Subgenre: Military Science Fiction

Fanatic red lights rhythmically illuminate the bustling cargo bay as a siren billows. Loudly signaling the impending doom of the grey helmeted future soldiers pouring across the cargo bay to lock into their dropship seats. The symphony of organized chaos culminates in a sudden drop of all ships from their high orbiting battle cruisers to an atmospheric free fall to fight an enemy never seen or heard from. The rookie’s eyes widen as they hear their fellow soldiers explode in nearby dropships . All of the advanced weapons and tactical nuclear devices they carry can’t help unravel the knot in their gut as the free fall slows, lands, and releases them on a distant and unknown planet far from earth.

The great “Klendathu Drop” scene from  one of my childhood guilty pleasures, “Starship Troopers” (1997).

As part of the continuing series of posts regarding various subgenres of science fiction, I present my personal favorite.

Military Science Fiction

It’s described by Wikipedia as:

” A subgenre of science fiction in which the principal characters are members of a military service and an armed conflict is taking place, normally in space, or on a planet other than Earth.”

To understand this genre , we must see where it began. Many consider the foundation for it set with George Chesney’s “The battle of dorking “ and H.G. Wells’  “The land of ironclads”, but these are merely precdents though. As the noble genre of Science Fiction grew with a new generation, so did the sub genres. This next generation grew with a real appreciation for and understand of sci-fi’s unique ability to transport readers to a place free from their political byists and misconceptions.

To Walk in Another’s Shoes.

This ability is a  silver bullet that service members and combat veterans need to give the public the ability to experience even a fraction of emotional complexity of being a veteran and serving in a war.

As a veteran myself,  I find comfort in reading the military sci-fi classics. It feels like sharing an experience with an old friend who understands. It may be on a distant world or eons into the future, but the emotions, struggles and human nature are very much the same.

One author who is considered by many to be the father of military science fiction and understood it’s unique ability is Robert Heinlein. With his novel “Starship Troopers” (1958, very different than the film) he painted a word and conflict that soldiers to this day can identify with. Joining up for the wrong reasons then slowly falling in love with the endless toil, fighting in a war that the public doesn’t understand nor seem to care about, a sense of belonging to something greater than you are. Speak to any returning soldier about such issues and they can identify immediately.

Military science fiction literature exploded in the 20th century with the soldiers returning from the Second World War, Korean War and War in Vietnam. Each War bringing a different type of grittiness and /or complexity to the genre.

Some examples of  Military Sci-Fi:

Unfortunately the format of military science fiction doesn’t lend itself incredibly well to film as many military sci-fi stories require a somewhat more uncompressed storyline

Film :
Alien

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Starship Troopers

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Battle: LA

—–

Television

Battlestar Galactica

—–

Star Trek

—–

Books

The Forever War

—–

Starship Troopers

—–

Orphanage

—–

Video Games

Halo

—–

Command & Conquer

—–

StarCraft

—–

Throughout these examples there are a few themes that remain constant. The obvious, military values such as bravery, duty and sacrifice. These values often times coming into conflict with other themes throughout the story.  This being a subcategory of moral philosophy, another major theme in mil-sf are Questions such as “The morality of first strike on an enemy”, “Using soldiers as fodder”, “Should those that protect society (veterans) be the only ones to be allowed to influence the policy of that society?”. Which bring us into another common theme: The extremes of human nature. This genre is chock full of the greatness of human nature in the face of evil. Conversely, it’s also full of examples of the horrible ability of humans to inflict atrocities upon themselves and others.

As a veteran, of course I have not choice but to place this as my personal favorite genre. But it’s my strong opinion that Military science fiction can provide emotion complexity and an honesty that most other subgenres can’t touch.

Post Scriptus:

I have to give mad respect to the Live Action Commercial for Halo: ODST. It’s exactly as how I would imagine it, to the detail. Here it is:

[youtube=http://youtu.be/3S5I0_hjS3c]

- Brandon M. Brevard

[polldaddy poll=4271469]

The Definitive Nerd Hierarchy

A war has been raging for many moons. It’s a battle of wits,  a battle of logic, a battle of the most intellectually savvy, yet most socially inept. Today, ladies and gentlemen I speak on the War of ‘what is the best and worst kind of Nerd’. This has always been an issue and a hard reality that we nerds face. It recently came to the forefront in my recent adventures in LA.  We are blessed with the E3 video game convention as well as the Anime convention. I was struck by how normal the video game nerds were compared to the anime nerds.

