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The Reference Library by Don Sakers

From the very beginning, science fiction and the movies have been partners in a love-hate relationship. On one hand, the pairing is a natural one: both SF readers and movie viewers are looking for the proverbial “sense of wonder,” and written SF abounds in unusual visions and grand spectacles that just cry out for realization on the big screen. Yet on the other hand, written SF can be a very cerebral pursuit, uniquely suited to presentation in words rather than pictures—almost the opposite of what makes a good film. In this relationship, tension is inevitable.

This hasn’t stopped a constant cross-fertilization between the worlds of print and film. It started almost as soon as movies did: the first science fiction film came out in 1902. (This was Le Voyage dans la lune aka A Trip to the Moon by Georges and Gaston Méliès—notable for its iconic image of the Man in the Moon with a rocket ship protruding from one eye, which has become a part of popular culture.) Nowadays, of course, SF movies are hugely popular, and most action/adventure films include SF-inspired elements.
From the perspective of the SF reader (I trust we all know one or two of those, eh?), cross-fertilization generally flows in one direction or the other, from written SF to film or vice versa. The reality is a bit more complex. Let’s look at some cases.

Sometimes an existing SF book is made into a movie, with varying degrees of fidelity to the original book. Some of the classics of SF cinema have been produced this way: think of Disney’s Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea (1954), George Pal’s The Time Machine (1960), Nathan Juran’s The First Men in the Moon (1964), Franklin J. Schaffner’s Planet of the Apes (1968), or Richard Fleischer’s Soylent Green (1973, based on Harry Harrison’s novel Make Room! Make Room!). There are many contemporary examples, although many of the best SF books remain unfilmed.

When judging the success of these movies-from-books, readers must be conscious of (at least) two dimensions. The question of whether the movie is a faithful adaptation of a book should be distinct from the question of whether it stands as a good movie. SF movies fall everywhere along both axes. The Holy Grail,a great movie that’s utterly faithful to the book, is seldom achieved.

Sometimes a movie is an original conception, based on no single book. Le Voyage dans la lune fell into this category; it was loosely based on work by Jules Verne and H.G. Wells. Fred M. Wilcox’s 1956 masterpiece Forbidden Planet is a prime example; the story certainly owes a debt to Shakespeare’s The Tempest, but was largely the original work of screenplay writer Cyril Hume. Many popular SF films are such original productions, including some of the top grossing films of all time. Franchises such as Star Wars, Star Trek, and The Matrix were originals, as were standalone blockbusters like Avatar, Inception, and ET: the Extraterrestrial. (Yes, yes, yes, all of these were highly derivative from the corpus of SF literature—but the point is, they didn’t stem from a single identifiable book.)

In almost all cases, the producers of an original movie commission the writing of a book version of the movie. Sometimes these “novelizations” are written by big-name writers. The novelization of Forbidden Planet, released under the pseudonym W.J. Stuart, was penned by bestselling mystery writer Philip MacDonald. Isaac Asimov wrote the novelization of Fantastic Voyage (1966). Some writers are well known for their skill at producing novelizations: Alan Dean Foster and Kevin J. Anderson spring instantly to mind.
In most cases, novelizations are written based on a movie’s original screenplay, so they can be in print by the film’s release date. Since it’s not uncommon for a screenplay to go through many versions during the filming process, sometimes events in the novelization diverge from those in the final film. In general, though, a novelization remains fairly faithful to its movie. From a reader’s perspective, a novelization can usually be judged solely on the quality of the book as a book.

Sometimes things are more complicated. The book and movie versions of Arthur C. Clarke and Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) were produced simultaneously with constant feedback between writer and producer. Still, there were some major differences between book and movie. (To complicate matters still more, the project was loosely based on Clarke’s 1948 short story “The Sentinel.”)

That’s not the end. Clarke’s 1982 sequel novel, 2010, was consciously written as a sequel to the movie, not the book. The 1984 Peter Hyams film was firmly based on the book, but took liberties of its own.

An extreme example of cross-fertilization is the case of Paul Verhoeven’s 1990 film Total Recall. The movie was based on Philip K. Dick’s 1966 story “We Can Remember it For You Wholesale.” That film was novelized by Piers Anthony as Total Recall.

