The TV (Netflix) show The Expanse, commissioned by SyFy, has the ability to open your heart and your mind all the while taking you to the distant future into the solar system and back again. And in doing so, it has proven that science fiction is indeed an art form translatable onto the small-screen (nay–smartphone screen). That organisations are able to commit to high-quality content and, presumably, are duly rewarded. The days of relying on Star Trek, or lamenting the loss of Firefly and Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles is gone. ‘TV’ shows are undergoing a golden age/renaissance with silverscreen actors understandably recognising the opportunities and it is enough to bring a tear to the eye of dreamers.
Why did Lost work (until it didn’t); why does Game of Thrones work? Human stories, played out over vast imaginings, capture the living room. The Expanse sees to that, all the while blending what must have been a hell of a work by the writing duo James S A Corey. It presumably has condensed that series of books to a thorough and expert level. It carefully balances high and low concept, and never makes something that little too complex to understand.
For sci-fi fans, disappointment is part of the hunt; that is learnt behaviour over the last seventy-odd years of sci-fi broadcasting. And for all the absurdity of life on our blue ball, all the rumblings over geopolitical strife, escapism is a liberation. When fans as discerning as our blue-blooded sci-fi kin fully escape, it is as ethereal as it gets. There be the bug; there be the hunt. There be The Expanse.
When does wonder become space-magic: what some consider to be the archetypal science-fiction shark jumping? It is a fine line, and one might argue that the journey the viewer takes is as important in the acceptance or disposal of a display of such magery; S2 E5 “Home” sees one such moment, but with feet firmly planted in extra-milky way explanations and transformations of energy one might accept it as sci-fi, albeit less than ‘hard’. Ahh, who cares? Point is it may well bring a lump to one’s throat (see, bird) and send one into exclamations of gushing loyalty. This is a new golden age of TV. And The Expanse is so far holding up the mantel of its science fiction credentials with beauty.
In ‘Say Yes’–season 7, episode 12 of The Walking Dead–we see Rick and Michonne discover a fallen emergency military camp whilst on the hunt for guns to use in the forthcoming fight with The Saviours. And for a moment lasting no more than five seconds we see the world, we really see the world, as we did in the first few episodes of the show: Rick’s sadness with the zombie in the grass, the desolation he uncovers, the apocalypse-porn of the horseback trip into Atlanta.
In that we experienced a possible future, our possible future. And our morbid curiosity rewarded us with some beautiful cinematography.
For a long time now, The Walking Dead has had to balance the demands of the fans, the ratings, the producers, and it’s any wonder that it is still with us. Though really, it is simple: the demand has steadily risen, so the show continues.
The Herd of season 6, the horn of the truck, the entrapment of Rick’s group by Negan, those were beautifully envisaged scenarios, but the small stuff could be so much more poetical and philosophical than it has been. Perhaps this was a response to the wanderings in the woods that seemed to form the backbone of seasons 4 and 5, the human stories of the small groups.
The Walking Dead is still a post-apocalypse show, but the one, biggest thing that is missing is the unanswered question. The Saviours arc is strong, but the fixation is on the fight to come and it has been the whole time. The mindfulness of the wider situation is missing. It is natural that the characters have become desensitized to it, but as Michonne’s ‘something big went down here’ reaction suggests, even in this scenario there is some natural inclination to analyse situations and so it is not even particularly unrealistic to give the characters a few moments of wondering, if not just the audience.
…a feeling that someone had called to him from a long way away. He found himself there in that illusive waking moment before reality catches up. He could have been anywhere, at any time in his life.
The Bricks that Built the Houses by Kate Tempest
Philip K. Dick is one of the biggest names in science fiction: fact. His is a well-greased engine, skirting–as all the greatest writers do– all manner of intellectual disciplines as well as the well-trod line between genius and madness.
Of his writing style, his brevity is perhaps one of his biggest strengths: he has a style that is shotgun in its delivery yet dove-like in its poetry.
And just so, a particular paragraph:
But above and beyond everything else, he had originally been drawn by her screwball expression; for no reason, Juliana greeted strangers with a portentous, nudnik, Mona Lisa smile that hung them up between responses, whether to say hello or not. And she was so attractive that more often than not they did say hello, whereupon Juliana glided by.
Like a pinch of gunpowder in a hungover breakfast fry up: brilliant. A wonderful way of describing the often-occuring effect of woman upon man (other variations are available). Read the book to see how that paragraph ends, just as telling as the initial effect where the aforementioned sexualised social interaction is concerned.
At which point a diversion into one of the most frustrating things about male authors: descriptions of female love interests. Unveiled misogyny, or a fair and honest focus on the want of the crotch? I literally closed ‘The Unbearable Lightness of Being’ when I was fifteen/sixteen and lost interest in Milan Kundera based on this male-centred approach to describing the phenomenon that is best explained as ‘woman makes man think of sex’ and is therefore incapable of any accurate empathy, something this reddit thread explores by questioning his relevance in the current age. And as much as I wish I wasn’t writing this, Haruki Murakami is awful for it, though his ‘sad lonely man’ trope does lend itself to such narration, this thread suggests I’m not alone in this and if you read it through you’ll find some interesting theories as to why. It is just so painful to find your heroes are human, that for all their conduction of ethereal abstracts into addictive writing they come out with some dog shit about how some female character is ‘pretty but in a plain sort of way’. It’s difficult to not betray myself here but I read this description of the collision of the human condition and the biological imperative as ‘yeh I guess I’d probably do her’.
Anyway, back to Philip K. Dick: I came to his writing relatively early in my reading life, probably thanks to the shop Fopp, but being a hesitant reader in my teens it was the films based on his books that had me assimilating his ideas as a permanent canal in my tastes. I’d watched and re-watched Total Recall and Screamers many times on home-recorded VHS. I’d seen Imposter and would soon see Minority Report and I had no idea that they were based on his books. I’d also paid for at least two of the seven different edit-releases of Blade Runner: of which around the time I was sixteen my favourite was the noir, Harrison Ford voice-over release.
In 2006, when A Scanner Darkly came out starring Keano Reeves, Woody Harrelson, Robert Downey Jr and Winona Ryder I started reading Ubik because it was cool at nineteen-ish to think I was somehow ‘above’ this fairly hyped, gimmicky cartoon of a film and so the gradual tide of his writing washed over me. Thank god!