It made me ponder.

Is there a natural order in the nerd kingdom? Is it possible to be a worse nerd than another nerd? After extensive research ..aka people watching and interviewing nerds.

I am prepared to present The Definitive Nerd Order.

One may inquire as to the necessity of such a list. Well, I submit that some of us social awkward types may not understand how much and when the inner nerd should he revealed to coworkers, new friends and new love interests. I suggest that the lower you place on this list the longer you should wait to reveal that part of the inner dungeon of your nerdiness.

To truly delve into the argument, one must first understand what a nerd is. Wikipedia, one of the reputable torch bearers for pop culture, defines a nerd as:

“..an intelligent but single-minded person obsessed with a nonsocial hobby or pursuit. Nerds are generally considered to be awkward, shy and/or unattractive by most, although this is not always true. Thus, a nerd is often excluded from physical activity and considered a loner by others, or will tend to associate with a small group of like-minded people, although again, this is not always the case.”

A geek is not to be confused with a nerd. A geek is an otherwise normal and contributing member to society,having life in order, etc. In their case, they are just infuatuated with that one specific topic. My strong belief is that every person is a geek about one thing or another. I have 2 questions I ask to those that haven’t identified their inner geek:

-”what’s your thing? What is one thing that if you take this one single thing away you will no longer be.. you”

-”assume you’re talking to a complete stranger in idle conversation,  you’re being courteous and chatting but are bored,  what’s one subject that they could bring up that would make you interested in the conversation ?”

I don’t place geeks on the hierarchy but if anywhere they would place a little bit above closet nerds. Geeks are easily acceptable by society as they are balanced with social life, job etc. A nerd on the other hand will restructure life , social life, job,  friends and/or freetime to accommodate their obsession. The fundamental difference is that a nerd will neglect certain aspects of life to delve into their passion.

The defining difference in on simple word: “balance”

Without further adieu, let’s dive in:

Scientific Nomenclature:

Nerdius Inconspicuous.

Common name: The Closet Nerd.

The closet nerd is that friend or coworker who on the surface may seem like just a geek. You may not know what they do with their free time. They are perfectly normal, contributing members of society.. that’s until you scratch the surface. When you ask about their weekend, they tell you they were sitting inside all weekend watching Dr. Who. Or if you manage to get a look at their phone there’s a bunch of Science Fiction podcasts, view their Facebook and all of their favorite books, movies or quotes are Science Fiction.

Caveat: Although, in this case, I am describing the closet nerd as a specific type of nerd,  it can also be a blanket term for most of the nerd species on the Hierarchy. i.e. ” closet scifi nerd”, “closet video game nerd”, etc.

Nerdius Proximius

Nerd-By-Association

This is a tricky one. This is a nerd who may, in fact not be a nerd at all. Ladies might understand this one better. Imagine, if you will, you find a nice well-rounded and down to earth guy, things are going well and then he introduces you to all of his best friends. They are all hardcore nerds with minimal lives and social skills. Now, one may ask why I rank this poor nerd lower than the closet nerd.  The simple answer is that the closet nerd may be a nerd but they know how to keep it under control with friends that may be perfectly normal. The nerd by association on the other hand is less acceptable by society for the simple reason that most people can bare one nerd that keeps it under control. But no one, outside of the nerd realm, can deal with a constant onslaught of nerdy quotes, statistics and arguments.

Nerdius Intellectulus

 The Intellectual Nerd

This particular family of nerds is amongst the more stereo typical nerds. This is the nerd who is obsessed with specific facets of intellectualism. Common subjects being. Math, Science, Foreign Affairs etc. A pop culture example being Steve Urkel from Family Matters (TV). It’s the quintessential nerd. That nerd that, because they had no life, spent all night doing homework and at the end of class reminds the teacher she didn’t collect the homework. These nerds are harmless for the most part, just annoying. When asking them a simple mathematical or various intellectual questions they will answer the question by giving you a lecture on the subject. These nerds are considered this high on the list because, although they display many of the same characteristics as their counterparts lower on the list. These are real and industrious subjects that pertain to the real world. I don’t know about you but I would rather have a man or woman with no social life and nothing to do designing my weapons systems and nuclear devices than a socialite who procrastinates after a long night of drinking.

