But as I’ve said before, it isn’t just about having characters that various readers in your audience can relate to. It is also a matter of portraying a believable world. The real world has people of different genders, races, sexual orientations, and so on. It is simply unrealistic that a random sampling of any fictional world is going to consist solely of white, cisgendered, straight people. Especially the overwhelming majority of them male.
And there’s one other aspect, but award-winning sci fi/fantasy author, Saladin Ahmed explained it in a succinct set of tweets:
Ahmed is referring to the likely fanboy reaction to this article: J.J. Abrams says Star Wars will get an openly gay character. And the word “likely” is wholly unnecessary, as I’ve already seen angry reactions to the article around the net.
As he said, the people who object when a non-white person is cast in lead role in a movie that isn’t about race issues, or queer characters are included in a story, and so on, always argue that it’s just furthering a political agenda to include any non-white, straight characters. Especially when it comes to queer characters, they angrily ask, “Who cares who is having sex with who?”
Well, obviously, if you’re getting angry, you do.
But let’s go back to the original Star Wars trilogy, for a moment. I was in a very crowded theatre on opening weekend for Empire Strikes Back, and when Leia declared, “I love you!” then Han replied cooly, “I know!” there were whoops and lots of exclamations of, “YES!” from all over that theatre. Three years later, at the first showing of Return of the Jedi, when Leia and Han have their big kiss at the end, there were even louder cheers and clapping. So a lot of people did care about who was in love with who, who was kissing who, and so on.
I want to repeat that: fanboys cheered and applauded a kiss near the end of a special effects-laden space opera adventure story.
So, they did care and they still do care about who is in love with, who is kissing, and yes, who is wanting to have sex with who.
It goes back much further into the history of science fiction and fantasy than Star Wars, of course. The reason that those earlier examples almost never included any same sex relationships is not because there weren’t any queer writers or readers of science fiction, it was because everyone was closeted. They weren’t closeted because they wanted to be, but because they often had to be. Remember, until the Supreme Court ruled in 2003 that intimate consensual sexual conduct was a fundamental freedom protected by the Constitution, same sex activity was a criminal offense in many places.
We have always been here. For instance, in the 1920s and 1930s, Edgar Pangborn wrote a lot of pulp stories in the mystery, fantasy, and sci fi genres which featured very passionate male “friendships.” The relationships were never overtly gay, but clearly were meant to imply it. He wrote those stories under a variety of pen names. He didn’t start publishing stories under his real name until the 1960s.
Jim Kepner was the publisher of one of the first magazines advocating for gay civil rights, ONE Magazine, beginning in 1953. But before that, operating under the fan name, Jike, he was an active member of the Los Angeles Science Fiction Society. During the 1940s he published a sci fi fanzine called Toward Tomorrow. Within that ’zine, and in other fanzines, he was only one of several fans who wrote speculatively of how society might evolve to include greater gender equality, racial equality, and acceptance of various sexual orientations.Another member of the Los Angeles Science Fiction Society back then, Edythe Edye operated under the fan name Tigrina. In 1947, using the pseudonym Lisa Ben, she founded Vice Versa, the first lesbian magazine published in the U.S.
In 1953, when straight author, Theodore Sturgeon, explored gay themes positively in the short story “The World Well Lost,” it caused at least one editor to try to organize a blackball system to prevent it, or anything like it ever being published. The blackball scheme didn’t work. The story was published. Some people liked it, some didn’t. Sturgeon and other writers occasionally returned to the subject over the next couple of decades.
It was far more common, yes, for queer characters to be portrayed negatively. In some works, you could tell how far into the depths of evil a character had plunged by how much bisexual or homosexual activity they engaged in—Dune’s Baron Harkonnen being a prime example. My point is that queer fans and writers and artists have been around for as long as science fiction and fantasy have existed. The argument about whether or not we should be allowed to participate or be portrayed has been around just as long.
