Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Space and Time

By David Luhrssen
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  Ridley Scott, who directed two of the most important science-fiction films since Stanley Kubrick’s Space Odyssey, Alien and Blade Runner, had a hand in SF long before he became a director. Jad Smith’s biography of the writer John Brunner (University of Illinois Press) uncovers a little known footnote in Scott’s career. Back in 1965, Scott was set designer for a BBC television production of Brunner’s short story “Some Lapse of Time,” a psychological time travel thriller.

That Brunner isn’t better known outside SF circles is probably due to the paucity of his work onscreen. The BBC produced another of the British author’s stories, “The Last Lonely Man,” in 1969. Two years earlier he wrote the screenplay for a low-budget British movie, The Terrornauts. He submitted plot ideas for the ABC-TV series “The Invaders” (1967-1968), but Smith doesn’t indicate whether they were accepted.

And that’s it for TV and film; unfortunate, since Brunner’s novel Stand on Zanzibar (1968) is a genre classic and The Shockwave Rider (1975) foreshadowed cyberpunk by over half a decade. Smith gives an insightful, succinct account of a tireless writer disparaged from both ends during his peak years—the ‘60s and ‘70s—as too literary and too pulpy. Smith’s biography shows how Brunner balanced craft and conscience in stories at once page turning and complex. Filled with ambiguous and provocative ideas, Brunner speculated on the moral consequences of technology, often with masterful irony.

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