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Tuesday, August 05, 2003

Solaris

I have just watched the DVD of this, and was mightily impressed. I do not know the novel upon which it was based, but the film conveyed the feeling of a 1960s sci-fi story. What do I mean by that? (of course, Solaris is actually a 1960s book - unless it was early 70s. To be honest I cannot recall).

Well, to be honest I cannot really describe it. It is the difference between 2001 and between the Gap series by Stephen Donaldson. Both are works I thoroughly enjoyed, and yet I cannot but help feel that the older stories are somehow more polished, more complete than the newer ones. Perhaps it is because the earlier writers seem more restrained, more refined in their use of language. After all, when you are telling a story in only 250-300 pages you have to make every word count. When you are writing a series, or even a stand alone 5-6 hundred page book one can be somewhat slacker. I think modern books are perhaps easier to read, they are easier on the brain, but one misses perhaps the quality of earlier authors.

But that perhaps goes off on a tangent I didn't quite intend. The other aspect of 'classical' sci-fi - if I may be so bold to use that word - is how philosophical the stories are, and how limited. In Solaris the action is completely centred around the character played by George Clooney. This paucity of characters seems to be to be a symptom of the difference I am trying to define. Perhaps the style of writing is another symptom.

Of perhaps the more 'modern' writers the ones that strike me as most similar to Asimov or Clarke et al are CJ Cherryh, Iain M Banks, and Alaister Reynolds. I find the writing quality of all to be superb. The works of all three seem to be far more 'philisophical' than most science fiction today. Compared to the other sci-fi authors prominent on my bookshelf (Stephan Donaldson, LE Modesitt Jr, Peter F Hamilton, Frank Herbert, + others that are hidden behind those because of double-stacking) they seem to be more thoughtfully challenging. The others seem mostly about telling a good story (which imo they do), but these three in addition to telling a good story seem to be making some kind of challenge. Perhaps nothing more than 'think about this', they certainly provoke in me a more thoughtful reaction.

Thinking about this, perhaps that is because all these writers never really explain everything. What is the meaning of 2001? A much debated question. They leave us hanging, and by doing so we have to complete the thoughts they have presented to us, and they do not overwhelm us visually. Perhaps that is the difference I am groping at - the inclusion of the audience in the process. The 'popular' sci-fi of Star Wars or Star Trek often presents us with simple conclusions, and astound us visually. Likewise perhaps more modern sci-fi films like Fifth Element or Event Horizon. So much is taken out of our interpretation. This is not a bad thing, it is just a different thing.

So it was nice to see a film explore once again the restrained filming and thought-provoking tradition of sci-fi. In case you're wondering George Clooney pulls off a very difficult role very well. Indeed, all the acting is superb. And in a film like this, with no stupendous visual extravaganza, acting is what holds it all together. If you haven't seen it I highly recommend it.

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