I've just finished a couple of good sci-fi reads and I realized (or perhaps I'm just ready to admit) that sci-fi is my first love. Science fiction gets such a bad rap, and unfairly so in my opinion. Sure, there are weird aspects of the genre (like swords or over-the-top human-hating aliens), but what draws me in are the possibilities - worlds, beings, ways of living, gadgets, things alien to our way of thinking. The possibilities are limited only by one's imagination, and I find this exciting and so compelling.
I've always been fascinated by the stars, by galaxies and universes, by all things cosmology, and so I guess it's no surprise, really, that I'm drawn to science fiction. Though there are many labels attached to the genre (things like hard/soft science fiction, cyberpunk, social science fiction, apocalyptic, time travel, space, fantasy, superhero), for me, there are just two distinctions: science fiction and/or fantasy. If you'd asked me last week which side I was more aligned to, I would have said without hesitation: science fiction. Fantasy, to me, always involves swords or super heroes - two things I don't particularly care about (though even as I write this HBO's Game of Thrones swims into my awareness - a definite favorite of mine and all about swords. So maybe it's super hero-wielding-swords that I don't like?) However, after doing a little research, I stand corrected: both sides appeal to me. For the record, here's what my research produced by way of definitions:
* Science fiction: unlikely things that could possibly take place in the real world under certain conditions; no supernatural elements.
* Fantasy: a scientific veneer applied to things that simply could not happen in the real world under any circumstances; allows supernatural elements.
I definitely enjoy supernatural aspects as well as magical components, and, truth be told, sometimes all that technical mumbo jumbo by way of explaining how a science fiction world is possible is sometimes too much for me. So it seems, for me, the perfect sci-fi story involves a bit of magic or supernatural components (magical creatures, potions, voices or knowings from beyond, harnessing the power of mother Earth) as well as the grounding elements of a science fiction world (interplanetary travel, time travel, colonization of multiple planets). Oh, and one more thing - all of these elements need to be written with a literary bent. That's not too much to ask, is it?
Here are the stories I read:
Robert Reed's Five Thrillers - This story is included in The Year's Best Science Fiction, Twenty-Sixth Annual Collection published in 2009. Yeah, I'm a little behind, but in my defense, this collection is 639 pages long. Five Thrillers is a series of 5 short-shorts linked by a character named Joseph Carroway. I LOVED it. It's smartly written, suspenseful, engaging. I enjoyed it so much, in fact, that I'm going to seek out more of Robert Reed's work.
Arthur C. Clarke's Rendezvous with Rama - I wanted to like this more than I did. It's revered as a classic, and I purposefully sought it out after reading all the glowing reviews for it. It's very imaginative and the world building on the spacecraft Rama is astounding. But it left me feeling a little flat... we go through all of the exploration and discovery of an object that's entered the Earth's solar system only to have it leave again in short order. I'm guessing that the idea of other beings, of having other life confirmed and being exposed to that confirmation is supposed to be enough, and maybe 40 years ago, when it was first published, throwing the idea out there was enough. But for me, it wasn't. I felt like there was all this buildup and then... nothing. Perhaps this was intended to whet my appetite for the sequel, but I think I'll pass.