3 Sci-Fi Ships Perfect for Christmas

It’s Christmas Eve!  To celebrate the holiday season, we take a look at the three sci-fi ships most suited to live in during the festive season!


1. Deep Space Nine (ST: DS9)

Okay, so it might not be a ship, but where better to spend your Christmas!  Imagine the Promenade lined up with decorations, festive shops and a warm gingerbread coffee (with some Kanar, of course!) at Quark’s!

Those dark corridors could quickly look quite cosy with some multicoloured LED lighting!


2. Serenity (Firefly)

I’d imagine Serenity could be quite festive once Kaylee had time to get everything set up!  A homely ship, with plenty of nooks and crannies to hide presents and decorate, park on a snowy, forest planet and enjoy the 25th December.


3. Destiny (Stargate Universe)

She may not look like much, but I’m talking more about the ship before it became deserted and broken.

With an arboretum and Ancient technology, you could create a nice wintery forest for the season and camp out there!  With the beautiful backdrop of the ship travelling between star systems overhead, it’s hard to picture a more tranquil and festive scene!


Best Cosplays of Sci-Fi TV

There’s a lot of great sci-fi shows out there, kids. Seeing as I limit myself to about seven pictures, I could only pick what I thought to be some of the most creative and interesting cosplays. If I went all out, I’d be spamming you with fifty images, all of people dressed up as the Eleventh Doctor – and there are very few who’d want to look at that!

Those fancy Southern hair-dos from A Game of Thrones must be pretty hard to replicate at home, but this Sansa pulls it off admirably. She also made both these fantastic costumes. It also proves that no matter what form he takes, Joffrey always looks insufferably smug.

I don’t think I’ve ever seen a better version of Zoidberg. To be fair, I haven’t actually seen anyone cosplay as Dr. Zoidberg before, but I don’t think anyone could really top this!

It is the details that make a truly excellent cosplay, and this is one of the best Zoe’s I have ever seen. Every little detail is perfect, from her distinctive leather necklace to the mud on her boots. Very well done.

Oh, you do know how I love a group shot… It represents a lot of effort, time and devotion to get a group of people together, to make the costumes and to really display the essence of a character. This is a group of Merlin cosplayers, representing those with magic powers in the show.  The costumes are incredibly accurate and they really channel part of these beloved characters. And devotion, as this photo was shot in below freezing weather!

Another picture showing how cosplay is more than just dressing up – it’s about feeling and being a character you love for a day.  Sometimes it’s not about having the most elaborate outfits, but expressing what makes a character relatable – why do you like this character, and how can you show it? That’s why I think this simple and sweet cosplay of Riker and Troi is so effective.

I love group shots and it’s really showing this week.  What can I say? These Battlestar Galactica pilots look like they’re having great fun together!

Remember, the image of an angel is an angel…

Next week, I’ll be featuring cosplays from the world of Sci-Fi movies. That is, if I can escape the angels…


Who is the best Firefly character?

Which member of the Serenity crew can you simply not get enough of?  Who is – definitively – the best Firefly character?

It’s not gonna be easy, but you can only pick one…

Who is the best Firefly character?

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Top 7 Tips for Creating New Sci-Fi in 2012

Sci-Fi has changed. Over the past fifty years, the topics and settings that capture the imaginations of viewers and readers everywhere have shifted. Where Star Trek once captivated millions, now the going boldly through outer space routine appears to have been worn out.

The transformation has led modern science fiction series to feature elements of futuristic technologies and discoveries, but set in modern day. Take Falling Skies, probably about as genuinely sci-fi in terms of aliens as you can get on mainstream television today, yet still set in a world we can recognise and understand. Why is that? Do we connect more readily with characters in situations we can easily imagine ourselves put into? Are we simply bored with space travel as a concept on television? Or has society simply changed?

