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What Are The Greatest Science Fiction Stories of the 1950s?

Wednesday, March 18th, 2015 - by Pierre Comtois

Editor’s Note: Check out the previous installments in Pierre’s series exploring the development of science fiction by decade: The 10 Most Influential Science Fiction Stories of the 1910sThe 10 Most Influential Science Fiction Stories of the 1920s,  The Most Important, Visionary Science Fiction Stories of the 1930s, and What Were the Most Significant Science Fiction Stories of the 1940s?

Although the decade of the 1940s is rightly referred to as the golden age of science fiction, the 1950s were hardly less so given the heady mix of veteran authors and new writers of the next generation. Cordwainer Smith, Isaac Asimov, Ray Bradbury, Robert A. Heinlein, A.E. Van Vogt, and Arthur C. Clark would all continue to produce new stories, each one it seemed, destined to be a classic in the field.

Meanwhile, new writers like Roger Zelazny, Harlan Ellison, Frank Herbert, Philip K. Dick, John Brunner, Richard Matheson, Harry Harrison, and Brian Aldiss would all have their first stories published in the 1950s, many pointing away from the hard science that occupied the attention of their predecessors and toward the social sciences that would concern much of SF in the next decade.

But that was still years in the future. At the start of the 1950s, outer space and other planets and alien life forms were still the primary concern of science fiction with a surprising amount of it finding its way onto celluloid with impressive adaptations of stories like Joseph W. Campbell’s “Who Goes There?” as The Thing From Another World and Harry Bates’ “Farewell to the Master” as The Day the Earth Stood Still, both from 1951.

Jack Finney’s The Body Snatchers, filmed as The Invasion of the Body Snatchers in 1956, and H.G. Wells’ War of the Worlds came in 1953. Robert A. Heinlein’s “Rocketship Galileo” filmed as Destination Moon arrived in 1950 and 1955 offered This Island Earth, based on the novel of the same name by Raymond F. Jones.

Then there were the films based on original treatments by established SF authors such as Heinlein’s Project Moonbase and Bradbury’s It Came From Outer Space.

Finally, such impressive films as Forbidden Planet, with no visible connection with any established science fiction writer, seemed to prove that Hollywood, if not the rest of the world outside the small pond of literary SF, was finally getting it.

The Demise of Pulp Magazines

At the same time, the seedbed of modern science fiction, the pulp magazine, was becoming a vanishing breed. Its demise was determined, at first with increased cancellations of such venerable magazines as Thrilling Wonder Stories and Startling Stories, and then their shrinking dimensions and page count, and finally the triumph of the paperback original that restored the primacy of the novel over the short story.

At first, SF writers began by collecting and interconnecting short stories or expanding serials they’d written for the magazines to fill out the pages needed for paperback publication, but, by the end of the decade, they were choosing to write original novels intended for first publication directly as paperbacks.

The trend would signal the end of the SF magazine’s place at the center of the science fiction movement and eventually relegated them to backwater status. Established writers would soon dominate the limited page count in an ever-decreasing number of magazines leaving far less room than in previous years for new writers to establish themselves.

In the new world of paperback books, SF veteran A.E. Van Vogt led the charge in 1950 with The Voyage of the Space Beagle, a groundbreaking novel composed of four previously published short stories. It follows the adventures of a huge ship on a deep-space exploratory mission and the philosophical and political battles that take place among the crew.

The next year, John Wyndham’s apocalyptic Day of the Triffids was released in the United States. It tells the tale of a world where everyone is blinded by a meteor shower while having to deal with rampaging carnivorous plants called triffids. Its end-of-the-world setting inspired a whole sub-genre of disaster stories dealing with everything from the earth falling into the sun to earthquakes to out of control grass!

Following in Van Vogt’s footsteps, Ray Bradbury also took a number of previously published stories and debuted The Martian Chronicles in 1950 but it wasn’t until 1953 that his first original novel appeared (and arguably the one that made him a household name): Fahrenheit 451. Based on a number of previously published stories, the novel was nevertheless a paperback original about a dystopian future in which books were banned and firemen were assigned to burn them wherever they were found.

Also published in 1953 was Bring the Jubilee by Ward Moore. Influential as one of the first of the alternate history sub-genre that would become hugely popular in later decades, Moore’s book is about Hodge Backmaker who lives in a world where the Confederacy won the Civil War. Managing to travel back in time, he revisits Gettysburg, the scene of the South’s greatest victory. But in arriving in the past, Backmaker changes history and becomes stranded in the new timeline: our own!

After building a reputation as a short story writer, up-and-comer Richard Matheson broke through into novels early with 1954′s I Am Legend. Adapted into film at least three times, and arguably the inspiration for the end of the world zombie fad that has swept movies and television, the book details a future in which everyone on Earth has turned into a vampire except Robert Neville. Eventually, Neville is captured by the vampires who are evolving into a new race who resent and fear him. Preparing for his death, Neville comes to the realization that as the last surviving human on Earth, he has become a legend to its inheritors.

Perhaps not strictly SF, the setting of Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged (published in 1957) takes place in the near future as America’s industrialists are hounded from society by an oppressive government to wait within a secret sanctuary for the day when society falls apart and their talents for invention and organization are needed again.

Concurrent with science fiction’s breakout into book publication, magazine SF was still a going concern through most of the 1950s even as many titles began to shrink to digest size towards the end of the decade. There, many of the authors who have since become giants in the field continued to hone their craft and offer their readers incredible worlds of imagination.

Among them was Alfred Bester whose “Demolished Man” was serialized in Galaxy Magazine in 1952. Again, hugely influential, its tale of murder in a world where the police can read minds was followed in 1956 by the author’s next big entry, “The Stars My Destination.”

Also serialized, this time in 1955 issues of The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, was Walter M. Miller’s “A Canticle For Leibowitz,” a tale of an apocalyptic future wherein the monks of the Albertian Order of Liebowitz work to preserve knowledge of the past through a new Dark Age.

What all of these serials have in common is that they were eventually gathered into novel format as was true for Robert A. Heinlein’s “Starship Soldier.” First published in The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction in 1959 and eventually gathered between covers as the better known Starship Troopers.

But all good things come to an end and the conclusion of classical SF was in sight as the 1960s dawned and a new breed of writers would emerge with different concerns than their elders from the golden age. They would set the stage for the eventual fragmentation, watering down, and dissolution of the field resulting in its being overrun by fantasy, television adaptations, endless book series, and space Marine warfare. With few exceptions, the great, mind-blowing ideas that had marked SF’s rise in the 1940s and 50s would come less frequently and then eventually just come to a halt.

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The Future of Civilized Society: One World

Thursday, March 12th, 2015 - by Mark Ellis

See Frank J. Fleming opening the discussion: “

In more dystopian moods, it is easy to agree with David Gelernter and other esteemed analysts that the future of civilized society moves away from nationalism and toward globalism.

Even when in a hopeful frame of mind, it is hard to see a future where borders demark true nations, cultures differentiate, and international relationships of enmity, accord, and alliance in constant flux survive the One World homogenization of humankind.

H.G. Wells’ prescient novel The Time Machine can be interpreted instructively when envisioning a globalist world.

In Wells’ classic, grotesque Morlocks exchanged for their captive Eloi masses relative safety and equalitarian comfort, as prelude to a final solution (Elois as Morlock food).

With Morlocks at the top of a denationalized globe, everything will be on the One World table, and precious little will be on anyone else’s table.

On planet Earth in 2070, the nationalistic lifeblood of our species may well have been drained away by centralized, authoritarian governance.

With no meaningful borders, no nationalistic instincts surviving, the globe will be comprised of regionalized clumps of loosely aggregated peoples, who call a family home, and call a house home, but have no nation.  A planet of exiles, rootless but for the whims of procreation and geography.

Eskimos still populate the Arctic Circle, but they are less Native Americans than contemporary Cro-Magnons, with electric heat and Sno-cats, under the yoke of something so far distant as to be mythical—until you make the wrong move.

Frenchmen still revere the Eiffel Tower, Frenchmen-in-name-only.

As unchecked in-migration globalizes Europe from within, encircled Israel invites Jews to make pilgrimage to the seat of Judeo-Christianity, and the Third World overwhelms the United States, the last voices for nationalistic life on Earth will not simply become marginalized. They become Morlock food.

What is now the European Union becomes the Hemispheric Union, answerable to a World Union ruled by progressive, anti-nationalistic “states-people,” subversive Machiavellians, and grand planners like Jonathan Gruber. Three heroes of the history of the march to globalism: President Barack Obama, Obama Senior Advisor Valerie Jarrett, and the aforementioned Gruber, to name a few.

For nationalist die-hards, “Going, Galt” will be an option-in-extremis.

Godless oligarchs, bolstered by globe-spanning enforcement arms, (let’s just call them Morlocks), will control markets, infrastructures, institutions, and the modes of inescapable surveillance. Pockets of resistance will come under the jurisdiction of entities with the power to bleed-out “neo-patriots” who opt to go down fighting for whatever flag they fly, on whatever hill they are willing to die on.

The panoply of national flags themselves becomes quaint memorabilia, emblematic of a time when humans organized themselves territorially under variant symbolic imagery. The stars and bars, as viewed by the enlightened group-think of the globalists, may well be presented in the history books (assuming Old Glory survives them) sans irony beside the Nazi swastika and the Soviet hammer and sickle.

All will be congregated under one image, brainstormed by the mid-millennial heirs of Gruber, vetted by committees for whom nationalistic identification has become a Neanderthal vestige, and unveiled by whatever alarming potentate or de facto death panel first mounts the throne of globalist dominance.

George Orwell’s 1984 triumvirate of Big Brother truths–war is peace, freedom is slavery, ignorance is strength–will break down like: There is only one real seat of power; regional conflicts are treated as tribal warfare, and allowed to play out or be snuffed out as befits the grand design. The only real wars, which won’t last long, will be when the World government moves to suppress forces that would restore a nationalistic society.

