jasonlockwood

Sci-fi and Fantasy

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This post is intended to elicit responses from those list members who are avid readers of sci-fi and fantasy fiction.

A burning question in my mind over the years is what people find compelling or interesting about sci-fi and fantasy novels and stories. While I find the occasional novel engaging, as a genre, I just can't sustain must enthusiasm for it.

Let me state that it's not that I am opposed to these genres. Surely people can legitimately find sci-fi and fantasy interesting and engaging. Just not I!

Another observation of mine is a lot of people in the technical fields (I work in software myself) seem especially drawn to both genres. When I mention my preference for mystery and detective stories, some seem perplexed.

So all you sci-fi/fantasy buffs out there, tell me what it is you like and why.

Thanks!

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So all you sci-fi/fantasy buffs out there, tell me what it is you like and why.

I had been reading the classics since I was about eight years old, and it wasn't until four or five years later that I read my first science fiction book. I was immediately struck by one simple fact: every book I had read until then took place in the past, but here was a story about what the future was like. Whole new future worlds were created, and some of it I looked forward to in my own life. I was hooked! I never had any interest in living in the past; I enjoyed the present with an eye towards the future. Science fiction gave me the opportunity to live in those future worlds, at least in my mind. I love the genre.

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I started reading science fiction around, I guess, 10 or 11, and spent countless hours devouring many different authors, hundreds of books and SF magazines. I even tried my hand at writing it around age 12, submitting a few short stories to Isaac Asimov's Science Fiction Magazine when George Scithers was editor (who graciously sent a personal rejection postcard for the first one ... most rejections are form letters.) I determined though that I didn't know enough about adult life to write the kind of fiction that I wanted to write and decided to stop (i.e., with my current knowledge, I would say that I didn't want to write rationalistic fiction that wasn't based in some way in some real life experiences.)

I thought then, and I think now, that no other genre came close to the imagination and excitement of those stories.

One thing to bear in mind is that the best SF was written - I would say - before 1970. Sometime in the 70 or 80s, a lot more fantasy writing began to take hold, supplanting real science fiction. I attribute this to the decline of American education, an indifference to the science part of the science fiction, and not knowing or caring about the difference between at least some attempt to integrate (or extrapolate) actual science, and just "swords and scorcery" fantasy. So it's a good idea to try to focus on the writing between 1930 and 1960 or so. There are important exceptions to that - Robert Heinlein wrote a few excellent books after 1960 (though his best work was before that, in my opinion), and James P. Hogan, when he didn't devolve into some boring Libertarian kind of stuff later in his career, wrote some very imaginative and science-respecting novels and short stories, and is still writing. As far as current magazines go, I would rank them from best to worst generally, as: Analog, F&SF, and Isaac Asimov's SF mag.

Overall though, you should focus on the giants of science fiction - Robert Heinlein, Isaac Asimov, A.C. Clarke, L. Sprague de Camp, Fred Pohl, George O. Smith, Philip K. Dick, etc. There's a bunch of other names but they aren't coming to mind immediately. And I wouldn't just focus on novels, there are many excellent short stories too.

The only "fantasy" writer that I could recommend offhand is Ray Bradbury, but he's rather hard to pin down. Some of his work is fantasy-like, some SF-like, or combinations of both. Overall a brilliantly imaginative writer, I think.

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I had been reading the classics since I was about eight years old, and it wasn't until four or five years later that I read my first science fiction book. I was immediately struck by one simple fact: every book I had read until then took place in the past, but here was a story about what the future was like. Whole new future worlds were created, and some of it I looked forward to in my own life. I was hooked! I never had any interest in living in the past; I enjoyed the present with an eye towards the future. Science fiction gave me the opportunity to live in those future worlds, at least in my mind. I love the genre.

This sums up my own thoughts about science fiction as well.

I also agree with Phil about the decline in sci-fi over the last couple of decades, but I also want to give notice to Frank Herbert, author of the Dune Chronicles, as one of the last important science fiction writers. While his philosophy wasn't something I agree with, he truly was a brilliant writer.

I've never really understood how science-fiction and fantasy got lumped into the same genre.

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I've never really understood how science-fiction and fantasy got lumped into the same genre.

Neither do I.

I am a huge admirer of J.R.R. Tolkien. The beauty of his language, and the depth of the world that he created, places him amongst the greatest bards of all time (such men as Homer, Virgil, and Dante).

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Thanks everyone for the great responses. I had suspected that the quality of sci-fi had declined over the past several decades.

It makes total sense that the future-looking notions within science fiction would be attractive. Those are the things I find attractive in it, even if my interest in the genre is minimal.

