Syfy Needs Show Ideas? I Got ‘em

English: Syfy Logo

English: Syfy Logo (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Syfy Channel is undergoing a change of direction and is going to try a new angle.  Science Fiction TV.  Who would have thunk it?  As the Hollywood Reporter notes:

Almost five years after a rebrand that abandoned the Sci-Fi moniker and enraged fans,

NBC Universal brass is aware that its attempt to lure a broader audience might have lost it some clout in the increasingly lucrative genre that shares its former name. Now Syfy President Dave Howe is trying to rectify the perception problem with changes in the executive ranks that will translate to new programming more familiar to its core audience

“We want to be the best science-fiction channel that we possibly can, and in some respects, that means going back to the more traditional sci-fi/fantasy that fans often say they feel we’ve exited,” Howe tells THR. “We’re going to occupy that space in a way we haven’t for the past few years.”

It’s about time.  I was despairing of seeing much of real science fiction on this channel.  So to help them produce a show that does not include ghost hunting, reality, wrestling, or a ghost, a werewolf, and a vampire, here is an idea I would like to pitch to the network big wigs:

 

The Pitch:  Space Pirates!

My son and I came up with this idea while waiting for pizza, so it didn’t take a lot of time to bounce this around.  I mean, we weren’t writing a novel; this is for TV.

Basic Concept:  This takes place about 150 years in the future.  The asteroid belt is a vast source of wealth in minerals to send to Earth.  The belt is settled by a variety of miners, failed miners, nonconformists, and various religious, ideological, and ethnic groups that live in all sorts of habitats from O’Neil Space Colonies to hollowed out asteroids.  They support themselves by trading minerals for supplies that they need from Earth.  Although they think of themselves as independent, Earth doesn’t recognize them as such.

Pilot:  Earth’s main space elevator is destroyed in a terrorist attack and a previously unknown belt terrorist group takes credit.  The UN agency responsible for trading with the belt enlists a fleet of space warships from the various national space navies to get revenge on the belt and take over the mining operations for Earth.  Even though the belt has no military to speak of, they hastily form a committee to prepare for the military attack from Earth and enlist mining ships and crew as privateers, offering a bounty for each destroyed or captured earth vessel and their crews, who they hope they can ransom back to Earth.

The Characters:  A roguish belt captain who disdains everything of Earth and loves the freedom that his ship gives him.  Think a Malcolm Reynolds type.  His antagonist is a young, newly minted skipper an American warship assigned to the UN fleet.  He is an earnest, all American duty-honor-country type who believes in what he’s doing, which is stopping terrorism.  Think Captain America.  They spend the first season in a cat and mouse game of attack-counterattack.

Subplots:  Yes, the terrorist attack on the space elevator is what else?  A false flag attack by “corporate interests” that don’t want to pay for the minerals they are buying from the belt, and need a reason to wipe out the belt culture so they can grab them instead of paying.

Story Arc:  I prefer stand alone episodes.  That’s the problem with TV today is that you can’t just sit down and watch an episode of a drama cold and know what’s going on.  But I envision one story arc for the first season. The two space captains begin to find clues that the attack on the space elevator was an inside job.  Over the course of the season they discover the conspiracy and realize that they are really on the same side.

Gimmicks:  There should be at least one space battle per episode of the submarine vs destroyer type or the aircraft carriers sending their planes out to destroy each other type.  Not to mention some good old fashioned firing broadsides at each other’s ship.  This will provide variety but at the same time will be familiar enough to be understandable. Of course, the primary weapon should be linear accelerators firing… cannon balls!  I tried to explain this concept to a friend of mine who found nothing remarkable about linear accelerators firing globes of iron as a kinetic energy weapon.  But the point is…Space Pirates!  With Space Cannonballs!

When not using their main drives to move around, the ships unfurl solar sails that both collect electricity and of course provide cheap low speed propulsion from solar radiation.  Again, sailing ships, it’s all about the Space Pirates.

So there you go Syfy.  One series idea for you, and I ask very little in return, merely the enjoyment of watching an entertaining science fiction TV show.

Oh and producer’s credits and a percentage of the gross.

 

 

 

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For Us, Who Didn’t Build That

I wasn’t planning to comment on Obama’s idiotic “you didn’t build that speech.”  I mean, after all, it’s idiotic.  So I ignored some of the push back and response from the conservative blogosphere.  It was minor anyway compared to MSNBC’s “All Bain, All the Time” news coverage that has been inflicting the network for weeks?  Months?  But it must have been stuck in my brain somewhere, even if covered by Romney’s tax returns and financial disclosure statements.  Sometimes I’m sure that my brain is processing things even when I’m not aware of it.  Or at least that’s what I tell myself to justify hours of mindless television; my brain is busy processing something.

So sometime this morning, between deep sleep and my second cup of coffee, I realized a few exceptions to Obama’s idea that government makes all things possible.  One of them was my grandpa’s road.   Decades ago my grandfather built and maintained a road coming off of a county road in order to get to his property.  It was all on property he owned and over the years he sold parcels all along the road he had made.  Eventually there was quite a cluster of homes coming from this private road, and when my grandfather died, in his will he left the road to the county.  So there was a clear case of infrastructure being built by private hands and the government picking it up after all of the hard work had already been done.

