What makes a science fiction film good?
If you ask Hollywood, the answer appears to be laughable plotting, trite characterization, and violent spectacle, as exemplified by movies such as The Thing From Another World (1951), Colossus: The Forbin Project (1970), and Independence Day (1996). In such films, reason sleeps. From them, monsters are born: xenophobia; hatred and distrust of intellectuals, especially scientists; and rejection of technology as inhuman. At best, such films dramatize our fears about science and technology; at worst, they promote the spread of those fears.
That they never get the science right is almost beside the point: science fiction in any medium succeeds by tapping the power of myth to explore the relationship between human beings and technology. By their nature, scientific "laws" are subject to revision -- from Newton to Einstein to Hawking -- and technology never stands still. Science fiction faithful to the science of its day (such as Verne's or Asimov's) becomes obsolete once the first spaceship lands on the moon, or the genome is mapped.
The best science fiction films endure by transcending the limitations of present-day knowledge. They look beyond contemporary trends to the big questions of how science and technology shape the human spirit, and vice versa: how does scientific discovery change our conception of our place in the universe? How do we cope with the ethical dilemmas technology creates? How does technology mediate and change our most intimate, interpersonal relationships?
These and other questions will not change, even as our tools, knowledge, and answers evolve. As creative works, science fiction films last only by embracing what Faulkner called, "the old verities and truths of the heart . . . love and honor and pity and pride and compassion and sacrifice." Ideas are never enough; the best science fiction films also contain complex characters, thoroughly imagined situations and settings, and well-constructed narratives -- not to mention a distinctive voice and sense of style.
Putting all these elements together is the director's responsibility, and certain directors, whether inside or outside of Hollywood, consistently make the best science fiction films. While nearly all of these directors are accomplished craftsmen (and yes, unfortunately, they are all men), what most distinguishes each of them from their contemporaries is a vision that fuses all the disparate elements of filmmaking into whole new worlds. The absence of vision is why empty spectacles such as Armageddon (1998) or The Core (2003) utterly fail as science fiction.
Note that what follows is my list of the ten best science fiction directors, not the ten best science fiction films. My "best films" list would include works by directors who made only one great science fiction film, such as Robert Wise's The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951) or Philip Kaufman's remake of Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978). Conversely, it would exclude those visionary directors, such as David Cronenberg, who have not yet made one film that stands out as a masterpiece. I'm mindful, by the way, of how pale and male this list is. While there have been many interesting efforts by female directors -- such as Kathryn Bigelow's Strange Days (1995) or Lynn Hershman Leeson's Teknolust (2002) -- none can be ranked among the best. There are simply too few women, or folks of color, making science fiction films. This is a problem with the genre, and not with those people who can't identify with it. Hopefully, science fiction will continue to evolve beyond its original demographics.
Any ranking system is necessarily going to be arbitrary, so I've ranked the directors in order of my personal preference. If you disagree with my rankings -- and you probably will -- we can argue about it here.
I first saw 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) when I was ten years old, in a glorious old theater in Saginaw, Michigan. The movie's images have stayed with me all my life: the apes cowering at the foot of the black monolith, and then drawing near it, tentatively touching its surface; the shuttle docking to the strains of "Blue Danube," its cabin subjectively still while all the universe turns around it; the slow death of HAL; the Discovery in orbit around Jupiter; and so on. 2001 is filled with long silences and breathtaking vistas, fearlessly sublime. Kubrick never fails to trust his audience, and his conviction is backed up by flawless special effects and art direction. Even today, Kubrick's depiction of space travel is completely convincing, containing as much simple truth as Star Wars contains spectacular lies.
Kubrick is often criticized for being deaf and blind to the comedy of human variety -- an accusation with which I agree. It has frozen the heart of many of his films, but not 2001. Though the crew members of the Discovery are emotionally remote, it is part of Kubrick's method that we never care what ultimately happens to 2001's human characters; any individual is, in Kubrick's vision, less than a blink of the eye, one miniscule part of a vast universe.
