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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
This morning I found a review of the movie Solaris by Roger Ebert, which said this, in part:

"One of the most frequent charges against science-fiction is that it replaces emotion with intellect. Its characters are people who live by and for the mind, and their personal relationships are likely to be stifled and awkward, That's probably true enough of most s-f novels (although exceptions range from Fredric Brown's "The Lights in the Sky are Stars" to a lot of the work by Theodore Sturgeon), but it's even more true of science-fiction movies."

I don't have time to check out those books, but fans of the genre might, if so inclined. I think I'll take a look at Solaris. Anyone know it?

Ebert's comment made me feel better about my own stuff.... ;D
 

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I had a similar conversation with my 25 year old son.  He reads a fair amount of fantasy, not so much science fiction.  He says it frequently seems like the author thought up some cool technology and then wrote a book around it; the characters are secondary. 

Ann
 

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To me the distinguished works in SiFi/Fantasy are those where the technology/magic become secondary or background music for lack of a better description to the characters, plot, social/political commentary etc. A great story will work in any genre if adapted properly.

I am a huge fan of both genres, but IMO the criticism that technology/magic takes center stage is valid in a number of cases.
 

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Brassman, I assume that you read or saw Ebert reviewing the 2002 remake of the 1972 Russian scifi film, Solaris. I have not seen the newer film, but I saw the original in the theater back in the Seventies. I gave it four stars. I loved the psychodrama indigenous to the plot, but it was a bit on the slow side. I saw it as a double feature with Zardoz, which i expected to like better, but I preferred Solaris. It helped that I am a big fan of 2001, 2010, and others of that nature, and that I don't care much for the fantasy/action segment of the genre. The 1972 Solaris was a very adult scifi film. In comparison to your Distant Cousin, I find that they have little in common. The DC Series is much more Spielbergian, with clear, likable characters, like Disney for adults. Solaris is more sombre, dark, slow, and thought-provoking, like the works of Kubrick and David Lynch. You could see the combination in a.i., as it was directed by Kubrick and Spielberg in sequence.
 

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I think sci-fi gets a bad rap for being too pessimistic in its view of the future. The excessive exhibition of a post-apocalyptic dystopian future and the stoic figures who inhabit these tales turns many people off. Truth is, every writer has the right to tell the kind of stories they enjoy. But I agree that too many science fiction writers focus too heavily on technology at the expense of their stories. I think that's what made the original Star Wars films so great. They breathed life into a genre that these many years later is still too rigid and cold.
 

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Discussion Starter · #7 ·
You are correct, Mr. Trout, that was the movie he reviewed. It struck a chord with me because I used to like sci-fi (in print, this was before all the movies got so big), but I burned out on the genre in high school. I think I got tired of all the impossible gadgets and the galactic conflicts. That was one reason it took me so long to dare to write my own. I wasn't sure I could write a story that I myself could stand (and if I could, could anyone else?).

Then I got this today from an unnamed KindleBoarder who shall remain anonymous. (I hope I'm not violating anything by mentioning it.  ???  If so, I'll delete it.) At least it speaks directly to the point about characters coming before hardware:

    "You SUCK!!!  Ever since I started Distant Cousin, my dishes haven't gotten done, I have an entire house to pack, which isn't getting done, and I was up till 2AM last night to finish it!!!  I haven't spent more than 10 minutes at a time online and we have been eating premade casseroles so I don't have to cook much and there is less clean up.  It's all your fault!  My husband thinks it's funny.  I am not going to start the second one till the weekend so I can get some work done around here.  Thank you for entertaining me. You are wonderful at drawing a reader in.  The characters, especially Darcy, become so real.  I know I am reading a good story when I worry about the characters well being and celebrate their successes!"



 

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I think the reviewer is correct... for crappy scifi.  There are crappy examples of every book genre.  But I think the reviewer must not be a fan of S/F if he stereotypes an entire genre of storytelling in such a way.  Either a book sucks you in or it doesn't, the type of book doesn't matter.  For example, was "The Menace From Earth" by Heinlein SciFi, YA, Romance?  Immaterial - all I know is that I enjoyed reading it and made me feel good for having done so.  That's all that matters. 
 

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As others have alluded to, there is certainly a variety of levels of characterization (as well as any other part of the art you can think of) in any genre. I suspect sci-fi is more amenable to being able to find a market in spite of shallow characters, but I think most (if not all) of the sci-fi that is considered to be the best of the genre tend, in fact, to have very interesting and well though-out characters.

