Sunday, 24 January 2010

Sunday Salon: Some Science Fiction

Apology: Yesterday I wrote that the actress who starred in the English version of the Kurt Wallender tv mysteries had killed herself. I thank the blogger who wrote in quite rightly furious with my mistake - my apologies, the English actress did not kill herself, it was the Swedish actress Johanna Sallstrom who committed suicide in Feb 2007. The article that brought the story to my attention is here, from the Guardian website. So, the error is all mine! In my mind, I knew I was writing about the Swedish actress, but I unfortunately did not make it clear in my writing. Many apologies to the English actress. **although, I do say in my defense, that the article doesn't say that a different actress played Linda in the English version, so, I thought it meant Ms Sallstrom had appeared in the Kenneth Brannagh version as his daughter.

Now, onto the Sunday Salon:
The Sunday Salon.com

Some Science Fiction, for a change.....



I have a book review! I have read Farthing by Jo Walton for Carl's Sci Fi Experience, which also counts for Becky's 42 Science Fiction things. I also saw a science fiction show on dvd last weekend, Firefly, which I will also give a little review here. Now, I went to Jo Walton's site, and discovered that she is writing for Tor Publishers online, and she has a recent post here, which is about reading science fiction. ( If it doesn't link directly, the post date was Jan 18.) I think it is a very interesting post. It is an attempt to explain why some people can read science fiction, and why some people can't. It has to do with the ability to look at words like 'tachyon drive' and know it means faster than light, but to not get hung up on whether the tachyon drive exists or could exist and what that would mean; science fiction is about what would happen to people if it could exist. Let me know what you think about Jo's post, and let her know too!

I was surprised to see she is considered Canadian now, since she is from Wales. I had always thought of her as a British writer. Now she lives in Montreal. And here is another interesting post from today by her, on what sf books to introduce to readers who haven't read SF before....


Now, on to Farthing. Farthing is set in 1949 England, after the war that is ended by forming a peace with Hitler. This is an alternative history book. Part of the charm for me of alternate history is to see what is different, and how the author has worked it in. In Farthing, the British political scene is rather different - Churchill never became the grand leader of the country, he remained a minor politician, because one of the characters in the novel went to Germany and fashioned a peace with Hitler so he could turn his attention to the East and Russia. The peace is holding, although the price has been high: the continent is under Hitler's control, and the Jews are still going to work camps and highly restricted. Farthing is about a murder mystery that takes place in a country mansion featuring the main politicos in the Conservative party who helped engineer the peace, so they are called the Farthing Set. When one of the main party members is killed, the house guests fall under suspicion. A yellow star is pinned to the chest of the victim. Only one character is Jewish, and he is being framed.

This was an unsettling book for me to read. I have difficulties with fascism, with totalitariasm, with basic loss of freedom. I tend to get very anxious and start rants in my head - yes, even with characters! who are being unfair and abusing power terribly. I know it's a story, but it felt real, both the alternate history and the usurping of powers for 'the good of the nation'. It was creepy, frightening, astonishingly fast, and very well-done. At the same time, I could not put this book down, and I thoroughly enjoyed the history aspects that are the same and different. The mystery is fun - it's a major part of this novel, but as this is the first of three (Ha'Penny and Half a Crown are the others in the trilogy), it also sets the stage, and end with the story hanging. I have to know what happens! It is also a very open and brave look at what people will do to survive, making a commentary on how - by showing how easily fascism arrives in England - how easily it came to Germany. A few look the other way, and it's here. The characters are very well done, the mystery is good, and the setting is fantastic. It is really a very good book. It was a nominee for both the Nebula and the John W. Campbell award in 2007. I am curious if the characters who look the other way in this book, find a way back to honour or not, if they find a way to take a stand - and I have to know what happens to Lucy and David Kahn, the two main characters caught in the middle of the mystery. I give this a 4.5/5.

