Tag Archives: Alphas

Should SF Be More Optimistic?

A panel at Chicon 7 discussed whether science fiction has become too pessimistic. Dystopian dramas such as The Road, The Walking Dead, and I Am Legend seem to dominate today’s market. Is this a reflection of current societal woes, or a more widespread sense of doom towards the future by writers and producers? What part do readers and audiences play in contributing to the popularity of these darker stories?

My feeling is that modern science fiction is no more or less optimistic than it has ever been. Classics such as Metropolis, Dr. Strangelove, and Blade Runner have often painted cautionary pictures of the future, warning us of what might be, not what will be. I would argue that dystopian SF is generally more thought-provoking than utopian SF. The best literature relies on conflict to propel characters to change and grow. Utopian societies are often bland and uninteresting.

Things like Buck Rogers and Star Trek are loved by millions for their optimistic visions of technological innovation and political harmony, but even they have conflict to drive their stories. They are often criticized for their naïvety, too.

Taking a look at this year’s Hugo Award nominees, I see optimistic stories far outnumbering the dystopias. Among the novels, Deadline is really the only dystopia, and even it has an underlying optimism that says society will learn to deal with a zombie apocalypse with new medical testing and security technologies. Among the dramatic presentations, Game of Thrones could possibly be considered a pessimistic fantasy universe, and Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows certainly has some very dark moments before the forces of good spectacularly triumph over the forces of evil.

Last year saw pessimistic films such as Rise of the Planet of the Apes and Contagion, but they were more than countered by generally optimistic offerings such as Source Code, Captain America, X-Men: First Class, Super 8, Thor, Cowboys and Aliens, and Paul.

Science fiction TV has been dominated for several years by Doctor Who, the ultimate in optimism. Battlestar Galactica was certainly dark, but depicted the eventual triumph of humans. I think one reason Terra Nova failed was that audiences were not attracted to a world where running away from a dystopian society was encouraged rather than staying and working to improve it. Meanwhile, shows like Eureka, Alphas, and Warehouse 13 continue to offer lighthearted SF adventure.

To me, no matter how dark or depressing a science fiction story is, there is a fundamental optimism inherent in all science fiction. After all, science fiction (at least the majority that’s set in the future) imagines that there will be a future for mankind. You can’t get much more optimistic than that!

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For Your Consideration: Hugo Award Dramatic Presentation, Short Form

The deadline for nominating works for the Hugo Awards is March 11, 2012. Members (as of January 31, 2012) of Renovation, Chicon 7, or LoneStarCon 3 are eligible to nominate. For the Dramatic Presentation, Short Form category, I have compiled a list of productions that are eligible to be nominated this year. It is a long list, and undoubtedly not comprehensive. My purpose is to remind nominators that there are worthy productions that do not have Doctor Who or Game of Thrones in their names.

I’ve listed the titles of individual episodes because the Hugo rules require individual episodes to be nominated. A multi-part production such as Game of Thrones or Torchwood: Miracle Day can be nominated in the Long Form category if nominators feel that the mini-series should be taken as a whole, rather than as individual episodes. The dividing line between Short Form and Long Form is 90 minutes running time, but may be adjusted slightly one way or another if a majority of nominators place a borderline work in the other category.

I haven’t made up my mind what I’m going to nominate, other than I will definitely be nominating The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore, a terrific short film (available as a free download from iTunes). My expectation is that one or more episodes of Doctor Who and Game of Thrones will be nominated no matter what, so I will use my nominations for more obscure works that can fill in the remaining slots.

For your consideration:

Adam And Dog (Short Film) [winner of the Annie Award for Best Animated Short]

Adventure Time (TV Series) [nominated for an Emmy Award]
Episode: Mystery Trainx

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Alphas (TV Series)
Episode: Original Sin

American Horror Story (TV Series)
Episode: Smoldering Children

The Ballad Of Nessie (Short Film)

Batman: The Brave and the Bold (TV Series)
Episode: Mitefall!

Batman: Year One (Direct-to-Video) [nominated for an Annie Award]

Being Human (TV Series)
Episode: Though the Heavens Fall

Ben 10: Ultimate Alien (TV Series)
Episode: Prisoner #775 Is Missing

The Big Bang Theory (TV Series) [nominated for an Emmy Award]
Episode: The Good Guy Fluctuation

Camelot (TV Series)
Episode: Reckoning

Community (TV Series)
Episode: Remedial Chaos Theory [a humorous take on parallel dimensions]

Doctor Who (TV Series)
Episode: The Doctor’s Wife

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Eureka (TV Series)
Episode: One Giant Leap…

The Event (TV Series)
Episode: Arrival

The Fades (TV Series)
Episode: Episode #1.4

Falling Skies (TV Series)
Episode: What Hides Beneath

The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore(Short Film) [nominated for an Academy Award]

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Fringe (TV Series)
Episode: The Day We Died

Futurama (TV Series)
Episode: All The President’s Heads

Game of Thrones (TV Series) [nominated for an Emmy Award]
Episode: Baelor

Generator Rex (TV Series)
Episode: Ben 10/Generator Rex Heroes United

Green Lantern: The Animated Series (TV Series) [nominated for an Annie Award]
Episode: Beware My Power, Parts 1 and 2

Grimm (TV Series)
Episode: Danse Macabre

Haven (TV Series)
Episode: Sins of the Fathers

Hoops & Yoyo Ruin Christmas (TV Special) [nominated for an Annie Award]

