Saturday, 11 February 2012

thoughts on a new/old love affair with science fiction

I am finding myself in a puzzling place. Puzzling because I feel like I've been caught up in a love affair, except it's not with a person, but with books.  Specifically, I mean science fiction.  It's kind of like the nerdy guy who you were afraid to like in high school in case you got typecast along with him (and sorry, we all know this happens, high school is a terrifying place for being anything other than cool).  You flirted with him, read some Heinlein and Asimov so you could share some conversation, partake of little jokes, but in the end your heart wasn't in it because the science was too far above what you could imagine at the time.  So you said good bye to the cute, intelligent guy, a little sadly.  Zoom ahead 30 years.  All of a sudden, life on earth seems limited.  Is this all there is?  you ask yourself once more.  And suddenly, there he is, now an established professor/director of dark star studies/renowned physicist:  even if you still don't quite understand everything he says, suddenly he is COOL.  The beauties in high school had it wrong.  Jocks are now plump and have head traumas, so they can't always talk clearly (just joking, kind of, sporty guys.).  Now, the misfit chess club guy who loved maths is the one who has lots to talk about. He is the epitome of everything that could be, that is fun, that is exciting, that is out there and not limited by gravity.  Welcome to my new crush, the science fiction novel.

How badly do I have it?  This is what I brought home from the library on Thursday:


I had gone in for the Bond Girl book, and look what I came out with:  all science fiction novels.
The Collapsium - Will McCarthy - (in the future, death is unlocked.  But, even without death, rivals remain, and two rivals in spacetime exploration must put aside to save the universe from destruction)
Lear's Daughters - Marjorie B. Kellogg - (environmental disaster on earth, a planet in the universe that might hold the key to earth's survival, only the race that is indigenous to the planet claims twin goddesses rule and the planet is their battlefield.  It's more interesting than this, trust me!!!)
Terraforming Earth - Jack Williamson - for my Grandmaster Challenge author this month.  After a meteor crashes into earth, one space ship flees to the moon.  After generations pass, they return to Earth when it is ready again for life.  But how have they changed?  sounds very interesting)
Rainbow's End - Vernor Vinge -  (A look at the future of the web, and featuring Mr Rabbit, a mysterious friend of the character's granddaughter. who could resist this?)
Bond Girl- Erin Duffy (I requested this from the library, a brand new novel about the stock market crash in 2008, from the point of view of a woman who starts from the bottom.  Fluffy and fun, though not sure if she can muscle her way through all these science fiction heavy thinkers)

 No deal is too good to resist:
But that's not all.  Last night I went to Chapters to see what their two-for-one deal consisted of.  ALL pocketbooks qualified, mass market size.  I had the whole store to range through, and this is what I picked: 

Red Bones - Ann Cleeves (I read book one, Raven Black,  over Christmas, have yet to do my review,  and have broken down and bought this one because I can't find book 2, White Nights, anywhere.  Excellent first book in the series set in Shetland, featuring Jimmy Perez)
The Day Watch - Sergei Lukyanenko (I read book one, Day Watch, last year from the library, based on Memory's review.  I really enjoyed it, vampires in modern Russia, with magic and sorcerers.  So cool!  I can't find book one to buy, so finally bought book two to continue the series)
The Atrocity Files - Charles Stross (Bride of the Book God brought this author to my attention, but my real attention got hooked on the description:  office clerk fights Lovecraft monsters in the cubicles.  Hey, this could be my office on some days!  Must read it)
The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms - NK Jemisin -on everyone's best of fantasy lists last year.  A first novel) - nominated for a World Fantasy Award last year.
A Fire Upon the Deep - Vernor Vinge (for my Grandmasters challenge, but also, this story looks fabulous:" two children are survivors of a crash on a world with a medieval, lupine race."  This book had me at lupine.) Hugo winner
The Engines of God - Jack McDevitt - (first in the Priscilla Hutchins series.  Chindi, third in this series, is considered among the best among recent scifi novels.  I wanted to begin with the first one, also considered highly.  It keeps coming with references to Rendezvous with Rama quotes, so good thing I bought Rendezvous already.  Plus: a female pilot, star of a series that has won the Hugo.  Science fiction has come a long way, baby!)
And then, just because I came across it on the Worlds Without End listings,
The Vampire Tapestry - Suzy McKee Charnas - a vampire novel that I haven't read!  one that was nominated for a Nebula!!  When I saw it on the shelf, I grabbed it, and it might be the only thing that might lure me away from the pure science guy.  Temporarily at least).
3 science fiction, 1 mystery, 1 fantasy, 1 horror.  Um, see the trend?  Am I hooked?


