Just For the Joy: The LEGO Movie

Yesterday, I got to have a lot of fun. I pooled a little of my own private blow money together with the money my son has been faithfully saving, and went on e-Bay and found a copy of Benny’s Spaceship Spaceship SPACESHIP! from the LEGO Movie. It arrived yesterday, and we spent the afternoon putting it together. What I learned from this:

1) It’s incredibly refreshing sometimes to go back and do something you really enjoyed as a kid, with your kid.
2) That’s the biggest LEGO set I ever put together.
3) Damn, but I’d forgotten how sore putting together LEGOs for hours can make your fingers.
4) Like the movie itself, this kit was more fun than I thought it would be. The designers did far more than they had to, apparently for the sheer joy of it, and including features that were not obviously included in the movie. Variable-geometry wings, pop-out concealed missile-launchers, drone robot/fighters, detachable auxiliary attack sleds, and a detailed engine room complete with something that resembles a Star Trek antimatter warp core.

The LEGO Movie goes in my personal bank of Movies That Were Better Than They Deserved To Be. I mean, usually when people make movies based on games or toys, it’s because they are out of ideas and are desperate for cash and you get the load of crap you expect: Resident Evil. Transformers. Doom. Battleship.

But then, every once in awhile, you get Clue. A script written by someone who wasn’t told and didn’t care that it was supposed to be a potboiler, who just decided to have as much fun as possible by unleashing a wicked sense of humor while no one was looking.

I would argue that The LEGO Movie fits in the same category. The writers did an amazing job of synthesizing dialogue and jokes that would entertain both kids and adults, much as LEGOs themselves can, in the finest tradition of the old Bugs Bunny cartoons, and folded it through a classic Hero’s Journey story that was all about rescuing the Legos from, essentially, an Empire Of No Fun. And no, it wasn’t about anticapitalism: it was about a little kid who isn’t old enough to see his father’s obsession with work as an adult necessity yet. Lord Business is evil (or evil is Lord Business) simply because Business (busyness) is what his Dad does. All he can see is that his dad has transformed even his hobbies into work. Which frankly is a reminder that adults need from time to time.  

It was fun. I had fun. Sometimes, that’s the accomplishment you need to strive for.

The Antitheist’s Nightmare

 

For Sunday, another column I wrote for SciPhi Journal, with apologies to Bertrand Russell

The eminent antitheist and essayist Dr. Brussels dreamed that he died and found himself, against all expectation, at a pair of immense gates that shone like great pearls. He was shocked and rather apprehensive as he was met by a being that looked astonishingly human, like a king, with wings twice as long as he was tall.

“I see that I must be ill and hallucinating, or having an end-of-life experience,” he said. “For nothing else could explain the anthropomorphic delusion I am currently suffering.”

“You are not ill, but you are having an ‘end-of-life experience,’ said the being. “It is called Heaven.”

“Heaven could hardly exist,” Brussels replied, “And if it did, it certainly would not look at all like a mere Human conception.”

The being smiled. “Heaven can look as It pleases, though Its reality is indeed far deeper than any one species of the Creation could fathom, at least at first. You are expected.”

“But how could I be expected in Heaven?”

“That is hardly for me to judge, man,” said the being. “I am to take you to the Eternal.” And in no very long time, he was led through the glories of the Celestial City, where, to his great surprise, Brussels found himself standing in the Presence.

“My child,” said The Eternal. “You have come at last.”

“You cannot possibly judge me. Amid all the planets of all the stars of all the galaxies of the Universe, how could you possibly know who I am, let alone presume to judge my motivations, my circumstances, and my actions?”

“My dear child,” said The Eternal. “No one has yet mentioned judgment. But you devoted your life to the study of the Universe. How is it that you do not understand what “infinite” means? How could I possibly not know all about you? Is My time limited?”

“Of course I know what ‘infinite’ means,” said Dr. Brussels. “But I can hardly be expected to have spent much time upon speculation about Your attributes. My study was the facts of the Universe that were proven, and not about Your existence, which was entirely unproven.”

