Science Fiction Thursday: "Cosmos", Sir Patrick Stewart, SHIELD Casting, and Terry Pratchett

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Science Fiction Thursday: "Cosmos", Sir Patrick Stewart, SHIELD Casting, and Terry Pratchett

By Steven Lloyd Wilson | Trade News | March 27, 2014 | Comments ()


It’s time for science fiction Thursday again, which makes three weeks in a row. Keep that kind of consistency up, and this might officially be a “column” instead of a “convenient excuse for an article when I run out of ideas.” And once it’s a column, I can become a prima donna, which I think is like the Doctor Donna, so it’s topical. There are a couple of more steps, but then we get to the cocaine bender, and we all knew that’s where this bus was heading eventually.

So what does the best genre in the universe have for us this week?

How about Sir Patrick Stewart showing up on the upcoming episode of Cosmos, voicing William Herschel? Here’s an illustrative clip:

The episode is called A Sky Full of Ghosts, which is awesome both inherently and because I had no idea the individual episodes had titles until now. I really shouldn’t have led with this, because it can’t possibly get better.

In other television news, Amy Acker has joined the cast of Agents of SHIELD as Agent Coulson’s cellist girlfriend, which puts two of the five main cast from Angel in there. On the bright side both of them already have practice dying in a Whedon show, because it’s not like that’s not coming. Oh, spoiler alert. In other other television news, Agents of SHIELD is still on television.

And on the literary front, Terry Pratchett’s latest Discworld novel just arrived in America last week. The British have had it for four months, because apparently we can get Downton Abbey at the same time now, but they still have to send novels across the pond on the freaking Titanic. Many Granthams died to bring you this information. This one is the latest in the Moist von Lipwig sub-series, in which the con-man turned bureaucrat finds himself in charge of the newly invented railroad system.

If you haven’t read Pratchett, there’s no way to put this politely, but you’re a failure and your parents should be ashamed of you. But wait! It’s not too late, so put the pills away and pick up one of his novels. The comments should be filled with people telling you exactly which one to start with (the series is not episodic, so there are many on ramps). To encourage you to do so, here is one of my favorite quotes to let you know the sort of gorgeous depth of thought mixed with hilarity that is in store for you:

“Vimes had never got on with any game much more complex than darts. Chess in particular had always annoyed him. It was the dumb way the pawns went off and slaughtered their fellow pawns while the kings lounged about doing nothing that always got to him; if only the pawns united, maybe talked the rooks round, the whole board could’ve been a republic in a dozen moves.”

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Comments Are Welcome, Bigots and Trolls Are Not

  • mzblackwidow

    "You can't trample infidels when you're a tortoise. I mean, all you could
    do is give them a meaningful look."

  • Yocean

    I have read Good Omens. Does that count? At least as a half point?

  • BiblioGlow

    Since Good Omens is 90% Pratchett and 10% Gaiman, you get a .9 . Also this is my way of telling people that if they liked Good Omens, the parts they liked were written by Pratchett, and they should go read some more Pratchett instead of continuing to wade through Gaiman's hit-or-miss body of work.

  • NateMan

    Oh, I also recommend Pratchett's new scifi series, The Long Earth, very highly. It's Pratchett philosophy grounded in reality - or what reality would be if we could access the multiverse using a small device that requires a potato for electricity.

  • NateMan

    My wife is a wonderful woman and so ordered a copy of Raising Steam from the UK for my Christmas present. I have never regretted buying a Pratchett book. He remains the only author who can consistently get me to burst out laughing or dissolve into tears. Wee Free Men in particular makes both happen every time I read it.

  • e jerry powell

    "Cosmos" is only fiction to fundamentalist Christians, thanks...

  • narfna

    Amy. ACKER. Yessssssssssssss.
    (I'm still watching SHIELD, apparently.)

  • Reading the latest chapter from TWOW that GRRM has leaked out. And hey, it's Mercy's chapter!

    “I’ll grow titties in a year or two.” Mercy rose, to tower over the
    little man. “But you’ll never grow another nose. You think of that,
    before you touch me there.”

  • I've got a(nother) stack of Pratchett I'm working my way through. Currently I'm in Sourcery. I'm rather frequently cackling out loud at Starbuxx while reading....much to the consternation of my over-caffeinated compatriots.

