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Elizabeth Sandifer

Elizabeth Sandifer created Eruditorum Press. She’s not really sure why she did that, and she apologizes for the inconvenience. She currently writes Last War in Albion, a history of the magical war between Alan Moore and Grant Morrison. She used to write TARDIS Eruditorum, a history of Britain told through the lens of a ropey sci-fi series. She also wrote Neoreaction a Basilisk, writes comics these days, and has ADHD so will probably just randomly write some other shit sooner or later. Support Elizabeth on Patreon.


  1. Daibhid C
    December 21, 2012 @ 3:28 am

    I've said before that there's only one Lawrence Miles book I've read that I actually liked (Alien Bodies). This is the only Lawrence Miles book I haven't read that I've always sort of wished I had.

    Incidentally, the Star Trek novel "Federation" claims that because transporters work at the quantum, rather than atomic, level, the people who are transported really are the same people moved from one place to another, and not identical copies with all their memories.

    It's not made clear how they tested this…


  2. Abigail Brady
    December 21, 2012 @ 4:32 am

    The tech manuals claim that the transporters actually move the original atoms as part of the "matter stream". This can be reconciled with "Realm of Fear", but not with "Second Chances" or "The Enemy Within".

    Ultimately Star Trek wasn't very interested in introspection, worldbuilding, or figuring out the social consequences of its technology. So it was never going to address that.


  3. Elizabeth Sandifer
    December 21, 2012 @ 4:35 am

    Which is the heart of MIles's criticism, really.


  4. Ross
    December 21, 2012 @ 5:29 am

    My recollection, though it might be a bit dim at this point, is that when they introduced Spare Riker, they were 100% explicit that transporters do not normally make a copy of someone and kill the original. But they very jarringly failed to give any sort of explanation for how that was, not even a pile of goofy technobabble — they just sort of asserted it by fiat and gave the audience a dirty look for even suggesting as much. (Though they were very clear that neither one was the 'unbeamed original'; if you interpret transporters as making a copy and destroying the original, both of them were still from the "copy" side of the process)


  5. Adam Riggio
    December 21, 2012 @ 2:52 pm

    As you describe it here, Miles' work is part of a wave that seems to have transformed how science fiction works. In good sci-fi, the characters implicitly (and sometimes explicitly, as in Down or Whedon's Cabin in the Woods) understand their nature as fictional objects obeying the laws of a genre instead of the laws of the actual world. Or rather, they are written as having implicit knowledge of their nature as genre. And most of the time in sci-fi, this meta-textual awareness can work much better than how it's often played out in the genre were it gets the most press, postmodern literary fiction.

    Unless you're working at the sophistication and talent level of a Pynchon or Pirandello, most attempts at genre awareness inside literary fiction are insufferably pretentious and seem to exist for no other point than to brag about how clever their genre-awareness is. The style of sci-fi to tend toward action or at least exciting plots lets the genre-awareness recede into the background, but sometimes even before more powerful in shaping how the story unfolds just for that.

    If anything, sci-fi written without this kind of implicit genre-awareness looks hopelessly naive, like revisiting one of the Golden Age pulps or films. The characters in those kinds of stories are completely serious, and often one-dimensional in how functional they are for the plot. In Doctor Who terms, the base under siege plot proceeded with a dulling repetition when the characters just appeared and walked through their paces, taking it all seriously. The War Games started the backpedal against those days by having been written with their authors aware of the problems of bases under siege and crafting a story that, in part, turned it upside down. That's why the Saward era felt so retrograde: all the characters were one-dimensionally serious about filling their plot functions. Nyssa and Tegan never had any emotional payoff in their interactions with the Master because those payoffs were tangential to the immediate plot of each story where the Master appeared.

    The sci-fi genre awareness has developed as a sense of humour about the characters' own existence. Not in terms of quipping or anything as superficial as that, but a tongue-in-cheek attitude about the events of the story. That was all over Buffy as well. Not being able to take the plot too seriously keeps the characters involved, but with a slight remove, giving them space to develop as individuals beyond their functional plot roles. That space gives them space to develop more emotional drama story to story as well. Come to think of it, that was all over Buffy too. And it's pretty much the entire method and madness to post-2005 Doctor Who.

    Buffy is going to be damn important, isn't it?


  6. BerserkRL
    December 21, 2012 @ 5:50 pm

    No reference to "Think Like a Dinosaur"?


  7. Steven Clubb
    December 22, 2012 @ 4:07 am

    One of the big problems of genre-awareness is there's a reason why these cliches and tropes exist in the first place, and that's to facilitate plot.

    The Star Trek teleporters exist to get the Enterprise from Point A to Point B with a minimum of time and special effects. It's a sonic screwdriver, where it does exactly what it's supposed to do unless there's a good dramatic reason for it not to.

