Review of Dominant Race by Elisa Nuckle

Title: Dominant Race

Author: Elisa Nuckle

Genre: Fantasy/Scifi

Where I Got It: bought a Kindle copy

Score: 3 out of 5

Dominant Race is a novella by Elisa Nuckle, one of my blog and Twitter buddies and a fellow Houstonian.  It is the first in a series about a race of genetically modified humans who have been spliced with various animals.  Dominant Race focuses on Lilia, a wolf modified who leaves the safety of her family’s cabin hidden in the woods in order to help a modified militia that includes her love interest, Avari.  The modified militia faces enemies on two sides: the normal humans who fear and sometimes oppress the modified, and Sanders – a rogue modified who kills humans and modified alike in his crazed pursuit of war.

What I Liked:

The premise of this novella is intriguing and fun.  Genetic modification is a subject I find absolutely fascinating, and it can usually make for some cool stories and fun characters.  The dystopian setting was also interesting.  The way Elisa took American city names and deconstructed him (like Neyork, for instance), and also made mentions of “old” technologies and customs throughout the story was a nice touch.

The main character, Lilia, was likable and easy to relate to.  She’s feisty, stubborn, and intelligent.  I always like tough female characters, and Lilia fills the role nicely.  There is a point near the end where she behaves in a way that seems out of character to me, even given the extenuating circumstances of the scene, but for the most part she is a consistently-written and enjoyable character.  You’ll definitely be rooting for her.

What I Didn’t Like:

Okay, the basic idea of the plot works well for the most part, but I think it suffers from its length.  I really believe this story needed to be a full length novel rather than a novella.  There is too much going on too quickly, without enough exposition or description, and with too many character names floating around, attached to secondary characters that are sometimes fine and sometimes just don’t have enough description or importance attached to them for me to keep track of everyone.

I think the novella as a whole should definitely be decompressed, as it were, with a little more exposition and description here and there, a bit more space between events for the reader to sort through what’s happened and who’s been introduced and where its going next.  Still, the first two-thirds of the novella are manageable, and were certainly still interesting enough to keep me reading.  However, the last part of the novella, Chapter 14-18 to be exact, were very difficult for me to read.  I had to re-read a few sections several times to make sure I’d understood what had just happened.  And while SOME of that may simply have been my fault for reading too quickly or something, at least some of it could have been helped by slowing down the prose a bit.  Things sometimes jumped from one sentence to the next without enough concrete description.  And the appearance of at least two characters is so sudden and without any kind of foreshadowing that they felt a little too “dues ex machina” (or even non sequitur) for my taste.

As for the love sub-plot: it was… okay.  There was some effort to develop the relationship between Lilia and Avari in a natural way, rather than having them fall into instant lust.  But I don’t feel like I know enough about Avari and why Lilia would love him, for it to completely work for me.  He’s also out of the picture for a good chunk of the story, and their reunion is just a touch too easy to be entirely believable.  But, again, I think much of this is a problem of the length.

I know the “What I Don’t Like “ section is a quite a bit longer than the “What I Like” section is, but I really do think most of the problems with this story could have been solved by simply making it longer and more detailed.  With more time/space to develop the characters and relationships, to bring in more description and more transition from one plot element to the next, the interesting premise could have been a much stronger story.  However, I think the intriguing premise and the likable main character are able carry a lot of the weight of the problems.  Dominant Race is an admirable first effort, and the world-building is interesting enough that I will be back to read the next installment in the series.  I’m really looking forward to watching Elisa Nuckle grow.

Please check out Elisa Nuckles’ blog, and the page for Dominant Race, with all the options for buying.

Gorgeous, Intense, and Creepy: A Review of Prometheus

So, let’s talk about Prometheus (and then I’ll get back to my insane fan-girl raving about Sherlock, I promise).

For those who are unfamiliar with the background of Prometheus, it is a science fiction film produced and directed by Ridley Scott (director of Alien, Blade Runner, and Gladiator, to name just a few) and is considered a prequel of sorts to the original Alien movie.  Prometheus (which is also the name of the spaceship the cast lives on) takes place in the year 2093 (Alien takes place in the year 2122), and follows a group of scientists who believe that aliens called Engineers seeded life on Earth, and who are in search of those aliens in deep space, on a moon called LV-223.  Of course, as anyone familiar with the Alien movies would expect, things do not go according to plan, as the scientists find nothing but death on the moon (and boy, it’s going to be hard to talk about this movie without giving too much away…).

