Is Gravity Science Fiction?

I just watched Gravity on Saturday (excellent movie, and only the second ever for which I can say it is worth paying extra to see in 3D), and I’ve been pondering whether it should be considered science fiction. Given my adherence to the cladistic view of genre, I’d say yes: it is clearly descended from the cinematic tradition of science fiction films, with its depiction of space as a sublime realm of awe and terror (compare 2001: A Space Odyssey or Alien), its use of both strategic silence and sounds such as static, heartbeats, and heavy breathing to create tension (2001 again), even the use of special effects as the primary antagonist (Star Trek the Motion Picture, War of the Worlds (1953 or 2005), there are countless examples good and bad) are all drawn from the tradition of science fiction film. The characters, meanwhile, are straight out of the Golden Age pulps: the brave but inexperienced woman scientist, the old space cowboy, the reckless rookie who is first to die. The film is steeped in science fiction; the fact that nothing which occurs in it is any more fantastical or implausible than a heist film or cop movie is largely irrelevant in the face of that heritage. It’s like saying that ostriches aren’t birds just because they don’t fly.

7 thoughts on “Is Gravity Science Fiction?

  1. I would love to have an informed opinion, but I'm not going to go see “Gravity”. The premise sounded really interesting, however just seeing the trailers in a theater was enough to get a panic attack started. It just looks so visceral and empty…I love that movies like this are getting made. I just don't know if I can watch this one.

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  2. Is it Sci-fi? Or maybe… SF?? It's definitely Fiction based on Science, although it's part of the novelty in the script that the science was taken for granted. We never need someone telling us that objects in space move until stopped, that there's no gravity, etc. We're expected to know that stuff because that level of science is modern. It has a lot in common with science fiction, but it also has a lot in common with a movie like 127 Hours. It's a “lost person” movie set in space. But yeah, the Alien homages are unmistakable. Maybe that's the idea? To drag science fiction imagery into a modern kind of script? Interesting thought.

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  3. I think quite possibly yes. That's largely what science fiction has become, at least in film and television–a set of visual cues rather than any particular subject matter or adherence to science or scientism.

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  4. I've never heard of a “cladistic” view of science fiction. I understand, vaguely at least, what the word means in terms of biology (and it amuses the hell out of me that birds are dinosaurs now), but I have no idea what it means in this context. Would you mind expanding on it?

    Side note: I haven't seen Gravity, because I'm a fraidycat and it looks too scary.

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  5. In this case, it refers to organizing genres by lines of descent rather than shared traits, analogous to how clades are organized more by shared genetics than shared phenotype.

    So, for instance, in the cladistic view there is no definitive list of generic traits common to all science fiction that can be used to differentiate from other genres; instead, science fiction is that fiction descended from the works of H.G. Wells and Jules Verne and so on.

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  6. Interesting! That would cut through a lot of the arguments I've seen about where the boundaries lay.

    And probably create a bunch of new ones about what the lines of descent are. ^_^

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  7. Yep, it's why I like it! And you can actually short-circuit those arguments by acknowledging that (unlike most organisms that aren't bacteria) a work can have any number of antecedents. Something that is influenced by Wells, Verne, and, I dunno, Philip Marlowe can be both science fiction and mystery, for instance.

    It also allows for an easy way to see the emergence of subgenres and how they evolve into genres, for example how science fiction started out as a subgenre of Victorian adventure novels before growing into a fully fledged genre as more and more people imitated and expanded on the ideas of the earliest works.

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