Tag Archives: Horror

Science Fiction and Fantasy Books That Should Be Taught in School

I thought this would be a fun post to share now that the 2017-2018 school year has either begun or will begin soon for many schools in North America.

As you might have already guessed, English was my favourite subject from the time my mom began the homeschool version of preschool for me until I graduated from college.

My classmates and I read countless short stories, novellas, and novels during those years, but I barely remember ever being assigned a science fiction or fantasy book until I entered college.

This is a real shame. The sci-fi and fantasy genres are full of stories that can be used to as a jumping off point to explore logic, history, math, geography, ethics, and so much more. I wish my classmates and I had been exposed to these genres as an official part of our curriculums from the beginning.

There are five books in each section of this post for the different age ranges: elementary school, middle school, and high school.

Elementary School

Fantasy sure seems like it has a stronger influence on elementary-aged students. I wonder if it’s because of the lure of traditional fairy tales to young children? At any rate, most of my recommendations for this age groups will sit firmly in the fantasy camp.

 

Gwinna by Barbara Helen Berger

I know I’ve blogged about this book before, but I simply must mention it again. This is the most beautiful modern fairy tale that I’ve ever read. It would be a wonderful place to introduce all kinds of classroom discussions about adoption, the dangers of breaking a promise, and what the students think happened to Gwinna after the end of the final chapter.

The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis

One of the things that first drew me into this story were its descriptions of what life was like for children in England during World War II. There are many things that have changed since then, but basic human nature will always remain the same. It would be very interesting to see how today’s children would react to the idea of being sent away from home for their own safety during a war.

Of course, some students will already have personal experience with that kind of huge life change! Immigration, the separation of families, and the sad consequences of war are still every bit as relevant today as they were in the 1940s.

Tuck Everlasting by Natalie Rabbit

I have a vague memory of one of my elementary school teachers assigning this book to us when I was in the fourth or fifth grade. The thought of living forever had never crossed my mind until I learned about Winnie’s life, but I loved watching her mull over her choices once she discovered that the family she’d recently met had a surefire method to remain young and healthy until the end of time.

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J.K. Rowling

This series covered so many timeless issues: child abuse; discrimination; grief; what happens when family secrets are finally aired. What surprised me the most about all of the Harry Potter books was how much fun the characters had even when they were dealing with serious topics that many kids face in real life.

 

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl

I mean, who wouldn’t want to read a book about a factory filled with candy and other sweets?

On a more serious note, I liked the way the main character responded to the difficulties he faced in life. He was such a brave kid even when the odds were stacked against him and he couldn’t imagine how he’d get out of his latest predicament.

Middle School

Middle school is a tough age. Tweens and young teenagers are often suspicious of admitting they like stories they think were written for kids, but they’re also not quite ready for more mature material. These books – or portions of them –  would be perfect for this age group.

The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien

It takes courage to face an angry dragon, and that was only one of the many dangers Bilbo was exposed to during his first big adventure. If I were going to teach this book, I’d round off our readings with a discussion of what happens to people after other huge changes like going to war or being diagnosed with a serious disease. Bilbo’s response to what happened to him mirrored both of these real-life experiences in all kinds of interesting ways.

This is also the perfect introduction to the the Lord of the Rings universe for students who like Bilbo and want to find out what happened to him after he returned home.

Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes

This book was about a developmentally disabled man who was given an experimental medical treatment that quickly began to raise his IQ. Suddenly becoming much more intelligent than you were before isn’t necessarily an easy experience, but the main character’s diary about what that process was like made me think about everything from how disabilities are defined to what happens when someone is given the chance to change their life in all kinds of unpredictable ways.

The Giver by Lois Lowry

Imagine a society without war, hunger, prejudice, or pain. In fact, all but one of the people in that society couldn’t even begin to tell you what any of those experiences were like.

This was by far my favorite book when I was in middle school. I thought the society the main character lived in was a paradise at first. Figuring out its dark side made me ask myself all kinds of questions about the meaning of life and how much freedom I’d be willing to sacrifice to permanently remove suffering in the world for just about everyone.

Animal Farm by George Orwell

One of the biggest reasons why I believe this should be read by middle school students is because it distills complicated arguments about freedom, politics, communism, and propaganda into a simple allegory about a farm full of animals who decide to revolt against their owner.

The twist ending is my second largest reason for recommending it to this age group. It was as funny as it was thought-provoking.

The Hitchiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams

The silly sections will make middle schoolers laugh, but they’ll also learn a few things about getting along with others and not assuming that you’re the centre of the universe. The sometimes-convoluted storyline would also be a good place to talk abut everything from unreliable narrators to how two people can remember the same event completely differently based on how their minds store memories and what small pieces of that day they’ve forgotten.

