The humble chair. A little spot designed for rest and relaxation, right? An item of furniture for you to take the weight off your feet, to switch off a bit.
Not in SF, it isn’t. In our favourite genre, the chair becomes a place of action.
Consider The Captain’s Chair in Star Trek. In The Original Series, it is a slab-sided, poorly padded lump of alloy on a swivel. Kirk spends a minuscule amount of time on it, and for the most part he perches on the edge of the seat cushion. Mainly because if he tried sitting back the rotten thing would dig a hole in his lower back. It wasn’t surprising he couldn’t wait to get out of it. It seemed to be a focal point for James T. to bark at Scotty through the communicator whilst leering at leggy ensigns.
It’s interesting to note that The Captain’s Chair becomes more comfortable the less outwardly aggressive it’s occupant. In the later seasons of Star Trek – The Next Generation, The Chair is better described as The Recliner. I swear, the thing has a footstool. I’m also certain there are opening shots in some of the later episodes where Picard can be spotted having a sneaky snooze.
SF chairs are not static objects. They do things. They move about. They are multi-purpose. They are dramatic objects. They are not designed for settling into with a mug of cocoa and a thick paperback.
A lot of them are on gimbals or tracks and whizz backwards and forwards with exciting whines and buzzes. They frequently incorporate communication devices, video equipment or in some cases, something more destructive.
Let’s do the Star Wars thing. I’m thinking specifically of the gun emplacements on the Millenium Falcon. These are fantastic. They’re ceiling-mounted. They have headsets, cool video screens and OH DID I MENTION THE GUNS?? I wanted one of these so badly when I was a kid. Oh, who am I kidding? I want one now.
Clearly I’m not alone. The gun emplacement bit in The End Of Time, the last Tennant Doctor Who episode, is a clear homage to the Falcon gunfight. Behind the scenes footage shows Bernard Cribbins having a whale of a time behind the sights of the lasers. I want to see the out-takes where he goes “pewpewpew” and makes exploding noises through his cheeks.
To confuse matters even further, let’s look to The Matrix. The gateways to the virtual world on the Nebuchennezar are accessed through couch-mounted plugs and circuits. You take a seat to dial into the Matrix. Let me just reiterate that. In the Matrix, chairs can be doors.
In Iain M. Bank’s Use Of Weapons the chair becomes something more potent. I would argue that the events of the book revolve around the sourcing of materials and construction of a simple white chair. This might seem a bit of a strange thing to say when talking about a novel that chronicles the adventures of an interplanetary mercenary. And it’s a difficult thing to properly talk about without ruining the big wallop at the end of the story. I recommend reading the book, but if you must, there’s a spoiler below.
The chair is made out of the bones of the main character’s sister, complete with a cushion fashioned from her skin. Iain Banks’ SF is not cheerful. Although it is somewhat chairful. Sorry.
After all that, I need a sit down. Someone send me over an armchair…