Okay, so let’s start by talking about the direction and cinematography in this movie, because it was BRILLIANT.  The opening sequence is one of the most beautiful I’ve seen in ages and ages.  The camera pans through images of wild, almost-but-not-quite barren landscape: rocks, mountains, snow, waterfalls, etc.  It’s like something out of the Planet Earth nature documentaries, in astounding high definition, with a powerful score building up around you.  And then it focuses in on what is clearly an alien – mostly human in shape but with musculature that no human could possibly have, and a slightly different shape in the nose and forehead.  The alien drinks something, and then starts to dissolve, his DNA literally breaking apart – one would assume, to seed the earth.  The image of the alien dissolving is pretty cringe-worthy, but so well-shot and so fascinating and creepy.  It was the perfect way to open the movie, that’s for sure.

Throughout the rest of the film, the cinematography is equally wonderful.  Ridley Scott, the screen-writers, the set designer, and the cinematographer all took tremendous care with the visuals of the story.  The visuals are highly important in this movie.  The attention to detail, the atmospheric nature, the grand scale and immensity of everything, not to mention how CREEPY a lot of it is.  And the camera captures all of it so beautifully.  Seriously, if nothing else, go see it for the visual interest – it’s like a moving piece of art.

Then there are the actors.  The casting for this movie was so well done.  Swedish actress, Noomi Rapace plays Dr. Elizabeth Shaw, an archeologist, who along with her partner/boyfriend Charlie Holloway (played by Logan Marshall-Green), are the scientists pretty much in charge of the mission on the Prometheus. Noomi Rapace is really making a name for herself.  She played Lisbeth Salander in the original film version of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, and she was in the second Sherlock Holmes movie (and she only learned to speak English in time to film Sherlock Holmes!), and she is a very very good actress.  She does such an amazing job in this movie, with a character who is incredibly smart, more than a little naïve, sympathetic, and tough.

Then there’s Charlize Theron.  My GOD, she looks GOOD in this movie.  It’s just not fair.  And, as usual, she is phenomenal as the cold, calculating, self-serving corporate leader of the Prometheus mission, Meredith Vickers. This character walks that fine line between being emotionless and self-serving to the point of being almost-but-not-quite evil.  She’s CREEPY, and she’s not even really a bad guy.  Just kind of a bitch.  And Charlize Theron plays it so well.

Last, but certainly not least among the main characters, there is Michael Fassbender as David, the android (like Ash, from the original Alien movie, though in Prometheus, everyone already knows he’s an android).  This character was absolutely fascinating, a total enigma.  And Michael Fassbender was EXCELLENT.  Seriously excellent.  David is an odd character – childlike in ways, sometimes sympathetic, but also with this weird underlying… I don’t know, jealousy? bitterness? arrogance?, because of the way the humans treat him.

No one pays much attention to him or is even mildly polite to him except for Shaw – and, of course, we should all know by now that is a BAD idea to mistreat a robot who is WAY stronger and smarter than any human.  You get this weird sense that David wants people to acknowledge how smart he is, and feels superior to humans because of his strength and intelligence, but also wants to be human at the same time.  He does some pretty despicable things in this movie (I’m trying very hard not to give away too much!), but you can’t quite hate him and you can’t really blame him, because the humans do NOT treat him well.  And Michael Fassbender plays him with this kind of blankness, this vacancy in his face and movements, and yet with very subtle touches of expression, of tone, or movement, that hint at something lying just beneath the surface, as if David can feel more than he or anyone else imagines – despite the fact that androids purportedly have no emotions.  Michael Fassbender’s light touch is just so well done, so balanced and subtle.  It’s definitely impressive.

All of the other actors, including Idris Elba as the captain of the ship, do not get nearly as much screen time and are not nearly as important to the plot, but they still do a good job.  They give the whole film a sense of realism and immediacy, a sense of real people in real crisis situations, that would not be believable with a less talented cast.  All without overtaking the film, being too melodramatic, or stealing the scenes from the important characters (and Idris Elba’s interactions with Charlize Theron are pretty fun too).

As for the plot itself…  It’s complex and it keeps you guessing, keeps you on your toes, without every getting so convoluted that it risks bogging itself down – at least not to me, others might disagree (after all, where I found Inception totally lucid, though complex, some people complained that it made no sense whatsoever – of course, I worry about people like that, but that’s beside the point).  There is a LOT going on in this film.  The first half-hour or so is a little slow-moving.  It’s not a BAD thing to me, it’s not slow as in boring, more as in atmospheric. It’s like a slow crescendo at the beginning of symphony.  Just because the music isn’t fast or frenetic doesn’t mean it’s not full of power and interest.  And you know your patience will be well worth it anyway.  So, yes, the opening is slow in pace, but it WORKS, at least for me.  And then, once it picks up, OH BOY does it pick up.  The last forty minutes or so?  CRAZY INTENSE.