Firefly - Season 1, on DVD. Firefly has been out since 2002 on DVD. It only aired for one season, during the last years of Buffy. It's made by the same creator, Joss Whedon. There are no vampires, no kick-ass teens...no wait, there is one kick-ass girl. This is where Summer Glau (lately of Terminator: the Series fame) made her appearance, as River. And she has some stunning moves. But the series isn't about her. It's about Mal, the captain of a transport for hire ship with his crew for hire: Zoe, his loyal sargeant from the war, who continues to serve as his second in command, and her husband Wash, the pilot (completely endearing himself to us when he plays with dinosaurs at the console); Jayne, who has more guns than any person should and whose ethics are questionable as well as his loyalty; Kaylee, the engineer, the sweetest girl who can understand engines; and Inara, the companion , who rents out a shuttle from Mal, and provides him with a decent cover of civilization when his rebellious outlook would get him banned from many worlds. Into this come Simon, a doctor, who has rescued his sister River from the clutches of a dubious government experiment. They are both extremely intelligent, but completely naive about life off-planet. And off in the corner, because this is Joss Whedon, there are scary monsters in the form of Reavers, who eat people, who are terrifying.

Firefly is science fiction without space suits. Or, as my son said, "this is like cowboys in space". It is. It has the same western code of honour (a man's word is as good as he backs it up with action; all he has to keep him civilized, also, and with honour). I grew up reading westerns, Zane Grey and Louis L'amour, so once I understood that this wasn't typical science fiction with space technology but a gun-slinging western set in space, then I sat back and fell in love. This is pure fun. I enjoy the writing, the characters, the stories with each episode, the setting. There are scary moments and funny times, and unexpected humour - the same things I loved in Buffy, are here in Firefly. I really wish it had gone beyond one season, but Fox cancelled it, and one season and one movie (Serenity, which I will be watching and reviewing later this year when I'm done the dvd) are all we have.


If you have never seen Firefly, and want some storytelling and action that does have the western ethos about it, then you can do no better than Firefly. I haven't gone into how Mal is kind of an outlaw, because he fought on the losing side of the war, mostly because I want people to be enchanted by this show too as they fall into this amazing world of space adventure. I kind of wish we could have a world like Firefly, without the Alliance (creepy and filled with government bad guys) and the Reavers, of course!!!

Firefly is as delightful as ever, and I am now working my way through the series. For Carl's Sci-Fi Experience, this is a great way to introduce someone to science fiction.

There is a lot of good science fiction out there. As Jo Walton said in her post today, it's a question of finding what you like in this genre, just like it is with any genre. I hope Carl's Reading Experience is helping those who aren't quite sure, to find some science fiction they can really enjoy.

Happy reading (and watching) science fiction, everyone!

18 comments:

Cath said...

Thanks for the links to the articles - interesting. I sort of look upon those of us who read sci fi and fantasy as being a bit different to most people. *They* think we're weird but to me the odd ones are them. I love having my mind stretched by the infinite possibilities sci fi and fantasy present and can't understand why everyone doesn't feel that way. I've just started Lord Valentine's Castle by Robert Silverberg and like it a lot already. Strictly speaking it's fantasy - the first of his Majipoor chronicles - but to me Silverberg was a sci fi author and that's how I'm thinking of it. And I'm not sure it matters anyhow. It's set on another planet with all kinds of aliens and that's more than enough to thrill me to bits. :-)

I'm sorry to hear of your family problems, Susan, and hope you soon find some help and a resolution to the difficulty.

Memory said...

Horray for Firefly! It was my introduction to Joss Whedon, and it's still one of my favourite shows.

And URGH! I saw FARTHING and HA'PENNY at my local thrift shop last weekend, but I passed on them because I already have so many books to read. Now I wish I'd bought them after all. I wonder if they're still there...

Victoria said...

I love the name of your blog and completely agree with it. Some years ago I gave away most of my books and have regretted it ever since - I could look at a book and take myself back to the time when I read it. I used to be an avid fan of detective fiction but now

I read mostly theological books and so my aim is not how many books I read in a year but how well I can remember what I have read. If I read 50 books in 2010 and remember what I have read I will be happy.