Nerdius Culturalis 

The Cultural Nerd

(More Commonly Refered to “Hipsters“)

These are nerds of a similar vein as intellectual nerds, they will also go on a long lecture as opposed to answering a question directly. Their interests lie more in the indie band, art, literature, photography, theater sectors. These are very very different creatures than any other nerd in this list. Nerdius culturalis can be broken into two basic sub species. “Iphone Hipster” and “Dirty Hipster

  • IPhone Hipster can be found at your local coffee shop. Although they will protest the corporate nature of Starbucks ruining the small local coffee shop. Their lifestyle depends on a relaxed social environment where they can sit and judge people without social interaction. They will often wear plaid shirts, non prescription glasses and skinny jeans. They will protest the pretentiousness of modern society and the corporate takeover of the world . Usually blogging on Tumblr about it from the mac and or Iphone. They are a walking contradiction. They scour at modern society and many of those in it. At the Same time, they do not mind whole heartedly embracing the trappings and creature comforts of that very society. They are many times extremely sarcastic and petty. They will often look frown on others who take pride in their appearance while in fact taking longer to get ready in the morning to look like they didn’t try. They compete with each other on who is less mainstream, often by proving they found the latest under ground band on iTunes. PBR (Pabst Blue Ribbon) and dive bars are the order of business for these most curious of nerds.

  • Dirty Hipster: Now, the value system of the Dirty Hipster is much the same as the Iphone Hipster they are simply fundamentalists. Where the Iphone Hipster will scoff at Corporate America, yet buy the latest Apple gadgets,  The Dirty Hipster will unplug, some not having cell phones etc. Where the Iphone Hipster will look down on the pretentious and then spend an hour looking like they don’t care, the dirty Hipster will wear their parents hand me down clothes from 1978. Instead of trying to look like they don’t care they will purposely wear matching or absoltuly hideous clothes to prove they don’t care. The Dirty Hipster finds regular dive bars too mainstream. They will often search for a bar where your wallet could be stolen and/or you could be stabbed.

Nerdius Gamius

The Video Game Nerd

Now this is a nerd many of us have come to know and love. The video game industry is now bigger than the film industry. With that, it necessarily follows that there will be a swell of this variety of nerd. If we had to look at my initial journey into nerdom I would have to say that I was ushered into the wonderful world of nerds with video games first. When I was a young warthog, it was hard to find a decent game magazine on the shelf. We would be happy to find Gamepro or Video Game Informer. One didn’t dare tell how many video games they played or let the opposite sex scope out the Final Fantasy VII Walkthrough guide you hid in your backpack. Although, as a crew we spent many nights playing Mario Kart 64 or Goldeneye into the wee hours, theses days the stakes are higher. These days, the hours we poured into those games only would be a hard geek. Today it takes a different type of nerd. I am speaking of the video game nerd who spends countless hours plugged into a Massive Multi-Player Online Role Playing Games. Known by the “Cool Kids”(or not) as an MMORPG. An example of this known with disdain by many a slighted girlfriend, the runaway hit “World of Warcraft“. Make no mistake, MMORPGs have been straining relationships for years. “Ultima Online” and “Everquest” to name a couple. It has never been to the point of WoW, though . In my immediate group alone I know 2 men that lost their girlfriends and one who failed from college over the game.  The internet is rampant with these stories. The game and MMORPGS seeped into the internet generation’s collective conciousness. Its gotten to a point where interested young women will ask early on whether a guy is into the game. These used to be 3rd or 4th date questions. No more. 1st date,  these inquisitive young ladies wanna know early on whether they will be splitting time with imaginary Litch Kings or Scantaly Clad elven maidens.

Nerdius Comicus

The Comic Book Nerd

This lovable nerd has held a place in the culture and history of America for many years. Comic books, throughout it’s history has had an intense lack of respect, especially until the 80s. G.I.’s read comics in the Second World War, helping them escape, if only temporarily. The war ended and reading went on.  The 50s to the 70s were it’s heyday. Many of the famous comic book characters and storylines used in films today out came from that era. Why am I explaining the history? Simply put, this is predominantly the geekdom of our fathers. We now live in an age of  iPads, Computers and hand held super phones. Comics don’t hold special place that it did in our parents time. A time when a comic stand could be found on any corner. As comics themselves (not film, characters, or any consumer product) decline so does the understanding for it by the aging internet generation. It can be argued that in a decade of Spider-Man, X-Men, and Batman these geeks are having their run of the roost. Again, not speaking of anything other than the actual comics and not speaking of casual admirers. Case and point, a non comic book geek will have a conversation with you about what else they know about the comic after watching a comic book film. A comic nerd will not let you leave the conversation without explaining the reasons the film was wrong, why it was better when a certain author wrote it etc.

