Link of the Day: Liz Bourke on (Male) Rape in Epic Fantasy

I've got nothing to say about Liz Bourke's recent post on the topic in the title -- at least, not right now (maybe later).  However, I do think she's raising a damned important question:  why aren't more male writers dealing with the sexual abuse/rape of male characters in epic fantasies (especially when the sexual abuse/rape of female characters is somewhat common)?

Head on over and read what she's got to say.  That is all.

Hugo Award Recommendations Needed! Inquire Within…

I've never voted for the Hugos before, which means this year is a huge "first."  Regardless, I've always had a problem filling out some of the categories, sometimes because I'm not familiar with the field (comics, for example).  This is where you all come in.  Below is the list of all the categories in which my nominations are either entirely absent or not firm.  What would you recommend I check out to help me fill the gaps?

Best Novella
Best Novelette
Best Related Work (I've got four ideas, but maybe I missed something you all know about?)
Best Graphic Story
Best Dramatic Presentation (minus Game of Thrones, as I've already seen it)
Best Fan Artist
Best Fanzine (I have ideas, but only one standout thus far)
Best Fancast (ditto)

Have at it!

Literary Explorations: Epic Fantasy = Crushingly Conservative? (A Sorta Response to Liz Bourke)

First, read this.

Have you read it now?  Good.  I want to start by briefly talking about two of the central problems that Ms. Bourke rightly struggles with throughout her post (and which many readers had issues developing or agreeing to on their own) -- definitions and the perception of their application.  For the sake of space and time -- you should read the actual thread anyway -- I'm going break this down into little, methodical sections.

I.  Definitions
The two main terms at work here are "conservative" and "epic fantasy."  The latter is somewhat impossible to define, in part because subgenres are, in effect, convenient marketing categories.  There might be something called "epic fantasy," but I don't think anyone can approach a satisfactory definition.  I tend to imagine "epic fantasy" as a matter of scale.  In most works in this class, what is at stake is not the individual so much as the entire world (or the world as the characters know it).  Thus, any actions the heroes take is in an attempt to save the world from destruction, whether literally through some kind of magic or figuratively through some
sort of violent conquest.  Thus, Lord of the Rings and A Song of Ice and Fire share something in common with Karen Miller's Kingmaker, Kingbreaker series.  What is crucial, for me, is that the stakes are greater than a single, isolated community.

"Conservative," however, is a far simpler term to define.  While some arguments about its supposed meaning are interesting, they tend to rely on isolated meanings within individual communities, which themselves are often reductive and meaningless.  Saying that "conservative" means "smaller government" is to fall prey to a particular narrative about the term, one which itself is often self-contradictory.  "Conservative," then, must be taken not for what people say it is, but what it does.  It ultimately comes down to roots.  If conservative is both "restrained" and "protective," then it follows suit that the term refers to a wide range of possibilities:  from traditional cultural movements to general conservation, and so on and so forth.  This is partly why we identify "conservative" most often in opposition to "progressive," as the latter actively seeks change (not always "good" change), where the other frequently wants to prevent or slow it down (not always a "bad" thing).

II.  The Perception of the Definitions' Application
There's no point debating "epic fantasy" and trying to find an adequate definition to apply to this scenario.  In other words, I'm skipping it here for the more interesting questions related to conservatism.

If we take as given that "conservative" rests in opposition to "progressive," I think it becomes clear that much of what falls under the "epic fantasy" category is neither wholly one or the other -- with exception, of course. Take Lord of the Rings as an example.  From the start, the major conflict of the novel centers around the ring and preventing some other force (the progressive change) from using it to take over.  This is an inherently conservative idea:  maintaining the status quo.  And that's not a bad thing in this case.  Sauron, after all, would likely change the world of Middle Earth so drastically as to render the limited freedoms of such a world void, thus plunging everyone into "darkness" (a melodrama that rests on an assumption).  Avoiding that problem is naturally conserving the present because it is simply the better option.  But the narrative is not wholly conservative, for one of the subplots is the "Return of the King," which assumes that one man will return to his rightful place among his people, thus bringing back a lost ideal and taking the world of Middle Earth into its next mythic phase:  the Age of Man.  Thus, the ending of Lord of the Rings offers a progressive shift away from the status quo.  We can assume that certain things will always remain the same (conserved), but other things will change (progressed) -- hopefully for the better.

