, which is looking like something that shouldn’t be missed for fans of that franchise.

Beyond that, I might experiment with some new article types altogether, and with any luck I’ll actually be able to get some fiction writing done again. There was a new series in the works prior to my life being upended, which I hope you all will enjoy when you eventually get to see it. It means a lot to me. Not much else to say, really; I’ve mostly disconnected from social media, so I’m not sure if I will revive those along with the site, but if I decide not, you can still get updates on convention appearances and book shows through the mailing list. I don’t have any plans to venture outside of NC for the foreseeable future, anyway, so they were only relevant to a fairly small crowd to begin with.

Hope you enjoy the return to form, and let me know what you think of any new articles in the comment sections.

A Subjectively Obscure Sci-Fi Primer: Star Cops

Star Cops TitleIt’s time for another edition of the Primer! We’re back at the end of the month with a British sci-fi/police procedural series that bears the rather unimaginative title of Star Cops. Set in the far off year of 2027, there’s now enough offworld presence that an international police force is established to help maintain law and order in the final frontier. Of course, like all international endeavors, that means a lot of nationalistic posturing and power struggles, on top of tight budgets and low manpower… this is starting to sound familiar, isn’t it? Don’t worry; the show takes a completely different, more realistic approach, but the question remains. Will Star Cops prove to be a bit more creative than its name would lead you to believe, or is it as inane as you fear?

Let’s take a look.

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A Subjectively Obscure Sci-Fi Primer: Dark Skies

The Primer is back, unexpectedly as it may be, to cover little known 90’s UFO series and X-Files coattail rider, Dark Skies. Set in the 60’s with the backdrop of the cold war ever-present, Dark Skies poses an alternative to what you thought you knew about that time. But is being a period piece and limiting yourself primarily to UFOs instead of the SFF kitchen sink approach enough for this series to stand on its own, or was it right to be so quickly forgotten? It’s time to find out.

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A Subjectively Obscure Sci-Fi Primer: Otherworld

Otherworld Title CardThe Primer is back with another odd, forgotten series: Otherworld. Originally debuting on CBS in 1985, Otherworld tells the tale of the Sterling family, who get lost in an alternate, dystopian world called Thel after being ditched in a pyramid by their tour guide during a once-in-10,000-years planetary alignment. Stranded in a world of androids, beastmen and authoritarian rule–how did they get there, and how can they get back? Given its short, 8-episode season, the odds are against them, but let’s find out. Read more

The Philosophy of Good Sci-Fi

This week saw the premiere of APB, yet another in a long line of police procedurals with a thin veneer of sci-fi slapped on top (the thinnest yet), the third on FOX in particular following the abysmal receptions of Almost Human and Minority Report (still can’t believe that got the green light). The basic premise is a Libertarian power fantasy: a tech billionaire, personally affected by crime, takes over the incompetently run police precinct by throwing his money around against the city’s politicians and turns it into his privately run force that works perfectly through the use of apps and drones and tech buzzword #37 not found. Admittedly, the premise annoys me on its face; this kind of billionaire “altruism” is just not true to reality, and by forcing this into the setting of a real, modern city like Chicago, it just makes the difference that much more stark. Yes, I’m aware it’s “inspired” by a real event, and the show had a female cop to voice the audience’s potential concerns in the pilot…

But, ironically, that’s exactly where it falls apart. In an attempt to head these off, they fall back on standard police tactics even where it doesn’t make sense, eschewing the tech advantage that they’ve built for “experience and street smarts beat all.” Trust me, the show had plenty of other issues in terms of acting and storytelling, but if it could commit to the idea at its core, it wouldn’t fall into the same category as its predecessors. Because after looking at dozens of these sci-fi TV shows over the last few years, there’s a pattern that’s emerged:

The longer a show has run, the more likely it is to have a clear philosophy to its story. Shows that aren’t founded on a core belief inevitably flounder and fail.

Why? Let’s take a look.

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A Subjectively Obscure Sci-Fi Primer: Legend

Legend 1995 TV title cardThe Subjectively Obscure Sci-Fi Primer returns for the new year with another unusual genre crossover. We’ve done the SF legal drama; we’ve looked at a sci-fi soap opera; and now, it’s time for the Western genre to have a taste of science fiction goodness. While we often hear about the Western influence on the sci-fi genre, through shows like Star Trek with its “Wagon Train to the Stars,” or most obviously in Firefly, it’s not too often that this influence flows in reverse–but 1995 UPN series Legend is one such example. There have been others, and more notable ones, too, like The Adventures of Brisco County, Jr., so what makes the brief, 12-episode Legend worth a look first? Come along and learn why.

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What Could Have Been: Alphas Season 3

alphasSince the end of Battlestar Galactica, Syfy has had a tough time finding a new flagship show. Continuing BSG in the form of Caprica failed, and Stargate Universe died around the same time. Defiance seemed a possible successor, but it bit the dust last year, and it’s only recently that the heir apparent came to be in the form of The Expanse. In between came Alphas, a show about people with superpowers that were pretty toned down compared to the heroes dominating the big screen at the time. And much like SGU, Alphas was canceled in its second season on a notorious cliffhanger. I’ll be honest; I never was much of a fan, getting bored with it after the first two episodes, but I’m not one to turn down a special request if I can fulfill it (especially since I’m not always able to). So here’s what I found, from the mouths of the writers and cast, on the lost future of Alphas.

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A Dismal Reflection: Apocalyptic Alternate Realities

turn-left-titanicWhen it comes to TV, things are always at risk of getting stale; if a series has a twenty episode season, for example, then a savvy viewer might realize that the lead actor’s character won’t die in episode 10. Characters rarely die at all, in fact, and permanent injuries mean permanent makeup (just ask Coulson how long he went one-handed). Even sets are rarely destroyed, since so much money goes into building them; with so little seemingly at stake (usually), it can be easy for the audience to stop seeing the enemies as threatening. How can you show the danger posed by our enemies without upsetting the status quo? Enter sci-fi’s favorite trick, the parallel universe/alternate timeline, where events and circumstances differ from the primary setting of the show in specific ways. By using these familiar-yet-strange settings, the writers can explore facets of the characters and the world in which they live that would usually be unavailable: how they might react to the destruction of their home, or the death of a critical character. Better still, since this alternate world is only around for an episode or two, massive changes to the status quo can be made, giving the writers a chance to explore apocalyptic themes that are usually out of reach.

What? No, it’s an utter coincidence I’m writing about apocalypses the same week as the election…

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