Why Sci-fi Should Be Given a Try

A conversation with myself:

“I read Octavia E. Butler’s riveting Kindred and Andy Weir’s compelling The Martian this month. I should write a blog post about science fiction!”

“But you haven’t read THAT much sci-fi. You’re no expert!”

“Well, if I define sci-fi loosely enough to also include speculative fiction, time-travel novels, apocalyptic books, and so on, I think I could pull together something credible.”

“Okay, but try to avoid discussing things like ghost stories, horror novels, dystopian classics, and fantasy fiction. Those aren’t quite sci-fi (I think), and are better as topics for their own blog posts.”

“Noted. And don’t forget that people who may have more sci-fi knowledge than I can add their thoughts in the comments area.”

“True — and people with even less sci-fi knowledge than you (if that’s possible 🙂 ) can comment, too. After all, most of us have at least watched Star Wars movies and/or various Star Trek offerings.”

“But I haven’t seen The Man With Two Brains.”

“So, how are you talking with yourself?”

Sci-fi is fascinating. Most of us are curious about what the future might bring, about what the past was like (in time-travel books that go backward), about space travel, about faraway worlds, etc. And of course sci-fi set in the future is often a way to metaphorically and exaggeratedly discuss how things (such as social conditions) are in the author’s present time.

The sci-fi genre has its roots in the 19th century (if it dates back further, please correct me in the comments area). Mary Shelley was definitely a pioneer, with her iconic Frankenstein (1818) and apocalyptic The Last Man (1826) — the latter set in the 2090s.

Edgar Allan Poe flirted with time travel in his 1844 story “A Tale of Ragged Mountains,” and Jules Verne began his legendary career in the 1860s. Robert Louis Stevenson put some sci-fi elements in Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1886), Edward Bellamy went utopian sci-fi with Looking Backward (1888), and Mark Twain plunged full-on into time travel with his pessimistic A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court (1889).

Then H.G. Wells closed the 19th century and opened the 20th with his incredible run of sci-fi classics The Time Machine (1895), The Island of Doctor Moreau (1896), The Invisible Man (1897), The War of the Worlds (1898), and The First Men in the Moon (1901). Yes, the two lunar travelers in that last book went inside the moon.

A few decades later, various 20th-century masters arrived on the publishing scene. You know their names: Isaac Asimov (who I was privileged to meet in 1986), Ray Bradbury, Arthur C. Clarke, Robert A. Heinlein, the still-living Ursula K. Le Guin, etc. And you know their prominent works — such as the Foundation novels (Asimov), The Martian Chronicles (Bradbury), 2001: A Space Odyssey (Clarke), Stranger in a Strange Land (Heinlein), and The Left Hand of Darkness (Le Guin).

Past and present sci-fi notables also include Douglas Adams, Orson Scott Card, Samuel R. Delany, Harlan Ellison, Frank Herbert, Ann Leckie, Anne McCaffrey, Joanna Russ, and Connie Willis, among others.

Some of the above have also written in other genres, but achieved much of their fame from sci-fi work. Then there are authors who primarily focus(ed) on more “general” fiction, but delve(d) into the sci-fi realm on occasion. One current example is Margaret Atwood, whose self-described “speculative fiction” includes works such as The Handmaid’s Tale and Oryx and Crake. Also, Marge Piercy went partly sci-fi with Woman on the Edge of Time, as did Virginia Woolf with Orlando. Kurt Vonnegut is by no means a pure sci-fi writer, but there are certainly elements of that genre in his novels such as the time-travel-tinged Slaughterhouse-Five. The same can be said for Daphne du Maurier’s The House on the Strand.

Some novels — such as Neil Gaiman’s American Gods — mix sci-fi and fantasy. Others — including Cormac McCarthy’s The Road — contain apocalyptic scenarios with some sci-fi aspects.

The Martian? The Wall Street Journal called it “the purest example of real-science sci-fi for many years,” and the 2011 novel certainly has many classic sci-fi trappings: space travel, a disaster, smart/stranded protagonist, an epic fight for survival, plausible-sounding technology, etc.

Kindred (1979) is a fascinating/searing fictional work that looks at slavery and more through a sci-fi/time-travel lens as protagonist Dana (an African-American woman) is repeatedly pulled from 20th-century California to America’s pre-Civil War South.

What are your favorite sci-fi novels? What do you think of the genre?

(The box for submitting comments is below already-posted comments, but your new comment will appear at the top of the comments area — unless you’re replying to someone else.)

I’m writing a literature-related book, but still selling Comic (and Column) Confessional — my often-funny memoir that recalls 25 years of covering and meeting cartoonists such as Charles Schulz (“Peanuts”) and Bill Watterson (“Calvin and Hobbes”), columnists such as Ann Landers and “Dear Abby,” and other notables such as Hillary Clinton, Coretta Scott King, Walter Cronkite, and various authors. The book also talks about the malpractice death of my first daughter, my remarriage, and life in Montclair, N.J. — where I write the award-winning weekly “Montclairvoyant” humor column for The Montclair Times. You can email me at dastor@earthlink.net to buy a discounted, inscribed copy of the book, which contains a preface by “Hints” columnist Heloise and back-cover blurbs by people such as “The Far Side” cartoonist Gary Larson.

187 thoughts on “Why Sci-fi Should Be Given a Try

  1. Why Science Fiction Should Be Given A Chance

    I’m sure there are several reasons, but one which comes to mind: because occasionally, a work in the genre actually alters and helps mold the shape of the future itself.

    William Gibson’s Neuromancer (published in 1984) is set in a future dystopia of big money and big crime behind big corporations operating in virtual space, and its protagonist is a drug addict cyber outlaw who has run afoul, before the narrative begins, of his employers. Stripped of access to his workspace and detoxed, vital organs sabotaged,he is, thanks to a shadowy recruiter of his hacking services, fitted up by chemical means so as, after many plot twists and turnings, to crash through the security safeguards and defeat the artificial intelligence surrounding a particular and ancient family/corporate archipelago of data in cyberspace.

    But most significant, from wikipedia:

    “The novel has had significant linguistic influence, popularizing such terms as cyberspace and ICE (Intrusion Countermeasures Electronics). Gibson himself coined the term “cyberspace” in his novelette “Burning Chrome”, published in 1982 by Omni magazine.[18] It was only through its use in Neuromancer that the term Cyberspace gained enough recognition to become the de facto term for the World Wide Web during the 1990s.[19][20] The portion of Neuromancer usually cited in this respect is:

    The matrix has its roots in primitive arcade games. … Cyberspace. A consensual hallucination experienced daily by billions of legitimate operators, in every nation, by children being taught mathematical concepts. … A graphic representation of data abstracted from banks of every computer in the human system. Unthinkable complexity. Lines of light ranged in the nonspace of the mind, clusters and constellations of data. Like city lights, receding.
    — Gibson, p. 69

    The 1999 cyberpunk science fiction film The Matrix particularly draws from Neuromancer both eponym and usage of the term “Matrix”.[21] “After watching The Matrix, Gibson commented that the way that the film’s creators had drawn from existing cyberpunk works was ‘exactly the kind of creative cultural osmosis” he had relied upon in his own writing.'”[22]

    In his afterword to the 2000 re-issue of Neuromancer, fellow author Jack Womack goes as far as to suggest that Gibson’s vision of cyberspace may have inspired the way in which the Internet developed (particularly the World Wide Web), after the publication of Neuromancer in 1984. He asks “[w]hat if the act of writing it down, in fact, brought it about?”

