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Projections: Science Fiction in Literature and Film
edited by Lou Anders
MonkeyBrain Books, 329 pages

Projections: Science Fiction in Literature and Film
Lou Anders
Lou Anders is an editor, author, and journalist. He is the editorial director of Prometheus Books' science fiction imprint Pyr, as well as the anthologies Outside the Box (Wildside Press, 2001), Live Without a Net (Roc, 2003), Projections (MonkeyBrain, December 2004), and FutureShocks (Roc, January 06) . He served as the senior editor for Argosy Magazine's inaugural issues in 2003-04. In 2000, he served as the Executive Editor of Bookface.com, and before that he worked as the Los Angeles Liaison for Titan Publishing Group. He is the author of The Making of Star Trek: First Contact (Titan Books, 1996), and has published over 500 articles in such magazines as The Believer, Dreamwatch, Star Trek Monthly, Star Wars Monthly, Babylon 5 Magazine, Sci Fi Universe, Doctor Who Magazine, and Manga Max. His articles have been translated into German and French, and have appeared online at SF Site, RevolutionSF.com and InfinityPlus.co.uk.

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Past Feature Reviews
A review by Matthew Cheney

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Like Venn diagrams passing in the night, the audiences for science fiction movies and books may overlap at certain points. But there is no law saying that a person who went to see I, Robot three times in the theatre also has a subscription to Asimov's magazine. The pleasures the two media offer are different. As James Gunn says in his essay "The Tinsel Screen," collected in Projections, "The problem with the science fiction film may be that it adds nothing to science fiction except concreteness of image -- and that may be more of a drawback than an asset." Nonetheless, Gunn is optimistic for the future of SF movies that put ideas, rather than just monsters and explosions, onto film, and he cites Blade Runner, Dark City, and The Matrix as examples of movies that have begun to bring some of the qualities, or at least some of the ideas, of written SF to the screen.

Directly after Gunn's essay comes an appreciation of Edgar Rice Burroughs by Mike Resnick. It's a pleasant enough piece of writing, and would make a nice introduction to a reissued edition of Burroughs's The Land that Time Forgot, but why does it follow Gunn's essay?

I know: Tarzan, a figure originally created by Burroughs, has long been a character in movies, radio dramas, and TV shows. In fact, there may be elements of Tarzan in Han Solo. And Gunn mentions Star Wars in his essay. Presto -- the connection between the two pieces is made obvious!

Figuring out why the pieces in Projections are arranged in the order they are, or why some pieces have even been included at all, is nearly as much fun as playing "Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon," the game where players attempt to link the actor Kevin Bacon to people to whom he has no obvious connection. As a game it's fun; as an editorial strategy it's lazy.

Seven of the selections in the book are original to it and twenty-one are reprinted from other sources, though a few have been revised from their original publication. There must be a reason editor Lou Anders chose to reprint the essays he reprinted, rather than choosing any of the thousands of others published over the past couple decades, but no specific reason is ever given.

Or maybe the selection is random. Maybe Anders grabbed some essays by people he knew or whose names were prominent in the SF field and tossed them, like salad or coins, into the book. It's unlikely that a completely random selection would be so dominated by male writers, though. Projections contains only one essay by a woman, a look at hard SF by Catherine Asaro. Some of the best essayists in the field are women (Ursula K. Le Guin, L. Timmel Duchamp, Judith Berman, and many others), and the laws of chance suggest that a truly random selection would not be so noticeably unbalanced.

Nonetheless, a loose editorial strategy, annoying as it is, does not necessarily lead to a useless book. Even if the whole is not larger than its parts, the parts can be interesting in and of themselves, and such is the case here. There are essays in defense of science, scientists, and the scientific method, and there are also essays like John Grant's "Gullliver Unravels: Generic Fantasy and the Loss of Subversion," a jeremiad against unimaginative fantasy novels. There are essays about the differences in attitudes between British SF and American, about TV shows and movies made in Australia, about writers such as H.G. Wells, Leigh Brackett, Mervyn Peake, Samuel R. Delany, and J.R.R. Tolkien (a marvelous take-down by David Brin, who has also been included with an essay that essentially accuses George Lucas of promoting fascism). There is even Jonathan Lethem's infamous "The Squandered Promise of Science Fiction," an eloquent argument for the dismantling of SF as a genre.

Thus, some of the essays are about books, some about movies, some about both. The only criterion for inclusion seems to have been that the author be someone who is serious about science fiction. This is a valuable criterion, because many things get written about SF (particularly SF films) by people who know nothing about the genre's history, standards, or peculiarities. A review by Lucius Shepard of the recent film of The Time Machine or The X-Men (both included in the anthology) is likely to be more substantive -- and amusing -- than most of the hundreds of other reviews of those movies, because Shepard is capable of offering intelligent insights both about film as an art form and about SF tropes and how they are employed.

Projections is less an anthology about film and literature than it is a snapshot of SF today, a wayfinder through various lines of thought that run in all different directions under the big floppy tent of speculative fiction. The selection is haphazard and unsystematic, but the book as a whole is often fascinating, because many of the essays tackle their subjects with energy and knowledge. The styles of writing range from simple, straightforward, and journalistic to baroque and scholarly ("Part of the Deleuzeguattarian polemic," sez Adam Roberts, "is aimed at practizing psychoanalysts for their misidentification of the economy of desire as Oedipal.") A few subjects are treated in depth, while others are given brief introductions or passing remarks.

In his introduction, Anders writes, "Projections is the book about science fiction by science fiction, the genre turned inward on itself. It is a testament to science fiction's rich history. It is an indication of the promise of its future." Various readers will evaluate those sentences differently, but only the most ignorant could possibly agree with the first sentence, because Projections is not the book about anything. There have been piles of books about science fiction, written by people who have devoted themselves to the field, since at least the 50s. (Nor is this book only about science fiction; nearly half of it is about fantasy. The two genres are so closely related that it won't matter to most readers, but it does add to the incoherence of the volume as a whole.) Whether the history of the genre is rich, or its future promising, depends on how you define your terms: what is "science fiction", what is "promising?"

Though the editor of Projections seems blind to the contents of his own book, he has included essays that address those very questions, and they are each worth reading, because anyone interested in SF as a contemporary phenomenon (or sets of phenomena) should be asking themselves those questions, and many others.

Copyright © 2005 Matthew Cheney

Matthew Cheney teaches at the New Hampton School and has published in English Journal, Failbetter.com, Ideomancer, and Locus, among other places. He writes regularly about science fiction on his weblog, The Mumpsimus.


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