Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Wherein I read some science fiction

When I came back from Clarion last summer, I had an enormous "To be Read" list. One of the entries was "science fiction." I really hadn't read much in that area of my genre since Jules Verne's 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea.

So I tore through John Scalzi's Old Man's War series, and loved it, Zoe's Tale in particular. But then there was deadline pressure for the dissertation, and a generalized sense of stress in my life, and when that happens, I read for comfort, not for novelty. So my plan to finally get a grip on some scifi fell by the wayside.

I have recently taken up this project again, and I read the anthology Fast Forward 1, edited by Lou Anders, gorgeous cover art by John Picacio. I wanted to start with anthologies, because they would contain the widest variety of styles of writing and story, and I chose this one in particular because Elizabeth Bear has a story in it, and I feel a sort of fangirlish love towards her writing.

My scientific background is in the biological sciences, and so I tended to enjoy more the stories where the science in the fiction was biological in nature - I had enough of a basic understanding that I was able to follow the speculation. I thought Bear's "The Something-Dreaming Game" was a marvelous exercise in understanding the nature of trust and risk (and seriously, the woman's writing is like a master class in sentence level perfection. She does word choice better than anyone.) Gene Wolfe's "The Hour of the Sheep" was one of the most fun things I have read in a very long time. Also, it features a swordsman, and you guys know how much I love stories with fencing in them. I enjoyed Louise Marley's "p dolce" so much I hunted down one of her novels to try. I turned to Ken MacLeod's "Jesus Christ, Reanimator" with a bit of trepidation, but wound up thinking about it a great deal after I had finished. There's a lot in there about the nature of belief, and the seriousness is well-seasoned with moments of levity. John Meaney's "Sideways from Now" and Paolo Bacigalupi's "Small Offerings" both broke my heart in completely different and equally painful ways.

Fast Forward 1 is an excellent collection, full of a wide variety of different kinds of stories that still are connected by a common theme. They fit well together. It's a perfect kind of collection for someone like me, who is just beginning to explore what it means to write science fiction. It really made me think about different ways in which stories can be told and themes can be explored. It also made me take pen in hand and try my own version of a science fiction story. I highly recommend it, and I'll definitely be reading Fast Forward 2.


  1. Nice review. I've added the book to my "buy next" list.

    Agree with you, the cover art is gorgeous. That's the image from the Missions Unknown banner art. It's my favorite piece by John Picacio.

    Please share some recommended stories with well written fencing. I take it you fence, based on comments you've made.

  2. The more of Picacio's art I look at, the harder it is for me to pick a favorite. He's just so talented.

    As to stories with well-written fencing (and yes, I'm a competitive fencer) in my opinion, the best is Ellen Kushner's Riverside novels, Swordspoint and The Privilege of the Sword in particular. I've recently heard good things about Greg Keyes, but have not yet read any of his stuff.