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.

Advertisements

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.

Read the rest of this entry »

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.

Read the rest of this entry »

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?’

Read the rest of this entry »

Read it at Wikisource.

Real literature! Yes, I do more than listen to speculative fiction podcasts.

Read the rest of this entry »

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.

Read the rest of this entry »

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.

Read the rest of this entry »

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.

Read the rest of this entry »

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.

Read the rest of this entry »

Finding stuff to read

May 29, 2008

This might seem rather redundant, but it’s worth recording.

I’m a fiction nut. I love finding and acquiring new things to read. I like buying books, I like getting books, I like finding books. I also like giving people books, but that’s not relevant. Here are my main methods of getting stuff to read.

  1. Bookshops
    Yes, this is pretty self-evident. There are few things I enjoy quite as much as spending time in my local bookshop, combing through the shelves. I lose a lot of money at that place.
  2. Second-hand bookshops
    Maybe not as self-evident. I’m lucky enough to live near a huge second-hand bookshop. I don’t lose quite as much money at this place, but I do get a lot more books. A lot of people dislike these places on prinicipal–they like having something new, and the idea that someone else owned a particular book before them is repulsive. I can understand that, but the only thing I like more than a new book is an old book. I have a volume of Milton’s work which is over 100 years old, and has pencil notes scrawled in it by one of the previous owners. I got it from a little second-hand bookshop in a small town in Devon, and it’s one of my favourite possessions. Give second-hand bookshops a chance–especially if you’re on a tight budget.
  3. Libraries
    I used to live in my local library. Due to circumstances, I hardly visit now. However, libraries are perfect for people who are still figuring out what they like, or people whose wallets can’t keep up with their reading habits.
  4. Project Gutenberg
    If it’s public domain, it’s online. Project Gutenberg has an extensive collection of classic works, free to download. If you don’t mind reading from your monitor, or you have a love of printing lots of stuff, this is the place for you.
  5. LibriVox
    This is something of an extension of Project Gutenberg. If you don’t like reading from your monitor and you’re not keen on printing lots of stuff, but you love listening to audiobooks, LibriVox is where you want to go. Free audio versions of public domain works. There are a number of truly excellent readers. There are, however, some truly abysmal ones, as well. Still, it’s free.
  6. Podcasts
    If you’re into ‘genre’ fic, you might have heard of Scott Sigler. He recently had his novel Infection picked up by Crown Publishing, and it was released in April 2008. He started by giving his novels away online, and lots of other authors are doing the same. Check out Podiobooks.com for the best of what’s available online. All the podcast novels listed there are also available for free.
  7. Serial novels
    The penny dreadfuls of our time? Hmm, maybe. Either way, there are a lot of novels being serialised online. Anyone can decide to give their work away for free-all they need to do is set up a blog, and they’re off. I’ve yet to run across a directory that weeds out the best from the rest, so I don’t have a reliable resource for quality fiction (and when I say ‘quality fiction’, I’m basically referring to typos/grammar/spelling/other technical issues, as most everything else is subjective), but will make sure to keep track of any gems here.