Just a brief update here. I'm in Florida, intending to catch the STS-132 launch on friday. Not that I'll be on Atlantis, mind, but certainly aiming my camera at it and hoping - unlike last time - not to lose said camera a few hours later. If I do get some usable pics, I'll post them up here. Excited? Just a bit.
Meanwhile, thoughts on Doctor Who in the last post prompt me to mention Stargate: Universe, which has resumed its second half-season run (or whatever they call these things) and is - in my view - really quite good and worth checking out. Other than the Kurt Russel film, and the occasional incomprehensible episode caught on some hotel TV channel over the years, I've never seen anything related to the Stargate franchise so I came to this more or less cold, and it's very, very enjoyable. The premise is excellent, big dumb object stuff: a crew of military and civilian types end up stranded aboard a huge alien spacecraft zipping away from Earth. It's the present day, more or less, so they have only limited tech, and of course only what they managed to bring with them during the hasty boarding process. The ship (Destiny) is huge and mysterious but essentially benign - it's like an abandoned ocean liner, with some really inventive and convincing "alien art deco" set and prop design work. Because they've been exposed to other relics left behind by the same aliens, the humans have some idea how to get the ship to work for them, but not everything is (yet) in their control. The ship appears to be retracing the network of FTL stargates left behind during an earlier phase, so it makes period hops through hyperspace before emerging within gate range of some planet or other. Typically, the crew have several hours to use the onboard stargate (or shuttle) to explore the planet, before the ship goes FTL again. In its planet-of-the-week structure, it's a bit like Space:1999, only done right. The character interactions work well, with tension developing between the civilians and military staff - but in a believable, not too melodramatic way. After a botched civilian takeover, the two parties have - shock, horror - to work together and rebuild trust. Robert Carlisle is very good as the scientist Rush, as well, albeit a little too obviously the sociopathic mathematician type. It's a long way from Hamish Macbeth and Begbie, that's for sure.
What's great, though - and has me wondering why this series hasn't been making bigger waves - is the way science is handled. Granted, the show has to work with the existing setup of the Stargate universe, so you've got FTL and some kind of psychic communication network which allows the crew to periodically hop into the bodies of people back on home on Earth. But all that's handled intelligently, and what's really impressive is the amount of actual, honest to god science the writers have managed to work into the episodes. In a recent installment, for instance, the ship came out of FTL around a young star that wasn't even around when the Destiny's charts were compiled. The star was identified as still being in its T-tauri phase, which immediately made a paradox of the fact that it appeared to have an old, Earth-type planet in orbit around it. Now, the episode didn't go on to provide an unequivocal explanation for this riddle - other than by suggesting that the planet had to be some kind of artefact - but it was the mere fact of framing this puzzle in the first place that had me impressed. This is actual stellar astronomy, slotted neatly into TV SF. I don't know the exact extent of his involvement, but one can only presume that "creative consultant" John Scalzi has a lot to be thanked for here - if so, good on him, and good on the show's people for taking the step of bringing someone like Scalzi in. I also can't help but think that if SF:U had been on telly ten or even five years ago, before the recent rash of successful, intelligent SF shows (not all of which have been to my taste, it has to be said) fandom and the blogosphere in general would be going absolutely bananas for it. It's exactly the kind of TV SF show we've been moaning about not getting for years - and now it's on and the general concensus seems to be borderline disinterest. I might be reading things wrongly, though. I hope I'm not, and I hope the show picks up enough viewers to sustain its run, because I want more of it.
So, anyway. Stargate: Universe. Me likey.
I'm happy to say, I agree with this assessment. The first half of the season was a bit dull, it seemed like they were just picking up the same old stuff from the previous two Stargate-series. The second half has however rectified this, at least in my opinion.ReplyDelete
I still have a particular taste for the first few seasons of Stargate SG1 though. Not for the scientific accuracy (which I'm not too sure about, though I'm no expert), but for the sweet mix of humour and ever-impending doom. Would recommend checking it out, if you happen to be looking for a bit of light SF-entertainment.
Ah, would so like to see a Shuttle launch up close. Sadly won't get to see one before the Shuttles are retired.ReplyDelete
I'm also enjoying SG:U and you'll be pleased to hear that SyFy has renewed it for a full 20 episode second season, to start in the Autumn.
The psychic communication stones are the biggest flaw for me. First I don't care much about the story-parts that are on earth (though I get that they have to do such episodes from time to time for budget reasons), and second I don't really like the way they recently used them to explain a sabotage, seemed a bit convenient for me.ReplyDelete
And I hope in the next episodes they come up with a good explanation how the left-behinds came back last week... if not that would be an epic fail.
