Academic journal article Journal of the Fantastic in the Arts

Telotte, J. P., Ed. the Essential Science Fiction Television Reader

Academic journal article Journal of the Fantastic in the Arts

Telotte, J. P., Ed. the Essential Science Fiction Television Reader

Article excerpt

Telotte, J. P., ed. The Essential Science Fiction Television Reader. Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 2008. 356 pp. Hardcover. ISBN: 978-0813124-92-6. $45.00.

J. P. Telotte's excellent new collection of essays by a variety of scholars, The Essential Science Fiction Television Reader, explores the complex relationship between sf and television across the twentieth century and into our own millennium. It begins with a consideration of television as sf early in its history, journeys through some of the most influential sf themes and shows as they have appeared on the small screen, and ends with some speculation about whether or not television as we have come to know it will have any place in the future of the genre as mediums collapse and interweave with one another.

Telotte introduces his project with an essay that traces "The Trajectory of Science Fiction Television" from its inception to the present. It also posits a problem, noting that while "the genre [sf] has been a part of broadcast television practically from the medium's inception" it has not always been approached as a topic for serious scholarship and has quite often "suffered the same prejudice that, for many years, attached to science fiction literature" (1). Telotte goes on to make an impassioned argument asserting that sf television is worth careful consideration by scholars as "a significant cultural development" that just "might represent an important voice for an increasingly technologized and science-haunted world" (1). This is the thesis that grounds the entire collection, and the firmly held belief that sf television merits our critical interest runs as a thread through all of the essays that follow.

The balance of Telotte's introduction serves to familiarize readers with a brief history of sf series on the small screen from the early 1950s until the present, from Captain Video and The Twilight Zone through Lost in Space and Star Trek up until The X-Files and the reimagined Battlestar Galactica. This chronology combined with Telotte's exhortation for and defense of serious scholarship on sf film makes the introduction itself invaluable to new scholars in the field. On a related note, the book also contains a helpful list of suggested works for further reading and a selected videography of sf TV. Both of these are likely to keep scholars, new and old, happily busy for a long time to come.

After Telotte's able introduction, the work is divided into five parts. Part 1, "Background: Lifting Off from the Cultural Pad," is concerned with locating television as an sf medium from its inception and with connecting early sf series on television with their literary and cinematic predecessors. Part 2, "The Shape of the Ship: Narrative Vehicles and Science Fiction," takes a look at the "narrative practices and forms that have influenced the development of the genre on television" (28). Part 3, "What Fuels These Flights: Some Key Concerns of Science Fiction Television," contains essays on such evocative topics as the role of women in sf television and the changing shape and developing character of the space ship. Part 4, "The Best Sights 'Out There,'" contains six essays on what the book terms "Key Series" including the BBC's Doctor Who, The X-Files, and Lost. Finally, part 5, "The Landing Zone: Where Does Science Fiction Television Go from Here?" offers a single essay considering the ways in which the new media pressures and a changing relationship between viewers and the viewed might change sf television forever.

Part 1 contains three essays concerning sf television in terms of the medium itself. Telotte's own "Lost in Space: Television as Science Fiction Icon" looks not at sf on television, but television as sf as it considers how the emergent medium itself was represented on film before it became a familiar fixture in the home. Lisa Yaszek's "Shadows on the Cathode Ray Tube: Adapting Print Science Fiction for Television" examines how "SFTV emerged as a unique form thanks to three cultural forces: the narrative tradition of print science fiction, the broadcasting imperatives of cold war television, and the aesthetic tradition of filmmaking" through the analysis of a single work that went through significant changes in its movement off the page and onto the flickering screen (56). …

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