Category Archives: Science Fiction

History has vindicated me

Written by Eike Pierstorff

In 2008 I gave a lecture (read here – german only) on apocalyptic themes in science fiction. I was chastised for being unfair after I suggested that cyberpunk renders the genre meaningless as it only predicts things that are happening anyway. If you don’t read german, I used Darko Suvins definition (which I suspect Suvin has nicked from german studies, specifically from the definition of “Novelle” (novella)) that says science fiction explores the consequences of a ‘novum’ (‘unerhörte Begebenheit’ in the classic german definition) that is introduced earlier in the story [1] and I pointed out that if the imagined world is just as, and in the same way, fucked up as the real world there really isn’t much of a novum to explore. People, as far as they still listened at that point, disagreed heavily.

Now, earlier this december Charles Stross wrote in his blog that the “Halting State” trilogy (not cyberpunk, but close enough) would not actually get a third installment because real life has turned out to be pretty much congruent with the plot of the two published novels. Which of course makes the whole excercise pointless.

I’d say when it comes to authorities in contemporary science fiction Stross is as big as it gets, so as far as I’m concerned I’d say that history has vindicated me [2].

  1. Of course when Suvin wrote this most science fiction actually was written in the novella format. Now that the genre expresses itself mostly in multi-volumned tomes is Suvin still relevant or do we need a new definition ? Discuss.
  2. Somehow I had hoped that I do not need to point this out, but since I was asked –  of course  that headline was supposed to be funny. Hahaha.

Reading list

Written by Eike Pierstorff

Postal services are rather unreliable at the moment, what with the weather and all, and more often than not I have to pick up my parcel from the post office instead of having them delivered to my home. Since this pretty much defies the purpose of ordering stuff on the internet I decided that, instead of following the price-reduced meanders of the electronic amazon basin I would actually (physically!) go for a walk to pick up some new reading material. Luckily  one of the finest sources for phantasy and science fiction is within walking distance.

It is strange – I consider myself a Hard SF Fan, but then my purchases tend to be somewhat more diverse, this time stretching from New Wave to Steampunk. So let’s  see what we have here.

1) Boneshaker, by Cherie Priest
This was a fun read, enough so that I finished it a day after I bought it. If the book is ever brought to the silver screen undoubtly it will made to look like a steampunk version of Resident Evil, what with zombies and evil scientists roaming an ahistoric Seattle poisoned by a flesh-eating gas. Actually the book is less focused on action (and frankly, prolonged action scenes in books do not work well that anyway) and more on it’s characters – a mother looking for her son, the son looking to clear his dead fathers name, a mad scientist lusting for power and  assorted  crew to provide  an interesting scenery. This is the first of a series and even though I  think the end is a bit weak Iwill definitely read  the follow-ups.

2) Cosmos, by Carl Sagan
The late Carl Sagan did a lot to popularize science and frankly the longer he is dead the more he is missed (especially since he talked to those who would listen instead of yelling at those he found annoying, which seems to be the preferred method today). I love the TV-Series Cosmos so I figured I could pick up the book as well. A better tribute to his memory would be to join the Planetary Society (the largest and most influential public space organization group on Earth)  but the last time I tried a credit card was needed to join.

3) Galileo’s Dream, by Kim Stanley Robinson
I’m in two minds about KSR. On the one hand I agree pretty much with his politics (except for his advice to “believe in goverment“. I’m not totally opposed to the idea of goverment as such, but as far as he implies I should trust the government my country actually has, well, that would be clearly insane). On the other hand he bores me to death –  to me, he is a competent but rather uninspiring writer. Yet I always return to his books in the hope that one day the artist will be on par with the political theoretician. Who knows, it might be  this time.

4) House of Suns, by Alastair Reynolds
Finally something that fits the “Hard SF”-Label.  I love big Space Opera because  it has a certain kind of momentum – larger-that-life people in giant spacecraft doing enormeous deeds on a galactic scale etc.  Alas, the fact that these books are less timid makes them also less relevant – but then there’s nothing wrong with a bit of escapism which Alastair Reynolds readily supplies (and pretty-please with a cherry on top, I’d like to have another Verity Auger-Novel).

4) The Cornelius Quartet, by Michael Moorecock
Gibson et al claimed Jerry as the first cyberpunk hero. The rock band Human League claimed Jerry as their inspiration. Cornelius is also the acknowleged inspiration for Alan Moore’s “Watchman” graphic novels; for much of Neil Gaiman’s work in graphic novels; the film “The Crow” and many other works. And I for one know most of the references but not the originals, which over time led to a strange und nearly
unpronounceable baudrillardesque feeling, so I guess it’s time to do some catching up.

