Title: Projections: Science Fiction in Literature & Film
Editor: Lou Anders
Publisher: Monkeybrain Books
Publisher’s Blurb: From Lord of the Rings—called the greatest novel of the 20th Century—to The Matrix—one of the highest grossing films of all time … science fiction and fantasy have proved to be one of cinema and literature’s most enduring and popular genres. PROJECTIONS examines the history and the people, the science and the society, the lives, times and themes, the cultural impact and the critical response of the dynamic genre that is speculative fiction, as seen through the eyes of some of today’s most recognized writers.
There are many thoughtful essays in Projections from great authors including Michael Moorcock, Robert Silverberg, and Mike Resnick. These are authors who love SF/F with the care of a tender lover and who are not unafraid to point out the flaws. They, like so many I have encountered, want better for, and from, genre fiction.
Here’s a look at some of what caught my attention:
John Clute‘s “In Defense of Science Fiction,” still stands well as a demand for better, less bloated, less predictable, SF/F writing. This is a discussion I’ve had a few times with other readers. M. Todd Gallowglas has a wonderful essay called “Why Isn’t Fantasy More Fantastical?” in his book My Journey in Creative Reading. Michael Moorcock, in his famous essay “Epic Pooh,” also writes about demanding better from our genre.
Basically, without getting too much into the weeds about this, for far too long fans have been bullied by others who think of SF/F as an outlying type of literature. In a small-town high school, I was bullied for a lot of reasons, but reading something no one else had heard of was right up there near the top of the list.
Many have had the experience of being shamed by educators for reading SF/F, or even writing it. So as a community, we clung to what we knew and what was available. Which perpetuated this unfortunate Catch-22 of publishers publishing only what’s selling and fans buying it because that’s what’s available.
Clute’s essay is powerful because he delves into many of the reasons genre isn’t better. Some of which have to do with publishers and reviewers and categorizing, and other things which have led us to believe we belong in the far corner of reading and writing in all flavors.
I am here to tell you we do NOT belong in that corner. We belong wherever the hell we want, but we need better writing, better storytelling.
“… we’re going to need all the help we can get to see our way through. We cannot exclude any visions – any way to look at the world – that we humans have invented for ourselves. We are going to need all the ways to look.”
This is the way Clute ends his essay, and he’s right, no one can afford to exclude any vision which will help us survive the madness that is the world as we know it.
David Brin’s essay, “Achilles, Superman, and Darth Vader,” is a beautiful look at how movies have become more about the fancy effects than about story-telling. And he lays this directly at George Lucas‘ and Joseph Campbell‘s doors.
What Joseph Campbell did was point out all the positive themes and rhythms used in every ancient hero tale. George Lucas took all these predictable traits and turned them into Star Wars. Unfortunately, what both Campbell and Lucas did was make good and bad clear cut. By not considering the flawed and dark parts of any protagonist (and opposite for the antagonist), Brin maintains that what we cheer for in these triumphal stories is uniformity.
Know what? He’s right. Further, he’s right in pointing out that elitism gets a pass. Luke Skywalker starts as a humble small-town boy on an out of the way planet, and works himself into the ruling elite (both Jedi and royalty). Anything he does which could have negative consequences gets a pass, because he’s now a part of the elite ruling class, who are the same and believe they know what’s best/right for the rest of the galaxy. No one in the Star Wars universe is allowed to question the status quo.
Star Wars isn’t the only franchise he takes aim at. Star Trek gets a critical look, as do many of the other tropes in SF/F.
This is not to say that neither Brin nor I recognize the importance of these franchises in getting SF/F accepted by a broader audience and to take a crack at elevating story-telling. But I believe that we can both love something and be critical of it without diminishing the thing we love. Critical thinking enhances the way we read, and look, at SF/F, and gives us the tools to demand better from the creators.
My favorite essay in Projections is “The Matrix Trilogy” by Adam Roberts in which he applies multiple literature criticism lens to all three Matrix movies. It’s a thought provoking read. And while I loved the movies, especially the first one, there’s not a lot I disagree with in Roberts’ essay.
For instance, one of the themes he writes about is how limiting some of those interpretations could be. One of particular interest makes the trilogy into a Christian allegory. “Emphasising [sic] perceived mythic underpinnings in fact takes us away from the specificity of the films themselves.”
And so it goes for other schools of thought and criticism, all of which can be a valid critical view of the movies. But because I like poking holes in religious tropes as applied to non-religious movies and literature, this is what resonated the most with me, “…what if the messiah comes and nothing changes as a result? [sic] If the messiah comes more than once, why only twice?”
::shocked gasp:: I can hear Christians all across the world clutching their pearls and crying “blasphemy!” Roberts has a point, and his explanation for this particular line of thought is one I hadn’t pursued before. Even if you completely disagree with his interpretation, at least admit that’s a thought-provoking theme to explore.
And to all those determined to seek deeper meaning in The Matrix Trilogy, Roberts ends his essay by saying this, “The point is not to see beneath the surface.”
In the interest of brevity (because, trust me I could go on and on), here are a few quotes I liked:
“This is True” by Tim Lebbon
“[the dark will tell someone not to get out of bed but they will have to for some reason] … then a hand will close around their ankle, tug, and they will be dragged beneath the bed to a grisly doom.
“This will happen. I firmly believe it.
“I believe it because the human imagination is a powerful, potent force.”
“Something About Harry” by Mark Finn
In which Finn explains how ludicrous the book selling business is in terms of profit.
“The book industry is the most inept, retarded, backwater, ill-conceived industry in the world.”
“Scientists in SF Films” by Robert A. Metzger
In which Metzger examines the portrayal of science and scientists in film, which always makes them out to be the reason things go wrong in the movies.
“Science is a soul-sucking mistress.”
“The Squandered Promise of Science Fiction” by Jonathan Lethem
Beating my favorite drum about demanding better from the genre.
“Among the factors arrayed against acceptance of SF as serious writing, none is more plain to outsiders than this: the books are so fucking ugly. Worse, they’re all ugly in the same way, so you can’t distinguish those meant for grown-ups from those meant for twelve-year-olds.”