Tag Archives: Kim Stanley Robinson

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?

My 4 Favourite Science Fiction Books About Life on Mars

Today’s post was inspired by yesterday’s breaking news about a lake of salty, liquid water being found on Mars. This is exciting news for the scientific community and humanity in general. We may now be a little closer to discovering life on another planet.

As a sci-fi writer, I can only hope this leads to that outcome and paves the way for humans to live there someday. Maybe we’ll even be lucky enough to both find life on another planet and figure out how humans could live there longterm, too.

Stranger in a Strange Land by Robert A. Heinlein

The first time I read the premise of this book, I wondered how the main character, Valentine Michael Smith, managed to survive on Mars for his entire childhood when there weren’t any adult humans around to take care of him. Where did he find air? What did he eat and drink? Where did he get his clothing? Who looked after him when he was sick or too little to take care of himself? How did he know how to speak English?

Without giving away spoilers for these questions, I loved slowly figuring out what Valentine’s childhood had been like and why he was bewildered and even horrified by a long list of what I would think of as quite ordinary Earth customs.

While there are topics that Heinlein and I strongly disagree on,* I will always appreciate the way this book explored what it meant to be human and how life on Mars could be radically different from anything people have experienced on Earth.

*See also: the ways he treats and describes many of his female characters.

The War of the Worlds by H.G. Wells

This is a little embarrassing to admit, but the concept of The War of the Worlds scared me the first time I heard of it. The thought of aliens coming to Earth in order to harm people was something I’d never considered before. Before that point, I’d always assumed that any alien species that found Earth would be friendly with us. (Yes, I was pretty young and naive when I first stumbled across this book!)

I’ve since come to interpret The War of the Worlds as a reflection of humanity’s fears more than anything else. Just because we have a long history of harming those we can’t or won’t understand in no way means that sentient aliens would have the same reaction to us.

Or at least I hope they wouldn’t…..

 

Red Mars by Kim Stanley Robinson

Let’s assume that there are no forms of life blissfully swimming their microscopic lives away in a salty Martian sea. A “dead” world might be the perfect setting for terraforming a planet to better suite the needs of humanity.

One of the things I loved about this trilogy was how long it followed the same storyline. Generations passed as Mars was slowly transformed into an Earth-like planet. Nobody who was alive in the first scene knew how everything ended by the final scene of Blue Mars. Writing it this way gave the author many opportunities to explore what happens when the original intentions of a scientist or explorer are reinterpreted by new generations as fashions change and people’s ideas of    how best to manage a resource as large as a planet shifted.

I’ve often wished humans could live long enough to see how their ideas still influenced people several generations later. The world might be a better place if everyone took such a longterm approach to the things they advocated for (or against).

The Martian by Andy Weir

Yes, I know I’ve blogged about this tale before. As much as I try to avoid talking about the same science fiction and fantasy books over and over again here, there are times when simply have to circle back and repeat myself.

One of the things I loved the most about The Martian was how hard the author worked to make the events of the plot scientifically plausible. While there were a few discrepancies between it and how such a mission would really play out in real life, much of it was pretty close to what any astronaut would go through if he or she really were to be accidentally abandoned on Mars.

I could see something close to these events happening if humans decided to try to live on Mars only to suffer massive setbacks early on. Hopefully, any future residents of the Red Planet would be just as resourceful as Mark was in this adventure.

What are your favourite sci-fi stories about what it would be like to either live on Mars or discover that another species already lives there?

Saturday Seven: Series That Should Be Turned Into TV Shows

Saturday Seven is hosted by Long and Short Reviews.

A friend of mine is absolutely obsessed with Game of Thrones. I’d guess that at least a third of the conversations we have somehow include a reference to this show. Even though I’ve never actually watched Game of Thrones, I’m beginning to understand a lot of her references to it because of how much she talks about it.

The more she gushes about it, the more I think about all of the series that I’d love to see brought to the small screen. All of them are so full of dazzling details about their worlds that it would take a few seasons of a TV show to even begin to fully explore what they have to offer.

 

1. The Earths’ Children series by Jean M. Auel. 

This series has it all: adventure; action, mammoths, romance, unsolved mysteries, Neanderthals, and even a stubborn pet wolf that occasionally refuses to do what he’s told.

Ayla, the main character, was a human who was orphaned at the age of five in an earthquake. She was discovered and raised by Neanderthals. The Clan of the Cave Bear told the story of her highly unusual childhood. The sequels showed what happened after she was disowned by the folks who raised her and forced to eke out a living alone while she searched for signs of other humans.