Also on my reading list is some work related stuff, but I won’t bore you with that ( except to say that you should avoid “Pro Smartphone Cross-Platform Development” by Sara Allen which is a crap book without any redeeming feature).

But it feels good to do some reading –  I have almost forgotten that there are so many better books than facebook.

    Dein Wort in Gottes Ohr

    Written by Eike Pierstorff

    “Dein Wort in Gottes Ohr! – Metaphrasen des Religiösen” is a series of events and speeches hosted by the Berlin venue Ausland – “a non-commercially run venue in berlin for music and performance and related public and non-public events”.

    The events will take place on the four sundays before christmas an will, as it is fitting for the season, discuss the role of religion in contemporary society (and, as it is fitting for the Ausland, most of the discussing will be rather critical).

    You will find the complete program here. I will be speaking at the 20th of December in a talk titled “Das Ende der Welt im Wandel der Zeit” (“The End of the word in the course of time”) about the way apocalyptic phantasies have been used in science fiction novels over the past 100 years to promote different ideological agendas.

    If your in Berlin the days before christmas you might want to come along. Adress is here.

      Those Sly Brits!

      Written by Eike Pierstorff

      First they deceive the world by building up over the years a reputation for absolutely ridiculous special effects – and then they go on and produce, under that disguise, a row of superbly written and well performed science ficion series ( they want to keep the goodies for themselves I suppose). But I have seen through their nefarious schemes and bought the first season of the “Dr Who” spinoff series “Torchwood” on DVD. Pure brilliance.

      As for special effects, actually the BBC is quite capable of F/X work on par with Hollywood, but much like Star Trek these series on a specific imagery; no-one wants to see Daleks that look like ‘real’ robots  or Cybermen without strap-handles.

      With the public transport on strike in Berlin and the weather too bad for motorcycling I’m locked in  anyway, so I guess I have something to do over the weekend 🙂

        I am footnote

        Written by Eike Pierstorff

        Yesterday I went to the movies to see “I am Legend”. I love Mathesons novel, so I knew I would be disappointed. But I had at least hoped for some kind of mindless action flick, a dumbed-down version of the original story with cool special effects. The movie was mindless, alright, but in a annoying rather than a fun way.

        It was probably not the fault of the leading man. I had seen Will Smith first in Men in Black and had cast him down as a decent Eddy-Murphy stand-in, but had really come to like him after his performance in Ali. Smith makes an excellent Robert Neville; here he is very much a character actor, and at the end of the movie he looks exhausted and even old, an Robinson Crusoe without hope for rescue on his desert island of Manhattan. So, no objections here.

        Nor was it the scenery, the desert Manhattan through which the Protagonist stumbles. Of course the movie is in large parts a Quiet Earth-ripoff, with much better production values and a lot less atmosphere. But plagiarism is a form of flattery, plus IaL had some potentially cool monsters thrown in so that was okay also.

        (massive spoilers below the fold)

        (more…)

          The Voice of Ursula K. LeGuin

          Written by Eike Pierstorff

          Ursula LeGuin is one of my favourite writers, despite the fact that I hardly ever read poetry and fantasy and thus confine myself to the science fiction portions of her work. Even there the quality is a bit uneven (for example “Eye of the Heron” reads like a second rate LeGuin-ripoff despite being an original work). On the other hand when she scores, she scores big – even after nearly forty years “The Left Hand of Darkness” and “The Dispossessed” are landmarks of the genre and as an incessant writer she has published a number of immensly readable novels and short storys ever since (my favourite piece is “The Shobies’ Story” from the collection “A Fisherman of the Inland Sea”).

          78 year old LeGuin also maintains an expansive presence on the World Wide Web , a small part of which is dedicated to the spoken word. I will never have opportunity to see her at a live event – Ursula LeGuin doesn’t travel anymore and even if she did it would be unlikely that she would come to Germany – so I really appreciate that she published a piece as “read by the Autor” – alas it’s not SciFi but fantasy, but I still think it’s great to hear the voice of a favorite author (and she has a good reading voice, too).

