Al, Matt, Cappy, and Frank go on the bleeding edge and talk about the revival of the cyberpunk genre.
Archive for the 'Scifi' Category
The Loud Idiots field breaking news of a reported Snooki sighting. Plus Darth Maul, Ralph McQuarrie, and Sci-Fi movies that never made it.
John and N’jaila discuss “Linsanity” and the racist rant of Korean American Song writer Jenny Hyun somewhere along the way we wonder where all the Asians in Firefly and why Black suburban kids get militant.
Earlier this summer we challenged all of your to join the NonPro Book Club as we re-read a classic of science fiction and adventure, “The Mysterious Island” by Jules Vern. For many of you, this was a first foray into reading Vern or period scifi in general, and to bridge the gap we tried to draw attention to the many elements of steam-punk and the strange similarities between The Mysterious Island and another tale of castaways in peril, LOST.
As we mentioned in our first write-up about the book, The Mysterious Island is fairly typical of what pulp scifi stories would become. Memorable stock characters, rich world-building, and sense of urgency tempered with a desire to provide minute detail of a setting the reader would find exotic – all are present, and indeed, many of these tropes were first developed by Vern himself.
Twists and Turns!
No matter how well off and ingenious our castaways seem, Vern is never completely at a loss for obstacles to hurl at them. While half the novel is dedicated to showing how they managed to produce nitro from manatee fat (not an exaggeration), the rest of the novel shows them battling against entropy, as the course of their luck turns foul. There are pirates and volcanoes and a mysterious (and somewhat ominous) benefactor for our heroes to contend with, and in the second half of the story we really do wonder if they will all get out all right.
More annoying LOST comparisons
- The others attack!
- Their make-shift vessel is destroyed!
- A mysterious cable is found!
- A powerful force within the island is at work!
What amazes me most about the similarities between The Mysterious Island and Lost are actually how the two stories tackle dramatic resolution differently. In each tale, we have a cast of characters that are the central focus of the story, thrust into an isolated locale with some mysterious properties. There are benefits to being there (like not drowning) but the isolation of being “saved” and separated from their old lives introduces conflict. Added to this interpersonal conflict, our characters must survive in the hostile natural environment, and struggle to comprehend the strange secret nature of the island that is their new home.
The Mysterious Island wonderfully shows man versus nature, which makes sense given the time period in which this was written. Whereas modern desert island survival stories tend to gloss over how their characters managed to live, we get a truly science fiction approach by Vern, who not only details how his characters survive, but how they thrive. There is little hand-waving here – by the end you believe that you too can train an orangutan to farm goats (or at very least, you believe that a waterfall powered saw is a reasonable DIY project).
With the character of Ayrton, we see how our novel deals the emotional redemption characteristic of the show LOST. Here again, we see how the period colors the work, as Ayrton’s past life as a criminal is almost regarded as a disease to which he must be purged. Even as he rejoins society as a civilized human being, is seems as if he’ll always live under the burden of what he once was.
But most of all, The Mysterious Island does something far better than LOST ever could; uphold the sense of purpose behind the wonder.
As the island’s mysteries finally break, Vern’s sentences grow shorter, the anticipation is higher. All the strangeness of their time on the island builds to a crescendo as they trace the route left to them to the heart of the mystery. The reveal is astonishing, and extremely gratifying to the reader. Imagine if you were a fan of Vern’s work at the time, and noticed all the tie-ins and call-backs and world-building that went into the novel. J.J. Abrams is pretty famous for the inter-connectivity of his productions. Once again, Vern was first.
It was a better twist than slusho.
Well, that about wraps it up for our first delve into classic scifi with our re-reading of Jules Vern’s “The Mysterious Island” What were your thoughts?
And stay tuned in to Non-Productive.com for our next session of the NonPro Book Club!
Greetings all and welcome to the first session of the NonPro Book Club! This month we’ll be taking a look at a classic scifi novel, “The Mysterious Island” by Jules Verne. As always, you are invited to pick up the book and read along, and join us in weekly discussions in the comments below as we post about what we’ve read thus far.
As this is our first assignment, let’s take a look at the first five chapters of the book and discuss our initial thoughts.
A word on Verne
Whenever I read any “period” author, I try to read the book from the perspective of a contemporary reader of the time the work first came out. I’m not saying that I dress in chaps and monocles and cosplay a Victorian (I do, but that’s not why I do) I simply attempt to enjoy the work on its own merits, divorced from the evolution of the genre, language, and social mores. In the age of From Dusk to Dawn and Underworld it is easy to say that Dracula and Nosferatu didn’t have nearly as much “cool stuff,” but I think you do yourself a disservice not acknowledging our roots.
This is especially true when it comes to science-fiction, and one of the earliest masters, Jules Verne. As soon as the book opens, we see some of what Verne is famous for: detailed description of advanced technology (the air balloon), strong essential characters pulling us through a genre-heavy narrative, and a scientific outlook on natural and para-natural phenomena. Immediately, our heroes are sinking in their new-fangled air ship, descending ever closer to a treacherous foreign sea, and we are being told about a storm that all us readers should remember, complete with dates and ranges, as if Verne were recounting an actual historical weather pattern or as if he set his island adventure story during a recent well-reported typhoon. Authors today sometime call this “world building” or “layering” and it is meant to add a sense of realism and depth to a otherwise fictional tale – and Verne does this so well you can’t be certain that it wasn’t set during an actual storm.
