Saturday, January 29, 2011

Genre Spotlight: Science Fiction

What is the first thing that comes to mind when someone mentions Sci-Fi? A 35-year-old guy in his parents basement studying the Klingon language? A giant toy robot from Mars destroying a scale model of New York City? William Shatner? That's all part of it, but that's like saying Harlequin Romance novels tell us everything we need to know about love.

The secret to Sci-Fi's success and recent surge in popularity (an Oscar nod for Inception and most of the new shows on television) is the rich, fertile ground it offers for great storytelling. Its speculative nature offers a unique way to view and make sense of the world. Whether it's District 9's take on Apartheid in South Africa or Isaac Asimov's three laws of robotics which are now essential for "real world" artificial intelligence research, science fiction will always find new ways to challenge, inspire and sometimes frighten us. Even if your Klingon is a bit rusty.

Here are a few of my favorite wordsmiths in this wonderful genre:

Peter F. Hamilton
His Nights Dawn trilogy is space opera at its finest. A huge cast of characters, a dilemma that threatens the entire human race and some of the most memorable moments in modern fiction make this an instant classic. His most recent Void Trilogy has kept me up way past my bed time, bending my mind with wonderfully complex ideas.

 Richard Morgan
Sometimes the best thing about a novel is a great protagonist. Meet Takeshi Kovacs, the anti-hero of Altered Carbon, Broken Angels and Woken Furies. He is smart, funny and just a little bit psychotic. He kills with savage indifference and consistently outmaneuvers the powerful forces aligned against him. You can't help but love a guy that makes James Bond look like a spineless pansy.

Iain M. Banks
Nobody does far-future science fiction better than this guy. His Culture series takes place during a golden age of human civilization. This "post-scarcity" society has evolved beyond primitive things like economics, poverty and biological death. People are free to do what they want, as long as it doesn't interfere with the  omnipotent A.I. starships called "Minds" that watch over us. Each novel set in this Universe is a completely unique and wonderful blend of humor, action and deep philosophical questions.

Dan Simmons
No longer a strict Sci-Fi scribe, Dan Simmons' first offerings to the reading public were some of the most emotionally resonant space faring yarns ever spun. I'm talking, of course about the Hyperion series. Originally conceived as a story to entertain his elementary school students, Dan took this fable filled with Time Tombs, Farcasters and a mysterious bladed creature known as The Shrike and turned it into a five novel opus that is easily one of the most entertaining things I have ever read.

Let's dismiss the notion right now that you have to hang out at comic book conventions and possess a scale model of The Enterprise in order to "get" this stuff. Science Fiction is for everyone, so let your geek flag fly! You might even learn something about theoretical physics or quantum mechanics. Or you can just enjoy evil aliens getting blown up by laser guns. Whatever makes you happy.

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