The content of the characters' sparse dialogue in 2001 is irrelevant, their words functioning as tiny descriptive touches. Only HAL's voice, warm and haunting, carries any weight, forming the emotional core of the film. Despite the many deaths in 2001, I was not moved to pity until HAL begs for his life. This inversion of man and machine is paralleled by Kubrick's choice not to reveal the makers of the monolith that inspires humanity's evolutionary advance. 2001 is about endless yearning, the constant striving to become more than what we are, for which HAL and the monolith are symbols. Technology -- embodied by HAL -- emerges not as the antithesis to the human, but instead as its reflection.
In A Clockwork Orange (1971), Kubrick explores technology as an instrument of social control, as well as a metaphor for the inescapable forces that make free choice a puzzle whose pieces never seem to fit. When I first saw this film as a teenager, I naturally started by identifying with the angry, nerdy nihilism of its anti-hero Alex, and his fierce, exuberant will to power. Today I see the film differently; in my adult eyes, Alex looks like a lost, vicious, pathetic, betrayed figure -- the apparent freedom he finds at the story's climax is a cruel deception. Though A Clockwork Orange is often interpreted as "a statement about the freedom of choice" (to quote The Mammoth Encyclopedia of Science Fiction), my own view is that Kubrick doesn't believe such a thing is possible. The film's grimness derives not so much from its shabby housing estates, or its portrayal of behavior modification, as from Alex's being trapped within himself. This is the root of A Clockwork Orange's irony -- Alex is still a slave to social forces and desires every bit as dehumanizing as the aversion therapy he undergoes. At the end of A Clockwork Orange, the question remains open: under such conditions, what is the right way to live? Alex doesn't have the answer. (Tarkovsky's Solaris, discussed below, does venture a humanistic answer to this question, one I think Kubrick would embrace.)
Finally, there is Kubrick's great satire Dr. Strangelove or, How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964). This film is filled with truly incredible comic performances -- George C. Scott is hilariously over-the-top as General Buck Turgidson, and Peter Sellers aces all three of his roles -- but its real triumph is its disciplined tone, which strikes a perfect balance between insanity and banality. Slim Pickens plays the heroic Major T.J. "King" Kong straight -- reportedly, Kubrick never told him that Dr. Strangelove was a satire -- and I couldn't help but cheer Kong and his crew as they overcome obstacle after obstacle to drop their nuclear bombs over some luckless Russian city. This, notes J.G. Ballard, is "Kubrick's masterstroke." By making us identify with the crew, we are "enlisted on the side of our darkest fears," exposing "all the sinister glamour and unconscious logic of technological death." In the end, we all get what we want, an outcome that dooms the planet.
I rank Kubrick as the best science fiction film director in part because of his technical mastery; if only all science fiction directors had his eye for detail, and his skill in making the details contribute to a complete vision of the future. But there is much more to Kubrick -- he puts film technology to the task of answering those big questions that only science fiction can answer. "The most terrifying fact about the universe," said Kubrick in 1968, "is not that it is hostile but that it is indifferent . . . if we come to terms with this indifference and accept the challenges of life within the boundaries of death -- however mutable man may be able to make them -- our existence as a species can have genuine meaning and fulfillment. However vast the darkness, we must supply our own light."
No one else makes movies like David Cronenberg's. Films like Scanners (1981), Videodrome (1983), The Fly (1986), and eXistenZ (1999) are instantly recognizable for their wintry soundtracks and anonymous cityscapes, which manage to appear simultaneously seedy and clean. Cronenberg is Canadian, and anyone acquainted with Canada's most modern cities will know the source of his tone and iconography. His is a uniquely personal vision, rare in such a collaborative medium.
Virtually all of Cronenberg's films are about the convergence of human and machine -- in each of them, even his non-SF films, technology grows more organic while flesh becomes more technological. In Videodrome, a pornographer steps into the television image, learning to embrace the video apocalypse as a higher stage of human evolution. The virtual reality game pods in eXistenZ, which updates Videodrome's themes, pulse and bleed like small animals. In Scanners, the protagonist merges his nervous system with that of a computer, with explosive and transcendent results.
Many of the best science fiction films are based in literature (as with Kubrick's classic films, for example), but with the exception of the supernatural thriller The Dead Zone (1983, based on Stephen King's novel), Cronenberg's most effective work is drawn entirely for his own fervid, cinematic imagination. His is a fearless, manic originality, which is not afraid to appear ridiculous.
