Tag: Fantasy

Psychics in Science Fiction

Usually when people think of science fiction, it is a rule-based setting. Near future, far future, alternate past –  the “what if” of a good science fiction novel usually sticks with what could be, if things develop according to the way society is trending and the rules of science allow. But what then do you do with science fiction that adds in something fantastical? For my purposes you get a Science Fiction/Fantasy blend.

Psychic powers are one of the most common fantasy elements that get added to what can otherwise be straightforward science fiction.  There is no scientific basis (at this time!) for psychic powers. No proof that they exist or could exist, or would exist if the conditions were right.  But they are irresistible to authors in many genres. Some even bother to walk through scientific example of why the powers manifest.  But really, they’re just cool. The great thing about genre blends is that authors feel free to borrow whatever cool bits they like from other genres. It’s a big part of why I like blends. So with no further ado, here are some great examples of SF with psychic powers

 

foundationFoundation series by Isaac Asimov

Start with: Foundation

Asimov’s classic series is the story of a galactic empire in decline. Hari Sheldon is the inventor of psychohistory, the ability to see the future through the use of history, psychology and statistics. He foresees the end of society and brings together humanity’s greatest thinkers to create a safe hold, a foundation at the edge of the galaxy. But that’s not even the psychic part!  There is a character of Mule, whose ability to control others through their emotions makes him a dangerous man, and a threat to Hari’s plans.  There’s some other psychic stuff running through the series, but none of this makes it any less of a classic of the science fiction genre.

bloodysunDarkover series by Marian Zimmer Bradley

Start with: The Bloody Sun

People have been arguing about the Darkover series since it was first published.  SF or fantasy? There are also quite a few arguments over whether it is worth reading.  The quality of the series is really, really all over the place. I loved the books as a teen but see their flaws quite clearly as an adult.  But somehow I have fond feelings for them, and their cray-cray sf/fantasy weirdness. On the one hand, some of the volumes have a completely fantasy feel, with a feudal society where the aristocracy have psychic powers. Best examples for those books are HawkMistress! or StormQueen! (or as I think of them – the exclamation point books!). But The Bloody Sun is a better example of the books that deal with this feudal, psychic society’s clash with earth, which has a much more SF feel. MZB gives a semi-scientific example for her psychic powers in these later volumes.

dunesmDune series by James Herbert

Start with: Dune

Hmm… how to talk about the psychic woo-woo stuff in Dune without giving too much away? I fully admit to bouncing off Dune hard when I first tried to read it, as it starts with a very dry explanation of galactic politics. But once you get on the planet of Dune, and our young hero Paul starts to take his place in destiny, it starts to really work. In the series, one of the galaxy’s master manipulators is a group known as the Bene Gesserit. Through a combo of long-game genetic manipulation and the use of the mysterious Spice, found only on Arrakis, they have developed a whole range of psychic powers, especially telepathy and precognition. Oh, and the basis of interstellar travel has a psychic element as well, as the navigators use Spice to put themselves into a weird state that allows faster-than-light travel.

manycoloredlandSaga of the Pliocene Exile by Julian May

Start with: The Many-Colored Land

In the Pliocene Exile books, a man from the future (just looked it up 2034 – not too future now!) discovers a portal to the past of six million years ago. Ever since, certain disaffected mavericks have made the one-way journey to the presumed peaceful and idyllic era. The first book follows a group that make the trip from 2110 to the Pliocene, only to find two warring humanoid but alien races already living there. Both races have paranormal powers, and the humans find themselves drawn into the conflict between them. The psychic powers are not alien-specific, though. As you read the whole series the set-up is that humanity, as a species, has been developing ESP powers as well. Some of the exiles who chose to jump to the past do so because they feel out of step with the new galactic mind.  It’s been decades since I read these books, but I really enjoyed them.