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    • jhNY, thanks for all that info and all those thoughts about “Neuromancer”! William Gibson’s novel does sound incredibly influential and catalyzing — scientifically, culturally, etc.

      Interesting, in an Orwell sense, that it was published in 1984.

      Outstanding comment!

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    • jhNY, I did read “Neuromancer” when it first came out in paperback. I don’t really remember much about it, but I do know that as fascinating; perhaps in the same way that I found “The Matrix” interesting while I didn’t understand much of it.

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      • “I did read “Neuromancer” when it first came out in paperback. I don’t really remember much about it, but I do know that as fascinating..”
        I confess to a similar lack of memory of specifics. And I read the book after I saw The Matrix, so I was probably more familiar with Gibson’s cyberworld, the look if it anyway, than I could have been if I read it when it came out. Which made part of his achievement– eerie precedence, and possible cause of our virtual future’s shape– less obvious to me than had I come upon Neuromancer first.

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        • Thanks, jhNY — I feel much better about my lack of understanding of both the book and “The Matrix. I did buy both “The Matrix” 2 and 3 on DVD; I gave them both away; I’d like to hear if they had anything worthwhile to offer to the series.

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          • I’m probably not the best person to inform you– I watched but felt they did not improve, but only added to the length of the Matrix phenomena, of which I was and am but a casual fan.

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  2. Hi Dave, am a little late to the party this week, but it’s great to read through all the comments in response to your blog. And maybe I’m too cynical, but I think this is one of the only websites in the world where you can have a discussion about science fiction without being ridiculed for the authors that you did or didn’t include. I’ve read, and very much enjoyed, some of the books that have been mentioned, but I don’t think I’m really a fan of science fiction. I agree with Brian that sci-fi should have lots of science, which makes me think that I’ve only really read two science fiction books that I can remember. The first was Michael Crichton’s “Jurassic Park”. Great movie, forgettable book. And I felt much the same way about Kim Stanley Robinson’s Mars Trilogy. While it was a kind of interesting way to explore man colonising Mars, it just had TOO much science in it, which might make it very much sci-fi, but not necessarily enjoyable.

    And I think the definition of science fiction would change drastically as time passes, just because science changes so much. I love HG Wells, and his ship from “The First Men in the Moon” was good fun, but by today’s standards, that ship would look pretty funny.

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    • Thank you, Susan! Never too late to contribute (the blog is still less than four days old 🙂 ), and I agree that the comments have been terrific and tolerant — including yours!

      I appreciate your thoughts on how sci-fi can be defined. Yes, by its very name, true science fiction probably should have some science (real or made-up-yet-plausible). But I kind of like defining it in a wide way. 🙂

      BTW, “The Martian” novel is absolutely crammed with science (real and speculative) yet remains a page-turner. Impressive feat on the part of its author.

      And, yes, as awesome and tech-y as some old sci-fi might have seemed at the time (like the Wells novel you mentioned), it can seem kind of funny by today’s standards. But in a way that adds to the appeal. Set in those authors’ futures, yet period pieces of a sort today!

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      • Part of what I love about HG Wells is just how sciencey he was, considering so much of today’s science didn’t even exist yet. And I love your definition of sci-fi. Sorry if it sounded like I was trying to be too specific, or dismissive. I probably shouldn’t comment at night when I’m tired, but then I probably shouldn’t comment in the morning before I’ve had my coffee either! But that annoying job thing takes up the time in the middle 😦

        I was intrigued by “The Martian” when the movie came out. I may need to add it to my ridiculously long list of books to read.

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        • Wells being sciencey before a lot of later science — I like the way you put that, Susan. 🙂

          And you made a great point about how to define science fiction. I’ve enjoyed seeing and discussing different ways people categorize the genre.

          I haven’t seen “The Martian” movie, but I can understand why it was made. The book really lends itself to being a film as well.

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  3. If space travel qualifies by definition as science fiction, I recommend The Adventures of Baron Munchausen, whose principal flies to the moon– though by means of holding large jugs of dew under his arms, not by rocket or flying saucer.

    Speaking of flying saucers– the ancient Vedic texts boast more than a few…

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    • Thanks, jhNY!

      I sort of equate space travel and (some) sci-fi, especially in novels featuring space travel that were written before space travel actually existed.

      And some of the bizarre ways of traveling in space in old lit are so…bizarre. I loved the big ball of a ship in H.G. Wells’ “The First Men in the Moon.” 🙂

      Also loved the movie version of “The Adventures of Baron Munchausen”!

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      • Having read the book, I appreciated some of the graphics, more than a little, but prefer Dore to Gilliam overall. And prefer the original text to the script even more. The book, like Gulliver’s Travels, was written for adults before time and commercial interests caused its re-purposing to a kid’s entertainment.

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        • I’ve never read the “Baron” book, unfortunately. Not surprised it, along with “Gulliver’s Travels” and certain other works, was eventually made more “kid-friendly” for commercial reasons. 😦 But at least Terry Gilliam is brilliant in his way, and one has to respect the Monty Python connection. 🙂

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  4. Howdy Dave!

    More foolishness from me– please remove this– was meant as a reply to an earlier comment, not as a stand-alone. I’ve attached a copy to its proper place…

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  5. The early German Romantic period produced ETA Hoffmann, who, apart from being credited with writing the earliest detective story, Mademoiselle Scudery, wrote other fantastic tales whose themes sometimes anticipate science fiction. Like reading about robots? You might enjoy his short story The Sandman; you will certainly be amazed.

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    • Howdy Dave!

      Please edit my comment thusly: Replace Madam Scuderi, above, with Mademoiselle Scudery– shoulda searched for the title before I posted, yet instead relied on unreliable memory.

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    • Thanks, jhNY! I really need to read ETA Hoffmann at some point, and will start with “The Sandman” — which I just found online (see link below). I’ll try to get to it today or tomorrow.

      http://germanstories.vcu.edu/hoffmann/sand_e.html

      If some of Hoffmann’s work anticipated sci-fi, then he’s a pioneer in that genre along with Mary Shelley. They’re almost contemporaries, of course — with Hoffmann getting published somewhat earlier and with Shelley continuing to write for quite a few years after Hoffmann’s death.

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      • The link between Shelley’s Frankenstein and vampire fiction I find at least as compelling (especially given her fiction’s origin) as between her work and science fiction– or maybe it’s just that, in thinking about the week’s topic, I realized how much science fiction is just older forms of fiction, only now, with science!