This is true for many other epic fantasies too.  Karen Miller's Kingmaker, Kingbreaker series follows a similar conservative/progressive structure.  The narrative opens with the ascension of a previously "crippled" (non-magic) son, who must protect the kingdom against the faltering "dome" that protects everyone from the dark forces beyond (forces connected to the goddess who made magic possible -- it's complicated).  But because he has no true magic himself, he must rely on a "commoner" (Asher) to do the work for him.  Thus, Asher, the protagonist, gets caught up in the court politics of a world where only certain people are allowed magic, ensuring a certain degree of "slavery" among certain classes, and untold freedoms among others.  The narrative is, more negatively than in LOTR, about conserving the present -- protecting it from what will undoubtedly look a lot worse.  But the end of the duology posits an entirely different future:  one where Asher ascends to power, upending the entire social system of this isolated "continent" and taking the people there to the next stage in their cultural development.  These are good things, we assume, because it means granting certain freedoms to everyone (progressing) while maintaining certain privileges for others (conserving).

All of this is to suggest that there are simply no easy dichotomies when it comes to conservative and progressive.  The two work against and with one another for the betterment of the whole.  At least, that's how it's supposed to work.  In a great deal of fantasy, it works wonderfully.  In real life?  Well, you just have to look at the U.S. Congress for your answer...


Literary Explorations: Rethinking the Classics — Ringworld and the Golden Age (Brief Thoughts)

One of my colleagues recently asked me whether I think he should finish reading Ringworld by Larry Niven.  While he didn't say so directly, I assume that he isn't enjoying his first foray into the Known Space universe.  There are probably a lot of good reasons for that.  His research interests lean toward the last 30 years of science fiction, with special attention to works that fall loosely into the cyberpunk, biopunk, and ecocriticism categories -- authors like Paolo Bacigalupi, William Gibson, Pat Cadigan, etc.  He's made a solid effort to read the classics, though, since knowing about the history of the genre is important to the scholarship.

Personally, I think Ringworld is a fascinating book that falls prey to its age.  True, it is one of the most important works of science fiction ever written.  True, it has affected genre in profound ways.  But it is also a work that doesn't connect as well with contemporary audiences as it did in the decades immediately following publication (1970).  That said, it has not aged as much as the works
of the Golden Age, which have suffered the effects of time more acutely than the stuff from the New Wave.
My first foray into the Known Space Universe
was via an abridged audiobook of Ringworld.
I think this is simply what happens to all literature over time.  While we still read Dickens, Bronte, Faulkner and Hughes today, we do so primarily because they are "classic" writers (with some exceptions, of course).  The real discussion these days surrounds works that have more relevance to the now, from O'Connor and McCarthy to O'Brien and Wallace to Adichie and Atwood.  The list goes on and on.  I don't think this is a revelation, though.  That's just how literature works -- like any other field.  We don't become stuck in time, as it were.

Science fiction, however, has been accused of having the exact opposite problem:  the Golden Age and so on and so forth are viewed nostalgically, not as stepping stones in a much larger literary movement.  I'm not convinced this is wholly true, but it is certainly true in some cases -- Myke Cole would probably agree.  We are often so focused on what were great works "back then," and not on the great works of "just a short while ago" or "now."  "We" as in "the community."  That's not our fault really.  Because most of us think of science fiction as having that "sensawunda" feel, it becomes increasingly difficult to surprise.  So we go back to a time when SF did what we want "all" SF to do, in a way that seems or feels like it's divorced from the unfortunate and material reality we all live in.  Golden Age/Classic SF doesn't care about how the world really turned out and what that might mean for future generations (so the nostalgic argument goes); it just wants to take us to the future, to show us grand adventures, exciting technologies and peoples, and so on and so forth.
Whatever you might think of the classics, the idea of a
giant ring world is still pretty amazing. 
But for someone who doesn't have that experience, these works feel dated.  Lost.  Even somewhat overwhelming in their "simplicity" and "tone" (illusions, of course).  Ringworld, then, is a book that simply falls prey to a duality in genre:  the folks I'll call the Sensawundas and the others (the Contemporaries).  Some might say the Sensawundas are winning...

