The Man in the Maze, by Robert Silverberg, is classic Science Fiction at its best

The one thing that occurs to me about the great, classic science fiction stories is how the writers could tell such complex, thoughtful, exciting stories, and do it in fewer than 200 pages. The Man in the Maze does that to perfection.

"Alas! Poor Yorick...I knew him well"It is a story of isolation and social alienation. I know that sounds strange; exciting and social alienation in the same description. The story is about a diplomat named Richard Muller. He is picked to go represent the human race to an Alien race, the first intelligent life humans had discovered. Something happens to him that opens a psychic ability and broadcasts his emotions, and feelings. Unfortunately humans can’t tolerate it and he becomes an outcast amongst his own people. He decides to put himself in isolation on an abandoned planet within a dangerous maze.

The maze is deadly to all who try to get through it, but Muller makes it through to the center where he can live in peace without any interaction with anyone. He sets up shop with supplies he brought as well as the local animals for sustenance. He believes he will live out the rest of his days there in his misery.

This is an extreme look at isolation and can hit a nerve with anyone. We all at one time or another feel isolated and want to be alone. It is strange how we hate the isolated feeling but contrive to be alone at the same time. This book highlights this part of the human condition beautifully.

After nine years Muller’s isolation is interrupted by earth coming a calling. Earth needs him for one more diplomatic mission. Another alien race has discovered them and is trying to enslave them, not knowing humans are thinking, feeling, people. Muller would be proof of that for these new aliens. The drama involved with the decision Muller has to make, coupled with the action of his fellow humans having to run the deadly maze to get to him, makes for a deep, yet action packed ride of a story.

Now I always have loved a good big book. I was excited when I got my last Harry Potter book and it was as monstrous as the previous one. Yet there is a stark beauty to a story with just a few named characters, a relatively simple premise, and galaxy spanning implications, told in a short amount of time. Silverberg manages to pack these weighty themes into an action packed tale with no feeling of rushing the pace. The Man in the Maze is a great piece of art to be enjoyed and cherished.

That’s not Silverberg to the right, just me.

 

Thoughts?

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What is the allure of comic books and the movies they spawn?

The new Captain America is in theaters and kicking butt. After reading some reviews and seeing some interviews I began wondering what the attraction is. I love a good superhero adventure as much as the next person, but what is it that draws us to these stories? I can honestly say I do not know, but I suspect it is a combination of things.

Spiderman

image from inerestingspree.com

Some of it is from childhood. That is where I first got hooked; Spiderman was and still is my favorite! My brother is a Superman fan. Some people loved Batman or the Dark Knight as he is called now. Iron man, The Hulk, or The Avengers for that really big superhero fix. It was fun as a kid to read these stories of people who can do amazing things, and use those amazing things to help the rest of us. It is still fun as an adult and maybe that is why they are doing so well now.

It is no longer, like Trix, just for kids. Graphic novels have been doing well for years, and people no longer look sheepish when they say they are reading comic books. Going to see the latest superhero movie is talked about in water cooler moments the world over. Comic Con is a massive event now, and again there is less sheepishness in admitting the desire to go to one. I would love to, and fully intend to the first chance I get. I think as a culture we have finally given in to the need to let our inner child out from time to time. It is freeing, relaxing, and we can forget about the dismal day to day of work and bad news on the television.

It also could be that we, as a culture, like violent movies and images. Superhero movies make indulging a little less of a guilty pleasure because, A. it’s a comic hero, it is not serious, and B. they fighting for all the right reasons, to save the day. Most of the movies, in the end, have no ambiguity to the bad guys. They need to be stopped, period. Sure the faces behind the masks have their own problems but when they put on the suits it is all about mom, apple pie and baseball. At least that is what we tell ourselves. The fact that the heroes are in costumes and masks adds just a touch of silliness, that take away from how serious the crimes and people committing them are. No matter how nasty the criminals, most of the time they are in costumes too.

These are just two thoughts on why comics and the resulting movies are so popular. It could be a bit of both, one or another, or neither and I am full of it. It does make me wonder though. What about you?

Thoughts?

Star Trek’s influence in all that is good in televised Sci-Fi.

When Star Trek ended everyone thought, that was it. Syndication proved otherwise. Soon it was on every night and the first fans were telling people, “I told you it was good.” Or new viewers were asking, “Why didn’t we know about this and why is it not still on.” People loved the stories and action. It was both dramatic and exciting. This is the “it” I mentioned earlier. They showed other writers of television, as well as the studios themselves, that this could be done and have a possibility of being profitable. More and more people began writing what they really wanted to write. There has been some good and some bad like anything else, but the writing gloves came off more or less. (I know censors have been and always will be there for television.) I am talking about dramatic content becoming broader as to what was acceptable on television. It was a wonderful thing. That response to Gene Rodenberry’s vision has brought us many great television shows.

