Friday, February 6, 2015

Missing Science Fiction

Folks who think Paraguay must be "something like Mexico," really have no idea. Forget the fact that there's no tortillas here and that people have an aversion to spicy food (truly...the slightest amount of spice throws folks over the edge). They don't even eat beans! There's a saying in Mexico: 'a house without beans is like a house without a roof.' Most homes down here would be open to the sky.

What they do addition to a love of red meat and an incredible, incurable sweet tooth. Dulce de leche oozes out of just about everything and boy-o-boy do people love candy. It's not even about tasty pastries (they're fairly good bakers)'s just about making it sweet.

Ice cold without ice is best.
I recently ordered a gin martini (unlike Mexico, Paraguay has and uses gin) and nearly choked on the damn thing. Haven't ordered one since, but had the chance to talk to a bartender yestereve to figure out if this was a one-time anomaly or not. Turns out: not. In the United States, a dry martini is usually four parts gin (five parts when I'm pouring 'em) to one part vermouth (a sweetish, white wine used mainly for cocktails). Pure deliciousness, especially with Bombay Saphire gin (save the Tanqueray for your gin and tonics).

Welp, in Paraguay, the ratio is a little different: two parts gin to three parts vermouth. That is, frankly, obscene. But the bartender (who works at the Sheraton in Asuncion and is aware Americans have a different take on this) explained that it just fits what Paraguayans prefer: something to match their sweet tooth. I suppose it's the price you pay for ordering a cocktail in the first place: "real men" in Paraguay seem to thrive on straight whiskey (Johnny Walker only) if they have money and beer (various) if they don't.

[everyone drinks wine of course but that's just, you know, "water;" it's not a DRINK drink]

[on the other hand, they never serve wine to the people during the Catholic Mass which is...well, whatever]

Cultural differences are interesting: sometimes intriguing, sometimes frustrating. Experiencing them is one of the highlights of travel outside my native culture. Not because I'm especially adventurous in temperament (I'd probably say I'm the opposite), but because I have a curiosity about how humans can live so differently from each other. And when visiting a new culture (as opposed to living there and occasionally wanting non-gag-worthy beverage) it can be fun to steep yourself in the differences.

In a way, it's one of the things I miss about science fiction.

I used to like science fiction quite a bit, and not just of the Star Wars variety. Truth is, I might still like it...I'm just not a huge fan of what I see in the SciFi realm these days. In film, it's so spectacle-driven these days, and probably with good reason (it drives patrons into theaters to see the latest-greatest FX and puts money in the pockets of the film industry). But...ugh, how to articulate this?

[I've been having a real problem finding words these days...partly because I'm constantly trying to communicate in Spanish, and partly because most of my human interaction in English is with my now-four year old...sigh]

Cool weapons and explosions and spaceship battles and strange aliens aren't the things that make science fiction "good" for me. Instead, it's a sense of wonderment...something so subjective, I realize it's impossible (or ridiculous) to try to define. I suppose it's one of those things that "I know it when I see it."

And sci-fi literature is even less appealing for me, as authors seem driven to stick with "hard science" and the realm of what is "conceivably possible," rather than risk becoming a laughingstock within their own genre. My buddy Steve-O is a sic-fi aficionado, and he's constantly giving me novels that postulate terraforming or space travel or whatnot based on real applied science and telling me I need to write an RPG that incorporates things like plasma rockets and hollowed asteroids and whatnot. But I just can't bring myself to do it. It's not that I want Burroughs-type "sword & planet" romances or more Flash Gordon-style "rebels against the evil space empire" stories. I don't. But I guess I don't want my fiction to be smarter (or much smarter) than me...and perhaps I'm not terribly smart to begin with,

In some ways, it seems like sci-fi is afraid to become "dated." It either passes into the realm of speculative, "this-is-a-logical-thing-that-could-happen-based-on-our-current-state-and-trends-of-development" or else it's just a bizarre, over-the-top free-for-all of laser blasting, world wrecking, giant robot, blah-blah-blah. The stories might be good, the writing/film-making excellent, but it might as well be set in a different genre than "sci-fi" for all the wonderment it provides. File off the sci-fi trappings and it's just "a story."

Maybe I'm just jaded. Or old. Or both.

As a kid, I played the original Traveller game (the "little black books") with my buddy Rob as the GM and I remember having an immensely good time doing it. It had a similar feeling to the "Rogue Trader" aspect of 1st edition Warhammer 40,000 (before the story lines were codified and inter-woven with the whole Chaos fantasy thang). It lacked so much of what, say, Star Frontiers had in a codified setting...and yet that mystery of "how things/the Universe fit together" contributed to a sense of "wonderment." You never knew what you might find when you stepped off your scout ship to explore some random alien planet.

