A Major Earworm — Make A New Dance Up by Hey Ocean!

Seriously, you’ve been warned. This will be stuck in your head for quite awhile:

 

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Art Stuff

I would like one of these lawn dinosaurs very much, please:

http://iraffiruse.net/post/77916191769#.UzYwivldUWJ

Katerina Plotnikova does very funky photo art:

http://www.boredpanda.com/surreal-animal-portraits-katerina-plotnikova/

Isaac Cordal’s sculptures are also amazing:

https://www.flickr.com/photos/27963055@N02/with/5717242910/

2 Cellos are also awesome:

 

 

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Yay Science!

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What D’Ya Know, Science Fiction Isn’t Dead

If you had a conversation in the SFFH community sometime in the 1998-2003 time period, you might well have been arguing with people who felt that contemporary fantasy fiction was rare, unimportant, limited mainly to YA, used to not exist in the past, and would never be anywhere near as popular in the field as pre-industrial secondary world fantasy. (By 2004, those conversations stopped.) If you had a conversation in 2008-2012, it would probably have been concerning wild assertions about e-books, how they were made, what they should cost, the right of illegal downloading, and how they and electronic self-publishing would kill all publishers off by 2014. As we know, these things are cyclical.

No conversation, however, in the SFFH community and at times in the media, is as cyclical as the science fiction is dying and soon to die conversation. And if you were having a conversation in the SFFH community in the 2004-2010 time period, it might very well have been about such claims: how fantasy was pushing SF out as a category market (again,) how women were the big readers and the myth that they didn’t like SF as much (again,) how technology had somehow magically invented all the inventions and big theories and so science fiction’s musings on the future couldn’t keep up (again,) how science fiction was largely dead in the movies (again,) how science fiction doing well in YA didn’t count, how vampires were the only thing going, etc.

Those conversations have died down now to occasional mumbles about how hard SF, the real SF, is still dying, but that never changes. The refrain of widespread science fiction and sci-fi death, however, has become forgotten. That’s because science fiction is all over the place and has now gotten enough hits to have people actually accept it as a media interest, rather than dismiss science fiction hits as somehow rare outliers.

In the movies just recently, Divergent, adapted from the bestselling YA science fiction novel, scored with a $56 million opening weekend, without even yet getting their global audience. It joins The Hunger Games movies, also adapted from the bestselling YA science fiction series read by both girls and boys and with female leads (trickle, trickle.) Last year, nearly a dozen science fiction movies were the big launches, everything from Iron Man 3 to Elysium to Gravity. This up-coming year, SF movies are quite plentiful – more Hunger Games, and Transcendence, Interstellar, Edge of Tomorrow, Jupiter Rising, etc. And that’s just Hollywood – world cinema is doing plenty too. This is not a sudden change; 2009 — a year in which the claims that science fiction was on its way out reached a fever pitch – saw the Star Trek reboot, District 9 and Avatar, the movie that took the number one box office slot. Science fiction is, in fact, and has been, more trusted in Hollywood than fantasy movies, which are seen as unpredictable.

On television, science fiction is on networks, on cable, on the Internet, and again global. Shows like Doctor Who, Orphan Black, Continuum, Almost Human, Marvel Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., Defiance, Under the Dome, etc., are thick on the ground.  Some are more successful than others, but science fiction shows are a staple of the medium, a medium which is becoming more and more international and melding at least partially with web television on the Net, where science fiction stories are long time favorites.

In written fiction, science fiction has been building and rebuilding its audiences. The burgeoning YA fiction market was commonly seen as either a devourer of the adult category market or unimportant to the adult category market, depending on which claim people wanted to make about trends. The success of The Hunger Games in that market was dismissed as not sufficient for science fiction, given that it was YA and the phenom status of Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight, while other SF YA bestseller series like Maximum Ride and The Uglies were ignored altogether. Now YA is awash in dystopian SF series that have done well, to the point where the media wonders if they are taking over the field, both for teens and adults. This is of course not happening any more than the purported vampire takeover; teen readers are simply cycling through different types of stories. Right now, they are also enjoying SF with alien contacts, zombies, genetic engineering, cyber AI and space travel adventure, such as Karl Schroeder’s recent novel Lockstep.