It's tempting, for example, to see the flawed eXistenZ as warmed-over Philip K. Dick, or as a pale shadow of the incandescent The Matrix (1999). To be sure, eXistenZ can be boring and embarrassingly solemn. But unlike Hollywood adaptations of Dick -- such as the execrable Total Recall (1990) or Paycheck (2003) -- Cronenberg takes Dick's themes into unfamiliar aesthetic territory. His virtual reality is not wish fulfillment, with the cool weaponry and leather longcoats of The Matrix, but an uncomfortably vivid confrontation with the blood, shit, and mucus of the human body. Cronenberg's is a distinctly anti-epical, anti-heroic vision, unrelentingly hostile to glitter and glamour. Few artists are willing to go as far as Cronenberg in depicting the intimate relationship between technology and biology. While the results are often horrific to watch, beyond the horror there is a moral affirmation of the human in the machine.
Cronenberg's early films are marred by low-budget amateurishness, but throughout the '80s and '90s Cronenberg steadily improved his craft and hired better actors. Like William S. Burroughs (whose "unfilmable" book Naked Lunch was filmed by Cronenberg in 1991) and J.G. Ballard (whose Crash was adapted by Cronenberg in 1996), Cronenberg's characters are shaped primarily by the roles they play -- especially in his early films, their personal histories and motivations are obscure and irrelevant, a method that alienates audiences and limits the effectiveness of his stories. Even in his more recent character studies, there is a whiff of authorial manipulation. Though he lacks Kubrick's technical mastery and shares his coldness, of the two Cronenberg is the more metaphorical and original filmmaker -- no one film stands out (yet) as a masterpiece, but his is the most interesting body of work on this list.
Spielberg is as sentimental as Cronenberg and Kubrick are pitiless, a director whose films are littered with cute children and tearjerking finales, and whose most recent science fiction films have been overly slick and money-bloated. But he is also one of the few Hollywood filmmakers willing to ask how technology changes our relationships with ourselves, and each other.
Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977) is his most important science fiction film, marking a post-Vietnam maturation in the way mainstream America was willing to encounter alien cultures. Instead of lashing out -- as do the heroes of so many alien-invasion movies -- Spielberg's protagonists pursue the alien as a pathway to higher self-consciousness. Spielberg is more adept than any other science fiction director in creating characters, particularly children, who matter, sketching their motivations and complexities with unmatched economy and sensitivity. The family scenes with Richard Dreyfuss and Teri Garr are the heart of Close Encounters, and the reason why we understand what's at stake when the UFOs appear in the sky; they represent a technology-driven collision of cultures, a fissure between worlds in which anything can happen. Close Encounters tries to heal such wounds, and to imagine an ethical system that will allow us to live together in a world that becomes more like a village every day.
In E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial (1982), Spielberg refines this method and narrows it to a child's gaze. I was twelve when I first saw this film, and I watched it at least seven times in the theater. As an adult I find much to criticize -- sentimentality and wishful thinking, for example -- but I have to admit that there is something at the center of E.T. where it all comes together. This is not only the result of Spielberg's sense of fun, and of his skillful manipulation of his audience's sympathies, but also of his insight into how adults can damage children, even with the best of intentions. Of course, in the end Spielberg must pull back from the abyss: the families reunite, the rift is closed, the end.
As a science fiction director, Spielberg knows how to induce a sense of wonder in his audience, while clearly understanding that his futures will seem utterly banal to the characters that must live in them. In Minority Report (2002), a crowd steps off an elevator into a retinal reader. Their eyes blink steel-blue as they're read and identified; as they walk through a mall, holographic advertisements call to them by name while at the same time they're tracked by the "precognitive" supercops who keep the city murder-free. The scene is both magical and chilling. In the world of Minority Report, privacy is something that must be purchased, but most people apparently don't see the need. No matter what wonders, horrors, or boredom may await us in the future, we can get used to anything.
Though Solaris (1972), Stalker (1979), and The Sacrifice (1986) are all remarkably slow-paced -- there are stretches of Stalker that will try the patience of even the most dedicated cinephile -- they are among the most unusual and thematically daring films in science fiction. Of the many films mentioned in this list that explore the nature of memory, Solaris is the darkest and deepest. Based on the novel by the Stanislaw Lem, Solaris presents a planetary living ocean that turns the guiltiest memories of the poor humans studying it into living flesh. When I re-watched Solaris recently, I was most struck by Tarkovsky's detailed, sensitive attention to character and landscape, which merge into a seamless whole; for example, when we first see the psychologist Kelvin walking in the country, the sun-dappled water perfectly reflects the melancholy in his eyes.
