When one thinks about it very few genuine science fiction movies get made. Most of what passes as “sci-fi” for Hollywood nowadays are actually nothing but action or horror movies with SF trappings . . .

Arguably the last “genuine” science fiction movie to be made in Hollywood was probably Gattaca or Contact (both in 1997) – more than a decade ago! So hard science fiction fans should greet the news that Robert Charles Wilson’s novel Spin has been optioned for a movie with open arms. This is fantastic news – Wilson’s 2005 novel is a bona fide modern science fiction literary classic (it won the Hugo for starters) and boasts an intriguing concept that ought to make for a neat sci-fi thriller and a welcome diversion from the usual brain-dead dross that Hollywood specializes in. As long as they don’t get Roland Emmerich to direct it everything will be all right . . .

On the surface Spin resembles a disaster movie. What if the stars simply disappeared one night? Poof . . . and they are gone. Except they are not really gone. We just can’t see them anymore because technologically advanced aliens put a membrane around the Earth which causes time to pass much more slowly on our planet than in the rest of the universe. One Earth year ends up equaling 100 million years for the outside world, and four billion years pass in one human generation. And the problem being? Not much except for the fact that in about 30-odd years by our time the sun would have grown old enough to start going supernova and destroy our entire solar system, Earth (obviously) included, in the process. Humanity it seems may have even less time at its disposal than it may initially have thought . . .

The novel follows the lives of three childhood friends – Diane and Jason Lawton who are twins and their best friend Tyler Dupree – who witness the blacking out of the stars as adolescents. As time progresses Diane starts flirting with religious fanaticism as impending doom looms and her brother becomes involved with a NASA project to possibly save humanity: namely to “terraform” Mars, that is, seed it with new life and start a colony there.

Since time on Mars passes much faster than on earth it means that the planet’s entire ecosphere can be radically altered to sustain human life within a few “Earth years.” The new “Martians” can even create a society that will soon outstrip ours when it comes to technological advancement! Even though Tyler is the main focus of the novel, he is a mere spectator to what happens to his two friends’ lives – and of course humanity as it collectively loses its mind as the reality of its situation sinks in. But what are the aliens? Why they have they done what they did? And what do they have in mind for humanity?

"Spin represents everything we love about science fiction . . ."

Maybe it was the bitter taste left in the mouth after recently reading Terry Brooks’ mind-bogglingly unoriginal, derivative and dull Tolkien-lite Sword of Shannara novel, but Robert Charles Wilson’s Spin definitely counts as one of the best SF books I have read in quite a while. It has everything that Brooks’ book lacked: in-depth characterization, interesting concepts, a tension-filled narrative that makes one keep on reading to see how it all turns out (the last hundred pages or so of Brooks’ novel I just scanned lazily).

In fact whereas Sword of Shannara represents everything I hate about the Fantasy genre, Spin represents everything I love about science fiction. It really is an original and thought-provoking novel. Sword of Shannara is also being made into a movie. Guess which one will most likely be made into a movie by Hollywood?

Spin is dreadfully good and well-written. But it would be interesting to see how the novel will be made into a movie. The biggest problem with Spin when it comes to the movie adaptation stakes is that . . . it has genuine scientific ideas and not just the vague techno babble that Star Trek has foisted upon us. It is the sort of thing that will make people who dozed off during their science classes go all cross-eyed and lose focus.

It is as if the novel itself is aware of this problem. Take as example this passage from the novel in which Jason Lawton explains to his friend Tyler why there hasn’t been widespread panic yet when Earth’s scientists realized why the stars “disappeared” and that the Earth will probably be vaporized in a few decades:

“Consider what we’re asking them to believe. We’re talking about, globally, a population with an almost pre-Newtonian grasp of astronomy. How much do you really need to know about the moon and the stars when your life consists of scrounging enough biomass to feed yourself and your family? To say anything meaningful about the Spin [as the membrane is called n the novel] to those people you have to start a long way back. The earth, you have to tell them, is a few billion years old, to begin with. Let them wrestle with the concept of ‘a billion years,’ maybe for the first time. It’s a lot to swallow, especially if you’ve been educated in a Moslem theocracy, an animist village, or a public school in the Bible belt. Then tell them the Earth isn’t changeless, that there was an era longer than our own when the oceans were steam and the air was poison. Tell them how living things arose spontaneously and evolved sporadically for three billion years before they produced the first arguably human being. Then talk about the sun, how the sun isn’t permanent either but started out as a contracting cloud of gas and dust and will one day, some few more billion years from now, expand and swallow the Earth and eventually blow off its own outer layers and shrink to a nugget of superdense matter. Cosmology 101, right? […] but for most people it’s a whole new worldview and probably offensive to a bunch of their core beliefs.”

So if any movie adaptation of Spin can make the science understandable to the layman and amp up the human interest of the story (and there’s loads of that) then we might just have the first genuine science fiction movie since 1997. After all, the story does have a love triangle and some scenes of societal decay that Hollywood disaster movies specialize in and hey! Maybe they should get Roland Emmerich to direct it!

(Actually we’d want Gattaca and Truman Show writer / director Andrew Niccol to direct it, but he’s too busy with a movie version of Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World right now it seems . . .)



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