All posts by nomador

Apocalypse/Post-Apocalypse & Humanity

1. Thunder and Roses by Theodore Sturgeon (1947) – War/Conflict
2. There Will Come Soft Rains by Ray Bradbury (1950) – Apocalypse/Post-apocalypse
3. The Cage of Sand by J.G. Ballard (1962) – Apocalypse/Post-apocalypse
4. Speech Sounds by Octavia E. Butler (1983) – Apocalypse/Post-apocalypse

All of the stories that I chose were based solely on their focus on problems of the “inner space” as opposed to “outer space”.  Each discusses a unique problem on earth, most prominent here is: disease and war in a apocalypse or post-apocalypse state. These challenge the rigid scientific dialogue presented in a lot of science fiction, that almost drives those narratives towards pseudoscience. These are very different in that they don’t create a kind of narrative that pretends to be entirely scientific to sound intellectual.

The timeline begins with Sturgeon’s Thunder and Roses (1947) which was published during the Cold War, adheres to that atmosphere of doom and fear. The story has a very noir feel to it and is character-driven. Just as a side note, all the stories that I’ve chosen have been published during the Cold War, which lasted from about 1947-1991 according to most sources I’ve looked up. Thunder and Roses relies on its characters to ask the big question of what would happen during or after a nuclear war? What would drive people to continue living if they knew they were doomed from the beginning? There is an air of indifference with the knowledge that they are going to die one way or another: “(Everybody around here always said “Why not?”)” (195). But this changes towards the end, when Pete Mawser interacts with Starr Anthim, he realizes that even the smallest chance that humanity may survive this is worth it. And even though he does end up killing Sonny, it is in the hope that he may have prevented alot of additional deaths. In other words, he does it for “the greater good” which I guess is a kind of trope that has existed and continues to exist in alot of SF work.

There Will Come Soft Rains by Bradbury (1950), takes a very non-character driven but full of personifications/poetic route.  Bradbury’s take is more believable, and though it lacks real human figures, the house takes on a very human character of its own. The setting like Sturgeon is very dreary, and contains humor even amidst stark circumstances. However, it doesn’t offer up any future hope for humanity since there are no real humans present, nor does it give an idea of what the rest of the world is like. It feels almost empty, that only these mechanical structures have been left behind after a war-like period. It creates a world that seems devoid of human life, which is a very bleak future that alligns itself with the historical events of the Cold War and the thought that nuclear war could eradicate human life.

The Cage of Sand by Ballard (1962), brings its focus onto a trio in the midst of a desert on earth. The focus is very much on the effect of the space exploration on the people on earth. It does talk about the spread of a plant viral disease from Martian soil to the rest of the earth. It does give off a similar very empty feel like Bradbury’s There Will Come Soft Rains, with dilapidated buildings and loss of contact with the rest of the world, with a very beak ending for the individuals that have been isolated. In this story unlike the others, the rest of the world is normal and pretty much unaffected. This is an interesting shift from the prior stories that are although focused on a small setting, talk about the effects of a larger nuclear war.

Speech Sounds by Butler (1983) too is driven by a disease but one that is much more devastating, with the loss of speech or ability to read/write or both. It again brings us back to a global scale in terms of the spread of the disease. What is really different about this story is the hope that it carries through the devastation at the very end. The hope that there are children out there resistant to the disease, that will continue human existence.

Works Cited:

Ballard, J. G. “The Cage of Sand.” In Evans et al., The Wesleyan Anthology of Science Fiction, 338–58.
Ballard, J. G. “Which Way To Inner Space?” In A User’s Guide to the Millennium: Essays and Reviews, 195–98. Online on Sakai.
Bradbury, Ray. “There Will Come Soft Rains.” In Evans et al., The Wesleyan Anthology of Science Fiction, 235–40.
Butler, Octavia E. “Speech Sounds.” In Evans et al., The Wesleyan Anthology of Science Fiction, 567–79.
Sturgeon, Theodore. “Thunder and Roses.” In Evans et al., The Wesleyan Anthology of Science Fiction, 190–210.
“US History Timeline: Cold War.” US History Timeline: Cold War. N.p., n.d. Web. 10 Dec. 2013. <http://faculty.washington.edu/qtaylor/a_us_history/cold_war_timeline.htm>

Translating from Print to TV/Film

Adding on what readux has said about television being the more far-reaching medium. In the case of a SF story moving from print to TV, TV builds upon the foundation of print. Print allows us as readers to create our own imagined worlds based upon the writer’s constructed world, but TV brings it alive. It increases access to the genre itself to non-readers, as well as introduces new readers to the books upon which the particular TV show is based. As a personal anecdote, I watched Cloud Atlas – which leans more towards “soft” science fiction – and that propelled me to read the book, and enjoy the overall experience even more. TV or film can be a positive force in terms of adding another layer to the experience if done well. This is partly due to a heightened sensory experience of the text via sound, visual dynamics and acting. As in the Star Trek episode we watched, print would not be able to encapsulate the strange horror movie-esque soundtrack, with Gary’s silver eyes and unsettling smiling at the viewer. However, in some cases TV/film is unable to bring the written story to life in the same way or loses the essential aspects of the story – a bad translation to the visual medium. But even in these cases, the visual medium introduces the print story to readers that may not have been exposed to it before, especially in this Internet age. I’ve commonly come across comments such as “the book was way better than the film, you should read it and disregard the film.”

