3½ Time-Outs Tuesday (Vol. 18)

Just like Conversion Diary's 7 Quick-Takes, except it's half as long and twice as good.

Hosted by Acts of the Apostasy

This is the Science Fiction edition…

1

The older I get, the dumber Star Wars gets – especially the prequel trilogy. The following video explains quite humorously why the only quasi-redeemable part in The Phantom Menace wasn’t really all that great…

2

Speaking of prequels – I know it’s only a trailer, but man oh man. Promotheus looks in.tense. Can’t wait to see it.

3

Several months ago, I came across John C Wright’s blog (I originally blogged about it here, briefly), simply called John C Wright’s Journal.  He’s a SF/Fantasy writer, convert to Catholicism from atheism, and his posts are, in a word, excellent.  Even if you’re not a fan of Science Fiction or Fantasy literature, his posts are well worth reading, as he covers topics wide and ranging – not just his particular craft.  But in keeping with this week’s theme, earlier in March he opined on the most memorable SF characters of the Essential Authors, and how the Golden Age of the genre didn’t produce many of them whatsoever.  It’s only been in later years where SF writers glommed onto the necessity of strong complex characters.  Here’s a taste:

Looking over my list of 50 essential authors to read to be SF fans, I notice a peculiar dearth of memorable characters. Some of these tales, I cannot even bring the names of the protagonists to mind.

Let me use a completely subjective standard of what is memorable, namely, do I think with my skills as a writer, or those of any other obscure midlist writer of ordinary skill, could portray the particular nuances of speech and mannerism which the character shows, and have him be recognized by the reader?

Could I identify two or more dreams or main motivations pulling the character in opposite directions? This last is the crucial question. One-dimensional characters have no motivation; two-dimensional characters have a simple motivation; three-dimensional characters, as in life, have conflicts of motivation.

There is a second thing that makes characters memorable: those with no particular details given about their lives are memorable if they are archetypes. Those with particular details are memorable if the details are organic to the character, not merely arbitrary quirks. Do I know the character well enough to anticipate his taste in women, food, sports, music, politics?

Of early science fiction, characterization was almost nonexistent.

[...]

One factor which makes the human characters not memorable in many of these SF works is that the aliens are so memorable. The author wants to emphasize the strangeness of the extraterrestrial in the background, and this means the human in the foreground should be the opposite of strange. When Klatuu lands in a flying saucer, he does not hide among circus freaks, costumed vigilantes or satanists escaped from a mental institution. In order for the story to work, it must be a typical suburban household he enters.

Another factor which tends toward the blandness of SF heroes, come from the tradition of ‘golden age’ SF under the editor John W. Campbell Jr., under the Big Three authors of Heinlein, Asimov, and Van Vogt. Namely, that these men quite conscientiously set out to make a certain type of approach to life, a certain type of man, appealing to the audience. They were glorifying the technically competent man, the engineer, the scientist.

In the same way that Sir Arthur Conan Doyle determined that his Great Detective Sherlock Holmes would be a man of ascetic intellectualism, as precise and unemotional as a theorem of Pythagoras, Campbell and the Big Three presented a view of man as a creature of reason, almost as a Houyhnhnm, who solves his problems with Sherlockian detachment.

And such men tend not to be quirky or self-aggrandizing. The most we can expect from them is a wry sense of humor.

I devoured Asimov works when I was a kid.  And the only character I can recall – Hari Seldon from The Foundation Trilogy – had one redeeming characteristic, and that was his brilliant intellect.  But he died early in the first novel, and I cannot for the life of me recall any other memorable character from the remaining novels.  Or any of the other novels of his I’ve read through the years.

Character drives story – but in the early days of sci-fi, the story and the wonder and the science and the aliens overwhelmed the character – and also the reader, so much so that complex characterizations could be overlooked.  That practice doesn’t serve well for today’s readers, from what Wright wrote.  I don’t read much modern sci-fi – Tim Powers being the exception, and his works aren’t traditional sci-fi – so I should do myself a favor and download a few to my Nook and see if Wright is correct in his opinion.  Any suggestions?

Thank you for the prayers from my sister and her husband. The heart issue seems to be resolved, but he’s still meeting with a radiologist this week for the lung cancer.

[w00t!  Check it out!  10! 11!  No longer a one-digit midget - now it's a bigger 2-figure!]

Now it’s your turn – write your own 3½ Time-outs Tuesday post, steal the pic at the top, and link back to this post by clicking on the Blue Frog, and follow the instructions. It’s easy, painless and free. So join the Posse – especially you guys. This is the testosterone version of 7 Quick Takes. Your Man Card gets punched when you participate! Progress takes time, and revolutions aren’t born overnight.  Let’s keep the momentum going and reach the pinnacle of Catholic Internet Meme superiority!!  Viva la Posse!

(Because of a formatting quirk with WordPress, the links don’t show up on this page. You have to click the Blue Frog to see who’s participated. But that’s not so hard, is it? So write up a post – I’m interested in what you have to say!)