The truly free will be hunted, and the masses propagandized by the everlastingly repeated deconstruction of the old countries, as ancient now as cave paintings, and the everlastingly repeated atheist prayer that the New Order is the new illumination of life on Earth.

Ignorance is valued when religion falls and nation states die off. It will be deemed counterproductive to remember a time when a nation was something to pledge allegiance to, to fight for, and to love.

It is countercultural conservatism’s job, and the job of all patriots looking to preserve their countries, to keep an eagle-eye on the twin heralds of One World: multiculturalism and diversity.

There’s a difference between when global culture is being celebrated, and being foisted.

There is a place for the acknowledgement and even celebration of myriad world cultures, but there is no place for slick, subliminal messaging aimed at convincing us that the world is one big happy family, and that the best way to live life on Earth is to abandon the thought that there is anything special about our homelands.

End Times believers worry that the black hole of Revelations is nigh, and that the Return is imminent. (So, repent.) But even if unthinkable weapons are let loose by ancient enemies, God forbid, some globalists, like the underground Morlocks, will survive.

When they emerge from the rubble of the nation states, there will form a new consensus. That consensus will criminalize nationalism, abolish identification with all but one flag, and use Armageddon to justify the propagation of One World: “Imagine” devoid of John Lennon, without the national pride that the hungry Morlocks wiped off the face of the earth.

*****

Please join the discussion on Twitter. The essay above is the seventeenth in volume 2 of the cultural discussions between the writers of PJ Lifestyle and Liberty Island exploring the history of counter-cultures, the future of conservatism and the role of new, emerging counter-cultures in restoring American exceptionalism. Want to contribute? Check out the articles below, reach out, and lets brainstorm: @DaveSwindle

Volume II

  1. Frank J. Fleming on February 26, 2015: What Is the Future of Government? Why It Won’t Look Like Star Trek 
  2. Aaron C. Smith on February 26, 2015: What Is the Future of Superheroes? Why They Need To Start Killing Super-Villains
  3. Mark Ellis on February 26, 2016: What Is the Future of Gen-X Manhood? Adam Carolla Vs Chuck Palahniuk?
  4. David S. Bernstein on February 26, 2015: What is the Future of Fiction? You’ll Be Shocked Who’s Fighting the New Conservative Counter-Culture
  5. Aaron C. Smith on March 2, 2015: The House Loses: Why Season 3 of House of Cards Utterly Disappoints
  6. Michael Walsh on March 2: What the Left Doesn’t Get About Robert A. Heinlein
  7. Frank J. Fleming on March 3: 8 Frank Rules For How Not to Tweet
  8. Susan L.M. Goldberg on March 4: 7 Reasons Why Backstrom Is Perfect Counter-Culture Conservative TV
  9. Frank J. Fleming on March 5: What Is the Future of Religion?
  10. Aaron C. Smith on March 5: The Future of Religion: Why Judeo-Christian Values Are More Important Than Science
  11. Spencer Klavan on March 5: Not Religion’s Future: ISIS and the Art of Destruction
  12. Chris Queen on March 7: 5 Reasons Why Big Hero 6 Belongs Among The Pantheon Of Disney Classics
  13. Jon Bishop on March 8: Why I Am Catholic
  14. Frank J. Fleming on March 11: 6 Frank Tips For Being Funny On the Internet
  15. Becky Graebner on March 11: 5 Things I Learned In My First 6 Months As a Small Business Owner
  16. Frank J. Fleming on March 12: This Is Today’s Question: What Does It Mean To Be ‘Civilized’?

See the first volume of articles from 2014 and January and February 2015 below:

2014 – Starting the Discussion…

January 2015 – Volume I

February 2015

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This Is Today’s Question: What Does It Mean to Be ‘Civilized’?

Thursday, March 12th, 2015 - by Frank J. Fleming

No one expects to be beaten to death by Mr. Peanut. Of course not — the dude wears a top hat and a monocle. And even though he carries a cane and could easily start to bludgeon you with it at any moment, that possibility has never entered your brain, because Mr. Peanut is the picture of civility.

But what does it really mean to be civilized, and why do humans (and some legumes) treasure that concept?

I think most of us see civility as man moving away from our more brutal animal nature. We don’t just attack anyone outside our immediate families, we try to resolve disputes through reasoning, and we follow a complex set of codes to get along with each other.

For instance, despite the cat throwing up on my bed for the millionth time, it never crossed my mind to kill and eat the cat — or at least not eat it. Because that would be uncivilized. And while these civilized rules of behavior may seem arbitrary at times, it’s this miracle of civility that allows millions and millions of humans to work together to achieve unimaginable things, like building cities with electricity and infrastructure, landing on the moon, and having a McDonald’s within a five-minute drive no matter where you are.

As self-sufficient as ancient man could be, his iPhone didn’t get an update every year; it takes civility — people knowing they can trust each other and won’t suddenly bash in each other’s heads with rocks — to be able to play Candy Crush on a larger screen with higher resolution.

But can civility also be a weakness?

I explore this quite a bit in my novel, Superego, in which the protagonist, Rico, is a psychopath and works as a hitman, so he doesn’t quite fit in with civilized society. In fact, he looks upon most of civilization with disdain. He works in a bloody fight for survival among cutthroat criminal syndicates, and thus the average civilized man, blissfully ignorant of the violence, seems rather frivolous to him — sort of like how we look down on hipsters.

And you have to wonder if this is how much of the world looks at us. Right now, you’re just perusing the internet, reading an article written by some goofball, while other people around the world are locked in civil war or struggling daily to survive. Does this make us a better people, or more inane?

And can this “civility” end up opposing our basic instinct of survival? In Superego, it’s up to the psychopath to deal with a terrorist threat, as the civilized police force just doesn’t have the resolve to deal with it directly. And the civilized model of government — not wanting to step beyond its bounds or antagonize anyone — is too meek to deal with the criminal organizations, which are terrorizing planets.

Does that remind you of us now?

We can be frustrated by tiny, weaker countries we could wipe off the map with the push of a button, but they know we won’t do that because we’re civilized. Does that makes us better people to be that peaceful? Or are we just in denial of the violent reality of the world?

Overall, I’d say civility is a great thing, but we run into problems because we’re just not that comfortable with it. We’re like apes in tuxedos — we put on airs of being refined, but deep down we’re still savage animals struggling to fit in (and the suits are kind of itchy). It just doesn’t feel completely right to us, and you can tell that by seeing how much popular fiction is about what happens when we no longer have the protection of the civilized world. When tragedy strikes, when war breaks out, when zombies walk the streets — that’s when we consider things as becoming interesting. That’s what we want to see. It’s as if we consider our true nature to be whatever it is when the trappings of civilization are removed.

And like the ape struggling to understand what a cumberbund is, we’re just not always that good at civility. That’s why it sometimes gets in the way of the survival of society, because we’re struggling to be a better people while not exactly knowing how to do that. For example, many think that removing weapons like guns from society will make us more civilized, but those people, who are ignorant of firearms, react in fear of a gun about the same way a caveman would, which makes the supposed advancement more like a regression. The orangutan tried to tie his bow tie but ended up choking himself with it.

Still, we’re going to muddle forward. We’re going to try to become a better, more peaceful, more cooperative people, all while not getting wiped out by barbarians like common Romans. We may not always know the right path, but if we ever hope to one day see an iPhone 27, we’re going to figure it out. Just keep in mind that no matter how civilized we become, there’s still that animal inside that will never feel quite comfortable. If a peanut is anything like a person (and why wouldn’t it be?), while Mr. Peanut will never beat anyone to death with his cane, he’s certainly thought about it.

*****

Please join the discussion on Twitter. The essay above is the sixteenth in volume 2 of the cultural discussions between the writers of PJ Lifestyle and Liberty Island exploring the history of counter-cultures, the future of conservatism and the role of new, emerging counter-cultures in restoring American exceptionalism. Want to contribute? Check out the articles below, reach out, and lets brainstorm: @DaveSwindle

Volume II

  1. Frank J. Fleming on February 26, 2015: What Is the Future of Government? Why It Won’t Look Like Star Trek 
  2. Aaron C. Smith on February 26, 2015: What Is the Future of Superheroes? Why They Need To Start Killing Super-Villains
  3. Mark Ellis on February 26, 2016: What Is the Future of Gen-X Manhood? Adam Carolla Vs Chuck Palahniuk?
  4. David S. Bernstein on February 26, 2015: What is the Future of Fiction? You’ll Be Shocked Who’s Fighting the New Conservative Counter-Culture
  5. Aaron C. Smith on March 2, 2015: The House Loses: Why Season 3 of House of Cards Utterly Disappoints
  6. Michael Walsh on March 2: What the Left Doesn’t Get About Robert A. Heinlein
  7. Frank J. Fleming on March 3: 8 Frank Rules For How Not to Tweet
  8. Susan L.M. Goldberg on March 4: 7 Reasons Why Backstrom Is Perfect Counter-Culture Conservative TV
  9. Frank J. Fleming on March 5: What Is the Future of Religion?
  10. Aaron C. Smith on March 5: The Future of Religion: Why Judeo-Christian Values Are More Important Than Science
  11. Spencer Klavan on March 5: Not Religion’s Future: ISIS and the Art of Destruction
  12. Chris Queen on March 7: 5 Reasons Why Big Hero 6 Belongs Among The Pantheon Of Disney Classics
  13. Jon Bishop on March 8: Why I Am Catholic
  14. Frank J. Fleming on March 11: 6 Frank Tips For Being Funny On the Internet
  15. Becky Graebner on March 11: 5 Things I Learned In My First 6 Months As a Small Business Owner

See the first volume of articles from 2014 and January and February 2015 below:

2014 – Starting the Discussion…

January 2015 – Volume I

February 2015

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5 Reasons Why Big Hero 6 Belongs Among The Pantheon Of Disney Classics

Saturday, March 7th, 2015 - by Chris Queen

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WARNING: this post contains plot spoilers! If you haven’t seen Big Hero 6, go watch it – RIGHT NOW! – and then come back to read this.

