Category Archives: Science Fiction

5 Things I Want from The Handmaid’s Tale

There are only two days left until The Handmaid’s Tale premiers on Hulu.

The word excited doesn’t even begin to cover how I feel about this show.

I know that some of my readers are scrupulously avoiding  spoilers, so I’m going to honour that with today’s post. Everything I’ll be talking about is strictly from what happened the book, and it won’t include plot twists. I also won’t go into any detail about what the previews for this show have or have not shown.

Yes, I am tentatively planning to write about this series in depth once I’ve seen the first few episodes. Consider yourself warned when it comes to me sharing a few spoilers in the future.

With that being said, here are the top five things I’ll be looking for in this show when I finally get to see it.

1. A Clearer Understanding of Exactly How Gilead Was Formed

I am really hoping that Offred, the main character, will tell us more about how The United States was dismantled and why The Republic of Gilead took its place.

The book touched on this briefly, but it left out a lot of details about how everything went down. There were certain parts of the original timeline that never made sense to me. Other sections of it were easier to imagine really happening, so it will be fascinating to see how all of these scenes are woven together in a way that hopefully explains the political and social shifts that I found harder to believe.

2. Terrifying Normalcy

Most dystopian novels take place in dark, dreary settings where people fight over the last scraps of food or spend all of their time attempting to outrun zombies.

The Handmaid’s Tale, on the other hand, takes place in a house on a quiet, sunny street where even very minor crimes like littering are completely unthinkable. The lawns are all perfectly manicured there, and everyone still gets to eat three square meals a day.

This was one of the things that appealed to me the most the first time I read this book. I’m crossing my fingers that the cinematography will capture the strange and unforgettable juxtaposition of the tranquil place she currently lives in and Offred’s traumatic memories of her very recent past.

3. Feminism

The Handmaid’s Tale folded all kinds of commentary on feminism, gender, and sexism into a story that I couldn’t stop reading. I can’t wait to see how this is translated from the written word to a TV show. There were so many moments in the original story that could be expanded to make an even bigger impression on the audience.

As much as I want to talk about this section in great detail, I’d risk slipping into spoiler territory if I do.

If the miniseries explores this the way I hope it will, I will definitely return to this topic in a future post. It’s something I’ve been thinking a lot about since I first heard that this series was being developed.

4. False News

“I’m ravenous for news, any kind of news; even if it’s false news, it must mean something.” – The Handmaid’s Tale

Offred lived in a world where any kind of news was hard to come by. It was impossible to tell whether or not it was true even if you’d managed to hear a scrap of information about something or someone you’ve been dying to know more about.

I didn’t think too much about this part of the plot the first time I read the book, but it’s something that really frightened me when I reread it last winter.

Information is a form of power. People are much easier to control if you prevent them from easily learning new things or hearing what’s going on in other parts of Gilead. This is especially true if they are constantly doubting whether or not anything they hear is real.

5.  A Roadmap for Staying Hopeful

Offred had no reason at all to feel hope in her tale.

Everything and everyone she’d ever loved had been ripped away from her. She didn’t know where her loved ones were or what they were doing, and yet she never stopped dreaming of being reunited with them someday.

No matter what happened to her, Offred refused to give up. She pushed through every dark mood and painful memory that came her way even when there was no conceivable way for her to make those days even slightly better.

I deeply admired that about this character, and I can’t wait to see how this part of her personality shines through on the small screen. So much of her personal development happened while she was thinking things she dare not say aloud to anyone. It’s going to be fascinating to watch all of that unfold at the end of this month.

How about you? What are you most looking forward to in this show?

Why I’m Tired of Stories About the Chosen One

I’ve been reading less speculative fiction this year. One of the things that has reduced how much of it I read has to do with the concept of the Chosen One and how overused it is in this genre.

There are a few different reasons why I’m quickly losing interest in stories about people who have been chosen to save their village, humankind, or the entire universe from whatever it is that is threatening their existence.

1. The Chosen One Doesn’t Earn His or Her Place

As I mentioned last month in Scifi and Fantasy Rules That Should Be Broken, heroes in science fiction and fantasy usually aren’t people who have any special training or education. They’re the Chosen One because of who their parents are, what an ancient prophecy foretold, or whether or not Voldemort tried to curse them to death when they were a baby.

If this happened occasionally, I wouldn’t have a problem with it. There is definitely something to be said for showing that heroes can come from anywhere.

The fact that it’s so prevalent, though, makes me feel uneasy. Education and experience are a positive thing. I’d never go to a doctor or dentist who had somehow skipped medical/dental school and was just winging it when it came to diagnosing an infection or deciding if I had a cavity.

