Marriage in SF/F

I attended a wedding last week, and it got me thinking about the institution of marriage in science fiction and fantasy. I frequently run into stalwart captains and noble queens who are single by either choice or tragedy. I also see a number of couples, but I confess I don’t run into all that many marriages, and certainly even fewer weddings. Maybe that only means I’m reading about a bunch of loners, but it does not show up as often as I’d expect.

Still, it’s not entirely absent. There actually are a number of marriages, and while some are the humdrum union of old sweethearts, I’m more interested in the marriages that can only occur in a science fiction or fantasy setting, or at the very least, that won’t happen in our world today.

InterracialMarriageGiven that last week’s wedding was an interracial marriage – my long-time friend is black, and his bride is white – I thought I would start with some similarly mixed marriages. Perhaps the most famous is that of Spock’s parents, his human mother Amanda and his Vulcan father Sarek. Another of my favorites from SF is the union of Babylon 5’s Captain Sheridan and the Minbari Ambassador Delenn. Rather than focusing on their progeny, we got to see the culture clash play out in their courtship. (One word to my fellow Babylon fans: Woohoo!)

SheridenDelennOn the fantasy side, Lord of the Rings had Aragorn marry Arwen with hints of half-elf children in their future. I’ve seen a few human-demon pairings as well as human-vampire pairings, but very few actual weddings. (Sorry, I’m not aware of anything called Twigh Lite.)

These all tend to be humanoid to humanoid pairings. I don’t know if that’s a lack of imagination, a lack of effects/makeup budget, or a simple limit on what parts match up with other parts.

HeinleinFridayThen we get into different kinds of marriage. Heinlein was all over this with both line marriages in The Moon is a Harsh Mistress and group marriages in Friday. Some of these were meant to preserve property, while others were simply a raised finger to the institution of monogamous marriage.

I’ve also run into time-delimited marriages from several different authors. C.J. Cherryh’s Ateva, particularly their nobility, marry for reasons of political alliance, and those marriages come and go with shifting loyalties. Kube-McDowell’s Quiet Pools showed me contractual marriage with and without options for child-rearing.

Sharon Shinn’s world of Samaria had angels living amongst humans, but angels were forbidden to marry angels. Instead, angels always married humans, but even then, it was often a more open marriage, particularly for the male angels. You see, an angel-human pairing could produce either human or angel children, but since successful angel births were rare, male angels were spreading their seed far and wide. I’ll let you read the books for the messy details of when the god Jovah would choose the Archangel’s spouse – not always a match made in heaven.

I’ve also run into SF societies that completely divorce, so to speak, marriage from reproduction. The merchants of C.J. Cherry’s Merchanter’s Union did not really marry. The woman would have sex with men from other ships, because their own ship was filled with family. Children were not raised by mother and father. Rather, they were raised by mother and aunts and uncles. The demons in my upcoming Hell Bent have similar family lives for very different reasons.

A world I imagined had a society made more intellectual than emotional by computer implants, and marriages were based on intellectual harmony with no regard to physical or sexual chemistry. Choosing a sexual partner was done via genetic analysis, and potential partners approached the selection with about as much emotion as we would choose a lab partner for class. Child-rearing was quite different, of course, but the implants allowed early intellectual maturity, long before the body reached adulthood.

hivemindsmallNow, if that hasn’t completely detonated the nuclear family, I’ve heard of even stranger arrangements, where the aliens in question were sentient symbiots, so simple pairings were by definition group marriages. Taking it further, there are some fictional races that live in between individual sentience and shared hive minds, so the notion of marriage for love vs. arranged marriage is dropped into the conceptual blender and thoroughly pureed.

These days, marriage is a political hot potato here in the US with the ongoing debate over gay marriage, but I would like to think that in the future we’ll at least be able to talk about marriage without invoking Nazis or the end of civilization. After all, it’s all about finding the symbiotic hive mind of our dreams, right?

So how about the rest of you? What’s the wildest concept of marriage you’ve run into in SF or fantasy?

Sci-Fi as Progressive Propaganda

KirkUhuraKissScience fiction has a long history of presenting us with new and progressive ideas, from free love in Stranger in a Strange Land to some commanding women characters in the recent Battlestar Galacitca, but probably the most famous progressive moment in SF was when midway through Star Trek’s third season, Lieutenant Uhura kissed Captain Kirk in America’s first televised mixed-race kiss.

