Author: Amy C. Chambers
I’m a postdoctoral researcher on the Unsettling Scientific Stories project based at the Newcastle University. I work in the fields of science communication and screen studies and I’m interested in the relationship between movies and the public understanding of science. I conduct research into science fiction movies made between 1967-1977 and their incorporation of real-world science and imagined future science. My work also analyses how major scientific concepts and advancements have influenced onscreen representations of science. As part of my current book-in-progress I am looking more specifically at how leaders and members of religious institutions have interpreted and understood science in movies. I also work on the representation of women in STEM and the inclusion of women scientists in the processes of entertainment media production. You can find me on twitter here: @AmyCChambers
I am also a huge science fiction fan. I love my scifi TV and I am currently enjoying The 100 (post-apocalyptic drama – a future world under the guidance of a teenage girl), 11.22.63 (time travel, imagined pasts and possible futures, with James Franco in 1960s costumes), and Orphan Black (fantastic female-led series about clones). You can find my SF suggestions list below, it was a fun if not mildly stressful procedure – to make a list of just 10 SF films and books. I knew it wouldn’t be perfect and that I would want to keep changing things. So I went with first ten I could think of that I would want to discuss with the rest of the group and our future reading/viewing groups. Arranged in date order, rather than order of preference.
Frankenstein (Mary Shelley, 1818) – one of the first (if not the first) SF novels I ever read. It explores ideas of the limits of science and whether scientists should be allowed to play God in the lab by producing life unnaturally. A classic. Although in terms of film I much prefer Bride of Frankenstein (dir. James Whale, 1935) to the original adaptation.
The Population Bomb (Paul Erhlich, 1968) – not technically fiction, but it is prospecting the future. Although I guess it’s fiction now; Britain did not end up underwater in 2000. This should be read alongside Make Room, Make Room! (Harry Harrison, 1966) – the novel that inspired the movie Soylent Green that sketches a dystopian world where too many people scramble for too few resources.
Silent Running (dir. Douglas Trumbull, 1972) – I first saw this movie as a child, but I don’t remember the part with the murder. I remember Huey, Dewey, and Louie the waddling robots. And bunnies. I still love the robots and the flora and fauna but I am also fascinated by the film’s environmentalist message and the idea of humanity launching its last vestiges of the natural world into space (rather than removing the human problem – as Wall.E’s imagined future suggests).
Frogs (dir. George McCowan, 1972) – animal-horror, a fun example of eco-fiction – nature literally fights back. You’d think it was just about killer frogs but lots of woodland creatures conspire against the film’s environmentally unfriendly family. The humans are the real horrors. It’s schlocky and lacks subtlety but it’s brilliant/terrifying.
Soylent Green (dir. Richard Fleischer, 1972) – film starring Charlton Heston that imagines the effects of overpopulation on the near future. Soylent green is *spoiler*. Although the film has been mercilessly parodied and is clearly a product of the 1970s, its central message is still alarmingly prescient.
The Female Man Joanna Russ (1975) – imagines parallel worlds with different constructions of gender. Technology is a major theme allowing women to become their strongest and most intelligent selves. Also recommending Russ’ short-story ‘When it Changed’ (1972) that featured in Harlan Ellison’s collection Again, Dangerous Visions. Written to challenge ideas in SF about the role of women and all-female societies that had been written by men.
Blade Runner (dir. Ridley Scott, 1982) – this movie contains my favourite movie shot (the city reflected in an unidentified eye – although the whole opening sequence is pretty perfect). The classic example of tech-noir where the style of film noir (incl. fashion) is merged with a dilapidated techno-future. It imagines a future of great advances and wonder but also of deprivation and depravity.
Neuromancer (William Gibson, 1984) – Gibson threw himself and his readers into cyberspace before it even existed. This cyberpunk novel examines the interface of technology and individual and it questions how increased reliance upon and connectedness through technology changes the way we view ourselves as individuals. Although a reflection on 1980s culture it manages to predict a future where the majority feel the need to be jacked into the network at all times (fused to their smartphones).
The Handmaid’s Tale (Margaret Atwood, 1987) – dystopian SF set in a near-future totalitarian Christian theocracy where female bodies are controlled for political purposes. A satirical view of 1980s capitalism, religious fundamentalism, and the technology of power. There was a questionable, although not entirely awful film adaptation – but it has been announced that Elizabeth Moss (Mad Men, Top of the Lake) will feature in a Handamaid’s Tale mini-series. Atwood is onboard as a consulting producer and it’s being written by Bruce Miller (who wrote several episodes for the dystopian drama The 100). I hope that the mini-series format will provide the space for development of themes and narrative that the film struggled to achieve.
Wall.E (dir. Brad Bird, 2008) – imagined dystopian/utopian future where Earth is uninhabitable and humans have become flabby space-bound consumers. Marketed at children with a clear intended adult audience – a fascinating and frightening work of eco-fiction. I went to see it at my local cinema with father – it was a perfect Sunday afternoon movie and a fun game of spot the SF intertextual reference. Also, I thought I would end with something more cheerful. Ish.
When we first started the Unsettling Scientific Stories project we all produced a ‘top ten’ list of SF texts that were favourites, inspiration, and the types of works we hoped to look at as part of this project. We came up with some interesting lists that showed our own personal preferences and gave everyone a brilliant reading-watching-listening list that we thought we would share. This also gives us a chance to introduce ourselves informally.
Let us know what you think about our SF suggestions in the comments!