Archives: science fiction

Science Fiction 101 Reading List

What are the fundamental books a newcomer to science fiction should read in order to achieve a basic conversance with the genre? To keep this practicable for this notional novice, what ten books would suffice?

I am unqualified to answer this question. My list would necessarily displease everyone. Only an unjustifiably self-confident jackanapes, a grinning idiot embodying the Dunning-Kruger Effect would even attempt such a thing.

Right, I’m your man then.

Don Pendleton’s Science Fiction?

You may have known it, but it came as a surprise to me: Don Pendleton wrote science fiction. Mind blown, right?

Wait, maybe I should back up a step. I’m proceeding under the assumption that you are all familiar with Don Pendleton. That could be a mistake, what with the assuming and all. Don Pendleton is known for writing the long-running men’s adventure series The Executioner. You may remember seeing these paperbacks in the checkout aisles at grocery stores back in the eighties, the covers featuring a dark haired man with a gun (that would Mack Bolan himself, the eponymous executioner), a hot chick in the mid-ground, and maybe some armed baddies in the background. The books were probably shelved next to others with such titles as Stony Man, or Phoenix Force.

I think I’ve read a couple of the Mack Bolan books. I vaguely remember reading one in a library in Hawaii. And I think I read at least one of the related titles. I seem to recall reading one back in high school, about the same time my friend up the street was running me through solo Top Secret adventures (though that may be trick of the memory creating false cross-references.)

So anyway. That Don Pendleton. He also wrote science fiction. I just finished The Guns of Terra 10, a 1970 paperback that almost reached 190 pages in length. How was it? Really, not as bad as you might think. Pendleton was actually playing with some interesting themes. Or perhaps he’d just finished reading A Brave New World while sitting through re-runs of Star Trek. But to give him credit, he did seem involved in the idea of human genetic engineering and its potential long term consequences. He also worked out his own baloney FTL concept instead of relying entirely upon handwavium engines. I particularly enjoyed his idea of twin guns, one firing matter, the other anti-matter, with the two meeting at the aiming point. Pretty cool.

I won’t go so far as to recommend it. But if you have the hankering for the sort of fiction in which fist-fights lead to friendship and understanding, or are in the mood for loving, extended descriptions of breasts, or want to enjoy a crew of uneducated, agricultural yokels essentially dropping into the bridge of the USS Enterprise and working the controls with no appreciable concern for the learning curve — then, hey, this might be the book you’re looking for.

Sterling Lanier: Appendix N Meets the Apocalypse

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For many, the 1980’s were years shadowed by the specter of nuclear war. I never worried about it. But nuclear war — the chances, the scenarios, the aftermath — fueled the creations of filmmakers, writers, musicians, etc. It was the decade that brought Kris Kristofferson’s seamed, craggy face to our TV screens for the mini-series Amerika. It brought us Phil Collins caterwauling with puppet Thatcher and Reagan on MTV. And it brought us Sterling Lanier’s post-apocalyptic novels Hiero’s Journey and Unforsaken Hiero.

Soldiers and Science Fiction

 

There is a tendency to think the military comprises dour, unimaginative people of the sort who’d have no use for science fiction, fantasy, or other such frivolous nonsense. A lot of films depict soldiers as robotic, linear thinkers, programmed to follow orders without deviation.

I think most of us know better than that, right? The military has long been home to devotees of speculative fiction. Pick any large military base in the United States, then travel to the nearest town. In addition to the inevitable military supply stores, sewing shops (never short of customers needing new patches sewn on uniforms), tattoo parlors, barbershops, and bars, you will find a well-stocked game store, a comic book shop, and a used bookstore with an excellent selection of science fiction and fantasy.

At it Again: Yet Another Post-Signing Report

I enjoyed another signing recently. And I mean enjoyed; beer featured prominently.

The accommodating publicans at Journeys Pub, Bob and Shannon, offered to host a signing of “Reunion.” Not only did they offer the venue, they advertised the event and held all night happy hour. So, to all those who enjoyed the discount on beverages, “You’re welcome.”

A pub provides a different atmosphere for a signing than does a bookstore. Not an improper or unpleasant atmosphere, just different. The sale of books is not the primary purpose of the establishment. Most of the people there are present to consume food and drink. They aren’t thinking foremost about books. But a pub is a convivial place, and what better topic of conversation than books? Especially when you just so happen to have some for sale.

I had a chance to chat with several people, savored a pint of a pretty decent red ale, and sold some copies of my novel. Not a shabby evening, by any stretch. In fact, I’m wondering if there are any other Portland area pubs interested in having me monopolize a table and peddle my papery wares. Drop me an email, I don’t take up much space.

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My Second Novel, “Under Strange Suns”

No suspense, no buildup. Here’s the deal: I placed my novel Under Strange Suns with Twilight Times Books. http://www.twilighttimesbooks.com/

There, that’s out of the way. Details, then. It is a science fiction story. Or rather, planetary romance written with a twenty-first century audience in mind. That means, pace Burroughs, I cannot simply have my protagonist fall asleep on Earth then wake on an alien planet. While that works well for John Carter, and I’m not knocking ERB’s story-telling at all (perish the thought of such hubris), I don’t think it would go over well with contemporary audiences in a new novel. Meaning reliance on science fiction instead of fantasy. While the science may – from the perspective of today’s physicists –  be functionally equivalent to the John Carter dream transit in plausibility, at least it has the scaffolding of science to hang the implausibilities on. Spaceships! FTL!

OryCon 36

My invitation to serve as a panelist at OryCon 36 arrived early last week. This will mark my second year as a guest of the con. OryCon is Portland’s home grown science-fiction/fantasy convention. It is also the only one I’ve ever attended so I have no yardstick for comparison to other conventions. I don’t know if it is a tiny regional con or a moderately-sized stop on the convention circuit. I just know I generally have a good time.

I dipped my toe into OryCon in high school. Probably OryCon 8 or 9. I remember it was at the Red Lion near Lloyd Center, what is now the Double Tree. The following year the con moved to the Red Lion on the Columbia River where it remained for many years. I was able to attend only sporadically during those years: college, law school, military deployment occasionally intervened. But those were for me halcyon cons, for at least one reason if not more: the hospitality suite served beer on draught for a quarter a glass. If memory serves the keg-o-rator held two taps: Henry’s Dark and Henry’s Blue Boar Ale.

Alastair Reynolds

This web log is not meant as a forum for me to vent. I’ll whisper my complaints into a mug of beer in a dark, quiet corner. Don’t worry, I’ve no intention of whining. A squalling infant in the wee hours, inutile family drama threatening to start a suppurating ulcer need not concern you.

So let’s talk about science fiction.