02 March 2010

Saving Science Fiction From Itself?

Kristine Kathryn Rusch's essay "Barbarian Confessions," from the book Star Wars on Trial: Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers Debate the Most Popular Science Fiction Films of All Time (eds. David Brin and Matthew Woodring Stover, 2006), is currently available on the Smart Pop Books web site, but only for a limited time (until March 5th, apparently). I was originally linked to it from SF Signal.

        John DeNardo of SF Signal terms Rusch's essay "controversial," which certainly encouraged me to read it. The controversy, I suspect, stems from Rusch's diagnosis of the condition of SF and her recommendations for how the genre can heal and remain healthy.

        The basic aim of this diagnosis involves a defense of tie-in novel series (i.e., for Star Trek or Star Wars, and the like), which is the sort of SF generally looked down upon by what Rusch calls "the Science Fiction Village," yet also the sort of SF that sells well, takes up its share of "shelf space," and -- most importantly, for Rusch -- entertains its readers. (Rusch herself has written several tie-in novels.) SF, Rusch argues, has strayed from and actively resists what makes Star Wars great: "an escape, a journey into a new yet familiar world, entertainment. A good read." Such resistance to "entertainment" began with the New Wave, the result being the predominance of "dystopian universes," "nasty ... world-building," and "insularity," along with the abandonment of "gosh-wow, sense-of-wonder stories." Therefore, according to Rusch, the prescription for SF is "more grand adventure, more heroes on journeys, more uplifting ... endings": the very stories offered by tie-in novels, which Rusch claims are "keeping SF alive."

        For me, Rusch's essay proves especially relevant with regard to James Cameron's film Avatar, particularly a strain of negative response to the film within the SF&F community. I wish to address this negative response to Avatar by comparing it to the consistently positive response to Duncan Jones' Moon, where Avatar represents SF-as-entertainment and Moon SF-as-"work" (Rusch's term). I am fascinated by and deeply appreciate both films for what they do as films and as SF. Yet, echoing Rusch, I believe Avatar will do more than Moon to keep SF alive as a thriving and relevant genre. In fact, Avatar is the kind of film (and possible novel tie-in) that can save SF from itself.