A meditation on my experience of consuming “Science Fiction”.
I am taking an approach that is memory-based, and have written first from memory, before appending later internet-based fact checking. I am sure this will reveal both the fallibility of memory, and the degree of self-construction we all do with selective and additive use of memories.
I was attracted to SF fairly young, about 10 years old I suppose. I have already blogged a very early influence at “Tom Corbett: A Trip To The Moon”.
The earliest story I recall was at age nine. It was read to the class by our teacher when I was in a mixed Standard 3 and 4 class (9 and 10 year-olds). It had a lot of SF’s elements, a spaceship, an alien, a chase, and a protagonist who had to think. I was impressed by the way the author had included a puzzle that turned out to have a logical explanation, an approach I came to value in SF. I remember finding and reading it myself later.
Of that story I recall plot elements, a title: “The Ruum”, but not the author.
Research: The author was Arthur Porges, and the 1953 story must have been noted as it has its own Wikipedia entry. I find my memory to have been accurate, but limited.
It is interesting to find that my memories of early reading are mostly tied not to school, but the public library. I read a lot, and a lot of SF amongst it.
I do recall finding some early SF in the school library at Intermediate School, (Forms 1 and 2, 11 and 12 year-olds).
Ones that stuck: -
“Podkayne of Mars”, by Robert A Heinlein, although I can’t recall any of the plot, just that I was impressed and perhaps a little titillated, at Mr Heinlein’s choice of a female lead character.
Research: Hardcover published 1963. Factoid: Mr Heinlein “anticipated, by over forty years, television ads in taxicabs (in the book, holographic), which have since been implemented in taxicabs in major cities worldwide.”
“Have Spacesuit, Will Travel” by maybe Arthur C Clarke, about a young boys’ efforts to buy himself a real used spacesuit as I recall.
Research: Actually also by Robert A Heinlein, correct title “Have Spacesuit - Will Travel”, published 1958. Turns out he wins the used suit and fixes it early on, then has a whole book of adventures I had forgotten. Again, there is a strong female character. Mentions cryopreservation, and considers speciesism, before modern feminism’s public appearance a few years later.
A tale I have mentioned to many people over the years is one of a man who wakes up in a tank with long hair and fingernails, to find that while he has been hooked up to life-support for a simulated brain experience as a holiday, the world has become deserted because everyone has abandoned reality for the tanks. This was around 1962 or 3, yet presages Virtual reality, Total Recall and The Matrix.
Research: It would be difficult to pin this one down. I have found there were a lot more stories dealing with virtual reality than I realised. Days would be needed.
I only knew three other guys who read SF, we did communicate our findings and discuss the stories.
I never bought any books, my reading rate at mid teens was at least 3 books a week, only the library could keep up with that. I recall sometimes I would get the limit of 3 books and a magazine on a Friday night, and go back for another 4 on the Monday night. The magazines would include Popular Mechanics and later, Scientific American, also “The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction”. I have fond memories of their cartoons of Gahan Wilson. See also below his plot generator flowchart (from National Lampoon, November 1971, Vol. 1, No. 20)
I remember being impressed by the columns of Isaac Asimov in “The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction”. I think it gave me a respect for the use of the mind and logic to extend scientific knowledge, an attitude of not accepting anything at face value, only logical or experimental proof will do.
I also liked the approach to female characters, who were often shown as just as capable and intelligent as the males. I thus later wondered why people couldn’t see what all these “bra-burning radical feminists” were on about. I already had the attitude that women should be treated as equals, and, geeky as I was, I think I had the opposite problem of not really understanding the really “girly” girls, they seemed weak and silly and not worth pursuing.
