TO THE STAR
Acclaimed SF novelist Alastair Reynolds on the promise of Interstellar
As fine a film as Ridley Scott’s Alien remains, it had a pernicious effect on one particular strand of SF. The spaceship film used to be a vehicle for the exploration of an almost limitless set of ideas, ranging from evolution, artificial intelligence, contact with the alien, to the question of the ultimate limits of human potential. Even the comedic Dark
Star embedded deep thinking about the falsifiability of experienced sensations – heady stuff indeed. After Alien, though, horror became the dominant mode of the spaceship story. Rather than a vehicle for taking us to different places, the spaceship had become the equivalent of the haunted house. It was a trope that would resonate through the SF cinema of the next 30 years, reaching a particularly disappointing nadir in Scott’s own Prometheus.
Dare we hope for something better from Christopher Nolan? The indications are promising. Whatever you make of Nolan’s films, they are put together with intelligence and an avoidance of the crassly obvious. On the basis of the trailer, Interstellar looks like a serious, substantial SF movie – and for once the point of the spaceship seems to be exploration. The scientific credentials look good, as well. The “interstellar” part of the travel seems to be facilitated by an artificially generated wormhole, an idea that sounds science fictional but which has serious theoretical credentials. Indeed, the film’s science has been shaped by the input of legendary astrophysicist Kip Thorne. Weirdly enough, this won’t be the first Matthew McConaughey film to be underpinned by the wormhole physics of Thorne, for that was also true of Contact.
So – let’s be optimistic, and hope that Interstellar is both as good as it looks, and that it ushers in a new wave of intelligent spaceship films. I can’t wait to see it.