What do you like about science fiction?

Discussion in 'Science Fiction' started by Boreas, May 10, 2016.

  1. Boreas

    Boreas n log(log n) Staff Member

    Besides pure escapism, what do you like about science fiction? I mean, are there any particular elements or themes or sub-genres that you're attracted to? Do you like the political, technological or sociological aspects that science fiction is so good at exploring? The large scale depictions of future civilisations?
     
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  2. jo zebedee

    jo zebedee Well-Known Member

    I'm a Space Opera bunny so I like escapism. I also like star fights and space pilots and can handle a fair bit of cheese. But I also like good characterisation and feel the genre could improve at that.
     
  3. Boreas

    Boreas n log(log n) Staff Member

    Same. Space opera and hard sf are my two favourites types of science fiction, nearly on the opposite ends of the spectrum unless someone like the uber-talented Mr. Alastair Reynolds comes along and combines them! I love the large scale of things - cosmological sizes and distances, that evocation of deep time and ridiculously far futures (like in Anderson's Tau Zero or Baxter's Xeelee stories). Nothing really says sense of wonder as when you realise how insignificant you are when faced with the universe.

    I also love metaphysical themes that deal with transcendence and super-aware consciousness.
     
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  4. ecgordon

    ecgordon Well-Known Member

    I don't really have a preference of type of SF I like, it can range from space opera to mil-SF, to new wave to literary. All I want is to experience new wonders, new ways of thinking, constant questioning of what it means to be human, where we're going as a species.
     
  5. Boreas

    Boreas n log(log n) Staff Member

    But you must be having some themes or motifs that especially appeal to you, no matter the sub-genre they appear in.

    I know it's not everyone's cup of tea, but like I've said in my previous post, I quite like metaphysical and transcendental elements in SF, especially when they're worked into hard SF. Clarke's joint effort with Kubrick in 2001: A Space Odyssey is a perfect example of laying out a metaphysical metaphor on heightened states of awareness and a potential breakthrough of the evolution of the mind. The scenes within David Bowman's own subconscious when he's confronted with his mortality are pure genius for their elegant, spare, yet substantive representations of coming to terms with the ultimate human condition and thereby transcending it (albeit with external help in this particular story's case).

    I also really enjoy the theme of immortality and generation ship stories.

    One of the best things about the science fiction genre is how good it is at projecting scenarios (I think Dr. Vinge paid particular emphasis in outlining this point in an interview) so that pros & cons can be weighed. SF does this especially well with scenarios in their extremes so that lower and upper boundaries can be established (with respect to technologies, scientific speculations and also extremes in human responses/adaptations). Whether they come true or not is beside the point. Once they've been outlined, they're there in the public awareness and act as good markers or indicators to trends that we might be able to recognise.

    This is also one of the reasons why I love science fiction. Good SF attacks the question of 'humanness' from lateral or oblique angles that are very difficult to do in other forms of fiction. I think Greg Egan has really pushed speculations on the nature of identity and that fuzzy boundary between human and non-human to some serious extremes. His short stories are excellent. And then you have his utterly mind-blowing novels like Diaspora. Reading Egan is almost terrifying.

    One of the reasons I love Egan so much is because of the mathematics he incorporates into his fiction. That's another element I love in SF: a mathematical perspective. I've been told Rudy Rucker has written a lot from this perspective, so I definitely need to look into his work

    Also, I absolutely love religious themes in fiction, and especially in SF when it tackles moral values and ethical conundrums by linking it to some of the fundamental questions originally posed in a religious context, be they from the Judeo-Christian tradition or from Advaita philosophies or from some other perspective. This theme is particularly hard to tackle well. Works like A Case of Conscience, A Canticle for Leibowitz and the Requiem for Homo Sapiens trilogy (preceded by Neverness) have done it very well.

    Edit: Also love game-themed stories. There's already a thread with some examples, but more such recommendations would be great: science fiction with gaming elements.
     
    Last edited: Jun 4, 2016
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  6. Sparrow

    Sparrow Well-Known Member

    I'm less into the sketchy metaphysics/transcendence stuff... what I do like is a harder science, perhaps an alien artifact, but no actual aliens. Definitely no time travel or faster than light travel... I'm still on the fence about wormholes. What I like about SF, are the same things I like about any and all genres; strong (fallible) characters, unadorned prose, a clever plot and a punchy ending that sticks to my ribs. Also, I like viruses and plagues playing a part in my SF... perhaps my favorite nonfiction book, is, The Hot Zone: The Terrifying True Story of the Ebola Virus, by Richard Preston. Ancient plagues or an alien virus is always fun in a SF story. Being a fan of detective fiction, I good whodunit in space is something I really enjoy.
     