Queer people have been around for as long as people have existed. They will exist in every fantasy and science fiction world. Whether they can safely live openly in those societies will vary, just as it does now in the real world, and has varied in different historical periods. If your fictional world doesn’t include us, it is unrealistic. If your fictional world doesn’t include us, you either really suck at world building or you suffer from heterosexism. If you claim you can’t include us until the right storyline comes along, you may be in denial about how much homophobia (subconscious or not) you harbor.
Not every story will include romance, obviously. I have discussed with some folks the fact that in my current series of fantasy novels, while there are several characters I know who are bisexual or pansexual, most of them aren’t obvious. There is at least one clearly identified gay couple, and several clearly identified straight characters, but that’s it2. So, I’m a queer writer who isn’t sure I’m representing queer characters enough. Therefore, I’m not saying that writers who don’t have a lot of obviously gay characters in their work are bad people.
I am saying that if you have absolutely none at all, that is just as much of an “agenda” as anything certain people accuse queer people of pushing when we ask for inclusion. Whether consciously intended it, or not, that’s at the very least enabling an anti-gay agenda.
1. Yes, that is an anagram of lesbian, and she did it intentionally.
2. There are shapeshifters in my universe, and at least one shapeshifter who has appeared prominently could be interpreted as a trans character. There are other characters in the world that are definitely transgender, but haven’t yet appeared in a story3.
3. I’m not advocating quotas. As Mr Ahmed said above, quotas are bad for art, but so is monotony.
And there’s an investigation. Of course there is. A parked car rolled out and someone died. I don’t expect that the investigation will lead to anything particularly revelatory. Parking brake failure, maybe. I suspect I’m going to find myself being even more anal than usual about double-checking the parking brake on my car for a while after reading this.
There was another topic entirely that has been bothering me this week, and it got really bad yesterday when I took a moment at lunch to check a local news site and saw that there had been yet another mass shooting this week… and not that many miles away from me: Mason County coroner’s office released the names of the family members killed in the shooting at a residence in Belfair. The name of the fourth victim, a neighbor, has not been released. They also haven’t identified a 12-year-old girl who was not shot but was found hiding on the property while police were surrounding and negotiating with the gunman.
In a story in which a woman, here two adopted sons, and a neighbor’s child are all killed, another child is left traumatized, and the shooter kills himself before police can take him into custody, you would think there was tragedy enough. But there’s more. This wasn’t the first mass shooting in the U.S. this week. And it wasn’t the first one this week to be virtually ignored by the vast majority of the media: Kansas mass shooting suspect who killed three co-workers and wouded fourteen others had been served domestic violence order, The Kalamazoo rampage was the 42nd mass shooting this year (and that was last Sunday!), ‘Unspeakable violence’: Phoenix police ID family killed after son opens fire, 4 injured in 2 Related Daytona Beach shootings…
And that’s not all: 22 People Were Shot in Five Drive-By Multiple Victim Shootings in America This Week.
Not one single question about this was raised at the Republican Presidential Debate (where the candidates took things to the next crazy level: Final Republican presidential debate summed up as ‘unintelligible yelling’).
And I’m not the only one asking what is wrong with us, as a society: Obama: Mass shootings should dominate the news.
And please, don’t tell me that there’s nothing we could do to reduce these. After a 35 people were killed in a single incident in Port Arthur, Australia, that country decided to do something about it: How Australia Eliminated Mass Shootings. It wouldn’t be as easy in the U.S., because the shear number of guns per capita here is much, much worse. That article includes some of the arguments about why the specific measures Australia took won’t work here. But like most other articles and arguments about this, it focuses on only part of the solution. The real solution was that a majority of Australians refused to accept that there was nothing which could be done, and agreed that it was time to do something.
Our refusal to even contemplate that we could change our attitudes is the only thing that’s stopping us from reducing the number of needless deaths.