What do you think about the classics?  In particular, what do you think of Ringworld?  What did you think of it when you first read it?  The comments are yours.

Teaching Rambles: If You Could Teach It…: The Space Opera Edition

One of the things I hope to do one day is teach a class on Space Opera.  Thus far, that opportunity has not arisen just yet, but the future is bright (as they say).  For this teaching-related post, though, I'd like to offer a suggested reading list for two different Space Opera courses and then get feedback from the wide world of SF/F.  I should note that I will conflate Military SF with Space Opera, in part because I'm not wholly convinced that they are always distinct categories.  For the sake of this post, I will use a slightly modified definition from Brian Aldiss' (italics mine):
Colorful, dramatic, large-scale science fiction adventure, competently and sometimes beautifully written, usually focused on a sympathetic, heroic central character and plot action, and usually set in the relatively distant future, and in space or on other worlds, often but not always optimistic in tone. It often deals with war, piracy, military virtues, and very large-scale action, large stakes...
The problem, of course, is that so much fits into this definition.  To avoid that, I will put emphasis on "very large-scale action" and take that to mean "multi-planetary action."

Since I mostly teach American literature courses right now, I'm going to make two lists -- one for an American literature course and one for a British literature course.  However, I am also wide open to the possibility of a World Lit-style course, so if you have suggestions for space operas written by people outside the traditional science fiction zones, please suggest them in the comments.

Here goes:

American Space Operas
The Skylark of Space by E. E. Doc Smith (1946)
Foundation by Isaac Asimov (1951)
Starship Troopers by Robert Heinlein (1959)
Ringworld by Larry Niven (1970)
Shards of Honor by Lois McMaster Bujold
Ragamuffin by Tobias S. Buckell (2007)
Dust by Elizabeth Bear (2007)
The January Dancer by Michael Flynn (2008)

British Space Operas
Rendezvous With Rama by Arthur C. Clarke (1972)
Canapus in Argos by Doris Lessing (1979-1983)(not sure which book I'd pick)
Consider Phlebus by Iain M. Banks (1987)
The Reality Dysfunction by Peter F. Hamilton (1996)
Revelation Space by Alastair Reynolds (2000)
Light by M. John Harrison (2002)
Singularity Sky by Charles Stross (2003)
Natural History by Justina Robson (2004)

Of course, teaching all of these books in a single semester might be difficult.  Sacrifices suck... I've also not included short stories, which are likely to replace certain novels (such as Bujold, who has written many shorts in the Vorkosigan Saga, thus opening up space for more space operas).

So, what would you change in my lists?  What am I missing?


Note:  I am not pleased by the overwhelming number of men on my lists.  Due to my definition, many of my favorite female authors simply didn't fit, which exposed a critical gap in my reading.  If you have recommendations for significant space operas written by American and British women (other than the ones I've already named), please let me know so I can start filling those gaps in my reading.

Star Wars Going Commercial? Oh, Right, Normal… (Or, Look, It’s Boba Fett and Han Solo!)

