I think I might write a series of articles over revisiting various things I loved during my childhood, and going back and finding if they have any appeal to me as an adult. I don’t know how frequent they’ll be, but I thought I’d start with a series of books by an author I adored (one of many) when I was growing up in Alice Springs.
Given my mother’s love of Science Fiction, and the religious viewing of Doctor Who, it isn’t all that surprising that as soon as I discovered that I loved to read (which would have been when I was around 10 years old or so) that I found the science fiction books at the public library.
Today’s post is on the Last Legionary Quartet by Douglas Hill (now out of print, but available second hand on Amazon and in second hand bookshops (where I got mine)), a typical space faring adventure but with some really interesting tweaks. First up, the first book of the series, Galactic Warlord was published in 1980, a time I certainly associate with bad science in science fiction, however Douglas Hill has gone out of his way to ensure that the science in the books is as accurate as it can be. Space is three dimensional and a vacuum (so no noise in space), and performing sudden manoeuvres in space will result in g-forces being applied to the craft and pilot. Some future technology is incredibly similar to 1980s technology with tapes and keyboards in use, but there is a large array of energy weapons, faster than light travel and different worlds, so that certainly makes up for it.
The next best thing about the series is that it is not sexist. Yes the main character is male, but it is clearly stated from the beginning that he is from a world where the entire adult population could be turned into an army, where everyone is trained to be a warrior from early childhood, and that his squad’s gender make-up was secondary to its capability. So the main character could have been a woman. Women are not written as sex objects, nurturers, princesses needing rescue or victims of circumstance, they are strong, capable, leaders, agitators, aggressive, good, evil, wise, and just like men. At one point the hero hesitates in attacking a woman, not because she is a woman but because he thought she was on his side and his friend.
Another positive in the series is that there are humans who settled on other planets in the galaxy (it turns out that humans are the only sentient life form in this galaxy), and who have developed beneficial mutations to survive on those planets. Those planets are collectively known as the “altered worlds” and the emotive word “mutant” is rarely used throughout the book. The inhabitents of those planets are referred to coming from the “altered worlds”, but no value judgement is made about any difference that has developed in that group of humans. Additionally, any individual who comes from those planets (and this holds true for all individuals in the book regardless of where they have come from) is taken to not be a representative of their race/planet/home world system/type. So if someone is evil in the book, that person is evil, not all people like them.
That last positive that I’d to note out of this series is that the hero can’t always win the day on his own. He has a non-human companion – an alien from another galaxy, who is female and non-humanoid – who comes to his rescue, shields him when required (she’s a telepath), and who is completely capable on her own.
This series really lives up to my memories of it – in fact I’d forgotten how awesome they were. I’m enjoying it immensely and only have two books to go before I’m done. They’re quite short – so all four books is normal novel size. I was sad to find out recently that Douglas Hill had died just after submitting the final manuscript for the last book in another of his series (one I haven’t read in its entirety), but given how good The Last Legionary Quartet is turning out, I’m going to go and hunt down all the books of his I can, and enjoy them all.
I’m reading Octavia Butler’s Lilith’s Brood collection (containing Dawn, Adulthood Rites and Imago), and I’ve been thinking about alienness, specifically how we react to things that are very different to our experience or how we’d actually react if aliens arrived tomorrow. This post was also partly inspired by e.smith’s post, “I can’t help myself, it’s innate” and by my girlfriend’s reaction to slaters.
So, after reading Dawn, I thought about whether or not I’d be repulsed by aliens or scared by them, and I thought about all the science fiction I’ve watched and over the years, and all the weird and wonderful creatures I’ve watched on nature documentaries and how I react to seeing something for the first time. I’ve had conversations with my husbands (yes that is plural and it is not a typo) about what we’d do if spaceships hovered over the city (I’d run to the hills, they’d want to stay and watch). My initial reaction to new and different things is caution. If I found a creature that I’d never seen before, I’d watch it before deciding whether or not to touch or interact with it. I’m not likely to know if a creature is going to sting me, bite me, poison me, spit at me or any other defensive reaction. In the event of aliens hovering over my city (a la Independence Day – terrible movie, but fits this scenario well), I’m going to want to wait and watch and see if I’m likely to be harmed before approaching something new… so in that way, I understand Lilith’s reaction to the aliens, though without the corresponding fear – mostly because I haven’t experienced a true level of alienness.
