Check ‘Em Out!: Entertainment Tropes and a Sci-Fi Museum

Hey!

I wanted to tell you briefly about a couple of websites I recently came across that you might also enjoy.

TV Tropes

As the Welcome statement on the site states, “Merriam-Webster defines trope as a ‘figure of speech.’ For creative writer types, tropes are more about conveying a concept to the audience without needing to spell out all the details.” However, it is online Merriam-Webster’s second definition that is more appropriate here: “a common or overused theme or device : cliché”.

The site, which is no longer limited to TV shows, is all about those plot devices, themes, stereotypes, etc., that frequently show up in various large- and small-screen productions. These tropes and subtropes are given names — e.g., “Book Dumb”, “Let’s Split Up, Gang”, “Lampshading”, or “Rule of Sean Connery” — and then various movies, TV series, and characters are described using these (sub)tropes. (It’s a little bit hard to describe unless you go there.) As you read descriptions of the (sub)tropes, you’ll be saying to yourself, “Oh, yeah, like when…” multiple times. You can browse by genre, media, narrative, topical tropes, or other categories.

In addition to being an “authority” site (sort of), it is also a community. For example, members can go to the “Trope Finder” page to ask fellow-members things like “Do we have this one?” and “What’s the trope about…?” The “You Know That Show…” page is for when you’re trying to remember the name of a show/movie that just escapes you. So, you can try describing it to the community and hope that someone else can identify it for you. Similar pages include “Ask the Tropers”, “Browse TV Tropes”, and “Trope Launch Pad”.

I’m not sure how much I’d actually use this site on a regular basis, but it might be handy to have access for when I do need a research assist. How about you?

Museum of Science Fiction

Did you know there was a Museum of Science Fiction in Washington, D.C.? Well, there isn’t… not yet, at least. The group that runs the site (which I assume is legit) is a 501c(3) nonprofit organization that has been seeking talent and funding since 2013 to make the museum a reality.

Their initial team of 38 volunteers made “significant progress on everything from curatorial aspects such as gallery design and visitor experience to the non-profit management areas of development, project management, education, information technology, public relations, marketing, finance, accounting, and legal compliance.” From there, the first step was to develop “a 3,000-square-foot preview museum where we can test exhibit concepts and new interactive technologies to share a real-time look into this grassroots effort.”

As per the “Preview Museum” page,

“By starting with a small preview museum, doors can open sooner and set the stage for completing the full-scale facility within five years. During this time, the Museum will annually change out the exhibits, stories, and educational content to highlight the best achievements in science fiction and its continuing impact on our culture.

The Preview Museum’s architectural design is modular and highly portable to allow for easy relocation to other cities (such as New York or Los Angeles). After its tour, the Preview Museum will be added as a wing to the full-scale facility….

Our mission is to create a center of gravity where art and science are powered by imagination. Science fiction is the story of humanity: who we were, who we are, and who we dream to be. The Museum will present this story through displays, interactivity, and programs in ways that excite, educate, entertain, and create a new generation of dreamers.”

Meanwhile, they have (co-)sponsored various competitions (e.g., the “Deep Ocean Research and Robotics Competition”) and two annual “Escape Velocity” events — i.e., “a micro-futuristic world’s fair designed to promote STEAM education within the context of science fiction.” They also continue to add content to the museum web-site, and in Jan. 2016 launched the MoSF Journal of Science Fiction, which includes both researched academic articles and short, reflective essays.

If you are curious about the journal’s content, follow the link. Also, here is the Table of Contents for the first issue:

  • Reflecting on Science Fiction, Monica Louzon
  • Biogenetics, The Nation, and Globalization in Paolo Bacigalupi’s Critical Dystopias, Derrick King
  • Gods of War Toke While Riding a Vimana: Hindu Gods in Three Indian Science Fiction Novels, Sami Ahmad Khan
  • Loving the Other in Science Fiction by Women, Karma Waltonen
  • Paul’s Empire: Imperialism and Assemblage Theory in Frank Herbert’s Dune, Amanda M Rudd

As of this writing, three issues have been published (see pic for #3), and they are downloadable for free in PDF format.

I don’t know when I’ll have time to look at this more, especially the journal (though I downloaded all 3 issues), but it all looks & sounds pretty cool to me!

Soon I Will Be Invincible

“There has to be a little bit of crime in any theory, or it’s not truly good science. You have to break the rules to get anything real done.”  — Doctor Impossible

It wasn’t all that long ago that I realized there is a sub-genre of sci-fi/fantasy fiction novels about superheroes. You’d think I would’ve been aware of this, right? I mean, sure, I knew about certain Marvel and DC stories that had been novelized, and I was familiar with the Wild Cards shared-world series edited by George R.R. Martin (though I never read any). But, I didn’t know that the last few years have seen several authors try their hand at such stories. I accidentally came across one at the library a few weeks ago and thought, “Cool!”

