What is it with science fiction writing? Why does the writing have to be so bad? This is not to say the premises aren’t compelling, just the writing. William Gibson, Isaac Asimov, Ray Bradbury start their stories well enough, but then there’s a problem with the prose. It just plods on, as if science fiction publishers and readers only care about the premise and sleep through the rest. Many of the vaunted greats of the genre – Frank Herbert’s Dune, Robert Silverberg’s Tower of Glass, Philip K. Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? – all fall into the same black hole.Some books do have decent literary moments, such as Stanislaw Lem’s Solaris or Ursula K Le Guin’s The Left Hand of Darkness. However it remains a struggle to get through all of the background science stuff – histories of planets, theories of evolution – all of it jammed in like a manual. Science fiction, it would seem, is like sports: a lot of frightfully dull banter, and only every once in a while worth the wait.
With the Yang, there is always the Yin. Science fiction filmmaking is replete with painful, awful work, and so I will not scour the depths and cite Plan 9 From Outer Space nor any superhero films, nor any of the B-movie messes concocted in the ’50s and onwards. And so my apologies, but no Attack of the 50-Foot Woman.No Empire of the Ants. And no Barb Wire. The science fiction films I have selected for my Bottom Five actually seem to have tried to tell a story of some kind and failed…miserably. 5. Damnation Alley (1976) Okay, I admit that this film is essentially a B film, but they had a lot of money – $17 million in 1976 dollars – of which they invested almost half a million in the Landmaster vehicle. It’s a journey through the post-apocalyptic desert. What could be better than that? (Apparently a lot of things.)4. Avatar (2009) Talk about money and time wasted! $237 million and 15 years in production… all for a world of blue people who live around a magic tree. It seems that the film was a parable for something. I guess it went over my head. 3. Dune (1984) Sorry to say it, but the book isn’t very good either. There is nothing in this world except sand, worms and spit suits.2. Star Wars Episode One: The Phantom Menace (1999) Three words: Jar Jar Binks. Thanks a lot, Mr. Lucas, for ruining a great franchise.1. Event Horizon (1997) There is nothing good to say about this film. It is just gross and violent and stupid and gross. (Probably sounds fun to you young’uns. It isn’t.)