The Eternal replied, “And did your studies not teach you that the Universe I created had a beginning and was likely to have an end? And surely you learned that your own life had a beginning and an end: that was much more provable. You believed that because of your small size and short life, I could not possibly take any interest in you, and yet you devoted that almost nonexistent life to the study of the lifespan of a Thing that was also limited, but merely much larger. Did you think this a wise use of the time I had granted you?”

“Well,” he sputtered, “But You did not give me adequate proof of Your existence to make me think that studying You was likely to be of value.”

“I see,” smiled the Eternal. “And the fact that the vast majority of your fellow-humans spent a great deal of time on that very endeavor suggested nothing to you?”

“It suggested only that the ignorant love ignorance, for surely even You must agree that humans agree to believe things that are manifestly untrue,” Dr. Brussels riposted.

“Of course, child. You are correct. Tell Me, what sort of evidence would you have found acceptable?”

Feeling a little surer of himself, Dr. Brussels replied, “Any sort of physical evidence of your existence.”

“So you wanted Me, a Being larger than the Universe, to appear inside it?”

“Ah, but surely You could have made Yourself smaller, if You were indeed Infinitely capable.”

“So you believe I could have made myself small enough for you to perceive, but not that I could have paid attention to you? I could indeed have done so, and have,” replied the Eternal. “But then would you not have said that my small size proved Me an impostor?”

“Well,” said Dr. Brussels, “But You could have demonstrated Your power.”

“So, I might have come to Earth, perhaps disguised as a Human, and done miraculous works?” smiled the Infinite. “Or as a pillar of smoke and flame? If only there were records of such an event available for a learned man such as yourself to peruse.”

Dr. Brussels felt himself blushing at the trap he had nearly fallen into. “Records are hardly any use to a scientist concerned with truth!” he stated. “Only that which has been proven is acceptable.”

“I see. Then surely you, Dr. Brussels, performed every experiment of Ptolemy, Copernicus, Galileo, Newton, and Einstein, not to mention others we could both name, simply to make sure they were true. I am surprised, however, that you ever had time for anything else.”

“Of course I trusted the testimony of the great experts in my field,” Dr. Brussels said.

“But you did not trust the testimony of Albertus Magnus and Paracelsus?”

“Of course not. Their methodology was flawed and their results untrustworthy.”

“Ah. So the lived experience of scientists about science was trustworthy, even to the extent of trusting them to point out the flaws of less capable scientists. But you could not trust the writings of theologians about theology because you had not shared their experiences directly, and they disagreed with one another.”

“But why,” asked Dr. Brussels, “could You not simply be with us all the time?”

“I believe you would have discovered that the answer to that question in the records to which I earlier referred. I withdrew because humans did not want My company as much as they wanted to discover truth in their own way, regardless of how harmful that could be, both to themselves and others. And now that I have withdrawn, humans ask where I Am. What would you have Me do, child?”

“You could at least, if you are so powerful, present Yourself to those who are honest and would be amenable to reason individually, so that they might have a chance of knowing you!” snapped Dr. Brussels.

“Of course, I could, child,” replied the Infinite. “And it would need to be personal, direct, and in a similar manner, so that those enlightened men you describe would know that it was from Me, and would have cause to humble themselves, and follow.”

“Yes!” cried Brussels. “So why don’t you do that?”

And he awoke in his home.

“Strange, the delusions that will overtake even the most serious and scientific minds,” he muttered.

Worlds: Stupid Sci-Fi Film Tricks, The Nuclear Option.

A version of this post appeared earlier on my Patreon site, but I thought it was worth exploring here.

Let me introduce you to one of my pet peeves about SF movies in general, through that awesomely terrible film, Independence Day, a film that apparently existed for the sole purpose of trying to make Will Smith and Bill Pullman as President Lone Starr into badasses, if you kinda squint. Hard.

What was the funniest moment in Independence Day? Was it Will Smith’s “Welcome to Earth,” line? Brent Spiner’s performance as the clueless Area 51 boss? No, I suggest that it was the parts where humanity attempts to fight 15-mile diameter floating city-battleships with air-to-air missiles. It’s kind of a credit to the movie that when the shields go down and the missiles hit the targets that the response from the audience is a cheer rather than, “Wow, the humans scratched the paint.” Which is pretty much the result of the attack. My first warning that this movie was going to be really, really bad was that the United States Air Force was actually sending fighters armed with air-to-air missiles up against these floating cities rather than, say, B-52s ready to carpet-bomb the damned things for a START.

