Sunday, March 17, 2019

Kim Stanley Robinson and the Missing Punk in ‘Punk’ Science Fiction

A punk woman wearing cyberpunk goggles.

Yesterday’s world-wide youth protest against climate change in no way occurred too soon. Our institutions needed to be wakened and made aware that the beauty spring brings around this time of year may not be around for too many more years if we don’t do something about the destruction to the environment. I was so impressed by the teens who took this stand that I shared a Washington Post article  about it on Facebook. But the news about the protest also got me to look back on what author Kim Stanley Robinson said about acting against climate change in his talk about his newest book, Red Moon, last month at the Avid Reader in Davis, California. For those of you who aren’t familiar with Robinson’s work, he’s an advocate for environmental solutions which much of his science fiction reflects. Several posts back I talked about the various kinds of punk science fiction which solarpunk and ecopunk are two them. Both deal with environmental issues. Yet, Robinson’s work falls under neither.

Or at least Robinson does not refer to his fiction as solarpunk or ecopunk. In fact, he doesn’t refer to it as any kind of punk. When I attended his talk and reading last month, I came into it about 15 minutes late and so by that time there was standing room only. He’s not only a best-selling and award-winning author but also a Davis resident. So I was crammed into a corner among other people, if not mostly Davis residents then Sacramento area residents in general, who were also standing like myself. So I wasn’t in a position to pull from my backpack my journal to take notes and so had to rely on memory and write down the key points when I got home that evening. That said, I’m not going to even try to write word for word what Robinson said but I’ll give you the basic ideas he was getting across to us. I asked him about his thoughts on punk science fiction and he said that most of that type of sci fi is not punk in its truest sense. He basically said the events in punk science fiction, especially the subgenres of it that came after cyberpunk, are not radical enough in their demand for social change.

After Robinson read an excerpt from his Red Moon he answered questions from the audience. At some point he said that science fiction is limited in its subgenres. I asked him that with all the punk science fiction subgenres springing up--such as steampunk, atompunk, ecopunk and solarpunk--wouldn’t he think the genre is continuously expanding. To this he said something like that the punk suffix is used for marketing purposes and isn’t punk in the true sense of the word. He said he preferred calling sci fi that deals with social problems, including environmental issues, something like “reformative science fiction” rather than punk science fiction. When I asked if he thought there was at least a small degree of social rebellion in the punk subgenres or even just a suggestion of it, he said that the characters don’t go to the extreme that punk rockers in the 1970s did, such as destroying property and doing illegal drugs, and so there is no radical reaction to the establishment in the fiction of these categories. He said that his own fiction does not reflect that kind of reaction. This is because he believes that in order for there to be social change the people have to campaign for it through the democratic process and the establishment has to help with that change. If we try to push for change through a radical process, Robinson explained, like punk rockers have it could bring on worse situations.

I have to agree with Robinson at least to an extent. Most people will not respond in an agreeable manner to radical and spontaneous actions and will probably counter-rebel. However, when it comes to punk science fiction, in my opinion the characters themselves do not necessarily have to react radically to bring about social change. In these kinds of stories, there only has to be a call for change in society’s infrastructures and a criticism of today’s status quo that keeps that change from occurring.

Two silhouetted women lay their hands on the planet Earth.

Now in many ways, Robinson is right about the punk subgenres being used to market various types of science fiction. And they have been used to market stories that aren’t about social change in the least. So maybe sci fi punk, whether it’s steampunk, hopepunk, solarpunk, ecopunk or atompunk, is just a passing fad. Books are marketed according to the times and “punk” is a term that today’s speculative fiction fans turn to when they see it in the names of their favourite subgenres. As far as marketing goes, these sci fi categories have been misapplied. However, as far as reader’s interest itself goes they can be very useful. Not everyone likes the same types of science fiction. Some people prefer military sci fi, while others prefer space opera or cyberpunk.

But what’s important is not the term that’s used for a type of science fiction but what the stories in that type are doing. The best kind of science fiction is that which inspires people to make a better society. This kind either depicts a better future society that promotes diversity and equality or it shows what can happen if we don’t promote these social values and so scares us into promoting them. The former is utopian. However, for utopian sci fi to tell a good story that people want to read, it has to involve challenges that the protagonists must overcome in order to maintain that kind of society. The latter occurs in a lot of apocalyptic and dystopian stories.

