A Foray Into Science Fiction

Sputnik PostageRecently, I realized that as a whole I’ve neglected to read much science fiction.  This may, in fact, be the understatement of the year.

Oh, I’ve read some classics, but I’ve never really counted them as sci-fi.  Zamyatin’s “We,” Orwell’s “1984,” and Huxley’s “Brave New World” all seemed to me to focus so much on social commentary that I never stopped to think that such works could be considered a part of the genre.  Maybe this is because such books are taken seriously, whereas most of academia seems to have not much more of a response than some nervous laughter when it comes to sci-fi and fantasy.

As a kid, I loved Star Wars.  I still do, but ever since episodes I-III came out, I’ve distanced myself from the franchise.  There was a point where I had read nearly all of the Star Wars books, at which point I took a hiatus to wait for more to be written.  However, I got tired of waiting for the eventual defeat of the Yuuzhan Vong and moved on to reading great works of literature written by dead Russians.

After reading your recommendations, I decided to give sci-fi another chance.  I jotted down a list of seven or eight books, assuming that the library would have two or three of them.  I was wrong.  They had none.  Zip.  Zero.  Zilch.  So, I picked up some random books.  I’m not sure what they all are, but I shall post my thoughts when I have read them.

Another interesting question that came up as I was searching the library–Where does fantasy end and sci-fi begin?  What are the hard lines of the genre?  According to the internet, sci-fi constitutes the possible yet improbable, whereas fantasy is strictly speaking impossible.  What happens, then, when you get into time travel, multiple dimensions, and dragons?  I’m not certain that the two are mutually exclusive.

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19 comments

  1. I just finished Ender’s Game and not only is it considered Science fiction, it’s Military fiction as well. It’s not too long either…

  2. Oh, the genre question – *g* I’ve been a SF/F fan my whole life, so I’m confident in saying there are no hard lines. Sometimes the lines drawn are arbitrary – for instance, The Demolished Man by Alfred Bester is considered a classic of science fiction, even though a book published today using telepathy as a device in a mystery novel might be classed urban fantasy.

    So then you get into the question of what is a genre, really? And it seems to me that a genre is a group of books that have something in common, whether that’s plot elements or a way of looking at the world or an assumption that a certain set of books constitutes their history. And I think it’s all three of those that make up genre, so sometimes something is science fiction just because the author says it is.

    Good luck with your foray into the genre! Like I said, I *love* SF, so if you ever need any recommendations, you know who to ask.

    1. Thank you! A lot of people recommended sci-fi books to me in the comments on my Hitchhiker’s Guide post, but I’m always looking for more recommendations. =D

      I think that some of the best books are ones that blur genre lines.

  3. I used to avoid science fiction. Then I had to watch Battlestar Galactica (a long story) and I liked the series. So I started looking into other science fiction movies and books. I’m starting to realize that I like it. I’m excited to hear your verdict.

  4. An entertainment must-read for sci fi is the Ian Banks “culture” novels. “Excession” and “Use of Weapons” are two excellent examples.

  5. Some people (myself included), classify sci-fi as any fiction based around some sort of scientific theory that cannot yet be proven true, or a technology that does not yet exist. As for fantasy, it’s everything else not based in reality, but also not based in any sort of real science. So Star Wars would fall into the fantasy category, while time travel, though potentially unlikely, is still grounded in a scientific idea (There are plenty of university researchers studying it seriously)

  6. I’m curious what’s on your list! I don’t read a lot of science fiction but love Ray Bradbury and Orwell. Recommend the Hominids trilogy by Robert Sawyer for something contemporary. My husband loves science fiction and in his mind, the story should be ABOUT the science in some way. I see it as science fiction involves scientific developments (transport, computers, technology) where fantasy involves magic. Husband says science fiction is where the science can all be explained (even if it doesn’t exist yet) where magic is basically unexplainable. But I definitely see crossover. Anne McCaffrey’s books are a good example.

    Enjoy your reads!

