Before Atlanta-based writer Robert Venditti had a publisher for his graphic novel, Surrogates, Bruce Willis topped his rather fantastical wish list of actors to play the lead. Seven years later, guess who’s starring the film version.
Surrogates—which opens September 25—features a world where people jack into robotic avatars and send the bots out into the world in their stead (trailer here). Not only was this Venditti’s freshman graphic novel, but it’s publisher Top Shelf’s first credit as a film producer.
“Bruce Willis is one of the few actors who can do the action sequences and personal moments,” Venditti told me during a break signing his novel at Comic-Con. “A big theme in the book is the relationship the main character has with his wife. He’s a police detective who can do his job without worrying about the hazards of his job. He’ll go home to his wife and she’ll only react with him through her surrogate, because she’s uncomfortable with aging. So it’s a strain on their marriage.”
The ubiquity and rapid evolution of technology has made science fiction one of the hardest genres to master. In Friday’s Comic-Con panel “Building Tomorrow’s Technology,” moderator Steve Saffel, a New York editor and publishing consultant, and four sci-fi novelists explored how present technology and availability of natural resources affects how we imagine the future.
“There was a day and time when authors didn’t worry about making technology work. You just had to have the spaceship work,” said Staffel. “These days, technology is changing at such a rapid rate, that the science-fiction writer has to compete with reality in a way they didn’t before. People also understand technology more so than in the past, so if it isn’t right, the reader will spot it.”
The panelists—Greg Bear (City at the End of Time), David Williams (Burning Skies), Dani and Eytan Kollin (The Unincorporated Man) and Kirsten Imani Kasai (Ice Song)—cited alternative energy sources, environmental decay, eventual development of quantum computing, and man/machine interfaces in military and biotech arenas as technologies with the most impact on society.
“Biotech is transforming everything,” said Bear. “It has resulted in the removal of the middleman between audience and creator. But removing teachers and experts from the throne is not always such a good thing.”
The great thing about Batman, is that anyone, if sufficiently dedicated and wealthy, could become him. He doesn’t have any superpowers, magic rings, or radioactive rays turning him into a hero. He’s just a dude with an extremely narrow-minded focus on the martial arts and law and order.
Dr. E. Paul Zehr, a professor of neuroscience and kinesiology at the University of Victoria, presented his analysis of the possibility of developing Batman skills at Comic-Con, and he concluded that most of what Batman does can be achieved through long years of training, a fair amount of cash, and the right genetic traits promoting excellent coordination and strength. But getting there will take a long time:
At yesterday’s Comic-Con panel Unlocking Arkham: Forensic Psychiatry and Batman Rogues Gallery, three psychiatrists—H. Eric Bender (UCLA), Vasilis Pozios (University of Michigan), and Praveen Kambam (Case Medical Center)—applied real-world psychiatric standards to Gotham to see whether whether Batman’s enemies were really criminally insane, and belonged in Arkham Asylum, or if they were just mean and belonged in Blackgate Penitentiary.
The trio paraded out a series of cases: Maximillian “Maxie” Zeus, who thought he was Zeus and above the law; Victor Zsasz, who killed people to spare them from the misery of life; Joker groupie Dr. Harleen Quinzel (aka “Harley Quinn”); and the Joker himself. The charges were your standard supervillain fare: kidnapping, conspiracy, murder, a raft of unpaid parking tickets, etc. The docs broke down the scientific criteria needed to gauge whether each had the competency to stand trial and the nuances between personality disorder and severe mental illness.
Turns out, Gotham and New York forensic psychiatry don’t exactly see eye to eye.
Zeus was deemed delusional because, well, he thought he was Zeus; what’s more, he couldn’t tell right from wrong. Verdict? Insane. Back to Arkham, would-be lord of Olympus.
Zsasz, on the other hand, was deemed delusional but still cognizant of right and wrong. Verdict? Sane. To prison with you, Vic.
It’s going to take a little while for us to fit the video from yesterday’s splendid Mad Science panel through the tubes back to the Hive Overmind Nerve Center (i.e., onto the DISCOVER site), but in the meantime, suffice to say that it was pretty great. The panel featured Jaime Paglia (co-Executive Producer of Eureka), Kevin Grazier (Battlestar Galactica and Eureka science adviser), Jane Espenson (Dollhouse, Battlestar, Caprica, and anything else in sci-fi TV that’s been good lately), Ricardo Gil da Costa (science adviser for Fringe), and Rob Chiappetta and Glenn Whitman (writers for Fringe).