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  7. kenubrion

    kenubrion Well-Known Member

    How do you follow that? (I was responding to Boreas' last post when I wrote this)

    I like stories of where we could be. Imaginative worlds where postulated scientific advances are a reality.
     
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  8. ecgordon

    ecgordon Well-Known Member

    Must I? When you've been reading SF as long as I have there's hardly any type or sub-genre I haven't sampled, so no, it doesn't have to be any particular theme for me to enjoy it. Good characters, logical plot, satisfactory conclusion. That's all I need.

    If you haven't already, you really need to read Olaf Stapledon. He's got your metaphysics in spades. Star Maker, Last and First Men, Last Men in London, Sirius, Odd John.
     
  9. Wmrussel

    Wmrussel New Member

    My favorite genre is hard SF with some Space Opera mixed in. I just googled Sci Fi genres and see there are more than I realized. I especially enjoyed Manifold:Space by Baxter. Following the character's journies through long periods of time and the changes to humanity upon their return was fascinating. Malenfant's decision at the end of the book capped it off nicely.

    I have just discovered this forum via twitter and am excited about expanding my SF horizons. Already I have made notes of all the authors ya'll have mentioned. Thanks to all of you for posting in this forum!
     
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  10. Diziet Sma

    Diziet Sma Administrator Staff Member

    I love the feel of what a science fictional situation might make me feel. I like to toy with these scenarios in my head and reflect upon my potential behaviour, reaction, should I be dropped in the middle of the story. How much would I be willing to change, adapt, trade in order to succeed. Would I really wish it to become true or I'm better off in safety of my living room?
    And as far as subgenres are concerned, as I’m a novice in SF and I’m just tapping into different themes and enjoying immensely the process of thinning it out. So far, Hard SF is not for me: too complex, foreign and inaccessible to me. Themes that present moral dilemmas, philosophical arguments really appealed to me i.e Octavia Buttler. I'm also enjoying Space Opera, so I guess I'm not that picky...
     
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  11. Boreas

    Boreas n log(log n) Staff Member

    Glad you stopped by @Wmrussel. Will hope to see you here more often! I've not read Baxter's Manifold books, but I did read many of the Xeelee novels and stories.

    No worries, @Elvira, I'm sure we can get you reading and enjoying hard sf, too. Arthur C. Clarke is always a good, easy introduction: 2001: A Space Odyssey or a collection of his short stories. Michael Crichton is also fun: The Andromeda Strain or Jurassic Park. And for something more contemporary, try a collection of short stories by Alastair Reynolds like Galactic North (stories linked by setting) or Zima Blue. You can also attempt his novel House of Suns, which is more space opera-ish.
     
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  12. Boreas

    Boreas n log(log n) Staff Member

    Well, I suppose not. I like the entire spectrum of SF, too, but I personally find it difficult to imagine not having a preference or inclination to some particular theme or other element in a category of fiction that I like. Likewise with having elements that don't appeal.
    Ah, I've had copies of 3 of his works for nearly 2 decades and I still haven't read him.
     
  13. ecgordon

    ecgordon Well-Known Member

    Don't worry if you don't care for Stapledon. Most would consider him very dry and dull. I consider Star Maker to be the best book I've ever read. Not because it is entertaining, but because it presents so many astonishing ideas. I was once asked why I rate it so highly, and the best I could come up with went something like this. The paperback copy I have is about 210 pages. You could tear out all those pages, give one each to 210 other authors, and there would be enough ideas for them to craft at least that many other novels.
     
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  14. Boreas

    Boreas n log(log n) Staff Member

    Actually, I think I'll likely enjoy reading Stapledon. The books I have have been in storage for so long now that I'll have go through a little effort to find them. For me, Stapledon occupies the same space as Wells, Bradbury and Heinlein - all authors I've long meant to read but have just never got around to.
     
  15. Sparrow

    Sparrow Well-Known Member


    Have you read, or at least acquainted with Jack McDevitt's Alex Benedict series of books?
    Really solid characters, basically just Alex Benedict and his pilot Chase Kolpath... no romantic entanglements between the two, just a neat employer/employee relationship that seems more authentic to me.
     