I recently watched Disney’s latest Oscar-winning animated feature Big Hero 6 for the first (and second) time. I loved the film so much that I watched it twice in less than 24 hours. The story of Hiro Hamada, his robot buddy Baymax, and their college pals who become unwitting superheroes surprised me in so many ways that I believe Big Hero 6 deserves a place among the classics of Disney animation, and here are a few reasons why.

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5. Big Hero 6 contains some of the most appealing characters Disney has introduced in a long time.

Over nearly a century, Disney has brought us some memorable and wonderful characters, and though the Big Hero 6 originated in the Marvel universe, the characters in the film Big Hero 6 wind up being some of the best Disney characters in recent memory.

Hiro takes many character tropes – the young teen, the plucky orphan, the prodigious genius – and overcomes them with his sense of wonder at the world around him. Tadashi’s selfless nature manifests itself beautifully in his love for his brother, and Aunt Cass is both high-strung and grounded as guardian of her nephews.

Hiro and Tadashi’s friends are terrific characters in their own right. Go-Go counters her surface misanthropy by revealing her heart at just the right times, while Honey Lemon breaks through a vapid exterior with intellect and concern for others. Wasabi’s quirky neuroses belie a maturity that drives him, while Fred proves he’s more than just an apparent stoner ne’er-do-well.

And then there’s Baymax, my personal favorite. His robotic deadpan turns out to be the perfect delivery for some of the movie’s best lines (what he mines from a simple “oh no” is worth its weight in gold). Baymax proves that artificial intelligence can generate genuine heart.

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4. The self-esteem message in Big Hero 6 contains more substance than anything else in our culture today.

Nowadays pop culture tends to send the same message to young people – embrace your weirdness, let your freak flag fly. It seems like films, music, and television tell our kids that unless they’re an oddball in some way they’ll never fit it.

Big Hero 6 conveys a self-esteem message that runs counter to current pop culture: the notion that everyone has talents and ways that they can make the world a better place. Sure, the Big Hero 6 are weird, but their value lies not in embracing their weirdness but in the skills and knowledge they possess (or, to paraphrase Tadashi, their big brains). That’s a message that carries more substance than the freak flag ever will.

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3. Big Hero 6 appeals to boys better than most of Disney’s prior attempts.

Let’s face it: Disney’s animated output has been princess-centric since the beginning, and it seems like the studio has upped the ante since discovering the princesses’ marketing power a few years back. Disney has attempted to appeal directly to boys over the years, but for various reasons, those attempts haven’t really stuck long term.

As wonderful as The Sword In The Stone is, it has never ranked among the classics with long-term staying power. The Black Cauldron? Nope, too dark. Unfortunately, Aladdin has had to suffer the “Princess Movie” label, despite the fact that the protagonist and titular character is a guy. The Lion King is one of the rare Disney “boy movies” that rank among the classics, and I firmly believe Big Hero 6 will join that short list.

Big Hero 6 is the total package for a guy’s movie: edge-of-the-seat action, high and low comedy, and a heroes-versus-villains tension (even if the villain’s evil is driven by family revenge). The movie balances these elements with the right amount of heart, as well as including sly jokes that parents can laugh along with. I feel strongly that the film has the kind of staying power that will resist changing trends and attitudes, despite it’s current cutting-edge style.

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2. There are elements of countercultural conservatism in Big Hero 6.

Whether the filmmakers intended them or not, we can find threads in Big Hero 6 that suggest countercultural conservative themes. I’ve already discussed the unique (and positive) message of self-esteem we see in the film. We also see evidence of the value of hard work and perseverance when Baymax shows Hiro the footage of Tadashi working on his prized robot.

In spite of his off-the-charts intelligence (the kid graduated high school at 13, for crying out loud!), Hiro must work hard to produce a unique invention to ensure his admission into the San Fransokyo Institute of Technology’s robotics program. He even receives in invitation to work with the billionaire industrialist Alistair Krei as a result of his presentation.

The most interesting countercultural conservative thread runs through the villain story. When Alistair Krei approaches Hiro after his robotics presentation, the earnest Professor Callaghan decries Krei as a selfish robber baron. Yet the villain turns out to be Callaghan, and Krei is his target. It’s also worth noting that, with Krei’s obvious success, his major failure is the government-sponsored teleportation project.

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1. Big Hero 6 conveys a message about innovation that would make Walt himself proud.

One underlying – and possibly intentional – lesson from Big Hero 6 has to do with innovation, and the movie delivers it in a way that would make Walt and his inner circle proud.

For starters, the competition which results in Hiro’s admission to SFIT is one where prospective students seek to create truly innovative robotics applications, and Hiro wins over both Krei and Professor Callaghan with his microbots. But the kicker is Tadashi’s encouragment to Hiro which leads to his invention of the microbots.

When Hiro hits a dead end in coming up with ideas for the competition, Tadashi gives his younger brother advice in an unusual way:

Tadashi: Hey, I’m not giving up on you.

[Tadashi grabs Hiro by the ankles and hangs him upside-down over his shoulders. He begins jumping around the room, with Hiro flopping behind him.]

Hiro: Ahhǃ What are you doing?

Tadashi: Shake things up! Use that big brain of yours to think your way out!

Hiro: What?

Tadashi: Look for a new angle.

[Hiro groans and decides to humor Tadashi. He looks around the room from a new angle and spots Megabot. He gets an idea.]

Tadashi’s advice would make Walt proud and even reads like a page out of The Imagineering Way. Hiro dishes it out when the team runs up against trouble in their battle against Callaghan. He tells the team, “Listen up! Use those big brains of yours to think your way around the problem! Look for a new angle!”

And while we’re at it, let’s consider the coolest innovation of all – Baymax. Tadashi set out to help people, and in doing so he created the ultimate innovation in health care, one that didn’t require massive federal bureaucracy.

I’m telling you, Walt would be proud.

*******

Please join the discussion on TwitterThe essay above is the twelfth in volume 2 of the cultural discussions between the writers of PJ Lifestyle and Liberty Island exploring the history of counter-cultures, the future of conservatism and the role of new, emerging counter-cultures in restoring American exceptionalism. Want to contribute? Check out the articles below, reach out, and lets brainstorm: @DaveSwindle

Volume II

  1. Frank J. Fleming on February 26, 2015: What Is the Future of Government? Why It Won’t Look Like Star Trek 
  2. Aaron C. Smith on February 26, 2015: What Is the Future of Superheroes? Why They Need To Start Killing Super-Villains
  3. Mark Ellis on February 26, 2016: What Is the Future of Gen-X Manhood? Adam Carolla Vs Chuck Palahniuk?
  4. David S. Bernstein on February 26, 2015: What is the Future of Fiction? You’ll Be Shocked Who’s Fighting the New Conservative Counter-Culture
  5. Aaron C. Smith on March 2, 2015: The House Loses: Why Season 3 of House of Cards Utterly Disappoints
  6. Michael Walsh on March 2: What the Left Doesn’t Get About Robert A. Heinlein
  7. Frank J. Fleming on March 3: 8 Frank Rules For How Not to Tweet
  8. Susan L.M. Goldberg on March 4: 7 Reasons Why Backstrom Is Perfect Counter-Culture Conservative TV
  9. Frank J. Fleming on March 5: What Is the Future of Religion?
  10. Aaron C. Smith on March 5: The Future of Religion: Why Judeo-Christian Values Are More Important Than Science
  11. Spencer Klavan on March 5: Not Religion’s Future: ISIS and the Art of Destruction

See the first volume of articles from 2014 and January and February 2015 below:

2014 – Starting the Discussion…

January 2015 – Volume I

February 2015

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Spock’s Trek Through the Stars in 10 Clips

Tuesday, March 3rd, 2015 - by Walter Hudson

We’ve had some time to process the news of Leonard Nimoy’s death. The character which Nimoy helped create inspired generations to seek balance between discipline and feeling. Let’s take a look back through Spock’s trek through the stars in these 10 clips from the franchise.

What It Means To Be Vulcan

In one of the most definitive moments from the original series, Spock finds himself torn between his dual natures when a debilitating attack upon Captain Kirk leaves Spock in command of the Enterprise during a critical diplomatic mission.

The wrinkle is that Spock’s father lies sick among the delegation, succumbing to a malady that only a transfusion from Spock can resolve. But yielding to the procedure would compromise Spock’s capacity to command while the ship is under threat, and so logic dictates that he mind his Starfleet duty and allow his father to die.

Spock’s human mother pleads for him to reconsider in this heated confrontation.

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What the Left Doesn’t Get About Robert A. Heinlein

Monday, March 2nd, 2015 - by Michael Walsh
Can you grok it?

Can you grok it?

When I was a high-school kid, back in Honolulu in the early sixties, the book we were all reading was Robert A. Heinlein’s Stranger in a Strange Land, which had come out just a couple of years earlier and already had given modern English a new word, “to grok.” All of us rebellious adolescents loved that book and put it on our shelves right alongside Joseph Heller’s Catch -22. Later I devoured much of the rest of the Heinlein ouevre, including of course Starship Troopers and The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress. It never occurred to me in those days to read science-fiction politically, but if Stranger was anything at the time, it was a proto-hippie novel — a celebration of free love and counter-cultural rebellion on the part of a main character who was, literally, raised on Mars. (I believe the novel was also a strong influence on The Who’s celebrated rock opera, Tommy, which followed it by a few years.)

