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  1. #1

    Transformation of Science Fiction.

    Hi all.

    I'm currently doing a module in University called 'Science Fiction & Fantasy TV' which is shaping up to be really interesting. My first assignment is as follows:

    Discuss the ways in which science fiction television has developed since the 1950s to “become the most influential mode of a genre that has largely managed to cast of the escapist label and has established itself as one of the key mirrors of the contemporary cultural climate.”

    As part of my research for my essay, I'm interested in what fans of SF think on the topic - particularly those who may remember SF in the 50s, 60s or even 70s, who can provide me with their views on how things have changed and whether or not they think that SF is a much more socially accepted form of adult entertainment in today's society. Anybody is welcome to reply and share their views on the transformation of the SF genre so please, do feel free to participate as it will be greatly appreciated.

    Thanks for reading and I look forward to any replies.
    Kirsty.

  2. #2
    Live Long & Suffer psikeyhackr's Avatar
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    HARLAN ELLISON, J. MICHAEL STRACZYNKSKI INTERVIEW
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JDNrnpefGio

    The audience has expanded since the 60s but they are less picky about what they regard as science fiction. The so called SF has gotten more LITERARY.

    For TV the technology has made the special effects much better. Watch Babylon 5 to see the closest thing to good SF from the 60 in video format.

    But everybody has to see technology changing around them. It is not just watching rocket launches like in the 60s. The programmable TV remote control is too complicated for some people to use.

    psik

  3. #3
    I am 42. I am not sure I agree with the premise of your assignment. I think there are probably *more* science fiction movies and television shows than in past decades, that collectively have a greater portion of TV ratings and movie revenues, but I'm not sure the difference is all that marked. I mean, obviously Star Wars marked a cultural shift of some sort, and you could probably map increasing penetration by decade, with big shifts from the 60s to 70s to 80s, but I dont know that the 90s and 2000 decades were all that different. Now if you were talking the fantasy genre, and willing to include vampires, then you obviously have a bigger recent cultural shift, but sci-fi, I think you have to go back further to find a real shift. Or at least I'd need to see some numbers showing that the 90s and 2000 decades were different.

    Assuming that there are in fact more sci-fi shows/movies and/or that they have a higher penetration, that still doesnt mean that "serious" science-fiction -- science fiction that tries to imagine a plaussible and logically consistent future with innovative technologies -- has more penetration. Generally speaking, I think serious science fiction is mostly found in books, and most movies and TV shows are about splashy explosions and other cool special effects. Take for example Terra Nova's second episode -- a totally mindless and unimaginative excuse to have a little dino adventure. There wasnt much in the way of sci-fi, or anything in the way of realism or brains, in that episode. So yeah, I think there is greater societal acceptance of sci-fi as an excuse for splashy special effects and a vehicle for mindless entertainment, but that isnt the same thing as saying there is more acceptance of serious science fiction.

    Now its true that in recent years, you have had some shows that tried to inject a bit more of a realistic feel into the genre. For example, Stargate Universe was infinitely more "realistic" than prior Stargates. (Dont listen to Psyhacker!) And it did poorly in the ratings because of it. People want evil aliens, and splashy battles, even if the aliens need to be completely moronic and never learn to give the under-teched and under-equipped humans a chance.
    Last edited by ArtNJ; October 6th, 2011 at 10:32 AM.

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    _ amenhotepi noori noori's Avatar
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    Sf

    when i think of Today's SF, i immediately think of Stargate SG-1 ! to me, Stargate SG-1 says: "... where we have arrived !" the Stargate SG-1"ideas" [viz:] its "tech and pseudoscience" promulgated is "a good dose of realism." when Star Trek started [first draft for the series: 1961] the use/mis-use then of its [viz] "pseudoscience" was minima [ie smallest value that the function takes at a point etc etc]! nowadays, ANY-THING goes ! ANY science whatsoever ! maybe its that SF [on the screen] was young in the 60's. remember the 60's was 50 yrs ago [then; it was the beginning of tv/broadcasting] ?
    i love it. it must spur the serious SF geek and 'Science' to make assumptions about the real-world we live in ! to me: its challenging _

  5. #5
    Thanks everybody for taking the time to reply. I find it particularly interesting what you were saying, ArtNJ (or how I interpreted what you were saying) about how true quality of science fiction has perhaps been somewhat sacrificed in order to gain more of an acceptance of science fiction overall. Correct me if I interpreted wrongly there, of course.

