Wednesday, 20 June 2018

New Worlds: Science Fiction & Beyond

To be honest, I've always had a difficult time differentiating Science Fiction and Fantasy. There are a lot of overlapping themes, so where does the one end and the other begin? This was a recurring question for me while writing my BA dissertation, as one particular article referred to Fantasy as a sub-genre of Science-Fiction (which I don't necessarily think is true). So when I took on a Science-Fiction course at UEA, I didn't really know what to expect. Once I started though, all my conventions were completely destroyed.

Previously I always categorised shows like Doctor Who and Star Trek, or films like Star Wars, as sci-fi, and most of the other stuff, such as The Handmaid's Tale as fantasy. But that's not really how it works. That being said there's not a very clear division between the two. Some, or most, novels could be classified as both, or at least contain elements of both genres. Interestingly enough, I was unfamiliar with most of the texts included as primary reading for this course, with the exception of a few films and text here and there. Unfortunately, I found that most of them were really disappointing, boring or just plain annoying (in my opinion).

Firstly, H.G. Wells' The Time Machine. I understand that it's the first of its kind (as in time travel/machine narrative) which somewhat gives it a high status within sci-fi; however, that being said, I did not enjoy it. It's only about 100 pages long, but I just could not commit to it. The first 10 pages were interesting enough, but the next 90ish pages consist of a (stuck-up) character talking about his travelling ... No dialogue, just an endless narration of the events. It was like reading a biased summary of a book. That's where Wells lost me. That's not to say that the stories he tells aren't interesting, I just didn't like the writing style. Had Wells created a story in which the reader is able to experience the story/adventures with the main character, I might have enjoyed it, but I just got really frustrated by the way it's written that I decided to not finish reading it (I know ... shame on me). Afterwards I talked to a friend of mine who read Wells' War of the Worlds for a sci-fi course at her university, and she had similar issues. So it's completely put me off Wells as a whole.

The other assigned books included Food of the Gods by Wells (so I didn't read it); The Sirens of Titan by Kurt Vonnegut (1959); Swastika Night by Katharine Burdekin, published in 1937 (though it was originally published under a different name); Memoirs of a Survivor (1974); 'Metamorphosis' by Franz Kafka (1915); The Bees by Laline Paull (2014); The City & The City by China Miéville (2009). We also watched a bunch of films in accordance with the theme of the books, such as The Terminator, La Jetée, The Incredible Shrinking Man, Children of Men, The Fly, Alphaville, an episode of The Handmaid's Tale. Most of these I wouldn't have classified as sci-fi i the past, but that's mainly due to my misconception of the genre's. Unfortunately, due to a month long strike in February/March, we were unable to discuss a large amount of the previously mentioned novels and films. So instead, I'd like to discuss the two books I loved, namely Swastika Night and The City & The City.


With Swastika Night I didn't quite expect to enjoy the novel as much as I did (due to the subject matter, as illustrated by the title and cover). But it's such an interesting experience. Especially when you think about the fact that it was published in 1937, which effectively means that some details she includes in the novel are somewhat predictions of historical events surrounding the second world war (such as involvement of specific countries). Some of my classmates compared the novel to Orwell's books, but as I can't say much about that as I haven't read them (yet! I know ... they are all on my list and in my collection). It also somewhat resembles ideas of The Handmaid's Tale in terms of treatment of women, but it is a lot more extreme. I definitely recommend it! It is frustrating to read at times due to the extreme sexism and racism, but that's also what makes it so relevant (still!). That being said, when looking at the novel from it's 1937 perspective, it is quite sci-fi as it discusses the possible future; however, it is difficult to view it as such now. Yet, it is unclear how much time has passed as they no longer have access to the history of the world. It is mentioned that about 700 years have passed since the war, but the time is counted differently so that really doesn't say much.


The City & The City is also a novel I would have classified as fantasy rather than science fiction, due to the subject matter, lack of space, time travel and the like, and the inclusion of what seems like supernatural entities/abilities. Though this book was incredibly confusing, I really enjoyed reading it. The mix of crime and science-fiction/fantasy makes for an interesting environment. It's also really confusing to the characters, they are not entirely sure who Breach is, what they do. The lack of knowledge on the murder case increases the general confusion. The only problem I have with this book is the odd writing at times. Some times China really drags on, while in other parts he rushes through it. Especially near the end. I was hoping to get some answers to the general questions about Breach, the supernatural entities, the differences between the cities, the confusion, but that doesn't really happen. It might have been better had this book been divided into a series as it often felt like too much was happening to cover merely one novel. That being said, the reason my teacher classifies it as sci-fi, is due to the fact that it supposedly located in our future. This is noticable in the weapons and technology used in the novel, but not so much in other areas. This novel is a classic case of overlap between sci-fi and fantasy (at least in my opinion). 


For my final project, I discussed time travel and its consequences within popular culture, and specifically looked at The Terminator, an episode of Doctor Who, and an episode of Gravity Falls. Regardless of his lessons, the teacher still asked me if Gravity Falls shouldn't be considered rather as fantasy rather than sci-fi (which I thought was ironic but also understandable). Gravity Falls is another show I would not have considered to be sci-fi before, but in hindsight it is definitely both. For example, there is an episode in which Dipper and Mabel hunt their local Loch Ness monster. It turns out (spoiler alert) it's a machine rather than a monster! It is for that reason (and a bunch of other reasons) I decided to include it in my final project for my sci-fi course (and also because I really love the show!). Though time travel is often considered as sci-fi due to its scientific components, this might not necessarily be the case for GF, as the tools and reasoning behind it could be considered as fantastical; however, I felt it was both and discussed it as such (like most of the novels, films and stuff I had to read/watch for this course). I will look at novels I read for pleasure at a different time! Hope you enjoyed this blog entry!

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