2007 / april / 08

Why I love SF

I recently 'came out' as a closet science-fiction reader to an acquaintance. She then challenged me to come up with one definitive title to illustrate to her, as someone totally new to the field (except for watching Star Trek TNG), why I like the genre. And why I called it guilty pleasure.

But it was hard to come up with a single title. In the end, it became a top ten.

1. Frederik Pohl - Gateway (1976)
One of Pohls classics. I like SF for its ideas, but most writers unfortunately think that ideas alone make it unnecessary to make the characters come alive. I love science fiction when the two come together. Maybe that's why this novel came out on top of my list.

It's about loneliness - the loneliness of space, and of man.
It's about the workings of capitalism, for the haves and the have-nots.
It's about desperation. It's about dealing with loss and guilt.

All this told brilliantly, in an unusual narrative structure.

2. Frederik Pohl and C.M. Kornbluth - The Space Merchants (1953)
The same writer, at the start of his long career, together with his frequent partner Kornbluth. A classic about a world, run by advertising agencies. Funny, in a tragic way - our current world, no matter how different, has more in common with this vision of the future than people fifty years ago might have dreaded. Reading this now is like reading Orwells 1984 (which I didn't put on this list, since its been fully accepted in the literary canon) now.

3. William Gibson - Neuromancer (1984)
A briljant thriller, overflowing with ideas - and SF would never be the sasme. The first book written about life in a fully computer-connected society in a near future, written long before average citizens knew about the internet. You have to surrender to the rollercoaster-ride style of writing though.

4. Isaac Asimov - Caves of steel
What would this list be without an Asimov. Even though his characters never quite come to life, the man could write. Maybe not a coincidence that his robot stories are his best - robots struggling and coming to terms with having feelings, emotions, a conscience, penned down by a writer who was struggling similarly with the same matter. So, if it'd have to be a novel, I'd say Caves of Steel, with its robot-detective lead, and strange inward- turning society, with strong taboos on being in the outside. And the story itself isn't a bad whodunnit, either. But the compilation of Robot-stories would be even better.

5. Poul Anderson - Tau Zero (1970)
The 'hard SF' genre - all speculation should work according to physics. The idea of the story - interstellar spaceship with a brake malfunction, can only accellerate - is worked out with thorough craftmanship. As for the development of the main personae, well let's say that this is exactly the type of idea-driven SF that emberrasses me a little about liking the genre.

6. Joe Haldeman - Forever war (1974)
This is Science Fictions 'No news from the Western front'. The ultimate anti-war book, written during the Vietnam war. Portrays war as seen by the soldiers on the ground, gets under their skin, trying to stay sane in an alienating world. Not an easy book, gruesome sometimes, but very impressive.

7. Philip K. Dick Martian Time-Slip (1964)
How to introduce someone to PKD? None of his novels is a good introducion, none of them is typical. This one's then as good a start as any other of his 'easy' ones.

8. Stephen Baxter - ?
My favourite author - but not the best. He can write brilliantly, as well as mediocre, quite often in the same tomb. So, two short stories then, in the alternate history genre he shines in:
First To The Moon!
Moon Six

Didn't I say top-ten? Well, I lied. Authors that need to be on the list: Douglas Adams and Terry Pratchett for humor in SF, unfortunately rather rare in the genre. The Dutch author Tonke Dragt wrote two childrens' books that I rate amongst the best SF and literature ever written - no idea if they've been translated though. And Doris Lessings brilliant Canopus series. Ridiculed by so-called serious critics, 'The Marriages Between Zones Three, Four, and Five' is a real gem of a book.

So, let's get reading! Enjoy!

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