In all seriousness, just from the outset, it should have been clear that even without shields, for fighting these aliens, nuclear weapons should have been the first and only option. The shields were only there so that humanity could use their most powerful weapons too late and discover that they were useless. And of course, once ONE nuclear weapon is proven useless, no one says “Well what if we tried two? Or ten? Because hopefully there does exist an upper threshold for damage that these shields can absorb?”

And of course the reason for that is shown later in the film: because the writer believes that nuclear weapons are infinitely powerful. Just one of them (used on an unshielded target) can destroy an alien spacecraft that is a quarter of the size of the moon.

Which brings me to my point: There are pretty much the only reasons nuclear weapons ever exist in science-fiction:
1) to highlight the awesome technology and power of the aliens in making them useless, (see also George Pal’s War Of The Worlds,) or
2) to provide humanity with a devastating knockout punch at the last second (see Pacific Rim, The Avengers, etc.). Nothing is ever damaged by nuclear weapons: there is only destroyed, or untouched.

Of course, this is ridiculous. Both the United States and the Soviet Union went to rather great lengths in the Cold War to devise shelters that would ensure that their assets could survive near-misses (and in the case of Cheyenne Mountain, direct hits) by nuclear weapons. The best defense against them is also the simplest: dig a deep hole.In addition to this, there are reasons besides political dick-waving that the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. and others invested so much time into building various sizes of nuclear weapons: they really aren’t doomsday devices. But they have been portrayed as doomsday devices for so long that many of my students in U.S. History are shocked and appalled to discover that both Hiroshima and Nagasaki are, today, thriving major world cities, and not smoking wounds in the Earth that glow in the dark. Nuclear weapons have been made to be larger, so as to threaten large cities with full-scale destruction, and smaller, to target massed enemy formations without necessitating the destruction of nearby cities.

Now I hope it’s clear that I’m not saying that nuclear warfare is no big deal: obviously, no sane person wants a nuclear war. On the other hand, does any sane person really want any war at all?

I suspect that there is a sort of reluctance to address these facts, lest people adopt a more casual attitude toward nuclear war, as if saying the truth aloud would somehow encourage people to use the weapons, but given our history, I sincerely doubt that fiction is going to be the tipping point, here, so in the name of halfway decent filmmaking, I suggest we all grow up.

Welcome, Test Subjects! A word on Mad (BAH-ha-ha-ha-ha!) vs. Sane Science and a FREE Novelette!

Welcome, new readers, to The Logoccentric Orbit! You enter a chamber of experimentation, rumination, and a dose of straight sanity that may make you knurd.* Mind the terrestrial octopi, please don’t touch the praseodymium, and be prepared if you choose to step through the glowing portal; we don’t know where it goes.

I’d first like to thank everyone who showed up yesterday from Superversive Press, and to Jason Rennie especially for allowing me to appear there. I assure you I noticed the huge surge in views, especially the people working their way through William Shakespeare’s Dune, and this is encouraging me to go ahead on that project.

Another project I have boiling away on the metaphorical Bunsen burner, and which I would like your help with, is a steampunk universe that I am dabbling in. You see, I’m a long-form writer, and even my short stories tend toward the lengthy. I was a fan of Ender’s Game when it was a novella, and there are just so many good stories out there that can’t fill a novel, but can’t be told in 5,000 words or less. They can’t be published in standard magazines or on standard podcasts. They can be ordinarily self-published, but it’s not easy to sell them or get up a lot of buzz, even when you promote them on a blog as I am doing now.

So I’ve decided to try a new tack with my novelette, The Chrysalyx: What’s it about? Well…

Aemelia Stapledon has never particularly missed having legs. Her specially-built ambucycle and the neo-Edwardian popularity of floor-length dresses allow her to pass unremarked almost anywhere in pursuance of her duties as an Agent of the Crown. But when she stumbles upon a biosculpted assassin’s murder plot to murder a slave belonging to the President of the Confederate States of America — a slave who is much more than he appears — it will take all of Aemelia’s ingenuity and weaponry to hunt down those responsible and reveal the secret of The Chrysalyx.

