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Do Science Fiction writers sound bitter?

To them [science fiction authors], "Star Wars" is nothing more than a space opera, and if the big guy in the black cloak is finally singing, that means the show is over. The saga continues no longer.

"That's the past of science fiction you're talking about," said Richard K. Morgan, the British cyberpunk-noir writer whose most recent novel is "Market Forces."


And then

What Mr. Lucas may have seen as eternal, however, science fiction writers have tended to see as antique.

"It started out 30 years behind," said Ursula K. Le Guin. "Science fiction was doing all sorts of thinking and literary experiments on a totally different plane. 'Star Wars' was just sort of fun."

"It takes these very stock metaphors of empire in space and monstrously bad people and wonderfully good people and plays out a bunch of stock operatic themes in space suits," she said. "You can do it with cowboy suits as well."

Science fiction, on the other hand, "is a set of metaphors," Ms. Le Guin said. "It's useful for thinking about certain things in our lives - if society was different in some way, what would it be like?"


Way they're speaking, you'd almost be forgiven for thinking that science fiction weren't built and sustained on the back of novels and movies and tv just like Star Wars. Bad bad people and good good guys are the standard trade in sci-fi (and much of the other genres like fantasy).

But this is my favourite quote:

"Blade Runner." Many people, including Mr. Morgan, consider the film, directed by Ridley Scott, to be one of the best sci-fi movies ever made, because it was as much about what's inside as what's outside. It, not "Star Wars," was truly ahead of its time.

"You've got the gun battles and all that stuff," Mr. Morgan said, "but the movie is very much about internal factors, like robots yearning to be humans."


Yeah, man, robots yearning to be human. Fuck. How'd I ever think that wasn't brand spanking new and well thought out? It's like, Wow, I'm wanting to be someone else. Man. What a spin. Pass me the joint--this is great, isn't it? God. I want to be someone else. I want to be a chick... not, fuck man, I wanna be Rutger Hauer!

Jesus.

In fairness, of course, the quote could be taken out of context, shifted round, done whatever, but lets for a moment assume that the idea of having a movie (or piece of fiction) structured around the question of wanting to be someone different, about wanting to change your life... lets just pause and think that this might be something unique.

Did you pause?

Did the countless novels and films and even goddamn pop songs that focused on the desire to be someone different and escape your shitty life just cause your skull to explode?

Comments

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gnosis_7
May. 2nd, 2005 06:44 pm (UTC)
Blade runner is ahead of its time. Its exploring themes like post humanism that Ghost in The Shell and The Matrix picked up on almost 20 some odd years ago. It asks the question "what is it to be human?" Does it matter that Rachael isnt organic? But it seems she has more soul than the human characters occupying the film. The line between humans and machines is so small that they have to give empathy tests to determine who is who. That film is about the world we are going to inherit where people slowly lose there humanity and become machines. The social allegory is potent too. Are we simply just social constructs? Is the social machine turning people into machines? But in defense of Star Wars this is the symbolic signifigance of darth vader. he loses his humanity and becomes a cripple bionic man when he chooses to serve the empire or the bureacratic machine.
benpeek
May. 2nd, 2005 11:32 pm (UTC)
the term 'post human' is probably the only new thing at the time.

but it is, ultimately, a variation of the what is it to be human question, which in a non politically correct universe before now was gave forward was what is it to be a man? or what is it to be woman? none of those things are new, and whether you connect it to synthetics or clones or a soldier or an ordinary man/woman stuck in his, her day job, the question has been round for as long as we could breath.

you can even, i think, find a lot of these questions in fritz lang's METROPOLIS, made in the 1920's.
gnosis_7
May. 3rd, 2005 12:54 am (UTC)
yeah but one thing that blade runner does that none of those other films do is propose a synthesis between the two which is completely contemporary and is not part of any other era. The relationship between rachael and deckard proposes a solution to the post human question. it shows a symbiotic relationship between not only man and machine but man and man based on compassion and understanding. they show the characters finding menaing and value in their existence even in the post apocalyptic world of the film. All those other films tend to do is stay within the parameters of technophobia. In fact you could argue that the finale of the matrix trilogy is totally cribbed from blade runner.

