TV

Orphan Black, the many roles of Tatiana Maslany

Tatiana Maslany as Alison, Helena, Sarah, Beth, Cosima, and Katja.

Orphan Black is a new science fiction television show produced by BBC America and Space, starring Canadian actress Tatiana Maslany. I recently discovered this series, the first season of which just finished airing in the beginning of June 2013, and I plowed through all 10 episodes in two days.  It’s a smart, complex, often dark yet at times quite funny, and well-paced show with a continuous narrative arc that explores the issues of identity and intellectual property. There is fine acting all around but the two standouts are Tatiana Maslany, who plays many roles on the show for which she deservedly won a Critics’ Choice Television Award for Best Actress in a Drama Series, and Jordan Gavaris, who plays the foster brother of one of Maslany’s characters.

Minor spoilers follow, but everything I mention is revealed in the first episode or featured prominently in the official publicity for the show.

The science fiction element of the show is pretty low key. You won’t see much in the way of futuristic technology in this series. Instead, the plot revolves around the controversial subject of human cloning and the early stages of body modification and genetic engineering. Who are we if we are not biologically unique, if there are others out there who are genetically identical to us? How much would our experiences and personal choices shape who we become despite this? What would you do if you encountered to your surprise not one but two or three or more other people who look exactly like you? What is it that makes us human? These are some of the questions explored in Orphan Black.

The series begins by introducing us to the main character of the show, Sarah Manning, played by Maslany. Sarah is an orphan, born in Great Britain, raised by a foster mother, and moved to Canada at an early age. Now a young woman, we meet her trying to escape a wild life of crime, drugs, and an abusive boyfriend. Sarah aims to get her life back together, reclaim custody of her daughter Kira from her foster mother Mrs. S, and scrounge up enough money to make a new life somewhere for herself, her daughter, and her foster brother Felix (played by Gavaris).

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Prometheus Unbound Podcast

In episode two of the Prometheus Unbound Podcast, Matthew and I (Geoffrey) discuss libertarian speculative fiction and introduce the Book of the Month, Today’s Tomorrows Writing Prompt, and Fiction Forecasts segments of the show.

We break the ice with some brief chit-chat about what we’ve been reading before seguing into our discussion of libertarian spec fic. The Book of the Month is Coyote by Allen Steele. In Today’s Tomorrows Writing Prompt, we turn a speculative eye on the very real possibility of an intellectual-property dystopia. And in Fiction Forecasts, we talk about upcoming (at the time of recording) television shows, movies, and books.

What We’ve Been Reading

Libertarian Speculative Fiction

We covered a lot of ground in our discussion of libertarian spec fic, but we really only scratched the surface of this broad, deep, and no doubt controversial topic. I’m sure we’ll be revisiting many of the stories and issues we covered, and many more besides, in future episodes. So subscribe and stay tuned!

Here’s a brief rundown of some of the things we covered: what qualifies a work of fiction as libertarian; libertarian themes in science fiction and fantasy; why they seem to be more common in science fiction and why libertarians seem to favor this genre; our favorite works of libertarian spec fic; the Prometheus Awards; and probably more that I’m forgetting as I write this.

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NEWS | James Cameron on the Piss Poor State of Ocean Exploration Thumbnail

io9 has the story about Cameron’s complaint and his endeavor to spearhead a return to “Challenger Deep, the deepest known point in all the world’s oceans.”

I just want to highlight a pleasantly surprising remark from Cameron:

“I think we’ve got to do better,” he told Nature News. “If it means getting private individuals together with institutions and bypassing the whole government paradigm, that’s fine. Maybe that’s what we need to do.”

Please, by all means, do.

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NEWS | The Right to Free Speech and Firefly on Campus Thumbnail

Malcolm Reynolds, FireflyHave you heard the story about the college professor who was harassed by campus police over a poster of Malcolm Reynolds from Firefly that he put up outside of his office?

I happened to be visiting FIRE’s website today and noticed a video about the story. I first heard about this story a couple of months ago but for some reason didn’t write about it here at the time. It’s a particularly interesting news story for me because it occurred at the intersection of three of my interests: libertarianism, science fiction, and (higher) education. FIRE is the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, whose mission is defending said rights in higher education.

