Saturday, 14 May 2011

Source Code - Slipstreaming into Sci-Fi

Saw the film Source Code recently - refreshing to see a low-tech SF film which delivers on suspense, tension and a good ending. In brief, a soldier finds himself jumping repeatedly back in time to the same train which is always bombed. He has to find the bomber, but each time he has only eight minutes on he train. Moreover, the military controlling his time jumps are clearly lying to him, but about what?

I was reminded oddly enough of Groundhog Day, because during the timeslips his character gradually morphs from being desperate to being more agreeable. This got me thinking about the whole genre, and how it varies on its 'accessibility'. For example, I like reading Peter F Hamilton, and a few like him, but can't help feeling I could occasionally use a degree in astrophysics. Iain Banks has a pretty dense SF context (called the Culture), but he usually manages to make it seem commonplace. This is incidentally the trick of a good SF writer, because people in the future (or parallel universes) will of course take things for granted that we would find stupefying - like an I-Phone or a memory stick would have been seen as SF a mere twenty years ago.

Oddly enough (again) it can be more difficult to write near-term Sci-Fi (e.g. within a hundred years) than to write about a civilization four or five hundred years in the future, because the reader can extrapolate a few decades into the future, and so scrutinizes the 'milieu' more than five hundred years, when the reader can accept at face vale that we co-habit with aliens and teleport rather that taking the metro. In my Ebook, The Eden Paradox, it took a long time to stop writing in a self-fascinated way about my own SF projections (Optron, nodes, etc.) and treat them as if they were just the latest cell-phone. It helps with what is known in the writing trade as the reader's 'suspension of disbelief'. If that 'spell' is broken, the reader puts the book down and usually does not pick it up again.

Back to the point. I believe Sci-Fi can have a much larger audience than it does, both in reading audiences and TV/film media. Source Code does not require any scientific knowledge, there are no space-ships or aliens, and its suspension of disbelief is maintained right to the end (even when it becomes what is known as Slipstream Science Fiction). It makes the viewer think 'what if...?'. That is what good SF does, it makes us think about new possibilities, what could be, and so can affect the way we think about our everyday lives, and all the little decisions which actually frame our lives (our personal 'narrative'). So, if you really hate SF, watch Groundhog Day again and you'll get the same message, but if not, give Source Code a shot.

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