Only when I started actively searching for a very particular kind of story to escape into –one that is decidedly not in this reality, did I realize I’ve been into these kinds of stories for a while. It’s not until you start needing one specific type of thing that you learn the words for it… Turns out I’m into science fiction! Here are some of my all-time favourites. I’ve watched most of these at least three times, some way more than that. (The trailer for each recommendation is linked in the title.)
Debris (NBC) never loses its sense of wonder at the world as it is from a delicate, human perspective. It’s mesmerizing, this series, as our leads are invited into spaces where the present has become a realm overcome and entranced by literal space debris. Their investigations into this phenomenon does not shy away from the sadness and loss that comes with the world, the ever-present grief. Somehow this story meets us where we are in our collective devastation and mourning without directly acknowledging it. I loved the way the writer of this essay describes it. (And I wrote about it for TILT Magazine here: ‘Debris Was a Soothing Balm for Our Collective Grief‘)
That grief is something that Space Sweepers (Netflix) presents as well:
Tae-ho (Played by King of my heart and television screen, Vincenzo himself, Song Joong-ki) spends the entire film searching and longing for his daughter. This is a beautiful film of found family, the cost of ambition, and the politics of going into space. The Spaceship Victory crew is constantly losing ground in their battle to stay afloat —both literally in space with their finances and mechanics, and as a cohesive unit. When they discover a human-like robot child who is wanted for ransom, she brings solutions for all their problems: the possibility for cash uppermost in their minds, but the truth is that they’re all simultaneously falling in love with her charm, ultimately coming together in their protection of her as a crew.
Another striking ‘wow we are really all coming together to protect our home, our livelihood and this one person who can’t help themselves right now’ story I’ve enjoyed is Fragile Remedy. Written by Maria Ingrande Mora and narrated by James Fouhey, this is a fantastic audiobook that presents a story of human-passing machines, gentrification, and found family alongside both thoughtful and thought-provoking portrayals of addiction. Our protagonist, Nik, is a gentle, fiercely compassionate, loyal, entirely lovely soul whose perspective is wholly unique. He is also a Genetically Engineered Medical Surrogate, created for the use of the elite.
Where both Space Sweepers and Fragile Remedy tell the story of a machine-generated beings in a dystopian world racked with the effects of the elite, Neo Yokio shows us the superficial, fun side of having a mecha. In this show, the main character, voiced by Jaden Smith, is the elite. We are thrust into a flamboyant world of high-society fashion events and demon slaying, all with the assistance of his trusty mecha butler, Charles. There’s an unforgettable ‘Think of the person inside the mech!’ storyline that is both shocking and hilarious, too. It all comes down to the endless possibility for rich people and their disregard for the profound inconvenience their excessive privilege causes others.
Dollhouse shows us allll the sides of commercial opportunity for AI and programmable beings: A person who can actually become whoever you want them to be: A killer spy, a university lecturer, your ex girlfriend. The plot twists and reveals from this show have stayed with me so much that it’s almost spoiled other shows trying to be clever because they simply don’t compare. Eliza Dushku is incredible in the starring role, but so is the supporting cast of Dolls, and the company staff in place to support them. The business and the drama is women-led, from all sides. Women are in charge and being played; they’re uncovering secrets and fighting back.
The main characters of Alice in Borderland are men, but there are so many badass women that play important roles in the show, particularly in bringing new and surprising twists to the storyline and to the many threatening situations our main guy finds himself in. These women can fight to kill, exact manipulation, keep secrets and sacrifice themselves twice as much as the men they’re in the room with. And they often are trapped in one place –at first literally in one small room, and then in an empty city, later in an abandoned hotel and its confidence rooms.
Another place we’re all trapped? Aboard Snowpiercer, 1001 cars long. Based on Bong Joon Ho’s film of the same name, this show is a joyous revolution, a call for social justice, a spotlight on what humanity is really like. There’s the brilliant storytelling of the way the privileged twist in on themselves during chaos, absolutely breathtaking performances from Daveed Diggs, and when Rowan Blanchard gets involved in this adventure they shine. It’s utterly captivating; I watched it all in one go, for real. Hours and hours at once.
That’s how I watched Upload, too. In this Prime Video show, it’s 2033, and humans are able to “upload” themselves into a budget-dependent virtual afterlife of their choosing —customer service assistant included.
I sat down to play the first episode as soon as it released, just to see the vibe and maybe come back to watch. Flash forward a couple of hours: My whole family ended up on the couch enjoying it, and not just because they kept walking past the TV while I was laughing loudly. The technicalities, legalities, and catastrophes of all the self-driving car scenes have stayed with me long since I watched it. And my absolutely favourite line of all: “Lord, I googled Nathan Brown and I liked what I saw” is a eulogy I’ll never forget as long as I live (after-which I will then ask whoever does my eulogy to quote the line in their speech). The romantic lead is a Black woman, she has a customer service job of a very particular kind. And she falls in love with the virtual dude inside the afterlife experience, similar to how the female lead in Korean drama My Holo Love falls in love with the virtual assistant that activates when she puts on the high-tech glasses.
Both shows really make you question the possibilities of VR. My Holo Love presents us with options involving the consumer market: how AI could assist disabled people, how the government might want to monitor and capture the surveillance aspect of widespread AI companionship. It also allows us the chance to fall in love with the intangible, but deeply romantic and emotional being, offering twists, turns and reveals along the way. It’s fascinating and fun, complete with the heartaches and charm typical of Korean dramas.
The most compelling VR story experience for me? Ready Player One. This was one of my favourite reading experiences, way before we knew a movie was going to be made, and I remember being surprised and overjoyed at all the possibilities it presented. I don’t play video games, I understand none of the 80s references, and I hadn’t read a book like that before. But it was so fun and cool and felt significant. The film adaption is one of my favourites, too! I watch it often. I love all the graphics and special effects.
Another science fiction film that felt impactful and I watch very often to cheer myself up and dive deep into a really fun world: Bumblebee, starring Hailee Steinfeld. This is a classic family film, female led, featuring a Transformer in a yellow beetle car. She’s a superstar, the car is so endearing and cute, and her love interest is the friendly neighbour PoC. One of my favourite things about this film is how both the hero and the villain are women, and they’re two completely different types of low-key high-impact badass. Bumblebee is an entirely excellent action film with so much heart and endless charm exuded by both Hailee and Bumblebee himself.