Gavin said...

Susan - Yeah Firefly! We watched the series again over the holiday break and loved it as much s the first time. I miss all of those characters so much.

Thanks for the links. Jo Walton's essay is just brilliant. I will add Farthing to my TBR list.

Stephanie said...

Oh...I LOVED Firefly!! And the movie, Serenity. Man, I have such a thing for Nathan Fillion!! I totally stalk him on Twitter. And I watch Castle religiously!!

DesLily said...

Firefly must have been against something else I watched or on tv later then I like..but i loved the movie .. one day I will get the series!

Kailana said...

I need to start reading some sci-fi. I have only read one so far, so I am slack! I have a couple books by Jo Walton on my TBR, but I have never read her before.

Becky said...

I love Firefly! I keep it on my iPhone for emergencies. Also, have now seen Serenity about 4 times, it is one of the few DVDs that I own (and talk about River's moves in Firefly, there's a serious kick ass scene in Serenity). It really is a space western. Also, I must agree with Stephanie, I am totally stalking Nathan Fillion on Twitter and watching Castle.

mariel said...

One of my favourite shows! And I loved Serenity too. Wash is my favourite character!! Why oh why did they cancel it...

Sheila Beaumont said...

I love Firefly too! I saw it on DVD a year or so ago, and will definitely watch it again. Serenity was great too.

Haven't seen Castle yet, but intend to on DVD. Anyone remember Nathan Fillion's frighteningly convincing performance as a satanically evil preacher in the last season of Buffy?

Andrea said...

I LOVE Firefly!! Okay...I have to tell you something. My husband and I have two (female) cats. Named (you guessed it!) Firefly and Serenity. :-)

Liz said...

My oldest daughter loves, loves, loves "Firefly." She had the kids she was nannying last summer watched it and if I recall correctly, they both enjoyed it as well. She's been into fantasy, a little more than sci-fi, for a while.

I've finally gotten out of my book funk. Just wasn't finding anything that was keeping my interest. Then along came They Never Die Quietly by D.M. Annechino and boy, was my attention grabbed and kept. Yikes! Serial killer, with female homicide detective on the case, who's trying to solve and case and gain the respect of her male colleagues, etc. You'll be freaked out, scared and biting your nails up until the end -- and the author is already working on a sequel.

GeraniumCat said...

Was going to say, love, love, love Firefly, but Liz got there first (rats!) Loved Serenity, too - we (my sons and I) almost went to the premier in Edinburgh, but someone else messed up getting the tickets, which sold out in about 2 minutes flat! They sold so fast, in fact, that a second showing was arranged, and we went to that instead. Joss and cast didn't show up for that one, but we still got to see it before nearly everyone else in the world :)

發財 said...

你可以從外表的美來評論一朵花或一隻蝴蝶,但你不能這樣來評論一個人........................................

Susan said...

First of all, I want to apologize to everyone for not commenting sooner! I've had this open twice to reply, and gotten interrupted both times. So, maybe it's lucky three :-D

Cath: I read Lord Valentine's Castle a few years ago. My ex-husband loves it, and finally got me to read it. It's so good, isn't it? And I had a hard time deciding if it was fantasy or sci-fi, or like you, both! Have you finished it yet? Do you like it as much?
I like your view that "we" are different slightly from other people because we like our minds being stretched, and they are the strange ones for not liking it! I'm not sure it will go over well if I point it out to anyone, but I like the point! lol

Memory: Isn't Firefly fun? I do very much enjoy it. It's funny too. Jane and his guns, the whole western tone....
I hope you can find the books again on sale! I have to pick up Ha'penny now too. I'm gla dI could talk you into them! lol

Victoria: thank you so much! It was a second choice for my original blog title, but I've slowly come to realize that it really is my motto when it comes to books! I know what you mean by giving books away and regretting it after. There are some books I haven't replaced yet. I do understand what you mean also by wanting to remember what you read - there's no point to reading so fast that I can't enjoy what i read. My goal of 100 books is very doable - I tend to let other things take time away from reading, and I'm moving towards reading more every day. Because I want to, too!

