Category Archives: Positive Science Fiction
A bunch of fairies bestow magical gifts upon a baby princess—in a sci-fi universe with aliens and space stations. Sixteen years later, Rory, the androgynously named aforesaid princess, has grown into a spunky girl, trained in both physical self defense and arithmancy (what other universes might call ‘magic’), and she is not at all pleased when she is called upon to marry a foreign prince as a way to end an interstellar war. She’s all for stopping the war, of course, but the prince was something of dud the one time she had met him. That was when they were both young children; it was the same day a suicide assassin blew up their respective fathers.
It’s difficult to mix humor, fantasy, science fiction, and cultural commentary into a seamless story (I know this first hand), but this book does. The plot makes sense. So do the characters. The protagonist is likeable and relatable. The antagonist is fairly loathsome. It’s not exactly funny, but it is fun. I loved it and hereby endow it with five subjective stars.
This is a story of humanity venturing into the unknown, as it has always done. One step leads to another, but not all are as sturdy as one might hope. Sometimes you just have to put your foot forward and hope for the best.
The Brane Skip Device, which may allow a spaceship to skip between layers of reality, bypass normal space, and avoid the universal speed limit—the speed of light—is unproven. The theory behind it is poorly understood. Lisa Chang, mission commander for its first crewed test, doesn’t trust it. It seems like magic to her, and she doesn’t believe in magic—not even after the ship skips to a fantasy version of Earth, complete with dragons, orcs, and wizards. This, ultimately, is her greatest advantage.
The release date for Brane Child is 21 December 2014 at the astoundingly low price of just 99¢ for digital editions.
The prices of all of my other books in eBook formats are also just 99¢ from now through December. (Due to the cost of production, prices for paper formats are not discounted and remain significantly higher.)
Brane Child is available for preorder here:
Amazon (US) Link: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00PIPTRIS
Amazon (UK) Link: www.amazon.co.uk/Brane-Child-Science-Fiction-Counter-Fantasy-ebook/dp/B00PIPTRIS/
Smashwords Link: https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/492149
Barnes & Noble, Kobo, iTunes Books, and other online retailers should also be accepting preorders soon. The trade paperback edition of the book is not available for preorder but will be released on or about the same time.
Questions and Answers about this book:
How does this book relate to your previous books?
In the immortal words of Monty Python, it’s ‘something completely different’. Well, Okay, maybe not completely different. I am still the author and it falls firmly in the same ‘counter-fantasy’ subgenre of science fiction that my other books do, but the setting and characters are new and (I think) original. It is positive science fiction—upbeat, hopeful, and sometimes even a bit funny. There is also a smidgeon of cultural satire. My goal for this book was to combine science, history, philosophy, fantasy, games, and humor into a satisfying story about stories.
A story about stories?
Yes, in part. It is about how readers shape stories as much as writers do. The writer sketches the characters and settings, but the reader completes them. No two readers experience exactly the same story. Brane Child is about how beliefs and expectations shape perspective. It touches on human achievement, quantum physics (specifically M-theory), and the idea that reality is much more complex than it seems. The physics (and metaphysics) are warped a bit (Okay, more than a bit) to fit this particular story, but I believe there is a thought or two in here that some people will find intriguing. I also think it’s a fun story.
And now for a short video..
Prices for digital editions of all my novels have been lowered for the holidays. These books provide a lighthearted and quirky mix of science fiction and fantasy. I coined the term ‘counter-fantasy’ to describe them because, although they take place in in a fantasy-like setting, there is always a speculative scientific basis behind them. If you haven’t yet read my books, I hope you will take this opportunity to give them a try.
(Amazon links for Kindle are provided by clicking on the book covers, but digital editions are also available from iTunes, Kobo, Smashwords, Barnes & Noble, and other fine eBook retailers.)
An Android Dog’s Tale: MO-126 is a dog, or a reasonable facsimile thereof. He is a construct and an employee of the Galactic Organic Development Corporation, which searches the galaxy for primitive sentient species to save from extinction and then creates colonies of them on Corporation agricultural planets where they can live happily and safely. The transplanted species survives, and its members produce some of the most expensive and sought-after food in the galaxy, which the Corporation profitably sells to developed worlds with this guarantee:
Caringly grown, cultivated and harvested by simple sentient life forms.
No artificial ingredients, pesticides, herbicides, or mechanized equipment used in processing.
Guaranteed 100% organic.
Of course, keeping the primitives primitive enough to ensure the Corporation’s promise of natural purity can be a challenge, especially when they’re like those it found twenty thousand years ago huddling in caves and scraping a meager and precarious existence on a pale blue planet in the Milky Way’s Orion–Cygnus spiral arm. The humans keep trying to change things.