    Also, noori noori, regarding the interest in having a good dose of realism is fascinating as SF on the whole is generally related with a desire to see aliens, the future, space and all things typically unrealistic in our present time.

    Would you think that it is essential to science fiction to believe the aliens, the storylines and everything about whichever SF you chose to watch or are we expected to suspend our disbelief? Or is a delicate balance between realism and suspension of flaws perhaps the ideal?

    What does everybody think about science fiction television programmes being used as a vehicle for portraying societies fears and paranoia? For example, it is well known that early episodes of Star Trek were often seen to be refecting tensions between the USA and Russia.

    Thanks again.

  6. #6
    Live Long & Suffer psikeyhackr's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by ArtNJ View Post
    Now its true that in recent years, you have had some shows that tried to inject a bit more of a realistic feel into the genre. For example, Stargate Universe was infinitely more "realistic" than prior Stargates. (Dont listen to Psyhacker!) And it did poorly in the ratings because of it. People want evil aliens, and splashy battles, even if the aliens need to be completely moronic and never learn to give the under-teched and under-equipped humans a chance.
    And WHAT did I say was realistic about Stargate Atlantis?

    psik

  7. #7
    Live Long & Suffer psikeyhackr's Avatar
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    Read this:

    THE YEAR WHEN STARDUST FELL by Raymond F. Jones
    http://www.amazon.com/Year-When-Star.../dp/1935774409
    http://www.readcentral.com/book/Raym...st-Fell-Online

    Pay attention to the ATTITUDE about science presented in the story. It is not about characterization or prose or things that they make a big deal about in science fiction these days.

    psik
    Last edited by psikeyhackr; October 6th, 2011 at 01:43 PM.

  8. #8
    Quote Originally Posted by psikeyhackr View Post
    And WHAT did I say was realistic about Stargate Atlantis?

    psik
    I believe it was Dr. Rodney McKay's incredible degree of narcissistic self-absorption. Next thing you know you'll be defending Counselor Troy

    Ok, ok, OT diversion ended. We can continue bantering later
    Last edited by ArtNJ; October 6th, 2011 at 04:25 PM.

  9. #9
    Quote Originally Posted by psikeyhackr View Post
    Read this:

    THE YEAR WHEN STARDUST FELL by Raymond F. Jones
    http://www.amazon.com/Year-When-Star.../dp/1935774409
    http://www.readcentral.com/book/Raym...st-Fell-Online

    Pay attention to the ATTITUDE about science presented in the story. It is not about characterization or prose or things that they make a big deal about in science fiction these days.

    psik
    This sounds pretty interesting and I'll definately give it a read but my assignment has to focus on science fiction TV so I won't be able to draw on this too heavily for fear of getting distracted, as I do too easily, haha. Thanks

  10. #10
    Live Long & Suffer psikeyhackr's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Kirsty_ View Post
    This sounds pretty interesting and I'll definately give it a read but my assignment has to focus on science fiction TV so I won't be able to draw on this too heavily for fear of getting distracted, as I do too easily, haha. Thanks
    Science Fiction Theater - "Three Minute Mile"
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fy_e75wdISg

    Science Fiction Theater - "When a Camera Fails"
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sIs3jBaXq5s

    SFT - End of Tomorrow 1/3
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_KPQGXjXlbY

    Watch some stuff from the 50s and see hoe much it is like Star Trek Voyager.

    psik

  11. #11
    _ amenhotepi noori noori's Avatar
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    the ideal?

    Quote Originally Posted by Kirsty_ View Post
    Would you think that it is essential to science fiction to believe the aliens, the storylines and everything about whichever SF you chose to watch or are we expected to suspend our disbelief? Or is a delicate balance between realism and suspension of flaws perhaps the ideal?

    personally speaking [Kirsty,] yes i think SF should be: "a delicate balance between realism and suspension of flaws perhaps the ideal" [your quote].

    after-all, respective The Future Tense: SF is always Fiction, isnt it ? ... best portrayed as such ....

    viewed respective in The Past, the "Science" in "SF" becomes/= : less fiction etc etc. thereabouts
    Last edited by noori noori; October 6th, 2011 at 07:02 PM. Reason: edit text

  12. #12
    Live Long & Suffer psikeyhackr's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by ArtNJ View Post
    I believe it was Dr. Rodney McKay's incredible degree of narcissistic self-absorption. Next thing you know you'll be defending Counselor Troy
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GquXssLtRaU
    The interaction of the geeks with each other and non-geeks.
    But seriously, there was a scene early in the series where McKay and Zelenka are playing this game with prime number and they try to bring Ford into it and keep talking about how bad Ford is at it. Ford goes off and says something like, "Now you see why guys like me were always kicking the asses of guys like you."

