We met online, as people do, and she graciously allowed us to pick her brain about the allure of the future.
DG: You frequently write about Science Fiction--what is it about the world of the future that make it so seductive?
JMcN: Science fiction lovers tend to be closet romantics. Authors may confront their deepest emotions and desires while projecting a cool rational image. It can be easier for someone to write about the wife who left him when the particulars of the situation are moved from his back yard to another galaxy. It's also easier to read and relate without feeling like a sap.
A science fiction story may take place 5,000 years in the future, but it's born out of today's hopes and fears. We don't really see plots about nuclear holocausts any more. Instead, contemporary science fiction is about terrorism, privacy and surveillance issues, immigration, or science we don't quite understand yet like nanotech. The financial crisis has so shaken people's confidence, we might see science fiction take on economic matters for the next several years no matter how many of us have jobs.
It's also interesting what science fiction from the past we revisit and when. They Live has always been a cult film, but the past year interest in it has rocketed. I think it's because the culture is increasingly cynical about advertising and consumerism, but there isn't a good goofy recent film addressing this concern.
JMcN: We can laugh at the Star Trek spacesuits now, but the original TV series was groundbreaking with its multiethnic cast. More recently on the series Firefly characters spoke English and Mandarin. Now, ethnically ambiguous actors are essential to a believable futuristic
Science fiction film and television creators are still mainly English-speaking white men, but eventually we'll see more visions from the developing world. What does a space opera mean to someone who grew up in Indonesia or Tanzania? What would they do with a time machine?
There are some contemporary examples in literature. Kenyan writer John Rugoiyo Gichuki has a play called "Eternal, Forever," about the "United States of Africa" 400 years in the future, where Africans are the world's superpower. Argentinian writer Angélica Gorodischer is gaining a cult following. Her work was translated by none other than Ursula Le Guin. Science fiction allows creators a way to satire authorities under the radar, like Zamyatin and Stanislaw Lem in Communist Russia. Maybe some extraordinary science fiction is written in Iraq and North Korea right now but it's yet to be translated.
Part of the reason, I'm so eager for cross-cultural perspective is to escape SF cliches. Inverted World by Christopher Priest, a 1974 novel reprinted this year by New York Review of Books, is a great example of fresh concept from start to finish. I hesitate to say much about it, because there's a surprise on nearly every page and a general plot summary might make it sound boring. It's an Escher sketch in novel-form and even the typically SF-allergic will enjoy his dark sense of humor and social commentary.
JMcN: A lot of female artists like Patricia Piccinini, Tara Donovan, Sarah Sze, Ann Lislegaard, Jennifer Coates, and the architect Zaha Hadid interpret science fiction concepts. Many SF art films like Born in Flames, Liquid Sky, and Teknolust are directed by women. I'm not sure if this is because women tend to be inspired by science fiction visuals or because the art world is more open to their ideas.
Science fiction is pop culture, so the image of the average sci-fi fan as someone like Comic Book Guy from The Simpsons is a total misconception. Strong female leads like Ripley, Trinity, Starbuck, and Sarah Connor have always resonated with women. Actress Rosario Dawson is creating a series for the SciFi Channel. One of the singers from Danity Kane just published a sci-fi comic. A dystopic science fiction book -- Cormac McCarthy's The Road -- was even an Oprah pick.
Although I consider Twilight more horror/fantasy, it goes to show that genre fiction appeals to all kinds of women. I would love to see more hybrid sci-fi "chick lit" -- and penned by women! -- like Bridget Jones's Diary only set 500 years in the future. What will we be wearing then? The Stepford Wives, although it was written by a man, is a good example. Philip K Dick wrote about a post-apocalyptic society with lives so wretched, the adults spend their days living out their memories using Barbie-inspired dolls and accessories. It shows how in desperate times we still seek out glamour and fantasy.
DG: Who are the most glamorous characters in science fiction?
JMcN: J. G. Ballard's female characters are straight out of film noir, except a million times smarter. The only thing he obsesses over more than airports and drained swimming pools is feminine intellect. He barely describes their appearance, but instead gives them high-power jobs, introverted tendencies, and sharp wit. They are doctors, never nurses. They are usually thinking one step ahead of the male protagonist. He recognizes that intellectual curiosity and femininity aren't contradictory. I mean, this is a man who confessed to a crush on Hillary Clinton in a recent interview. Susan Sontag so much adored his books she briefly planned to script and direct The Crystal World with Jean Seberg in a starring role.
Rosanna Arquette and Holly Hunter are two of my favorite actresses, but it was Deborah Unger who epitomized "Ballardian" for me in Crash. She was so perplexingly remote and intelligent. She's not a bitch, but she's not quirky, rarely smiles, and has a tentative way of interacting with other people. Unger's mother is a nuclear scientist and she studied economics and philosophy in college. So she really is that Ballardian ideal analytic woman. That she's as beautiful as she is makes it all the more disarming.
The DG Dozen
1) How do you define glamour?
Curiosity and creativity radiating outward
Mila Jovovich. She loves clashing prints and somehow makes it work.
Love her line Jovovich-Hawk too.
It's a luxury to reflect on what it is and isn't
4) Favorite glamorous movie?
Every time I've gone out alone for coffee and a newspaper while traveling abroad. Preferably in a trench coat.
Micromosaic and finift jewelry
7) Most glamorous place?
8) Most glamorous job?
Bartending at a restaurant with a senior crowd. I made a lot of classic cocktails.
There's a photo of politician and Iraq war vet Tammy Duckworth in the recent issue of Esquire. She was wounded in combat and has prosthetic legs, but she was wearing velvet flats with bows.
11) Can glamour survive?
The impulse to dress up is sometimes strongest when you feel your worst.
Glamour is something you grow into.
1) Angelina Jolie or Cate Blanchett?
2) Paris or Venice?
Boston and San Francisco
5) Tokyo or Kyoto?
6) Boots or stilettos?
9) Armani or Versace?
10) Diana Vreeland or Anna Wintour?
12) 1960s or 1980s?
1980s (Early 80s -- Gary Numan, Phil Oakey...)
13) Diamonds or pearls?