Chrysalyx Cover Done

I’m selling it cheap for the rest of the month on my Patreon page, and if you finish reading this post, you may have a chance to get it for free!
For becoming my patron, you get The Chrysalyx on Kindle for $1.00. Of course, there are other benefits: my Patron-only feed with updates on all my projects, and at higher levels, access to more material, works-in-progress, and even personalized short stories and writing workshops. But even if you’d rather not remain my patron, you’ll at least get this novelette out of it.

So please tell me a little bit about what you think of this approach. I’d really like to know what you want to see more of on this blog, what you want to see less of, and whether or not you like this idea of buying a novelette via Patreon and why. In fact, I’d like to know it so much, that I will pick TEN people who comment by the end of the week to receive The Chrysalyx for free!
If you would like your shot at a free copy, please just leave the comment and then fill out this Contact Form so that I can send it to you. I’ll choose the recipients at random by next Monday. It’s a mad experiment with a touch of sanity. Or maybe a sane experiment with a touch of madness. Let’s find out!!

*A state, according to the late Sir Terry Pratchett, that goes beyond mere sobriety and out the other side: a dangerous state of mental clarity that may distort ordinary human thought.

 

A Heroic Obedience

Another old Sci-Phi Journal column.

Science-fiction and fantasy tend toward the epic. In science-fiction, the sheer scale of the visible universe inspires the heroic, and in the fantastic myths tend to reward the heroes who single-handedly (or in the company of a band of brothers) take on the gods in the face of certain doom. And thus it is that the heroic virtues are the ones that our genres celebrate. Heroic valor, enduring faithfulness, unstained honor, even chivalric mercy cross our pages and screens.

Whether virtues exist, in any real sense, is one of our oldest debates. Very early on in human – and doubtless in prehuman – existence, we held to the idea that virtues were real. The idea that virtues and virtuous behavior do not exist, because they are a scam to trick the weak and the stupid away from grasping the power that could be theirs, is not very much younger, as anyone who is passingly familiar with Plato knows. From that time to this, the virtues that civilization has been built on have been periodically under assault, often in alternating pairs: thus, near the time of World War I and World War II, mercy and charity were regarded as spinelessness and treason by the great mass of the population. During the height of the Vietnam War, physical courage was often decried as brutality. And as a result of both of those times, one virtue has been beaten so low as to scarcely resemble a virtue at all: obedience.

Obedience receives little admiration from any side of the Western political spectrum, because of the aforementioned recent history, because of the Enlightenment’s valorization of liberty and freethought, but perhaps also because the study of politics concerns the acquisition and use of power to compel the obedience of other people. But that very fact, of course, compels us to take a hard look at the virtue of obedience. After all, what is the purpose of wielding, in Monty Python’s beloved phrase, “supreme executive (or legislative) power” if no one will obey it? Political power is predicated upon the idea that people will obey, and democratic republics are predicated upon the idea that they will obey, at least in the main, willingly. But obeying is not glorious or sexy, and it isn’t a virtue we generally see held up as an example in our heroic science-fictional or fantastic epics.

Of course, obedience features heavily in religious and non-religious myth, the Garden of Eden and Pandora’s Box being archetypal. Perhaps the first epic fantasist to play explicitly with the virtue of obedience near our own time was Milton. And he, writing on the very eve of the Enlightenment, makes of Satan a kind of epic hero that was embraced unreservedly by later Romantic poets. Shelley said that, “Milton’s Devil, as a moral being, is far superior to his God.” What Milton had meant as a tale of lost virtue, they turned into the embrace of a new one: the virtue of defiance. Not defiance for anything, but defiance in sich was taken to be a good.

