In Defense of Fantasy and Scifi

I came across this article on Wired today, about how colleges aren’t accepting of the fantasy and science fiction genre as a valid literary avenue. I agree that for the most part, they are not. My own college advisor hated fantasy because he felt you couldn’t describe magic–it was unseen. He liked sensory detail. I wrote a piece for one of his classes in which I described magic well enough to win him over, at least partially. He liked my story and was surprised by my use of sensory detail to describe fantastic details or the appearance of magic. 

When I published Bound, he read and enjoyed it. Now, I can’t say he has accepted the genre as something to integrate in his cirriculum, but I felt like I helped him better understand its value. Not everyone is going to be as open-minded as my professor, however.

Most people forget that this genre provides detailed social commentary, or predicts how humans might behave in the future, or could have behaved in the past. It is an exploratory genre; one that allows humanity to be more than it is, one that postulates solutions to larger social or scientific problems, one that helps us learn things, in addition to telling a damn good story.

So, if you’re looking to defend this genre, remind folks that H.G. Wells and Jules Verne are some of its forefathers, and Mary Shelly the mother. Remind folks that if they like Star Trek, they already walk this path with us. And whatever happens, do not let anyone dissuade you from loving this genre. It has as much value as any other.

If you see other genre fiction folks floundering (graphic novels, romance, or other niche subjects) rise to their defense. We’re all in this together.

Happy writing, all. 

U is for Undead, my slogan for Bound.

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Lie to Me

I was looking around the NBC News site the other day when I came across a slide show of pictures from space for 2013. I, being the science nerd that I am, clicked through the slide show. There were a variety of pictures in it, including shots of earth from space (city light patterns, patchwork of fields), shots of space from space (supernova, Venus seen through Saturn’s rings), and shots of space from earth (the Northern Lights).

It dawned on me when I reached the picture of the supernova that though I was fascinated, and had I been more awake, probably awed, I never once thought to myself “this is impossible,” or “this has to be fake,” or even “how scary.”

I’ve said before that I don’t feel small looking into space, even though it is a giant swath of sparkly, dangerous unknown. No air, no sound. Just big balls of heat floating in an endless void, occasionally circled with smaller, round objects that are unlikely to support life.

It dawned on me, when I saw that picture of a supernova, that I was different.

This supernova, discovered in 1604 by Johannes Kepler, belongs to an important class of objects that are used to measure the rate of expansion of the universe, known as Type 1a supernovae. The view you see here, released March 18, was produced using data from NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory as well as infrared and optical imagery. The Chandra X-ray observations led astronomers to conclude that the supernova was triggered by interaction between a white dwarf and a red giant star.Via Month in Space: March 2013 Slideshow http://www.nbcnews.com/id/6955261/ns/technology_and_science-space_slideshows/

Credit: CXC/NASA/JPL-Caltech

This supernova, discovered in 1604 by Johannes Kepler, belongs to an important class of objects that are used to measure the rate of expansion of the universe, known as Type 1a supernovae. The view you see here, released March 18, was produced using data from NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory as well as infrared and optical imagery. The Chandra X-ray observations led astronomers to conclude that the supernova was triggered by interaction between a white dwarf and a red giant star.
Via Month in Space: March 2013 Slideshow http://www.nbcnews.com/id/6955261/ns/technology_and_science-space_slideshows/
Credit: CXC/NASA/JPL-Caltech

I wasn’t like the scientists, who would see such an image and think of all the technical possibilities and implications. I wasn’t like some of the public that would see such an image and wonder at the technology used to get it. I wasn’t like other parts of the public that may fear such an image for reasons I can’t begin to comprehend.

Nope. I had the unique perspective of an avid reader of science fiction. The technology used to get that image, in my mind, is a foregone conclusion. It’s a miracle of science, but it is also just an exploratory tool. I couldn’t ever hope to understand how they made it, but I know that they did, and that it works, and that it sends back images of a larger truth.

That little robot they sent to Mars? The Curiosity Rover? Also a miracle of science. But when I heard about it, one of my thoughts was “Damn, it’s about time. Don’t they have jetpacks now? Where are those?”

People, scientists and everyone else, are stunned when they find evidence of life on other planets. Such discoveries are groundbreaking, and exhilarating, and at the same time I think “Well, of course. We can’t be the only ones.”

Even such things as solar or wind power, that can be so revolutionary, are mundane to a certain section of my brain because I have seen civilization master them.

I have been to different solar systems. I have found sentient life on hundreds of different planets. I have been part of (at least) two empires that spanned galaxies.

