Tag Archives: Fantasy

Game of Thrones Season 4 – Preseason Power Rankings

By D.G. McCabe

It’s that time again!  We’re just over one week away from the season premiere of Game of Thrones on HBO.  As such, I thought I would do a brief post reminding everyone where the realm stands with a preseason power rankings post:

 

1. House Targaryen

Daenerys Stormborn, the Unburnt, Queen of the Andals, the Rhoynar, and the First Men, Khaleesi of the Great Grass Sea, Breaker of Chains, and Mother of Dragons seeks to add “Queen of Mereen” onto her list of titles this season.  She’s already taken out too enemy cities along Slaver’s Bay, and her dragons are growing bigger.

 

2. House Lannister

The War of the Five Kings is all but over, and the Lannisters are in control of Westeros for all intents and purposes.  Well, specifically, Tywin Lannister is in charge of the Seven Kingdoms, although his waste of space grandson still occupies the Iron Throne.

 

3. House Bolton

The Boltons are now Wardens of the North and charged with mopping up the northern front of the war.  So far, all viewers know of Ramsey Snow is that he is torturing Theon Greyjoy.  From previews, it appears that his character will get some much needed development this season.

 

4. House Martell

Unbowed, unbent, unbroken – these are the words of House Martell.  The Martells have stayed out of the action thus far, and have been barely mentioned in the series.  That is about to change this season with the introduction of Oberyn Martell – the Red Viper of Dorne.

 

5. House Tyrell

The Tyrells had their ups and downs last season.  Despite getting outplayed by the Lannisters thus far, they are still in a position of power and influence in King’s Landing.  They will continue to play a large role in shaping events.

 

6. House Baratheon

Stannis spent most of last season ruminating on Dragonstone, but he still controls a decent amount of territory and a good sized army.  He shouldn’t be counted out, especially when his closest ally can birth demons out of her lady parts.

 

7. House Greyjoy

Raiders for the Iron Islands currently control a large section of the North and a large navy.  Things are looking a bit shaky for them, even as TV Asha (Yara) is going after Theon.

 

8. The Night’s Watch

Jon Snow has finally rejoined his black brothers, with hopefully enough time to fight off the raiding party coming in from the south.  They still have advantages over the Wildlings, but the fight won’t be easy.

 

9. The Free People

The Wildlings are poised for a massive assault, coming at both sides of the Wall.  The Night’s Watch still has an advantage in training and defenses, but the Wildlings have the numbers.

 

10. House Stark

All is not lost.  Bran continues north on his quest to find the Three Eyed Raven, and Rickon and Sansa still live.  There also walks Arya Stark – the soul of vengeance.  Valar Morghulis.

Also Receiving Votes: House Frey, House Tully, House Arryn, The Others, Bart the Bear, Dragon Barbeque (patent pending), a Dothraki Horde, and Sir Pounce.

(c) 2014 D.G. McCabe

Science Fiction Tropes: Humanoid Aliens and Faster than Light Travel

By D.G. McCabe

I may or may not have mentioned on this blog that, concurrently to this project, I’ve also been working on a science fiction novel for quite some time.  Recently, I was browsing the internet, looking for a few ideas and I came across two concept that, apparently, are on the outs within the science fiction writing community.  The first is “humanoid aliens,” the second is “faster than light travel.”  I’m going address both these concepts one at a time to explain why I don’t think there is a good justification for eliminating either concept as a science fiction concept.

Humanoid Aliens

We all know the reason why Star Trek aliens look like humans – and no, not the canonical explanation put forth in Star Trek: The Next Generation – I mean the real reason.   The budget for a 1960’s TV show wasn’t exactly robust, so Gene Roddenberry and friends had to make do with what they had, which wasn’t much.  For the sake of the continuity of the series, the aliens were mostly kept humanoid.  Star Wars and other films/television series have mostly humanoid aliens, although there is far more diversity than in Star Trek.

I have read a few articles, and the comments to those articles, which find humanoid aliens to be implausible – the elements of soft science fiction and fantasy.  The justification goes that just because life evolved a certain way on Earth, doesn’t mean that life would evolve that way on other planets.  In fact, judging by what we know about our own Solar System and problems posed by the Fermi Paradox (odds are we should have encountered some aliens by now, why haven’t we?) it appears unlikely that aliens would look like us.

I take exception to stating that humanoid, sentient aliens are implausible.  First, look at the sheer number of “humanoid” animals on Earth (if we count anything that walks upright as “humanoid”).  There are all other primates, bears, kangaroos, penguins, meerkats, and prairie dogs to name a few.  “Humanoid” seems like a pretty low bar to hit when describing another animal.

Secondly, and more importantly, if we use the same standard in which we judge other science fiction concepts (hard and grounded in real science versus soft and grounded in fantasy), it follows that humanoid aliens are more plausible than not.  First, we have to assume that Earth is not that unusual or unique.  If life developed on Earth, it would likely develop on planets similar to Earth.

If life develops on Earth-like planets, it follows that it would develop in a similar fashion as on Earth.  To assume otherwise would be to say that the laws of chemistry and physics are consistent throughout the universe, but biology is “crazy” and anything can happen.  The potential for mutation is limited to what actually works in an environment.  If a planet is similar to Earth, it follows that the environment wouldn’t be so radically different that these mutations wouldn’t follow a similar path.

