If there is a "throughline" for our moment in time, it's not something that condenses itself down to the kind of overarching planning found in fiction.
In Philip K. Dick's Ubik, there is a riotous moment where one of the main characters, whose credit rating is abysmal, has to pay five cents every time he wants to open his apartment door. Low on change and fed up, he grabs a screwdriver and starts to dismantle the door lock. The door threatens to sue him. What's best about this moment is how Dick probably just tossed it out over his shoulder.
The mere fact that David Lynch's Dune was made at all, and in the Hollywood of the early 1980s to boot, is something of a miracle. Would that it was a better adaptation of the source material, or just a better movie, period.
The mere fact that David Lynch's Dune was made at all, and in the Hollywood of the early 1980s to boot, is something of a miracle. Would that it was a better adaptation of the source material, or just a better movie, period. It seems best thought of as an SF-tinged descendant of conventional Hollywood historical costume epics -- The Ten Commandments, Ben-Hur, Cleopatra, Spartacus -- as it has both the best qualities of those projects (epic scope, ambitious plotting, fun casting) and their worst (ponderousness, pretentiousness, miscalculations of pace and tone).
Frank Herbert's now-classic novel used the struggle for resources in the Middle East as the jumping-off point for a blend of soft SF and James A. Michener-esque historical fiction that still remains unsurpassed. Two feuding noble houses in a far-future universe enter into a tricky agreement to transfer control of a strategically important planet, a wasteland that no one would bother with were it not for the invaluable, druglike substance harvested from its sands. When the Atreides, receivers of the planet, are betrayed by the Harkonnen, its former custodians, the dauphin of the Atreides goes into hiding with his mother, and finds he's being received as a messiah by the indigenous population.
In a field that's trend-driven, all the most interesting and truly groundbreaking work can only come from the fringes.
I've long felt the main problems with SF&F are things that stem from the perverse incentives created by publishing. Publishing's a business with disgustingly small profit margins, so experimentation and risk are discouraged. At the very least, you want to make back your investment or minimize your losses; at the most, you want to sell millions of copies or have your work turned into a major multimedia franchise.
Darren Aronofsky's ingenious micro-budget debut, twenty-plus years later, holds up better than some of his bigger-budgeted efforts
"I'm so close," implores Max Cohen (Sean Gullette), the paranoid, insular protagonist of Darren Aronofsky's debut feature Pi. He was a math prodigy with a doctorate in number theory before he was old enough to drink. Now he lives in a cavelike Chinatown apartment, surrounded by the looming towers of his homebrew supercomputer Proteus, struggling to apply his theories to the stock market and nursing brutal cluster headaches that incapacitate him for days at a time. But Pi is not about number theory or Wall Street sorcery; it's about the torment of believing you have the keys to creation in your head, and not being able to get them out.
Numbers are the only thing that make sense to Max. Graph the numbers of a system, he tells himself, and patterns emerge -- patterns that allow predictions to be made, that allow mastery of the world where before only chaos reigned. Other human beings are alien territory. Even the little girl who lives upstairs from Max and plays math games with him just makes him more uneasy. His friendly neighbor Devi (Samia Shoaib) makes him samosas, but Max has no idea how to return such dotage. The only other person with whom he finds anything like solace is his crusty mentor Sol (Mark Margolis), now retired after a crippling stroke put an end to his career of chasing patterns in numbers.
Near-future SF has always struck me as the most precarious kind of SF, because of its sell-by date.
Kritzer’s author’s note at the end is well worth reading, both in its own right and as context for the book’s truncation. “One of the interesting things about near-future science fiction is that sometimes you catch up to the future while you’re still writing it,” she says, before addressing the reality of revising a book in the Twin Cities while Minneapolis was on fire during mass protests and a pandemic. The overall slowness of publishing means that several of the books in this roundup include afterwords that try to bridge the gap between composition before 2020’s upheavals and revision or production throughout them, offering a surreal glimpse into the limits of fiction.
Near-future SF has always struck me as the most precarious kind of SF, because of its sell-by date. It also strikes me that the best way to avoid such issues is not to be in the business of predicting anything, but rather just tracing implications. Phil K. Dick's Flow My Tears, The Policeman Said was clearly written during the time of student unrest throughout the United States, but it hasn't dated much, if at all. It's more about the conundrum of identity and the problem of being true to yourself in a world where people don't want that from you, and those things are timeless.
A kooky example of science fiction from Hong Kong, a cinematic world that has relatively little SF to begin with.
Most "science fiction movies" have historically been action films with some SF elements thrown in for spice. The exceptions stand out both for their de-emphasis on action and their uncommon intelligence generally: Arrival, Primer, Upstream Color, Stalker, Solaris, Pi. Sometimes you had fusions of science fiction and action that worked: The Terminator, Blade Runner (and 2049), the high parts of the Alien franchise. But for the most part SF in the movies exists as a leavener, not as a base.
I Love Maria hails from Hong Kong, whose film industry isn't known for having much SF at all in any form. In that sense it's more typical of a Western science-fiction movie; actually, it's closest in spirit to a mainstream Hollywood comedy with SF sprinkles. But it stands out from the few other Hong Kong SF productions for actually putting SF elements onscreen, even if on the cheap, instead of leaving it at the level of a modern-day technology-based thriller (Bitcoin Heist). It also uses the kind of shameless, slapstick humor I find myself laughing at even when I know it's Naked Gun dumb.
Twenty years later, the Wachowskis' digital fable still stands tall, outliving the slickness of the moment and attempts to misappropriate it
Most work we consider maverick and radical comes from the margins. The Matrix bundled genuinely radical concepts into the last place one would expect them: a slick, effects-laden action-movie framework. Its studio, Warner Brothers, promoted it like any other blockbuster project, but cleverly avoided giving away any of its biggest secrets in its trailers or ads. It all worked: not only did the movie rake in hundreds of millions and spawn two (ill-conceived, I feel) sequels, it made itself felt in pop-culture consciousness like little since Star Wars. If that isn't a piece of subversive cultural engineering, I don't know what is.
"A mythology for the information age" was the label I came up with for The Matrix not long after seeing it. Twenty-plus years later, the label continues to stick. The information age is now the disinformation age, and our world has become virtual unreality -- not because it was strong-armed onto us, but because we cheerfully gave ourselves over to it thinking it was a good idea. Against all this, the Wachowskis' digital fable still stands tall, outliving the slickness of the moment and resisting attempts to misappropriate it.
This page contains an archive of posts in the category Science Fiction Repair Shop
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