- Science Fiction TV by J. P. Telotte
By J. P. Telotte. London and New York: Routledge, 2014. Pp. vii + 223. $29.95.
Film and media scholar J. P. Telotte begins Science Fiction TV by noting that, over the years, his undergraduate students at Georgia Tech have seemed to exhibit more familiarity with and enthusiasm for science fiction (SF) television than for SF cinema. Motivated to write the book by these “rather rabid” SF television fans, Telotte aims to provide an overview of such TV, both for readers who might already be “rabid” fans and for those not familiar with the genre. Both types of readers will find the book edifying.
In this first in the Routledge Television Guidebooks series, each chapter analyzes topics pertinent to the study of science fiction television: history, narrative forms, cultural ideologies, audiences, and “boundary crossings”—SF television’s willingness to hybridize genre conventions. There are several advantages to the guidebook format. First, it doesn’t belabor the genre question—what “counts” as SF television—overmuch. It acknowledges that the boundaries between science fiction, fantasy, and horror are porous, even more so for television than for film because of the potential long-form quality of television programming, which allows for the rupture and reinvention of genre conventions. The final chapter makes this assumption explicit, arguing that genre permeability is in fact a hallmark of many SF series.
Second, the book is fairly brief, making it both affordable and easily integrated into a more broadly focused science fiction or media studies course. Rather than aiming to exhaustively catalog all science fiction television, Telotte primarily references touchstone or cult-favorite SF series, such as Star Trek and The X-Files. To exemplify his major themes, each chapter also features a section called Key Series, focusing on Captain Video, The Twilight Zone, Battlestar Galactica, Farscape, and Fringe. Other series are introduced, but the analysis is not weighed down by excessive plot explication. Similarly, ideological analyses are neither ignored, nor overwhelming for the reader. Chapters, which can be excerpted to stand alone, provide structure and content that would function effectively as springboards for class discussion on ideological implications, industrial norms, genre conventions, and the role of audiences.
One of the most pleasing chapters—and the one likely to arouse the most interest among students and fans—is chapter 4, “SFTV Audiences.” Telotte argues that SF audiences self-identify as “different from other popular audiences—as better educated, as having more interest in scientific and technological issues, as being more concerned about the future” (p. 120). Perhaps because the book was prompted by his interactions with fans in his classes, Telotte treats that audience with respect and curiosity, and [End Page 779] one could argue that the book focuses primarily on contemporary SF series with that audience in mind.
If there is a criticism to be made of the book, it might be that Telotte misses an opportunity to examine intertextuality more fully across media. Though he references postmodernism frequently as a way of explaining how series might reference one another or serve as cultural pastiche, and briefly examines gaming in the conclusion, he doesn’t do much with how SF cinema and television might interact, for example. While Telotte’s students may not be as excited about SF film, it’s hard to imagine that their reactions to SF television would not be influenced by such massively popular SF cinema as the Star Wars films, for example. Examining this kind of intertextuality would make the book more useful in a course that is not simply about television.
Still, the brevity and accessibility of the book are advantages, particularly when considering that Telotte’s analyses are wide-ranging and impressive. He has a masterful grasp of the literature related to science fiction film and television, yet writes in a manner that advanced undergraduate and graduate students will find enjoyable. Furthermore, fans who are no longer students might read the book if they are interested in some of the political and cultural context of their favorite shows, as well as to get ideas for other, similar shows they might appreciate. It is indeed a...