All of this is helped along quite liberally by a very well-written, beautiful, and intense score by Marc Streitenfeld.  The music fits the movie so well: atmospheric, creepy, with slow build-ups and intense explosions of power and sound.  I already mentioned how the score bolsters the opening sequence.  The whole movie is like that.  I’m definitely going to have buy the soundtrack later.  There are few things I love more than a really good movie score.

Last, but certainly not least, is the long list of connections to the original Alien movie.  Now, there is not a 1 for 1 correlation between things in this movie and things in Alien.  It doesn’t quite work like that.  But if you’re a fan of Alien and pay attention, it is a TON of fun to catch all the little references.  I had to have my brother’s help with that.  I love the first and second Alien movies, but I have trouble remembering as many of the little details as my brother does.  Still, here are justa couple things to keep in mind.

First, Prometheus takes place on the moon LV-223, whereas Alien takes place on the moon LV-426 – so the ships the Prometheus finds and all the details in this movie do NOT correlate with actual scenes from Alien.  The alien ship that the Nostromo finds in Alien is a DIFFERENT SHIP than the one that the crew of the Prometheus find.  However, it is the same KIND of ship.  And the Space Jockey from Alien?  Yeah, some kind of alien as the main aliens in Prometheus.

Second, because Prometheus focuses on the Engineers, the humanoid-looking aliens who seeded the Earth (and who are the same kind of alien as the Space Jockey) you are NOT going to see the traditional black-skinned long-faced alien or the face-huggers and chest-bursters from Alien.  However, because it is a prequel, it is easy to guess that the plot of Prometheus leads INTO the aliens from the Alien movies (and oh my god, I’m getting sick of typing the word “alien”).

For a more in-depth look into the connections between the movies, check out this explanation Screenrant: “Prometheus – Alien Connection Explained.”

I could probably go on and on if I really wanted to, but I think this covers all the big stuff, except for the ending.  Without giving too much away, I will say that the ending is a bit cliff-hangery and you are left with WAY more questions than you had the beginning of the film, but I think this is intentional.  My brother and I have been debating how many of the holes and questions are intentional for the purposes of leading into a sequel and how many are accidental due to holes in the writing itself.  The only way to find out, of course, is to wait for a sequel, which we’re both PRETTY sure is in the offing.

The main thing you should get out of all of this is: if you haven’t seen Prometheus yet, YOU NEED TO.  GO NOW.  It is absolutely phenomenal.  The intensity, the attention to detail, the beautiful cinematography, the excellent cast, the fun references to Alien… it all equals a movie that is WELL worth the money and the time.  In fact, I recommend seeing it more than once.  I’m hoping to go again soon and see how many small details I may have missed the first time.

Seriously, just go see it.  You can thank me later.

Also, you should check out Andrew Kincaid’s rundown of the biology behind the film over on his blog.

AND, here’s the trailer again, too, just to cover all my bases:

The Avengers KICKED ASS, and other films worth considering

Hi folks! I’m being a bad bad student… I should be working on a paper that’s due next monday, but instead I’m here.  But I just had to share a few things.  So give me a few minutes and then I’ll be out of your hair and back to work.

Thanks to my brother, who is a film production student and can get a hold of these things, I was able to go to an advanced screening of The Avengers last night.  The advanced ticket passes did not guarantee entrance, so we had to stand in line for 2 1/2 hrs, and the event was BADLY organized by the AMC people and the Disney reps.  So much so, that I was really REALLY beginning to regret going to thing as I finally sat down in the 2nd row of the theatre.  Half-way through the movie: I wasn’t regretting it anymore.

I don’t want to give away too much, but I want to take a few minutes to sing this movie’s praises.

First of all, The Avengers was visually STUNNING.  I saw it in 3D, which I’m not usually a big fan of, but this 3D was done very well.  They didn’t overdo it, and a few times I was actually impressed by the depth it added to the image.  The special effects were AMAZING.  And the fight scenes were AWESOME.  So well choreographed, so well done by the actors, stunt-men, and FX people, and for the most part very cleanly filmed.  You know how sometimes in movies the fight scenes get very blurry so you can’t quite tell what’s going on?  This is a problem in a lot of Christopher Nolan’s films, for instance, because of the way he shoots things: too close to the action, too many close-ups on faces and various body-parts, lots of zooming around with the camera, so you can’t tell who’s doing what.  This movie did that one or twice (every action movie does), but for the most part it was very easy to keep track of what was going on.