After the Holocaust and Holodomor of the 20th century showed us the disastrous consequences of unthinking obedience to totalitarian ideologies, we should expect to see a celebration of heroic rebellion spring up. Surely it is no accident that the heroes of the most iconic SF film series of all time are part of “the Rebellion” against an evil and destructive Empire. But the recent crop of Young Adult fiction has developed pure rebellion to new heights. I have already in previous columns addressed Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy. Pullman is the heir of Shelley and Keats, preaching defiance against the Authority, and I think the generic nature of his epithet for God is telling. His heroes are not merely rebelling against a bad god, but against the very concept of legitimate obedience. This is taken even further with the more-popular The Hunger Games. Collins first throws Katniss Everdeen against the evil President Snow, who is determined to crush the Districts beneath his heel, even though he already enjoys almost limitless power. But when Katniss discovers the fabled District Thirteen, thought to have been lost in a war almost a century before, its leader, Alma Coin, is almost as cruel and absolutist as Snow himself, enforcing a starkly ascetic military regime. Katniss ends up executing her on the basis of her own suspicion that Coin will seek to assume the powers of the overthrown President Snow. In Katniss’s world, political power and authority quite literally are not allowed to be good, or to act as a moral force. Katniss’s own moral force comes from her willingness and compulsion to disobey (and destroy) every power that would seek her compliance, or even her allegiance. She, and she alone, has the power to determine what is right.

If we look back in the history of SF, however, we find a more nuanced approach from the antecedents of Star Wars, sometimes in the unlikeliest places. In that now almost-forgotten epic, the Lensman series, the Lensmen are cast as the agents of law and order, an outgrowth of the Triplanetary law-enforcement branch, not its military arm. The Lensmen believe themselves to be fighting against “Boskonian pirates,” that is, the agents of lawlessness. Nevertheless it is plain even from the outset that “Boskone” is actually a dictatorial and totalitarian state. The tension between the two is instructive and clear: obedience is an unavoidable virtue. You may not defy the Boskonian terror without obeying the laws of the Galactic Patrol. There is no way to defy one without obeying the other.
Tolkien develops the same theme, although he seemed reluctant to confront it fully. Frodo’s struggle against the Ring is almost always cast as a rebellion and a defiance against The Lord Of All The Rings, and the Ring itself. But in so doing, of course, Frodo is declaring his allegiance and obedience to Gandalf and the rest of the Council of the Wise. To obey them when the way is hard.
It is perhaps unsurprisingly C.S. Lewis and Madeleine L’Engle that come closest to a true celebration of obedience in Lewis’s
The Magician’s Nephew, where the fate of Narnia hangs on Diggory’s obedience to Aslan’s command, although that very obedience involves defying the Empress (and later White Witch) Jadis in the garden. Perelandra is clearest of all, being an allegory of the Biblical story of the Fall as it might have been. But L’Engle’s A Wind in the Door comes to its climax in an act of obedience, a counterrebellion, when the farandola Sporos dares to obey in the midst of his people’s rebellion, heeding the wisdom of the elder fara, Senex, and trusting the authority that says that he must Deepen and undergo metamorphosis to be truly free.

Even in Star Wars itself, of course, this paradox plays out. In order to effectively defy Darth Vader and the Emperor, Luke must obey Yoda. And when he fails to do this, he finds himself effectively obeying his enemies. Our heroes cannot defy without obeying, but they cannot obey without defying.

Heroes who insist on defying without obedience end up where Pullman’s and Collins’s stories leave us, and in each case, the place is not one that any sane person would envy. The protagonists are forever shattered by their victories: Lyra is separated forever from both the boy she loves and any prospect of eternal life, and Katniss, while she is together with Peeta, refuses to lead. And perhaps she must refuse this: becoming a leader would place her in a role of authority, which is evil. It would also entail her allegiance and obedience to law. She cannot truly be a hero because heroes are, almost by definition, those who give of themselves for that which is greater, that which they feel it is worthy to obey.

William Shakespeare’s Dune: Interlude With Questions

Okay, so here’s your local Shakespearean Science-Fiction Fiend taking another little break. Allow me to explain what’s going on:

Firstly, I’ve been trying really hard to achieve daily blog posts. I am noticing that it is building my readership, both in the way my readers participate in the blog and in the number of followers I have. And I am grateful for that, so I plan to continue and expand my efforts to expand my presence.

Secondly, although I’ve had no complaints about this, yet, I always got annoyed with creators who said they were going to post regularly and then did not, especially when they did not deign to post an explanation. So here goes:

My life has become extremely complicated, for a lot of good reasons this month. I can’t talk about many of them in a lot of detail, but here’s what I can say:

I got a new day job teaching English Literature at a high school. I try to keep teaching separate from writing, so no more details.  

