Tag Archives: novels

Human Wave, Pushing the Boundaries, and Themes of Hope

Human Wave Science Fiction is an interesting group. I remember reading the original post by Sarah Hoyt (here) and going, well, duh. Some part of me wondered what other kinds of books were out there… I mean, I knew that people wrote wretched books and short stories designed to torment kids in English class, but I didn’t think anyone actually wrote those anymore.

Well, in case you’ve been living under a rock for the past few months, there’s been a lot of ruckus between the Hugos, the SFWA, and various other esoteric items in regards to the Science Fiction Community. Me, up until a few years ago, I hadn’t realized that there was such a thing as a “Science Fiction Community” I just read the books and authors I liked and looked for more. Occasionally I’d find one with a fancy award strapped to the cover, glance at the back, wonder why someone gave it an award and put it back.

I remember reading older books that had awards. Ender’s Game and a few Heinlein books for example. I thought they were pretty good. I didn’t really remember any newer books that were the same, but I didn’t really think much about it. What I knew was that I like books that were fun, exciting, that gave me a glimpse at a future that was, well, if not bright and shiny, at least full of possibilities.

That’s what Science Fiction is about, right? The endless possibilities? Exploring space, pushing the boundaries of human understanding in a way that science is supposed to do, just in a story format that leads the reader along and adventure while exploring the possibilities. The books I read growing up were all about the possibilities… where as now, I see a lot of books which are the opposite. Hope is dead… dystopian futures where war, plague, zombies, the internet, environmental disasters, evil corporations, evil governments, evil unicorn aliens, and all the rest have destroyed all that is good and happy in the universe, leaving the characters to struggle to survive. Victory, in many of these stories, is not about actually winning. Seldom do the heroes craft a better world or even better circumstances. Often these stories end in morally ambiguous conclusions where the reader is left to scramble at straws.

Where I see this the worst is in young adult books. The trend is a dark, depressing outlook on a world without a future, where the struggle to survival is littered with morally ambigious characters who teach us to lie, murder, and above all, don’t stand out, don’t attract attention, and most of all, that no one can change the course of history. Where comes this darkness that has so infested literature? I mean, I know there were books like these, but again, I thought it was all just some sort of sick joke played by English teachers, not that anyone actually wanted to read these sorts of things.

I can see why there is that trend in YA literature, especially. There’s some attraction to the dark, nihilistic tendencies, especially with kids going through those angsty years of ‘no one understands me.’ The thing is… maybe we shouldn’t encourage that. Growing out of that stage, coming to see that there is hope, that we can make something of ourselves, is part of growing up. Reading books that inspire and tell fun, exciting stories are part of that, in my opinion. If we allow our society to drown in the echoes of apocalypses without showing any light at the end of the tunnel, we basically tell them to stop looking up, that there is no hope… that all we build is for naught.

I’m of the opposite opinion. One of my favorite quotes is from Sir Isaac Newton: “If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.” What we build, now, is what the generations that follow can further build upon. There is hope for the future, that every year grows brighter and with more possibilities. We truly live in an age of wonders… and we need to tell stories that encourage that wonder. Not stories about crumbling empires and dystopian, tyranical futures. Stories where the characters face challenges, yes, but stories where the characters build and work towards a brighter future as well. Hope seems to be gone from a vast swath of fiction… we, as authors, need to bring that back.

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Oddball SF/F: Steampunk

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Seeing as I addressed cyberpunk, I figured I should turn a complete one hundred and eighty degrees and discuss Steampunk.

Steampunk is, at once, a narrow subgenre and also a broadly encompasing blended genre.   It has become massively popular in recent times due to its often fantastical elements and the broad spectrum of ideas and concepts that can be pulled in.  Steampunk is often used in alternate history, creating worlds of steam-powered airships and technology driven by steam, ingenuity, and lots and lots of gears.  Some steampunk now is focused on alternate history, while other authors create entirely new worlds.  Steampunk concepts such as airships, clockwork devices, and the like may sometimes appear in more traditional fantasy novels or series.

While the science behind a lot of the technology can be pure fancy, many steampunk stories have richly developed worlds.  Often the best steampunk is characterized by a thorough extrapolation of both culture, society, technology, and at least some grasp of history.  Steampunk characters tend to be larger than life, flamboyant, and yet gentlemen are gentlemen and ladies are ladies.  At the same time, many steampunk stories feature women who stand outside of societal norms and challenge the status quo.  The central core of steampunk, however, tends to be that it is complex, complicated, often larger than life, includes lots of ponderous and even dangerous machinery… and that it is fun.

Steampunk is often about adventure and exploration, and it is very much in tune with the founders of science fiction: Jules Verne and Arthur Conan Doyle.  Those authors used elements of the fantastic as well as scientific principles of their day to write stories of exploration, intrigue, and discovery.  In a way, steampunk can be seen as a tipped hat to these earlier authors, for whom the world still contained vast and unknown secrets, where maps required people to walk the ground and survey, and when the next horizon still held undiscovered riches.