We then have to think about why humans are sentient and have civilization and other species, say, dolphins, do not.  The answer is basic and well known – we have hands and dolphins do not.  Other factors include our relatively long life spans compared to most animals and our adaptability to different environments.  In short, if an alien species evolved to a level of sentience on an Earth-like planet, the most logical result would be that they would generally look humanoid, if by humanoid we mean a creature with its hand free and a head on its shoulders.

Faster than Light Travel

This one is trickier from a scientific point of view.  According to Einstein’s theory of general relativity, matter cannot exceed the speed of light.  The piece of matter would need infinite energy in order to do so. There are a few theories out there using wormholes and warp bubbles that would work around this, but these methods would require an amount of energy that may be impossible to generate.  In other words, it looks like we’re kind of stuck.

First of all, let’s explore why we need faster than light travel in science fiction.  Without it, you are stuck with telling stories that are: 1) mostly about humans; 2) mostly about the effects of time dilation (time moves at different speeds at different accelerations and locations); or, 3) stories about humans experiencing the effects of time dilation. Speculative scenarios involving humanity’s place in a larger universe are effectively off limits, since there is no larger universe that is practically accessible.  You need faster than light travel to enlarge the scope of the story you are trying to tell.

Granted you can tell a lot of good stories about humans, time dilation, and the effects of time dilation on humans, but why limit yourself?  Yes you would need an explanation as to why this thing exists that shouldn’t – a thing whose existence would challenge our very understanding about either general relativity and/or the production of energy. But who says there won’t be such a discovery?  In all of human history there is only one Albert Einstein and one Issac Newton after all, why not someone to come up with something that solves the problem of practical interstellar travel?  My point is that, just because we don’t know something now, or it would challenge our understanding about how the universe works, doesn’t mean that someone won’t think of it.  In conclusion, I don’t think “well that’s not how the universe works based on our current understanding of science” is a good reason to categorize all speculative fiction with solution to the faster than light travel problem as “fantasy,” as long as the solution has some grounding in reality.  After all, what’s the difference between that, and assuming that a sentient alien species can evolve on an Earth-like planet that looks absolutely nothing like what evolved that way on our planet?

(c) 2014 D.G. McCabe

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug (2013)

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug

Directed by Peter Jackson, U.S./New Zealand, 2013

Middle chapters of series can be troublesome creatures.  When done well, they can be the best chapter of the series. The Empire Strikes Back (1980) is often cited as the best of the original Star Wars trilogy due to its escalation of the plot, its character development, and legendary plot twist.  When done poorly, they feel drawn out and without focus. The inconsistent and convoluted Back to the Future Part II (1989) comes to mind as an example.  Unfortunately, the second chapter of the Hobbit trilogy falls squarely into the second category.

The Desolation of Smaug certainly has its moments.  The dragon himself (voiced by Benedict Cumberbatch) is terrifying, and Martin Freeman continues to impress me with his likeable portrayal of the title character, Bilbo Baggins.  Ian McKellen is fantastic as always, and so are Richard Armitage, Evageline Lilly, and Orlando Bloom.

The best cast in the world wouldn’t be able to solve the Hobbit’s core creative problem, which is obvious to fans and critics alike.  To paraphrase Bilbo, “Oh the Hobbit movies, the unnecessarily lengthy.”

From a business perspective, Jackson’s decision to split a 300 page children’s novella into three long movies makes perfect sense.  Warner Brothers is making a billion dollars a piece on these films, and three billion is a bigger number than two billion.  Creatively, Jackson probably thought he could do pull it off.  After all, the climactic battle of Helm’s Deep in Two Towers (2002) is only one relatively short chapter in the book.

He’s not pulling it off – and here’s why.  There is no balance between the first two films from a storytelling perspective.  The first film is so heavily focused on establishing characters, setting, and background that it sometimes loses track of its own story.  The second film is the opposite.  It is long series of action sequences separated by occasional breaks, but even the breaks are usually plot devices that lend little depth to the story.

The first film’s best asset, Martin Freeman’s portrayal of Bilbo, is mostly wasted in this second chapter.  He far too often fades into the background. Other than the scene where he confronts the dragon, Freeman is mostly deprived of any memorable lines or scenes.

The Hobbit series was never going to be as good as The Lord of the Rings (as I pointed out before).  The story doesn’t have the same depth and The Lord of the Rings films are some of the best ever made in any genre.  I don’t necessarily think that Jackson is doing a bad job with it either – the films are still better than most fantasy films and most films in general.  Where The Lord of the Rings brought in new converts to Tolkien and the fantasy genre, however, The Hobbit films will mostly satisfy current fans without making anyone else interested.

You might like The Hobbit: the Desolation of Smaug if: You enjoyed the first film or fantasy films in general, and you have a good amount of patience.

You might not like The Hobbit: the Desolation of Smaug if: You are not a fan of fantasy films or you find it ridiculous that they split up such a short story into such long movies.

(c) 2014 D.G. McCabe