Science Fiction Feed

Friday Five: 5 Terrific Techy Ladies in Sci-Fi

Brave New GirlsThis week's guest is Mary Fan, co-editor of the brand new Brave New Girls. The anthology collects science fiction stories featuring "brainy young women who use their smarts to save the day". That is to say: it not only brings readers a whole pack of awesome role models, but they're also clever stories featuring brains over brawn.

All proceeds from Brave New Girls are being donated to a scholarship fund set up by the Society of Women Engineers, so buy with confidence - you're not just reading about bright futures, you're helping make them. With no further ado, we'll hand over to Mary...

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It’s no secret that there aren’t a lot of women in science and tech, both in the real world and in fiction. Which is a shame, really. There’s a bit of a chicken-and-egg problem around this issue—are techy women not depicted in sci-fi because they’re rare in real life, or are they rare in real life because girls don’t see themselves depicted in those roles and therefore don’t pursue those careers? The fact is, pop culture is a powerful influencer, especially on girls and teenagers. And the scary thing is, your career is dictated by decisions you make as an impressionable kid (think about it… the college major you pick at age 19 determines whether or not you’ll become a research scientist).

While there are plenty of ladies in sci-fi, they’re usually not put in the science and tech-based roles. The scientists, hackers, engineers, etc. are usually guys. But every so often, you’ll stumble upon a character that makes you go, “Yes! More of her, please!” Here are five brainy sci-fi ladies who use their smarts to save the day:

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Pygmalia: Robocop (1987 & 2014)

This year I’m selecting twelve Pygmalion stories—or stories that contain echoes of the Pygmalion myth—and essaying on them. I already have a few in mind, but please feel free to suggest others in the comments or on Twitter @molly_the_tanz 

Robocop 1987It’s a two-movie column this month at Pygmalia! In a fit of madness I watched the 2014 Robocop remake and realized it could sort of be considered a Pygmalion story, which led me to re-watch the original Robocop, which is much better… even if it’s less of a Pygmalion story. Let’s see if I can straighten out my thoughts into something coherent below…

Robocop (1987) and Robocop (2014)

Robocop is the story of… uh, if you haven’t seen it, probably you still know it’s about “Robocop,” who is part robot, part cop. (Or “part robot, part man, all cop,” according to the poster). Anyways, how much of Murphy is man or robot cop is debatable—and debated—in the original and the remake. In both, the eponymous Robocop, Alex Murphy (the cop part of Robocop), is injured in the line of duty, terribly, and then is reconstructed into a really scary machine man—ostensibly to better protect the city streets of Detroit, but really, there’s more going on than that. 

In Robocop 1987, Robocop is the pawn of Bob Morton, AKA Agent Rosenfeld of later Twin Peaks semi-fame (he was also the voice of the villain in Mulan. The more you know!). Morton works for OCP, a shady tech firm who develops weapons for the Army, which has also been signed to privately revitalize the overworked and underfunded Detroit P.D. When the movie begins, it doesn’t seem like OCP has really put any actual money (or weapons) into the hands of cops; instead, they developed genuinely scary robot monsters called ED-209s in the hopes that they’ll clean up the streets better than the cops.

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Friday Five: 5 Great Steampunk Writings that Aren't Actually Steampunk

This week's Friday Five host is Andrew Kane, co-creator, producer, writer, and voice actor for Rude Alchemy: serial radio theatre-style podcasts melding history, mystery, horror, and comedy available for free on iTunes, Stitcher, and www.rudealchemy.com. He has written plays for children and adults including The Resurrectionists (developed by 1812 Productions) and Little Red (developed by Montgomery Theater). He plays guitar and sings in the roots-punk band Old Town Wake.

He is also, judging by the list that follows, a man of impeccable taste...


In the land of speculative fiction, steampunk has blossomed from spunky upstart to sub-genre titan. Steampunk and its lesser-appreciated nieces and nephews cyberpunk, dieselpunk, biopunk, nanopunk, etc. have stirred the imagination of millions worldwide, spawning blogs packed with colorful stories, tumblr accounts dripping with gorgeous fan art, and conventions teeming with velocipede-riding, mustache-twirling, hoople-skirt wearing true believers. People, steampunk has its own World’s Fair.