The presence of big, acclaimed authors doing SF novels was regarded by some as “outsiders” whose success was supposed to destroy the SF category market, rather than bring more readers to it, as they usually do. Best-selling novels like the time travel love story, The Time Traveler’s Wife, the alt history near future The Yiddish Policemen’s Union, post-apocalyptic novels Oryx & Crake, The Road, World War Z and The Passage were seen by some as death knells for more established (and often equally acclaimed,) SF writers. Instead, they brought in a flurry of movie options for themselves and for SF classics that is still going on, and helped build a general interest in science fiction, as did SF thrillers that were sold in both general fiction and the category market. Currently, Karen Russell’s Sleep Donation is adding to that steady pool.

Category market authors – those working with SFF specialty imprints – saw big deals in the last decade, such as the one given a few years back to British author Alastair Reynolds, with more titles published on most major lists. Currently, The Martian by Andy Weir is causing a big splash and is already optioned for film. Novels like Influx, Red Rising, A Darkling Sea, Air, Ancillary Justice, and new offerings from older authors like C.J. Cherryh, David Weber, William Gibson, and Dan Simmons are racking up sales and buzz. Hugh Howey’s Wool succeeded as both an example of self-publishing audience building and science fiction bestsellerdom, with an adaptation and foreign sales. John Scalzi’s satirical Red Shirts also scored big on the lists and will be a short-run t.v. series. Bestselling novels like The Wind-Up Girl and The Quantum Thief have scored big in recent years, highlighting the crops of military SF, space opera, SF horror, quantum exploration, alien contact and whatever else they can come up with.

So at this point, I am reasonably confident in saying that the predictions I made back in 2008 for SF’s continued health have been accurate. And that perhaps people need to read the story of Chicken Little every so often.

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Some April Fool’s Humor

There are things in the hopper, but it’s April 1st and I’m dealing with zombie and cannibal invasions and the devastating How I Met Your Mother t.v. series finish, so here are a few mild funnies that people did today:

– Over at SF Signal, author Tom O’Donnell writes a funny piece in which he refutes SF Signal‘s supposedly negative review of his barbarian fantasy novel.

– Author Ada Hoffmann gives her conference schedule for the non-existent but should totally exist Dinosaurcon 2014.

– Every year, John Scalzi does something elaborate for April Fool’s Day, usually involving his friends, and at one point, scoring Hugo nominations for it. This year, his pal author Mary Robinette Kowal does the honors. Yeah, fine, but we know that Young Man’s War: First Contact is totally going to happen.

– And just because photos from of our planet are cool, here’s NASA‘s warm-hearted joke for the day.

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Unreality Junction: Books Ahoy!

Some novels to explore:

 

A Darkling Sea by James Cambias – SF: Humans encounter their first alien species underwater underneath miles of ice. Immortal Muse by Stephen Leigh – Historical Fantasy: An immortal muse survives on the creativity of the artists she inspires but must contend with another immortal who feeds off human pain in a story that ranges from the 1300′s to present day New York. Spider Wars: The Burning Dark by Adam Christopher — SF: A grand epic in the far future in which a disconsolate spaceman believes he hears space transmissions from the rumored lost Soviet cosmonauts of the past, indicating a danger of an alien nature.

Prospero’s War: Dirty Magic by Jaye Wells — Urban Fantasy: First in a new series in an alternate Earth where magic comes in the form of alchemy and drugs, and a female cop must help a federal task force with a case with connections to her troubled past.

Ancillary Justice  by Ann Leckie – SF: A female soldier who was once a massive starship linked to corpse solidiers via A.I. seeks vengeance on those who destroyed her.