    If you start poking at the logic of these conventions, then you're going to need to replace it with something else as you're dealing with formulaic adventure fiction. Not only that, you need to replace it with something easily reproduced in other stories.

    And this is where so much post-modernism fails in adventure fiction. They dismantle something which works and fail to create a viable alternative. Cabin in the Woods is quite clever, but it's really a one-shot trick because it never really rises above being a commentary on over-used horror cliches.

    Whereas his Buffy works because he uses genre-awareness to create new situations and resolutions. He alternates between uses the standard cliches and subverting them, creating a world with more possibilities.


  8. Elizabeth Sandifer
    December 22, 2012 @ 7:37 am

    I'm not sure I see being a one-trick pony as a flaw in a movie, though.


  9. Steven Clubb
    December 22, 2012 @ 8:00 am

    In a self-contained story, no. But it's not the sort of thing which can be built upon beyond "come up with something original, guys". Franchises need formulas and tropes.


  10. Steven Clubb
    December 22, 2012 @ 7:05 pm

    Back on my desktop to expand on my phone post.

    When I say one-shot, I don't mean one-trick pony. I just mean something which can only work once. Watchmen is a one-shot concept and it's an amazing, multifaceted deconstruction of the super-hero genre. Lots of tricks being utilized, but there's no logical follow-up to it.

    In interviews since then, Moore has said it was pretty much a throwing down of the gauntlet to inspire other writers to attempt works as complex as it (not necessarily super-hero works)… and those other writers responded with weak echos of his work instead.

    I don't think he ever intended people to write Superman and Batman like that and seems quite horrified that many tried to do just that.


  11. Ununnilium
    December 23, 2012 @ 7:09 am

    "the real application of this technology is not, in fact, teleportation but the fact that all objects regardless of value are now trivially reproducible out of thin air and thus a post-scarcity economy can be achieved straightforwardly"

    Isn't taking the original series's teleporters and extrapolating that from it the entire basis of TNG?


  12. Ununnilium
    December 23, 2012 @ 7:51 am

    "In good sci-fi, the characters implicitly (and sometimes explicitly, as in Down or Whedon's Cabin in the Woods) understand their nature as fictional objects obeying the laws of a genre instead of the laws of the actual world."

    I disagree that any kind of metafictional awareness is a requisite for good science fiction. (To make good science fiction, you need to make good fiction, and have some part of it be an extrapolation of current scientific knowledge!)

    But I think one thing you really do need, if you're doing something that extends out from the present in any way, are characters who are aware that science fiction is a thing that exists; that these ideas exist in the culture and that there are certain expectations that come with them. Knowing about and commenting on cliches has, at this point, passed from metafiction into realism.


  13. Ununnilium
    December 23, 2012 @ 8:00 am

    And I agree! Taking things apart is pointless by itself; it needs to be a step towards putting them back together in a better, more useful, more beautiful way.


  14. Spacewarp
    December 23, 2012 @ 12:09 pm

    This is an issue that is addressed very directly (and with consequences crucial to the plot) in Algis Budrys' rather good novel "Rogue Moon". As I recall they even have a bin full of rocks next to each "receiver" as raw material to make transported people out of.



  15. elvwood
    December 24, 2012 @ 4:45 am

    Wash: Psychic, though? That sounds like something out of science fiction.

    Zoe: You live on a spaceship, dear.


  16. cardboardrobot
    January 3, 2013 @ 7:03 am

    Indeed, "Think Like a Dinosaur" is a great short story addressing the topic of transporters killing and copying people. And if I recall correctly, it was adapted into a decent (New) Outer Limits episode.


  17. neroden@gmail
    December 14, 2013 @ 5:51 pm

    "Miles has little patience with or regard for most of science fiction as a genre."

    Maybe that's why Lawrence Miles writes such bad Doctor Who most of the time. Doctor Who is, still, science fiction — and he's bad at writing it because he doesn't actually like it.

    Down is one of his best, for the textual reasons you describe. Alien Bodies was fun, though mainly because of the Kroton switch-up. Adventuress of Henrietta Street was fun, but I can't actually call it good. The other books he wrote were mostly just mean, layered with incoherent. Especially "Interference", which probably should have stayed in the slushpile where it sat for a year.

    The worst, though, is "Christmas on a Rational Planet", which lays out Miles's hatred of science fiction in a particularly strikingly sexist fashion which I've never forgiven him for. I also don't know why the sexism wasn't caught by the editor and nixed — was it still Bex Levene or was it Simon Winstone by then?


  18. Theonlyspiral
    December 14, 2013 @ 6:19 pm

    If you're doing an archive binge and writing hate comments for Miles I don't think you're going to agree with Doctor Sandifer's take.


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