Robert J. Sawyer on SF and Hollywood

Jeremy Eades @ 11-02-2008

The Canadian TV show “Big Ideas” on TV Ontario had homegrown SF author

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on to talk about the effect Hollywood, and specifically the blockbuster concept of Star Wars, has had on the genre of science fiction – specifically how the social commentary edge to it has been dulled on the silver screen, which has extended to writing as well.

Sawyer gives a history of science fiction and how certain works have stood up over time, while others have not.  It’s quite interesting, at least for those of us who like to get meta about our reading genres.  In many past societies, direct criticism of rulers or social norms were ill-received, often ending in prison sentences or worse, while analogies and euphemisms thrived under plausible deniability.  But today, it’s not such a big deal.  Does this spell the end for disguised social critique?  Or do we still need to have our ideas challenged in surreptitious ways?  What say Futurismic readers?

Give the podcast a listen, and as a bonus, listen to Steven Pinker swear on the same page.

[Edit: Fixed the link, thanks to commenter Nancy Jane Moore]

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4 Responses to “Robert J. Sawyer on SF and Hollywood”

  1. magetoo says:

    The link seems to bounce you right back to the root of tvo.org. Or is it because I’m coming from outside the country? I know that TV people love to mess with the Web in unexpected ways.

  2. Nancy Jane Moore says:

    Here’s a better link — or at least it worked for me:
    http://www.tvo.org/podcasts/bi/audio/BI_Full_RobertSawyer_020208.mp3
    Excellent talk and well worth a listen; he not only discusses the flaws in Sci-Fi blockbusters, but addresses religion as well.

    As for Jeremy’s question about whether we still need to use fiction to disguise critiques of the power structure, I offer three points:
    1. There are plenty of places in the world right now where saying what you think will get you arrested and/or killed.
    2. There are plenty of powerful people even here in the US who would love to do away with our First Amendment rights. And anyone who wants to avoid trouble had better be careful what they say about anyone our government has labeled a terrorist.
    3. Fiction often does social critique considerably better than op-ed articles and general essays, perhaps because it has room for more subtleties. Sawyer makes that clear. In good fiction, right and wrong are rarely easily labeled, so you have to think about issues in a much more complex fashion.

  3. Jeremy Eades says:

    “In good fiction, right and wrong are rarely easily labeled, so you have to think about issues in a much more complex fashion.”

    Sawyer’s point about Star Wars was that its clear demarcation of good and evil causes us to forgive the bad things the good guys do. I loved the part about Skywalker as slaver and how no one noticed sentient droids being denied entry to a bar as a parallel to civil rights. I never noticed, has anyone else?

  4. magetoo says:

    Thanks for that direct link, it worked for me too.