The Long Way Makes For a Good Story

So, I just finished reading Becky Chambers’ novel, The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet. This is apparently Chambers’ first novel and I am impressed. As my fans know, I’m not one for “the new stuff.” Most of my SciFi reading is decades old and delving into a 2011 book is a bit “novel” for me. My reason? Simple, most new science fiction is dystopian crap with poor characterization and pointless storylines. That’s one reason I became a writer, in fact, to tell stories with rich characters and hopeful endings. In Chambers, however, I’ve found a happy exception to the doom and gloom and it’s nice quite refreshing.

First off, I must be honest and say that this is not a riveting space adventure and the plot moves slowly. The story involves a tramp space ship that has been contracted for a job on a distant world and most of the novel concerns their travel to said planet. Sure, when they get there things happen, but the action is over before you know it and the resolution is hardly the heroic stuff of Flash Gordon–but to be honest, I didn’t care.

The characters really pop and the interactions between the crewmates of the ship are the chief source of the fun. It’s an interspecies crew, made of radically different beings with very different cultures. In truth, this book is about how those different characters get along far more than it’s about the mission of the spaceship. And that’s just fine by me because Chambers makes the journey worth it.

So, if you’re like me, a diehard fan of the old who’s looking for something new, I recommend The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet.

By Clayton J. Callahan

 

Social Justice Warriors Are Not Ruining Science Fiction!

So hear’s the thing… I am frequently running into fans of science fiction who are half my age and proport to be more knowledgeable about the genre than I, and what’s more, they can explain to me exactly why it’s all going straight to hell.

To cut to the chase of their rather lengthy arguments, they claim that social justice warriors (SJWs) are destroying all that’s good in science fiction. Now,  whoever these SJW may, or may not, be the complaint is that science fiction will never recover from vandalism done in the name of diversity. Which leaves me with just one question, WHAT ARE THESE PUNKS SMOKING?

From my old-fart-fan point of view, science fiction has always been about diversity. Don’t believe me? Star Trek, of course, went out of its way to ensure the Enterprise had a diverse crew (don’t believe me? Watch a few other shows of that era). Or you could read Joe Haldeman’s The Forever War released in 1974 which takes place in a future where homosexuality is more acceptable than heterosexuality.  Robert A. Heinline’s characters, of course, are often in polygamous marriages which are considered normal in his future.  And even in old Flash Gordon, there was an occasional flash of feminism as Dr. Zarkov defends Dale Arden as a talented radio operator who must be included on the missions.

In short, science fiction has always been and always will be about pushing societies envelope. Today, I can recommend D. Wallace Peach’s Bonewall and highly recommend the Jurisdiction series by Susan R. Matthews. Both are carrying on the long and proud SF tradition of pushing our social envelopes and make for good reads.

So, no, I have no idea what are these fanboys complaining about when they moan about SJWs ruining science fiction. These still are the good old days and I for one intend to enjoy them.

By Clayton J. Callahan

 

The Camp David / Battlestar Accords

So, it has just been brought to my attention that FORTY YEARS AGO this week Battlestar Galactica was first seen by television audiences. That’s right, it was on September 17, 1978, that the full 148-minute pilot premiered on the ABC network. It’s an event I remember well.

Because I was stoked!

If you’re wondering why forty years ago is in all caps above, the reason is simple. I was ten years old when the dang thing aired, and I have a hard time believing that so much time has gone by so fast. That’s right, I’m fifty…and that’s not old, right?

Anyway, I do recall that day in unusual clarity. Star Wars had blown my mind that previous summer of 1977, and ever since I saw it, I was eating up all the Flash Gordon and Star Trek on TV I could watch. But here in this “Battlestar” thing was something new. Not an old serial from the 1930s or a show that had been in re-runs since the 1960s. But a new space show with all the bells and whistles my ten-year-old heart craved; robots, fighter ships, and blasters–oh my. The show had been hyped in Starlog Magazine and commercials for its premiere were all over the airwaves. I couldn’t wait to see it. What was the show even about? I had no fraggin idea, it was space and that was good enough for me.