So punk science fiction should do what all science fiction does: inspire readers to contribute to a better future. The difference in punk sci fi from other sci fi is that it more so emphasises social change itself, criticising our present day institutions in doing so. The social change can include environmental causes.

How much do you think science fiction should inspire to create a better society?

Until next time . . .

Saturday, March 9, 2019

Movie Based on Cixin Liu’s Sci fi Story Coming to Netflix

Because the movie adaptation of award-winning author Cixin Liu’s short story, The Wandering Earth, is a disaster sci fi film I would see it on the big screen rather than wait for it to come out on DVD or to streaming video. And, when I say “disaster sci fi film”, I mean as in natural and not box office disaster. It’s far from that. At least it is in it’s native China. In fact, the movie did so well there ever since its February 5th release that it is considered the country’s first science fiction blockbuster

Unfortunately, I probably won’t be seeing Wandering Earth on the big screen because it’s had a limited run in the U.S. It is showing in my home region of Sacramento but it’s at a movie theatre opposite of the part I live in and I take public transportation. If I tried taking a a bus there it would probably take me half a day to get there and then half a day to get back to my house! That’s how complicated the bus system can be here in the Sacramento region. So, why don’t I drive? Well, among other reasons, I take public transit in order to help prevent things from happening like in this film, which is a total climate change disaster caused by the sun. In Wandering Earth, the sun threatens to destroy the earth by the next century and so scientists use gigantic rocket engines to try to move the planet to another star system.

If you’re like me and have too hard of a time getting to the nearest theatre that’s playing Wandering Earth, the good news is that it’s coming to Netflix. The video service giant has bought the rights to stream the sci fi film. This will help the movie reach a wider audience throughout the world since Netflix services to several countries. If the movie’s received well enough it may reach other venues such as DVD or paid per view. The Wandering Earth is directed and written by Frant Gwo. It’s one more sci fi film I can do a Book-To-Movie review on, so expect one here!

Have you read or seen Cixin Liu’s The Wandering Earth? If so, what did you think? Feel free to leave your answers in the box below, but please no spoilers!

Also, in case you missed my first post for the Insecure Writer’s Support Group (IWSG), which I posted this past Wednesday, you can catch it here. I will be posting for IWSG every first Wednesday of the month. IWSG’s posts emphasises the writing process, the challenges it brings and how to over come them.

Until next time. . .

An octopus creature with a huge eye in the middle of its forehead.

Wednesday, March 6, 2019

How the Hero Can Doom a Story and the Protagonist Save It

Badge for The Insecure Writer's Support Group depicting a lighthouse.

This is the first post here at the Fantastic Site that will be part of the monthly series of posts connected with the network, The Insecure Writer's Support Group (IWSG). These posts occur on the first Wednesday of the month.

When we were kids we often referred to the characters in the stories we were read as heroes and villains. Many of these stories--such as fairy tales, folk tales and super hero comics--were simplistic so they could be easily understood by us as children. They were made this way so they could communicate a moral. Because of this, the characters were also simplistic and often classified as “heroes” and “villains” or “good guys” and “bad guys”. As adults, however, we often read fiction that is more complex because we have grown to learn that life is more complicated than fairy tales and super hero comics. The characters don’t as clearly represent good or evil because each has both of these qualities. So, as a writer of fiction, I have a hard time writing my characters in such simplistic, formulaic terms as “hero/villain.” Reading fiction, however, is a different, uh, story for me. I often read stories keeping in mind certain characters as heroes and others as villains. But this is based on which characters I identify with and which ones I don’t and so subjective on my, the reader’s, part. Unless we are writing fiction for a very young audience or a simple minded one, thinking of our characters in terms of heroes and villains may endanger the believability of them. So it’s better to think of them in terms of protagonists and antagonists.

A female spy runs through a car and helicopter chase scene.

