Category Archives: Science Fiction

Tailored Book Recommendations Are the Best

The Chronicles of Narnia was one of the first series I remember being recommended to me. My generous uncle gave me all seven books in that series at once when I was in elementary school.

As soon as I read The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe, I began quietly touching the back of every closet to see if it contained a wall behind the clothing hanging in there or if it would somehow lead me somewhere interesting. I was a little young for the later, darker instalments at the time, but I loved the first few stories immediately and soon grew up enough to enjoy the rest, too.

One of the things I loved the most about the magic in that world was how unpredictable it was. Aslan didn’t always show up when you expected him to, and he didn’t necessarily meet my expectations of what the creator of a planet would be like either. I spent more time than I care to admit memorizing little details about Narnia and wondering what it would be like to go there for real.

When my uncle heard how much I adored his gift, he came up with something even better for the next round of gift-giving: copies of The Hobbit and the Lord of the Rings trilogy.  The Hobbit was an instant hit with me. I loved Bilbo’s cautious nature and the exciting details of his trek to The Lonely Mountain. It was one of my first brushes with characters who were in real danger when they went on an adventure. This was a more treacherous world than the one the Pevensie children knew.  There were no adults around to save them, and I was never entirely certain if Bilbo or his companions would make it home safely again.

Not only were there carnivorous trolls in The Hobbit, Bilbo also had to face conniving Gollum (whose backstory and identity wasn’t revealed until The Fellowship of the Ring), gigantic spiders who also wanted to eat him, and many other perils.

My uncle knew what he was doing when he recommended these stories to me. The basic rules of magic were different in each universe because one was written for a younger audience than the other was, but they were both filled with creatures whose very existence tickled my imagination.

Tailor Your Recommendations

Suggesting the right book for someone is kind of like giving them clothing. Knowing the right size (or genre, in this case) will go a long way in helping you pick something out, but there are many other small details that matter as well. You have to know someone incredibly well in order to have any chance at all of giving them something they’ll want to use or read over and over again.

There have been times when I’ve recommended books to people who ended up not enjoying those tales at all. In other cases, I’ve had books recommended to me that didn’t quite fit my tastes.

Other than obvious errors like writing two-dimensional characters or using cliches excessively, so much of what goes into a great story is subjective. You might be bored stiff by plot lines that I love, and I might feel the same way about the stories that someone else could spend all day reading without ever growing tired of them.

So it came as a huge surprise to me when a friend recently recommended a book that I’m loving so far: The Utterly Uninteresting and Unadventurous Tales of Fred, the Vampire Accountant by Drew Hayes.

Fred was a completely ordinary man who was turned into a vampire as an adult. He gained strength and became a physically healthier version of himself, but he otherwise remained the same shy and quiet man he’d always been.

No, he didn’t sparkle in the sunlight, seduce teenage girls, radically change his habits, or suddenly have the nearly-supernatural ability to conquer the world. (There’s nothing wrong with liking any of these tropes, of course, but they’re not the kind of storylines I generally want to read about).

Honestly, other than the fact that he drank blood and was now allergic to daylight, Fred reminded me of myself and of a few of my friends. He had a kind soul and a sharp wit. Sometimes he worried more than he should. He wasn’t the life of the party, although he was incredibly likeable and charming once you got to know him beyond his day job and strange affliction.

This is the kind of vampire fiction I will never get enough of. It has a dry sense of humour and a realistic take on what it might be like to become a vampire but still have nearly all of the problems from your old life following you around.

Will you like this story? I don’t know. There are some readers who I’m sure will stop a few pages in once they realize that Fred is breaking nearly all of the rules that have ever been made about what a vampire is supposed to be like. It’s completely okay for them to do that, and I hope they find what they’re looking for elsewhere.

When I recommend this tale to people in the future, I’m going to save it for folks who enjoy unconventional monsters, sarcasm, and the realization that becoming a vampire isn’t always all it’s cracked up to be. There’s an audience out there for every book and a book that’s perfect for even the most selective reader if you look long enough for them.

14 Science Fiction and Fantasy Shows I Can’t Wait to Watch This Season

When I originally started working on this post, I was planning to say that I don’t watch very much television. As you’re about to discover from this list, though, I was wrong about that. There are far more SFF shows that I enjoy than I originally thought!

Click on the titles of each shows to read descriptions of their plots. The premiere dates I’ve written down are valid for Canada, and they’re arranged chronologically.  I’m also sharing my spoiler-free reasons for anticipating them below the links.

 

The Orville

Season 1 premiered: Last night (September 10).

Other than the animated series that I’m still slowly working my way through, I’ve seen every episode of every Star Trek show that’s ever been made. I’m looking forward to watching this homage to this universe, although I’m still not sure what to expect from it yet. The previews for it make it sound like a comedy, but the reviews I’ve read say it’s mostly serious. It will be interesting to see what it’s actually like.

