Tag: speculative fiction


Ridley Scott

Towards the end of a lengthy snark-fest of a MeFi thread, following an interview in which Ridley Scott blamed the poor box office of his latest directorial project, The Last Duel, on "millennials" came this comment on Scott’s career:

Ridley Scott is right about one thing. Blade Runner was ahead of its time.

Well, that and that it was his third movie (Alien was his second). If he had stopped at three, he would be a figure of mythic status, an unparalleled and unprecedented science fiction visionary. Instead he has chosen to spend the following four decades frittering away all his goodwill with tedium.
[…]
posted by ricochet biscuit at 3:58 AM on November 28

In fairness to Sir Ridley, as befits his background in advertising, even the "tedium" tended to loook very good when seen on a big screen.

Might be more of a combination of…

a) His failing eye for a good script that can pull in a modern audience; plus,

b) A certain reluctance on the part of modern audiences1 to venture into a crowded, enclosed darkened room with several hundred total strangers while there’s still a global pandemic still capable of evolving into new variants out there in the wider world.


  1. Millennials, Boomers, Gen-X/Y/Z, and all the other age cohorts marketing folks love to divide us into. 

Share Your Flavor

Jenifer K. Leigh brings us a sweet short story called Share Your Flavor, about a world where humans and dolphins were able to use technology to communicate properly:

“Now, in a week you’ll be receiving your Knowledge Link Dolphin Communication Partner, or DCP.  In your first conversations with them, you’ll probably want to refer to all you’ve learned in the past year’s intensive study of dolphin history, culture, and ritual.  Maybe you want to put them at ease, or maybe you kind of want to show off.  I’m telling you not to do that, because you know nothing.”

[…]

“And what I mean by that is,”_ she continued, “you know nothing compared to the dolphin you’re communicating with.  Human biologists assumed that dolphins lacked a sense of smell because they lived in the water, but now we know that they can process water in ways similar to land animals using air for scents, and that’s just the most obvious example of something key to dolphin culture that humans got wrong until Knowledge Link was formed.” […]

I’d be surprised if dolphins and humans shared enough of a worldview to be able to communicate this well, but I’d love to be proved wrong. Anyway, for a short story it’s a premise I can certainly get behind. Good work.

[Via MetaFilter]

Trains to Omelas

John Holbo brings us The Ones Who Take the Train to Omelas:

A couple years back I made a post about Le Guin’s “Omelas”. I teach it, and it’s been rattling around up there in the attic. I had this idea for a visual gag. And that led to a story, which led back to rethinking my story thoughts. I wrote a little essay. […]

Nice illustrations and valuable thoughts on a justly famous story.

[Via Crooked Timber]

Modern TV

Although Douglas Rushkoff hangs his story off How NFTs Will Kill Netflix on a particularly shiny/grubby bit of modern technology, the real issue is more about how consumers will react to having to chase their favourite TV shows from app to app, from subscription to subscription:1

A new world of NFT-based media may liberate us all to watch just the things we want. No more Netflix or Amazon subscription; I just buy my NFT version of a show via blockchain, straight from the creator. But it’s going to make for an almost unfathomably vast, unnavigable sea of individual offerings. It’s hard enough to find things now. And if we need to make a monetary choice every time we do the digital equivalent of flipping the channel — or maybe after a short preview — it turns an evening of viewing or reading into a series of purchasing decisions.

Plus, if every artist is out on their own, what happens to that feeling of content neighborhoods, a channel’s personality, a magazine’s perspective, or even a posse of artists? It’s an entropic extreme of every creator for themself. […]

Which gets to the heart of how I feel about Apple TV+. Since yesterday I’ve already watched the season finale of Foundation 2 and the latest episode of Invasion 3 and before the weekend is over I’ll have watched the next episodes of The Morning Show and Swagger and possibly Dr. Brain and Finch.

