Category Archives: Science Fiction

I Love the Fuzzy Edges of Science Fiction

The other day I was having a conversation with someone about the types of science fiction we both like. After explaining to them the novels and TV shows from this genre that I’ve enjoyed the most over the years, they made a comment about how interested I seem to be in hard science fiction.

Well, yes. I do love hard science fiction.

There’s something inside of me that comes alive when an author or screenwriter takes a problem that scientists are currently attempting to solve and tries to guess where they’ll be on that issue twenty, a hundred, or five hundred years from how.

However, that isn’t where my love of this genre ends.

I love the fuzzy edges of science fiction, too.

The line between sci-fi and fantasy exists, but often it’s so wispy that I barely feel the difference at all when I move between them. Neither one of these genres would be the same if it hadn’t been so heavily influenced by the other over the years. While I do tend to stick closer to the sci-fi side of the fence in general, I’m often pleasantly surprised when fantasy tropes wander over to say hello or when I notice a common science fiction plot twist in something I thought was going to be pure fantasy.

I’m pleased with how this cross-pollination works in other genres, too.  While I still don’t believe that every sci-fi story should have a romantic subplot, I appreciate the fact that authors are introducing audiences to things they might have not otherwise thought they’d enjoy. Mysteries aren’t my favourite genre, but I have started reading them on occasion thanks to repeated exposures to these types of storylines in science fiction and fantasy books that I otherwise found to be a perfect fit.

This is also a technique I’ve been using on friends and relatives in a straightforward sort of way. I’d never trick or push anyone into reading something that they’d find objectionable, but I have recommended stories to people that included elements of genres they don’t normally read if I thought they’d enjoy the plot in general.

For example, earlier this year I was discussing Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre with someone who has no interest at all in the romance genre. There were so many other things going on in that tale that I thought they’d really love it. In the end, they read it and thought it was well-worth their time.

The beautiful thing about science fiction is how difficult it can be to draw the line between where this genre ends and another one begins. There is sc-fi that politically motivated, apolitical, humorous, serious, hopeful, dystopian, barely there, the sole reason any of the characters bother to stumble out of their sleeping pods in whatever counts for morning on a planet with three suns, and so much more. It has crossed over with everything from romance to horror to mysteries to stories that are loosely based on real historical events.

It is this wide range of possibilities that keeps me coming back for more. Sometimes I wander into one corner of the genre and set up camp for a few months or years. Right now I have almost no interest at all in the dark, violent, or dystopian sections, for example, but there are so many other places to explore that I don’t think I’ll ever grow tired of seeking out new stories that somehow have sci-fi elements in them no matter how far they roam from home.

What’s your favourite kind of science fiction to read? How do you feel about stories that mix two or more genres together in general?

 

Science Fiction and Fantasy Shows I’m Thankful For

Happy Thanksgiving to all of my American readers! I hope you all have a table full of delicious things to eat and plenty of kindred spirits to share this meal with. Today’s post will be something short and sweet.

Lately, I’ve been thinking about how happy I am to see the science fiction and fantasy genres doing so well, especially on the small screen. There have been times when these genres haven’t gotten as much attention from mainstream audiences as they’re currently receiving. I’m so glad to see the audiences for them growing.

Today I’m going to be talking about why I am thankful for certain science fiction and fantasy shows that I’ve been watching this year. I’d love to see your lists, too.

The picture on the left reminded me of how I feel when I read these genres. The right storyteller can paint such a vivid picture of the world they’re imagining that I forget it’s fiction.

It somehow feels more like exploring a new planet, timeline, or era then reading about a character having those adventures. Even speaking as an author myself who knows the tricks of the trade, this is a magical process every single time it happens.

The Orville

I love the cheerful, uplifting, and hopeful themes on this program about a group of space adventurers. While they aren’t set in the same universe, it reminds me of Star Trek in the very best way possible. Given certain things that have happened in the world over the last few years, we need this optimism now more than ever.

The Good Place

Death and the afterlife definitely aren’t the first things I think of when I’m in the mood for a comedy, but somehow the writers of this show have figured out a way to make serious and controversial topics fodder for jokes. I especially love the fact that the non-humans characters on this show have found so many ways to surprise the audience and defy almost everyone’s expectations of what happens to someone after they die.

The Handmaid’s Tale

I’ve blogged a lot about this series here already, but I can’t help but to include it in this week’s list. Everyone involved in the serialization of this story has done a very good job so far of translating something that was written in and about the 1980s to the social climate of 2018. When I watch season three next year, I think I’ll follow up each episode with something lighthearted since the subject matter of the first two seasons could get pretty dark at times.