        Reanimating the dead is old stuff for fiction, though most offerings,pre-science, make it the outcome of necromancy– robot fiction is also an outgrowth of same, in a way– the inanimate becoming alive, though, pre-science, spirits and souls figure in centrally . Travels to distant stars are not unlike earlier adventurer tales of exploration here on earth, ditto dynasties of space emperors which are like royal histories, tales of interplanetary conquest like accounts of colonial military adventure, Nemo is Odysseus underwater, etc.

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        • Very good points, jhNY, and very well said. Reanimating the dead, etc., does go a long way back in storytelling, and vampire fiction/science fiction similarities and differences once again show how sci-fi can be kind of a loosely defined category. I guess when the “Frankenstein” monster was “assembled” in Mary Shelley’s novel, there was some primitive, old-school science involved. 🙂

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      • jhNY, I just read “The Sandman.” Wow! Powerful, spooky, haunting, exceptionally written… And it predates “Frankenstein” by two years. Wonder if Mary Shelley knew about that story? Thanks for recommending it!

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        • I wonder too, but haven’t found an answer on the ‘nets. But, from Shelley’s wikipedia entry:

          “Sitting around a log fire at Byron’s villa, the company amused themselves with German ghost stories, which prompted Byron to propose that they “each write a ghost story”.

          As Hoffmann was the premier manufacturer of such stuff, it seems likely.

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          • I would have added, for evidence: The short story collection, Night Pieces, in which The Sandman first appeared, was published in 1816– the very year Frankenstein was conceived. It was popular and sold well. The Byron-Shelley party were sojourning in Switzerland, where German is spoken and German publications were widely available. But then I thought: Against this evidence, such as it is: who among that party read German? I looked up the wiki bio of Polidori last, and found mention of the particular book of German tales that inspired their ghost story contest:

            “Fantasmagoriana is a French anthology of German ghost stories, translated anonymously by Jean-Baptiste Benoît Eyriès and published in 1812. Most of the stories are from the first two volumes of Johann August Apel and Friedrich Laun’s Gespensterbuch (1811), with other stories by Johann Karl August Musäus and Heinrich Clauren.

            It was read by Lord Byron, Mary Shelley, Percy Bysshe Shelley, John William Polidori and Claire Clairmont at the Villa Diodati in Cologny, Switzerland during 1816, the Year Without a Summer, and inspired them to write their own ghost stories, including “The Vampyre” (1819), and Frankenstein (1823), both of which went on to shape the Gothic horror genre.”

            So, my conjecturing aside, it appears that a French (which everybody in the party could read) translation of German tales (none of which are by Hoffmann) inspired the ghost story contest by the lake.

            On the other hand, Matthew Lewis’ The Monk was an acknowledged inspiration of Hoffmann’s. He based The Devil’s Elixirs on that earlier novel, once among the most famous in England. So here is another German-English cross-pollination of the Gothic– perhaps more direct than via France….

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            • Interesting. So other German tales NOT by Hoffmann might have inspired “Frankenstein.” Influences and cross-pollination are fascinating, and not always easy to prove.

              The 1810s were a very fertile period for literature: the stories you just mentioned, Hoffmann, Jane Austen, Sir Walter Scott, etc.

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  6. I’ve been planning to read the Space Trilogy by CS Lewis for a bit, since I loved his other adult books (and Narnia too, of course), particularly his novel Till We Have Faces.

    …I also enjoyed the Worm Ouroboros, by ER Eddison, which is more fantasy-ish but is set on Mercury so maybe still counts as sci-fi.

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    • I enjoyed the “Narnia” books, too, so I imagine I would like “The Space Trilogy” as well. C.S. Lewis was such a diverse writer!

      Yes, if a book is set on another planet, it has to be at least a little sci-fi-ish. 🙂

      Thanks for the comment, jshupac!

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    • “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe” was one of the first books that I fell in love with, and I naturally fell in love with the whole world of Narnia. I think The Cosmic Trilogy is the only adult Lewis that I’ve read, but I absolutely loved it. If you do get around to reading it, it would be great to hear what you think 🙂

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  7. “Brave New World” by Aldous Huxley a masterpiece , time to revisit the book again , with so many books i have given away Dave I still have it.
    I just checked :” In 1999, the Modern Library ranked Brave New World fifth on its list of the 100 best English-language novels of the 20th century. ”

    “Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea” have not read but the movie was absolutely fantastic with James Mason and Kirk Douglas.

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    • “Brave New World” IS an amazing novel, bebe. Such a “yin and yang” with “Nineteen Eighty-Four” — as you know, Huxley’s book features oppression via pleasure and Orwell’s book features oppression via misery.

      I’ve read that great Jules Verne novel but haven’t seen the movie. Did watch clips of the film here and there, and it does look fantastic!

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  8. I have read very little true science fiction, Dave. Of course, you know I’m a big fan of James Hilton’s “Lost Horizon” which I don’t consider science fiction, but maybe utopian fiction? I guess you could call Ayn Rand’s “Atlas Shrugged” utopian fiction or dystopian fiction, depending on your point of view. I ought to read it again to see what I think about it after all these years, but I doubt that I will put forth that much effort.

    I did read Jules Verne’s “Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea” years ago and found it hauntingly beautiful, and was mesmerized by the mysterious Captain Nemo.

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    • The age of one of the “Lost Horizon” characters is certainly science-fiction-like, lulabelle! Definitely a mesmerizing novel, as we’ve discussed.

      Jules Verne is in some ways a very underrated author. His novels are not only (very) popular works, but have literary elements.

      Perhaps Ayn Rand’s detractors call her writing “sigh-fi”? 🙂

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  9. One of the things I love the most about sci-fi is how it reflects cultures. Time travel, alternate history, and dystopia are blank slate topics that allow writers to use elements from their cultures and create very unique literary works.

    Take Japanese sci-fi, for example. The Tale of the Bamboo Cutter is about a young Moon princess who was sent to earth as a baby during a celestial war. She was found by a family of bamboo cutters and raised as their daughter named Kaguya-hime.

    The princess grew into a beautiful woman. She became homesick and wanted to return to her birthplace, the moon. Her earth parents were sad to see her go, but they understood their daughter’s desire to return to her roots.

    This novel is filled with multiple references to Japanese culture that I’ve never come across in American sci-fi. Japanese sci-fi has influenced so many aspects of Japanese pop culture (like anime) that we enjoy today.

    Sci-fi in Latin America became popular between the late 50s and 80s. The competitive space programs between the US and Russia introduced new science, technology, and the constant threat of nuclear war, which provided authors plenty of opportunities to write about post-nuclear societies. I first read A Terceira Expediçao at the age of 10-11. Very exciting book by Daniel Fresnot about technological and environmental changes that turned Sao Paulo into a wasteland. Brasilian culture almost leaps out of each page. So again, cultural influences met sci-fi and created something very different.