The terms “hero” and “villain” have been used for mythical purposes and so to describe the good and bad qualities of a culture or society. This has especially been at the simplistic level of storytelling such as in folk and fairy tales. Characters in these terms are representative of a society’s standards of what is morally acceptable and what isn’t. Character building based on these often result in type or stalk characters. These are characters that represent ideals rather than life-like human beings. There’s nothing wrong with these type of characters but they are more useful for an audience of young children who are still learning the basics of life’s moral and ethical expectations, or for a family audience which includes children. But to use them in fiction that we intend to be more sophisticated will probably make a story unconvincing to readers.

When I write my fiction, I prefer to think of my characters as the protagonist and antagonist instead of the hero and villain. This helps me to create my characters as life-like as possible. “Protagonist” and “antagonist” differ from “hero” and “villain” quite a bit. The protagonist and antagonist are not there to represent the good and bad values of a society like the hero and villain are. Instead, they are there to represent human beings in both their good qualities and bad. Technically, the protagonist is the primary character of the story who’s actions determine the outcome of the story. The point of view may or may not take place through this character. However, because he or she is the main character, the story’s emphasis is on that character. The main character has a goal that is worthy to her, to society or to both. Personally, I feel that the best protagonists are the ones whose goals are worthy to both the character’s self and society. But it doesn’t necessarily have to be so.

The antagonist is more secondary but still a main character. The antagonist is a main character, who for his own reasons, gets in the way of the protagonist’s goals and so is the figure that provides the primary conflict, the challenge that the protagonist must overcome. These two types of characters are not made to represent the moral ideals of society but the reality of human desires and motives. Thinking of characters in these terms help to write the story in a more convincing way regardless of the genre it may be within such as science fiction, horror, fantasy or romance.

An example of realistic human qualities in these characters is this: The protagonist, an intergalactic soldier, may have the goal of freeing her brother from aliens that take him hostage. The antagonist may be the alien captain who ordered the brother’s abduction. While the protagonist as a good soldier believes in upholding the law, she may break sanctions ordered by her own government to rescue the brother. The alien captain may have justification of taking the brother hostage because the brother out of fear and ignorance falsely accused the aliens of scheming to invade the earth. The brother’s sister is the protagonist because she and her goal to rescue him are the emphasis of the story, while the alien captain is the antagonist because he is the blocking force to that goal.

In realistic fiction, regardless of the genre--whether it be science fiction, fantasy, mystery, or whatever--a situation should be presented and how the characters handle it. This calls for life-like characters. Which ever character is given the most emphasis is the protagonist since that character’s goal is central to the story. The character who is the main blocking force to that goal is the antagonist. Writing characters in these terms helps us to know the characters’ roles as realistic people rather than as formulaic types like heroes and villains. Who the hero or villain is in a story is up to the reader based on her own beliefs and preferences.

Do you think of your main characters as the protagonist and antagonist or the hero and the villain? In what terms, “protagonist/antagonist” or “hero/villain”, is it easiest for you to develop your characters?

Until next time . . .

Saturday, February 23, 2019

The Challenge To Science Fiction’s Prediction of Future Technology

A young woman is riding a hoverboard above a futuristic city.

Even though science fiction tends to anticipate future events and can be said to be prophetic, it may be getting harder for it to do that. This is especially because technology is changing and advancing at faster rates than it had 40 years ago and is increasingly doing so. That’s especially the case with computer technology, including internet and handheld devices. So it shouldn’t be too surprising that an article at the scholarly website, JStor Daily ( poses the question in its title “Can Science Fiction Predict the Future of Technology?”  

The author of the article criticises the idea of science fiction as anticipatory of future technology. However, there is some truth to what she says, namely that not all science fiction gets future technology and its influence on society right. She also says, basically, that at its core science fiction is more about the present than it is the future. What?! you may be saying. Well like all fiction regardless of genre, a science fiction story is a product of the time it is written in. But sci fi often particularly uses present events to imagine (if not predict) future ones. Even though the article lacks emphasis on how the genre has gotten its predictions right, I still found it interesting and informing and so I suggest taking a look at it.

Do you think the rapidly increasing advancement of technology is outpacing science fiction’s ability to anticipate the future?