Still, it’s something I hope will continue to air for years to come. There is a lot of ground to cover yet with the characters in this world.

Star Trek: Discovery

How could I possibly leave this show off of the list? I was so excited a few years ago when I first heard that the Star Trek franchise was finally come back to television. While the first season didn’t meet all of my expectations, I was intrigued by the differences between the culture of this ship and, say, how a similar episode would have been written if Captain Picard or Captain Sisko had been in charge instead.

It’s going to be so interesting to see where the writers go from here. I’m grateful to have another opportunity to explore this universe, and I’m hoping that the second season will be fantastic.

What science fiction and fantasy shows are you thankful for?

5 Stories That Need a Prequel

Last week I was scrolling through the list of new ebooks at my local library and stumbled across a title that made me grin. Marilla of Green Gables: A Novel by Sarah McCoy was written to tell the story of Marilla Cuthbert’s life before she and her brother became the permanent guardians of Anne Shirley.

As a lifelong fan of Anne of Green Gables and the many sequels to that tale, I’ve often wondered why Marilla was such a stiff and proper woman when she first met Anne. L.M. Montgomery only gave a few hints about Marilla’s childhood, and most of them were vague.

While I wait for a copy of this prequel to become available at the library, I thought it would be interesting to list some other books that would benefit from a prequel to explain things in them that their original versions never got around to describing in full detail to the audience. Some of them I’ve discussed on this site in the past, while others are brand new these types of posts.

There are mild spoilers to follow in this post for certain titles, so reader beware.

1. Clan of the Cave Bear by Jean M. Auel

This first book in the Earth’s Children series began with a five-year-old child named Ayla getting lost in the woods after an earthquake killed her parents about 30,000 years ago in ice-age Europe. It probably would have been unusual for parents to be travelling alone with such a young child, and it would have been unthinkable for someone so young to survive long at all in the woods by herself.

It bothered me when this series ended without any resolution for who the main character’s original people were or why her parents were travelling alone with her when they died. Based on how many different tribes she met as an adult and how small and interconnected the human population was in general in this universe, I would have expected someone to remember hearing something about a young family disappearing without a trace a decade or two before.

Well, either that or Ayla was actually the daughter of time-travelling scientists who hadn’t made contact with ancient humans at all before their untimely deaths. But if that theory is true, why would they take a child on such a dangerous trip without at least bringing a few more adults along to help look after her and gather data about what life was really like back hen?

2. Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs.

Since Ransom Riggs is still writing and publishing new portions of this series, I hope he will eventually dive into the history of what life was like for Miss Peregrine and other Peculiars before they were forced to hide in time loops.

I’d imagine that there is a massive difference between having to relive the same day over and over again for decades to avoid being eaten by Hollowgasts (a violent monster species in this universe) and choosing to do so.

It’s hard to imagine what life was like for the Peculiars before their lives were constantly put into terrible danger. I’d like to think they had peaceful and creative existences at one point in their history.

The development of the current plot line in these books has been fantastic so far. I’d simply like to see the same attention paid to how all of this began in the first place. If that ever happens, this might become my favourite young adult series of this century.

 

3. Only Ever Yours by Louise O’Neill.

There are a lot of things I have to avoid saying about this book in order to avoid giving away any spoilers for it.

Freida, the main character, had spent her entire lifetime being groomed to be the perfect wife for a man she’d never met. She was raised in an environment that was very similar to a boarding school or other institutional setting. Along with her classmates, she lived, studied, exercised, and relaxed within the same four walls.

The audience quickly learned that all women in this society are raised in these school but that none of the men are. While I can’t give you any details about why this society was set up that way, I will say that I really wish we could have a prequel to this tale that explained more clearly when and how men and women were separated this way.

There was so much ground left to cover on that topic by the time I finished this novel. It could more than fill out the pages of a full-length prequel.

4. Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro.

Once again, the main character of this book grew up in a boarding school sort of place that had strict

rules about what their students were allowed to do. Unlike Only Ever Yours, these characters had no idea what their fate would be when they grew up.

All they knew was that they were special for reasons their instructors never went into detail about.

Just like in the previous section of this post, I can’t go into many details about what was really happening in this universe other than to say that all of those adults weren’t feeding, educating, and protecting hundreds of children out of a sense of goodwill for our species. There were dark reasons for their actions that eventually began to come to light, but never to the degree I would have liked them to.

This was the sort of social experiment that I really thought should have been fleshed out in greater detail. If it were to actually happen in real life, there were be a lot of people who were vehemently opposed to it every step of the way.