Nerdius Fantasticus

The Fantasy Nerd

I will simply graze over this infamous nerd as I spent nearly an entire post explaining my byist opinion in relation to them. (Link: “Fantasy, Science Fictions illegitimate step child?” ) . The Fantasy Nerd has been around for many moons in the American conscious. It returned to the forefront with Peter Jackson’s “Lord of The Rings”  trilogy. These nerds are harmless enough, just not understood by society to its fullest extent. This is demonstrated especially well with “community” (TV), the Dungeons and Dragons episode. Intro Seen Below:

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FwOLED0kRDY]

Note: I sense a slight upswing in their acceptability in the coming months. Due mostly to the explosive success of HBO‘s fantasy series “Game of Thrones“. (Trailer Seen Below)

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XfAE3hIaPm4&NR=1]

Nerdius Weirdicus

The Anime Nerd

As we approach the end of this noble list,  we begin to reach into the depths of Nerdom. The anime nerd is a prime example. Weirdicus, more than any other genre is willing to dress up like their favorite character whether or not it’s acceptable and or they even look like them. Anime, itself can be good. The 90s seeing a huge swell in the import of anime into American culture, classics being “Akira” and “Ghost in The Shell”. Giving credit where its due, the forefathers of what would become much of the tone of and practices of the internet generation, including integration of technology into social life, was pioneered by anime nerds man moons ago. I sense a resurgence and more acceptance in the coming years with the live action production of an anime classic “Akira“.

Nerdius Maximus

The Greatest Nerd

Nerds don’t get worse than this. Hold on to your hats ladies and gentlemen. Some classes of nerdius maximus are so nerdy they aren’t even known by society.

First, what is nerdius maximus, it’s a nerd who unknowingly or purposely blurs the line between reality and the world in which they wish to reside. A simple and common example:

Star Trek Weddings

Star trek being more easily understood to the lesser geeks of you out there. Nerdius Maximus isn’t necessarily the guy which has a model of the starship enterprise on his desk, maybe not even the guy that has a Klingon Bat’leh (Weapon) hanging on his wall.

No No No

He is the guy that teaches himself the fighting style with it. He’s the guy that doesn’t just enjoy the Klingon focused episodes of Star Trek, he’s the guy that teaches himself how to speak Klingon. Not the guy who has a picture of the enterprise in his living room, he’s the guy who had his livingroom modeled like the bridge of the ship. Apply this mindset to anything nerdy and this embodies maximus.

Now that that’s covered, I must reveal to you a state of Nerdiness so low that most lack knowledge of its existence. In the few short years that I’ve known of it, I’ve met only one nerd who’s admitted to it. Live Action Role Playing (LARP-ing) apparently has been around for many years but hit a high in the last few years with the advent of the nerd who wet their fantasy genre whistle with WoW.

Illustrated in the film “Role Models” here:

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YBxFMLZ2188]

LARPING as explained by wikipedia:
” is a form of role-playing game where the participants physically act out their characters’ actions. The players pursue goals within a fictional setting represented by the real world, while interacting with each other in character. The outcome of player actions may be mediated by game rules, or determined by consensus among players. Event arrangers called gamemasters decide the setting and rules to be used and facilitate play.”

Basically, an organized make believe event for adults who never grew up.

It might be better illustrated by this video:

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9DQwFFrEFCU&feature=related]

I will admit, I can see the good in every single one of these categories of nerd. I get it, I consider myself a “jack-of-all-nerds”. At one point in my life I have been on almost any one of these rungs (minus LARPING). This is meant as more of a guide to maneuver your Nerdiness in polite society. For all the good and the bad associated with being a nerd one must never forget one simple truth. In the age of phones that would have only fit a high rise building when some of our parents were born, it only becomes a better and better world for our kind.

One must understand, This is the age of the nerd

-Brandon M. Brevard

Geek Chic: The Brief Career of Jeff Goldblum as Scientific Expert

For those of us who are children of the 1990s, intelligence in science-fiction films comes down to two rambling, stumbling, and stuttering words: Jeff Goldblum. Goldblum was the (kinda) hip mathematician in Jurassic Park (1993) and the computer expert/cable repairman in Independence Day (1996). Although he may be best known today for his role in Law & Order: Criminal Intent, for many of us, he will always be the nerdy hero in science fiction blockbuster films.

