Tuesday, December 8, 2020
Free Holiday Science Fiction Ebook Promotion
Saturday, November 28, 2020
Plagues and Sci Fi
Perhaps the oldest pestilence in science fiction does not do any harm to humans, but it wrecks havoc on aliens. In H. G. Wells's War of the Worlds, Martian invaders and their tripod machines have easily defeated all Earth's armies, when they fall victim to the simplest organisms on our planet -- they are conquered by the common cold. Wells's implicit message is that there is a divine providence in ecology. It is when humans in their hubris start to tamper with this ecology that they usually begin to run into trouble. It is no coincidence that such concerns emerged in earnest in the late 60's in the wake of Rachel Carson's The Silent Spring and the great outbreak of ecological studies and legislation. At first the scientific mistakes are not a direct result of genetic engineering or the conscious development of bioweapons. Michael Crichton's 1969 novel The Andromeda Strain revolves around the importation of alien DNA into the Earth's atmosphere by a returning space satellite. Even so, humanity had already taken steps in that direction by developing a super-secure underground facility for dealing with rogue organisms. This is hardly surprising, since militaries had used plague germs against enemies at least since the Middle Ages, catapulting diseased animals into besieged towns. More recently, World War II saw bioweapons used by the Japanese in China and, reportedly, by the Russians at Stalingrad. Some even claim that the USA used anthrax against the Communists in Cuba during the 1960's. Some credence is lent to this rumor by the revelation that Dr. Bruce Ivins, a scientist working with infectious materials at a government instalation in Maryland, was suspected by the FBI of sending anthrax-laced letters to various personalities in the period after 9/11. More recently, rumors accused China of developing the Covid germ at a secret test facility. The first vaccine against Covid, Sputnik-V, was developed by Russian scientists who, already fearful of a coronavirus attack, had already begun extensive research to counter it. Many major powers already maintain facilities for research into germ warfare, even as their governments stridently deny any intent to ever use such a thing themselves.
The movie Children of Men (2006, based on a 1992 novel by P. D. James) examined the possibility of a plague sweeping the planet which caused infertility in the population. In the years since that novel, a spate of stories and novels have incorporated the threat of pandemics into their plots. The tragic events of 2020 and the unco-ordinated efforts by individuals and governments to deal with them will undoubtedly cause that number to grow. However, so far Covid has shown itself to be a deadly but rather fickle disease that lacks the features necessary to spread death at a decimating rate, let alone one that would cause fatalities along the lines of the Black Death. The possible effects of an optimal power plague still remain, we hope and pray, within the realm of science fiction.
In our Forlani Saga novels, we postulated the spread of a deadly plague among humans from the outset. Life Sentence mentions the ravages of a disease that appears shortly after Willie Klein is exiled from Earth to the Domremy corporate colony. The convict colonists, cut off from most news of their native world, learn gradually of the expansion of this plague. Their co-inhabitants, the Religious Dissenters, have already departed Earth because they consider it a fundamentally fallen planet, so they are compassionate but not surprised of the dire condition of their species.
Between the time Klein clandestinely leaves Domremy to come to the aid of Entara's family on Forlan (after which he spends hard years as an endentured worker on Song Pai) and his eventual return, the plague has obviously proceeded to wipe out over 90% of the population of Earth. Klein learns some of the bitter facts from his Iranian refugee friend, Barber John, who has seen the horrors first hand before being sentenced to the penal colony.
More references to the plague occur in the second volume of the series, Spy Station. It is through communications from Klein's human daughter Amanda that Entara's now-grownup daughter Ayan'we learns more about the pandemic. Amanda and her mother have returned from life on the space stations to help with recovery efforts. She tells Ayan'we that she has used her medical training (formerly put to use in Klein's recovery from near death) to join teams in Greenland, the site of one of many Exclusion Zones, while her mother Helga Pederson plunged into the front lines of decontamination work in northern Canada. On Earth, other island and isolated areas desperately attempted to save a healthy fraction of the species. For its part, the nefarious Hyperion Corporation retreated into a zone in the Rocky Mountains, but still intends to reassert its control over the entire globe. None of these survival initiatives would have succeeded without help from benevolent aliens, especially the mysterious Blynthians. That uncanny and secluded race not only ferried vast amounts of supplies to the survivors, but somewhow managed to transport a large hollow moon through interstellar space to Tau Ceti, where it serves as a giant refugee facility to over a million human beings, like a Moria migrant center of the future.
The third novel in the pentalogy, Earth Regained, will focus on the activities of Ayan'we, Amanda, Helga, a pair of robot doctors from Spy Station, the amphibian Fatty who had befriended Klein on Song Pai, and other existing and new characters as they deal with the many dangers still threatening doom to the human home world. The technical details of decontamination, organized by the Robotic Guild, are only a minor problem, compared to the violent social problems incited by the Plague. These go from existing criminality gone wild in chaos to unforeseen elements like mutants and re-engineered post-humans. In any event, Earth will no longer be a planet where humans are unchallenged and exclusive as the alpha organisms.