At least I hope that’s what’s happening. I hope that it’s merely a lot of folks still feeling giddy about the Supreme Court ruling legalizing marriage equality nationwide thinking that the big battle is won and queer people are equal, now. We won one big battle, but there’s still a long way to go. I hope, I sincerely hope, that it is not true (as some fear) that a substantial portion of the queer population doesn’t think that trans issues matter.
Because we really do seem to be letting the haters say whatever lies they want about trans people, and a lot of the media just repeats that factually incorrect information as if it is true.
Over at Holy Bullies and Headless Monsters, Alvin Erwin has been beating the drum about our complacency: ‘Lgbts want to harm children’ – the lie the community won’t kill, and Mothers of the transgender community speak out against the hateto give a couple of examples. I’ve been beginning to think he’s right, that we’ve given up on the fight because we think marriage ended everything.
So I am really happy that one of the LGBTQ rights groups has finally started to push back: GLAAD releases new resource for journalists: Debunking the “bathroom bill” myth. This isn’t enough. This is only a first step. It’s going to take much more than making a single press kit available to hold off the attack.
Especially not when Conservative Trolls Have Been Suggesting Men Go into Women’s Restrooms to Help Legislators Discriminate Against Trans People. That’s right, as a few people have gotten the word out that there are states which have explicitly allowed trans people to use the bathroom that matches their gender identity for upwards of ten years, and that there has never, ever been a single instance of someone trying to use that law to go into a restroom and rape someone, the paragons of virtue have decide to manufacture some fake instances.
And make no mistake: these bills aren’t just aimed at trans people. It’s an attempt to get a wedge in to find other ways to discriminate against queer people of all kinds. If they normalize the idea (once again) that simply making some conservative people feel uncomfortable is an adequate defense to criminalize a behavior, trans people in bathrooms aren’t where they’re going to stop. Holding hands with a same sex partner in a public place makes those same people uncomfortable, after all.
There once was a fan artist whose schtick at conventions was to viciously attack and destroy plushies. He had a particular hatred for plush toys based on animated characters from programs that he disliked: Smurfs, for example. People would intentionally bring such plushies to his table in dealer dens or artist alleys and watch him scream and shout and foam at the mouth (not always figuratively)… and tear the thing to shreds.
A lot of people thought this was funny. Not just a teeny bit funny, but funniest thing ever in the history of funny things.
The first time I saw it, I was horrified. I was on the other side of the room, looking at some artwork in an artist’s portfolio, when I heard an angry shout. I barely got turned around to see what was happening before this man was standing up, screaming angry insults at what looked like a cowering young man. He lunged across the table, grabbed something (I couldn’t tell if it was a teddy bear, or what), screamed more angry insults punctuated with the phrase “Die! Die! Die!” and proceeded to shred the thing.
This was in the late 1990s, so I didn’t have a cell phone. If I had, I would have been calling 911. I thought this stranger had literally lost his mind. I thought someone was being assaulted.
And half the room (it was a dealer’s den at a smallish/medium-sized convention, so maybe 35-40 dealer’s tables, maybe a couple hundred people in the room) started laughing. “What the heck?” I said aloud. A fan I didn’t know standing next to me said, “Oh, that’s just so-and-so killing another Smurf.”
It was his schtick or signature move. Something he was known for. Everyone knew it was just an act. Several people assured me that he was really quite a sweet guy. He only did it when he knew the person wanted the plushie destroyed. It was all in good fun.
Unless, of course, you weren’t in on the joke. Like me. My heart was pounding like a trip hammer during the display. I was trying to figure out how to get over there and pull the person whose toy was being attacked out of danger. I was wondering why the hell no one else was doing anything. And I bet I wasn’t the only person in the room who didn’t know about this guy and his act.
Over the next few years I had other interactions with the same guy. Online he tended to be a curmudgeon and a crank. If he knew who you were and considered you an established person in fandom, and you happened to disagree with him, his arguments would be snarky, but he’d concede that you had the right to an opinion. If you weren’t in that category, he was a full-fledged asshole.
