(Why yes, the August F&SF did arrive here yesterday.)
1. I went to see Superman Returns earlier this week. On IMAX. Bits of it (the flashback, the plane crash, the rescue from the boat, and the ending) were in 3D. I enjoyed the spectacle of it, and it’s hard not to have at least some admiration for how transparently mechanical it is, how diligently it ticks the boxes associated with Superman. As summer movies go, it didn’t seem bad.
Lou Anders didn’t care for it much; on the other hand, one of the things he picks up on, the lack of nuance, is actually something I think Singer made a virtue out of. It is strange to see a hero so straightforwardly and comprehensively moral, and as Abigail Nussbaum notes it’s equally strange to see a modern screen version of this story that so thoroughly foregrounds Superman, as opposed to Clark Kent.
What I think both this choices have going for them is that they emphasise the alien-ness of Superman. To the point, in fact, where having seen Smallville, whatever the merits or the flaws of that show, it’s hard to imagine how the Superman of Superman Returns avoided being similarly humanised by his upbringing. It also puts an interesting spin on the Lois/Clark dynamic; personally, I’ve never quite been able to decide if I don’t understand what Clark sees in Lois, or whether I understand all too well, but it’s never been a relationship that quite sits comfortably with me, and this film, I think, plays up that ambivalence. Clark seems more of a disguise, more of an act than ever. At heart, Superman Returns could almost be seen as asking a question in response to Lois’ Pulitzer-winning article; not “Does The World Need Superman?” but “Does Superman Need The World?”
Science Fiction often presents a coded commentary on the present. What current work of science fiction do you think delivers the most relevant/poignant message with respect to our present geopolitical situation?
So a couple of thoughts.
One, define “our”. A book like Geoff Ryman’s Air, for instance, examines the consequences of the increasing connectedness of the world. It’s a brilliant and important novel, and certainly relevant, but it’s not about the “us” that are most likely to be reading this post in the sense that a series like Kim Stanley Robinson’s Science in the Capitol is about us. (I’m trying to think of a recent and particularly British future here, and drawing a blank. How embarrassing.) It’s not just that the answer to the question depends on where you’re standing, but that I think mainstream sf is (finally) becoming aware of that fact.
Two, I’m interested in the time-sensitivity implied in the question. Accept as a given that all fiction is a response to the times in which it’s written, and that looking back at now from ten years in the future it is likely to be more obvious which books were prescient. The question is then really about what seems most relevant now, which implies fiction with a certain consciousness in its approach. This seems to me to take us either in the direction of deliberate allegory, or more interestingly towards something like Sterling-definition slipstream (works that make you feel very strange, the way living in the early twenty-first century makes you feel).
Here’s my suggestion: Hav by Jan Morris. It’s possibly the slowest fixup in history, being comprised of a short novel, “Last Letters From Hav”, published in 1985, and a long novella, “Hav of the Myrmidons”, published this year, plus an introduction to bind the two together. It’s fiction in the style of travel writing, and an exploration of a city that doesn’t exist, and how it changes over time. In its 1985 incarnation, Hav seems bowed down by the weight of history, of multiple colliding traditions; in its 2006 incarnation, it seems both febrile and somehow diminished. Ursula le Guin, reviewing it for The Guardian, argued that it’s science fiction, and concluded:
Morris says in the epilogue that if Hav is an allegory, she’s not sure what it is about. I don’t take it as an allegory at all. I read it as a brilliant description of the crossroads of the west and east in two recent eras, viewed by a woman who has truly seen the world, and who lives in it with twice the intensity of most of us. Its enigmas are part of its accuracy. It is a very good guidebook, I think, to the early 21st century.
3. Strange Horizons reviews is having a Doctor Who week. Specifically, Iain Clark reviews “School Reunion“, Tim Phipps reviews Love and Monsters“, Abigail Nussbaum reviews the season two finale, and Graham Sleight provides an overview of the whole season. Speaking as someone who didn’t really watch Who growing up (or at least not sufficiently for it to have been a formative experience), it’s been interesting to see how differently seasons one and two of the new version have been received.