Gary Westphal, in his Biographical Encyclopedia of Science Fiction Film, describes the unique opening in the archetype of the science fiction scientist through which Goldblum became so successful. He writes:

In the 1950s, a scientist starring in a science fiction film was invariably suave, handsome, and muscular, the sort of fellow who quarterbacked his college football team to a championship before settling into a career as the world’s most brilliant scientific mind. Producers of that era imagined this was the sort of hero their young male viewers wanted, and they were probably right. But filmgoers of all ages have grown older and wiser, and by the 1980s everyone had accepted the reality that male scientists were usually frail, nervous, nerdish sorts of guys—creating an opening for a frail, nervous, nerdish sort of actor named Jeff Goldblum.

One of Goldblum’s first science fiction films, in fact, was a remake of The Fly (1986), originally a Vincent Price vehicle from the 1950s. However, Goldblum came onto his own with his portrait of mathematician/chaotician Ian Malcolm in Jurassic Park. The strange thing about Ian Malcolm is that he is the cool guy. Or, as John Hammond says, “I bring scientists, you bring the rockstar”. Dressed all in black, Ian Malcolm is the hip and ultimately correct voice of Jurassic Park. His chaos theory, which in Jurassic Park is more like a complicated version of “Shit happens,” becomes the reality of the movie. While other characters are awed by the living dinosaurs, Malcolm is continually pessimistic about the ability of the park creators to control the dinosaurs. As he says, “Life finds a way”.

The Ian Malcolm quote clips are too numerous to discuss them all. Please go here to watch a great montage of the best of Ian Malcolm [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0h_UlBjK_dU]

Goldblum’s second science-fiction blockbuster was Independence Day, where he plays a similarly neurotic cable repairman, who also figures out the embedded countdown to Armageddon aliens have implanted into the cable signal. He has also apparently punched the President and later rides with Will Smith to destroy the aliens firsthand.

After Goldblum’s heyday, he has quickly receded into the background as a best friend in movies such as The Switch and plays on Law and Order: Criminal Intent as a quirky detective. However, it is in his roles in Jurassic Park and Independence Day that Goldblum redefined science fiction nerds forever. However, any glance at recent science fiction movies demonstrates that nerds are out as the top scientific minds. As economic reality comes closer to reflecting the nerd-dominated word of science fiction (ie Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Mark Zuckerberg), it is no longer fashionable to have stumbling, bumbling actors like Jeff Goldblum play the guys who know what’s going on. If a scientist can be good-looking and knowledgeable, this appears to sell better in today’s films. But we should not forget that brief and shining moment when Jeff Goldblum reigned supreme at the box office and in the hearts of nerds around the world. And the lack of Goldblum or nerds like him in science fiction films is, as Malcolm put it “one big pile of shit.”[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u5gj0hhb_yw]

- Owen Cantrell

Stigma

“I don’t like science fiction”, she exclaimed from the balcony of her downtown L.A. apartment. Echoing the words I’d heard countless times before.  Unbeknownst to her, yet suspected by me, in just a few short months, “Avatar” would be one of her favorite movies of that year. I can’t say I was surprised though. Because, unfortunately for me, my beloved genre has a taboo, a black mark, a stigma if you will.

It’s reared it’s ugly head since around my 4th grade days. I remember nerding out with one of our best buddies to Star Trek: Voyager when it started. Even then, in elementary school we were called nerds and geeks, by people that had never seen a frame of the show. Such, is the life of a Nerd. Ridicule by those that don’t think critically. Many geeks, as we grow older and awkwardly search for our places in the world, a.k.a. high school, hide this inner Nerd deep down. Never to be seen or ridiculed by any other than those few close friends. Because back then, being pegged as a “sci-fi weirdo” slotted you as a creepy, awkward, socially handicapped, geek, who preoccupies themselves with the fantasy of far off worlds to compensate for the fact that they can’t adjust to the world in which they currently reside. Unfortunately, I can’t say this thinking’s absolutely false. There are some of us Sci Fi nerds out there like that. But in my personal experience from starting this blog, I can say with 100% certainty that a vast majority of sci-fi geeks are cool, contributing members of society that have it together. Many of them are those that hear, “you don’t seem like a nerd” on a regular basis.

