Monthly Archive: January 2009

Bad Sci Fi

Just a quick note this mornin’. For a while I’ve been hearing about two relatively new TV shows: Life on Mars and Fringe. I know that LOM is based on a British show of the same name, and I know the basic premise. I know that Fringe is a procedural about a cop of some sort investigating fringe-science stuff, sort of an X-Files scented beast. That’s about it. Some folks have told me good things about them.

So the other night I watched my first episode of Fringe, and it sucked. Now, like a lot of TV shows, it didn’t suck in execution: It was tightly directed, well acted, the dialogue had some zing, and the overall look was quality. The story, however, was terrible. A computer virus that liquefies peoples brains, unleashed upon the world by a disgruntled programmer, targeting the loved ones of people who’d wronged him.

A computer virus. That liquefies brains. This was a bad idea 20 years ago, and it remains a bad idea now.

Was this just a bad example? Maybe. Maybe other episodes rock and I’d be cheering the show on. I will not, however, find out anytime soon, because 1 hour of my life is all any show gets to impress me.

I haven’t seen an ep of LOM yet. I hadn’t any plans to watch; it seemed like I got the premise and wasn’t very interested in it: Cop gets shot, is in coma, is either actually transported to 1973 or is just imagining it in his comatose state, it all wraps up in with a deep mystery and whether or not anything is real. Not a bad idea, of course, but just didn’t excite me.

Then, this morning, I saw this on IO9. Now that’s something I didn’t expect from what I knew about the show, which is apparently: Nothing. That might get me to watch. My god, if the network had promoted tiny robots seeking proof of the human soul in its advertising, I’d have been there on day 1, because that ain’t typical broadcast SF fare.

This underscores the way mainstream SF is being sold nowadays: All the ads for this show make it look like a zany cop show with one single bizarre twist (2008 cop sent back to 1973). There is almost nothing else in the ads that would make this show SFnal.

Of course, I’ll finally tune in  to LOM one of these days and I’ll probably get the episode where he encounters a computer virus from the future that liquefies brains. Dammit.

Watchin’ TV with The Duchess

Sci-Fi fans, welcome to hell.

Here’s what it’s like: It’s comfy. It’s your living room. The fridge is stocked with things you like to eat, things you like to drink. The TV is on, bright and big and beaming entertainments right at you. You’re wearing slippers and a cat is purring on your lap as you sip a fine cocktail. You might think this is heaven at first, but really, it’s hell. It’s hell because sitting next to you is someone who doesn’t much care for skiffy, watching the same damn show, and you’re having conversations like this:


ME: That’s John Locke.

MWTD: Well, that just doesn’t make any sense.

ME: It does if you consider space/time to be –

MWTD: Space/time doesn’t make any sense either. Go get me some popcorn.

ME: Yes’m.

The problem here is that the Entertainment Industrial Complex has realized that Science Fiction, when properly obfuscated and packaged, can make a killing. Movies, books, television shows – SF is the flavor of the era, and more and more of the stuff being spooned out to audiences has its roots in skiffy. Maybe it ain’t really sci-fi, but its’ from that end of the pool. But it gets a nice candy-coating, a slow-burn rollout of the SF tropes, and actively goes for the big audience, many of whom won’t realize they’re watching Sci-Fi until season three.

Take Lost, for an overused example. The show has always had a creepy, weird side, but for a long stretch it was more about survivors of a plane crash on a creepy island of secrets. People who would normally never be attracted to Sci-Fi – and who probably thought Sci-Fi means spaceships, aliens, and magical children – got into the show, came to care about the characters and be intrigued by the scenario. BAM! They’re watching Sci-Fi, and most are ill-equipped for the experience, leaving folks like me to weather the storm.

A lot of folks have very antiquated ideas about SF/F; that it involves the aforementioned spaceships, that it’s the domain of nerds and socially-inept Trekkies (well, they’re in the mix, certainly, and I do a mean Shatner impersonation, but they’re merely part of the whole). These folks think SF = Nerds and are blithely sure they would never get caught dead watching Sci-Fi, or reading it, or whatever. More and more, of course, as time goes on, they are watching/reading Sci-Fi, and just don’t know it.

Until the reveals come, until phrases like space/time continuum start popping up, until someone points out that entire characters are imaginary, entire resolutions explainable only via magic, sorcery, or particle physics.

And that’s when folks like you and me start having those conversations. And drinking. Drinking during the conversations, just to survive.

Used to be, if you were watching something involving time-travel and ghosts, you would turn to your right and find someone wearing a Daleks T-shirt. Now I turn to my right, and I have The Duchess, shaking her head in disapproval of the ridiculous plot. This is our future, you see, as SF/F gets mainstreamed. Sure, that means more and better-funded entertainments in the SF field, which is: Yay. It also means more stroke-inducing conversations. Be ready.