I am reading Moving Mars right now.  It's by Greg Bear, and won the Nebula Award.  It's set in the future, in 2160, 2170, and future decades (I'm only 1/3 into the book, and Casseia is writing looking back on her life, so I don't know how far we go ahead yet). Earth has colonized the moon, and Mars, now.  Moon has folded back into earth's control, but Mars, Mars is fighting.  I think that Mars is so fixed in our psychology as the God of War, that any book or tv show that features it, by nature makes Mars fiesty and rebellious, wanting to be set free from Earth's control.  In Moving Mars, Mars has only been a colony for 100 years.  It takes 8 months to journey back to earth by space ship.  Bear carefully explains how all this is possible. I'm sure someone who understands how rocket fuel works, the physicality of life on Mars (with less gravity than earth and completely inhospitable) and about distances between stars and time, could figure out the care he's taken to get that part right.  What I am interested in, is the people.  Who went there to colonize?  How do they develop?  What happens when Earth wants something Mars has?  Which in this case, Mars does, and Mars and Earth are fighting over control of Mars and Mars's development. We see these events through the eyes of Casseia Majumbar, daughter of one of the founding families, who are called Binding Multiples, as the colony as it developed necessarily had different areas settled in, and no coherent government at first, just the heads of each family.  Mars still doesn't have a central government authority, and so when Earth tries to control Mars, the BM's are facing either takeover or fighting back.  Casseia's uncle is one of the men who steps forward to negotiate temporarily, and Casseia wins a place alongside him as an assistant.

So far I have been completely swept up in life on Mars, in the underground cities that have developed, in the warrens they name each of their main colony areas, and how Bear describes Mars, the alien desolate surface of Mars, where only water and extinct life forms are found.  It is thoroughly thought out and imagined, and I can almost feel the sense of growing up in unnatural daylight, because much of Mars' colonial life takes place under the surface. Casseia gets involved as the novel opens with the first university protests by the students when the university president takes away their right to attend school and closes the university temporarily, all because the Mars leader is afraid that any revolt to the proposed earth control of Mars will lead to revolt. She ironically creates the very situation she is afraid of.  Casseia is very young, 17 Earth years old, and  it is through her naivety and innocence that we initially see Mars, the revolution, Earth, and her first love, Charles Franklin, who takes another route to the future - he is a physicist, and wants to be a Thinker, which is learning how to think so far ahead, to perceive reality and time, that you can see the future and the past at once.  If you think of someone who might eventually end up living entirely in his mind and linking to a computer, you would have an idea of what the Mars colony wants to do, though Charles hasn't thought ahead enough to know what he would be giving up.  Such abilities are very rare, and highly prized, and Earth wants control of anything Mars develops in this area too.  Mars doesn't want to share, since Earth won't share their thinkers. And so, Casseia and her uncle fly, along with a little less than 100 others (because it is beyond expensive to fly from Mars to Earth, few can afford it) back to Earth, to hold off the coming changes Earth is going to try to force on the colony.

There are so many fascinating ideas in Moving Mars:  people have become Therapied, and those that did try to correct themselves, found themselves in control of the world's wealth, and those that did not choose to correct themselves, end up on the poor side of the economy.  Which is most of the population.  There are vids, and sims, where people can escape into almost alteranate reality without leaving their bodies.  There are enhancements, of beauty, intelligence, physical features, so that those who choose so, are no longer 'real' and imperfect, but unrealistically beautiful.  Casseia comments that no matter how enhanced someone is, it is no replacement for experience, and I think this is such a wise comment.  It applies to our world now, as well as the world of the future. We always want to be better, and one of the fun things about Moving Mars is, so far there has been no limits on fake experience - through Orianna, an enhanced Earth girl (Terran, called terrie for short), we see the extent to which the enhancements have taken Orianna far from any kind of normal life.  She has experienced simulated sex since she was 10.  She is beautiful, and smart, and physically perfect,
 gifted to learn any language possible (which is all the rage on Earth in the 2170s), and she has travelled both slowly by bike across parts of the world, as well as as far as her mind can take her.  It all seems unreal, both to Casseia and to us the reader, because life on Mars is much slower, cautious, and in realtime. With all our focus on the internet, video games, and looking ahead to how these could be used and expanded in the future, Greg Bear has made many astute guesses to how people will try to escape the limits of their life, as well as pointing out that nothing, but nothing, is better than experiencing it for real.  Real life, real pairings, real face-to-face relationships, are hard, though it is the only way people really grow. I find this so very interesting and certainly it's something I agree with, personally.  MSN, email, facebook - I look at them as quick ways to connect with someone, but the real connection, the satisfying soul connections we make, that we get from seeing someone's face and hearing the inflections in their speech, from occupying a space next to them, from being present and sharing that space and time - that's where we really are.  Where life is made, where we learn with the part of us that hungers for intimacy and connection. Casseia is so bad at this,but even at her young age she knows that no simulation (read msn conversation or online dating for our world now) is better than the real experience.  This really makes Moving Mars such a deeply felt and wise book for me,with these ideas and extrapolations about our future development set against the very real human need to touch, to feel, to kiss, to be near whom they love. 

