Summer blockbusters get a bad rap. You hear the term, and the impression you're
left with is of something big and spectacular, maybe a little overproduced,
that you fall into at the time and then forget again when school starts.
The truth is summer blockbusters are also the touchstones of
our culture. They're things we share,
and sometimes -– not always, but sometimes
–- they set the bar for some amazing work that comes after them.
So, for example:
Star Wars is the ur-summer blockbuster. It's the Epic of Gilgamesh of amazing movies
that change the stage for everyone after them. It defined space opera as swashbuckling and sentimental and funny and adventurous. And so, we have books like Walter Jon
Williams's brilliant Dread Empire's Fall books -– The Praxis, The Sundering, and
Conventions of War –- that take the great space empire and run with it
brilliantly. And Lois Mcmaster Bujold's
Vorkosigan Saga that is probably the most compulsively readable space opera of
Or Alien. There was a
movie, right? If you've still got the
chills from the first time you saw that, try picking up Peter Watts's overlooked
masterpiece Blindsight. It was one of
the only books I've ever read that as soon as I was done, I sent the author a
fan letter. It is as disturbing and
smart and beautiful and insidiously creepy as Alien, and because it does what
books do well the way that Alien does what movies do well, it can burn itself
into your brain for years to come. I'm
actually a little creeped out just talking about it now.
Or Lord of the Rings and its dark cousin A Game of
Thrones. Both of those were based on the
original books, but there are dozens of brilliant examples of that form that
haven't been adapted (yet), going back in history to George MacDonald's Lilith and pushing out to the cutting edge of the genre with N. K. Jemesin's
Inheritance Trilogy and Kameron Hurley's God's War. The great struggles of good and evil are
richer and more complex and wilder the farther in we go.
Or the Harry Potter movies and books that along with
inspiring a whole generation of young folks to read, also gave permission to a
generation of adults to go ahead and check out YA books again. And it turns out that's an incredibly rich
field, with traditionally adult writers like Paolo Bacigalupi (author of The Windup
Girl) putting out brilliant work like Ship Breaker and The Drowned Cities, and the
poet and novelist Catherynne Valente creating fantastic new fairytales with The
Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making and its sequels.
Or Ender's Game -– my odd's on bet for a massive summer
blockbuster -– and its shared setting and subtext with Maureen McHugh's
beautiful SF novel China Mountain Zhang. Or Joss Whedon's take on The Avengers and Carrie Vaughn's reimagining of
superheroism in After the Golden Age. Or Brad Pitt's World War Z and the almost
totally unrelated but also brilliant book that it's based on.
The fact is that books and movies are all part of a greater
literature, with books inspiring (or being adapted into) movies, and movies
influencing the books that come after them. Visual media and prose work a little differently in the ways they tell
stories, and the play between them makes culture that much richer and deeper
and cooler. And, speaking for myself,
I'm glad of it, because when the last summer blockbuster's been watched, I've
still got a pile on my to-read stack to scratch that same itch.