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The Female Movie Star Lives in 2014 – Yearly Update, Part 2

(See Part 1 here.)

So, has the female movie star died off as we enter into the full 2014 movie season? No, and not just in the area of the big budget action movies. “Women’s” pictures – comedies and dramas led by women – also have made money these past few years and upped profiles. August: Osage County, a female star-studded Broadway play adaptation, for example, made on a small budget of salary-cut-for-the-indie-prestige with the Weinsteins, nearly $60 million in 2013.

In fact, women-led films — drama, comedy or action — have in recent years consistently counteracted the current claim that the middle-budget film is dying out in favor of the big tent poles. The women are cheaper and given less investment in budgets, as previously visited, and so when their films do well, the profits are higher than bigger movies that just break even. More women-led films made over $100 million in 2013 than in 2012, when they were more highlighted in PR and media attention.

Of course, it’s not necessarily making movie stars if the women are regulated to a mid-low budget ghetto. And women directors are still being shut out of both big tentpole films and lower budget Oscar contenders. But there is upwards pressure. If Sandra Bullock can get $20 million and 15% of the gross for Gravity and Angelina Jolie can fund and direct movies, that means younger female actors can push for more green and better deals. Actors like Jennifer Lawrence, Kristen Stewart, Mila Kunis and Emma Stone are already bonafide movie stars making millions. Actors like Natalie Portman and Charlize Theron are also in the A-list club with large salaries for their bigger projects.

Does that mean then that 2014 is going to be a super year for women actors in film, though, and in the big action movies? The answer is that it is and it isn’t. 2014 is shaping up to be a good year in terms of women being highly present and doing major, high profile roles in action films. There are, however, less women-led action films in the pipeline for 2014 than the previous two years. Some of those films coming out are likely to do very well at the box office, but there is the inevitable desire in Hollywood to slow down the supposed “risk” of the females, and take on the male security blanket action pics and hope that the male stars can keep milking the world foreign box office. The reality is that if your woman-led action picture does well, you don’t get nearly the status in the industry that you do if your man-led action picture does well, and so regardless of the box office, the tendency is to advance the males, with male directors. That means women have to continue with trickle, trickle erosion and still being mostly seen as the eye candy while they kick ass.

So 2014 is going to have its comic superhero movies, old world myth fests and action spectaculars led by men and special effects. The numbers of recent studies about women’s participation in film are not heartening. And yet the tipping point we seem to have witnessed in 2012 does not seem to be tipping backwards. It’s just continuing on its sneaky roll, with Hollywood now automatically putting in a female member or more for every action team, an increase in female power villains, and a lot more excitement about the actresses in big power flicks than most of the male stars. That’s…annoying, really. Who likes riding in scanty clothes on what continues to be a slow moving glacier? But what’s becoming normal – having the women there, kicking ass and frequently leading – is shaping the future of movies slowly and surely. Hollywood likes its myths, but it likes money too. And audiences have shown that they clearly don’t care if it’s a woman or a man in the lead, or in any other role.

So what is coming up for women in the action pictures, all kinds, in 2014: 

Women-led action pics for 2014 include first off the YA adaptation Divergent. A lot of folks are seeing this as Hunger Games lite, but the books have a solid fan base who don’t seem unhappy with what they’ve heard about the film so far. The film is coming out in late March (at what is now the start of the “summer” season,) probably doesn’t have a large budget, and seems to be getting a lot more studio support than previous female-centric YA adaptations last year. Then there is surprisingly the film Veronica Mars, based on the cult t.v. show. Veronica Mars got a lot of attention off of its Kickstarter partial budget campaign, which is now making the film a bigger deal, and fan enthusiasm is high, while the budget is very low. Veronica Mars brings the television sensibility to the film – that the woman can be the detective/action person who leads and everyone else circles around – so even if it isn’t a huge hit, it’s going to help and definitely ups Kristen Bell’s profile.

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