Tag: speculative fiction


For 2022

On the same principle that lots of us rewatched Soderbergh’s Contagion in the early days of the first lockdown1, HBO stands to do well with an adaptation of Station Eleven:

The show, based on Emily St. John Mandel’s 2014 international bestseller, follows the survivors of a flu pandemic.

Despite the desperate realities of the world at present, it seems there’s a continuing thirst for post-apocalyptic stories. Station Eleven sees a devastating flu pandemic and follows its survivors as they they attempt to rebuild society.

It seems to be getting enough favourable reviews to suggest that it’s going to be worthwhile, and at the end of January 2022 it’s going to be available to UK viewers via STARZplay (which should mean it’ll be viewable through Apple TV+ or Prime Video and so on.)

HBO’s trailer for the US release makes the show look worth watching:

If, like me, you’re utterly unfamiliar with the source material you might find HBO’s Beginners’ Guide promo useful:

Me, I’m seeing Mackenzie Davis and Himesh Patel (both actors who I think did good work in past projects – Halt And Catch Fire and Yesterday respectively – that didn’t bring them the plaudits they were due) in a speculative fiction show that has some interesting ideas and I’m there. The only question is whether I pony up for a STARZplay subscription that I plan upfront to cancel after 1 month or whether I wait until the end of the first season then binge the entire season in the free trial period. I realise the latter option isn’t exactly playing fair with the spirit in which STARZplay offers a free trial, but then Lions Gate Entertainment Corporation have no doubt costed into their projections how many viewers will "abuse our generosity"2 like this.

My worry about Station Eleven would be that it’ll be in danger of starting out as an even-in-an-apocalypse-human-beings-need-the-arts-too story and by season four it’ll turn into a hellish even-good-people-discover-that-they-have-to-harden-themselves-to-defend-what-they’ve-got spectacle. It’d be a shame to see all that behind the scenes production talent devoting itself to ensuring the small arms deployed by the characters are definitely capable of bringing down a human being at twenty paces in the bloodiest and most final way possible so as to head off a social media shitstorm if some gun fetishist on Facebook posts a video proving that this inaccurate small arms detail is yet another sign that Hollywood’s Liberal Communist Elitists are disrespecting Real Americans again.

In fairness, neither the Wikipedia summary of the source novel nor the entry on the novel’s author in the Encyclopedia of Science Fiction suggest that’s the direction a faithful adaptation would go in. Not to mention that HBO are probably not the adapters I’d expect to veer that far from the source material.


  1. I thinktwenty years from now the consensus will be that audiences mostly just wanted to see Gwyneth Paltrow’s corpse with the top of her head peeled off during her character’s autopsy. If they couldn’t have it for real, they’d take it in fiction even if it was embedded in such an unsettling story given the circumstances. 
  2. As they’d no doubt put it, if they thought that adopting the tone of a stuffy British TV executive who felt he or she was entitled to some of our money even where audiences were following the rules the producers laid down when making the free trial period offer in the first place would convince such miscreants to mend their ways. 

Ack! Ack! AckAckAck!

By the time Tim Burton came to making Mars Attacks he was (rightly) pretty darned famous, which explains the cast he could get at the height of his powers:

Between 1988 and 1993, Burton made a string of classics: Beetlejuice, Edward Scissorhands, Batman, and The Nightmare Before Christmas. So it was no surprise that some of the era’s biggest celebrities had lined up to make what is arguably the director’s weirdest and most divisive movie:****Mars Attacks!

“It was a strange and fun movie to make,” Burton tells Inverse.

_Mars Attacks!_stars Jack Nicholson and Glenn Close as the President and First Lady. The disaster-film pastiche also features Natalie Portman, Jack Black, Annette Bening, Pierce Brosnan, Michael J. Fox, Sarah Jessica Parker, Lukas Haas, Martin Short, Danny DeVito, and Tom Jones dancing in a desert with a bird of prey on his wrist.

Do not forget Tom Jones. None of us who watched it could. And the above list of successes omits Batman Returns, which may have been messy but it was the sort of mess that modern superhero films aren’t permitted to be. Also, it gave the world Michelle Pfeiffer’s take on Catwoman, which was vastly better than what Halle Berry brought us a decade or so later.