Realistically speaking, how did the folks who created this system deal with the protestors? Did they keep it top secret, or did they find more violent ways to suppress the opposing side?

A prequel would be the perfect place to show how the idea for this school first took root and why it was allowed to continue.

5. The Unit by Ninni Holmqvist. 

Yes, I know I’ve blogged about this one before. It’s been so long since my last mention of it that I simply had to bring it up again since this is the sort of story that haunts me long after I’ve finished the final scene.

For those of you who haven’t read it yet, The Unit is about a futuristic version of America where women over the age of 50 and men over the age of 60 who haven’t met specific milestones like getting married or having children are forced to donate their organs and other tissues to people who need them. Yes, this included organs that one can’t live without like the heart.

What frightened me the most about this world was how realistic it felt. Forced organ donations are already known to be happening in certain parts of the world today. While it still feels unrealistic for it to occur in North America where this tale was set, I would have loved to know how such a system was sold to the population at large in a fictional version of the United States.

Would the general public have believed that these people were dying willingly to save strangers? Had this group of people been so dehumanized that average folks no longer thought of them as fellow human beings? I had so many questions about how this system had been sold to society in general that were never answered. A prequel would be the perfect way to finally know how and when the protagonist, Dorrit Weger, and all of the other people sent to The Unit were marked as dispensable without anyone fighting to save them.

What stories do you wish had a prequel?

5 Funny Short Horror Films You Should Watch This Halloween

One of the things I love the most about Halloween is seeing all of the creative things storytellers do with common horror, science fiction, and fantasy tropes at this time of the year. There’s something about the Halloween season that seems to bring out the best in writers, filmmakers, and other creators.

The films in today’s post represent a wide range of subgenres, filming styles, and intended audiences. That was something I did intentionally to increase the chances that all of my visitors would find something that appealed to them. It was also a great deal of fun to find five films that wouldn’t normally be grouped together.

My other major criteria was to find examples of funny horror stories that had as little gore as possible. As I’ve mentioned here before, I don’t enjoy that sort of thing. I’d much rather be frightened by thoughts and feelings than seeing a monster tear someone apart.

I will be sharing mild spoilers about the amount of gore in each film, if any, so you can decide for yourselves which ones you’d like to see if this is also a concern for you.

Happy Halloween

Created byNikhilesh Kumar.

Run Time: 2 minutes, 35 seconds.

Gore Factor: None.

Why You Should Watch It:

It takes years for children to learn the many rules rules of operating in polite society well enough that they can blend in just about anywhere.

I think it’s amusing to observe the process of their minds learning why rules are created in the first place, when it’s okay to bend a rule, why some rules only apply in certain situations, and what happens when someone breaks rules (whether intentionally or unintentionally). The main character in this story is the sort of person who has memorized a specific rule but hasn’t yet figured out why it exists.

Honestly, I have a lot of empathy for that little guy. His predicament was funny, but it also made me wonder how frustrated he might have been getting with the whole process.

 

The Lonely Slasher: Short Halloween Film

Created byTheThreeLancers. Score by Sam Holmes.

Run Time: 5 minutes, 38 seconds.

Gore Factor: A few briefly bloody scenes. I looked away for a few seconds at one point as my tolerance for gore is pretty low these days.

Why You Should Watch It:

I appreciated this film’s take on why people do the things they do. In no way did it make excuses for The Lonely Slasher, but I did come to understand why his body count was so high. While I wouldn’t necessarily call him a protagonist, there were parts of him that I found relatable on a much smaller scale. I mean, who hasn’t occasionally put their foot in their mouth at the worst possible time or accidentally bumped into a stranger?

The Chebo

Created by:  Ryan McDuffie from Crypt TV

Run Time: 9 minutes, 18 seconds

Gore Factor: Two mildly violent scenes, but no real gore.

Why You Should Watch It:

Miscommunications sometimes happen in every long-term relationship. I was fascinated by how the creator took this concept, turned it into a literal member of the household, and then pushed his creativity to the limits to show what can happen when a couple aren’t on the same wavelength.

Boo – A Short Film About Halloween, Ghosts, and Poop 

Created by: Michael J. Goldberg

Run Time:  11 minutes, 52 seconds.

Gore Factor: None.

Why You Should Watch It:

Not every ghost is necessarily scary in the way you expect them to be. I loved the plot twists in this one after the house sitter first encountered the ghost and was thoroughly unimpressed with what she believed to be his or her costume and persona. It was the total opposite of how I thought the first scene would go, so I couldn’t wait to find out what would happen next.