In person at conventions where I was staff, he behaved in a civil if gruff manner in our exchanges as long as things were going his way. He groused and grumbled and sometimes threatened if things weren’t. When I wasn’t staff, or when I wasn’t clearly identified as such, how polite he acted depended on whether there was an audience, and how big. If the dealer’s den was relatively quiet and he was browsing at my table or the table next to mine, he was soft spoken and almost friendly. If there was a crowd around, he would find reasons to declaim opinions, usually negative opinions, loudly and with colorful language.
I had a very hard time believing that he really was a sweetheart. Yes, some of his behavior was an act. The destroying plushies thing, once you had witnessed it a few times, had a rhythm and repeated sequence of phrases. He was performing. It was part of his brand. Exactly how behaving like a deranged ax murderer toward harmless toys was a brand worth perpetuating I wasn’t very clear about, but that’s what it was.
Performance or not, that doesn’t mean that everyone who witnesses the performance enjoys the experience. Particularly, like me the first time, if you aren’t in on the joke. Even once I was in on the joke, it was still upsetting. I’m a collector, and one of the things I collect is plushies. Anyone who has been to our house has seen that we have otters and tigers and teddy bears and other cute plush animals lined up on top of the bookcases and stashed in other locations. Some of those plushies have a lot of sentimental value. There’s a particular floppy tiger plush that was one late husband’s, for instance. There is a particular mouse in a Christmas scarf that my late husband gave me one Christmas that I have an incredibly strong emotional attachment to. Every time I have witnessed the performance of the destroy the plushie routine at a convention, part of me has wondered how does he know that the person carrying that thing past his table was in on the joke and wanted it to happen?
Call me a softy, but thinking of that happening to an unsuspecting person’s possession by mistake is almost as upsetting as seeing the act without warning was the first time.
If you’ve been involved in any fandom for any significant length of time, you’ve met or seen someone like kill-the-plushies guy. He or she has a schtick, whether it be:
- partially disrobing in public spaces, declaiming loudly about body positivity, and daring people to be offended;
- or making sexual gestures and comments at anyone and everyone while commenting to the significant other of said person about how lucky they are to have “that”;
- or pontificating loudly about people who don’t have respect for the classics while denigrating some new popular thing;
- or spinning long humorous tales about how clueless some people are;
- or being exaggeratedly offended at something and going on long, grandiloquent rants;
…and so forth.
I’ve been thinking about that guy (and many other fans and pros I’ve known who have a reputation that their badass or angry or asshole behavior is just a schtick or a joke they do), while reading reactions and continued attempts at defending the things that happened to Mike Oshiro at ConQuesT.
Many of the defenders are using variations of the “it’s just a joke” excuse, of course. But there are other similar elements, as well. The fellow panelist who briefly defended himself (then deleted his comments) on the original post by saying, “We’ve been on panels together at conventions before” and “I thought we were friends” is essentially saying, “You should have known it was just an act. I’m really a sweetheart.”
But I think that the notion that he or she is really a sweetheart once you get to know him was also part of the brand. It is just as much a performance as the outrageous behavior. The outrageous behavior is only accepted by some of the audience because they know it’s only an act. They are making a choice when to treat someone with respect, and when to be a badass.
And the fact that often their attempt at apology is to simply say, “But I didn’t mean it that way. I thought you were in on the joke” is all the proof you need that the “sweetheart” part of the act is the least accurate representation of their true nature.
File770 has an extensive post, with links to several other comments and additional information, and a very long comment thread (which has remained mostly civil): Mark Oshiro Says ConQuesT Didn’t Act On His Harassment Complaints.