If you haven't already heard from io9, Entertainment Weekly, and Geeks of Doom, Lucasfilm is considering the possibility of two standalone Star Wars films -- one involving an origin story for Han Solo, set between Revenge of the Sith and A New Hope (III and IV), and the other involving Boba Fett either between A New Hope and The Empire Strikes Back (IV and V) or Empire and The Return of the Jedi (VI).  That is, of course, if you accept the rumors (including this weird one about a Yoda movie).  Frankly, we don't have much reason to believe Disney won't make as many Star Wars movies as they possible can, especially when you consider just how lucrative the universe has been for Lucas and his various companies.  Any new movie would equal a new video game, new books, new merchandise, and on and on and on and on.  Basically, unless a Star Wars movie ends up flopping at the box office -- unlikely -- Disney will probably pump out as many movies as is reasonable.  Expect one of these years to become "the year of Star Wars," with t
hree different movies/series releasing all at the same time... (that's my rumor -- you can quote me).
What do I think about all this?  First, I'm not actually all that bothered by the prospect of a whole bunch of new Star Wars movies.  Honestly, I expect Disney to handle the franchise well enough; they might even do a better job of it than Lucas has in the last decade-ish.  I'm likely to see most of the movies, regardless of their setting, characters, and so on, if only because I have been a Star Wars nut since I was a kid (my mother gave me the VHS tapes of the Leonard Maltin editions, and I still have them -- in fact, I have two sets, because I wanted one that I could play without worrying about damaging the tapes...I was a weird teenager).
I see pride! I see power! I see a bad-ass mother who don't take
no crap off of nobody! 
My concern is that Disney will produce Star Wars films it shouldn't just because it can.  While an origin story for Han Solo or an expansion of Boba Fett's sparse plot in the originals might be interesting, it does make me wonder whether there aren't new and more interesting ways to inject freshness into a franchise that has, if we're being honest, been pretty stale (with some exceptions to a few of the extended universe products -- books and games in particular).  I love Star Wars and always will, but I'm also a bit bored of seeing the same old characters being trotted out over and over.  Now that we've followed through the origin of Darth Vader, I'd really like to see more new stuff.  New characters.  New stories.  And not just origins for characters living during the major events of the prequel and original trilogies.  I want to see stories set beyond the current film franchises.
I'm like a snake. I lure you into a false sense of security, and
then I shot your ass under a table, melting your green skin
like a mutated cake from a galaxy far, far away... Fool...
Think about it.  For those that follow the extended universe (I have some familiarity), imagine all the ways Disney could reinvigorate the franchise with new and exciting plots.  Take, for example, the post-Empire narratives, from the final death knell of the Empire to the various new invasions and terrors that befell the New Republic.  Even more fascinating might be to take us all the way outside of the immediate aftermath (an easier feat when you consider that most of the original cast is too damn old to reprise their roles) and film the Young Jedi stuff (the solo kids would make a great new set of heroes for new Star Wars fans) or even the incredible Yuuzhan Vong War, which would allow the original cast to return as secondary characters (or even as primaries, if one wanted to go that route -- I'm not sold either way) and allow us to see the New Republican and the New Jedi Order engage in one of the most important, violent conflicts of its new life.
The dreams of a Republic scattered like so much biology...
Basically, I'm saying that there is too much to show us in this world to let it go to waste re-hashing stuff we've already seen.  Sure, Han Solo is a great character, but he's an old character.  We more or less know his story; a prequel won't change that.  We even know Boba Fett, to some extent, and so imagining his pre-ROTJ past doesn't really add anything to the film franchise.  The only new material we're getting is in whatever film J. J. Abrams ends up making, but I'm not sure where he's going to set that story (or, rather, what Disney will let him and his writer do with the universe).  I can dream for a Mara Jade narrative, but I also have this absurd notion that Mark Hamill must reprise his role as Luke Skywalker at some point.  He can't do that in the Mara Jade plot because he's just too old (sorry, Mark), and I'm not sure I like the idea of casting a young blond guy to play the role...

I guess my biggest concern is that Disney will try so hard to keep the money coming in that they'll piss on the only opportunity I see that could make Star Wars more than just "that series we loved as kids, and which gave us enough merchandise to destroy a planet."  I want to go back into that movie theater and have the experience of a lifetime -- my first, actual Star Wars experience (the one older folks talk about all the time when they wax nostalgic about 1977).

But I don't expect that to happen...

