Sunday, January 20, 2008

EW Gets All Medieval on Sci-fi's Ass.

Entertainment Weekly – one of the two print magazines I subscribe to – has an article about SF, or as they call it in Hollywood, Sci-fi.

Apparently, Sci-fi is dead (again):

What movie genre is most in need of a savior as the New Year begins? For once, the answer isn't the musical … Instead, let's turn our attention to an unlikely candidate for a heart-and-brain transplant: science fiction.

Sci-fi is in trouble, though it's not the kind of trouble that can be measured at the box office, where it looks as healthy and robust as a T. rex must have seemed five minutes before it realized that there was nothing left to eat. The genre has been around for as long as the movies themselves, and flourished for the last 30 years. The problem is, none of the ideas are getting any newer.

Scratch that: The problem is, there are no ideas.

It goes on to explain that the current big Sci-fi hit is I Am Legend, based on a 1954 novel by Richard Matheson, Alien vs. Predator is a paradigm in its twenties, Battlestar Galactica is from the 70's and the Christmas DVD hit Blade Runner is from 1982, and based on a Philip K Dick novel which is even older.

It's all true, but I can't help thinking that it's not Sci-fi's …I'm sorry, they've got me at it now…I mean SF's problem. I've read some good brand-new books over the past couple of years and none of them was about Will Smith fighting aliens or outlasting the end of the world. You couldn't ask for a more movie-adaptable novel than Charles Stross' Glasshouse, with its middle section set in a prison that is a simulation of family life in the 1950's. What with the Fyoocher and Leave It To Beaver in there, it's IDEAL Hollywood fodder. John Scalzi's Old Man's War has all the Starship Troopers' jolly-ups in there along with a few new twists and some clever insights. His The Android's Dream has interplanetary politics, aliens, spaceships and a fart joke. Peter Watts' Blindsight might be a bit difficult for Hollywood, since it's about the limitations of consciousness in studying the phenomenon of consciousness, [1] but it has a kick-ass chase sequence and a bunch of bizarre aliens in it, so that should go over well. Then there was Robert Charles Wilson's Spin, a Hugo Winner in 2006, about aliens and threats to the Earth and all that stuff, but centered on a family; Ken McLeod's Hugo Nominated Learning the World, about mankind's colonists arriving at a new planet – a first contact story – of exceptional subtlety and imagination.

If Hollywood's out of Sci-fi ideas, it should try reading some SF, because there appear to be some floating around in there.

[1] Today's LA Times has an op-ed article on the study of consciousness that is so undergraduate in nature that any attempt to cover it in film has to be better. What the hell does "the brain is the most complicated object in the known universe" even mean? Scratch the undergraduate. It's a high school op ed piece.

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