Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Remakes and Updates

Greetings SF Fans and welcome to Wednesday's exciting post. Today I want to talk a bit about remakes and updates in the science fiction world.

SciFi Channel provided some new insights into the production of its new Flash Gordon TV series over the past few weeks as well as some tidbits about the famous Battlestar Galactica series and prequel (Caprica) for those who were interested. It seems that lately everything old is new again, and the networks seem to have come to the conclusion that this is not necessarily a bad thing. Personally, I have to agree. Remakes of shows like Kolchak, The Night Stalker have bombed in the ratings war, but the unstoppable juggernaut that is Battlestar Galactica is making up for the lack of traction for other failed re-imaginings. The question is why some of these re-treads succeed (like The Outer Limits) where others fail (like The Twilight Zone).

The answer is difficult to see, but I think it mostly lies in the idea that some shows divert very little from the original and thus are compared unfavorably to their progenitor and fail. Kolchack was very similar to its 1970's original, and there-in lay its doom. People tuned in expecting to get the original and they got something that was very similar but not quite the same. The opposite is true of Galactica. People tuned in to see a reprise of the original only to find something radically different from what they were expecting. Some didn't like it, but most did, and thus it thrives.

Some shows, which are obvious remakes, change their names in order to pretend that they are not the same show and guarantee new viewers. Seaquest DSV was obviously a remake of Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea just as it was fairly obvious that Time Tunnel was the inspiration for both the Sliders and Quantum Leap franchises. Still you have a bunch of new shows that want to pretend that they are not remakes, and that is OK. After all, I loved The Equalizer, so Burn Notice is obviously going to appeal to me, just as those who liked Forever Night will enjoy the upcoming Moonlight. The real question is will they succeed?

With Flash Gordon coming to SciFi channel later this year, we can only hope that they learned the lesson and have made it different enough to survive. I hold high hopes that this production will give us all the kind of retro-science-fiction style flair that we expect while giving us edgier humanist inspired drama. There are talks that Buck Rogers, Commando Cody (a.k.a. the Rocketeer), and Lost in Space may be seriously being considered to return to TV in new re-imaginings, so let's just hope that they have a glimmer of thought on how to improve upon their classic forebears.

Monday, May 28, 2007


So, I have decided to create a new form of exercise for SF fans. I call it Weber-cizing. Please allow me to explain.

I have been on a David Weber reading glut of late, and I had not noticed until a fellow SFSNNJ member pointed out that those books are heavy. At first I thought she meant that they contained many unique thought provoking ideas (which they do), but in actuality, she meant that the book weighed a whole lot (which it manifestly does). I, in turn, thought about the fact that I did not seem to notice the weight of the massive tome, and so I decided that I must be getting some heck of a lot of exercise from reading this book. When I got home, I looked at my bookshelves, and lo there were many really large books. Thus developed Weber-cizing (I tried using the Robert Jordan books first but trying to dead-lift them all proved well-nigh impossible).

On a more serious note: David Weber has been off his game for a while with the Honor Harington series, but I have to admit that At All Costs was fantastic. After War of Honor I was really dreading this book, but it was fantastic. I had high hopes after reading Off Armageddon Reef and am pleased to announce that the Weber we all know and love is back with a vengeance. Great characters and situations that explode with emotion show that Weber can keep the story going and the readers are certainly interested in following where it leads.

In other news, check out for their SciFi essentials books at There are some real gems in there.

Friday, May 25, 2007

Riding On Their Fathers' Coat Tails

In an age where the mid-list is shrinking and authors have a harder and harder time getting published, it is amazing to see the hoopla and bally-hoo surrounding some works of fiction. Granted, we all know that having a parent with multiple bestsellers is pretty much a guarantor of your getting published, however I cannot help but wonder if the print and advertising budgets for these emergent authors isn't hurting the publishing industry. After all, having a parent who is a great writer is no indicator that the child is going to be a great writer; creativity is not solely down to genetic chance. Let's take a look at several examples of recent books that would probably not have seen the light of day had it not been for famous forebears.