I’m more than a bit disappointed in how many people are still jumping to the defense of a couple of the harassers with re-treads of the “can’t you take a joke”/“But everyone knows she didn’t mean anything by it.” One version of that which has surfaced a few times in regards to the person who has a history of taking her pants off at panels is, “she does that all the time; I’m not offended by it; Therefore it isn’t offensive and there’s something wrong with you if you think there is.”
This is an old defense that has been used to excuse sexual harassment and sexual assault for decades. A woman complains that she was made uncomfortable by someone who kept commenting on some part of her anatomy, kept crowding in on her, et cetera, and people say, “Oh, so-and-so does that all the time, but he’s harmless!” By which, presumably they mean so far as they know he has never murdered anyone, or raped anyone at knifepoint. This completely ignores the fact that the leering, crowding, groping, or whatever that he does do makes the person feel very uncomfortable, unsafe, and completely obliterates any enjoyment she gets out of the activity/convention/party/panel whatever.
Similarly, the pants situation this time isn’t just about whether it is offensive for a woman to stand around wearing a pair of mens boxers as outerwear, it’s whether after dropping her pants bumping into and continuously rubbing up against another panelist who has previously indicated he isn’t comfortable with that behavior is an acceptable way to behave. Never mind whether it is conducive to a serious discussion about tolerance for a panelist to do that on stage at the panel.
To switch sides for a moment: I’ve been on the other side of the “is it offensive” debate. There are still people (they got quoted in some of the news stories after the last Hugos, for instance), who angrily insist that even including a platonic gay relationship in a story/movie/TV series is deeply offensive to them. Heck, there were calls for boycotts because a black actor was cast as a stormtrooper in the new Star Wars movie, not long after the calls for a boycott of one of the official Star Wars tie-in novels because it included a gay character. I totally understand that someone merely saying that something is offensive is not justification for utterly banning that something. For those people, seeing me simply giving my husband a quick peck on the lips before heading into a panel room completely squicks them out. And I refuse to stop being who I am just because some bigots think they have a right to live in a diversity-free world.
So, I understand that the woman who takes her pants off may be trying to make a statement about body positivity, and about women being in control of their own bodies and having a say in how they dress. I understand that I don’t have a right to veto her choices about herself. But if I happen to be on the panel with her, my lack of a veto over how she dresses doesn’t mean that I have no right to be upset if she rubs up against me, leers at me, and otherwise tries to turn me into a prop for her performative critique of societal norms. My lack of a veto over her sexuality or identity doesn’t mean I have to participate at that level.
Related to all of this, our local furry convention seems to have finally self-destructed: What really killed RF2016 was RF2011 to RF2015. Yes, I said finally. I know it isn’t nice to pile on when someone is already down, but there were very clear warning signs early (as the person, a recently resigned conchair, who wrote that post-mortem alludes to) that the concom had serious problems. The ones mentioned in the post are bad, but they were the tip of the iceberg from my experiences: as an attendee, as a dealer, as a panelist, as someone who offered to help on staff, and as someone who filed multiple reports of times the convention didn’t adhere to their own policies. The thing that actually brought them down was failing to deal with misbehaving attendees, but that was only a symptom of a deeper problem—just the most obviously expensive symptom.
These things don’t have to kill conventions, though.
Last summer, after the incident of the drunken writer contacting the local police to file a false report that one of the WorldCon guests of honor (with whom he had a political disagreement) was a dangerous person who might commit violent acts at the con, Lydy Nickerson posted a lengthy post about her own experiences as a staff member dealing with problems at conventions over the years: Harassment: What do we do? It’s really well done. She lays out a lot of real scenarios and explains the options and how to take some mitigating circumstances into account and so on. It is really worth a read.
At least one specific post over the weekend warrants some commentary: Mark Does Stuff – TRIGGER WARNING: For extended, detailed… | Facebook. Mark Oshiro was invited as a Guest of Honor to ConQuesT, where he and his partner were sexually and racially harassed both on and off panels, treated very strangely by con staff (including the chair) at Opening Ceremonies and the GoH dinner, and so on. It is not a pleasant story to read, and even more infuriating to see how the con staff many times assured him things would be taken care of, then months later told that no action would be taken on any of his complaints.
