Geeking Out

I didn't write this, but it so clearly speaks to how I feel about science fiction on tv (and in movies for that matter) that I have to save and share it. If you are any kind of sf geek and you didn't watch Battlestar Galatica (the new one - the old one is cheesy fun, but not the same kind of mindblowing storytelling) and Caprica, go start. Begin with BSG, by the way, and don't skip bits. It's a novel, not a comic book.

This is from a Television Without Pity recap about the Caprica episode "Gravedancing":

I mean, all we really ask of our TV is that there be fights and fucking and, on this channel, maybe a spaceship. But what if there were a soap opera that happened to be set in a SF universe, such that you could have the richest scientist couple in the world talk about going from Apple to Google in response to a terrorist threat, with a little GTA and IP law thrown in there? Most TV SF historically -- even the small bit now -- is on an Alan Dean Foster/Piers Anthony/Terry Brooks sort of track: Licensed and xeroxed, unrecognizably sexless and utopian, emotionally and socially shallow-to-illiterate, soullessly and bitterly commercial, and self-consciously intellectual on a scale somewhere between "nominally cerebral" and "borderline autistic." You get your occasional Babylon 5 (which would be... Oh! Pern, obviously) and Octavia Butlers and Nicola Griffithses like Farscape and all the Joss stuff, and yer Ender Wigginses like BSG.

Which is great! That's a long list and I'm proud of them all. But what if you went the full Cory Doctorow on that shit? What if Paolo Bacigalupi wrote the next hospital drama, or Ted Chiang was driving the new crimescene procedural? What if China MiƩville had a teen drama on ABC Family, how wonderful a trainwreck would that be? What if Grant Morrison wrote Smallville? What if Neal Stephenson wrote Lost, suddenly and all those Asperger's clues actually meant something? Wouldn't it feel more like the future, then? Wouldn't you feel like we were going somewhere?

I'm not saying that even needs to happen: I'm just saying that's what you're watching. It doesn't have much to do with the TV SF we've been trained to expect, but it has a hell of a lot more in common with SF literature than 90% of what's out there. Not an heir to Roddenberry or Lucas, boo hoo, but a hell of a lot closer to the lineage of Bradbury and Sturgeon and Ellison. It's fine to look for what's not there -- to demand that everything act like space opera, to get vicious with SGU for attempting to be less formulaic and idiotic than its forebears, while handing over record ratings for utter trash fanfic like Tin Man and Alice -- but when you do that, you run the risk of missing what is there because you didn't even know to look for it.

It's exactly this kind of nonsense that's turned Margaret Atwood into a bundle of twigs and hair. Is there ever a valid reason to hold TV to a lower standard, much less refuse to notice when it exceeds that standard? Is the ghetto really that self-reinforcing? Do you honestly think people read Left Hand Of Darkness or The Sparrow or Iain Banks because they're about shiny spaceships and freaky aliens? And I'll tell you another thing, if you think this shit's boring, I cannot wait to introduce you to good old Canticle For Leibowitz, which is nine million pages of monks walking slower than those giant moaning turtles from The Dark Crystal.


B.E. Earl said...

The new BSG is one of the best shows ever created, and Caprica might well have been better.

I don't know why Caprica failed with its audience. But a large faction of BSG fans didn't appreciate Caprica for what it was. An incredibly smart, nuanced commentary on the world we actually live in now. And that's always been the best kind of science-fiction.

I love the popcorn variety too...don't get me wrong. It just doesn't have that same wow factor.

May said...

I love it when you geek out. Listening to you is one of the reasons smart boys fall in love with me sometimes. Yes we shall watch Battlestar together! Yes we shall!!!

Ms. Moon said...

Oh my. I can't even begin to comment on this. I am ignorant on the subject. I will tell you, however, that I had a dystopian dream last night. Maybe that's what it was. There was no gasoline and people were fucking PISSED! Yeah. It was bad.

downtown guy said...

BE: I love shows that unfold slowly and in detail and encourage a lot of overthinking about characters' emotions and motivations. Sadly, that means all my favorite tv shows get cancelled prematurely.

May: I am super looking forward to Battlestar Tuesday!

Mama: Reading the news before bed is always a bad thing.

Sarcastic Bastard said...

I can't comment either, but thanks for the rundown. I may have to check it out now.



downtown guy said...

It takes some devotion, they do a great job of world-building.

Anonymous said...

yikes, I'm clearly missing something without cable. I knew they produced a BSG again, but rationalized it would be lame.

downtown guy said...

I caught it on dvds long after it went off the air, so no excuses. If you are any kind of sf fan, you need to start with the miniseries/pilot and just keep on going. The newer BSG may have been the finest thing to ever air on tv. (It's either that or Deadwood.) I started rewatching it last night with my sister (she hasn't seen it), and I was literally almost in tears seeing all these characters healthy and together again before their adventures.