But it almost wasn’t didn’t happen.

At the end of the first season, actress Nichelle Nichols was about to return to her roots of singing on stage. Her appearance in Star Trek had significantly raised her visibility, and she was ready to start on Broadway, her greatest aspiration as a singer. This was her big break.

So one Friday afternoon after production had wrapped for the season, she went to Gene Roddenberry’s office, explained the situation, and handed him her resignation. He told her she couldn’t possibly leave, that he desperately needed her to stay on the show. “Don’t you understand what I’m trying to do here?”

She was not swayed, but she agreed to think about it over the weekend.

The very next night, she was on stage for an NAACP fundraiser. Afterwards, one of the organizers asked her if she would be willing to meet a fan. She agree, expecting the typical Trekkie of the era, but much to her surprise, it was Martin Luther King. “I’m the fan,” he said. “I’m your best fan. I am your biggest fan.”

Ms. Nichols was flabbergasted, amazed that such an important figure as Dr. King even knew who she was, let alone watched the show, but he was clearly not faking it. He went on about what an important role model she was, since she was one of the first black women to appear on screen as anything other than a servant or entertainer. Eventually, she managed to find her voice, thanked him, and mentioned that she was going to miss it since she was going back to her singing career in the next year.

MLKbiopicShocked, Dr. King would not allow this. “STOP! You cannot! You cannot leave this show! Do you not understand what you are doing?! You are the first non-stereotypical role in television! Of intelligence, and of a woman and a woman of color! That you are playing a role that is not about your color! That this role could be played by anyone? This is not a black role. This is not a female role! A blue eyed blond or a pointed ear green person could take this role!

“Nichelle, for the first time, not only our little children and people can look on and see themselves, but people who don’t look like us, people who don’t look like us, from all over the world, for the first time, the first time on television, they can see us, as we should be!

“As intelligent, brilliant, people! People in roles other than slick tap dancers, and maids, which are all wonderful in their own ways, but for the first time we have a woman, a WOMAN, who represents us and not in menial jobs, and you PROVE it, this man [Gene Rodenberry] proves and establishes a precedent that validates what we are marching for because three hundred years from today there we are, and there you are, in all our glory and all your glory! And you CANNOT leave!”

Clearly, Dr. King was more persuasive than Gene Roddenberry had been, and she decided to stay. On Monday, she went back to Gene’s office as asked if the part was still available. Of course, it was. He had already torn up her letter of resignation.

Relieved, she told him what Dr. King had said to her. He listened quietly, and finally replied, “Thank God someone understands what I am trying to achieve.”

And apparently it made a difference. Numerous African-Americans at NASA point to Lt. Uhura as their reason for getting involved in space exploration. Even Whoopi Goldberg credits the Uhura character for her wanting to be on Star Trek:TNG.

We’re still a long way from the ideals of Dr. King’s dream or Roddenberry’s federation, but since today we celebrate Dr. King’s birthday, I thought I would point out that every little bit helps.

Birthdays and Colony Calendars

We celebrated my wife’s 101100th birthday over the weekend. No, she’s not into her 101st millennium. She’s simply been denoting them in binary since her 101000th birthday or so. But it got me to thinking about birthdays on colony worlds and how those will be calculated.

Take Mars as a simple example. The Martian year is 687 Earth days, and with a day a little longer than 24 hours, it’s only 668 Martian days. So, if you were born on the first day of the new Martian year, when are you one year old? When do you get to celebrate your birthday?

It really comes down to which calendar you keep, but even then, you may not keep the same calendar for everything. New Years really only comes to Mars once per Martian year, but maybe Christmas comes twice. Martian months may not make much sense with Phobos and Deimos, but they were always a little arbitrary on Earth as well. Martian Independence Day is certainly celebrated every Carter 4th, but when do you have Thanksgiving?

There’s certainly a temptation to go full in one direction or another, i.e. stick with the Earth calendar or go native with the local calendar, but if there’s enough interaction between Earth and the colony, there’s some value in going halfway. Any joint schedule between the two worlds (or if we go interstellar, dozens of worlds) should be on a shared calendar, and since the Earthers had theirs first, this standard calendar should be based on the Earth year.

