Archive for January, 2016

John Boyega

Regular readers of this site will be familiar with our sentiments on diversity within creative Sci-Fi. So, it’s interesting to watch the current racial unraveling of this year’s Oscars with a level of insight born out of last year’s Hugo fracas. (For any of those who need a fast track into Hollywood-based debate, check out Janet Hubert’s response to Jada Pinkett Smith’s call for boycott here.)

It seems timely then, that in our side stream of fiction, the creator and editor of Sci-Fi website io9 should currently be courted by the press. While we’re loathed to use Charlie Jane Anders as a poster girl within this wider debate, All the Birds in the Sky is receiving critical praise, and Charlie is a topical epitome of a new and challenging voice.

Not that she stands alone. While we could compare and contrast Lana Wachowski, that would be reducing diversity to the binary oppositions of gender. Take race and we could well be accused of only, only, rolling out the likes of Samuel Delany and Octavia Butler Smith as an argument for the inclusiveness of the genre. But, as we’ve extolled on this site previously, there are a host of creatives – take Afronauts as just one upcoming example – that are attracted to Sci-Fi. Why? Because of its growth through acceptance and its willingness to debate the historic bias of a white, male hegemony.

However, and here’s the lynchpin as far as Drozbot’s concerned, outstanding art should be recognised for its content – hence why Orson Scott Card’s homophobia sits so awkwardly against this backdrop of an evolving genre. Is Ender’s Game a bad piece of Sci-Fi literature as a result of its writer’s personal beliefs? No. Do we live in a world where you can choose not to read it, or can disagree with the numerous awards that have been bestowed upon it in the past? Absolutely.

Sci-Fi is the fast cog, the starter motor, the motivator, that continually bumps up against the drive wheel of mainstream culture. As such, it can’t help but be more involved with the continually shifting social mores that will affect what titles will be appreciated in the future. No surprise then that J.J. Abrams is happy to engage with the Oscar debate in his own marginally justified way.

Ultimately, creating anything within this minority genre that we align ourselves to is good for us. It makes us all endeavour to shine against mainstream snobbery – albeit waning. As a result when the artistry does scintillate, the genre’s output has the power to change the way everyone leads their lives. Speculative fiction gets the future wrong more times that it gets it right, but its power to inspire the creators of a fairer tomorrow remains unsurpassed.

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David Bowie Low

So we lost Lemmy, David Bowie and Alan Rickman in the space of a month, which is monumentally depressing. As is the general outpouring of emotion surrounding each and all of their deaths. Some of it has been heartfelt, some of it poetic, some random and raw – all demonstrating that it’s a mess whichever way you look at it. But it is still a thing and, for this site, it’s a Sci-Fi thing that really should be captured and marked in some cathartic way.

While we could wax lyrical about Bowie’s outsider/otherworldly influence, or Lemmy’s part in The Toxic Avenger series or even Rickman’s voicing of Marvin in the otherwise terrible Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, it’s probably best to keep simple. So, in honour of the collective and ‘best in class’ influence these three have had on this site, let’s consider their outputs within the genre.

Chronological order gives us Bowie first in Nicolas Roeg’s The Man Who Fell To Earth (1976). An extraordinary feature that tempered the experimentation of Roeg’s earlier work, such as Performance (1970), with a much stronger narrative structure. Bowie turns in a convincing performance, although it could be argued that the division between the Thomas Jerome Newton character and his then stage persona didn’t take much of an stretch. That said, the scenes of an ailing alien world pitted against the senseless fear and cruelty of humanity still leaves a unique and uneasy taste. Honourable mention has to also be given to Bowie’s portrayal of Nikola Tesla in Christopher Nolan’s The Prestige (2006).

Next up Lemmy, although his Sci-Fi filmic work offers little to choose from – that is if you draw a demarcating line through his roles in more than one Troma Entertainment scholck horror. It falls then to his water taxi driver cameo in Richard Stanley’s Hardware (1990) as the best suited Sci-Fi outing for Motorhead’s formidable front man.

Last, but by no means least, Alan Rickman. Surprisingly, for a thespian so associated with the fantastical, his body of work is actually pretty light on pure Sci-Fi. Thankfully, 1999 saw the release of Dean Parisot’s wonderfully crafted Galaxy Quest,. In this, Rickman’s jaded, frustrated Shakespearean actor, AKA science officer Dr Lazarus, is a joyful and poignant thing to witness. It’s a key role that helps bolster this hilarious satire of everything fan culture holds dear, allowing us – the oh so knowing recipients of its barbs – to laugh along and feed proud with it. Which, against the general despondency of losing these three most excellent men, could well be the perfect antidote to the malaise of their departure.

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They Live

The Christmas glut manifested itself in many ways. There was the understandable excess of food and drink – practically inevitable at that time of year – but also a surfeit of hard-sell advertising. The moon-based John Lewis advert (scroll down for Christopher Hooton’s critique) was the epitome of schmaltz, and with a sentimental Sci-Fi slant to boot. So it seems only fitting that we respond, in a slightly more barbed manner, with a deeper look at the Don Drapers of tomorrow’s world.

Adverts have always added credence to fantastical worlds – from the promotions for Soylent Green as a product, to the “I’d buy that for a dollar” ads of Robocop. But Sci-Fi writers have also used the sales medium to convey deeper meanings from ‘elsewhere’.

The roadside billboard/hoarding was famously used as a motif in J.G. Ballard’s The Subliminal Man, where adverts carry hidden messages to create consumer dissatisfaction with existing household products. The premise was then taken to an even more sinister level where advertisements were effectively obscuring the reality of a world already infiltrated by aliens in John Carpenter’s They Live (1988). Then, finally sanitised and made benevolent, although still a message from the ‘other’, in Mike Jackson’s satire L.A. Story (1991).

The final example, while twee in execution, dovetails nicely with a more Philip K Dickian approach to advertising. A Ubik level of deeper messaging, if you will, being conveyed through everyday objects – much like the crossword revelation scenes in M Night Shyamalan’s Lady in the Water (2006). There’s a tension here as well though, registered by both Ridley Scott in Blade Runner (1982) and Terry Gilliam in Zero Theorem (2013). The idea that this esoteric truth can sometimes be buried so deeply beneath the falsehoods of the overt advertising message that it belies comprehension. It’s a trope the author William Gibson has been engaged with on several occasions as well, from the Joseph Cornell styled boxes in Count Zero to Cayce Pollard’s brand allergy in Pattern Recognition. The hidden meaning is there to be interpolated but, in identifying the new data points, the characters are forced into new and uncomfortable comprehension. As philosopher Slavoj Žižek says in his analysis of They Live, freedom hurts.

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