“George Orwell: A Life” by Bernard Crick

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The name “Orwell” is more closely associated with dystopia visions of the future than with a man who lived and breathed. Ever since the publication of 1984, we’ve used the term “Orwellian” to describe suffocating oppression in totalitarian regimes. Yet, George Orwell’s life and political philosophy was more than a condemnation of totalitarianism, as notable as that condemnation was. Bernard Crick’s biography of Orwell – the first of its kind when it was published in 1980 – attempts to understand the man and his works.  Continue reading ““George Orwell: A Life” by Bernard Crick”

“A People’s Future of the United States”

40163361._SY475_I’m a political scientist and I love science fiction, so in some ways A People’s Future of the United States was right up my alley. This is a collection of short stories by progressive science fiction authors about possible visions for America’s future. Some of the stories are more literal extrapolations of present trends into the future. Others try to show how our future could be different – for better or worse. A few work more on a thematic or symbolic level than a literal level.

As I mentioned, these are progressive science fiction authors. The futures imagined in this book all fall along the same political ideology. You won’t find libertarians in the vein of Robert Heinlein in this book. These stories don’t use subtle analogies to try to introduce new points of view or challenge preexisting biases. Rather, they’re bold proclamations about our political future. They’re more about inspiring those who already agree rather than persuading those who don’t. I certainly don’t say that as a criticism, but rather to note that the book will likely appeal most to certain kinds of readers.

I hope this isn’t the last book of its kind. I love the idea of science fiction authors engaging in more (overtly) political storytelling.

“Becoming Superman” by J. Michael Straczynski

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Some of us might know Joseph Michael Straczynski through his work on Babylon 5. Some of us came to know him through his time on the Spider-Man and Superman comic book lines. Some might have found Joe by browsing on Netflix and finding Sense8. Some of us might even know him primarily through his always amusing and often insightful Twitter feed.

Well, unless you’ve read this book, you don’t know Joe. Continue reading ““Becoming Superman” by J. Michael Straczynski”

“Star Wars: Dark Disciple” by Christie Golden

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I am writing an article about Star Wars Expanded Universe references in the animated TV shows for an upcoming book, and so decided to reread Christie Golden’s Dark Disciple. This book is a fascinating case study in transmedia storytelling and adaptation. Dark Disciple is based on scripts written by Katie Lucas for The Clone Wars animated show before it was canceled in 2013. However, the seeds of the story originated in the Dark Horse Comics Republic line, which was part of the Clone Wars multimedia project in the early 2000s. The book both draws upon and contradicts the comics in interesting ways. Continue reading ““Star Wars: Dark Disciple” by Christie Golden”

“Defining a Galaxy” by Bill Slavicsek

51wIkLXTh2L._SX320_BO1,204,203,200_I’m currently working on a project about the Star Wars Expanded Universe – the collection of tie-in novels, comics, video games, and other media before the Disney era – and how it influenced the Star Wars animated TV shows. I picked up Bill Slavicsek’s Defining a Galaxy as part of my research. Slavicsek worked as an editor at West End Games while the company was creating material for Star Wars roleplaying games during the late 1980s and early 1990s. Continue reading ““Defining a Galaxy” by Bill Slavicsek”

“Becoming Dr. Seuss” by Brian Jay Jones

511YVC9L5bL._SX329_BO1,204,203,200_Brian Jay Jones is quickly becoming the foremost chronicler of the lives of American pop culture icons. His biography of Jim Henson is one of my favorite books of the past decade. His treatment of George Lucas wasn’t quite as insightful, perhaps because there have already been many other books about Lucas and Star Wars. His latest book, Becoming Dr. Seuss: Theodor Geisel and the Making of an American Imagination, looks at a very different creative genius.  Continue reading ““Becoming Dr. Seuss” by Brian Jay Jones”

“Star Wars: Master & Apprentice” by Claudia Gray

91AAlmNqJYLIt’s ages since we’ve had a compelling story set during the Prequel Trilogy. As Disney and Lucasfilm have focused on the Sequels and nostalgia for the Original Trilogy, it’s sometimes felt like the Prequels had been left by the wayside. Claudia Gray’s Master & Apprentice captures much of what made me fall in love with this era of Star Wars saga 20 years ago this month (hint: it’s not the acting). Gray is easily the strongest writers currently working in the Star Wars canon. She manages to imbue Qui-Gon Jinn and Obi-Wan Kenobi with a depth only hinted at in The Phantom Menace.

*** Mild Spoilers below *** Continue reading ““Star Wars: Master & Apprentice” by Claudia Gray”

“Infomocracy” by Malka Older

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For a while, I’ve felt that, when it comes to politics, science world-building has been stuck in the past, fixated on stories about galactic empires or rebellions against totalitarian regimes. Governments in science fiction almost never resembles the messy democracies of our world. By contrast, in Malka Older’s Infomocracy, the protagonists are political operatives and central threat is a conspiracy to manipulate an election. This is perhaps the first science fiction story I’ve read that takes electoral institutions seriously and makes them central to the story (not surprisingly, Older is a political scientist). Continue reading ““Infomocracy” by Malka Older”

“The Fall of Hyperion” by Dan Simmons

Fall of Hyperion Front Book CoverIn theory, The Fall of Hyperion is the sequel to Dan Simmons’ Hyperion (reviewed here). However, it feels like it comes from a different franchise. Fans of Hyperion expecting to learn more about the six pilgrims will find themselves disappointed. If anything, Fall of Hyperion draws more from the frame narrative of Hyperion than the short stories.

Fall of Hyperion focuses less on character and more on plot. We spend relatively little time with the pilgrims and more time with Hegemony CEO Meina Gladstone and her war council. As hinted in the end of Hyperion, war has broken out between the Hegemony and Ousters, and as well as an Artificial Intelligence construct. Continue reading ““The Fall of Hyperion” by Dan Simmons”

“Hyperion” by Dan Simmons

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Hyperion by Dan Simmons is an example of a book I don’t enjoy but that I respect immensely. Hyperion is a work of art. It is regularly ranked amongst the top 10 science fiction books of all time. Simmons employs an innovative narrative structure that serves to create a sense of dread. Despite Simmons’ skills as a storyteller, I found Hyperion a difficult story to read.

The book starts off 700 years in the future. Seven pilgrims – a captain, a priest, a soldier, a poet, a scholar, a detective, and a diplomat – travel to the planet Hyperion to visit the Shrike, a mysterious, murderous, quasi-religious figure. While en route, they agree to tell each other their backstories and their reasons for wanting to visit the Shrike (à la Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales). The book then proceeds like a collection of short stories, one for each pilgrim.

Continue reading ““Hyperion” by Dan Simmons”