Obviously for me, Atlas Shrugged is rather the best of all worlds in fiction: it's got elements of science fiction, mystery, along with all the other positives I don't need to enumerate here. Personally, the mystery elements are what I found most exciting about the plot, but I know plenty of people who responded most to the science fiction elements.

As for the sword and sorcery fantasy stories, I just find them utterly dull. I know it's heresy among some people, but Lord of the Rings didn't really hold my attention.

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I've never really understood how science-fiction and fantasy got lumped into the same genre.

Time travel is certainly fantasy -- it is not metaphysically possible -- but it forms the basis of a great deal of science fiction, including mainstream writers such as Heinlein and Asimov. Personally, I consider Asimov's The End of Eternity and Heinlein's The Door Into Summer to be among their best work. I must confess to loving time travel stories.

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A burning question in my mind over the years is what people find compelling or interesting about sci-fi and fantasy novels and stories.

Science fiction's greatest virtue is that it ain't Naturalism. At it's best it can be good Romanticism and, at its very best, good Romantic Realism. Observe the SF elements in Atlas Shrugged like Rearden Metal and Galt's motor.

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Science fiction's greatest virtue is that it ain't Naturalism.  At it's best it can be good Romanticism and, at its very best, good Romantic Realism.  Observe the SF elements in Atlas Shrugged like Rearden Metal and Galt's motor.

Hi Mrs. Speicher!

Would you mind explaining the differences between Romanticism and Romantic Realism, Please? Also..how Rearden Metal and The Galt Engine fit into that. I don't think I fully understand this. OR just point me in the right direction..

Thank you,

LFNO

Ryan Gregory

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I suppose I enjoy fantasy as well as sci-fi, although the cheesy Tolkienesque rip-offs you usually see in the fantasy aisle do absolutely nothing for me.

My favorites would include Dune (the first book especially) and Timothy Zahn's Heir to the Empire trilogy.

Red Mars is also pretty good.

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I'm not a fan of fantasy or science fiction literature, but I don't think there's anything wrong with the genres as such.

What I don't like is the typical sci-fi story in which some aspect of reality is changed and the author spends the bulk of the story describing that aspect and its immediate ramifications. As a reader, I want to be engaged in the story, in the actions and identities of the characters. For example, I've had Heinlein's The Moon is a Harsh Mistress recommended to me several times over the years, and I finally tried to read it about a year ago. I gave up about 1/3 of the way through because I couldn't care less what happened, the writing was not the interesting or especially well done, and the story was pretty predictable (at least up to that point). At a certain point, who cares what happens to these people? I can't relate to them. In the case of Ender's Game, one of the supposed classics of the genre, there was no suspense for me, as the "twist" revealed at the end was pretty obvious.

The flip side of sci-fi is that because some aspect of reality is changed -- some new technology, new planets, alien creatures and cultures, etc. -- the author has a wider scope in which to be creative. So if anything, sci-fi literature ought to have a wider range novelty.

That said, I do enjoy quite a few sci-fi movies and TV shows. The genre is well suited for incorporating special effects, which can be a lot of fun.

But the bottom line for me is that it is the story that counts, and in most cases, science fiction authors focus on the "gimmick" to the detriment of plot and characterization. While I understand that a good work of science fiction can incorporate all of this, authors in other genres don't have the same crutch, and so I would expect to find better plots, characterizations and philosophical or psychological insight elsewhere.

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But the bottom line for me is that it is the story that counts, and in most cases, science fiction authors focus on the "gimmick" to the detriment of plot and characterization.  While I understand that a good work of science fiction can incorporate all of this, authors in other genres don't have the same crutch, and so I would expect to find better plots, characterizations and philosophical or psychological insight elsewhere.

I think Ed nails it here for me. I'm most interested in a good story, and with all the gimmickry in sci-fi and fantasy, the stories get compromised. Again, there have been exceptions. I found the two "Mote" novels very engaging (_A Mote in God's Eye_ and its sequel _The Gripping Hand_), and I've liked Ray Bradbury's stories since I was a child. I think it would be great if someone here could compile a list of his favorite sci-fi novels and I'd be more than willing to give them a chance.

I will leave aside discussion of sci-fi movies or TV series. More often than not, I have enjoyed them quite a lot.

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So all you sci-fi/fantasy buffs out there, tell me what it is you like and why.

I love success stories in general, rather than any particular genre. Fifty years ago, at age 10 or so, I did read a lot of science fiction because most of the stories then were success stories. An example is Stand by for Mars! -- part of the Tom Corbett series by Carey Rockwell, for adolescents and teens. I recently purchased a copy and reread it. It contains more than I understood at the time, but the struggle for values with success still stands out.

