Wednesday, December 13, 2017

No Genre for Old Men

My consumption of science fiction, both in print and in other media, has been declining steadily for the past fifteen years, even as my overall consumption of books and television has increased. Sci-fi, like other genre fiction* (especially horror, fantasy, and supernatural romance), primarily appeals to a younger audience, and Your Aging Narrator no longer fits that demographic. Popular franchises like Doctor Who, Star Wars, Star Trek, and (a level or two below them but still well-known) the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy tend to feature young or childlike protagonists, quest-like central stories, conflicts with stupid and mulish authorities, and lots of action. Those of us in the "(wo)men of a certain age" category usually aren't much into action, unless we are paying someone else to do it, and are likelier to sympathize with the stupid authorities than their antagonists. (You kids get off my lawn!)

Trying to think of exceptions to this rule, in the form of SF novels or shows specifically aimed at middle-aged audiences, I recalled a fragment of a movie line from memory: "Before you really do grow old." Of course! The Star Trek movies, or the first six of them at least, aimed themselves at fans of the Original Series - most of whom were hitting or passing 30 when ST I appeared in 1979 - and at members of their age cohort. The first movie hit the mark too well in one respect: it had the sloooow pacing of a European art film, though without the charm. The other installments had peppier (or at least more suspenseful) narratives, while presenting themes that would appeal to more mature audiences: peace making (ST VI), fighting extinction (ST IV), looking for personal or divine meaning (ST V, alas), and coping with death (ST II and, to some extent, ST III). The corny dialogue, references to classic literature (Shakespeare and Melville, for example), and offbeat villains also denoted an older target audience. The later Star Trek films adopted an action-movie format** and, with the Abrams reboot, a much younger cast. I can't blame the producers for reaching out to a newer, younger, and more profitable market, but I have not been able to take either pleasure or comfort from any of the ST movies made after 1991.*** 

So hand me my copy of Julius Caesar, in the original Klingon, pass me my Romulan ale and my reading glasses, give me a star to sail by, and I'll be happy.

* Mysteries, westerns, and spy novels and movies are the exceptions here, but the western is dead and spy movies are moribund except as parodies.

** A friend referred to Star Trek: Generations as "three old white guys fighting on a rock."

*** I liked Star Trek: Nemesis, but that was just a tribute to Star Trek II  and VI.

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