Archive for the ‘dystopian’ Tag

[50/50] Sci-Fi/Fantasy Book #15: “Gateway”

Monday, March 17th, 2014

Science Fiction or Fantasy Book #15: “Gateway”—Frederick Pohl (1977)

gatewaynovelIn Good News/Bad News news this week, it was announced that “Gateway,” Frederick Pohl’s bleak ’70s masterpiece, has been optioned for development as a TV series. Considering how dark and full of existential dread television has gotten in the last decade, Pohl’s novel of desperate humans on an abandoned alien starbase will fit right in. On the flip side, the production team that snagged the rights is one half De Laurentiis and one half the people who brought us the awful wild west mess “Hell on Wheels.”

Which is a shame. If any novel is well suited to episodic TV, it would be “Gateway” — but only if it was done right. Set years after the discovery of an asteroid full of alien ships is found orbiting the sun, the book chronicles the horrible living conditions humans endure on Gateway, all in the slim hope they might strike it rich. Unable to control, dismantle or decipher the pre-programmed ships, people gamble their lives by climbing in the alien vehicles and hitting the launch button. Most of the time the ships never return, and when they do the crew is frequently dead — on rare occasions, however, someone returns with an alien artifact or other great discovery, one that sets them up for life. Crossing a gold rush with Russian Roulette, the novel is, according to this reviewer, “coated in dread.”

While the core of the book is the unpacking of the mystery of what happened to the protagonist — and the slow unraveling of his post-traumatic stress — the most powerful parts of “Gateway” are the one-page ephemera that divide chapters. Official mission reports that detail the fates of random prospectors, made all the more horrific by the memo’s cold and bureaucratic language, bolstered by snippets of classifieds from Gateway’s newspaper of people reaching out for a connection — any connection — in an uncaring universe.

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[50/50] Movie #15: Rollerball

Sunday, February 2nd, 2014

Favorite Movie #15: Rollerball (1975)

rollerball2Forget the Superbowl. The ultimate championship takes place at the end of Rollerball: “No substitutions; no penalties; and no time limit.” The resulting devastation brings to a head the showdown between the corporate masters of a dystopian future and a global superstar. The 1975 sci-fi cult hit is still probably the best of the bleak “dark future” films of the 1970s. (It has certainly aged better than its contemporary harbingers of doom: “Soylent Green” and “Silent Running.”)

I’ve written before about Rollerball. A lot. Hell, I even designed a board game around it. The title game is that exceedingly rare creation: a fictional sport that is believable as a sport. This is thanks, in great part, to the cast of stuntmen hired for the movie’s action scenes. Between filming they reportedly kept playing, coming up with their own set of rules for the game, and even rewriting their own lines. By the time the film made it thru editing (and an enthusiastic marketing dept., who actually released the official rules as part of the movie’s promotional packet), a completely new game had been invented.

While that isn’t the point of the film — it is a cautionary tale of ceding too much control to corporations — the violence of the game helps drive home the heavy-handed message. Of course the great irony is that the director, Norman Jewison, originally set out make a movie with an anti-violent message; yet if Rollerball is remembered at all today, it is for the three amazing action scenes that showcase this fictional future sport.