I have recently received strong motivation to get cracking on the novel I have been contracted to write for Digital Publishing League, making that my highest priority.

I have likewise been motivated to strongly increase the marketing of my novels to publishers and agents, because I now have a book contract in hand.

The cause of all this is what I mostly can’t talk about, but relates to potential publication of a novel.

And that is why there is no William Shakespeare’s Dune this week. I hope there will be one next week. If the spirit so moves you, I’d really like to ask my readers what you’d like to see more of or less of. What have you found helpful and/or entertaining on this blog? If you don’t respond to this, I’m going to have to go with what’s getting likes and comments. I can do that, of course, but I’d rather just ask.

Thank you again for reading. You make writing worthwhile.

Book Recommendation: Orion Shall Rise

Poul Anderson may be the greatest, unknown-outside-of-SF-nal circles author. Why he (and his vivid, poetic prose, and his complex characters) is steadfastly ignored, while writers like Clarke and Asimov are hailed as the giants of the era, I do not know. I have my suspicions, which, in order, are that Anderson enjoyed writing plots full of heroic action, which lit-snobbery denounces as low, that Anderson wrote books full of joy and hope, which lit-snobbery denounces as false, and that Anderson was not sympathetic to Luddism or communism, both of which lit-snobs deem essential to real literature.

However, I stray from the point: One of the greatest post-apocalyptic books ever written is, in my opinion, Orion Shall Rise, which tells the story of people living in the successor states that have arisen after a great nuclear war. The Maurai, the most powerful of these states, embodied by its agent, Terai Wanaroa, are determined to thwart any move toward rebuilding any technology that they deem a threat to the planet, while the Northwest Union, their rival, is embarking on a course that could return the stars to mankind, while also reviving its most dreadful weapons.

The future history is plausible, the characters are beautifully-flawed humans, and the story is heartbreaking with loss and hope. I fully recommend it to everyone, except possibly those who really can’t stand any hint of sexism, because frankly, there is some there, it’s not perfect. But that having been acknowledged, I strongly recommend it as a brilliant and sadly forgotten story.

Trek Is A Dish Best Served Dark

For all its reputation as a forward-looking, optimistic series about the future of humanity, why is it that Star Trek is consistently best when it goes into truly dark places?

In all seriousness, this seems to be an issue: the best of the original Trek movies is generally agreed to have been Star Trek: The Wrath of Khan, which was a bloody revenge story, a recapitulation of Moby Dick in space.

The consistently-chosen fan favorite episode of the Original Series is “The City On The Edge Of Forever,” which affirms that sometimes war is the only way to solve a problem, that addiction to peace at any price is dangerous, and that doing the right thing may involve accepting the death of what you love.

This doesn’t change in the Next Generation, either: “Yesterday’s Enterprise” is the fan favorite there, a trip into an alternate timeline in which the Klingon Empire is slowly destroying the Federation, and the Enterprise-D is destroyed saving the Enterprise-C and the original timeline.*
ETA: An Alert Reader pointed out that I had these backward. And no, I don’t, but I was very unclear. So, to explicate and thus restore my lost nerd-cred: The Enterprise-D, in the War Timeline, sacrifices itself to allow the Enterprise-C to return through the temporal discontinuity so that it (the Enterprise-C) can sacrifice ITSELF to save the original timeline.

Gosh, I wonder why Star Trek didn’t do more time-travel episodes.

None of these stories are without hope, of course, but they are consistently darker than Roddenberry’s vision, and certainly in opposition to his (much-derided) dream for first-season Next Generation of a future in which human interpersonal conflicts had pretty much been transcended.

My own feeling is that Roddenberry’s vision simply took too little account for what people demand in a good story, and far from inspiring people, ended up looking rather insipid, while what the fans wanted were stories in which our heroes laid it all on the line, sacrificing all that they were or wanted in order to save what really mattered. In the end, you cannot “transcend” these things. They are themselves transcendence.

The Politics Of The Future

This may be a dangerous post to write, but what the hell.