The fundamental question to be asked is why? Why is this a collective unconscious thought in our society to prejudge an entire genre. A genre which most, who commit the ridicule haven’t taken the time to investigate the origins of said stigma. To investigate we will take a stroll down memory lane and rewind to World War II. “The Greatest Generation” had endured a war regarded by most to be the bloodiest and most horrific war in human history. Many men promised themselves, As major Dick Winters (Band of Brothers) did; that if they survived the war they would spend the rest of their days in peace and quiet. They did. With the war over and a Veterans Home Loan in their bank accounts, they fled in droves from the crowded loud inner cities and staked their claim in the quiet suburban life. Tranquility was the name of the game, a white picket fence, a stay at home wife, a dog, and 2.5 kids. It was perfection. That is, for those that lived through a terrible war. Their children, on the flip side, knew only peace and tranquility. They yearned for something greater, something captivating, something more exciting than their suburban existence. Hollywood studios knew this and they cashed in. It was these days that studios like Paramount and 20th Century Fox could still legally own movie theatres. The studios would release a couple of big money / Academy Award contenders a year (Films are known today as “Tent poles”). Then, for the rest of the year, they would need to continue making a profit to pay for the theatres and tent pole features. Enter: The B movies, those movies that would cash in on teen angst, cheap thrills and escapism to win over suburban youth. Sci Films like, “Invasion of The Body Snatchers”, “The Blob” and “The Day The Earth Stood Still” are key examples of this. With an entire genre being treated as B it’s no wonder that it began to build a subtle distaste on the tongue of the American people. For nearly 20 years these films were simply “Alien-of-the-week”. It wouldn’t be until the early 70s, after the manned space flights, that Sci Fi as a genre would be taken seriously. Films like Solaris and 2001: A Space Odessey took the genre seriously. Star Wars, a science fiction fantasy, changed the landscape of American film forever. It effectively ended, American New Wave and gave rise to flashy action adventure Sci Fi.

"Flight of The Navigator" (1986)

 

Pausing for a moment to get nostalgic, this is the era in which I grew. I’ve always found it curious when kids of my generation say they don’t like science fiction. Little do they know that our childhood era was the first resurgence of science fiction. Many of the films we grew up with and have come to love are science fiction. They just assume that because it’s not a bunch of stuffy, old guys spouting off technical terms, that it’s not science fiction. Examples include but arent limited to; “E.T: Extra Terrestrial”, “Honey, I Shrunk The Kids”, “Flight of The Navigator”, “Short Circuit”, “Batteries not included”, “Jurassic Park”, “Small Soldiers”. I would be remiss if I didn’t say that the hypocrisy here burns deep in my soul. With the same breath someone will exclaim they don’t like science fiction and then tell you they love films like, The Matrix, The Terminator, Avatar, Star Trek (2009), Lost, Inception, I Am Legend, or Transformers. All of which are science fiction and in some cases, classic Sci Fi

The Stigma is ingrained deep into our culture, it’s an uphill battle. We here at Astra Nova are determined to break this Stigma one ignorant soul at a time. Because here we are all about Social Commentary, We are all about star gazing, We are all about asking ” What if”? We are all about Good Science Fiction For Good People.

- Brandon M. Brevard

Cancellations and Disappointments : Sci-Fi Struggles on TV

It’s no secret that in this day and age, quality television drama series are almost exclusively on cable channels. It wasn’t that long ago that great dramas such as ‘The West Wing’, ‘ER’, and ‘The Practice’ were the proud cornerstones of network television. Then something terrible happened, something which would change the direction of the television drama forever; the rise of reality TV. Reality television, whether game shows, dating competitions, talent shows, or singing contests, are both cheap to produce and easy ratings-generators. Storming into prime-time slots in the late ’90s and early 2000′s, these shows have quickly supplanted quality drama series on NBC, ABC, and CBS. What network executive wants to spend dollars on a gritty cop drama when, for a third of the price, he can order a season of ‘America’s Got Talent’ and rake in the advertising dollars. Shareholders make money, the exec gets a nice Christmas bonus, and everybody’s happy. Except for the discerning viewer, that is.