First let us look at the son of Stephen King. Joe Hill is a great writer who would likely be published without his ties to the master of modern horror. Heart Shaped Box, which we will be discussing this evening at the Ramsey Borders, is a great book that is a lot of fun for any fan of Peter Straub's Ghost Story, and is an excellent suspenseful debut novel. All this said, if the book were by anyone else, I somehow doubt that we would see 25 or 30 copies on the shelf in the horror section of the book store. In this case, though, it can be forgiven. Joe Hill seems to take great pains not to remind everyone of who his dad is, and I count that in his favor.

Our next example is that of Brian Herbert. With the last (they promise) book of the Dune universe created by his father due out later this year, we can look forward to an end of almost a decade of prequels and sequels to his father's work. Brian Herbert was, and is, a solid writer with a great mind, and his independent works are absolutely phenomenal. Unfortunately, his real rise to fame has been in expanding the universe that his father created using a combination of his father's notes and his own rememberances of things that they had discussed. While I love the Butlerian Jihadand the stories of the machine wars, I was not too pleased with the House Atreides/Harkonnen/Corrino books. Hunters of Dune is fantastic, and I eagerly await the last chapter. Sadly, though, I have the feeling that Brian Herbert will be relegated back to the midlist once the Dune books are done.

My last example is Christopher 'Let me see if I can wring a few more sheckles out of my dead father' Tolkien. Christopher Tolkien is a hack with little or no talent, who hoards his father's work like Smaug hoards gold. The Children of Hurin yet another expansion of daddy's Silmarillion hit the shelves earlier this month to much fanfare and acclaim. This is a travesty! The fact that the man did some editing work on a short story and wrote some bits and bobs to tack onto it should not give him room to throw his name on the by-line. The book is probably marvelous (I will be buying my copy this evening), but the fact remains that it is JRR Tolkien's book, not Christopher's. I should also point out that his father had done a number of translations (including Sir Gawain and the Green Knight) which we will never get to see because the books are public domain, thus the translations are public domain, and it seems that if Christopher cannot get any money for them, they will never see the light of day (in case you are feeling sorry for him or think that he needs the money, rest assured he doesn't need the money or your sympathy as he is very wealthy).

Anyway, now that I have vented my spleen on the subject of Christopher Tolkien I will sinmply wrap up by saying: Remember, judge the author, not their parents.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Battle Among the Stars

Since the last of the Star Wars prequels came out, people have been wondering "What's Next?" OK, to be fair, only the people actively emplyed by THX and LucasFilms have really been asking that question, since most of the rest of us have become somewhat disenchanted with the franchise. Still, it is a question that must be asked.

George Lucas continues spouting about all of these 'bold, visionary, exciting' projects that he has in the works. Animated series, live action dramas, and more are allegedly on the horizon for Star Wars to come to the small screen. What I am wondering is why these projects do not seem to be getting much traction in the TV community? Obviously these films made money, and are recognizable even by non-fans (you must be hiding under a pretty big rock if you have not heard of Star Wars), so why is it taking so long for a TV project to be green-lighted?

One reason may be that TV studios need only hear Lucas' self-congratulatory commentary from the DVDs of his films to know that it would be obvious that 2 directors chairs would be needed (one for Lucas and a second for his ego). The problem with that, is that Lucas high opinion of his abilities is not unfounded! Lucas is a canny and intelligent man, and his films definitely have an impact. People complain about Star Wars Episode I all the time, however what they fail to notice is that Lucas has made a film that is notworthy and excites discussion and criticism. Complain all you like, but remember to ask yourself: could you have done any better? For myself, I would like to think that if I had all of Lucas' resources, I could make a far superior film. Of course, many people might find my movie a bit dull and plodding. Everyone is a critic, and that means that we all get to say how we would "make it better".