[I realize there are many ways to play Traveller and that not everyone was simply "blasting off into the unknown," so experiences in that regard might be very different]

Anyway, today I find myself missing the space-faring science fiction of my youth...both in gaming and entertainment. I'm not sure where this longing will lead me (if anywhere), but I just feel like hanging onto it for a while and turning it over in my mind. Probably has something to do with my own current status of being something of "a stranger in a strange land."


  1. Same here, although I kind of have a growing dislike of "action/spectacle" in general, not just in sci-fi movies. The *production* teams seems to devote a lot of time to getting the look of the imagined world right, but the script seems to skip right over the details. That's why I've been liking low-key indie sci-fi like Children of Men or Final Cut more than stuff like those Riddick movies.

  2. Same here, although I kind of have a growing dislike of "action/spectacle" in general, not just in sci-fi movies. The *production* teams seems to devote a lot of time to getting the look of the imagined world right, but the script seems to skip right over the details. That's why I've been liking low-key indie sci-fi like Children of Men or Final Cut more than stuff like those Riddick movies.

  3. I liked Interstellar as a good sci-fi movie.
    As far as books, I find myself rereading Walter Jon Williams's Hardwired and Herbert's Dune. I've always had a hard time with sci-fi. Try Stephen R. Donaldson's Gap series; it makes me think of Traveller.

  4. I would suggest Stars Without Number.OR the original Traveller. :)

    1. @ Anthony:

      Oh, I've had SWN for a long time; in many ways I find of things I don't like. But I haven't read it in awhile; maybe I should take a 2nd pass.

      I own Mongoose Traveller, which is pretty close to the original (from what I remember), but maybe I'll try to pick up PDFs of the original LBBs.

  5. Get that old magic back by reading ( or re-reading) Norton's Solar Queen & Forerunner novels. I don't know which I love more: Free Traders or the Survey Corps.

  6. I do very much like Burroughs and Flash Gordon. In fact, my ideal for gaming SF now might be Northwest Smith, which combines the weird story, rocket ships, and ray guns into an amazing whole.

    The movie spectacle variety of SF is turning me off very much lately (and the poor initial reviews of Jupiter Ascending aren't helping out there). There are exceptions (I do like the Riddick films, for example, and Guardians of the Galaxy), but I'd rather see something like Moon than, say, Abrams!Trek.

    1. I've never actually read NW Smith, but I'd love to find some of those old stories. Know of a compilation volume?

    2. Northwest of Earth (alternate link here seems to have even lower prices right now) has all of the Northwest Smith stories, including the crossover with Jirel of Joiry (CL Moore's other major hero).

      Along related lines, I wish that Leigh Brackett's Eric John Stark stories were available in print instead of just in ebook format, but if wishes were fishes…

  7. I've always loved Michael Crichton's brand of sci-fi: fantastical, but backed by enough research to make you buy into it. It's like hard sci-fi with balls

    1. Crichton's stuff is the Future Shock variety...find one piece o technology, explore it's development (and ramifications) when mixed with normal folks. There's already and RPG that does that actually.

  8. I'm trying to see what you're saying here...and I do a little...a least where film, and television is involved, but outside of that it's kind of tough.

    Sci-Fi is my favorite gaming genre. Superheroes a close second. What kind of Sci-Fi?

    Traveller for when I feel like mixing my hard science with some space opera attitudes. Akin to Larry Niven's Known Space stories.

    Star Frontiers for when I don't want to worry too much about the science. Not quite Star Wars, but pretty close.

    Star Wars for, well, Star Wars, but I honestly don't view Star Wars as Science Fiction. It's Space Fantasy to me.

    Star Trek for Star Trek, especially TOS Era campaigns.

    InSpace, a free variant of the absolutely brilliant InSpectres, that deals with 'BIG SCIENCE' Science Fiction. High concept exploration of SF ideas, like 2001: A Space Odyssey, Solaris, Forbidden Planet.

    Red Dwarf for Red Dwarf-style, British Sci-Fi comedy.

    There are about a dozen more, and another half dozen homebrew ideas I'm currently working on. Everything from rethinking Cyberpunk, to 'Alien', John Carpenter's 'The Thing'/Who Goes There?, to Voyage of the Space Beagle type stories, and a vast gambit in between.

    If you want to play Science Fiction, the way you enjoy playing Science Fiction, there is a game, or a game can be made.

    1. @ B.A.:

      Like I said, I may just be old and jaded. Hell, I may not even know WHAT I want from SF.

      ; )