Another reason for using a standard reference calendar is a bit closer to this question of your birthday. When do your six-year molars come in on Mars? What about on Ganyemede? When will you go through puberty? Who is older, you or your cousin from Europa? There are plenty of biological reasons to keep track of our age in a standardized fashion. Even if we get our tetanus booster shot every five years on Mars, we do it because it was every ten years on Earth.

But still, when do you have that birthday party?

Are you on Mars all the time, or are you rocketing off to Jupiter or Saturn on a regular basis? It’s tempting to say that if you stay in one place all the time, you may as well celebrate it according to the local calendar. Then again, 668 days is a long time to wait for a celebration on Mars. Even worse is the poor kid growing up on Titan, orbiting around Saturn. He’ll be married with kids of his own before his first birthday. Hmm, maybe the local calendars aren’t such a good idea after all. But in some other solar system, on an Earth-like world with seasons of its own, following some arbitrary “standard calendar” for your birthday sounds silly.

I suspect that the real answer is that you’ll celebrate your birthday whenever it makes sense. If your local calendar’s year is only ninety-four days – and short ones at that – then the local custom might evolve to have quadrennial celebrations for your birthday. If you’re dragging yourself around that local star every fourteen hundred days, the local custom might be to celebrate your spring birthday followed by your summer birthday and so on, four celebrations each year. Only those folks skimming through the universe on ships will celebrate birthdays on the standard year.

Or maybe the whole concept of birthdays will fade away as one of those old Earth customs that seem silly to the post-human immortals who live amongst the stars.

What do you think?

Review: Looper

Looper is a good old-fashioned time-travel film, complete with loops and the occasional paradox. Plus, it has two great actors (Gordon Levitt and Bruce Willis) letting loose with big guns. So, good story, good acting, and things go boom.

The premise is that Joe (Gordon Levitt) is an assassin for the mob. Except, it’s not so much the mob today as it’s the mob in thirty years. They have access to some illegal time-travel equipment, and to avoid the excellent forensics of the future, they send their enemies back in time to be disposed of here. So Joe goes out to the corn field, sets up at the right place and right time, and when the target appears, bound with a bag over the head, he makes quick work of them. The payment is in shiny bars of silver, strapped to the back of the target. And back in Joe’s time, getting rid of a body is easy – especially a body no one will be looking for for another thirty years.

Nice job, good pay, and powerful connections. There’s only one catch. At some point in the future, the powers that be need to clean up your contract to keep you from testifying about some of those bodies, so eventually, your future self gets sent back, and you’re the one who has to clean it up. That one pays in gold, and you get to spend the next thirty years in wealthy retirement, waiting for the day that they’ll come to close your particular loop.

Well, one day future Joe (Bruce Willis) appears, and he does not want to go gently into that good night. And from there… well, complications ensue.

I don’t want to say anything else, because that would be getting into spoiler territory. I’ll just say that young Joe has very good reason for wanting old Joe dead, and old Joe has a very strong motivation to do something else before that happens. It’s a great dilemma for both of them, both pitting them against each other as well as making them uneasy allies.

The ending caught me by surprise, but looking back, I’m kind of surprised I was surprised. Mostly, I was just that wrapped up in the immediacy of the story I wasn’t able to do the plot analysis to look for the appropriate ending. I’ll say this at least, I don’t think I was the only one surprised. When the credits rolled, the theater was silent. No laughter. No applause. Just contemplative silence.

Now, like virtually all time travel tales, yes, there are a couple of plot holes, but I didn’t spot them in the moment. Rather, it was only later, thinking back on it that I started to wonder why such and such had not happened. But during the film, I was hooked.

So, I’ll give it four out of five stars, and I’ll probably try to pick up the disc when it drops to $12.

(This is the first movie review I’ve posted here, presumably more will follow. They’ll fill the Friday book review slot when I haven’t finished that next book. Yes, I’m a slow reader.)

There’s a Brain-App for That

I was at FenCon over the weekend, and in a panel on embedded (or implanted) computers, the question was raised: what application would you want that doesn’t exist now? That is, if you had some kind of computer implanted in your brain, what would you want it to do for you that you can’t do right now without it?