Solaris poses a series of complex ethical challenges to science and technology, indivisible from individual choice. When Kelvin tells the troubled cosmonaut Burton that human morality cannot be imposed on science, Burton retorts, "Knowledge is only valid when it rests on a foundation of morality." Kelvin, we learn, drove his wife Hari to suicide ten years before. At Solaris Station, Kelvin finds two raving scientists and a reincarnated Hari. At first, like the two scientists, he rejects and tries to kill his "visitor." In the end, he embraces her and takes responsibility for her existence. "In these inhuman conditions he alone acted human," says Hari to the scientists, "while you two pretend it doesn't concern you, and that your visitors are just an exterior enemy. But your visitors are part of you, they are your conscience." Like HAL, Hari -- "a copy from a matrix" -- becomes the most human of all the characters. Unlike Kubrick's monolith, which addresses itself to the whole of humanity, Tarkovsky's ocean stands as a challenge to every individual human life: Know thyself.
In Tarkovsky's beautiful, mystifying final film, The Sacrifice, a writer's family gathers to celebrate his 70th birthday. When a nuclear attack is announced on the radio, they begin a slow slide into emotional entropy. To save them -- and, incidentally, the world -- the writer renounces all that he holds dear: his home, his family, and his talent -- in the hope that God might revoke World War III. The film's ambiguity arises from meaning of the sacrifice: is it self-deception, a retreat into superstition, or the writer's most ennobling act? In the hands of a filmmaker as subtle and skilled as Tarkovsky, the answer might be all three.
Brazil (1985) begins as an ingenious summation of the great dystopias of the 20th century, most notably Orwell's 1984 (which, in Brazil's DVD commentary, Gilliam claims not to have read!) and Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451. Then, shockingly, Gilliam takes dystopia into the 21st century by satirizing its victims. Brazil is rife with high irony and savage parody, most of it directed at the fantasy life of the bureaucrat protagonist, Sam Lowry, brilliantly played by Jonathan Pryce. Fantasy is Sam's only defense against the police state he serves, as well as an escape from the moral contradictions of his life. When he finally rebels, the rebellion is deformed, and ultimately sabotaged (in a denouement that inverts A Clockwork Orange's ending) by his daydreams. With its magnificent art design -- the ducts, in particular, are a brilliant symbol for the irrational roots of much quotidian technology -- Brazil is simultaneously dream and nightmare. Brazil is also funny, heartbreaking, and in places almost too horrifying to watch.
Gilliam's great theme is the role of fantasy in daily life. Time Bandits (1981) is a fabulous romp through history that, in Spielberg's hands, would have become a child's daydream. Gilliam fashions it into something menacing -- the final image, when the child-hero's parents vanish and he is left standing alone, taps into the primal childhood fear of abandonment. Gilliam's other explicitly science fiction film, 12 Monkeys (1995), is creatively art-designed and contains at least one fantastic performance (by Brad Pitt, of all people), but still pales beside its source, Chris Marker's "La Jetée" (discussed below). Like Time Bandits, 12 Monkeys is a story about a damaged child, cast alone into a cold and desolate world. Though a limited actor, Bruce Willis is well cast for the little-boy hurt that never leaves his eyes.
I'm not sure why 12 Monkeys ultimately doesn't work for me. Perhaps it fails because it never moves beyond that hurt to something larger; it lacks the moral gravity of, say, Solaris, or even Close Encounters -- or Brazil, for that matter. Brazil remains one of the great speculative films of the last century. I doubt that any other director could have made it.
6. Jean-Luc Godard and Chris Marker (tie)
I'm cheating a bit by listing these two pivotal avant-garde French filmmakers together, but in my mind they're two different sides of the same coin.
In Godard's Alphaville (1965), hard-boiled detective Lemmy Caution rumbles into town at the wheel of his Ford Galaxy, battles an evil supercomputer, kills the mad scientist, and gets the girl. Those who have seen the film know that this plot summary means nothing, and everything. Godard's film is an extended commentary on pop culture, and a creative attempt to confront technology as instrument of social control. It is on that level, however, that Alphaville is most flawed. I found its dialectical oppositions trite -- in the climax the hero destroys the omnipotent supercomputer by reciting poetry to it -- and many of its attempts at satire to be clumsy.
