Two quick sci-fi glances

Yeeeah….I’m not quite sure what I was thinking about that whole Final Fantasy VIII series thing. It’s not gonna happen; I’ve got enough commitments on my plate as it is. Mea culpa.

In other news, I finally took Larry Niven’s Ringworld book off the shelf and went through it in a few days. As the name implies, this is the guy who pioneered the idea of a habitable ring that spins around a sun; so without him, no Halo (has there been any other franchise to make use of the concept?) In particular, Ringworld follows the disastrous expedition to said world, carried out by dirty old man Louis Wu, his young girlfriend Teela Brown, a two headed equine alien called Nessus, and proto-furry Speaker-To-Animals.

This is a prime example of an sf novel which has a lot of cool ideas, but doesn’t know how to tell a worthwhile story with them.  Niven does a good job exploring the possibilities and consequences that a ringworld with the diameter of earth’s orbit would have for any civilization that would inhabit it. But the characters remain pretty one-note throughout, and once they arrive at the ringworld, the pacing just falls apart and never recovers; the best bits, story wise, are the early chapters. I also found the book to be rather oversexed – a not uncommon symptom in sci-fi/fantasy (hello, James Tiptree Jr, Robert A. Heinlein, etc.) but it felt particularly off-putting here.

In other sci-fi news, I watched Bong Joon Ho’s grimdark dystopia movie, Snowpiercer, which has been getting a lot of critical accolades. It’s set in the near future where an attempt to counteract global warming has backfired and frozen the earth, killing all life. The only humans left live on a train that runs continuously on a worldwide track. The society on the train is divided into the people in the front, who live lives of luxury, and the people in the back, who live lives of squalor. Until they decide to rebel.

While I suppose the quirky setting should have tipped me off, I was expecting something that would have a mood similar to recent dystopian stuff like The Hunger Games. What I got instead was a self-consciously absurd, ultraviolent action flick. There’s a lot of tonal weirdness going on: on the trip to the front of the train, the rebels stop off at a sushi bar, attend a preschool propaganda lesson, interrupt a rave, etc.

I’ll give Bong Joon Ho some credit for creativity, but in the end the whole thing felt too self-consciously clever, too self consciously cool, the violence too self-consciously trying to shock and disturb – all overlaid with fairly shallow haves-and-have-nots political commentary, with a completely ridiculous ending to boot. And this is coming from a guy who liked The Cabin in the Woods.

 

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About Josh W

A Catholic; an occasional writer.
This entry was posted in pop culture and its discontents, SF/Fantasy and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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