He concludes the tale with this explanation for why he’s going public:
Harassment is unfortunately a part of my experience at SF/F conventions. Not at all of them, but at most of them, something happens to me. I’m an outspoken queer Latinx, and it’s inevitable. However, since ConQuesT, every con staff that I’ve had to make a report to has dealt with my report quickly and fairly. At ConFusion this year, the concom dealt with my incident report in two hours. Meaning they spoke to the person and that person apologized to my face within two hours. At that point, it almost seemed comical that over half a year had passed, and both ConQuesT and Kristina Hiner did nothing at all.
That’s why I’m talking. I did what I was supposed to. I kept quiet, I trusted the system in place, and it completely failed me. I will not be attending ConQuesT this year or for the foreseeable future. (I’m going to WisCon for the first time instead!) I don’t feel safe there, and ultimately, that’s why this bothers me so much. There are people who are part of that community who were actively hostile to me, and when I reported them, the message was sent loud and clear:
We don’t care about you. At all.
It left me wondering why a convention would invite someone to be a guest of honor, then treat them this way. I can come up with a number of explanations, but even the most benign ones still leave no excuse for not dealing with the harassment incidents.
A certain number of responses (both at Mark’s original post and on various blogs reacting to it) trot out the usual blame the victim/blame no one defenses. 1) Surely if Mark had simply politely asked the harassers to stop everything could have been avoided, and 2) Con staff can’t prevent bad behavior and certainly can’t be expected to anticipate everything that might go wrong.
The first defense, besides ignoring Mark’s account that he did ask and otherwise signal his discomfort multiple times, completely overlooks the fact that speaking up for yourself, no matter how politely, often leads to even worse consequences than the original harassment. When folks are confronted about their offensive behavior, they frequently deny and escalate. One example happened in the comments of Mark’s posting (which was subsequently deleted, but not before someone took a screencap of it).
The second defense contains truth, but is also very misleading. Three of the problem people named in the post have been known to say and do those (or substantially similar) things at previous conventions. The panelist who took her pants off and kept bumping up against Mark and making weird faces even said, at the time, that she had gotten in trouble for doing that sort of thing on panels at that very convention previously! Con staff can’t predict the future, but surely they can remember problems from previous years?
I get it. I’ve worked on convention staff many times. My jobs have ranged from very low level gopher to being in charge of programming and vice-chair. I understand that the con staff is all-volunteer, always overworked, always understaffed, always juggling lots of things, and frequently doing all of this on too little sleep and without enough time. I understand that no one has time to vet every panelist. I get all of that.
And I’ve been on the other side. I’ve said and done things I realized later that I shouldn’t have. I’ve had to go apologize to people. I’ve been in situations where I should have apologized but wasn’t able to for various reasons. And sometimes when I’ve been confronted about something I said and did, instead of taking the complaint to heart, I’ve denied and gotten defensive—aggressively defensive. So, I understand and empathize with those people, too.
Some folks are defending the other panelists by trying to say it was all in good fun, or it wasn’t meant that way (whatever that means). You know, that’s exactly what bullies say when they get called out. “I was just joking around. I didn’t mean anything by it.” You can hurt people without intending to. You can make people uncomfortable without intending to. Your intent doesn’t change how the person felt while you were behaving that way. Just as saying you didn’t mean to break something doesn’t magically repair the broken thing.
If you sincerely didn’t realize what you were doing was making someone feel uncomfortable or unwanted or despised, it is all right to mention that in your apology. But the rest of the apology has to be sincere. “I didn’t realize how my actions affected you at the time. Now that I understand, I deeply regret what I said and did. It was wrong to put you in that position. I will try not to do that to you or anyone else ever again.” Something like that is a real apology and shows that you value the other person.
