It may be Superbowl Weekend, but for me it also is Scifi Weekend on page and small screen. I’ve been neglecting my fallback genre for too long, and the past couple days have been time to catch up.
The pages were Lock In, the latest novel by Hugo Award winner John Scalzi. Scalzi, best known for his Old Man’s War series, writes old-school science fiction, and writes it well. Lock In is set in a not too distant future when a pandemic has bedridden 1% of the population; the afflicted, called Hadens, are locked inside their bodies, conscious but unable to move. Technology comes to the rescue: neural implants and software allow Hadens to operate Personal Transports (robots) remotely; Hadens also can interface with Integrators, a small number of people with a special brain structure and neural implants of their own. So, the bedridden are still able to experience the world and to be mobile in it, either through their robots or through the human eyes of hired Integrators. However, the Hadens are still all too human, which gives two FBI agents (one of them a Haden) something to do. It seems a Haden may be at the bottom of murders, terrorist acts, and market manipulation. Has someone found a way to hack the Haden/Integrator implants and software? To what end? Lock In is a solid scifi/detective hybrid with characteristic Scalzi wry humor.
On the small screen, the pick was The Infinite Worlds of H.G. Wells, a 2001 TV mini-series that was quite ambitious for its budget. One scarcely could have better source material. Wells’ tales are tied together by the story of an interview with HG Wells by a supposed journalist in 1946 (the year HG died). In this interview HG reveals that many of his stories were true. Since the real HG used the first person from time to time (e.g. in The Diamond Maker), he probably wouldn’t have objected to this device on screen. I’m not sure how he would have reacted to the depiction of his youthful 1890s self or to the depiction of Jane. He is presented as the clueless male of modern sitcoms seeking Jane’s hand in conventional marriage while she is worldly wise and overflowing with the politically correct views of 2001.
Whenever one depicts a historical character in fiction, the question arises of how faithful one should be to reality. The real HG met and lived with Jane while he already was married to his cousin. (We hear nothing of a first marriage in the series). On some subjects HG and Jane were stuck in the 19th century, but in matters of feminism and Free Love their views were more radical than those prevailing in 2001. With Jane’s OK, HG fathered children with feminist authors Amber Reeves and Rebecca West while remaining happily married to Jane; he also carried on with birth control advocate Margaret Sanger among others. I can see why, however, the producers of a TV series (at the Hallmark channel) wouldn’t want to try to explain all that; it’s a distraction and some viewers might be off-put. Much better to cater to 21st century sensibilities while depicting Wells as a faithful lovesick puppy and Jane as firmly in control of the relationship. There have been sillier depictions of HG on screen. In the 1979 movie Time After Time he (played by Malcolm McDowell) is a time traveler chasing Jack the Ripper. In the TV series Warehouse 13 he is a woman and a villain. The departures in The Infinite Worlds of H.G. Wells are minor compared to those.
The tales themselves – all of them familiar to any Wells fan – are handled nicely. We have a portal to another world (The Crystal Egg), accidental backwards time travel (Brownlow’s Newspaper), a bio-terrorist who dumps germs that make people tell the truth into the water supply (The Stolen Bacillus), and more. All in all it’s pleasant fare, and a good portrayal of classic tales.
Meantime, the game (yes that one) is on. Maybe I should check to see who is winning.
Cole Porter: A Picture of Me Without You. Third verse: “Picture H. G. Wells without a brain”