Second, the moment I first heard Joss Whedon would be directing and writing the screenplay, I was pretty much sold.  I knew he would do a good job, and I was SO right.  Whedon put his signature on this film.  Lots of little references (Galaga, for one), and, of course, really really snappy funny dialogue.  The dialogue was HILARIOUS.  And, thanks to good acting and good direction, the dialogue worked really well in the movie.

And that’s the third big thing: the actors were fantastic.  Of course, I already loved Robert Downey Jr, and Chris Evans had done a good job in Captain America so I was okay with him, but I was pretty skeptical about Mark Ruffalo – especially because Edward Norton had done such a wonderful job as The Hulk, and I was pissed that Marvel had kicked him off the project merely because they didn’t want to give him the credit he deserved.  But Mark Ruffalo did a good job, and made the character his own.  And everyone else was marvelous (hehe) as well.

The plot was fun and quick paced.  The ending was satisfying.  There was so drama, but lots and LOTS of laughter in the audience last night.  The dialogue seriously had the whole theatre in stitches.  People, you seriously need to see this movie.  It was absolutely FANTASTIC.

Okay, time to switch gears for a moment.  I’m still talking about films here, but these are two Kickstarter projects I would to give shout outs to.

For those who don’t know what Kickstarter is: it’s a crowdsource funding site.  People pots projects on Kickstarter in order to ask for pledges/donations, and offer various awards for different price levels.  You can donate as little as a dollar, but of course the more you donate the cooler the awards.  The thing is, Kickstarter puts a 30 day limit on all fundraising events, the project must indicate a minimum price goal, and if that goal is not met by the end of the 30 days, they don’t get ANY of the money pledged so far.

Both of the projects I’m talking about today are ending on May 6th.  They only have a couple days left, and they are SO close to meeting their goals, but are having trouble making that final push.  I have donated to both, and I REALLY want to see how they turn out, so here’s me hoping some of you will consider checking them out and donating something.

#1: Dust, a scifi/fantasy film by indie company Ember Labs.  Check out their fundraising video:

Check out their Kickstarter page for more info, and to donate.

#2: Even Though The Whole World is Burning, a documentary about American poet W.S. Merwin (who has won the Pulitzer twice, and is also a political and ecological activist).

I couldn’t get the embedded video to work for this one, so please check out their Kickstarter page to watch their fundraising video and get more info.

I hope you all will consider donating a few dollars.  I think these are both very worthy projects.  If you aren’t impressed after you see the videos, well… I worry for you. ^_^

Okay, folks, that’s everything.  Time for me to get back to the scramble through final papers.  See ya later! Thanks! 

Happy New Year the Science Fiction Way

Science/Fantasy Monday: Happy New Year the Science Fiction Way

Happy New Year to everyone!

On Saturday night, as I was waiting to welcome the new year, I kept thinking about my two favorite science fiction new year’s events: The pilot episode of Futurama, and the Doctor Who made-for-tv movie from 1996.  And I suddenly I found myself trying desperately to remember what other tv shows featured an important New Year’s Eve related episode.  I could only come up with a couple more.  Here’s what I came up with:

Doctor Who (made-for-tv movie, 1996):

In this movie, the only on-air portrayal of the 8th Doctor by Paul McGann (though he is featured in many radio dramas and in the comics and tie-in books), the 7th Doctor is killed while attempting to bring the remains of the (supposedly executed) Master back home to Gallifrey, and the 8th Doctor awakens in a hospital on New Year’s Eve in 1999.  While the Master (in the form of a strange ooze) takes over the body of an EMT with plans to eventually take over the Doctor’s body instead, the Doctor finds himself working with a medical doctor, Grace Holloway to stop the Master and save the world (again)… just in time to ring in the New Millennium.

Futurama – “Space Pilot 3000” (Season 1, Ep 1, 1999):

This, the pilot episode of Futurama, began us on one of the greatest animated televisions shows of all time, as Philip J. Fry, hapless pizza delivery boy, falls into a cryogenic chamber on New Year’s Eve 1999 and awakens on New Year’s Eve 2999.  Having found himself alone in the future, Fry quickly befriends the smart-ass robot Bender and the tough one-eyed woman Leela, and finds a new job of a delivery boy working for his Great-great-great(ad infinitum)-nephew Professor Hubert J. Farnsworth.  And thus, a legend was born.

