5 Geek Questions To Provoke Debates About the Future of Sci-Fi and Fantasy


In partnership with the new fiction publishing platform Liberty Island, PJ Lifestyle is going to begin promoting and co-hosting a series of debates and discussions about popular culture. The goal is to figure out what works and what doesn’t so that in the future we can promote and create better fiction and culture of our own. These are public brainstorming sessions for writers and culture advocates interested in developing a more vibrant popular culture. You’re invited to submit your answers to any of these questions — or a related one of your own! — that interests you:

A) in the comments

B) Via email to PJ Lifestyle editor Dave Swindle.

C) at your blog, then let us know in the comments or via email. 

The most interesting answers may be linked, cross-posted, or published at PJ Lifestyle. Here were this week’s questions: 


1. Star TrekStar Wars, Both, or Neither?

2. Who Are the Scariest Science Fiction and Fantasy Villains of All Time?

3. DC Vs. Marvel: Which Company Created a More Compelling Fictional Universe?

4. What Are The Best Time Travel Stories?

5. Is Game of Thrones Good Or Bad For Fantasy?

1. Star TrekStar Wars, Both, or Neither?

Which is the better sci-fi/fantasy franchise? Or is it unfair to compare them? Or should we just get over them both?

In one sense the future of the Star Wars and Star Trek franchises is bright with Star War Episode VII in production and the third of the new Star Trek rebooted films aiming for 2016.

But those still watching these shows and movies now are not necessarily the same people — or children — who first fell in love with them during their original incarnations.

Are Star Wars and Star Trek both genuinely great franchises? Or are they both overrated, their shortcomings overlooked or rationalized away? Is it time to give up on them both? Do grown ups move on from watching Spock and Boba Fett? Kathy Shaidle would say as much:

Kathy Shaidle: 5 Reasons Star Wars Actually Sucks

What are some reasons that Star Wars is better than Star Trek? What qualities in Gene Roddenberry made Star Trek superior to the thinking (or lack thereof) of George Lucas’s Star Wars? Or is it unreasonable to compare them? Are they just different genres? Which direction is better for aspiring writers to pursue?

What lessons are to be learned from Star Wars and Star Trek for how to build a successful science fiction franchise? Where and when have the franchises gone off the rails? Are their coming new films and TV shows steps in the right direction? Or is J.J. Abrams making a mess of two cornerstones of geek culture?


Walter Hudson: 7 Ways to Reboot Star Trek With a New TV Show

Do you agree with Lewis Beale a CNN today who explains “How ‘Star Wars’ ruined sci-fi” in CNN today:

I say this as someone who has been a devoted sci-fi reader since childhood. I was so blown away by the first “Star Wars” film when I saw it in 1977, I went back two more times the same week to wallow in its space age fantasy. But here’s the thing: George Lucas’ creation, basically a blown-up Flash Gordon adventure with better special effects, has left all too many people thinking science fiction is some computer graphics-laden space opera/western filled with shootouts, territorial disputes, evil patriarchs and trusty mounts (like the Millennium Falcon).

“Star Wars” has corrupted people’s notion of a literary genre full of ideas, turning it into a Saturday afternoon serial. And that’s more than a shame — it’s an obscenity.

Science fiction is in fact one of the most creative literary genres around. The best of sci-fi is filled with meditations on what’s “out there,” what makes us human, how technology is used and how it is changing us. It takes up issues of race, sexuality and quite literally everything else under the sun. It is essentially about ideas, not action, and that’s the problem, as far as Hollywood is concerned.

*Updated, Tuesday May 6, 2014: David Churchill Barrow of Liberty Island writes:

Star Trek is a reasonable and optimistic extrapolation into the future of the developments noted in my series Stops Along the Road to Our Well-Ordered Liberty at my blog at LIBERTY ISLANDStar Wars is a glitzy, gizmo/special effects-ridden extrapolation of a 1940s comic book.


Here are links to the six parts of Churchill Barrow’s series.

2. Who Are the Scariest Science Fiction and Fantasy Villains of All Time?

What qualities make for a terrifying bad guy? Who haunts you at night?


Last week Andrew Klavan started a discussion at his blog about the scariest movie ghosts:

Enough politics for a while, let’s talk movies. And let’s talk ghost stories specifically, one of my favorite kinds of movies. I’ve noticed the scare genre is not doing as well at the box office this year as it did last. Last year, there were a couple of monster hits, so to speak, like The Conjuring and Mama — though 2012′s Sinister was the last one that really grabbed me. This year…  Oculus…  The Quiet Ones…  Haven’t seen them so I’m not commenting, but they’re not doing great business.

However… to celebrate their release, Movie.com put out a list by Jacob S. Hall of the “Ten Scariest Ghost Movies.” The list leaves out my favorite, The Innocents, and misses The Ring, Paranormal Activity and Lake Mungoall wonderful. But there are some definite good ones there: The Haunting, The Changeling, Poltergeist, The Devil’s Backbone — can’t argue with any of those. The Orphanage lost me on plot, but it had some fantastic scenes: that hide-and-seek game was spectacular. The Pulse and The Eye were good; The Innkeepers, I thought started too slow and then relied too much on boo-scares.