Until next time . . .

Sunday, February 17, 2019

Universal Plans for Movie Remakes Based on Horror and Sci fi Novels

Boris Karloff as the Monster in Universal's Frankenstein.
Credit: Universal Studios/

What got me reading classic horror and sci fi novels such as Frankenstein and Dracula was their Universal movie adaptations. I grew up watching these films on television when I was a kid and because of that became interested in reading the books. That’s why I’m excited to hear that Universal is planning to produce several remakes of its classic horror films one of which has already been given a director.

Universal Monster Movie Remakes

According to Variety, Leigh Whannell has been hired to direct and write the script to the remake of Universal’s The Invisible Man. The movie, based on H.G. Wells’s novel of the same name, is part of a plan to remake several of Universal’s classic monster films, a plan that has moved away from a previous one that was to interconnect Universal monster characters under one story arc called the “Dark Universe”. Even though it has not been said which movies beyond The Invisible Man will be remade, they will probably include Frankenstein and Dracula since these two have become iconic of Universal horror and sci fi films of the 1930s through ‘50s and remain part of today’s pop culture at least on the level of humour and camp.

A promotion poster for Universal's 1933 film, The Invisible Man.
Credit: Universal Studios/Wikimedia Commons

Variety says that Universal is trying to come up with ways to remake the monster characters so they will be relevant to a modern audience. The studio wants to keep the characters open to filmmakers so they can create their own stories around them. The potential problem I see in this is that if filmmakers are given too much room to recreate the characters and their stories it may cause the remakes to drift even further from the novels that some of those movies are based on such as Invisible Man, Frankenstein and Dracula. The original Universal films had already done this quite a bit. Hopefully many of these filmmakers will be such dedicated fans of the original movies that they won’t redo the storylines and characters too much. However, going back too close to the original novels for those movies based on them could take away too much of Universal’s interpretation of the characters. And as with any movie, whether remake or original, the monster films should relate to today’s issues to some extent since all art is a reflection of the time period it’s made in.

Universal Monsters Board Game

Although it hasn’t been said if it’s inspired by the Dark Universe story arc originally proposed by Universal, io9 says that Ravensburger, maker of games and puzzles, will release a board game called Horrified: Universal Monsters. io9 explains that this strategy game will allow players to make their “own shared universe” of classic movie monsters. The game is for two to five players who work together to defeat seven of Universal’s most famous monsters that come as miniature figures, including Dracula, Frankenstein’s monster, and the Invisible Man. However, it seems that the game’s creators would have given players the option to take up the roles of the monsters. Many horror and sci fi nerds who grew up being bullied by kids for being different identify with some of these characters, such as Frankenstein’s Monster, that are hunted down in the movies for similar reasons. Horrified will be available in stores the August 1st for $34.99, io9 says.

Dune Release Date

The Dune remake, which is being directed by Denis Villeneuve, has been given a release date of November 20th, 2020, according to io9. The original movie, directed by David Lynch, released in 1984. The movies are adapted from Frank Herbert’s 1965 novel of the same name. Villeneuve’s Dune will be in both IMAX and 3D formats and will star Timothee Chalamet as lead character Paul Atreides.

Do you think Universal should stick closer to the original novels when it remakes the monster films that are adapted from them, films such as Frankenstein, Dracula and The Invisible Man? Do you think the Dune remake will stay more true to the original novel than the original 1984 film did?

Sunday, February 10, 2019

Sci fi and Fantasy Have a New Hope—Hopepunk

A cartoon Chinese Dragon floating upright.

We’re already a little more than a month into the new year. Even though a new year is supposed to be a time of hope and improvement in our lives and society, many people would say the near future does not look as such especially during this time of increasing climate change, racial injustice, a ruler in our nation who can hardly be called a president in the true sense, and reoccurring massive violence. I mean, since Sandy Hook, if not before, there’s been a mass shooting almost as frequently as movies are changed in theatres! And it’s no joke. This year sadly began with a sniper randomly shooting in public in Davis CA, not much more than ten miles from where I live. Still, it doesn’t matter. Since in order to solve these problems we need to hope for the future, both near and distant, even in the face of despair. In fact, it’s because of those causes of a dark future is why we have to look toward hope. So if there’s anytime we should promote hope for a better society it’s now while the year has barely begun which Chinese New Year, which occurred a few days ago, should be a reminder of that for us here in the West.