    1. During my last library trip, I picked up a book by William Gibson, but I don’t remember which. I was looking for Neuromancer, but the library didn’t have it. I also got a book with some of Philip K. Dick’s novels. Hopefully those are a good start; next library trip I can get more. =D

    2. During my last library trip, I picked up a book by William Gibson, but I don’t remember which. I was looking for Neuromancer, but the library didn’t have it. I also got a book with some of Philip K. Dick’s novels. Hopefully those are a good start; next library trip I can get more. =D

  7. I read and reviewed Jo Walton’s Among Others. It’s a great book and since it is about a girl who loves Sci-Fi, it’s full of intriguing recommendations. I used to read some Sci-Fi but as a whole it is a genre I neglect too. Since reading Walton I’m thinking of changing this.

  8. I’ve always thought of myself as a sci fi fan, but have also not read nearly enough! My sci fi cred is based much more on movies and TV than books. I’ll be curious to read reviews of what you’ve found in sci fi–maybe I’ll get some ideas!

  9. I used to be a Star Wars diehard, but I’ve grown very tired of it as well. I’ve since moved onto more serious sci-fi and really enjoy William Gibson (start with “Neuromancer”), and “Daemon” by Daniel Suarez.

    1. Have you read “Burning Chrome” by chance? Last time I was at the library they didn’t have “Neuromancer,” so I picked that one up instead.

  10. I know I’m late to the party on this debate. I really have no idea when it ends to when starts at a specific point. There are so many genres in science-fiction. Science-fantasy is considered the defined point in my reading of using Tolkien or Lovecraft mixed with light science fiction.

    My readings have often cited, Thousand and One Nights as one of the first uses of a science fiction narrative .The story I cite in the series of small stories in Thousand and One Nights is, The Adventures of Bulukiya. Bulukiya who goes on a quest to be immortal that leads him through Biblical places to travel into space. Another good example is, Utopia by Sir Thomas More.
    Soft science fiction like the works of Douglas Adams is seen as soft science fiction. I admit that my argument before to this point is uncertain though most of the science in said works are less reflective on the science then a story narrative. A story narrative to a parody like with Douglas Adams uses nonsense things as Babel Fish that feeds off of electromagnetic impulses of the brain and the by product is translation of speech. Also Douglas also used a lot of satire in science in his works like bad news traveling faster than the speed of light.

    Hard science fiction is science fiction that is written detailed within speculation of the future (often wrong) and is very technical of what is written. Works like Ringworld or Schild’s Ladder go to great depths that require the reader to often to have studied in the field or read to understand such topics. Solaris by Polish author Stanisław Lem is about humans making contact with an extraterrestrial life that inhabits a planet. The extraterrestrial is mainly the surface of the planet with humans trying to understand it that ends up with detailing the human anthropomorphism limitations. The novel goes painfully in depth of describing a different train of thought. It’s worth a read.

    The more modern or defining of science fiction is, Frankenstein by Mary Shelley. Many uses of fiction can be seen as such during the time of the book or novel or other literally piece when published. Frankenstein for example nothing I seen as neither weird nor that crazy (well the grave robbing is creepy that and the lighting storm). Seeing a person or tissue declared dead to being reanimated in today’s society is a reality coming forth that back in the early 19th century was seen as fiction of Mary Shelley and the public who read her book.

    I like the Soviet Union stamp you have. Many science fiction authors in the Soviet Union are decent writers.

    1. I think that the best science fiction has to have something to it other than just technology; otherwise it seems really dated after 20 years. I’m actually intrigued by the way that various authors in the 80s handled computers, compared to the internet of today.

      1. Good literature can be tainted by obvious clashes with reality that distract from the story. H. G. Wells and Jules Verne have dated technology and are still great reads. One of the wonderful things about science fiction is its prediction for the direction of technology. Sometimes a spark is required for engineers and scientists to imagine the seemingly impossible. Witness Arthur C. Clarke’s dreaming up a satellite communication system in 1945, twelve years before Sputnik.

      2. It varies on how it was written and who wrote it. Most writers often write for the readers of the time. Using terminology for the selected audience that would read it has to be considered. Neuromancer series by William Gibson defined cyberpunk and how one uses ones neural system to implants to connect to a global network. It is interesting none the less of how people thirty years past thought of the World Wide Web or hypertext which is what runs the internet.

        My most favorite science fiction is less about the people and more on the overall message of the novel. Star Maker by Olaf Stapledon is one of my favorites.