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Mad Max is unexceptional, and that's for the best

Handshake

Mad Max: Fury Road is one of this spring's cinematic surprises. Although the opening weekend was trumped by Pitch Perfect 2, the combination of glowing reviews and word of mouth momentum seem to be adding up to, if not a hit movie, at least a future cult classic.*

Anticipation was always high for this long-awaited sequel, following a trailer that made the film seem like a gleeful throwback to the nonsensical, ultraviolent fun of the cult hit Road Warrior. (We don't talk about Thunderdome). An action film for fans of the action film. If you like noisy explosions, what's not to love?

And then, upon release, all hell broke loose. From an unexpected quarter too - Men's Rights Activists began a noisy (and bizarrely self-defeating) series of protests because the film was deemed 'feminist propaganda'. Which, of course, only drove more people to see the movie - not only out of curiosity, but also to spite the MRAs. And, as a result, the film's received high ratings and support from unexpected quarters and galvanised a very enthusiastic fan base - Fury Road is currently the most talked-about film on Tumblr.

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Dune at 50: Recommendations for the Dune-loving Non-SF Reader

DuneDune is a rarity. Frank Herbert's masterpiece is a science fiction book that everyone has read, including our non-science-fiction-reading friends and family. Yet unlike other SF classics that have made it into the mainstream, Dune still retains its inherent and undeniable science-fictionness. 1984 and Brave New World get upgrades to literary fiction. Frankenstein, Dracula and The Lord of the Rings sit as classics. Narnia would rather hide in the children's section.

But Dune? Dune is inescapably, ineffably science fictional, the very quintessence of those things that make SF look SFfy: faster-than-light rocketships, space-messiahs, intergalactic imperial princesses, laser death rays, city-sized alien monsters, inexplicable mental powers and planet-trembling battles. 

This year, with Dune's 50th anniversary (and check out the Folio Society anniversary edition to the right), now's the time to remind readers that their experience with science fiction needn't start and end with Dune. That, if they enjoyed the mind-blowing, worm-riding, storm-bringing, planet-hopping experience of Frank Herbert's vision, there are other books out there for them as well. 

So with no further ado, here are some books to recommend to those who dabbled in Dune at some point in the last half-century and might be receptive to something a bit like it.

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Films of High Adventure: Dune

DUNEHappy 50th Anniversary, Dune! To celebrate (?), we've put together a special edition of Films of High Adventure. Why's it so special? Well, we have Jason Heller, Hugo-award winning editor, author of Taft 2012, and writer for the A.V. Club and NPR here with us! As Jason is a consummate Dune (the novel) fan-cum-expert, we thought it would be fun (for us, at least) to ask him to watch Dune with us, and see if it stands the Films of High Adventure test of time. Heh.

There are roughly 9000000 versions of Dune out there, and we actually tried to watch the 3 hour version of Dune for this... but from what we saw it was mostly a camera panning over watercolors of planets. So we ditched it and went for the director's cut (I think?), which is the pretty dang long, but not the longest version. It's the one we all watched/remembered, so it was more authentic that way.

The Film: Dune (1984)

Responsibility Roundup: While it may seem unfair to hold Frank Herbert accountable for the film, credit where due—he did write the novel. Given all the liberties taken with the text, it seems most accurate to view Herbert as the Great Maker, and writer-director David Lynch and executive producer Dino De Laurentiis as two rival barons fighting to the death over the intoxicating essence produced by their sandworm cash cow. It’s not surprising that the film came to be defined by their conflict, since Lynch is of course best known for his heady, esoteric creations like Mulholland Drive and Twin Peaks, whereas De Laurentiis is synonymous with meaty, straight-forward fare like Barbarella, Conan the Destroyer, and dozens of other Films of High Adventure candidates. Photography by Hammer and Amicus alum Freddie Francis (Torture Garden), production design by Anthony Masters (2001: A Space Odyssey), costume design by Bob Ringwood (Burton’s Batman), and soundtrack by Toto and Brian Eno.

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New Releases: The Dead Lands by Benjamin Percy

The Dead LandsBenjamin Percy's The Dead Lands (2015) is a post-apocalyptic retelling of the Lewis and Clark story. After a virus and a nuclear holocaust sweep the world, few survive. In the walled colony of St Louis, the memory of civilisation - or even a greater Unites States - is fading. The citizens are more concerned about water, mutated critters and, when they stop to think about it, their increasingly dictatorial 'Mayor'.