For those who might have missed the story, and in the interests of curating it here, I might as well do a “news” post about it now, eh?

To make a long story short, the campus police at the University of Wisconsin–Stout had a policy of censoring posters that were suggestive of violent threats. James Miller, a professor of theater and speech had put up a poster of Mal with a line of his from the pilot episode of Firefly:

You don’t know me, son, so let me explain this to you once: If I ever kill you, you’ll be awake, you’ll be facing me, and you’ll be armed.

The incident escalated from there, to the point that Miller contacted FIRE for help. Then the SF community got involved. Nathan Fillion, Adam Baldwin, and even Neil Gaiman notified their million-plus Twitter followers about the case. The university at first defended the censorship (free speech in academia!, eh? only for PC speech), but eventually folded under the mounting pressure from free speech advocates and Firefly fans.

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For those who love statist politics as well as those who love to hate it, or who just love fantastic epic fantasy, George R. R. Martin’s Song of Ice and Fire series brings plenty of grist to the mill. The game of thrones is the game of political power.

Named after the first book the series, Game of Thrones is the best fantasy television series ever produced. If you missed the first season, get caught up quickly! But read the book first if you haven’t yet.

Season 2 follows the second book in the series (A Clash of Kings), with the first episode scheduled to air on April 1st. If the teaser trailer is any guide, it’ll be all about the struggle to acquire and maintain power; and the character of Tyrion Lannister, superbly portrayed by Peter Dinklage, will be at the center of it.

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  • From Mike P. over at The Emptiness comes “Socialism: A love story — Star Trek,” in which he discusses his love affair with Star Trek and how realizing it’s a utopian socialist fantasy actually makes the show more enjoyable.
  • From SF Signal comes news that the Hugo Award–winning Encyclopedia of Science Fiction, edited by John Clute and Peter Nicholls, is receiving a long-awaited update to its third edition (the last, second, edition was published in 1993) and — wait for it — is being made available for free online. Why? Oh, I don’t know, maybe reading through the encyclopedia will tempt people into buying more books and ebooks of and about the stories and authors described within it. And simply keeping the history of the genre alive and readily accessible to future generations is a worthy endeavor in itself, of course.

    From the press release:

    The third edition of the Encyclopedia of Science Fiction, the definitive reference work in the field, will be released online later this year by the newly-formed ESF, Ltd, in association with Victor Gollancz, the SF & Fantasy imprint of the Orion Publishing Group, whose support will enable the text to be available free to all users. This initial “beta” version, containing about three-quarters of the total projected content, will be unveiled in conjunction with Gollancz’s celebrations of its 50th anniversary as a science fiction publisher.
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NEWS ROUNDUP | NASA FAIL, Community Mocks Politics, Cheap eBooks, D&D, History of SF Thumbnail
  1. NASA wasted over $400 million taxpayer dollars last week as its new global warming research satellite (I thought the science was settled?) failed to make it onto orbit. The cause? A rocket “glitch.” That’s the second time in two years. Just abolish the agency and myriad regulations already to make way for private space endeavors.
  2. A recent episode (S2Ep17) of the tv series Community mocks politics and student government elections, that training ground for our future rulers. You might want to watch it on Hulu.com, while it’s still available, before reading the rest of this entry as I picked out my favorite parts to highlight and they might spoil it for you.

    Britta, the same character concerned with orc/goblin (I forget) property rights in the AD&D episode, declares that democracy (rule by the people ) is a sham and that human beings should not be governed. But she’s not well-received by the masses. Pierce (Chevy Chase) enters the race simply to harass a fellow candidate for not loaning him her pencil earlier. Jeff enters simply to demonstrate to the lone serious candidate, Annie, who comes off as a typical hyper-competitive douchebag, that he can beat her simply by uttering empty feel-good slogans, prompting her to turn to dirty politics in order to embarrass him into pulling out of the race. There are several other joke candidates as well. Good stuff.
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