Can Science Fiction be cool?

Today Mr NW shows that Science Fiction can be cool (because Mrs NW has her doubts).

I know what you’re thinking – in what universe is Science Fiction actually cool? Isn’t it just green aliens, lasers and pew pew spaceships? Well… okay, some of it is that (and it’s pretty legit too). My point here is that the very best Science Fiction can be so much more.

Scientists all around the world are tinkering in labs, designing new things and being generally awesome. Some of the things they work on and create have the potential to impact our lives in a big way. Just think about the advances in biochemistry and our understanding of how cells age. What will happen if we cure ageing? The obvious answers are that the world will become overpopulated, breeding will need to be restricted, and people will need to find some seriously long term hobbies. But what would it be like to wake up tomorrow into a world like this? What thoughts and feelings would you have? What impact will this technology have on your day-to-day life and how you experience the world? Science Fiction allows us to explore life as it could be or may one day be as an actual person which is exactly the type of thing you don’t see in a scientific paper. In this way, Science Fiction is not just a fun past-time, but also an interesting look at how technology interacts with humanity at a personal level.

Here are what I think are some of the best modern Science Fiction books and authors:

1. Iain M. Banks

Iain M. Banks’ Culture series explores a number of different interesting facets of a multi-species galactic society. Much like the English and their encounters with native societies throughout history, these books center around the dominant and technologically advanced Culture and their encounters with intelligent species at different stages of their development. The Culture agents meddle with the politics of other species to prevent wars and are required to constantly consider the ethics of their actions. Culture RingThere is some pretty interesting and creative material in this series. One species even punishes their criminals by placing them in a kind of virtual reality which emulates hell where they will suffer excruciating pain for eternity. There are ten books in this series so there is plenty there to get stuck into if you enjoy them.

2. Alastair Reynolds

Alastair Reynolds was an astrophysicist who worked for the European Space Agency. He is also lifelong fan of Science Fiction and also just happens to be a great writer. Reynolds’ most popular work takes place in the Revelation Space universe. One aspect that makes his much-loved Revelation Space books so interesting is that he limits the technology to what could possibly function within the bounds of our current understanding of the universe. The spaceships generally travel infinitely close to the speed of light, but no faster. There are limitations on how fast your ship can accelerate without turning you into tomato soup. Rev Space This may sound all a bit hardcore and geeky, but he couples this stuff with top notch writing and mysterious entities which keep you turning the pages. I am looking forward to the latest addition to the Revelation Space books, Elysium Fire, which is expected to be released in early 2018.

3. Peter F. Hamilton

Hamilton is well known for taking big ideas and blending them together to create truly epic works of Science Fiction. He is best known for the Night’s Dawn Trilogy which is an immense series totaling 1.2 million words (well over a thousand pages per tome). The series follows multiple characters through an epic interstellar adventure with mind boggling technology mixed with some horror themes. These books are space opera on a truly grand scale. 

Hamil.jpg

I have also read the first of Hamilton’s latest series, The Chronicle of the Fallers, and found it to be great fun. It is set on a planet stuck in the Void which is an area of the galaxy where quantum mechanics operate differently making telekinesis and telepathy possible. The story revolves around a revolution where multiple characters have different motivations for making it successful. Time travel (time loops!) and interesting twists are also thrown into the mix alongside strong character development. I am immensely excited to read the next book in this series.

So there you go, some cool Science Fiction for you to try out. If you do find yourself reading these authors, let me know what you think.

Next time, Mr NW will discuss whether fantasy writing has gotten better over the years.

What are your favorite Sci-Fi series or novels?

 

 

 

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51 thoughts on “Can Science Fiction be cool?

  1. Hello Mr and Mrs NW, I am not a great bookworm but I did read Frank Herbert’s Dune series when I was younger. I really got into the worlds and the political/social intrigues which were very well written to the point where I could not only see this universe but I could see, smell and even feel it. The series had interstellar travel which was accomplished with the aid of the substance “Spice”, mined on the planet nicknamed Dune. The intrigue and drama came from the battle over who had rule over the substance as, “Those who controlled the Spice controlled the Universe”. I am currently looking to get the full set of books again including Children of Dune, Dune Messiah and Heretics of Dune.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Dune is an absolute classic. One of the first Scifi books I ever read and the writing is outstanding – it really puts you in the moment. I have read Dune Messiah and Children of Dune and they are good also. There is some pretty cool fan art out there of the massive sandworms.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Haha! I tried to avoid making jokes comparing Bookworms with Sandworms! I have asked the owners of my local charity/thrift stores to keep an eye out for the other books in the series and reserve them for me if they come in the shop. The Fanart you mention is fantastic. However, I”m not brilliant at drawing so my tribute to the franchise comes in the form of a couple of lightsaber hilts designed in the style of Paul Atriedes, Fayd Harkonnen and one for the Sandworms!

