Saturday, September 12, 2015

Long Ago in a Galaxy Far Away

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?


  1. Oh, science fiction and I are old, old friends. Isaac Asimov's Foundation novels are masterpieces [and awarded the Hugo as the best series of all time]. But, in my humble opinion, anything Asimov is superb.

    There are so many wonderful science fiction writers whose works I've happily read: E.E. "Doc" Smith, Ray Bradbury, Arthur C. Clarke, Robert A. Heinlein, Robert Silverberg . . . .

    The recently-released "The Flicker Men" by Ted Kosmatka is absolutely riveting . . . .

  2. I read some sf, but mostly fantasy--especially loved Ursula K. McGuin's A Wizard of Earthsea trilogy and was thrilled when she published a final book (Tehanu) many years later. Enjoyed David Eddings first series immensely, earliest exposure was probably Andre Norton's books (not the ones that came later and were more fan-fiction)--especially the Witch World series and Moon of Three Rings, and Susan Cooper. Another much-loved series--The Riddlemaster of Hed by Patricia A. McKillip--don't know how many sets of that series I've owned (currently none)--because every time I lend them out, the person passes them on to another reader. And one of my absolute favorites of all time--The Blue Sword by Robin McKinley. But lately? Mostly mysteries and nonfiction.

  3. You might try Elizabeth Moon… she writes about strong women - a category not much explored by the male authors out there, imo. The Deed of Paksennarion is fantasy, but there’s also several series (one, if I remember correctly, written with Anne McCaffrey) about strong women in military sf. She’s great at characterization.

  4. Hank--you're probably thinking of Theodore Sturgeon's More Than Human ("And Baby makes three"), one of the best writers out there. (Remember Killdozer? Eat your heart out, Stephen King.)

  5. Diane Hale here--I fell in love with sci-fi in 6th grade when I read Space Prison by Tom Godwin. That summer I met the author--Tom Godwin--who later became my step-father. I still love sci-fi and fantasy. Love Lois McMaster Bujold, master of both fantasy and sci-fi, who deftly weaves mystery, humor, romance, and amazing world building. Elizabeth Moon (one of the nicest ladies I know) brings her past military experience into both her fantasy and sci-fi, and I still have all my McCaffrey books.

    I knew Julia had to be a sci-fi fan when I ran across a reference to my step-dad's most well-known work, The Cold Equations in one of her novels. So much fun to see how so many mystery writers still read sci-fi.

  6. Not so much for me. Kurt Vonnegut's wacky novels (because a boyfriend was a fan), some Isaac Asimov, and most definitely The Once & Future King, were all favorites. The Handmaid's Tale--does that fall under the heading of science fiction?

    One of the two book clubs I'm in has a handful of sci-fi fans, especially if there's some kind of dystopia involved, so I've read more than I ever would have on my own, but it's a chore for me. I'd almost always much rather read a mystery!

    Magical realism, now, that I can read: including Sarah Addison Allen's charming novels, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Isabel Allendez, Laura Esquivel, et al.

  7. Susan, I was so delighted to see that you mentioned Stephen R. Donaldson. I loved the series you mentioned, but I think I loved his Thomas Covenant trilogy (and second trilogy) even more. For me they were the ultimate experience of becoming so immersed in an alternate world that it was at times jarring to come out and try to live my own life. I once read a major plot point on a Sunday morning while waiting to leave for church, and actually sat through the service in a state of grief over the tragic death I had just read about. I don't know if it is still in print, but I also have a collection of short stories he wrote (Daughter of Regals and Other Tales) which would be a great intro to his work.

    I, too, have kind of wandered away from science fiction and fantasy in recent years. But today's post makes me want to go back and revisit some of those old friends!

  8. Oh yes, loved science fiction. All those authors everyone has mentioned. Don't read as much of it now, but every time I rearrange my bookshelves I take another Heinlein off the shelves and re-read it. You knew you had a soulmate when someone said "grok" to you ;-).

