Science Fiction | Inhuman Swill | William Shunn
Inhuman Swill : Science Fiction : Page 28

The role of a new machine

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As promised last week, my review of Heddatron is now live at SciFi.com:

http://www.scifi.com/sfw/screen/sfw12238.html

Despite the review, an evening spent at Heddatron is not without its compensations (one of the chief being the theater's proximity to Lupe's East L.A. Kitchen, which might be the city's best little Mexican joint). Despite my dissatisfaction, I smiled and laughed all the way through, and Laura thoroughly enjoyed the show.

But those damn robots! Agh!

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The stage of steel

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Tonight Laura and I go to see Heddatron at HERE. It's more or less "Hedda Gabler" with robots. Real robots. Live on stage.

Well, not live robots, of course, but live robots, you see:

Les Freres Corbusier continues its irreverent massacre of historical icons and academic esoterica by taking on famed playwright Henrik Ibsen, the well-made play, and contemporary issues in robotics. Ibsen is thwarted by August Strindberg and his kitchen slut throughout his fevered struggle to write the great feminist drama, Hedda Gabler, while a contemporary housewife in Michigan is abducted by robots and forced to perform Ibsen's masterpiece over and over again...

With real functioning robots portraying half of the parts, alongside humans who will play the other half, Heddatron will be one of the first theatrical productions to use functional robots as actors. Employing robotic automation and text-to-speech software, humans will perform opposite a hunky Lovborg-bot, a clunky Tessman-bot, as well as blinking, smoking, and whirring co-stars who portray Judge Brack, Aunt Julie, and the rest of Ibsen's menagerie.

You might have caught the New York Times story about the show last week. The robots of Heddatron have been created specifically for this production by Botmatrix, which sounds like a whole collective of Susan Calvins.

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Bearding the lines

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I am, by the way, writing a novel. I have 82 pages plus an outline but that needs to swell to at least 200 by March 15, when that much is due to the invitational novel workshop I'll be attending in May. Which of course is why I'm putzing around on LJ.

Anyway, I'm growing a beard and not shaving it off until the first draft is complete. Don't worry! That doesn't mean I won't keep it trimmed! ZZ Top look cool, but I won't be ready for a beard like that until I'm in my sixties.

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Pullman supporter

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By the way, as an antidote to all the recent media attention for The Chronic(what?!)cles of Narnia, Salon's Laura Miller has written a profile of Philip Pullman for the current issue of The New Yorker.

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Before it opens, I wanted to mention that Laura and I saw a preview screening of The Passion of the Lion last week. No, wait, I meant Narnia Wars Episode II: A New Hope. No, that's wrong too....

However you slice it, the movie version of the first (or second, depending on how you reckon it) of C.S. Lewis's Narnia books, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, is a reasonably engaging piece of entertainment. It's acted well, the special effects are in many cases astonishing (and sometimes not), and it must be said that Tilda Swinton makes for a scarily alluring White Witch, especially in her shaggy barbarian battle getup toward the end of the film. What it wasn't was particularly memorable. It sort of fizzed during viewing and evaporated outside the theater.

I'm not sure why this is. Probably to many fingers in the (fairly faithful) screenplay, and not a sure and compelling enough directorial vision. I was not a fan of the Lord of the Rings movies (which makes me something of an an anomaly in SF circles), but I will say this for Peter Jackson—I probably remember the sights and spectacle of The Fellowship of the Ring better four years after seeing it than I remembered TCoN:TLtWatW after four days. That said, I certainly wouldn't steer fantasy fans away from seeing it.

I had two interesting thoughts while watching the film. First is that, with all the outreach Disney has done to Christian groups, I wondered whether hard-core Christians would be a) more friendly toward fantastic literature after seeing it, or b) severely disturbed at the portrayal of such pagan and Bacchanalian figures as fauns and nymphs as good and friendly creatures.

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A primer of ice and fire

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I am greatly relieved, as I prepare to plow into both A Storm of Swords and A Feast of Crows, to have discovered a site that provides detailed synopses of all the books in the series. I read (and loved) the first two books when they came out, and I'd be lying if I said I wouldn't be completely at sea if I jumped back in unprepared.

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A feast of crowing

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Did anyone else see the Time magazine article a couple of weeks ago in which George R. R. Martin was declared the "American Tolkien"? A startling and delightful thing to read in a magazine like that.

UPDATE: The article at Time.com is premium content, but I found a copy of it online here, at what seems to be a wholly unauthorized Time mirror site. Read it while it's still around!

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Hal Duncan, author of the (forthcoming, if you're in the States, and) highly praised novel Vellum and all around Righteous Dude, holds forth quite cogently on the distinctions (or lack thereof) between SF and fantasy. He calls them less feuding Campbells and Macdonalds than giant extended families that have long intermarried:

In truth, I think this whole division between SF and Fantasy is an illusion, an artificial dichotomy based more on claims of allegiance than on actual practice. Two small subsets of the field may live by their words, creating Hard SF or High Fantasy that do exemplify the warring aesthetics of Rationalism and Romanticism -- probably par excellence. But if you look around the drunken wedding party, ignore the two old maids sitting in their corners, that dusty old duality looks pretty irrelevant. I've said it before and I'll say it again: it's fucking Modernism. Pulp Modernism, cheap, populist, balls-to-the-wall-and-entertaining-as-fuck Modernism, but still Modernism. We use mimesis on the one hand, fantasy on the other. We rationalise magic and romanticise science. We combine the exotic and the mundane. We experiment with literary conventions. This isn't the fiction of science; it's the science of fiction. We take metaphoric conceits, fantastic ideas, and we put them to the test with literature as the laboratory. Of course, when we get good results, we do have a tendency to go into mass production mode, churning out dodgy copies from the cheapest of materials for a consumerist market that loves our new toys for a few days before abandoning them for the next shiny doohicky... but, hey, that Big Corporate Structure keeps the R & D department going so I'm not complaining.  [full post]
In a way, Duncan articulates a thought I've had for many years, which is that SF and fantasy, at their best, are the disciplines that employ more of the tools from the writer's workbench than any other. At our best, we can pull off every trick in the "mainstream" writer's playbook besides stirring in half a dozen all our own.
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Proof

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I received my page proofs for "Inclination," my Asimov's story, in the mail last night. Damn, [info]asphalteden, but you run a tight ship! I appreciate having precise instructions on how to mark the copy.

Rereading parts of the story on the train this morning, there were certainly sentences I wanted to tear down and rebuild from scratch. (Don't worry, Brian—I will resist manfully.) But I was relieved to see that the story could still hold my interest.

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Our own [info]bobhowe, if you didn't know, can now have the descriptor anthologist extraordinaire prepended to his name, as in anthologist extraordinaire Robert J. Howe.

If you don't know what I'm talking about, pop over to his place and get in line for some Coney Island Wonder Stories.

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