    An author can take any genre and put his/her own spin on it, but there is something about sci-fi that really brings out creativity. And when an author incorporates elements that are part of his/her cultural background, that makes it even better. Sci-fi is so…global. I love it.

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  10. Good morning Dave,

    Yes, am still alive after a long silence. After nearly three months of brain-numbing amounts of work – all urgent, of course! I finally have some time for my favorite blogger and lo and behold, the topic is SCIENCE FICTION!! Oh happy serendipity! This is the equivalent of waving a fresh bundle of catnip in front of a cat. 
    To start with, I have been a faithful watcher of ALL the Star Trek series and its spinoffs; also I will forever be in awe of Michael Straczinsky’s TV series “Babylon 5” – amazing, intelligent, thought-provoking.
    As you may recall, I have been a fan of Science Fiction for more decades than you have been alive, and read all the authors you listed – novels, shorts stories, novellas, you name it. Became acquainted with them through the many magazines being published during the “Golden Era”: “If”; “Astounding Stories” (Joseph Campbell was its celebrated editor – through a series of coincidences, I briefly dated his stepson!!) ; “Isaac Asimov’s Science Fiction”; “Analog”. Slowly stopped reading when the magic disappeared: no more complex civilizations, both human and alien; no more entire ecosystems created by someone’s fertile imagination; no voyages in interstellar space, testing human limits and discovering how deep so-called civilization really goes, and encountering both beauty and fear-inciting environments…. I lost interest when the new, younger writers could not imagine anything beyond something that isn’t “cyber-something”. Now and then I try to find time to reread one of the old books I managed to salvage in spite of lost luggage and disappearing shipments during my gypsy years.
    I will add to your list the name of A. E. VanVogt, author of “The World of Null-A” and “The Weapon Shops of Isher”, I liked his books because the stories and ideas are always intriguing even though his writing style may not be stellar. I recently thought about the “Weapon Shops of Isher” while reading about one day with a few more gun deaths in a deadly city: the premise of the book is that citizens have the right to bear guns, BUT the guns are sold ONLY through the Weapon Shops by mysterious Makers, and the guns work only in cases of legitimate self-defense or of suicide, but do not work if the owner’s intent is murder. We sure could use one of those Weapon Shops right now.

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    • Hi, Clairdelune! Nice to hear from you! Sounds like you had another nightmare run of work. 😦 I knew you were a sci-fi fan, among your other literary interests, and am glad this post appeared (as if sent by a “Star Trek” transporter 🙂 ) at the time you had a break. Great cat/catnip line!

      Thanks for your comment and all its sci-fi expertise! Magazines (sci-fi and otherwise) used to be so much more prominent, and provided writers (sci-fi and otherwise) with an excellent forum. And that’s a nice Joseph Campbell connection you had there.

      I don’t know anywhere near as much about sci-fi as you, but it sounds like you feel that genre is no longer in a golden age. I wonder why — perhaps, in addition to an overemphasis on tech these days, a bit of the reason is that some of the better sci-fi writers are doing movie and TV scripts and such rather than books? Actually, I have no idea. 🙂

      Last but not least, thanks for mentioning A. E. VanVogt! I will give his work a try when I can. Yes, those Weapon Shops you mention would be VERY welcome today.

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              • Almost too many in way. I heard that Amazon was also developing some type of discussion platform for readers and authors, but I haven’t heard much about it lately.

                The books that I mentioned earlier were some of the more popular science fiction books on the site, so I decided to give them a try. Very interesting. Always thinking of the next Dune by Frank Herbert to come around.

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                • You’re right, Eric — finding out about books online does make for to-read overload. My list has become hopelessly long, Still, it can be nice to have many titles to choose from.

                  And while “the popular consensus” on which novels (sci-fi and otherwise) are “the best” is not always reliable, it fairly often is. 🙂

                  Also, as you allude to, wondering who will be the next (fill in author name) is among the things that make reading literature so exciting!

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    • You’re welcome, Lisa! I know what you mean about wanting a reading change of pace; I often veer from “heavy” books to “lighter” books, and periodically try different genres. I love Steinbeck’s work, but he can be very intense as he steeps readers in the awful realities and social injustices (and over-drinking) in the world. But as you know, even he switched up here and there with novels such as “Tortilla Flat,” “Cannery Row,” and “Sweet Thursday” — all of which were riotously funny in addition to having serious aspects.

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  11. Howdy, Dave!

    — What are your favorite sci-fi novels? —

    Ay caramba! As any science-fiction scribe worth his or her sodium chloride could tell you, Sol — not the tailor of my Extravehicular Mobility Unit (aka spacesuit) but the center of our Solar System — will be morphing into a red giant within the next 7.6 billion years, meaning there simply is insufficient time either for me to write or for you to read such a list, so I will instead drop the name of one of my favorite sci-fi books that neither you nor the other DAOLiterati have yet mentioned, James Blish’s “Cities in Flight,” most likely classified more as a short-story collection and less as a novel by those adherents of the foolish consistency that is the hobgoblin of little minds (i.e., my peeps!), a work I flag here and now because of my decadeslong misjudgment of the author’s ability, solely due to his involvement in the “Star Trek” book series: Reading his “A Work of Art” last year, I was suddenly blinded by the clear realization Blish is a true monster of sci-fi, as great as Plato, Mary Shelley, Samuel Butler, Jules Verne, Mark Twain, Robert Louis Stevenson, Edward Bellamy, H.G. Wells, Jack London, Yevgeny Zamyatin, Aldous Huxley, George Orwell, Clifford D. Simak, Robert A. Heinlein, A.E. van Vogt, Arthur C. Clarke, Philip Jose Farmer, Isaac Asimov, Ray Bradbury, Frank Herbert, Kurt Vonnegut Jr., Philip K. Dick, Harlan Ellison or any of the rest of the usual suspects. Mea culpa.

    — What do you think of the genre? —

    I love it. (This message has been brought to you by William Strunk Jr. and E. B. White, co-authors of “The Elements of Style,” in which they advise us, “Omit needless words.”)

    J.J. (Alias MugRuith1)

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    • J.J., you are both a sci-fi expert and a writing expert! Outstanding comment, with enough drollery to fill a “Star Trek” holodeck.

      Given the rarefied company in which you placed James Blish, he’s now on my list of authors to try. (I’m sure I’ll find him “guilty” of great writing.) Speaking of lists, that was an excellent one you offered of various authors who wrote some or a lot of sci-fi.

      Thank you!

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      • — Given the rarefied company in which you placed James Blish, he’s now on my list of authors to try. —

        Mine, too. Besides the excellent “Cities in Flight” and a few books in the more or less workmanlike “Star Trek” series, I have read shockingly little of his work, but I plan to remedy that situation, as long as the M42 bus doesn’t get to me first.