    Now McKay was saying that the chances of guessing whether the number was prime was 50%. But if the numbers are randomly selected much less than 50% of numbers are prime. So it would make sense to just always say not prime. But of course the person supplying the numbers would notice this and only give prime numbers in which case that method would give 100% wrong answers.

    But it is the interaction of the geeks with each other and the non-geeks that makes it interesting and funny. What do you do when a smart alek asshole save your life because he's a smart alek. KILL HIM!

    Compare McKay to Dr. Zarkov.

    psik
    Last edited by psikeyhackr; October 7th, 2011 at 05:46 PM.

  13. #13
    Fulgurous Moderator KatG's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Kirsty_ View Post
    Hi all.

    I'm currently doing a module in University called 'Science Fiction & Fantasy TV' which is shaping up to be really interesting.
    Yay! Good for you.

    Discuss the ways in which science fiction television has developed since the 1950s to “become the most influential mode of a genre
    The most influential mode of the SF/SciFi genre I would say would be movies, not t.v., although t.v. helped. It was the 1950's through the 1970's, when SF was a rapidly growing field, when SF movies were being made in large numbers and a lot of them were adaptations of SF books and stories, when SF authors wrote for Hollywood, served as consultants and appeared on t.v. non-fiction shows to talk about science. Movies like 2001, Fantastic Voyage, Fahrenheit 451, Failsafe, even more controversial or bombastic films like Soylent Green, Planet of the Apes, and later Star Wars, etc. all helped to bring readers to SF and to heighten SF's profile as a popular, and thus important and serious, trend. (Yes, it's weird, but it works that way.)

    What also helped immensely were the universities, the youth in them who embraced books like Stranger in a Strange Land, Foundation, The Left Hand of Darkness, etc., and professors willing to put SF (and fantasy) into the curriculum. Feminist SF, for instance, proved an excellent match for women's studies which helped cement SF as a serious field of endeavor.

    Television helped too, mostly because of playhouse series that sometimes presented further adaptations of SF stories and series like The Twilight Zone, and Outer Limits. This again allowed SF writers to get much larger exposure for what they were doing, but after the 1970's when t.v. no longer was replicating theater as much, it got more sporadic and less connected to print. SF and fantasy are staples of television but they are often intermittent and after the 1970's not as much connected to print SF except for comic superheroes. SF movies also dropped off in adaptations of written SF from the 1980's on, but in the last decade SF movies have done sporadically well and there is currently a return of interest in aliens and SF novels and YA SF in Hollywood that follows on the heels of growth in fantasy stories and YA fantasy and SF in print, giving the movies built in audiences and they in turn return the favor.

    that has largely managed to cast off the escapist label and has established itself as one of the key mirrors of the contemporary cultural climate.
    It established itself as one of the key mirrors of society back in the 1950's. And it has not largely managed to cast off the escapist label. It continues to be considered on the whole highly escapist and not of much literary merit by voices that often get heard (and are usually older.) SF that is considered literary is usually still attempted to be cast as not really SF, and the same with movies and t.v. shows. It becomes part of the marketing: "we're SF, but we're more than that" or "we have SF stuff, but it's not scary, boring, complicated, unemotional, cheesy, etc." This is partly because much of the media insists that shows use these terms still, and the media remains the biggest problem in eliminating myths about SF as a field. Having a convergence of marketing methods among movies, t.v., comics and to a lesser extent books, SF has been accepted by most as at least sort of "mainstream" despite having been mainstream for over a hundred years. Age and continued interest from millions of people eventually get the point across that SF is not a weird passing fad of awkward teens like bell bottoms.