Here are a few possible answers, some my own and some from other people in the room:

Who Are You? I’d want something to do facial recognition on the person in front of me and remind me who they are, how I know them, and what subjects to avoid when talking to them. It’s not just a matter of remembering the name, because even if I can remember that his name is Bob, it would be nice to know that we met at Jim’s bachelor party – you know, the one with the orangutan stripper – and that it would be best to duck and hide in shame. Or if I can’t hide, I should at least know better than to bring up sailing ships lest I be cornered into a two-hour dissertation on the superiority of the jib sail over the genoa sail.

Dream-vo: This is the DVR for your dreams. No longer do you need to scramble for pen and paper to jot down details of that crazy dream. You don’t even need to wake up. Just replay it the next morning and fast forward to the part with the flying dolphins.

IMDB Brain Search: The Internet Movie Database is a very useful site, but even if you have it on your smart phone, it doesn’t really help when you’re talking about that movie, with the guy… you know, the one with the blonde hair, and they had that sparkly thing with the handle? Yeah, that’s the one. It would also be nice in that you could immediately know where you’ve seen that actor before. Of course, playing “Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon” will never be the same again.

Where Are My Damned Keys? A brain implant won’t keep you from leaving your keys behind the toaster, but with enough input monitoring 24/7, it should at least be able to tell you where they are. And your favorite pen, your glasses, your left sneaker, the good scissors, and the remote control. Of course, if the kids took them, this suddenly becomes a network application.

Too Boring; Didn’t Listen: I think we’ve all run into that wall of text that was simply too long to read. Hence the phrase tl;dr (too long; didn’t read). Whenever I’ve run into that, I’ve wanted a little tool to read it, present me with a summary, and give some kind of guesstimate of whether or not it was worth the number of electrons that died for it. (Yes, I know electrons don’t die – they only wish they could.) But if I had a computer implant, I’d want one of those for audio. Remember that guy who went on for two hours about jibs vs. genoas? Too boring; didn’t listen. How about the app that filters it all and says, “Jibs handle better when tacking.”

So, how about you? What’s your favorite iBrain app?

My N-man Starship

How many people do you need to run a starship? I see stories where it’s a crew of hundreds, while others manage with just one. It’s not that either is wrong. I think it simply depends on the rules of the story’s universe and the purpose of the ship.

At one end, I think about the one-man ships of Larry Niven or Jack McDevitt. These typically have a fair amount of computer automation. McDevitt’s ships in particular have an AI who is perfectly capable of taking the ship through all its maneuvers and activities, leaving the “pilot” as little more than a bossy passenger.

Even taking a more active hand, the single crewman usually only has to be alert and on duty for key transitions such as sub-light maneuvering thrusts or transitions into and out of the FTL-drive of choice. As long as nothing else goes wrong, this one crewman has a lot of time to kill. Then again, if something does go wrong, he has to be the one-man repair crew, and in many cases, his options are limited to sending out a distress call for a rescue ship.

At the other end we have giant warships like the Enterprise or the Galactica. They seem to have less computer automation, so they require more people spread around the ship pushing the right buttons at the right time. They also have extra functions that those one-man ships do not, ranging from combat to exploration, so they need extra crew to deal with those things. And as the button pushers and red-shirts add up, you need more officers for command and control.

Furthermore, a lot more can break on a warship than on a small passenger ship. In fact, warships frequently seek out situations where things break spectacularly. No longer is one lonely crewman replacing a leaky fuel line. Instead, it’s a team of thirty repairing a hull breach and welding the engine mounts back into place.

But what about the in-between cases?

One of the reasons I really enjoyed Nathan Lowell’s Solar Clipper series (start with Quarter Share) was that he paid attention to all the boring little details of keeping a ship up and running. From his books (and some of the ones I’m working on), I’ve realized that in addition to the obvious jobs of sitting in the captain’s chair and locking phasers on target, there are three main things that occupy the bulk of the crew: standing watch, doing maintenance, and sleeping.

Standing watch is probably the most boring thing you can imagine, because you’re essentially waiting around all day for something to go wrong. This looks like a prime candidate for computer automation. After all, the computer can wait 24/7 for something to happen, and it doesn’t need a chair. Still, it’s important to have an actual person there, because when something does go wrong – and sooner or later, it will – then you want to have a live body there, paying attention, and ready to take action. There are quite a few things that could wait five or ten minutes for you to wake up and get dressed, but the matter/anti-matter injection valves probably can’t wait.

