Archive for January, 2013


battleship-dvdLast year’s  movie “Battleship” seems to attract an unhealthy dose of ire from pretty much everyone I mention it to. It appears to fall into that strange category of art that people love to hate, even when they haven’t seen it, or taken the time to try to make sense of it. Most people can’t seem to get past one of these things:

  • It’s based on a boardgame.
  • It’s trying to be a Michael Bay movie – an empty summer blockbuster, devoid of imagination
  • Everyone says its crap.
  • It uses eye candy like Brooklyn Decker, Alexander Skarsgaard, Rihanna and Taylor Kitsch to put asses in seats, rather than engaging acting and drama.

Well, I’d heard all of these things and even grew fearful of what they might mean for a film before I’ve seen it, yet I walked away from the movie rather surprised and quite happy I’d seen it.

Now, this article isn’t about how I’m going to try to change the minds that are already predisposed against it, prejudiced or not, or trying to point out the redeeming qualities of a piece of art that balances on the threshold between mediocre escapism and dreck, or claiming that it is a misunderstood wonder of modern film-making because of x, y and z, but rather an examination, if not a thought experiment, about how it might make sense in terms of world-building. To try and suggests reasons for this and that – to put some science behind the fiction, as it were, or the missing piece to the puzzle.  SPOILERS ahead, in case you actually want to see the movie.

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TBRSRKR1979he Berserkers have been around a very long time – and not just in the fabric of its own universe. Fred Saberhagen published his stories of planet-sized robotic killing machines gradually extinguishing all life wherever they encountered it in 1963 and ever since, its been a strong contender: Berserker stories were still being published in 2005, with Rogue Berserker as its most recent title.

Its hard to say whether Saberhagen created the original race of robotic killing machines, but in the wake of Berserker, there are an awful lot of similar creations expounding upon the concept and not just in SF Literature circles – the Inhibitors of Alastair Reynold’s Revelation Space series, the Necrons of Games Workshop’s Warhammer 40,000 and the Reapers/Old Machines from Bioware’s SF RPG video game, Mass Effect and these are just the most notable ones. Aliens and their robotoc creations have always been rather opposed to human life (and life in general), so as a concept they have attracted the imaginations of many an author.

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The Vintage SF Not-A-Challenge over at The Little Red Reviewer

Berserker has been sitting on my “Reading List” shelf for nigh on eight years now, ever since I kicked off my own “vintage SF reading spree”, though it was a very hard task to actually find a copy. Eventually, I buckled in to online stores and got myself a nice paperback version. It sat there for quite some time, as my reading list is well over fifty books and never seems to go down at all, but Berserker got fast tracked when the Little Red Reviewer announced her Vintage SF Not-A-Challenge.

Berserker is an anthology of short stories connected by the common thread of their subject matter – the Berserkers, and described by one of the Carmpan, a race of telepathic aliens that almost saw extinction at the hands of the Berserkers, if they hadn’t have allied themselves with good Ol’ Humanity.  The Berserkers are the left over weapons of an ancient war between two technological advanced races, the Builders and the Red Race. When the Builders perfected their doomsday creations that would later be called “Berserkers” by the children of Earth, they weren’t to know that they would take their programming to incredible lengths and continue their destruction well after the last of the Red Race was to fall, or that they’d be the next and definitely not the last, civilization to fall prey to them. Since then, the Berserkers have roved the galaxy, exterminating any semblance of living sentience – learning about their enemies, understanding their defences and taking them apart piece by piece until nothing is left. They are pretty much the biggest kick in the teeth Asimov’s Laws of Robotics ever received, I think.

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Rival Ideas

di_fate_niven orbitsvillen370The Science Fiction and Fantasy genres are largely idea driven. A story can dangle on the end of a good idea and experience a sort of half-life without the need for full characterization and even a terrible plot – if the idea is good enough. There is then, a race for the best ideas – the most ambitious, the most interesting, the most realistic, the most prophetic. Most authors won’t readily admit to this, but it’s there all the same. Its a guilty pleasure to follow a nice new idea and mine out a seam of something related to it, perhaps spring boarding into another sub-genre entirely – space opera, steampunk, urban fantasy, victorian SF…

We are, of course, excited by ideas. If  the idea wasn’t there, it wouldn’t be science fiction of fantasy, it would just be… fiction: stories about people in a world we are familiar with. Even then, there needs to be an idea, right at the center of it all, driving the whole thing.

Author’s covet their own ideas, of course. An idea does more than just belong to an author, it is part of them, so they’ll always be special. But – what happens when someone else has the same idea?

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Coming back to my Science Fiction novel “PSA” after a solid two months away from it resulted in what I can only term as “culture shock”, something I have to admit I’ve never really experienced within my own work. I’m as much as a SF, Fantasy and horror child as you can get: I’ve been steeped in these genres nearly all my life, marinating in their ideas, methods, styles and terminology for aeyonks.  I’m comfortable flitting from one genre to another, spinning ideas into yarns at the drop of a hat. Many times during my tenure as a video-game writer/content-developer saw me writing proposals, short stories and other material for wildly different styles of games within the same day, shifting gears in type of game, genre and concept, without batting an eyelid. But these were mere dalliances, passing from one concept to another as if they were hors d’oeuvres to be sampled without getting the full flavour. However, coming from a deep writing experience at the novel level in the Fantasy genre and shifting to a similar experience in Science Fiction made me balk at jumping straight back in. I was, quite frankly, out of my depth – at least at first blush.

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Content-Immersion psychosis is a growing problem amongst authors.
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