Sunday, December 24, 2006

Blurring speculative fiction lines: Children of Men

On December 13th, I posted an entry that touches upon the differences between science fiction and speculative fiction. Picking back up on this train of thought, I read a troubling statement in this linked article.

Regarding Cuaron's film version of P.D. James' Children of Men, it states: "This is a not a Science Fiction outing, future setting notwithstanding. As the director has said, Children Of Men just barely exaggerates various worrisome features of today to create the so-called future." Apparently, Cuaron does not consider this work science fiction.

Unfortunately, the reading public doesn't view the story in the same way as the director. In a quotation on, a reader states: "Not worth the effort. I read this book for my contemporary lit class, hoping that it would live up to its fellow social science fiction novels. However, this book was very difficult to get through. The writing style was irksome and the ending was absolutely terrible. I recommend seeing the movie (with clive owen) when it comes out in November.
Also recommended: Fahrenheit 451, the giver, brave new world."

Many other readers did not find the book so difficult and praised it. Regardless of critical viewpoints, everyone considers this science fiction. Hollywood simply knows that science fiction as a genre scares away many viewers. It's not "date night" material but a gripping, socially-infused thriller would be...this is likely the impetus for Cuaron's statement.

If a book is set in the future and has a substantial scientific component (and human reproductive concepts can get pretty scientific), it will be considered by the genre-selecting folks to be science fiction no matter how badly Hollywood wants to nudge this away with thoughtful statements. This stigma can be annoying and the preconceived notions of science fiction can be problematic for writers. So, emerging genres like speculative fiction are growing in recognition.

It's a fine distinction: they're both SF but one leans more on science and the other focuses on the speculative aspect of the work. It wasn't until the middle of the 20th century that science fiction became broadly recognized in the first place. In the end, it's all labels and what they mean to people. They exist to help guide the reader and provide order to the literary universe. If the term speculative fiction will better help people understand what Children of Men really is, Cuaron should probably consider using this term. People will get it.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

On household robots

The article I've linked to here talks about Asimo, Honda's household robot. The future of such mechanisms certainly seems bleak.

Personally, I didn't prognosticate that there would be household robots in my book Darwin's Orphans set in the year 2031. To me, it doesn't make sense that they'll become a routine fixture over the next couple of decades. Asimo's been out there for a while and hasn't really garnered that much attention. Other robots -- the kind in factories building cars and making prototypes -- have taken hold and continue to become more refined over time. There's a good reason for this: they make a lot of money for their owners and provide a very efficient service.

The household robot, however, is only needed by a small percentage of society in my opinion. The disabled could take advantage of their help in many situations. The extremely busy single professional could probably use them in lieu of maid services and the elderly could use a helping hand here and there. Your average person, however, doesn't mind brewing their coffee or running their vaccuum around the house. There's something enjoyable for many people about tweaking that daily coffee mixture. I'm sure there's even something meditative for many people who vacuum: let me ponder that last question in the crossword as I suck up little crumbs from my carpet.

No, many of us don't need or want a household robot that badly. Supply and demand, as usual, would be the force to make them a household fixture. Some day, when they work well and the price point makes them an affordable gadget to add to your cluttered home, I'm sure people will purchase them. But for now, they are obviously years away from perfection and are not likely to be greeting you soon at a friend's home.

P.S. -- I read this article shortly after this posting re: robot rights. Hmmm.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Fisher sees the "slife" as the future blog

Interesting article here by Frank Fisher. He looks into the future of online/telecommunications for us. It's a very intersting take that melds reality TV, cell communications and the next wave of self expression.

Starting with a Gartner report that predicts the wane of blogging, Fisher ponders what will happen next as communication technologies progress. In the process he invents the "slife" -- or slice of life. It's an interesting take on the next likely techie trend. I never really thought about extreme reality TV being part of upcoming 3-G cell trends with the capacility of streaming video available to all.

Kudos Fisher! Fun stuff.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Evolving Sci-fi

Interesting commentary here about our future fantasies and how they move through time. It is very enjoyable, at least to me, to read or watch old sci-fi. As humankind and the technologies it musters evolves over time, pieces of old fiction become amusing reflections of how we thought we'd live.

Like a kaleidoscope showing us different colors through the same view, concurrent writers of speculative fiction each have their own hues to share. When we look back at these varying images of our past predictions, it's quite fascinating. Oh, I just switched a moment ago to "speculative fiction" -- oops!

Definitions of science fiction and speculative fiction are definitely commingled. Sci-fi fans do like their space ships and genetic mutations. But not all sci-fi leans heavily on the flashy technology frontiers. On this note, I really enjoyed the article's comments about applying enthusiasm to new areas of science. The technical gizmos are interesting but the changes in mankind (biology, sociology, psychology the sciences here) are just as captivating. So, in my view, one differentiator is that speculative fiction doesn't seem to lean on technology as much.

In Orwell's 1984 -- not wild from a technology standpoint -- it was the human activities that were astounding: hiding camera's everywhere, changing the news across all publications in the printed archive, spin-doctoring to the extreme. This aspect makes it more of a speculative fiction work. The technologies featured in the book weren't really much of a stretch from what existed at the time the book was written. Orwell mainly speculated on how far a propoganda machine could go. This is what really made it fascinating: the direction that evolution could take.

With all of this pondering, I'm curious: as far as genres go, do we need to clearly break apart science fiction from speculative fiction? Please weigh in on this question. It would be very helpful to get other views on this subject.


Tuesday, December 12, 2006

P.D. James' "Children of Men" marketing challenge

This post discusses the woes of marketing a film based on thoughtful speculative fiction. It's got panelists weighing in on the challenges of such an undertaking and subsequent confusion online site visitors may face.

The critiques are focused on the effectiveness of the film's marketing message: see's fascinating to immerse yourself in these heavy (and seemingly very real) issues. In so many words, the first critique is echoed by the second:

1) "Somewhere, somehow, someone had the idea to bolt on this "higher order online mission" to the movie as an enhancement, which frankly left me in as much of a mystery as the title, "Children of Men." "
-- Alan Schulman, chief creative officer, Brand New World

2) "I don't mind suspending my disbelief to embrace a fictional story that has serious themes, but I don't believe those same themes should then be considered in another fiction. There is a difference between suspending one's disbelief and pretending."
-- Brian Crooks, executive creative director, Avenue A | Razorfish

Too much ancillary mystery is obviously afoot in the buzz-generating efforts here. This is a tough thing to face in marketing...with so much media saturation, people need to be clever in garnering attention (remember "The Blair Witch Project?"). So, it's not surprising that confusing marketing can accompany fiction built around challenging ideas like those of P.D. James.

I like the solution proposed by Brian Crooks the best:
"Why not have a blog that invites the visitor to weigh in on some of the very real world concerns this more serious science fiction movie extrapolates on?"

Personally, I would have relished the opportunity to comment on such a blog.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Men on the moon?

It's a plan. We'll have folks wandering routinely around the moon between 2020 and 2030. A prediction that I didn't make in my book Darwin's Orphans.

With so much focus on easier ways to get into space, I thought for sure we'd see the wisdom of first constructing space elevators -- some with stations attached to them. This would let us to more easily launch to Mars and other places we haven't been.

However, I do see the wisdom of having a low-gravity jumping off point that also lets us practice living in non-terrestrial conditions. It seems wise to get good at it closer to home before heading farther into the solar system.

This has oftentimes been interesting fodder for speculative fiction. Feel free, as always, to post your opinions on the subject.