So it feels strange for the fate of the entire world to be regularly handed to people who don’t have any unique skills or advanced training whatsoever.

At this point, I’d much rather read about someone who has spent or will spend years studying magic/spaceships/medicine / the dark arts. Show me some of the times they failed terribly and what they learned from it. Let me see them struggle with something that other people in their field generally don’t find difficult like casting a spell or putting on a spacesuit.

I want heroes who have earned the respect they get!

2. The Chosen One Is Often Less Interesting Than Their Sidekicks.

Case in point: Buffy Summers from Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

There was nothing unlikeable about Buffy. She was generally a kind and courteous girl, and I was fascinated by her adjustment to becoming the most recent Slayer. (That is, a teen girl who was given supernatural strength and healing abilities so that she could save the world from everything that wanted to destroy it. The previous Slayer has to die before the next one is supernaturally chosen).

The problem was that Buffy’s sidekicks were much more relatable and complex than she was. Giles, her watcher (which is like a personal trainer for mystical stuff), was as mystified by teenagers as he was by American culture in general. His very British reactions to some of the biggest differences between the U.S. and England were hilarious.  Willow, her female best friend, was a shy, awkward nerd who had a strong perfectionistic streak. Xander, her male best friend, was a slacker and class clown who hid a lot of painful truths behind his wisecracks and hijinks.

Buffy’s character development simply wasn’t as compelling as the development of those closest to her. She was already athletic, (fairly) popular, self-confident, and tough when the show began. I liked her, but I loved her inner circle because of how much more attention had been paid to the little things that made them unique.

Many Chosen Ones have the same problem. They are so busy saving the world that they often don’t get to develop a well-rounded set of quirks, weird habits, phobias, and/or non-superficial character flaws that their side-kicks get to have.

I want heroes who are deliciously imperfect. Maybe their sidekicks could be stronger, more assertive, or better looking than them. Wouldn’t it be interesting to see how a main character would respond to a friend or assistant who intimidated them a little bit or who was better at certain crucial skills than they were?

3. The Chosen One Never Dies in the End

As much as I liked him, Harry Potter really should have been killed off permanently at the end of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.

All of the foreshadowing up until that point nudged the readers into this direction. It felt strange to me to see Harry walk away from that final battle. While I knew that J.K. Rowling would try to figure out how to save him because of how rare it is for a protagonist to die in the end, that wasn’t the direction the storyline had been pointing at for all seven books in the series.

After the narrator cut away to show how all of his friends put wizarding society back together after Voldemort is finally defeated, there could have been a beautiful scene showing him reuniting with his parents in the afterlife and realizing that he was finally at peace now.

I could also imagine Harry having a conversation with his parents about wanting to go back to Earth. Maybe his mother would tell him that it was impossible, but that he would be reunited with Ron, Hermione, and everyone else he loved after they’d finished living out the long, full lives that wizards usually get to experience.

There could even be a line in there about how time moves quite differently after death so that the audience would know Harry wouldn’t be missing his friends for as long as we might assume.

Yes, this would have been a tearjerker of an ending, but it also would have tied up all of the foreshadowing in the earlier books much more tightly than technically killing Harry off for a few minutes before finding a magical loophole to bring him back to life again.

I want to start genuinely fearing for the safety of the characters I love. It would be so cool to arrive at the final scene of a story and not know who – if anyone – was going to make it out again. No, I’m not saying that every final confrontation has to be a bloodbath. That would quickly become just as predictable as things are currently.

It would be really nice if there were far fewer last-minute plot twists that allowed characters to live when the first 99% of a book or series foreshadowed their deaths, though.

How do you feel about the Chosen One trope? Do you enjoy it? Do you think it’s been played out? I’ll be talking about this on Twitter today if you’d like to chat about it.

The 10 Best Blogs to Follow If You Love Science Fiction and Fantasy

Every once in a while I like to google questions like “what are the best blogs to follow if you’re a huge fan of [fill in the blank]”?

Google will give you hundreds of hits when you search for something like this, but there are a lot of gems out there that are easy to overlook if you’re not willing to scroll through dozens of pages of results. Sometimes they might not even show up at all depending on what keywords you use!

This post is the beginning of a series I’ll be doing on the topic of small(er) sites that deserve much more praise than they’re currently getting. I won’t be numbering my posts because I have no idea how many posts will eventually be included in this category. All of them will be tagged with Best of Lists…, though, so that new readers will be able to scroll through all of them in the future and hopefully find some great new sites to visit.

