Leah

The Culture Series

"Use of Weapons" and "Surface Detail" are both incredibly dark and leave you with a sense of dread, or foreboding at times. For instance "Use of Weapons" in the Culture series by Iain M. Banks made me feel physically unwell at times, and several others in the series are pretty dark as well.

Yet, even as dark as "Use of Weapons" is, I feel that "Surface Detail" is actually darker on the physical level. However, it did not make me feel as unwell as the first book. The tone of the book goes down a darker path, it is about people being sent to virtual hells, and in that context it is far more explicit, still "Use of Weapons" was darker on a psychological level for me. I think that one thing that you can say about "Surface Detail" is that there are aspects of the book that feel like they have more in common with a horror novel than "Use of Weapons" which is a at its very core a personal drama, and wartime fiction. Still I wouldn't classify it as horror novel as a whole, just that it certainly contains horrifying parts.

The Ender Series

Ender is a strange thing to categorize. I would say that on a whole, it does what it sets out to do. But there is a loss of quality across the board. And it suffers from a number of different flaws that I won't get into.

If it has flaws you ask, why did it make it on the list? Well, the thing is, all books, no matter how tight they are, have some flaws. So it isn't an aspect that excludes it in my opinion.

One flaw with the series is that it meanders around without an ender in sight.

But if you take the books out of their publication order you can avoid some of these issues. This is how I suggest you read the series.

You should read them in this order, staring with: "Ender's Game" (of course), "Speaker for the Dead", "Xenocide" and "Children of the Mind".

These are the best books in the series. Plus they are the closest you will get to serious sci-fi, and they offer the most interesting science fiction in the series.

Once you've read those books you can either stop there, since you have read the best books in the series, or you can pick up "Ender's Shadow" which, if you may find worthwhile. I ended up flicking through it, since it is mainly a Battle School book. I wouldn't call it a great read, and you can definitely tell that this is where the series starts to degrade.

I would call everything including "Shadow of the Hegemon" a sub par Tom Clancy-style which was written by a man with a laughably childlike view of how geopolitics actually work. It is essentially two thousand pages of very shallow, excruciatingly tedious, and something only really worth reading for those who need a sense of closure for the original Battle School team.

"Ender in Exile" should only be read if you decided to read the Shadow series, especially if you have read up to "Shadow Puppets" otherwise you will not have the final plot elements: Achillies/Petra/Bean, to name a few.

If I had the chance to do it over, I wouldn't recommend it, since I feel that it changes the Shadow series' finale more than is acceptable. While as a standalone work does not add anything of note to the plot.

If you somehow manage to reach "Shadows in Flight", you should just stop there. The reason is that, in my opinion, this book is the only installment in entire series with absolutely zero redeeming characteristics. It is also by far the most insultingly dull entry into the series. And that fact that fans of the series had to wait for more than twenty years for the book's release it is all the more unsatisfying. It is honestly so bad that it finally made me lose interest in, what was growing up my favorite sci-fi novel.

Leah

Probably not what everyone would consider sci-fi, but if you can find the abridged versions (*stay with me) read by Tony Robinson, the Discworld audiobooks are really enjoyable to listen to.

Good Audio Sci-Fi

  • Snow Crash
  • The Martian (more fictional science than sci-fi, but still excellent)
  • Ringworld series
  • Daemon
    • Freedom
  • Gateway
    • Beyond the Blue Event Horizon

*Unfortunately, the unabridged versions were read by Nigel Planer and Stephen Briggs and neither of them capture the characters in the same way Robison does.

Leah

"Deep Storm

When a book is ground in what many like to call reality, that is, a work that is set in the here and now, or near future it by this distinction cannot be scifi. At least not marketed as such. Instead you will see it appear under the techno thrillers heading, because sci-fi still ostensibly carries a deep rooted stigma preventing any sort of mass market appeal.

Some of the works that come to mind are Michael Crichton's "The Andromeda Strain" and "The Terminal Man," while both a bit dated, still lend themselves to enjoyable reads. At the time of publication they were not considered sci-fi. Though even with many of the points being proven, either right or wrong, they are still quite clearly sci-fi of the era. When I read them they were still contemporary, yet today they still work well as seventies period pieces now and you can almost get a feeling that you have been taken back in time. Even today I can still pick up "The Andromeda Strain" and read it cover to cover before I know what's happened.

