Monday, December 13, 2010

The Sad State of Sci-Fi

Whether you read books or watch movies and TV shows, one thing that's apparent is how ridiculously hard it is to find any sci-fi that's even halfway worth paying attention to. Let's face it, there have only been a small handful of novels that have been worth reading in the past 50 years anyway, but sci-fi use to stand out from the pack before then. Arthur C Clarke and Ray Bradbury did some wonderful things in the 50s. Clarke's The City and the Stars is still the best sci-fi novel I've ever read. Isaac Asimov and Robert Heinlein were doing their best work in the 50s too. Before them you had H.G. Wells and Jules Verne among others. I was just recently turned on to Walter Miller who had two great novels in the 50s to early 60s. Clarke also did some outstanding work in the 60s and into the 70s, but he's one of the few. I just started reading Orson Scott Card and really like his Ender series so far, so we have at least one good sci-fi writer who's still active. There are some good fantasy writers like Susanna Clarke, but I would never lump fantasy in with sci-fi the way booksellers do nowadays.

There were some very good sci-fi movies in the 60s and 70s. Close Encounters of the Third Kind as probably the best of them, but I don't want to talk about sci-fi movies so much. I haven't seen a good one in a few years anyway, so it's currently in the same situation as movies and books.

Until this week, I hadn't watched any episodes of The X-Files since the show went off the air. I had forgotten just how good this show was. I don't believe in life on other planets or much by way of paranormal activities, but this show was done in such an intelligent way that it makes most of the scenarios seem believable, and it does it with as much science as possible, and that is what sci-fi is supposed to do. It's very sad when you look at how bad sci-fi has been on TV ever since. Fringe, Heroes, Stargate-SG1, and especially The Event all seem silly by comparison and appear to have been written for a very immature audience. But even the old classics—The Twilight Zone, The Outer Limits, and One Step Beyond—couldn't hold a candle to Mulder and Scully. That was a special show. Lost was more of a fantasy show, but it wouldn't bother me if people referred to it as sci-fi. It was great in its own way, but it was what's commonly referred to as a "character driven show" which is usually an excuse for being unbelievable. In this case it worked, but I can't think of a single other show (or at least one for adults) where it has. Fantasy almost has to be character driven though. No one of any intelligence would waste time on a book or show about unbelievable subjects like vampires and werewolves unless there was an attractiveness to the characters. C.S. Lewis and G.K. Chesterton were the kings of character driven fantasy. Sci-fi doesn't need it though. With sci-fi it's all about what happens. The characters are seldom memorable. Isn't it odd that throughout the entire 2001 Space Odyssey series (wonderful as it was) the only character anyone can generally remember from it is a monotoned talking computer? Mulder and Scully had very low keyed personalities which would never drive a show in and of themselves. But the show wasn't about them or anyone else in particular. It was about what happens. It was about odd events in people's lives and not the people so much. Mostly it was about the mysterious. It's the mysterious that makes life interesting. Character driven stories are great for children because they're still developing their personalities and are dependant on the personalities of others as role models to grow into. That's enough to satisfy their young minds. Adults need something more though. It's curiosity that keeps us growing. If only there were more good stories to peak it.


  1. We used to get a kid's space program, from America, called 'Lost in Space' with a crazy Doctor Smith I think, in it. My brother and I used to watch it every week. I might look for clips on youtube. Smithy had a catch-phrase, something like 'never fear, smith is here' although he wasn't that brave from what I remember. Maybe his name wasn't smith, my memory dips in and out with names.

    Also Land of the Giants, did you watch that? My brother used to collect cards, in packs.

  2. Would you believe my mom wouldn't let me watch Lost In Space when it first came out because she was afraid a space program would give me nightmares!? I was six when it started. I think I was eight when she finally let me see it.

    We watched Land of the Giants too! Although I must say that I watch a few episodes at Hulu last year, and the show seems pretty bad now. A lot of those shows I liked as a kid really weren't "all that." The Time Tunnel and Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea are two more like that. Hulu has them all. They seem unwatchable now.

    The ones that hold up for me are The Outer Limits, The Twilight Zone, and some of the One Step Beyond broadcasts.

    If your youngest is into Sci-Fi tell him he must read Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card. It's about a boy genius in the future who's taken from his family when he's six to be brought up in a space academy, and there he's groomed to save the world from a future menace. Sounds corny the way I wrote that, but it's really a terrific book for kids and adults alike.

  3. Time Tunnel! We used to get that too! I remember that as really exciting, but maybe it was what my imagination imagined, after watching it, that was really exciting. You can go to town inside your own mind at six!!

    I do an impression of 'Voyage to the bottom of the sea' that mainly consists of running from one side of the room to the other, in a dizzy type motion as if the room is rocking (sorry, I mean the submarine is rocking , did I tell you we all live in a yellow submarine? ). ;)