Today I will be talking about the 10 best sci-fi and fantasy blogs that you might not have heard of yet but should definitely be checking out.

Surreal Situations

This is a  whimsical comic strip by my friend Michael Mock about a small group of action figures trying to survive in a world that is overrun with zombies.

What I like the most about it is how many funny moments Michael has managed to fit into a storyline that’s quite serious overall. He’s good at making me smile one minute and gasp the next.

The first panel of the first strip in this series is on the left.

 

The Setup Wizard.

Okay, so I thought that everyone had already heard of this blog, but every time I mention I meet at least one person who has no idea what I’m talking about. I am including it here to make sure that every fan of Harry Potter and/or tech support culture has had a chance to read it.

Imagine being a muggle who has been hired by Hogwarts to provide IT support. You had no idea that wizards exist, and they still don’t know how the hell the Internet works.

Nearly everything that could go wrong with such an arrangement has gone wrong so far, from students pulling pranks to all kinds of magical creatures wreaking havoc on muggle technology. I can’t recommend this one highly enough.

 

Queer Sci Fi

I’ve read a lot of Queer science fiction that I happened to stumble upon over the years, but until recently I didn’t know there was a specific place for talking about this specific corner of the sci-fi market.

This site has everything from book reviews to interviews to discussion groups that are always open to new members. Now that I know it exists, I am really looking forward to finding some great new reads over there.

 

Biology in Science Fiction 

One of the rules I made for myself when I started working on this post was that every site I linked to needed to have been updated at least once since the beginning of 2017.

Well, I just broke that rule. I’ve been reading the old posts and am fascinated by all of the scientific explanations for how certain science fiction and fantasy creatures would actually behave, live, breed, and die.

And who knows? Maybe there’s a slim chance the author will notice that their blog is still getting attention and decide to start updating it again!

 

Could This Happen? 

This is similar to Biology in Science Fiction except that it’s about the science of speculative fiction in general.

It’s been a long time since I took any science classes, so I often wonder if the chemistry, physics, geology, zoology, or botany in a story is anywhere close to how things would really be if that kind of spaceship/ecosystem/device/planet really existed.

The fact that there’s a site dedicated to answering these questions makes me happy.

 

Tobias Buckell

I’ve never met Tobias, although he is friends with a couple of my extended family members. What I like the most about his blog is how much of his own personality and interests he adds to it.

I love it when people – and especially authors –  mix science fiction in with whatever else they enjoy in their lives. It gives you such a well-rounded understanding of who they are as people.

 

Black Girls Create

I still haven’t had a chance to explore all of the links on this site, but Hogwarts BSU is my favourite part of it so far if you’re going to make me pick only one section to begin with.

Be sure to give yourself a lot of time to look around when you visit. There are so many different sections that you’ll want to make sure you get a good look at everything.

 

Speculating Canada: Canadian Horror, Science Fiction, and Fantasy 

This is another one of those blogs that I only recent discovered. It seem to be a mishmash of all kinds of science fiction and fantasy. I’m assuming that’s because Canada is a much smaller country than the U.S., so our speculative community is also smaller.

I really like seeing everything kept together, though. It’s introduced me to some titles that I almost certainly wouldn’t have otherwise heard of.

 

Good Show Sir

This blog shows nothing but terrible science fiction and fantasy book covers from many different eras.

My first impulse when I see a cover like that in many circumstances is to read the blurb. It would take a much worse set of cover art than most of the things I’ve seen on this site to keep me away entirely, although I will admit to being ocasssionally so turned off by a truly awful cover that I don’t even give the story inside a chance.

With that being said, some wonderful books have awful covers, and some awful books have wonderful covers. You won’t know for sure whether a story appeals to until you take the time to dig a little deeper.

 

Unfridged

Sexism, racism, and other forms of prejudice definitely aren’t new in the sci-fi realm, but times are changing for the better. This site talks about how the SFF community can improve, what sci-fi books and shows are doing a good job at being inclusive, and which ones still need some work.

It’s also one of the funniest sites I’ve come across in a long time.

 

How to Convince Someone to Try Something You Love

One of the first things my spouse introduced me to after we moved in together was the TV show Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

I don’t remember exactly what he said about it when he mentioned wanting to watch it with me, but I do remember his excitement. He was sure I was going to love that series as much as he did. (Spoiler alert: he was right!)

Last year I felt that same surge of excitement when I heard that one of my favourite books of all time, The Handmaid’s Tale, was going to be turned into a series. While my husband read that story years ago, I wasn’t entirely sure if he was planning to watch it with me when I first brought up the idea. I grinned as soon as he said he was willing to give it a try.

