Saturday, August 5, 2017

Review: "9-11"

What if? In the right hands, the question can generate great stories. In the wrong hands, it can generate bad stories. For inexplicable reasons, some of these stories hit the best-seller list.
Case in point: Marty Fugate’s latest potboiler, “9-11.” Rea
ding through this "near future thriller" (as I am paid to do) several questions spring to mind :
What if a hack writer decided to steal the plot of “The Anderson Tapes,” and expanded it to a geopolitical proportions in a style blatantly lifted from Tom Clancy?
What if …
A neophyte American president was sitting in the Oval Office? A cunning cabal of Arab terrorists (yawn) with engineering degrees was hiding in caves and devising a fiendish plot? A perfect storm of interdepartmental rivalry and compartmentalized intelligence, preventing any law enforcement official from acting on obvious warning signs of this unfolding conspiracy — including the piteous prophecies of the obligatory Cassandra? (With this theft, Mr. Fugate goes a bridge too far. Great writers steal. Bad writers cut-and-paste.) What if a handful of Arab terrorists (armed with box cutters!) hijacked three fully-fueled airplanes and turned them into deadly missiles on a suicide mission?
All of which ends in a successful terrorist attack on …
Wait for it.
The World Trade Center towers!!!
And the Pentagon.
This carnage described in 23 pages of gory detail. A disaster movie Irwin Allen would find in bad taste. (A film adaptation the author dearly and clearly hopes for.)
What if (being symbolically inclined) the aforementioned masterminds launched their attack on the day which corresponds to the American phone number to emergency responders?
What if these supposedly cunning terrorists targeted the same building they tried to demolish two years ago? A presumably well-guarded structure. As opposed to, say, a fresh target? Not the Sears Tower, the Chrysler building, the Pan Am building, no, it has to be the World Trade Center!! Why? Is this terrorism or an extreme form of architectural criticism?
What if an author utterly lacking in shame built a best-seller on the bones of the six victims of the 1993 bombing?
What if enough shameless readers bought his lousy book—and actually read it? Even though they weren’t being paid?
What if?

Friday, August 4, 2017

Days of Future Pest

When most people think of science fiction, they think of film and TV. This expensive realm recycleds a dozen or so plots. Humanity meets evil (or nice) aliens in space. Evil (or nice) aliens invades earth (sometimes in disguise). Humanity fights the aliens, either on space or on the earth. Robots (or computers) take over the world. Thanks to global warming, over-population, bio weapons, an asteroid, nukes, or whatever The world goes to hell. Humanity meets (or becomes) God in space. That’s pretty much it.
What looks new on the screen is sometimes just new to the audience.
Like light from a distant star, it’s only now reaching the eyeballs of sci-fi fanboys.
Like the genre conventions of Raymond Chandler’s detective fiction. Like …
Or, God help us, cowboy stories. Like …
Or, may the Force have mercy, the crappy hackneyed sci-fi serials of the 1930s and 40s—which George Lucas recycled (with a mythological paint job courtesy Joseph Campbell) for 1970s audiences with short memories. Who thought they were looking at something new..
Much to the weeping and gnashing of teeth of the new wave SF writers who were trying to make a living at the time.
Literary science fiction (aka imaginative literature) ius light years ahead of the flickering image. Some of the best s-f short stories and novels have never made it to the big or small screen.
Most sf readers can give you a short list. Or a long oe.. Ringworld, The Forever War, Snow Crash, Neuromancer, Solaris, Bood Music, The Eclipse Triogy, Last and First Men
When they do, there’s usually a thirty year gap. And there’s usually a rip-off.
Science fiction is a literature of ideas. It evokes the unimaginable—which becomes pedestrian when filmmakers are forced to imagine it and put it up on screen.
Science fiction (to pass on a tired observation from the past, is usually about the present.
Some writers extrapolate societies. (Orwell, Burgess, etc.) Gadgets bore them. There stuff is more sociological fiction than science fiction.
Some writers genuinely think about the impact of technology on societies.
Some writers are more interested in tech than people.
Some sci-curious writers jump into bed with both humans and hardware.
Some bring the sharp knifes of Kafka and Borges to a sci-fi playing field. For a nice game of metaphysical mumblety-peg.
Or play the literary glass bead game with Nabakov and Punchon.

And then there’s this core of SF writers who want to write “deeply human stories” that just happen to be science fiction. And might as well not be.