Tuesday, November 28, 2006
My Favourite Martians
So I've been watching "The Martians and Us," the BBC4 documentary ostensibly about the history and traits of British science fiction. Unfortunately, while the first episode was by far the worst, the whole series got collectively outclassed by the average episode of Prisoners of Gravity. For a start, it has an insufferably smug, jingoistic tone (apparently, Britain invented every single aspect of modern science fiction, and the rest of us are just imitators), which is undermined by the fact that they can't find enough well-known highbrow British sf writers to take part and have to resort to bringing in Margaret Atwood and Doris Lessing as examples (presumably justifying this to themselves on the grounds that they're colonials, which is even worse). It also went on about Olaf Stapleton as if he was some amazing forgotten gem of SF, when in fact a) he wasn't that great as an actual writer (A+ for ideas; C- for prose), b) anyone over forty knows who he is anyway, and c) there are plenty of much less well-known British writers out there who deserve a fillip (no Philip George Chadwick? For shame-- then they could have legitimately claimed that British sf writers predicted genetic engineering). Also, there was no mention of the whole New Wave movement-- no Brian Aldiss, no J.G. Ballard-- no mention of modern British sci-fi writers (aside from trotting out Kim Newman, who's really a critic rather than a writer, every five minutes)-- and, most damningly, no Mary Shelley. Here they are, claiming that the Brits invented evolutionary sci-fi... and the first example they give is HG bloody Wells. They mention that the British invented the postapocalyptic novel-- and don't even mention Shelley's The Last Man on Earth. Could it be sexism, or just a sheer ignorance of anything that happened before 1850? If BBC4 really want to gain credibility as a highbrow arts channel, they're going to have to start learning about their material first.