If there’s a book, album, song, TV show, or movie you’ve been wanting to share with someone, keep these tips in mind when you’re explaining to them why you think they’d love it as much as you do.

Clearly Explain Why You Love It

My spouse told me that Buffy the Vampire Slayer was science fiction, horror, satire, comedy, romance, and drama all rolled into one. He gave examples of these elements of the plot that were as specific as they could be without giving away any spoilers.

I was immediately intrigued. Stories often jump between two or even three genres, but I’d never heard of one that tried to be so many different things at once. It was even more interesting to think that this had been a success!

The fact that he could so clearly explain how all of those genres came to be fused into one single tale made me want to give it a try.

Be Honest About Its Faults

Every time I recommend Jean M. Auel’s Earth’s Children series to someone, I make sure to note that the storytelling changes a lot from the first book to the last one. I have a strong preference for the writing style of the first few books, and I’m not afraid to tell people that.

This doesn’t mean I’m any less a fan of her work. There are other stories that I enjoy even though they presented certain groups in stereotypical ways or were a little problematic in general. You can love something and still see things in it that you really wish had been told in a different way for any number of reasons.

If someone can admit that their favourite piece of pop culture isn’t perfect, it makes me more willing to give that book or show a try. There’s a fine line between being excited about something and overlooking any flaws it may have.

Pick the Best Part (or Explain Why You Can’t)

My favourite singers have certain songs that I would immediately start playing if someone asked me why I enjoyed their music so much. In some cases, this would mean jumping back and forth by years or even decades in their catalogue.

There’s always time to go back and fill in the gaps later if the other person happens to like my suggestion and it’s something that can be listened to or watched in any order without messing up the flow of the storytelling

This isn’t possible in some cases, of course. A TV show that builds complex and interrelated storylines over time might not make sense if you jump into the middle of season 4. Sometimes you really do have to start at the beginning. Buffy’s first season wasn’t the best part of that show, but it still needs to be watched in order to understand what happens later and why certain things were foreshadowed early on.

Be Prepared to Accept No for an Answer

Not everyone will become a fan of the new things they try. For example, I watched several Doctor Who episodes before deciding that it’s not my cup of tea and I won’t be watching it again. There were a few specific scenes that I enjoyed, but the storylines in general simply don’t appeal to me.

One of the things I admire in a person is the ability to accept that not everyone will love the same things they do. People’s preferences are complicated. Sometimes those preferences can shift over time, but in other cases someone is never going to love that thing that you can’t get enough of.

There’s absolutely nothing wrong with that.

Recommending Stuff is a Two-Way Street

There’s something fascinating about getting to know someone by paying close attention to what they do and don’t like. As much as I want to recommend The Handmaid’s Tale to everyone I meet, someone who doesn’t like speculative or dystopian fiction wouldn’t be a good match for this tale.

I appreciate it when others give me this same level of attention. Over the years I’ve tried all kinds of things that I wouldn’t normally read, listen to, or watch. Sometimes I end up enjoying them, and sometimes I don’t. I especially like trading ideas with people who take my suggestions seriously as well.

Recommending stuff is like dancing with someone. There’s a natural pattern of give and take to it that works beautifully if everyone involved understands the rhythm.

Scifi and Fantasy Rules That Should be Broken

I’ve been reading science fiction and fantasy stories for about as long as I’ve known how to read at all. There are so many things I love about these genres, but today I wanted to talk about some of the things that I wish SFF writers would do differently.

1. The Chosen One Must be Young and Uneducated

Why is the chosen one nearly always a teenager or young adult who hasn’t completed – or often even started – their training yet? Why are they the only one who can defeat the wizard, dragon, corrupt government, or werewolf army?

I dream of the day when the chosen one is actually a group of specialized, highly-trained witches who must use their complementary powers at the same exact time to defeat the dragon. Alternatively, maybe the chosen one could be a 70-year-old scientist who has spent the last 40 years studying the virus that has wiped out the last three attempts at permanent human colonies on Europa and who only now is ready to test his vaccine for it on human subjects.

At this point, I’d prefer to watch conflict build up slowly over years than see any more characters jump into the fray before they fully understand what’s going on or have had any training in what they’re about to accomplish.

2. Everyone Gets a Love Triangle

No, I am not against romantic storylines in general. There is definitely a time and place for them, and many stories would be far poorer without them.