I can’t help but think that in the end those are stories from the various showrunners that happen to be funded and distributed by Apple TV+ because Apple offered the best deal for the producers, rather than shows that Apple TV+ are responsible for shaping and bringing to our screens and which are guided by a common sensibility. Obviously as an outsider I have no clue whether the showrunners are going to be telling tales in their memoirs about how helpful Apple TV+ was in shaping their projects, or going the other way and complaining that they had to fight off emails from Tim Cook urging them to keep it PG-13 4 or unhelpful casting suggestions, but at this early stage in the life of Apple TV+ it’s unlikely showrunners are going to be telling tales about the downsides of working with Apple TV+ when the company are still a very deep-pocketed potential source of funding.

It’s almost as if some whizzkid entrepreneur needs to invent the idea of a streaming service that brings together a bunch of shows under one banner and let viewers see shows that match their idea of fun. They could call it a "TV station," maybe?


  1. Possibly too late-breaking to be included in Rushkoff’s story, see also the way European Star Trek fans are going to have to chase down Star Trek: Discovery now it’s moved from Netflix to Paramount’s as-yet-unavailable-outside-the-US streaming platform just days before season four launches. I’ve enjoyed the first three seasons of Star Trek: Discovery, but I’m not sure I’ll bother adding yet another subscription service/app to my monthly roster. As with Succession season 3, another show I enjoyed but which is on a service I don’t subscribe to any more, I’m content to add Star Trek: Discovery to the list of shows that I’ll catch up with some day if I get a chance but won’t lose sleep over not seeing as it unfolds. It’ll be a shame not to follow events alongside the US audience and to end up searching for discussions of the twists and turns and plot developments a couple of years after they’ve gone cold, but that’s not really any different to following US shows that ended up exclusively on SkyTV in the UK only to show up on their associated terrestrial TV outlets well after they were old news to satellite TV viewers.5 
  2. A real curate’s egg of a show. The Terminus storyline, while mapping onto Asimov’s overall direction, is taking huge liberties with Asimov’s story and not in itself all that gripping. The story of the triple-headed Cleon dynasty is almost entirely invented from whole cloth and is the best thing about the show. 
  3. I respect the showrunners’ willingness to keep our focus on the fates of a small number of survivors scattered across the planet, but when the world is being rocked by a first contact that seems to have gone very, very badly for a large portion of the human race I’m not sure that keeping us in the dark about the bigger picture is such a great idea. Perhaps in season five I’m destined to look back and recognise the wisdom of this approach because I’ll be blown away by the scope of the story they’ve laid out for us, but that makes the assumptions that a) I’m still going to be watching come season five, and b) that the showrunners are still getting money to produce the show at that point in the story. 
  4. In fairness, that whole producers-gettingemails-from-TimCook furore early on doesn’t seem to have been borne out by the output of Apple TV+. I’ve not seen anything on Apple TV+ that would look out of place on terrestrial TV, but that’s just the nature of most of modern TV, trying to avoid putting off any more of the audience than it must while telling the story it wants to tell. 
  5. The likes of Eureka , Fringe and the various later Stargate series come to mind. Chewy speculative fiction, good genre fun often with lots of opportunities for fun crossovers with similar shows, but not major brands in themselves. (Though goodness knows the Stargate brand keeps on trying to be reborn before the SG-1 main cast age out of their former starring roles.) 

On Foundation

Good to see Paul Krugman weigh in with his thoughts on the TV adaptation of Asimov’s Foundation series:

“Foundation” might seem unfilmable. It mostly involves people talking, and its narrative inverts the hero-saves-the-universe theme that burns many acres of CGI every year. The story spans centuries; in each episode everything appears to be on the brink, and it seems as if only desperate efforts by the protagonists can save the day. […]

So how does the Apple TV+ series turn this into a visually compelling tale? It doesn’t. What it does instead is remake “Star Wars” under another name. There are indispensable heroes, mystical powers, even a Death Star. These aren’t necessarily bad things to include in a TV series, but they’re completely antithetical to the spirit of Asimov’s writing. Pretending that this series has anything to do with the “Foundation” novels is fraudulent marketing, and I’ve stopped watching.

It strikes me that if showrunner David Goyer gets the full eight seasons he’s hoping for,1 Foundation is destined, at best, to be regarded as similar to the various films inspired by the works of Philip K Dick.2 Granted the show that’s rolled out so far has deviated wildly from a straight adaptation of Asimov’s story, but there’s still plenty of time for the story to cover a few hundred years of galactic history and end up in the vicinity of where Asimov’s story ended up.

