Science Fiction Repair Shop

My ongoing discussions on the ways science fiction (and fantasy) can be improved -- how "mainstream" literature and fiction can improve it; how SF&F can return the favor as well; and occasional forays into how individual works of SF&F could be improved.

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Recent posts in category Science Fiction Repair Shop

Movies: Pi

Darren Aronofsky's ingenious micro-budget debut, twenty-plus years later, holds up better than some of his bigger-budgeted efforts

By Serdar Yegulalp on 2021-06-28 12:00:00 No comments

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"I'm so close," implores Max Cohen (Sean Gullette), the paranoid, insular protagonist of Darren Aronofsky's debut feature Pi. He was a math prodigy with a doctorate in number theory before he was old enough to drink. Now he lives in a cavelike Chinatown apartment, surrounded by the looming towers of his homebrew supercomputer Proteus, struggling to apply his theories to the stock market and nursing brutal cluster headaches that incapacitate him for days at a time. But Pi is not about number theory or Wall Street sorcery; it's about the torment of believing you have the keys to creation in your head, and not being able to get them out.

Numbers are the only thing that make sense to Max. Graph the numbers of a system, he tells himself, and patterns emerge -- patterns that allow predictions to be made, that allow mastery of the world where before only chaos reigned. Other human beings are alien territory. Even the little girl who lives upstairs from Max and plays math games with him just makes him more uneasy. His friendly neighbor Devi (Samia Shoaib) makes him samosas, but Max has no idea how to return such dotage. The only other person with whom he finds anything like solace is his crusty mentor Sol (Mark Margolis), now retired after a crippling stroke put an end to his career of chasing patterns in numbers.

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Tags: Darren Aronofsky Science Fiction Repair Shop Sean Gullette movies reviews science fiction

Science Fiction Repair Shop: The Longest Possible Now

Near-future SF has always struck me as the most precarious kind of SF, because of its sell-by date.

By Serdar Yegulalp on 2021-05-30 16:00:00 No comments

From a roundup of new SF books published this month:

Kritzer’s author’s note at the end is well worth reading, both in its own right and as context for the book’s truncation. “One of the interesting things about near-future science fiction is that sometimes you catch up to the future while you’re still writing it,” she says, before addressing the reality of revising a book in the Twin Cities while Minneapolis was on fire during mass protests and a pandemic. The overall slowness of publishing means that several of the books in this roundup include afterwords that try to bridge the gap between composition before 2020’s upheavals and revision or production throughout them, offering a surreal glimpse into the limits of fiction.

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Near-future SF has always struck me as the most precarious kind of SF, because of its sell-by date. It also strikes me that the best way to avoid such issues is not to be in the business of predicting anything, but rather just tracing implications. Phil K. Dick's Flow My Tears, The Policeman Said was clearly written during the time of student unrest throughout the United States, but it hasn't dated much, if at all. It's more about the conundrum of identity and the problem of being true to yourself in a world where people don't want that from you, and those things are timeless.

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Tags: Science Fiction Repair Shop creativity writers writing

Movies: I Love Maria

A kooky example of science fiction from Hong Kong, a cinematic world that has relatively little SF to begin with.

By Serdar Yegulalp on 2021-05-22 12:00:00 No comments

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Most "science fiction movies" have historically been action films with some SF elements thrown in for spice. The exceptions stand out both for their de-emphasis on action and their uncommon intelligence generally: Arrival, Primer, Upstream Color, Stalker, Solaris, Pi. Sometimes you had fusions of science fiction and action that worked: The Terminator, Blade Runner (and 2049), the high parts of the Alien franchise. But for the most part SF in the movies exists as a leavener, not as a base.

I Love Maria hails from Hong Kong, whose film industry isn't known for having much SF at all in any form. In that sense it's more typical of a Western science-fiction movie; actually, it's closest in spirit to a mainstream Hollywood comedy with SF sprinkles. But it stands out from the few other Hong Kong SF productions for actually putting SF elements onscreen, even if on the cheap, instead of leaving it at the level of a modern-day technology-based thriller (Bitcoin Heist). It also uses the kind of shameless, slapstick humor I find myself laughing at even when I know it's Naked Gun dumb.

