Books and book reviewsFiction

The Joy of Science Fiction

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[amazon_link id=”006051275X” target=”_blank” container=”” container_class=”” ][/amazon_link]When I was a little girl in the 1970s, I discovered science fiction through fantasy. I started with the Hobbit, and then found a few dusty paperbacks to stretch my wings on: Battle for the Planet of the Apes by Pierre Boulin, Andre Norton’s Breed to Come, and then worked my way through the Heinlein juveniles and the Robot series by Asimov. I discovered Madeline L’Engle and Ursula LeGuin and discovered that women wrote science fiction too (I had no idea Andre Norton was a woman).

I watched every Star Trek rerun I could get my hands on, all of the Twilight Zones, the original Battlestar Galactica, Buck Rogers in the 25th Century, and even Lost in Space and Land of the Lost when I needed a fix. I watched both the Star Trek animated series and the Planet of the Apes animated series, both on old black and white TVs over the air with help from a rabbit-ear antenna.

By the time I was a teen, I was a true SF geek. Science Fiction let me believe in a future

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that was both like the world I lived in and different in interesting and remarkable ways. It fed my feminism and my belief that people of all types were essentially equal and could eventually find ways to live in peace. I preferred The Hero’s Journey tales, as most kids do, and used those dreams to fuel my life through some very difficult years, while using dystopias such as 1984 and Logan’s Run as cautionary tales of worlds to avoid.

Today’s dance explores the field of science fiction. The questions are both literary criticism and personal exploration. I hope you enjoy the dance:

  • What was your first experience with science fiction?
  • Did you get push back from others about how science fiction was ‘geeky’ or ‘not serious’?
  • What three science fiction stories have most influenced you? In what ways?
  • Where do you draw the line between fantasy and science fiction? Why?
  • Is there a type of science fiction story you would like to see more of that no one seems to be writing or producing anymore?
  • What is your favorite subgenre? Space opera? Hard science fiction? Sociological Cover via Amazon

    science fiction? Allegory?

  • What famous and acclaimed author or story left you cold? What universally panned story or author gives you a warm feeling inside?
  • What do you get from exploring speculative worlds based on science?
  • What has disappointed you about the field of science fiction in general?
  • What life lessons have you learned from science fiction?
  • Who is your favorite ‘escape’ author? Why?
  • If you are in a position to pass on love of science fiction to someone younger, what books and movies do you point that person to? Why?
  • Have you ever drifted away from science fiction? What caused the drift? What brought you back?
  • One is the one most important contribution of science fiction to the world?

As always, feel free to answer below, pass this around to friends, share with the handy-dandy buttons, or simply ponder these questions for your own life without sharing.

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  • For the weekend: Isaac Asimov’s Visions of the Future is available free online in its entirety (
  • Fiction Affliction: December Releases in Science Fiction (
  • Name your own price for six science fiction and fantasy e-books (
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  • Cait McKnelly

    I can’t answer all of your questions but I would like to give you some background on my own experience with this genre.
    I can’t remember the very first SF I ever read. My mother was into Harlequins and detective novels like the Nero Wolfe series.
    But my dad loved old (I mean REALLY old) SF like Jules Verne, H.G. Wells and Edgar Rice Burroughs. He also loved “male fantasy” NOT “sex” fantasy but what we now call “adventure novels”. He subscribed to the pulps; Amazing, Astounding, Fantastic and a little remembered “men’s magazine” called Argosy (which is actually considered the very first “pulp”).

    I was a voracious reader and would read anything I could get my hands on, whether it was mom’s OR dad’s. (Believe me, I read a fair share of Harlequins, too.) So my first SF grounding was in the old Masters followed by what I gleaned from the pulps. In them. I was exposed to early work by what would become the new masters; Heinlein, Asimov and Bradbury among them.

    I think the first female SF author I ever discovered was Zenna Henderson when I was in Jr. High. To this day I LOVE her stories of “the People” and her Jungian influenced philosophy of a shared consciousness. It was also the first time I was exposed to SF that wasn’t “space opera” and was built around social themes instead. Then I found Madeline L’Engle in high school. I didn’t read LeGuin until I was 24 (1977) but, interestingly, almost immediately afterward I moved to Portland, OR for the first time. It definitely made reading The Lathe of Heaven an interesting experience and, because she lived there, I did get to meet her a few times. (She ran a yearly workshop at Cannon Beach called The Haystack Conference.)

    In 1984 (ironically) I returned to college to complete my degree. I was thrilled to find an English course called “Science Fiction as Literature” and immediately enrolled in it. There was just one problem I wasn’t aware of when I did that; the teacher was a sexist asshole. We had required reading (only ONE author of which was a woman, Joan Vinge) and the first half of the course didn’t even have anything to do with the subject. We were split up into teams and each team was tasked with creating a SF themed BOARD GAME. (If you’re saying “WTF?” now, believe me, I was too.) Then the midterm hit and the entire test was a written essay. We could do the essay on any aspect of SF we found interesting but we had to pull in examples from our required reading. I chose to do my essay on the differences in the way that women tended to write SF compared to the way that men wrote it. I only had one example to pull for the feminine side so I brought in others that I had read and tried to prove how women tended to write SF from a social aspect and men tended to write from a hard science aspect. He gave me a D on the essay. I dropped the class entirely immediately after that and just took the financial hit.

    There’s more but I’m under a time constraint right now as I have a social function looming and I need to get ready but I may revisit this when I get back home.

    • I have also had the experiences of both sexism in fandom and in the books themselves. I walked away from science fiction and read almost exclusively fantasy through much of the 2000’s, as I was tired of not seeing myself or anyone like me in the stories.

      I never had a literature professor do that to me, but as an undergraduate I had a professor state in class that ‘Hobbes once said that women were not gifted with the gift of reason — and I agree.” I did a little research, found out that the professor had never given a female student a better grade than a ‘C’ that anyone was aware of, and dropped the course (I was a working single mother going to school full time. Didn’t have time for the battle).

      I have had many vocal arguments with men who insist that I’m being ‘unreasonable’ and ‘too sensitive’ when I complain that women in speculative fiction stories we are discussing are stereotyped or underrepresented, and that it is still too difficult for a female SF author to get a contract unless she uses a pseudonym.