The old saying goes that you shouldn’t talk politics or religion on mixed company. Of course, lots of science-fiction deals with politics and religion, but most of the time, they are utopias or dystopias that extol the virtues or expose the dangers of whatever systems the author feels like dealing with. And so the political systems of the future are full of Empires, as in The Mote In God’s Eye, or Star Wars. For democratic socialists we have Star Trek‘s Federation, and for libertarians we have Michael Z. Williamson’s Freehold.

Historically, though, we see that “new” political systems tend to be 1) surprising and 2) not all that new. The two examples in recent history that have achieved success in spreading throughout the world may be worth looking at, here, which are the American-style constitutional republic and the Soviet-style one-party socialist state.

It’s worth remembering that in 1787, there were no functioning large republics or democracies in the world. It was widely believed that such a thing could not work. And yet not only did the American system thrive, its Enlightenment ideals spread through the European states, encouraging their liberalization over the next centuries into functioning republics themselves.

In 1917, the chaos of World War I led to the Soviets seizing control of the Russian Empire. While this system did not thrive in the same way, it certainly spread, and resentment against imperialism and colonialism and the inequalities found in capitalism ensures that it continues to have its supporters despite its disastrous legacy of approximately 100 million directly killed.

Of course, it’s quite possible to argue that neither of these things are precisely “new” forms of government (and that communism isn’t a government, but an economic system, which is both true and stupid, since it’s an economic system that necessitates and advocates a certain style of government), but if that’s the case we might as well go all the way and cite the Iron Law Of Oligarchy: All governments inevitably devolve into oligarchy. But that ends the discussion I’m interested in, which is this:

Is there any room for, and are we capable of imagining, a truly future system of government, one that has never been attempted, or has been attempted only on a very small scale? Honestly, there are only two examples I can think of, one of which has become cliche and the other that’s unclear. In the first, we have Government By Computer. This is almost always a dystopia, as the idea of being ruled by a hypercapable God-machine is rather frightening on its face. The other is Dam Simmons’s hyperdemocratic All Thing in his Hyperion novels, in which there is a fairly direct democracy mediated by the equivalent of the Web. However, this government does elect an Executive that runs humans space, so it’s not really as direct a democracy as all that.

Edited To Add: I can’t believe I forgot to include Ursula LeGuin’s excellent The Dispossessed, which is unique for me in that it a) imagines a form of anarcho-socialism that I actually find semi-plausible, and b) admits to flaws in such a society that significantly hurt the protagonist without being c) dystopian socialism. 

I’d be interested in hearing people’s thoughts on this, as well as being directed to any works that explore this that I’m not conscious of.

Babylon 5: The Grand Vision

I find myself today remembering one of my formative influences as a young writer, and that is Babylon 5, which I think will always be one of my great favorite television series.

Babylon 5 was groundbreaking in so many ways, and I could write all day about them, but I don’t have that kind of time, so I’m just going to mention a few of them.

Babylon 5 was the first science-fiction series that attempted the grand story arc, getting through not one, but two huge, if related, plotlines: The Shadow War and the Earth Alliance Civil War. The only show I can think of that even attempted this previously was Battlestar Galactica, but there never seemed to be any real progress in the Galactica’s quest for Earth.

Babylon 5 took chances with its characters, portraying people who began as little people in their assigned positions growing plausibly into great men and women. We saw John Sheridan become head of state. We saw G’Kar and Delenn become prophets. We saw Londo become a monstrous dictator and war criminal, and then take the long, backsliding road to redemption. In this I feel that it was superior to its contemporary, Star Trek, because the hallmark of Star Trek was that the characters never changed. Change, such as Kirk’s promotion to Admiral, or Riker’s captaincy, was seen as a bad thing.

Babylon 5 portrayed a universe larger than could be imagined, like Star Trek before it, but in my opinion, did a better job than Star Trek, because while Star Trek kept us centered on the Enterprise, so that the uncommon became commonplace, Babylon 5 brought the impact of that larger universe home to all those involved. There was no safe place to hide from the Shadows and the Vorlons, and everything was riding on the line for the characters.

I would dearly love to see Babylon 5 re-imagined, or perhaps rebooted, but I am not sure that such a cast or such a vision could ever be reassembled. It saddens me, though, that somehow Babylon 5 has not received the accolades that I feel it earned.