Maintenance is almost the opposite. You’re not waiting for anything to go wrong. You’re fixing it or replacing it before it can. The environmental team is changing out the CO2 scrubbers, and the engineers are realigning the polarity on… well, you know how those engineers can be about polarity. Some maintenance is hard to do when you’re underway, but if the ship has any kind of redundant systems, you can be sure that they’ll be falling back to them on occasion both as a test and for a chance to do maintenance on the primary system.

And sleep? Sleep is kind of a placeholder for all the drawbacks to those lazy organic crews. They keep wanting to sleep, and that’s on top of wanting to eat food several times a day. I figure about the hardest you can push someone is twelve-hour shifts, seven days a week. We’re not talking about heavy physical labor in the cotton field, but keeping alert for twelve hours is a challenge. You’d be a lot better off with eight-hour shifts and enough crew to allow other downtime. Toss in a galley, maybe a small gym or some recreation, and the crew to manage all that. Pretty soon your little eight-man ship is ballooning up to twenty or more.

I screwed up on this in my first book Beneath the Sky, in that the merchant ship Jinley is crewed by only four or five, but I never delved into the day-to-day shipboard life in that story. In the upcoming Ships of my Fathers and Debts of my Fathers, I thought about it a lot more and concluded that a merchant ship that size really should have six or seven crew: two navigators, two engineers, an environmental specialist, a cook, and a captain who can hopefully jump in to fill any of those slots in a pinch. That’s largely because the rules of this particular universe makes FTL a hands-on task, dealing with the shifting tachyon winds and managing the ephemeral sails that grab that wind. Twelve-hour shifts are a bitch, but bigger ships with more crew provide an easier life, with more downtime, better rested crews, and more redundancy.

So, before you head out on that long solo flight, give some thought to who is going to fix the toilet when you’re laid up with flu. Do you have a robot helper? A first officer in cryo-sleep? The 800-number for deep space Roto-Router?

What Science is SF Missing?

I’m brazenly stealing this topic from a panel at ArmadilloCon because I thought of something after the panel was already over. The idea was to ask which sciences do we not see very often in science fiction. Some of the suggestions included medicine, neuroscience, and mathematics. The science I didn’t think of until too late was… well, I suppose I should call it communication theory.

I’m talking about the kind of science that studies the problem of communicating with someone over vast time and distance when you don’t necessarily have a language in common. There’s the classic trick of broadcasting prime numbers (2, 3, 5, 7, 11…), but what do you do beyond that? What do you put into the signal to give the key to deciphering it?

Contact by Carl Sagan delved into that. The Hercules Text by Jack McDevitt touched on it as well, and I remember an old book by James Gunn called The Listeners that played with some pictogram strategies. The most recent of these books is twenty-five years old. Other than that, I haven’t seen anything. (Though obviously, I have not read everything.)

A similar problem would exist if you wanted to leave behind a marker for an evolving race to find in a few million (or billion) years. Apart from some kind of “Kilroy was here” message, what might your monolith attempt to communicate to the poor blokes who dig it up? For that matter, what would you do to help them find it?

And even more mundane (but no less terrifying), how would you preserve our current knowledge for the survivors of some impending catastrophe? That is, if the killer asteroid or genocidal pandemic are underway, how do you leave information for the next civilization that arises from the ashes in thousands (or millions) of years. They very likely won’t share our language. They might not even be our species. If Earth is doomed to become the Planet of the Apes, it would be nice if they knew what the Statue of Liberty was about.

Anyway, I’d like to see more science fiction addressing these kinds of issues. The “Kilroy was here” marker is particularly compelling to me, but I don’t yet have a full story for it.

What sciences do you think SF is missing?

Review: Intruder, by C.J. Cherryh

This is the thirteenth book in her Foreigner series about Bren Cameron on the world of the Atevi.

I had been waiting eagerly for this one for a while since it seemed to have had a long gap since the last one. I had also been eagerly looking forward to the start of another trilogy-set in this series. However, I have to say I’m a little disappointed in this one, though it’s not really the fault of the book.

I love this series for three reasons: 1) Cherryh’s use of language is fantastic, both in her English narrative as well as her English-rendition of the Ragi language, 2) her exploration of the mixed psychologies of human and alien (Atevi) and the political problems they generate has been fascinating, and 3) the stakes have always been high with the political ramification reaching out from the quaint villages into interstellar space.

