I’ve been reading Spacehounds of IPC (1947), by E.E. “Doc” Smith, and… it hasn’t aged well. For a long time I’ve been thinking it would be fun to read Smith’s Lensmen series again, but given that I’m having a hard time finishing Spacehounds, maybe that train left the station some time ago (especially with so much other stuff to read).
It’s a pity because I sure liked those books when I was (much) younger. Smith wrote action-filled space opera that was very imaginative and which also reeked of technology and science. I’ve never been that much into the space battles, but I’ve always been a sucker for hard SF. Fictionalized tech manuals work okay for me.
But these aren’t the gems mentioned in the post’s title.
Those — science fiction masterpieces from the 1990s (that most people have probably never seen) — come from a ScreenRant article.
Now let me pause to rant about ScreenRant for a moment.
But I never really got much from their videos. They were okay. Just okay. They rarely engaged me, few (if any) generated a Like click, and certainly none of them ever made it to any playlist of mine (let alone my Favorites playlist).
Once in a while they’d come up with one I really enjoyed, which kept me subscribed, but most of them seemed a bit on the lame side.
A lot of what they do is lists. For instance, “25 Things You Missed In [some movie]!” or “10 Moments Actors Wish They Could Forget!”
I’m not that into lists, especially ones with “Best” or “Worst” in the title, because I can usually think of lots of entries that belong on the list but weren’t mentioned. (Or ones that don’t belong on the list.)
I unsubscribed from their YouTube channel years ago, but they apparently also have a website. Their content sometimes shows up in my newsreader due to my interest in SF and movies.
As with their videos, I usually find that content unengaging. Sometimes because it’s so shallow or lame; sometimes because I just don’t agree with their lists.
I’ve considered filtering them out of my feed, but every once in a while they do come up with something I don’t mind spending a few moments of my life reading. (Honestly, usually I click into an article and regret it. “Damn! Another silly-ass waste of time.”)
Which brings me to: 10 90s Sci-Fi Masterpieces You’ve Probably Never Seen.
I used to be fairly conversant with science fiction, but that ended by the turn of the century due to the explosion of SF created Anno Stella Bella.
It used to be true that most people couldn’t name an SF work (book, movie, or TV series) I wasn’t familiar with — possibly owned.
I say “most” because even then SF was vaster than I knew — there are vast swaths I’ve still never explored. But compared to the average SF readers, I was a life-long expert.
[Reading James Nicoll’s reviews of books from those days is both enlightening and humbling. Vast swaths, indeed.]
Anyway, I clicked into the article, and here’s their countdown list:
- Event Horizon (1997)
- The Faculty (1998)
- Strange Days (1995)
- Cube (1997)
- Dark City (1998)
- Gattaca (1997)
- Contact (1997)
- The Iron Giant (1999)
- Pi (1998)
- 12 Monkeys (1995)
Now most of those might qualify as “1990s underrated masterpieces” but I’m not too sure about the “probably never seen” description — some of them were pretty popular.
I strongly agree all ten are good films — must-see for SF fans.
I’m not sure I think Event Horizon was a “masterpiece” or “best” anything (in fact I disliked it a lot the first time I saw it), but it was very creative, even unique.
So I suppose it depends on what you consider a masterpiece.
Definitely some of these were, and are, underrated — none of them deserve disdain.
Strange Days, for one, seems to get a lot of negativity. I’m not sure why; it’s a pretty good film. It’s directed by Kathryn Bigelow (Point Break, The Hurt Locker) with a story by James Cameron (who also worked on the script and co-produced).
Anyway, I like well enough to own: Event Horizon, Strange Days, Cube, Dark City, Contact, and 12 Monkeys. (I also own the Carl Sagan book, Contact, for whatever that’s worth.)
Obviously those are favorites, but I also have a real soft spot for The Faculty, which is sheer good fun (with a great cast). I never bought it because it was aired so frequently (and can now be easily streamed).