All of which brings us to:

Impulse
Steven Gould
Tor, 368 pages, $25.99 (hardcover)
iBooks, Kindle, Nook: $12.99 (e-book)
ISBN: 978-0-7653-2757-4
Series: Jumper 4
Genres: Adventure SF, Teleportation

Impulse

Steven Gould’s Jumper series is a convoluted example of the porous boundary between print and film. The first book, Jumper, was published in 1992 to near-universal acclaim. In 2004, Gould followed up with the superb Reflex, a direct sequel to Jumper.

Then in 2008 a movie based on Jumper appeared. The film diverged from the novel in some very significant ways. Along with the movie, Gould released Jumper: Griffin’s Story—a prequel to the movie, very clearly set in the universe of the film rather than that of the books.

Well, now it’s 2013 and Impulse returns to print continuity. It is, in fact, a direct sequel to Reflex. Those who weren’t fond of the movie (and there were many) can easily pretend that it, along with Griffin’s Story, never existed.

In Jumper we met Davy Rice, an otherwise-ordinary teen who discovered that he had the ability to teleport. In Reflex, Davy, now a young adult, married his sweetheart Millie, and worked part-time for the National Security Agency. He ran afoul of a group of international criminals who captured and tormented him for his abilities—in the course of his resistance and escape, Millie also developed the teleportation power. At the end of the book, they went off to live happily ever after.

Impulse joins the family fifteen years later. The main character is Cent, Davy and Millie’s fifteen-year-old daughter. The three of them live in seclusion in an isolated cabin in the Yukon. To Cent’s parents, anywhere in the world is just a step away; they’ve taken her everywhere . . . but Cent herself is unable to teleport. Like any teenager, she chafes at her confinement and longs to have a more normal life with school and friends.

Until Cent sneaks out to go snowboarding, gets caught in an avalanche, and teleports to the safety of home.

Now that her power has manifested itself, Cent argues that she can go to a real school and live a real life. Soon she has friends and is involved in the social swirl of her school. But even the most careful teenager can’t keep teleportation a secret forever, and while Cent can escape any danger, her friends are not so fortunate.

Like the two previous books, Impulse is a multilayered book. It’s a great adventure story. On another level, it’s an idea story, exploring the implications and consequences of teleportation. On yet another level, it raises questions of good and evil, personal responsibility, interdependence, and the nature of freedom. And it does all this in a cracking good yarn.

Definitely recommended.


On the Train
Harry Turtledove and Rachel Turtledove
Phoenix Pick, 179 pages, $12.99 (trade paperback)
Kindle, Nook: $7.99 (e-book)
ISBN: 978-1-61242-076-9
Genres: Parallel Worlds/Other Dimensions

On the Train

Phoenix Pick is a small press publisher with a big idea. In what they’re calling The Stellar Guild Series (of which On the Train is the third title), they pair a big-name SF writer with a lesser-known apprentice of his or her choosing. Both write novellas set in the same universe, and the two stories form the resulting book.

Harry Turtledove, of course, needs no introduction to Analog readers. His protégé is his daughter Rachel, and this is her first published story.

The experiment, I’m glad to report, is a resounding success.

Central to the book is The Train. Even to those closest to it, it’s impossible to say exactly what The Train is. For some, it’s a way to travel from one village to the next. For others, The Train moves between worlds, even between universes. And for others, The Train needs no destination—it is an experience in itself, a way of life.

For Javan, a young man from the sleepy village of Pingaspor, The Train is an adventure. After years of tending The Railroad that passes through the town, Javan has finally saved enough for a third-class ticket. He’s entitled to a spot on a hard wooden bench, as long as he wishes to remain aboard—and Javan doesn’t intend to return to Pingaspor.

Aboard The Train he learns Traintalk, the pidgin that passengers use to communicate with one another. He makes friends and enemies, and learns of news from the outside. He’s left Pingaspor just in time, it seems, for a war has erupted. Outside, bombs and mortars fall around The Train . . . and then, one night, the unthinkable happens: The Train stops.

Rachel Turtledove’s tale concerns Eli, who grew up with The Train running through her backyard. A governess for the Baroness Vasri’s two children, Eli is presented with the chance of a lifetime: a journey on The Train, along with the Baroness and her household.

Everything goes well until armed men arrest the Baroness for treason. Next, they’ll be coming for the children—so Eli must hide them and keep them safe, evading the authorities until The Train arrives in friendly territory.

This is a journey you don’t want to miss.



