Monday, May 26, 2008

Top Ten Revolution Stories

OK, as Rebellion month draws to a close, I am bringing a list of stories and series that salute the process and concept of the revolution. Whether social, governmental, or technological, these revolutionary stories are great examples of the ways in which civilization can change, in some cases over night.

10 - Singularity Sky by Charles Stross - What happens when a planet with anarcho-communist leans that has been under the thumb of a brutally repressive regime suddenly has access to everything that they could ever need? Overnight revolt, massive upheaval, and disintegration of the social contract for starters. This is a story where we learn the perils of massive changes that happen too quickly (especially when aided by alien influences). The story is brilliant, and Charles Stross is one of the best writers of modern SF there is. It is also the story which gives us the phrase "the sporks of freedom!"

9 - The Man Who Never Missed by Steve Perry - Can one man really make a difference? He can when he is pretending to be an entire rebel army. On the planet Greaves, Emile Khadaji is doing just that. Instead of killing enemy soldiers of the occupying forces, though, he is using a powerful nerve agent that causes a 6-month coma. Immobilizing hundreds of enemy combatants, Khadaji knows that he has a strict time limit before the coma patients start to awaken and compare notes, realizing that the 'Shamba Freedom Fighters' are really just one guy with a nifty gun. This starts of a series of amazing stories that are all part of the Matador series, which explores the concept of a non-lethal rebellion.

8 - Way of the Pilgrim by Gordon R. Dickson - In the furure, Earth is an occupied planet, with a race of strict aliens ruling the world. The aliens are attempting to force humans to fit into their mold of what is believed to be a proper culture in order to support the aliens, called Aalaag, in their efforts to survive a pursuing alien force which has no name. The idea is that the aliens are warriors, and all others are required to support those warriors in their efforts. Shane Evert, one of the few humans who can understand the aliens language begins to understand the differences between humans and the outwardly similar Aalaag, and develops a plan to overthrow the oppressive regime using grafiti. This is a brilliantly done story with an eye towards anthropology instead of technology as a cure for the injustice of oppression.

7 - The Flying Sorcerers by David Gerrold and Larry Niven - When a scientist crash-lands on a strange planet, it is up to him to teach the aliens how technology works. The aliens, on the other hand, are quite content to use their 'magic' to get rid of Purple the Sorcerer until they discover that Purple can teach them how to fly with his new magic. This is a great story of cross-cultural contamination as 'Purple' slowly changes the aliens' society by showing them the concept of labor for hire, assembly lines, and (gasp) denomination monetary units. To make matter even more interesting, the entire story is told from the point of view of the alien Sorcerer, who sees these changes as the death of his dominance over his people.

6 - Runner/Logos Run by William C. Dietz - Contemplating one's navel is all well and good, but Jak Rebo is not a religious man. In the first book, Jak has to help get a young religious prophet to his destination to prevent a massive shift in the normally peaceful religion if it was determined that the young prophet was the wrong choice. In the second, Jak has to revitalize technology that caused the downfall of the human races by getting the AI called Logos to the central hub where it can turn on the interstellar network of gates that will allow humanity to restore connections across the cosmos and revitalize the species. Set in a luddite future with limited access to technology, these stories of a crumbling interstellar infrastructure are a joy to read.

5 - Stardoc by S. L. Viehl - Healthcare can be a wonderful thing, unless you are the object of the experiments. Dr. Chorijo Grey Veil is running away from her father, a mad scientist who created her in an effort to make himself immortal. As she wanders the stars with her adoptive clan and husband, Duncan Reaver, she causes disruption, change, and chaos. Life and death are important to this doctor, but even more so are compassion and honor.

4 - Lathe of Heaven by Ursula K. LeGuin - How do you have a revolution without having to do anything? Dream it and hope that it happens. In this classic story a young man can change the world through his dreams, and is forced to work his magic on the world, even if it doesn't want his help. The problem is that the dreams lead to an ever changing, ever more bizarre vision of the future.

3 - Insurrection by David Weber and Steve White - Colonies always suffer from the oppression of their founding cultures, we saw it in the Americas, China, Africa, and India, and in the far future, it is happening all over again. Unfortunately, this revolutionary war will be even more destructive than any of the revoloutions in history. Set against the backdrop of a humanity divided by issues of colonial rights and taxation issues, this story weaves war and strife into an amazing narrative with larger than life heroes and many shades of gray.