We mentioned before that the elements of “The Mysterious Island” strangely parallel things that occurred in another famous work set on a… well, mysterious island; the TV show Lost. Hopefully, we won’t annoy you guys too much by constantly harping on these imagined similarities, and we don’t want to create a bar to the discussion by referencing a series that not all of us have watched, but it is well worth the occasional reference.
Verne starts the story off mid-crash, as we find one of our main characters (the hero, in fact) hurled off as everyone else becomes stranded on the beach of a strange island. In the second chapter, Verne is already introducing us to our cast of castaways by way of a flashback to before their fateful flight. Yes. A flashback.
What I love most about this is Verne’s use of language; his laments, how he nearly makes reference to the fates and the gods and providence and mercy and the deus ex machina! It’s like listening to a Victorian-age Greek-chorus narrating the unwritten intro to a Lost flashback. It’s great because modern storytelling techniques are all about the abrupt cut and the “you-didn’t-know-what-you-were-reading-or-watching-was-set-twenty-years-in-the-past” thing, but at this time in literature Verne was explaining to his audience that he was taking them back to a time before all this tragedy happened.
For the steam-punk lovers out there, we do not disappoint. Our castaways are a hardened crew of honorable Northern soldiers from the American Civil War and range from a man of letters to a wise sailor to a brilliant genius. Rounding out our cast we have a young and adventurous boy (soon to become typical in genre novels aimed at youths) and a stock character whose use has somewhat declined in recent “more enlightened” times, the loyal negro servant/equal-despite-somehow-seeming-a-lesser.
Oh, and did I mention that there was a dog? Nope. No more Lost references from me. I promise.
Adventure Novels and Learning to Build a Fortress from Coconuts
What I absolutely love in adventure novels, specifically ones set on strange islands with castaways lost to the world, is how our heroes learn to make due with the basics that the island provides them. It sings to my Do-It-Yourself nature and desire to runaway from it all and start my own military-industrial complex forged from palm trees and indigenous monkeys. From the harrowing survival journey of Robinson Crusoe to the crazy Rube Goldberg tree in The Swiss Family Robinson man versus nature is a staple in these stories (see also, Surviverman and related reality shows). In these first few chapters, we get the initial glimpse of how our heroes will attempt to bring civilization to their island home, and for the record… this novel is not vegan friendly.
“Then let us eat some lithodomes. And by that I mean let’s devour this species off the hell-damn planet.”
Still, a solid exciting start to our story filled with island survival, daring escapes, and a hot-air balloon crash! Fun stuff!
But what do you think? Join the discussion in the comments below, and remember to read the next five chapters for next week!
Apparently, they’re seriously hyping the limited theatrical re-release of Back to the Future in about a week and a half, and the BluRay release. As much as I love these movies, I have no BluRay player and no desire to own one. Nor have I even seen one ot them newfangled BluRay videotapes to know why they’re supposedly so high-falootin’ and better than down-home old fashioned DVDs.
It’s my understanding that this is all to coincide with the 25th anniversary of the movie. Damn, I’m old. That makes me sad. But, I’d still kill every man standing to get my hands on a DeLorean. So, that makes me feel a bit better.
But, I digress. Apparently, they’ve done a shot-for-shot remake of the original BTTF teaser trailer to promote a reunion of the original cast at next week’s Spike TV Scream Awards. See the 1985 original here (very cool - gives away NOTHING of the original story):
See the 2010 version; faux-vintage awesomeness here:
And, for an added bonus, they’ve also released some of the original footage from the movie. Apparently, although producers originally wanted Michael J. Fox in the movie, they couldn’t work it schedule-wise, as it conflicted with Family Ties, which later later spun off Family Guy, and inspired the theatrical version with Nicholas Cage, The Family Man.
I digress again. My apologies - it’s the ravages of alcohol on my already feeble mind. Anywho… for the first five weeks or so, they were shooting the movie with Eric Stoltz playing Marty McFly. The story, as I understand it, is that the movie was becoming too “intense” with him in the lead, and the laughs just weren’t working. So, as fine an actor as he is, they let him go, brought Michael J. Fox in, and the rest is, forgive the pun, history.
Ladies and gentlemen, seeing as how I’m slow, this has probably made it’s way across the internet several times already, but no matter. I give you, without further ado, Eric Stoltz as Marty McFly:
Unfortunately, there’s not much Stoltz detail in that, so here’s the trailer for Some Kind of Wonderful:
…and just to be fair, here’s the trailer for Teen Wolf:
In honor of the anniversary of the launch of Sputnik, we air Lovecraft’s “The Color Out of Space” on It Came From Studio B!
What’s with science fiction’s complete lack of color?
This episode is dedicated to “Fern Gully: The Last Rain Forest”
Also, we talk Avatar, Late Night Wars II, and we uncover the mystery of the Tommy Westphall Universe!
BEST. EPISODE. EVER.
Host: Samantha Little