Their first sortie took them all of fifty feet from the Ship. They huddled close together for silent comfort and watched their feet to keep from stumbling on this strange uneven deck. They made it without incident until Alan looked up from the ground and found himself for the first time in his life with nothing close to him. He was hit by vertigo and acute agoraphobia; he moaned, closed his eyes and fell. Hugh fought against it. It pulled him to his knees, but he fought it, steadying himself with one hand. However he had the advantage of having stared out through the view port for endless time. “Just sit still and you’ll be all right.”
Dan Simmons’ epic novel Hyperion is a Hugo Award winner, highly praised in the science fiction world and evidence of why I cannot read anymore of the genre. Sci-fi should lend itself to dynamic narratives, to worlds beyond our repetitively predictable laws, but instead becomes mired in the same dreadful aspects: unimaginative writing, flat characters, ill-thought plot and unbelievably stupid words put together in the guise of world-building.
The second law of writing (after Keep It Simple Stupid) would have to be Never begin with “It was a dark and stormy night”. And yet Simmons opens: Bruise black clouds silhouetted a forest of giant gymnosperms while stratocumulus towered nine kilometers high in the violent sky. Lightning rippled along the horizon. (3)
Simmons’ protagonist, The Consul, is singularly bland: (He) turned and dropped into the cushions…nodded and absently raised the scotch to his lips…went to pour another scotch…went outside to lean on the railing…the only sentient being on an unnamed world. (4-6) Sentient? Really?The story jolts forward, Chaucerien style, with each of the seven characters debating whether to share their back-stories:
“Those in favor of telling our tales?”
“I wouldn’t miss this little farce for a month in the orgasm baths at Shote.”
“I think it’s stupid,” said Brawne Lamia.
“The ayes have it. Who wants to start?”
(It’s a shame that they agreed; otherwise Hyperion would have been 400 pages lighter.)
They arrive on the planet Hyperion where the innkeeper informs them: “No food. No wine. No ale.” (113) And yet…a page later: Somehow Leweski had managed to send up a tankard of beer and a basket of bread and cold beef. (114) Truth is, the comically bad narrative often acts as a relief against a backdrop of nonsensical babble: If the fleet did construct a farcaster in time and the Hegemony committed the total resources of FORCE to defending Hyperion, the Worldweb ran the terrible risk of suffering an Ouster attack….yeah, and on.
In Spike Jonze’s new film Her, people are profoundly asocial, lost in their search for happiness and understanding in the digital world.The concrete differences from our world to this not-too-distant future are pants which are worn high above the waist and operating systems (OS) that have been successfully programmed to have human characteristics, including empathy and love. Jonze makes many interesting decisions in this film, including keeping the OS as a voice (no virtual babes) and allowing the OS to evolve as a distinct entity which we, as humans, eventually cannot understand, an idea reminiscent of the cognitive planet offered in Stanilslaw Lem’s Solaris. This thoughtful science fiction piece is well worth seeing not only because it posits an imminent future that is neither doomed nor delightful but also to see a futuristic video game that doesn’t involve killing everyone and actually looks fun to play.
The characters are ridiculous and flat, the setting is barren while the prose are plodding, and that’s putting it nicely. On the few occasions when the scientist priests who ruled the ship under Jordan’s Captain met in full assembly they gathered in a great hall directly above the Ship’s offices on the last civilized deck.(93)
The plot elements and unimaginative prose are indeed so bad as to remind me of my own work as 12-year-old when I concocted the Secret Spitballer’s Society series and for which Mr. Bacon regularly gave me grades of “C” and lower. I only wrote two installments before abandoning ship.
To top it off, there isn’t a single woman in Orphans of the Sky, that is until the final ten pages when the heroes escape to a planet and remember the need for procreation. Hugh’s younger wife bore a fresh swelling on her lip as if someone had persuaded her with a heavy hand. (120) Keep those damned women out of the way. (122)
Integrity is a catch word in the creative business. Whatever the vision, the aim, no matter what, we know that we must keep our integrity intact. We can’t allow the corporate world to debase and pervert our dreams. We cannot compromise ourselves for money. …unless of course that’s what we want to do.
I had a dream. There was a major science fiction film in the works. It involved eight worlds that were interconnected…that was about all they had. But the budget was big, a mega-monster, and somehow I had an inside track on writing the script. I was suddenly willing to do anything to get it. I offered to just give them my novel My Bad Side immediately, the book I’ve been working on for over four years, the book that defines my vision, and they hadn’t even asked for it. “It’s yours! Take it!” Just like that…just so I could maybe write a draft of this giant sell-out thing.