Lewis is the town's librarian, mechanic and something more - the lattermost being a side effect of the world's newly irradiated landscape. Clark is one of St Louis's scouts, the few brave people who forage outside the city walls. When Gawea, a stranger from the far West, comes to town, the two see this as an opportunity - proof that there's something more than their insular, decaying city-state. With a few comrades in tow (some more eagerly than others) they set out... 

The Dead Lands is a tough one to puzzle out. Structurally, this is a massive - epic, even - quest, with the future of humanity on the line. There are heroes in search of their powers, Big Bads, little bads (with pointy teeth), fathers with dying wishes, timeless romances, etc. etc.

Certainly there are similarities to the many other post-apocalyptic novels that fill the shelves, but, despite a few recognisable tropes and set-pieces, readers looking for yet another reboot of The Stand will be sorely disappointed. The Dead Lands is a return to a much older story, presented in a way that deliberately inspires - or even provokes - the reader.

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Films of High Adventure: Mad Max 2 AKA The Road Warrior

Mad MaxThe Film: Mad Max 2 AKA The Road Warrior (which is how we Yank philistines will be referring to it) (1981)

Responsibility Roundup: Besides creating, co-writing, and directing all four Mad Max movies, George Miller is also the man behind both the Babe and Happy Feet film franchises. You know, for kids. Co-written by Terry Hayes (the From Hell movie, the novel I Am Pilgrim) and Brian Hannant (uh, something called The Time Guardian?). In addition to Mel “Butt-dog” Gibson, the movie stars Bruce Spence (Dark City; I, Frankenstein), Mike Preston (Metalstorm: The Destruction of Jared-Syn), Virginia Hey (Farscape), Vernon Wells (Weird Science; Commando), Emil Minty (um, something called Fluteman?), and the Lord Humungus as himself (wait, no, that’s wrong—he’s played by Kjell Nilsson). Soundtrack by Brian May (Mad Max, Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare) and the countless explosions.

Quote: “Greetings from The Humungus! The Lord Humungus! The Warrior of the Wasteland! The Ayatollah of Rock and Rolla!”

Alternate quote: “I’m only here for the gasoline.”

First viewing by Jesse: As an early teen, maybe?

First viewing by Molly: A couple of weeks ago.

Most recent viewing by both: A couple of weeks ago.

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Composting with Sandworms - 19 May, Chelsea Fringe

DFH_S_01We're returning to the Chelsea Fringe! Last year, we rocked this delightful offbeat gardening festival with "The Evening of the Triffids" - a night of Wyndham-inspired apocalyptic plant construction.

This year The Kitschies are hosting "Composting with Sandworms" -a night of science fiction, exobiology and not-of-this-earthworms, celebrating the 50th anniversary of Frank Herbert's Dune and investigating (plant) life on other planets.

The whole crew is back together, with Royal Observatory's Marek Kukula giving a talk on plants & planets and Lauren "Deadly Knitshade" O'Farrell teaching a workshop on making your very own sock puppet sandworm. 

We'll also have books and... whatnot..., courtesy of Dune's publishers, Hodder & Stoughton and The Folio Society. We've even got a super-sexy copy of The Folio Society's anniversary edition (pictured) to give away...

Also, cake. The cake last year was pretty spectacular.

This is an event for readers and gardeners of all ages and interests, but please book now - tickets (and socks) are very limited.

Tickets and details.


Tom Hunter on "Do genre awards actually sell books?"

Dark EdenShortly after winning the 2013 Arthur C. Clarke Award, Dark Eden by Chris Beckett was listed as #4 in the Amazon UK charts for paid books on Kindle.

Not a subsection Amazon chart but #4 out of all the paid books being bought on Kindle at that time.

Dan Brown was #3.

Why is this important?

One of the first things I was told when I initially got involved with the Clarke Award almost a decade ago was that, while all very nice and lovely, no genre award, especially no UK genre award of which the Clarke was certainly the biggest, and ever had any real effect on actual book sales.

If we weren’t selling books, the logic went, none of the other awards would be either.

Side Note 1: When I say ‘selling books’ I’m using this to mean sales in the kind of numbers and time frames that publishers can actually notice. I’m not really talking about a couple of extra sales at a dealer's table, although those definitely help too!

As someone who first heard of the Arthur C. Clarke Award when it was one of the deciding factors in my spontaneously buying an intriguing new book called VURT by Jeff Noon – it was printed in the back copy too, not even on the front! – I wasn’t entirely sure this perceived wisdom was true, but then again I was a case study of one.

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