Primeval and Schismatrix

June 10, 2009

I watched the last episode of Primeval last night. Although I’m not a huge fan, I’ve nothing against it. I find it does what it sets out to do- entertaining families on a Saturday evening.

But is it Science Fiction? Well, I would say yes. It features time travel and exciting gadgetry, and I’m sure that an eight year old would find the idea of someone going back in time to wipe out the first human beings quite a mind blowing concept. (I remember being similarly awe struck when I first read Ray Bradbury’s A Sound of Thunder). But to us SF fans the idea is an old one.

Does that matter? There are always writers who do an excellent job of putting a new spin on old ideas, they present well structured and excitingly told stories, seasoned with just a hint of their own philosophy. (Eric Brown’s Helix and Peter Hamilton’s Pandora’s Star are good examples of these excellent but oddly old fashioned tales). I like to call these Level 1 stories.

The point is, though, that SF has moved on from the level of Primeval and other TV shows like it. There are a lot of Level 2 stories out there, waiting to filter through to the mainstream. New ideas that are built on the foundations of the Science Fiction that has gone before us. Read Bruce Sterling’s Schismatrix, for example. Written more than 20 years ago, and, by today’s standards, oddly pre-singularity  (and if you don’t know what I mean by pre-singularity you’re not reading modern SF), but it’s crammed full of new ideas. The spaceships and spacestations and spacepirates of Level 1 SF are there, but they are in the background, barely seen, the platform from which a mind blowing array of new concepts are launched. I often wonder, though, if level 2 books like Schismatrix would make any sense to someone who hasn’t read their Asimov (or, maybe nowadays, watched their Star Wars).

Anyway, getting back to the beginning, that’s why I support shows like Primeval. It’s not just that they keep families entertained, it’s that they’re grounding kids in the Level 1 concepts they’ll need to read the Level 2 SF of tomorrow.