As science fiction went down hill, I abandoned it and began reading other genres: murder mysteries, police procedurals, westerns, and others.

I read no fantasy at all -- except that I have read (four times) the Hobbit and the Ring Trilogy because it combines a success story with my other love, history, particularly medieval history, in which Tolkien was immersed professionally. I even bought a book of maps showing the details of the various journeys. These four books do, of course, have fantasy elements in them, but I see them more as historical/mythological rather than future fantasy.

In all cases, what I ask myself is: Would I want to be alive in this story, standing beside at least some of the characters? The answer is yes for for some of the works of sci-fi writers such as Frederick Brown, Gordon Dickson, and especially Keith Laumer (I love his Phoenix-rising type success stories).

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I think I've always enjoyed sci-fi & fantasy novels for the complexity that the authors produce. I really enjoy the Wheel of Time (probably in part because I began reading it when I was very young). I think that writing in these genres frees some authors to write about the way they want to see the world. All of the magic or fantastical parts are there to differentiate their created world from the real one...and I think that it is just a tool by most authors to be more explicit about their own philosophies.

However, I would say that so far most authors have not used this freedom to create a really Romantic hero...except for Goodkind (an obvious example). Since I've always wanted to write, and I've always been drawn more to sci-fi and fantasy, I've tried to rationalize why I would write in those genres. I'll probably get some backlash for this...but I think that these genres allow an author to introduce some drastic ideas which are hidden behind the backdrop of the unreal...but hopefully the reader finds that those radical ideas are more similar to how they view the world than the way the world is now.

AR did it the best way - she wrote about the real world as she alone could see it, and we all know how well she accomplished that! I would love to see myself writing as well as AR, but in the meantime I use the tools that I have at hand to write what I want to write about - the Romantic hero defying the norm as it is now.

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I really enjoy the Wheel of Time (probably in part because I began reading it when I was very young).

Me too. It's my guilty pleasure. :lol:

Wheel of Time is almost entirely lacking in theme, but man is it entertaining! It's my literary soap opera.

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...I have read (four times) the Hobbit and the Ring Trilogy because it combines a success story with my other love, history, particularly medieval history, in which Tolkien was immersed professionally. I even bought a book of maps showing the details of the various journeys. These four books do, of course, have fantasy elements in them, but I see them more as historical/mythological rather than future fantasy.

Thank you Burgess! You have summed up almost exactly why I so love Tolkien.

Another reason is something lacking today: beautiful language. Tolkien and Ayn Rand are the only two fiction writers of the 20th century that I know of who are able to write each line as if it were poetry. Their mastery of the language and their ability to display it in a way that glorifies the English language is something I deeply cherish...and deeply long for in our age of "modern literature".

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However, I would say that so far most authors have not used this freedom to create a really Romantic hero...except for Goodkind (an obvious example). Since I've always wanted to write, and I've always been drawn more to sci-fi and fantasy, I've tried to rationalize why I would write in those genres. I'll probably get some backlash for this...but I think that these genres allow an author to introduce some drastic ideas which are hidden behind the backdrop of the unreal...but hopefully the reader finds that those radical ideas are more similar to how they view the world than the way the world is now.

Don't stop yourself from writing in that genre if you prefer it. There is not a single idea or issue out there today that you care about that cannot be illustrated through wizards or space pirates or elfin creatures with orange eyes. There is no need to rationalize it. If that is what you desire to do, you need no other justification, it is a perfectly legitimate field with no restraints except the breadth of your ingenuity.

As an example of no restraints. A couple of months ago I was noting to myself the different touches that Atlas Shrugged had in it from the angle of genre. It has elements of science fiction (the motor), the western (Francisco firing his guns from the rooftop) and the mystery (Who is John Galt? Why does Francisco do what he does?).

So I started relating this to my own writing, and I made a list of all the genres that I could think of and made myself come up with a storyline that utilized everyone of them. I used science fiction as the nexus to which all the other elements revolved around. I dont know if I will ever write it, but it was the most convoluted and interesting thing I have done. My wife's response was, "Holy crap", when I explained it to her. I don't know if she was impressed or thought I had lost my mind! :lol:

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Another reason is something lacking today: beautiful language.  Tolkien and Ayn Rand are the only two fiction writers of the 20th century that I know of who are able to write each line as if it were poetry.  Their mastery of the language and their ability to display it in a way that glorifies the English language is something I deeply cherish...and deeply long for in our age of "modern literature".