Tweetin’ a Story

Hola. A few days ago I mentioned I was going to start Tweeting a short story, 140 characters at a time, on Twitter to anyone who cares to follow. Why? Why not? Sounds like fun to me.

I’ve got a Twitter page set up for myself already, but I’ve also created a Twitter Page specifically for the short story (, so as not to get everything all confused. Why haven’t I yet? Because I want y’all to pick the story I’m going to Tweet, based entirely on the title. Here’re the three candidates:

“The Witch King of Angmar”
“The Black Boxes”
“Hold Me Closer, Tiny Dancer”

You don’t get anything else than that. So, comment here, email me, or contact me in any other way you want and let me know. The title that gets the most votes will begin Tweeting on 1/26. Thanks!

Ah, Lost

Very excited to watch the new season of Lost in a way I normally am not excited about TV shows. I watch my share of television, but most of it is the meh sort where I enjoy it in the moment and then stop thinking about it. Even the nominally Sci-Fi shows on the schedules don’t excite me much. But Lost does.

I didn’t even want to start watching it, all those years ago. I’m one of those dense bastards who resists anything popular, and the more people telling me how great something is, the more I resist. So when Lost premiered and everyone I knew told me it was great, I shrugged and proceeded to not watch it. Then I was over my friends Jeof and Misty’s apartment one night and they had it DVR’d, and so I watched the first episodes there, and was hooked.

I think the reason I like Lost so much is twofold: One, it’s a true science-fiction story, not just a gimmicky TV drama, and two, it trusted itself enough to start off really, really slow with the SF stuff. These two aspects are key, I think.

There are a lot of TV shows that are nominally SF/F, and most of them flat-out suck. Television has always seemed to regard SF/F as a strange redhaired child in the room, the sort of ADHD kid no one can predict or control. Most of the programs they’ve slapped together that are SF/F seem to have followed the hack writer’s code that in SF/F anything can happen because it’s all magic. Rules are for the ruled, so if they need a way out of a plot in episode four, why, the main character suddenly can fly. Why not?

Also, a lot of shows are just SF/F gimmicks slapped onto a traditional dramatic template. This can work pretty well – The X Files being an intelligent, successful example of SF/F stories slapped onto a Procedural template – but it can also be faux SF/F, where the only reason a show gets styled SF/F is because one character supposedly has powers or something.

Lost, on the other hand, is true SF. There are fundamental ideas in the show being explored, and internal rules – or at least seem to be; time will tell if they stay true to the mechanics they’ve set up, but so far, so good. I’m not 100% sure what’s going on just yet, but I’m pretty sure it’s going to turn out all right as far as internal SF rules go. It’s a show based in science to some degree asking a lot of what if questions, and if that isn’t SF, I don’t know what is. Which may, of course, be the case.

On the other hand, Lost didn’t jump out of the box shaking its rattles and dancing its obscure dances; the first season was a slow burn that started off as a creepy story about people surviving a plane crash on a deserted island, slowly discovering many, many unhappy things about said island. By the time you realized you were watching a full-blown SF/F show, you were already several hours into the story.

This is important because another sin of a lot of TV SF/F is to assume that SF/F fans are in it for the special effects and the set-piece wow-factor, and so come out in episode one with guns blazing, weirdness everywhere, oozing through telephone cables, oozing into the ears of all these poor sane people, infecting them. Wackos everywhere, plague of madness.

What Lost, on the other hand, got right is to remember that SF stories are still stories, and focus on world-building and character development for a while. The weirdness came, and came big, but it took a while, and by the time you were wondering what was in teh frakkin hatch, you were involved in the story on a human level.

Then, of course, Lost attempted to kill us all with that third season, but let’s let that slide. Even your best friends sometimes wake up in the middle of the night and try to kill you, right? Well, that’s been my experience.

So, to recap: Muy muy excited about catching Lost tonight. Just in case you were interested. And as I’ve said to The Duchess about 500 times this past year: I can only pray the writers don’t screw it up.

Many Very Important Things

Ah, the busy, glamorous life of an author. Aside from napping, shoveling snow, and discovering cats trapped inside things you wouldn’t think cats could get themselves into, I am a very busy man. A few things:

FACEBOOK: Yea, verily, I have given in and created a Facebook account. I remember about 3 years ago everyone was telling me I “had” to have a MySpace account, or it would be like I was invisible. So I created a MySpace account. Admittedly, I ignored it and to this day I am too lazy to even delete it, but mysteriously no one cares whether I have a MySpace account any more. Now I am told I must have a Facebook account or I am doomed to obscurity. So I have a Facebook account. I’ll try to pay more attention to it. I’m there as “Jeffrey Daniel Xavier Somers”. Come friend me if you’re brave.