 

There has been; Battlestar Galactica, (new and old). Babylon 5, Farscape, many more Star Trek series and more to come of those I am sure, the quintessential Sci-Fi series, The X-Files, Warehouse 13, and on and on. The confidence and belief it would be allowed on Television came from the success of the original Star Trek. It is what I have come to think of as the Beatles effect. The Beatles began writing and playing what they wanted and it worked so others followed that path. J.R.R. Tolkien did it for fantasy literature by reinvigorating old style faerie tales and many have followed that path as well. Every now and then a particular genre of art gets a boost from serious talent and it is never the same again.

 

Like Tolkien and especially the Beatles, culture was affected as well. Think about that for a minute. Our whole culture was affected by a t.v. show that only lasted for 79 episodes. Everyone has seen a Star Trek episode unless they have never seen a t.v. especially now a day with five different television series and god knows how many episodes of some kind of Star Trek. I have heard there are those who deny ever watching an episode. Like I said, they don’t own a TV. Or they are one of that who have probably seen an episode or two and just thinks it is a badge of honor to say they never saw one. Even the people who truly have never watched any Star Trek know about it. Most everyone is familiar with the names Kirk, Spock, and Dr. McCoy. Others who have seen a few episodes would also know the names of Uhura, Sulu, Chekov, and Scotty. Beam me up Scotty is a phrase everyone knows. That is truly a part of our culture.

 

So, as I thank the Beatles for Led Zeppelin, J.R.R. Tolkien for Terry Brooks, I thank Gene Roddenberry and Star Trek for The X-Files. I hope the journeys continue to go where no one has gone before.

 

image from fanpop.com

image from fanpop.com

Thoughts?

Star Trek expanded the possibilities for Sci-Fi television.

To continue the Sci-Fi theme for this week; let’s talk about Star Trek shall we? I will be sticking to the original series for this post, although feel free to add you own bits on anything relating to Sci-Fi in the comment section. What do think of when you think of the original Star trek? Cheesy acting, stories, and special effects that can be done on a camera phone today? Yeah that is the usual response I get. But think about it for a moment. Those special effects were better than anything else out at the time. 40 years from now people will be scoffing at digital recordings and the current HD. It was the stories in the original series that keeps the Star Trek universe alive today. Those cheesy, moralistic, wonderful stories that proved it could be done. (The first two seasons anyway. I make no allowances for most of the third.) What was “it” that could be done? Real story telling in the Sci-fi genre is “it”.

Sci-Fi books had been doing “it” since the beginning. There is H.G. Wells and Mary Shelly to name just two for now. Even the movies of the day were more stylistic with the writing, but television was a whole other ball of wax. Twilight Zone and the Outer Limits were the big shows and they were fantastic, yet they had different characters and completely different stories every week. Episodic television, in the Sci-Fi genre, was pretty barren. The comparison I am going to use is the old Lost in Space, the show, not the movie.

That show had two things, what could charitably be called the monster of the week, and a kid who was annoying and cutesy. Nothing else was ever accepted by the networks until Star Trek came along and it took Gene Rodenberry, the creator of Star Trek, at trip to several networks and the promise he could do it on the cheap. Once he got it going however, and hired the right writers, he started something that will not end.

Star Trek never had a standard ‘monster of the week”. The monsters on Star Trek were different. In the episode, The Devil in the Dark, there is a monster killing miners. They eventually find out it is called a Horta, and the Horta is killing the miners because the miners are unknowingly killing the Horta’s children. Not a typical monster, you actually start rooting for the Horta by the end. Star Trek created think pieces. An action adventure story in space with moral conundrums buried in the episodes. Roddenberry managed to give the studio action, they did not notice he slipped in something more. Many of the 79 episodes were like this and that is what changed the television landscape forever. Tomorrow I will tell you my thoughts on how I think that happened.The-Magnificent-Seven-star-trek-the-original-series-

 

What do you think?

 

 

image from fanpop.com

Firefly will not be back, we need to get used to that idea.

Firefly

 

Joss Whedon’s Firefly is arguably one of the most beloved sci-fi shows ever to be broadcast on television. I saw another article yesterday on how it needs to be brought back. People have been writing articles on the subject for years and it has not happened yet. Let’s face it people, however badly we want it; it is not going to happen.

Now fan demands managed to get a movie made, Serenity, yet sadly that did not spark a return of the show. Whedon and the cast have all stated they would love to do it, it is as beloved by them as much as the rest of us fans. Yet it still has not happened. I do not believe that studios are real keen on the idea. It is their loss but we have a long history of studios and their decisions on what stays and what goes and it is a depressing history. It has been almost 12 years since the show went off the air and that presents an even bigger problem.