Anyway, overall I agree with your review.
I'm following SGU, too. A friend of mine couldn't be bothered as "it feels like Dawson's Creek half the time", and suggested I go back go "Fringe", but frankly I'm into it. I wish there was more science to explain how the ship is able to fly at superluminal speeds, or how they're able to communicate instantaneously over infinite distances, etc, etc, but hey, they have to make a show. Carlisle is great. We really didn't see much of him over here until he started doing SGU.ReplyDelete
For some reason only two of the four comments (other than this one by me) are currenrly showing up. I don't know why - maybe they'll appear in due course.ReplyDelete
Oh, there they are! Problem solved.ReplyDelete
Martin: I've only just got up to the bit where some of the crew get left behind, so I await developments with interest.
You write that "The ship appears to be retracing the network of FTL stargates left behind during an earlier phase, so it makes period hops through hyperspace before emerging within gate range of some planet or other. Typically, the crew have several hours to use the onboard stargate (or shuttle) to explore the planet, before the ship goes FTL again. In its planet-of-the-week structure, it's a bit like Space:1999, only done right"
Sounds like Star Trek to me only with some science. When they canned Star Trek the "planet every week" format had a massive hole in it, so this sounds like an attempt to fill that space back up again only with a new harder edged upgrade. Will tune in.
For me too the physic stone things are easily the biggest flaw, I can deal with the FTL, that's at least believable, but being able to instantaneously communicate over such a distance really gets to me.ReplyDelete
But still it's a really great show, with generally good science and well written, genuine characters, unlike the two-dimensional cutouts that are on the other Stargate shows. SGU is pretty much the new BSG for me.
Oh, I hope I didn't tell too much then, I assumed you were up to date, sorry.ReplyDelete
I was a SG1 fan from when it first started. I've seen most of SG1 and some of Stargate Atlantis, and one or two eps of SGU.ReplyDelete
To be honest, I think the reason SGU is lacking in popularity is that it's still using the basic formula of the SG franchise as a whole... sure they've made it more "adult" and prettied it up, but it's still about a Military/civilian team trying to co-exist together while travelling through a big ring to a planet of the week.
I lost interest in the SG francise because it became stale for me, and I dare say the same could be said for a ton of people.
SGU is a cheap ripoff of Battlestar Galactica with some touches from Star Trek Voyager. I'm also following it, but with every episode it seems more and more like they are trying to do what BG already did so much better.ReplyDelete
SPOILER on those left behind LOLReplyDelete
Not to be too nerdy but they got back because Destiny dropped out of FTL and reappeared as a dialable gate address to those left behind.
I'm also liking this new series for the same reasons you all seem to be.
Love it when my "worlds" collide -- I've been a Stargate fan for years, and an Alastair Reynolds fan for nearly as many years! "Universe" has taken some getting used to, since it is a somewhat different direction for this franchise, but I have to say, me likey too :)ReplyDelete
Welcome to Florida! I live in the panhandle, but have always enjoyed the Space Coast. Enjoy it!ReplyDelete
I gave up on it early, as I did with Stargate Atlantis. I think my problem is that I didn't buy into the military characters at all. They seemed to be the standard issue cardboard sci-fi stereotypical soldiers which was more than enough to turn me off.ReplyDelete
Too bad as it seems like the show has a lot of eye candy.
S. F. Murphy
On the Outer Marches
The first season wasn’t great and I think the second is nicely balanced so far. Not like Atlantis which had shades of SG1 in many episodes. I am still waiting for the big alien encounters like the goa’uld and the oriReplyDelete
Got to agree. I'm the same - never watched the series much before beyond a few episodes, otherwise completely ignored it. ST:U however, is an entirely different beast, and I couldn't have put it better myself.ReplyDelete
I'm not sure about the "If it had been on the telly ten or five years ago" comment. I mean, "Firefly" was on the telly eight years, and look how long *that* lasted on the air. I personally couldn't stand the original "Stargate" movie nor the television series, so I haven't attempted to catch "Universe" yet.ReplyDelete
Maybe if they hadn't called the new show "Stargate" the sf community would be more interested? (Though it's doubtful it would have been made in the first place without the "Stargate" brand affixed.) I'll have to look up what channel it's on (if it's on SciFi I'm screwed) and check it out.