TWITTER: And again: After everyone else in the world has already done so, I finally have set up a Twitter account. Mainly I did this for use at the New York Comic Con in February, so I can tweet out what I’m doing and where I am in case anyone is interested. But in the mean time I’m going to start tweeting a short story there once or twice a day, starting 1/26. That’s right, 140 characters at a time. Why not? So feel free to follow me if you’re at all interested. Maybe someday I’ll start tweeting things like “Putting on pants” or “Woke up in someone else’s house again, please send aspirin and pants” or, simply, “pants!” but only if I get the sense that you folks want such personal tidbits. My guess is: You don’t.

THE ETERNAL PRISON HAS A WEB SITE: Not much there yet – it’s really a glorified placeholder – but it’s there. Check out I intend to have some real actual content up there in the next few months – some fun, interesting things. As opposed to boring, irritating things.

So there you have it: I am somewhat less uncool than I used to be. Or so I have led myself to believe.

What’s Up with the Sci Fi Channel?

I’m not the first person in the world to wonder this: Why does the Sci Fi Channel suck so, so badly?

My brother and I have this conversation about six times a month, because we want the Sci Fi Channel to rock. We want to be glued to it on a regular basis. On paper, the Sci Fi channel is a Big Win. In reality, it is so often an Epic Fail. This is just my opinion. Mine and several thousand other folks who can be quickly found by searching on “Sci” “Fi” “Channel” and “Sucks” or variations thereon. It’s one of the last boutique basic cable channels that retains its identity; back in the early mists of cable TV there were lots of channels designed to grab thoughtspace in viewers by focusing on one subject thoroughly and becoming the brand – sort of the same way people registered domain names like or back The Day. So we had the Biography Channel, Arts and Entertainment Channel, E! Entertainment Channel, MTV Music Television, etc. Most of these channels have since broadened their programming quite a bit, becoming, in essence, regular old TV channels. Even MTV has a broad slate of various programs, many of which have absolutely nothing to do with music, all of which have everything to do with maintaining their precious audience of teenagers.

Not Sci Fi. It’s still. . .well, it’s still The Sci Fi Channel, y’know? It proudly stakes out SF/F as its subject matter and by that virtue alone it should be one of the coolest channels on TV. And yet, it broadcasts swill like Gryphon, starring Anthony LaPaglia’s brother and Larry Drake. Nothing against Larry Drake; I’m glad he’s getting work. But. . .seriously. I saw fifteen minutes of this turd and wanted to poke my eyes out and mail them to the Sci Fi channel, demanding compensation.

My brother and I wonder at the economics of it. The SF Channel regularly creates these original movies, all of which are terrible, all of which seem to feature a huge oversized something as a monster. They then give these movies brilliant names like Mammoth, Kraken, or Ice Spiders (subtly telegraphing the shocking moment when the mysterious monster that’s been eating everyone is revealed). Now, even assuming these films are made on absolute shoestring budgets (which, judging by the 15 minutes of Gryphon I saw, may actually redefine the term shoestring) you have to wonder how this dreck makes any money. Unless the SF Channel’s needs are so low they can actually scrape out a profit on the ad rates they charge for this shit. Another possibility is a small, hardcore audience that will literally watch anything that has an SF/F element in it and doesn’t star Lauren Conrad or any of her Hills ilk. In theory, this is a possibility, but I can’t imagine anyone could watch Gryphon and stick to that course of action. Maybe they make a killing in the long tail of international DVD and Pay-per-View sales? Maybe Gryphon is huge in Uzbekistan. Maybe it’s a variation on the Superman III heist scheme, where billions of fractional profits from cheap DVDs with cover art promising a much better movie results in significant overall profits for the channel.

It’s a mystery. Because the programming sucks donkey balls.

The Sci Fi Channel may be working with serious budget limitations, but things like the Battlestar Galactica reboot prove you can do wonders if you put your mind to it. Even the cheapo original movies could be interesting if they actually told interesting stories – stories that maybe didn’t require a lot of special effects, but were heavy on the mind-bending SF elements (like, say, Primer, a film I am still getting headaches from). If the money isn’t there for 10 more BSGs, then why not run some great old classic series and movies? Plenty of great SF/F was produced in the years prior to 2000, after all, much of it forgotten and probably cheap.

The point is, there are plenty of opportunities for the SF Channel to be cool, and they resolutely refuse to pursue any of them. This mystifies and angers me. Any ideas?