Now comes the new New Republic, further left than in its previous incarnation, with an attack on Heinlein via a review of a new biography of the author by William Patterson:

The science-fiction writer Robert A. Heinlein once described himself as “a preacher with no church.” More accurately, he was a preacher with too many churches. Rare among the many intellectual gurus whose fame mushroomed in the 1960s, Heinlein was a beacon for hippies and hawks, libertarians and authoritarians, and many other contending faiths—but rarely at the same time. While America became increasingly liberal, he became increasingly right wing, and it hobbled his once-formidable imagination. His career, as a new biography inadvertently proves, is a case study in the literary perils of political extremism.

Heinlein’s most famous novel, Stranger in a Strange Land (1961), was a counter-culture Bible, its message of free love inspiring not just secular polygamous communes but also the Church of All Worlds, a still-flourishing New Age sect incorporated in 1968. Heinlein was equally beloved in military circles, especially for his book Starship Troopers (1959), a gung-ho shout-out for organized belligerence as the key to human survival. A thoroughly authoritarian book, it included an ode to flogging (a practice the American Navy banned in 1861) and the execution of mentally disturbed criminals, yet Heinlein became a hero to libertarians: Milton Friedman praised Heinlein’s 1966 novel The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress, which chronicled an anti-statist rebellion on a lunar colony, as a “wonderful” book and commended Heinlein for popularizing the slogan TANSTAAFL (“There ain’t no such thing as a free lunch”).

Heinlein, who died in 1988 at age 80, lived a large, complex, and contradictory life. His friend and fellow science-fiction writer Arthur C. Clark once noted that Heinlein was “very protean. Heinlein was everything—like Walt Whitman.” The publication of the second volume of a mammoth Heinlein biography by the late William Patterson is, alas, only partially helpful in getting a grip on this complicated writer. Authorized by the Heinlein estate and fannishly worshipful, Patterson lacked sufficient distance from his subject to tackle the central puzzles of Heinlein’s life.

And what are those central puzzles? According to reviewer Jeet Heer, they are mostly his political evolution rightward. It’s a ridiculous assertion on its face, since the celebration of military life, Starship Troopers, comes before Stranger, not after. Here’s his argument:

Take, for example, the crucial issue of Heinlein’s political evolution. Heinlein went from being a left-wing New Dealer in the 1930s and 1940s to flirting with the John Birch Society in the late 1950s and supporting Barry Goldwater in the 1960s—and yet, he insisted that his politics were unwaveringly consistent. “From my point of view what has happed is not that I have moved to the right; it seems to me that both parties have moved steadily to the left,” Heinlein wrote his brother in 1964. Patterson, as was his wont on all major issues, sides with his subject and maintains that Heinlein’s politics remained fundamentally unchanged through his life. Heinlein was no “rightist,” Patterson assures us, but a lifelong “radical liberal” with a “democratic soul.” Patterson never explains how that “democratic soul” came to believe that the right to vote should be severely restricted, a position Heinlein advocated not just in Starship Troopers but also in nonfiction works.

First off, a lot of people moved from the New Deal to more conservative positions as they got older and smarter — Ronald Reagan, for example. Second, Heinlein was absolutely right — both parties had moved to the left by 1964 — the Democrats were led by Lyndon Johnson, while the Nixon-Rockefeller Republicans were caught napping that year by Barry Goldwater, who was attempting to pull the GOP back to the right. Finally, there’s nothing at all contradictory between being a “radical liberal” (in the true sense of the word, not its contemporary meaning as a “progressive”) and having a “democratic soul.” In fact, they’re entirely complementary. Democracy is not simply about universal suffrage (in fact, it’s not about that at all), although the Left would certainly like you to think that; Leftists need to go back to Greek democracy to see what Heinlein means.

The rest of the hatchet job essentially roasts Heinlein for the only cardinal sin in the Leftist canon: hypocrisy. How could he be an apostle of free love and a conservative at the same time? (Wrong question: how could he be a famous creative artist and not be motivated by sex?)

Taken together, Heinlein’s books in his right-wing phase hardly add up to a logical worldview. How do we reconcile the savage authoritarianism of Starship Troopers with the peace-and-love mysticism of Stranger in a Strange Land? For that matter, how do those two books jibe to the nearly anarchist libertarianism of the Moon Is a Harsh Mistress? On a more practical plain, how could Heinlein have called for both limited government and a NASA committed to colonizing space (surely a big government program if there ever was one)? TANSTAAFL went out the window when a space or military program caught Heinlein’s fancy.

But all these books share one trait: They ignore the consequences of people’s actions. Starship Troopers gives us war without PTSD and guilt over slaughter (the aliens are Bugs, so can be exterminated without remorse) just as Stranger in a Strange Land is a vision of sex without strings (“grokking” means never having to say sorry). In other books, Heinlein gave us incest without trauma.

Such are the perils of trying to attack an author via a biography, but not understanding your own prejudices and expressing your tired world-view in cant and jargon. If you can’t fight a war without whining about PTSD and you can’t exterminate the Bugs of Starship Troopers without the slightest bit of remorse, then there is no hope for either democracy or humanity. Heinlein’s view was try everything, live hard, die harder — something as alien as the Bugs to today’s pansy Left, for whom there is nothing worth dying for and therefore nothing worth living for. They just can’t grok it. No wonder they hate him.

*****

Join the discussion on Twitter. The essay above is the sixth in volume 2 of the cultural discussions between the writers of PJ Lifestyle and Liberty Island exploring the history of counter-cultures, the future of conservatism and the role of new, emerging counter-cultures in restoring American exceptionalism.

Volume II

See the first volume of articles from 2014 and January and February 2015 below:

2014 – Starting the Discussion

January 2015 – Volume I

February 2015

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What Is the Future of Government? Why It Won’t Look Like Star Trek

Thursday, February 26th, 2015 - by Frank J. Fleming

Imagine it’s the future. You have your jet pack, your laser gun, your robot butler, your much smaller or much bigger phone (I don’t really get what direction phones are going right now). The music of kids these days is awful beyond all human comprehension. No one celebrates Earth Day anymore because we’ve found much better planets more worth celebrating and live on those. So do you see yourself there, in the future? Now I want you to answer one question: What does your tax bill look like?

That’s my question today: What is the future of government? Hi, I’m Frank J. Fleming. You might remember me from a bunch of political humor writing and a great peace plan that involves nuking only one natural satellite, but now I’m also a science fiction author. Liberty Island has published my first novel, Superego, which is a heartwarming story about a genetically engineered psychotic hitman who accidentally becomes a hero, falls in love, and, of course, kills lots of people. My intention in writing the novel was for it to be a fun action-adventure, but I explore a lot of themes in the novel that seem worth discussing. And one of the themes is what could happen to government in the future.

Now, anyone who knows how to use a calculator does not predict a great future for the U.S. government, but I’m not talking about specific governments here (like whether a thousand years from now there will still inexplicably be a Canada). I’m talking about the nature of government in general and how that might evolve.

When you think of a future government, probably the first thing that pops into your mind is the Federation in Star Trek. Another might be the Empire from Star Wars, but I said we’re talking about government in the future, and the Empire is from a long time ago. Anyway, the Federation is a more left-wing, highly organized type of government. And what do all the ships in the Federation have? Phasers and proton torpedos — because if you’re going to go around the galaxy telling people what to do, you’re going to need them.

The Federation reflects a problem with our current model of government and why it might not last into the future. That’s because it’s still based on a rather primitive notion: I’m bigger than you, so you have to do what I say. The first government was probably the largest guy in the tribe ruthlessly enforcing the rule that no one could make fun of his fancy leader hat, and then things escalated from there.  In a way, government is a more civilized way of putting a gun to someone’s head to make them do something — whether those edicts come from a democratically elected government or a single guy with a fancy leader hat. The reason most people obey laws — even really asinine ones — is that they know the government is big and can hurt them if they don’t. We don’t see something like passing a tax on cigarettes as a violent act, but that’s what Eric Garner got killed over. If the government is interested in enforcing a law, it will have to resort to using violence if someone does not comply. And the progressive vision of the future of government is that we will be threatened with violence over more and more things, like if we don’t buy health insurance or if our soda is too large.

In Superego, man has spread out to countless planets and interacts with numerous other sentient species, all with their own laws and customs. There are also spaceships that allow nearly instantaneous travel across the galaxy, which means someone could commit a crime on one planet and quickly get to some place where the government has no jurisdiction. The scope of the universe’s population has basically gotten too big for a traditional centralized government, meaning government can’t enforce much and thus becomes rather feckless — like a space Europe. This leaves a vacuum that is filled by ruthless criminal syndicates — organizations that don’t worry about borders or jurisdiction and rule wherever they’re strong enough to enforce their will. Which leads to an interesting side question about government: How is an organization like a mafia different from a traditional government, if at all?

So that’s what I see: Government just won’t work in the future. Eventually the scope of humanity (and perhaps alien-ity) will get so big that governments will either become irrelevant or will have to become extremely ruthless to keep enforcing their will. And, anyway, is our vision of the future really that the only way people can live together is if we have this big entity threatening us with fines and imprisonment over millions and millions of different things? Instead I think our future  — at least the one we should aim for — is using our advances in technology and our knowledge to find more ways people can work together voluntarily. We’ll always need punishments for theft and violence, but perhaps we can find ways to work together and provide for the poor and needy without all the threats over non-violent actions, such as how we choose to run our own lives or our own businesses. It does seem like a nicer, more peaceful future than our current arc.

So along with my rocket ships and genetically engineered miniature T. rex, I see little to no tax bill at all.

What do you think is the future of government?

Join the discussion on Twitter. And submit your answer to Frank’s question for publication at PJ Lifestyle: DaveSwindlePJM [AT] Gmail.com

*****

The essay above is the beginning of the second volume in the cultural discussions between the writers of PJ Lifestyle and Liberty Island exploring the history of counter-cultures, the future of conservatism and the role of new, emerging counter-cultures in restoring American exceptionalism. See the first volume of articles from 2014 and January and February 2015 below:

2014

January 2015

February 2015

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What Were the Most Significant Science Fiction Stories of the 1940s?