I liked what is called “Hard Science Fiction” in which, to quote Wikipedia: “a story should try to be accurate, logical, credible and rigorous in its use of current scientific and technical knowledge about which technology, phenomena, scenarios and situations that are practically and/or theoretically possible.” but I was not interested in what I later learned to call “space opera”. I recall hearing of and checking out E.E. "Doc" Smith and being unimpressed by all the space battles and coruscating explosions. (This is not to say that I didn’t read softer stories, and I was also in parallel reading fantasy, diverse straight novels, most of Agatha Christie, natural history, etc. etc.),
This hard science attitude extended to movies as well. I used to (and still do) cringe at the bad science.
Ref: Bad Movie Physics: A Report Card, and also Movie Physics.
I also recall noticing that good writers did not do a lot of explaining of their imagined world. It was just written in a way that let you assume how things were, and I liked that this was a subtle compliment to the reader’s (i.e. my own) intelligence. This quote from the essay linked at left, para. 5 says it better than I: “It was Heinlein who introduced into SF the technique of description by indirection — the art of describing his future worlds not through lumps of exposition but by presenting it through the eyes of his characters, subtly leading the reader to fill in by deduction large swathes of background that a lesser author would have drawn in detail.”
I was soaking up SF that dealt with social issues as well. There were many stories dealing with social and political systems different from the norm. It only seemed natural to me when the hippie “counterculture” appeared, and I think SF helped nurture it. Ref again, this essay “A Political History of SF”, which says stuff I would only be repeating here.
Not mentioned much there was the genre of “lone protagonist against the system”. It is partially alluded to: - “There was also a political aura that went with the hard-SF style, one exemplified by Campbell and right-hand man Robert Heinlein. That tradition was of ornery and insistant individualism, veneration of the competent man, an instinctive distrust of coercive social engineering and a rock-ribbed objectivism that that valued knowing how things work and treated all political ideologizing with suspicion.” but that doesn’t quite cover the genre I mean. It generally involved the triumph of the individual against an adversary of power and influence, and involved running shooting and hiding, in movie-speak it would be called an “Actioner”, and I read quite a few. They can’t have been that subversive though, I don’t seem to have started any uprisings or revolutions so far.
I enjoyed satire as well, such as a story where life seemed to function normally on a planet where everybody was in jail.
Research: Can’t find that one. I had the impression it was Kurt Vonnegut. Harry Harrison was a favourite as well. I have always remembered Bill the Galactic Hero’s two right arms, and the ludicrous workings of the system he is inside.
I discovered Fantasy as a genre through and with my interest in SF. I enjoyed a lot, but soon found, having read Lord of the Rings at 13, that once LOTR found fame, Tolkien’s influence was all-pervasive, and I soon rejected most swords and magic at first glance, the biggest giveaway was anything with a map included. I can still enjoy a bit of Fantasy now and then. Ref my recent blog post http://getitonrecord.weebly.com/blog/book-finished9
I still think the Fantasy genre is even more suspect than the possible escapism of SF. I can imagine an attitude that asks what good it does to spend so much time reading of impossible things that didn’t, can’t, and won’t happen.
I used to feel other people looked down on SF readers, we were geeks and nerds before those words became current. I couldn't see what was wrong with combining a respect for the facts of science with an imagination of what else could be revealed by the scientific method.
Authors I recall off the top of my head.
Arthur C Clarke
Philip K Dick
Marion Zimmer Bradley
Orson Scott Card
Authors I slapped my forehead over, found
again while researching this blog:
L. Sprague de Camp
It is astounding to me to find how little I can actually remember of all these author’s works; some not even titles, let alone plot specifics. My brain seems to contain just a big sci-fi mish-mash of impressions with a few undissolved sharp fragments remaining.
As a hard-SF fan, I used to feel a bit embarrassed by the over-the-top cover illustrations of the pulp paperbacks. Initially I had little contact with them as I was reading hardbacks from the library, which had the better authors with more restrained artwork.
I also resented the fact that often publishers would use art that was incorrect, unrepresentative, or just plainly unrelated to the story. e.g. here is Harry Harrison’s Bill The Galactic Hero with two right arms both on the same side of the body!
