Monday, January 17, 2011

People who used to read science fiction 3: Screen time

For former readers the screen provides the quickest and most popular fix for speculative-fiction cravings. Whether movie theater projections, television plasma or LEDs, or on computer displays, science fiction thrives at twenty-four to thirty frames per second.

Specialized cable channels are where ex-consumers of literary science fiction seem to log most of their television spec-fic hours. While Battlestar Galactic feels like it's drawn a mixed following divided along ideological lines, Dr. Who's British Time Lord invasion is ridiculously popular with past book buyers. To the point where I'm starting feel a vague sense of embarrassment at not having watched a single episode while at social gatherings or cons.

The durability of Stargate and its spin-offs also offer a strong refutation to the argument that science fiction has declined because of a lack of public interests. Having said that, I haven't met too many former original literary SF fans who follow that series.

Network television has been somewhat problematic for SF, with quality series suffering cancellation after cancellation while trying to break into mainstream slots. Shows such as Firefly, The Doll House, and Futurama have all folded or achieved zombie-like existences in limited runs or other media such as comic books. Still these series have achieved popularity or at least a certain cachet with former readers.

Despite its supposed decline decline as genre, science fiction also continues to sell films. While hard SF or space operas are uncommon, movies like Inception, District Nine, and the revived Star Trek continue to fill movie houses and even draw the occasional Oscar nomination or other critical accolades. Meanwhile mainstream commercial franchises featuring elements of speculative fiction like the newest Tron and Transformer films regularly hit block-buster status.

Oh yeah. There was also that whole Avatar thing too.

In cinema, former science fiction readers seem to gravitate to films with intellectual heft. In other words films about ideas. Along with the brainier of the above-mentioned movies, smaller indie films are much loved. π(Pi), Dark City, A Scanner Darkly, are all likely to come up in conversation, as well as border-line spec fic films Donnie Darko and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.

Films of course sell millions of tickets and copies. Sales in the millions are also common for science fiction video games. The console and the PC are where science fiction truly seems to flourish among our lost readership.

While stylized or atmospheric first-person shooters such as Borderlands and Bioshock are popular destinations, Bioware's Mass Effect really and truly has been the Star Wars of this past decade. It certainly seems to occupy the same piece of cultural terrain for Generation Y that George Lucas'trilogy did for Gen X.

On a personal note, I'll admit to liking Mass Effect not just for it's popularity with former readers or the brilliance of its writing, but also for its broad reach. People who aren't normally into science fiction love this game, and references to its characters and scenes frequently appear across the online world and in overheard conversations.

Next up: Fantasy novels, young adult, and where original literary science fiction should have gone.

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