Babylon 5 – “Chrysalis” (Season 1, Ep 22, 1994):

This was a BIG episode, folks.  It was the finale of the first season of Babylon 5, and almost every single scene in this relentlessly paced episode was vitally important to the complex main story arc.  This is the episode the kicks off all the major events that will comprise the main conflicts of season 2 and onward.  Mollari makes his infamous devil’s deal with Morden, leading to the deaths of 10,000 Narns, and leading G’kar to leave the station to investigate.  The President of Earth is assassinated, making the corrupt Vice President Morgan Clark President.  And Delenn enters the cocoon that will eventually lead to her transformation from a pure Minbari to a Minbari-human hybrid.  Like I said, folks: this was a BIG episode.

X-Files – “Millennium” (Season 7, Ep 4, 1999):

And speaking of big episodes: this episode of X-Files was big for a couple reasons.  First, it was a cross-over episode with Millennium, Chris Carter’s other big conspiracy theory mystery tv show, which followed ex-FBI agent Frank Black as he investigated the mysterious criminal actions of the shadowy Millennium Group.  This cross-over was important because Millennium had been unceremoniously canceled and Chris Carter wanted to give the show some kind of closure.  But the REAL importance of this episode, as all true fans know, comes from the ending of the episode.  After the events have been wrapped up, with Dick Clark’s New Year’s Rockin’ Eve playing on a television in the background, Mulder and Scully share their first on-screen kiss.  The thing we’d been waiting for practically since the pilot episode in 1993.

I keep thinking there have to be more science fiction episodes that feature New Year’s Eve, but I just can’t remember anymore!  If you can think of any I’m missing, please let me know!

In other New Year’s news:

2011 was an interesting year for me.  After graduating with my Master’s degree in 2010, failing to get into a PhD program that year, and going through a bad depression cycle in the second half of 2010, I entered 2011 with very few expectations and quite a lot of bitterness and cynicism.  But 2011 proved an important year for me.  I traveled a lot to visit friends one of whom I had not seen in 3 years!  I went to Disneyland for the first time! I got my footing in blog-writing, and was even featured on WordPress’s front page “Freshly Pressed.”  I was FINALLY accepting into a PhD program in the Spring, and then began the coursework for that PhD program in the Fall.  Two of my papers were published in a brand new small academic journal at University of Houston.  And over the summer, I did something I had begun to fear I would never do I finished a whole draft a novel.

I cannot begin to explain how grateful I am to the Powers That Be that 2011 ended up being a much better year than I thought it would be.

And now I have big plans to make 2012 just as good, or even better.  the Spring 2012 semester will be the first big sign of whether I can actually survive the PhD program or not.  One of my papers will be published in a larger, fairly-well-known academic journal in Summer 2012.  And I plan to finish revisions on the second draft of the novel I finished writing last year.  And that’s all for starters.

Now, if only I get a date on occasion, I’d be all set… ^__^

In any case, I have high hopes for 2012, and I hope you all to do.  Hope can be difficult, and sometimes silly, but sometimes it makes all the difference, and sometimes it’s the only thing we have.  So here’s hoping!

If you’d like to share some of your hopes/plans for 2012, please feel free! I’d love to hear about them!

We Want to Believe in X-Files 3

Science/Fantasy Monday: We Want to Believe in X-Files 3

Calling on Science Fiction fans and X-Philes! There’s a new Twitter campaign to get an X-Files 3 movie greenlit.  Admittedly, even I don’t really believe that trending on Twitter is going to directly cause 20th Century Fox to make a new movie, BUT if we can get this hashtag: #XF3 to Trend on Twitter perhaps the producers will realize that there are enough of us fans out there still who are willing to pay money to see another X-Files movie, making it worthwhile for them to at least consider it.

The organization of this campaign is thanks to the folks at X-Files News.com, and you can go here for an explanation of how the campaign is working (it started last night), and here for the latest “Twitter Power Window” schedules, during which they are trying to get everyone in the world to Tweet in the same 2-hour window.

However, the hope is that people will continue to Tweet using the #XF3 hashtag from now until Hawaii hits midnight on Nov 22nd.

So come on folks! Come join the fun! Flood @20thcenturyfox with more #XF3 tweets than they know what to do with, and show them that the Philes are still alive and well.  We’re ready and willing to spend money on a new movie if the producers are.  You know we haven’t had enough Mulder and Scully yet! So make sure Twitter knows it!

We want to come back!