For my money the good bits in Mars Attacks! were well up to the mark – the dogs with human heads attached, apparently just because the invading Martians could do that; the ineptitude of Jack Black’s GI trying to respond to the Martians opening fire; the Martians carefully toying with major US landmarks before knocking them over – and even the jokes that didn’t quite come off were quickly overtaken by the next visual joke that did work. That was one very fun film, even if US audiences didn’t quite see the joke.

Even after his remake of Planet Of The Apes five years later – a woeful mismatch of director and material, for my money – we still see the odd flash of the old Tim Burton in projects like Big Fish and Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children. Unfortunately, all we can rely on Tim Burton for nowadays is his unreliable touch when it comes to choosing projects. (That, and we can rely on Burton trying to employ Johnny Depp as an actor long after that was a good bet.)

It’d be great to have the old Tim Burton back again someday. We’ve missed him.

[Via MetaFilter]

Invasion gets renewed

In the wake of the news that Apple TV+ have renewed Invasion for a second season, showrunner Simon Kinberg talks a good game about what he plans to do with the show:

[…] there’s a lot I want to explore with the aliens in subsequent seasons. I mean, there’s not a ton of alien information. There’s a lot of mystery and suspense, I suppose, in Season 1. And I think in subsequent seasons, you want to pay off that mystery, build more mystery, but start to really get a sense of the aliens as characters? What do they want? What are they doing here? How do we actually stop them? And that is fodder for some really interesting storytelling, again, filtered through the lens of really emotional characters, dealing with complex psychological stuff. Whether it’s guilt, or it’s love, or it’s remorse, or it’s anger or escape, whatever it is, I think the alien story for me is always going to be told through the filter of our characters.

The thing is, part of me wants to respect the show for sticking to a humans-only perspective on an alien invasion, especially when telling that story in a medium which all too frequently substitutes spectacle for exploration of how these extraordinary events affect ordinary people faced with extraordinary challenges.1 The thing is, though, the first season of Invasion worked spectacularly poorly on so many levels.

Full marks for not solely showing us the impact of the invasion on red-state American civilians,2 but the array of characters we followed over the ten episodes of the first season didn’t really get to develop all that much, and – with the exception of the Japanese Space Agency techie whose lover was apparently lost in space once the encounter developed – didn’t know much about how the wider alien encounter was going. We basically got to follow round a bunch of characters who were, at best, on the periphery of what was going on and stumbled along from episode to episode in the wake of the impending collapse of human civilisation. Beyond the basic empathy for any human finding themselves living through such an experience, I don’t think the series really had us engaged with the story they were being used to tell.

Most of all, I’m unconvinced that continuing that approach will bring us any of the things Simon Kinberg is suggesting in his talk of season 2 and beyond. Will we switch to an entirely different, and much better-informed, set of characters in season 2?

[Via r/tvplus]


  1. Contemplate The Tomorrow War for a good recent example of how poorly that can go. 
  2. Once we got beyond Sam Neill’s retiring Oklahoman sheriff’s appearance in the first episode. 

Firefly Returns

Subtract Joss Whedon and the original cast, and let’s see what comes of the Firefly reboot:

[…] Disney plans to reboot the series as an exclusive for its streaming platform Disney+. Disney had acquired the rights to the franchise after their 2018 acquisition of Fox. _Firefly_seems like the perfect option to diversify their current line-up for streaming.

Could be fun, could be awful. It’s way too early to know, given how little Disney have told us at this point.

Unless Disney’s plans are much further ahead than they’re letting on, it’s likely to be a few years before whatever this new series is shows up on Disney+, by which time Disney will be hoping that the current surge in speculative fiction on TV hasn’t faded away. It’d be funny to see Firefly: The Next Generation competing with the Battlestar Galactica reboot and whatever comes out of the interest in reviving Babylon 5 and Wheel of Time season 4 and For All Mankind season 6 and Foundation season 41.

I’m predicting a slew of opinion pieces in three or four years’ time, wondering why TV is so intent upon saving the world by recycling. What’s next: someone giving us a reboot of Dark Angel or Farscape or Lost?2

[Via More Words, Deeper Hole]


  1. Provided the latter two are lucky and Apple TV+ keep funding the shows that long. Hope they do, though I have my doubts. 
  2. A big old Hell Yes! for Farscape, provided they promise to continue to use the Jim Henson Company to bring us at least half of the regular characters. 

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. 
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