" In this universe the night was falling; the shadows were lengthening towards an east that would not know another dawn. But elsewhere the stars were still young and the light of morning lingered; and along the path he once had followed, Man would one day go again"

Arthur C. Clarke Against the Fall of Night

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Science Fiction and me, why I read what I read

Detail IlLL Richard Powers, for A Norton's The Space Rangers

   As part of creating and maintaining this blog I often find myself questioning why I like certain stories and novels more than others, or why certain periods or themes within science fiction attract me. I know that my tastes often differ from the science fiction my wife or my buddy Doug choose. Indeed part of the reading exercise that Doug and I have embarked on is aimed at exposing each other to works that we might not have chosen on our own. Also my wife reads novels and I prefer short stories, so while I may read the same authors, we both have a fondness for new space opera authors like Alastair Reynonds or Neil Asher, our reading diverges. Since Doug and I have a page limit (200 pages) for the works we suggest, we are limited to short stores or older novels and novellas, although I think Doug would gravitate more to longer novels in his own reading. My wife also reads new works whereas Doug and I read a combination of the old and the new.

   I have read a great deal about the history of science fiction and examined a number of best of lists as well as some theories of what constitutes science fiction. Judith Merrill for one seemed to have devoted a lot of thought to this and I recommend The Merril Theory of Lit’ry Criticism edited by Ritch Calvin, if you want to read the essays of an important science fiction editor who really tried to expand the definition of the field. I however tend to fall back on a statement Damon Knight suggested, "it means what we point to when we say it."

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Definitions_of_science_fiction )

   So while I have had good natured arguments with Doug about whether Turtledove’s The Case of the Toxic Spell Dump or Randall Garrett’s Lord Darcy series are science fiction, Turtledove no, Garrett maybe, I am a reader not an academic and so while I reserve the right to occasionally examine definitions of science fiction in the future for now I will point to what I like and go from there.

   In reading for this blog I did come to realize that certain books struck me as science fiction, or what I expect or enjoy when reading science fiction. This is not to say they are for everyone or that they are better than any other books. It is not even a list (see below) of my favourites or the best books I have read. And it is obviously not to say that books not on the list are not science fiction. What I am describing is more of a feeling than anything else an idea in the back of my head that comes to the fore occasionally. Most science fiction books I read do not evoke this feeling. Often I do not add a work to this list until months after I have read it. I am not sure why there is a lag, possibly it occurs because over time the work begins to inform my subsequent reading, Foundation would be one such work. Other times it is more immediate, there may be is a feeling of familiarity or comfort, like sitting in a favourite chair, that occurs the minute I read a certain passage, as in “Epilogue ” by Poul Anderson when the robot gathers his spears and sets off on his quest. Sometimes it is not the text but the feeling the work leaves, say the exuberance I felt after completing Robert Sheckly’s somewhat silly, “Specialist". Some because I recognize them as part of a continuum, Niven’s Gil Hamilton stories for example lead me to Linda Nagata’s "Nahiku West".

   While every rule has exceptions I know, I prefer robots and aliens, space exploration and colonization and the expansion of life (I am not that human centric ) across the universe. I prefer the far future to the near. I enjoy animal allies, traders and space medics, catastrophes, mutants and the plucky survivors of nuclear war especially accompanied by giant cats. I am not that interested in religious or military themed science fiction, and the world is currently depressing enough without my reading more dystopian fiction. I enjoy the places where science fiction intersects other genre like the weird tale, the mystery or horror story. I even enjoy planetary romance. My science fiction is not predictive although life sometimes emulates it and it is not a cautionary tale, for no one listens. It can make me think but it should also entertain. I know nostalgia plays a big part in some of my choices but I have read or reread all these works in the last two years so my 12 year old self and the 60 something year old self can compare notes.

Also I want to thank Joachim Boaz at

for his post

   I have been pondering this post for quite sometime but reading his gave me the kick in the pants I needed to get it done.

In no particular order (and I may be adding titles)

The Lathe of Heaven, Ursula K. Le Guin
Foundation, “The Last Question”, “Victory unintentional”,
Isaac Asimov
Star Maker, Olaf Stapleton
Star Man’s Son, Andre Norton
World Soul, M. Emtsev and E. Parnov
A Wrinkle in Time, Madeleine L'Engle
“There Shall Come Soft Rain”, “The Pedestrian”,
Fahrenheit 451, Ray Bradbury
“Omniligual”, H. Beam Piper
Ralph 124C 41+, Hugo Gernsbeck
“Specialist”, Robert Sheckly
“Epilogue ”, Poul Anderson
“The Voices of Time”, J.G. Ballard

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