So, I'm in love.  Excuse me, I have a journey from Mars to Earth to go join......

12 comments:

Cath said...

Great description of the science fiction nerd... weirdly... the sci-fi nerd in *my* class... was me. My English teacher was extremely bemused by this.

Lovely book stacks. I've read The Vampire Tapestry and thought it was quite good. I haven't read Red Bones yet, that's my next book in the series when I eventually get to it. Many of these authors I've not heard of so I look forward eagerly to hearing a bit about them when you get to them.

Greg Bear is an author I have never read but your description of Moving Mars makes it sound like an amazing book. Longer and much deeper than many science fiction novels. I think I will have to take a look at this one, hopefully the library will have it.

Excuse me now while I go check out The Atrocity Files...

Bybee said...

Greg Bear sounds really interesting. Lear's Daughters also caught my eye. A lot of these names were familiar to me for some reason. Maybe I'm secretly an SF fan even to myself!

Gavin said...

This post made me smile, Susan. I drifted away from science fiction for many years but finding books in my library by authors like Maureen McHugh, Kathleen Ann Goonan, Neal Stephenson and China Mieville brought me back. And I'm loving it!

Aarti said...

I love the green lighting on your photos! Very sci fi-esque :-)

I've actually not read much science fiction myself, but I want to read more. I am really into Dr. Who, for example, and think that I would just have fun with science fiction. Also, as a lifelong fantasy fan, I must admit to feeling a little fatigue at a genre that seems full of authors who can only write massive series of books over a decade, many of which don't seem to enhance or advance the genre much at all.

Kathleen said...

That's so awesome that you have discovered a whole new style of book that you love. I've never read much science fiction but would love to read more and see what I might think about it.

animewookie said...

"Jocks are now plump and have head traumas, so they can't always talk clearly (just joking, kind of, sporty guys.)" So funny...but true...lol Loving this post. Thanks for the intro. I haven't seen some of these :D

Susan said...

Cath: when you mentioned being a nerd, I remembered that I was the class nerd too! I think i read more than anyone else in the class all through much of my childhood, until i met my best friend in Grade 7. She read as much as I did!

Did you find a copy of The Atrocity Files? I've just started it, it's very funny.

Bybee: Greg Bear is interesting! I loved Moving Mars! I am hoping to get my review done tomorrow, this virus has put back my lovely scheme of posting at least once a week. I'm surprised you have heard of them, and delighted! could there be a secret sci-fi gal hidden inside you too??? lol

Gavin: I think you and I and Cath are around the same age group, and we had much the same reading experiences growing up. It is like coming back to a love, isn't it? I have to read some Maureen McHugh soon, and I have the Ian MacDonald you recommended on order at the library :-) I have to get some Goonan too soon, it looks very good.

Aarti: I wish I could claim I knew what I did with that colour on the photos! I don't, though you are right, it is interesting, isn't it? lol

Are you getting the new seasons of Dr Who over there too? The new season (number 7) is just starting to be filmed now. We just found out, and are delighted, especially my daughter who is devoted to it too.

There's some good science fiction that's easy to get into, if you want to make the sidle over the wall into sci fi land. I agree, that fantasy sometimes seems overwhelmingly about series, and not reimagining the landscape, and our myths, which is what I especially look for in it.

Kathleen: It is exciting! It's wrecking my reading plan with the classics and mysteries, but ever so much fun! lol

animewookie: I hope you find some books you enjoy too from my list! I'll do reviews as I read them (one of my blogging goals for this year).

Emily Barton said...

Yes, I too, am finding myself attracted to good ol' Sy Fye, whom I pretty much ignored in high school, although I was beginning to see his attraction (sort of) in college. A friend of mine recently sent me a bunch of Jack Vance books, and I am hooked, hooked, hooked! Your grand tour of Mars sounds like fun.

Susan said...

I read Lyonesse ages ago, and really enjoyed it! Have you read it yet? Yes, Sy-fy is quite agreeable now, isn't he? *I just picked up another sci-fi today. I think it's gone beyond a casual fling now.

Susan said...

Emily: sorry, my previous comment was for you!

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