Adrian Graham

Man with futuristic assault rifle moving through ruins


Oblivion (2013) is a science fiction film directed by Joseph Kosinski. The film exhibits impressive world building, stunning visuals, and action sequences. The problem with it though is that so many things don’t make sense.Why is this? The answer is simple. The story has prioritised plot twists over everything else.

As an action-thriller the issue is exacerbated because the plot twists don’t really have the impact that they are seeking. During the setup the audience gets to know Vika. By the time Julia Rusakova Harper, the main love interest, appears the film is already switching into action-thriller mode. Even though Julia is the more important character we never really get to know her in the same way. As a result, Julia feels like a less rounded, more one-dimensional, action-based character while Vika, who is a secondary character, has greater depth because we’ve spent more character-based screen time with her. The possibility of achieving a more satisfying story has been sacrificed to enable the plot twist. Balancing an action-thriller with impressive visuals is tricky enough without bringing in big, existential ideas that the film doesn’t have time to explore.

Klara and the Sun

Kazuo Ishiguro’s Klara and the Sun is a literary science fiction and fantasy novel about an android, an ‘AF’ or ‘Artificial Friend’, assigned as a companion to a sick child. Klara is basically a sophisticated android Tamagotchi, dutifully serving a family much like the butler, Stevens, in The Remains of the Day. The sun is really important to her and she refers to it as ‘he’. She also has a limited ability to interpret social interactions.

The quality of the writing is remarkably consistent. There are no bad patches, self indulgent flourishes or purple prose moments. I can understand why people might see Ishiguro as a writer’s writer. His craft skills, subtlety, and richly worked themes would be appreciated in any creative writing class. Having said this, I didn’t feel emotionally involved with the story or with Klara until quite near the end. That late payoff might also be another brand Ishiguro formula.

Klara and the Sun is what one might call ‘serious fiction’. It has big themes and intricate character studies. It has all the hallmarks of award-winning literary fiction. Klara and the Sun is definitely brand Ishiguro, its refined simplicity and detached coldness belies a quirky oddness. Where else do you get characters having casual conversations about the philosophical implications of English hedges?

The opening paragraph

It’s another slow opening, revealing a calm normality that will soon be overturned, foreshadowing something ominous. Something bad is going to happen and Bond will appear later to sort it out.

It tells us that something is going down. There are a lot of questions being posed here. Who needs to move through the city unobserved, and why?

‘Nobody could sleep’ is a brilliantly simple line. The whole paragraph provides a clear overview of what’s going to happen. It’s smart and not overly fancy. The last line is a real hook. This is a war story that has the authorial tone of literary fiction.

This is a classic crime genre opening. We’re hanging with the protagonist. She’s named in the first sentence. How much do you bet that something is going to happen to the women in room 32? The question is, what and when? The suspense has already been set.

This character is having a really bad day, and it’s probably only going to get worse. Who is he? What’s just happened to him? The character is just ‘he’. Does he even know who he is?

Right in the first paragraph, we’re introduced to a talking dog with a dry sense of humour. We don’t know where we are, or what’s going on. There’s a hint of Huckleberry Finn in the language.

Although dated now, Alistair MacLean was a school days go-to action adventure writer of choice. This is another bad day at work introduction. He’s doing some work on a ship, an officer judging by his ‘peaked white hat’. He’s not a shirker, that’s for sure. There are four sentences that begin with ‘my’, and ‘ached’ is used four times. Repetition is a kind of ‘poor man’s poetry’. The last line is interesting: ‘I was acutely unhappy’. Isn’t that obvious from the rest of the paragraph? One of the traits of genre fiction is that something hasn’t happened unless you say it’s happened.

There’s a kind of overblown Baroque meets Shakespearean, a bombast and monumentality to the language. ‘Clangour’? ‘Cringing ear-drums’? ‘Shaking cold’? Fighting window wipers? What? How many times did Alistair MacLean rewrite this maximalist opening paragraph? Quite a few, most likely. It’s a bit bonkers. Alistair MacLean’s clearly having fun here. We’re being introduced to the central character, Smith, and asked some basic questions. Why are they in the plane? Where are they going?