08 August 2022

George Lucas killed science fiction

Iagt George Killed Scifi

A short speculation about science fiction today

Since the turn of the 20th century, people have looked to the stars to imagine the unimaginable, portraying what they envisioned in words, images and eventually film. The commonality – imagination as the driving force used to visualise that which could not be seen by the naked eye, understood by the everyday thought. Science Fiction was a medium to explore notions and ideals, as much as it was one to explore visions and fantasies.

Originally the domain of books, magazines and journals, science fiction as a genre offered the reader a vast array of variety, from swash buckling, pop-corn adventure through to high concept narrative which introduced concepts and thought points for the reader to ponder. But the maturing and broader acceptance of the genre, driven increasingly by film, eventually saw tropes, visions, and concepts repeating. Challenging audiences by demanding they set aside their preconceived ideas, gave way to presenting that which was easily digestible – comfortable in understanding, undemanding in interpretation. The cinematic world’s demand for return on investment increasingly drove science fiction as a genre invested in entertaining the masses, no longer one to explore our deepest hopes, fears or horrors.

As a narrative, science fiction today has become a relentless rehashing of off-the-shelf, lowest common denominator, formulas in order to ensure maximum return; and in the scenario where challenging audiences is a risky investment, the narrative continues to become increasingly unchallenged. Not since Ridley Scott’s 1979 Alien, with H.R. Geiger’s high concept centrepiece capturing of art, sculpture and horror in the form of his biomorphic Xenomorph, has a Western audience been asked to step outside its comfort zone, as if it was decided that was the line in the sand of acceptability, one no longer to be crossed. Today’s Western science fiction, for all but the daring few, is no longer seen as a genre, an art form, to inspire or challenge; the ‘Hollywood’ formulaic has become the norm.

While the most recent ‘boundary’ for the genre, one that’s more based in the now of hard science, can lead to extremely challenging narratives, such Denis Villeneuve’s ‘Arrival’ , an adaptation of the 1998 short story “Story of Your Life” by Ted Chiang, or Christopher Nolan’s ‘Interstellar’, the reality anchoring of what is, should be, speculative fiction, is yet another form of stagnation. Speculation, confrontation, the blatantly unexplained, have always been the backbone of science fiction, and while films like Interstellar and Arrival show what can be done when the spectrum is intelligently mixed, science fiction narrative anchored to the rigidity of ‘fact’, no matter how well executed, is more a narrative of forward looking than one of science fiction.

What today is termed ‘hard science fiction’, the likes of Iain M Banks, or ‘golden era’ artists such as Chris Foss, are masters at, requires the reckless abandoning of the everyday in order to be successful. But when this is accomplished, it becomes the truest embodiment of what the genre represents, pushing every aspect of what we accept, to places that uncomfortably challenge our everyday.


Copyright 2022 Gerard Thomas. All rights reserved.