The amount of patience we hold for new television is dropping. Whereas decades ago, one bad episode of a TV series didn’t do too much harm, nowadays it can lose you a million viewers the next week – and you may never get them back. We are cynical, as shows like Firefly have shown that even the best series can be cancelled within the next month, leaving you disappointed and with no satisfactory resolution to the storyline. Networks view shows as a game of numbers: bad ratings = cancellation. But what they perhaps do not realise is that flippant, trigger-happy cancellations damage network reputation; and, compounded, will make viewers ever-more hesitant and cautious when it comes to embracing a new show.

So how can budding and aspiring writers of science-fiction in all its forms create a new show that will captivate and draw in a new generation of fans?

1. Have a core principle.

Star Trek excelled when exploring the galaxy and the human condition. Those were Roddenberry’s core values. He used elements of science fiction to tell us about ourselves in ways we didn’t imagine possible. He explored race at a time when it remained taboo on television, going so far as to feature the first on-screen interracial kiss.

Similarly, Earth: Final Conflict was at its strongest in the first season, and most captivating when the real dilemmas of the series pilot – ‘Decision’ – were being explored. Who killed William Boone’s wife? Why were the Taelons on Earth? How could he discover the truth whilst maintaining his double agent status? It may seem simple, but suddenly you have a real human condition being explored here. Love, revenge, deception.

Gene Roddenberry sure had a knack of enticing set-ups, and there’s plenty to be learned from them. Earth: Final Conflict was set just a few years ahead of the present, and so remains a more marketable concept for today’s television audiences. This in itself is fine, so long as the core principle of your story and premise remains strong and carries through the continuing plot arc.

2. Don’t dumb anything down for networks/publishers etc.

Despite strong evidence to the contrary, human beings aren’t stupid. More crucially, science fiction readers are most definitely not stupid. The best plotlines lead the viewer or reader along, without being heavy-handed about it. No one likes to be patronised. “Oh, look, murder is ethically tough. You can learn from that folks.” No sh*t, Sherlock.

Instead, take Deep Space Nine‘s ‘In The Pale Moonlight’ where Sisko must weigh up whether the murder of a Romulan senator, and subsequent tricking of the Romulan Empire, is an acceptable price for saving billions of lives. Can murder ever be justified? And when you ordered it, how would you reconcile that in your own mind?

‘In The Pale Moonlight’ is a classic because it doesn’t shy away from difficult questions. It doesn’t preach, and it doesn’t dumb down the argument in order for you understand it. Crucially, it doesn’t tell you what the right answer is. It doesn’t have a happy ending, only an ambiguous one. That – along with Avery Brooks’ stellar performance – is why it is regarded as a genuine classic.

3. Don’t pick your cast based on sex appeal.

Americans look the same.

At least on television they do. There seems to be a belief amongst television executives that people won’t watch your show if the cast aren’t ‘sexy’ enough. Thus we appear to have been confronted by this genetically engineered super-race of attractive cast members who don’t look particularly distinctive. When I think of Fringe, which I haven’t watched in some time, the first thing I conjure up in my mind is the image of John Noble. Why? Not because he’s God’s gift to acting, but because he’s over sixty and on the regular cast of a mainstream sci-fi show. That tells you quite a lot.

In short, don’t do this:

It doesn’t work.

And I’m actually going to give Stargate Universe some praise here.  Robert Carlyle stood out due to fine performance and the fact he wasn’t turned into just another American on television. He was allowed to remain Scottish.  Eli Wallace was a character that springs to mind because he was fat, and depicted positively.  As for the military guy?  Not Colonel Young – another actor picked for acting capability, not how he looked and the results were very positive – but the second in command.  Lieutenant… I just had to Google that.  His name was Matthew Scott.  And he looks like every supposedly hunky American on television.  Just another clone.

Diversity and distinctiveness is good. It helps the viewer remember characters, names and plots and increases your chances of them coming back the next week.

