Science Fiction – No Longer Just For Nerds

I’m in a rut, in a rut, in a rut rut rut root, rutabaga!

Ah, blessed escape.

As much as I enjoy pulp mysteries, I feel that 2015 needs to be a year of expanded reading interests. Books written in 2015, non-fiction, plots or genres I don’t typically pursue – these will be my (alleged) focus for the year. But for the moment I am returning to my sordid past. You see, I am a recovering science fiction nerd.

For years, the only books I read were sci-fi. I have a couple of theories as to the why of this, but one definite appeal of the genre is that literally anything can happen. Not so in most fiction. Your average book about a lawyer suing the greedy corporations that are destroying her home in Alaska is not going to feature the Loch Ness Monster as a key witness (although that would be way cool and probably improve the story). There are laws of reality that most stories need to obey. Sci-fi, however, creates its own laws.

chalkerThe Well of Lost Souls series, written by Jack L. Chalker, is one of my favorite examples of what science fiction can be. Chalker was not an outstanding writer, but he was incredibly imaginative. For this series he created the Well World, a planet which serves as a testing ground for potential species, sort of a cosmic petri dish. Each species has its own hexagonal region (1,560 regions total) that serves the needs of its inhabitants – temperature, atmosphere and so on. As the main characters travel the planet they pass through many regions and the reader is introduced to a stunning array of unique creatures and environments. No other book or series I’ve encountered is packed full of such diversity.

dhalgrenDhalgren by Samuel R. Delany
Dhalgren is on my soon-to-be-read list. As far as I can recall, I’ve never read anything by Delany, but he is one of the names uttered with a hint of reverence in the sci-fi field. This book’s description is mesmerizing, and I’ve read several reviews that refer to it as one of the most important science fiction novels. How can one resist this summary?

In Bellona, dead centre of the US, something has happened. The population has fled; madmen and criminals wander the streets. Strange portents appear in the cloud-covered sky. Into this disaster zone comes a young poet, lover and adventurer, known only as the Kid.

He had me at “centre”.

man in the high castleThe Man in the High Castle by Philip K. Dick
Philip K. Dick is probably best known for writing Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep?, the novel that Blade Runner is based upon. While this movie might be complex, his books are beyond difficult to describe. Perhaps visualize a mix of reality and fantasy and hallucinogenic drugs, and then throw this psyonic kaleidoscope into a hyperbole tornado, replete with fevered visions and tapioca (the tapioca is for me; I like it), swirling at the speed of sound through an uncertainty transmogrifier. Dick’s books are challenging, even bizarre, but extremely rewarding. The Man in the High Castle features an alternate history wherein the Allies lost WWII. Germany controls most of the United States, but Japan runs the west coast. These two superpowers, though allies in war, do not trust each other, so espionage, intrigue and budding conflict become part of everyday life. While this description sounds fairly straightforward, the story is anything but. Ultimately, it’s a tale of day-to-day life in a United States that never existed and an examination of the eternal what’s-it-all-about. From a local interest standpoint, Amazon recently created a pilot for a series based on the book, and most of the filming was done in Seattle, Monroe and Roslyn (home of Northern Exposure).

City of Truthcity of truth by James Morrow
You can read about this classic in a previous blog. I’m finally getting around to reading it, and it’s even better than expected!

Like any genre, sci-fi can be trite, repetitive and boring. But its cream is amongst the best literature flung from a pen. So stroll the Science Fiction aisles at EPL and prepare to BLOW YOUR MIND (mind-blowing clean up gear not included).

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