demolishedman starsmydestinationThe Demolished Man  and

The Stars My Destination by Alfred Bester

The Demolished Man is a classic of the SF genre. Everyone in the future society written about here has psychic powers – it’s just a matter of how much. The story revolves around a man who is determined to kill a business rival, but how do you commit murder in a society of telepaths? This clever SF/Mystery blend won the Hugo in 1953, and has some obvious noir influences. Bester also dabbled in psychic powers for his novel The Stars My Destination (a book that inspired the name of the SFF bookstore I spent many a happy hour in when I lived in Chicago in the late 1980s and 1990s, The Stars Our Destination). That novel hinges on personal teleportation, a skill that is apparently psychically controlled. Both novels feel like SF (Stars is often cited as a precursor to cyberpunk), while skillfully borrowing the fantastical element of psychic abilities,

rowanThe Tower and Hive series by Anne McCaffrey

Start with: The Rowan

Loosely connected to each other and to other McCaffrey books, this first novel in the Tower and Hive series sets up the premise of a future human society where certain individuals with psychic abilities are known as Talents. Rowan survived an alien attack that destroyed her planet and family when she was a young child. She grew up to be a major Talent, known as a “prime”, and worked for the Federal Telepath & Teleport network, which controls all communication and shipping in the galaxy. Her talents set her apart and leave her lonely, until she hears the distant psychic call of fellow-talent Jeff Raven from across space. The two fall and love and fight aliens together. Like you do.

 

soldiersdutyTheirs Not to Reason Why series by Jean Johnson

Start with: A Soldier’s Duty

While most of the books on this list are pretty old (I read most as a teen and I am also old), this is a relatively new series, and one that also blends sf and romance, which is a blend of which I am particularly fond.  I just started reading it, so I’ll crib from the publisher blurb. “Ia is a precog, tormented by visions of the future where her home galaxy has been devastated. To prevent this vision from coming true, Ia enlists in the Terran United Planets military with a plan to become a soldier who will inspire generations for the next three hundred years-a soldier history will call Bloody Mary.”  As I said, I’m reading this one now, but I loved how Ia sees the future, or should I say the many possible futures, sifting through them to try to get the one she needs, the one that doesn’t end in the death of everyone and everything she loves.

Planetary Romance

Some of my earliest and longest-lasting love affairs in SFF is the subgenre of planetary romance. It seems strangely old-fashion now, but when I first started reading science fiction, these were the books I read, loved and wallowed in. So what is a planetary romance? Contrary to what you might think, it is not actually a blend between romance and science fiction (although it can be that too).  If anything, it’s more of a blend between science fiction and fantasy.   (more…)

Fantasy Cops

Urban Fantasy is a genre full of crime.  Not every urban fantasy contains a mystery component, but many, MANY do. When you set your fantasy on regular city streets and remove the epic worldbuilding and plots of large-scale political intrigue and clashing armies (think Tolkien, Martin, etc.) you need something to fill that plot hole.  A mystery plot, with its reliable structure of crime, investigation, and resolution is amazingly suited to a blend with fantasy. It is also a plot that lends itself to episodic series, with gradually accumulated world-building allowed to be used over and over again with the same characters, only changing the particular mystery plot du jour. (more…)

The Troupe by Robert Jackson Bennett

troupe

FANTASY/HORROR/HISTORICAL FICTION

TITLE: The Troupe
AUTHOR: Robert Jackson Bennett
PUBLISHER: Orbit, 2011

THE BOOK: In an undefined turn-of-the-last-century time when vaudeville was still going strong, we meet young George Carole, a piano player at a small Vaudeville theatre in the middle of America somewhere/nowhere. Sixteen-year-old George is working at Otterman’s theatre for only one reason:  he hopes his father will play there someday so he can finally meet the man. But when he does finally track down his father’s vaudevillian troupe, nothing goes as planned.  His father, Hieronymus Silenus, is involved in something bigger and scarier than a simple entertainment and when George see the Silenus troupe play, his life is changed forever. Between the creepy puppet act, the tantalising dancing of the beautiful Colette, and the mesmerizing song that ends the act, George is fascinated.  But it is his encounter after the show with a spooky gray man who sucks all the light out of the world around him that decides George to sign on with the Troupe. Because Silenus is somehow using his show to battle back all the evil of the world.  Or is he? (more…)

Hot Books for Santa Ana Days

While the rest of the country is enjoying crisp fall days, colorful foliage, and excellent sleeping weather, Southern California had Santa Ana winds blowing through over the weekend. If you’ve never heard of the Santa Ana winds, they are supposed to drive people a little crazy.  Raymond Chandler has a typically awesome quote:

“There was a desert wind blowing that night. It was one of those hot dry Santa Ana’s that come down through the mountain passes and curl your hair and make your nerves jump and your skin itch. On nights like that every booze party ends in a fight. Meek little wives feel the edge of the carving knife and study their husbands’ necks. Anything can happen. “

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Urban Fantasy versus Paranormal Romance

pnrufchart2

(click to embiggen!)

