As a fan of near-future science fiction, I’m eager to see Sandra Bullock and George Clooney in Alfonso Cuaron’s Gravity, which looks like it’s going to be as much a psychological drama as a science fiction movie:
It’s very easy to skip forward into a fully-established brave (or not-so-brave) new world, to 2161 when Starfleet Academy is up and running, for Rick Grimes to wake up in the hospital after the zombie apocalypse has already run its course, for Katniss to live in a District 12 that treats whatever cataclysm that dramatically reduced the human population of the United States and brought it under the dictatorial authority of the Capitol as an even that’s distant beyond memory.
But so much of the really interesting science fiction, particularly of the last few years, has been set at inflection points instead, rather than in the world those seminal moments produced. Max Brooks’ World War Z was a fascinating and refreshing spin on zombie apocalypse not because his zombies were fast or slow or some hybrid thereof, but because it was about people improvising, and learning, and making terrible sacrifices and awful mistakes to respond to a phenomenon that challenges everything they knew about the world. District 9 had the good sense to imagine the social consequences of an alien invasion, and to suggest that human unity in response to the revelation that there was life on other planets could make us seem as ugly as the giant insects marooned in Johannesburg. And Steven Soderbergh’s Contagion is about a moment when we could have careened on over into a plague-scarred wasteland, but yanked ourselves back from the bring by discipline and chance instead.
Gravity may not be even that futuristic, though Cuaron’s work on Children of Men makes me hope he’s doing at least some world-building here. But however far away from our own time its set, it’s exciting to see a science fiction that isn’t set in a world where we’ve established full control of the stars, and where the future retains some of that bigness and risk.