Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Science fiction as literature

I recently posted an item on the favorite science fiction books of Ron Moore. That item contained some misinformation and poorly-considered phraseology--mea culpa--that I'll try to make up for at the bottom of this post.

But first, here's an invited essay by John "Dawg" Pickard, an authority on science fiction:

As a co-owner of the Cylon Alliance, which is dedicated to the preservation of classic sci-fi, I’ve been invited to say a few words about Science Fiction, one of the less appreciated forms of literature.

Science Fiction is Literature? Most certainly. You need only read the works of Jules Verne or H.G. Wells, or Robert Heinlein (to name just a few), to find examples of literature that rival the works of any of their most celebrated contemporaries. Complex, exciting, timeless stories that rank–or should rank–as classic literature in their own right.

I know–when someone says “Science Fiction” the first thing people think about (if they don’t think Star Trek or Star Wars) is Attack of the Killer Tomatoes and Plan 9 from Outer Space or Santa Claus vs. The Martians. “Sci-Fi” is just not taken seriously. But Science Fiction holds the distinction of being one of, if not the, most versatile literary genres of all. In Science Fiction, we can examine and comment on human nature, societal ills, the depths man can descend or the heights he can climb. And we can tell those tales and make those statements from a completely unique vantage point. In the hands of a knowledgeable and capable writer, we can visit other worlds, find new life out in the universe–or in some unexplored nook or cranny of our own planet. We can indulge our explorer spirit and find wondrous adventure.

With a good science fiction book, we can ignite our imaginations in a way television or film cannot match.

There are books in the “Science Fiction” section of the library or bookstore that transcend genre and are literature in their own right. Heinlein’s Stranger in a Strange Land is a telling commentary on religion and society that is as valid today as the day he wrote it–all within the tale of a human Martian. H.G. Wells wrote War of the Worlds near the turn of the 20th Century–yet the tale stands up if you read it today, more than 100 years later. His The Time Machine, too. And all three are fun and captivating to read.

So is Arthur C. Clarke’s 2001: A Space Odyssey. Anne McCaffrey’s Dragonriders of Pern series will make you believe in flying, flaming dragons. And Frank Herbert’s Dune books are nothing short of an epic tale that should be compared with classic literature–yet it will keep you up reading long past your bedtime.

And it can be fun reading, too. There are well more than a hundred books set in the Star Trek universe. Dozens in the Star Wars worlds. For a laugh-out-loud read, try Douglas Adams’ Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy books (which include the volumes The Restaurant at the End of the Universe and So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish).

Janet Kagan’s Hellspark is one of my favorites, as is her Star Trek book Uhura’s Song. (The funniest Star Trek book is How Much For Just The Planet by John Ford.) McCaffrey’s Pern books are in my regular re-read rotation. For a real adventure, try The Man Who Never Missed and the following books of the “Matador” series by Steve Perry (who also wrote the excellent Star Wars entry Shadows of the Empire).

And Orson Scott Card’s Enders Game is a must-read for any science fiction fan.

I could go on, but half the fun of reading science fiction is finding an author or particular kind of science fiction that you enjoy most. Search it out. You won’t regret it.

Many thanks to "Dawg" Pickard for such a rich and informative essay--and for the suggested reading.

"Dawg" also shared with me some of his considerable knowledge on Battlestar Galactica, both the current iteration on the Sci-Fi channel and the original series. He directed me to this page:
From here, you can learn as much as you want to know about how the 1978 series came to be, the problems it faced, why the writing was inconsistent (you simply cannot rush creativity)--all those negative issues people love to point out now. We also have comprehensive information on the revival attempts by Richard Hatch, Glen Larson & Tom Moyer, and the ill-fated and much lamented 2001 DeSanto/Singer project for Fox that was scuttled at the last minute by 9/11 and behind-the-back maneuverings by the studio and Sci-Fi.
There is also information at that site on the new series and the controversy tied to it.

And it is a rich controversy. Follow this link to "Dawg's" personal site where he takes on many of the issues in the debate over the original vs. the re-imagined series. Click on the "Dawg's Bark" button for a number of insightful items.

--Marshal Zeringue