Cover to U.S. edition

Cover to U.S. edition

The book is Soon I Will Be Invincible by Austin Grossman. Grossman is a video-game designer/consultant and, at the time of publication (2007), a doctoral candidate in English literature at UC-Berkeley, specializing in Romantic and Victorian literature. Hmm. I noticed it doesn’t say he’s a huge comic fan, but still… could be interesting. At the very least, he should understand how to construct a story, right? He does, and it’s a darned good one, too.

That story is told primarily as a first-person narrative alternating between two of the major players. The first voice is that of Doctor Impossible — would-be world-conqueror and self-made super-villain extraordinaire, “sufferer” of Malign Hypercognition Disorder (i.e, “evil genius” syndrome). While Impossible is the main “bad guy” of the story, he sees himself as more of an outsider who finally found his place in (and, preferably, over) the world, rather than merely “evil”. He matter-of-factly informs us that he is the smartest person by far on the planet and the fourth most dangerous. I’m not sure how much of that is bravado, but he is definitely a formidable foe and one very smart cookie. However, when we first meet him, he is languishing in prison after his 12th defeat and failure of his 5th Doomsday Device. (Can you imagine how frustrating that must be?!)

The second narrator is Fatale — female cyborg and (somewhat) rookie superhero. Fatale has just been recruited by the Champions, the current generation’s #1 superhero team, which had disbanded several years ago but is reforming in the face of a perceived new, global threat. They aren’t quite sure what that threat is, until Doctor Impossible escapes, and they’re pretty sure he has something big in the offing. As the “new girl”, Fatale provides a lens through which the reader gets a feeling for what it’s like to be a superhero (and a cyborg, in particular), meeting your idols and being asked to join them, transitioning from tackling street crime to the “big leagues”, etc. It’s a familiar storytelling device, and it works well here.

Amidst personal reflections, observations, and memories of “origins” and past adventures, Doctor Impossible proceeds to put his next doomsday plan into motion, while Fatale and the New Champions follow clues to locate and (hopefully) stop him. Another aspect of the story is the already-in-progress mystery of the disappearance of CoreFire, the “Superman” of Grossman’s world. CoreFire is one of the founding members of the original Champions and arch-enemy of Doctor Impossible. He is nigh-invincible, which makes the possibilities of what could have happened to him very few. Was he abducted by aliens? Did he leave voluntarily? If so, why? Did Doctor Impossible or some other villain figure out a way to destroy him? Could he be trapped in another dimension? Was magic involved? If anyone knows, they ain’t talkin’. Of course, with his nemesis out of the picture, Doctor Impossible figures this may be the opportunity he’s been waiting for….

As Grossman puts it, Soon I Will Be Invincible is “a book about real people who happen to be superheroes or supervillains.” He takes advantage of the prose format to develop the characters much more than can be done in typical comic book or graphic novel format, exploring their inner thoughts, questions, frustrations, even struggles with the very things that make them “super”. He manages to blend a certain amount of realism in with the comic-book sensibility, giving the reader a “serious” story but without the grimness or cynicism of, say, the aforementioned Wild Cards or Watchmen.

Cover to UK edition

Cover to UK edition

Some of the characters are obviously archetypes. For example, the founding members of the Champions — CoreFire, Blackwolf, & Damsel — are analogs for Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman, respectively. Doctor Impossible is in many ways a stock mad-scientist/megalomaniac villain, yet we learn enough about him to be somewhat sympathetic. The characters’ noms de guerre range, imho, from fairly cool-sounding (e.g., CoreFire, Stormcloud, Baron Ether) to rather silly (e.g., Laserator, Kosmic Klaw, Go-Man). The attitudes, behaviors, powers, and rhetoric of the heroes & villains may be somewhat familiar, even stereotypical. But, Grossman manages to keep the story engaging and avoids venturing into gross caricature. (Possible exception being Doctor Impossible’s recorded speeches, which are supposed to be over-the-top. It’s in the handbook.)

There are action scenes, too, of course. But, the strength of Soon I Will Be Invincible is simply in its knowledgeable exploration of the sub-genre, creating a world of superheroes/villains and seeing what makes them tick. I don’t know that it will be hailed a sci-fi “classic”, but it has received some good press, and it is a lot of fun, especially for those of us who grew up on superhero comics and cartoons. Highly recommended!

P.S.  Just found this as I was going to press: http://www.sooniwillbeinvincible.com/