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  16. Boreas

    Boreas n log(log n) Staff Member

    I've read many of McDevitt's stand-alones and the first instalment of his Pricilla Hutchins book. When you said you like alien artefacts without actual aliens, I immediately thought of Engines of God. I'm actually not that big a fan of aliens, either, even if I don't mind them. I also rather prefer mysterious alien tech or bacteria/viruses in a mostly human universe.
    Do you know other SF that utilises slower-than-light over interstellar distances like Reynolds? I would be interested in checking more such SF out. Stross' Singlularity Sky takes a more 'rigorous' approach to time travel. Wonder what you think of that, if you've read it.
     
  17. Sparrow

    Sparrow Well-Known Member

    McDevitt's Alex Benedict books, and it's been awhile since the last one, I recall there are us humans, and only one additional humanlike alien species. Most of the artifacts Alex and Chase are after are actually human artifacts from long past space missions, forgotten colonies, ghost ships, etc... it's kind of clever, and to me very realistic that a plastic cup with a ghost ship's logo is worth a handsome sum of money to a collector. Alex Benedict is essentially an antiques dealer. This far in the future the things we associate with valuable antiques, French Empire Furniture, a Tiffany Lamp, a painting by Claude Monet, etc... are long since gone. Very little of those things remain, they've been lost to time.
    What I enjoyed about the Benedict stories, is that it's pretty much straight forward SF. It won't bust your brain with amazing things, sort of old fashion Space Opera that is never pretentious or overreaching. I also like the main female character, Chase Kolpath. She's not a superhero or even all that adventurous, in fact, she's cautious and often has to reel in Alex's ambitious plans, and about once every book save his ass!

    Charles Stross is hit or miss with me.
    I enjoyed Halting State and Rule 34, not as crazy about Singularity Sky, though Iron Sunrise was pretty good. Stross' Laundry Files novels are... well, entertaining. I've read five of those, but alas, as with any long running series it seems the protagonist just has to become introspective and bitch and moan about everything... and of course have a love interest that takes way too much of the book. Or, perhaps I'm just bored with the series.
    I will say though, if any writer reminds me of Iain Banks, it would be Charles Stross.
     
  18. Boreas

    Boreas n log(log n) Staff Member

    Yeah, I get the same feeling from the other McDevitt books I've read. The fact that he deals so much with archaeological themes and mysteries where puzzles need to be solved is very appealing. I'll make sure to pick up the Alex Benedict books, too.
    Singularity Sky is the only Stross novel I've read. I really enjoyed certain aspects of it, but the whole relativistic explanations for time travel were a little confusing. I kept trying to visualise 4d light cones as 3d spheres and did my head in. Didn't much enjoy the techno-speak on that ship controlled by the 19th century styled Russian power who was trying to circumvent the rules of play set by the Eschaton. The Festival and the instantaneous technical singularity it brought about was fascinating and surreal as hell, very magic-realist in parts. And you're right, I wanted to say before that I got a strong Special Circumstances vibe from the novel, too. I'm pretty sure I'll end up reading Iron Sunrise, but I'll also check out Halting State and Rule 34 (this sounds like it would be pretty hilarious). Somehow, the Laundry Files never looked all that appealing to me.
     
  19. Sparrow

    Sparrow Well-Known Member


    With the expansion and almost overwhelming nature of the internet and what in the near future will be overwhelming virtual reality, the themes in Rule 34 by Stross, are very relevant. One of the things Stross explores, are that the laws in our real work-a-day lives don't really apply on the internet or with virtual reality. In fact some laws like those dealing with child pornography and pedophilia, are in some cases nonsensical when applied to AI/robotics/virtual reality, and can even be considered puritanical. One of the bad guys in Rule 34, carries with him a large suitcase... in it is a robotic little girl, or "meat puppet". One can only imagine what kind of tea parties this pair are up to. It is black humor to the hilt, but not without substance. And btw, the bad guy with a penchant for underaged androids, is an assassin... and is one of the more likable characters in the story.o_O
     
  20. kenubrion

    kenubrion Well-Known Member

    Sparrow, can you recommend one Benedict novel that involves the most action? I've tried to read them but nothing happens. At least the Priscilla books that I've read have action.
     

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