Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Is Spike Jonze's HER A Game-Changing SFR Film Or A Mainstream Fluke?

Via SF Signal, I discovered a Variety article about Spike Jonze's HER. The title is Why 'Her' Could Re-shape Sci-Fi Romances.
Note: I haven't seen HER yet, but the article didn't strike me as having spoilers. In fact, my post is more about the article title itself as well as the potential impact of any mainstream film that mixes romance and science fiction.
I'm trying to wrap my head around the article's main gist because frankly, I'm not sure it's entirely clear. I had a number of reactions as I read it. I'm going to toss out some thoughts and I'd like your take on it as well.
First was the idea that HER could re-shape science fiction romance. What exactly does Mr. Cohen mean by that? Is he possibly conflating marketing labels? The reason I ask is that in my reading and research experience, SFR already has expanded (and re-shaped, in part) science fiction by focusing on the intersection of love and technology. Romantic SF has existed for decades, and SFR from romance publishers has existed since the 1980s. Currently, readers can access a large number of digital-first titles.
If future science-fiction writers follow the trail Spike Jonze has blazed with “Her,” the genre could be quite different, at least when it comes to human-alien romance.
I'm not sure to what extent HER has "blazed" a trail. For one thing, it may be too soon to determine the film's impact. In terms of stories that tackle intimate bonds between humans and aliens (including human-A.I. being couples), the trail is not only established, but populated enough that I can point to a whole category of books from both SF and romance publishers that pre-date HER.

It's great that mainstream audiences are digging the appeal of sci-fi romance as expressed in HER, but it's troubling to encounter a situation wherein folks who are encountering SFR for the first time in a mainstream film assume it doesn't exist in other forms and/or genres. The general bias against romance increases the chances that they won't think to look in romance to find it (a highly ironic event given the genre's specific focus on love!). Yet films like HER don't exist in a vacuum.
This article also raises the issue that because a white, privileged man helmed a sci-fi romance themed film, then the genre is now officially legitimized. Again, from my perspective, part of the "future" of science fiction is already here, has been for some time, and is totally legit. It's called sci-fi romance and is being written largely by women authors. Unfortunately, this article is proof of how invisible they still are.
One positive way of looking at this article is that it confirms the forward-thinking nature of authors of science fiction romance/romantic SF. For example, authors like Susan Squires (BODY ELECTRIC), Catherine Asaro (ALPHA; THE PHOENIX CODE), and Tanith Lee (SILVER METAL LOVER) have explored a number of themes related to human-A.I. romances.
What's the true influence of HER when SFR has already been tackling the nature of alien-human romances? Perhaps by "re-shape" Mr. Cohen meant these types of stories might become more popular in mainstream venues, and/or might start appearing more regularly in science fiction (with or without an HEA). If SFR and romantic SF will benefit from HER in that way, then super!
Mr. Cohen described the character of HER's Samantha as "a mysterious, alien lover." That's nothing new to fans of sci-fi romance and romantic SF stories. I mean, is there an SFR alien hero or heroine who *doesn't* fit that description?

"And in some ways, she is unknowable, both to Theodore, who falls in love with her, and to us."
Welcome to the fully established world of science fiction romance!
One aspect of SFR is that, through the act of falling in love, alien heroes and heroines become known to us. The mystery doesn't always entirely disappear by story's end, but the romance helps carve out common ground. SFR stories explore the challenges of intimately (emotionally, physically) interacting with an alien hero or heroine who has a mysterious nature, and they also make the unknowable exciting and intriguing.
While the "Other" is frequently eroticized in SFR and erotic sci-fi romance, the stories still routinely foster acceptance of beings different from ourselves. A recurring theme is that all of us, even aliens and A.I. beings, are deserving and worthy of love, or at the very least are interested in exploring it.
Perhaps HER is resonating 1) because it's a quality film in a mainstream venue for SFR and by default has pedigree and prestige, and those factors influences viewers to perceive SFR as having value, and b) the film offers a romance with a more contemporary, and therefore accessible, feel than, say, AVATAR.

I've not read Donna S. Frelick's Spacefreighters Lounge article for fear of spoilers, but am linking to it for those of you who have seen the film and are interested in a take by someone familiar with SFR. 

I wonder if she believes HER is a game-changing SFR, or something else entirely?

What do you think?

Joyfully yours,