The first trilogy developed the world and hinted at the interstellar politics that were about to crash down on them. The second trilogy had Bren going out to face those politics and solve them. The third trilogy dealt with the fallout of what happened while he was gone. The fourth trilogy dealt with more fallout from the time they were gone. And… you guessed it, this fifth trilogy opens with even more fallout from the time they were gone.

All the while there is another bit of interstellar politics looming over their heads, with its promised arrival date any day now.

Or more to the point, any book now.

So I was really expecting this trilogy to open with the resurgence of the interstellar problem that was left open during the second trilogy. And MINI-SPOILER, it didn’t. In fact, so strong was my expectation that I went through most of the book expecting it to pop up at the most inconvenient moment, or at the very least, at the end in a sort of cliff-hanger/teaser for the next book. But it didn’t.

Yes, the political intrigue was suspenseful, and I’m really enjoying the growing relationship between Tabini (essentially the king) and his young son Cajeiri. I’m also intrigued by the increasingly visible fractures in the ever-secretive Assassin’s Guild, and I really like what it’s showing us about the back stories of Bren’s bodyguards.

But this is the seventh book in a row dealing with the political fallout of what happened when Bren was away in space. How many more will there be before we get back to that looming interstellar crisis? I feel a bit like I’m complimenting an endless line of chicken dishes, all the while craving another taste of beef.

And yet it was good, so I can’t really fault it for dashing my own expectations. So, I’m giving it a qualified thumbs-up.

Better Sequels

Usually sequels don’t live up to the original, but sometimes they surpass it. I was talking to a friend recently, trying to come up with a list of them, but it was hard. What made it harder was that I wanted to limit it to SF/F genre films. We came up with three, and I found a few more. We also found several that were debateable or didn’t quite make it. Here we go:

The Winners:

The Empire Strikes Back: This one is so often quoted as the declining-sequel rule breaker that it has to go on the list, and I think it really does deserve it. As much as I loved Star Wars as a kid, Empire turned the franchise – ever so briefly – into more serious adult fare.

Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan: This one gets in easily, not only because it was a great film, but because the original Star Trek: The Motion Picture was so limp that it’s a miracle this one was ever made. In my not so humble opinion, this film saved the franchise.

Star Trek: First Contact: I was tempted to knock this one out, because it’s not technically a sequel as much as it’s the next installment in an ongoing series. However, I can buy the argument that Star Trek: Generations started off a new film sequence, and that let’s this one in. So, while Generations tried to do far too much and didn’t pull much of it off, First Contact focused on one thing: stopping the Borg from destroying our history. It had a tight story, cool characters, and plus… you know… THE BORG!

Road Warrior: Some people don’t even realize this is a sequel, but the original Mad Max was an Australian blockbuster. I love it – and would love it even more without the terrible dubbing job – but I have to say that Road Warrior has a better style, better car chases, and a better plot.

Aliens: My friend argued against this one, not because he thought the original Alien was better but because they were so different as to almost be different genres. Alien is a walk through a dark alley, almost a horror film, while Aliens is a military-action rollercoaster. But I think they’re close enough that I’m going to include it.

Now on the many Honorable Mentions:

For a Few Dollars More: This is well outside the bounds by genre since it’s a western. It’s also questionable whether it’s even a sequel to Fistful of Dollars. However, it is the second in what most folks refer to as “the Man with No Name” trilogy that ends with the classic The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly. In some ways, this one was the high point of the trilogy for me, and Clint Eastwood almost played second fiddle to Lee Van Cleef’s search for long-delayed justice for a very personal crime. If you’re a fan of gun-fighting westerns, you need to see this one.

The Four Musketeers: This is historical fiction as opposed to SF/F fiction, but the main reason I don’t like seeing it on lists of great sequels is that it’s not really a sequel. It’s the second half of the Three Musketeers movie that was released the year before. The director shot so much film that he decided to break it up, leaving quite the legal mess for the film industry to sort out in contract law for generations to come. However, all that aside, this is a fabulous film, and this pair of Musketeer films (with a young Michael York) is in my opinion the best of all the Musketeer tellings.

Kill Bill, Vol 2: This one also shows up on great sequel lists, but I also don’t think it belongs for the same reason that The Four Musketeers didn’t belong. It’s not a sequel.  It’s the second half of the film, and of course it’s better than “the original”. It has the climax, you dummy. But yeah, great film. The first one ripped out your carotid in a nasty arterial spray, but the second one grabbed on tight and yanked your heart out through your severed neck. Ok, not that bloody, but you get the idea.

