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Sime~Gen Inc. Presents

ReReadable Books

February 2010

"Group Mind & Media Part II - SF"


Jacqueline Lichtenberg



 To send books for review in this column email Jacqueline Lichtenberg,jl@simegen.com  for snailing instructions or send an attached RTF file.  
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 Dallas TV Series 1978-1991 from Warner Bros DVD

 Babylon 5 TV Series 1994-1998 DVD

Conspirator by C. J. Cherryh, DAW HC, May 2009

Riders of the Storm by Julie E. Czerneda, DAW HC Sept 2008

Rift in the Sky by Julie E. Czerneda, DAW HC July 2009

Crystal Healer by S. L. Viehl, RoC pb Aug 2009

Remember the TV show DALLAS, and the whole summer of "Who Shot JR"

Dallas was originally billed as Prime Time Soap Opera, and in a way it was. It was the first prime time success to use a long story-arc instead of the "anthology" format used famously by Star Trek The Original Series. Dallas’s "story-arc" structure was the main feature of the Soap Opera borrowed by the Prime Time Drama, and the arc is what kept Soap fans glued to the tube.

Star Trek Fans objected vehemently to the anthology format, so much so that they violated it blatantly and proudly in their fanzine stories. "Look how much better the stories are when you have enough room!"

Dallas aired April 2, 1978 to May 3, 1991 for 356 episodes, plus 3 movies.

The worthy Star Trek successor, Babylon 5, aired 1994 to 1998. Babylon 5 was the first SF show on TV to use the story-arc, and though B-5 didn’t explode to the top of the charts like Dallas, it had a major impact on how TV producers viewed SF and the SF audience.

Through the 1990’s, online connections among fans and even with Producers grew, and with that the online fan fiction universes grew.

TV series were always anthology, from the inception of TV service was born from Radio Drama because of economics. Serials, Lone Ranger, Dr. Who, were considered to lack mature themes, and only children had time to follow them. Adults couldn’t always be home to listen or watch a show. Viewers had no patience with references to missed material. Soap plots grew slowly, so you could keep up.

The economics of holding a wide audience with a given data-set (a story is a data-set) demanded a format that didn’t depend on everyone knowing everything. Hence, the anthology format which returns the show regulars to the same condition as at the opening of the hour.

The VCR changed the economics by changing access. The DVR even more. Now on-demand TV and webcasting are shifting it all again, drastically. This will accelerate now that the shift to digital broadcast is official.

So not only has the business model of the media been shifted by technology, faster than SF had ever predicted, but the taste of consumers of fiction has shifted along with it.

As noted in the January 2010 column, we have a chicken-and-egg phenomenon here. Which is the cause? Which is the effect? The Group Mind? Or the fiction-delivery-system that serves up the Group Mind’s fiction?

Or maybe that’s the wrong question? Maybe this is not a cause-effect phenomenon but a Magical one? As in astrology, the effect can precede the cause, so also in magic cause and effect are not necessarily linked by time sequence.

In the 1980’s, Adult Fantasy novels began to rise in popularity, and Fantasy Series became insanely popular. Meanwhile, both before and after, the SF Series became popular. Now the Trilogy rules publishing.

Today, the long-long series of long-long books with an envelope story-arc plus a complete plot within each novel, is the most popular format in genre novel publishing.

In fact, even the Romance field has broken all its rules and gone deep into the Series. This is seen most in the SF-Romance and Fantasy-Paranormal Romance.

Just as its easier now to find all the parts of a TV series, it’s likewise much easier to get printed novels (or the e-book reprint) online. It’s easy to be sure you don’t miss any parts of a series. In the 1970’s, Dallas proved that fiction consumers want their fiction in long Story-Arcs. Today, the whole fiction delivery system is catering to the Group Mind thirst for long, involved, complicated story-arcs, just not too sudsy.

Which came first? The thirst or the arc? Which is the cause? Which the effect? Did the Group Mind’s thirst for long arc stories induce Technology to invent the VCR and later digital media delivery? Is the web really only about the thirst for fiction story-arcs – and of course, complicated non-fiction like political opinion blogs?