Print is a great way to stretch the imagination by building characters, worlds, and living through these personally constructed images. But these are not as concrete as TV/film which allows for a greater immersion into the story via cinematic effects such as 3D and special camera angles/shots. For example, I was watching Children of Men today – a film depicting a dystopian future earth where everyone has become infertile and most of the world has collapsed. I have not read the book by P.D James yet, but Cuaron’s great long-angle shots allows the audience to completely immerse themselves into the experience, to be on the ground running with the main characters through this strange new world.

Le Guin’s writing style is filled with paradoxical statements or statements used to confuse the reader, usually without a certain answer. This ambiguity is also evident in the author’s own preface to the story: “I talk about the gods; I am an atheist. But I am an artist too, and therefore a liar. Distrust everything I say. I am telling the truth. The only truth I can understand or express is, logically defined, a lie” (xvii).

This style is especially important when it comes to the language used to describe an individual’s gender or sexual characteristics. It is never obvious, always switching back and forth between male and female depending on context, on the personality of the individual being described, their body type and body language. An individual could have any combination of those qualities, making it hard to truly distinguish between their identified gender and their actual biological sex.

Through the eyes of Genly or Genry, this obscure tone is useful in emphasizing his presence as an outsider:

“I tried to, but my efforts took the form of self consciously seeing a Gethenian first as a man, then as a woman, forcing him into those categories so irrelevant to his nature and so essential to my own… Estraven’s performance had been womanly, all charm and tact and lack of substance, specious and adroit. Was it in fact perhaps this soft supple femininity that I disliked and distrusted in him? For it was impossible to think of him as a woman, that dark, ironic, powerful presence near me in the firelit darkness, and yet whenever I thought of him as a man I felt a sense of falseness, of imposture: in him, or in my own attitude towards him? His voice was soft and rather resonant but not deep, scarcely a man’s voice, but scarcely a woman’s voice either” (13).

I think that Le Guin also wants to show that any individual is made up of a complex set of masculine and feminine qualities, and that it may be best to leave the answers to subjective interpretation by the reader. So, using paradoxical and ambiguous statements, Le Guin creates an atmosphere of uncertainty throughout the Left hand of darkness. It builds unease and discomfort along with the sense that there is much more at work than what is seen.

Le Guin,  Ursula K. The Left Hand of Darkness. New York: Ace Books, 1976. Print.

Lovecraft & the Unknown

Lovecraft’s The Colour Out of Space delves into human reactions to the unknown. The story does seem campy or pulpy, but there are certain instances in which we get a glimpse of what he is trying to convey through the genre of SF.

“…it displayed shining bands unlike any known colours of the normal spectrum there was much breathless talk of new elements, bizarre optical properties, and other things which puzzled men of science are wont to say when faced by the unknown.”

To the lovers of science, the unknown holds new possibilities for exploration – from the dazzling colours to the promise of a new element, it seems endless. But, to the villagers of Arkham, the unknown that is now tethered to their lives brings horror, madness and death. It is in these divergent moments through the story, that I started to see inklings of seriousness in Lovecraft’s ‘pulpy’ SF.

Wells, “The Star”

“And in a hundred observatories there had been suppressed excitement, rising almost to shouting pitch, as the two remote bodies had rushed together; and a hurrying to and fro, to gather photographic apparatus and spectroscope, and this appliance and that, to record this novel astonishing sight, the destruction of a world. “

“What is a new star to me?” cried the weeping woman kneeling beside her dead.

This sentence in “The Star” really stood out. Up until this point, the Star is presented as an awe-inspiring entity, even as it engulfs and destroys neighbouring planets. There is a growing excitement around it but Wells cuts to this minute moment – a woman facing the reality of death against the collective awe, a resonance of the earth’s population. It is an important voice, that to me seems like a foreshadowing of the oncoming death in some ways. In another way, it is a strong reminder of life going on even as this abnormal event occurs. It is what sci-fi does really well, blend the mundane with the bizarre to make them both reside within the other. 

Wells, H.G. “The Star by H.G. Wells.” The Star by H.G. Wells. Classic Reader, n.d. Web. 10 Sept. 2013.