Since I don’t have cable I watch most of my shows a day later using iTunes season passes, so I’ll know more after I’ve had a chance to see the series premiere tonight.

 

 

People of Earth

Season 2 premiere: September 19.

Sentient aliens are real in this universe, and they abduct certain people regularly. Season 1 showed us why this happened, so I’m hoping season 2 will dig more deeply into what the aliens want from the people they capture. This is one of the funniest shows I watch, although it did take an episode or two for me to get to know the main character well enough to find all of the humour in his reactions to the strange things that happen to him.

The Good Place

Season 2 premiere: September 20.

All of the characters in this show are either dead, robots, or angels. This isn’t your typical version of the afterlife, though, and the hijinks they all got into last season made me laugh so hard that I felt like I couldn’t breathe. Without giving away any spoilers from season 1, the afterlife is a far more complicated place than one might imagine. They explored that beautifully in the beginning, so I can’t wait to see what they do with these characters next.

 

 

Star Trek: Discovery

Season 1 premiere: September 24.

As with The Orville, I’ve heard a lot of different theories about what Star Trek: Discovery will be like. I’m excited to see how the Stark Trek universe will be revisited regardless of which theory turns out to be true. For the time being, I can’t even begin to guess what I’ll think of it or whether anyone has made correct predictions about its theme.

Lucifer

Season 2 premiere: October 2.

Imagine what it would be like if the Devil developed a crush on a human woman and began helping her solve criminal cases in an attempt to grow closer to her. (No, none of this is a spoiler. It was all revealed in season 1, episode 1 of this series). I absolutely love Lucifer’s witty, charming, and slightly dark personality. There are other sides to him that are completely unexpected as well, although I’ll leave it up to you to discover what they are.

The Shannara Chronicles

Season 2 premiere: October 11.

The first season started off a little slow, to be honest with you, but I really came to enjoy the world building. There was a lot of it once the audience got into the second half of the season, and it all fit together incredibly well. Give this one a chance if it doesn’t appeal to you right away. It has a lot of creative spins on the typical fantasy universe.

 

 

Stranger Things

Season 2 premiere: October 31.

I couldn’t believe how much the standards for childhood supervision, nutrition, and discipline have evolved since the 1980s. What many people would consider semi-neglectful these days was apparently par for the course for the 1980s (as far as not supervising children goes. There was no graphic child abuse here, only kids being left to their own devices for hours on end every day). The plot itself was also complex and written wonderfully. Season 1 was wrapped up beautifully, but it also left plenty of unanswered questions for season 2.

Marvel’s Runaways

Season 1 premiere: November 21.

I’m not generally a fan of the superhero genre, but I really enjoyed the Runaways graphic novels when they first came out years ago. I will be giving this series a try this November. Only time will tell if this story translates well to the small screen for my tastes.

 

 

Glitch

Season 2 premiere: November 28.

This is a show that I actually convinced my zombie-hating mother to watch! The characters were zombies in the sense that they came back from the dead and no longer exhibited many of the same life signs that normal people do. They weren’t violent or scary in the least, although I’m really hoping that the plot will dig more deeply into what exactly is going on with their physiology in season 2.

Beyond

Season 2 premiere: February 2018 (tentative).

The first episode of this show reeled me in immediately. While there were a few times when my attention lagged later on in season 1, I’m still extremely curious to see what happens to the characters next. The main character was someone who spent many years in a coma after an accident when he was a kid, so there is still a lot of stuff he hasn’t figured out yet about adulthood and what happened to him while he was comatose. That’s about all I can say about this one without giving away spoilers, but it was thought-provoking for sure.

 

Westworld

Season 2 premiere: Spring 2018 (tentative).

If the science fiction and western genres had a love child, they’d name it Westworld. Basically, it’s about a group of highly unusual people who are living in a violent, wild-west-themed amusement park that wealthy folks visit. I hate to be so vague about this show, but many of the plot twists later revealed in it contain major spoilers. This isn’t the sort of thing to watch if you’re triggered by include rape, murder, or assault, but the storytelling is incredible for anyone who doesn’t mind those kinds of themes.

 

The Handmaid’s Tale

Season 2 premiere: April 2018 (tentative).

Anyone who has followed this blog for more than a few months knows how much I adore this series. I can’t wait to see what the writers do with universe next, especially since the novel it’s based on left so many unanswered questions for the audience. All of my theories about what will happen next are full of spoilers for later episodes of season 1, so I won’t go into any detail about them here.

Timeless

Season 2 premiere: Summer 2018 (tentative).