Read the rest of Klavan’s post. He argues that for a ghost movie to be really effective it must go beyond just cheap jump scares, to succeed it needs “ideas that really send a chill up your spine.”


In continuing the discussion started yesterday about Star Wars vs Star Trek, what villains in the world of sci-fi fantasy actually succeed at inspiring fear? What ideas lie behind them that make them so scary? How does one craft an effective villain for science fiction and fantasy stories?

3. DC Vs. Marvel: Which Company Created a More Compelling Fictional Universe?

Will the Justice League film be able to compete with The Avengers?

Who will ultimately triumph in the superhero battles to define the genre? Does Marvel with Spider-Man, the Avengers, and the X-Men set the standard? Or does DC with Batman and Superman provide a better model for aspiring comic and superhero creators?

John Boot: 5 Reasons Why Thor Is a Second-Rate Superhero Franchise

Whose heroes are more exciting? Whose villains are more frightening? Who has the greater history of storytelling success?

John Boot: The 4 Big Lies That Ruined The X-Men Movie Franchise


John Boot: 5 Lame Superhero Sequels That Should Never Have Been Made

Dave Swindle: 10 Secret Reasons Why The Avengers Is the Best Superhero Film


Updated May 8, 2014: See Liberty Island COO David S. Bernstein’s great response here: “Marvel for the Win, Obviously.

4. What Are The Best Time Travel Stories?

And what are some of the worst? How does the genre go wrong? Is Looper a success or failure?

John Boot: Time-Travel Thriller Looper Should Make Its Director a Hollywood Player

Hannah Sternberg: 5 Reasons I Don’t Want to Travel Back in Time

Updated May 9, 2014: A very helpful, thorough primer from a reader:


Hi Dave!

If you want to start with the written Time Travel Stories:

We must start with Robert Heinlein.

“By His Bootstraps” was his first attempt at a Time Travel Story.

“All You Zombies” — Classic story in only six pages. Brilliant!

His novel “The Door into Summer” —  it’s both a time travel novel AND a robot novel. (Even though “IRobot” is named after Asimov’s short story, the robots work like Heinlein’s.) Heinlein was an engineer, so his robots make more sense.

All books from “Time Enough for Love” on…(Which is really the ULTIMATE Time Travel/Parallel Timeline/Parallel Universe series.) “The Number of the Beast” anyone? ;-)

Asimov’s “The End of Eternity” is actually an alternate Timeline novel with Time Travel elements. Alternate from the Empire and Foundation timeline before he merged his robot novels into it.

H. Beam Piper – “Paratime”.  The “Federation Books” are really alternate Timeline books from “Paratime”. (Including the “Little Fuzzy” series.) (Yes, I realize that Paratime is just passing into parallel universes, but…)

“Star Trek” – numerous episodes and Movies, and when you consider that the new movies are actually in an alternate timeline. Not a “reboot”. They won me over when they mentioned “Admiral Archer”. (He’s from before the split.)

“Back to the Future” – When you think about this series, it’s really both Time Travel and Alternate Timelines.

“Doctor Who” –  I just started getting into him.

So this idea is not just Time Travel, but Alternate Timelines.

These are just the big ones.

There was the “Time Wars” novels in the 80s and 90s. I remember the author talking about that third season “Star Trek:TOS” episode with the Wyatt Earp saying that that episode was the closest anyone ever came in Hollywood to making the look of the Earp’s and Doc Holliday “Look right”.

Hope this helps.


PS The ultimate conservative science fiction books – “Starship Troopers” and H. Beam Pipers “A Planet for Texans”, also known as “Lone Star Planet”. Look it up, the paper back is only 87 pages long. A quick read. I’d like to see Glenn Beck make this one into a movie with his studio. (Piper has the BEST court room stories.)


5. Is Game of Thrones Good Or Bad For Fantasy?

Is George R.R. Martin’s dark vision and the HBO show‘s sex and violence the future? Or a sleazy trend to oppose? Should writers aim for the NC-17-level?

The Independent: “George RR Martin defends sexual violence in Game of Thrones

The debate about sexual violence in Game of Thrones has been ongoing since the TV series began, but has been reignited in the current fourth season after popular character Jaime Lannister was shown forcing himself on his sister Cersei.

The scene was particularly controversial because it wasn’t portrayed as rape in Martin’s account.

But Martin, who has worked as TV writer since the early Eighties, said he understood the show’s creators would want to make their own artistic choices for the books to work in a different medium.

“The graphic novels and television programmes are in the hands of others, who make their own artistic choices as to what sort of approach will work best in their respective mediums,” he said.

He added that many scenes in his books are intended to disturb the reader, and would apply the same principle to the TV show.

Hannah Sternberg: Bad Advice for 5 Game of Thrones Characters

Andrew Klavan: Should People of Faith Watch Game of Thrones?

Dave Swindle: The 2 Most Important Reasons Why I Hate Game of Thrones


What pop culture debates do you want to start next week? Please leave your suggestions in the comments.


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