2 - Santiago by Mike Resnick - Though more famous for his some of his other Birthright Universe series like the Widowmaker, Mike Resnick sets a tone for a future rebellion that is far more than it seems. The outlaw Santiago is larger than life, striking everywhere and everything. The stories of Santiago are complex and strange, and it is only through the hunt for the man himself that we learn the truth of this outlaw rebel, and the facts behind this extraordinary man.

1 - The Star Fraction by Ken MacLeod - Anarchy reigns in this alternate future London, and the new UK is divided into a sort of Balkanized version of itself, with warring factions vying for prominence. In this dystopian future, various heroes attempt various means of overthrowing the current social order with limited success. Politics, religion, technology, and economy war back and forth in the bizarre microcosm of the new UK, and as tensions ratchet upwards, the world spirals further out of control and revolution is the only way to settle things into a better future.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

She, Robot

Welcome to the future. It is a time when humanity is divided over the questions of technological ethics and the concept of biotechnological research. Factions vie for prominence across the length and breadth of the stars, and the war between the League and the Federation has widened the rift between opposing doctrines. Welcome to the future as envisioned by Joel Shepherd.

Joel Shepherd, a native of Australia, brings us an interesting vision of things to come in the far future. The most interesting thing: people are still fighting over the same things that they are squabbling over now. Do humans have the right to create truly artificial life? Today the argument is over cloning, in Shepherd's Cassandra Kresnov series, the issue is General Issue Artificial Humans, better known as GIs.

So what is the big deal about GIs? The issue is less clear than one would assume. The League believes that technology is technology and is a tool for the betterment of man, while the Federation believes that technology must be used responsibly. The core disagreement over GIs is that the League views them as tools and the Federation views them as people who have no say in who and what they are. The Federation has banned the use and development of GIs and GI -related technology, while the League uses their GIs to figh the war.

OK, so now that we understand the crux of the disagreement, it is time to focus on the key character in this series: Cassandra Kresnov. Cassandra is a high designation League GI that has gone AWOL in order to defect from the League and become a productive citizen of the Federation. Cassandra pretends to be a normal human and emigrates to the Federation world of Callay where she interviews with a series of biotechnology firms hoping to get a job. Unfortunately for Cassandra, her secret is know to members of the Federal Investigations Agency, and she is abducted and experimented on only to be rescued by Callay's own SWAT Lieutenant Vanessa Rice.

Although placed under arrest due to her biomechanical nature, Cassandra, tries as hard as she can to help and cooperate with the Callay Intelligence Agency (CIA). Eventually, while enroute to hearings being held to determine her status, Sandy gets her chance to shine. There is an assassination attempt on Callay's President, and the only reason that it does not succeed is because Cassandra is in the right place to thwart the attempt. The action and intrigue spin out of control from that point on, with Sandy and Vanessa taking the lead in guiding Callay through a series of momentous crises.

The inherent question of the series: a philosophical analysis of the classic 'I think therefore I am' statement goes deeper into than one might think. The pivotal decision that comes before the players in this little drama is whether or not a GI which can think for itself can really rebel against all of her programming and become something else. There is a great scene early in the book where Cassandra explains that she likes art, and when asked why, she in turn asks why anyone likes art: it makes her feel. Cassandra has all the benefits of being a superstrong android (though she hates that term), and could probably give the Terminator a run for its money, but she really wants to give up war and fighting for a more peaceful existence.

Philip K. Dick asked Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? and caused quite a stir, but Joel Shepherd asks: can an android be more than the sum of its programming? Can a machine evolve? If it does, will it be more like us, or less? With the Terminator series of movies we have seen the evolution of machine intelligence as a frightening Frankenstein's monster paradigm. Shepherd shows us that maybe, just maybe, we can make something more human than human. It is a great concept, a great series, and a great question.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Top Ten Rebels

Whether they are storming the capitol on Coruscant, leading the Fremen against the Sardaukar, or just plain running for your life to escape a mandatory death sentence, there is something about a rebel that makes us all sit up and take notice. It doesn't matter who, how, or why, we love our rebels and we admire their guts in standing up against the forces of oppression to fight for what they believe in. This month the Science Fiction Society of Northern New Jersey salutes the rebels in all of their glory, and so I give you the top ten Rebels of all time!

10 - Madmartigan - Scoundrel, thief, and heroic swordsman, Madmartigan burst onto screens in the 1988 Ron Howard fantasy epic Willow and made an indelible impression on all of us. In the battle against the wicked Queen Bavmorda, nothing could be done without this grinning paragon of self-interest, and in the novels that followed the film (Shadow Moon, Shadow Dawn, and Shadow Star by Chris Claremont) Madmartigan continues to flourish and rise to ever greater prominence.