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  2. First off, in WHICH universe is SF NOT cool? I’m beginning to wonder if MrsNW is living in denial. 2 people, MrNW and I, agree that SF is cool. So when 2 people agree on something on the internet, doesn’t that make it an Established Fact?
    Sorry MrsNW, but SF is cool and it’s here to stay 😀

    I’ve actually added a bunch of books by Banks and Reynolds recently. Hope to be getting to them in the next couple of months or so. I’ve read Hamilton’s “Greg Mandel” trilogy and while I enjoyed it, there were enough things in it that I didn’t feel like exploring Hamilton further.

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      1. Bookstooge, sex is there, albeit insignificant, if you consider the gigantic size of the trilogy. Hamilton oscillates between the rare explicit scenes and some ‘wicked’ (his favourite term for lasciviousness) prudery. Peter Hamilton is no PJ Wodehouse!

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    1. Which TV shows? I always loved Battlestar Galactica, Stargate Universe and Firefly. There is a newer one called The Expanse which is awesome as well. Fallen Empire looks cool I think I’ll check it out.

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  3. I adored the whimsical names of Banks’ drones, space ships etc: Just Another Victim Of The Ambient Morality, Helpless In The Face Of Your Beauty, A Series Of Unlikely Explanations, All Through With This Niceness And Negotiation Stuff, Ravished By The Sheer Implausibility Of That Last Statement and on and on. Now THAT is cool – 0 Kelvin, in fact.

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  4. I’ve read some of the Honor Harrington books by David Weber. I found them to be “pretty cool”. They had believable technology based on “stretched physics”. There was plenty of politics that was driven by both cultural differences and interstellar travel. Thanks for the authors and titles. I keep an eye out for others recommendations as I so not read near as much as I should and would like to.

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    1. I’ve never read anything by David Weber before. The way you’re describing the Honor Harrington books makes me think they will be exactly what I’m into. Thanks for the recommendation.

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  5. Banks and Reynolds can be labeled as “classics” (even though Reynolds’ recent production is not so… shiny anymore). I’ve read only the first volume of Hamilton’s Night’s Dawn and I was impressed, so I hope he will keep me impressed throughout the journey 🙂
    And I can’t recommend The Expanse enough – the best space opera of the decade, indeed…

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    1. I have watched the first season of The Expanse TV series and really enjoyed it. I also own the first book and it is next on my to-read list. I’ve heard nothing but good things about the books so I’m excited to get stuck in.

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  6. Sci-fi can be cool! I’m more of a fantasy person myself, but sci-fi is really cool.
    A lot of the stuff that was sci-fi a long time ago is technology now, which is cool.
    And the thing with aging cells, that’s really cool. Personally, I’d want to eventually die, for the good of the world and so I wouldn’t have to find an extremely longterm hobby, but it would be cool not to be old. But imagine a world where everyone looked the same age. Now that would be weird.
    (Did you see what I did with the word “cool” there? I used it five times. 🙂 )

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Haha very cool 😎. I suspect there will be too many ethical dilemmas around messing with cells to extend life span. But interestingly, nearly all the studies done on aging prior to this century were fairly useless due to the number of smokers, and even if the participants weren’t smokers themselves they were exposed to so much second hand smoke that they were effectively smokers too.

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      1. The one in the 80’s was done in 1988 in the US as part of NHANES (a big health study carried out since the 1960’s). The most recent repeat was in 2012 and only 25% of participants tested positive.

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      2. Okay. I think it would be really frightening if we discovered the secret to an unnaturally long lifespan.
        I mean, already, we’re living seventy, eighty years where before we lived only thirty.
        Overpopulation, the destruction of nature’s laws, there’d be a whole slew of problems.

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      3. I didn’t put that last question very well…. I more meant imagine if the technology existed but only an upper class or the rich had access, creating a subservient lower class with a shorter lifespan ….argh…so many bad possible outcomes from something like this.

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      4. Nope, that would eliminate equality basically.
        The people who had a longer lifespan would get even richer, everyone else would be even poorer in comparison and then this upper class would lord over the poorer citizens.
        What would even determine who got a longer lifespan?
        And besides, this still breaks nature’s rules.