4. Have a strong lead character.
Again, I hark back to William Boone in Earth: Final Conflict.  The show began its decline as soon as Robert Leeshock appeared on the scene.  As capable as I’m sure Mr. Leeshock is, the character he played had no where near the gravitas or appeal of Boone.  The entire premise of the show revolving around Boone’s morale dilemma vanished, and with it did a lot of the strength of the series.

Pick a main character who will hold the audience’s interest.  In this day and age, they don’t have to be the William Shatner-esque hunk, brave, heroic and charismatic.  It’s okay to have someone darker, like Dexter.  You can still explore so much, and most importantly, you’re more likely to tap into plot lines and character interactions that aren’t overused or maybe have never even been seen before!  Why?  Because a uniquely crafted main character can guide the progress of the entire show, and unique characters create unique interactions.

Sci-Fi in 2012 is allowed to be dark.  Star Trek has intertwined the concept of sci-fi and a hopeful outlook for the future where humans succeed for all the morally right reasons.  That’s all very well, and believe me, I have no problem with it.  But you are allowed a different interpretation.  After all, it’s your story.

5. Tell a good story.
There is nothing more important than storytelling.  I was furious recently when someone told me they were doing a theatre performance based on practical aesthetics.  The script – which I had read – was full of plot holes that you could fly an Imperial Star Destroyer through.  When I suggested that some of these holes be patched up, I got told, “We don’t worry about the story.  It’s about character and place through practical aesthetics.”  This is nonsense.  All you’ll have is a well-acted, bad script.

On the internet, content is king.  In television drama, story is king.  Stories have to interest, inspire and challenge.  Yes, acting is important, but plenty of classic science fiction was hardly  ever going to win any Oscar performances for Best Actor.

That said, in 2012, back up your challenging, interesting story with fine acting, and you’re onto a real winner.  That’s what television audiences expect today.  They expect a fine performance from at least some of the cast each week.  Get a good cast, and write a story each week that really takes the viewer surprise, and stays within the confines of reality of the show, and you can’t go too far wrong.

6. Special effects aren’t the be-all and end-all.
There’s nothing more frustrating than a special effects-fest without real ‘meat’ or substance.  Spielberg’s War of the Worldscould have been so much more, despite the magnificent special effects work, if a little more time was spent on the storyline.

Special effects are, nonetheless, an integral part of science-fiction.  It’s how we travel from the present into the future, and is one of the primary methods of making that future believable.Use them with style.  My favourite moment for this is a simple one: in Firefly’s pilot, Serenity (the episode, of course, not the film), the ship comes down to land in the Eavesdown Docks.

I can’t find a video, so a picture of the shot I’m talking about is below.

The effects shot here lasts only a second or two maximum, but features a ton of ships flying overhead with accompanying sound effects.  For barely any cost, the shot gives the illusion of a busy spaceport, when in fact it’s a relatively cheap set.  Clever use of effects like this can be subtle and effective.  They can be cheap, and they don’t have to be in your face.  And what’s more, finding ways to incorporate them will encourage some innovative thinking on the part of the director, and create camera angles and shots that you may not otherwise have enjoyed.

Of course, there’s nothing wrong with a huge special effects showdown from time to time, and if you can make them look good, fire away.  But never let them distract from the core principle I talked about in Point 1.  Telling a story, and asking questions, is the reason you’re here.  Not to watch gargantuan dinosaurs eat spaceships in the middle of a fire nebula.

7. “It’s okay to leave them to die.”
Any story has a finite lifespan.  Finish it naturally, before the network finishes you.  Don’t drag on too long, don’t get boring.

Set a plan from the start of the story you want to tell, work out how long it will take, and then stick to it.  Planned series are always better than series made up off the cuff.  24 Season 7 benefitted from the Writers’ Strike in that they could plan an entire season before filming started.

Suddenly, the quality of the show bounced back from the dire Season 6 that struggled as the writers ran out of ideas.


Why The Decline?

Stargate Universe. Firefly. Angel. Bionic Woman. Invasion. Jericho. Terra Nova. Etc. Etc. Etc.