Of course in the United States that had been the norm.  Settlements popped up long before there were local governments to build roads and other infrastructure.  By the time government showed up, the town and infrastructure were already there.  That still goes on today.  New communities and subdivisions built by private interests pay for and build their own infrastructure; which local governments end up inheriting.

But there was something else, about the speech, something familiar, and no, it wasn’t that it was basically cribbed from Elizabeth Warren’s rant against’ producers.  It took me a bit to place it but then it came to me why I was familiar with the philosophy of that speech.

Science Fiction.

Cover of "For Us, The Living: A Comedy of...

Cover of For Us, The Living: A Comedy of Customs

One of the earliest works by Science Fiction author Robert Heinlein was a book called, For Us, The Living.  Although it was written in 1938 it was an incomplete work and never finished or published until after Heinlein’s death, when it was found and finished up by another SF writer, Spider Robinson.  As a Heinlein fan I was anxious to read it when it was first published in 2003, but this isn’t the libertarian Robert Heinlein I was familiar with from such novels as, The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, or Time Enough for Love.  This was the Robert Heinlein in the midst of the Great Depression, who worked on the 1934 California Governor’s race for Socialist Upton Sinclair.

So it was a very different Robert Heinlein who wrote this book.  A socialist one to be sure, and a writer more influenced by the works of the turn of the century than what passed for science fiction in the 1930’s.  In fact, For Us, The Living, is less a novel and more an exposition of what was then a popular socialist idea, Social Credit.  Heinlein’s hero is a 1930’s engineer who after having a traffic accident, somehow ends up in the late 21st Century.  How he got there is never really explained, and although a gaping hole in the plotline that big is enough to kill interest in a plot, there isn’t really that much plot.  The car crash is just a device to get Heinlein’s hero to the future where he can listen to endless lectures on how great the socialist future is.

So as an entertaining romp, it blows.  It’s more like Edward Bellamy’s Looking Backward.  This is the socialist future; let me explain how great it is and why your time stank, the end.  But if anyone is interested in an archaic socialist theory from the 1930’s, this is the book to read.  Social Credit seems to have fallen out of favor as far as wacky socialist theories go, but its implementation sounds attractive.  A nations’ cultural inheritance, is considered a factor of production under this theory.  So it’s not just the infrastructure like roads that’s a factor that government provided, it’s the accumulated knowledge that lead to knowing how to build the roads, and the fact that we have a network of roads crisscrossing the country.  Since each generation doesn’t have to build the nation up from scratch, there is a “surplus.”  The long and short, and if you know socialism you could guess this already, is that the “surplus” is distributed in payments to citizens.  Nobody has to work if they don’t want to, since they can live off the “surplus.”

So you can see why Heinlein never had this published in his lifetime.  Shame.  But I can forgive him for his socialist past; that was quite common in the 30’s, when the only competing philosophies were some version of Socialism and Fascism, or as a distant third way, Keynesian Social Welfare Democracy.  There was no William F. Buckley standing athwart history yelling stop in the 1930’s.

And in fact it’s not uncommon for people to experiment with communism or some variation of socialism in their youth, particularly in college.  Just listen to the rantings of the few remaining Occupy protestors.  Blather right out of Mao’s little red book.  Probably most of your major big time Democrats were some type of socialist in college, and quite a few Republicans for that matter.

But people grow up and in time, put aside childish things.  Well not Elizabeth Warren, but she’s an academic who never really left college.  And apparently not Barack Obama. I’ve never really joined in the chorus of those calling the President “Socialist” since, when I use the word, I mean it to be descriptive, not a pejorative, but in this situation, the case Obama is making in this speech is Social Credit Socialism.

So Obama never outgrew his youthful socialist past.  After all, what grown man would want to be friends with an actual for-realsies terrorist like William Ayers?  Of course, every time he goes off script he drops hints, going all the way back to his run in with Joe the Plumber.  But America has had almost 4 years to get used to the idea, and apparently it’s not a deal breaker.  Who would have ever thought that?

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Heinlein Shrugged

There has been an internet meme going about the right blogosphere for the past few months that’s a quote of the late science fiction author Robert Heinlein.  This quote seems to capture both the state of our economy and the state of our society today.

Throughout history, poverty is the normal condition of man. Advances which permit this norm to be exceeded — here and there, now and then — are the work of an extremely small minority, frequently despised, often condemned, and almost always opposed by all right-thinking people. Whenever this tiny minority is kept from creating, or (as sometimes happens) is driven out of a society, the people then slip back into abject poverty.

This is known as “bad luck.”‘

So, on what does the St Louis Fed President James Bullard blame the lackluster state of the economy’s performance for 2011?  You guessed it, bad luck.

JAMES BULLARD: The economy, I think 2011, you know, I think the chairman said maybe obliquely, but it’s a bit of bad luck in 2011, I have to say. I was expecting better things in 2011. I thought that that would be the year…

HOST: Bad luck for the economy?

BULLARD: Bad luck for the economy.