Time travel isn’t something I typically seek out in science fiction shows, but this one takes a smart and sensible approach to the topic. I especially loved the fact that the characters who weren’t white men acknowledged the often serious difficulties they faced when the group visited certain times and places. Many eras were downright dangerous for people who were black and/or a woman.

 

The Magicians

Season 3 premiere: 2018 (tentative).

The best way I can think of to describe this series is to say that it’s Harry Potter for grown-ups. Magic is real, and adults who have the natural ability to perform magic are sent to a special boarding school to learn how to control and use their powers. Given that they’re all healthy, young adults, there’s plenty of sex, drugs, alcohol, and dangerous hijinks along the way. I wasn’t a big fan of the first few episodes on my first attempt at watching them, but the plot dramatically improves as you move into season 1. I’m hoping to finish season 2 by the time season 3 airs.

What science fiction and fantasy shows are you looking forward to watching this season?

We Need Less Romance in the Science Fiction and Fantasy Genres

I feel a few feathers ruffling already out there in cyberspace, so let me explain.

One of the most bizarre and irritating trends I’ve been noticing in this genre over the last few years has been romantic plots being crookedly tacked onto every kind of story you could possibly imagine in this universe for reasons that defy explanation: zombie; post-apocalyptic; historical; otherworldly; ghost; slasher; psychological horror; speculative; deep space; futuristic.

There have been times when I’ve read something that spent the first 90% of the plot focused on characters painstakingly exploring new planets, outrunning zombies, or figuring out what all of those strange noises were in the old farmhouse the main character and their family have recently moved it.

Suddenly, the last twenty pages of it turned into the main character falling in love and living happily ever after.

Wait, what? Did the author honestly not remember what their character was like for the first 180 pages of their story?

Mixing Genres Isn’t Always Smart

If you read a lot of sweet and gentle romances, imagine how you’d feel if the characters you were beginning to get to know and love suddenly started finding dead bodies on the sidewalk while they were out on dates. It might be a fun twist if it happened once or twice to characters who happened to work as detectives or had other reasons for needing to investigate a decaying corpse while also falling in love, but wouldn’t it be odd if it started happening regularly?

Mixing genres works amazingly well for certain types of tales, and I definitely see the value in it if the storyline can juggle two or more different styles of writing at the same time. However, there’s also something to be said for allowing genres to exist in their own worlds without trying to market to every conceivable audience who might read the blurb and find something interesting about it.

Happily Ever After Is Different for Everyone

I understand the urge to market stories to more than one audience. There have been scifi romances – and even a few regular romances –  that I thought were incredibly well written in the past, but I’m growing tired of the trend of pushing romance into so many SFF books regardless of whether or not their plots actually call for that kind of subplot.

Not every character should end their arc by finding a life partner. In some cases, this flies in the face of everything that character has done and said over the last X number of pages or books.

It bothers me when a book randomly tacks on a relationship or marriage to give the characters a happy ending after they’ve spent most of the storyline pursuing any number of other goals in life, from discovering a cure for a fatal disease to finally defeating the big villain who has  been skulking around and killing any secondary characters who wanders into their path.

Happily ever after might be falling in love for one character after they’ve defeated the villain, but it could also involve:

  • Adopting a dog from the local animal shelter
  • Making peace with their past for good
  • Changing their name and moving to Brazil
  • Buying a new house if the spirits in their old house refuse to move on
  • Learning a second or third language
  • Finally getting a good night’s rest after spending the last 3 books evading henchmen or the undead
  • Inheriting a massive fortune and dedicating their life to donating it to good causes

Or any number of other experiences, goals, or plot twists. The possibilities are endless, and yet endless numbers of books in this genre try to shove everyone into the love and romance box.

Love isn’t the Only Emotion Worth Exploring

One of the things I enjoy the most about the sci-fi genre is when it uses otherworldly experiences to explore universal emotions. A robot or rocket ship on its own is cool, but it’s even better when it shows us the best and worst of human nature.

Here’s the thing, though: love isn’t the only emotion out there. Grief, anger, sadness, doubt, fear, disgust, joy, anticipation, trust, and many other emotions are just as complex and worthy of exploration as love is.

You can learn a lot about a character by discovering how they react when they’re frightened, surprised, lonely, or excited. Falling in love is part of the human experience (for the majority of people), but there are so many other ways to show who someone is, flaws and all, without pushing them into a romance.

Not All Love is Romantic

Finally, not every form of love is romantic. If the SFF genre had shifted to include more explorations of the love between friends, family members, a person and their dog, or a cat and their human,* I would be much more interested in the topic.

Unfortunately, non-romantic forms of love receive much less attention in genre fiction than they should. I actually get excited when I pick up a mystery, horror, or sci-fi novel and realize that the main character’s deepest and most meaningful relationship in their life is with a pet, friend, or family member.