Rethinking Superhero Ethics and Myke Cole’s Shadow Ops Series

On the recent Skiffy and Fanty Show podcast, my friend Jen and I interviewed author Myke Cole about Shadow Ops:  Fortress Frontier, the sequel to his 2012 hit, Shadow Ops:  Control Point (which we interviewed him about here).  During the discussion, we (Jen and I) sidetracked from asking Myke direct questions to actually considering the world he had actually created -- specifically, the ethics of that world and how it might actually happen in the real world.  I'd like to continue some of that discussion here (on top of this post by Myke on a similar subject).

For those that are unfamiliar with Myke's work, you'll need to know that Shadow Ops takes place in an alternate present where "magic powers" (a.k.a. superhero powers) are monitored and "controlled" by the various world governments.  In the case of the U.S., they have sought to control these powers and the people who have them by banning their use in the general populace and forcing people who discover that they are "latent" to join the military (or some related agency, depending on the need).  Much of the "forcing" isn't publicly acknowledged, which becomes apparent in this brilliant book trailer for Fortress Frontier:

One of the questions I've always asked myself when looking at any superhero universe (whether it's Myke's or the X-Men universe or whatever) is "What would we actually do?"  Myke's universe is not that different from popular comics like X-Men.  In a way, the narrative of government control, often using violent force, is a staple of superhero narratives.  And rightly so.  It's possibly the most important issue in any superhero world still populated by "normies."  Magneto recognized this when he waged a personal war against humanity, assuming that mutants would become the dominant lifeforms on the planet (the evolutionary model is more important to X-Men than Shadow Ops); thus, what seems like a fit of genocidal thinking turns into a vendetta that is both biologically and personally-oriented (Magneto's heritage is crucial to his motivations, however problematic).  Of course, his actions also fueled the very things he had hoped to prevent.
No idea how he has an 8-pack...not like
he actually lifts anything.
In Myke's world, however, the the only rational answer the officials can come up with is "CONTROL" (hence the name Control Point for his first book -- one of many meanings).  Not surprisingly, this is a painfully repetitive human response.  For example, the current debate over gun control is largely an emotional response to something we don't quite understand -- mass shootings (this is not intended as a 1-to-1 analogy).  When bad things happen, the human response is often to control that thing, because to control "evil" is to secure the "good" (or something like that).  We jump on "mental health" and "fewer guns or stricter laws" because they are the simple answers to problems which, on the surface, appear simple, but, underneath, are complicated.  The same thing has happened throughout history, with some noticeable spurts of reasoned progress.*
The Shadow Ops series is a great example of this knee-jerk response at work, but based on an actionable threat. If random people gain extraordinary powers, wouldn't it make sense to launch at campaign to control those powers?  Certainly.  In the face of a presumed evil (I use this word lightly -- the "other" might be a more appropriate term), we can only conceive the arrival, the moment when we know something new and terrifying has arrived, and we must take whatever action we can to prevent that change from overwhelming civilization itself.  Some superhero universes use mutant registration, incarceration, extermination, indentured servitude (such as military service in Shadow Ops), or some other method of control that inevitably punishes the "mutant" for having abilities they didn't ask for.
George Clooney, Howard E. Rollins, Jr.,
and Aamir Khan walk into a bar... 
Mutant punishments, then, are easy analogues for the real world.  People like to make grand comparisons between gay rights, race, and so on and so forth when talking about superheroes.  They are fair comparisons when you treat the issue simplistically.  I, however, don't see the validity in such comparisons, in part because there is something tangibly different about a superhero.  Arguments against the inclusion of LGBT people in contemporary society are, in my honest opinion, based not on rational determinations of "social damage," but rather on unfounded accusations that such damage occurs and that it is exclusively the fault of LGBT people.  I have seen a few studies which suggest that children raised by gay parents may suffer as a result, but these studies are always a reflection of how social conditions influence children and marginalized groups.  In other words, if you raise kids in a homophobic culture, it shouldn't surprise us that kids of LGBT parents develop social relationships that appear "damaged" in comparison to kids of heterosexual parents; there's no way to know what effect LGBT parents have on their children without having those results tainted by the culture around us (woe be to sociology!).  Similar arguments were made about people of color and so on and so forth -- the wheel keeps turning.  The older I get, the harder it is for these arguments to remain palatable for me...
And then they made it into a movie...
But some of those same arguments are actually valid when it comes to superheroes.  For example, there are tangible social and physical impacts on the nation when unusual and seemingly supernatural powers are involved.  If you think school shootings are terrible, imagine a world with superheroes.  Someone who can control the earth around us could easily smash thousands of houses beneath a landslide.  A person with fire on his fingertips could burn cities to the ground.  Someone with a variation on teleportation (a la Jumper; porting in Myke's universe) could steal untold amounts from banks or infiltrate secure areas (and, therefore, threaten national security -- see the second X-Men movie).  Whether we like it or not, superheroes are a potential threat to social stability, since their abilities have real-world consequences for everyone, including themselves (in the form of a response from the wider public, most likely).
I think Vincent D'Onofrio is in this picture...
It's for this reason that I'm not altogether surprised by the direction the government takes in Myke's Shadow Ops series.  In a weird way, I completely understand it, and almost agree with it, even though saying as much gives me an icky feeling inside.  If people start popping up with powers, what exactly is a society supposed to do?  Is it rational to sit back and hope nothing bad will happen?  Hardly.  Even Myke acknowledges in his work that you can't control who gets what power, which means that sometimes, a bad guy with murder on the mind will hold thousands of lives on the edge of his or her fingers.  While we like to think we can control gun violence -- to a certain degree, we can -- we have absolutely no hope of doing so with powers that appear seemingly at random in the populace, and which, when in the hands of villainous people (or even folks with a civil rights agenda), can cause unimaginable damage.
The ethics of superheroes, then, is not a simple question to answer.  It is not like granting people the right to bear arms or integrating women into the military (which may or may not have significant influences on battle preparedness -- more social than physical, I imagine).  When we let superheroes roam free, we subject ourselves to an extraordinary amount of danger.  That's hard to stomach for a normy like myself, even if I also cannot imagine myself supporting indentured servitude in the military, banning, incarceration, or murder.  None of these things are palatable.  None of them are good.  But if we govern ourselves by a "the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few" ideology (we don't, but I like pretending), it comes down to this:  Should superheroes be allowed to live if their very existence might mean the deaths of thousands, the destruction of trillions of dollars in property, and the perpetual fear of mutant terrorists among the general populace?
I just don't know...

