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Books and Reading: Science Fiction

DEFINITION OF THE SCIENCE FICTION GENRE

SCIENCE FICTION 

There has been a lot of discussion about the definition of Science Fiction, one of the most misunderstood reading genres.  With roots in the 19th century, science fiction is very diverse and overlaps with a number of other genres.  Film and television are primarily responsible for the misconception most people have about science fiction which has focused on accounts of alien invasion, monsters, “space opera” and futuristic adventure tales.

One simple definition of Science Fiction is that “posits worlds and technologies that could exist, in a setting outside everyday reality”.   One useful way of understanding science fiction is by dividing it into the two major categories of “Hard science fiction” and “Soft science fiction”.

Hard science fiction focuses on technology and the physical sciences such as astronomy, biology and physics.  Soft science fiction focuses on psychology and sociology.  The are many small categories or “subgenres” within science fiction, but  keep in mind that any one work of science fiction may fit into many subgenres.

Sci-Fi Sub-Genres

Apocalyptic and post-apocalyptic:  This subgenre includes works that have been written as a result of a nuclear holocaust, World War III and other apocalyptic wars between humans, pandemics, astronomic impacts, ecological catastrophes, cybernetic revolts.  They may be about the decline and fall of the human race, an expanding or dying sun, a religious, supernatural, sociological or economic collapse.

Some examples of apocalyptic and post-apocalytic science fiction include:

1.            Riddley Walker – Russell Hoban (nuclear) 

2.            A Canticle for Liebowitz – Walter Miller (nuclear) 

3.            On the Beach- Nevil Shute (nuclear war) 

4.            The Earth Abides – George Stewart Northfield

5.            The Chrysalids – John Wyndham (nuclear war) 

6.            Doomsday Book – Connie Wills (pandemic) 

7.            Oryx and Crake– Margaret Atwood (decline and fall of the human race)

8.            The Children of Men – P.D. James (decline and fall of the human race)

9.            The Stand – Stephen King (pandemic) 

10.         Life as We Knew It – Susan Beth Pfeffer (astronomic impact) 

11.         Moonfall – Jack McDevitt (astronomic impact) 

12.         Drowned world and the Wind From Nowhere –J.G. Ballard (ecological catastrope) 

13.         Cat’s Cradle – Kurt Vonnegut (ecological disaster) 

14.         Time of the Great Freeze – Robert Silverberg (ecological catastrophe)

15.       The Handmaid’s Tale – Margaret Atwood (ecological disaster and decline and fall of the human race) 

16.         Aftermath – Charles Sheffield (ecological catastrophe) 

17.         Berserker series – Fred Saberhagen (cybernetic revolt) 

18.         Computer One: A Novel – Warwick Collins (cybernetic revolt) 

Adventure: The exploration of unexplored places that may include war, political intrigue, the military, and fast-paced physical action.  All are characteristics of the science fiction adventure subgenre.  Strong heroes and heroines may be involved.

Some examples of science fiction adventure include:

1.    Journey to the Center of the Earth by Jules Verne 

2.    The Lost World: A Novel by Michael Crichton

3.    Ringworld: A Novel  by Larry Niven 

Alien invasion:  Alien invasion is a common theme in science fiction.  In this science fiction subgenre extraterrestrial life forms come to Earth to do one (or more) of several things such as try to exterminate, enslave or eat humans.  The aliens may be obvious about the invasion or stealthy, infiltrating human society and subverting it clandestinely

Some examples of alien invasion science fiction include:

1.    The Puppet Masters by Robert Heinlein 

2.    The War of the Worlds by H.G. Wells

3.    The Day of the Triffids by John Wyndham (also Astronomic impact subgenre) 

Artificial beings:  The three major types of artificial beings in science fiction are androids, cyborgs and robots.  Robots are artificial devices or beings created through mechanical means.  When a robot starts to look more like a human and less like a machine, it is called a humanoid robot or android.  The fusion of human tissue and robotics are called cyborgs.