With that being said, I’d be happy to never read about another love triangle again. This kind of stuff yanks me out of the plot every time it happens because of how confusing and strange I find it to be.

Please let characters be polyamorous, asexual, or totally uninterested in falling in love until the last zombie has been destroyed and humanity has once again begun to enjoy luxuries like healthy food, deodorant, regular baths, and not running in terror for their lives every day.

I would be thrilled to read about any of these scenarios. What I’d like to avoid, though, is anyone wringing their hands about which love interest to pick when there are far more urgent matter at hand.

For example, how terrible must all of the characters smell after running away from zombies for weeks and eating nothing but stale candy bars and potato chips out of vending machines?( I’m mostly joking here, but I think about practical matters like bad breath and body odour when a character in this sort of story suddenly starts mooning over someone who also probably hasn’t seen a toothbrush or loofah since sometime last month).

There are so many interesting things to say about outsmarting zombies, navigating a spaceship, or figuring out how to placate a fairy after you’ve unintentionally angered her and all of her relatives. These sources of conflict are a thousand times more compelling to me than wondering which love interest the main character will pick when he or she is still trying to figure out how to survive the night or which end of the sword you should be poking the bad guys with.

3. Aliens Are Always Smarter Than Us

There are only a few non-human species on Earth that can be described as intelligent: elephants, dolphins, and certain species of apes come to mind here.

We have no idea what life is really like on other planets or if it exists, but sometimes I wonder what humanity would do if we discovered something that wasn’t a little green man who could learn to speak English.

How would we treat an alien species if it was about as intelligent and willing to communicate with us as is the average cat? What if they were intelligent but it was in a way that wasn’t particularly compatible with human intelligence? Would we still be interested in a species if we couldn’t figure out their language or they couldn’t figure out ours?

These are the kinds of questions I think about every time I watch science fiction movies about humans making contact with new species from other planets.

4. Humans Are the Good Guys

Speaking of aliens, why are humans always the good guys when our species get into conflicts with each other?

Humanity honestly doesn’t have the best track record when it comes to treating new cultures and societies fairly. While I hope that would change if we ever met intelligent and communicative beings from another planet, I think there’s a fairly decent chance that at least some humans would try to take advantage of them for personal or political gain.

No, I’m not saying that eery single human needs to be fighting for the dark side. Wouldn’t it be interesting to read a book or watch a movie about someone who noticed this happening and who tried to warn the aliens before one of our governments passed a law saying it was okay to mistreat visitors from other planets, though? The conflict between your duty to your species and your duty to protect innocent visitors who are going to be horribly abused for potentially many generations to come if you don’t speak out and fight for them right now would keep me glued to my seat.

It would also help the scifi genre return to the kinds of social messages that used to be much more common in it. Science fiction isn’t just about coming up with flashy ideas for new technology or imagining what life could be like in a few hundred years. It can also be about getting people to think critically about the decisions they make in their real life that can help or hurt the most vulnerable members of our society.

5. Nobody Spills the Beans

I shake my head every time a vast conspiracy is revealed that has existed for decades and required thousands or even millions of people to play along with it.

It’s hard enough to get five people to agree on what kind of pizza to order or to keep excited relatives from sharing the news when you tell them that you’re pregnant, have finally finished writing your book, or recently got a promotion!

Secrets only work if they’re kept by a small number of highly motivated people. Even then, it is very easy for one of them to spring a leak with someone they deeply trust.

Unless the character exist in a universe where the Powers That Be purposefully limit the intelligence of most people while they’re still in the womb, these things should either somewhat common knowledge or only known by a handful of characters in the entire universe.

I would love it if more books understood all of these rules. If you have any recommendations for stories that do, let me know on Twitter!

How to Survive a Post-Apocalyptic Storyline

Congratulations! You’ve just been selected to be one of the secondary characters in an upcoming post-apocalyptic novel. If you wish to die nobly in order to spur the main character on at a critical moment in the plot, please disregard the rest of this message. There is always a need for volunteers for this position, and so… Read More

5 Reasons Why You Should Be Watching Glitch

This is a repost from my old blog. I will be back next week with new material.  Glitch is an Australian sci-fi show about a small-town cop named James Hayes who is trying to figure out why six people have risen from the dead in the local cemetery. None of the dead remembers their previous identities, and all… Read More

5 Modern Scifi Books You Should Be Reading

This post was inspired by a few different conversations I’ve had recently about my favourite science fiction books. I hope you find at least one new recommendation in this list! The Book of Dave by Will Self. What is it about? A grim, futuristic society set in the land formerly known as England. This society’s religious beliefs and… Read More