RHYS BOWEN: When I was a college student I adored science fiction. John Wyndham, Arthur C Clark, Heinlein, Asimov and especially Ann MaCaffrey (as I liked that touch of romance even in those days). Then real life intervened. I went to work. I married. I had kids and somehow distant planets and dragon riders lost their appeal. My escape reading became mysteries, apart from Connie Willis, whose brilliant writing has captivated me with each of her books. (And I still think Ray Bradbury's short stories are among the best ever written. Especially The Veld.
But this summer I was going through my bookcases, weeding out books I will never read again and I came upon Ann McCaffrey's Crystal Singer. How I loved that book when I was young! I so I decided to re-read it and I find my love for galaxies long ago and far away to be rekindled. I've just re-read Restoree and some Ursula McGuin. Next up are the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy books, and John Wyndham. Did you ever read the Day of the Tryffids? Scared me silly when I was eighteen. I wonder if it will do so now?
So I wonder what this shows about my mental state? That I am itching to explore new worlds, stretch my horizons, OR that I just need to read something very different from the books I write. So tell me, dear Reds, are you or were you ever science fiction fans? What do you read when you want to escape?
LUCY BURDETTE: Honestly, I don't think I've ever read any science fiction--except for Ray Bradbury. And he scared me so badly, I've never gone back. What would you recommend as a great starter book?
HALLIE EPHRON: I read a lot of scifi and fantasy when I was younger. One of my all-time favorites: Heinlein's STRANGER IN A STRANGE LAND. Also Vonnegut's PLAYER PIANO and SLAUGHTERHOUSE FIVE and CAT'S CRADLE. I'm a huge fan of THE HUNGER GAMES. A scifi mystery novel I loved was THE EYRE AFFAIR (wit, time travel, characters from JANE EYRE get kidnapped.) I did read Day of the Tryffids. After I saw the movie. When I go to writing conferences it seems like all the talented young writers are writing YA sci-fi and fantasy.
RHYS: Oh yes, The Eyre Affair. Brilliant. I adore parallel universes and this one was so clever. Whole towns reciting Richard III together!
HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: Yes, yes, love sci-fi. Although I guess I don't read it much any more Hmmm.. DUNE, and STRANGER IN A STRANGE LAND, which I have to say was profoundly life-changing for me, and i still think about it. (Lucy, maybe start there?) Kurt Vonnegut? Yes, yes, of course, and Arthur C Clark, CHILDHOOD'S END. And Hitchhikers Guide--LOVE! (Don't panic!)
So here's a question for you. One of the best scifi pieces I ever read was about four children, woh lived in the woods or something, and they had magic powers but only when they were together. I cannot, for the life of me, remember the name of it. Anyone, anyone? It has been bugging me for decades.
Oh, and finally? My short story for the next X-FIles anthology was accepted. The X-Files people (the real X-Files people!) said I hit it out of the ballpark. Whoa. Whole new worlds--ha ha---open up.
SUSAN ELIA MACNEAL: Rhys, I'm with you and love fantasy and science fiction. I grew up on the Narnia books, Ursula LeGuin, The Hobbit and the Lord of the Rings, and yes, the Anne McCaffrey books! (Especially dragon Song, Dragon Singer, and Dragon Drums.) As young adult I loved Stephen R. Donaldson' Mirror of Her Dreams books and everything by Neil Gaiman. And now it's all about George R.R. Martin, who needs to write faster!
One thing that occurred to me as I was recently rereading T.H. White's The Once and Future King is how many authors affected by World Wars I and II turned to fiction to express their ideas about a battle of good and evil. There's White, of course, and also C.S. Lewis, and J.R R. Tolkein, too. I am just rereading Lloyd Alexander's Taran Wanderer books with my son and finally put together that although Alexander was writing in the 60s, he was a World War II veteran. One of those things I ponder...
DEBORAH CROMBIE: Lucy, I agree--you might read Stranger in a Strange Land. When I read it as a teenager it seemed earthshaking. I wonder what I would think of it now? I read most of the books mentioned, as well as things like The Gormenghast Trilogy (which I didn't really like, but images from it have stayed with me all these years... Funny how that works.) I have NOT read The Hunger Games yet--I'm saving those for when I don't have a book due...
Susan, The Once and Future King is one of my favorite books of all time. And when I reread LOTR last spring, I kept thinking about the the effect the war(s) had on so many writers, and how they passed those perceptions on to us...
Hank, are you sure you're not thinking about A Wrinkle in Time? There were four children, although the older twins don't figure in the story as much. And there were definitely woods!
The sci-fi I've read most recently was The Shades of London trilogy by Maureen Johnson. So interesting how sci-fi/fantasy/paranormal fiction seems to be gateway reading for teenagers and young adults.
HANK: Nope, sigh, Debs, I know A Wrinkle in Time by heart. And I think about Once and Future King every day, Susan. EVERY DAY. Oh! I forgot, if we're doing YA fantasy, the very best ever, the Edward Eager books, like Knight's Castle. AND! A Diamond in the Window by Jane Langton. And--A VIsit to the Mushroom Planet! Oh. Wonderful. But those aren't really sci-fi.
JULIA SPENCER-FLEMING: Oh, A Visit to the Mushroom Planet! How I loved that series as a child! Probably my gateway into science fiction, followed by Robert Heinlein's juveniles (as YA fiction was called back in the day) and then a drop off the cliff into the literary and New Wave SF of the 60s and 70s: Joanna Russ, Cordwainer Smith, Frank Herbert, Ursula LeGuin... now that I think about it, I can say science fiction helped make me a feminist, reading James Tiptree, Jr., Suzy McKee Charnas an, Octvia Butler, among others.
I really fell away from the currents of SF in the eighties and nineties - partially because college, grad school, law school and motherhood took up a lot of time when I could have been reading books! And partially because I never enjoyed cyberpunk or the post-human futurism that were the big platforms in those decades. I continued to read older authors - which is undoubtedly why my half-a-sf-novel was deemed out of date and unmarketable when I workshopped it at the World Science Fiction Convention in 1997. I still like to say I'm a failed SF writer who had to turn to mystery instead...
As "New Space Opera" ascends as the latest movement in SF, I'm reading contemporary novels a lot more. As a matter of fact, the most recent books I've read are all SF, because I can't touch crime fiction or thrillers when I'm writing! The End of All Things by John Scalzi, The Martian by Andy Weir (really, so good! Read it before the movie comes out.) Depth by AC Lev Rosen (a SF mystery) A Darkling Sea by James Cambias. Next up, Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie, a debut novel that won the Hugo, Nebula and Arthur C Clarke awards. (In crime fiction terms, that would be like a brand-new novelist sweeping the Edgar, Anthony, and Golden Dagger awards.)
And of course, I have to give a shout out again to my favorite author of all time, Lois McMaster Bujold. She has a new Vorkosigan book coming out in 2016, which makes me so happy I could go supernova.
RHYS: Thanks for the great suggestions, Reds. I have new reading material ahead of me. Any more books I should read, dear readers? Who is a fan of fantasy or science fiction?