Category Archives: Science Fiction and Fantasy

What to Read If You Liked The Clan of the Cave Bear

I’ve decided to start another series on this blog. Just like with the interviews with people who love speculative fiction that I’ll begin publishing here next week, Hopeful Science Fictionfilm reviews, Questions from the Search Engines, and Blogging Advice, this series won’t be updated on a specific schedule. Once I’ve come up with several similar titles to recommend to people who enjoyed a certain book, that post will be added to the queue.

The Clan of the Cave Bear is a prehistoric novel written by Jean M. Auel in 1980 about an orphaned human girl named Ayla who was raised by Neanderthals. It has four sequels about Ayla’s life as an adult.

Part of the reason why I picked this specific tale to start this series off with is because I’ve been getting a spike of visitors coming to this site looking for information about Auel, her characters, and whether there is going to be a TV show or movie made about  the Earth’s Children books.

No, it doesn’t look like there’s anything in the works. I’ll be the first to shout it from the rooftops if that ever changes! In the meantime, why not talk about something I enjoyed quite a bit?

The Clan of the Cave Bear is one of those stories that I’ve returned to over and over again. The plot is an intriguing blend of adventure, romance, mystery, and even a touch bit of the paranormal genre at times.

Life wasn’t exactly easy for hunter-gatherers 30,000 years ago, so there were also plenty of subplots about gathering food, making weapons, preserving medicinal herbs, and doing everything else necessary to survive the cold, long winters of an ice age.

I’ve spent years on the lookout for books that are comparable to this one and its sequels. The following list is the cream of the crop of everything I’ve read so far about Neanderthals and how they might have interacted with Homo sapiens tens of thousands of years ago or in modern times.

The Inheritors by William Golding

This was the first well-written book I discovered when I went to the library as a young teen in hopes of finding more storytellers like Jean M. Auel who had clearly done their research about life in the prehistoric era.

It was fascinating to see how Mr. Golding imagined Neanderthals might have behaved as their culture began to bump up against a stronger one. The Neanderthals in this world were caring, but they had trouble competing in a world where a more intelligent and dangerous type of human was beginning to move into their territory.  I’d argue that this twist says just as much about him and the era he lived in as it does about one of the possible reasons why this species might have gone extinct.

Ember from the Sun by Mark Canter 

I read this title soon after finding The Inheritors, and it’s something I’ve been recommending to likeminded readers for many years now. It’s by far the most science-fiction oriented part of this list because of how much time the narrator spent setting up the storyline and explaining why the things he imagined could possibly happen with the use of science instead of magic to explain them.

In short, the main character was a scientist who found the body of a frozen Neanderthal woman that was so well-preserved he actually found a viable embryo in her womb. (Yes, there was a somewhat-scientific reason why this was possible in this universe, but I can’t tell you specifics about that scene without revealing an important part of the plot).

He implanted that embryo into a human volunteer, named the resulting baby Ember, and raised her as his own. As she grew up, she began to explore her unusual past. She had many of the same questions that people who are transracially adopted have about their identity, and those questions lead to some very interesting developments in the plot that I still mull over to this day.

The Last Neanderthal by Claire Cameron

The title of this one gives away its subject matter. We know that eventually all of the Neanderthals died out (or interbred with a much larger group of humans until their genes almost completely disappeared). There are so many things that bones can’t tell us about an individual or their culture, however!

What was the life of the last obvious Neanderthal like? How were they different from us? I can tell you almost nothing about this protagonist other than the fact that I found her delightful. Everything else I want to say would wander too close to spoiler territory because of how long it took the author to explain some of her character’s most enduring traits.

There is a film by the same name that is currently in the works. I can’t figure out if it’s supposed to be based on this book. Either way, I’m tentatively hoping to review it when it comes out!

Shaman by Kim Stanley Robinson

One of the things I wish had been different about the Earth’s Children books was how far they eventually strayed away from describing all of the hard work that people needed to do in order to survive in such harsh climates. This novel always stayed true to its setting in that way. Life as a hunter-gatherer is never something that should be romanticized even if there are certain parts of it I wish I could incorporate into my own urban lifestyle!

I also loved the friendships the characters in this tale developed with Neanderthals. They worked together to survive in an unforgiving climate. As much as I respected Mr. Golding’s take on this topic, I’d like to think that the past was a cooperative place.

The Neanderthal Parallex trilogy by Robert J. Sawyer

In Hominids, the first book of this series, humans from our Earth meet a modern-day Neanderthal from a parallel universe where their species survived and humans died out tens of thousands of years ago.

