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PostPosted: Wed Feb 19, 2014 6:39 pm 
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A sci-fi fan brings the case against her sister. Christine says her sister Carrie shuns science fiction, and she's missing out big-time as a result. Should Carrie give sci-fi a chance?

This week, we're joined by a special expert witness, the esteemed television writer and producer, Jane Espenson!

Judge John Hodgman Episode 148: Science Friction


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PostPosted: Thu Feb 20, 2014 8:23 am 
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New Kid

Joined: Thu Feb 20, 2014 7:19 am
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To all,

The audience of this podcast is incredibly sharp I'm sure so I wanted to post a topic that didn't sound too cocksure yet also would troll a bit in order to foster authentic discussion. Forgive me....forgive me....

To the point--I don't think the judge did a decent job selling sci-fi on its merits as a genre. I can't stand most sci-fi even though I am terrified and, at the same time, fascinated by the nightmarish techno-future we and our descendants are bound to endure. I believe, reasonably I think, in the singularity (eventually) and a host of other bizarre quasi-post-apocalyptic happenings that rest near, beyond the horizon. I have no issue with these concepts as future fact.

But, like the "Ancient Aliens" sister Carrie, (spelling?) I cannot be exercised by the "what-if" aspect of sci-fi until it seems to me that the trope in question is either a) plausible or b) imminent. I think a lot of sci-fi content falls well outside these criteria--crazy aliens, impossible time travel, anti-scientific/fantastical breakthroughs etc.

I get that these artistic devices are ultimately tools to explore the human condition in metaphor and shouldn't be judged on their scientific veracity alone. Personally, I just do not connect with the impossible as much as I connect with the wholly possible. As Jane Espenson said, sci-fi is mostly setting. You do not need to explore the human condition on a planet far, far away to get the job done.

Full disclosure--I played dungeons and dragons in middle school, love Tolkien, and am a sucker for "Game of Thrones." What's the difference? Isn't it all just setting? Yes. I like to to explore the human condition on imaginary horseback in full chain-mail and mid-battle because I am that type of nerd-a priori. I release all others from this affliction and bid them godspeed in their own nerd/jock/other endeavors.

I agree with the judge's decision to rule that Carrie (spelling?) should spend two hours with sci-fi, but I would make anyone try two hours of something new--even myself if I had the power to do so. The judge only danced around a few plausible reasons why sci-fi is worth the time of someone who has rejected it consistently. Sure, it can be a new way of interpreting the human condition under extreme or novel settings, but that work can be easily accomplished to someone's taste in a variety of genres and, depending on the person, with greater effect.

I feel that the judge's bias for sci-fi blinded him to his own noble creed--let people like what they like. Carrie isn't a boer, thug, or miscreant. She just doesn't care about movies where anthropomorphic robots teach overweight future space people the value of plants. And, when it is written out, can you blame her?

p.s. I have been drinking
p.p.s I am unemployed (but not for long)
p.p.p.s Long time listener, first time poster


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PostPosted: Thu Feb 20, 2014 4:09 pm 
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I was all but shouting Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind alone in the car. I'm not sure why it was overlooked in the discussion.

It's been too long since I've seen Galaxy Quest, but I wonder if it's too inside to work as a good entrance point for someone who already has (or thinks she has) a bias against the genre. It might be too much like listening to a tribute album of acts you like covering a band you hate.


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 Post subject: Jjho--What's the rule?
PostPosted: Thu Feb 20, 2014 10:18 pm 
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New Kid

Joined: Thu Feb 20, 2014 9:41 pm
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Can you force people to do stuff they don't want to do or not?

It seems like there's a five-pronged test. A person has a duty to reasonably audit culture or try a new behavior IF:

(1) Fairness.
The auditioner (person who wants to show the movie, etc.) has audited the auditor's stuff already.
(2) Prerogative.
Has the auditor expressed absolute reservations, either directly or otherwise?
(3) Communion.
Will the audition further the ends of the relationship (as opposed to the ego of the auditioner)?
(4) Likelihood.
Is it likely that the audition will change the auditor's mind?
(5) Importance/Alternatives.
How proximate is the behavior or culture to the auditioner's identity? In other words, would an alternative serve as a compromise?

The key hypo would be . . . A comic book illustrator is trying to get her pilot husband to read a comic book. She hates planes but goes flying with him all the time. His issue isn't hating comic books, but being too busy. He loves movies based on comic books. Both agree that graphic novels won't serve as a compromise.

The outcome there is he needs to read a few comic books that she curates for him.

Good rule? Needs work?


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PostPosted: Thu Feb 20, 2014 10:20 pm 
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What a great episode!


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PostPosted: Fri Feb 21, 2014 12:00 am 
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I think there is something about genre fiction that makes non-fans leery of adherents' recommendations. I'm a huge reader of mystery fiction, but I wouldn't necessarily trust me to recommend something: I'm such a fan of the genre that I can be a little non-judgmental about any specific entry. And that's kind of my experience with science fiction: I have really liked some of it, but I consider it kind of Not For Me in general. Maybe if I had a cool sister who could recommend specific exemplars to me, I would find it easier to get a toehold. Christa did seem to know Carrieā€™s tastes well, so her recommendations might be good one for Carrie. On the other hand, one of the merits of science fiction that Christa mentioned was the ability of the genre to put humans in a situation that amps up the tension; and that sounded specifically like something that makes Carrie uncomfortable!

