We’ve just published a great short review of the film Gravity by Eva Amsen, who raises a really interesting point: why on earth (no pun intended) is this film classified as science fiction? As she points out, the movie is set in the present day using tech that exists right now – it just happens to take place in orbit around our planet.
It’s a weird sort of associative problem, I think: a large number of science fiction tales are set in space or on other planets, so we are conditioned to think of space as being in the realm of science fiction. But scientists in space are a current reality, and realistic stories about them are just normal stories, and no more speculative than any other mainstream novel about our world.
Eva points out that the few pieces of artistic license that the film does take – such as putting all the spacecraft in the same orbit to make things a bit easier for the protagonist – is no more “science fiction” than the very common leaps of faith in transport that we see all the time in Hollywood films, such as car chases through known cities that involve impossible elements like getting from point A to point B in one minute when in real life it would involve an implausible detour.
I remember seeing Sleepless in Seattle when I lived in Seattle, and smiling at the outraged mutterings around me about the final chase scene, whose impossibility is summed up nicely here:
Sam and Jonah go by motorboat from their houseboat that is moored on the eastern side of Lake Union to Alki Beach in West Seattle. Annie follows in her rental car, watching them from her vehicle “the entire way.” This is impossible. To get from their houseboat by boat to Alki Beach (near where I live) involves going over the lake, through the Ballard locks, and across Elliot Bay (Puget Sound). The only road into West Seattle and to Alki Beach from the city does not follow their water route, and it is further south and goes over the West Seattle bridge – some miles from the lake and too far away for her to be able to see them on the water. The boat ride to the beach would also take over an hour with the wait to go through the locks, though they appear to reach it much sooner.
But this didn’t cause Sleepless in Seattle to be classified as science fiction.
So I say, it’s time to reclaim space for the genre of lab lit. We’d love to see more books and films like Gravity seeing the light of day.
You have your marching orders, all you writers out there.