My Two-Cents on World-Building

Free-For-All Friday: My Two-Cents on World-Building

Hello everyone! It’s Nov 4th, which means all us NaNoWriMo nuts are now knee-deep into the writing frenzy.  Some people are already pulling ahead with word counts in the 10-15,000 range.  I, however, spent Tuesday (the first day of NaNo) frantically trying to grade papers and finish homework, that I am already behind.  By last night, to stay on pace, I should have had 5,000 words, but I went to bed having written only 4,000 (and that, just barely).  Still, I have hopes that I will be able to catch up a little over the weekend.  We shall see…

Speaking of NaNo though, I wanted to share a little of my world-building with you because I think world-building is one of the most important and most enjoyable aspects of writing fiction especially in fantasy and certain areas of science fiction when you are quite literally creating entire new worlds for your characters to inhabit.

I am not by any means an expert on world-building, of course.  If you want expert advice, I highly recommend Orson Scott Card’s How to Write to Science Fiction and Fantasy and World-Building by Stephen Gillet.  But, of course, I have plenty of opinions on the matter.  Detailed, thoughtful world-building can make the difference between a fantasy novel that is mildly interesting and/or cliché, and one that is unique, immersive, and exciting.  That is not to say that my worlds ARE all that unique, immersive, or exciting yet, but I’m working on it.

I could go on about physical world-building: continents, climates, and so forth, but for now, I’m just talking about creating a society/culture.  To that end, there are some very important elements that should be involved.  Some of these are obvious: government, cultural norms (are your people militaristic, artistic, pacifist, do they love to dance, are they vegetarians, etc), physical characteristics (if they differ from humans), and sometimes religion.  These are obviously important.  But there are others that are sometimes forgotten such as: economic systems, interactions with other societies, architecture (this one’s huge, folks!), and gender roles (even more huge, folks!).

Admittedly, this is all just my own two cents, so take it for what it’s worth.  Which probably isn’t much.  *shrug*

Just to give you an idea of how I go about world-building, I thought I’d share some of what I’ve come up with for my NaNoWriMo story.  I haven’t yet put it into any kind of systematic format.  I usually just write down everything I can think of about the society and worry about systematizing and filling in details later.  And keep in mind that this is still pretty early in the development stage, but in any case, might be interesting.  So, here is what I have on the Bheidien, which are the “mermaid” people in my twisted weird retelling of The Little Mermaid.

The Bheidien (which translates as “People of the Sea”):

The Bheidien are a race of people who, several millennia ago, chose to leave land and adapt themselves to living in the ocean.  They are part humanoid and part fish in appearance, with a variety of different styles and colors of tail, fin, and scale.  They are not actually related to fish at all; their ancestors merely used magic to mimicked fish as the adapted to the sea and evolved.

The royal family have traditional passed on a number of physical traits that follow two general family lines: one side have a more delicate feathered and colorful tail and fin (like a male Siamese fighting fish), and one side tends like look somewhat shark-like in shape and color.

All Bheidien have human heads, necks, shoulders, and arms, with scales beginning somewhere around the chest or torso and getting gradually thicker further down the tail.  They have two pairs of eyelids — one a normal “human” pair, and the other a clear pair that close in water and open in air.  They also have gill-slashes on either side of the neck for breathing, and feathered, fin-like extensions at the tips of their ears.

They can speak in water by use of long, thick vocal cords that are adapted to water, but because of the changes of sound in water, their language is slow, filled with high and low pitches, clicks, etc, and musical in quality — but still with actual words, and a vocabulary and grammar that is closely related to the parent language of the Cuval.

No, they can’t speak with fish.  (Just because humans live on land with animals doesn’t mean they can necessarily talk with them, right?)  Yes, they do sometimes eat fish. (Just because humans live on land with animals doesn’t mean they don’t eat them sometimes, right?)

The Bheidien have a fairly simple culture that relies heavily on tradition.  There are three separate kingdoms that do not have much contact with each other (being rather spread out in a very large ocean), but they are all fairly similar in basic structure: a city-state kingdom, with a magical “wall” that protects the kingdom from storms, hard currents, and more aggressive creatures like sharks; ruled by a monarchy, with a small but powerful nobility (of approximately 4 or 5 families depending on the kingdom); and a citizenry that is not much involved in politics or power, but is stable.

The Bheidien are powerful magical practitioners, though their kind of magic is somewhat different from the Cuval, and relies almost entirely on the spoken word and song.  They treasure singing.  They love beauty in all things.  They create intricate and beautiful architecture, using coral, other materials, and magic, without having to worry as much as humans do about structural integrity or weight (because of the constant presence of water).  They do not wear clothes, but love jewelry and decoration of all kinds.

