#Second Thoughts – Sci Fi and Fantasy.

I can’t stand werewolves. Zombies leave me totally unimpressed. Wizards with faux philosophical sayings fail to inspire interest. I just don’t like science fiction and fantasy.

And yet.

And yet.

Over the years I have discovered some authors who have crept around, over or behind my prejudices and have challenged and entertained me. Some even made me laugh, even out loud.

Standing first in my personal pantheon – because he was the first I read – is John Wyndham. Not particularly The Day of the Triffids, that one I read at school and have re-read several times, but especially The Kraken Wakes, arguably a more ecologically sensitive novel than Triffids, The Midwich Cuckoos but above all the wonderful short story collection The Seeds of Time. In this he tackles several genres, comedy, romance, mild horror, adventure even, and proves master of them all. I especially like Chronoclasm, Pawley’s Peepholes (what do you do when travellers from the future come as tourists and disrupt normal life?), and Dumb Martian which can be read as a manifesto for equality.

On the whole Asimov does not feature much in my ‘read for enjoyment’ list: I did like Caves of Steel but the whole Foundation series is just too much. I have not finished any of those books. Where, to me, Asimov scores, is again in his eclectic range of short stories. He is a master of the unexpected twist in the punchline. The classic is where the argumentative brothers, one wanting to tell the grandiose sweep of history is foiled by the other who complains that there is not enough papyrus in the world to write it all down. So Moses has to rephrase: ‘In the beginning God …’

C.S. Lewis’s series which begins with Out of the Silent Planet is, I think, mostly under-rated by those who can’t separate the writing from his not always subtle Christian message, but again it is a series that I kept on my bookshelves for years and read every so often.

I was introduced to Harry Harrison only a few years ago but I do enjoy his Stainless Steel Rat series, despite his propensity for technical ‘hand-wavery’. For me it is important that the Laws of Physics should be respected not subverted. (Although the Cannae Drive, named because despite Scotty’s perpetual plaint in Star Trek it might actually be possible to change the Laws of Physics undermines that principle rather).

The two authors who have done more than most to reconcile me to the genre though are more recent: David Weber and Lois McMaster Bujold, and the one thing they have in common is that they both write exciting prose and complete stories – no hand waving distractions. Bujold has, in fact, four series and there are discernible differences between them.

The longest, in terms of titles published, is the Miles Vorkosigan series of adventures of a young man, crippled by a chemical attack on his parents when he was in the womb, and his fight to be accepted in a highly militaristic society. Despite many mishaps he does rise to become one of the Emperor’s most capable investigators and righter of wrongs. I have now read these many times, and each time find something new. The latest in the series Gentleman Jole and the Red Queen deals with Miles’ mother in her widowhood and the plans she makes which set her son aback rather. In a complete change of genre is The Sharing Knife series which, I confess I have not read but deals with the conflicts which arise when two styles of civilization collide – farmers and adventurers. I may get around to it someday, but it is not urgent. Then there is the mediaeval series set in the Kingdom of the Five Gods, beginning with Chalion. This series contains all the things that I usually detest – magic, demons, talking animals – and yet it is so well written and Bujold has such a well-developed and believable theology that it all fits together extremely well. What is becoming a sub-set of the series is the Penric novellas (i.e. short!) which I can thoroughly recommend.

David Weber writes what has been described as ‘Hornblower in Space’ novels about Honor Harrington in a galaxy which has been settled from Earth well into the future. She is a character who has grown as the stories unfold, from a nervous starship Captain in the first book, about to take over her first hyperspace capable command (On Basilisk Station) to a highly decorated and senior Admiral. The latest novels in the series feature her less as she ascend more in the political sphere, and Weber has rightly been criticised for his tendency to explain in minute detail the capabilities of the weaponry deployed and the calculations for firing weapons in space, but my non-technical mind tends to slide over all that until I get back to the story! Again, this is a series that I re-read frequently.

So, my mind is not wholly closed to the Sci Fi/Fantasy genre, but the stories must, for me, be well written, with a believable plot and technology and, preferably, with a touch of humour.

© 2017 Alan F. Jesson


3 thoughts on “#Second Thoughts – Sci Fi and Fantasy.”

  1. Well written, believable plot, touch of humor… sounds like good advice for all writers, not just the science fiction genre. I have to admit, though, there are a fair number of Sci-Fi stories that get caught up in “check out this cool science stuff” and forget about basic storytelling. In some cases, they end up reading more like textbooks than novels, which is extra frustrating.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Alan, I know it’s not your sole purpose in writing, but you do seem to add to my perilously swaying TBR pile. Love the sound of Honor Harrington – always pleasing to read of female heroines, especially in areas generally dominated by the male of the species.

    An enjoyable read, as always.

    Liked by 1 person

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