Is Humanity’s Group Mind inventing technology just to satisfy the need for story, and just not letting the scientists know that? Why do we suddenly have all this now, even though humanity must have wanted it for millennia? There is a mystical explanation for the rapidly increasing rate of change sparked by technology, but before we get to that, we need to assimilate some long-story-arc SF series.

Study these series which I’ve been reviewing in this column for years and you will see more clearly how the Group Mind and Media interact beyond simple cause-effect.

First the 10th Foreigner novel by C. J. Cherryh. Conspirator. The Foreigner novels are structured in trilogies, just as Katherine Kurtz’s Deryni novels were. Foreigner #11 will be titled Deceiver.

I can’t reprise this huge story-arc here. The setting is complex, and new "foreign" and non-human elements are injected into the complex Situations Cherryh is famous for.

Conspirator takes us through the political upheaval sparked by the technological bleed-over from humans to Atevi. Cherryh shows how the Group Mind and Media interact in this fictional model of our world. The Atevi now have a critical mass of human technology and their society is disintegrating. Read between the lines, and (as with any terrific SF) you will be led to ask new questions about today’s News.

Cherryh uses the story-arc, but stays away from most of the elements that make Fantasy distinctive.

Julie E. Czerneda, however, brings us into a very SF world she’s built, a galaxy spanning world that also spans millennia and the rise and fall of civilizations and species.

Reading Czerneda’s novels in The Clan Chronicles, you don’t get that galactic perspective. Each novel is about individuals coping and dealing and surviving against all odds. It’s about people you can care about and even walk a mile in their moccasins.

Also organized into trilogies, set in different places and times, involving different characters, The Clan Chronicles show us galactic history from a long perspective.

Riders of the Storm and Rift In The Sky are the latest two books in The Clan Chronicles, and they advance the story arc toward revealing the connections among the previous novels that Czerneda has been publishing with DAW books since 1997.

Riders and Rift take us into the archeological revelations on a world with 3 sentient species. They have biologies that are unlikely to have evolved on the same planet, yet here they are and they don’t seem to think it odd. Along comes an expedition from the Stars composed of Humans and several alien species. Each archeological team must be led by 3 different species as they search for the greatest power left by a long dead interstellar civilization.

Cross species rivalries, friendships, and deep relationships reveal the complex cross-currents driving the events of this galaxy. As with C. J. Cherryh’s novels, biology plays a huge part in politics. I love these novels.

S. L. Viehl has been doing her Star Doc series since 2000 but they aren’t numbered because at least one of the novels is not really a "Star Doc" novel according to some, though it’s in the same universe.

Crystal Healer is the 2009 Star Doc novel and tells the story of the woman called Star Doc, genetically engineered for Healing and other talents suspiciously close to magic. In previous novels, she had been so injured by those trying to capture or kill her for her genes, that she lost her personal memory. In Crystal Healer, she unravels a mystery about a native legend, battles her enemies, and forces her story forward with astonishing results.

While C. J. Cherry stays far from any Fantasy premise, both Czerneda and Viehl courageously plunge across the very edges of known Science, far out into the wilderness of genetics, where the things that can be done, and the things that happen because of those deeds, echo resoundingly of Fantasy – yet they really could be real, if current science is anywhere near accurate.

The primary element copied from Fantasy (and TV shows like Buffy The Vampire Slayer and Babylon 5 which used telepathy) is really just the Story-Arc. With the Arc, these writers are using the current commercially driven fiction delivery system to tell a long, complex, detailed story that needs a lot of well drawn characters and relationships to make the bizarre background plausible and aliens comprehensible.

These complex stories are in high demand in every genre, sub-genre, and even in mainstream literature. Does the Group Mind create the Media technology to satisfy an itch for fiction? Or does the Media incite the Group Mind?

To send books for review in this column email Jacqueline Lichtenberg,  jl@simegen.com for snailing instructions or send an attached RTF file.  



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