Saturday, February 14th, 2015 - by Pierre Comtois

Editor’s Note: Check out the previous installments in Pierre’s series exploring the development of science fiction by decade: The 10 Most Influential Science Fiction Stories of the 1910sThe 10 Most Influential Science Fiction Stories of the 1920s, and The Most Important, Visionary Science Fiction Stories of the 1930s

After the passage of 65 years and the beginning of a new century, the decade of the 1940s seems all the more remarkable for the number of brilliant writers who were working at the time, the sheer variety of venues they had to choose from, and the fact that every other story seemed to reveal new vistas of imagination.

And though the 1930s had its share of first time writers breaking into the professional ranks, the 1940s introduced even more as Leigh Brackett, James Blish, C. W. Kornbluth, Frederick Pohl, Frederic Brown, Damon Knight, Ray Bradbury, Hal Clement, George O. Smith, Jack Vance, Arthur C. Clark, Poul Anderson, H. Beam Piper, and Judith Merril, all made their first sales.

In addition, writers who had debuted in the previous decade now began to establish themselves as major authors in the field making important contributions that would become cornerstones not only of their own work but of science fiction in general. Writers like Robert A. Heinlein, Isaac Asimov, and A. E. Van Vogt would lead the way, publishing one classic after another.

Both newcomers and established authors would prove their durability as they continued to contribute stories into the 1960s when their work would appear side by side with a new wave of young writers more interested in psycho-social subjects than traditional hard science.

The 1940s was an era that, despite a World War and resulting paper shortages, science fiction magazines proliferated with such venerable titles as Amazing Science Fiction, Thrilling Wonder Tales, and Startling Stories still on hand and a plethora of new ones such as Stirring Science Fiction Stories, Other Worlds, and Captain Future cropping up like mushrooms after a spring rain.

It was a decade during which John W. Campbell reigned as editor of Astounding Science Fiction, developing a stable of reliable young writers with whom he’d begin to transform the field from its perception as somewhat of a juvenile backwater to something with serious literary pretentions.

Furthermore, the insular world of SF fandom continued to evolve and expand with more amateur SF magazines such as Damon Knight’s Snide and Ray Bradbury’s Futuria Fantasia popping up, clubs forming, more and bigger conventions being held, and launches of the first small press book publishers such as Gnome Press.

Finally, first-rate Hollywood film adaptations of some of the classics of SF such as Campbell’s own “Who Goes There” (as The Thing From Another World) and Harry Bates’ “Who Goes There?” (as The Day the Earth Stood Still) were right around the corner.

The 1940s was a decade of transition in another sense as SF novels from the world of academia finally petered out and books based on popular short stories and novelettes written by rising pulp authors began to appear in a new mass market pocket book or paperback format.

Among the last outliers of academic writers was Olaf Stapledon’s Sirius, published in 1944. In this groundbreaking novel about a dog with human intelligence, Stapledon skirts the controversial and in places seems to refute the religious arguments raised by his contemporary C.S. Lewis as Sirius seeks God and in conversations with a local priest is disappointed in his search for meaning. He finds a measure of it in his love for Plaxy, the human daughter of the scientist who gave him his intelligence. Together, the two share a forbidden love that was doomed to fail.

The year before, in 1943, Lewis published the second volume in a series that began with Out of the Silent Planet. In Perelandra, Ransom, the protagonist of the first book, journeys to Venus and discovers an Edenic world complete with its own Eve named Tinidril who is seeking her Adam. They’ve been given free run of all the floating islands of the planet but have been forbidden from stepping upon fixed land. But an original sin-less paradise is threatened with the arrival of materialist scientist Weston and together, he and Ransom enter a series of philosophical debates intended to sway Tinidril either to obey or not to obey a divine commandment not to step onto fixed land.

Lewis would complete his trilogy with the publication of That Hideous Strength in 1945.

A third entry in the academic novel sweepstakes was 1984 by George Orwell. Published in 1949, it tells the story of one man’s struggle for personal freedom in a totalitarian society. Ostensibly a rebuke of communism, the novel’s message speaks louder than ever in today’s world of creeping political correctness.

Meanwhile, Stapledon and Lewis’ pulp counterparts were busily writing stories that would themselves eventually be turned into novels. All of the most seminal, appearing in Astounding Science Fiction including Slan, published in 1940. In it, A. E. Van Vogt‘s story features young Jommy Cross as the last hope of his race of super humans. Jommy must find a way to save the Slans even as humans hunt them down to near extinction.

Astounding struck again in 1941 with not one but two important SF stories including “Microscopic God” by Theodore Sturgeon. In it, a scientist creates an artificial world of microscopic beings who live at an accelerated rate. Because of that, they quickly evolve and advance beyond human science so that their creator, who’s set himself up as their god, can eventually profit by their inventions.

Likewise, Robert A.  Heinlein‘s “Methuselah’s Children” spotlights the Howard family who have achieved extraordinary long lifespans through selective breeding. But others don’t believe it and when they insist that the Howards reveal their secret to long life, patriarch Lazarus Long suggests that the family leave the Earth to seek a world of their own.

Again from the pages of Astounding came two more important stories from up-and-coming authors. Mentored by Campbell, Isaac Asimov had become a mainstay of the magazine by the time “Foundation” appeared in 1942. A story that would eventually grow to a three volume series of novels (with more additions in later decades), it posits the creation of a group intended to preserve knowledge against the fall of the galactic empire. Afterwards, the Foundation would be there to assist the rise of a new civilization and hopefully to reduce the length of an intervening dark age.

Asimov contemporary Lester Del Rey struck home the same year with “Nerves,” one of the earliest tales, if not the earliest, dealing with an accident at a nuclear power plant.

Perhaps riffing off of Stapledon’s Sirius, Clifford Simak‘s City (1944) was the first of several stories eventually collected in a book of the same name dealing with a future Earth abandoned by humans and left to intelligent dogs. It is the dogs left behind that tell the stories of man’s abandonment of cities for a rural lifestyle and his eventual flight into space.

SF veteran Jack Williamson successfully made the leap from space opera to the new wave of more serious science fiction when his story “With Folded Hands” appeared in Astounding for 1947. The story tells the tale of robots called Humanoids invented to serve mankind but who eventually exceed their programming to make sure no human comes to harm by becoming their pitiless masters.

The 1940s would mark a peak period for science fiction allowing it to coast through the 1950s into the 1960s when the genre would find its momentum finally begin to slow. By the time the new century rolled around, the field would become a pale shadow of its once vibrant past adding increased luster to what in hindsight can now be confirmed as SF’s golden age.

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Have a Very Martian Christmas…

Wednesday, December 24th, 2014 - by Liberty Island

shutterstock_94129762

Editor’s Note: Since March, PJ Lifestyle has been highlighting some of the most innovative fiction writers at the recently-launched new media publishing platform Liberty Island, featuring interviews and story excerpts. Click here to see our collection of 33 so far. To learn more check out this interview Sarah Hoyt conducted with CEO Adam Bellow: “It also has a unique mission: to serve as the platform and gathering-place for the new right-of-center counterculture.” Also see COO David S. Bernstein’s recent essay here in which he defines Liberty Island as, “an imaginative playground where brilliant and creative people can test their ideas without being harassed or threatened by the new breed of ‘community activists’ who police thought and speech in the media.” Also see Bellow’s cover story at National Review: “Let Your Right Brain Run Free.” 

Check out the Grand Prize Winner in the Holiday contest,  “The 1011000-100110110000011010011 Truce” by Thomas A. Mays,  excerpted here. And also the first Honorable mention is here: “Get the Greek – A Chrismukkah Tale” and the second here: “Turkey Legs Boned & Rolled Like Veal, Just as Tender but Tastier,” and the third here: ‘I Don’t Want to See a Trail of Bodies, Unless They’re the Bodies I’ve Blessed for Destruction.’

Here’s an excerpt from “Better or Worse” by Mary Madigan, the fourth runner up in the Holiday Writing Contest:

“Live the Martian adventure” the ads said. “Mars has jobs.” Amy said. So Joe packed their bags and they left their hometown in Northern Great Lakestan, convinced that this new life would be better.

It wasn’t. There were jobs and the pay was good, but they were mostly desk jobs–the kind of work that you learn in an hour and wash/rinse/repeat for the rest of your life.

In every other way, Mars was the same as Wisconsin –eleven months of winter and one month of black flies. There were the same stores stocking the same junk–ice fishing supplies, hydroponic marijuana, buffalo algaesnaps and pasties (not the fun kind). There only way he could tell that he was not still in Wisconsin was when the snow melted. The mud that slimed the streets was red, not brown.

They even kept their Wisconsin routine. Weekends were spent repairing stuff in the house. Then they’d trudge outside for groceries and their weekly flu shot. Then they’d go back home, nuke dinner, turn on the TV and shiver under blankets until it was time to go to bed. Wash/rinse/repeat.

They were headed to the grocery store now, wobbling over ice, snow whirling around their feet like wisps of smoke. Christmas decorations added a little bit of color, but they’d already transported their presents months ago, to a family that was much too far away. There was no one to shop for but themselves.

As they passed the Port Tharsis Yacht club, Amy glanced longingly at the ships. They had met in pilot training. They both had high hopes of working on a transport and living on a space station, maybe Caprica. But low salaries, few job openings for pilots and ridiculous hours had changed those plans. They could live together and have desk jobs or they could follow their dreams and live apart. So they chose to be together. For better or worse.

Joe glanced into the Yacht Club window. Behind the fogged windows the guys inside were laughing. One guy turned and saw him, gave him a look that said. “I have a ship and I can leave this sad Martian rock anytime I please. And you, you pathetic little groundling–you can’t.”

