with 'scifi' tag

who is irving l. sepkowitz?

if you have ever checked out a science fiction book from the los angeles public library, odds are good that there is a bookplate inside the cover with the name “irving l. sepkowitz.”

irv sepkowitz died in 1992, and was a television executive. he was involved in negotiating to keep larry hagman on dallas after the infamous “who shot j.r.?” cliffhanger.

he was also a prankster during his days at ucla. one of the pranks he was involved with was dropping 500 pounds of manure on the tommy trojan statue. a comedy screenplay award, the SEPPI, was named after him, and so is sepi’s, a submarine shop near the ucla campus.

the jennifer morgue by charles stross and glasshouse by charles stross were the books i took along to hawaii, and i finally finished glasshouse the other day.

the jennifer morgue is a geek-cthulu spy novel, and the insider humor resulting from that doesn’t weigh it down too much. i would say it is just an okay book. the humor didn’t have the bite of something from a writer like douglas adams or terry pratchett.

glasshouse takes way too long to get going, but i did enjoy where it ended up. it is too thick with explanations of how its world works, which gets in the way of the story.

stross appears to be quite the writing machine. i wish i liked the results more.

re-invasion from the moon

terraforming earth by jack williamson is a post-apocalyptic scifi novel about an outpost on the moon that is set up to clone a set of humans who are then taught how to go about terraforming the earth after an apocalyptic event (an asteroid/comet strike).

but it takes a few different generations of clones to get it right, with some of the attempts failing due to various problems (aliens, another asteroid, stupid humans).

it’s a pretty good read, and a quick read. the ending is rather bland.


ask the dust is set in los angeles in the depression, and one of the best things about the movie was the few shots of los angeles, like angels flight at its original third street location. celia thought they should have included more shots of salma hayek’s tits. (and i’m not going to argue with that.)

v for vendetta is entirely unlike ask the dust, but it was also a letdown. subtle as a box of hammers, and i thought it fell short on the action front. but there were a couple of flashy effects that were worth seeing on the big screen.

agent to the stars by john scalzi is a first-contact story where the aliens first get themselves a hollywood agent. it is quite funny, and pretty remarkable for being a book that was intended to be scalzi’s first novel that would end up rotting in a drawer.

i haven’t eaten since later this afternoon

primer is a good film, and an absolutely amazing micro-budget independent film. it is probably the best time travel film i’ve ever seen, and it looks incredible for its reported $7,000 budget. the story is a bit confusing, but dealing with paradoxes can be like that.

shadows flash in the light

broken bed (again) celia and i went to the screening of metropolis at the orpheum last friday. it was the digitally restored version, and this wikipedia article explains the differences from earlier releases.

we got a drink at the broadway bar before the film, and more at the golden gopher afterwards, so the list of downtown bars i’ve actually been to is now a little less meager.

despite my earlier repair job, my bed broke again this weekend. i’m not going to repair it again and give it a chance for a third strike, so i’m in the market for a new bed now. maybe i should build a bed frame using iron pipe.

excession by iain m. banks is probably the most hard-core science fiction i have read in a long while. an example, from the beginning of chapter five:

the double-sun system was relatively poor in comets; there were only a hundred billion of them. however, many of them had orbits well outside the elliptic and that helped to make the search every bit as difficult as it would have been with a greater number of comet nuclei but in a more planar cloud. even so, it was impossible to check all of them; ten thousand ships would have been required to thoroughly check every single sensor trace in the comet cloud to make sure that one of them was not a stricken ship, and the best the break even could do was briefly fasten its gaze on the most likely-looking candidates.

as scifi goes, it is an okay book. many of the main characters are actually the minds that control the spaceships, and the way that is handled is surprisingly effective. but the human characters are pretty much consistently unlikable, the main non-human race is close to a one-note joke (thankfully a funny one), and some of the main plots really end up not amounting to anything.

(i guess this is just one of a number of books that involves “the culture,” the civilization that is sort of at the center of the action. looking through the amazon reviews, this book appears to be the one that focuses the most on the ships and their minds.)

can you get a human to love them back?

artificial intelligence: ai is no 2001: a space odyssey or e.t. the extra-terrestrial or close encounters of the third kind, but does blend in elements of all of them. it’s beautiful, but it goes on way too long.

i think there are two extremes that can be reached by a story that two brilliant filmmakers have been working on for a very long time: it can be tight, spare, and tell its essential story without a lot of fat. or it can end up too long, too over-thought, and have too many ideas. ai falls too far towards the latter.

i took the gold line out to pasadena today to catch serenity before it totally disappeared from theaters, and i’m glad i made the effort. it’s a great film, and a great wrap-up to the series. and given the box-office performance, it appears that may be all it will be.

this hasn’t happened in a while: a movie i want to see, serenity, isn’t playing at the laemmle grande. for a small theater, they have generally been good at getting the movies i want to see. maybe next week. (but then that’s when the wallace & gromit film is supposed to open….)

speaking of films, i saw corpse bride while on vacation, and it is pretty much what you would expect from a tim burton animation project. great design, pretty good story, good voice acting from johnny depp and helena bonham carter and others, decent soundtrack from danny elfman, etc. it’s not quite as good as the nightmare before christmas was, and too short, but i’d still recommend it.

equilibrium is a movie that is seems good, but seems to be lacking some vital ingredient. it’s like a loaf of bread baked without salt. it does have a couple of pretty snazzy action scenes, and the underlying idea is sort of neat, if well-worn.

quatermass and the pit is vintage british scifi, with all the good and bad that implies. in the end, i was disappointed by how choppy the story is, with just a few too many leaps of logic on the part of the scientists.