While the “Can’t you take a joke?” sort of reactions just confirms your utter disregard for anyone other than yourself.
I think it was the fall of 1971 (I would have been eleven) when I saw the listing, and the name and very short description had me intrigued. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to convince my parents to let me have the movie trip.
About a year later The Andromeda Strain was broadcast on network TV, probably as a movie of the week (that was a thing back then), and for whatever reason, we didn’t watch the first part of the movie. Probably it conflicted with a show my dad liked, so we watched the other show, first, then switched channels and watched the last half of the movie. So I was a bit confused, but it was still pretty exciting. The last part of the film was very tense and entertaining, even without the beginning.
The following week in school, everyone was talking about the movie. It was one of the few times that I remember kids who usually didn’t know a thing about science fiction talking about a sci fi plot.
Not long afterward, I happened across a battered paperback copy of Michael Crichton’s novel upon which the movie was based. I read it in a single sitting. One of the things that amazed me when I finished was how closely the half of the movie I saw followed the latter portion of the book. My previous experience of comparing movies to the books they were based on was that the movie often bore virtually no resemblance to the book.
The story of the Andromeda Strain is that a space probe is sent into low earth orbit and brought back down. It lands in a small, isolated town, and by the time the retrieval team arrives to pick it up, it seems that every inhabitant of the town has been killed. The retrieval team dies will communicating with their government superiors, and a Wildfire alert is activated. Wildfire is a codename for protocol government scientists have put together to respond to a biological threat from space. A team of scientists are pulled from their regular jobs and rushed to a secret underground facility. Two of the scientists go into the town in hazmat suits, find the satellite, and also find two survivors, an old man and a crying infant. The bulk of the story deals with how the scientists figure out what the infection is, and why those two very different characters are immune.
Before they have quite figured everything out, the extraterrestrial organism (which is neither a virus nor a bacterium) mutates and starts eating the plastics and rubber seals throughout the lab. This sets off an alarm and starts an automatic countdown on a nuclear self-destruct device. One of the things the scientists have determined about the organism is that it is not only immune to radiation, but will actually thrive in the explosion, and probably destroy all life on the planet. Thus we get to the tense ending where the characters are trying to stop the self-destruct and find a way to neutralize the infection.
One of the things that disappointed me about the book was that one of the most interesting characters in the movie, Dr. Ruth Leavitt, was a much less interesting man, Dr. Paul Leavitt, in the novel. I’m not sure if the character in the movie was more interesting because the actress, Kate Reid, played a very believable character, or if the character was just less interesting in the original.Some time later, when I got to watch the movie all the way through for the first time, I was even more impressed with Reid’s character and the way the filmmakers used her. It was far more common for the token female character in either thrillers or sci fi films to be played by a young, glamorous actress, who was there more as eye-candy than to actually participate in the story. Leavitt wasn’t like that. There are some, I’m sure, who will argue that the filmmakers went overboard, putting Reid in those large unflattering glasses, and generally looking dowdy. But the filmmakers didn’t dress up any of the male scientists any differently. Even the casual way she smoked her cigarettes, never doing any of those delicate movie star poses that were more common when actresses were shown smoking at the time, just fit with the character’s personality.
I re-read The Andromeda Strain at least once more after seeing the movie all the way through, and I still found Reid’s version of the Leavitt character more interesting. And this was decades before I’d ever heard of the Bechdel Test!
The Andromeda Strain was a bestseller, and set Michael Crichton on the path of future success that would lead to, among other things, Jurassic Park. The movie was only a moderate success, which is too bad, because it was really well done. The science included was, for the most part, plausible at time. In fact, nothing in the film required any sort of advancement of technology beyond what we had available. Exactly how the life form could convert energy to matter was the only bit of dubious handwaving to speak of. It wasn’t the only time that the movie version of a science fiction story was better than the book, but I think it might have been the first time that I noticed it.