I think there are a number of 20th century writers who can write beautifully:

Jerome Lawrence and Robert E. Lee, INHERIT THE WIND

Maurice Maeterlinck, MONNA VANNA

John Steinbeck, EAST OF EDEN

George Bernard Shaw, MAN AND SUPERMAN

Edmond Rostand, CYRANO DE BERGERAC (OK, 1898, but damn close, and it's my fave play.)

Tim Stoppard, ROSENCRANTZ AND GUILDENSTERN ARE DEAD; SHAKESPEARE IN LOVE

Dylan Thomas, DO NOT GO GENTLE INTO THAT GOOD NIGHT

and so on...

My point is there are many examples of beautiful writing in 20th century novels, plays and poetry. With some time and effort, you can discover some of these treasures.

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So all you sci-fi/fantasy buffs out there, tell me what it is you like and why. 

 

Thanks! 

 

Maybe what you have read has not been good. A huge amount of it is so much useless paper, although so is a great share of all other genres.

The great freedom alloted by these two genres is also its greatest pitfall. It attracts a lot of hack writers who think it is easy. Any crap is easy to make.

Think about it. In these genres you are GOD. Want a cast of molecular sized renegades running amuck causing havoc for a crew of voyaging amphibians in space? Why not? How about a powerful wizard who assumes the position of a god over his subjects? Why not? How about stars that have powerful conscious beings in them that are in mortal combat and the humans who are stuck in the middle with no idea what is causing their plight (already done by Frederick Pohl BTW)?

That is really the easy part. Two guys, a bong, and a box of Captain Crunch can pull off a dozen of these a day. And judging from the content of lifestyle of Pohl and Heinlein, that may well be how they conceived some of these things. The real skill comes in relating this to human values, to human ideas and ideals; not just bipeds who speak, but us on Earth.

Warning: paragraph below pure speculation on my part.

I speculate that there may be a tendency for people in technical fields to like this form from a repressed removal from personal links, and their own emotions. For fantasy, there are a lot of tea leaf reading people that prefer something that does not link them to this Earth in the first place.

When it is done right, it is a fantastic experience, and can be a highly emotional one.

Some favs.

Fredric Brown (From These Ashes, Martians and Madness) The man is pure fun and pure skill in his ability to tell a story. Not very deep, even pulpy, but his skill to surprise is unmatched in the field. His shortest story is two sentences of pure genius. And the short story The End says it all about his wit and imagination.

Frederik Pohl (The World at the End of Time, The Coming of the Quantum Cats, Heechee series, Shore of Time series (can't remember the name))

This guy is all over the place in writing competency. A neat trick he has, if intentional, is making you care about his characters quite by suprise when you didn't think you did.

Dune Haven't read anything else by him, but the first Dune at least was a tight story.

LOTR: I'm still reading it, but the man has a very nice style.

Harry Potter series. Rowling knows how to write, one of the best in any genre right now as far as I'm concerned.

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I think there are a number of 20th century writers who can write beautifully: 

I've read a few of them. And they have a nice message (except Ro. and Guild., which I can't stand). I understand that this may be just a preference of style. But what I am talking about is a very deep and powerful control of the language. For example:

The truth is incontrovertible.

Panic may resent it,

ignorance may deride it,

malice may distort it,

but there it is.

and

he British Empire and the French Republic, linked together in their cause and in their need, will defend to the death their native soil, aiding each other like good comrades to the utmost of their strength. Even though large tracts of Europe and many old and famous States have fallen or may fall into the grip of the Gestapo and all the odious apparatus of Nazi rule, we shall not flag or fail. We shall go on to the end, we shall fight in France, we shall fight on the seas and oceans, we shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air, we shall defend our Island, whatever the cost may be, we shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender, and even if, which I do not for a moment believe, this Island or a large part of it were subjugated and starving, then our Empire beyond the seas, armed and guarded by the British Fleet, would carry on the struggle, until, in God's good time, the New World, with all its power and might, steps forth to the rescue and the liberation of the old.

Take special notice of his grammar, as well as the general flow of his words. It is this sense of clear and precise language, mixed in with a beautiful rhythm, that I get from Tolkien.

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Anton Myrer writes beautifully in parts of his book - when you reach some of his more poetic parts he can absolutely take your breath away! And, if you enjoy books about war these are pretty intense! (_Once an Eagle_, _The Last Convertible_ are two of my favorites!)

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AAH,

I will have to look into them. Being a "languages" person, as well as a poetry-lover, you really have me interested!

Thanks :lol:.

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