Railroad Spine
Geonn Cannon
Supposed Crimes LLC, 435 K
Kindle, Nook, Smashwords: $5.99 (e-book)
ISBN: 9781938108044
Genre: Adventure SF, Psychological/Sociological SF, Steampunk

Railroad Spine

Dice Bodger is one of the Commonwealth’s most successful Airskips, commander of the trading airship Tamerlane. She’s good at her job, fair to her crew, and a lusty lover to both men and women. The Tamerlane’s travels take her from one end of the continent to the other, from Potomac to Seattle and from Acadia to the Great Lakes. In short, Dice has a perfect life.

Then Levi Barton comes aboard as Tamerlane’s new engineer. Dice and Levi fall in love, and he begins teaching her things that she should not know. First, the workings of the great engines . . . then more, mathematics and philosophy and chemistry and all sorts of forbidden knowledge.
In this future world, knowledge is a tightly controlled commodity. One learns only what one needs for one’s job; all else is forbidden, criminal.

At first Dice is shocked by Levi’s knowledge. Soon enough, though, she finds that she enjoys learning new things. She and Levi keep their illicit activities secret, knowing they would both be in trouble if their lawbreaking was discovered.

Soon enough, Dice is pulled from Tamerlane for medical reasons: pregnancy, to be exact. She goes into seclusion, under the care of a midwife, until her baby boy is born. It’s only then that she learns Levi has been apprehended and condemned as a traitor to society. Her child is taken from her, sent to be raised anonymously by a foster family.

Then Dice herself is brought in for questioning. Although she denies that Levi taught her anything, the authorities torture her, leaving her scarred and despondent.

Only after she returns to Tamerlane does Dice learn of a secret cabal devoted to freedom of knowledge. With Nikola Tesla as their patron saint, the members of this cabal preserve forbidden books and other sources, and work for the downfall of the authorities. They want Dice to join their ranks. Now all her hurt and anger focus on two goals: to topple the system that controls the population through ignorance . . . and to find her lost child.

While this story wears the trappings of steampunk, it’s no mere adventure tale. Like Impulse, there’s a lot more going on under the surface: questions of freedom and rebellion and a fundamental belief in the power of knowledge. The story is well told and the characters are compelling. Join Dice Bodger on her journey of discovery; you won’t regret it.


A New American Space Plan
Travis S. Taylor with Stephanie Osborn
Baen, 218 pages, $15.00 (trade paperback)
Baen Ebooks: $6.00 (e-book)
ISBN: 978-1-4516-3865-3
Genre: Nonfiction

A New American Space Plan

Travis S. Taylor, Ph.D. is an honest-to-goodness rocket scientist in Huntsville, Alabama (aka Rocket City). He’s also the ringleader on the National Geographic Channel’s show Rocket City Rednecks, on which Taylor and four accomplices (all engineering types) take on a challenge such as building a rocket fueled by moonshine or building a “hillbilly moon buggy.”

A New American Space Plan is a chatty book filled with facts and figures, reminiscences from the show and from Taylor’s career working with NASA and the Department of Defense, history of the space program, and a generous helping of redneck political grumbling.

Taylor’s actual plan doesn’t sound all that revolutionary: Put more money into the space program, involve commercial companies to unleash the magic of competition. Make manned exploration of the Moon and Mars the highest priority. Commit to a single plan and follow it through. Keep politicians from micromanaging the space effort.

Nothing particularly new there, but that’s not the point. This is a fun book to read, with lots to think about and argue about. For anyone interested in the manned space program, this is a must read.

I want to mention two recent books by regular Analog authors. Since large chunks of these have already appeared in these pages, there’s no point in a lengthy review, but you’ll want to know they’re out there.

The first is Captive Dreams by Michael Flynn (Phoenix Pick, 264 pages, $14.99 trade paperback, $9.99 e-book, ISBN: 978-1-61242-059-2). This collection includes three of Flynn’s stories that were published in Analog—“Melodies of the Heart” (January 1994), “Captive Dreams” (August 1992), and “Remember’d Kisses” (December 1988)—along with three brand-new companion stories.

Phantom Sense and Other Stories by Richard A. Lovett and Mark Nieman-Ross (Strange Wolf Press, 166 pages, $12.99 trade paperback, $4.99 e-book, ISBN: 978-1468130003) is a collection of six stories, all from Analog. All the stories involve information technology and/or robotics.
And with that, I’m out of space. Until next time, may all your movies be good ones, and all your novelizations rewarding!


Don Sakers is the author of A Voice in Every Wind and A Rose From Old Terra. For more information, visit www.scatteredworlds.com.

"The Reference Library" Copyright © 2013, Don Sakers

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