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
Foundation series by Isaac Asimov
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. (more…)
Last night was the official Syfy network premiere of the new space opera tv series The Expanse, although some folks watched the show online when it went up a couple of weeks ago. Tonight will be episode two, setting the hook even deeper to get viewers sucked into this new series that promises to bring the network back to its science fiction roots. So far, it’s a stylish adaptation, with some nice acting and great scenery. I can’t wait to see how it develops as the season goes on and how faithful it remains to its source material. I promise not to spoil anything for those who haven’t watched yet!
This season of The Expanse is based on the first book of James S.A. Corey’s series, Leviathan Wakes. In this novel, humanity has spread throughout the solar system, but no further. Divisions in human society have developed between the major outposts of Earth, Mars and the outer planets, with mutual distrust between all factions. It’s a canny choice, keeping the action close to our planetary home and the actors human. It makes the series more accessible to readers (and now viewers) who are not necessarily long-time SF fans. The other clever thing the authors (Corey is a pseudonym for two sf writers, Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck) have done to bring in a wide readership is to have the first volume adopt some of the trappings of another popular genre, the mystery. There is a missing person case, a hangdog cop and plenty of noir atmosphere.
If you have been loving the show so far or are a fan of the books that the show is based on, I have some suggestions of books to read.
The book (and presumably series) has two main points of view, that of Jim Holden and focused on him and his crew, and a second point of view with noir-tinged belter cop Miller. If you like the shipboard bits with Holden and how his crew work together, here are some books to try: (more…)
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…)
In science fiction canon, big-scale far-future stories usually get all the glory. Books set on other worlds, with space ships and alien encounters are what many people think SF is all about. And those books are great. I love space opera, and I love far-future SF books like Dune or the Culture books by Iain Banks, or Peter F. Hamilton’s crack-o-liciously good duology of Pandora’s Star/Judas Unchained. But there is something equally appealing about near-future SF stories. (more…)
In the process of making the huge chart featured earlier in the week, I spent a lot of time thinking about the genre. There are so many good stories about terrible things happening! Here are some of my personal favorites.
A Canticle for Leibowitz by Walter M. Miller
This tri-part classic of Science Fiction is about the rebuilding of society after a nuclear holocaust. In the aftermath of devastation, the world rejected technology. The novel follows the monks of the order of Saint Leibowitz over hundreds of years as they attempt to preserve relics of the world’s technological past until civilization is once again ready for them. (more…)
I recently decided to chart another genre, this time post-apocalyptic fiction. I love the genre, which has more variety that most people suspect. Why do we love books about the end of the world? In a way, it is the ultimate triumph-over-adversity narrative. Whether ante-, mid- or post-apocalypse, the end of the world as we know it is a pretty good conflict for characters to strive against. Usually characters are a big part of the appeal in apocalyptic fiction. You need characters you can root for to SURVIVE. Readers like to imagine how they would behave in the world possible scenario of a world-ending catastrophe, and these books can showcase the best in humanity, while it usually also shows us a vivid portrait of the worst we can do to each other. (more…)
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. “
I’ll end this series of posts with some of my favorite pirates — space pirates. Science fiction has a marvelous subgenre known as space opera. The name comes from both soap operas and also from horse opera, which was a nickname for westerns. But for me, what space opera most resembles are nautical adventure stories. Most of the time the action takes place in and around spaceships, with the nomenclature and hierarchies of naval life that haven’t particularly changed from the 17th century. And like any good shipbound adventure, sometimes you’re gonna get pirates. In some of the “space navy” series the pirates are a traditional foe that the naval forces are trying to control. Sometimes the pirate forces are more like mercenaries that have crossed a line. As tempting as it was to include mercenaries (especially my favorites, The Dendarii Free Mercenaries from Bujold’s Vorkosigan books) I wanted to stick to those operating truly outside the rules. So as your last homework for Talk Like a Pirate Day, here are some science fiction pirates. (more…)
TITLE: Retribution Falls
AUTHOR: Chris Wooding
PUBLISHER: Gollancz, 2009 (Spectra, 2011)
SERIES: Tales of the Ketty Jay, Book 1
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…)
Yesterday, I presented a flowchart that would allow a reader to navigate a plethora of SF Mystery blends depending on what kind of plot they were looking for. But plot is by no means the only way that readers determine what they want to read next. For a lot of readers (especially mystery readers, I think), they are looking more for a certain tone in their mysteries. Some like things dark and gritty, other prefer a lighter cozy with a minimum of violence. These shades of tone are present in blends that include mysteries too.
I think that it’s interesting that so many blends that include a mystery go self-consciously for the trappings of a particular subgenre: noir. Although non-readers think noir is all about film, but the dark, cynical and fatalistic tone that directors brought to the many, many film noir movies from the 40s and 50s is equally present in books from the same era. But I think we can thank film for locking in the imagery of a lone investigator in a trench coat, beset by femme fatales and double-crossed by those he trusts most. The reason we continue to see mysteries with these elements is because 1) They WORK. Dark brooding protagonists working slightly outside the law and with the rich and powerful arrayed against them are crazy appealing. 2) You can use small cues like a fedora to conjure up a whole mood. Shortcuts are awesome.
But even if a detective is in a fedora, that doesn’t necessarily make the book noir. And here I mean specifically books that are dark. Super dark. On my graphic, some of the darkest are novels that start from the SF premise of the end of the world, and add a mystery. Ben H. Winter’s truly marvelous series that starts with The Last Policemanis an example of one of those. Just as there are mysteries that look at the darkest impulses and actions of man, so does some SF. Although there are many SF writers that look to the future and see possibility and progress, there are just as many (maybe more) that see the shadowy paths that technology can take us on. They look to the future and see that humanity will probably take all their bad habits forward with them, including killing each other. The dark side of technology plus murder? These can be some pretty grim books.
But it’s not all gloom and doom! Looking at the right side of the chart, there are mysteries that are low-violence puzzle plots with an SF twist (You’ve Got Murder), whimsical time travel stories with romance and a cozy mystery (To Say Nothing of the Dog), and undercover dinosaur private investigators (Anonymous Rex). In between there’s a nice variety of social SF, space operas, and near future thrillers. So pick your place on the spectrum below, from the darkest and bleakest to the funny and lightest. There’s an Science Fiction Mystery for everyone.