Btw, I just saw the pilot episode of the "Paradox". I couldn't make it beyond ten minutes. It was expunged from my PVR within 15.ReplyDelete
Watched some yesterday. Seemed rather similar to Galactica to me, but still enjoyed it. Similar musical motif running through it and also very similar camera work and lighting. I notice it's filmed in Vancouver where Galactica was, so maybe some of the same crew and team?ReplyDelete
Also Rush was an interesting character but nowhere near as intriguing as Baltar. But give it time!
I had read that the last mission of the shuttle program would make a final check/repair to the Hubble Telescope so that it runs a few more years before retiring itself.ReplyDelete
Curious to see what the next generation shuttles will look like (if and when they get it all up and running)
By the way, loved Pushing Ice. Patiently awaiting a sequel
Just caught SG:U last nite...alien ticks! Eeeew! We get those here in the summer..the time for nightly head checks is about to begin. I liked the show tho. Need a reason to keep my tv (besides The Daily Show).ReplyDelete
Just finished House of Suns (enjoyed it). I guess I have a bit before I can get Terminal World in June. Thank you so much for all your books..they always help to snap me out of those funks where I quit reading anything.
Glad to see you are enjoying the new SGU. Been a fan of the whole SG franchise for many years now & have found this new offshoot a bit different (that & the producers have admitted that this new franchise takes strong influence from both the Star Trek & Battlestar rather then just making it a carbon SG offshoot). Much darker & more towards the thinking persons SF. But enjoyable none-the-less. A history of watching SG though I think does give some understanding into the actual technology they are employing (the stones for one).
Looking forward Terminal World! Ever since I first read Revelation Space I have been hooked & waiting for the next book :-)
Speaking of Scalzi and Florida, did you go to the Nebula awards just a few miles away in Cocoa Beach?ReplyDelete
The Battlestar comparisons are interesting because I wasn't really ever won over by that series - I just couldn't dial down my sense of disbelief to the required level, and bailed out half way through the first season.ReplyDelete
Benjamin: no, I wasn't here for the Nebulas - that was just coincidence (although we did meet a couple of friends who were down for it).
I do agree. I'm really enjoying Robert Carlyle's scenery chewing, and the guy who plays Colonel Young is excellent - a flawed here who you actually believe is flawed.ReplyDelete
On Battlestar - you say you couldn't dial down your sense of disbelief. But psychic stones...come on! If you can handle that you can handle anything to be found in Battlestar. You should give it another go - great quasi-Islamic music through it as well, reflecting the fairly blunt point that it was a simple allegory of post 9/11 social terrorism fears, cylons' obsession with monotheism versus the polytheistic liberalism of the Battlestar brigade. Clumsy but fun.
Psychic stones are challenging my sense of disbelief right now, but I'm looking through it as they produce great possibilities for storylines, as does the "dentist's chair" on board the Destiny.
Rob: I like the stones, actually. The sequence where they brought a surgeon onto the ship to operate on Rush was very cool. I guess we can accept them as "sufficiently advanced tech", in the Clarke mode.ReplyDelete
One thing that should be noted on the 'instantaneous communications stones' that hurt other people's suspension of disbelief... these are artifacts that have a long history on Stargate, although never as a primary element. It's sort of a mixed blessing at times, but it illustrates one of Stargate's strengths. When they have a piece of alien technology, they use it in ways that make sense. Once the Stargate program had experienced the alien communications stones (or a number of other wacky alien technologies that were in one-off 'alien technology of the week' episodes), they start trying to figure them out, and eventually they start using them in situations that make sense. I can't count the number of times Stargate's surprised me by bringing back an element of technology from a previous episode in a completely plausible way to help solve a current problem. To me, the suspension of disbelief saved in THAT philosophy (where I always don't wind up asking myself "hey, why don't they use the Mcguffin from that episode last year? Wouldn't that help a lot?") outweighs any breakage from mystical FTL bodyswapping communications stones.ReplyDelete
I think you're probably right about the Clarke hypothesis - after all, we're all happy to see them walking around in artificial gravity! After that we should be able to accept anything. I appreciate the difficulties this represents for TV, but it is handled nicely in the KSR Mars trilogy.
Still, great series and hoping it will last - I know a second series is being put together so fingers crossed!
In my humble opinion, shows like Star Trek, Firefly, Battlestar Galactica, Stargate ect... are science fantasy more than science fiction (and certainly not hard SF). As long as their logical is internally consistent (which the whole Stargate franchise manages much better than most series), I can suspend my disbelief in the same way I do for other types of fantasy, by accepting that the rules they must follow are different.ReplyDelete