The internal economic system is not based on money but on trade.  Goods are provided to the palace and royal family by way of taxes.  The small nobility class earns most of its goods in exchange for providing land and security to the citizenry.  The citizenry does most of the work of hunting (fishing?) and gathering other foodstuff, crafting and trading in other goods, and doing physical labor activities.  The Bheidien kingdoms occasionally trade with each other, and once or twice a year meet to trade with the Cuval (who come out in boats, or find piers, etc).

Revealing the existence of the Bheidien to humans is the worst crime one can commit.  However, the Bheidien still believe that all life of any kind should be respected, so despite their fear of humans, he does not in any way, shape, or form, condone the harm or killing of humans.  While Bheidien society allows for an eldest daughter to take the throne or inherit wealth, many other aspects of Bheidien culture are still patriarchal, so that all the younger daughters have little personal or political power.  Some can claim positions of power by becoming advisors and councillors, but most are only “useful” to the family and the kingdom if they can be married off well.  Men (yes, the Bheidien have a different word, but I’m not going to go into details about the language here, so consider this as “translated”), so: men are still mainly responsibility for the safety of the city, as well as most physical labor and leadership positions.  Women are still considered mainly home-makers, though many are also artists, architects, singers, and magical practitioners, etc.

So, what kinds of world-building do you enjoy doing?  What are the most important elements for you?  Who do you look to for advice/modeling on how it should be done?

Science Fiction Studies

Bookworm Wednesday: Science Fiction Studies

The SFS logo

Okay, so this isn’t actually a BOOK, it’s a scholarly/academic journal called Science Fiction Studies, published out of DePauw University in Indiana, but it’s ABOUT books (and film, and video games, and so on)…  And it’s a very enjoyable read for anyone interested in science fiction from a more academic, theoretical perspective (as well as from a more personal entertainment perspective).

I’ve read a few articles from this journal before, but I was required to do a history/review of a scholarly journal for my Doctoral Studies course we had to choose any scholarly journal that we thought we might be interested in submitting to in the future and it seemed like a good opportunity to do some more reading into this journal.  And I thought I’d share with you all a little of what I learned about this journal, and what it means for those who study science fiction (or would like to, if only English departments took it more seriously, *cough* UH! *cough*), and for those of us who write science fiction.

R.D. Mullen of Indiana State University and Darko Suvin of McGill University, Montreal founded the journal Science Fiction Studies in 1973.  At the time, there were already two other journals that took a scholarly/theoretical approach to science fiction Extrapolation, founded in 1959, and Foundation: the International Review of Science Fiction, founded in 1972.  There had also, since the 1960s, been a growing interest in science fiction in colleges, thanks in part to the founder of Extrapolation, Thomas Clareson (who also founded the Science Fiction Research Association in 1970), and to a handful of college teachers such as Sam Moskowitz, who taught the first non-credit science fiction course in 1953 (Moskowitz 413, Parrinder xv), and Mark Hillegas, who taught the first for-credit science fiction course in 1962 (Williamson 375).

Despite science fiction’s in-vogue status in the 60s and 70s, and the large class-sizes such courses were able to produce, however, there was a general lack of acceptance among most college administrations and faculty members.  Barbara Bengels explains that despite beginning her science fiction course in the 70s when such classes were popular, and despite stressing that her course “would be an historical approach beginning with the classics,” she still dealt regularly with “polite smiles from [her] colleagues and downright sneers from the more rigid traditionalists” (428).  She adds that even nearly twenty-five years later, in the 1990s, she still feels a need to “apologize for teaching a course that [she] love[s]” and explain “how many literary gems are included in [her] syllabus and how intellectually challenging the course is” (Bengels 428).  Furthermore, as Gary Westfahl explains in his introduction to Science Fiction, Canonization, Marginalization, and the Academy, “of all forms of once-neglected literature that now receive significant scholarly attention, science fiction has attracted and continues to attract the most academic resistance” (2).  Even today, many English and literature departments often refuse to allow science fiction courses to be taught, do not allow graduate students to pursue dissertations on science fiction, and sometimes even punish faculty members who publish works on science fiction.  (For instance, the University of Houston does not treat science fiction, or any kind of genre fiction, with much interest or respect.)

