Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Women SF authors

A lot of the best science fiction and fantasy authors are women. Here's a list of a few that I particularly like:

  • Ursula LeGuin
  • C.J. Cherryh
  • Lois McMaster Bujold
  • Connie Willis
  • Nancy Kress
  • Zenna Henderson
  • Susanna Clarke
  • Juliet Marillier

Women have an even larger presence in SF written for children and young adults. For example:

  • Robin McKinley
  • Suzanne Collins
  • Madeline L'Engle
  • Diana Wynne Jones
  • Susan Cooper
  • E. Nesbit
  • Jill Patton Walsh
  • Mary Stewart
  • J.K. Rowling
  • Anne McCaffrey

There are a few things that women generally don't seem interested in doing in science fiction. None of those authors is someone I would have picked out as having imagined a compelling future technology-- not like Stephenson, Gibson, or early Heinlein. (OK, I'll give you Cyteen and Beggars in Spain.) However, they do a lot of things better than almost all of the men writing SF.
The male protagonists of Cherryh's Foreigner series or Bujold's Miles Vorkosigan series often find themselves in action situations: firefights, power struggles, kidnappings, and so forth. But they aren't action heroes-- they aren't physically strong. This makes for more interesting and believable situations, because they have to think their way out instead of simply overpowering the opposition. These men consider what other people are feeling. In so many books, the main character never explicitly thinks about what his allies and antagonists' motivations are or what their facial expressions are revealing.
Another difference is how siblings are treated. It is rare to find books by men where a character has two or more siblings and likes them, instead of having a rivalry with them. In Marillier's Daughter of the Forest or Cooper's The Dark is Rising or anything by E. Nesbit, you have large families of siblings that all get along and cooperate with each other. In general these authors are better at understanding the importance and character of communities.
Another thing that all of these authors do is have a variety of women characters. There are women who happen to be mothers and grandmothers, women who are scientists, young girls, bodyguards, women who are not primarily concerned with being rescued by men.  Strong Female Characters-- attractive young women dressed in black who tend to be good at martial arts and ranged weapons, who use their confidence to make the men around them (because everyone else in the book is likely a man) look foolish-- are not what I am talking about. I am talking about books with characters who are people that happen to be women. There are a exceptions-- Teri Murray in The Sky So Big and Black is a good example of a man writing a young woman well. But contrast this with The Wheel of Time, a series with dozens of female characters and a world where women should be in power, and yet almost none of them rise above the level of trope or caricature. Men writing SF could make an effort to include some of this in their own writing. Trying to understand possible languages, cultures, and ways of living is more difficult than extrapolating hardware and engineering. Occasionally mentioning what people are wearing doesn't come naturally to most male authors, and it takes more skill to describe this kind of world, but moving in that direction would improve the genre overall.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

guilty pleasure SF movies

SF movies that have big flaws but I liked them anyways:

Judge Dee and the Phantom Flame
I have never met another person who watched this movie. I found it on Netflix.

Willow
There just wasn't a lot of high fantasy in 80s films. It's uneven (The whole tavern scene should go), but the great moments make up for it.

Tron
Badly paced, weird costumes, incoherent premise, but I adore it.  I have an elaborate story in my head filling in everything wrong or strange about this.

Red Dawn
I had enough friends who believed that this day was coming that it was a real pleasure to see it put on film.

Independence Day
The special effects, the music, the bizarre speech by the president were all great. And I thought the resolution of using a computer virus was actually very reasonable. My biggest problem with the movie was the telepathy and the line "1/10th the mass of the moon."

What Dreams May Come (except the ending)
I just thought it was really different and imaginative. I thought the paintworld was dumb, and the golden city heaven seemed bland. My real problem that ruined the movie for me were all the endings. They just got worse and worse.

Flash Gordon
I loved the rockets, the skies, Hans Zarkov, the Hawkmen, the Queen soundtrack. I should note I saw this first at age 7 before I had any concept of kinkiness.

War of the Worlds
The 60s version was pretty good too, but I'm talking about Spielberg's one. It's long and a little weird, a horror movie with a happy ending, but I thought it was really interesting to watch. 

Big Trouble in Little China
It was funny and really weird.

Lost in Space
I can't even justify this one.

Neverending Story
The only things wrong with this movie are the synthesizer soundtrack and the outdated special effects. The child acting is great, the story is perfect, the deeper themes are epic, and the whole thing is like the best kind of flying dream.

Edward Scissorhands
I think this is my favorite Tim Burton movie. Although I could be persuaded on Beetlejuice (minus Beetlejuice himself who I thought was disgusting) or Nightmare Before Christmas (which kind of drags, but has a lot to love)
 
Explorers (until they enter the alien ship)
This was basically wish fulfillment fantasy. I felt betrayed by the filmmakers with the comedy aliens at the end. D.A.R.Y.L. is also good. I think it has the same actor as Neverending Story, actually. 

12 Monkeys
It's very sad, but it has a solid time travel plot and Bruce Willis.

Scott Pilgrim Saves the World
I really liked the video game style battle at the end.

Deep Impact
I felt moved by the characters' difficulties, and it was not bad on the science. Contrast with Armageddon, the dumber, more expensive asteroid show that came out the same year.

Dante's Peak
The grandmother's death scene was really stupid, but overall it was a good disaster film and it was not bad on the science. Contrast with Volcano, the dumber, more expensive volcano movie that came out the same year.

The Avengers (the 90s spy show)
The bit with the teddy bears is especially boring, and there could be more real wit and action but I liked the actors and a few of the surreal scenes are brilliant.

here are a few SF movies that are just terrible:
The Core
Armageddon
Bicentennial Man
The Seeker
Green Lantern
Superman IV
Highlander II
Batman and Robin
Dungeons and Dragons
Inspector Gadget