  9. Julia, you will love Ann Leckie's ANCILLARY JUSTICE. Also, of current sff writers, I'd suggest NK Jemisin, especially her 1,000 Kingdoms series; Kate Elliott, who has a number of fine series; Elizabeth Bear; Chuck Wendig; Neil Gaiman the great--his recent THE OCEAN AT THE END OF THE LANE is one of his best--and Charles de Lint, especially his FORESTS OF THE HEART and SOMEWHERE TO BE FLYING. My favorite author, still going strong, who's been a major feature of the field in both sf and fantasy for decades, is C.J. Cherryh. Carolyn was forced by her publisher to use initials (and add the "h" to her last name) back in the days when the field was seen as solely male. (She and LeGuin and the late Octavia Butler, another favorite of mine, all started around the same time, but Carolyn was quite a bit younger than the other two.) She's won just about every award one or more times. I own everything she's ever written, but probably one of her top achievements is her very long FOREIGNER series, which is ongoing.

  10. Oh, so many great suggestions here! Makes me want to take a year-long book-cation.... I agree that Lois McMaster Bujold is wonderful, as if Elizabeth Moon. I did a panel with Elizabeth a few years back and she was a delight.

    Joan, tickled that someone else read E.E. Doc Smith, the Lensman series. Space opera!!! I loved those books!! And Susan, I love Stephen Donaldson's Thomas Covenant books, too.

    Linda, making a list from your comment!

  11. I'm not what one would consider a sci-fi fan, which is interesting because some of my favorite books are in that genre. Connie Willis, whom you mentioned, Rhys, is the author of several of my favorite books. Her Oxford time traveling historians are the best. Doomsday is now and forever in my top ten favorite books of all time. I love the others in that series, too. To Say Nothing of the Dog, Blackout, and All Clear. Then there's the short story that started it all, Fire Watch. I looked Connie Willis up as I was writing this post, and she has had some bad summer, a bat bite in her bedroom and a fall at a garage sale, which resulted in surgery on her eye. If you want to read more, here's a link. I've read a few other of her books and have the latest short story compilation, but the time traveling historians are my favorites.

    Also in my top ten books is Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury. See, how I said that science fiction isn't something I read much, but I have favorite books within it. Read and loved The Hunger Games, then passed them on to my daughter and her daughter, who both loved them, too. Neil Gaiman is amazing, and I'm trying to figure out how I can fit in seeing him in Bowling Green, KY (only an hour away from me) the night before I take a 7:00 a.m. flight to Bouchercon from an airport two hours away on an unpredictable interstate. I can't believe he's going to be that close and I might not get to see him. Ursela le Guinn is, of course, brilliant. However, my main connection to her is my love of her four children's books in the Catwings series. Again, in my top list of books. I have bought both grandgirls a set of these books, and I keep a set myself. If you don't fall in love with these stories, well, you just might not be able to fall in love. Here's a link to chapter one of Catwings being read, with the illustrations shown. Other chapters read by the same person are also available on Youtube.

  12. I used to read a lot of F&SF but not so much lately. Old favorites included LeGuin, especially The Left Hand of Darkness and The Dispossessed, as well as her Earthsea series for young adults; Walter Miller's A Canticle for Liebowitz; Alfie Bester's The Stars My Destination and The Demolished Man; Dune (just the first one; Herbert went down some very weird rabbit holes in the sequels); Connie Willis's time-traveling Oxford historians (Fire Watch, Doomsday Book, To Say Nothing of the Dog). But the most impressive writer of SF I've ever found is Gene Wolfe--his Book of the New Sun, Book of the Long Sun, and Book of the Short Sun are the peak of literary SF.

    I love Jasper Fforde too... when I realized what he was doing in TEA I laughed so hard and long that my wife came to make sure I was OK. For pure fantasy, I love Guy Kay, Patricia McKillip, and E.R. Eddison.

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  14. I agree with those who recommend Ursula LeGuin, Connie Willis, and Lois McMaster Bujold, and I enjoyed Katherine Kurtz's Deryni novels, especially the first two trilogies. Also, Naomi Novik's Temeraire books, fantasies about intelligent dragons serving as an air force during the Napoleonic Wars, are absolutely wonderful.

