Entry for October 02, 2006–On science fiction

Friends, after recent conversations with Ron J.K., Steve M.R., and Jim J.D’B., I realized that it’s time to talk about my first love in genre entertainment–science fiction. Some of my television memories from childhood are hazy recollections of watching “Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea” and Godzilla movies.

SF ships
Science fiction vehicles

My father introduced me to the classic speculative fiction of prescient Jules Verne, cautionary H.G. Wells, and galactic visionary Isaac Asimov. I avidly read many of the books from the “Golden Age” of SF (the 1930s through ’50s), and I still prefer the fables of Ray Bradbury, the “juvenile” space operas of Robert A. Heinlein, and the evolutionary tales of Arthur C. Clarke to many later authors.

Of the so-called New Wave of authors starting in the 1960s through the 1980s, I like David Brin’s intricate “Uplift” series, David Gerrold’s postapocalyptic “War With the Cthorr,” and Larry Niven’s worldbuilding speculations in his “Ringworld” books. “Hard SF” based in actual science has been more successful in literature, while the more fantastical space opera once dominated movies and television.

I caught the wave of popular genre entertainment in the late 1970s/early 1980s, including of course “Star Trek,” “Star Wars,” and “Battlestar Galactica,” as well as numerous other movies and T.V. shows and their inevitable sequels/spin-offs/remakes. Through high school and college, I enjoyed the good (“Alien Nation”), the campy (“Buck Rogers”), and even some of the bad (“Ice Pirates”).

Although I’ve read Frank Herbert’s epic “Dune” series and cyberpunk by William Gibson, Bruce Sterling, and others, I was turned off by the belated popularity of those darker subgenres in movies, even if “Blade Runner” and the adaptations of “Dune” remain among my favorites. I do like the social commentary, quasi-religious allegory, and well-crafted settings, if not the cynical worldview of some creators.

The later 1980s through the present (early 2000s) have continued to be dominated by post-cyberpunk dystopias. I’ve come to enjoy the pulps from the 1890s through 1950s, so it’s no surprise that steampunk is now one of my favorite subgenres. I’ve fallen pretty far behind in novel reading (partly as a result of becoming a copy editor, which requires enough hours of close reading), but of recently popular authors, I like David Weber’s “Honor Harrington” military SF stories. I’m not a huge fan of comic SF, but I did enjoy “Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” in various media and “Galaxy Quest,” a loving spoof of the “Trek” franchise.

Space opera has fallen out of favor (compared with the 1990s, when “Trek,” “Babylon 5,” “Stargate,” and “Andromeda” were all on the air), while superheroes, “more realistic” cyberpunk, time travel, epic fantasy, and other subgenres are more popular right now. I’ll discuss the latter in other postings.

As for popular entertainment, here’s my ranking of the various actors who have starred in the BBC’s long-running Doctor Who time-travel series:

  • Four (Tom Baker, 1974-’81)
  • Nine (Christopher Eccleston, 2005)
  • Three (Jon Pertwee, 1970-’74)
  • Five (Peter Davison, 1981-’84)
  • Eight (Paul McGann, 1996)
  • Ten (David Tennant, 2005-present, so far)
  • Two (Patrick Troughton, 1966-’69)
  • One (William Hartnell, 1963-’66)
  • Seven (Sylvester McCoy, 1987-’89)
  • Six (Colin Baker, 1984-’86)
  • T.V. movies and radio shows (non-canon, including Peter Cushing, Rowan Atkinson, and Richard E. Grant*) *-my preferred of these

Also, in descending order of preference:

Star Trek on television:

  • The original series (1966-’69)
  • “The Next Generation” (1987-’94)
  • “Deep Space Nine” (1993-2000)
  • “Enterprise” (2001-’04)
  • “Voyager” (1995-2002)
  • Honorable mention: The animated series (1973-’75)

Star Trek films:

  • II “The Wrath of Khan” (1982)
  • VIII “First Contact” (1996)
  • IV “The Voyage Home” (1986)
  • VI “The Undiscovered Country” (1991)
  • I “The Motion Picture” (1979)
  • III “The Search for Spock” (1984)
  • XI “Star Trek” (2009)
  • VII “Generations” (1994)
  • V “The Final Frontier” (1989)
  • IX “Insurrection” (1998)
  • X “Nemesis” (2002)

Star Wars films:

  • Episode IV: “A New Hope” (1977)
  • Episode V: “The Empire Strikes Back” (1980)
  • Episode VI: “Return of the Jedi” (1983)
  • Episode III: “Revenge of the Sith” (2005)
  • Episode II: “Attack of the Clones” (2002)
  • Episode I: “The Phantom Menace” (1999)
  • Honorable mention: “Clone Wars” animated series (2003-’04)

I’m also looking forward to the autumn 2006 television season (and current ratings):

Sundays: “City of Heroes” online multiplayer superhero game ***

-“Eureka” (SciFi Channel comedy) **
-“Heroes” (NBC superpowered drama) **

-“Veronica Mars” (CW young adult sleuthing) ***
-D&D3.5 “Vanished Lands: Halmed Desert” heroic fantasy campaign

Wednesdays: “Hustle” (BBC/A&E do-gooder capers; now in reruns) ***

-“Smallville” (CW superpowered drama) **
-“City of Heroes” (with Dexter V.H., David I.S., Steve M.R., and Byron V.O.?)

-“Avatar: the Last Airbender” (Nickelodeon animated fantasy) ****
-“Kim Possible” (Disney Channel animated action/adventure) ***
-“Stargate SG1” **** and “Stargate: Atlantis” ** (SciFi Channel military space opera)
-“Doctor Who” (BBC/SciFi Channel revived time/space travel) ***
-“Battlestar Galactica” (SciFi Channel revisionist military space opera) ***

-“The Adventures of Jimmy Neutron” (Nickelodeon computer-animated SF comedy)
-“The Batman” (CW animated superheroes) ***
-“Legion of Superheroes” (CW animated comic book) **
-“Fantastic Four” (Cartoon Network animated superheroes) **

In my next blog posting, I’ll have to provide updates on the past few weeks, including the visit by high-school friends Damon F.P. and Steve M. to the Boston area, a fondue dinner with Thomas K.Y. and Cliff & Eliza Y., and the shift from the D20 “Mutants & Masterminds” 2nd Ed.: “Drake’s 7” superhero scenarios back to the D&D3.5 fantasy game! Later, -Gene