I prefer Weekend (1967), in which the country vacation of a bourgeois couple morphs into a horrorshow of car-wrecks and cannibalism. Weekend is filled with images that are difficult to forget, particularly the tracking shot of a chain of wrecked cars that emerges as a portrait of contemporary capitalism. As with Jacques Tati's Traffic (1971) or Cronenberg's Crash, Weekend reveals the visceral origins and revolutionary potential of the automobile, which in the late, last century was the ultimate extension and enhancement of the human body. It ends: "fin du cinema, fin du monde."
Godard's contemporary Chris Marker, a filmmaker best known for his unclassifiable cinematic essays, is as compassionate and thoughtful as Godard is ferocious and militant. His 29-minute film "La Jetée" (1962) opened for Alphaville in French theaters, and represents a perfect synthesis of form and content. "La Jetée" consists almost entirely of stills -- broken once, beautifully and precisely, by movement -- telling the post-apocalyptic story of a prisoner hurled into the past by his jailers. Poignant and poetic, "La Jetée" is a profound meditation on the relationship between memory and technology.
Marker's "documentary" essays, such as Le Fond de L'air est Rouge (1977) and Sans Soleil (1983), are also interesting for the way they view the present through speculative eyes. To Marker, both the past and future are always close at hand, and inextricably linked. These are films made from the point of view of an alien visitor, seeing the Earth for the first time.
Godard and Marker are both highly influential -- "La Jetée" inspired 12 Monkeys, while Godard virtually invented the modern jump-cut -- but they took creative, personal, and political risks that few dare take today. When I watch their films, I remember that other worlds -- and other ways of telling stories -- are possible.
7. Fritz Lang
Like James Whale (below), Fritz Lang created many of science fiction cinema's template images. In Metropolis (1926), the technological city is a spectacle that mediates social relations between owners and workers, the polarization between rich and poor reflected in the city's very architecture. While the surface of Metropolis is a daydream of soaring expressways and skyscrapers, the city beneath is a nightmare of toil and poverty without end. Lang's urban imagery recurs in many science fiction films, including Blade Runner, Alphaville, the Batman series, and The Matrix. Much of the plot of Metropolis makes no sense -- the climax, in particular, is silly and wishful -- but it doesn't need to make sense. When the robot Maria stands, she rises from some secret, primitive, dreaming part of our collective unconscious. As Lang clearly understood, the subterranean link between magic and technology is the Rosetta Stone of science fiction.
Lang made many other important science fiction films. Frau im Mond (1929) is a haunting and technically innovative vision of a trip to the moon. His three Dr. Mabuse films (1922-60) constitute a lurid portrait of society in decline. After the mesmerist and criminal mastermind Dr. Mabuse dies in the first (silent) film, he appears later through others who act in his name. In the knotted and complex The 1,000 Eyes of Dr. Mabuse (1960) -- more proto-technothriller than science fiction -- every room of the Hotel Luxor is wired with a closed-circuit surveillance system. Who is watching? We all are. Dr. Mabuse -- whose "lust for power knows no end" -- is in all of us.
Cameron is the only other Hollywood director besides Spielberg who seems capable of making consistently intelligent and mature science fiction. The Terminator (1984), Aliens (1986), The Abyss (1989), and Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991) all succeed through their philosophical commitment and attention to character. It would be easy to read The Terminator and its sequel as a reiteration of anti-intellectual and technophobic Hollywood sci-fi, yet the two films form a dialogue that in the end provides a very specific answer to the questions raised by technology. Through the transition in the cyborg's image from bad guy to good guy, the story plays out over the two films as a dialectical moral allegory that ultimately finds the human in the machine. The films ask us not to reject technology -- as does, to take one of many examples, Crichton's Westworld (1973) -- but to take responsibility for it.