    None of which helps you with your essay, the topic of which is based partly on that media marketing -- we're SF but we're more than that, the idea that SF has changed and now is more serious and worth more than it was before -- the way that they sell new SF by saying it isn't your father's Oldsmobile even though it is. But you know what, we might as well have that media marketing work for us. So, actual changes in t.v.:

    1) Women! You could get away with a lot with independent, spunky women characters in SF, but on t.v. in the 1950's-1970's, it was still kind of limited and women usually weren't the main leaders. Women writers and female leads were quite present in written SF -- though it wasn't easy for them either -- but not t.v. Gradually, this changed and women showed up more as major characters and sometimes leads. By the time we got to Star Trek Voyager and a woman captain, we'd reached perhaps a turning point. (My knowledge of British SF is unfortunately weak as it's only in the last decade we really got to see a lot of it Stateside besides Doctor Who, but I think that trend would generally be followed there too.)

    2) Length! The shift from short stories and novellas to more emphasis on short novels and from short novels to longer ones and series in print SF is reflected maybe in the development of SF t.v. In the 1950's, SF was most powerful in anthology series like Zone and Outer Limits -- short stories -- and special t.v. movies -- novellas. As t.v. developed, however, shows started doing more consistent stories like Lost in Space and My Favorite Martian. These shows were episodic mostly, but would have an overarching goal -- getting home in space, getting the Martian back home, etc. that would pop up sometimes. Over time, those overarching plot aspects became more and more integral to a lot of series -- longer plotlines. SFF shows' "mythology" became increasingly important and a way to suck viewers in versus shortness and novelty in the earlier decades. Babylon 5 attempted the ultimate in the 1990's -- essentially a novel involving time travel that takes place over five seasons of t.v. (If you don't watch the whole thing, then you don't get to find out about the weird symbol back in Season 1 and so forth.)

    3) Special Effects! The big problem for SF t.v. is that such shows are expensive and need a lot in the budget for special effects and sets. As the technology developed, taking huge leaps in the 1980-00's decades, cooler looking special effects became easier and cheaper to make, from make-up to matte paintings. Sets could often be partially replaced by green screen and become computer generated spectaculars, aliens could get more alienier (Farscape uses puppets that don't look like puppets,) and t.v. series could do bigger stories that used to be only possible in movies. This has now made series like Stargate, Andromeda, etc. able to go hang out in space a lot (although t.v. execs still get wary of those.)

    If you look at something like Buck Rogers in the 21st Century, you can see in the movie in the late 1970's that they had an impressive dystopian wasteland for Earth of the future with domed cities. When they turned it into a t.v. series for the 1980's, they ditched all that and made Earth have rapidly rebuilt and reclaimed wasteland -- they couldn't afford to do stuff like they had in the movie as a weekly series. They stuck to interiors and fighter ships in space when they could and a lot of it resembled the Love Boat. Contrast that with current day show Sanctuary -- a Canadian-created, low budget syndicated SF series that does nearly everything in green screen, marking a new change for these shows and allowing Sanctuary to do vast landscapes and creatures, and the same with shows like Primeval in Britain. You can still do shows that use a smaller scope, like cop shows with some SF elements or 3rd Rock from the Sun, but there's now more choice -- t.v. shows are not limited by their small screen.

    And that does, consequently, allow shows to get on the air and expose larger numbers of people to SF shows from youth cable channels to AMC doing Walking Dead. For any person 25 years old or younger, SFFH is as natural as breathing. For any one 25-50, SFFH has been the dominant form of entertainment and the written material they studied in school, all the mediums they could study in college. So it's not so much that SF is now more seriously tackling great themes, neat ideas and emotional moments. It's just that now we're more willing to admit it and it's more natural for us to think of it that way and that understanding is slowly filtering into the media.

    I'm hoping that some of this helps, although it may not.

  14. #14
    Live Long & Suffer psikeyhackr's Avatar
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    I suppose one thing you need to research and mention is all of the BAD REVIEWS that 2001: A Space Odyssey got in 1968. But people loved it anyway. One reviewer actually recanted. To what extent do reviewers expect to manipulate the public mind and to what extent do they actually succeed?

    psik

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    _ amenhotepi noori noori's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by psikeyhackr View Post
    To what extent do reviewers expect to manipulate the public mind and to what extent do they actually succeed?

    psik
    i dont think they actually succeed much, psik. the reviewers are there like tapestry in a theater, seems to me. in the end the public "numbers" certify the cleverness of a movie etc, probably. .... i mean movie-goers [like: bums on seats.] personally, i never bother with the reviews. nowadays i may watch a trailer though ! is that a review ? umm
    Last edited by noori noori; October 8th, 2011 at 01:36 PM. Reason: editing text

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