I took notes along the way, so here are a couple of one-liners and insights to whet your appetite (I was writing fast, so apologies if the video later shows I have the wording slightly off):
“We’ll have hot robot action.” —Jane Espensen, on Caprica
“We don’t want people saying, ‘Gee, if only we’d tortured him harder.’” —Jane Espensen
“The plant episode. Yeah, that was so bad—and it was so good we didn’t do it.” —Jamie Paglia in response to Kevin Grazier’s idea for a Killer Tomatoes episode of Eureka
“We don’t want to cross over into magic.” —Jaime Paglia, explaining Eureka‘s rule for limiting the technology on the show
“You usually want to start with something very grounded, so that the viewers think they recognize it, and then you want to push past it,” Rob Chiappetta, on the role of science in Fringe
“It’s easier to get creepy and gross with biology then with astronomy.” —Rob Chiappetta
“You’ve never been to any astronomer parties.” —Phil Plait in response
“Kara just lay down in the grass.” —Jane Espensen, on the ending of Battlestar
Quantum Quest: A Cassini Space Odyssey is an animated film that makes use of data from NASA’s Cassini mission. The movie tells the story of Dave, a solar surfing photo who battles his way through the solar system to save the Cassini probe from evil aliens.
Twelve years in the making, Quantum Quest has cycled through at least a couple of voice casts. At last year’s Comic Con Quantum Quest panel, producer Harry “Doc” Kloor, a scientist and veteran science fiction writer, announced that he had lined up Digimax Inc., a Taiwanese animation studio, as his partner to finish the film.
At this year’s panel, featuring Bob Picardo, Doug Jones andJanina Gavankar, Kloor announced that the movie will see wide release in February 2010 and will include actual Cassini images, including Enceladus and Titan.
This morning, io9 demonstrated that in addition to putting out an awe-inspiring blog every day, they could also put on a mind-expanding Comic Con panel. With no Hollywood celebrities and just a couple of special guests, our favorite sci-fi bloggers ran through the TV shows, movies, comics and books of the past year that “blew our minds without blowing up any giant robots.”
Here are a few of their recommendations:
Moon -Duncan Jones’s new movie topped the list for both Annalee Newitz and Meredith Woerner. Like a lot of the works recommended by the panel, Moon explores what it means to be human in a rapidly approaching era where humanity can be technologically upgraded or artificially created (note: this is not a spoiler, the lead character realizes very early in the film that he is a clone).
Julian Comstock – In this novel, Robert Charles Wilson depicts a 22nd century American that has sunk into barbarism and theocracy. In response, the hero undermines the regime in part through trying to popularize ideas about Darwin in a world that has forgotten about science.
Rest - What if someone invented a pill that meant no one would ever have to sleep, with no adverse side effects? Panel guest Bonnie Burton from StarWars.com picked the Devil’s Due comic Rest, which explores this idea and its implications on society, the environment and mental health.
Wonton Soup – James Stokoe’s comic, recommended by Graeme McMillan, investigates what humans would do if they had to be out in space for a really long time. Apparently the answers are get high and cook alien recipes.
Infoquake – io9 editor Charlie Jane Anders picked a series of novels by David Louis Edelman. In Edelman’s future, people can hack and upgrade their own bodies and brains, impacting human relations in both the literal and business senses of the phrase.
Are you at Comic-Con or intending to get there within the next day? Then come tomorrow to Science Not Fiction’s panel, Mad Science, produced in conjunction with Jennifer Ouellette and our partners over at the Science & Entertainment Exchange. Why “mad”? We’ll be looking at science as a double-edged sword, ethically and morally neutral itself, but capable of being used for much good and evil. The panel will be moderated by DISCOVERmagazine.com’s own Bad Astronomer, Phil Plait, and includes this star-studded cast:
Jaime Paglia — co-Executive Producer of Eureka
Kevin Grazier — Battlestar Galactica and Vituality science advisor
Jane Espenson — major sci-fi writer/producer: Firefly, Dollhouse, Battlestar, and on and on
Rob Chiappetta and Glenn Whitman — writers for Fringe
Ricardo Gil da Costa — neuroscientist and adviser for Fringe
If you’re convinced, then go to Room 6DE tomorrow (Thursday) July 23rd, 6:00-7:00.
If you’re not yet convinced, consider this: Our panel at last year’s ‘Con was SRO in a 1,000-person room—some folks couldn’t even get in the door—and this year’s panel is studded with even more stars.
For those unfortunate ones who got left behind (like yours truly), don’t mourn too hard: We’ll have the video from the panel posted here soon-ish.
We are teaming up with Jennifer Ouellette and the crew at the Science and Entertainment Exchange to produce a panel on “MAD SCIENCE,” i.e. Science as a double-edged sword, ethically and morally neutral in and of itself, but dependent upon who wields it, and how.
Beloved Internet Personality Phil Plait is lined up to moderate (after he gets his tattoo) and we’re expecting guests from Eureka, Battlestar Galactica, Fringe, Stargate: Universe and more. Watch this space for additional details.
I have been laid low for the last few days by some dreadful lurgy I caught on the plane back from San Diego, but people have been hard at work behind the scenes putting together this edit of the video of our “Science Behind Science Fiction Panel” at this year’s Comic-con. From left to right you have Kevin Grazier (science advisor to Eureka and Battlestar Galactica), Jaime Paglia (co-creater and executive producer of Eureka), Phil Plait (Bad Astronomy blogger) and myself. We talked about how science makes its way into a script, how scientific accuracy is maintained (or not) and the value of retconning. Enjoy!