If I were to name what I thought were the masterpieces: Strange Days, Dark City, Gattaca, The Iron Giant, Pi, 12 Monkeys. Possibly also Cube.
As for underrated, if that includes unseen or unappreciated, then I think most of them fit that bill, except Contact and The Iron Giant. Both of those got a lot of mainstream recognition.
Six own-worthy, six (maybe seven) masterpieces, all ten well worth seeing (and must-see for SF fans), and at least eight could be said to be underrated in some sense.
Not a bad list, all told.
In light of its current popularity, The Handmaid’s Tale (1990) might have made the list. I actually owned that film (on VHS, no less).
Sphere (1998) could be on the list, although maybe it’s not considered good enough to be a masterpiece? It’s amazingly faithful to the book and quite watchable (great cast).
And speaking of disdain: Waterworld (1995) — I love that movie even though (as with Johnny Mnemonic) everyone else seems to hate it.
All of the movies here are worth seeing for science fiction fans!
(And you can see why lists like this are subject to quibbles.)
Getting back to “Doc” Smith and Spacehounds…
It stars the brilliant, knowledgeable, manly Dr. Percival “Steve” Stevens who boards the Inter-Planetary Corporation’s space liner, Arcturus, for its flight to Mars. He’ll be acting as the ship’s Computer — the story is from the days when a “computer” was a human profession.
He’s mainly there to check the accuracy of various way stations along the route. It seems many of them have drifted from their coordinates which has forced ship traffic to make inefficient course corrections.
Steve is giving the lovely young athletic (tennis star) Nadia Newton a tour of the ship when a strange ship attacks, using force beams to slice the Arcturus into several pieces.
Bulkhead doors shut automatically preserving most lives, but Steve and Nadia are stranded in the unpopulated engineering section of the ship, cut off from the passenger section.
With Nadia’s help, Steve is able to use a life boat to create an escape vessel that allows them to get away and land… on Ganymede.
Which has an atmosphere, water, and life, just like any planet.
(In fact the whole Solar system contains more-or-less Earth-like worlds that have all evolved life, some of it approximately “human.” There are, for example, Venusians and Martians, roughly “human” (but described as horrific), and Earthlings are involved with commerce with them.)
The Arcturus, it turns out, was attacked by Jovian hexpods who have an inimical hatred of humans. (The Arcturus ended up near Jupiter because the Jovians were towing it back.)
Steven and Nadia end up meeting some “humans” from Titan, who are in the Jupiter neighborhood attacking the hexapods, and they all go back to Titan and do stuff for a while.
Including going down to the surface of Saturn to repair the giant power plants the people from Titan built at a great expense of lives. On Titan, water is a kind of rock, so these “humans” are ultra-low temperature beings for whom heat is deadly. (Their blood contains volatiles, so they can potentially explode if they encounter sparks.)
The surface of Saturn, it seems, is too hot for them. (Saturn supposedly doesn’t look hot to us from space because the atmosphere shields all the heat. 🙂 ) But Steve and Nadia are able to survive just fine — they can even breath the air (like they could on Ganymede)!
Now they’ve gone back to Jupiter to contact friends, get help, and do something about the Jovians.
I’ll probably keep reading, but I think I might put it down for a while and read other things. Between the ancient science and the sexist sensibilities, it’s pretty thick going.
It’s not that Nadia is a weak, stupid, simpering female. She does stand in as the one who needs things explained so Smith can have Steve do info dumps.
But she’s presented as a strong woman with her own mind, a decent education (including some science, but, ew, no math), physically capable, and an all around great helpmate.
It’s those strong roles — manly man, womanly woman — that seem so outdated. It makes me shake my head while reading, which kinda ruins things.
While I often stumble over uses (often racist uses) that reflect those unwoke times, it doesn’t get to me like it does with Spacehounds. I quite enjoy all their work.
There’s something about that space opera science fiction from that era that can be particularly awkward that way.
Given all the other stuff on my reading list (like Neal Stephenson’s Fall), it might be a while before I get back to Nadia and Steve.
Stay underrated, my friends!