Monday, July 09, 2007

Five Science Fiction and Fantasy Authors

My husband and I went away for the weekend into Pennsylvania Dutch country to meet up with friends and strangers at a small gathering of science fiction (sf) readers. There were about a dozen of us at dinner Friday night, and as few of us knew each other really well, Roger launched conversation by asking attendees what the first sf title was that they remembered reading and who a favorite author in the genre might be.

The responses ranged from childhood favorites like Eleanor Cameron's Mushroom Planet series to the standard science fiction titles from Bradbury, Asimov, and Heinlein to very recent authors. I was too busy listening to what others floated as favorites to put my two cents in at the time, but I thought I'd post possibilities here in case there were those among you who might be interested in learning more about a genre unfairly characterized as having to do mostly with space ships and bug-eyed-monsters (BEMs).

1. Ursula K. LeGuin. This woman is one of my favorite writers; see my list of holdings of her works at LibraryThing. LeGuin writes speculative science fiction with a socio-political bent, as well as fantasy for young adults (see my discussion of Earthsea and The Other Wind). She does short fiction as well as full length novels and she writes cogent essays on the craft of writing and the science fiction/fantasy genre as a whole. I hesitate to pick a favorite by her, but if you want a taste of her short stories, I personally began with those collected in the collection, The Wind's Twelve Quarters (1975). Of her full length novels, aside from the Earthsea novels, I really liked The Telling (which examines a society torn between a modern scientific outlook and the knowledge created within its own folkways). It's an example of how LeGuin uses the science fiction genre to examine political philosophies and social constructs. A noted classic of this sort is her novel, The Dispossessed. If you want to examine gender expectations, there is The Left Hand of Darkness. Fabulous stuff.

2. Ray Bradbury. I think many of us read some of his short stories in anthologies in high school; certainly that was how I was introduced to him. There Shall Come Soft Rains is a classic selection that tells of an fully-automated house that continues to operate, despite the death of the human owners from a nuclear explosion. If you haven't encountered that one, you can usually find it as part of the short story collection, The Martian Chronicles. If you've never read Bradbury and only know the title from some television adaptation, I would certainly suggest you track it down and read the stories in context. But you may also have read his Fahrenheit 451. Depending upon how you interpret it, it's either about the evils of censorship or it's about the negative impact of television. I'm only slowly getting through his full body of work. I didn't personally care for Something Wicked This Way Comes, but I have a friend who swears it is his best.

3. Connie Willis' wrote a wonderfully funny novel called To Say Nothing of the Dog which is a something of a take off on Jerome Jerome's Three Men in a Boat and Wilde's The Importance of Being Earnest (Lady Bracknell/Lady Shrapnel) while also referencing physics, time travel and chaos theory. Just be willing to go with it. And then go find her fabulous, hefty Doomsday Book. That one features the black plague...

4. C.J. Cherryh. I read her Hunter of Worlds back in the late '70's and found it to feature the best aliens I'd ever encountered. She represented an alien viewpoint so very effectively that I've never forgotten it. You can currently only purchase it in an omnibus edition, At the Edge of Space (Amazon link). I also think her Downbelow Station is the best commentary on the effects of war on a civilian population that I've encountered. That novel won a Hugo award in 1982.

5. C.L. Moore. Definitely purple prose by today's standards, but I enjoy her short stories. If you can lay hands on a used copy of The Best of C.L. Moore (another Amazon link), her story Shambleau is as good as it gets in connecting science fiction/space opera to myths of dark entities. I also think Black God's Kiss is quite memorable. In fact, just about every story in that collection is memorable. Moore wrote science fiction back during the Depression, when women were hiding their gender by using initials in their bylines rather than their full names.

I've got more to share, but these ought to get you started. Keep an open mind and just begin reading.