Joss Whedon has finally been recognized by Hollywood for his genius and that means he is now in very high demand for extremely big money projects. He is getting to create things his way and that has to feel good for him. This also means he is most likely booked solid for the next ten years and fitting in Firefly, which is not of much interest to the studio suites, would be as uphill a battle as ever.

The cast have moved on as well. Nathan Fillion has his show Castle, so even if he would come running when Whedon called, he has contractual obligations. So do others from the original cast. This too makes it highly unlikely that a reboot is possible at this point. They all loved the show but they all have moved on by economic necessity. They cannot be blamed for that any more than the people who want to see it back on the air can be blamed for that desire. It was an amazing show in all respects. I would attempt actual back flips if the show was to come back with all hands on deck. Let’s face it though, it is not coming back, and I won’t be doing flips.

So let us rejoice in the show that was and all the smiles and excitement it brought. Firefly deserves that.

So do us fans.

Thoughts?

The Beatles part 2. Good Morning, Good Morning, Good….

The Beatles took the flame of Rock and realized, like early man, that flame can be used to make things. You can forge things with it, anything you want. I think this came about for them because after The Ed Sullivan Show they went from a popular band to the biggest band in the world. They realized they were the main money earner for the record label so they could do what they wanted, and they did.

Despite George Martin, their producer’s objections, they stuck to their guns and became even more popular for it. They proved that if you have the talent, doing what you want works. The Beatles left the Rock and Roll formula far behind and started singing about deeper things and feelings. They used influences from all over the world, wrote about politics, peace and love. They wrote dirges and still wrote old school good time rock. Other talented musicians saw this and realized they didn’t want to be restrained to a formula either.

More important than that was the record companies saw what The Beatles had done, and allowed the shift from formula in their studios. Suddenly you had talented musicians writing their own stuff and trying new sounds. Sure not all of it worked but that is unimportant, because some of it did. Like in science, the experiment is the thing. Soon you had bands like Led Zeppelin putting out albums with hard English rock and California folk music on the same album! Audiences loved it.

The old rock and roll was about doing what you wanted too, it was just restrained to a handful of topics. Dating, cars, love, anything that annoyed kids parents. The Beatles took the do what you want attitude and expanded it, and now Rock and Roll has no limits. If a band has talent, the sky is the limit to what you write and play. Some bands are strictly metal, cool. Some are a rock and reggae mix, sounds good. Rock and hip hop mix, that will work. Whatever you want and The Beatles are the reason.

So let’s give it up for fifty years since the explosion that was The Beatles expanding music and our minds.

As Rick Emerson of Portland Oregon radio fame used to say, “if you are a new band, the one thing you have to realize is that The Beatles did it first, and better than you will.” Strangely he was not a big Beatles fan, he was just smart enough to realize the truth.

 

Thoughts?

The Beatles, Part One

The fiftieth anniversary of the Beatles Ed Sullivan Show is on February ninth, in 2 days. I was not even born in 1964, but over the years I can see how their music influenced the bands I grew up on, and have loved my whole life. The Beatles music still holds up, despite what would be considered today, stone age recording equipment. I have personally loved the Beatles since my older brother introduced me to them in my pre-teen years. I remember the album Meet the Beatles when I was probably six or seven, Sergeant Peppers, The White Album, Revolver, Rubber Soul, they were all there in the back ground of any music I listened to. I would tell my brother John the music I was into and he would say something like, “Great, that’s cool, have you heard this before?” That’s when the Beatles albums came in.

Thanks John, it is still appreciated.

I have even more appreciation for The Beatles since I realized how their music influenced almost all music that came after. They expanded rock and roll from its roots to being anything the artist wants it to be. More distortion, ok, how about no distortion, that will work too. How about an oboe? Seriously, an oboe? That will work too. Anything you want can be in rock and roll because that is what it morphed into. Thanks to the Beatles. I have a theory on this, let me explain.

Rock and Roll came out of various music styles: blues, hillbilly country, gospel and even some free-wheeling jazz. The first real Rock and Roll stars were Elvis, Chuck Berry, Jerry Lee Lewis, Johnny Cash, and Little Richard just to name a few. In those days Rock and Roll was easily recognizable. A few guitars, bass, drums, maybe a piano and you were good to go. The lyrics were mostly about having a good time: Dances, cars, lover’s lane, being in love, all the classic Rock and Roll topics. These artists and songs are the icons of forties and fifties Rock and were those that started the flame that is rock and roll, that spark that has never gone out and will never go out. The Beatles, intentionally or not, found many uses for the fire that is Rock and Roll. They were writers who let themselves  expand their horizons.

More on this next post,

Thoughts?