        — Speaking of lists, that was an excellent one you offered of various authors who wrote some or a lot of sci-fi. —

        And I immediately regretted it, relegating as I did to the category of the usual suspects the likes of Stephen Vincent Benet, Pierre Boulle, Shirley Jackson, Richard Matheson and — Dog help me! — even B.F. Skinner.

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        • I guess there are always some authors we forget when making lists. 🙂 Great additional names! The work of Richard Matheson, for instance, included some memorable sci-fi. And Shirley Jackson’s excellent writing (“The Haunting of Hill House,” “The Lottery”) could be incredibly unnerving.

          I’m a big “Star Trek” fan, but have never read any of the books. My exposure has been to the first four TV series (original, “The Next Generation,” “Deep Space Nine,” “Voyager” — loved them all) and the various movies (some of which were better than others).

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          • — I’m a big “Star Trek” fan, but have never read any of the books. —

            I suspect you haven’t missed a thing. I appreciate a regular paycheck as much as the next scrivener, but I believe James Blish was built for better things, such as “A Work of Art,” “Cities in Flight” and a host of other pieces outside the prefabricated “Star Trek” universe that I haven’t experienced yet.

            — My exposure has been to the first four TV series (original, “The Next Generation,” “Deep Space Nine,” “Voyager” — loved them all) —

            Me, too. I also kind of liked “Star Trek: Enterprise.” (What can I say? I even kind of liked Ayn Rand’s “Anthem” and “Atlas Shrugged”: Ach! It’s a terrible thing when good sci-fi happens to bad people!)

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            • Yes, properties that originate on screen don’t usually translate well to print. I suppose there are some exceptions — I have a paperback collection of “Twilight Zone” stories that aren’t bad, but the TV series was better.

              I’ve never seen “Enterprise” — I’m guessing I would have liked it, but I stopped watching TV around that time. And I think I’ll finally read Ayn Rand someday out of perverse fascination. “It’s a terrible thing when good sci-fi happens to bad people” — SO funny. 🙂

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              • Dave, I was only 15 when I first read “Atlas Shrugged” and “Anthem”, and as a teen with normal yearnings for freedom, and having survived fascism and nazism, in addition to being a witness to the then real fear of communism taking over, I thought both novels were a brilliant apologia for freedom. However, when I read them again about ten years later (in English this time), I felt revolted by the extent of the glorification of selfishness, by the Orwellian double-speak Rand used to present the deification of the self at the expense of all others as a moral imperative. The question that is never asked by Rand and her followers is: if the individual is of paramount importance (and I tend to agree that EACH individual is important), it follows that the “others” are all individuals of equal importance, so in a civilized society how can “I” have the right to disregard the rights/needs of those “others”?

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                • Clairdelune, terrific question at the end of your eloquent comment!

                  From your description of Ayn Rand’s work, I can see her appeal to a certain extent — especially in the time and place you experienced as a teen. But, as you add, selfishness can be so destructive — especially on a society-wide basis.

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                • “There are two novels that can change a bookish fourteen-year old’s life: The Lord of the Rings and Atlas Shrugged. One is a childish fantasy that often engenders a lifelong obsession with its unbelievable heroes, leading to an emotionally stunted, socially crippled adulthood, unable to deal with the real world. The other, of course, involves orcs.”

                  — John Rogers

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    • J.J. McGrath, thanks for reminding me of James Blish! It’s been decades since I read “Cities in Flight” , but I do recall how much I liked it. I also liked “They Shall Have the Stars” trilogy, so complex and interesting. Now I feel compelled to go on Amazon and see if that series is still in print! Then of course there is the problem of trying to find the time to read them… :-]

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      • Howdy, Clairdelune!

        — [T]hanks for reminding me of James Blish! —

        My pleasure.

        — It’s been decades since I read “Cities in Flight” , but I do recall how much I liked it. —

        Me, too. “Cities in Flight” is to James Blish as “The Marriage of Figaro” overture is to Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (while the “Star Trek” books are so Antonio Salieri).

        — I also liked “They Shall Have the Stars” trilogy, so complex and interesting. —

        The “Cities in Flight” edition I read about 40 years ago encompassed four volumes: “They Shall Have Stars,” “A Life for the Stars,” “Earthman, Come Home” and “A Clash of Cymbals/The Triumph of Time.” It was awesomely spindizzy!

        J.J.

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  12. Morning Dave..not much of a science fiction reader…you already mentioned Robert Louis Stevenson`s “Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” same author who wrote “Treasure Island” both are spellbinding classics but so different . I remember long ago in`70s saw the PBS movie J&H..staring Jack Palance. His acting was so brilliant I had a few sleepless nights after that.

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    • Good morning, bebe!

      As I mentioned, I’m also just an occasional sci-fi reader myself. And when I read “Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde,” I didn’t think of it as sci-fi. More like horror or a psychological study. But it is kind of sci-fi, too. 🙂 Robert Louis Stevenson was such a diverse writer — YA-type adventure (like the “Treasure Island” you mentioned), general grown-up stuff with a love story (“Weir of Hermiston”), etc.

      That PBS movie sounds memorable! A powerful, spooky story and excellent acting are a great combination.

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      • “Flowers for Algernon” a science written by Daniel Keyes , what a heart wrenching book but I watch the movie first..brilliantly played by Cliff Robertson and I cried and cried watching it.
        ” The Invisible Man” another classic by H.G.Wells as you mentioned above.
        “2001: A Space Odyssey” .
        No have not read that but loved the song, does that count ?

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          • I read “Flowers for Algernon” before I ever saw the movie! I recommend the movie highly, Dave. Both Cliff Robertson and Claire Bloom gave amazing performances.

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          • Now I am in big trouble..last night I realized my purse is not will me and have left at the library with my driver`s license and phone in the staff area . So I called around 8 PM and they have it asked them to lock it up.
            oh my 🙂

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                • A few months ago, my wife left her purse in a NYC taxicab– containing passport, credit cards, cash, keys, the works. We phoned the Taxi and Limousine Commission’s lost-and-found, got nowhere. Called nearby precincts. Same result.

                  Much angst ensued for a few long minutes, then a phone call— The very next fare saw the purse and took it home with her. It seems she had lost her own purse in a cab months before, and wishing to spare a stranger all she had gone through, determined to right matters herself. She searched through the purse till she found an address book, and called! We hightailed (by cab, natch) to her building, and retrieved the purse. I gave our guardian angel $50 by way of a reward, which, only after some persuasion, she agreed to keep.

                  Funny bit: My wife’s book, Grail Nights, is set in New Orleans, and we were preparing it for publication at the time. We had been considering a sub-title for it that included the phrase “before Katrina”, which we hoped would clarify the novel’s time-frame. Our guardian angel’s name? Katrina (!)– and I can ironically attest– our assessment of our fellow man was boosted considerably “after Katrina”. The second time around, anyway.

                  Hope by now your purse crisis is over entirely, sans repercussion or loss of any kind.

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                  • What a nice ending..and you wife is a writer…not surprised at all. Heart warming story it is.