Gavin: Yaay to Firefly! I watched more of the first season, but am not done yet. Another show by the name of Fringe started up again, and I'm completely obsessed with that. I'm thinking of doing another post on it tomorrow!!! lol I love science fiction, and both Firefly and Fringe are fun, and funny, too, as well as good story-telling and really interesting characters. I'm so glad you enjoy it so much too!

Stephanie: My friends are trying to get me to watch Castle on Mon nights! I've caught part of one episode, which I did enjoy, but we're always trying to catch up on House, so I haven't seen it regularly yet. A few women at my work totally *heart* Nathan Fillion too. I'll have to tell them I know his Twitter stalker! lol It's so much fun to discover that so many of us love Firefly, too!

Deslily: Oh, I hope you get to see the series too. It's just like the movie, only lots of episodes of it!!! lol That's ok, I missed the entire series on tv, I only know it because of my son who brought it over and said, "Mom, you've got to try this...." If you lived closer I could be your sci-fi pusher!!! lol

Kailana: Tooth and Claw by Jo Walton looks so dark and very fun! I haven't read it yet, but I've heard many good things about it, plus it won the award. Is that one of the books on your TBR pile? and I'm really glad Carl and Becky have these challenges, they push me to read more when I tend to let this area go slack.

Becky: That is so cute! on your Iphone for emergencies!!! I'll have to tell my friend at work, her husband is a total Firefly fan - my friend might not like me so much though after!! lol I wonder how many stalkers Nathan has on Twitter? Can you believe I'm not on twitter?

Mariel: you too! A Firefly fan!! Yaay! I don't know why they cancelled it. I think it was a little too strange for mainstream tv - which says something bad about the state of our tv over here, that the really fun and interesting tv shows are 'weird' and horrible reality tv has taken over instead. I have to admit that I love Nathan's character but really like Simon (total geek girl here.....) too.

Susan said...

Sheila: I so remember his performance on Buffy! He was kind of cute there too, which made me wonder about myself!! So I'm happy he was a much nicer character to like on Firefly! He is darned attractive.....I wonder how many people watch Castle just for him versus for the mystery part? lol

Andrea: I told my friend at work about you and your husband, and she thinks her husband might know you! lol He runs the Browncoats here in Ottawa.....I love that you named your cats that!! Very cool.

Liz: the book sounds really good! thanks for the recommendation. And your daughter has good taste! Has she gotten you to watch it yet? Have you tried Fringe yet? Darker sci-fi than Firefly, much scarier, and mystery format also, and really good...anyway, I'm doing another post on it because I can't stop thinking about the show, so check in tomorrow! I think if Firefly were continuing, it would be another not-miss show for me, but sadly it was only on the one season.

Geraniumcat: oh, wow, the premier in Scotland!! That would have been something - at least you got to the second showing, which is still something, Joss Whedon or not. Though I'm sorry someone messed up the tickets! I really wish tv execs would pay attention to things like that - Firefly, and most sci-fi, needs at least a year, if not more, to catch on, and these days you have 12 episodes to build an audience. And there is such a strong audience for science fiction. I'm just so grateful we live at a time where there are dvds and PVRs, so we can see the shows we love over and over. Imagine only seeing Dr Who once!!! and all those lost episodes of early Dr Who no one will ever see again. At least we have Firefly to own! *clutches copy of season 1 tightly to chest*

Cath said...

Susan, yes I finished Lord Valentine's Castle and reviewed it a couple of weeks ago. I ended up really liking it for all kinds of reasons but mainly for the wonderful world building. Luckily my daughter also had the two sequels so I'll be reading those soon.

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