Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Summer Vaction-Style Random Thoughts

So my brother is currently in town on his annual post-Comic-Con visit (we're going to Disneyland, yay!), so my posting will be even lighter than usual this week.

I've been reading some old SF novels over the past few weeks, and here are some of my random thoughts (spoilers, although I'm not sure the warning is necessary for novels over 20 years old):

Stranger in a Strange Land would have been much much shorter if in Heinlein's future America effective birth control had been invented before a manned expedition was sent to Mars. Also, if Michael Valentine Smith had been raised by wizards instead of Martians you could place it squarely into the Fantasy genre without having to otherwise change the plot (sufficiently advanced technology looks like magic etc. etc. ).

• I think it's a bummer that Asimov decided to tie together his series of Foundation novels and Robot stories by making the humanity's expansion onto many worlds, the creation of the Galactic Empire and its replacement by the Foundation ultimately due to the meddling of a couple of mind-reading, mind-influencing robots. I'd like to think that we'll conquer the universe without the nudging of telepathic robot nannies. Maybe I just wasn't in the mood for more magic-with-a-thin-veneer-of-science after reading SiaSL.

(Also, I wonder about the Foundation movie in development - how will they successfully adapt the original trilogy which covers a lot of time and has a lot more talking than action? Also, why not film the robot novels, which have movie-friendly Earthman/robot sidekick solve-a-mystery plots?)

• I've also just read Marge Piercy's Woman on the Edge of Time. I'm putting together a post on it, since advanced biotechnology plays an important role, but I wanted to mention that there is going to be a discussion about it starting tomorrow on sajbrfem's journal as part of a "Women in Science Fiction" reading club.

• Every so often an article like this comes up on my newsreader:
". . . it’s what technology ethicist Paul Root Wolpe, director of the Center for Ethics at Emory University says during the piece that, for me, delivers an equally big (if not bigger) impact:

“It’s what I always tell my students that there is no science fiction anymore. All the science fiction I read in high school, we’re doing.“
And I wonder to myself what sort of mundane SF Wolpe read in high school. Do we have regular space travel or colonies off of the Earth? Nope. Have we found life on other planets (never mind sentient life)? Nope. What about human genetic engineering or cloning? We're approaching that ability, but it's still highly experimental. Can we upload our minds into a computer? Not yet. Time travel? Uh uh. Telepathic robots? Not even. Most of that fun stuff isn't going to happen in the near future if at all. We are living in the future, sure, but it's not the one of most science fiction novels.

• Also I've updated my posts about the Darwinism panel at Readercon and the science in SF-related panels at Comic-Con with attendee reports.

Anyway, that should hold you 'til I'm back.



  1. Love your Random Thoughts! This is a great article and I'm glad I found it this morning. The movie that in the works of Asimov's Foundation Trilogy sounds like it will be very difficult to produce. I also wonder how such a complicated classic can be turned into a movie that makes any sense. Time will tell.

    Check out my first and recently released novel, Long Journey to Rneadal. This exciting tale is a romantic action adventure in space and is more about the characters than the technology.

  2. Very droll, but Heinlein explicitly mentions effective birth control in the book, in like the first 100 pages. Did you miss that or was the joke more important than the "facts" of the story?

    Ask for "Wise Girl Malthusian Lozenges" by name. Available without a prescription.

  3. And if my grandmother had wheels, she'd have been a wagon.

  4. I was having similar thoughts about the Foundation novels. The original idea for the Foundation is fantastic, but Asimov obviously couldn't figure out how to extrapolate it any further. In fact, he more or less abandons the initial concept halfway into Foundation and Empire. The late-era sequels were much less interesting, and I think the original trilogy is better left on its own, rather than shoehorned into the robots 'n' empire template.

    As to the would-be movie, the problem is less the talk:action ratio than that they reject the notion of individual action entirely. It's a complete rebuke to the standard space opera template. In most of the original stories, the protagonist boldly sits around and waits for larger forces to do the work, rather than solving the problem with a timely display of violence. Not easy to fit into a blockbuster, particularly a Roland Emmerich blockbuster.

    It is a puzzle why they haven't adopted the original robot novels. Caves of Steel would be a great movie. It's a mismatched buddy cop story, with robots! Instead Hollywood has done I, Robot and Nightfall, and now, supposedly, Foundation. Do these people even read the books before buying the rights, or is it done on the basis of the title alone?

  5. Halibut: I haven't gone back and double checked, but the only mention of birth control that I recall is an advert overheard by Gillian and her boyfriend(?) Ben. It seems to function mainly as evidence of Gillian's lack of sexual liberation, since she responds to it dismissively.

    But that would have been some 17 or 18 years after Smith was born on Mars. It's pretty unthinkable to me that a potentially dangerous exploratory mission with a crew intentionally made up of married couples would not have been stocked with the latest effective birth control. I would even go further and argue that the women on such a mission - if fertile - would have had to have been willing to have an abortion if an accidental pregnancy happened, because of the danger to her, to the fetus, and to the mission.

  6. Alurin: We may end up with a movie that is called "Foundation" but has little resemblance to Asimov's stories (sort of like "I, Robot"). I'm actually wondering if they will take the part of the story with the Mule and make Han Pritcher more of an action hero. That might work as an entertaining story, but it would make the actual psychohistory speculative portions secondary.

    I guess they could also incorporate the Foundation prequels with Hari Seldon on Trantor, fighting off his enemies and loving his kick-ass robot wife Dors.

  7. Very Nice Post


  8. Yes, an "I, Robot" style approach where they take the name and not much else is the worst-case, and at the same time most likely, scenario.

    Still, it seems to me that "The General" from Foundation & Empire would make for a good movie. For one thing, it's novella-length makes it better suited to a movie than a novel.

  9. The problem with talking about birth control and "stranger" is that RAH explicitly stated (I think in expanded universe) that he wrote that book based on the notion of "a martian named smith". How else would you get a martian with the name smith?

  10. Jeffrey: Well that was sort of my point. Smith's back story didn't really make much sense or have any significance to the plot. He could have been kidnapped by the Martians instead. And that's why the story feels like the Martians could have been easily replaced by wizards or ogres or fairies - Mars itself isn't important, other than sounding nifty.

    Alurin: I agree, The General could work as a movie. Add more action scenes than Asimov originally wrote and it could even be a blockbuster.


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