    I've heard the films/miniseries Discworld stuff is good. Can anyone comment on availability and quality?

  • All three of the miniseries/TV adaptations are worth your time. In another weird Discworld/Downton juxtaposition, Hogfather introduced me to Michelle Dockery (sigh) long before she was Lady Mary.

  • NateMan

    They were on Netflix Instant a few months ago. Dunno about now. Hogfather is very close to the book, and Going Postal wasn't bad but took more liberties. Pratchett is one of those authors who work loses a bit of its charm when translated to film, I think.

    That said, I'd pay serious money for a big budget version of Wee Free Men, done with the right director, actors, and effects.

  • Fabius_Maximus

    Taking liberties in film adaptions is a good thing, at least when it comes to language. The written word doesn't translate well into moving pictures most of the time, because it tends to be rather stilted. That's why I think Going Postal was the best to date.

  • Fabius_Maximus

    I don't know about availability, but the only one that's any good is "Going Postal". "Hogfather" works in parts. They have mostly good to great actors (Charles Dance!), but the dialogue's often too stiff.

  • foolsage

    I enjoyed "Hogfather", though "Going Postal" is my favorite Discworld film to date. The film version of "The Colour of Magic" was passable, though as Afferbeck noted below, Jeremy Iron's Vetinari was... a bit odd. Sean Astin was a very pleasant Twoflower though, and any movie with Tim Curry, Brian Cox, and Christopher Lee is worth checking out, from my perspective. Oh, and yes, David Bradley is a very amusing Cohen the Barbarian.

    Of the animated films, I've seen "Wyrd Sisters" and "Soul Music". Neither were all that memorable, I fear.

  • I checked on availability, and they are only on the disc version of Netflix. Haven't checked other sources yet.

    I had also heard that David Bradley (a.k.a. Argus Filch) played Cohen the Barbarian in one of them.

  • Afferbeck

    Oh yes, Dance's Vetinari was amazing! Jeremy Irons was a more faithful physical representation but the silly lisp he did kind of ruined the impact. Then Dance played him to perfection. He then of course went on to play Tywin Lannister who is basically the same character except slightly more malevolent.

  • Afferbeck

    I recall the first couple of miniseries being pretty average but I did enjoy Going Postal. No idea about the current availability, legal-styles anyway.

  • Three_nineteen

    I heard a rumor once. If you go to and add a UK address to your account, then go to and order an ebook using the UK address, the book will mysteriously show up in your Kindle app even if you can't get said book in the US. I don't know if that works, since doing such a thing may be illegal and of course I would never do anything illegal, but still, the rumors are around.

  • John W

    Amy Acker! Amy Acker! Amy Acker! Amy Acker!

  • How do I upvote more than once?

  • Fabius_Maximus

    "Raising Steam" was a bit of a letdown. I don't know how much Pratchett is affected by his illness, but it could have been the reason.
    The first part is ... unwieldy. The characters are flat, the dialogue rambles on and the story doesn't get going. The second part, when the story eventually picks up speed, is better.

    The Discworld books are episodic in parts. There are a lot of standalone novels, the best one being "Small Gods".

    The major series can be divided as such:

    The Watch (starting with "Guards, Guards!") tells the story of the Ankh-Morpork Night Watch, a collection of a handful of failed, disinterested and slightly scummy individuals (or very scummy, when you look at Nobby Nobbs, altough you really don't want to) with the task of policing a city of over a million inhabitants that polices itself. It is also the very personal story of Capt. Samual Vimes. Best books in the series is "Night Watch".

    The Witches (starting with "Equal Rites"/"Wyrd Sisters") deals with the Lancre coven: Magrat Garlick, the Maiden and a hopeless romantic; Nanny Ogg, the Mother and so down to earth she basically lives inside it; and Esmerelda Weatherwax, the Cr... the Other One, who is the most serious and terrifying of the three. The series theme is the supernatural, or what humans think it is. "Wyrd Sisters" is a hilarious riff on MacBeth. The second book "Witches Abroad" has houses fall on protagonists when they wear red shoes. Best book is a toss-up between "Lords and Ladies" (Elves) and "Carpe Jugulum" (Vampyres).

