Originally posted: May 2016
When I started as a postdoc on the Unsettling Scientific Stories project in 2016 I was asked to produce a ‘top ten’ list of SF texts that were favourites, inspiration, and the types of works that I hoped to look at as part of the project.
This is mine:
Frankenstein (Mary Shelley, 1818) – one of the first (if not the first) SF novels I ever read. It explores ideas of the limits of science and whether scientists should be allowed to play God in the lab by producing life unnaturally. A classic. Although in terms of film I much prefer Bride of Frankenstein (dir. James Whale, 1935) to the original adaptation.
The Population Bomb (Paul Erhlich, 1968) – not technically fiction, but it is prospecting the future. Although I guess it’s fiction now; Britain did not end up underwater in 2000. This should be read alongside Make Room, Make Room! (Harry Harrison, 1966) – the novel that inspired the movie Soylent Green that sketches a dystopian world where too many people scramble for too few resources.
Silent Running (dir. Douglas Trumbull, 1972) – I first saw this movie as a child, but I don’t remember the part with the murder. I remember Huey, Dewey, and Louie the waddling robots. And bunnies. I still love the robots and the flora and fauna but I am also fascinated by the film’s environmentalist message and the idea of humanity launching its last vestiges of the natural world into space (rather than removing the human problem – as Wall.E’s imagined future suggests).
Frogs (dir. George McCowan, 1972)– animal-horror, a fun example of eco-fiction – nature literally fights back. You’d think it was just about killer frogs but lots of woodland creatures conspire against the film’s environmentally unfriendly family. The humans are the real horrors. It’s schlocky and lacks subtlety but it’s brilliant/terrifying.
Soylent Green (dir. Richard Fleischer, 1972) – film starring Charlton Heston that imagines the effects of overpopulation on the near future. Soylent green is *spoiler*. Although the film has been mercilessly parodied and is clearly a product of the 1970s, its central message is still alarmingly prescient.
The Female Man Joanna Russ (1975) – imagines parallel worlds with different constructions of gender. Technology is a major theme allowing women to become their strongest and most intelligent selves. Also recommending Russ’ short-story ‘When it Changed’ (1972) that featured in Harlan Ellison’s collection Again, Dangerous Visions. Written to challenge ideas in SF about the role of women and all-female societies that had been written by men.
Blade Runner (dir. Ridley Scott, 1982) – this movie contains my favourite movie shot (the city reflected in an unidentified eye – although the whole opening sequence is pretty perfect). The classic example of tech-noir where the style of film noir (incl. fashion) is merged with a dilapidated techno-future. It imagines a future of great advances and wonder but also of deprivation and depravity.
Neuromancer (William Gibson, 1984) – Gibson threw himself and his readers into cyberspace before it even existed. This cyberpunk novel examines the interface of technology and individual and it questions how increased reliance upon and connectedness through technology changes the way we view ourselves as individuals. Although a reflection on 1980s culture it manages to predict a future where the majority feel the need to be jacked into the network at all times (fused to their smartphones).
The Handmaid’s Tale (Margaret Atwood, 1987) – dystopian SF set in a near-future totalitarian Christian theocracy where female bodies are controlled for political purposes. A satirical view of 1980s capitalism, religious fundamentalism, and the technology of power. There was a questionable, although not entirely awful film adaptation – but it has been announced that Elizabeth Moss (Mad Men, Top of the Lake) will feature in a Handamaid’s Tale mini-series. Atwood is onboard as a consulting producer and it’s being written by Bruce Miller (who wrote several episodes for the dystopian drama The 100). I hope that the mini-series format will provide the space for development of themes and narrative that the film struggled to achieve.
Wall.E (dir. Brad Bird, 2008) – imagined dystopian/utopian future where Earth is uninhabitable and humans have become flabby space-bound consumers. Marketed at children with a clear intended adult audience – a fascinating and frightening work of eco-fiction. I went to see it at my local cinema with father – it was a perfect Sunday afternoon movie and a fun game of spot the SF intertextual reference. Also, I thought I would end with something more cheerful. Ish.
This post originally appeared on:
Unsettling Scientific Stories