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      Something Wicked This Way Comes...   10/09/2019

      The Autumn Supporter Giveaway!       Welcome to the very first of the seasonal BCF supporter giveaways! This month also marks one year since I took on the forum, so I want to say an extra huge thank you to all of you for keeping this place going. I have a little bit more to say about that later but, for now, let's get to the giveaway!     The Autumn Giveaway winner will be getting two Penguin Little Black Classics, The Tell-Tale Heart by Edgar Allan Poe and To Be Read At Dusk by Charles Dickens. Both of these little books contain three atmospheric short stories, perfect for autumnal evenings. The winner will also get Mary Shelley tea (a lavender and vanilla black tea) from Rosie Lea Tea's Literary Tea Collection (https://www.rosieleatea.co.uk/collections/literary-tea-collection) and a chocolate skull, to really get that spooky atmosphere .   and...   A special treat for a special month. The winner will choose one of the following recent paperback releases from the independent bookshop Big Green Bookshop:       The Wych Elm by Tana French A House of Ghosts by W.C. Ryan Melmoth by Sarah Perry The Familiars by Stacey Halls  The Dark Descent of Elizabeth Frankenstein by Kiersten White   The winner will be chosen via the usual random selection process in one week. Patreon supporters are entered automatically. If you aren't a patreon supporter but you'd like to join in with this giveaway, you can support here: https://www.patreon.com/bookclubforum.   I really hope you're all going to like this introduction to the seasonal giveaways. It's been a lot of fun to put together. Other chocolate skulls may have been harmed during the selection process…     
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KEV67

What makes sci-fi interesting?

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I recently finished Tau Zero by Poul Anderson. It had a great premise for a sci-fi book: spaceship gets closer and closer to light speed, while time slows down on board accordingly. It was described as a hard science sci-fi book. I was really disappointed with it. I can't say how good the science was for the time; it was written (approx 1970), but it is definitely out of date now. I think it was a bit cobblers then. What I really didn't like was the inter-personal stuff. The characters were either flat, or I did not like them. The attitudes were a bit out of date. The science in science fiction is nearly always wrong. Some sci-fi books are just plain fantasy. Some use a bit of science, e.g. nuclear war, space travel to another planet, just to get to another world, which either resembles a fantasy world or an historic world. Some use a bit of science to set up a plot and make it sound plausible, but don't really pretend that the science is perfect. Occasionally, you get a sci-fi book that tries to be as scientific as possible. The Martian is a decent example of that, but Andy Weir a) had to use a scientifically impossible device to strand his hero on Mars, and b) made the odd mistake, despite all his online readers pointing out his errors. Sci-fi books are books of ideas. I think H.G. Well's sci-fi books are interesting because they say something about the fears of the time. For instance, The Time Machine commented on the social divides in late Victorian Britain, Darwinian ideas, and there must have been something in the air about space-time, although Einstein had not got there yet. I remember The Day of the Triffids had a real Cold War feel about it. Unless a sci-fi book alludes to the concerns of society at the time it was written, it's probably a bit pointless.

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Science fiction is a very broad canvas, and can be very different things depending on the author and the story they are trying to tell.  Wells, for example, had a lot of social comment in his stories, and as you say an interest in the scientific thinking of the day, but under the same banner you also have books like Stainless Steel Rat, that are just a bit of a romp.

 

Poul Anderson falls into what I would term hard science fiction, which is often a high concept idea, with rather cold and flat characterization (Asimov and Clarke are quite often the same).

 

If you want something with a little more life, but something that is still big on Sci-fi ideas, try some Iain M. Banks (I'd recommend The Player of Games, personally).

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6 hours ago, Raven said:

Science fiction is a very broad canvas, and can be very different things depending on the author and the story they are trying to tell.  Wells, for example, had a lot of social comment in his stories, and as you say an interest in the scientific thinking of the day, but under the same banner you also have books like Stainless Steel Rat, that are just a bit of a romp.

 

Poul Anderson falls into what I would term hard science fiction, which is often a high concept idea, with rather cold and flat characterization (Asimov and Clarke are quite often the same).

 

If you want something with a little more life, but something that is still big on Sci-fi ideas, try some Iain M. Banks (I'd recommend The Player of Games, personally).

 

I read three of Iain Banks' books, two of which were science fiction. I can't remember what they were called. In one, the hero flits around the galaxy, offing people and trying not to get offed. The other takes place on Planet Medievalland. There's a king who has counsellor, or possibly a doctor, who is obviously from off-world. The neighbouring kingdom was usurped by a Oliver Cromwell type. He has a bodyguard who is in love with one of his harem. I thought it was a pretty good book, but there was not much science fiction in it.

 

I have read one Arthur C Clarke book, The City and the Stars. I did not think it was that good. I hear Rendevous with Rama is better, but not to bother with the sequels. I read one Issac Asimov book: The Gods Themselves. I did like that, and it had some pretty hard science. Aliens from a parallel universe were tinkering with the strong atomic force.

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Sounds like the Banks books you have read are Use of Weapons and Inversions (in which case I have read the former, but not the latter).

 

I've read Rendezvous with Rama, and thought it was pretty good, but I've not gone further with that series.

 

You seem to have an idea of what makes a good science fiction novel, can you describe what that is? (Is it accurate science, per chance?)

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I think a decent stab at the science is important; otherwise it is just fantasy. SF books are often books of ideas, but if they break known scientific limits, such as travelling faster than lightspeed with no plausible explanation of how they do it, then to me they are fantasy or adventure books. Technology shapes society. A lot of SF books imagine what that society will be like, which pointless if the technology is unrealistic. Many SF books are projections of the fears of the time of writing, particularly dystopias.  I am trying to think of some of my favourite SF books:

 

  • The Mote in God's Eye, by Larry Niven and Jerry Pournell - A first contact book. Basically it was a book about over-population.
  • Ringworld, by Larry Niven - not sure if it fits my thesis about SF being a projection of modern fears, but it is an interesting idea, which sounded plausible when I read it. Larry Niven often wrote about criminal who killed people for their organs, but I can't remember if he was in the book.
  • Dune by Fank Herbert - eugenics, a planet of inscrutable machine makers reminiscent of Japan, the control of spice needed throughout the galaxy reminiscent of oil.
  • The Left Hand of Darkness , by Ursula Le Guin - quite a bit about gender, quite political. An envoy tries to persuade an isolated civilisation to join the community of planets. The science was pretty good.
  • The Martian, by Andy Weir - not really a projection of modern society or fears at all, but the science was strong. Makes Mars colonisation seem plausible (although difficult).
  • The Gods Themselves - the Earth has found a cheap and abundant source of energy, unfortunately it is damaging the environment in a big way.

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I always think of science fiction which involves science fiction concepts (like time travel, or faster than light travel) without explanation as regular sci-fi, and the stuff with proper science behind it as 'hard sci-fi'. I think there's too big a distinction between a fantasy book with magic set in a technology-free world, and a sci-fi book with unexplained or makey-uppy science to say they're both fantasy.

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