And so, in 1973, Mullen and Suvin set out to prove that science fiction studies could be a serious, rigorous, and even important area of literary scholarship.  As Mullen states in the “Notes in Retrospect” of the first volume of Science Fiction Studies, one of the main goals of the journal and its contributors was to “bring the apparatus of critical scholarship fully to bear upon representative works [of science fiction]” and to thus demonstrate that “‘modern science fiction’ can be profitably studied not only as a phenomenon of popular culture but also as literature.”  This remains the goal of Science Fiction Studies currently.

The first issue of Science Fiction Studies should give you an idea of how good this journal would be.  The first issue contained seven articles and book reviews by: David N. Samuelson, Patrick Parrinder, Stanislaw Lem, Mar Angenot, Robert M. Philmus, Ursula K. LeGuin, and Darko Suvin. Both Stanislaw Lem and Ursula K. LeGuin were already enormously well-known and celebrated science fiction novelists (I often wonder how Mullen and Suvin first approached them about contributing to the journal).  They have remained associated with the journal throughout its existence, contributing many articles over the years, and even on occasion appearing as Editorial Consultants.  On the list of Editorial Consultants of the first volume were a few familiar names: James Blish, a well-known fantasy and science fiction novelist who also wrote literary criticism under the pseudonym William Atheling, Jr; Mark R. Hillegas, already mentioned as the first to teach a for-credit science fiction course; and Northrop Frye, the influential literary theorist/critic.  By 1975, Blish had died, but Fredric Jameson, a very well-known Marxist literary theorist, had been added to the list and had also contributed several articles to the journal.

The journal has grown a reputation for being especially strong in the areas of genre, international science fiction, feminism and queer theory, and postmodernism (Zook).  This is evident in such recent articles as “The First Wave: Latin American Science Fiction Discovers Its Roots” by Rachel Haywood Ferreira, and “Becoming Medusa: Octavia Butler’s Lilith’s Brood and Sociobiology” by Adam J. Johns; as well as in Vol. 38:1 (Mar 2011), the special issue on Bruce Sterling’s 1989 essay “Slipstream,” a term coined by Sterling to discuss fiction that was not strictly science fiction but continued “anti-realistic” elements what is generally referred to now postmodernism (Sterling).  The journal has also become increasingly more open to other mediums, including film, comic books, television, art, video games, and even music.  Just as an example: in Vol. 29: 3, the special issue on “Japanese Science Fiction,” several articles discuss Japanese animation such as in “When the Machines Stop: Fantasy, Reality, and Terminal Identity in ‘Neon Genesis Evangelion’ and ‘Serial Experiments: Lain’.”  Also, in Vol. 37: 2 there was included an article called “‘Sounds Like a Human Performance’: The Electronic Music Synthesizer in Mid-Twentieth-Century SF,” which discusses the role of electronic music and instruments in mid-century science fiction.  These are just a few examples of the variety of mediums that have been added to the canon of science fiction by virtue of the journal’s willingness to treat them seriously.

I could go on about this journal for hours, if you let me, but this bit of history should give you some idea of the scope, seriousness, and prestige of this journal but more than that, it should be obvious how much these editors and the writers who submit essay to this journal love science fiction and everything connected to it.  While the journal is often very theoretical, I think just about anyone with a serious love and fascination for science fiction should be able to get something interesting and/or useful out of reading one or two issues of Science Fiction Studies.  And keep an eye out, because SOMEDAY I’m going to have articles published in it too.

Note: here are a few of the articles I reference in this, for those who are curious:

Bengels, Barbara. “The Pleasures and Perils of Teaching Science Fiction on the College Level.” Science Fiction Studies 23:3 (Nov 1996): 428-431.

Moskowitz, Sam. “The First College-Level Course in Science Fiction.” Science Fiction Studies 23:3 (Nov 1996): 411-422.

Mullen, R.D. “Notes in Retrospect.” Science Fiction Studies 1:1 (Fall 1973): 3.

Parrinder, Patrick. Science Fiction: Its Criticism and Teaching. London: Methuen, 1980. Print.

Westfahl, Gary. “Introduction: Masters of the Literary Universe.” Science Fiction, Canonization, Marginalization, and the Academy Eds. Gary Westfahl and George Slusser. Westport, CT: Greenwood, 2002. 1-4. Print.

Williamson, Jack. “On Science Fiction in College.” Science Fiction Studies 23:3 (Nov 1996): 375-376.

Zook, Jim. “Daring Journal of ‘SF’ Theory.” The Chronicle of Higher Education Jun 1, 1994. Chronicle News Archives <http://chronicle.com/article/Daring-Journal-of-SF-Theory/91159&gt;