Without giving away any spoilers, I was not happy with how the final book ended due to how many conflicts were still left unresolved in the last scene. If this were made into a TV show, we’d have another chance to resolve those issues for the characters.

 

2. The Neanderthal Parallax trilogy Robert J. Sawyer.

If only all of you knew how tempted I was to talk about nothing but Neanderthals today! I love stories about them, and there are a lot of great ones out there. I might just have to blog about them on a future Saturday Seven post.

The unusual thing about this series is that it’s set in the present day. Ponter Boddit, the main character, accidentally pierced the veil between his Earth and our own early on in the plot and ended up accidentally getting transported to our universe. On his alternate version of Earth, humans died out tens of thousands of years ago while Neanderthals like him had become the dominant species.

I can’t tell you anything about the Neanderthals’ version of Earth without giving away major spoilers, but I was fascinated by all of the cultural and physiological differences between them and us. Some of them were things that I never would have thought of as a possible difference between our two species.

 

3. The Mars trilogy by Kim Stanley Robinson.

This series immediately came to mind when I saw the film The Martian a few years ago. Colonizing Mars would be an incredibly expensive and difficult endeavour for the first few generations to do it.

Based on how much audiences loved watching Matt Damon’s character figure out how to survive alone on such a harsh planet, I think there would be an audience out there who would like to see Nadia Cherneshevsky and her team struggle to create the first Martian settlement.

Future generations in this trilogy even eventually terraformed Mars into something very Earth-like with lakes, forests, and everything else you’d expect from a habitable planet. How cool would that be to see on the small screen!

 

4. The Xenogenesis trilogy by Octavia E. Butler.

This series began with a massive nuclear war that (supposedly) killed every last human on Earth. The main character’s husband and son were among those dead.  When she woke up in an unfamiliar place hundreds of years later, she had no idea why or how she was still alive. It turned out that an alien species called the Oankali had intervened at the last possible moment and saved a small percentage of humanity from certain extinction.

That paragraph alone could provide enough fodder for the first season of a TV show, and that barely scratched the surface of everything that happened in this trilogy. Not only did the main character have to grieve the loss of her family, she had to figure out why the Oankali had saved a small percentage of humanity and what they wanted from us in exchange.

 

5. The Quintaglio Ascension trilogy by Robert J. Sawyer.

I have five words for you: intelligent dinosaurs who can speak.

Afsan, the main character, was about to go through a rite of passage that would make him an adult in the eyes of his society when this tale began. His species worshipped a heavenly body known as the Face of God. Every Quintaglio (which is their name for their reptilian species) must go on a quest to observe it when they become an adult.

The problem was, Afsan noticed something about the Face of God on his journey that contradicted a major tenant of his religion. He then had to decide whether to reveal this knowledge or keep it to himself.

The world building was extremely well done. Afsan had a deeply reptilian understanding of the world, and it showed in how he responded to all kinds of situations that a human would have a completely different response to. For example, the way his species treats their young is nothing at all like how humans treat their young. He would be as horrified by some of our practices as we would be of his, and that would make for must-watch television in my opinion!

 

6. The Avalon series by Marion Zimmer Bradley. 

I was never particularly into any Arthurian legends, but I loved this series immediately. The Mists of Avalon retold the legend of King Arthur from the perspective of his sister Morgaine. While The Mists of Avalon was technically made into a mini-series many years ago, the next six books in the series have never received the same treatment as far as I know.

They really fleshed out this world, though, and I think it would be wonderful to finally see the entire story from beginning to end on the small screen. One of them, Ancestors of Avalon, even described how and why Stonehenge was created. Sadly, I’ve forgotten most of the plot of that book, but now I really want to reread it. I am just a little bit obsessed with Stonehenge in general, so it would be really cool to see those scenes come to life.

 

7. The Watership Down series by Richard Adams.

Anyone who has read this blog for a long time and remembers how much I love rabbits won’t be surprised by the final entry on my list at all. I can’t imagine many things more interesting than an entire TV show about a warren of rabbits who are desperately trying to find a new home.

While there were cute and fuzzy moments just like you’d expect from this species, there were also a lot of heart-pounding action scenes. Life is frightening and dangerous for prey species. This is even more true when a large group of rabbits are trying to move to a new home through completely unfamiliar and often dangerous territory. I think this book would make a fantastic TV show because of that.

Have you read any of the books on my list this week? What series do you wish would be turned into a TV show?