Some examples of science fiction with robots, androids and cyborgs include:

1.    Caves of Steel by Isaac Asimov (Robots)

2.    The Naked Sun by Isaac Asimov (Robots

3.    Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep by Philip K. Dick (Androids) 

4.    Steelheart by William C. Dietz (Androids) 

5.    Diaspora by Greg Egan (Cyborgs) 

6.    Code of the Lifemaker by James P. Hogan (Robots) 

7.    Man Plus by Frederick Pohl (Cyborgs)

Cyberpunk: Cyberpunk is a combination of the words cybernetics and punk.  The term was first coined by writer Bruce Bethke in 1983 as the title for a short story he wrote titled “Cyberpunk”.  Cyberpunk science fiction are usually earthbound post-industrial dystopias set in the near-future.  They usually feature computer hackers, artificial intelligence and mega-corporations.  Cyberpunk has been defined as “Cynical tales of a high-tech future in which humans are not necessarily the highest life-forms, science may not be our salvation, and the universe has gone awry” **

Some examples of apocalyptic and post-apocalytic science fiction include:

1. The Shockwave Rider by John Brunner

2. Neuromancer – William Gibson 

3. Snow Crash – Neal Stephenson

4. Islands the Net – Bruce Sterling 

Mannerpunk also known as Fantasy of Manners:  In Mannerpunk science fiction, the setting is generally between the early 17th and mid-19th century (or is set in a fantasy world modeled after one of those eras).  The story largely concerns the protagonists rise and/or fall, struggles and/or triumphs surviving in a highly stratified society which tends to put manners over morality and style over substance.  For example you may lie, cheat, and steal all you like so long as you don't get caught and you do it all with a certain amount of panache, but woebetide the individual who finds himself in a publicly humiliating situation. The fantasy elements in these stories are often (but not always) dark. They tend to have lots of witty dialogue and the characters wear stylish clothes. Often there is romance and a certain amount of swashbuckling.

Some examples of Mannerpunk science fiction in include:

1.    The Phoenix Guards by Steven Brust 

2.    Swordspoint: A Melodrama of Manners by Ellen Kushner 

3.    Carolus Rex series by Andre Norton

SteampunkIn this subgenre advanced technological levels are achieved through 19th century means when steam power was widely used.  These novels are often set in the Victorian era or were inspired by it.

Some examples of steampunk science fiction include:

1.    The Horns of Ruin – Tim Akers 

2.    Leviathan Trilogy – Scott Westerfeld 

3.    Around the World in 80 Days – Jules Verne

4.    The Golden Compass series – Phillip Pullman 

Space Opera: This subgenre of science fiction features romantic adventure on a grand scale set in outer space. Key characteristics include interstellar travel, heroic space battles and romance.  Many space operas are written in series format.  There can be some overlap between the military and space opera subgenres.

Some examples of space opera science fiction include:

1.    The Vorkosigan Saga by Lois McMaster Bujold 

2.    Foreigner Universe series by C.J. Cherryh

3.    A Fire Upon the Deep by Verner Vinge 

4.    Star Wars series by various authors

Horror science fiction:  Although not a branch of science fiction per se, works of horror often incorporate science fictional elements.  Some horror science fiction works make use of various sorts of monsters, including witches, werewolves, vampires and zombies. 

1.   The Great and Secret Show by Clive Barker 

2.    Fledgling by Octavia Butler

3.    Hungry Moon by Ramsey Campbell 

4.    Frankenstein by Mary Shelley 

5.    The Island of Doctor Moreau by H.G. Wells

6.    The Dark Door by Kate Wilhelm 

Military :  Military force and conflict set in space or planets other than earth feature large in this science fiction genre.  Detailed descriptions of the conflict, and the tactics used to wage war are included, and the story is usually told from the point of view of the major character(s) that are usually part of the military.  There can be some overlap between the military and space opera subgenres. The Star Wars series is an example of this overlap.

Some examples of military science fiction include:

1.    Dorsai by Gordon R. Dickson 

2.    Ranks of Bronze by David Drake

3.    Starship Troopers by Robert A. Heinlein

Superhumans:  Originating in American comic books, superhumans have expanded into other media through adaptations and original works.  Superhuman fiction features costumed crime fighters or superheroes and those they fight against, also known as supervillains.  This subgenre may also feature characters with extraordinary abilities that appear outside of the superhero/supervillain dichotomy.