          So here is the link: Ursula K. LeGuin reads an excerpt from A Wizard of Earthsea, Chapter 10: “The Open Sea” [5Mb MP3]

            Sixty Days and Counting

            Written by Eike Pierstorff

            Kim Stanley Robinson is a man after my own heart, and the Science in the Capital-Series deals with one of the most important topics of our days, so it’s a bit of a pity that I cannot praise him without reservations. But while the writing here is competent it’s never compelling, and for a book it’s not enough to deal with an important topic (not in fiction anyway), yet I found it not particularly entertaining or inspiring.

            Sixty Days and Counting is the closing book in a trilogy about man-made global warming, after Fourty Days of Rain and Fifty Degrees below. The main story is about humanities (that is US-American with the Russians and Chinese on the sidelines) attempt to mitigate the consequences of global warming by large-scale carbon sequestration projects and other terraforming stuff. And then there are a few subplots that do not seem strictly necessary, like about rogue Black Ops and wisdom-dispensing Bhuddist immigrants.

            It might be that I missed some important parts though – the books violates quite gratitously what I’ll call for the moment “Eikes law of typesetting” which dicates that italics are strictly for emphasizing words, so don’t use them on whole chapters if you actually want somebody to read them – anybody who can read ten pages of 10 point italics has clearly better eyes than me.

            The whole shebang from 40 to 60 is not bad, it’s just that it’s boring, which might as well be a matter of taste, so you might give it a try. As for me I rather watch An Inconvenient Truth on DVD to learn about the global warming thing. But I’m still going to try Robinsons Mars-Trilogy because – did I mention it? – as far as his politics and general Weltanschauung are concerned he seems to be pretty much a man after my own heart.

              Not a fan yet

              Written by Eike Pierstorff

              Heroes premiered tonight in German television. Overall a good show, but there were one or two things I didn’t like. I mean, young people who suddenly discover special powers that set them apart from the rest of humanity? I heard something like this before, only I guess when the idea was originally conceived in the 1960s it propably made more sense.

              At the beginning of the show there is a professor blathering away how evolution will bring forth special powers like telekinesis or teleportation. Hell, no. We live in 2007, and everybody knows (or should know) that there is no plausible or even possible mechanism for psychic powers – it is much more likely that the woman of the future grows a botox gland, or even that men will aquire the missing take-the-trash-out gene (after all this would possibly help their chances with reproduction). I do not as such have a problem with reel science but frankly I had hopes that such a highly acclaimed show would come up with some new ideas. But then I hope that they used a weak idea to get the show started and won’t get back to the mutant thing as the plot develops, especially since the show has some good characters (“Super-Hiro !”, naturally).

              In other news, I worked all afternoon to trim my proposal for an essay in a planned SF anthology down to the requested maximum of 750 characters before I realized that I had misread the specs and that they were really asking for 750 words. This is a little embarassing, and usually I would consider it a waste of time, but to bring down a full page to a super-condensed three-liner was in a way a brilliant excercise and so I’m not too sorry. Overall the restored proposal may be too big on words and too weak on theory, so I might have made a fool of myself, but then I loose nothing by trying.

                Gay civil righs activist gets own asteroid

                Written by Eike Pierstorff

                Ha, did I cleverly deceive you with that headline – because, if course, said civil rights activist is propably better known for impersonating the character of Hikaru Sulu, Captain of the USS Excelsior and former Helmsman of the USS Enterprise under Captain what-was-his-name-again. And of course it should read: .. gets Asteroid named after him.

                If the name ‘Sulu’ doesn’t ring any bells (which would mean that you are either quite young, have no access to a TV set or, more propably, that you are dead), I’m talking about actor and community activist George Takei (read his bio on his website). The IAU approved the re-naming of former 994 GT9 to 7307 Takei (which is about as official as it can get). Astronomy Professor Tom Burbine said he “suggested Takei’s name in part out of appreciation for his work with the Japanese American Citizens League and with the gay rights group Human Rights Campaign”.

                I don’t think I’ll be able to see Takei in the sky due to the light pollution here in Berlin, so I rather look out for him in the SciFi series “Heroes” which is scheduled to start on October 10th in Germany.

                  My famous (well, sort of) friends

                  Written by Eike Pierstorff

                  I’m almost cured, and will resume work soon.  In the meantime I might as well do a bit of advertising for two friends who managed to get some of their stuff published:

                  Jakob has a short story in an anthology published by the german Wurdack Verlag. And Nadja Sennewald – already an established writer – has a new book out, Alien Gender, an Analysis of depiction of gender in TV Science Ficion Series. If you read german and are interested in SciFi and gender politics this might be for you.