I think the "Star Wars" movie franchise shows the importance of characters even in sci-fi. The first movies (first in terms of release dates) to me have much better characters both in terms of writing and acting, and as such I think that is the main reason they stand above the later movies, which in spite of better gadgets and special effects are poor cousins to the first movies in terms of being effective works of the filmmaker's art.

All you have to do is read Herbert's Dune, Zelazny's "Amber" series, or Donaldson's "Thomas Convenant" series, or even Pratchett's "Discworld series" just to name a few; and I think you can see the sort of quality you can get in this field with authors who know how to create complex and interesting characters whom you care about and want to know what is going to happen to them.
 

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I was asking another Sci-fi/fantasy fan for recommendations and he asked if I was into "hard-core Sci-Fi". I am not, and gave up on Solaris. I have slept through every attempted viewing of 2001, but did finish the book - with a big "Ah Ha! So that's what the first 45 minutes are about!" moment. :)

I read for entertainment (and if I'm not careful I might learn something along the way Hey Hey Hey...) and most "hard core" just makes me think too much.
 

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Kevis Hendrickson said:
I think that's what made the original Star Wars films so great. They breathed life into a genre that these many years later is still too rigid and cold.
I disagree. I think the Star Wars films and the Star Trek TV shows are probably the two worst examples of science fiction imaginable. It is unfortunate that the layman, who never reads, is likely to name these two franchise as examples of good science fiction, but they are space fantasy with starships and aliens instead of wizards and dragons. Sure, I enjoyed Star Wars when I was twelve or thirteen, but they are as not nearly as deep as Solaris (the book) or Dune (the book).
 

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Discussion Starter · #12 ·
Geemont said:
I disagree. I think the Star Wars films and the Star Trek TV shows are probably the two worst examples of science fiction imaginable. It is unfortunate that the layman, who never reads, is likely to name these two franchise as examples of good science fiction, but they are space fantasy with starships and aliens instead of wizards and dragons. Sure, I enjoyed Star Wars when I was twelve or thirteen, but they are as not nearly as deep as Solaris (the book) or Dune (the book).
I respect your opinion, but personally I would say that there are far worse, truly lousy, hackneyed, stereotypical examples out there. Better not to think about them.

What would you say to a story that featured no slimy aliens, no wormholes or warp drives, took place on earth only, and featured only humans? Could that possibly be science fiction, do you think?

Just wondering....
 

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Geemont said:
I disagree. I think the Star Wars films and the Star Trek TV shows are probably the two worst examples of science fiction imaginable. It is unfortunate that the layman, who never reads, is likely to name these two franchise as examples of good science fiction, but they are space fantasy with starships and aliens instead of wizards and dragons. Sure, I enjoyed Star Wars when I was twelve or thirteen, but they are as not nearly as deep as Solaris (the book) or Dune (the book).
Everyone has the right to respectfully disagree. But I love Star Wars (and Star Trek) as much now in my 30's as I did when I was 4. I've never asked anyone's permission to enjoy Star War and never will. With that said, I'm not one of those uninformed people that you mention and I have to admit that I resent being used as an example of a person who has not read science fiction. Asimov, Bradbury, Heinlein, Herbert, and a slew of other science fiction authors have been the staple of my reading over the years in addition to Lucas, Straczynski, Tolkien, Liebert, Lewis, Leguinn, etc, etc.

The real problem with science fiction is that there are people who think they are the guardians of the genre and go out of their way to disassociate the genre from anything remotely popular and in the process alienate the casual and curious science fiction reader who has discovered sci fi but has not had a chance to explore the genre. Unfortunately, these so-called guardians scare people off from becoming sci fi fans and play a huge role in the bastardization of sci-fi from the rest of literature.

I have always loved science fiction and will not let someone tell me that Dune is more relevant than Star Wars simply because they feel ecology or anthropology are subjects that echo more loudly with a particular reader than metaphysics, philosophy, or spirituality. Sci-fi is not the domain of the few. Who cares if Star Wars pays less attention to the science involved in its stories than Ender's Game? If this is the case, then where does this leave War of the Worlds, Journey to the Center of the Earth, Twenty thousand Leagues Under the Sea or The Lost World? Or do we give more points to those who strive to be scientifically accurate over those who are scientific visionaries? By your insipid standard, I would have to disregard nearly every single science fiction novel written before the advent of computers into the trash.

I read fantasy and science fiction because they explore possibility and alternate realities. How dare any of us attempt to condemn those who dream of other worlds and realities just because we don't share those visions. I will continue to watch The Empire Strikes Back with a big fat smile on my face while others read Dune with an Elitist attitude. When I read Dune I will do so knowing that Frank Herbert allowed me to share his vision to the future, not as a member of a private club, but as a person who also has his own dream of the future even if it happens to be different from yours.
 

