Amazon has rolled out a pilot for a new science fiction series called Oasis, based on the novel The Book of Strange New Things by Michel Faber. Unfortunately, I have not read the novel. The novel’s description barely sounds like what unfolded in the pilot. Readers compare the book to A Case of Conscience or A Canticle for Leibowitz, while I thought of Solaris while watching the TV show. Because we’ve only seen the 59-minute pilot, there’s no telling where the show will go, but I hope it incorporates more of the book – The Book of Strange New Things sounds fascinating.
As I watched the pilot, I felt I was seeing a series of iconic science fiction tropes that should appeal to the average science fiction fan looking for a new science fiction show. The only thing, the story didn’t feel very science fictional – at least not so far, and not to me. Peter Leigh (Richard Madden) is a pastor/chaplain whose wife has died and he’s mysteriously invited to travel to another planet because they claim to desperately need his skills. Peter arrives at the colony world only to find a miserable outpost where people suffer from menacing hallucinations. Three have died already. In the book, the preacher goes to another planet to teach the natives about Christianity. Now that could still happen in the television series, but the pilot didn’t introduce any native inhabitants on the colony world. It seems quite barren.
I ask, “Where’s the science fiction,” because of the nature of the story. It feels like a mystery. Why is a pastor needed to solve what might be a psychological or medical problem? Why are the people hallucinating? The same plot could be set on Earth today. Of course, this might reflect my jaded feelings toward science fiction. Spaceships and colony worlds don’t equal science fiction to me anymore. Conflicts built around off-world corporate shenanigans or galactic palace intrigue no longer means science fiction to me. I need something more.
All too often stories are called science fiction because of their costumes, sets, and scenery. A single-action .45 makes a western, a 9mm Glock makes a thriller, and a ray-gun makes a science fiction story if the plot is only about good guys vs. bad guys. That’s not good enough for me. I need science speculation in my science fiction.
Arrival had its audience thinking about communicating with aliens and how difficult that could be. I’d call that science fiction. The Martian and Gravity both dealt with problems unique to space exploration. Even Passengers which was nearly all Sci-Fi set redeemed itself with a uniquely ethical problem that would only come about because of long space missions using suspended animation.
So far Oasis seems completely cliché to me. I do hope it goes into production and explores new science fiction territory. The pilot had the feel of too many other science fiction series, but it hints at potential. The appearance of humans working in space is starting to develop a mundane sameness, which is a problem for many new SF shows. That’s why I loved the visuals of Gattaca – it made the future look different.
I fell in love with science fiction because of its ability to imagine things never imagined. Too often current science fiction works from templates. Every genre has to worry about running its tropes into the ground. And if you live long enough, it appears every genre does that.
Of course, getting older is my problem. The young people who create and consume science fiction today probably won’t see what I’m talking about. At least not until they get older. I still crave new science fiction. It’s hard for me to find it when everything new looks old. For example, I admire Humans. But even its ideas are old. Still, I love Humans for presenting ideas about robots, AI, and consciousness in a fresh way.
Oasis did not seem fresh to me, or even science fictional, but that could change. The trouble is, I compare all first episodes to the first episode of Breaking Bad, which is a ridiculously high standard. All my favorite series have had a gang-buster of a first episode. That has me worried about Oasis, but I’m trying to stay positive. I think I’ll go read The Book of Strange New Things while waiting to see if Oasis gets the green light.