Other books I have found myself enjoying:

  • "Zoo" by James Patterson
  • "The Business" by Iain Banks
  • "Deep Storm" by Lincoln Child
  • "Rainbows End" by Vernor Vinge
  • "Kong Reborn" by Russell Blackford
  • "Deception Point" by Dan Brown

As well as the under rated "The First Fifteen Lives Of Harry August.

Leah

Personally, I think superhero is and has been its own genre for quite some time now. While, you can loosely placed it under under the fantasy umbrella, this does not always work. Because as expected you will find pretty much any and all genres represented in the pages of a simple series like, Spiderman for example. If we look at comic books in general this is a common feature. They aren't self limiting, in fact it appears that the more mumbo jumbo a writter piles on, the better. Many of the comic books I read as a childtouhed on elements that were clearly fantasy, yet you also saw sci-fi, as well as supernatural spirituality.

Without a "clearly" defined path it is hard to classify specific works, let alone the medium as a whole. Because that is what it is.

A medium.

For a genre to be defined it at the very least needs a common unifing theme. And that is something that seems to evade the different comic offerings. Or does it?

If you dig deeper you will see some of the elements central to the superhero universe do provide a rough sketch of what they are about. One aspect, protecting the everyday you and I, is a common element that is found in all of the mainstream properties you will see in shops today. While the idea may seem nobel, people like us are often nothing more than collateral red shirts there to die in en mass.

So when you look, there is a central theme that binds them together forming a genre. It is interesting to look at the different media, how does it sell you on the idea of watching the movies when they are advertised? Rememer they are selling you on the idea so they need a way to tell you waht the film is about. They don't call Guardians of the Galaxy and Batman Vs. Superman a fantasy film, nor do they use sci-fi, rather they make it clear that it is a superhero film.

When you boil it down to its core principles science fiction is about things we think might be possible. On the otherhand, fantasy is about things we know are not. I understand that this is a rather blunt example, at times things are more obtuse than that and it can be hard to tell one from the other sometimes, and of course, there is the issue that science fiction does not always age well, but neither does fantasy. While this can be argued on the level of probable vs. inprobable with fantasy we know the answer. However, there are plenty of classic sci-fi works which were published long before their ideas even got much though, but are today now firmly in the realm of possible, or reality.

Yet, no matter how much they try and sell you the idea that Iron Man is possible, he's rich and smart after all, he is nowhere close to ever becoming a reality. Yet, this does not exclude him from one day being a reality. On the other hand, Doctor Strange is magic and there is little that will ever change that. But yet they have interacted on numerous occasions so what would those stories be categorized as?

It is this ambiguity that leaves many people confused, yet they are two rather clearly defined cases.

What about other offerings in the superhero genre?

Let's take Superman for instance. He is somewhere in between, his backstory, his excuse that "he's an alien" is a very weak explanation for why he has the powers that he has powers.

Does this limit his ability to being categoried into a sci-fi genre? No matter how much it pains me, poorly researched sci-fi is still sci-fi.

And most superhero pieces are just that.

Poorly researched, no matter if the topic is sci-fi, fantasy, or reality. The question is less "is this possible" and more "does the writer think this is possible". Even then, there's soft sci-fi that bends the rules a bit in their favor and hope that the reader does not notice, or at the very least mind too much. One good example of this is Back to the Future. I'm sure the writers knew that a time machine like that is impossible, but it's still sci-fi.

And it is still fun.

And so for those reasons, any form of superhero is never going to fit in a box, unless that box is redefined and named something unique. Thus superhero, as a whole is a genre no matter what subject matter is being touched on.

Leah

PKD

I know that PKD has become one of the greats in sci-fi. But for me he is over hyped. Put the stone down. Philip K Dick's work often revolves around epistemology and identity.

Or let me put it like this: We have books where, time and time again, the main character is often lead to doubt their senses, or their knowledge, or their identity, or in the case of some of the most popular ones reality.

He leaves you with a sense of how do we know what we know? Which has been handled by other authors much better.

I don't mind books that leave you with a sense of; Can we be sure? Because this sensation can be very rewarding. Not in PKD's case. Let's not forget that he was plagued by schizoid symptoms, and that alone would certainly make him more sensitive to the topics of epistemology and identity.

Just from the way his stories were presented I never felt like they would be for me.

And yet I gave into the hype. After all I had heard a lot of good things from people that I respected about Philip K Dick. I picked up "A Scanner Darkly" and honestly it was an underwhelming experience. And wasn't not impressed by it in the slightest. While the jacket blurb sounded really interesting, I didn't feel that the content delivered on the promise of the blurb.

