Two films that I saw recently, Justice League and The Last Jedi, left me with very similar feelings that I have been trying to put into words.
As usual, I find that for me the most natural analogies are drawn from my day job. So I want you to imagine a building constructed in, say, the middle 1970s. The architect has very definite ideas about what the building is for and how it will be used. There is a plan.
But over time, things change.
The dry cleaner on the ground floor moved out and a candy store rented that space, so that the washing equipment was taken out and the piping cut off flush with the walls and capped.
An accounting form on the third floor needs a server room, with holes punched in the walls for cabling and new air conditioners, and a new high voltage electrical room put into what was a janitor’s closet.
The broad, wide flight of steps in front of the main entrance isn’t ADA compliant, and so half of it has to be jackhammered out and replaced with a ramp. Suites are subdivided and expanded. Old walls torn out, new walls put up, doors moved.
Electrical codes change, requiring the service to be updated piecemeal as suites become vacant and inspected for new occupants.
The neighborhood changes and gets rezoned to allow residential space. Suites are rebuilt into apartments, with new plumbing run through the old crawlspaces.
And all of this work over the years has been done by a succession of contractors, some competent and honest, some corner-cutting hacks. The original plans are now entirely worthless and the as-built drawings are hit and miss. A dead outlet can mean looking throughout the building for one particular breaker. Finding water shutoffs for plumbing work is a similar scavenger hunt.
Systems fail and parts are no longer manufactured, which results in kludges of varying levels of ingenuity. Each new renovation is an adventure. New repairs are made on top of old repairs, incompatible levels of technology tied together with Liquid Nails and good intentions.
Eventually the property owners have to make some hard choices. Keeping the old parts in half-assed repair becomes increasingly difficult and costly, and the interval between necessary repairs grows shorter. Sooner or later the cost of fixing the old building exceeds the cost of tearing it down and building a new structure from scratch.
That’s how I feel about the state of genre fiction today. It’s not just individual franchises–although I feel both Star Wars and DC Comics are well past their expiration dates–it’s the different subgenres that are in need of a gut rehab at the very least.
The Lord Of The Rings was published in 1955. Starship Troopers was originally published in 1959, The Man In The High Castle in 1962, Dune in 1965. Anne Rice wrote the short story that became Interview With The Vampire in 1968. Night Of The Living Dead was released in ’68 as well.
Isn’t it time we came up with some new ideas? Instead of continually trying to conform to SF/F genres that recreate old worlds again and again, wouldn’t it be nice to find some new worlds to explore?
Respect the masterpieces of the past, yes. Continue to reread them and draw inspiration from them, certainly. But let’s find some new ground to build on, brand new fantastic structures.
Let us speak with new voices.