Also, I think I might have been the only kid in the world who liked receiving those little boxes of raisins. So I never would have haunted this house in the first place.

Welcome Back, Mr. Buzzcock

Created by: Liz Anderson from Crypt TV

Run Time: 4 minutes, 43 seconds.

Gore Factor: Minimal. The camera panned away just before every gory scene actually happened, but it was heavily foreshadowed and implied.

Why You Should Watch It:

There’s always room for more stories about the tensions that can exist between one generation and the next, especially when it makes its point as quietly as this one does. This is something I’d happily show to the next person I meet who starts complaining about how people from a particular generation act.

I also enjoyed the way the secondary characters behaved in this film. Without giving away too many spoilers, they were much more intelligent and aware of their surroundings than most characters are in this genre. I really love it when that happens!

Respond

What is your favourite humorous Halloween short film?

10 Things I Love to Read About

On Monday I blogged about the 10 Things I Won’t Read About. It was surprising to see how many of the people who read my posts have similar aversions to those topics.

Today I’m talking about 10 things that would make me keen to pick up and read a book. I tried to make this list as detailed as possible, so you won’t be seeing vague entries like “science fiction” here.

Instead, I’ll be drilling down to specific topics that I’d be excited to read about with little regard given to which genre they might pop up in.

1.  LGBT+ Historical Novels, Especially Mysteries.

I’m fascinated by how people in the LGBT+ community lived during eras when they had to keep such important parts of themselves hidden away. This is still something that happens with LGBT+ people in many countries and cultures today, of course. Seeing how this has changed or is changing in some parts of the world gives me hope that someday it will improve everywhere.

Watching LGBT+ characters attempt to solve a mystery while also holding tightly onto their own secrets also makes this sort of storyline even more nerve-wracking than it might otherwise be. I want some parts of the plot to be revealed while hoping that other portions are only shared with people who will treat the main character kindly.

Example: The Paying Guests by Sarah Waters. (I’m currently read this book, so please don’t share spoilers for it!)

2. Colonizing Mars (and Other Planets).

To put it mildly, humans made a lot of terrible mistakes when they invaded other countries and continents. While there isn’t any life on Mars* that could be destroyed if or when humans begin living there, there are still plenty of ways for that social experiment to have devastating consequences for everyone who participates in it.

Just think of how many people died due to accidents, violence, disease, and malnutrition when Europeans first began living in Australia, the Americas, and other parts of the world. I hope I’m wrong about this, but I expect the death rate for the first few waves of people who move to Mars to be quite high as our species figures out how to survive on a planet that doesn’t even have a breathable atmosphere for us.

*to the best of our current scientific knowledge.

Example: The Mars Trilogy by Kim Stanley Robinson.

3. Diverse or Unlikely Heroes. 

I love it when writers create protagonists who don’t fit the audience’s expectations of what a hero should look like. There have been so many examples of young, straight, white men saving the world in various fictional universes that I’m always happy to see people from other demographic groups get an equal chance to fight bad guys, too.

Example: Buffy Summers from the 90’s TV show Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

4. How Medical and Scientific Advancements Happened

This is by far the broadest category on this list, but I’m intrigued by how scientists and doctors solved any number of problems in the past that are either unknown in westernized cultures today or no longer exist anywhere in the world. The nice thing about reading about medical and scientific advancements is that the author generally spends most of their time talking about how that invention, cure, or breakthrough happened and how it changed society as a whole.

It’s been my experience that these sorts of books don’t spend much time at all discussing the graphic details of, say, a specific disease or injury. A portion of the first chapter might talk about the typical results for people before the invention of a certain drug or treatment, but generally everything else will be about how the researchers figured out a solution to the problem. I’ll endure a  brief discussion of surgery or gore early on if I’m otherwise interested in the topic and the author soon moves on to how that issue affected society as a whole and how the treatment or solution was eventually found.

Example: Breakthrough: Elizabeth Hughes, the Discovery of Insulin, and the Making of a Medical Miracle by Thea Cooper and Arthur Ainsberg.

5. How Social Justice Movements Actually Change the World.

It wasn’t until I became an adult that I learned that Martin Luther King, Jr. was widely hated by the mainstream culture before his assassination. He was seen by many white Americans as someone who was pushing for too much change too soon. This wasn’t something that was covered in any of my lessons about him in school, although after reading his wife’s memoir about their life together I wish it had been.

Sometimes the people who originally fought for a more just world aren’t around to see how all of those long years of hard work will begin to pay off.

Changing laws and public opinion on an issue takes time. It’s not generally something that will happen overnight, but it can happen. This is a topic I’ve been thinking a lot about over the past year or so, and it’s making me want to read more about what previous generations did to fix the things they saw that were wrong with their societies.