The list is pretty much endless.

The last ten years have seen a vast array of science fiction blast onto our screens, and too often fizzle out very quickly. In the cinema, endless sequels such as X-Men, Men In Black, even the upcoming Star Trek threaten to milk the cash-cow of each franchise dry.

People ask why science fiction is dying. Some debate whether its decline is even an actuality, but it’s difficult to argue with the ratings and the facts.

The answer is simple: originality and understanding. Lest we forget, Star Trek: The Original Series was cancelled back in the day before its time, and has gone on to be one of the most enduring series in the history of television and cinema.

Yet today, little is appearing on our screens with the originality of Star Trek. Today, we lack a visionary like Gene Roddenberry to transport our imaginations into a plausible future. Television networks are afraid to go too far out for fear of losing their audience’s understanding: science fiction today is almost always diluted with some form of contemporary normality. Lead characters are characters from today, transplanted into a science fiction setting (think Stargate). Some shows like Jericho are allocated in a science fiction genre when, thirty years ago, they would barely be considered. True science fiction – the really visionary material – is not being written. Shows are stagnant, over-produced, under-thought and woefully advertised.

There’s not a lot of good television being written, period. It’s not exclusive to science fiction. But whereas realities and dramas continue to be popular with lousy storylines and hapless acting, maybe because they often provide a form of less intellectual and hard-talking escapism, science fiction can fall very swiftly from the realms of tremendous to absolutely awful. (Disclaimer: I love good dramas, but there are a lot of terrible ones that remain popular.)

Perhaps hope is not entirely lost.

One could argue Firefly was original, different and visionary to a degree. It presented likeable characters with great storylines in a plausible future. Yet, the network had no idea what to do with it. Was it a western? Was it a sci-fi? What they failed to grasp, of course, was that the beauty of Firefly lay in its synthesis. It blended the two uniquely, and created an original, dynamic and entertaining universe. A bit too much for the American audience to handle, FOX mused.

Until we have someone truly talented and with the vision to project humanity’s future onto our television screens in an entertaining, touching and ground-breaking way, science fiction will continue its slow and sad decline. We can, it seems, but hope.

Five ways to ruin a perfectly good sci-fi show

Sci-Fi has a long and proud history of cancellation. Perfectly good shows (and plenty of plain awful shows) have seen the axe for a multitude of different reasons. Let’s take a look at five sure-fire ways to ruin a decent show.

1) Air your show on FOX
As Firefly, The Sarah Connor Chronicles and Dollhouse has shown, quality has no impact on the lifetime of your show if you choose to air it on FOX. In fact, it would seem that longevity in FOX is inversely proportional to quality. Firefly was absolute quality. Just Google “firefly cancelled” to see the outcry. Dollhouse, although still a good show, wasn’t near Firefly’s calibre, and therefore lasted for slightly longer before reaching the same grisly demise. And let’s not even get started on Sliders! That’s it, Fox: create some of the finest science fiction of the last decade before callously shooting it down. Good call!

2) Kill off the lead character (or at least get rid of them unceremoniously)
Once they’re gone, the show can’t be far behind. Although Earth: Final Conflict lasted for some time after the death of William Boone, played by Kevin Kilner. However, when you base your show so firmly around the lead character’s personality and moral conflicts, you have a huge amount of creative rebuilding and restructuring that is not easy to successfully achieve. Even Ben Browder’s introduction to Stargate SG-1 to replace Richard Dean Anderson, although relatively well managed, signalled the beginning of the end for the show (even if it did provide enough energy to delay the inevitable for a year or two)

3) Go on for too long
Star Trek is probably the finest example. You can’t keep producing top quality stories week-in, week-out for fifteen years. Voyager and Enterprise probably didn’t need to happen. Deep Space Nine was tremendous, and after that the franchise should probably have taken three or four years out to refresh and re-energise. Voyager’s premise was strong, but it’s implementation was poor. As soon as the writer’s think creating an incredibly inaccurate Irish village in the holodeck is a good idea, it’s time to panic. Being from Ireland, the whole thing was laughable. And it was never going to be good sci-fi.