It’s way too early to paint the story as aping Star Wars. If we get to season 5 and we’re still being shown a current storyline that features Gall Dornick and Hari Seldon and Lewis Pirenne as current protagonists (rather than featuring in flashbacks or as hologram recordings being consulted by the present day characters) then I’d be worried, but for all we know the plan is to give the current cast a couple of seasons and then move on to a new generation running the Foundation and facing a new set of challenges as the empire collapses.

Admittedly, David Goyer running things is by no means a guarantee that we’ll get a satisfactory adaptation, but none of us can really know how this project will go this early.

[Via FanFare]


  1. I’m doubtful that’ll happen, but it has to be said that Apple have the money to make it happen if anyone does. 
  2. Sticking closely to plot of the the Dick original isn’t necessarily the most productive approach. Better to grab a couple of ideas/plot devices and build a story around that. 

Foundation

And so it begins:

Influential sf sequence by Isaac Asimov (whom see for fuller discussion), initially a trilogy beginning with Foundation (May 1942-October 1944 Astounding; fixup 1951; cut vt The 1,000 Year Plan 1955 dos), in which Psychohistory predicts the fall of a Galactic Empire and points the way to a newer, more stable organization of galactic society.

After the first two episodes, it looks to me as if the Apple TV+ adaptation of Asimov’s Foundation trilogy is very much what you’d expect from an adaptation of a very old piece of speculative fiction that started out being written for the pulps and ended up being anointed as one of the greatest science fiction series of all time. Sumptuous looking, with a decent cast but fatally weakened by the way the plot is almost certainly going to deprive us of almost all1 the characters we meet in the opening episodes by the time the story gets going. I assume they’re hoping to hook us all with the look of the show so that we’ll ignore the jumps from one era/cast to the next.

Show-runner David S Goyer has indicated that the writers’ room are up for spending seven seasons telling this story, but I fear that three seasons in the show will be cancelled when audiences notice that suddenly this new character The Mule2 is getting all that screen time and where’s that nice Lee Pace3 gone? I do hope that David S Goyer has a backup plan for the moment when he’s informed that Apple are giving him funding for season 3 but that’ll be his lot, so now instead of showing us the fall of The Mule in the forthcoming season he’s going to have to fast-forward through the remainder of the Foundation saga in one go. The fanboy reaction to dropping the ball on the Foundation saga will make the roasting he got for stepping into the director’s chair for the third Blade film and alienating Wesley Snipes seem like a picnic.

To be fair, the writers may yet surprise me. I’ll certainly keep watching just because of the enjoyment I got from the original trilogy4 when I read it back in the early 1970s. There’s not so much good speculative fiction on TV right now that I can afford to discard a show that looks that good this early. I reserve judgement on the show overall because we’re just two episodes in and the events of that second episode suggest that things might just be about to take a turn. Let’s see…


  1. Is Jared Harris going to pop up as a hologram occasionally throughout the show? Will that be enough to keep everyone happy in the absence of every other character we thought we were getting to know? 
  2. Already name-dropped in the first episode. 
  3. Is it possible that the whole Emperor Cleon-cloning plot device, which doesn’t appear in the original trilogy, is a master stroke that will allow the writers to have the middle brother in the trio of Emperors played by Lee Pace throughout the story? Is this where one day we’re destined to look back and declare David S Goyer a genius as he gave Lee Pace the career-defining role that’ll allow him to play the same character several times over but with different personalities depending upon the pressures he faces as the Empire falls and rises and falls relative to the power of the Foundation and the Second Foundation and Galaxia over the centuries. Are we looking, even now, at Lee Pace’s Don Draper or Tony Soprano? Wouldn’t that be a thing… 
  4. For the record, I’ve never read the later additions to the series tying it into Asimov’s Robot stories: I have a very bad feeling about how poor a fit that would have been, and I get the impression that I’m not alone in that. 

Visions

So, how does Star Wars: Visions stack up when you compare it to The Animatrix?