Some examples of superhuman science fiction include:

1.    Astro City series by Kurt Busiek

2.    The Adventures of Superman by George Francis Lowther

3.    Watchmen by Alan Moore

4.    Batman, Knightfall by Dennis O’Neil 

American Library Association RUSA List

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This list, curated by a council of librarians, highlights outstanding works within a genre. Click the image to check it out or follow this link: https://rusaupdate.org/awards/the-reading-list/

Sci-Fi Awards

THE NEBULA AWARDS    https://nebulas.sfwa.org/

Recognizes the best works of science fiction and fantasy published in the United States as selected by members of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, membership in which is open to all professional science fiction and fantasy authors. The first Nebula Awards were presented in 1966.

2019 NEBULA AWARDS:  The 2019 awards will be announced online May 28-31, 2020

CANDIDATES FOR BEST NOVEL

Marque of Caine by Charles E. Gannon, published by Baen 

It's been two years since Caine Riordan was relieved of his command for following both his orders and his conscience. Now he's finally received the message he's been waiting for: a summons to visit the ancient and enigmatic Dornaani. And this time, making direct contact is not just professional, but personal: the Dornaani still have his mortally-wounded love, Elena Corcoran, in their unthinkably advanced medical facilities.  Book five in the Caine Riordan series.  Science Fiction: Space opera - JLS

The Ten Thousand Doors of January by Alix E. Harrow, published by Redhook

In the early 1900s, a young woman searches for her place in the world and the mystery behind a magical door...  

In a sprawling mansion filled with peculiar treasures, January Scaller is a curiosity herself. As the ward of the wealthy Mr. Locke, she feels little different from the artifacts that decorate the halls: carefully maintained, largely ignored, and utterly out of place.

Then she finds a strange book. A book that carries the scent of other worlds and tells a tale of secret doors, of love, adventure, and danger. Each page turn reveals impossible truths about the world, and January discovers a story increasingly entwined with her own.  Fantasy; Debut - JLS

 

A Memory Called Empire: Teixcalaan, Bk 1 by Arkady Martine, published by Tor

 

Ambassador Mahit Dzmare arrives in the center of the multi-system Teixcalaanli Empire only to discover that her predecessor, the previous ambassador from their small but fiercely independent mining Station, has died. But no one will admit that his death wasn't an accident—or that Mahit might be next to die, during a time of political instability in the highest echelons of the imperial court.

Now, Mahit must discover who is behind the murder, rescue herself, and save her Station from Teixcalaan's unceasing expansion—all while navigating an alien culture that is all too seductive, engaging in intrigues of her own, and hiding a deadly technological secret—one that might spell the end of her Station and her way of life—or rescue it from annihilation.Space opera; Debut - JLS

Gods of Jade and Shadow by Silvia Moreno-Garcia, published by Del Rey

The Jazz Age is in full swing, but Casiopea Tun is too busy cleaning the floors of her wealthy grandfather’s house to listen to any fast tunes. Nevertheless, she dreams of a life far from her dusty small town in southern Mexico. A life she can call her own. 

Yet this new life seems as distant as the stars, until the day she finds a curious wooden box in her grandfather’s room. She opens it—and accidentally frees the spirit of the Mayan god of death, who requests her help in recovering his throne from his treacherous brother. Failure will mean Casiopea’s demise, but success could make her dreams come true.

Fantasy; Fairy Tales, Folk Tales, Legends and Mythology - JLS

Gideon the Ninth (Locked Tomb Trilogy Bk 1) by Tamsyn Muir, published by Tor.com

The Emperor needs necromancers.

The Ninth Necromancer needs a swordswoman.

Gideon has a sword, some dirty magazines, and no more time for undead nonsense.

Tamsyn Muir’s Gideon the Ninth unveils a solar system of swordplay, cut-throat politics, and lesbian necromancers. Her characters leap off the page, as skillfully animated as arcane revenants. The result is a heart-pounding epic science fantasy.. . Fantasy fiction - NOR JLS

A Song for a New Day by Sarah Pinsker, published by Berkley

After a global pandemic makes public gatherings illegal and concerts impossible, except for those willing to break the law for the love of music—and for one chance at human connection.