9 - Lady Sula - The Praxis is truth, and this pauper turned high Lady through identity theft knows it only too well. It is through the Dread Empire of the Shaa's dogmatic devotion to the Praxis that 'Lady Sula' maintain the charade of her nobility, but when the last Shaa dies and the Dread Empire fractures into warring sects, Lady Sula fights for the very system that kept her down as a child. Her role as the leader of the loyalist guerillas on rebel occupied Zanshaa marked her as a brilliant mind, an able leader, and one of the few examples of conformist rebellion available.

8 - Cassandra Kresnov - Domo arigato Miss Roboto! The League General Issue (GI) artificial human, Cassandra Kresnov is clever, beautiful, and very deadly. Designed for war, built to lead other, lower designation GI's, and sent on mission after mission with death and destruction all around her, Cassandra rebelled against her creators and fled to the anti-GI Federation. Although most Federation citizens view her as nothing more than a machine, Cassandra has found some acceptance on the world of Callay, where the debate over her rights and life have taken a far different tone. Joel Shepherd weaves an intriguing series of well-thought out espionage stories featuring a brilliant cast of diverse characters.

7 - David Valentine - What do you do when aliens who suck blood and life energy conquer your planet? David Valentine (E.E. Knight's Vampire Earth series) joins the ranks of Free Humanity and fights the good fight against the conquerors. The problem is that it is not just the aliens that he must deal with. The Quislings (humans who assist the Kurian Overlords and their Reapers) are the biggest threat that Valentine must face, and killing humans is a far different prospect from shooting Bug-eyed Monsters. Brilliantly written, this story highlights people, places, and story in a way that is hard to forget.

6 - Sten - Alan Cole and the late Chris Bunch brought us the convict turned spy turned soldier turned pilot, turned politician turned rebel named Sten. Set in a far future ruled by the Eternal Emperor whose monopoly on AM2 (a newer, more powerful version of Anti-Matter) guarantees him rulership of the universe. Sten starts off as the Emperor's loyal servant, confidant, and friend, but eventually the Emperor changes (after he returns from the dead following a successful assassination attempt), and Sten is forced to overthrow the man who once ruled with wisdom and intelligence. Sten is a great character whose life and times are as amazing as you are likely to find.

5 - Merlin Athrawes/Nimue Alban - Why is it that aliens are always wiping out the human race? In this new story from David Weber we still have no answer to that question, but we do know that Humans, much like cockroaches, are hard to stamp out. After the Terran Confederation falls to the Gbaba (and the races is presumed to be extinct) one lonely, backwards colony is left to carry on the fight. The problem is that the colonials abandoned all technology in an effort to hide from the bloodthirsty aliens. Nimue Alban takes on the identity of Merlin Athrawes and begins to establish new technology on the Luddite world, rebelling against the Church and the governments of this planet.

4 - Roy Batty - "Why come to Earth? That's unusual..." says Rick Deckard of the Replicants that have attempted to wrest the secrets of their incept dates from their inventors in the film version of Philip K. Dick's classic novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep (Blade Runner). Batty is a rebel with a cause: he wants to live more than the four years allotted to him, and will stop at nothing to break out of the role that has been forced on him by construction and programming.

3 - The Rebel Alliance - Star Wars' key players in the fight to overthrow the tyranny of Emperor Palpatine and the Galactic Empire is probably the most well-known organization of insurgents ever. From the fight to destroy the first Death Star to the battle of Endor, Luke, Leia, Han, Chewie, Lando, C-3PO, and R2-D2 lead the battle and strike a blow for freedom.

2 - Owen Deathstalker - Who is the most dangerous man in the galaxy? A paunchy historian with a family history of political plotting and betrayals, that's who. At the start of the series, Owen Deathstalker is a middle aged historian who wants nothing more than to be left alone. Unfortunately, his family has information that the Empress wants, and so she has him outlawed, hoping that he will lead her to the secrets that he does not even know that he knows. Big mistake. This action leads to the largest uprising in the Empire of Humanity's history, and the overthrow of Lionstone XIV. Simon R. Green weaves a fantastic tale where space opera meets H.P. Lovecraft.