  15. I read a lot of sci fi as a kid. There was one series about space Okies, in essence. They'd fly to different planets to look for work. I seem to remember they had a sign on their ship: Mow Your Lawn, Lady? Can't quite remember the author or the series. I read the Mushroom Planet books and was delighted when my son discovered them also at his school library. Such fun. I haven't read Connie Willis yet but she is on the list due to your recommendations. I am currently in the midst of the Rivers of London series. Loving it. The Shades of London series is good, as is the Lynburne Legacy. Both are YA. There was another scifi series about Retief. Years ago, mind you. He was a very snarky smartass kind of hero. Kind of a Bruce Campbell in space. Keith Laumer was the author.

  16. I really, really prefer female writers. The voice is different and, at the risk of being sexist, the characterizations are more compelling for me.

    Anne McCaffrey was my gateway drug into sci fi/fantasy, back in high school. My favorites now though are Juliet Marillier (fantasy retelling of Celtic myth-- such rich imagery!) and Tonya Huff, who is a Canadian writer of several different series: the bastard son of Henry VIII who lives in modern Toronto and is a vampire; the Valor series, which is traditional hard sci fi with a strong female protagonist; and the Enchantment Emporium, which features a family of witches with the surname of Gale and some fairly sketchy pies. And yes, definitely Katherine Kurtz's Deryni.

    Jim Butcher is my token male sci fi writer. I love Harry Dresden, and not only because I envision him as Paul Blackthorne!

  17. Laurie, thank you! Hurray hurray hurray! Thank you! I am off to find it. I've been wiring YEARS, truly, for someone to tell me this!

  18. Still go back to Pern when I wonder what is happening to the present. Deryni novels fascinate. There is something about Sci-fi and fantasy that draws me in...even at my age. I was house-bound last fall for an extended period and loved re-reading all the Anne McCaffery and Kathleen Kurtz I had on my bookshelves.

  19. I don't read much sci-fi (too many great mysteries out there), but when your child, or your grandchild, tells you to read a specific something, you read it! Recently my son loaned me his copy of The Martian, and I agree with you-all: it's a grabber. When one of my granddaughters was eleven, she told me the entire plot of Orson Scott Card's Ender's Game, and then gave me her ragged copy to read. This was for kids? Brilliant! I also agree about Connie Willis's books, and The Eyre Affair. I do enjoy a good time-travel book, and for me, the best of all is Jack Finney's Time and Again. If y'all haven't read it--oh, what a pleasant time you have ahead of you!

  20. Hank, hope it's as good as you remember…

  21. I love this post so much! I read a ton of sci-fi as a teen. Some of the classics (Orwell, Bradbury, Huxley). Brave New World is still one of my favorites. Freaks me out completely. Also Michael Crichton and Robin Cook.

    But like many of you, I grew up, got married, had kids. Real life was strange enough without adding other worlds. So imagine my surprise when I sat down to write fiction one day (as an experiment really) and out popped all kinds of stuff about brain implants and cyborgs. I fought it for a while, then eventually gave in! My sci-fi thriller OPEN SOURCE releases in January. So glad my muse brought me back to sci-fi. :-)

  22. Here are a couple of authors nobody has mentioned yet. Pamela Dean and Jodi Taylor. Jodi Taylor has a time travel series that anybody who loves Connie Willis' To Say Nothing of the Dog should love. Pamela Dean has a trilogy about a children's game that comes scarily to life, The Secret Country trilogy, plus a wonderful Tam Lin.

  23. Started with Robert Heinlein’s The Rolling Stones more than 50 years ago, and am still reading science fiction and fantasy. Bujold and Moon are great. I also recommend Jo Walton. I liked her Nebula and Hugo award winning book Among Others and have just bought but not started My Real Children. Some of the new writers are very good too; I’ve heard good things about Andy Weir and Ann Leckie and I liked Ernest Cline’s Ready Player One; you don’t have to have a video gaming background to enjoy his story.