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15 responses

    • I’ve tried Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time series, and just couldn’t get into it. Same with Terry Goodkind’s Wizard’s First Rule and following. Something about their writing style just didn’t float my boat.

      And don’t get me started on Game of Thrones. Interesting cast of characters, but George RR Martin comes off as a dirty old man. No thanks.

      I’ll check out your other suggestions, though. Thanks!

      • the first book in Wheel of Time is good, but then the series descends into absolute unconvincing rubbish. How the heck did he manage to market a whole dozen of those vapid tomes? As for archetypes, all his female characters devolve into whining, jealous manipulators, who fight over the main male characters.

        Some nice concepts, but a classic example of how an interesting idea doesn’t necessarily translate into good literature, and how a decent historian doesn’t make a decent writer in general.

        In regards to sci-fi, I found C.S. Lewis’ cosmic trilogy to be quite different (in fact, it’s not really traditional sci-fi at all, especially the final book in the series), but that’s what makes it so fantastic- it’s a real re-invention of the genre. Be warned though, in terms of its Christianity, the series’ even more literal than Narnia was allegorical (if that makes sense). Lewis didn’t do subtle!

      • I thought I was the only one who didn’t like Game of Thrones. Like you, I found the sex off putting, but for some reason the author was using it as a scorecard- ie good characters have good sex, bad characters practice incest, irresponsible characters have irresponsible sex etc etc. He could have gotten the point across another way. But for me, I put the first book down at a point when I realized I couldn’t care less about any of these characters. It just didn’t matter to me who gets the throne in the end. Once I realized that, the book was over.

  1. I asked Sandra (my combox friend-with-sword) to come on over with Sci-Fi ideas. And this week I wrote about what are technically mom-topics, but could be easily mistaken for man topics. Plumbing, for example. Very future-is-now. That should get us much closer to the pinnacle.

  2. Im not too incredibly into Sci-fi books (gasp!)… but I asked my fiance for his manly suggestions for books since he is already something SciFi.

    Here is what my fiance (who is very into SciFi novels more than film) recommends and cautions that they are not for young teen/adult audiences: series by Dan Abnett called Gaunts Ghosts, the Horus Heresy series and Robert Heinlein’s Starship Troopers and Time Enough for Love… then he said if you want more options go with author William Dietz and Enders Game by Orson Scott Card.

    Now TV shows and movies I can bring a whole list. Almost too many to remember but here’s what is on my brain now:
    _TV series: Farscape (when you start watching it remember the puppeteering is done by Jim Henson then it all seems perfectly okay), Stargate SG-1 (*love* this series and whats not to like about Richard Dean Anderson), Stargate Atlantis (this one is growing on me but I don’t like Stargate Universe), Battlestar Galatica (love and hate this show at the same time… a lot of plots that are relevant to our world and politics today), Lexx

    _Movies: Equilibrium (forget the Matrix movies), Aliens (Im still not convinced that Prometheus has nothing to do with Aliens), Moon, District 9, Avatar (I really loved this in 3D but it is a very much either hate or like it movie), Back to the Future series, Terminator (more the movies than the new-ish TV series), Road Warrior & Mad Max, Blade Runner, Akira (SciFi Anime), Total Recall, Tron (I actually liked the new one until the very end, then not so much… but those light suits are pretty cool), Fifth Element, Wall-E (great family animated flick), The Abyss, Gattaca, Repo: The Genetic Opera (this has got to be the most interesting musical Ive ever liked… oh and it has Sarah Brightman!), Donnie Darko, Soylent Green…. I could go on.

  3. Okay and one more: Just e-mailed you with a copy of an e-book you might like. CC’d the author, so if it looks like your speed, I’m sure she can line you up with the format of your choice if PDF is not your thing.

  4. Ahh, but you also have to figure out what sub-genre of sci-fi appeals to you. My husband enjoys Space Opera (and so do I), with big, loud sets, huge plots and romance, with both a capital “R” and the lower case “r.”
    Star Wars would be a good example, and for readers Elizabeth Moon’s “Vatta’s War” is lots of fun. Look up Randolph Lalond for inexpensive yet readable e-books.
    Another sub-genre is “Hard Sci-fi,” which is known for attention to scientific detail. In fact, whether the science is workable or beleivable it often becomes almost a main character in the books. James Hogan’s “Inherit the Stars” trilogy is a good example, as is some of J.C. Wright’s own work.
    Apocalyptic or dystopian literature is often heavily reliant on science fiction, as authors need to create their dystopia somewhere in the future, or on another planet. The best of these, in my opinion, is “A Canticle for Leibowitz;” a beautiflul and overtly Catholic novel of what happens after we all blow ourselves up.

    I would recommend anything by Mike Flynn and Tim Powers!

    Ray Bradbury’s Martian Chronicles are classic, as is Fahrenheit 451. And anyone wishing to grasp sci-fi from its beginnings should read at least one each of H.G. Wells, Jules Verne and Edgar Rice Burroughs.

    Yup, better stop now!

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