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OFF-SCREEN SCI-FI


Okay, so you don't feel like any bad sci-fi movies that it made one want to simply give up on the genre. However, luckily science fiction isn't limited to only the big screen: there are also videos, TV and of course the printed word. 

Here is a list of the good sci-fi stuff I read and watched recently. Thanks to a VCR and a library card one doesn't have to be limited to whatever is showing at the cinemas right now.

 


BABYLON 5
(Seasons 2 and 3)

Let me be honest: I don't watch a lot of TV. In fact, I watch very little TV - life is simply too short to be spent in front of a piece of talking furniture which, I'm sure,  destroys brain cells through radiation. (Okay, an exaggeration, but considering the average IQ of your average TV show then irradiation seems merciful. When I do watch television, I tend to record shows so that I can fast-forward through advertisements.)

That includes sci-fi and non-genre television. How little is little? Except for the occasional news broadcast, there is only one TV show I regularly watch at the moment and that is the wonderfully funny Futurama. The past four weeks I must have averaged about four hours of viewing in all! 

Now I must be honest and admit that I used to watch more TV than that before: add another hour early every Sunday evening watching Babylon 5 on a free local station.

You see, I don't believe that television with its lowest common denominator and its role in lowering standards in general isn't exactly the medium for intelligent science fiction. Star Trek groupies will probably kill me for this, but except for the original Trek series, bits of Next Generation, some old Twilight Zone episodes, SF on TV is in general a wasteland. 

Sure, you might have fond memories of sitting spellbound in front of the telly during let's say Six Million Dollar Man or Battlestar Galactica as a kid, but don't try watching any of these shows on the Sci-Fi Channel nowadays - you'll just end up questioning whether you actually did have a happy childhood. 

Like I said, obviously not all sci-fi shows are bad. Some like the current Voyager shows are just crushingly mediocre. A major exception to this rule is Babylon 5 . . .

That is because Babylon 5 broke a lot of TV rules in its time and those who saw the 2nd and 3rd season will know what I mean by this (it is

For those who are not in the know:

Undoubtedly influenced by Star Trek, the Babylon 5 of the title is a huge space station designed as a sort of a floating in space United Nations, a place where various planets and its peoples can talk it out. 

The show was planned as an arc: it would tell one story, pretty much like a long epic novel. (In fact its creator JMS was apparently influenced by Neil Gaiman's Sandman graphic novel series which also told an epic story).

FUTURAMA
(First Season on DVD)

The only show on TV I watch regularly at the moment. 

Created by Matt Groening of The Simpsons fame (check out his lesser known Life Is Hell cartoon series; it is bitingly sharp!) the show tackles sci-fi genres and conventions in much the same black humoured way The Simpsons tackled American suburbia.

It follows the adventures of a pizza delivery guy (named Fry) who accidently were put into suspended animation on New Year's Eve 2000 and is defrosted a thousand years later in a Year 3000 that reminds one a lot of our own times . . .

If you enjoy The Simpsons, South Park or Beavis & Butt-head then you'll enjoy Futurama. Then again, you're probably already watching it.

While the 2nd season doesn't seem as fresh and exciting as the first one, Futurama is nicely settling into its own pace and identity and well worth checking out . . .

 


INVERSIONS
(by Iain M. Banks)

Scots author Banks is perhaps best known for his debut novel, the controversial The Wasp Factory. However, sci-fi fans probably know him as the creator of the "Culture" a socialist society in which humans co-exists with sentient computers. (His output is schizophrenic in nature: as Iain Banks he publishes "mainstream" novels and as Iain M. Banks he publishes science fiction novels. His prolific literary output seems to be split almost 50/50 along these lines.)

While Inversions isn't strictly a "Culture" novel, it is a book that would be more appreciated by those who have already read some of Banks' other sci-fi novels. If you're unfamiliar with his work, then kick off with his collection of short stories titled State of the Art, move on to Consider Phlebas and the brillant Use Of Weapons. (His non-SF stuff is also worth checking out by the way.)



THE NAKED GOD
(by Peter F. Hamilton)

Okay, unfortunately to read The Naked God you'll have to read its predecessors, the two collections titled The Reality Dysfunction and The Neutronium Alchemist in the series known as the Night's Dawn trilogy. 

Oh, all right, each volume in the trilogy clocks in at about 1 200 pages! But guess what? You won't ever be sorry ever did. In fact, like me you'll probably be hooked from the word go by this exciting and intelligent page turner. Yup, even clocking in at 3 600 pages I'll guarantee that you'll wind up devouring every single page of it . . .


LAST CHANCE AT EDEN
(by Peter F. Hamilton)

Let me be honest: I am the type of person who is into following serieses of books like these (you know the type of book: Book 33 of the Quest for the Wizard of Shanara or whatever).  In my time I have only finished Kim Stanley Robinson's Mars trilogy (Red, Green and Blue Mars) and Douglas Adams' Hitch-hiker's Guide to the Galaxy trilogy of five.

However, after you're done with the Night's Dawn trilogy, you'll probably be wanting more and end up reading this collection of short stories by British author Hamilton set in the same "universe" . . .

 


RADIO FREE ALBEMUTH
(by Philip K. Dick)

If you only know Philip K. Dick as the guy upon whose work Blade Runner and Total Recall were based, then now is the time to rectify this.

One of the true originals who worked in sci-fi (he died in the early 1980s), Philip K. Dick addressed issues such as "what is reality?" and "what makes one human?" in his his work.

If this sounds too heavy for you, then it probably is. However, if you want more intelligence than your average Terry Brooks book, then check out any of the following novels by Dick: Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, Martian Time Slip, The Man in the High Castle and Flow My Tears, the Policeman Said.

Then you can move on to Valis (basically a rewrite of Radio Free Albemuth), The Divine Invasion and this book.

The first book of his I have read in quite a few years, Radio Free Albemuth is a reminder of just how good a sci-fi writer we have lost in Dick. 

Intellectual, yes, but never dull . . .

 


Give Me Liberty
(by Frank Miller & Dave Gibbons)

Written by Frank Miller, art by Dave Gibbons. If you're into comics you'll know Miller to be behind the legendary Dark Knight Returns graphic novel that updated and modernised Batman for the 1980s. Gibbons did the art for the Hugo award winning Watchmen graphic novel

Published in the early 1990s by Dark Horse comics and collected in several volumes (or graphic novels if you like) by Penguin Books, the Martha Washington series may not count as his best work, but is definitely worth checking out.




 

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