I remember particularly the distinctive plain yellow covers of the Gollancz publications because they were so easy to spot on the shelves and I didn’t have to be seen with the lurid covers..
If the reader is tempted, try here for more sci-fi cover art, a great blog worth visiting for SF in general.
1932 Brave New World Aldous Huxley
1949 1984 George Orwell
1950 The Martian Chronicles Ray Bradbury
1951 The Illustrated Man Ray Bradbury
1951 The Day of The Triffids John Wyndham
1961 Stranger In A Strange Land Robert A Heinlein
1965 Bill The Galactic Hero Harry Harrison
1965 Dune and sequels Frank Herbert
1965 Lord Valentine's Castle Robert Silverberg
1979 Engine Summer John Crowley
1980-83 The Book of the New Sun Gene Wolfe, four-volume novel.
1993-96 The Book of the Long Sun Gene Wolfe, four volumes.
2005 Accelerando Charles Stross
TV I recall:
Thunderbirds et al. watched avidly
Doctor Who early B&W only, definitely for kids after that.
Space Family Robinson avoided like the plague
The Invaders watched weekly
Star Trek watched avidly
Buck Rogers lurid lycra ladies
Hitch-hikers Guide to the Galaxy great satire
Blake’s Seven variety
Red Dwarf great Brit comedy
Max Headroom good Brit comedy
Aeon Flux good animated clips within "Liquid TV" show.
Battlestar Galactica, Stargates all unwatchable, space-based soaps really.
Heroes terrific for that What If? factor
The Lost Room terrific for that What If? factor
Movies I recall:
The Brain That Wouldn't Die retro fun
Invasion of the Body Snatchers retro fun
2001: A Space Odyssey terrific, believability
A Clockwork Orange disturbing
Fantastic Voyage tried with the science
Flash Gordon tongue firmly in cheek
Star Wars great first three.
Liquid Sky bizzarre
Alien series terrific, believability
Mars Attacks! hilarious
Total Recall great start, but degenerates to gunplay
The Matrix great start, but degenerates to gunplay
eXistenZ gripping and interesting
P K Dick:
A Scanner Darkly creepy
Blade Runner terrific, believability
The Adjustment Bureau good
Movies added which didn't come to mind first off:
Close Encounters of the Third Kind great
Starship Troopers hilarious satire of militarism
Total Recall great start, but degenerates to gunplay
Aeon Flux good. From the TV animation
District 9 excellent believability
Cutie Honey Japanese corny confection
Cowboy Bebop has it’s own cool
Ghost In the Shell great
Innocence: Ghost in the Shell great
Animatrix DVD of shorts very good
Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within OK
Memories DVD of shorts great
See my recent blog post: -
Nebula Awards Showcase 2012 The Year's Best Science Fiction and Fantasy
Selected by The Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America.
When I go to borrow a book from the library, there are some books which are not under consideration:
Any book found to be part of a series, on the grounds that good novels are not written in series, they are just one-offs. “Series” smacks of pot-boilers and writing to order, lack of inventiveness and originality.
Any book “based on” a TV series or movie, on the grounds that it will have been done on commission by some hack, for a company trying to wring the last dollar from a franchise.
Any book with a cover featuring overly masculine males clutching weapons, and/or scantily-clad females in submissive poses, for obvious reasons.
I only occasionally check on SF at the library, because I borrow e-books and find at the library's outsourced e-book provider's website I have to wade through screeds of generic dross and young adult pot-boilers. Just look at the below search example. It shows 24 books, page 2 only of the 560 results for "Science Fiction". Of 24, 19 are part of a series, 10 of which are Young Adult and appear distressingly unoriginal. Of the remaining 5, 3 are re-issues, one is inexplicably vampires, straying outside their genre, and we are left with one also genre-straying lycanthropic romance feeding on the current vampire frenzy.
It is pretty slim pickings if you are looking for a current adult science fiction novel.
Based on TV
Based on TV