Was this book a typical representation of his work? I asked myself that for a few years until I picked up another one on the suggestion of friends who couldn't understand why I was not getting it. Was there so much to get I wondered. So I worked my way through "Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep", "The Man in the High Castle", and "Ubik" much to my chagrin.

What I will say is that his prose is for the most part bad. Some of his ideas and philosophies have merit, and, at least for me, could have been very powerful. But he has a tendency to get in his own way.

Skip anything PKD.

Leah

What can I say, I am a sucker for good British sci-fi series, and this one offers everything that I like about the genre. And it has an exceptional premise:

Black Mirror

Charlie Brooker explained the series' title to The Guardian: "If technology is a drug – and it does feel like a drug – then what, precisely, are the side effects? This area – between delight and discomfort – is where Black Mirror, my new drama series, is set. The 'black mirror' of the title is the one you'll find on every wall, on every desk, in the palm of every hand: the cold, shiny screen of a TV, a monitor, a smartphone."

The first two series of the programme were produced by Zeppotron, for Endemol. An Endemol press release described the series as "a hybrid of The Twilight Zone and Tales of the Unexpected which taps into our contemporary unease about our modern world", with the stories having a "techno-paranoia" feel. Channel 4 describes the first episode as "a twisted parable for the Twitter age". "Black Mirror" series 1 had a limited DVD release for PAL / Region 2 on 27 February 2012. This was followed by a DVD release of series 2, also PAL for region 2 only.

According to Brooker (speaking to SFX), the production team considered giving the series a linking theme or presenter, but ultimately it was decided not to do so: "There were discussions. Do we set them all in the same street? Do we have some characters who appear in each episode, a bit Three Colours: Blue/White/Red style? We did think about having a character who introduces them, Tales from the Crypt style, or like Rod Serling or Alfred Hitchcock or Roald Dahl, because most anthology shows did have that... but the more we thought about it, we thought it was a bit weird."

Netflix picked up the series after the first two seasons, and it hasn't lost anything from the transition.

Check it out.

Leah

I think that sometimes I get so caught up in a book, so emotionally invested in the characters that when something big happens in the story I am emotionally affected by it as well.

Ready Player One

Piers Anthony, who many of you may know for his young adult work has a nice little series called "Incarnations of Immortality" series, and while it isn't entirely whimsical it has plenty of whimsy. Each book is based on the personal incarnation of an eternal concept; death, war, time, nature, and fate and deals with issues like sex, sin, martyrdom and philosophy. They're quite good and realtively light for the topics which are addressed in each book. Though, whimsical they are all very nuanced and different from his Xanth works.

But let's not forget:

  • Ready Player One by Ernest Clines
  • Redshirts by John Scalzi
  • Year Zero by Rob Reid

While not sci-fi "Guards! Guards" by Terry Pratchett will always bring a smile to my face.

Leah
Cover Image

What can you say about Stargate Universe that hasn't already been said?

For one, it gets a lot of heat for being something that many feel SG1 was not. This isn't a bad thing in itself, they wanted to make the story even bigger, and they should be pleased with themselves, because they did. I think that I am actually one of the few people who thought SGU was a good series. What may have turned people off was that it had a similar tone to "Battle Star Galactica", which at the time was the sci-fi show heavy weight they were up against.

But it also had a problem in the start, the first few episodes were very hard to grasp the concept of, even if you had a strong understanding of the world that was built up until that point. The main problem with this was that the show's creator decided to make a mistake, and purposefully left information out.

Maybe that makes me stupid, maybe I just didn't grasp the grand concept, but with the way it was told you kept getting confused on where everyone was and it pulled the fledgling story apart.

They used gimmicks to make this work. And honestly it took me several episodes to understand the "communication stones" was what was causing people to just "show up" at different places. They didn't introduce you to the technology until a little later. And at that point you realize they they are replacing characters, when in fact they were using the stones was to help the viewer understand what was going on. Or were they? Personally, I actually think it would have helped more had they gone ahead and changed the actor, rather than making them play a new character.

These problems were what made me think that, while it had a lot of potential, it was misguided and they didn't have room for a lot of additional error. Thus, their creativity got in their way. Mainly, because it got in the way of telling a great story.

Had they worked these quirks out early, that is to say before they actually got ready to shoot, they would have had a tighter story.

But it is not bad. SGU, when I look at it, I see Lost. It is a story based around the characters and their struggles in the world that was what made it worth watching.