                    Yes..I was able to get my purse back, it was in the staff room at the Public Library and I requested they lock it up.
                    But in 90`s my negligence caused me a lot of grief. Was working in MO dental school in not the best area in town ” Troost Ave”. My purse was so organized ( only fools do that), all credit cards, check book, driver`s license , my son“s immunization records inside it. Place in a drawer and I failed to lock . Came back the wallet inside my purse gone !

                    Imagine now what I had to go through…none of the cards or checks was used, had 40 some dollars of cash suppose for drug money.

                    I still regret losing my son`s immunization records.

                    Liked by 1 person

                    • Yes, winning a big lottery prize would be both wonderful and scary, bebe. I’d want to keep my winning a secret, but I think a lot of lotteries require the winners to be publicized in order to keep the PR machines going.

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        • bebe, that was an excellent version of “Space Oddity”! Thank you for that! I used to fashion myself as a true Bowie expert. I can remember explaining to my best friend how Bowie changed the lyrics for this song slightly in a few different venues or recording and I still remember his eyes glazing over. 🙂 I honestly can’t blame him.

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      • I don’t think ‘Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde’ is any more or less science fiction than two similar novels: Balzac’s ‘The Wild Ass’s Skin’ and Wilde’s ‘The Picture of Dorian Gray’. I consider these philosophical/metaphysical fantasies. ‘Frankenstein’ is another one. Science is just part of the necessary foundation/premise for these stories but hardly propels them and is secondary to the thematic/metaphorical aspects.

        Regarding stories that were made more kid-friendly for the cinematic versions, I just saw ‘7 Faces of Dr. Lao’ at the library the other night, with Tony Randall (and lots of makeup) playing an old Chinese wizard/magician, Merlin, Pan, Medusa, the Abominable Snowman, and the voice of a large snake. The movie was a great fantasy from George Pal, who had also done the film versions of ‘The Time Machine’ and ‘The War of the Worlds’ a few years earlier. It’s definitely palatable for kids but the purpose of the circus of Dr. Lao is to wake up some complacent, law-abiding citizens of a small, Western town. It was based on a novella by Charles Finney from 1935. I had the story once in a collection along with a few other stories, edited by Ray Bradbury. It was pretty obvious that ‘Dr. Lao’ influenced Bradbury, particularly in his ‘dark carnival’ type stories such as ‘Something Wicked This Way Comes’. I’ve requested the collection through Interlibrary Loan so I will finally read that story. It’s a bit different from the movie from what I’ve read. For one thing, it’s set in the middle of the Depression, not during the death throes of the Old West. It’s a bit more sardonic and perhaps horrific. I guess ‘Circus of Dr. Lao’ could also be considered a philosophical fantasy in the tradition of ‘Jekyll & Hyde’ and those others I mentioned and it became a specialty of Bradbury with his often sunnier, more idealistic view of the time of his childhood and the magic that a child perceives.

        Liked by 1 person

        • So well said, bobess48. I like the term “philosophical/metaphysical fantasies.” And, yes, the Balzac and Wilde works you mentioned are sort of in the sci-fi realm. In the “supernatural” category as well. As I mentioned in another comment, even magic realism (a la Gabriel Garcia Marquez, etc.) could be considered partly sci-fi.

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        • I know this is a really long comment thread, but I wanted to mention that I saw the J&H Broadway show; I can’t even begin to think about how long ago that was, but it was really fantastic. The main character (I don’t remember who) was made up to be Jekyll on one side and the other as Hyde. So he had to keep moving from one side to the other, which must have been exhausting. We had really great tickets for that show so we could see the transformation from one to another, along with the sweat that poured off their faces.

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    • Actually, the Jack Palance ‘Jekyll and Hyde’ was originally a TV movie on ABC I believe, broadcast on 7 January 1968. I recall that Jack was far more convincing as Mr. Hyde than he was as mild-mannered Dr. Jekyll. I guess when you have a face like that and have played so many psychopaths already, it’s more of a challenge to be convincing as a sane person.

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      • HA..I have watched the movie in PBS perhaps in 1970`s. Since this an old movie and I am not really giving anything away. It is almost 40 some years ago and one scene is still in my mind.
        Dr Jekyll`s wife was sitting in front of a mirror and he was touching her back, his hand moved up to her neck and the transformation took place instantly as Mr. Hyde was so horrific still ingrained in my mind.

        His enormous talent was finally recognized in City Slickers when Mr. Palance won the Oscar.

        Liked by 1 person

    • Saw that Palance vehicle too– and I do think it’s the most unsettling and engaging of all the versions I’ve seen– March’s and Tracy’s don’t come close. But John Barrymore’s silent (1920) picture allows the principal to stretch (his face especially) to such contortions of lewd and leering evil that I still get the creeps upon recollection.

      That made for teevee stuff has more than occasionally delivered up a gem– The pilot for Darren McGavin’s The Night Stalker does Dracula frighteningly and convincingly well– it’s a favorite. Peter O’Toole’s The Dark Angel (a BBC production of Sheridan Le Fanu’s Uncle Silas) is chock full of palpable, indolent wickedness– untoppable to date.

      Liked by 2 people

  13. I also have a wide definition of sci-fi that encompasses fantasy, post-apocalyptic fiction, and other things I happen to like in “that way.” I’ve just finished the YA Percy Jackson series. It was fine.

    The Road was amazing, but it threw me into a fit of depression so terrible that I had to re-read The Mists of Avalon to snap me out of it. I still haven’t read anything by Neil Gaiman, which I’m embarrassed to admit. But now I’ll put it towards the top of my list.

    I appreciated Saramago’s Blindness, but again, quite depressing. And I don’t think we can count it as science fiction, but The Handmaid’s Tale is certainly post-post Apocalyptic.

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    • Thanks for commenting, That Unique Weblog! I think having a wide definition of sci-fi is a good thing. Literary categories often blur into each other, and that seems like nothing for people to worry about. Well, maybe bookstore and library shelvers might worry, like when Wall-E in the Pixar film couldn’t figure out whether to put a spork with the spoons or the forks. 🙂

      Yes, “The Road” is an ultra-depressing novel by a brilliant but ultra-depressing writer. (Though Cormac McCarthy’s earlier “Suttree” actually has some laughs and lighter moments.) I hear you about wanting to read a less pessimistic book after that.

      “American Gods” is the only Neil Gaiman novel I’ve read, and it was just a few months ago, so I’m also not that “up” on him. “AG” is original, ambitious, quirky…

      “The Handmaid’s Tale” is certainly unforgettable — and Margaret Atwood has written several non-“speculative fiction” books just as good.

      “…post-post apocalyptic” — I like that term, though I don’t like apocalypses. 🙂

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    • Thank you, GL! I think sci-fi is well worth spending time on. While it’s not the genre I read most, it really can be entertaining, exciting, intellectually stimulating, socially aware, and other good things. 🙂

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  14. Hi Dave, I don’t feel as though I’m the best person to talk about science fiction, though I’ve read it off and on through the years; although if I decide to get back to my program of reading that I established a few years ago, I would add sci-fi to my list of weekly readings to encompass: 1) modern fiction; 2) classic fiction; 3) mysteries; 4) non-fiction books; and 5) science fiction. This is interspersed with my love for classic comics such as Calvin & Hobbes, Pogo, Foxtrot, and even Archie, Betty & Veronica digests. However, I loved all of the Star Wars series, the Dune series, and many others. and I have the Neil Gaiman series (American Gods); in a leather-bound edition.

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    • Your reading has been so diverse and eclectic, Kat Lib! And I share your love of certain comic strips. 🙂

      As with you, sci-fi is a small part of my reading mix (it was just by chance that I read “The Martian” and “Kindred” consecutively), but I do like the genre a lot.

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      • Dave, I’ll admit to being extremely eclectic in my reading tastes, along with my taste in most everything else; e.g. music, movies and the arts. I at some times think this is a failing in me; while at the same time I think it is somehow very progressive of me to be open to so many different genres and other arts. That may be just a generalization; yet I can’t stop being interested in so many different things. There are many great sci-fi writers; e.g., Ray Bradbury, Isaac Asimov, Robert Heinlein, Frank Herbert; Ursula LeGuin, Doris Lessing, P.D. James (although I haven’t read all of them). But I hope to someday. As you know, I was extremely fond of David Bowie; and among his hits, were such songs as “Space Oddity,” “Life on Mars,” and “Ashes to Ashes.”

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        • I forgot to mention that there were fantasy sci-fi novels, such as the Harry Potter series; as well as standalone films such as “Labyrinth,” starring David Bowie as the Goblin King (one of my favorites).

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          • “Harry Potter” indeed has some sci-fi elements despite being mostly in the fantasy category. The lines between those two genres definitely blur! 🙂

            I’ve actually never seen any of David Bowie’s movies. 😦

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            • Howdy, Dave and Kat Lib!

              — I’ve actually never seen any of David Bowie’s movies. —

              I share Kat Lib’s appreciation of David Bowie’s performance as Jareth the Goblin King in Jim Henson’s “Labyrinth” (whose director was previously linked to the unforgettable “Pigs in Space”). However, my favorite Bowie performance in a sci-fi film comes when he plays the part of Thomas Jerome Newton in Nicolas Roeg’s “The Man Who Fell to Earth,” which is notable for representing the erstwhile Ziggy Stardust’s first starring role in a movie. He is perfect as the substance-abusing space traveler, so wasted. (Been there, done that.) Still, there is one area where I believe “Labyrinth” bests “The Man Who Fell to Earth,” which centers on the fact the former incorporates Bowie’s musical talents and the latter does not, as evidenced by the following two videos:

              “As the World Falls Down”

              “Underground”

              J.J.

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                • — Great music, and some seriously striking film-making! —

                  Reflected more in the first clip and less in the second clip (with both directed by Steve Barron), Jim Henson had an awesome cinematic vocabulary. I regret he did not live long enough to get around to bringing to the big screen an adaptation of one of Robert A. Heinlein’s classic novels, which he could have titled “The Muppet Masters.”

                  (Meanwhile, I should have mentioned that “The Man Who Fell to Earth” is a very nice example of celluloid cli-fi, as discussed by Danny Bloom and Bill Tammeus elsewhere here this week.)

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        • I think eclectic is good, Kat Lib! I try to be that way in my reading, too — mixing at least some genre fiction with my preference of general fiction (classic and modern).

          P.D. James wrote sci-fi as well as mystery? I didn’t know that! As I’ve mentioned, I’ll soon be reading my first novel of hers — “The Lighthouse.”

          And, yes, David Bowie definitely had some sci-fi moments — as did Rush (“2112”), Elton John (“Rocket Man”), The Moody Blues (“Higher and Higher”), Parliament (“Mothership Connection”), Judy Collins (the Jimmy Webb-written “The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress”), etc. 🙂

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          • Dave, P.D. James wrote “The Children of Men,” and is actually better classified as a dystopian novel. It takes place in England but is centered around mass infertility world-wide and possible extinction of all mankind. I haven’t read it, because I was always more focused on her mysteries, but I’d like to give it a try one day.

            Dave, I noticed in my original comment that I said I’d like to get back to my reading program and included one category as “non-fiction mysteries” when I meant just “mysteries.”

            Liked by 1 person

            • Thanks, Kat Lib, for that information on P.D. James’ dystopian novel! It’s admirable when authors go outside their comfort zone and try a different genre.

              Dystopian lit — “Nineteen Eighty-Four,” “Brave New World,” “The Hunger Games,” etc., etc. — is sort of sci-fi, but sort of not. Another example of how sci-fi is hard to define exactly.

              I fixed the “mysteries” mention. 🙂

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              • Thanks, Dave 🙂 As I mentioned to you before, I’m going through the process of trying to buy a new home, which has made me even more distracted than normal, along with having the “blizzard” last week that shut down things for a few days. Although I will say it could have been much worse. The temps here in SE PA are going up, so for the first time today I saw green grass in some of the areas that were completely covered by snow. How great is that!

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                • Ugh — trying to get a new place, and that blizzard. A lot to deal with, Kat Lib.

                  A warm couple of days in northern NJ, too. I just took a long walk and was constantly dodging puddles from the melting snow. 🙂 I’d say the original 18-20 inches here from Jan. 23 is down to maybe six or so.

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          • Parliament was influenced by a sub-genre of sci-fi called Afrofuturism. This genre initially started as a literature-only movement. Most of the authors wrote about post-colonial and slavery societies.

            Music and art developed as the Afrofuturistic concept expanded. Musicians like George Clinton/P-funk and Earth, Wind, & Fire blended fantasy and techno with traditional components of sci-fi. Think of their sound as a musical version of a sci-fi novel,

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            • Yup, you’re right that Rush was not a one-hit or one-album wonder when it came to its sci-fi period. One might even say that some of their music during those decades was…out of this world. 🙂

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      • gl, Not to make you even more jealous, I must admit that I’ve also got leather-bound editions of Isaac Asimov’s “Foundation” trilogy as well as a collection of novels by Ray Bradbury. You can tell what I spent my money on while I was still working (and I view these books as more pieces of art than a book I could buy for much less). Now, on a fixed income, I’ve decided I don’t need to buy any new books, because I have so many books to read, which is exactly a very good place to be.

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  15. Oh heck, gimme a good old space opera any time. I love that term: space opera. It speaks to a genre of science fiction but it also tells sci-fi fans something about the spectacle of operatic elements. If only Wagner had a light saber.

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    • A good space opera works for me, too, Almost Iowa. And, like you, I love that term. So incongruous in a way — a mix of high culture and low culture. “If only Wagner had a light saber” — outstanding line! 🙂

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      • The sword Nothung was quite the blade, though it belonged to Siegfried, and not his librettist, a spendthrift stuff-fetishist.

        When Siegfried slew Fofnar, the dragon’s blood was so hot when it ran onto his fingers that Siegfried unthinkingly thrust them into his mouth to cool them. The blood, having magical properties, caused Siegfried to understand the language of the birds in the forest. Siegfried’s Wood Idyll is a beautiful piece of Wagner music, made more lovely to listeners who know that when they hear instrumental tweets and twitters, Siegfried hears avian conversation.

        Me, I’d prefer to have Nothung over a light saber. With Nothung, I could talk to a brace of pheasants, a hoot owl or a wood duck. With the light saber, you get to yap with Yoda and the original Hoosier Daddy, at the cut price of a manual extremity. I’m making my nest with the feathered bipeds.

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      • I’m not normally one to talk TV / movies when others are talking literature, but have either of you ever seen Joss Whedon’s “Firefly” or follow up movie “Serenity”?

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  16. Of course, first you can determine how wide you want to make the science fiction blanket. Any story that is not set in a literal consensual reality could be labeled fantasy, and within that you have various ‘flavors’ of story. ‘Gulliver’s Travels’ is a fantasy that’s not really ‘science fiction’ because there’s no attempt by the author to present a scientifically plausible explanation for how Gulliver journeys to Lilliput or the Houywhyms or any of the other worlds he visits. How these things happen is irrelevant; what is important is the philosophical epiphanies that such journeys reveal. We can also pretty much rule out ‘imaginary world’ stories such as ‘Lord of the Rings’ and ‘Song of Ice and Fire’ (and, for that matter, ‘Star Wars’, which has very little actual SCIENCE. H.G. Wells’ works were the boiler plates for pretty much all science fiction of the 20th century, yet even with him, he doesn’t offer through pseudo explanations for how these bizarre things work. Ray Bradbury was the first ‘literary’ science fiction author I read, even slightly before Wells, but he said that he only really wrote one actual ‘science fiction’ story and that was ‘Fahrenheit 451’. Great novel, but I don’t really see anything more scientific in it than ‘The Martian Chronicles’ or ‘The Illustrated Man’ but he was the author, so he could classify his own works however he wanted. Ray was my ‘gateway’ to Wells, Heinlein and pretty much all the other science fiction I have read over the years. When I went to college and was exposed to classic literaturee, I was pretty much converted in my literary orientation, although I never felt the need to dismiss science fiction. If I could write it myself, I would.

    But back to your question: What are my favorite science fiction novels? Well, Bradbury’s ‘Fahrenheit 451′ was a novel, and it IS great, but he primarily wrote short stories, so there are hundreds of great ones from him to consider.

    One that doesn’t get mentioned that much is Daniel Keyes’ ‘Flowers for Algernon’. Of course, it was made into the movie ‘Charly’ and Cliff Robertson won an Oscar for playing Charlie Gordon. But there’s a fascinating scientific premise for how he grows from idiot to genius.

    The same could be said for Anthony Burgess’ ‘A Clockwork Orange’. The medical treatment that’s administered to psychopath Alex renders him a ‘model Christian’ who will turn the other cheek and retch at the sight of violence has ethical concerns similar to the ones around Charlie’s treatment in ‘Flowers for Algernon’.

    Of course, I also love Vonnegut’s ‘Slaughterhouse-Five’ and ‘Cat’s Cradle’ and ‘The Sirens of Titan’ of his science fiction works.

    Phillip K. Dick wrote the fantastic ‘Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep’ (which became the film ‘Blade Runner’) but he wrote dozens of others, including the great alternate history novel, ‘The Man in the High Castle’.

    There are several others that are great, not because of their science fiction elements but because of how they use those elements to tell a story with great literary revelations. That’s probably the characteristic that all of these share.

    Of course, I have to admit that I have enjoyed some that’s lower on the literary scale. Before I read Bradbury and all the rest, in my early teens I read dozens of pulpy ‘Doc Savage’ novels, many of which had ridiculous, yet enjoyable ‘scientific’ premises. I felt the same about Edgar Rice Burroughs. Although most famous as the creator of Tarzan, he wrote several other series, some Westerns, and some that could be considered science fiction. Probably his most interesting science fiction creation was Pellucidar, a prehistoric world that resides inside the earth’s core. Being a hollowed out world inside a ball, it has a sun that hovers in the sky. The horizon rises in all directions, like a bowl. With that location of the sun, it’s always day so, consequently, any conception of measuring time must be different. This is probably my favorite ‘imaginary world’ and it has no scientific basis whatsoever, yet the setup for getting to it is very much patterned after Wells’ scientific romances.

    So those are just a few of my favorite works of science fiction (and I’m still stretching that term to include some of them).

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    • Brian, thanks for the interesting, eloquent, and very comprehensive comment!

      I thought of mentioning the terrific “Fahrenheit 451” — probably Ray Bradbury’s best-known novel, but couldn’t quite decide if it was sci-fi or dystopian (the latter of which can be sort of sci-fi). It just goes to show, as you alluded to, how hard it is to determine the parameters of the sci-fi genre. There are indeed plenty of works called sci-fi that don’t have a lot of science in them, along with the works that DO have a lot of science — a la “The Martian.”

      And, yes, Bradbury is one of the most literary of the sci-fi greats.

      Very glad you mentioned authors and novels such as Phillip K. Dick, “A Clockwork Orange,” and “Flowers for Algernon” — the last of which I read a couple of years ago and found to be REALLY good. I think it definitely had sci-fi elements amid its very human story. Also glad you mentioned the pulps!

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      • Cannot attest to a recent exposure, but I read Burgess’ The Wanting Seed as a teen and found it provocative and unsettling– it too is a dystopian fiction, centered on themes of over-population and war, set in a near-future society transformed by the grim necessities arising out of those themes.

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    • Picked up over a dozen reissued Edgar Rice Burroughs paperbacks from the 1970’s for 50 cents ea a while back– read a bit of one but have yet to return to the pile– I read a few Tarzans and John Carter of Mars as a boy, and if ever a sufficiently boyish mood sweeps over me, now I’ve got back-up.

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  17. I haven’t read much science fiction beyond some of Kurt Vonnegut’s work that can be classified that way, even though Robert Heinlein, a famous sci-fi writer was from a small town south of Kansas City. More recently I’ve become interested in what my friend Danny Bloom (who lives on Taiwan) has called Cli-Fi, which is Climate Change Fiction. For his blog on that subject, see http://northwardho.blogspot.tw/.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks for that link, Bill! An excellent example of what your friend calls “Cli-Fi” is Barbara Kingsolver’s 2012 novel “Flight Behavior,” which combines a devastating look at climate change (its impact on butterflies) with a very interesting story and three-dimensional characters.

      I’ve only read one Heinlein novel myself; I want to read more eventually.

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      • Danny, thanks for stopping by, for the nice wordplay, and for the Web address! That was an interesting blog post of yours that Bill linked to — and I think “cli-fi” is a great term.

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