Today I’m starting a brand new ancient tradition: Sci-Fi Saturday! It won’t mean a science fiction post every Saturday, but when I do post SF topics, it’ll be on Saturday. This new protocol has many precedents. Last August I posted four articles for Star Trek Saturday. The August before that, I posted two key Star Trek articles (one of them my favorite diatribe about the holodeck).
Turns out it was a Saturday I posted those videos with Captain Kirk and Princess Leia giving each other crap about which was better, Star Trek or Star Wars (duh, it’s Doctor Who). And there are other science fiction posts that fell on Saturday (I was surprised at how many—it seems the new tradition is foreordained). Plus, Saturday is named after Saturn, which is an extremely science fiction-y planet!
So welcome to Sci-Fi Saturday!
I mentioned Star Wars, because I want to kick things off with a few thoughts for the record. I was a science fiction fan long before Star Wars came out in 1977. In fact, I was already a science fiction fan when Star Trek first came out in 1966!
I was sitting in a theater watching coming attractions when I saw a trailer for a science fiction movie unlike any other. And at the time, about the only movie you could compare it to was Kubrick‘s stately and beautiful 2001: A Space Odyssey. This new film had gun battles and robots; it presented a future that looked used and dirty (Kubrick’s vision was antiseptic!). Even Star Trek had never looked like this!
I was there that day in May when it opened. I drove my baby blue VW up to the theater and (wonder of wonders) found a parking spot directly across from the theater. (For those that know Los Angeles, this was in Westwood!) I took that as an omen to see the movie that night—I’d driven up there just to check things out.
It was amazing, a science fiction fan’s fantasy! And what’s more, it completely changed the SF landscape. It made “that sci-fi stuff” mainstream! It was the beginning of a new addition to our movie (and TV) diet. It was the stuff of wonder!
The irony is that Star Wars really isn’t very science fiction-y!
When you come right down to it, Star Wars is a fairy tale. “Long, long ago in a galaxy far, far away,” is a direct analog of, “Once upon a time.” The story revolves around a princess, a (lost!) prince and a dashing rogue. It features dark wizards of fearsome power and good wizards (who don’t seem as tough or powerful but always win because they’re Wise and Good). Plus it has sword-fighting, pirates, monsters and windup toys (robots).
Totally a fairy tale. It even ends, “And they lived happily ever after!”
There are those that consider it their favorite movie. That’s fine—nothing wrong with that; it is a genuine classic. Just don’t consider it the pinnacle of science fiction. Sure, it has spaceships and robots, but that’s not what SF is really about (and they’re certainly not at all necessary for a good SF story). After all, there are real robots and spaceships in the world. The ones in the movies are just a bit more developed.
As for that other trilogy going by the same name, it doesn’t exist in these parts. I can’t put it any better than comedian Brian Posehn did, “It’s like waking up to discover that your favorite uncle has snuck into your bedroom and put his penis on your face.” That totally captures the horror, revulsion and sense of betrayal!
It’s strange how one set of three movies revolutionized SF movies, whereas the other set of three are, at best, meaningless fluff. (I’ve never seen Sam Jackson do poorly, but in those he was awful. It was difficult and embarrassing to watch.) The plot is wall-to-wall with bad writing (robots sleep??), the love story with Padmé was the most inexplicable love connection ever, and the ending is atrocious (a Jedi just walks away and leaves someone to die??).
The movies are shit on just about any level.
Not that most of the Star Trek movies are a whole lot better. There’s a little more depth and reality to the characters and situations. A general consensus among fans is that the odd-numbered ones are bad. It’s certainly true that #5 (The Final Frontier) is considered the worst, but I think #6 (The Undiscovered Country) is a very close runner-up (apparently the fierce Klingon warriors are completely discommoded when their gravity fails, and shape-shifters are a really stupid science fiction device). Most agree #2 (The Wrath of Khan) is the best, with many seeing #4 (The Voyage Home) as a close second (it’s the “fun one”).
I find most of the Star Trek movies with Picard and crew pretty watchable with #8 (First Contact) being my favorite (another fun one; the bit with drunk Troi is a hoot; and that Borg Queen, my, my!). I like #9 (Insurrection) better than #10 (Nemesis). By the tenth time out, it was starting to feel like a dry well.
But I digress. I was headed towards talking about main stream science fiction. We even have a cable channel dedicated to it (not thrilled with how they renamed it to the SyFy channel, but whatever). Ironically, despite being a life-long science fiction fan, I never watch the SyFy channel. Part of it is the commercials, but the main reason is that most of what they do is pop SF, mainstream SF, and it just doesn’t interest me.
I have friends—also life-long SF fans—whose criteria for liking a movie or TV show seems to be simply that it’s science fiction. Period. Doesn’t have to be good, just has to be some sort of SF. Whatever works for you, but I like a little more quality in my stories. I stopped liking something just because of the cool special effects a long time ago.
Now that we’ve arrived at an era where computer-generated images make it possible to show anything you can think of, I find I’m even less interested in special effects. When it’s trivial to do anything, it’s no longer a big deal. What I do regard is when I see something ground breaking that doesn’t imitate.
The end result is that science fiction is mainstream. Teenagers divide into Teams over heart-throb monsters, sexy vampires and werewolves. If you want to go back to a very original source and a truly sexy vampire, check out Chelsea Quinn Yarbro‘s Count Saint-Germain series (first book published in 1978)! I was never a big fan of Anne Rice’s work, but I liked these a lot.
I’ll end today by mentioning Game Of Thrones. Nope, don’t like it, don’t like it much at all. It doesn’t even seem like SF to me, but a medieval (in both senses of the word) story with a bunch of thoroughly unlikable characters running around stabbing each other in the back. What fun.
I have HBO, so I watched the first two seasons on OnDemand. I can’t seem to get excited about looking at season three. The only thing that’s kept me watching the series is Peter Dinklage‘s Tyrion. The rest of them can go hang (and some have!).
My sister loves the show, which says it all. My sister, bless her heart, is about as far away from being a science fiction fan as it is possible to get. You couldn’t ask for a better demonstration of mainstream SF!