Sunday, 19 November 2017

Consider nominating The Good Place

If the arguments on Twitter are any indication, the race for the 2018 Hugo Award for Best Dramatic
The Good Place has a distinctive visual
style that reinforces both the comedy
and the morality of the series.
(Image via Netflix.com) 
Presentation Short Form may be shaping up as a battle of Orville versus Star Trek: Discovery.

We suspect that these two shows will garner most of the attention in this category during both nominating and voting. Which is a shame, because 2017 has been a spectacular year for science fiction and fantasy on the small screen, and some of it might be overlooked.

The Handmaid’s Tale should garner a nomination for its eighth episode “Jezebels,” American Gods fifth episode “Lemon Scented You” is excellent, and the sixth episode of Preacher’s second season “Sokosha” deserves strong consideration.

But most of all, we hope Hugo Award voters take the time to consider The Good Place, NBC’s sleeper hit about ethics and mortality. The show deserves at least a nomination for the first season finale “Michael’s Gambit” (which is already on Netflix, if you haven’t seen it yet).

When the show premiered in late 2016, it introduced viewers to a simple non-denominational afterlife
Lava monsters, angels, demons, and the
afterlife all make The Good Place
clearly eligible for Hugo consideration.
(Image via Netflix.com)
in which there is a ‘good place’ where good people go, and a ‘bad place’ where the not-good people go. In the pilot, the protagonist Eleanor (Kristin Bell) arrives in the good place and quickly realizes that she’s only there because of a clerical mistake.

The Good Place does not fit the traditional mold for a Hugo Award show. For one thing, no half-hour sitcom has ever won — or even been nominated — for a Hugo Award. In addition, the stories are not typical fantasy adventures. The show also uses few genre conventions, although the afterlife the protagonists inhabit is clearly a fantasy setting that would qualify for nomination, even if you never saw a lava monster.

Over the course of two very short seasons, The Good Place has managed to balance fleshed-out
Is there another show on television that
can make Jeremy Bentham's utilitarian
philosophy so interesting and funny?
(Image via Critical-Theory.com)
character arcs, absurdist humour, and explorations of philosophy. In most mainstream network shows, the exploration of philosophy would probably have been limited to name-dropping Jean Paul Sartre, or Jeremy Bentham. The Good Place manages to delve into some of these thinkers’ ideas — and it never seems forced or condescending towards the viewer.

The Season 1 finale “Michael’s Gambit” aired on January 19 of this year, and it is one of the finest half-hours of television in recent memory. Ted Danson deserves to win the Emmy for best supporting actor just on the strength of his performance in that episode.

Danson shines, in part, because of the excellent casting throughout the show. In addition to Kristen Bell, who plays a foul-mouthed party girl, William Jackson Howard’s role as straight-laced ethics professor Chidi, Manny Jacinto’s portrayal of enigmatic monk Jin-Yang, and Jameela Jamil as bubbly socialite Tahani are all perfectly cast.

Over the course of just 21 episodes (to date), the show has re-invented itself, completely changed
The cast of The Good Place.
(Image via Metro.co.uk)
courses, and on multiple occasions we have thought that the show was about to jump the shark. But it sticks the landing every time.

It’s also worth noting that not only is The Good Place good (as in of high quality), The Good Place is good (as in possessed of a certain positive moral tenor). This is not a grim-and-gritty show, but one that has a genuine positivity about it, and that’s refreshing.

Given its bizarre premise, overly cerebral aspirations, and moralistic underpinnings, The Good Place could have been a hot mess. But somehow, its writers have managed to craft one of the best fantasy shows on television.

Monday, 13 November 2017

The Hot War is Turtledove at his best.

Harry Turtledove's The Hot War
suggests that nuclear war was
closer than many of us
choose to believe.
(Image via NationalInterest.org)
Superficially and stylistically, it would be hard to distinguish The Hot War from most of Harry Turtledove’s previous series.

As always, the writing is occasionally stilted. And as always, we are introduced to dozens of point-of-view characters representing key perspectives in every faction of a historical upheaval and their individual stories paint a larger picture of a global narrative. This is the Turtledove ‘sweep of history’ template, and it’s served him well over his career as the Dean of Alternate History.

But fundamentally, The Hot War is something different, darker and timelier than anything else he has written.

Keeping The Hot War to a trilogy — which is short by the standards of an author known for works like his 11-volume Southern Victory series — allows the narrative to move relatively quickly and with greater impact.

The point of divergence for this alternate history takes place in November of 1950, when (unlike in the real world) the Chinese invasion of Korea successfully destroys a significant portion of the American forces. The ratcheting up of the conflict has an inevitability and a horror to it, as first there are limited strikes by the Americans, then retaliation by the Russians, followed by direct attacks, and direct retaliations.

It is refreshing to see alternate history
that explores conflicts other than the
civil war or the Second World War.
(Image via Britanica.org) 
Against this backdrop, Turtledove offers the interwoven stories of a British widow named Daisy Baxter trying to get by in a ruined U.K, a U.S. pilot named Bill Staley who wrestles with his conscience as he destroys cities, a concentration camp survivor named Fayvl Tabakman who has to deal with the destruction of Seattle, a German veteran named Gustav Hozzel who goes to the front lines, and literally dozens more.

Turtledove's overarching themes of the universalities of human experience are well explored. Characters do their best in the best ways they know how in difficult circumstances. There are few, if any, true villains.

Unlike many previous Turtledove alternate histories, the human stories are unpredictable. These are tumultuous lives marred by sudden bouts of unexpected violence and destruction that turn worlds upside down. Death comes out of nowhere, and little meaning can be found in any of it.

Of particular interest in this alternate history is the tragic — and believable — story of Harry Truman. Turtledove’s research into historical figures is always impeccable, and many of Truman's decisions in these novels are based on courses of action that he considered in real life. Turtledove paints a portrait of an alternate failed presidency that hinges on one bad decision after another.

America's 33rd president was the
only one who ever ordered an
atomic bomb deployed in a war.
(Image via historynewsnetwork.org)
The consequences of Truman's mistakes keep compounding. The way in which this weighs on him in the novels is effectively conveyed, and this may be one of the best character arcs Turtledove has ever written. Turtledove seems to be arguing that even a well-intentioned president might invite calamity through brinksmanship.

This cast may be one of the most memorable groups that Turtledove has written since Worldwar: In The Balance back in the 1990s. However, it’s still clear that Turtledove has difficulty writing characters from outside his cultural background — none of the important Korean or Chinese characters are given point-of-view sections.

Harry Turtledove’s The Hot War trilogy concluded this summer with the publication of Armistice, and is eligible for consideration for the new Best Series Hugo. None of the three books stand on their own, and all of them have flaws. But the completed trilogy is far more than the sum of their parts, and it seems to us that this is the sort of work that the Best Series Hugo is uniquely able to celebrate. We are going to consider nominating it.