*I am not suggesting that the gun control debate won't end with rational changes.  Rather, I am suggesting that those changes won't come from knee-jerk emotional responses from either side.

Death Star Economics and Ethics? (Or, What Would You Do With a Death Star?)

I find it amusing when smart people take science fiction concepts seriously enough to question their validity in the real world.  From rocket packs to hover cars to laser guns, the smart ones have destroyed our childhoods, one reality-based argument at a time.  The Death Star is no different (and I'm going to add to the hurt).

Earlier this year, Paul Shawcross, acting on behalf of the White House, released a statement on We the People in response to a petition requesting the U.S. government to build a real-life Death Star by 2016.*  Because petitions that receive 25,000 signatures require a response from the White House, there wasn't any way to avoid this humorous situation.  Thankfully, they took the issue with a heavy dose of humor and succinctly reminded us that such a project is pretty much impossible -- it would cost $850,000,000,000,000,000 (or, as we poor people like to say,
"a friggin ton of money").  io9 recently explored this number in some depth, using a article as support; they concluded that the $850 quintillion figure is more tongue-and-cheek than an accurate measurement (this is one of many conclusions, of course), but it fulfills the purpose of keeping the genocidal geek community at bay.
Disney will probably turn this into a musical in a few years...
Setting aside arguments about how much the Death Star would cost in exact terms, the real question is two fold:  how would a country or a world economy come up with that kind of money, and how would they justify the expense?