I Tawt I Taw A Puddy Tat (Short Film) [nominated for an Annie Award]

La Luna (Short Film) [nominated for an Academy Award and an Annie Award]

Lost Girl (TV Series)
Episode: Barometz. Trick. Pressure

The Mercury Men (Web Series)
Episode: The Battery

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Merlin (TV Series)
Episode: The Darkest Hour, Parts 1 and 2

A Morning Stroll (Short Film) [nominated for an Academy Award]

No Ordinary Family (TV Series)
Episode: No Ordinary Powell

Once Upon a Time (TV Series)
Episode: The Heart is a Lonely Hunter

Outcasts (TV Series)
Episode: Episode #1.4

Prep & Landing: Naughty vs. Nice (TV Special) [nominated for an Annie Award]

Primeval (TV Series)
Episode: Episode #4.1

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Robot Chicken (TV Series) [nominated for an Emmy Award]
Episode: Robot Chicken’s DP Christmas Special

Sanctuary (TV Series)
Episode: Into the Black

The Simpsons (TV Series) [nominated for an Emmy Award]
Episode: Treehouse of Horror XXII

Smallville (TV Series)
Episode: Finale

Star Trek New Voyages: Phase II (Web Series)
Episode: Enemy: Starfleet!

Star Wars: The Clone Wars (TV Series)
Episode: Carnage of Krell

Stargate Universe (TV Series)
Episode: Gauntlet

Steins;Gate (TV Series)
Episode: Prologue to the Beginning and End

South Park (TV Series) [nominated for an Emmy Award]
Episode: Crack Baby Athletic Association

Sunday (Dimanche) (Short Film) [nominated for an Academy Award]

Supernatural (TV Series)
Episode: The French Mistake

Teen Wolf (TV Series)
Episode: Code Breaker

Terra Nova (TV Series)
Episode: Resistance

Thundercats (TV Series)
Episode: New Alliances

Torchwood (TV Series)
Episode: Miracle Day: The New World

Transformers Prime (TV Series)
Episode: One Shall Rise, Parts 1, 2, and 3

True Blood (TV Series)
Episode: You Smell Like Dinner

Ugly Americans (TV Series)
Episode: Callie and Her Sister

V (TV Series)
Episode: Mother’s Day

The Vampire Diaries (TV Series)
Episode: The Reckoning

The Venture Bros. (TV Series)
Episode: From the Ladle to the Grave: The Shallow Gravy Story

The Walking Dead (TV Series)
Episode: Pretty Much Dead Already

Warehouse 13(TV Series)
Episode: Emily Lake

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Wolverine (TV Series)
Episode: Kikyo

Alphas

Alphas wrapped up its first 11-episode season on the SyFy Channel this week. I think it was a largely successful season, and I’m looking forward to more.

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Alphas are the same kind of superhuman mutants found in X-Men or Heroes. This should come as no surprise, since series creator Zak Penn’s name has appeared in the credits of two X-Men films, Elektra, and The Incredible Hulk. Veteran science fiction TV producers Robert Hewitt Wolfe and Ira Steven Behr help run the show.

The series deals with many of the same issues as X-Men or Heroes, such as discrimination and government cover-ups. The set-up is similar to X-Men in that there is a wise leader, Dr. Lee Rosen, played by the always engaging David Strathairn, with a team of untested good alphas fighting against the forces of bad alphas known collectively as Red Flag. Rosen’s team is not necessarily fighting crime for altruistic reasons; they are part of a secret government operation that offers “a paycheck and a good dental plan.”

The good alphas consist of Gary Bell, played by Ryan Cartwright, an autistic young man who can tap into any kind of electromagnetic transmission with his mind, Cameron Hicks, played by Warren Christie, an ex-Marine with super reflexes, Rachel Pirzad, played by Azita Ghanizada, a second-generation Iranian-American with super senses (but can only use one at a time), Nina Theroux, played by Laura Mennell, who has what amounts to super hypnotism, and Bill Harken, played by Malik Yoba, a former FBI agent with super strength.

The ensemble cast works well together. I think that Hicks may have been originally intended to be the focal point of the show, with Gary as comic relief, but Ryan Cartwright’s amazing portrayal of Gary has moved him to be the heart, with David Strathairn as the soul, of the group. Cartwright, a Brit using a flawless American accent, has obviously done a his homework on autism, and he captures the essence of an autistic person without it being a demeaning caricature. And, he still gets the best comic lines.

Alphas has had some notable guest stars, such as Summer Glau, Brent Spiner, Garret Dillahunt, and Lindsay Wagner (reprising a role created on Warehouse 13), to keep things interesting.

The alphas’ powers are mostly grounded in real science. For example, Bill Harken’s strength is attributed to spikes in adrenaline when he is stressed, and thus is a power that can only be used in short spurts. One of the guest villains had the power of invisibility, and this was explained as a manipulation of the eye’s optic nerve blind spot. Still farfetched, but at least the writers are trying to come up with legitimate neurochemical reasons for the alphas’ powers. At least (so far) no one flies, levitates, or otherwise overtly breaks the laws of physics.

Much of the charm of the series is that it portrays the heroes as banal office workers who don’t all hang out together outside of office hours. They don’t have fancy code names, they don’t wear uniforms, and in Gary’s case have to observe a nightly curfew.