Urban Fantasy and Paranormal Romance.  There seems to be lots of people who love one but not the other.  In most classification schemes and in my book (The Readers’ Advisory Guide to Genre Blends), urban fantasy is technically a subgenre of fantasy, and paranormal romance is a subgenre of romance (just as the names imply!), but the reading reality has always seemed more fluid to me. I read a lot of series that fall under one or another of those subgenre headings, and I’ve never been particularly fussy about what label gets printed on the spine.  When I was in charge of ordering paperbacks for a library, I was forced to care about this issue, as I would be the one that would decide whether a book went on the “ROMANCE” spinner or the “SF/FANTASY” spinner. And believe it or not I found  it surprisingly difficult at times.  Sometimes I would violently disagree with the way the publisher had chosen to market a series. Maybe it was a book that had a cover and a subject heading that screamed romance and I thought it would appeal as much (or more) to fantasy fans.  Maybe the book was all moody urban fantasy on the outside but all steamy romance between the covers.  It was then that I started to think about these books all living on more of a spectrum: all books that shared a real-world, present day fantasy landscape and almost always included a crime/puzzle/mystery plot line. The difference was simply in the amount of romance.

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Pirate Week: Fantasy Pirates

Yesterday I pulled together a list of traditional historical fiction pirates.  While they might not have been as plentiful in the real world as they are in the novels of naval adventure, there is no doubt that pirates really did sail the seas of history. But the idea of pirates is too irresistible not to borrow for other genres. So how about some piracy on imaginary seas? Fantasy has a long tradition of stories of high adventure, with swordplay and settings that hint at history while taking all the imaginative liberties the genre is known for. And some of these action-packed, magical tales even include pirates.

wakeofthebloodyWake of the Bloody Angel by Alex Bledsoe
The series of novels featuring sowrd-for-hire Eddie LaCrosse are always fun, and all feature action and swordplay.  It was inevitable, I suppose that he would cross paths (and swords) with pirates one day.  That day arrives when the woman who runs the bar where he has his office asks him to find the pirate she loved and lost. His ship, The Bloody Angel, disappeared years ago and Eddie enlists the help of a pirate queen to search for the pirate’s fate. This series is funny, fast and a little ridiculous, but in a good way. (more…)

Retribution Falls by Chris Wooding


ADVENTURE/FANTASY/SF

TITLE: Retribution Falls
AUTHOR: Chris Wooding
PUBLISHER: Gollancz, 2009 (Spectra, 2011)
SERIES: Tales of the Ketty Jay, Book 1

THE BOOK:
Darian Frey captains the airship Ketty Jay, scraping up jobs of dubious morality and legality but usually staying on the lawful side of piracy. The crew of the Ketty Jay are of dubious morality as well, each hiding secrets and running from the past. When Frey takes a job to hijack a trunk of gems from another airship he know this is both bigger and more illegal than anything they’ve pulled before, but the payday is too good to resist.  When everything inevitably goes wrong, Frey and the rest of the Ketty Jay crew will face piracy and murder charges. They need to find who set them up if they want to survive to fly another day. (more…)

Featured Blend: Epic Fantasy and Mystery

If you use the Genre Blender to combine Fantasy and Mystery you get one of the bigger sets of results, over 75 books. It’s a popular blend, because adding a mystery plot to the landscape-heavy fantasy genre is a great way to give a fantasy a structure other than “let’s go save the world!”  But browsing those titles shows that most of the blender results are urban fantasies — books set in out world, with magic layered in. Why should urban fantasy be the only ones to get the awesome dead bodies and murder investigations? Some of these are closer to caper novels than traditional murder mysteries and there is a wide variety in worlds depicted, but they are all NOT our world. Here are some epic fantasy novels that include a mystery plot: (more…)