The cultural differences between Neanderthals and humans were vast. To give one of the least surprising examples, all of the Neanderthals in this universe are bisexual and have two spouses, one man and one woman. It was fascinating to see how these two worlds collided once the characters realized just how many assumptions they made about life didn’t fit the other society in any way.

I can’t believe no one has turned this into a TV series yet. Robert J. Sawyer has written dozens of worthwhile books, but this world in particular really needs to be shared with a wider audience. It was so thought provoking.

Respond

If any of you have recommendations for other prehistoric tales or a request for a book I should feature next in this series, do speak up. I’m always open to suggestions.

If You Love Speculative Fiction, I Want to Interview You

I’ve decided to try something new on my site. This was loosely inspired by what Downright Dystopian started doing with her interviews earlier this spring. I’m hoping I’ll be able to tap into a new audience since I’m focusing my questions on people who like speculative fiction and have multiple social circles that don’t seem to overlap much with Krystianna’s sphere of influence at all.

What do I mean by speculative fiction? Well, if you read about, watch, listen to, or write about:

  • Fantasy
  • Science Fiction
  • Fables, Fairy Tales, and/or Folklore
  • Alternate History
  • Superheroes
  • Myths
  • Horror
  • Monster Movies
  • Utopians
  • Dystopians
  • Magical Realism
  • Supernatural/Paranormal Tales

Or any combination of these types of stories, I want to hear from you.

Yes, this includes people who prefer, say, paranormal romances that only have the slightest touch of fantasy added to them or mysteries that are pretty hardboiled until the final scene when the audience discovers the killer was an 900-year-old vampire. TV shows and films count, too, especially if they are in any way tied to a book or graphic novel.

Everyone is welcome.

If you’re interested in being interviewed, I’ll need the following things from you:

 Answers to the Following Questions

  1. What was the first speculative story you ever remember reading?
  2. Who is your favourite author? Why?
  3. What do you like most about the genre(s) you read?
  4. More and more authors seem to be writing cross-genre stories these days. How do you feel about this trend?
  5. If you could name a pet after one character, which character would you choose? Why?
  6. What fictional world would you never want to visit?
  7. What fictional world would you want to visit?
  8. Sharing spoilers with people who haven’t read the book or seen the film/show is a hot topic on Twitter and across many fandoms. How do you feel about sharing or overhearing spoilers?
  9. Which series do you think should be made into a TV show or film next?
  10. Which TV show or film do you think should be turned into a book?

If you are an author or other creative person, feel free to substitute some of these questions for a few of the ones above or answer them all for extra credit:

  1. What is the most unusual or interesting way you’ve come up with an idea for one of your creative works?
  2. Sometimes characters don’t do what their creators want them to do. If this has ever happened to you, how did you deal with it?
  3. What is your favourite trope?
  4. What tropes do you try to avoid in your stories?


A Short Biography 

Tell us who you are in a few sentences. Feel free to drop links to your website/blog, social media accounts, or similar pages if you’d like to.

A Photo 

Send a photo of yourself, the cover of a book you’ve written (if applicable), the logo from your site, or any other bookish subject matter.

Email your answers to interviews@lydiaschoch.com

There is no time limit on this offer. I will share your submissions once they begin to arrive and continue on for as long as there continues to be interest in this project.

These interviews have tentatively been assigned to Thursdays, although this may change depending on how many of them are sent in.

I’m looking forward to seeing what you all come up with!

The Joy of Writing Six-Word Stories

How many of you have ever written a six-word story, twitterature, dribble, minisaga, drabble, or other piece of flash fiction?

What all of these terms share in common is the idea of fitting a full-formed story in a much smaller amount of space than is generally used for even short forms of storytelling.

It might be six words or a thousand, but it can easily be read in one sitting. Often it can be finished in a minute or two depending on your reading speed and the length of it!

I’m especially intrigued by six-word stories because of how challenging it can be to fit a twist into such a limited amount of space. This is a type of writing I’ve been playing around with as I slowly continue to work on that still-untitled, full-length science fiction novel.

There’s something fascinating to me about writing something this compact. I love the idea of condensing everything down to the bare minimum an audience needs to know in order to understand what’s going on while also hopefully surprising them in some way.

Here are a few famous examples of these types of tales:

 

For sale: Baby shoes. Never worn. —Ernest Hemingway (maybe).