On the night Battlestar Galactica went on the air, I had secured a big bowl of popcorn and my parent’s promise that I’d get to watch the whole thing. As it was scheduled, the two-hour-plus show was going to keep me up an hour past bedtime but that didn’t seem like a big deal. The epic show opened with some brief character introduction and then BOOM, the Twelve Colonies were completely destroyed in a cataclysmic Cylon on Human battle.

And then, ABC News broke in with; “We now interrupt this program…”

On that same night, September 17, 1978, after twelve days of secret negotiations, the leaders of Israel and Egypt had reached an agreement and signed the Camp David Peace Accords in the presence of American President Jimmy Carter. And they picked the middle of the most hyped show in my elementary school world as the perfect time to announce their treaty. In agony, I watched for an hour as Anwar El Sadat and Menachem Begin slowly signed a piece of paper and shook hands. Didn’t these people know the fate of the galaxy was at stake?

In my most mature ten-year-old whine, I complained to my parents but to no avail. For some reason, they seemed to think that peace between two actual countries was more important than a Cylon attack on a fictitious bunch of colonies. Nevertheless, mom and dad (and mostly dad) kept their promise, and when Battlestar Galactica returned to our TV screen, I was able to watch the show to its late-night end.

Of course, I wasn’t worth a fig in school the next day. My teacher found me sleeping at my desk, and when I honestly reported the reason I couldn’t stay awake a phone call was placed to my father. To this day I’m glad they called Dad…because Mom would have really lit into me. My father, however, merely took full responsibility for allowing his boy to stay up late; and swallowed the shame in the certain knowledge his son wasn’t destined for any sports hall of fame but would probably waste his life going to goofy conventions and publishing science fiction novels (now available on Amazon!).

So now, I’m fifty, and to be honest I’m quite happy that Israel and Egypt haven’t spilled each other’s blood in over forty years. In fact, I’d give the leaders of the Middle East the chance to interrupt The Orvil, the new lady Dr. Who, and one of my book signings if they would write a few more of those peace accords. But unfortunately, peacemaking presidents seem in very short supply these days.

Still, it’s worth reflecting on. Childhood fancy and grown-up priorities always race neck and neck in our lives. Now, I do not pretend to know which will come in first at the end of my race. But I intend to keep writing science fiction and working for peace in this world as long as I can.

By Clayton J. Callahan

PS: Jimmy, if you ever decide to run again, I’ll vote for you 🙂

Flash, Ahahaha!

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Let me tell you what’s new with Flash Gordon.

First off, when I was growing up we had these things called local TV stations. They didn’t have a lot of money to buy children’s programming and, to be frank, there wasn’t much worth buying back then if they did (it was a dark time– the 1970s). So when I came home from school and wanted to veg out in front of the tube, there was Flash Gordon on Chanel 19…in all it’s 1930s glory.

Flash Gordon was an outer space pulp hero played by Buster Crabbe (a former Olympic gold medal winner). To be frank, Buster didn’t have a wide range as an actor. But he looked every bit the hero and spoke his lines clearly and with gusto. From 1936 to 1940 he appeared in weekly installments that played at movie houses across America. With his trusty companions, the beautiful Dale Arden and the brilliant Hans Zarkov, Flash battled the brutal Emperor Ming the Merciless to save the Earth. Each episode ended with a cliffhanger to leave the audience wanting more.

Was it tacky? YES! Were the special effects crap? YOU BET! But a young George Lucas apparently loved the show as a kid too. In fact, when that boy grew up he wanted to make a Flash Gordon movie himself. Get this…since he COULD NOT AFFORD THE RIGHTS he decided to write his own space opera and call it Star Wars. That’s right, there was a time when the name Flash Gordon meant bigger bucks in science fiction than Star Wars!

Seeing the error of their ways, the people behind Flash Gordon made their own major motion picture starring Sam J. Jones (Buster was getting old by then). The 1980 movie was a minor hit and became a cult favorite. The dialog of this movie was deliberately corny, and Brian Blessed’s performance of Vaultan King of The Hawkmen was a master class in overacting done right. The film had its charm but–like it’s black and white movie heritage– its characters lacked depth.

Enter Dynamite Comics’s latest incarnation of Flash. I recently discovered this volume in my local comic book shop…and it’s wonderful. Creators Jeff Parker, Evan Shaner, and Jordie Bellaire understand and respect the source material but aren’t afraid to add something to it.

