I realize that the blog is named LEC Book Reviews, so some might be left perplexed as to why I’m writing a post about television. Well, even though my main concern is with books, I do spend a considerable amount of time in front of the small screen and felt that I should also share my tastes in that area. Anyways, we’re still talking science fiction and fantasy, so really, who cares? I would like here to talk a bit about my likes and dislikes about SF&F onscreen and how my preferences differ between that and my preference in books. I’ll also try to reason out why that is and give you some examples of shows that I enjoy and some not so much. So scroll or click-through to read on….
As some may have noticed, I’m definitely more of a fantasy than a science fiction reader, though I read a fair share of both. Just by looking at my stats, with thirty-three books falling under the fantasy genre and just four under science fiction, it is easy to see where my preferences lie. But, surprisingly, when it comes to anything onscreen, and in this post I will concentrate mostly on television, I’m without the shadow of a doubt a scifi-guy. Why? Well that is for later on in the post, but I’ll start with what it is that interest me in this field.
Most sci-fi fans (and from now on I will use that to represent TV sci-fi fans), or maybe I should say a lot of them, tie in their love for the genre with either one of the various incarnations of Star Trek in the US or Doctor Who in the UK or, in some cases, both. I suppose that they being probably the largest TV franchises in the genre it comes as no real surprise that so many fans of the genre are also fans of these shows. But then again that may just be a false impression I have, but no matter. I, however, have grown an interest in science fiction television from a different source. In fact, I have seen essentially nothing from the Star Trek franchise barring the recent J.J. Abrams film and have only watched the ongoing season (or series for you Brits) of Doctor Who. No, my love for this genre on the small screen came from my devoted watching of another large franchise that is Stargate.
For those unfamiliar with the entity, the Stargate franchise is comprised of three shows, including the ongoing Stargate Universe, and three movies. Foremost of the shows in my mind is the first, Stargate SG-1.That show just worked. It had humor, drama, action, aliens, technology and best of all, it didn’t take itself too seriously; nothing can kill a show more than when it takes itself too seriously. The chemistry between the actors was perfect and even though it is the kind of show you know will have a good ending at the end of every episode, I couldn’t help but keep watching through every single episode, good or bad. That, I think, is what I grew to love from the genre on TV. Whatever the show, you are always taken somewhere new and going on the most extraordinary adventure and a strange feeling you get while watching that never fails to get to you.
From there, I worked my way through a bunch of different shows, ranging from the easy-going Andromeda to the more austere Kings, the casual Warehouse 13 and the more supernatural-oriented Sanctuary. That is to say: I’ve seen a variety of the more modern offerings, or at least I like to think I have. Of these other shows I experienced one does stand out, one series that should not be avoided, Battlestar Galactica. This is a space opera in the more traditional sense and in the way that it is most commonly found in books but though I’m sure I’d enjoy a similar story in print, I would never ever trade it for the show. I’ve also given less “classical science fiction” series a try, including one of my greatest loves, Lost but only also including another J.J. Abrams offspring, Fringe, the re-imagined V and the disappointing, and now canceled FlashForward (a case and point example that potential is not everything).
All that was a bit of a mouthful, and I’m sure most of you are more than confused as to where I’m going. Now though, with all that crammed into your head you can better see where I come from experience-wise and from which angle I’m attacking our original question, why do I prefer science fiction on screen but favor fantasy in print? I quite simply believe that sci-fi is something that works better onscreen than fantasy. I’ve given fantasy television a try but it does not do for me what sci-fi does. Content wise, it is clearly easier to create visuals and such for science fiction related elements than it is fantasy. For the latter, most of the time we’re talking magic and otherworldy-stuff while in science-fiction it often amounts only to fancy bits of technology (cool, but easier to create nonetheless), the occasional alien (prosthetics work wonders) and some background alien planets (gotta love CGI backgrounds). Of course, I’m oversimplifying but the facts remain the same. It’s worth mentioning that in fantasy’s defense, there is an evident lack of representation for it on TV. There was for two seasons the now defunct Legend of the Seeker, based on the maligned Sword of Truth series and there is currently in the US Merlin, a series I’ll admit I know little to nothing about. Other shows, like the aforementioned Sanctuary (highly recommended), border on the fantastical but are never truly fantasy as you would find it in books. Perhaps it is that there is no demand for such shows or perhaps they’ve also realized there is added difficulty to making something of the like happen, but one has to wonder that if they gave it more of a try it may lead someday to a greater presence on its part.
Still, this does not explain why I prefer fantasy literature to its futuristic counterpart when it comes to reading material. Well, just as it lends itself better to the screen fantasy seems to lend itself better to writing, and for the same reasons. Because of its more vague and different nature, fantasy contains material that, in my mind, is easier to visualize from words. I would even go as far as to say that when it is presented on screen, fantasy material loses some of its magic since it is tied to one single interpretation. Science fiction, meanwhile, gains from this. Where I find it hard to picture a complex and very specific piece of technology, it is incredibly neat to see them when they are produced onscreen. I’m heavily generalizing. I can state a number of cases when the reverse is absolutely true, when a fantasy text appears to me as perfect for film or when a sci-fi show’s visuals just don’t quite cut it but on the whole this is the phenomenon I’ve observed.
I’ve now taken you on rather a lengthy run through my thoughts and ideas on why I have such a variance in taste between books and shows, and by extension why I believe sci-fi works best onscreen while fantasy is often better left in print form. My taste, unavoidably, runs different to that of others and I’m interested in what others might think on the subject. We can even push the debate to include the question: why is there more science fiction on TV than fantasy, since it is more of an umbrella question for our topic of interest. So, I’d be delighted to know what kind of genre TV you watch and how it compares to your tastes in reading.