In all his films, Cameron displays a talent and propensity for depicting violent spectacle (he crafts the leanest and meanest plots in all science fiction), which makes it all the more interesting that he is a genre pioneer in female characterization. Collectively, his science fiction films destroyed forever that image of the damsel in distress. Ridley Scott and Sigourney Weaver created the character of Ripley in the original Alien, but it was in the sequel, Aliens, that Cameron forever fixed Ripley an iconic feminist image, and a template for the female action heroes who followed in her wake. When we add Cameron's Ripley to the strong female images of The Terminator and The Abyss, we see a distinct pattern that isn't present in the work of other directors. This is a particularly critical and promising development in the unusually sexist context of science fiction cinema. It's tempting (for a snob like me) to dismiss Cameron as a Hollywood filmmaker -- but then, that's precisely why he's important.
9. James Whale
Whale, the maker of Frankenstein (1931), The Invisible Man (1933), and Bride of Frankenstein (1935), drew on early science fiction literature to tell powerful allegories about the use and abuse of scientific knowledge.
Whale's expressionistic vision of Frankenstein's monster (played by Boris Karloff) is now part of the collective cultural unconscious, as archetypal to technological society as Joseph Campbell's "hero with a thousand faces." Frankenstein and Bride of Frankenstein are both filled with scenes and images that are now deeply embedded in modern culture: the laboratory of the mad scientist; the monster sitting childishly at the lakeside with the little girl he kills; and the lightning-haired bride screaming in horror when she sees her groom.
"To a new world of gods and monsters!" says Dr. Pretorius to Dr. Frankenstein in Bride, unveiling bell jars containing the living homunculi he's created. Dr. Pretorius obviously sees himself as the god, and his creations as monsters. It is, of course, one of the deep ironies of the Frankenstein saga that the reverse is also true. Though these films seem psychologically and philosophically primitive by today's standards, Whale's are the shoulders on which all other science fiction filmmakers stand.
10. Ridley Scott
Though the dialogue and characterization in Blade Runner (1982) are as clichéd as anything found in a Hollywood film, Scott's classic gave us a new visual vocabulary for describing the future. The film's ideas are embodied in its gorgeous, gloomy images, which filter all futures past -- including Lang's Metropolis and Goddard's Alphaville -- through a new cyberpunk sensibility.
Blade Runner also represents an evolutionary step in the way we view the artificial: most mainstream science fiction films prior to Blade Runner depict human simulacra as gothic abominations, while in Blade Runner the replicants are the last vestige of humanity in a dehumanized world. Each replicant's death is truly upsetting to watch; in their last suffering, we see their humanity. In the director's cut (which Scott has taken steps to ensure will be the only one in circulation), the film ends with the conflation of the human condition with the replicants.' After the last surviving replicant saves Deckard's life, his final act is to bridge the distance between him and his adversary by sharing the stories -- "all these moments lost in time" -- of his life. Deckard, defeated, goes to his replicant lover (whose role recalls Hari's in Solaris), and together they escape the city. "It's too bad she won't live," says Deckard's blade runner rival, "but then again, who does?" Thus human and machine must face death together.
Blade Runner isn't, of course, Scott's only successful science fiction film. His earlier Alien (1979) remains the most intelligent and metaphorical monster film ever made, the one that comes closest to approximating David Cronenberg's vision of biological horror. In Alien, the alien is an externalization, a literal eruption, of our dread of bodies that decay and die. Alien is filled with finely observed details, both in the technology of the ship and in the interactions of its doomed crew, but it's the monster's rapid metamorphosis that makes it great. Though the sequels after Aliens are all much more flawed, it is fitting that the series concludes with the genetic merger of Ripley with the alien.
This, then, is the unifying theme of my list of ten best directors: the history of science fiction cinema is the history of the gradual convergence of subject and object, alien and native, simulacra and the real. From Whale's Frankenstein to Hollywood's B-movie alien invasions, we arrive at directors striving to transcend the fear and anxiety that accompanies technological change. They make the strange familiar, and in doing so, prepare us for the future.
Copyright © 2004 Jeremy Adam Smith
Copyright © 2004 Jeremy Adam Smith
Jeremy Adam Smith is Director of the Independent Press Development Fund in San Francisco, and a member of the staff of the Speculative Literature Foundation. His reviews and criticism have appeared in Cineaste, the New York Review of Science Fiction, San Francisco Chronicle, SF Bay Guardian, Interzone, and numerous other publications. His previous article for Strange Horizons, "The Failure of Fahrenheit 451," won the 2003 Readers' Choice Awards. To contact him, email email@example.com.