In Dynamite’s incarnation, Flash is an Olympic athlete (a nod to Buster) with the attention span of a teenager. A true adrenaline junkie, Flash gets bored easily lives for the chance to jump in and do something physical. However, he’s also a generally good human being, and his boyish understanding of right and wrong serves as the moral compass of his group.

For the Dynamite authors, Dale Arden is the brains of the operation. She is a science journalist who gets roped into the interplanetary adventure. Not one to back down from a challenge, she is the cool head that comes up with the plans that Flash follows. Frankly, this Dale is much more than a girlfriend character and she is certainly no damsel in distress.

Hans Zarkov, as always, is the brilliant scientist of the group. However, he is also a braggart, a horn-dog and an alcoholic. Far from the modest background boffin of the 1930s movies, this Doctor Zarkov is a brash egotist who’s boisterous personality must be tempered by Dale and Flash from time to time. But, to be sure, he’s an awful lot of fun at parties.

If you can’t find this excellent comic in stores I recommend Amazon:

https://www.amazon.com/Flash-Gordon-Omnibus-Tp/dp/1606905996/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1476767848&sr=1-1&keywords=flash+gordon+comics

It’s a big, bold and brash reincarnation of an old science fiction standby, and is sure to bring out the kid in any old fart who remembers what fun Flash Gordon used to be.

 

 

Star Trek Turns 50…And I Ain’t Feeling So Young Myself

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So, What do you think? I know, I know…a Starfleet admiral? Kind of egotistical, right? Well, I sure as hell am too old to be an ensign these days, so what else was I going to wear to Comicon?

Star Trek just turned fifty and I grew right up with it. In fact, I was born the day the episode “Friday’s Child” first aired. Yes, that’s the episode where McCoy delivers a baby…weird I know. Naturally, I was too young to catch Star Trek on the first pass. Instead, I grew up watching the re-runs on late night TV. Saturday Night Live would end, then we’d watch Star Trek and finally an old Flash Gordon serial before Channel 19 ended its broadcast day and the national anthem would play.

I’ve got to say, I’ve always loved the show, and it formed much of the framework for what I think science fiction is, or at least should be. Intellectually, I’m aware that SF encompasses cyberpunk, post-apocalyptic, and mad scientist stories. But, for me, if it ain’t got spaceships it ain’t sci-fi. To this day I gravitate to star-spanning adventures with strong human elements and a powerful moral theme that runs through ‘em. That’s what good SF is to me, that’s what Gene Roddenberry conceived when Star Trek first aired on September 8th, 1966, and that’s the kind of stuff I put in my books.

So, my point here is simply to say, “thank you.”

Thank you to every Star Trek, writer, actor, director, producer, costume sewer and right down to the guy who swept the floor. Also a hearty thanks to every fan who kept Star Trek alive for the past five decades. My imagination owes a debt to you folks that I cannot hope to repay.

So thank you. Thank you very much!

Forgotten Planet

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When I was growing up, local TV stations would often run old movies in their less-than-prime-time slots. This obviously saved them money, but it also ensured that the younger generation was exposed to the past glory of film. And the Forbidden Planet was such incredible a movie.

It was made in 1956 and was the first attempt by Hollywood to make a serious SF film for adults. Before that, such movies were not taken seriously and the Flash Gordon serials were about as good as it got. The film had an outstanding look that we now think of as “retro” and the special effects were top drawer for the time (no wires can be seen). The acting was very good and the script was based on William Shakespeare’s The Tempest.

This film had a pronounced effect on science fiction movies to come. The main characters of the flying saucer’s crew are very reminiscent of Kirk, Bones, and Spock (captain, scientist, and doctor). The production design was influential as well; you can see the interior of the planet’s underground city looks a lot like the Death Star. Things that we consider common elements of space opera like blasters, robots, and alien races are also features of the film.

The only fault I can make of The Forbidden Planet is that it is a product of its time. Space al-la 1950’s seems to be peopled entirely with white people and most of them men. The one female character acts in a very stereotypical way. To be honest, I don’t think the producers of the film were trying to make any racist or sexist statement…it was just the soup they all were swimming in back then.

However, despite its flaws, I recommend the movie. It’s a classic and can reveal where we as SF fans come from and how far we have traveled since 1954.

By Clayton J. Callahan