Monday, December 20, 2010

New and Noteworthy (Stargate Universe Cancelled, NYT bestsellers, Charlie's Diary)

In today's edition, the very last of 2010:

* Last week, the SyFy Channel cancelled Stargate: Universe (just two years into its projected five-year arc). This comes only shortly after the channel pulled the plug on Caprica, making it a second casualty of the enshrinement of pro wrestling in the Friday night time slot and the bumping back of the dwindling pool of scripted drama to Tuesdays (this apparently proving deadlier to the franchise than MGM's bankruptcy).

I was not a wholehearted fan of SGU, but I did follow it fairly closely, and not just because it's the only game in town these days as first-run North American TV space opera goes (unlike in the '90s, when a half dozen such series might have been airing at once). For all its flaws, it did have its good points, and I will miss it (at least a bit).

Meanwhile, the reality TV just keeps on coming, the Suits excreting one program after another, typically "geek-oriented" versions of formats established elsewhere, with Hollywood Treasures an Antiques Road Show for genre fans, while the upcoming Face Off looks like the aesthetician's contests on many another channel. At the same time, the few scripted efforts coming up play it very safe, like Being Human, a remake of the British show (which I haven't seen, though I don't get why they can't run the original instead, given their propensity for airing British originals like Dr. Who, Primeval and Merlin); and Battlestar Galactica: Blood and Chrome, a second spin-off from the remake of a show that was derivative to begin with (which promises the space battles BSG did well, and the kind of drama it didn't do well, but to which the critics were overly kind). Still, I doubt either of them will enjoy a long run given the channel's attitude toward actual science fiction fare in recent years.

* This Sunday, Tom Clancy's Dead or Alive appeared in the #1 position on the New York Times' hardcover fiction bestseller list. The techno-thriller's long since seen its best days, and the real authors who'd once been carefully concealed may have become more prominent, but apparently the Tom Clancy label can still sell more than video games. (Of course, whether this book will reach the heights of earlier novels, usually among their year's top sellers, remains to be seen.)

Speaking of '90s-era publishing stars, John Grisham is in the #2 slot, James Patterson in #3, Patricia Cornwell in #4. Stieg Larsson's at #5 with the third Millennium novel (the previous two entries in which series occupy the #1 and #2 slots on the paperback trade fiction list, and the #3 and #4 slots on the paperback mass market lists, where The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo is currently in its thirty-ninth week).

Looking at the list as a whole, I was struck by the number of big-name authors who are farming out the work to someone else (besides Clancy, James Patterson, Clive Cussler), who are dead so that their estates are farming out the work to someone else (Robert Jordan, Michael Crichton), or who never actually existed (unbelievably enough, Richard Castle, lead character on what may be TV's most clich├ęd police procedural). I was also struck by the number of '70s-vintage authors way past their prime churning out books for undemanding readers and old fans who keep reading their new efforts despite repeated disappointments (Ken Follett, and Cussler, and . . . the list goes on).

That cheapened, worn-out brand names remain so predominant in the business is hardly news to anyone the least bit observant of the business, but alas, few are so observant, least of all those hoping to make a splash there.

* At Charlie's Diary, a follow-up to his earlier critique of steampunk ("The Hard Edge of Empire"), in which he suggests steampunk has spun off from science fiction to become its own genre; his case for Julian Assange; his thoughts on the scarcity of utopian thought (as well as what makes the dearth problematic), as well as one explanation of how we got into that mess; and finally, the release of a role-playing game-based on Stross's Laundry universe.

Happy Holidays.

Reflections on Stieg Larsson's The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo
On the New York Times Bestseller List . . .
New and Noteworthy (Books Charles Stross Will Not Write, 2017, R.I.P Sci-Friday)
The Syfy Channel: Year One

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