It’s time for Gateway Drugs – and this month we’re looking at science fiction. The joy of science fiction is that it encompasses so many styles of writing. In popular imagination, science fiction means Star Wars and Star Trek – stories with lasers, spaceships, and aliens, and a lot of action. God knows, I cherish those things. But there are all kinds of writing within the science fiction genres – mystery, romance, comedy, tragedy. There’s space opera and there’s small-scale, character-driven, philosophical stories. you name it, science fiction has it.
The Year’s Best Science Fiction and Fantasy
Let’s start with an anthology that has a little bit of everything.
Here’s what the author Connie Willis has to say about The Year’s Best:
My second big influence was The Year’s Best SF&F. This was the 1950’s, when Judith Merrill, and Robert P. Mills, and Anthony Boucher were editors of this collection, which came out every year. I’d read a Philip K. Dick story, and then a Theodore Sturgeon story, and then a Frederick Brown story, and then a Shirley Jackson story. It was an amazing experience, not just because the stories were amazing, but because I saw this vast variety of things you could do. You could have a highly experimental story, and then a rip-roaring adventure, and then a horror story, and then you’d have a sweet little romance – all in one book. Had I just read novels, I don’t think I would have stuck with it.
One of the first stories I ever sold was a romantic comedy. It was called “Capra Corn” – a terrible title. I knew that within science fiction, I would write anything I wanted to. I thought, I can write a sad story and then a really fun story, and nobody said a word. I thought, I can do anything I want! That’s why I had so much fun, and why I’ve stuck with the genre all this time.
R Is For Rocket, Ray Bradbury
I discovered science fiction when I asked my dad for something to read. He showed me his collection of Ray Bradbury and Issac Asimov short stories. Not only did those books get me to read science fiction, but according to a lot of rooms full of current sci-fi authors, those two guys got ALL of us to read science fiction, long before we knew what science fiction was. In R is for Rocket, you can read about spaceflight, and sea monsters, and time travel. You can read about the emotional problems that come with leaving everything you know on Earth behind to colonize Mars. You can read “The Sound of Summer Running”, which is about a boy who wants new tennis shoes, and isn’t science fiction at all. I also recommend Bradbury’s S is for Space.
I, Robot, by Issac Asimov
This collection of stories includes a mystery, and a psychological mind game, and a cave-in on another planet. So again – if you like action, it’s here, but the core of the stories is about how people work, and how robots might work someday, and how robots and people would interact. The stories are funny, and touching, and scary, and sad, and heart-warming. I don’t care how much you say you don’t like science fiction – if you don’t find at least some of these stories to be a least a little bit interesting, your soul is dead. I’m not judging you – simply stating a fact.
But let’s say you want to read a novel. OK, here’s a list:
If you enjoy love stories, try these:
A Civil Campaign, by Lois McMaster Bujold
To Say Nothing of the Dog, by Connie Willis
Rivited, by Meljean Brook
The Best of All Possible Worlds, by Karen Lord
If you like spaceships and lasers, and politics on far-flung planets, try:
A Deepness in the Sky, by Vernor Vinge
Ender’s Game, by Orson Scott Card
Dune, by Frank Herbert
If you like to laugh:
Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, by Douglas Adams
If you like to think deep thoughts and be intellectually and emotionally challenged, try these:
The Sparrow, by Maria Doria Russell
The Left Hand of Darkness, by Ursula K. LeGuin
Kindred, by Octavia Butler
OK, that should keep us all busy until next month! What are your favorite science fiction books?