As Ned Stark dies, science fiction is reborn.

Just a mere two years ago, it seemed as though Science Fiction’s popularity as a genre was dying in the United States. The nice folks over at even created this nice little infographic for us, detailing the rise and fall of Sci Fi and Fantasy esteem on television, both in a steady decline after receiving a sincere whooping from reality television.  Although it does sadly look like reality TV is here to stay, at least for a little while longer, it also appears that both Sci Fi and Fantasy are in the midst of a popular comeback tour.

Headlining for the Fantasy fanatics, we have the Game of Thrones HBO program, based on the popular Song of Ice and Fire book series. I have not read the books myself, and the only two scenes of the show I’ve witnessed both happened while walking through my living room when others were watching it – one with the unnaturally blond chick drenched in blood from consuming a human heart, and the other with a woman breastfeeding a young boy who looks to be about 9 or 10 years old – so while I personally do not share the same enthusiasm for Sunday’s premiere, I do recognize I am very much in the minority and should probably give these books a chance. Season 1’s finale brought in over 3 million viewers, trumping the ever popular Vampire porn series, True Blood, and leveling the same playing field as Boardwalk Empire. With these figures and a projected even higher audience for Season 2, it’s hardly feasible to regard Fantasy as a dying genre in 2012.

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, it should come as no surprise to anyone that playing in SciFi’s court, we have The Hunger Games. This popular book series took it to the big screen, hitting theaters last weekend. Although only in its second week, The Hunger Games has already broken box office records, grossing an estimated $155 million in its opening weekend and selling out more than 2,000 show times before Friday’s premiere to reach the highest advance ticket sales of any non-sequel movie. Even with sequels included in the mix, The Hunger Games still scored highly on the charts, ranking as third-highest opening gross ever, beat only by Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 and The Dark Knight. To top that off, it also receives the award for biggest opening weekend for a non-summer release. I’d call that a return with a vengeance for Sci Fi!

Although reality television remains America’s guilty pleasure we love to hate, it is extremely refreshing to see both big and small screen hits stemming from literary roots. And, you know, the reassurance that our country still has the ability to branch out of the Kardashian/Jersey Shore bubble once in a while.



Game of Thrones, Fantasy and Allegorical Racism

If you haven’t been watching Game of Thrones, I have to say, I’m surprised by good it has been. HBO has turned its unique brand of moral relativism, sliding loyalties and gritty realism to the world of fantasy and given the old Dungeons and Dragons set something real to think about:

HBO: Game of Thrones: Homepage.

But as I watched last night, it finally struck me that fantasy writing is inherently racist. You would never expect Tolkien’s dwarves to ride horses, nor his elves to dig tunnels through the earth. Such things are simply not done by those races. They stay within their very narrow scope of definition.

The races in Game of Thrones are at least as unidimensional as anything you’re likely to see in other fantasy novels. What makes the whole thing stand out is that, in an attempt to make that world more real and less about dragons and fairies, the show drops all pretense of genuine genetic difference and merely makes each race a slightly modified version of some half-identifiable human nationality.

You could have at least understood that Ents would not have cross-bred with Elves. Nor Hobbits with Dwarves for that matter, despite the presumably much more compatible genital-to-toes scale. No, they’re just very different creatures and there’s no reason to suspect they would intermingle.

In Game of Thrones, races are even less distinct than the nasal-modified races of modern Star Trek series – and not from other planets, either. There’s every reason to believe that they could and should intermarry. But with rare exceptions, they do not. Everything stays within an orderly set of stereotypes which are not stereotypes: of course, these are not races of Earth, but a completely different thing!

And I call this type of racism “allegorical” because it is not generally thought of as racism, but rather a vector by which more profound truths are to be revealed. There’s no malice, just storytelling. By reducing each race to even less of a caricature than the worst Earthly stereotypes, the author provides a parable about human life. Tolkien’s dwarves are hard-working but riddled by avarice; his elves wise to the point of folly; humans are filled with limitless courage and not much else. Each tells the story of both the good and the bad of what are generally considered positive attributes. And in general, I feel like my early years are the better for having read Tolkien and Tad Williams and all the rest.

But I wonder if anyone else gets the same uneasy feeling watching Game of Thrones that I do?