Monday, November 16, 2009

Incidental Food in Science Fiction

I've been thinking a bit about food in fiction. I read a lot, and I cook a lot, and so scenes with food stand out to me. When those scenes are done well, they can really add a lot to characterization and place.

Mysteries in particular tend to be remarkably full of food: You've got the gourmand Nero Wolfe, of course, but Robert Parker's Spenser has a much stronger relationship to his food. Parker's descriptions of food and cooking are quite remarkable, they're plainly written by someone who enjoys good food and knows how to cook. Poirot's habits as well extend to dining, though more often as a way to emphasize his foreignness -- and of course food plays a significant role in several cases as a vehicle for poison or in one case a ruby, or to show how many people sat down to dinner. Important stuff, but for the plot, not for the scene. (I find that Christie pays more attention to coffee than to food, anyway)

It seems to me that food can be a remarkably useful tool to the science fiction writer. But (and maybe my memory is selective here) it also seems to me that food in that genre tends to be super-important/significant, or not really mentioned at all. It figured in Stranger in a Strange Land, of course (in a way I won't give away), and food/drink generally in Dune and other harsh-environment settings. And then of course there's Make Room! Make Room! with its themes of starvation and overpopulation. (You may know it by its very loose movie adaptation, Soylent Green) Vegetarianism plays a similar role in many stories.

In all those, food was important -- too important for what I'm getting at, really. I'm trying to think of science fiction scenes where food made for a memorable scene, characterizing people or place, but not crucial. Anyone have any scenes like that come to mind?