First, the size of the loan necessary to build a Death Star would exceed the GDP of the entire world by a factor of approximately 12,100 (based on figures acquired here).  Assuming, then, that the world agreed to sacrifice its entire GDP to pay off said monumental loan, it would still take 12,100 years to pay that loan off, assuming no growth in GDP and no interest.**  And let's face it, there's no way we can assume there won't be inflation, interest, and so on for the next 12,100 years.  I'm no economist, but it seems to me that taking on a project at this point in time, without any easier means for manufacturing the materials and the Death Star itself, would lead to worldwide financial disaster.  Besides, what exactly would a budget debate about the Death Star look like?  Imagine, if you will, the Death Star is 50% behind schedule due to 800 straight years of economic shortfalls, politicians are bickering back and forth, some running around like chickens with their heads cut off in a pathetic attempt to balance the world budget.  Meanwhile, poverty rates increase exponentially, because too many resources have been pegged for the Death Star Fund; healthcare, scientific progress, and so on and so forth have likewise crumbled beneath the pressure.  Perhaps stress-related baldness will become the new "epidemic" of the future...
I'm the Death Star on a budget deficit.  Any questions?
All of this assumes that we take seriously the financial viability of a 12,100-year construction project.  Considering that we can't even resolve the relatively simplistic budget problems in the United States without all of Washington D.C. losing its mind, the idea is just three shades shy of batshit.  Even if the money and resources existed to make constructing the Death Star possible in 100 years (a big if), the political environment surrounding such an international effort would make the project practically impossible.  The United Nations, bless its heart, tries to get everyone to work together towards common goals, but after 71 years in operation, it still struggles to address the most obvious of human rights issues (among other problems).  It's like watching a puppy who tries to jump onto the couch, but its legs are too short, so it keeps falling off -- only this puppy may or may not grow up, may or may not develop more efficient motor skills, and may or may not stare at you with its puppy eyes, vainly hoping that you'll lift it up to your lap.

But the even bigger question is this:  Why would we bother doing this, and what would we do with a Death Star?  Let's imagine the scenarios:***

1) Some large, planetary body is on a collision course with the Earth.  It must be destroyed.
Han:  And that, kids, is what we call a Solo Seduction Device.
Chewie:  Ra-a-a-a-a-a-a-a-gh!
Fail:  If we need something with the firepower of the Death Star to destroy a planetary body, there's no valid reason for constructing the whole thing.  After all, this scenario does not require the laser system to form part of a much larger military function.  You can't exactly threaten the Earth with its own destruction, can you?****  Even so, we could probably put the laser on the Earth without decreasing its firepower significantly (I'm guessing) or use our mountains of nuclear weapons to pound the living hell out of said planetary body.  The latter seems a cheaper option, though certainly less cool than a giant green laser.

2) An alien species attacks us with firepower that far surprises our current military might.  They must be stopped.
It's okay.  There aren't any real people there.
Fail:  Setting aside the fact that such an alien species would have some method of faster space travel than currently available on Earth AND the technological means to subjugate us anyway -- not to mention the fact that building the Death Star would take far too long to make it useful to us -- there is the disturbing question of whether it is right to commit genocide as a last resort.  Are there no other ways?  If not, should we commit genocide for our own survival?  I realize that The Doctor does it all the time, but we are not Time Lords.  We're supposed to have a moral framework.  Then again, "right" is sometimes not an important factor in our decisions as species, since we've committed acts of genocide against one another for centuries -- justifying such activities against aliens would likely fall prey to the "they're not human" argument.  Maybe I need to address this question in more depth elsewhere...

3) Some angry humans (presumably white men and their slave women) want to build a colony elsewhere, but need a giant floating deterrent against retaliation or subjugation by Earth governments.
This is the Martian City of the future, controlled by a corporate oligarchy
a la Neuromancer and filled with good shopping, sexy hotels, and reasonably-
priced sex slaves who will fulfill your every desire.  Every desire.
Fail:  The size of the conspiracy required to make this happen would hardly survive simple scrutiny -- insert any government conspiracy here as an example of just how unlikely these things really are.  Let's say there really are a bunch of angry guys who want to use the Death Star as a deterrent against Earth-ian meddling.  Okay.  So where are they going to get the money to do it?  How are they going to keep that motive secret?  How are they going to take over the Death Star, which would certainly require an enormous staff to function?  It doesn't make sense.

