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Literary Film Review: The Terminator

This month’s classic film review analyses the inaugural film in the ‘tech noir’ genre, James Cameron’s 1984 powerhouse The Terminator

‘But The Terminator wasn’t based on a novel, surely?’ I hear you protest. You’re right, it wasn’t, so what’s The Terminator doing being featured in this monthly literary film review? Well, for one, because there are notable literary precedents for James Cameron’s 1984 science-fiction thriller, even if these are not direct influences per se.

One such precedent is Vernor Vinge, whose fiction often makes reference to an event Vinge (pronounced ‘Vin-jay’) calls the ‘Singularity’, when the machines ‘become smart’ and attain a level of intelligence far in excess of the humans who made them. (Vinge’s 1981 novel True Names, published three years before William Gibson’s far better-known Neuromancer, has been called the first novel to explore the idea of Read the rest of this entry

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The Other H. G. Wells: George Griffith’s Stories of Other Worlds

In this week’s Dispatches from The Secret Library, Dr Oliver Tearle voyages to the many worlds imagined by a forgotten science-fiction pioneer

Victorian science fiction throws out one name: H. G. Wells. So comprehensively has Wells’s name come to dominate, or even define, our understanding of nineteenth-century English science fiction, that his contemporaries and precursors have been lost in the ether or relegated to the status of minor satellites, barely perceptible moons, orbiting Wells’s vast body of work. The Time Machine, The Invisible Man, and The War of the Worlds, published within three years of each other between 1895 and 1898, have come to be seen as the founding texts of modern science fiction in English.

But such an understanding of the emergence of this new genre in the closing years of the nineteenth century obscures the many contemporaries of Wells whose imagination and inventiveness were similarly remarkable, their stories and novels showcasing the brilliant possibilities of this new publishing phenomenon. Of all of Wells’s forgotten contemporaries, the greatest was perhaps George Griffith, sometimes known as George Chetwynd Griffith-Jones (1857-1906). Read the rest of this entry

A Study in Smallness: Richard Matheson’s The Shrinking Man

In this week’s Dispatches from The Secret Library, Dr Oliver Tearle analyses a science-fiction classic

Many of Richard Matheson’s narratives focus on lonely men. It was Matheson who wrote the screenplay for an early Steven Spielberg film, Duel (1971), which was based on one of Matheson’s own short stories. Like many of Matheson’s most famous stories, such as The Shrinking Man and I Am Legend, it is ultimately about the loneliness of modern man. The latter book, in which Robert Neville – played by Will Smith in the book’s most recent adaptation – finds himself the last human survivor of the zombie apocalypse, has tended to obscure the former. But The Shrinking Man is no minor work of throwaway genre fiction: the novel contains great themes and tackles deep-rooted human concerns, especially male concerns.

Matheson’s work has influenced a raft of great writers of fantasy, science fiction, and horror: Stephen King and Ray Bradbury are among the greats who have acknowledged a debt to him, with King calling Matheson, of all writers, the most important influence on him. Matheson’s 1956 novel The Shrinking Man is a tense and engaging tale about a man, Scott Carey, who, after coming into contact with radioactive waste, finds that he is shrinking at the rate of an inch per week. Once six feet tall, he is soon just one inch in height and living in his own cellar, estranged from his own wife and family, trying to avoid being eaten by the black widow spider that will soon be bigger than he is. Read the rest of this entry