While I think that the idea of a Star Wars TV program is a laudable one, I have to say that I will not hold my breath waiting for one. First, the budget would have to be really big for the effects on a live action project. Second, an animated project would need more of a community involvement than Lucas seems to embrace. Third, the timetable for completion of episodes is a hurdle that Lucas may not be comfortable with. Fourth, Indiana Jones 4?

What say you?

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

I'm Holding Out For a Hero!

As most, if not all, of you have guessed, I am a huge fan of the NBC TV series Heroes. Great writing, superb acting, excellent direction, and magnificent production values have combined like a perfect storm of television to create one of the best shows on network TV. Gripping and fraught with emotion, one cannot help but be moved to tears by the drama of this show.

Like any great, well thought out show, Heroes asked alot of questions, and has still not answered many of them. We have been shocked, surprised, and awed throughout the season, and more than a few tears have been shed during the taut moments of desperate internal and external struggle around and amongst the characters of this epic story. We watched Claire Bennett mature from a vapid cheerleader to a responsible and courageous adult. We have watched the metamorphosis of Noah Bennett from heavy to hero. We have seen Hiro and Ando progress from adolescent fancy to serious saviors. We have seen the fall and redemption of Nathan Petrelli and Matthew Parkman, as well as the revelation of numerous others. Most importantly we have watched as Niki took control of her life to save DL and Micah without the aid of her alter-ego Jessica. This has been 23 episodes of amazing story and rich character developement all around.

Perhaps the most telling characters in this show about super-powered men and women are the very ordinary people who surround them and help them. The story would be pale and dull without Noah Bennett, Ando, Mohinder, and Mr. Nakamura working to help shepherd in what can only be thought of as an age of the hero. It is important that these seemingly ordinary, everyday people are sometimes more impactful than the super-heroes around them. The moral of the story is, I suppose, that even the regular guys can make a difference.

Well, enough of my gushing about my favorite show, I will close by quoting Molly Walker and say only, "You are my hero!"

Monday, May 21, 2007

Big Screen vs Boob-Tube

Recently there has been a lot of talk about the differences between the movie experience and the TV experience. One issue that keeps coming up again and again is the fact that theatres are running a slimmer and slimmer profit margin due to the rising cost of showing features, and that most films (especially non-blockbusters) may soon be avoiding the multi-plex altogether. With the cheapening of huge TVs, sound systems, and projection technology, we are seeing more and more people waiting to 'catch it on video'. The main question is whether this will destroy the cinema culture that we have come to embrace.

Now, TV on the other hand is getting better. Edgy new concept shows and re-imaginings of classic shows of yesteryear have pushed the TV envelope to create new and more interesting programming in that media. Before Babylon 5 only soap operas did huge multi-season story arcs, now that is the norm. Before 24, nobody thought of running a show in 'real time' (don't get me started on what my opinion of the timing on 24 is like), but now many shows are using that sort of format of things going on in conjunction (though not as tightly as 24 does). We can look back as far as Bewitch'd and I Dream of Genie, but really, it has been Charmed that has inspired a new glut of modern fantasy/magical realism TV series (Sabrina the Teanage Witch, The Dresden Files, the remake of Kolchak, and many others). As we get further along, will TV eclipse movies. Realistically, my answer for SF and Fantasy is a resounding yes!

More and more we are seeing adaptations of classic books for the silver screen, however due to the previously mentioned rising costs, that could prove problematic. A TV Mini-series can cost as much, or more, than a movie, but you get more time toi tell your story and faithfully adapt the book to a visual format. Done properly, these mini-series are far more popular than the rather clipped films in the theatres, and the chance to recoup monies with advertisers is better than praying to the dark gods of Hollywood that the box office take is good.

In 10 years I see the theatres being reserved for horror movies and big-budget blockbusters, as these can work on home theatre units but really need the shared experience of a theatre to generate their punch. Everything else (and I really do mean everything) will be relegated to DVD, streaming internet, and Digital HD TV. The real question is, what do you think?

Friday, May 18, 2007

The Dork is Rising...