High School

My high school English classes assigned us a lot of John Steinbeck and Shakespeare readings. I think these books would make a perfect addition to that kind of curriculum.

Beowulf

I first read this in college, but I wish I had discovered it years earlier. The dark themes and occasional scenes of violence are best suited for more mature readers who are willing to push forward to the conclusion.

I also believe that everyone who speaks English should be familiar with the first poem we know of that was written in Old English. There is so much about the beginnings of our language that we simply don’t know. Holding onto what we do know is important.

1984 by George Orwell

Should the government be trusted? Is everything that’s shared on the news actually true? How do you know when you’re being lied to?

These have been dangerous questions to ask in many different cultures and eras. Knowing when you’re being deceived is nearly as important as knowing how to react when it happens. I think every high school student should graduate with at least a little practice at weighing what they’re told carefully.

 

 

Parable of the Sower by Octavia E. Butler

Climate change has already begun to affect our world. How people live in a generation or two will probably be quite different from how the average westerner lives today.

Ms. Butler had such a creative take on what our future could be like. I wish she had lived long enough to finish this series, but I relish what she was able to write. High school students could learn a lot from her thoughts on prejudice and what happens when an entire society falls apart.

The Time Machine by H.G. Wells

This is a classic piece of science fiction about time travel and the ethical dilemmas that result from knowing what will happen in the future but not being sure how to warn everyone about what is coming. Not every conflict in life has or should have a black-and-white solution.

Hominids by Robert J. Sawyer

Most high school students are probably aware that there used to be other human-like species living on Earth, but I doubt most of them have wondered how our planet would be different if early humans had died out and another species had become dominant instead.

This tale asked a lot of hard questions about intelligence, environmentalism, and what it would mean to be human if we discovered that we weren’t the only intelligent hominids wandering around after all.

What science fiction and fantasy books do you wish would be taught in schools?

Why I Love to Read Speculative Fiction

Speculative fiction is an umbrella term for everything from science fiction to dystopians, fantasy to horror.

I’ve been thinking a lot about speculative fiction in general since The Handmaid’s Tale began last month. This specific storytelling style has appealed to me for as long as I can remember for several different reasons.

Honesty

Books like 1984, Animal Farm, or Brave New World reveal the ugly sides of the systems, societies, or cultures they’re critiquing without hesitation. Do they offend some people along the way? Yes, without a doubt. It wasn’t necessarily their original goal, but they’re not afraid to ruffle a few feathers while attempting to get their audiences to wrestle with the big issues that authors in this genre often explore.

I love that about these tales. There are times when I’m in the mood for something light and fluffy, but my first literary love will always be tales that rip off the parts of human society that are hidden and reveal everything they’re trying so hard to conceal.

It definitely isn’t easy to write an entertaining story that also challenges people to rethink their assumptions. When an author manages to pull this off, it’s truly magical.

Critical Thinking

One of the things that irritates me the most about many news networks in the United States is how sensationalized they are. All of their repetitive panic over serious and frivolous stories alike dulls the senses and makes it extremely difficult to think critically about what the newscaster is reporting. When everything is an emergency, nothing is an emergency.

I avoided the news as much as possible when I lived in the U.S. Now that I’ve been an expat for a dozen years, I find it overwhelming when I’m back in the States for a visit.

The nice thing about the more serious side of speculative fiction is that a well-timed plot doesn’t leave room for these kinds of diversions. Yes, there are scenes in The Handmaid’s Tale that draw me into deep thought every time I read about or watch them. These scenes not about assuming the worst or blowing things out of proportion in order to snag people’s attention, though.

Everything that was included in that particular book has actually happened at least once in the past. Some of the plot points have been repeated over and over again throughout history as we try and fail yet again to learn our lessons and improve on how previous generations behaved.

Speculative fiction can push readers to sort through the various points of view in their plots, decide which ones make sense, and come up with our own theories about what happened and how we should interpret fictional stories that have something to say about real-world events.

Wonderment 

First of all, isn’t wonderment a fantastic word? It’s the kind of word that I like to gently roll around on my tongue a few times before I bother to share it with anyone else.

All of the genres I mentioned in the first paragraph of this post are full of wonder in their own way. For example, I will never forget how I felt at the beginning of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone when dozens of invitations to Hogwarts appeared at the Dursleys house after Harry’s uncle destroyed the first few that arrived.

Seeing the Dursleys react so strongly to simple magic makes me grin every time I see it. If only they could have seen the more powerful, playful, and sometimes downright dangerous types of magic that Harry encountered once he started attending Hogwarts!