Some ships were covered for the season, snow floating a few centimeters over their energy shields. Others were uncovered, still steaming after a quick descent through the atmosphere. One ship, pockmarked by rubble strikes but freshly cleaned, had a piece of paper laying on the ground beside it. Joe picked it up. “For Sale.”

The want, no, the need to own this ship, to be that guy in that Club hit him like a rogue wave. He had to convince Amy, right here and right now to buy this ship. As Yoda said. “Do… or do not. There is no try.”

Amy was already walking away, her boots crunching into the distance. He had to think fast, and of course the first thought in his head was more wisdom from Star Wars. This time, it was reverse psychology.

“What a piece of junk,” he said.

“Yeah.” she said. Her boots crunched towards him. “But imagine how nice it would be if we could just wormhole away on the weekends. To Fhloston pleasure planet …”

“Or Kepler-16b.” he said. “Two suns and a tiki bar on every corner.”

“Hmm…” she said, and his heart skipped a beat. Then he overplayed his hand. “It would make a great Christmas present. We haven’t spent my bonus check yet.”

“But…” she said “…we were going to use that for a new couch.”

Click here to read the rest at Liberty Island

*****

image illustration via shutterstock / 

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Why the Chance of Life on Mars Went Up

Saturday, December 20th, 2014 - by Stephen Green
(Not an actual depiction of Mars.)

(Not an actual depiction of Mars.)

The chances are still slim of there being life on the Red Planet, but they’re better than they were last year:

A year after reporting that NASA’s Curiosity rover had found no evidence of methane gas on Mars, all but dashing hopes that organisms might be living there now, scientists reversed themselves on Tuesday.

Curiosity has now recorded a burst of methane that lasted at least two months.

For now, scientists have just two possible explanations for the methane. One is that it is the waste product of certain living microbes.

“It is one of the few hypotheses that we can propose that we must consider as we go forward,” said John P. Grotzinger, the mission’s project scientist.

The scientists also reported that for the first time, they had confirmed the presence of carbon-based organic molecules in a rock sample. The so-called organics are not direct signs of life, past or present, but they lend weight to the possibility that Mars had the ingredients required for life, and may even still have them.

Let the terraforming begin.

****

cross-posted from Vodkapundit

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The 10 Most Fascinating Science Fiction Worlds of All Time

Friday, December 5th, 2014 - by Pierre Comtois

World-building as an imaginative exercise has been with mankind almost from the time men discovered fire, but it was only relatively recently that fancy began to give way to logic. That began with the work of Jules Verne, who based his many novels on a strict application of the science of his time, an approach that can be seen most strikingly with The Mysterious Island.

The work of H.G. Wells quickly followed. Utilizing points of departure that were a bit more fanciful than those of Verne (alien invasion, invisibility, time travel), Wells kickstarted modern science fiction, which, in America, soon morphed into tales of interplanetary warfare and galactic empires. But the stories by such writers as Edmond Hamilton and Doc Smith concentrated more on action than social context. As a result, though they created elaborate worlds filled with planets populated by every kind of alien creature, they lacked the background and cohesion needed to create believable settings.

That approach had to wait another decade or so until John Campbell (editor of Astounding Science Fiction and himself a former writer of space opera in the Hamilton style) determined to raise the quality of science fiction from the slam-bang-action variety to more thoughtful fare. With that revolution, writers began to turn out stories with more fully realized futurescapes that explored every societal permutation that intelligent beings were capable of creating. Reaching its full flower in the mid-fifties, the movement eclipsed space opera with many authorial visions becoming so popular that they generated numberless sequels, affording the space needed to build complex universes for readers to explore.

With much of the genre landscape over the years blurring the line between science fiction and fantasy, any list of the most interesting SF futurescapes would have to meet certain criteria, including a strong basis in reality and science, and be made up of multiple stories or volumes enabling a full exploration of the futurescape. That said, check out the following list of the top ten most fascinating worlds in science fiction:

vance city of chasch

10) Tschai

Beginning with City of the Chasch, Jack Vance created the world of Tschai, a planet hundreds of light years from Earth. There, spaceman Adam Reith is stranded, forcing him to deal with Tschai’s interconnected alien races. Through the course of the books, each race is thoroughly explored, making the changes brought on their societies through Reith’s influence all the more fascinating.

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The Force Awakens Trailer Lands Without a Story

Saturday, November 29th, 2014 - by Leslie Loftis

Phenias and Ferb Lightsaber gadget battle

The new Star Wars teaser trailer for Episode VII: The Force Awakens was released yesterday. I see what they are trying to do: give people hints of the movie to whet their appetite. That’s what a teaser trailer is supposed to do, of course. But there are no hints of a story. None. The most notable element of the trailer is a new lightsaber, a lightbroadsword really. It has already inspired a meme.

 

 

As the Twitterverse also noted, Star Wars has already been mocked for gadgety lightsabers. Phineas and Ferb got there this summer. Of course, that spoof aired on the Disney Channel so they might’ve planned it for maximum social media buzz for the trailer. So either they are uncoordinated and don’t realize they are walking into a trap of mockery other Disney teams designed or they are focusing on PR gimmicks. Neither option bodes well for the story.

 

@DustinMSandoval Phineas & Ferb did it first https://t.co/Y4sz9mlSDs

— NAchow (@nachow) November 28, 2014

 

I admit there may be some pessimistic expectations at work. The weak storytelling of the prequels probably dampens most people’s hope for better movies this time, but the trailer does nothing to give us hope. The first trailer invoked a story with “a boy, a girl, and a universe.”

YouTube Preview Image

The trailer for The Phantom Menace was brilliant. The fact that the movie didn’t deliver doesn’t change the excellence of the trailer, which teased the visuals and the music with the story. I watched it hundreds of times. “Every saga has a beginning…”

YouTube Preview Image

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The 10 Wasted Women of Star Trek: The Next Generation

Sunday, November 23rd, 2014 - by Ash Freeman

TNG_warp_head

Editor’s Note: this article compiles the opening essay “Why Star Trek: The Next Generation Is Great in Spite of Being Mostly Terrible” and all 5 parts of Ash Freeman’s recent series dissecting how and why one of science fiction’s most influential shows failed to give its female characters adequate attention. Jump to your favorite neglected heroine below or dive in first with Ash’s explanation for why he still enjoys TNG even though its shortcomings now show more glaringly today.

1. Tasha Yar

2. Deanna Troi

3. Dr. Beverly Crusher

4. Dr. Katherine Pulaski

5. Guinan

6. Ro Laren

7. Lwaxana Troi

8. Alyssa Ogawa

9. K’Ehleyr

10. Sonya Gomez

Star Trek: The Next Generation is, undeniably, one of the greatest sci-fi shows in the history of the genre.

But it wasn’t perfect. So when did it start to slide in quality anyway?

It didn’t start out that good — let’s be real.

Like many productions, TNG stumbled in its early seasons, regularly. As the show found itself, it began to consistently display the storytelling and endearing characters it would be known for even today… at around Season 3. Hell, the most famous episodes of the series, “The Best of Both Worlds” Parts 1 and 2, ended said season. But before that? It was hit or miss, and often the latter.

Season 1 is especially egregious, containing the worst good-to-mediocre/terrible ratio in the entire series. Yes, that is including the often (justifiably) maligned Season 7, generally the point where most shows have definitely passed their high point anyway. What set Season 1 apart from arguably more inferior seasons is the sheer volume of crap they had to crank out before they hit their stride.

No, seriously, it was pretty terrible in the beginning

The Big Goodbye.” “Datalore.” “Conspiracy.” Maaaaaaaaaaaaaaybe “Skin of Evil.” Maybe.

That’s four (possibly three) episodes that could be considered great, at least by the standards of Season 1.

Out of 26.

Not off to a great start there, were they? Fans at the time certainly didn’t seem to think so, and their opinions are justified. Season 1 has its share of stinkers, and most of them appeared right out of the gate. The second episode, “The Naked Now,” was more or less a rehash of an original series episode. After that we got what is thought to be by many, including principle cast member Jonathan Frakes, as the most embarrassing episode in the entire run– “Code of Honor.”

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Lwaxana Troi: Star Trek’s Most Polarizing Woman?

Thursday, November 20th, 2014 - by Ash Freeman

Lwaxana

Editor’s Note: See Ash Freeman’s wonderful article “Why Star Trek: The Next Generation Is Great in Spite of Being Mostly Terribleand the previous installments in this series: Part 1: Tasha YarPart 2: Deanna TroiPart 3: Beverly Crusher, and Part 4: Dr. Pulaski, Guinan, and Ensign Ro

Lwaxana Troi

Lwaxana’s place in Trek fandom is as polarizing as they come; her pushy, enthusiastic nature was incredibly off-putting to some, while others were endeared by it. Her flirtations with Picard, and other suitors of the week were hit or miss, but the real depth in Lwaxana’s character came when they started to peel back the layers behind her bombastic exterior.

Lwaxana’s life comes across as tragic once more of her back-story is revealed in the episode “Dark Page.” In it, we are shown the worst moment a parent could have in their lives: the loss of a child. Lwaxana suppressed all memory of her lost daughter Kestra, refusing to speak of or think of her ever again. This, combined with the loss of her husband Ian was too much for her to bear. Eventually the strain of this began to make her erratic, forcing Lwaxanna into a coma. She recovers by the end of the episode (because of course she does), but when viewed with this information in mind, many of her exploits before and after this episode become tinted in a more heartbreaking context.

Lwaxana fussing over daughter Deanna dragging her heels to get married is her compensating for the loss of her husband and her own way of wanting what’s best for her daughter, as is her stubbornness to lose potential suitor Timicin to his culture’s suicide ritual in the episode “Half a Life”. Lwaxana’s aggressive interactions with Picard are also potentially a result of this. “Cost of Living” has her doting over Worf’s son Alexander like a grandmother, as she likely wishes she had the opportunity to do with Kestra. Lwaxana became more three-dimensional, but only insofar as one was willing to empathize with her after considering this subtext.