Metropolis is certainly an influence on blade runner. but blade runner is certainly the first film of its kind.
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lyzbeth
May. 2nd, 2005 11:49 pm (UTC)
I wanna be Rutger Hauer.
How did you know???

/flippant
benpeek
May. 3rd, 2005 01:32 am (UTC)
it's what every girl wants ;)
stephen_dedman
May. 3rd, 2005 03:34 am (UTC)
While Lucas has expressed admiration for 2001, and its influence is apparent in some of Star Wars's visuals and the way its characters relate to technology, there's plenty of evidence in the films and in Lucas's interviews that he has much more love for the serials (THX 1138 begins with a trailer for Buck Rogers) and Edgar Rice Burroughs's Barsoom. I suspect he was also inspired at least partly by Silent Running - not just the robots, but also the budget :-)
deborahb
May. 3rd, 2005 06:04 am (UTC)
Maybe they're not so much bitter as bored. Lord knows I get sick of hearing about Star Trek whenever I mention that I write 'spec fic'.
benpeek
May. 3rd, 2005 06:15 am (UTC)
you know, i don't think i have had one person bring up star wars or star trek when i say i write spec fic. the closest i've gotten is harry potter, and that's my mum, saying, 'will you make money like harry potter?'

anyhow. they could be bored. it's the same stuff they say in response to star wars all the time.
deborahb
May. 3rd, 2005 06:22 am (UTC)
Yeah, because they keep being *asked* all the time. That's gotta be tedious...
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frogworth
May. 3rd, 2005 07:14 am (UTC)
I do think Blade Runner was a much more influential movie than Star Wars on written sf, but at least as much of that is in its aesthetic as in its content. Of course it's based on a Phil Dick novel, and has hints of Bester and others in it - but has any media sf, whether film or TV, really been really innovative? (Maybe radio: see HHGTTG)
But huge amounts of cyberpunk and post-cyberpunk is pervaded by that drenched, dark, part-Japanese cityscape of Blade Runner. Even Neuromancer came out two years later! Although some of the short stories are from 1981 (Blade Runner's '82) and "Fragments of a Hologram Rose" is from 1977)...

And I think you're misunderstanding Blade Runner and most probably Morgan (whose quote was no doubt culled from something about 10 times as long) when you reduce it to "Wow, I'm wanting to be someone else". That's not it at all: more like, what makes someone really Other? Is there such a thing? It can be interpreted as a dramatisation of the Turing Test (she behaves like a human, so isn't that enough?) - although it's arty and maybe not as deep as we fans impute to it, it's unusual in that it takes questions about AI seriously, but (yes, in the voiceover-less version) does it in a way that doesn't infodump or preach. I think what Blade Runner's about, more than anything else, is "What is artificial? What is real?" (certainly a Dickian question) and "What is human?" (in a broad sense)

Star Wars, on the other hand, really is backwards-looking. Its politics and morality are as simplistic as '30s-'50s US space opera, the story is archetypal high fantasy, inherited from all the myths and legends, there's no interest in anthropological concerns (all the aliens are basically human, and the robots are either basically human or basically pets), nor any kind of hard science.
That said, I enjoy the original Star Wars trilogy immensely, no small amount due to the nostalgia. But as Morgan says in the NY Times article, biotech, nanotech, the influence of technology (in a more nuanced way than just '80s technofear) and so on are central themes in today's sf, as well as post-humanity, post-scarcity and such concepts.
The closest the new Star Wars gets to biotech is fucking midi-chlorians, Lucas's inane scientific basis for the Force. I mean, please.