In the Before, when the government didn't prohibit large public gatherings, Luce Cannon was on top of the world. One of her songs had just taken off and she was on her way to becoming a star. Now, in the After, terror attacks and deadly viruses have led the government to ban concerts, and Luce's connection to the world--her music, her purpose—is closed off forever. She does what she has to do: she performs in illegal concerts to a small but passionate community, always evading the law.

THE HUGO AWARDS   http://www.thehugoawards.org/

The Hugo Awards, presented annually since 1955, are science fiction’s most prestigious award. The Hugo Awards are voted on by members of the World Science Fiction Convention (“Worldcon”), which is also responsible for administering them.  

2019 Hugo Award winners were announced August 18th, 2019 at the Irish Worldcon.

BEST NOVEL

The Calculating Stars: A Lady Astronaut Novel by Mary Robinette Kowal published by Tor Books.

 On a cold spring night in 1952, a huge meteorite fell to earth and obliterated much of the East Coast of the US, including Washington, DC. The ensuing climate cataclysm will soon render the Earth inhospitable for humanity, as the last such meteorite did for the dinosaurs. 

This looming threat calls for a radically accelerated effort to colonize space and requires a much-larger share of humanity to take part in the process. 

Elma York's experience as a WASP pilot and mathematician earns her a place in the International Aerospace Coalition's attempts to put man on the moon, as a calculator. But with so many skilled and experienced women pilots and scientists involved with the program, it doesn't take long before Elma begins to wonder why they can't go into space, too. .. 

It has a dark past―one in which a number of humans were killed. A past that caused it to christen itself “Murderbot”. But it has only vague memories of the massacre that spawned that title, and it wants to know more.

Teaming up with a Research Transport vessel named ART (you don’t want to know what the “A” stands for), Murderbot heads to the mining facility where it went rogue.

What it discovers will forever change the way it thinks…

 

Apex Magazine 

BEST SHORT STORY:  “A Witch’s Guide to escape: A Practical Compendium of Portal Fantasies,” by Alix E. Harrow (Apex Magazine, February 2018).  Here is the link to the story:  https://www.apex-magazine.com/a-witchs-guide-to-escape-a-practical-compendium-of-portal-fantasies/

BEST SERIES:  Wayfarers, by Becky Chambers  published by  Hodder & Stoughton/ Harper Voyager

The three volumes in this series include: 

1. The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet (Wayfarers 1). Published in 2016

2. A Closed and Common Orbit (Wayfarers 2). Published in 2017

 

3. Record of a Spaceborn Few (Wayfarers 2). Published in 2018

Follow a motley crew on an exciting journey through space—and one adventurous young explorer who discovers the meaning of family in the far reaches of the universe—in this light-hearted debut space opera ... . 

THE LOCUS AWARDS

The Locus Awards are an annual set of literary awards by the science fiction and fantasy magazine Locus, a monthly based in Oakland, California,  The award winners are selected by polling magazine readers.  The awards were inaugurated in 1971 for publication year 1970 and the original purpose was to influence the Hugo Awards.  They are presented at an annual banquet.

The 2019 awards were announced by the Locus Science Fiction Foundation during the Locus Awards Weekend in Seattle WA, June 29, 2019.

FANTASY NOVEL WINNERS

WINNER: Spinning Silver by Naomi Novik (Del Rey; Macmillan)

Lies Sleeping by Ben Aaronovitch (DAW; Gollancz)

Foundryside by Robert Jackson Bennett (Crown; Jo Fletcher)

The Monster Baru Cormorant by Seth Dickinson (Tor)

Deep Roots by Ruthanna Emrys (Tor.com Publishing)

Ahab’s Return by Jeffrey Ford (Morrow)

European Travel for the Monstrous Gentlewoman by Theodora Goss (Saga)

The Mere Wife by Maria Dahvana Headley (MCD)

The Wonder Engine by T. Kingfisher (Argyll Productions)

Creatures of Want and Ruin by Molly Tanzer (John Joseph Adams)