Example: My Life, My Love, My Legacy by Coretta Scott King.

6. Foster Care and Foster-Adoption.

For the past three generations, various relatives of mine have fostered and adopted children. Honestly, this would be my #1 choice for becoming a parent if I had the desire to raise children. There is an urgent need for foster parents here in North America, and I wouldn’t be surprised if the same could be said of many other parts of the world as well.

Having so many extended family members who were foster children makes my ears perk up every time a fiction or non-fiction book is written about this topic.

Example: Three Little Words by Ashley Rhodes-Courter.

7. Rabbits Enjoying Adventures. 

Anyone who has known me longer than ten minutes will have some inkling of how much I love rabbits.

Anytime they show up as a main or secondary character in a story, I’m immediately interested in finding out what will happen to them.

There aren’t a lot of authors out there who write about rabbits going on quests, so I jump into every example of this niche I can find.

Example: Watership Down by Richard Adams.

8. Hopeful Visions of the Future.

As I’ve mentioned here before, I’m thirsty for stories that have a hopeful outlook on what is in store for humanity a few decades or centuries from now. The news is so full of fear and apprehension these days that I look for happier perspectives on what life will be like for future generations wherever I can find them.

Example: All of the Star Trek series.

9. Vengeful Ghosts Who Had a Point.

Many different types of ghost stories appeal to me, but the ones I enjoy the most are about folks who had excellent reasons for being so angry and restless in the afterlife.

There’s something emotionally satisfying about figuring out their backstories and seeing if the protagonists will finally be able to help them find the peace they were denied when they were still alive.

I’m also fascinated by how the actions of a small group of people can continue to negatively affect their descendants and/or community for generations to come. This regularly happens in non-paranormal ways in real life, and there often aren’t any easy answers for how to end those cycles once they begin.

Exploring this topic in a ghost story is a wonderful way to neutrally ask questions about justice, reconciliation, and what the current generation should be morally obligated to do to fix the mistakes of people who lived and died long ago.

Example: The Woman in Black by Susan Hill.

10. The Daily Lives of Prehistoric People.

I sure wouldn’t want to be part of a hunter-gatherer tribe in real life, but I love reading about characters who lived in that kind of society.

There is something fascinating to me about all of the different skills one would need to survive when you need to make, hunt, or gather everything you and your family need to survive.  I’m also drawn to the idea of living in such a tight-knit culture. It’s not something I’d want to do all day every day, but I do see the benefits of forging such strong bonds with others. Having so many adults working together must have made everything from raising children to looking after a sick or injured relative easier than it is in more individualistic cultures.

If there are Neanderthals or other now-extinct human (or human-like) species in the storyline, I’ll be even more interested since there are so many things that a skeleton, stone tool, or cave painting can’t tell you about what a group was actually like.

Example: The Last Neanderthal by Claire Cameron.

What topics are you always eager to read about?

10 Things That I Won’t Read About

This Thursday I’m planning to write a follow-up post to this one to discuss the themes and topics in books that I’m always interested in reading about. Since I’ve made several past references here to the sorts of stuff I dislike, I thought it would be a good idea to share the full list of… Read More

Reader Question: Should I Read Science Fiction or Fantasy?

Someone recently found this blog by googling the following question: Should I read science fiction or fantasy? I thought it was a great prompt for today’s post. Just like apples and pears are both types of fruit, fantasy and science fiction are part of the wider speculative fiction universe that also includes sub-genres like horror, dystopian,… Read More

Characters I’d Invite to Thanksgiving Dinner

Happy Thanksgiving, Canadian readers! I’m enjoying a nice, quiet Thanksgiving this year while also wondering what it would be like to celebrate this holiday with characters from some of my favourite books. If I could, I’d sure love to share this holiday with the following people: 1. Anne Shirley from the L.M. Montgomery’s Anne of… Read More

Hopeful Science Fiction: Semiosis

Last June I blogged about my desire to read more hopeful science fiction. Since then I’ve talked about Woman on the Edge of Time and The Lovely Bones. Today I’m back with another suggestion. If you have recommendations for future instalments of this series, I’d sure like to hear them. Leave a comment below or send me message… Read More

Popular Sci-Fi and Fantasy Authors I’ve Never Read

Anyone who has known me more than a few hours knows both what a bookworm and huge fan of the SFF genre I am, so it may come as a surprise to you to learn just how many well-known science fiction and fantasy authors I’ve yet to read. At first I thought I’d already written… Read More

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