Science fiction only now ‘character driven’? January 28, 2017Posted by WorldbyStorm in Uncategorized.
Call it the Tim Peake effect. Science fiction has always been as much about the human condition as saving the world from an alien invasion, but now a new wave of films and books are taking that interest one step further and developing an existentialist genre set in outer space.
An author, Katie Khan argues that:
…we are seeing a move towards more heartfelt science fiction. “I think you can trace it back to the popularity of Chris Hadfield [the Canadian commander of the International Space Station in early 2013] and his use of social media. Since then, Nasa has also made great use of social media – as did Tim Peake. What we’re seeing is a closing of the gap between what seems possible and what could never happen, and that opens the door for very human stories to be told amid the escapist fantasy of heading into space.”
Khan cites 2015’s The Martian and last year’s Arrival as examples of sci-fi films with heart, and it is true that both place our desire for connection at their core. Arrival, which nods to the great emotional sci-fi film of the late 1970s, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, is particularly concerned with how we communicate both with alien life forms and, crucially, with those we know best.
The success of Star Wars: The Force Awakens and recent spin-off Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, both of which are character-driven, also suggests that there is a growing desire for sci-fi that makes time for human relationships.
Well, it’s an idea. But I’m dubious. The article mentions Interstellar from 2014, but the idea that that was inspired by Hadfield, seems a bit unlikely. And this seems historically quite blind to previous waves of SF – the 1960s including 2001: A Space Odyssey, but many more were influenced precisely by issues in relation to technology and humans. Silent Running. Solyent Green. A Clockwork Orange. Close Encounters. Star Wars itself, and so on. Soviet SF, where does it end?
Some of these films were pretty bad, some were pretty good. But all were positioned precisely in the area of the issues mentioned above. And let’s not even talk about television science fiction.
As for books the proposition could not be more wrong. The idea that SF is only now examining the human condition is… unusual. I’ve boxes groaning under the weight of novels and short stories that have done and continue to do that since… well I can’t really name a date. Even being kind and saying it was the New Wave of SF in the 1960s that changed things ignores so many fine writers who came before that and did tackle with both technology and the human.
It is true that there seems to be a recent wave of big budget SF films but I’d have to go checking to see if this genuinely was different to previous half decades or whatever.
BTL comments point to the fallacy in the following:
“The idea of putting a man on Mars is no longer a great leap of imagination,” said David Barnett, whose novel Calling Major Tom was inspired by the moment in 2015 when British astronaut Peake called the wrong number from the International Space Station. “In the 1970s and 80s, space travel felt like something out of science fiction, but now it’s part of modern life, with astronauts tweeting and going on YouTube, and because of that, putting space travel in a book doesn’t freak out non-sci-fi fans as much as it might once have done.”
Really? The 1970s and 1980s, the time of Apollo, Skylab, the Space Shuttle? Compared to today space travel felt more everyday, less precarious, because it felt as if it was becoming normalised. Whereas today it feels as if it is not impossible that humans might sometime relatively soon leave even low earth orbit. I think that latter is unlikely. But not impossible.