1 - Paul 'Muad'dib' Atreides - Another reluctant rebel, the visionary prophet Paul Atreides, the Kwiszatch Haderach, is the epitome of the desert revolutionary. Leading his Fremen against the Harkonnen invaders and their allies, the Imperial Sardaukar, Paul must use his visions of the future to shape a new, better Empire. Frank Herbert's exciting novel, Dune, tells the tale in a larger than life way that makes one think about the truth of the prophecies and the power of one important substance. The spice must flow!

Friday, May 16, 2008


Greetings to all of you out there. I apologize for my lack of updates, but my job has unfortunately kept me very busy. Luckily I am planning on resuming proper updates next week. In the mean time, to fit in with our Rebels and Revolutionaries theme I will bring you an exciting 'What If' scenario from Star Wars a New Hope (we discussed Star Wars Infinities on Wednesday so it is fresh in my mind).

What if Tarkin had waited until his scouts reached Dantooine to destroy Alderaan? The story would have unfolded much differently. Luke, Han, Chewie, Ben, and the droids would have landed on Alderaan just before the news of the lack of a base on Dantooine reached Tarkin. The Grand Moff then decides to show Leia that he is serious by destroying Alderaan's moon (a move that would still cause the deaths of millions as well as a having a massive impact on Alderaan itself). He would then turn to Leia and calmly explain that her homeworld would be next if she was not more forthcoming.

Meanwhile on the planet, the heroes, along with Bail Organa and some loyal retainers make a run for Yavin. The Falcon is heavily damaged during the escape, but manages to make it to Yavin well ahead of the Death Star's scout ships. The defenders attack the scouts and one is captured, revealing that Princess Leia is a captive aboard the Death Star. The Rebels realize that they have very little time to act and dispatch a commando squad aboard the Millenium Falcon (Han and Chewie having been paid handsomely for their services and promised more money for the rescue of the Princess) with orders to rescue the Princess and cripple the battlestation while the rest of the rebel forces prepare to evacuate.

Tarkin determines that the Princess is too valuable a hostage to keep around and prepares to transfer her to Coruscant under the direct supervision of Darth Vader. As they are preparing the transfer, the surviving scouts return announcing that the Rebels are on Yavin IV. Seeing that the Princess has been truthful, Tarkin immediately orders that a course be set for Alderaan. At this point the Falcon arrives, and Vader advises Tarkin to take the ship aboard as he has sensed the presence of Obi Wan Kenobi and believes that he is aboard the ship that escaped the system earlier and had been reported as blasting out of Mos Eisley. The Death Star captures the Falcon, and Obi Wan remains on the main deck to distract Vader while the commandoes and heroes hide out below in the smuggling hold. Ben springs into action, engaging in a running duel with Vader as he draws off the Imperials into the cargo bay and then deeper into the station. The Rebels infiltrate while all eyes are on the Jedi vs Sith duel with one team going to disable the power systems for the tractor beam, a second going to sabotage the superlaser, and the heroes headed to free Leia (after all, Han has a contract to execute).

The commandos execute their plans and head back to the Falcon, as do the heroes, and they arrive in time to watch Obi Wan die at the hands of his former apprentice. Luke is sad. The bombs detonate, causing minor damage to the reactor and the superlaser, but Tarkin is now enraged and orders the Death Star to Yavin to exterminate the remaining Rebels. Vader, angry that Obi Wan tricked him away from the Falcon, and pushes the technicians as quickly as he can to repair the planet killing weapon. As he pushes harder\, he realizes that he sensed another presence during the fight: his son and daughter! Finally understanding that Palpatine had lied about his wife's death, Vader suffers a crisis of conscience and Obi Wan appears to explain the facts of life to him (including the fact that Yoda is on Dagobah). Vader realizes his mistake and determines to finish the job that the Rebels started and sets several thermal detonators around the station. When they arrive on Yavin, Vader launches his TIE Fighter and detonates the bombs, crippling the Death Star's defenses and opening the way for his son and the Rebels to attack the station, finally destroying it.

Vader joins the Rebels, reveals the truth to Luke and Leia, and offers to help them overthrow the Emperor. He provides them with training, unfortunately, once a Sith, always a Sith: Vader secretly plans to kill Palpatine and assume the throne with his children at his side, so he trains them in the Sith arts. Vader and the Rebels manage to get to Coruscant and into the Imperial presence, eventually defeating the guards and the Emperor. Vader reveals his true ambition to his children, and they decide to follow his advice (after all, he is father and mentor), and they rule the Galaxy as one big happy family. Han Solo, who has been paid a whole lot of money, pays off Jabba and has more than enough cash remaining to fix the Falcon up better than new.