That doesn’t give me much confidence that the people in charge of keeping the economy humming actually know what they’re doing.  But at least I’m sure now that Heinlein was a prophet.

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Avatar in Black and White (and Blue)

Avatar_Neytiri
Image by gunthert via Flickr

Christmas Day found my mother in law insisting that we all go to the movies to see Avatar; specifically the IMAX 3D version, but the IMAX Theater was all the way across town… whahh….  I was not averse to seeing the movie, far from it.  It was a movie I was waiting for.  But I would have been happy to see just the regular movie version much closer to where I live.

But… I would have been wrong.  Seeing that movie, in IMAX and 3D, is the only way to see it.  The movie’s raison d’etre is after all, visuals.  That’s the big selling point; something that looks fantastic on screen that you’ve never seen before.  On that basis, the movie fulfilled the hype.  The visuals are lush, fantastic, and certainly something much beyond what I’m used to seeing on the screen. It provides the perfect beauty of a painting with the realism of … well real life.  The visuals of the movie are art, in and of itself.

As for the story… well if you’ve already seen the movie, you know it.  In fact, if you haven’t seen the movie, you still know it.  It’s pulled intact from Hollywood’s grab bag of twenty or thirty standard movie plots.  If you’ve seen any Hollywood movies in your life time, then you’ve already seen this one.  Dances with Aliens is a pretty succinct description.  But good story telling is good story telling.  I enjoyed the movie immensely even knowing how the story would play out.  Knowing the formula doesn’t necessarily ruin a movie for me.  The fun is the journey.

But I didn’t see much more than that.  Good popcorn type fun, but others saw much more into the movie than I did.  Science Fiction author Steven Barnes, who wrote about the movie at the author’s website, had a more unique viewof the movie, If Spike Lee had directed Avatar?  Although that seems to be a subject ripe for a Mad Magazine satire, to Barnes it brought up issues of light skinned Na’vi lording over the darker blue skinned ones.  I didn’t even notice if there were various shades of blue among the alien Na’vi.  My view of a Spike Lee directed Avatar would have included the Na’vi calling each other “motherfucker” a lot and including an ending that would be totally incomprehensible to me.

But what really struck me was a finally throw away line at the end of the piece:

Oh…and if Spike had directed Avatar, there would have been at least one black male character to identify with. Say…the other Avatar scientist? Maybe one of the support staff?

What made me marvel a bit at this line is that after watching the movie, I never realized nor had it occurred to me that there were no black characters in the film.  True Zoe Saldana was one of the major characters of the film, but she was in blueface for the entire film so her film character was that of the alien Neytiri.  Anyway, she’s Dominican so it’s unclear to me if she regards herself as Hispanic or as Black.  That’s a whole nuther kettle of fish.

But Barnes comment was a reminder to me of how on a day to day basis that white people are isolated from race.  In America, we live in a white world.  If you’re white in the US, you just don’t have to think about race that much.  If I turn on the TV, I don’t worry about finding someone on the screen to identify with.  Firstly, because there is no one like me, and secondly, being able to live so removed from race and racial issues, the odds are against me not finding a “character to identify with.”  For Barnes, the issue is probably in his face on an almost daily basis.

Thanks to the television of Norman Lear, I grew up watching shows with predominately black casts, such as The Jefferson’s, Sanford and Son, and Good Times.  At least as a child, I had no problem identifying with the characters.  But television, like me, grew up.  Television expanded from 4 or 5 channels in a metropolitan area to 30, 40, then 70 or more channels on cable television, not counting digital channels.  Thirty or forty years ago, everyone, black and white, watched the same shows.  Now both the television and movie audience is much more segregated.  There is a channel for every taste, and ethnic and racial group.  We are gaining in choice, but we are clearly losing something else.  Perhaps a common popular culture?

But maybe, just maybe, there was more to James Cameron’s vision than a casting oversight.  Among the “human” cast, actors Dileep Rao (Dr. Max Patel), Sigourney Weaver (Grace Augustine), and Michelle Rodriguez (Judy Chacon) were the only “good guys” in the film.  Other than Sam Worthington’s Jake Sully, all of the “white” males were bad guys.  Women and Asians were the good guys.  Given Cameron’s politics, that was probably intentional.  It rather fits into the story and Cameron’s worldview.  Maybe Barnes should be glad that black males were left off this list, although in a broader sense, he may have brought up a good point.  One that I would never have noticed if it hadn’t been pointed out to me.

Most stories, but particularly in science fiction, require a sympathetic character that we need to identify with in order to be drawn into the story and to introduce whatever strange world we are being introduced to.  But how much does that sympathetic character need to be like us in order for us to really empathize with him or her?  Do they have to have the same skin tone, the same sex?  And if the movie doesn’t provide that, is it a slap in the face to the viewers who don’t look like our protagonist?

But I didn’t notice those things watching the film, but I’m pretty sure that if I had walked into that theater and every character had been black, I would have noticed.  The question I can’t answer is, would I have felt as excluded by that theoretical movie as Steven Barnes did from Avatar?

Maybe Spike Lee should take a crack at a remake…

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