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  7. Haha! I looked at your post title & thought “yep, SF can definitely be cool” and was all prepared to discuss the merits of Iain M Banks & Alastair Reynolds – but you beat me to it! I’ve loved everything Banks wrote, especially Feersome Endjinn, (& including his ‘normal’ fiction, with the exception of the very bleak Song of Stone) while my favourite AR book is Pushing Ice. I need to explore PFH’s work as fans of the first two always suggest him as an author I would enjoy.
    As for cool, let’s look at the facts. Back when I was a little kid in the 70s SF was proper geek territory. The best way to gauge how well a genre is permeating into mainstream is to look at how many movies are made, because that’s an expensive business. On TV, apart from the original Star Trek series, most SF was story-led (like Dr Who) because sets and SFX were either costly or too difficult. Then came 2001: A Space Odyssey and Silent Running. Great films but a bit niche. Planet of the Apes did better but perhaps because it doesn’t feel too spacey. Finally, we get to Star Wars and everything explodes. Battlestar Galactica, Alien, Blade Runner, ET, Close Encounters, Predator, Terminator, etc. etc. The late 70s and 80s brought SF into the mainstream so that we even start to see spoof movies (Galaxy Quest is my favourite). And now CGI makes the impossible easy. There’s a huge market for this stuff, so much so that films that fall into the SF / Fantasy / Comicbook genre now dominate the top grossing movies every year. For 2016 the top 10 featured 4 comicbook films (Capt America Civil War, Deadpool, Batman v Superman, Suicide Squad), 1 SF (Star Wars Rogue One), 1 Fantasy (Fantastic Beasts). The remaining 4 were animated/CGI kids’ films (with Zootopia arguably being a wonderful mix of fantasy, comedy and film noir).
    Now if that doesn’t illustrate the triumph of the geek and a move into cool mainstream, I don’t know what does!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. You have good taste! Feersome Endjinn is the only one of Banks’ Scifi books that I haven’t read but it’s definitely on my radar and sitting on my bookshelf waiting to be read alongside Pushing Ice. My favorite Reynolds would have to be Revelation Space and I absolutely loved Surface Detail by Banks.
      I think you are right about Scifi having become popular over the years. I have noticed a similar trend in Scifi videogames as well which has grown hugely as part of the Scifi fandom (think Halo, Mass Effect and Stellaris).

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Be warned: Feersum Endjinn is especially strange. I found the first 20 pages or so pretty mind warping and hard to grasp, but bear with it and it is an absolute gem.
        Pushing Ice was the first Reynolds book I read and the characterisations (as well as the plot) put it well above most SF literature.

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  8. Agree so much that sci fi is fantastic for exploring ethical questions (and it’s one of the reasons I love dystopias as well cos they answer similar questions) I’ve not read these cos I’m just getting into sci fi, but banks has been on my radar a while and Reynolds sounds great!

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  9. The problem with SF (Speculative Fiction) is that most of it is crap…

    There’s a quote (can’t remember who from) that sums things up rather nicely I think. It goes along the lines of –
    “95% of fiction is crap. Mainstream fiction gets judged by the 5% that is good, whilst fantasy and SciFi get judged by the 95% that’s crap”.

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  10. Hello both, thanks for stopping by my blog.

    SF is the coolest of genres, hands down. It is the thinker’s genre, the genre of ‘what if?’, the genre which best reflects our preoccupations, hopes and fears about the future.

    Personally, I’d hope for something like Iain M Banks’ Culture series. I also love William Gibson, and the many worlds and realities of PKD, but they’d be a little too exciting for me in the flesh …

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  11. Favorite science fiction novels are “Enders Game,” “Speaker for the Dead,” by Orson Scott Card. “Fahrenheit 451” and “Martian Chronicles” by Ray Bradbury, as well as his short space and mars stories. I love the short stories of Arthur C. Clark. And I love the Foundation trilogy by Asimov. However, I have to say that as much as I love science fiction, I prefer fantasy a little more. Why? Because science fiction will cease to be science fiction, and some of it already has. Fantasy will always be fantasy.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. The Foundation Trilogy is brilliant. One of my all time favorites in science fiction and certainly my favorite out of Asimov’s works. I haven’t yet read Fahrenheit 451 but it’s there sitting in my bookshelf waiting to be read. I tend to switch between fantasy and science fiction on a sort of monthly basis but I would have to say that overall I prefer fantasy a little bit more. When I think of my favorite books, a lot more fantasy books come to mind.

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  12. I read the print off my copy of War of the Worlds and grew up reading but I grew up reading the Lensman series and Burroughs Mars books (bit of old school raygun fiction and fantasy) of which I have fond memories, John Wyndham Arthur C Clarke and Edmund Cooper I loved their fiction. Clarke’s The City and the Stars is one of my favourites and Rendezvous with Rama (shame about the sequels!).

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    1. I really enjoyed Rendezvous with Rama and Childhood’s End by Clarke. Mrs. NW is meant to be reading Childhood’s End at the moment, but it has been sitting untouched for about a month now! Did you read any Asimov as well?

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      1. The Foundation Trilogy, the robot stories, Caves of steel and the Naked Sun so many others, I have phases of blitzing authors but since I started trying to write I don’t read so much, bad habit really.

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