The pessimism of our culture today includes much of the fiction and entertainment we engage in and that, unfortunately, includes sci fi and fantasy. Examples of this are the many post apocalyptic stories that we read and watch, such as The Walking Dead, and even space opera like The Expanse (although this one has been debatable as an example). But it’s not all bleak futures for or in fantasy and science fiction. There is hope for speculative storytelling, and that hope is hopepunk.

Yes, this is another punk of sci fi and fantasy. However it may be better to call hopepunk a movement than a subgenre in fiction since it doesn’t necessarily refer to entire stories but can also refer to an individual character of optimistic attitude within a story that may not be one of optimistic values. So what exactly is hopepunk? To put it in a nutshell, it’s a form of storytelling in sci fi and fantasy that deliberately chooses to send a positive message to audiences, a message that defies the atmosphere of despair caused by the injustices of our times and found in the speculative fiction that reflects them. That fiction is namely, what has been termed as, “grimdark”. Hopepunk, a movement of optimism likened to that of the hippie movement of the 1960s and early ‘70s, was sparked by fantasy author Alexandra Rowland’s post on Tumbler a couple of years ago and is said to have gone mainstream. However, I would have to say that, realistically, it’s gone only relatively mainstream. If it was completely mainstream we’d already be living it’s message as a society and it would no longer really be a movement. But it is safe to say that hopepunk has gone relatively mainstream. To see in what way it has done this, all you have to do is google the term and you’ll get a full page of results on the topic.

For a more in-depth explanation of this new subgenre of sci fiction and fantasy, I strongly suggest you read the Vox article, “Hopepunk, the latest storytelling trend, is all about weaponized optimism”. I know, the title sounds contradicting but if you read the article you’ll know why it’s written in that way. I have to admit, however, the article tends to be a bit biased for the fantasy side of the subgenre. It uses examples of Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter, but says little about science fiction TV shows and movies. Even though Star Trek is mentioned in the list of hopepunk TV shows and movies at the end of the article, Star Wars is not mentioned at all. The Star Wars films have largely conveyed a sense of hope in their storytelling. In fact, the subtitle to the first movie contains the word “hope”.

So if hopepunk permeates the fiction markets like the predominantly darker steampunk has, 2019 may prove to be a year of “a new hope”: hopepunk! After you read the above article, would you think hopepunk is an unrealistic manner of storytelling or is it conveying an achievable reality?

Until next time . . .

Saturday, February 2, 2019

Horror Novelist Graham Masterton to Receive Lifetime Achievement Award

An old dark house with lightning flashing in the night-time sky.

I’ll admit that I have not read a lot of Graham Masterton’s horror fiction as great as a writer he is. One of the few works I’ve read by him was his novel The Manitou. I read it a few years back and would be willing to read it again. It’s a really neat and well-written book that utilizes Native American myth, particularly that of the book’s title. A manitou is a medicine man spirit in which the one in this book is not near as much a healer as he is a destroyer. The novel was made into a movie in 1979 which, although not as good as the book, was really good with plenty of terrifying scenes. I’ll have to do a Book-To-Movie review of it here someday.

Anyway, one of the best modern horror authors, Masterton has been chosen by the Horror Writers Association as a recipient of the Lifetime Achievement Award. This award is presented annually to writers and other artists whose work has significantly influenced the horror genre. The award will be presented to Masterton at StokerCon 2019, which will be held in May in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Even though Masterton is mostly known for his horror fiction, he has written a lot in other fiction genres including thriller, disaster and historical. He’s recently been writing crime fiction but has a new horror novel in the works.

When an author in the horror genre like Masterton gets an award as big as the Lifetime Achievement, it makes me compelled to read more of his work in which I plan on doing in the new year. Have you read any of Graham Masterton’s horror fiction? If so, which ones? Feel free to leave your answers in the box below.

Until next time . . .