These themes of marriage and parenthood would continue on in Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, but the question of how effective they were and how well her character was integrated with that cast and setting is for another day.

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The 10 Most Influential Science Fiction Stories of the 1920s

Tuesday, November 18th, 2014 - by Pierre Comtois

Editor’s note: see the previous installment in Pierre’s series about the history of science fiction: “The 10 Most Influential Science Fiction Stories of the 1910s

By the end of the first decade of the twentieth century, science fiction had begun to take definite form as a distinct genre. Before that, fantastic stories with scientific premises were not treated much differently by publishers or critics from novels of gothic romance or exposes of modern life, or the trials and tribulations of small town folk. But Jules Verne and especially H.G. Wells triggered something in young people who had grown up with constant news of scientific progress and a steady stream of inventions from Thomas Edison’s laboratory.

Indeed, it was Edison’s example, as well as those by Alexander Graham Bell and Wilbur and Orville Wright, that promoted the notion that anyone might come up with the next great invention from their basement workshops. Imaginations that had been grounded by Horace Greeley’s admonition to “Go West, young man! Go West!” had slowly begun to be freed from such limited and earthbound goals and released into a universe of possibilities. Jack Williamson banged out stories of far worlds and interstellar warfare from a shed on his family’s New Mexico farmstead. H.P. Lovecraft scrawled ornate and awful visions of alien intelligences far beyond what mortal minds could comprehend all while never leaving the confines of his second story walk-up in Providence, Rhode Island. And the same thing was beginning to happen everywhere in the United States and, in some cases, elsewhere in the world.

The 1920s were an important transition period in SF from the literary tradition of Wells to the Wild West-style action of what would become known as space opera. And even as Wells’ ability to fascinate faded, new writers, championed primarily in the United States by the likes of Edmond Hamilton and Jack Williamson, pioneered a growing market for pulp magazine-based science fiction.

That movement began in 1926 with Amazing Stories, the first pulp magazine devoted completely to stories of science fiction. The magazine was published by Hugo Gernsback with the intention of using its stories to promote science and invention, but the SF movement proved more popular than the publisher anticipated and quickly escaped his control. To satisfy the demand for such stories, other magazines soon followed with editors eagerly cultivating American talent that soon enough eclipsed the few foreign writers working in the genre. Proceeding at a dizzy pace, 1920s SF quickly saw the birth of major trends that would dominate the field for decades to come including extra sensory powers, alien contact, time police, and robots. One of the most enduring was “space opera” that covered the rise and fall of star-faring empires and the fate of whole galaxies and dimensions in time and space. The form lost favor in the 1960s but made a comeback of sorts as the new century approached, spurred in part by the worldwide success of the Star Wars films proving the enduring nature of SF’s basic tropes.

The very newness of science fiction (or “scientifiction” as it was called then) invited excitement in readers primed for a literature that mixed science with romantic adventure while inspiring writers to unleash the wildest of their imaginings in stories that challenged a society whose adult population was unused to flights of fantasy. In the shadow of Edgar Rice Burroughs’ science fantasies of the 1910s, the following top 10 trend setting SF stories of the 1920s laid the groundwork for the coming golden age of science fiction.

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10 Films that Tell the Future of War

Wednesday, November 5th, 2014 - by James Jay Carafano

Most Hollywood science fiction isn’t really all that “out there.” Take the computers on the original Star Trek. They operated a lot more like creaky 1960s IBM mainframes than 21st century iPads. Nevertheless, Hollywood has often been the inspiration for how militaries think about future wars. Here are 10 films that impress by their ability to presage the next weapons of war.

1. The Fabulous World of Jules Verne (1961)

The 19th century novelist pretty much single-handedly invented science fiction—and in the process he forecast military weapons from submarines to super bombs. The single best effort to bring his imagination to the screen was a 1958 Czech film, later released in the U.S. and dubbed in English. What makes this film so engaging is a unique visual style called “Mystimation” which combined flats that looked like Victorian engravings with live actors.

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The 10 Coolest Sci-Fi Technologies and How Close They Are to Reality

Friday, October 17th, 2014 - by Walter Hudson

The cell phone. The tablet. The touchscreen interface. All were once figments of imagination portrayed in science fiction. But for every imagined sci-fi technology that becomes realized, many more remain outside our grasp. Some are peaking over the horizon, while their most promising applications remain untold years away. Here are the 10 coolest sci-fi technologies, and how close they are to reality.

10. Terraforming

What It Is: While scientists have located planets with characteristics essential to supporting life, to date, the search for a habitable planet has confirmed nothing. If human beings hope to survive on a planet other than Earth without remaining confined to artificial structures, we will have to engineer methods to transform alien planets into Earth-like ones. That process is called terraforming.

Why It’s Cool: We live in a time when no real frontier remains. With the exception of the ocean’s most obscure depths, human beings have been everywhere on Earth. The ability to successfully terraform, combined with interstellar travel, would open up the galaxy to human colonization. That would provide those with the necessary means and pioneer spirit to seek new worlds where human freedom could be explored anew.

How Close to Reality: Pretty far. Terraforming Mars, the only planet in our solar system which stands as a reasonable candidate for the process, would take “several millennia” utilizing currently hypothesized methods. Giant orbital mirrors would reflect sunlight to the surface, and greenhouse gas-producing factories would work to heat and sustain the atmosphere. Basically, it’s Al Gore’s worst nightmare.

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The Wasted Women of Star Trek, Part 1: Tasha Yar

Monday, October 13th, 2014 - by Ash Freeman

Editor’s Note: This is the beginning of a series exploring the portrayal of women in the Star Trek franchise. Ash Freeman will focus on Star Trek: The Next Generation, April Bey will explore Star Trek: Deep Space Nine and Star Trek Voyager. Those interested in contributing to analyzing the original series, the rebooted films, and other installments in the franchise are invited to submit their ideas for articles.

Star Trek as a whole is host to a vast array of characters, some more memorable than others. Loved or reviled, there are some characters that just stick with you. Female characters, however, seem to get the short end of the stick more often than not when it comes to depth and development.

1. Tasha Yar

Tasha’s character had her roots in the space marine Vasquez, from Aliens. Yar was originally conceived as “Mancha Hernandez,” and read for by Marina Sirtis. The character was renamed to Tasha Yar when Sirtis and Denise Crosby switched roles. Crosby had initially auditioned for the part of Deanna Troi. The effect this could have had on the show had they kept the characters they auditioned for is unknown. As it happened, the death of Tasha in the Season 1 episode “Skin of Evil” would greatly influence the development of Lieutenant Worf. Ironically, it was largely a lack of development for Yar that would cause Crosby to leave the show in the first place.

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The 10 Best Science Fiction Titles in Comics

Monday, September 29th, 2014 - by Pierre Comtois

By most accounts, modern science fiction had its start with Jules Verne and H.G. Wells but didn’t really take hold in the public consciousness until it filtered down from hard cover books into more popular media affordable to a mass audience. At that point, stories by Verne and Wells, but especially Wells, began to be reprinted in cheaply produced pulp magazines until new stories by other authors inspired by their example began to explore the genre as well and eventually pushed out the reprints in favor of their own material.

The original catalyst for the rise of what was first known as “scientifiction” and then science fiction, was Amazing Stories, first published by Hugo Gernsback in 1926. Interested in invention and electronics, Gernsback conceived of the magazine as a place where inventors and what a later age would call engineers could publish fictional tales centered around a technological gadget or machine… as if today’s Popular Mechanics were to publish its articles as fiction.

Gernsback’s idea proved so successful that it inspired a host of imitators in the following decades until science fiction magazines became a staple of newsstands in years of rapid invention leading into the atomic age and the rise of transistors and integrated circuits.

But alongside the pulp magazines, beginning in the late 1930s, was the comic book which in many ways might have been considered illustrated pulp stories, as indeed many were. Magazines such as Planet Comics and Exciting Comics either took their names and subjects directly from pulp antecedents or simply transferred characters lock, stock, and barrel from the pulps.

But there began the rub.

In the pulps, science fiction didn’t stand still. It began to evolve almost from the start with space opera by the likes of Doc Smith, Jack Williamson, and Edmond Hamilton soon supplanting Verne and Wells and later, more serious hard SF replacing space opera with the Astounding Science Fiction generation of writers. Later, the Astounding writers themselves would fade to be replaced by soft SF concentrating on the social sciences, psychology, and the drug culture.

Meanwhile, many SF elements were adopted as a natural fit by the rising super-heroes of the 1940s with characters like Superman given a spacefaring background and rocket ships and death rays figuring mightily in many stories. Later, in the ’50s, such elements would prove even more integral to super-heroes as former SF fans, writers, and agents working for DC Comics used them as the basis for revamping a number of the company’s characters including Green Lantern and the Flash. In the 1960s, Marvel Comics would adapt SF elements with a vengeance in such titles as Thor and Fantastic Four.

But stories of purely a science fictional bent were often told in short 6-8 page formats usually with an unexpected or ironic twist ending. A format that fell out of favor in SF magazines but sharpened to a point by EC Comics; a format that climaxed in the justifiably famous “Judgment Day” which appeared in Weird Fantasy #18 (1956). And as fun and entertaining though the format could be, it also froze in place, with few exceptions, the presentation of science fiction in comics until the genre vanished along with westerns, romance, and funny animals in a rising tide of super-heroes.

That said, even with its failure to evolve, there was still a lot to be said about science fiction in comics as the following list will prove!