*Because we all know that cats have pet humans, and not the other way around. 😉

Have you noticed the same trend in this genre? What do you think of mixing genres in general? Let’s talk about it on Twitter today!

Who to Follow on Twitter If You’re Into Science Fiction and Fantasy

I’m starting a new series of posts on this blog today about who you should follow if you’re new to Twitter and want to dip your toes into specific communities there.

This week I’m going to be recommending Tweeps who talk about science fiction and fantasy who aren’t currently as well known as, say, J.K. Rowling or Margaret Atwood.

My goal is to highlight hidden gems and introduce you to accounts that you very well may never have heard of before.

Future parts of this series will be used to discuss mindfulness and fitness. I do not know how many other parts there may be after those posts, but I am brainstorming more ideas for it.

Without further delay, here are my favourite sci-fi and fantasy accounts from the Twitterverse. If you have suggestions for specific accounts to recommend or topics for a future post in this series, I’d be quite interested in hearing about them.

@babadookgay

Yes, these tweets are written from the perspective of the monster in The Babadook. After that film was released, some fans jokingly speculated that the Babadook was gay because it’s still so uncommon for LGBT people to be represented in the movies.

No, his account isn’t scary (unless you’re anti-gay). His tweets are actually about acceptance and the joy of finding kindred spirits in the most unlikely places. Reading them is a warm, happy experience for me.

@SarcasticRover 

Imagine what a sentient, sarcastic Mars Curiosity would be like. Their photographs and comments about what it’s like to roll around on Martian soil all day are quite funny and well done. This is a humour account, not a scientifically-minded one.

@bitsofpluto

This is a good account to follow if you have any interest in Pluto or space exploration in general and want to take a science-based approach to your research. The bot running it tweets photos of various sections of Pluto without commentary. It is up to the audience to come up with our own theories about the meaning and value of those photographs.

From what I’ve seen, this account does not respond to people who talk to it. That isn’t something that bothers me, but I know some people on Twitter who feel otherwise.

‪@PIutoThePlanet‬

On a more whimsical note, this account speaks from the perspective of Pluto itself. Imagine being a lonely planet that occassionally notices a satellite flying by to take its picture.

Pluto doesn’t tweet very often, but when it happens it’s definitely worth paying attention to. It is much less sarcastic than the SarcasticRover.

‪@FolkloreThurs‬

The woman who runs this account tweet and retweets pieces of folklore from every corner of the globe on Thursdays. #FolkLoreThursday is the hashtag you’ll need to find these tweets each week.

I’ve been lurking and occasionally participating for a few years now, and I’ve learned about so many stories and traditions that I’d never heard of before. The community that has built up around this hashtag is warm and welcoming to newcomers. Don’t be afraid to jump in with questions or your own contributions if this is your sort of thing.

‪@apexmag‬

I’ve sung the praises of this literary magazine before, but Apex Magazine is still my favourite place online to find new SFF fiction. This is a wonderful place to begin if you’re in the market for free short stories and/or interviews with contemporary writers in this field. I’ve discovered many amazing authors and books through them.

‪@PlioceneBloke‬

Yes, this is exactly what it sounds like. Imagine a caveman tweeting about all of the things the first humans have discovered, invented, and learned.

Some of them are funny. Others are poignant. Occasionally he even tweets about current events from the understanding of a hunter-gatherer whose culture is completely different from our own.

@atlasobscura‬

Go here if you’re in the mood for some inspiration for your own stories or if you simply enjoy reading about the bizarre but true things that sometimes happen in our world. It’s a very eclectic mixture of sub-genres, topics, and ideas.

I don’t even know what else to say about this account. It seriously has something for every niche in the SFF community, and then some!

@MicroSFF‬

Imagine reading a SFF story that has been condensed to 140 characters or less. I am regularly amazed by how the owner of this account manages to pack so much storytelling in such a tiny amount of space.

The person who runs it is friendly and often responds to feedback. This doesn’t happen with all of the accounts I’m recommending today, so start here if you’re most interested in following people who will interact with you on Twitter.

‪@MagicRealismBot‬

If MicroSFF is a full story, MagicRealismBot is an idea. Not all of their ideas make sense, but some of them are great prompts if you’re looking for a partially-formed plot or character for your own writing. Like bitsofpluto, this is run by a bot. Don’t expect an answer if you tweet back at them, but do enjoy the ride.

@AwfulFantasy

Not every SFF story is going to appeal to everyone. If you have any pet peeves in these genres at all, this is definitely the account to follow. It pokes fun at all kinds of tropes, stereotypes, and overused plot devices in clever ways.

What are your favorite science fiction and fantasy accounts on Twitter?

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