I have seen things the majority of the population has yet to dream about, all thanks to the power of the written word.

I started reading science fiction shortly after I was introduced to the Star Wars movies in late elementary school. I started reading the expanded universe books, and then I moved on to more true science fiction and read Dune.

Frank Herbert, I think, was probably the most influential in developing my perception of space and technology, and the implications that galactic rule might bring.  Reading those kinds of books really warped my concept of reality, in a good way. That which most people find impossible I may only find improbable.

That supernova picture, which is essentially a snapshot of the distant past because we’re seeing light that has taken countless years to get to us, is neither impossible nor improbable.  It’s simply truth. Beautiful, sparkly, dangerous truth.

It’s funny how reading a bunch of lies based on theoretical concepts gave me a more open mind.

Lie to me, science fiction. I promise I’ll believe.

Review: Ascension Point

Hello, my hearts! I hope your weekend was spectacular. For my American friends, I hope the sportsball team of your choice won the annual championship. I don’t pay attention to that kind of thing, as you can see.

What I did over the weekend was think about this book I just finished: ASCENSION POINT by Dan Harris.

The book is a science fiction novel, and Harris’ self-published debut. Now, before you go around finishing that cringe-smirk, let me tell you this. ASCENSION POINT holds its own against the mainstream science fiction market–it’s well plotted, well-edited, and most of all, fun to read.

That said, it is not for the beginning science fiction enthusiast. The first few paragraphs are a barrage of science fiction terms and ten-dollar words. Which is not a bad thing, necessarily, but if you’ve been reading YA books or books where the narrator communicates primarily in profanity (like I had been reading recently), it’s a bit of a struggle to get into the swing of things. If you aren’t a sci-fi fan by nature, this won’t be a good first book for you to read. Experienced nerds only.

ASCENSION POINT follows four key players: Luc, a genetically ideal Titan; Neela, a senator of the Commonwealth; Abe, half human, half machine, a Collective; and Ariadne, a psychic Seryn. They are called to assist the Athravan, a legendary branch of humanity that is on the brink of extinction.

These four people are all natural enemies at first, and must overcome centuries of social stigma to work together in finding what the Athravan need, to save that race, along with the rest of the galaxy.

I really did enjoy this book. At times, it was hard to keep up with the politics, but that may have been because I was reading it in fits and snatches on the commuter bus over the course of a month.  I was a little scared that the non-human races our heroes encounter on their journey would be humanoid, and humanoid only. But I was pleasantly surprised–there are silicon-based lifeforms, arachnid-based lifeforms, and energy-based aliens as well.

My favorite thing about the non-human races were that they communicated differently. Granted, everything ran through the ships’s translator, or an interpreter, but the speech patterns were always different, indicating alien thought processes. I thought that was a nice touch by Harris.

Speaking of ships, our heroes’ vessel–the technologically advanced Athravan ship, Mournstar–totally steals the show. Most of the ship technologies are artificially intelligent in this book, which amuses me, but Mournstar has the jokes, people. It’s kind of like the Enterprise’s computer combined with R2D2. Technological perfection with ‘tude.

Now, Collective seemed eerily close to the Borg of Star Trek fame, at first. But as you read you discover they are not aggressive. Simply curious, which makes Abe really easy to relate to as the reader. He is constantly exploring his surroundings, and provides an excellent foil to explain the politics of the book, as well as give you an appreciation for some of the sweeping vistas of space Harris presents you with.

Abe is my favorite character, as luck would have it. Close second being Mournstar.

The one thing that I had trouble with was the romances in the story. There are two, one established before we begin the adventure, and one that grows with the book. The established romance feels just a tad stiff from time to time. The romance that grows with the book felt a little underdeveloped. I would have liked to see a few more interludes between the people who make up the couple to help build the romantic storyline for the reader.

Harris is a very concise writer. If you aren’t paying attention, you may miss something, which may account for why I felt the romantic story lines were a tad off. However, this economy of words helps to keep the book moving quickly, even during plotted “down time.”

There are some interesting twists Harris will surprise you with, but they fit seamlessly with the overall plot. I find that sometimes plot twists come from left field and have no connection to the story, but not so in this book. Everything fits neatly together.

I can’t wait to read the next installment, VENUS RISING, when it comes out–theoretically, sometime this spring.

Find out more about Dan Harris and his adventures in storytelling by following him on Twitter, @sailingthevoid, or reading his blog: dan-harris.net.