4) Sex it up!
Ratings are falling, reviews are mediocre, what do you do? Get your most attractive female cast member to take her clothes off, regardless of the plot making sense. Nudity is always a winner, right? Sadly, it’s not. Enterprise’s attempts to “sex it up” in season three were, frankly, ludicrous. Star Trek, according to Gene Roddenberry, was never adverse to lascivious female aliens: Orion slave girls, anyone? But quite frankly, making Jolene Blalock little more than eye-candy was a poor call. It didn’t fit the character, and was blatantly an attempt to attract an audience of hormonal college boys. Are the same men interested in Jolene Blalock’s “assets” going to care about the ramifications of a temporal anomaly? I doubt. Voyager and Enterprise’s writers made the other cast act like giggling school girls around Jeri Ryan’s Seven of Nine and Blalock’s T’Pol respectively. It wasn’t clever, nor effective.

5) When all else fails, add zombies

Take this:

Note the stirring music, high production values, moral conflict and powerful premise.

Now, take five years later:

Note the alien vampires, poor acting, poor dialogue and little or no moral/emotional conflict whatsoever? Just gunshots and explosions.

The decline still brings a tear to my eye.

ABC announces V to start in November

The creators of ABC‘s upcoming V announced Saturday that the show would premiere Tuesday, Nov. 3 in a news conference at the Television Critics Association summer press tour in Pasadena, CA.

Executive producer Jeffrey Bell also promised that star Morena Baccarin, who played Inara Serra in one of my favorite TV shows, Firefly, and now will play the alien leader Anna, will indeed eat a rodent of some kind as in the original 1980’s series.

"We want to find a way to do it," Bell said, but added that if the producers simply duplicated the scene from the original miniseries, "been there, done that." He added that the new show will feature homages to other iconic moments from the original miniseries.

The new series is a re-imagining of Kenneth Johnson’s classic 1980s sci-fi miniseries, about the arrival of alien "visitors" who promise to share advanced technology in exchange for friendship, but turn out to have a darker agenda.

Executive producer

Scott Peters added that the producers were exploring a way to bring some of the original actors into the show, though not necessarily playing the same characters.

I really hope they can pull this off and make it close to being as good as the original series was with great story lines and actors. We shall see.

Jim Kirkwood, Jr.


Poll: Joss Whedon’s Greatest Show


After last night’s rather wonderful episode of Dollhouse, I think it’s fair to say that Joss Whedon’s latest creation is quickly beginning to find its feet and hit its stride.  Let’s just hope that it’s not too late in the big bad world of television execs.

However, has Dollhouse reached the heights of Whedon’s previous, much-adored shows?

Only you can decide, so vote below and decide definitively which is his greatest creation to date.

Make it definitive: which is the greatest Joss Whedon show?

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And if you feel like your opinions just can’t be summed up in a simple vote, feel free to discuss it by leaving a comment.

Joss Whedon to ‘leave television forever’?

image Sci-Fi Slice have claimed that ‘once “Dollhouse” is over, Joss Whedon is leaving TV for good…to pursue creating on-line content along the lines of “Dr. Horrible.”’.

Now, there claim has not been sourced, but let’s assume for the moment that it is true:  genre television would surely have lost one of its finest writers, and if ever there was to be a tragedy written about the demise of one of television’s talents at the hands of the executives, surely Joss’s battles with FOX would be right up there.

Those unfamiliar with Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along-Blog should check its Wikipedia entry for further details, as it does strike me as the sort of thing Joss would be interested in moving towards.  Now that he has his fan following, does he really need the pencil-pushing network television executives telling him how to edit his content?  No goram way.

Then again, Sci-Fi Slice might not have a source, and might have just made it up.  In which case, disregard this post.

Joss Whedon: a victim of...

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