Great episode, though, and I hope Carrie finds something that makes her excited to try more!


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PostPosted: Fri Feb 21, 2014 12:38 am 
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Judge Hodgman's Justice Squad
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Fizzball wrote:
It's been too long since I've seen Galaxy Quest, but I wonder if it's too inside to work as a good entrance point for someone who already has (or thinks she has) a bias against the genre. It might be too much like listening to a tribute album of acts you like covering a band you hate.


I had the same thought.

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@tracyvwilson | Geektastic Pentameter


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PostPosted: Fri Feb 21, 2014 9:41 am 
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New Kid

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So I denigrated sci-fi in the above post, but the link below is one of the best arguments I've ever heard for exposing more people to the ideas and possibilities sci-fi offers. Great civil-rights component combined with inspirational Star Trek component. Enjoy!

http://www.upworthy.com/a-librarian-tri ... uld?c=slt1


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PostPosted: Fri Feb 21, 2014 10:40 am 
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Location: Portland, OR
To eastcoastteacher

I agree with the sentiments that science fiction is just as much, if not more-so a setting than a genre. The benefits for this can vary greatly. It's true that sometimes sci-fi provides little more than eye candy and a handful of lazy ways to avoid continuity problems. However, as was pointed out in the podcast with Battlestar Galactica, often it allows stories to be allegorical, for when you want to convey a message without it getting lost in the real world. Star Trek (and future series) was rather famous for conveying a number of progressive themes, especially race relations. You can denounce racism by telling people to be tolerant and respectful towards alien races - convey the message and encourage change without dipping your toe into the political realm or directly attacking humans with prejudiced views. Star Wars was written during the Vietnam War, and managed to bring a message against military imperialism to millions upon millions of people three decades into the Cold War. And they loved it. People that don't want to watch Americans gunning down Vietnamese villages might see the Empire blowing up Alderaan as a show of power and get the message.

I think WALL-E was an interesting example, and I found it kind of funny that Carrie was irritated at identifying with WALL-E. THAT IS THE POINT! Yes, there was a heavy-handed message about over-reliance on technology and the need for environmentalism, but the whole premise is that we, the audience, are WALL-E. The humans in the movie are the robots - they're the ones performing mindless, repetitive tasks with no thought as to why. WALL-E was the human, showing emotions and especially the vulnerability and self-doubt that exists within each of us. The reason it resonated so well (which Carrie admitted) was that it was stripped down from all the things that would exist in a normal movie - where is it happening? How great is the actor's performance? There wasn't one. It was just this faceless robot with big eyes that we have nothing in common with and we have everything in common with.

Sometimes it's just as simple as Science Fiction letting you break the rules to tell a different sort of story. Or like fantasy, sometimes the whole point is escapism.


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PostPosted: Fri Feb 21, 2014 9:41 pm 
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New Kid

Joined: Fri Feb 21, 2014 9:13 pm
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I Loved this episode. There were lots of great insights into SF and metaphor.

I also thought that Jane Espenson added a ton to the conversation.

However, I think one of her recommendations was disastrously misguided.

Torchwood: Children of Earth is very entertaining for much of its length, but it goes to such a dark and upsetting place at the end that I still have a hard time thinking about it. Not for beginners. I put it on the list of things that I have experienced that I never want to experience again.

I expect I would have had a different reaction 10-12 years ago. As referenced by Jesse in a recent JJGO, having children has made me unable to enjoy, or even be unaffected by, certain types of culture. 'Kids in jeopardy' stories are different to me now. No one warned me this would happen. <shakes fist at universe>


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PostPosted: Sun Feb 23, 2014 9:39 pm 
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Judge Hodgman's Justice Squad

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I really enjoyed this episode.

What made the ruling spot on for me was a moment when Carrie was being debriefed by Jesse while the judge was in chambers: she mentioned that she had never really seen sci-fi as a way to present socially challenging material in a metaphorical context (my rephrasing), and that she was maybe more open to the genre because of that realization. Because of this, the ruling wasn't so much forcing her to consume media as it was guiding her to a possible newfound appreciation for sci-fi.

Jane Espenson was amazing. I love her so much.


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PostPosted: Sun Feb 23, 2014 10:25 pm 
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New Kid

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Heh - Star Wars Chamber. That would have been a good esoteric title

Speaking from experience, "genre" has little to do with viewing pleasure. I can easily go from Battlestar to CloneWars to BBT to Downton Abbey. So long as the writing is up to scratch and you aren't a TV snob and judge a show by its cover


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PostPosted: Tue Feb 25, 2014 8:19 pm 
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New Kid

Joined: Fri Sep 13, 2013 4:37 pm
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I was so excited to hear the Honorable Judge to recommend REAMDE!


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