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Friday, April 8, 2011

A Science Fiction Revival in Film, Part II

Aliens are invading your nearest multiplex. Mad scientists are stalking the aisles. And, if you’re not careful, some form of were-creature will have a paw in your popcorn before the summer is out. We’re in the midst of an SF revival in the theaters the like of which we haven’t seen since the days of THEM! and INVASION OF THE BODY-SNATCHERS.

Over half a dozen certifiable science fiction films are on movie screens nationwide right now, with a half dozen more due to hit screens this summer. Steven Spielberg will return to his SF roots as executive producer of SUPER 8 (J.J. Abrams directs), Harrison Ford straps on again in COWBOYS AND ALIENS and hordes of younger heroes leap onto the screen to beguile us in THOR, SUPERMAN, TRANSFORMERS, APOLLO 18 and on and on.

Dusting off those old screenplays, hmm? And well you might. Science fiction romance plays well on the screen—the good-looking hero and heroine fighting side by side, sexy banter providing some comic relief to the thrills and chills. Smart casting decisions give both date-night moviegoers something to look at. And a smart writer and director realize that balancing both sides of the story—romance and action—can keep lovers of both emotional fireworks and actual explosions happy. (In fact this is how all movies used to work, back when Hollywood made pictures for the whole family. The idea was to engage the audience emotionally and viscerally.)

AVATAR was a perfect example of this. The SF thrills and techie bells and whistles got the fanboys (and girls) into the theaters. The love story enthralled the moms and wives and girlfriends (and not a few guys, too, I’m sure). AVATAR was something every couple could agree on, and, like the best SF films, it had tremendous repeat business.

The problem is, this shared experience is not something that translates well to reading. (And please understand, these are stereotypes I’m talking about here, to make a point.) The guy who loves his thrill-a-minute action movie, if he reads at all, will likely choose to read only a thrill-a-page military thriller or crime novel or hard SF novel. The woman whose choice in movies runs to EAT, PRAY, LOVE, is going to read Eat, Pray, Love. She may read romance—historical, contemporary, even paranormal. But it is unlikely she will read hard SF, and it’s unlikely her action-loving husband will read romance. They only went to that AVATAR movie together because they each thought the other would be okay with it.

Would either of them read SFR? She might if it was packaged right. It would be a tough sell. He probably wouldn’t. He’s just a hard case.

I think that leaves us with a very small opportunity from all this interest in SF on the screen. We may be able to convince agents and editors that some of these old stereotypes are breaking down. The audiences that are filling these theaters must be made up of more than just fanboys and their significant others. (Or we can interest the fanboys and their SO’s in buying SFR. ComicCon, anyone?) Women, particularly young women, have their own interest in SF and SFR, as the SFR Brigade certainly attests.

One major opportunity that is reflected on the big screen appears to be in young adult fiction. Most of what we’re seeing onscreen is skewed to a younger audience—teens to barely legal adults. (This is nothing new, either. Remember I WAS A TEENAGE WEREWOLF? THE BLOB?) Still, I have a limited tolerance for watching teenagers working out their individual angst in the midst of a world-threatening crisis. And, seriously, I’m supposed to believe Timothy Olyphant is the old guy in I AM NUMBER FOUR? Please. I know I’m ancient, but I’m not dead. (And have you seen Justified?)

At any rate, YA is a recognized full-blast trend in genre fiction these days. If you got it, flaunt it. I don’t think it necessarily translates to good things for SFR in general, but YA readers do seem to like SF, if that means anything.

And in the meantime, just keep writing. We may ride the wave, or it may come crashing down over our heads. But as my role model, Linda Howard, once said, you just have to follow the story. No matter where what shore it leads you to.



Donna’s Journal

Action!

Actions I've taken as a writer. Where am I? What am I doing?

I returned briefly to the first draft of Fools Rush In, the third novel of my Interstellar Rescue series, this week and got a bit of work done. But a meeting with my critique partner sent me scurrying back to Trouble in Mind to eke out further revisions to that WIP. Linda is a tough task master, but I’m confident she’ll have all the emotional content right before I pass this on to Laurie, who’ll beat me over the head about verbiage and such. I actually thought I could write before these people got ahold of me.

Bookshelf

Books we’re reading and mini-reviews . . .

I thoroughly enjoyed reading Darynda Jones’s fabulous First Grave on the Right, which took the Golden Heart awards by storm two years ago. The novel is not SFR, but can be roughly classified as a paranormal-romantic suspense-urban fantasy-chick lit crossover. With a lot of snarky humor. So much snarky humor that I laughed out loud—a lot—while reading it. There is just no way to describe anything about the plot of this story of a PI-by-day-Grim Reaper-by-night without giving it away. You can see why this was either destined to cause a publishing sensation or be forever doomed to rejection hell. Fortunately for all of us, Darynda found an agent and an editor who were smart and brave enough to see her genius. The only objection I have is that all involved saw fit to end this book with a cliffhanger. They’re making us wait for the next book in the series (a la Karen Marie Moning’s Bloodfever series) to see what happens. Hate that!


Cheers, Donna

1 comment:

  1. Great, informative and thought-packed post, as always, Donna. :) Let me chime in on a few things (working backward).

    I had the same reaction to Darynda Jones' fantastic novel. There are very few books that can make me LOL. With FIRST GRAVE ON THE RIGHT I laughed, giggled and pounded-my-fist-on-the-chair gaffawed. I closed the book and said, also out loud, "Now that's entertainment!"

    I will have to argue with you a bit on the not-SFR comment though. I do believe it has enough SF elements to be classified as such (a Paranormal Romance with SFR elements). Not just for the multiple references to classic SF, but also for the ending revelation. (Remember where one of the MCs was born. *wink, wink*) Anyhow, just my take.

    And yes, I think the only thing holding SFR back from blossoming with the current SF/R surge in film is the lack of visual stimuli. Imagine trying to seamlessly decribe the nifty-cool holographic, 360 degree, multi-colored flight control panels in Avatar. Awesome, weren't they?

    I think it is possible to wordcraft the phrases that would summon these images in SFR. If we don't just throw characters on a spacecraft, but let them oooh and ahhh at the mysteries of the universe around them--the sightseeing opportunities, so to speak. I believe that's an element that's sometimes overlooked in print for fear of too much world-building (or research). But describing a star nursery in 50 words or less (nods to Marcella Burnard) so readers can visualize its mystery, violence and majesty in their heads could be what sets SFR apart as its own unique genre. But it also makes it challenging to write.

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