10) Magnus Robot Fighter

The twist in Gold Key’s Magnus Robot Fighter (1963) is that the people living in the year 4,000 AD think that they’re living in a paradise when they’re actually trapped in a dystopia where many of their individual freedoms have been traded away for easy living and few personal responsibilities. Ironically, the world’s only free man has been trained by a robot to swim against the tide and attack the problem at the point where reality met hardware: the millions of robots who actually run the day-to-day affairs of Earth, some of whom have begun to acquire self-awareness and a sense of superiority over their hapless human masters. Created by artist Russ Manning, the Magnus strip, like many of the publisher’s titles, moved forward in fits and starts (read: original material alternating with reprints) over many years until eventually canceled. It was licensed to Valiant Comics in the 1990s and given new life by writer Jim Shooter who pursued the themes inherent in the original comic but ended up reversing the premise with Magnus fighting instead for robot rights!

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Why Star Trek: The Next Generation Is Great in Spite of Being Mostly Terrible

Saturday, September 27th, 2014 - by Ash Freeman

TNG_warp_head

Star Trek: The Next Generation is, undeniably, one of the greatest sci-fi shows in the history of the genre.

But it wasn’t perfect.

So when did it start to slide in quality anyway?

It didn’t start out that good — let’s be real.

Like many productions, TNG stumbled in its early seasons, regularly. As the show found itself, it began to consistently display the storytelling and endearing characters it would be known for even today…at around Season 3. Hell, the most famous episodes of the series, “The Best of Both Worlds” Parts 1 and 2, ended said season. But before that? It was hit or miss, and often the latter.

Season 1 is especially egregious, containing the worst good-to-mediocre/terrible ratio in the entire series. Yes, that is including the often (justifiably) maligned Season 7, generally the point where most shows have definitely passed their high point anyway. What set Season 1 apart from arguably more inferior seasons is the sheer volume of crap they had to crank out before they hit their stride.

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The 10 Most Underrated Classic Science Fiction Films

Monday, August 4th, 2014 - by Pierre Comtois

In these days of seemingly weekly science fiction blockbusters (which are usually SF in name only… they’re actually just big gun actioners that take place in the future) and the hype that surrounds them, it’s easy to forget that once such films were the low man on the totem pole. Stuff fit for kids and juveniles but not serious adult audiences. Thus, in past decades, except for a few A list films like Them and The Day the Earth Stood Still in the 1950s and Planet of the Apes, Soylent Green, and Logan’s Run in the ’60s and ’70s, many SF movies slipped under the radar or were simply shrugged off by the critics.

But in our more enlightened age, as the serious adult film has given way to the tastes of teenagers and young adults, the science fiction film has come to be accepted as just another genre, even worthy of professional criticism. Ironic in that as such films have become more accepted, their intellectual content has shriveled. As a result, SF fans have been forced to search through back catalogs in hopes of finding lost gems that, if nowhere as sharp-looking as 21st century fare, at least offer ideas to think about and to ponder.

We all know the standards that no one questions: 2001, Forbidden Planet, Things to Come. But what about the less well known films? Are there any worthy entries from BCGI (Before CGI) that may not have received their proper share of recognition when they were first released? And if so, how have they fared in the decades since as the magic of VHS and then DVD and now Netflix have placed them at viewers’ fingertips? Have they been rediscovered? Reevaluated? Newly appreciated?

Answer: Many of the best still haven’t.

But how to discern the good but underrated SF films from those deserving oblivion? First, any solid science fiction movie must be driven by one or more science fiction concepts such as a new invention, social novelty, or exploration of other worlds, times, or dimensions. In that regard, some films such as Forbidden Planet or Logan’s Run are chock full of many such concepts while others like Colossus: The Forbin Project or The Andromeda Strain concentrate on only one.

Another thing that’s needed are filmmakers who take the subject matter seriously no matter the size of the budget. If that happens, then a film that cost a few hundred thousand dollars with cheesy FX can still top one of today’s hundred million dollar blockbusters.

With the foregoing in mind, we come to our list of the 10 most underrated classic science fiction films which will be rated not strictly from least underrated to most underrated, but from good to best of the bunch. All of them, in any case, are films that never really took the screen world by storm, nor the SF community for that matter, but that offer elements that deserve the attention of any SF film fan. All are solid little films each with surprising angles that will reward the patient viewer willing to look past production values and embrace the singular worlds they bring to life.

10) The Twonky

Included here because you can never go wrong when you adapt a classic SF story…well, almost never! Loose and whimsical adaptation of the story by Henry Kuttner produced and directed by Arch Oboler, this 1953 film follows a college professor who finds himself in possession of a new TV set that not only displays intelligence but proceeds to control his life apparently for his own good! Much of the entertaining short story is preserved in this film except for the ending. In the story, the Twonky disposes of the college professor while the movie version has the contraption destroyed in an auto accident. Extremely low budget and not very well acted, the film updates the story’s radio/twonky to a television set but is worth viewing due to its unique concept as well as its sheer audacity!

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The 5 Greatest Things About Sharknado 2: The Second One

Thursday, July 31st, 2014 - by Bryan Preston

I watched the universal premiere of Sharkado 2: The Second One on SyFy Wednesday night.

Don’t judge, especially if you watch Keeping Up With the Kardashians or Here Comes Honey Boo Boo. Or any of those bachelor, bachelorette or dating shows. Or any reality TV, really. You’re in no position to judge anything that anyone else watches.

S2TS1 might not be the greatest movie ever. It might even be two hours of my life that to my regret I’ll never get back. If SyFy follows its usual pattern, even if you missed the premiere you still have 17 trillion chances to see it. SyFy will air the thing on a loop until the end of all time and space, when the Big Bang falls into a Big Crunch and we start all over again.

When you watch Sharknado 2, and you inevitably will, here are the five greatest things to look out for in S2TS1.

1. S2TS1 wastes absolutely no time on story.

Literally seconds into the film, star Ian Ziering (whose character’s name is still “Fin”) sees a shark in a cloud backlit by lightning. What follows is a fun riff on the old Twilight Zone episode in which a young William Shatner sees a gremlin on the wing of an airliner, but nobody believes him. Ziering has his own Nightmare at 20,000 Feet, then, because of all the sharks, has to reprise Robert Hayes’ role in Airplane! I’m not even kidding.

SPOILER ALERT: New York’s anti-gun policies end up helping the sharks. But as they say, only criminals have guns under strict gun control. That turns out to be a minor side plot in S2TS1. I’m not kidding.

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Did the Cold War’s End Transform Star Trek: The Next Generation?

Monday, July 14th, 2014 - by PJ Lifestyle Comment of the Day

A very thoughtful, enlightening comment from Terrekain on The 10 Most Obnoxious, Overrated Alien Cultures in Star Trek:

None of these series were created in a vacuum.

The writers originally imagined an “introspective” series with episodic “lesson learning” (America-bashing), using alien races as props. Herb Wright, for example, was a socialist, college Vietnam protestor, and apologist for the Soviet Union, who created the Ferengi to represent an evil capitalistic race to be Star Trek’s new primary villain.

Needless to say, Wright frequently had confrontations with the lead writer who created the Borg, Maurice Hurley, proving the adage that “A man is defined by the character and nature of his enemies”.

This was why so many of the early alien races in TNG were written, as many have complained, like “cartoon caricatures”; transparently insulting to the intelligence of its American audience. The fatal flaw of TNG’s early writing (and therefore writers) is why the show was in real trouble in its first two seasons.

Basically, TNG was swimming against the tide back in the late 1980s, although it should be noted that many socialists in the United States and Hollywood still regarded World Socialism as the “winning side” even after the dissolution of the Soviet Union.

America’s “cultural zeitgeist” wasn’t buying TNG’s villains, in the same vein that many anti-war movies in the 2001-2008 era were losers, more badly-written propaganda than profit-driven endeavors to sell to an American audience.

Things came to a head, however, with a slate of anti-Left events in 1988-1989: The election of Bush, the withdrawal of the Soviets from Afghanistan, and uprisings against Communist Parties all over the from Asia to Europe. By the time the Berlin Wall was breached in late 1989, TNG’s executives realized they didn’t just risk being criticized for being naive or incompetent or even apologists;

They were at risk of being branded evil.

While that might seem strange to some Millennials today, for the sake of illustration: imagine branding Christians and Jews as religious terrorist bombers right after 9/11.

In hindsight, things like that are cheesy and laughable.

In the moment of the times and for the people living though them, it’s outrageous.

The result was a major shakeup that led to the release/re-assignment/firing of TNG’s writers and the hiring of writers who were less susceptible to showing contempt to their audience (especially in their major market, the United States).

One of those writers was the creator of the Borg’s understudy and friend, Michael Piller, who became the narrative driving force of the TNG series as well as its spinoffs like Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. Piller used open hiring to circumvent Hollywood’s closed-socialist hiring circles, discovering some of TNG’s best writers including Ron D. Moore and Rene Echeverria.

The Borg were not originally meant to be the primary villains of Star Trek TNG, but with Piller, they became the most recognizable and menacing villains of the 90s. The Ferengi, by contrast, were fleshed out in Deep Space Nine and received something of a more balanced narrative.

Stories inevitably tell you more about the authors than about the subjects. This was true for the producers and writing staff of TNG just before the Cold War ended, and the new staff inducted into TNG right after the people in Hollywood realized the jig was up.

Star Trek is not to be hailed as some sort of important creation on par with the combustion engine, the transistor, or even the Hoola Hoop.

But TNG does represent a case study, like a capsule in time, reflecting Hollywood’s response to prevailing attitudes in America during some interesting times.

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The 10 Most Obnoxious, Overrated Alien Cultures in Star Trek

Friday, July 11th, 2014 - by Dave Swindle

10. The Romulans

What exactly do the Romulans have that justifies their defining quality, their arrogance? They’re among the most boring species in all of Trek, the kind of evil twin to the Vulcans, known for their deceitful and warlike nature.

Their only redeeming feature seems to be how cool and genuinely intimidating their warbird ships are:

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