Tag Archives: Mailbag

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, utopian, supernatural, science fantasy, and superhero fiction. Science fiction and fantasy share a lot of similarities, but they aren’t identical by any means.

On the off chance that they ever see this post, I’d be happy to give the person who did this search some personalized reading recommendations if they’re interested in such a thing.

Since I don’t know that person or what their tastes in reading material are like, I’m going to keep my advice as general as possible. The only assumption I’ll be making is that you were interested in exploring both of these sub-genres and are wondering which one you should dive into first.

Like most children in western cultures, fairy tales were my first taste of speculative fiction in general. I quickly developed a preference for the original, and often surprisingly macabre given the age group they were marketed to, versions of classic fairy tales, so I was soon introduced to the horror and supernatural genres as well through my insatiable appetite for as many new fairy tales as I could find at our local library.

There is so much overlap between the science fiction and fantasy, though, that I quickly found myself wandering deeper into the science fiction end of the spectrum. I now have a preference for hard science fiction, but I’ll never forget my love of fantasy or many of the other sub-genres under the speculative fiction umbrella.

The question of whether you should read fantasy or science fiction really depends on the sorts of stories you enjoy versus the ones that you don’t find so alluring. I’m going to be making some broad generalizations here that definitely won’t apply to every book or author out there. They may be helpful in steering the original visitor and everyone else reading this towards a specific section of the library or bookstore as you decide what you want to read next.

Science Fiction tends to be:

  • Realistic.
  • Related to what is, or could be, scientifically possible. For example, the discovery of a vaccine for AIDS or a cure for cancer.
  • Set in the present or future.
  • Rational. When someone weird happens, there is generally a logical reason for it.
  • More political (in many cases).
  • Interested in exploring specific ideas, ideologies, or conflicts. These themes can often be traced back to controversial subjects that are or were hotly debated when that specific book was first published.

Fantasy tends to be:

  • Imaginative.
  • Related to things that will never be scientifically possible. For example, the existence of Hogwarts (*sob*) or a pet dog that suddenly begins speaking plain English.
  • Set in the past.
  • Supernatural and/or magical. When something weird happens, it is not generally explained rationally to the reader.
  • Less political (in many cases).
  • Interested in world-building. You stand a good chance of meeting dozens of characters and many different fictional cultures when reading fantasy, so their page counts can be dramatically bigger than a science fiction novel.

Again, there is a lot of overlap between these sub-genres and these lists shouldn’t be taken as a strict interpretation of what you’ll find in either one. There are many speculative stories out there that combine elements from both of these sub-genres together (along with many other themes), but many of them do tend to lean one way instead of the other.

This isn’t even to mention all of the other genres, from romance to mystery, that are often swirled into these tales as well. Figuring out how to label books these days is so complicated, especially for fans who don’t always enjoy seeing their favourite genre being mashed up with other styles of writing, that I think I’ll save a more detailed discussion of that aspect of it for another day.

Readers, what would you recommend to this person? is there a specific fantasy or science fiction author you think would be a nice introduction to their genre? Which types of speculative fiction do you tend to gravitate towards most often?

Mailbag #14

Anonymous asks:

How do I respond to my brother’s request that I forgive our toxic mother?

Something tells me he’s more interested in Kodak moments than forgiveness.

That is, I get the impression that your brother wants the entire family to gather together for birthdays, weddings, and holidays without tension. He wants to make lots of happy memories  and dreams of family pictures that include everyone.

The difference between his fantasy family and the one he actually has right now is stark. I’d explain your reasons for not wanting to spend ( more? any?) time with her one more time with him.  If you trust him, I’d offer to get together separately with him and any other siblings you two might have.

Sometimes people are so intent on preserving the image of their happy family that they are too quick to gloss over serious issues that can’t be swept underneath the rug.  You’ll be able to tell fairly soon if this is something he’s trying to do. Don’t assume it will happen, but do  think about what kind of relationship you’d want to have with him if he continues to press the issue. 

And go read Susan Forward’s Toxic Parents. Despite the title, this is a great book for successfully handling just about any type of relationship with manipulative, controlling, or abusive people.


Do you have a question for me? Submit it through the contact form, in the comment section or by emailing postmaster AT on-the-other-hand DOT com. 

Mailbag #12

Ridgeback Rogue asked me this recently on Ask.fm, and I thought it would make a good blog post:

What question have you been too afraid to ask? 

I’ve faced a few huge questions in my life. While I’ve (more or less) figured them out now, they dominated my most private thoughts for a long time because I was afraid of what I’d discover about myself.

1) Am I a lesbian?

I grew up in a community that knew everyone was heterosexual. We were  barely cognizant that gay and lesbian people existed, but their lives were not discussed in the conservative Christian circles I grew up in. So when I slowly realized that I wasn’t like everyone else I struggled to figure out where I stood. My sexual orientation was (and is) a slippery, ever-changing thing, and every time I thought I had it pinned down it shifted again. It took a while for me to realize this shifting is normal for me. Who I’m attracted to today might not be the same tomorrow or next week…and that’s ok.