I apologize for not posting my rantings more often this week, however things have been a bit hectic. I recently found out that I am being laid off in September (bad news), but my friend wants to hire me to work for him (good news), but he doesn't need me to start right away (bad news), but he does need my help with a couple of minor things (good news), and wait, no, he may need me to start now after all (good news). I think I got whiplash from watching my future bouncing across the table. But enough of that noise, on with the show!

This week has been great for Science Fiction. Spider-man 3 and 28 Weeks Later are at the top of the box office, Heroes beat 24 for its time slot, the SciFi channel is starting to put more pressure on interesting new programs like Tinman, Flash Gordon, Dresden Files, and more, and Wizards of the Coast is focusing on more player friendly game mechanics. All in all, a great week all around.

Personally, I am more than a little interested to see what projects SciFi is cooking up in its lab. I really hope that we can look forward to more great new original mini-series like Battlestar Galactica, Dune, Lost Room, Earthsea, and, of course, Taken. Tinman looks fantastic, and I really hope that it lives up to its appearances.

Speaking of living up to one's appearances, I have to admit that I am pesonally a bit psyched by one upcoming project: The Dark is Rising by Susan Cooper is being made into a movie!!!! I loved those books, and will now have to re-read them in anticipation of the film. This will mean that I will have to gush like an adolescent fanboy about what a superior writer Cooper is to Rowling (sorry J.K., I love your books too, but Susan Cooper and Lloyd Alexander beat you in the writing department). Seriously, the SF renaissance will come with the new generation of readers and movie-goers, and the best way to get kids to read is to get them excited. Major motion pictures do that, as evinced by the increase in interest in the Lord of the Rings and the Narnia books after the release of those movies. Get a jump on the movie, read this book now!

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Gale Force Win!

So, for those who did not make it to the SFSNNJ's Face the Fiction on Saturday, you missed a real treat. Ken Gale was in rare form and proved to be as interesting and engaging a speaker as we had hoped. What is even better was that the creepy and atmospheric Bergen Museum of Arts and Sciences was even better suited as a venue than anyone had ever hoped! Kudos to Ann Marie and Josephine for yet another really great event!

The evening started with a number of small conversations among friends, as we began filtering into the museum. Slowly but surely we gathered up, and when Ken started his talk, there were a good thirty-odd people there! It was an exciting and entertaining evening, and I'm glad I was there.

One thing that Ken spent a good deal of time on was the Comics Code. Created by Senator Estes Kefauver using arguments presented by Dr. Fredrick Wertham, the Comics Code Authority ripped the guts out of the more mature comics while simultaneously destroying and halting the progressive evolution of several books. The echoes of the CCA are still felt today in the sometimes irrational and inexplicable hatred some people have towards comics.

For myself, I find it hard to read comics. I wind up staring at the beautiful pictures and losing sight of the word bubbles or reading the word bubbles and not noticing the pictures. I can manage regular comic strips as they are short, but my eye is just not well trained for comic reading. I do sort of lament my lack on that as comics always sound so interesting.

Anyway, back to the main action: One thing that Ken talked about at length was the relationship between movies and comics. Movie makers often use comics (and vice versa) to give them ideas about how and where to place the action and describe the scene. Odd angles, lighting, and placement of characters often lead to interesting composition, and writers, artists, and filmmakers should avoid using the static 'best seat in the house' shot every time to make the visuals more interesting. As simple as it sounds, it is not an obvious thing to most people, and one really does have to school oneself to think outside the standard point of view.

Well, I could go on for a while, but I will just say that this is going to be a busy week for the SFSNNJ:

Monday is Suspense Central at the Suffern Library
Tuesday is Tripping the Write Fantastic at the Suffern Library
Wednesday is Films to Come at the Borders in Ramsey
Thursday is the game at Reality's Edge in North Arlington

Whoo, I'm exhausted already!

Thursday, May 10, 2007


Caution, Spoilers ensue...

