Vivid Tomorrows

On Science Fiction and Hollywood


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About the Book

Can science fiction—especially SF cinema—save the world? It already has, many times. Retired officers testify that films like Doctor Strangelove, Fail-Safe, On the Beach and War Games provoked changes and helped prevent accidental war. Soylent Green and Silent Running recruited millions of environmental activists. The China Syndrome and countless movies about plagues helped bring attention to those failure modes. And the grand-daddy of “self-preventing prophecy”—Nineteen Eighty-Four—girded countless citizens to stay wary of Big Brother.

It’s not been all dire warnings. While optimism is much harder to dramatize than apocalypse, both large and small screens have also encouraged millions to lift their gaze, contemplating how we might get better, incrementally, or else raise grandchildren worthy of the stars.

Come along on a quirky quest for unusual insights into the power of forward-looking media. How the romantic allure of feudalism tugs at men and women who benefited vastly from modernity. Or explore why almost every Hollywood film preaches Suspicion of Authority, along with tolerance, diversity and personal eccentricity, and how those messages helped keep us free. No one is spared scrutiny! Not Spielberg or Tolkien or Cameron or Costner… nor Dune or demigods or zombie flicks. Certainly not George Lucas or Ayn Rand! Though some critiques are offered from a lifetime of respect and love… and gratitude.

Instructors considering this book for use in a course may request an examination copy here.

About the Author(s)

David Brin is a California astrophysicist who serves on NASA’s Innovative and Advanced Concepts program (NIAC) advisory board and speaks or consults on a wide range of topics including AI, SETI, privacy and national security. His best-selling novels have won Hugo, Nebula and other awards and appeared in more than 20 languages.

Bibliographic Details

David Brin

Format: softcover (6 x 9)
Pages: 241
Bibliographic Info: notes, index
Copyright Date: 2021
pISBN: 978-1-4766-8338-6
eISBN: 978-1-4766-4173-7
Imprint: McFarland

Table of Contents

Acknowledgments vi
Prologue: Science Fiction and Cinema: Saving the Future
by Believing There Will Be One 1

Part One: A Flickering Light on the World
1. The ­Self-Preventing Prophecy: How a Dose of Nightmare Might Tame Tomorrow’s Perils 9
2. Society and Citizens Are Fools! The Favorite Cliché of Cinema and Fiction 15
3. 2001: A Space Odyssey: Shining Light on How Far We’ve Come 27
4. Living in a Science Fictional World: Biology and Destiny and Life ’n’ Such 32
5. A Quirky ­Must-See Guide to Science Fiction Movies 44

Part Two: Admirable (But Flawed) Blockbusters
6. J’accuse George Lucas … or Zola Meets Yoda 51
7. Avatar. Just Avatar. 75
8. The Lord of the Rings: J.R.R. Tolkien vs. the Modern Age 89

Part Three: Grinding Axes
9. Roll Over, Frank Miller: Street Kids Are Better Than Those 300 Spartans! 101
10. Atlas Shrugged: The Hidden Context of the Book and Film 107
11. Demigods and “Chosen Ones” … Would It Hurt If Humanity Got to Play, Too? 117
12. Getting Science Fictional About a Better World: Marxists and Feminists and Feudalists and Libertarians, Oh My! 122

Part Four: Heroes and Villains
13. Name That Villain: Bad Guys and Aliens in ­Sci-Fi Movies 135
14. King Kong Is Back! The Ape in the Mirror 141
15. The Matrix: Tomorrow May Be Different 148
16. A ­Mini-Rant: Why All Those Zombies Mean You’d Better Vote! 159
17. Buffy the ­Old-Fashioned Hero 162

Part Five: Dark Visions and Hope
18. Dune: What This Classic Teaches About “Point of View” 165
19. The Postman: The Book vs. the Movie 172
20. Man Against Machine: Surrogates, Clones and Dittos 177
21. Gravity: Unbearable Lightness … but Solid Storytelling 198
22. Great Opening Lines from Science Fiction Tales 202
23. From Metaphor to Movie Magic—or Why We’re Such Good Liars 205

Chapter Notes 221
Index 225

Book Reviews & Awards

  • “What you have here is a fistful of invitations to the best coffee-after-the-movie chats you’ll ever have. If you love what Tinsel Town does to science fiction, or if you hate it, you’ll find much food for thought in David Brin’s cogent commentaries.”—Robert J. Sawyer, Hugo Award-winning author of FlashForward
  • “[Brin’s] emphatically functional approach leads to many spirited, sometimes perplexing, but frequently eye-opening takes. Brin’s commentaries are self-consciously mischievous and often funny. He has a knack for transforming well-trodden ground into strange lands.”—Locus

Praise for the writing of David Brin

The Uplift Saga

  • “The Uplift books are as compulsive reading as anything ever published in the genre.”—The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction

Startide Rising

  • “One of the outstanding SF novels of recent years.”—Publishers Weekly
  • “One hell of a novel … Startide Rising has what SF readers want these days; intelligence, action, and an epic scale.”—Isaac Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine
  • Startide Rising is one of the books that I remember most fondly, out of all I have read, and rereading it thirty years later proved just as enjoyable as the first time. I remain amazed at how many different characters and subplots Brin juggles without a misstep, and the way he keeps the tension and suspense high throughout.”—Alan Brown,

The Uplift War

  • “An exhilarating read that encompasses everything from breathless action to finely drawn moments of quiet intimacy. There is no way we can avoid coming back as many times as Brin wants us to, until his story is done.”—Locus
  • “With a plot that takes unexpected, and often quite uplifting (forgive the pun), twists, especially for animal lovers, a compelling cast of characters, and a fast, expanding pace, this is a science fiction classic.”—Fantasy Book Review

Brightness Reef

  • “A captivating read.”—Star Tribune
  • “Tremendously inventive, ambitious work.”—Kirkus Reviews
  • “Brin is a skillful storyteller … There is more than enough action to keep the book exciting, and like all good serials, the first volume ends with a bang.”—The Plain Dealer
  • “Brin has shown beyond doubt that he is a master of plot and character and incident, of sheer storytelling, while he is also thoughtful enough to satisfy anyone’s craving for meat on those literary bones. Don’t miss this one, folks, or the next.”—Analog Science Fiction and Fact

Infinity’s Shore

  • “Well paced, immensely complex, highly literate … On full display here is Brin’s extraordinary capacity to handle a wide-range narrative and to create convincingly complex alien races … Superior SF.”—Publishers Weekly
  • “This was a really amazing book in its own right, with alien, awesomely evil villains, a range of shocks to the system, and characters you really come to care about.”—Fantasy Book Review

Heaven’s Reach

  • “Brin fans will find plenty to gorge themselves on here, including Niss Machines, Galactic Library cubes and Zang ship-entities.”—Publishers Weekly
  • “Extremely entertaining books because of the sheer richness of the background information.”—SF Site
  • Heaven’s Reach was a massive ringing conclusion to a truly epic saga with more of the strange and alien than ever before.”—Fantasy Book Review
  • “A brilliant author whose science and style are perfect matches, both believable and gripping, Brin has written masterfully yet again of races and individuals, histories and prophecies that will give readers suspenseful chills and send desperate hearts racing.”—Curled Up with a Good Book