Longed for him. Got him. Shit. —Margaret Atwood

All those pages in the fire. —Janet Burroway

 

In keeping with the spirit of micro-fiction, I purposely wrote this post so that it would contain fewer than 400 words. A 1000+ word post about this sort of topic simply doesn’t make sense to me.

Here are some of the six-word stories I’ve come up with this week.

Lungless? Then how are you smoking?

That door was a wall yesterday. 

The wind whispered until I answered. 

Last human. Lived happily ever after. 

Called my dog. He hung up. 

Sneezed. “bless you,” said my pillow.

Neanderthals survived, but so did humans. 

I hope you all enjoyed them. If you’ve ever written a six-word story or other very short piece of fiction like this, I’d sure like to read it.

The Evolution of My Reading Habits

My reading habits have evolved a lot over the years. In today’s post, I’m going to start with my earliest memories and share some stories about how my interests and habits have changed over time.

Most of these genres are still things I like to read at least occasionally. With that being said, I do not read the older ones as often as I once did.

Nursery Rhymes and Fairy Tales

“A Fairy Tale” by J. H. F. Bacon

The first genres I ever fell in love with were nursery rhymes and fairy tales.

My uncle had a book of fairy tales that he left behind when he went off to college. I read that collection every time I visited my grandmother’s house, and it made me yearn for more stories about dragons, royalty, and people who were rewarded for the good things they did when they thought no one was paying attention.

The tales in my uncle’s collection were the sorts of things you’d see in a Disney movie. They were missing the dark endings that they’d often originally had.

A few years later, I began stumbling across fairy tales that didn’t always end happily ever after. For example, the original version of “The Little Mermaid” ended with the main character’s death instead of her wedding.

I did go back to preferring the more cheerful spins on these stories after a while, but I appreciated having those glimpses into what had happened to them before they were cleaned up for modern audiences.

30 Books in a Month

As I’ve mentioned here before, I was homeschooled for the first several years of my education. One of the best parts of that experience was being able to read after my lessons were finished. There were times when Wyoming was far too snowy and cold of a place for a child to be wandering around outside in, so I read the entire afternoon and evening away on some of those wintry days.

All of this reading time had an interesting effect on me once I started public school and people who weren’t my parents or siblings began noticing my habits.

My fourth grade teacher once gave us an assignment to read three books a month. We were supposed to turn in little slips of paper with the title and author of what we read to her so she could keep track of them for us.

Reader, I didn’t finish three books that month. I read thirty of them.

Those three slips of paper we’d been given were almost immediately replaced by notes from my mother listing everything else I’d read after I fulfilled the original requirements.

When our teacher announced the number of books each student had read that month a few weeks later, most of my classmates were in the single digits. It was pretty funny to see how they gasped when they realized I’d quietly blown everyone out of the water.

A Passion for Poetry

I no longer remember which genres I read during that thirty-book month, but I do remember the genre I became obsessed with shortly after that: poetry.

My fifth grade teacher did a unit on the many different types of poems out there, and I took to this topic  immediately. A lot of the stuff she had us read reminded me of the nursery rhymes I’d loved a few years earlier.

Shel Silverstein was the first poet I loved, but I quickly moved on to poets who wrote for adult audiences like Emily Dickinson and Langston Hughes.

The thought of compressing what could be an entire story into a few short lines impressed me. I was always excited to find poets who could create strong imagery of what they were describing to the audience while using as few words as possible.

There was about a decade there when poetry was regularly part of what I read for fun. For a long period of time after that, I still returned to it regularly when I needed a break from other genres.

I’m slowly losing interest in this genre, and that makes me a little sad. I wish I could find the same thrill in it I did twenty years ago.

Science Fiction and Fantasy

“Martians vs. Thunder Child” by Henrique Alvim Corrêa.

My interest in the science fiction and fantasy genres has always been intertwined with the other things I’ve read. Long before I entered high school they became genres I returned to over and over again.

While I do take breaks from science fiction and fantasy to recharge sometimes, those feelings have remained constant to this day. No other genre has managed to keep me coming back for more for as long or as consistently as these two have.

There is something so interesting about taking a modern trend and extrapolating it to some distant future where robots really do run the world or when climate change has altered our planet so much that future generations can no longer imagine what life was like in a cooler, more stable climate.

I’ve come to prefer hopeful speculative fiction over the darker, apocalyptic stuff, but I think I’ll continue reading some sort of sci-fi or fantasy for many years to come.

Leaning Towards Nonfiction

Over the last decade or so, I’ve found myself gradually becoming more interested in nonfiction than I ever was before. My favourite high school English teacher used to talk about how much she enjoyed reading about things that really happened.

