Forty Years, Still Good

I’m still waiting on my new lenses, so my opportunity to read lately remains spotty. Hopefully they’ll show up next week and the renaissance will begin! In the meantime, I had the opportunity to re-watch Ridley Scott’s 1982 film Blade Runner this week for the first time in many years (the Director’s Cut blu-ray, to be specific).

While in a few places the styles of the era stand out (Deckard’s apartment tiling wouldn’t be out of place in a Mos Eisley cantina), the film still holds up extremely well. Apart from the date (the real 2019 Los Angeles looked a little cleaner and lacked the flying cars) the film didn’t feel obviously dated. The thematic questions it raises, including the blind pursuit of justice, the desire to be a complete human, or how our treatment of those different to us reflects our own identity, held up as well for me today as any modern film.

I’ve been known to enjoy my fair share of hard sf, and speculation on and development of current science trends is always fascinating. Yet there seems to be a real danger in there: Current science is likely to date a story as assuredly as pulling out a slide rule on the bridge of the Enterprise, or sailing the canals of Mars. I remember reading Frederic Pohl’s gateway and suspending disbelief right up until (if I recall correctly) it specifically mentions LED readouts. 7 segment LEDs were a great display technology in the post Apollo era of 1977, but I don’t think you’ll find any in a SpaceX Dragon capsule.

This is where I think the more fantastic sci-fi really stands the test of time. Blade Runner doesn’t focus on the tech. Deckard’s Voight-Kampff test was a mystical contraption in 1982 and it’s still a mystical contraption forty years later. It allows us to say “ah, future stuff,” and remain immersed in the story’s reality.

It’s an interesting balance to find in my own work. Does my character care about the tech or the task? In my own life, do I really think about my iPhone’s processor or antenna or messaging app, or do I just focus on communicating? Yet being a turbo nerd, I really do think about those other things from time to time.

I’d certainly like to produce something an audience will enjoy long down the track. Why not, right? But mostly, my audience is necessarily me first, and as such I need to want to be there rereading it with them too.

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