So what does America think about Spider-man 3? Well to judge by the box office, they loved it, but last night I saw a film that I liked that other members of the group that was just plain awful. Several people complained that the story lacked any real impact (a statement I patently disagree with), and was simply a vehicle to move the plot through byzantine fight sequences. This is a valid point, though not one I agree with.

What did I think?

Well, I liked the more upbeat jumping off point of the film. You really feel as though this was taking place almost immediately in the aftermath of the Dr. Octopus storyline from Spider-man 2. What is not noticable at the beginning of the film is what this story is supposed to be about, though, and that kind of hurts the film. This movie is about forgiveness and acceptance of life and the trammels of fate, and the vehicles that they used for this are Flint Marko/Sandman, Eddie Brock Jr/Venom, Peter Parker/Spiderman, and Harry Osborne/New Goblin. Throughout the film these characters either do things or have done things in the past that are just plain awful. Each must struggle with his inner demons and forgive himself before asking for forgiveness from those around them. The only person who doesn't seek our or ask for redemptionn and forgiveness is Eddie Brock (he is a narcissistic sociopath and thinks that everyone has wronged him, not the other way around). The story progresses through a standard bell curve where the dramatic tension hits its high point as the hero hits his low point, and Spidey realizes that he has become a monster, no better than the man who killed his uncle.

What I liked and what I didn't like:

Thomas Hayden Church was amazing as the Sandman. He does not have a huge amount of dialog, but when he does speak it is with the power of a giant fist made of sand. They did a great job conveying the idea that Flint's raison d'etre is the salvation of his sickly daughter. My only problem with the Sandman was that it made no sense for him to team up with Venom to take on Spiderman. Sure, Spidey beat him up, but Marko had been portrayed as a genuinely good person who was trying to help his daughter in the only way he could. To go out and pick a fight seemed a bit forced.

Eddy Brock was the perfect obnoxious, self-obsessed worm (kudos for Topher Grace on the great job), and his scene at the church, where he asks God to kill Peter Parker, is brilliantly done. Many people felt that the Venom character was an afterthought, however the use of the symbiote was necessary to make Peter Parker, who is a boy scout through most of the prior two movies, do some awful things to the people he cares for.

Another pat on the back goes to James Franko for his prtrayal of angsty Harry Osborne. The whole sub-plot of the Harry-Peter-MJ triangle was great and added a great deal of depth and perspective to the characters. My only complaints about the New Goblin are: why do you have a mask if you aren't going to wear it? and Why do the writers keep killing off great characters?! The reunion of Parker and Osborne as friends was a great touch, but the fact that Harry sacrifices himself with a death that directly mirrors his father was a bit much on the symbolism front. Sheesh, we get it, Harry is not like his dad! We did not need to kill him to make that point. It is quite obvious that Harry had remote control of his glider, so why he needed to catch the bullet is beyond me.

I liked the use of Dr. Connors, and Bruce Campbell's portrayal of a snotty French maitre d' was great (then again it was Bruce Campbell, so what do you expect). Jamison seemed subdued, but there were some great bits in the newspaperman's office that will bring a smile to anyone's lips.

I hated the use of Gwen Stacey. Sorry guys, I think that Bryce Dallas Howard did a phenomenal job, but the writers really dropped the ball with her. The crane disaster shot should be afterthe key to the city sequence and after Spidey gets his black suit. When she falls off the building she should have been accidentally killed by Spiderman (preferably by him using too much strength due to the Venom symbiote and snapping her neck). Then you have some GREAT angst.

Then again, that is just my opinion...

Tuesday, May 8, 2007

Heroes "The Hard Part"

Well for those of us whole watched Heroes last night instead of 24 (or after 24 as the case may be), last night's episode was a bit lackluster. Generally I am all for an episode of character development and minor action, but after the past few weeks of gut-wrenching drama it seems like an episode entitled 'The Hard Part' should have a bit more oomph to it.