Sure, Star Wars is to sf what The Lord of Rings is to fantasy, sortof. "Please, that's not what I write". But fair enough - when something's the most popularly recognized example of a form, and is in so many ways not representative of what certain proponents of that form do, they're not gonna be happy. In that sense, cyberpunks and post-cyberpunks, anthopological sf writers and so on are going to say "Well, if you want to think of an example of media sf, Blade Runner is much closer to what I do than Star Wars is". I would say it's also a better film, not just because I like its aesthetic, but because I think it's more honest about people and society, and it's forward-looking because it's of its time, whereas Star Wars is backwards-looking because it's of an earlier time, indeed represents a nostalgia for a simple archetypal view of the universe, with Good and Evil, big battles, sword fights, and magic! Compare Blade Runner's sardonic background use of advertising, for instance, and its dogged refusal to make any characters Good or Evil.
benpeek
May. 3rd, 2005 11:43 am (UTC)
>And I think you're misunderstanding Blade Runner and most probably Morgan (whose quote was no doubt culled from something about 10 times as long) when you reduce it to "Wow, I'm wanting to be someone else".

no, i'm just reducing blade runner to a simple premise. after all, it's what is done for star wars, and countless other films. truth is, you can read a thousand different meanings into each of the films--that's the trick of critquing a work to give it meaning. you can, for example, make star wars out to be a marxist revolutionary text, with lucas exploring the rise of the workers up against those in control... just as you can argue that blade runner is, in fact, questioning what the other is, and is cutting humanity of bones and flesh and offering a philosophical treatment of if these things must be connected to flesh and consciousness or otherwise.

the trick with critiquing anything like that is that it's not about the actual work, but about the time and society we live in. the critique exists independently from the work, which is fine. which is why i can freely reduce it to a nub and then rebuild it with a different outlook. it's just what you can do, so long as you can make the text back up your opinion.

personally, i don't think blade runner or star wars are honest about people and society. but then, i don't think it's their place for it, so i'm not worried about that. as for it's visual look, it does appear to be one of the early western films to embrace the rain soaked electric tokyo vision of the world, which i quite like.
frogworth
May. 4th, 2005 06:37 am (UTC)
Nevertheless, I got the impression that your diatribe there was sparked by what you interpreted Morgan as saying, which was "unlike Star Wars, Blade Runner is ahead of its time, not Star Wars, because X", and you felt X = "like, man, I wanna be someone else".
I don't think you're just giving your own reading here, just one of many, oh let's be all po-mo. I think you're lambasting Morgan for thinking Blade Runner's got something to it - "No it doesn't, it's just..." But as you admit, that's just you reducing it to one simple premise. You can do that, sure, but you can't then attribute it to someone else, who is (perhaps) building an argument out of a different set of premises regarding that work.

Admittedly, my own defense of Blade Runner is based on premises that are probably not the same as those specifically referred to by Morgan in his "but the movie is very much about internal factors, like robots yearning to be humans" quote. Still, "robots yearning to be humans" = "I wanna be someone else", sortof.
Maybe it's because I know Morgan's work, so knowing that his work is at least as much influenced by Blade Runner's aesthetic, and questions of personal identity in a more nuanced way than escapism, that I'm more willing to attribute more to him. Whatever.

Thanks for, as usual, sparking interesting debate.
benpeek
May. 4th, 2005 07:35 am (UTC)
well, if it makes you feel better, i was kicked off by morgan's comments. i haven't read his books, but the write ups on them appear to have a bit of a blade runner leaning--though more into coporate politics, from what i understand. but the comment he was quoted on was, really, ridiculously simple and faintly idiotic. whether it's cut down or not from a larger comment, who knows, and that's why i never said morgan was an idiot, since i've had the impression he's quite intelligent.

but that comment was stupid, really.

still, they're the kinds of comments that allow people to kick off chatting. i like them for that.
frogworth
May. 3rd, 2005 07:17 am (UTC)
I meant to say, by the way, that although the NY Times article's not actually too bad, the blanket use of the term "science fiction writers", especially with only two actually quoted (and two very different writers!) is a bit disingenuous... How about Sean Williams, who writes Star Wars tie-ins? etc...
benpeek
May. 3rd, 2005 11:33 am (UTC)
actually, they quote four writers, but it's no real difference. it's the same kind of article that gets dragged out whenever a science fiction film does well, and the authors say (or are quoted) as saying the same thing. there's no real information for anyone, and it doesn't actually give an opening for anyone wanting to read a difference piece of sf, outside the authors listed.
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