And I wonder, does the fact that I have been exposed to science fiction since I was old enough to start remembering TV (Dr Who to begin with), mean that my reaction to an alien, if I ever come across one, is going to be different to someone who hasn’t been exposed to as much science and speculative fiction. In most SF, aliens are taken as given, and it’s rare that a human panics when they first come across one, and they’re either on the side of humans or against them – depending on which story is being told. Will that influence me, make me cautious instead of scared?
It’s an interesting train of thought, and one clearly I’m unlikely to tease out further in my lifetime – what with the current lack of aliens wandering around. It’s also not something that many current SF writers (that I have read – please provide suggestions below if you know of any others) are addressing currently – that being how humans would react if aliens turned up tomorrow and were not evil. District 9 put aliens in a slum and otherwise generally ignored them. Galaxy Quest had a couple of characters faint, but generally the cast of the TV show got on with saving the universe, with help from some fans. Babylon 5 only briefly touches on earth’s first contact with aliens, specifically the Centari who lied to them about them being distant relatives, but no mention of mass panic. Many stories have a government or secret organisation out to kill the alien, but everyone else harbours it and keeps it safe.
I’m enjoying Lilith’s Brood, and am most of the way through Iago now. The ideas and issues identified by Butler in the series are as fresh and current as when she wrote them. I do recommend the books to anyone who hasn’t yet read them.
*Joe Buckingham’s Flickr link here
Ok, two movie reviews for the price of one… or something. Spoilers everywhere (where I think relevant) and these are just my thoughts… so if you don’t want to be spoilt on either Inception or Scott Pilgrim vs The World, go and enjoy my Flickr photos (shameless plug).
I think I’ll just divide this review into the good things and the negative things about this movie, then I might remember my thoughts for wrapping it all up. I meant to write this review some time ago, but got distracted with a holiday to Alice Springs, so here goes:
- The first movie with some original concepts that I have seen in AGES. It was quite refreshing to think my way around a new universe.
- The special effects were STUNNING. This movie could sell itself on those alone, and I do know that quite a few people went and saw it at the cinema for that alone.
- The story twisted and turned and the ending was unclear. A lack of guaranteed happy ending with a big “BUT?!?!?!” added to an already great experience.
- Not all the characters were white. This was fantastic. The “good guys” were from all over the world and the “bad guys” were generally all white. Two white American males, one Subcontinental male, one East Asian male, one British male, and one white American female made up the “good guys”.
- There was only one female in the team. There was no reason why there could not have been more.
- The movie failed the Bechdel Test
- The female characters were reflections of the hero’s story, with Leonardo’s character’s wife being a subconscious projection (she no longer existed as an individual) and Ellen Page’s character being the helpful assistant to Leonardo’s character to help him get on with life.
Coherent wrapping up type thoughts have failed to materialise, so I will move onto the next movie.
Scott Pilgrim vs The World
I’ll go with a narrative style here. Be warned, there are spoilers.
So, I know quite a few women who are not interested in seeing yet another movie about a boy having to fight something/someone to win the girl as a prize/rescue the girl. Oddly enough, although the boy does fight the evil exes, this is not a movie about a boy having to fight to win the girl as a prize/rescue the girl. The actual ending (hence the spoiler warning) is about fighting, not for the girl, but for yourself and gaining self respect. It also focused on Scott learning to like himself and realise that he is a great guy without having others tell him that – which at the beginning of the movie was really annoying.
The movie does pass the Bechdel Test, though narrowly. There are named female characters who have (albeit brief) conversations about topics other than a man. Given the movie was about a man, this pass is actually unexpected – though apparently the comic, which I haven’t read, passes the Bechdel test beautifully.
The pop-culture references are fun and overall the movie is very silly. The sound-track is awesome and the filming beautiful.
The gay house-mate/bed-mate of Scott is sweet and funny, and the less creepy Culkin (Keiran) played the role perfectly. As a character his queerness was not an issue, he was gay and that was perfectly normal, as was the main (and presumably straight) character sleeping in the same bed as him. The fact that he had multiple partners during the movie could be viewed as problematic (all gay men are sluts!) but it wasn’t played in a negative way. After all there are plenty of straight men portrayed in movies with multiple partners and that is rarely negative (women doing the same thing is a completely different story).
Although Scott fought a female evil ex, and that ex referred to Mary Elizabeth Winstead’s character as a “hasbian”, the ex being a lesbian was again just a thing. She was no more evil or anything than the other exes.
So yes, I enjoyed the movie more than I expected to. And now it is time for bed.