The Silverfish is published monthly by the students
of the Information School at the University of Washington.
and Dirty Introduction to Science Fiction
February 8, 2003
For a quick and
dirty introduction to science fiction, I want to point out a few basic
themes. The first one is the "playing God" theme, which I
also call the "Golem theme." In an old Jewish folk story,
a rabbi creates this man (the Golem) out of clay or mud to do the rabbi's
bidding. But then the Golem gets out of control, or discovers that he
has a mind of his own (I forget the exact details) and the plot thickens.
Science fiction has lots of variations on this theme, where the scientist
creates his/her own robot/cyber-person/genetically-engineered super
person, then something goes wrong, etc.
The most famous
version of the "playing God" theme is Mary Shelley's Frankenstein,
and here a few more recent examples:
- He, She,
and It, by Marge Piercy. In this one, the story of the Golem is
told in parallel with the modern story of the robot. The main character
(a woman) befriends the robot, who comes to feel more and more human.
Lots of futuristic society descriptions; politics, social justice,
good and bad stuff - kind of like Piercy's non-SciFi novels, but of
course with the SciFi slant.
- Virtual Girl,
by Amy Thomson. Thomson is a local SciFi writer, and I have actually
seen her at local SciFi conventions. I used to have a signed copy
of this. Anyway, the guy builds his own "cybergirl", not
for romantic purposes, but just to have a companion. But then she
grows up and wants to live her own life
- Beggars in
Spain, by Nancy Kress. This is the first of a trilogy, and the
only one I have read so far. Some people have been genetically engineered
not to need sleep. These non-sleepers tend to be smarter, better looking,
and practically immortal. Alas, they become feared and distrusted
by "sleepers", even though most of them are really good
people who only want to use their superior powers for good causes.
- I, Robot,
by Isaac Asimov. My husband, Jim, suggested this one; I have not read
There are probably
many others with this theme, but that is all I came up with off the
top of my head. Here is a random list:
- The Earthsea
series. This is more fantasy than SciFi, and used to be a trilogy,
but there is now a fourth book in the series. This starts out with
a young boy going to wizard school. You might like this, if you like
- Where Late
the Sweet Birds Sang, by Kate Wilhem. This one is a classic by
now, and it has lots to do with cloning, written years before cloning
was a reality. I recommended this to someone else who had never read
any SciFi, and he loved it, so give it a shot.
- C.J. Cherryh
writes about different worlds, societies, and cultures. Hunter
of Worlds is a good story, and there is a glossary in the back
for all the different languages represented. Forty Thousand in
Gehenna has both humans and clones; a ship of both is sent to
populate a planet, and then abandoned; generations go by, and new
societies are formed. There are also strange dinosaur-like animals.
I can't remember what they are called but they play a significant
role (like the worms in Dune.) Anyway, there is intrigue and
suspense, and I would even go so far as to say a touch of horror.
I think this may be a sequel to another book, but if it is, you can
read this by itself; I did and had no problem.
- So just when
you were starting to think I only read SciFi by women, I will mention
Dune, by Frank Herbert. This is one of Jim's all-time favorites;
I have read it once but he reads it at least once a year. There are
many sequels, prequels, and other quells, but this is the only one
I have read (and Jim will tell you it is the best one). This is really
more fantasy than SciFi but you shouldn't let that stop you. There
is an environmental theme here; the setting is a desert planet, and
of course water is extremely important. Then there are the worms
of course there is political intrigue, backstabbing, and general use
and abuse of power.
Anything ever written
by Connie Willis. She writes a lot about time travel. Some titles:
- To Say Nothing
of the Dog, which is really funny; takes place in Victorian England
and of course in the future.
Book, which is mostly very serious (and I believe she won the
heavyweight SciFi awards for this one). The main character is sent
back in time to 14th century England, and the lab has carefully planned
for her to avoid the years in which England suffered from the plague.
But something goes wrong
Lots of subplots involving epidemics
and public health. Really well researched, you'll see why she won
awards for this. But be prepared, there are a lot of sad parts in
her most recent, is about death and dying. There are some funny scenes
in this, but it really is very intense. I think she might have won
awards for this, too.
Things, a collection of short stories. You might want to check
this out first, just to get a feel for her style. Some of these stories
are funny, and some are not.
perhaps the most famous female SciFi writer still living. Here are some
titles that I have read:
- The Left
Hand of Darkness. This is so good, I have to read it again soon.
The really cool thing about this society is that there are no "men"
and "women", but everyone gets to be both at certain times.
You get to see it through a human's eyes; the main character is sent
to Winter as an envoy, and gets caught up in things, etc. This is
a very thought-provoking portrayal of a different world.
- The Lathe
of Heaven, a story in which the main character's dreams come true.
It has been a long time since I read this. He goes to a psychiatrist
to get help for this situation and the psychiatrist tries to use him
for his own ends.
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by Michael Harkovitch
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