Review: Sci-Fi: Days of Fear and Wonder

Days of Fear and WonderEdited by James Bell

BFI, out now

A series of fascinating essays to accompany the BFI’s major season on the genre…

Simply flicking through this book to see the range of illustrations will make you quickly realise the scope of the volume – from the highly familiar to the obscure, the niche (Alister Pearson’s painting of Roger Delgado for Virgin’s Missing Adventures range) to the personal (a 16 year old Spielberg preparing to shoot his first SF film).

Start reading it – and be prepared to put aside a respectable chunk of your time, as all aspects of the genre are dissected by a very varied panel of writers, including Stephen Baxter, Alastair Reynolds, Kim Newman and Matthew Sweet. The three sections – futurism (“Tomorrow’s World”), outsider characters (“Contact”) and perceptions of reality (“Altered States”) – match the strands of the programming, and the essays investigate the various ideas at work in all aspects of film and TV science fiction. The pieces are as up to date as they could be – Interstellar gets a mention, for example – although some will date quicker than others (Sophie Meyer’s discussion of the gender binary as it relates to Doctor Who will need updating after Capaldi’s final story, for example).

While a few essays succumb to the temptation to become “list articles”, many are thought-provoking (did Sigmund Freud really write a science fiction manifesto, as is claimed here?), and you may well look at some old favourites in a new light – or seek out movies and series that you’ve not heard of previously. None of the pieces talks down to the reader and if you’re not used to reading film criticism, it’s worth persevering with those essays which occasionally become highly academic in tone.

Verdict: If you’re reading this website, chances are you know there’s far more to filmed SF than 2001, Star Wars, Star Trek and Doctor Who – but even those who have studied the subject for five decades or more will find new ideas here. Recommended. 9/10

Paul Simpson

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