What did I like about this episode? There were some great, though understated, moments with Claire Bennett and Peter Petrelli; the part where Peter explains that Claire is the only person who can keep him from blowing up was rivaled only by the scene where the two bond in the plaza as Claire's adopted father shows up. As always, Mr. Bennett (better known as Horn Rimmed Glasses, or HRG, among fans) steals any scene he is in, showing that the character who many people thought was the villain may be a hard man, but he has a soft spot for his family. The scenes with Mohinder were well done, and it was nice to get some biological science subtly interjected into the scene. Most telling were the scenes between Sylar/Gabriel and his mother: finally we see why this guy is so crazy.

What I did not like about the episode is very simple: there was waaaaay too much going on. Normally the writers do a much better job of juggling all of the characters and situations, but this episode seemed like it was rushing to cover too many bases within its time slot. Hiro and Ando, arguably one of the best character pairs in the show, had very little time on screen (possibly to balance out the fact that they were the only characters from the 'present' in the last episode). The scene with DL and Jessica/Niki was good, but they did not do enough to develop the Linderman control issue. They again hint that the widow Petrelli has some kind of power, but yet again they fail to show it. Micah is obviously important, however I do not think that 2 fairly big (comparative to other vignettes) segments needed to be devoted to watching him interact with Candice, one would have been fine guys. Obviously the writers had a whole lot of stuff to do and wanted to touch on a number of subjects, so I understand why some of the decisions were made (though giving Sylar an existential crisis was a bit weird).

All in all, I love the show and enjoyed Monday's episode. So much has come together already, I cannot wait until next week so I can see how it all plays out.

Sunday, May 6, 2007

What's going on this week?

Actually, I want to start this post off with a bit of an apology, as I misphrased something in my first post: I am one of the leaders of the SFS, not the sole grand honcho of supreme ultimateness. I should point out all of the other people who work so hard to make things run and allow our members to have fun. Our General Moderators are Ann Marie Brown, Josephine Brown, Chris Hasselkus, Steve Spinosa, Bill Wagner, Aurelia Long, Brian O'Dell, Abdul Manikram, Barry Weinberger, Craig Hatler, and Chuck Garofalo, and every single one of these wonderful people works very hard to make me look good (which is a monumental task in and of itself).

So, on to the meat of the post:

Well, as some of you know, I will be talking alot about the cool events and programs that are sponsored by the SFSNNJ. This week our comic book discussion group, Drawing a Crowd, will be having a special event viewing of Spiderman III at the Clifton Commons at 7PM. Afterwards we will retire to Applebees for food and discussion of the film as well as the evolution of NY's favorite wall crawler.

But wait, there's more!

Not only do you get one really cool comic book related event this week, but you get 2!!! This upcoming Saturday, Face the Fiction (our exciting interactive guest speaker event) will meet at the Bergen Museum of Arts and Science to host Ken Gale, the radio host of 'Nuff Said! If you like Comics (and we know you do), then you need to get yourself down there. Directions and information are (as always) available on the SFSNNJ main web site (the URL is, how's that for clever, eh?)

See y'all soon!

Saturday, May 5, 2007

Welcome all to the future of Science Fiction

For those of you who don't know me (which for sake of argument I will assume is everyone), my name is Todd V. Ehrenfels, and I am a Science Fiction fan. Not only am I an SF Fan, but I am the leader of a large group of dedicated fans in northern NJ who style ourselves as the Science Fiction Society of Northern New Jersey (SFSNNJ or just SFS for short). Right now we have a website (, a yahoo group (, a gaming and hobby group (, and a large number of monthly meetings in stores, libraries, and museums where we hang out, socialize, and generally have a great time.

Why am I starting this blog, you may ask. Well, it seemed like a good idea at the time. I have decided to share my passion for Science Fiction, and give everyone another place to learn about the SFSNNJ, so I figured that a Blog would suit that purpose really well. It was either this or myspace, and frankly I stink at poetry.

So, welcome all to the future of Science Fiction in NJ!