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May 22, 2004

Anvil of Stars, Firefly, Sopranos, etc.

Posted by Mike on May 22, 2004 11:52 PM

I just finished Greg Bear's "Forge of God" and "Anvil of Stars."

The first is an end-o'-the-world novel in the tradition of "Footfall" with a little "Lucifer's Hammer" thrown in. There were some truly poignant moments toward the end, during a final sequence of people meeting their end as the planet is, uh, has the thing that happens to it that was a real tear-jerker.

I liked it. I'm not sure what qualifies it as "hard sf," but I'm not sure what makes that sub-genre that sub-genre outside of a hatred of the lazy hand-off to "hyperdrive." On the other hand, I've also read fanboys wanking off about "Star Trek" being "hard" because Paramount has managed to both sate its bottomless greed and keep the scolds happy by publishing assorted "technical guides" that purport to explain how warp drive works, even though "warp drive" could have just as easily been called "spumone teleportrix mechanism" for all the writers cared about it except when it needed to be broken to introduce a plot wrinkle. Neither here nor there. No one seems to agree. I've read a few fan sites that say Bear's considered an extreme example of the sub-genre. I'm guessing that as long as you don't break any of the known laws of physics without spending a few paragraphs having the resident genius character explain why you can get away with that thanks to a new and special kind of particle, you're hard sf. If there's a lightsaber involved, I think you're out of luck. Amazon tells me there happen to be at least two anthologies of hard sf out there, so perhaps I'll just read one. I hope it's every bit as pedantic as the average kur05hin nitpicker.

The second of the two is a revenge novel that takes its setup and a few characters from the first. There's a hair bit of Octavia Butler's "Lilith's Brood" in there, and it made me think of "Ringworld" a bit. People have tried to tie in "Ender's Game" because of one similarity that could, applied with the same lack of discrimination and apparent impoverished reading background, make the book a retelling of "A Separate Peace" if you wanted to read it that way. You know... "it's like 'A Separate Peace' because there are kids involved and, uh, it's sad when that one guy gets his leg broken."

Anyhow, lots to think about. Good descriptive language that makes the universe (and the civilizations the characters come in contact with) seem huge and menacing instead of quaint and populated by Jawas. Since my recent science fiction diet has largely been Star Trek re-runs, I was really relieved to read a book about aliens that are ALIEN instead of "a collection of bad traits in humanity painted non-white and given bumps on their faces."

So if I liked these, what else from Bear might I like? And what else from someone else?

Also, while we're on SF:

There's been a group coming over to the pad to watch the DVD release of "Firefly," two episodes at a time. It's series from the creator of "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" and "Angel," and it's a science fiction western. With the series finale of "Angel" now past, it's the most anticipated thing I watch every week. Nate of Polytropos has posted an appreciation that's pretty apt. It's cool that the show is going to get a second shot at life in the form of a feature film, but it's a real shame it couldn't get five or six seasons to tell its story.

It's got all of Joss Whedon's creative gifts on display with none of the mandatory Revlon-friendly teen angst of Buffy, which isn't terrible but occasionally nags, especially when it takes the form of some of those god-awful bands at The Bronze. It's also free of the slightly more advanced (age-wise) angst of "Angel," which is less about teens operating in a vacuum devoid of legitimate authority and more about all sorts of stuff including the perils of dating in the big city. It just feels more grown up, and I know there are Buffy and Angel fans who will damn me for saying that, but there it is.

So we're about halfway through "Firefly," there are two episodes left of "The Sopranos" for this season (how will Tony B. get it? Who will do it? Will it be sad?) and "Angel," which I wasn't always happy with but watched all the same, is gone from the air forever (unless they make those tv movies). Time for a new fixation.