This sense of wonder stuck with me through all of the Harry Potter books. Even the darkest and saddest scenes in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows still tickled my imagination in small ways. Once wonderment has been introduced into a story, it almost always remains there for good.

Escapism

Yes, I know that some people use this term in a derogatory way. I don’t think of escapist literature as a negative thing at all, though.

There is something to be said for immersing yourself in a completely different world when you need a short break or could use some encouragement.

The first time I read the Lord of the Rings series was shortly after my life had changed in all kinds of stressful ways due to a cross-country move my family made when I was a preteen. I had a lot of  trouble making friends and adjusting to my new school.

I was not a happy kid at that point in my life by any stretch of the imagination, but I found a lot of solace in seeing how Frodo and Sam persevered through even the most impossible circumstances.

We weren’t facing the same obstacles, but we were facing the same fears. If they could push through another day, then I could as well.

How about you? Why do you love speculative fiction? I hope you’ll pop over to Twitter today and tell me all 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.

 

What Cheesy Ghost Movies Can Teach You About Getting (and Staying) in Shape

One of my favourite things to do during a boring workout routine is to watch the kinds of ghost movies on Netflix that desperately try to be scary but end up being predictable and silly instead.

The nice part about these films is that they don’t require your full attention. Paying attention to 80% of the things happening on the screen is more than enough to figure out the plot twists well in advance, so they’re perfect for watching while you exercise.

The other reason why I watch these films is because there are lessons in every single one of them that would honestly work as well, and maybe even a little better, if you applied them to your workout routine instead of waiting until you move into a haunted house or accidentally knock over a gravestone to see how useful they’d be. Figuring out what those lessons are have also provided me endless amounts of entertainment on cardio days.

Lesson #1: Don’t Be Afraid to Take Advice from Others Who Have Already Been There

No one is ever too old to learn something new, and no one is ever too young to teach you something you didn’t know before.

I’m slowly forming a small group of fellow exercise enthusiasts who bounce ideas off of each other and ask for advice when there’s something we find challenging or confusing about our workouts.

Not everyone in this loosely-associated club of sorts practices the exact same routines, but we share enough in common that we can find those areas where we overlap and trade information about what does and doesn’t work.

There have been a few times when I’ve considered something and decided that it isn’t something that I should worry about for a wide variety of reasons, but I always listen to the reasons why someone gives for recommending or not recommending it before making my final decision.

Lesson #2: Always Tie Your Shoes

Have you ever noticed how often characters in horror movies forget to tie their shoes securely? Sometimes they have to do that in order to give a menacing ghost the chance to catch up with them once they run away, but the last thing you want to do while running or walking is step on your own shoelace and trip over your own foot.

I always double-check my shoes and anything else I’m wearing that could potentially cause an accident before I start working out. Sometimes I have even been known to double-knot my laces if I’ll be going somewhere muddy or cold. It isn’t much fun to tie laces when they’re covered in dirt or slush.

Lesson #3: If Something Feels Wrong, Don’t Ignore It

There’s a fine line between pushing yourself to do better and injuring yourself because you overlooked pain while you were exercising.

If a specific move sends a tingle down your spine in a bad way, stop immediately. Most people wouldn’t wander into a dark basement in the middle of the night to investigate a strange noise if their flashlight kept dying at the top of the steps.

Use that same common sense when you’re working out. There will be more opportunities to try that move again  once you’ve gained more experience or moved on to better equipment.

Lesson #4: Some Days Are Going to Suck No Matter What You Do

Just like some houses are so deeply haunted that you won’t ever find enough holy water to cleanse them, some workouts are going to falter for reasons you couldn’t possibly predict or prevent.

For example, I’ve had multiple workouts that were interrupted by fire alarms. Obviously, fire alarms can’t be ignored for all kinds of safety and noise reasons. When that alarm sounds, the only thing you can do is get to somewhere safe and wait for someone to turn it off.

On a less urgent note, there have been times when my workouts were cut short because I was recovering from an illness or injury that turned out to be further back in the healing process than I originally thought it would be. My spirit might be willing to push it to the limit, but my body is a completely different story in that scenario.

Your mental health matters, too. Occasionally I have a day when my workouts are begrudging at absolute best due to other things that are going on in my life at that point. The faster I accept that I won’t be breaking any personal records those days, the faster I can get through the routine and put as much effort into it as I can reasonably manage for that particular day.

Lesson #5: Practice More than One Kind of Exercise

Could you outrun a vengeful spirit? Could you pick up an injured friend and carry them to the car? Are you limber enough to turn to the side, stretch backwards, and unhook your jacket from that rusty nail sticking out of the door before the ghost comes back again?

Obviously these things aren’t literally going to happen, but the failure of many horror movie characters to stay in good shape is a reminder that there’s more than one way to be fit. Ideally, we should all be practicing as many of them as we can.