But there is a shining light amidst all of this gloom. Where the big broadcast networks have retreated, cable networks have happily stepped in and filled the gap. You only have to look over the annual nominations list for ‘Best Drama Series’ at the Emmy’s. This past year, of the six shows nominated in the category, four air on cable and only two on the networks (Lost on ABC and The Good Wife on CBS). This coming year could see that number drop to one, now that ‘Lost’ has ended. Cable networks, with laxer censorship rules and more specific, niche audiences, have dived into producing quality drama series in large numbers, with AMC, HBO, FX, and Showtime leading the way. Viewers of quality TV, rejoice.

But wait, where does all of this leave sci-fi? The genre wasn’t exactly popular on the main networks over the past twenty years, with some notable exceptions. ‘The X-Files’ had a cult following and was a staple on Fox for nearly a decade. I loved SeaQuest DSV as a kid, and they even make a video game out of it, but it lacked longevity. And, of course, there is also the various Star Trek series of the ’90s. Those shows, however, were always hamstrung by network sensibilities and the necessity to appeal to a broad audience. Episode plots therefore tended to be thin and the subject material basic, non-controversial, and kid friendly.

BattleStar: Galactica (2004)

Since 2000 and the rise of reality programming, network-based science fiction TV has been on life support. Aborted attemptions such as NBC’s ‘Surface’ and ABC’s ‘Invasion’ are proof enough. CBS’s ‘Jericho’ and Fox’s ‘Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles’ were both interesting, and cancelled too early, but meager ratings weren’t enough to justify their continued existence. ‘Lost’, of course, with a large and fanatically loyal fan base, is a nice exception amidst the muck and mire, but one has to wonder whether such a show could ever be made today; it is very much a one-off, product of its time, not to be repeated again.

Cable TV hasn’t offered much of an alternative. Shows such as ‘Mad Men’ and ‘The Sopranos’ have been both critically acclaimed and loved by audiences. But where is their Sci-Fi equivalent? One show, of course, stands against the trend, but I’m afraid it is the exception and not the rule. ‘Battlestar Gallactica’, which followed the story of 50,000 survivors traveling through space, in the wake of a near-extermination of the human race by cyborgs they once created, was lauded by television critics and developed a cult following. Numerous books, websites, and podcasts were created to follow the direction of the series and examine its broader meaning. Gritty, bleak, and philosophical, ‘Battlestar’ was very much a product of the post-9/11 mindset in which TV viewers expected the shows they watched to better reflect the harsh world they suddenly saw around them. Fox’s ’24′ is another great example of this.

More on ‘Battlestar’ another day. That’s just one show. What else is out there? Not much, in the opinion of your writer. Syfy Channel’s ‘Eureka’ and it’s sister show ‘Warehouse 13′ have enjoyed success, and continued renewal, but their plots are bubbly and lighthearted. Entertaining, to be sure, but neither exactly rock the boat, and they don’t delve into those deeper human truths and philosophical conundrums that science fiction is meant to examine. ‘Medium’ and ‘Ghost Whisperer’ were both of a similar vein. ‘Caprica’, a much-hyped series set in the universe of ‘Battlestar’, was a still-born show. With a scattered and convoluted plot, ‘Caprica’ never seemed to know where it was going to what it wanted to achieve. Part family drama, part 90210 space opera, its ratings quickly fell and was recently canceled. Another gritty show, ‘Stargate Universe’, about a small group of people trapped on the other side of the universe on an alien space ship, was equally weighed down by a lack of vision as well as diminishing ratings.

Almost a decade from 9/11, it seems that TV only has room for Sci-Fi-light. The average viewer wants TV to take their mind off the world, and in this new age of escapism, hard core sci-fi dramas, which ask their audience to think, feel, and invest themselves in the series, are difficult to come by and even harder to sustain. While the rise of the cable television has produced some wonderful shows, science fiction continues to struggle to find its place. It’s not all doom and gloom. AMC’s ‘The Walking Dead’, a post-apocalyptic zombie tale, produced strong audience numbers with its dark, character-driven storylines, despite bad writing and a seeming lack of direction. The series has already been optioned for a second season and the writing staff has been entirely replaced, so we can expect more from future episodes. Another interesting show to keep on your radar is ‘Battlestar Galactica: Blood & Chrome’, a prequel series to ‘Battlestar’ which hopes to find success where ‘Caprica’ did not. Sadly, however, the overall quality in science fiction television remains low. Network producers seem content to stick to middle of the road fare, which can appeal to large audiences and be made on a sensible budget. In the near future at least, the dearth of quality sci-fi TV seems to continue.

- S. Brown