it’s also another one of those films i probably appreciated less than i might have because i fell asleep while i was watching it the first time.

shadow puppets by orson scott card is the penultimate book in the whole ender saga, or so we’ve been led to believe. i think i agree with the reviewer on amazon that calls it a punctuation mark in the series. it’s fairly lackluster, and that makes the biggest flaw of this last part of the series stand out — the geopolitics are absolutely ludicrous.

there’s less of the bean-as-brilliant-mindreader schtick, which is a very good thing, but none of the characters are particularly strong in the book.

if there is one thing that redeems war of the worlds, it is that it is so entirely inconsequential that i will have completely forgotten it by tomorrow. it will be like i blacked out for three hours this afternoon. it sucked so hard that (i hope) my brain will simply purge the memory of it.

my voracious book consumption has continued with old man's war by john scalzi, a really good science fiction book centered on the idea that humans are having to aggressively battle other intelligent species for worlds to colonize, and they’re doing it by recruiting seniors and buffing them up.

the plot isn’t the best part of the book, but it does well in providing a framework for the characters and ideas, which are really what make the book shine.

the coming by joe haldeman is a first-contact story, set in the not-too-distant future of florida. i think he tried too hard to mix in a bit of an elmore leonard vibe, and just doesn’t pull it off.

camouflage by joe haldeman reminded me a lot of a michael crichton book, and that’s not entirely a good thing. it certainly shares a superficial similarity with sphere in that a mysterious (alien) object found in the ocean is a central plot point. but most of the action is in the story of two aliens who are drawn to the object, one which can shape-shift into anything, and another which can shape-shift into any human form.

i found the ending in both books to be pretty unsatisfying, and far too rushed. they also both really suffer from badly cliched scifi sex. here’s a classic review of camouflage from j.p. bonsen on amazon: “Hot alien babeomorph seduces nerd scientist to get near priceless treasure only to be semi-waylaid by evil billionaire immortal whilst buffeted by the passions of unintended xenoromance. Good stuff!”

i picked up both books based on their mentions in jwz’s list of recently-read books.

the tides of time by john brunner is an odd book. it basically is a bunch of stories about a couple experiencing different scenarios further and further back in time. it doesn’t entirely work, and i think that is because you never really know why they are skipping backwards in time until the end of the book. i think this may be my least favorite brunner book that i’ve read to date.

ender’s shadow by orson scott card did not disappoint me at all, much to my relief. it’s a parallel novel to the original ender’s game, telling it from the point of view of bean, a minor character from the first novel, and filling in his back-story.

i’m really in awe of how card has managed to build out the framework of ideas in his earlier books, and make the world of these novels more complex but still cohesive with each additional one. this is a stark contrast with star wars, for example, where george lucas has largely failed to create a cohesive larger work. (yes, i’ll never forgive him for greedo shooting first and midi-chlorians.)

i think the hitchhiker’s guide to the galaxy fits admirably into the different iterations of this story (radio show, book, television show, interactive text adventure, and now movie). it is more similar to the others than it is different, and i think it may be the only version where trillian is more than a sketch of a character.

considering how well the movie has done, and the various references to going to the restaurant at the end of the universe at the end of the movie, i would be more surprised to not see a sequel than to see one.

children of the mind by orson scott card is the end of the ender wiggin series proper (the other books in the series are either parallel to or between the first four), and it follows closely in the model of xenocide and speaker for the dead in being more philosophical and character-driven than ender’s game. the book is heavy in relationships, with a little side foray into the impact of philosophers on political action.

the series hasn’t disappointed me yet. we’ll see how that holds up with the second series of books that starts with ender’s shadow.

singularity sky by charlie stross is one of those books that has a few really brilliant and clever ideas (like cellphones raining down on a willfully technologically backward and feudal society) that ends up being less than the sum of its parts. the characters just aren’t that compelling, and the story as a whole doesn’t really go anywhere unexpected.


midas world by frederik pohl (another book recommendation plucked from the fork archives) claims to be a novel, but is really a set of short stories that trace the history of the world after fusion power is invented and energy becomes plentiful. all of them are delightful and thought-provoking, but none more so than the first. with plentiful and cheap energy, the economics of the world have become inverted and it is only the rich who have time to work and be truly idle. the poor are consigned to unending consumption, fulfilling the rations they are assigned by eating beyond the point of enjoyment, living in gargantuan homes, and never really accumulating belongings. it is an inversion that seems completely absurd, until you remember the strong correlation between poverty and obesity in the united states. the idea that society is racing against itself in order to consume what it produces is an interesting way to look at the world.

robots, even seperated by decades from midas world, actually hits on a similar theme with its story of robots resisting an evil corporation that is eliminating the supply of spare parts so that they can sell shiny upgrades and consign old robots to the scrap heap. between this film and ice age, i think blue sky studios has established itself as a fairly close second-place to pixar in feature-length computer animation. like in pixar’s films, there is a strong story to complement the visual design and trickery. they’ve certainly proven themselves to not be a one-trick pony.

xenocide by orson scott card is a very worthy successor to the first two books in the series, although it wasn’t quite as surprising as i found the first two books to be. the leap from ender’s game to speaker for the dead was much larger than from speaker to xenocide, but it definitely continues the progression into a more ensemble-driven, metaphysically-rooted story. one weakness is a few of the characters that are clearly just along for the ride into the next book in the series.

the hard part of reading the series is the fear that it is going to take a star wars-caliber dive off a cliff. all i can say for sure right now is that xenocide is no return of the jedi.