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BrassMan said:
I respect your opinion, but personally I would say that there are far worse, truly lousy, hackneyed, stereotypical examples out there. Better not to think about them.
True, but sequels and remakes of those aren't still being made and novelizations aren't still being written. I mean, really, I was so over Star Wars after seeing the third film humpteen years ago.

BrassMan said:
What would you say to a story that featured no slimy aliens, no wormholes or warp drives, took place on earth only, and featured only humans? Could that possibly be science fiction, do you think?

Just wondering....
Admittedly, it has been decades since I read the book, but I would probably count Earth Abides by George R. Stewart has one of the great science fiction novels of all time. It has none of the stuff you mentioned, but it does have the end of civilization.

Kevis Hendrickson said:
By your insipid standard, I would have to disregard nearly every single science fiction novel written before the advent of computers into the trash.
Where did that straw man come from? I'm not the first to call Star Wars space fantasy and my comment in no way advocates tossing any novel, science fiction or fantasy, written before or after computers, into the trash. There are many scientifically incorrect novels that are still fun, but they lack the depth of Stanislaw Lem or the original Dune books. And, yes, I do assign more weight and importance to books with intelligence and depth than to the purely fun ones.

You're original comment was that the Star Wars films "breathed life into a genre that these many years later is still too rigid and cold." I simply do not see that breath of life from those films and it is not the kind of statement that should be left without a counterpoint.

Nor do I see science fiction, as a whole, as rigid or cold. If anything, science fiction should shake loose the shackles of Hollywood and TV. Too many authors, in all genres, want their books to read like it was a movie. If that makes me elitist... so be it.
 

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Lucas created a sci-fi/fantasy universe that appealed to the masses. The genre still has trouble appealing to Joe American - look at how many Sci Fi TV shows are out there. And then they are still generally stuck on Friday night, because I guess folks who like that stuff don't have a life. Even Sci-Fi network (sorry SyFy network) shows little. How does wrestling relate to Sci-Fi?!?

The perception is that science fiction is all Tolkien, Clarke, Asimov and the other "masters". For the record, I don't consider Star Wars true sci-fi. It is more fantasy with some sci-fi thrown in. Star Trek, IMHO, is more sci-fi. And remember, it bombed when it first aired on TV.
 

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Kevis Hendrickson said:
Everyone has the right to respectfully disagree. But I love Star Wars (and Star Trek) as much now in my 30's as I did when I was 4. I've never asked anyone's permission to enjoy Star War and never will. With that said, I'm not one of those uninformed people that you mention and I have to admit that I resent being used as an example of a person who has not read science fiction. Asimov, Bradbury, Heinlein, Herbert, and a slew of other science fiction authors have been the staple of my reading over the years in addition to Lucas, Straczynski, Tolkien, Liebert, Lewis, etc, etc.

The real problem with science fiction is that there are people who think they are the guardians of the genre and go out of their way to disassociate the genre from anything remotely popular and in the process alienate the casual and curious science fiction reader who has discovered sci fi but has not had a chance to explore the genre. Unfortunately, these so-called guardians scare people off from becoming sci fi fans and play a huge role in the bastardization of sci-fi from the rest of literature.

I have always loved science fiction and will not let someone tell me that Dune is more relevant than Star Wars simply because they feel ecology or anthropology echoes more loudly with a particular reader than spirituality. Sci-fi is not the domain of the few. Who cares if Star Wars pays less attention to the science involved in its stories than Ender's Game? If this is the case, then where does this leave War of the Worlds, Journey to the Center of the Earth, Twenty thousand Leagues Under the Sea or The Lost World? Or do we give more points to those who strive to be scientifically accurate over those who are scientific visionaries? By your insipid standard, I would have to disregard nearly every single science fiction novel written before the advent of computers into the trash.

I read fantasy and science fiction because they explore possibility and alternate realities. How dare any of us attempt to condemn those who dream of other worlds and realities just because we don't share those visions. I will continue to watch The Empire Strikes Back with a big fat smile on my face while others read Dune with an Elitist attitude. When I read Dune I will do so knowing that Frank Herbert allowed me to share his vision to the future, not as a member of a private club, but as a person who also has his own dream of the future even if it happens to be different from yours.
VERY well said! I love both SW (the original movies) and Trek. If you want deeper SF television, Babylon 5 is wonderful.

There is a lot of elitism aimed at media SF (versus literary SF), and I'm sick of it. Why can't I love both? Something needs to be well written; whether it be media or literary doesn't matter to me. Like you, I was drawn to SF because of the possibilities it presents.

As a side note, I'd like to plug one of my favorite authors, Lois McMaster Bujold -- if you haven't read her Vorkosigan series of books, I highly recommend them.
 

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BrassMan said:
I respect your opinion, but personally I would say that there are far worse, truly lousy, hackneyed, stereotypical examples out there. Better not to think about them.

What would you say to a story that featured no slimy aliens, no wormholes or warp drives, took place on earth only, and featured only humans? Could that possibly be science fiction, do you think?

Just wondering....
Hmmm - Caprica (spinoff from Battlestar Galactica) may fit that description, also Dollhouse from Joss Whedon?

Both of these shows are GREAT btw.
 

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Hmmm - I think this thread is interesting and coming from two distinct sides of the road. Those that like peanut butter and those that like chocolate.  Both are good, but better together!

Seriously though, there are many, many flavors of Sci-Fi and many different devotees. One of my favorite authors is Robert Heinlein, an engineer by trade and writer by choice.  He uses many different engineering angles to approach his stories and has mixed fantasy at times and slimy aliens at others. I enjoy them all. I think that no one is better or worse for liking Dune over Star Wars or vice-versa. In fact there are times that I want a serious in-depth book and others I want something lighter. In general I like stories that are more optimistic and this is why I like Al's Distant Cousin series. I also like end of the world/dystopia type books too and when I'm in the mood I read those.

my .02

 

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RangerXenos said:
VERY well said! I love both SW (the original movies) and Trek. If you want deeper SF television, Babylon 5 is wonderful.

There is a lot of elitism aimed at media SF (versus literary SF), and I'm sick of it. Why can't I love both? Something needs to be well written; whether it be media or literary doesn't matter to me. Like you, I was drawn to SF because of the possibilities it presents.

As a side note, I'd like to plug one of my favorite authors, Lois McMaster Bujold -- if you haven't read her Vorkosigan series of books, I highly recommend them.
RangerXenos,

As the world's biggest self-acclaimed fan of Babylon 5, I cannot agree with you more. I think many people fail to realize that the offshoots of extrapolative fiction, in this case science fiction, allow people to delve into a wide and varied range of tales to enjoy. As art is subjective, one kind of science fiction tale is not necessarily better than the others. Fashions change as time moves ever forward and books that were once hailed as literary achievements now find scarcely a reader today. I think it is more important to find the relevance in a story and apply it to your own life than to try to force conformity or create a consensus as to what should be considered good science fiction versus bad science fiction.

Star Wars introduced science fiction (and fantasy) to a world of people who may not otherwise have taken any interest in the genre. Through films like Star Wars, masses of people have been inspired to go on and discover books like Dune or the Lensman series. Star Wars is every bit a legitimate vision of the future, even if given over to flights of fancy, as the one shown to us by Herbert. There is a reason why the genre is called science fiction. Perhaps some of us focus too strongly on the science and not the fiction, both readers and writers alike.

Perhaps time will reveal to us that there are no extraterrestrials in space. Then again, perhaps as science moves forward we will discover that the concept of ships traveling through light speed is not as far fetched as we think (as a few scientists are starting to say now). In the end, does any of this really matter? Lightspeed, Hyperspace, or Warp Speed, are all conventions of a science either real or imagined. The science, though an inescapable and vital element of science fiction, is not important. What truly matters is the bold and daring attempt of writers to capture the essence of humanity's place in the universe and the never ending quest for the knowledge of who we really are and what are role is in the vastness of time and the universe. To me, any story that explores that concept is indeed science fiction even if the particulars cause some of us to label some works of science fiction as hard science fiction or space opera.
 

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I think there's a spectrum that runs from what we often call "hard" sci-fi through a blend of sci-fi/fantasy on to more typical fantasy. And I think there's really another spectrum tied to that (sort of in another dimension, like the range between two layers of a cake) that spans what RangerXenos characterized as media (focusing on entertainment) on through literary (focusing more on provoking thoughts or emotional reaction).

Some people enjoy a particular zone in that melange, whereas others - like me - simply look for something they enjoy. And you can have very in-depth characters and messages anywhere in the matrix (if you'll pardon the pun!), or they can be very shallow: like everything else, it depends on how the author or director brings the story to life. I'm amazed that so many folks expend so much energy trying to define, refine, or defend a genre when, like with most things, different people are going to feel differently about any given book or movie, regardless of how it's billed.
 
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