I didn’t understand why she’d say that at the time, but now I relish the opportunity to read books about history, astronomy, archeology, ecology, medicine, the biographies or autobiographies of people who have accomplished all sorts of things, and many other topics.

We live in a world that is filled with more information than any one person can digest in a lifetime. I accept the fact that I can’t learn everything, but I also want to be exposed to as much knowledge as possible in this lifetime.

How have your reading habits evolved over time? If anyone decides to borrow this topic and blog about it, I’ll edit this post to include a link to your response if you’re interested in that.

Edited on May 5 to add Bjørn Larssen’s response.

How Science Fiction Can Keep You Out of Trouble

Captain Kirk and Mr. Spock

I’ve been thinking about Star Trek a lot lately, especiallyThe Original Series.

The Next Generation and Deep Space Nine were the parts of this universe I grew up watching. It wasn’t I was an adult that I actually sat down and checked out the series that started the Star Trek franchise back in the 1960s.

If you’ve never watched Star Trek before, I would recommend beginning with one of the newer franchises. There were times when The Original Series was quite slow for twenty-first century tastes, and other scenes in it really didn’t age well at all.

Still, I’m glad I saw all of those old episodes. It was interesting to see how this universe has evolved over time and what things have remained constant no matter if you’re watching something from it that was created a few months or fifty years ago.

There is one particular Star Trek episode that keeps popping into my mind. I’m going to try to straddle the line between explaining it’s importance in this universe without giving away spoilers to anyone who  hasn’t seen it or caught the references to it in later series.

The Cage” was originally supposed to be the pilot episode for The Original Series. (Note: that link contains your full daily allowance of spoilers. Avoid it and the rest of this post if you want to remain spoiler-free for a show that was created 50+ years ago).

Talos IV

During this adventure Captain Pike and his crew responded to a distress call on a planet called Talos IV.

Some of the planets the crew visited during the course of The Original Series were dusty, ugly places, but this wasn’t one of them.

Talos IV was a pretty, peaceful place. Captain Pike and the rest of their crew met the Talosians, the friendly humanoids of that planet who offered hospitality without any expectation of reciprocation.

If there could ever be a setting an audience could relax into, this was one of them. Everything was going well.

Captain Pike was then introduced to a pretty, young human woman who had been raised by the Talosians and who wanted him to stay there and have children with her. This was where the plot truly grew interesting, and I wish I could say more about it without giving away all of the spoilers in the entire world to people who are new to the Trekverse.

If I’d seen this story as a kid, it would have blown my mind. As it was, I sensed something was odd as soon as the Talosians began bending over backwards to make their human visitors feel welcomed.

One of the things I enjoy the most about the science fiction genre is the way it can teach its audience to look out for red flags. “The Cage” was a story filled with many different themes. One of them seemed to be about recognizing early signs that someone might not be a person you’ll want to get to know better on a professional, personal, or romantic level.

Red Flag #1: Moving Quickly

The Talosian greeting party

The Talosians barely even knew the names of any of the Enterprise crew members, yet they were already prepared to offer them anything their hearts desired.

Generosity is a wonderful virtue, but there should be healthy limits to it. If someone has just met you and is already offering you the world, there may be something less wholesome going on with them behind the scenes.

Red Flag #2: Not Taking No for an Answer

I can’t go into a lot of detail about this without wandering into spoiler land, but let’s just say that the Talosians offer wasn’t one that was supposed to be refused.

People who run roughshod over small boundaries generally don’t respect the more important ones, either.

Red Flag #3: Deals That Seem too Good to be True

If someone seems too good to be true, there could very well be strings attached to it that haven’t been mentioned yet. By all means get more information, but don’t make any agreements or assumptions until you have all of the details hammered out and they make sense.

I can’t tell you how many times these lessons have given me early warnings about specific situations or interpersonal interactions. It’s one thing to read about red flags in a book, but it’s quite another to see them played out in a story while being asked to come to your own conclusions about how one might apply them to real life.

What life lessons have you learned from science fiction (or your favourite genre in general)? Do you also find that fiction can keep you out of trouble?

My 4 Favourite Fantasy Tropes

Last year, I had a blast blogging about my favourite science fiction tropes. It occurred to me recently that I’ve never given the fantasy genre the same treatment, so that’ what I’ll be talking about today. Reluctant Heroes Example: Bilbo Baggins in J.R.R. Tolkien’s “The Hobbit” If someone were to knock on my front door… Read More