Space-set Stories Appeal to Me. Have Yet to Identify WHY Exactly.

(Image via Wikipedia.)

NOTE: Though there are discussions about specific films and books, there are no spoilers.

Had a bout of unexpected melancholy this afternoon, which was a bit troubling since I couldn’t identify a definite trigger. So I tried to think of what I’d done differently today…which was going to the local cinema to see Interstellar.

When it comes to commenting on films, I always feel the need to qualify my opinion with, “I rarely watch films – maybe once or twice a year at most.” Which is true. (2013 was an anomaly, because not only did I watch two films, but I watched the second movie the very next day after watching the first. As a result, I may have used all up all my emotions – I cried – during Rush, so when I watched Gravity the next day I…felt kind of blank in comparison.)

Generally speaking, film is not an easy medium for me to connect with. The circumstances have to be right: I have to watch alone, in a half-full cinema at most, so I can properly immerse. I have to really want to see a particular film at the cinema, or else I just won’t see it. (DVDs at home just aren’t immersive.)

So about the melancholy: I wasn’t sure if it was because of the film. Others may (and will) disagree, but the last third of Interstellar is schmaltz. It’s laughable, and I heard someone else in the cinema laugh, so it can’t have just been my opinion. I did rather enjoy the film overall, especially the first two acts, but the final part…I think it required too much suspension of disbelief, and that’s something that pulled me out of the immersive experience.

So why the melancholy? Maybe I wasn’t quite ready to leave the world of Interstellar. It goes for almost three hours, which is long enough, but I found myself more interested in Amelia Brand’s story, from that glimpse at the very end. And maybe that sparked my belated melancholy – there were still more stories to be told. I wanted to remain immersed.

And I think it’s good to analyse why we like what we like, because that may help us find more things to enjoy. Here are all the films I remember seeing in recent-ish years (the order may be incorrect):

Lars and the Real Girl
Black Swan
Melancholia
Rush
Gravity
Interstellar

If you see a pattern there, you’re not alone. Rush is an obvious anomaly, but you can see my tastes change from psychological to…space? Melancholia is the perfect bridge – weird, fascinating science with psychological trauma to make it relatable.

Also, Melancholia, Gravity, and Interstellar have another factor that makes them appeal: interpersonal relationships that aren’t romantic. In film, storytelling is more condensed, so it makes sense that there’s no romantic subplot. Interstellar easily could’ve forced a romantic relationship, but it didn’t and I’m glad it didn’t.

So while I didn’t love Interstellar, I certainly got value from it. Even though the last third is ridiculous 😉

My reading also tends toward science fiction. It may have been Mary E. Pearson’s The Adoration of Jenna Fox that taught me that sci-fi isn’t always military battleships in space against aliens (which was the stereotype of sci-fi that I had, for better or worse). My first book set in space was Tess Gerritsen’s Gravity (have you heard about the legal action?), and I absolutely loved it – reading it anywhere and everywhere, because I didn’t want to NOT read it. Albeit, that was in the days of dial-up Internet, so I had fewer distractions, but still…an immersive experience.

And Amy Kathleen Ryan’s Glow that taught me that stories set solely in space can work for me, too. Since then, I’ve read and enjoyed more space-set books (Maria V. Snyder’s Inside Out duology, Imogen Howson’s Linked duology, and Alexandra Duncan’s Salvage), with many more on my wishlist. (Beth Revis’s Across the Universe, to name just one.)

But why space? Why is it calling me? I know nothing about physics or quantum mechanics, or whatnot. Is it because I like the pretty photos taken by the Hubble telescope? Because shiny coloured lights appeal to me? Because I like science, even though I don’t necessarily understand it? Because it’s “other”?

But maybe I don’t NEED to understand why I like what I like. So I’ll just go with it, and see where my tastes might lead me to in the future…

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