Posted: March 5, 2011 at 6:48 pm | Tags: growing up, review, science fiction, sexism, story
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.
Posted: January 17, 2011 at 10:43 pm | Tags: science fiction, story, thoughts
Ok, so I didn’t end up finishing my post exactly how I hoped, because I left out stuff, so here is the stuff I left out (because I was sleeeepy).
My girlfriend’s reaction to slaters was more along the lines of “ew, gross” than “ARGH, take it away, take it away”. That said, she grew up in an environment where gardens were enjoyed but not something she had to tend, so the likelihood of her coming across garden critters such as slaters was much reduced than my childhood – where we gardened whether we wanted to or not. I think that the fact that my household considers slaters to be cute is a socialised thing. We learnt that they’re harmless and fun to play with (they roll into little balls). My girlfriend has had no such exposure and it’s a small chitinous thing with lots of legs, which does sound gross. This is a nice supporting argument for e.smith’s post about likes, dislikes, attractions, and revulsion not being innate.
The second bit that was in my head when I first started thinking about this post, was the narrator’s commentary in Jeff Wayne’s musical of War of the Worlds. I don’t like the narrator actually… he’s condescending, rude, and acts superior to everyone else in the story, he’s almost unemotional, which given his world is being taken over by massive tripod aliens with laser beams is ludicrous. In both HG Well’s version of War of the Worlds, and in the musical (which is from the same work), the people of the village are curious about the capsule that has fallen from the sky, and initially fear that a man is trapped inside. Eventually the capsule starts to open:
Next morning, a crowd gathered on the Common, hypnotized by the unscrewing of the cylinder. Two feet of shining screw projected when, suddenly, the lid fell off! Two luminous disc-like eyes appeared above the rim. A huge, rounded bulk, larger than a bear, rose up slowly, glistening like wet leather. Its lipless mouth quivered and slavered, and snake-like tentacles writhed as the clumsy body heaved and pulsated. A few young men crept closer to the pit. A tall funnel rose, then an invisible ray of heat leapt from man to man and there was a bright glare, as each was instantly turned to fire. Every tree and bush became a mass of flames at the touch of this savage, unearthly Heat Ray. People clawed their way off the Common, and I ran too. I felt I was being toyed with, that when I was on the very verge of safety, this mysterious death would leap after me and strike me down. At last I reached Maybury Hill and in the dim coolness of my home I wrote an account for my newspaper before I sank into a restless, haunted sleep. I awoke to alien sounds of hammering from the pit, and hurried to the railway station to buy the paper. Around me, the daily routine of life – working, eating, sleeping – was continuing serenely as it had for countless years. (from Jeff Wayne’s musical – emphasis added)
So in this story people were curious, so curious they approached the strange object to see what would happen. When an otherworldly creature came out of the craft, they crept closer again to look. Only when they were threatened and some killed, did the crowd scatter, but not too far… they resumed their daily activities, despite the fact that several of them had been killed with a laser like device, which to me isn’t even remotely plausible, but in HG Well’s view of the world at that time, it may well have been. And perhaps it is still now, perhaps if aliens did turn up tomorrow a percentage of the population would continue on as normal, failing to see a threat until it is in their faces (or they are dead), I do know some incredibly oblivious people after all.
So yes… when the aliens eventually arrive, I’ll go and hide until I have proof they’re safe, my husbands will want to watch and see what happens, and there will no doubt be some people saying, “Flying saucers? Bah… I have things to do.”
Posted: January 16, 2011 at 11:08 pm | Tags: alien, books, difference, random, review, science fiction, thoughts
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.
A slater, a small, multi legged, browny grey, crawling creature with a segmented back and two small front antennae. Photo credit: Joe Buckingham*
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
Posted: January 8, 2011 at 5:32 pm | Tags: Feminism, gender roles, identity, role-models, science fiction, sexism, strong women, thoughts
NOTE: This post will be discussing female science fiction characters and their roles. Therefore they may be spoilers for those who haven’t seen these shows/films. It will also be discussing violence which may be triggering.
I was thinking today about Kara Thrace, better known as Starbuck, from the remake of Battlestar Galactia (of which I’ve only watched the first season), and the episode Flesh and Bone from season one in which she oversees/participates in the torture of a Cylon spy. And I was thinking that typically women tend to fill the same gender roles in science fiction as they’re expected to in current day society, and those that don’t tend to be on the receiving end of a lot of hate.
I don’t condone violence, but I know that I’m fully capable of it if I thought that it was required. I don’t think that torture is actually a way to get information from anyone, but I can understand the desperation that existed in that episode for another woman (the President) to order the Cylon to be tortured. I do not condone torture in any way, I want to make that REALLY clear.