Consider this a [divorce] two-part reco, because I learned about Roz Kaveney’s From Alien to The Matrix from John Scalzi’s Rough Guide to Scifi Movies, which is a great starting point for any young fan. He includes, among other features, a ‘canon’ of 50 science-fiction movies up to 2005, among them the expected 2001, Brazil, A Clockwork Orange, ET, but the ones I like too: T2, Jurassic Park, Ghost in the Shell, The Matrix. And it’s filled with blurbs for many others. It did however one ounce of odd disservice for me, coming up a youngin nerd, because if I ever happened upon a movie that I hadn’t heard about in the Rough Guide, like Demon Seed or Split Second, I assumed it was just utterly irrelevant (am I wrong?). It was like the grid, and if you were off it, you weren’t in my lexicon. And even though we all kids have access to the real grid these days, having this kind of physical book to reference was (kind of physical?) a satisfying thing, and it remains so.
That was a bible, and the bible for science-fiction film criticism for me was a book recommended at the end of the Rough Guide, that being Kaveney’s From Alien to The Matrix: Reading Science Fiction Film. I’d never really read a book that quickly, and I think part of it was this elevated prose and weightiness to the ideas presented that made me feel smart as an early teen. It felt like… I shouldn’t be reading this, and so there was that added layer of pure individuality/escapism that went along with it. Granted, you may not have that same experience, being most likely self-aware (though not enough to tip on outta here!).
The thesis for the book isn’t explicit but evident in itself — it does what so few other pieces of popular academia do, and that’s discuss our unique little genre. Doing so without even treading upon SF’s happy-go brother Fantasy, not even SF’s dark, misunderstood sister Horror. She defines Speculative Fiction, among other terms, and goes on to analyze a number of films under a variety of banners: cognitive dissonance, franchises, satire, and then take entire chapters out to explore interesting titles like Galaxy Quest, Small Soldiers, and my favorite — Strange Days.
The book ends with a chapter each dedicated to the four Alien movies, which feel exhaustive in scope despite being surgically in-depth. The brand of criticism is established as accessible but very thoughtful, and is then applied to four of the most important movies in the genre.
Important to reiterate that this is not an inaccessible book — it tows that valuable line between the intellectual niche and the mainstream. And how appropriate, being about science-fiction movies. It’s something I’ve tried to emulate here, despite taking a different angle on the genre. It is this site’s main influence, but if you’re like me and just plain want to read science-fiction film criticism, this is one of your few options, and even if the genre was saturated, it’d be a standout. One of my favorites.