I have been walking long distances for a decade and lifting weights for a few years now. Yoga is the next form of exercise to check off my list in 2017. I hope I’d be able to do all of the things listed above in an emergency.

Lesson #6: Try, Try Again

Not everything in life happens right away. As I blogged a few weeks ago, yoga wasn’t something I liked the first or even the second time I tried it.

Even now I’m not entirely sure what I think about this form of exercise, but I continue giving it chances to change my mind. Just like it can take horror movie characters more than one visit with a psychic to convince a restless spirit to move onto the next world, sometimes new workout routines need some time to settle into a groove as well.

If you truly don’t like it, there’s nothing wrong with admitting that and moving onto something new.  Don’t assume that your first impression of something will be your last one, though. People’s opinions change every day if they give themselves enough chances to decide what they really think about a specific form of exercise.

Lesson #7: It Never Ends

There will always be something new to learn.

You could always be a little stronger, faster, or more flexible.

Someone else will always need your advice.

There will always be other people who will have good advice for you if you open yourself up to it.

What about the spirits?

Yes, they will always return in the sequel regardless of how well you think you vanquished them at the end of the third act in the original film.

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 your sacrifice in this manner will be greatly appreciated by everyone who expects this kind of tearjerking moment in a world without any modern conveniences.

If you want to live, memorize these rules and be sure to follow them religiously once the first scene has begun. They won’t guarantee your survival, but they will greatly increase the odds of it.

  1. Ignore the news and the government. There has never been one single instance of a government body or a news organization having any clue what is really going on in an apocalypse. Do not listen to any advice they give, and avoid traveling to any safe area they recommend in the first few scenes. It will be a trap.
  2. If the protagonist travels east, head west. While this isn’t always something that’s possible to accomplish, staying out of the way as much as possible is the safest thing you can do until or unless you are promoted to a main character role. Every big battle will take place wherever the main character roams, so you will reduce your chances of getting caught up in one if you travel anywhere other than those locations. This rule can be broken during the climax if other secondary characters have already been killed off and if you are willing to take the risk that the author still has some tricks up his or her sleeve.
  3. Do not endear yourself to the audience. You will feel tempted at times to play up the best parts of your personality in order to lure some of the audience’s attention from the main characters, but encouraging them to love you will only increase the odds of you succumbing to whoever or whatever it is in the storyline that has killed off so many other people before you. This is especially true if you are young, vulnerable, or happen to remind the protagonist of a loved one that he or she left behind in the beginning of the story.
  4. Avoid playing the hero. If you know your safe house is surrounded by monsters, avoid any foolhardy attempts to sneak past them regardless of who in your party might be in dire need of medicine, food, or water in that scene. There is only one hero in this story, and any attempts to steal that spotlight will be interpreted by the writer as foreshadowing for your eventual death. Stay in the shadows and away from the dangers of sudden plot twists as much as possible while the keyboard is still clicking away.
  5. Remain slightly hopeful. Characters who lose all of their hope for the future are in just as much danger as characters who are still obnoxiously cheerful and upbeat after days of hiking through the mud and shivering the night away without a single blanket to keep them warm. Stay neutral when the dialogue is not focused on you and slightly hopeful but still realistic about the odds if you happen to get accidentally caught in the same scene with the main character after the opening act.
  6. Memorize the most common kinds of creatures found in the science fiction and fantasy genres. Elves and faeries are almost always trustworthy. Unicorns are harmless to non-virgin humans. Ghosts may be frightening, but they are rarely a genuine threat to anyone. Orcs, zombies, vampires, and goblins are always dangerous unless you happen to wind up in a rare post-apocalyptic romance novel where a member of their species happens to be the main character’s love interest. Once you know who or what you’re dealing with, you’ll know whether to stick with, tolerate, or avoid any non-human characters that may be lurking in the book.
  7. Listen to your elders. While not every post-apocalyptic story will include an older, wiser character who knows exactly what is going on, be sure to listen to them if they appear at any point in the storyline. The chances of that individual guiding you safely to the final scene are much higher than you might think.  People like this usually appear in the plot for a good reason and should be trusted unless you have an even stronger reason to ignore their sensible advice. In some cases, this can even shorten a full-length novel into a tidy short story with only a small reduction in the overall suspense and excitement of the tale.

With any luck, following all of these rules will help you survive until the final battle. Every character is more or less on their own at that point, so be sure to continue practicing your swordsmanship, long distance running, emergency medical drills, and spell casting until you know exactly what kind of book you will be assigned to and therefore what skills you will need to survive whatever disease, monster, battle, natural disaster, or other source of conflict may be coming your way.

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