It’s 10pm Dec 31st, 2008, and I’m a little tipsy on a shot of whiskey, but stuck in bed, sick with a tummy ache. Since I’m not able to attend any New Years Eve parties, why not invest a moment in reflecting on the past year in science fiction?
The following list of events is not exhaustive and is based only on what’s at the forefront of my thoughts at this particular moment. If you have any additions to make to my list, please feel free to add them in the comments section.
The single biggest news in the world of science fiction books was death of the final old school Grand Master of SF, Sir Arthur C. Clarke. Along with Asimov and Heinlein, Clarke was one of the pioneers of skiffy in the so-called golden age of the 1950s. Clarke was not just a leader in this genre, but also a societal thought leader. He is credited by many as the philosophical inventor of the communications satellite, and certainly was a driving inspiration in the development of Project Spaceguard, a programme for the detection of near-Earth asteroids that could prove possibly dangerous to our planet.
Clarke’s biggest contribution to popular culture was, of course, his penning of the screenplay for the movie, 2001: A Space Odyssey, which was in turn based on his short story, “The Sentinel.”
Clarke’s additional masterpieces included Rendezvous With Rama and the various sequels to 2001. I was particularly pleased that Clarke was able to give us a trilogy of so-called “orthoquels” to 2001 before he died: Time’s Eye, Sunstorm and Firstborn, all part of a series he called “A Time Odyssey.”
Sunstorm in particular was a fitting conclusion to Clarke’s career, as it told a very exciting and believable –and inspirational– tale of mankind preparing itself for a storm of Apocalyptic solar flares.
My personal Clarke favourite remains Songs of Distant Earth. I recommend that all true skiffy fans find a moment to peruse it spages.
It was not a particularly exciting year for skiffy in movies. No, I do not include The Dark Knight as a science fiction title, though the audiences for both comic books and science fiction products often overlap. Thus, Ironman also does not qualify.
Possibly the best skiffy title this year was Hellboy II: The Golden Army. I’m hesitant to include it, since it’s more fantasy than science fiction
While I hated the movie, I must admit that the latest M. Night Shyamalan, The Happening, presented an interesting science fiction premise: that plants could be made so “upset” by ecological degradation that they would emit a substance that reduces animals’ inhibition against self-harm.
It was in television that the skiffy genre really flew this year. I am a fan of Heroes, but its science is laughable. Lost, the finest show on network American television, finally revealed itself to be a pure science fiction show with the addition of time travel. And the champion of the space operas continued to be Battlestar Galactica, whose climax this coming year will be the reveal of the so-called “final cylon.” I’m willing to put money on that cylon being Felix Gaeta.
Other big news included the cancellation of Stargate: Atlantis and the successful transfer of Stargate:SG1 from TV to dvd movies. But the big triumph in TV skiffy this year was the further maturation of the modern incarnation of Britain’s Doctor Who.
David Tennant is, for my money, the finest Doctor ever. Yes, the show is still cheesy at times, and doesn’t engender the same gravitas as American offerings of the same genre. But remember that the Doctor saves the galaxy every week without ever wielding a weapon or uttering a foul word; he’s a timeless hero.
The brilliance of the Who writing this year was in the realization that the show is called Doctor WHO. Who is this man? Why do we care? Transforming the decades old vehicle from a campy kids show into a character drama was brilliance.
I don’t know what to expect from 2009, but I’m pretty sure there will be plenty of skiffy for us all.