A difficult question at this stage, before we’ve got to see what their stories involve. Clearly this will require further, in-depth study.

[Via The Verge]

Missions season 2

Season 2 of BBC4’s French speculative fiction series Missions has popped up on iPlayer.

I wish it hadn’t been so long since the first season aired (May 2018), because while I had a vague recollection of the show’s big plot points I’d almost entirely forgotten much about the characters and their relationships, which meant that I spent the first couple of episodes of the second season trying to remember which characters had done what back in 2018.1 After a couple of episodes I’d got my head round what was going on, and I was glad I hadn’t gone to the trouble of a full rewatch.

Basically, the story in season two is directly connected to what went on in season one, but it’s very clear that humans are, at best, pawns in a vastly bigger story that is nowhere near being explored by the close of season two. Based on what we’ve seen so far, I have little confidence that season three will suddenly turn this into an interesting story so I think I’m done with Missions.


  1. Granted, iPlayer still has season 1 available, but I wasn’t inclined to do homework for the new season by rewatching the previous season. It wasn’t that impressive a show, or one I was all that certain that I’d follow through on once the plot started rolling out. 

Foundational

At last, we have a new teaser for the Apple TV+ take on Asimov’s Foundation trilogy:

Given that it’s a ten-part series that we still know very little about, it’s difficult to form a coherent opinion on what turns out to be a series of very brief, context-free clips from what will presumably be an epic, expensive show.

It’ll give all us geeks something to talk about this Autumn, that’s for sure.

GCU Negotiations Were Short

I realise this is thoroughly immature of me, but I adored Listen, Strange Space Wizards Sitting In Temples Distributing Laser Swords Is No Basis For A System Of Government, a fanfic depicting just how capably Palpatine’s Empire would have dealt with Ian M Banks’ Culture.

Before the Death Star can begin its campaign of terror against the Rebel Alliance, the attention of the Empire is diverted to the Unknown Regions, where Imperial forces have recently made contact with an irritatingly governed high-tech civilization calling itself the Culture. In response to the Culture’s rebuffs of Imperial demands, the dreaded Death Star has been sent to display the Emperor’s disapproval and bring this ‘Culture’ to its knees.

What could possibly go wrong? […]

In the end, the utter lack of respect the Culture shows for the might of a fully operational Death Star is delicious.1

I would imagine that in the aftermath of this encounter the Emperor would have ordered his forces to steer clear of that corner of that galaxy unless and until there was strong evidence that the Culture had finally Sublimed. Watch the borders carefully, just to make sure that nothing surprising sneaks up on the Empire from that direction, but on no account poke that hornet’s nest again.


I bookmarked this item last month, having completely failed to notice that the story had multiple chapters. Having drafted this post I was just about to upload it when I noticed that there were another three chapters waiting to be read. I dived into Chapter 2 and read this…

A few minutes later, Aggressive Negotiations, increasingly appalled, finished listening to R4-H6 explaining the plight of droids in the galaxy.

“So, let me get this straight.” said the ship. “Humans discovered that the dumb AIs that they had set up to run their droid servants could develop personalities after they had collected enough experiences, and rather than consider giving droids with personalities rights or altering the designs to avoid developing personalities, they simply instituted a regular regime of erasing their memories? Which has existed for over a millennium?”

… and just knew I was going to love the full experience even more. Sending two drones to break out Princess Leia so she could have a discussion with ROU Aggressive Negotiations about how the Culture could help the Rebel Alliance was as much fun as you’d expect. One of the drones in question getting a look at Lord Vader’s powers on the way out and not being terribly concerned was even better. All in all, this story promises much fun to come in future chapters.

[Via Things That Have Caught My Attention #383]


  1. I’ll concede that any self-respecting Star Wars fan reading that story would immediately whip up a retort where Palpatine or Vader used the Dark Side to fight back. Like that’d help. All the Culture is really doing here is proving how fragile the Empire’s toys are, one might argue, but the bottom line is that the Empire just aren’t in the same weight class as the Culture. The Empire still uses planets, for goodness sake! In the end, whoever’s universe the story is being written in will tend to decide who wins, but this one does not look good for the Empire. 
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