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Sunday, May 21, 2017

History and Horror of Sci Fi, and the Return of Intergalactic Expo

Four star fighter ships floating through space.

It’s that time of year again for Intergalactic Expo, one of Sacramento’s biggest local sci fi cons. I was trying to rent table space there to sell my books but unfortunately it didn’t work out, mostly due to pricing and lack of space. Let alone lack of tables. I told the facilitators of the con that I would be willing to bring my own blanket and lay it out on the floor or lawn somewhere along with my merchandise like they do at middle eastern and North African bazaars but they said it would demean the con’s reputation. Good grief! It’s a sci fi con, anything should go! Well okay, almost anything. They can’t have real light saber duels or somebody could get hurt, not to mention that there probably isn’t a way to make real light sabers yet. So, Star Wars fans, you’ll have to settle for glass and plastic ones. I just thought my suggestion of the blanket would add to the exoticism of the con’s theme.

So you won’t see me there. Or at least not as presenting anything. Feel free to come up and talk sci fi/fantasy and writing if you see me walking around. It starts Sunday 21 May at 10 A.M. and goes on til 6 in the evening in. See the above link for more details. The author who is scheduled to be featured there is Davidson Haworth. He’s a historical fantasy writer said to be “the first writer to reinvent book tours byconducting his signings at pop culture conventions.” 

Intergalactic Expo started back in 2013 as May the Fourth Be With You, which was mostly a weekend Star Wars con. But ever since the fourth of the month moved away from the weekend, starting in May 2015, it’s been renamed “Intergalactic Expo” and caters to all things sci fi. However, one of the things I’ll miss this year are its speculative genre panels. Last year they had two really great panels: one on the history of science fiction and the other on defining steampunk. I wrote about the former in an article at and the latter here at the Fantastic Site. If you missed the article presented here then you can read it by going to the above link. If you never got a chance to read the article presented at then you’ll never get that chance again. was sadly shut down only a month or so after I published that one. But don’t despair! I have the honour of presenting it to you in its original format right here!

Daniel Batt talks about the horror of sci fi at Intergalactic Expo (from 20 May 2016)
Many argue that “Star Wars” isn’t science fiction for the reason that the science isn’t believable unlike in a movie such as “The Martian”. Animals such as Banthas and Tauntauns on planets “in a galaxy far, far away” just aren’t as plausible as absence of life on Mars in our own solar system. In the same way people have argued what science fiction is, they have argued when it began. But author J. Daniel Batt’s (pronounced ‘bot’s’ as in robot!) showed a very open mind to both the genre’s definition and history in his panel, “The History of Science Fiction”, held in the City Hall Council Chambers at the annual Intergalactic Expo in West Sacramento last Sunday. He even said some argue that the genre goes as far back as primitive man. The reason for this is, he explained, that, like today’s science fiction, the stories primitive societies told speculated what existed beyond their own surroundings. While the beyond for them may not have been other planets or future tech but a more nearby unexplored region such as a dark forest or valley, a primal emotion that these stories provoked was fear. Because of this, Batt said that science fiction and horror are very close to each other. Sci fi has often been a mixed genre with that of horror at least since the 18th century
Out of the ancient tales of underworld monsters and evil spirits evolved many of today’s terrors in sci fi. Horror in sci fi goes at least as far back as Mary Shelley’s “Frankenstein”. After all, it was a scientist who created the monster that went on a murderous rampage. In the 1950s, the sci fi horror mix was inspired by fear of the atom bomb. This spawned movies and pulp fiction stories about monsters from forbidden regions of the world such as the ocean depths and subterranean environments where the effects of atomic energy created over-grown creatures such as lizards, spiders and insects.
But the genre in the ‘50s did not remain earthbound. The concern about atomic energy along with the space race also brought stories of hostile, god-like as well as demonic-looking aliens from the dark abysses of space. During that period, movies such as “20 Million Miles to Earth”, “It Came From Beneath the Sea”, and “Tarantula” terrified audiences in theaters. In the ‘60s movies about alien vampires and other scientifically explainable living dead creatures became popular. The ‘70s saw the rise in popularity of movies involving parasitical monsters like the one in “Alien”.
We need to remember that much of the zombie craze in today’s films, TV and books started with movies like 1968’s “Night of the Living Dead”. This movie was one of the earliest to replace magic with science as the source of zombie uprisings. Since then, zombies have been one of the biggest icons of science fiction-horror and have become even more so since the premier of “The Walking Dead” TV series in 2010. “Thanks in no small part to [the] show’s massive across-the-board popularity, zombies have now thoroughly infected and colonized mainstream pop culture”, says Joshua Rothkopf in a “Rolling Stone” article. They couldn’t have “infected and colonize” sci fi any less!
As robots, artificial intelligence, and virtual reality become less science fiction and more science fact, the fears behind scientific-horror stories of all mediums are far from being snuffed out. If anything, they will be enhanced and create more terrifying stories as other technological innovations and scientific discoveries are made. Each new discovery in science and technology brings some degree of fear, because--like with the dark forests that surrounded primitive societies, like with the unexplored reaches of space that we now know surrounds our solar system--there will be some degree of the unknown. As it is human nature to fear the unknown, it’s also human nature to question out of curiosity what lies beyond. Science does this latter to begin with. So there will continue to be science and new technology to make more horror in science fiction.

Project Status

Besides being behind in book tours, I’m still behind in “Circa Sixty Years Dead”’s [link] print edition (which I would need a copy to present at a book tour). My day job doesn’t allow me the amount of time I’d like to have to work on it and so I’ve only been giving it one or two hours a week. Plus I’m writing an article about sci fi/fantasy books and television for an online magazine. I can’t tell you the article’s specifics at this time but I’ll definitely let you know and link to it when its published.

I’ll have more about Intergalactic Expo and “Circa Sixty Years” here next week.

Until then . . .  

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