Mar 19

The Big Three

After learning of Arthur C. Clarke’s death, Bruce Webster wrote: “He was the last of the Big Three — Isaac Asimov, Clarke, and Robert Heinlein — to pass away, and we shall not see their like again.” He’s right, but not in the sense that today’s science fiction writers are inferior. No, the differences are qualitative. Asimov, Clarke, and Heinlein all started their writing careers during the Golden Age of Science Fiction, the period during the late 1930s and early 1940s when legendary editor John W. Campbell was remaking the field into something more that a category of swashbuckling adventure stories. Campbell insisted on the use of real science, logical plots, and rational aliens in his stories: “Write me a creature that thinks as well as a man, or better than a man, but not like a man.”

Campbell’s role as the leading editor of science fiction waned after the 1940s, and he died in 1971 — but he continued to exert a profound influence over the field through the authors whose careers and writing styles he had shaped, especially the Big Three. Only now, with the death of Arthur C. Clarke, does the Golden Age really come to an end.

Bruce Webster is right in another sense; the Big Three will not be replaced. Writing in 1990, Isaac Asimov laid that notion to rest:

Now that Heinlein has died and Clarke and I are increasingly decrepit, one is bound to ask, “Who will be the next Big Three?” The answer, I’m afraid, is that no one will ever be. In the early days, when the Big Three were chosen by general consent, the number of science fiction writers was small and it was easy to choose the outstanding examples. Nowadays, however, the number of science fiction writers, and even of good science fiction writers, is so great that it is simply impossible to pick three writers that everyone will agree on.

And because the field is so much larger than it was in the 1940s, no small group of leading authors can dominate it the way Asimov, Heinlein, and Clarke did during the Golden Age. It’s the end of an era.

Aug 10

Big Ben falls silent

The London clock known as Big Ben will soon be shut down for maintenance, depriving the city of its sonorous chimes for four to six weeks. But I’m puzzled about one detail. According to the AP article about this event, the last time the clock was shut down for repairs was 1990. Well, that can’t be right! Has the AP forgotten about the 2006 incident involving an alien spacecraft? It took a lot of repairs to get Big Ben running again after that.

May 22

A long time ago

James Lileks reminds us that Star Wars premiered thirty years ago this week. If you saw that movie in a theater, you are old.
UPDATE: Argh. The Star Tribune site forces you to log in before allowing you to read that article. Use BugMeNot to bypass registration if you don’t want to create an account.

May 01

Creepy Doll

On March 4, I wrote that I had never heard of Jonathan Coulton before the previous week. But that turns out to be untrue. I listen to Jim Van Verth’s Vintage Gamer podcast, and in his Halloween 2006 episode, Jim played a Coulton song called “Creepy Doll”. I remember being impressed by the song, although my memory didn’t retain the musician’s name (which Jim did mention). But it’s the same guy who did “Code Monkey”.

By this point, you’re probably tired of reading about “Code Monkey” here. But I can’t resist pointing out this video of it, starring actual geeks. You don’t have to play it.

UPDATE: After posting this entry, I discovered that Coulton was mentioned in today’s episode of Buzz Out Loud (another podcast I listen to) because he recorded a song called “First of May.”

Apr 29

The seven stages

If you read a lot, you’ll probably have the same reaction to “The Seven Stages of Falling in Love With an Author” that I did — which was “That is so true!” I’ve gone through that process many times, especially the Worry and Denial stages. (For me, the Denial stage is mostly Withdrawal.)
Tamara has clearly discovered another aspect of the Acceptance stage. If you can’t read any more books by your favorite author, you can at least try to get your friends addicted to the stuff. That’s almost as much fun.

Mar 06

Question answered

If you’re wondering how Babylon 5: The Lost Tales is coming along, take a look at these photos. They include the new B5 logo and numerous pictures of sets and costumes.
Incidentally, if you read the Wikipedia article about The Lost Tales, you may notice that the Notes section includes a link to this Usenet article from 1996. In it, B5 creator and executive producer J. Michael Straczynski (JMS for short) answered the question “What would it take to convince you not to retire from television after B5?” (Retiring was his stated intention at the time.) JMS gave three answers to that question:

  1. An anthology show.
  2. A B5 spinoff that would complement the original series and not just capitalize on it.
  3. Something revolutionary for TV.

Wikipedia links to that article as evidence that over a decade ago, JMS was already talking about doing an anthology series. But in fact, The Lost Tales is all three of the things he expressed a desire to do. It’s an anthology show and a complementary B5 spinoff. It’s also revolutionary because it is being released directly to DVD, something no TV series has done before.
So who asked JMS that question in the first place, anyway? Well, actually, I did.

Jun 13

The Big Three

No wonder I find the tone and perspective of Instapundit to be so compatible with my own! Glenn Reynolds, the author of that blog, recently wrote: “I was influenced a lot by Robert Heinlein, Arthur Clarke, and Isaac Asimov, but more by their entire body of works than by any particular book.” That describes me almost perfectly. During my formative years (junior high and high school), I was influenced by those men far more than by any teacher or subject I encountered in a classroom.
I should mention, though, that I was able to immerse myself in the works of Heinlein, Clarke, and Asimov because the public-school libraries were so well stocked with them. The inescapable conclusion is that my school librarians had more influence on me than the teachers did. I wonder: is this typical of my generation?