I’ve written of Alfred Bester before. Reading the reviews of The Stars My Destination, I’m surprised to read he
actually wrote the Green Lantern Oath. I’ve only ever known Bester as a science
fiction novelist. He built his reputation on two novels: The Stars My
Destination, and The Demolished Man, both published in the

The Demolished Man might be Ben
Reich, if the peepers (telepaths) manage to pin the murder of D’Courtney, his
business rival, on him. D’Courtney’s daughter, Barbara, the only witness to the
murder, has been reduced to catatonic grief and must be regressed to infancy.
Reich is haunted by two main characters: Lincoln Powell, bigtime peeper, and The
Man with No Face. It’s part detective novel, part musing on corporate greed,
part existential optimism – all of which begin with a game of sardines.

There are times, when I reread The
Demolished Man, that I smile at the invented language. It is a risk many science
fiction authors run, that the language they use to speculate on science will
look poorly informed 10 years later. Still, I grew up on the classics, and great
world-building trumps neologistic mishaps.

Stanislaw Lem’s The
(Fables for a Cybernetic Age) is more than neologistic play,
although when I first read it as a 14-year old, much of the math was beyond me,
and it was the wordplay I loved. It made me laugh a lot, the kind of laughter
that makes people try very hard not to look at you in the bus. Lem took obscure
(well, to me, anyway) higher math theory and made two constructor robots, Trurl
and Klaupaucius, have a lot of fun with them. The stories are structured like
fables, with a wonderful feeling of once upon a time in the far, far future.

The crown of “SF’s angry young man” in
the 70s belonged to Samuel R. Delany, a man who took his wordplay seriously.
Much of his work revolves around linguistics, semiotics, gaps in understanding.
My favorite novel of his was written in 1966. In Babel-17, the Alliance hires Rydra Wong,
cryptographer and poet, to figure out what they think is bursts of code that
accompany acts of sabotage on Alliance planets, which they fear heralds a total
invasion. Rydra is a very cool chick. (She fights! She cracks code! She writes
poetry!) There weren’t too many heroines in the 60s who weren’t trophy
girlfriends for space pilots.

This old
Rules of Science Fiction” essay, about what
makes an SF film cool, uncool, franchise or cheap, also works for SF novels.
(I’ve quoted the heroine part here, but the entire essay is a treat. Do read


COOL films
come in two varieties: sultry lounge singers or tough-as-nails chyks. The former
fall in with the police (who are secretly agents of evil) and get the hero
trapped, then realize what they have done and make feeble attempts to rescue
him. Tough-as-nails HEROINES spend the first third of the movie kicking the
incompetent hero’s ass and telling him to shut up when he asks dumb questions,
but by the end of the flick they have fallen for his well-hidden charms and look
ready to raise a brood of black-haired baby brooders with

movies sleep with the hero. And scream. The FALSE HEROINE (i.e. the one who puts
the moves on the hero, rather than waiting for him to seduce her) often dies,
bloodily. The real HEROINE survives the boinking because her love for the hero
is true, and because they have matching shades of blonde hair. In many cases,
the HEROINE has some connection to the bad guy – daughter, wife, former lover,
lust object, pizza delivery girl – and thus the triumphant boinking is a
necessary plot device.

films try to kick ass a lot, when the scriptwriter isn’t looking. They are
allowed one racy comment per film, though they may be asked to wear revealing
(or, in the case of Star Trek VI, no) costumes. They are allowed to save the
hero’s bacon precisely once per film with a well-placed blaster shot right as
he’s about to buy it, but otherwise they generally hang in the background. There
is no jiggling allowed in FRANCHISE

In a
CHEAP film,
the HEROINE exists to speak a little dialogue, provide a reason for the hero to
kill people, and reveal her heaving bosom. The lone exception to this rule comes
when Joan Chen plays the HEROINE, in which case most of the rules of the MENTOR