Spider-Man 2 and The Dark Knight: I think that both of these sequels were better than the originals, but despite all the fancy weapons and cool gadgets, I don’t consider comic movies to be either science fiction or fantasy. I think they’re their own genre like horror or mystery.

Toy Story 2: The original was awesome, but this sequel knocked it out of the park. I just don’t think it qualifies as SF/F.

Terminator 2: My friend lobbied hard for this one, but personally, I think the original is still the best of the series. Yes, the second one had better effects and a pretty good story, but the original one hangs together so much better and has that wonderful bittersweet romance.

Superman 2: Some people rate this one as being better than the original, and given the stupid fly-around-the-earth-backwards time travel in the first film, I can see their argument. However, the people making this argument are usually referring to the Donner cut of the film rather than the theatrical release, and I haven’t seen the Donner cut. If I do, I might join their camp, but in the meantime, I’m sticking with the origin-heavy original.  But yeah, it’s still comic, not SF.

So, what great sequels did I miss? What about book sequels instead of movie sequels? Or for that matter, does this make you think of any terrible sequels? I’ve got half a mind to follow this up with a list of sequels so bad that they don’t officially exist, e.g. Highlander II or Star Trek V.

Review: Double Share, by Nathan Lowell

This is the fourth book in Lowell’s Solar Clipper series, and I’ve been waiting for it for almost a year.

I wasn’t reviewing books here when I tore through the first three books, so let me first say a few things about those. This is the story of Ishmael Wang, who goes off to space as a bottom rung messmate after his mother dies. As the book titles suggest, he slowly works his way up through the ranks, starting off with only a Quarter Share of a normal crewman’s share of the profits, advancing through Half Share, Full Share and Double Share. Still to come in his career are Captain Share and Owner Share.

What I have really enjoyed about these books is that they paint a vivid (if a tad dull) picture of life aboard an interstellar freighter. He covers everything from the cleaning routines of the mess hall to the maintenance of algae tanks for atmospheric treatment. Honestly, there’s not much excitement in the first two books. I described them to my wife as being about coffee and the flea market, but it’s also a bit like saying the movie Fight Club was about soap. The third book picked up with some excitement and pointed us towards Ishmael’s transition from the lower decks to the upper decks.

Double Share is Ishmael’s first job as an officer as he gets a posting as the third mate on a bulk hauler. What I found particularly good about this was that Lowell shifted Ishmael’s focus from learning how to manage the ship to learning how to manage the crew. And wow… what a crew to get stuck with. It starts off looking like the most dysfunctional set of characters this side of Jerry Springer show, but Ishmael works his way in and finds out who to trust and who to fear.

Strangely, one of my biggest complaints about the series is also one of its best features for me. Specifically, Ishmael Wang is something of a Mary Sue in that he doesn’t really seem to have any significant flaws, handles most challenges with ease, and is more ethical than the Dalai Lama.  He’s about as perfect as he can be while still being human.

But he’s still a sympathetic character, so the stories form a bit of wish fulfillment for me the reader. It’s a great romp through the space freighter world, letting me daydream all kinds of “wouldn’t that be neat” dreams. Maybe it’s a little unrealistic in that regard, but in a world filled with dystopian futures, dark heroes, and settings so gritty you can taste the sand, it’s a nice break to go read something fun and carefree.

One final complaint, though, about the quality of this book in particular. After the first three came out whiz-bang-boom, this one took forever. It’s not really the author’s fault, though, because these are mostly sitting on disk, already written. (They were originally podcast a few years back.) Rather, there was a big delay at his publisher, and while I’d like to think it was time well spent. It wasn’t.

My copy was riddled with typos, missing punctuation, and incorrect word choices, e.g. “relishing” vs. “relinquishing”. As a writer, I know these things leap from my fingers like epileptic monkeys, but proofreaders are supposed to catch them. The first three books were very clean in this regard, but they really dropped the ball on this one. If I weren’t already so in love with the story, I might have just set it aside as an amateur attempt, so I hope Lowell insists on better proofing for the final two books in the series.

But the bottom line I that I really enjoyed it, and I tore through in two or three days.