Archive for the ‘sci-fi’ Tag

[50/50] Computer Game #9: “Starcraft”

Monday, October 7th, 2013

Computer Game #9: “Starcraft” (1998)

Blizzard didn’t invent the Real Time Strategy (RTS) game, but they perfected it with Starcraft. Set in the far future, humans and two very different alien races battled for control of the galaxy. You could run any of the three races (each with their own unique strategies) and play against up to 8 other gamers, in teams or individually, over LANs or on the Internet. Find resources, build factories, create armies and launch attacks against your opponent, while they tried to do the same to you.


With Starcraft you could build and control hundreds of units, all with different abilities, sending them in battle or ordering them to lie in wait to ambush your buddies. Like every other game, ever, it was best when played against friends, talking trash in text or in person (although the Koreans apparently took it to a whole nuther level with professional teams.)


[50/50] Book #11: “The Forever War”

Thursday, September 5th, 2013

Book #11: “The Forever War” — Joe Haldeman (1974)

(I’m going to cheat a little here and just post my review of the novel from “What our writers are reading” in the 12/23/09 issue of Indy Week.)

the_forever_warWhen Joe Haldeman returned from the Vietnam War, having experienced combat first-hand, he felt compelled to offer a “reply” to Robert Heinlein’s classic Starship Troopers.

Set over thousands of years, The Forever War follows a soldier fighting against the first aliens encountered by humans. Due to the relativistic speeds of space travel, his unit returns from every battle to discover that centuries have passed on Earth, with their families and the generals who ordered them into combat long dead.

Haldeman struggled to find a publisher for his anti-war book, as it was deemed too controversial, too close for comfort in the early ’70s. The Forever War eventually went on to win the Hugo and the Nebula, science fiction’s highest awards, and is now considered a masterpiece of both sci-fi and anti-war novels such as Catch 22. (It should also not be confused with the book of the same title—recently issued in paperback—by New York Times foreign correspondent Dexter Filkins, which is about a different “forever war.”)

Earlier this year, Haldeman released his definitive version of the book, restoring a center section that was originally considered “too downbeat.” Interestingly, he left in several anachronisms (the book opens in 1997, and we are already colonizing other planets) because he realized it doesn’t matter when the story is set or whether the analogy is of Vietnam—or Iraq and Afghanistan. The effect of war on soldiers is still the same.

[50/50] Short Stories #10 & #11: Isaac Asimov

Tuesday, March 26th, 2013

Short Story #10: The Ugly Little Boy (1958)
Short Story #11: The Dead Past (1956)

IsaacAsimovIsaac Asimov was astoundingly prolific, writing and editing hundred of books, and several thousand short stories and essays, all while teaching biochemistry at Boston University. (He also wrote a large chunk of his best known work — The Foundation Trilogy — while getting his Pd.D in his early 20s … slacker.) Asimov’s fiction is recognized more for its interesting concepts (such as his Three Laws of Robotics & Psychohistory) than its literary value; most of his novels and short stories are sweeping intellectual exercises, locked room mysteries, puzzles of logic, and celebrations of awful puns. What they are not known for is their depth of emotion.

This was not the case with “The Ugly Little Boy,” a time-travel tale that finds the good professor at his empathic best. A child psychologist is called in to care for a small neanderthal boy swept up in an early experiment with a time machine. She finds she spends more time trying to protect him from scientists who don’t consider him human, and a corporation that plans to exploit him in the media to get more grants. Due to the nature of the temporal device — a particularly clever and original idea of Asimov’s based on the Conservation of Enegry — the boy can never leave the room he is kept in. Asimov uses “The Ugly Little Boy” to raise all sorts of ethical questions about the intersection of science and business, but keeps the maternal relationship that develops between the woman and the boy at the heart of the story (including a kicker of a finish I won’t spoil here.) Needless to say, it is the only Asimov story you are ever in danger of tearing up over.

His most interesting short story, “The Dead Past,” also taps an emotional vein — and in a very real fashion, accurately predicts open source distribution, wikileaks, and modern surveillance issues 50 years before they became reality. It posits a future where the government keeps tight reins on scientific research — a position that is easy to maintain because everyone has become so specialized in their field they can only do one thing. When a historian, physicist and journalist team up to invent a chronoscope, a device to view the distant past, they run afoul of a government agent.

However, just when you think it’s going to be a straight-forward tale of “bad bureaucracy/good scientists,” it turns out everyone has ulterior motives: the historian is obsessed with finding out if he was responsible for a house fire that killed his only daughter decades before, an tragedy that has ruined his marriage and nearly driven his wife insane with grief. The physicist and journalist, frustrated by what they see as the oppression of knowledge, have released the plans for the chronoscope without thinking of the consequences, insuring anyone can build one and spy on their neighbors. And it turns out the government agent had everyone’s best interest in mind all along, hoping to protect the public. As he says in the closing paragraph:

“When people think of the past, they think of it as dead, far away and gone, long ago. . . . But when did the past begin? A year ago? Five minutes ago? One second ago? Isn’t it obvious that the past begins an instant ago? The dead past is just another name for the living present. What if you focus the chronoscope in the past of one-hundredth of a second ago? Aren’t you watching the present? . . . . There will be no such thing as privacy.”

[50/50] Short Story #16: “They’re Made Out of Meat”

Tuesday, February 12th, 2013

Short Story #16: “They’re Made Out of Meat” —Terry Bisson (1990)

StarryNightBacon-thumb-500x363You think you’re existential? This snappy kick-to-the-gut will leave you cold and reeling. Comprised solely of dialog between 2 characters, “They’re Made of Meat” has a twisted Twilight Zone vibe that would have made Rod Serling proud. Which is pretty impressive considering this short short story is essentially a humor piece. Black, black gallows humor, to be sure, but still. I’d say more singing its praises, but then I’d run the risk of writing a commentary longer than the original. Just go read it:

“Bacon Starry Night” courtesy of instructables.   See the rest of the countdown here.

[50/50] Short Story #17: “All You Zombies”

Tuesday, February 5th, 2013

Short Story #17: “All You Zombies” — Robert Heinlein (1959)

beauchamp scifi books 615It is possible Heinlein will end up on this list more than most authors, and I’m not going to apologize for it. It’s not his fault libertarians and gun-nuts and “constitutional scholars” have glommed on to the guy for his (admittedly) libertarian beliefs. Of course, that makes it all the more hilarious when you consider Heinlein spent a good deal of time also writing (approvingly) about group marriages, cannibalism, incest … huh, maybe that’s the real reason Tea Party types like him…

Yes, Heinlein was the undisputed captain of crafting logical, well-reasoned fucked-up shit, and there is no better example than “All You Zombies,” the last short story he would publish. There are no undead in “Zombies,” just lots and lots of time travellers. In fact, Heinlein perfected the closed time-loop concept with this hardscrapple tale of a guy who both his own mother and father. A self-made man indeed —literally.

Want to know what you missed? — The Book Countdown so far

[50/50] Short Story #20: “Day Million”

Tuesday, January 8th, 2013

Short Story #20: “Day Million” — Frederik Pohl (1966)

Boy meets girl in Frederik Pohl’s little ditty about a day 1,000 years hence, as the author proceeds to challenge the very definitions of love, sex, gender and the structure of the short story — all within five tidy pages. Whenever I see how sad and pathetic the Sci-Fi Channel has become, I want to point at this short story and say, “This. THIS is ‘Imagine Greater’.”

You can find “Day Million” in a number of short story collections, or you can read this here pee-dee-eff: