Listen to it at Escape Pod.

This is probably one of the bravest science fiction pieces I’ve ever read.

It’s a cliché that scifi is about alien cultures. It’s also wrong. Science fiction is about our own culture, but tweaked enough that we are able to look at it objectively. The creatures of that society might look completely different (or they might not), but it all comes down to the same thing in the end: eerily recognisable societies and cultures, that are only really alien because they hail from a different planet.

The reason I think this story is brave, is because it takes a few steps away from the tried-and-tested mould of recognisable aliens. Family Values focuses on sentient underwater blobs, with reproductive processes that are very alien indeed.

Why is it brave? Well, the simple fact of the matter is that people, even science fiction geeks, aren’t interested in aliens. They’re interested in people. Well, that’s being very generous. People are interested in people in general and themselves in particular. Literature is usually most enjoyable for the reader when he or she can recognise a character who is similar to themselves, or when they are confronted with a situation that they have had to deal with in real life.

Unfortunately, this piece isn’t as brave as it could have been. Although it is vastly more alien than most science fiction in the creatures presented and the worldbuilding, the narrative itself is incredibly human. There’s bribable politicians, petty squabbling between women based on age and experience (therefore social merit), and there’s men and women using sex to manipulate each other, based on each gender’s unique weaknesses and strengths.

Still, I applaud the author for having the audacity to dare write about something that wasn’t entirely human. It makes it harder for the casual readers, but much more enjoyable for those looking for something more than semi-escapist fantasy.

Listen to it at Variant Frequencies.

I don’t know why, but I tend to dislike stories that play on ‘gimmicks’ or current events. I’m sure these will be fascinating to anthropologists in centuries to come. But if there’s something that doesn’t interest me right now, then chances are I’m not going to be interested by a story about it, either.

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Listen to it at Escape Pod.

This has to be one of the single most enjoyable science fiction stories I’ve read in a long time.

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Listen to it at Escape Pod.

When Steve Eley announced on this week’s Escape Pod that the story was YA science fiction, I got excited. I’m a big fan of YA fiction, and not just because it wasn’t that long ago when I was in the target demographic for that particular genre. I believe that children’s fiction and YA fiction contains some of the strongest messages you’ll find in literature. These genres aren’t afraid to tackle the most universal and difficult themes. Lewis Carroll’s Alice books are mostly about the question, ‘Who am I?’ Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy is about the question, ‘What is right? What is wrong? What should I believe?’

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Listen to it at PodCastle.

I’m all about not judging a book or story by its genre. I believe that just about any genre is capable of producing gems of storytelling, as well as unmitigated dreck. When it comes to genre, I like to think of myself as an equal rights activist.

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I generally don’t buy that many horror novels. Sometimes I’ll pick something up, if it’s a name I recognise, or a title I know is a classic. The only writer who many connect with horror that I actively follow is Stephen King. (I’m one of the few people who actually prefers his newer stuff to the stuff he wrote pre-accident.)

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Listen to it at Escape Pod.

Sometimes, people get into discussions on what ‘science fiction’ really is, or what ‘horror’ really is. This is the problem with genres that aren’t studied as much as ‘real’ literature. I like the Escape Artists definition, which is that science fiction is whatever Steve Eley thinks is science fiction.

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Listen to it at PodCastle.

This is the kind of fantasy fiction I can really get into. Not only does it give fairies, elves, dwarves, and other high fantasy rubbish a wide berth (I might come to like those things one day, but right now they’re one of my biggest literary turn-offs), but it incorporates elements of very different genres. It’s modern, it flows wonderfully, it has really cool stuff.

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Listen to it at Pseudopod. Read the text here.

I’m usually not fond of short fiction that tackles issues like discrimination or abusive relationships, or anything like that. The main reason for this is that these stories are hard to pull off. Either the point is missed completely, and I feel like an idiot for not picking up on the themes, or the writer is simply too heavy-handed and it becomes nothing more than a dressed-up sermon on how I should live my life.

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Listen to it at Escape Pod.

To me, science fiction is a tricky genre. This is mostly because I’m almost ashamed to admit that I read it. I remember, a few years ago, a friend of mine was aghast when I admitted I liked reading scifi. Even though she was fond of flimsy teen romance books, I cared about what she thought, and that moment of shock and horror still haunts me on some level.

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