    Rincewind (starting with "The Colour of Magic"): Rincewind is a Wizzard, at least that's what's written on his hat. He has no talent for magic, but is very good at getting in over his head and running. He runs away from everywhere, which results in a Discworld travelogue, and meets interesting characters on the way (including Cohen the Barbarian and Twoflower, the Discworld's first tourist). Pratchett has not written a book starring him in quite some time, but the best one is "Interesting Times", with "The Last Continent" a close second.

    Death and the family (starting with "Mort"): Death is very, very (very) thin, wears a black robe, carries a scythe, likes cats and enjoys the occasional curry. He also had a daughter. His granddaughter, Susan, is the main protagonist of most of the books in the series. She is a very Serious person and has no patience for her grandfather's whimsies, but gets mixed up in them often. The best book in the series is "Hogfather".

    Moist von Lipwig, the scoundrel with the unfortunate name (starting with "Going Postal"): Moist is a con artist. When he gets caught, the Patrician of Ankh-Morpork lets him chose between death and taking over the dilapidated Post Office. Moist choses the latter, with the hope of vanishing unnoticed into the night later, but a certain tenacious and cheery golem prevents that. In the series, Moist jumps from Postmaster General to head of the Royal Bank in "Making Money" and acts as facilitator of the first railway network in "Raising Steam". Of the the three books, "Going Postal" is the best.

    Pratchett has also written a few young adult novels, including "The Amzing Maurice and his Educated Rodents" (his version of the Piper of Hamelin) and the Tiffany Aching series about a young witch (which I haven't read yet).

  • NateMan

    Pratchett is both flagging and, I think, desperate to get every idea and philosophy out onto paper while he can. I don't mean that as an insult; Pratchett at his worst remains better than 99.99% of the writers out there. But he's lost a bit of his subtlety.

  • Stephen Nein

    A recent one-off is Unseen Academicals, which is just fantastic. Because? Because it makes me care about football (soccer) and most sport just bores the utter hell out of me. I can barely work myself to supporting my employer's teams, and they're all RABID right now because we're in the basketball Sweet Sixteen for the first time in 15 years.

  • NateMan

    It took a second reading (this time in audio) for me to really enjoy Unseen Academicals. It, like Raising Steam, tried just a bit too hard. That said, introducing an orc character the way he did, and as usual the scalpel he takes to society was brilliant. It's good, but still not one of my faves. My favorite standalone remains Amazing Maurice and His Educated Rodents.

  • Wednesday

    The Tiffany Aching books are my favorites, followed closely by the Night Watch books. Tiff is a fantastic heroine, completely grounded and sensible. If you like Granny Weatherwax, imagine her as a teenager, and you'll come close to Tiffany.

  • emmalita

    I adore Tiffany Aching. She is my number one favorite book character of all time. And my number one favorite Pratchett observation of all time is in the Tiffany Aching series - not all old people are wise. Sometimes stupid people get old too. That's a paraphrase, Pratchett is both more eloquent and funnier.

  • NateMan

    Yes. Oh yes.

    Edit: The first 3 are great, and then I Shall Wear Midnight took such a turn into darkness. Not a bad one, but holy poop did that end up a bit terrifying and dark. I'll let my daughter start reading the others by the time she's 8 or so, but Midnight's going to have to wait until she's a teen.

  • Stephen Nein

    You, sir, have the best freaking job on the Internet.

  • BWeaves

    Moist von Lipwig? Are you making that up or did Pratchett?

  • foolsage
  • Afferbeck

    He went by many names. For obvious reasons because that was his real name. Albert Spangler was one of his most recent.

  • Kayanne

    So, I opened up this post and while chewing on my apple, this gem popped out at me:

    "Many Granthams died to bring you this information."

    I tried to laugh, but almost choked on my hunk of apple and then I snorted. Thank you for combining Star Wars and Downton Abbey for me. Now when ever I hear Mon Mothma's famous line I'll think of a hoard of Granthams and a dead Pamuk.

  • logan

    Hey my parents were ashamed of me FOR reading science fiction so your insults are null and void.

  • Stephen Nein

    "It was never a fair fight between fundamentalist Christianity and D&D. One was a dangerous system full of dark mysticism and threats to warp a young mind beyond repair, and the other was a tabletop RPG."