In which I almost create a manifesto

I received a lot of dating advice in response to my post on Wednesday. I appreciate the feedback, I do, and I know it was all very well-intentioned. But, I’d just like to point out that I didn’t need advice so much as want to inspire a discussion on a double standard.

Smart men are praised.

Smart women are feared. (Here is a really extreme example.)

I associated this phenomena with a personal dating anecdote because that’s where I experienced the double standard the most, in the dating world. But that was not, apparently, the thing to introduce if I wanted to start an actual discussion, versus soliciting a flood of well-meaning advice. It’s my own fault.

So, allow me to put it bluntly: Why do you suppose society trains us to believe that smart women are bitchy and un-feminine, even while we are in the midst of a huge gender equality movement?

Why are we getting the message of “equality of intellect” out to the women, but somehow leave the men behind?

Why do we keep putting the onus on the smart women to adapt to a world where femininity is measured in the height of our heels, instead of asking society to evolve and accommodate more varied standards of the feminine? (Or the masculine, for that matter? Shout-out to the manly men that wear pink! Excuse the cliché.)

Have any of you experienced this sort of bias? Or, perhaps, the reverse?

I suppose my confusion and irritation stem from being an avid science fiction and fantasy reader since before I formed a concept of what was “socially acceptable.”

I mean, sure, there are plenty of sci-fi/fantasy books and movies that follow the prince-and-distressed-damsel standard, but there are just as many—if not more—that exemplify equality of intellect, and often, fighting prowess. Books where male characters are amazed by and respect their female counterparts for their specialties, regardless of whether it’s as an expert sword fighter, formidable scholar or an accomplished baker. Books where the reverse is also true, and women don’t bat an eye when a man takes on more traditionally feminine roles.

Books where women who have astounding intellects are praised just as highly as the men. Where smarts are feared or prized equally in both genders.

My own parents exemplify this dynamic of respect. Hell, I write those characters in my own stories. I’m really not sure why the rest of the world is taking so long to catch up.

I know in my heart (I know because some of you read this blog) that there are men out there who feel the same way.

So, thank you for the dating advice, but I will continue to reject your reality and substitute my own–since mine is the one we should be striving for in the first place.

Remember, boys and girls, the only way the world will change is if you start to change it. Don’t accept something you feel is wrong, or misguided. Speak up. Stand up.

Fight.

Review: Fahrenheit 451

I am exceedingly glad I did not read Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 in high school–or college for that matter. I would not have been able to appreciate it as a teenager, and professors would have dissected it to the point of insanity in college.

I am glad I read it on my own. I read it on a two-hour plane ride while on a trip for work and I loved it. Every moment. That said, is not one of those books you can pick up and put down willy-nilly. To read it requires…focus.

451 is the story of a fireman, Guy Montag, set in a disturbingly plausible future. Guy lives in a world where books are societal poison. Even the bible is distilled down to televised talking points from a generic, news-casting Jesus. Everything in Guy’s world is about “snappy endings” and making sure society is stupidly happy. His profession, fireman, has evolved from putting out fires (which, in this world, is just silly folklore because everything is fireproof) to starting them.

Guy burns books, and he, presumably, likes it. He burns books because books lead to free thinking, which destroys happiness. Happiness, on the other hand, is a constant bombardment of “infotainment,” keeping more deep thoughts subdued through over-stimulation. What an interesting form of mind-control Mr. Bradbury has put forth here. It requires little censorship, but thrives on individual fears and humanity’s ability to be distracted.

Then, Guy meets a young woman who doesn’t conform to society. She thinks, she asks questions, she teaches him how to do the same, and then she vanishes. At this point, Guy begins his “downward” spiral into freedom of thought, learning the reasons behind society’s aesthetic of happiness and blazing a new, dangerous trail for himself.

Bradbury’s writing style in this book is poetic. It’s often abstract or disjointed in places, reflecting Guy’s confusion and anger. The beginning is a little hard to get through because of that, but it is worth it in the end.

I loved this book because the story presents the reader with a mirror, asking us to question the status quo, and even rebel, if necessary. It doesn’t sugar coat the subversive path. Everything is hard and requires painful sacrifice. It plainly states the rebel’s cause will not be taken up immediately, rushing out upon society like a tidal wave, but rather it must be seeded–nurtured and cared for until society is ripe.

I also loved this book because Guy isn’t portrayed as a hero in the traditional sense. He’s just some ordinary fellow that valued curiosity and that put him in the crosshairs. He’s infinitely relatable.

If you haven’t read it before, I suggest you do so now. Maybe, even read it twice.