One of the ongoing themes of the Forlani Saga is that all life forms, and especially humans, can have difficulties dealing with change. And in these novels, change can take place on a worldwide scale, from terraforming to conquest to almost instantaneous extinction. Solutions depend on a lot more than a flash of laser weapons or a few explosions and most often call for incredible forms of cooperation among seemingly incompatible creatures. Plagues themselves, after all, are in the final analysis no more than another form of creatures both incompatible and all too compatible with us. We who are used to treating fellow creatures as meat on the hoof are precisely a fine form of meat for plague organisms. Even as we proliferate, we are loading the dinner tables of the microbes. Our success as an interstellar species may well depend on developing a long-distance understanding of these phenomena, becoming more like the inscrutable Blynthians in our view of the universe.
Monday, November 2, 2020
We've Cracked the Top 50 Bestseller List
Thanks to all our readers for helping us reach this milestone!
Friday, August 28, 2020
In 2011, Netflix ordered what would become its first original series, House of Cards. Based on a BBC miniseries, House of Cards was a political drama about Frank Underwood, an underhanded man who would stop at nothing to seize more power in Washington. House of Cards would serve as a design template for Netflix’s live action series for years, encouraging Netflix to value series that had short seasons, a high degree of serialization, acclaimed actors, and explicit content similar to HBO originals. Later Netflix originals would follow the similar formula of “prestige drama” themes and tight serialization, making Netflix dramas true competitors to the HBO slate. It would take until 2016 for Netflix to develop its own unique style of a drama series, and for a Netflix original to become a true pop culture phenom.
In 2016, Netflix premiered Stranger Things, a scifi/drama series from the young creative team known as the Duffer Brothers. Stranger Things was quite different from the earlier originals created in the “Netflix template”. Its creators and cast were not yet household names, it was strongly oriented towards pulpy horror and science fiction rather than “serious drama”, and it straddled the line between nostalgia for older audiences and a YA-oriented narrative about friendship among a group of kids. And yet, Stranger Things became a massive success because it was so different from the preconceived idea of what a “prestige drama” should be. Its twisty mysteries of Demogorgons and Eleven’s psychic powers were very compelling in its heavily serialized seasons, and its storylines where kids and adults alike were confronted by eldritch powers were like nothing else on television. Stranger Things became the first iconic Netflix original, and proved that Neflix’s “binge model” could generate unique and exciting content.
Stranger Things was not just a massive boost to Netflix, but to the dream of sci-fi programming making it big on streaming services. Suddenly, everyone trying to get into the streaming game had to have a new, popular speculative fiction series to make a name for themselves. There was Westworld (HBO), The Handmaid's Tale (Hulu), Altered Carbon (Netflix) and The Mandalorian (Disney). Although many sci-fi series have been greenlit, it's a valid question as to how many will have true longevity and be given a chance to stick in the collective memory of the audience.
The immediate success stories of sci-fi streaming series are readily apparent. Threee seasons of Stranger Things have been produced so far, with a renewal for a fourth, and the series has been nominated for and won numerous awards. The Mandalorian has been renewed for another season, and has become one of the few Star Wars related works other than the original film to be nominated for many awards. The Handmaid's Tale has also ran three seasons and been renewed for a fourth, and received two Golden Globes over the course of its run. Beyond these acclaimed success stories, the record is much more uncertain.
Streaming series can potentially have a very short life expectancy. On Netflix alone, Altered Carbon and the Mystery Science Theater 3000 reboot were cancelled after two seasons, Amazon cancelled The Tick after two seasons as well, and Hulu cancelled Runaways at three seasons. Many of these cancellation announcements were so quiet that you had to read entertainment industry websites to find out; the cancellations were rarely announced on the sites, and the final seasons were almost never promoted as such. While a series like Stranger Things could easily get a promoted final season, most sci-fi streamers will end their runs little noticed and pass into obscurity without the benefits of network syndication or reruns.
While streaming has granted many sci-fi series with interesting concepts a chance at success, and new series continue to be greenlit at a rapid rate, it is not without its flaws as a strategy. New series have numerous competitors for attention and have to draw and audience rapidly and maintain a fanbase between long season breaks. This will result in more than a few series going the Altered Carbon route--or simply getting dropped while in development, the sad fate of Amazon's series based on Iain Banks' Culture books. Our best hope is that series like Stranger Things and The Mandalorian will have long, stable runs, allowing streamers to generate a loyal audience of sci-fi fans and a catalogue of back content. In the best case scenario, streaming will be a place where sci-fi can regularly gain acclaim, mass audiences, and award nominations, making the world a better place for sci-fi fans, authors, and showrunners alike.