  • Fabius_Maximus

    "The gods of the Disc have never bothered much about judging the souls of the dead, and so people only go to hell if that's where they believe, in their deepest heart, that they deserve to go. Which they won't do if they don't know about it. This explains why it is so important to shoot missionaries on sight.”

    - Terry Pratchet, Eric

  • foolsage

    “That's why it's always worth having a few philosophers around the place. One minute it's all is truth beauty and is beauty truth, and does a falling tree in the forest make a sound if there's no one there to hear it, and then just when you think they're going to start dribbling one of 'em says, incidentally, putting a thirty-foot parabolic reflector on a high place to shoot the rays of the sun at an enemy's ships would be a very interesting demonstration of optical principles.” - Small Gods

  • "...because apparently we can get Downton Abbey at the same time now, but they still have to send novels across the pond on the freaking Titanic."

    We still don't get Downton Abbey at the same time. Wish we did.

    As for novels across the pond: They frequently edit them into a British edition, with proper British spellings and recognizable pop-culture references. I myself don't see the point in making sure color and labor are spelled with U, and requiring readers to actually broaden their cultural knowledge instead of dumbing it down for the lowest common denominator. But that's the mass media for you.

  • lowercase_see

    I reference the Vimes Boots Theory of Economics regularly.

    Loved The Truth so much, I named my car Mr. Tulip. Pratchett's character descriptions have always been utterly superlative, but he hit a new high with Mr. Tulip:
    • "Mr. Tulip lived his life on that thin line most people occupy just before they haul off and hit someone repeatedly with a wrench."
    • “Your Brain on drugs is a terrible sight, but Mr Tulip was living proof
    of the fact that so was Your Brain on a a cocktail of horse liniment,
    sherbet, and powdered water-retention pills."
    • "If his body was a temple it was one of those where they did weird things to animals and if he watched what he ate, it was only to see it wiggle."

    Yeah, but, Discworld. I started with Men at Arms and just picked at random from there. I think I own upwards of a dozen and they just never get old. Can read and reread. Night Watch is pretty fantastic as well.

  • Afferbeck

    I also find myself often reminded of Vimes' boots theory, which for those who don't know, basically says that a rich person can afford to buy a good pair of boots for $50 that last ten years, but a poor person can't afford to do that and is instead forced to buy crappy $10 boots that wear out every six months, in effect spending way more.

    I always enjoy this little quote: “If the Creator had said, "Let there be light" in
    Ankh-Morpork, he'd have got no further because of all the people saying
    "What colour?”

  • And Amy Acker has ample experience with Whedon shows dying as well.

    And might I recommend a Pratchett For Beginners post? Something saying, "Start with this book" and go here and here to ensure that you get the gist of Pratchett and know whether you want to continue or not.

  • A Pratchett for Beginners post should be a thing. We could consider it a support too for those doing Cannonball.

  • Afferbeck

    A good thing to include would be this
    It's only missing the latest one I think

  • Muhnah_Muhnah

    Best way to read Pratchett? Start at the beginning of the Discworld series and don't stop till you run out of books. You won't want to anyway.

  • Fabius_Maximus

    I disagree. The first few books are not very good and you can read them later. I'd recommend starting with "Guards, Guards!" - which features the above-quoted Vimes.

  • foolsage

    Agreed. The early stuff is the weakest by far, and Rincewind isn't of central importance to the series as a whole (oh, he's central, just not centrally important; generally he's running away). His stuff can wait.

  • Emmet O'Cuana


  • foolsage

    I wasn't saying the early Discworld stuff was dreck; it wasn't. There's a lot of good stuff there. But the later books are AWESOME; I think Pratchett really improved with time. I'd argue that the most recent 20 Discworld books are all among the funniest and most enjoyable I've ever read.

    To each their own though. :)

  • Afferbeck

    Yeah, in hindsight I would agree. The Rincewind books are some of my least favourite, though I think I could read the cantankerous bickering of the rest of the wizards for the rest of my days.

  • NateMan

    Rincewind doesn't really get entertaining until Interesting Times. Yeah, starting with Guards, Guards! is the best way to start. Or the Tiffany Aching series...

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