2) Am I a Christian?

Longterm readers have seen me revisit this topic several times, but the condensed answer to this is no. Religion isn’t something I find particularly interesting these days. I don’t mind if other people discuss it, it just doesn’t appeal to me personally.

But you’re not asking about the past as much as you are about the present.

3) Can I make it as a writer? 

I’m still working through this fear. It’s hard to know when to release your work to the world, and so far I’ve done a lot more rewriting than releasing. I’m working very hard to get over this fear, though.

Do you have a question for me? Submit it through the contact form, in the comment section or by emailing postmaster AT on-the-other-hand DOT com. 

Mailbag #11

Anonymous asks:

What are some things that you are skeptical about in relation to other people?

1) Love at first sight. Infatuation can happen instantly, but I don’t think it’s possible to love someone you’ve just met (unless they’re a newborn and closely related to you). We all need time to get to know that person in a wide variety of situations because a huge part of loving someone is knowing them so well that you don’t have to ask how they’d react if their dog started quoting Shakespeare or marshmallows fell from the sky. You already know the answer.

Everyone is lovable to someone, of course, but no one loves every single person they meet. There simply isn’t enough time in the day to get to know the dozens (hundreds? thousands?) of people you regularly interact with that well.

2) The death of trick-or-treating. I’ve never had a neighbour child knock on my door to ask for candy at Halloween. It still happens to an extent out in the suburbs, but every year I’m a little sad that I don’t get to pass out the good candy and compliment the kids with creative costumes.  I was really looking forward to that stage in life, and I can’t understand why this tradition is fading away. Am I the only one who thinks there’s something wrong here? Halloween is the best holiday of the year! 🙂

3) Social media over-sharing. STFUParents and STFUCouples are prime examples of this. I know I’m a very private person about certain matters, but I can’t fathom how anyone would ever find it appropriate to share a photo of their child’s latest bowel movement or a graphic description of the sexual acts they wish to perform on their spouse or partner in such a public setting. To me it’s like sitting at Thanksgiving dinner, having your great-uncle ask what’s new in your life, and proceeding to share one of these stories. It’s not that changing your kid’s diaper or having a healthy sex life is shameful, I just don’t understand having such flimsy boundaries that you think it’s ok to invite everyone you know into those private moments.

On an unrelated note, I just signed up for an account at Ask.fm. It accepts anonymous questions from anyone, but if you decide to sign up for your own account (or if you have one already), let me know in the comment section!

Mailbag #10

A reader asks:

How do you say no when people dump their emotional stuff onto you?

This post might be helpful to you.

I used to think it was my responsibility to help others get better. It isn’t. Sometimes the most compassionate thing you can do is to not try to fix them.

For example, there are people in my life who turn every anthill into Mt. Everest. Have you caught a cold? It’s going to develop into deadly pneumonia. Starting a new business? It’s doomed to fail. Going on a trip? The woodpeckers/manatee/penguins in that area have developed a taste for human blood…and they hunt in packs now.

Logically explaining that these scenarios are extremely unlikely to occur doesn’t help in my case. Depending on what’s going on with your loved ones it might work better for you.

What does help? Taking a step back from them emotionally. While so-and-so waxes on I pretend that I’m an anthropologist studying a new culture. As I have a tendency to be pretty snarky about these things I usually respond with a moment of silence before changing the subject. I’d rather be accused of ignoring someone than of saying something cruel. Although I don’t ignore them as individuals…just their emotion dumps. 😉

Readers, what else would you recommend?

Do you have a question for me? Submit it through the contact form, in the comment section or by emailing postmaster AT on-the-other-hand DOT com. 

Mailbag #9

Anonymous asks: How has your worldview towards people with disabilities changed? I’ve come to realize that there are certain things I will never understand about living with a disability because I don’t have personal experience with it. I’ve said and done things that I didn’t know were offensive and felt quite guilty when I learned… Read More

Mailbag #8

A reader asks: Can you tell me something about your family? Describe your immediate and extended family. Several actually read this blog. I’ll leave it up to them to reveal themselves (or not) but here’s some general information. My parents live in Arizona, have been married for 31 years and spent the first two decades… Read More

Mailbag #7

A reader asks: What do non-theists think of religion? I know people who love debating about it and others who never think about such things. So much depends on how that person was raised, the experiences they’ve had with theists and whether they’re actually interested in in the topic. Some love to debate/discuss this stuff, others… Read More

Mailbag #6

It’s been a while since I’ve been able to update this series.  Thank you to whomever it was who thought up this question. Lurkers, please don’t be shy. I’m happy to answer anything! Recently anonymous asked:  What are your most strongly held beliefs? 1. Politics are useless. By that I mean that it doesn’t really… Read More

Mailbag #5

Anonymous asks: How do you approach someone who has a non-theistic worldview? Without an agenda. Look, we know when we’re being “courted” through friendship evangelism. It’s disheartening to be treated as a project, to be valued as a friend only if you come around to someone else’s way of thinking. Does this mean you can’t talk about… Read More