4) We get bored or curious.
The Curiosity Baby reaches for the stars...and burns off his fingers.
Maybe:  We've done a lot of stuff out of curiosity, haven't we?  I don't think we'd do something like this because we've got nothing else to do (or because, well, we can), but in 1,000 years...who knows?

You can come up with more scenarios as you see fit.  They'll all fall apart in some way, or at least present new challenges to the discussion.  The problem with a Death Star is that its primary purpose (if not its only purpose) is to destroy planets (or act as a deterrent because it can destroy planets).  In the Star Wars universe, its purpose makes sense (realistically, not ethically).  But we don't live in that universe, and we probably never will (physics says so).

Now to take this critical eye to the Star Trek universe...


*Most of you probably know about this story already.  I think it's too funny to ignore.

**I use the word "loan" to indicate the massive borrowing required for the construction of the Death Star.

***Yes, I am over-thinking all of this.  So sue me.

****You can.  I'm fooling myself here.

The Hugos: Testing the Waters — What will win?

In the interest of filling my blog with all your lovely voices, I want to know your answer(s) to the following question:
Which novels, novellas, short stories, films, fanzines/writers, fancasts, and so on do you think will win the Hugo Award this year?
I have a secret agenda for asking this question, which I will now reveal (thus stealing its secrecy) -- I am curious what I might have missed this year, for one reason or another, what others think were Hugo-worthy (which may reflect a particular taste), and so on.  In other words, you're going to give me a taste of a world I've never experienced (though I am attending Worldcon this year).

So have at it!

Say What? J. J. Abrams and the Star Wars Shuffle

It's official.  J. J. Abrams is going to direct the new Star Wars movie.  The good news?  He's not writing it.  Nope.  That would be Michael Arndt, who is best known for Little Miss Sunshine and Toy Story 3.  That's good news indeed.

When I set out to write this post, I imagined it would begin and end with a long diatribe about how many times I have been burned by J. J. Abrams since the travesty that was Cloverfield.  As a writer, Abrams is, in my opinion, no better than whoever Michael Bay pays to write his bloated scripts of plot-ological stupidity (Transformers 2, anyone?).  But he's not a terrible director, given a good script, and he's worked with amazing folks like Steven Spielberg.

This post, then, will take a far different approach to whether Abrams is a good pick for the Star Wars universe (i.e., a randomly numbered string of equally random thoughts -- sort of):

1) Considering what the Star Wars franchise has become, and the unlikelihood that Disney will make significant changes to the model, I can't say that Abrams is necessarily a bad choice, given his work on Star Trek.  Star Trek, after all, wasn't necessarily a bad movie in terms of its presentation.  It had a lot of the things that the franchise had been missing all lined up in near-perfect order; all of those elements are crucial to Star Wars movies anyway, minus glaring plot holes.  On this front, I agree with John Scalzi.

2) Whatever will happen to the Star Wars universe under Abrams, I can't imagine it can end up any worse than Attack of the Clones.  The new movie won't be another prequel, and is likely to take us away from the stock characters (not that I don't like Skywalker and Solo or anything).  Even if the second half of that sentence isn't true, at least we'll have new stories to think about, with different writers and directors behind the helm.  At worst, Abrams can only offer a different look at a commercial franchise.  At best, he might actually make something that we'll fondly remember.

3) I care more about the continuation and improvement of the Star Wars franchise in film form than I do about my well-documented dislike of J. J. Abrams.  In other words, I will see the new movie whether Abrams is a part of it or not.  That Arndt is writing the screenplay leads me to believe I'm not irrational to expect a decent movie.

None of this means that I'm not apprehensive about the selection of Abrams.  I'd rather have a different director behind the helm, if I'm honest.  But the more I think about the selection, the less inclined I am to think, as I stupidly said on Twitter the other day, that Abrams will have a negative impact on the franchise.  Lucas kicked it when it was down well enough on his own...

What do you all think?