Industrial Society And The Science Fiction Blockbuster by Mark T. Decker (book review).

Mark T. Decker’s book, ‘Industrial Society And The Science Fiction Blockbuster’ focuses primarily on the films of George Lucas, Ridley Scott and Jim Cameron citing the late Professor Herbert Marcuse as the template for how people are alienated from their industrial environment. I have to confess to never hearing of Marcuse before and in the opening chapter, Decker doesn’t think the three directors have or been influenced directly neither. I’ve read enough interviews from all three of them to know that Marcuse has never come up, so this makes for an odd argument for a book that they’ve been influenced in a major way.


As a SF trope, alienation from society definitely precedes Marcuse in prose fiction. It definitely predates him and probably go as far back in films, too. ‘Metropolis’ (1927) definitely counts, although it does get a brief mention further into the book.

Oddly, once you get reading the book, Decker doesn’t discuss the philosophies of the three directors but concentrates on the films themselves, combined with relying on the RottenTomatoes website for his review examples. Granted he is looking for the worse about the films he selects, you do get an uneasy feeling that he is adding bias to his arguments. There is also an emphasis on how much these films made in profits as if this sways their value. Saying that, his depth of film analysis is actually good, assuming he hasn’t take it from other sources.

What lets that down is name misspellings. ‘Gayle Anne Hurd’ rather than ‘Gale Ann Hurd’, ‘Rachel’ instead of ‘Rachael’ in ‘Blade Runner’ (1982) and ‘Ash’ from ‘Alien’ (1979) being misspelt as ‘Ashe’ makes name errors more than a simple mistake and just carelessness. Minor things perhaps but the inner geek says he should know better considering the research he’s done. In many respects, these are the few glitches which is why they tend to stand out the most.

Although he points out that Harlen Ellison got payment over ‘Terminator’ and he explores the origins of ‘Alien’ from AE Van Vogt and the film ‘It! The Terror From Beyond Space’ (1958), Van Vogt did get a payment as well. I’m not entirely convinced that he fully understood Van Vogt as he liked to flesh out his realities across a range of subjects.

Much the same with ‘Predator’ (1987), as the Russians weren’t hostages but collaborators with the terrorists but barely seen. The same with ‘Predator 2’ (1990), as the police were getting in the way of Peter Keys pursuit of the hunter rather than being sacrificed by them.

Something that Decker uses a lot is in calling characters ‘one-dimensional’ or ‘two-dimensional’. This refers to type of person with the former being company men and the latter who think beyond that brief and to humanity at large. An odd choice considering such terms usually refer to depth of personality.

His analysis of the crew of the Nostromo from ‘Alien’ is depthy based on how company orientated they are but he ignored Kane and Lambert who are also poles apart. Kane was eager to go out and investigate the signal and Lambert very reluctant which would surely have been against company ideals. A rule of thumb and often a failing with such books is they rarely look at any counter-arguments. As to Ripley finding out the secret orders on MUTHR and Dallas didn’t surely misses the point. Dallas, as he says, runs the Nostromo, as warrant officer, Ripley with commanding officer privilege would know her way around the computer better, not to mention her suspicions about Ash’s inactions and Dallas just obeying company orders.

The ‘Blade Runner’ discussion is interesting and will make you think, even if it’s something he doesn’t actually cover. The replicants’ four year life-span does make you wonder why have Blade Runners in the first place? After all, the replicants would be dead within a month or so. Saying that, I can answer my own question as to whether they would tell other replicants but as they aren’t supposed to be on Earth making that a mote question or they would seek out their creator as Roy Batty did and we saw what he did. Decker’s point that the Blade Runners are really working for the Tyrell Corporation than the police department does present some thought although as both really have the same aim, that might be an easy assumption.

There haven’t been many book analysing the film ‘Prometheus’ (2012) yet and this one is actually a healthy start even if the odd point you might raise should have been answered. I mean, when you consider that the starship carried two board members of Weyland-Yutani on-board with at least 4 years away from their business, you do have to wonder who’s running the store on Earth? The analysis of Captain Janek is a different story but if you do connect the number of sub-contractors on-board with their own agendas, it would make sense for Janek, being ex-military, to be watchful of the company’s activities and not wanting to get too caught up in it.

With the examination of Jim Cameron’s ‘The Terminator’ (1984). Decker raises the connection to DF Jones’ trilogy and film starting off with ‘Colossus: The Forbin Project’. I’m less sure about that. Yes, there are similarities to the later Skynet in taking over the world but Colossus never made a decision to annihilate mankind but rather to guide them away from annihilation. That’s hardly putting them in the same category. If anything, Colossus is fulfilling its directive to prevent a nuclear war and that is taking that decision out of mankind’s hands.

There is some confusion when Decker discusses ‘Aliens’ (1987). Take the opening scene where the hibernating Ripley is rescued. He sees the captain’s yacht as worth more than Ripley but we’ve always seen it as someone on-board means it wasn’t derelict so no salvage rights.

Likewise, at the end of the film, the reason why Ripley chose to battle the xenomorph queen with the powerloader rather than a pulse-rifle is more of a necessity. When shot, the queen would have littered the cargo bay with acid blood which would have melted holes in the hull which would have killed her and Newt by decompression.

When it comes to ‘Avatar’ (2009), Decker compares it to Ursula LeGuin’s ‘The Word For World Is Forest’ with nary a mention of Poul Anderson’s story ‘My Name Is Joe’ by Poul Anderson where a man goes native when posing as an alien. It’s hardly like it hasn’t been mentioned on the Net.

Looking at what I’ve written about, there’s a lot of negativity but that’s largely from either mistakes or wrong end of the stick. There is also a lot there that is worth analysis and any book that will make you debate is a good thing. I think I would have gone for other examples than Lucas, Scott and Cameron. After all, it isn’t successful films that have meaning but the message they carry.

The alienation between the establishment and doing the right thing is a common trope in SF and we get away with it more because we can conceal it in what is essentially a fantasy reality and not be considered a threat. Mind you, that has changed in more recent decades and we’re moving more establishment but that is true of anything that has been around a long time. Then again, as I frequently point out, our reality is quickly becoming an SF reality. We just tend to think the corporate control isn’t as strong as it truly is.

GF Willmetts

November 2016

(pub: McFarland. 208 page indexed small enlarged paperback. Price: £36.50 (UK), $35.00 (US). ISBN: 978-0-7864-9911-3)

check out websites: http://www.mcfarlandpub.com/ and www.eurospanbookstore.com


Geoff Willmetts has been editor at SFCrowsnest for some 21 plus years now, showing a versatility and knowledge in not only Science Fiction, but also the sciences and arts, all of which has been displayed here through editorials, reviews, articles and stories. With the latter, he has been running a short story series under the title of ‘Psi-Kicks’ If you want to contribute to SFCrowsnest, read the guidelines and show him what you can do. If it isn’t usable, he spends as much time telling you what the problems is as he would with material he accepts. This is largely how he got called an Uncle, as in Dutch Uncle. He’s not actually Dutch but hails from the west country in the UK.

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