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Tags: Hong Kong Science Fiction Repair Shop comedy cult movies movies review science fiction

Movies: The Matrix

Twenty years later, the Wachowskis' digital fable still stands tall, outliving the slickness of the moment and attempts to misappropriate it

By Serdar Yegulalp on 2021-05-04 12:00:00 No comments

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Most work we consider maverick and radical comes from the margins. The Matrix bundled genuinely radical concepts into the last place one would expect them: a slick, effects-laden action-movie framework. Its studio, Warner Brothers, promoted it like any other blockbuster project, but cleverly avoided giving away any of its biggest secrets in its trailers or ads. It all worked: not only did the movie rake in hundreds of millions and spawn two (ill-conceived, I feel) sequels, it made itself felt in pop-culture consciousness like little since Star Wars. If that isn't a piece of subversive cultural engineering, I don't know what is.

"A mythology for the information age" was the label I came up with for The Matrix not long after seeing it. Twenty-plus years later, the label continues to stick. The information age is now the disinformation age, and our world has become virtual unreality -- not because it was strong-armed onto us, but because we cheerfully gave ourselves over to it thinking it was a good idea. Against all this, the Wachowskis' digital fable still stands tall, outliving the slickness of the moment and resisting attempts to misappropriate it.

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Tags: Keanu Reeves Science Fiction Repair Shop The Matrix The Wachowskis cyberpunk movies review science fiction

Science Fiction Repair Shop: Larger Than Life And Twice As Unreal

How not all fiction has to be "realistic" to be affective, and how new aesthetic standards can follow from that.

By Serdar Yegulalp on 2021-04-28 12:00:00 No comments

My good buddy Steven Savage and I recently (re-)watched Equilibrium -- the Christian Bale dystopian gun-fu movie, about which I ought to say something more expansive in these pages -- and had a useful insight worth expanding on:

Equilibrium seems to be built on a simplistic premise, but many people base their own lives on shallow ideas. That is what haunted me about Equilibrium – the idea people would hate their own emotions and claim to build a rational world is too real.

I take this as a reminder to be careful when judging fictional settings. They may seem too simple – but forget that some people hold very simplistic views. They may seem overly complex, but life can be complicated. The question is neither simplicity nor complexity, sophistication or crudity – but do they help us think and feel.

Most works of SF&F, for all their worldbuilding details, are not ultimately intended to be forensically realistic. They're essentially thought experiments, what-ifs. This what-iffery can be made more emotionally grounded by having good characterization and thoughtful attention to moment-to-moment detail -- "what the air in the airlock smells like", as a friend of mine once put it. But like all of fiction outside of it, they are not supposed to be absolute distillations of life.

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Tags: Science Fiction Repair Shop realism storytelling

Science Fiction Repair Shop: Move Fast And Publish Things

Here's a good article about the way novel lengths have been influenced by technology and marketing, with an except I found particularly enlightening:

By Serdar Yegulalp on 2021-04-25 21:00:00 No comments

Here's a good article about the way novel lengths have been influenced by technology and marketing, with an except I found particularly enlightening:

Novels and Novellas and Tomes, Oh My! - Counter Craft (

... One might think that ebooks would encourage even longer novels. Instead, in the ebook market short books started to dominate to the degree that self-published authors publish a single average length novel as multiple “books” and call it a “series.” Many self-published “novels” are barely longer than a short story. Then when an author makes the jump to the print market, they often publish the “series” as a single novel. For example, Wool by Hugh Howey was originally sold as several books before being grouped as one print novel.

The reason for this is, yes, economic. The model that seems to work best for the self-published ebook market is providing a very cheap or free first entry, then once the reader is hooked charge them again and again for the rest of the story. Basically, the ebook market has returned to the Victorian serial model.

This makes complete sense given the vast majority of what's indie-digital published in the SF&F space. It's fast-moving stuff that owes more to the world of light novels and old-school serialized SF than standalone works where the author's name is the chief selling point. They're designed mostly to keep people reading, even if what they eventually end up reading is merely being perpetuated for its own sake.

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Tags: ebooks science fiction self-publishing

Science Fiction Repair Shop: Something Old, Something New, Something Borrowed, Something Else

Why not propose something truly new, instead of just taking the old and rejugging it?

By Serdar Yegulalp on 2021-04-22 12:00:00 No comments

One of the nastier, if somewhat accurate, criticisms I've seen levied at certain things follows this pattern: "This work hasn't invented anything new, it's just recreated what we already know in a new form." I think I originally encountered this in a discussion of Firefly: why go all the way out into space, the critique went, only to rediscover all the moribund clichés of Westerns in years past? Why not propose something truly new, instead of just taking the old and rejugging it?

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Tags: Science Fiction Repair Shop science fiction

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I'm an independent SF and fantasy author, technology journalist, and freelance contemplator for how SF can be more than just a way to blow stuff up.

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