An Android Dog’s Tale is the 15,000-year episodic story of one canine mobile observer android who must make choices about what he wants to accomplish in his artificial life. Does he accept the wisdom of his makers or does he dare to question?
The Warden Threat: Prince Donald, the idealistic third son of the king of Westgrove, believes he may be the only one able to protect his country from an invasion spearheaded by an ancient and massive magical stone warrior known as the Warden of Mystic Defiance. Donald, unfortunately, is woefully unprepared. His only real understanding of such things comes from his reading of adventure stories. When he finds an ancient scroll he believes may allow him to take control of the mysterious Warden, he eagerly takes on the task. He dreams of saving the kingdom and becoming a hero like those in his epic adventure stories. To his dismay, his quest turns out to be nothing like he imagined. He finds the stories in his library seriously understate the complexities and hardships involved. He also soon realizes that the real world can be much more confusing than fictional ones, and the hero is not necessarily predestined to save the day.
The Warden War continues the quest begun by Prince Donald in The Warden Threat. His father, King Leonard of Westgrove, has been told that the neighboring kingdom of Gotrox has discovered a magical means to animate a mysterious and gigantic ancient stone warrior, the Warden of Mystic Defiance, which it plans to use it to spearhead an invasion of his country. Donald is convinced this is a hoax carefully crafted by his father’s chief adviser to bring about a war to gain control of Gotroxian resources. Donald is determined to thwart him. It will not be easy. Chief Adviser Horace Barter has resources, connections, influence, and the almost unquestioned trust of the king. Donald, sadly, has none of these. What the young prince does have is a nominal position with the diplomatic team being sent to Gotrox and the companionship of a few rather unique friends including a pair of 15,000-year-old androids, one of which is a dog — or a reasonable facsimile thereof.
Defying Fate, the Kindle edition that combines The Warden Threat and The Warden War in one easy download is available exclusively from Amazon for $1.50.
Amy’s Pendant: Amy, the only child of a poor family living in the bustling city of Dolphin Point, is given an amazing and potentially dangerous pendant as a present for her fourteenth birthday. She does not know how amazing or how potentially dangerous it is. If she did, she would cherish it even more. She is that kind of girl.
Through her investigations of the mysterious pendant, she uncovers an ancient mystery—the remnants of a vast alien commercial enterprise buried beneath surface of the planet. Unfortunately, the central computer for the complex is aware of her intrusion and it cannot let her escape with knowledge of its existence.
Disturbing Clockwork: On a small island called Bob off the southern shore of the great Kingdom of Westgrove, Benkin, a brilliant if somewhat quirky scientist, discovers something extraordinary — clockwork automatons that can obey commands. For Benkin, this is an amazing scientific discovery, one he wants to explore; one he believes may revolutionize mankind’s understanding of the world. For Snyde, a fugitive from the king’s justice, it is something he can use…
This humorous, exciting, and charming story sees the return of several characters from the three previous novels set in this world, plus a few endearing additions. If you were wondering what happened to the thoroughly evil Snyde, or if Trixie and Prince Donald ever got together, this book provides the answers.
Title: The Martian
Author: Andy Weir
Genre: Science Fiction
Do you remember the 1964 movie Robinson Crusoe on Mars?
Just as well. It was bad.
The Martian has a similar plot — a lone astronaut trying to survive on Mars and hoping for rescue. Unlike the aforesaid movie, this book isn’t bad. In fact, it’s quite good.
The protagonist (Mark Watney) is almost unbelievably clever, emotionally stable, and indefatigable. Of course most of the story is told through his journals, that is, from his personal perspective, and don’t we all tend to gloss over our own shortcomings? I did not see his portrayal as ‘too good to be true’ a flaw, although I must admit that his achievements did stretch credulity a bit.
There is a great deal of detail about how Watney uses and misuses the technology available to him. I’m not qualified to comment extensively on that or on the raw science behind it, but it all seemed plausible to my inexpert eyes.
Almost all of the other characters in the book are equally admirable. But then most are astronauts or scientists, which are noted for including some of the best examples of what humanity has to offer. These aren’t average people. They’re the cream of the crop, and they are portrayed as such. Most of them are the NASA people back on Earth. They come into the story in scenes that show us how they eventually realize that Watney is not dead (as they initially believed) and how they pull together to keep him that way.
What I like most about the book is that it shows humanity at its best, when people are being clever, inventive, selfless, and cooperating to achieve a worthwhile goal. There should be more stories like this.
I read several Andre Norton books when I was a kid. She wrote well over a hundred, mostly pulp space operas that were just what kids in the ‘space age’ wanted. Her tales of human space exploration, discovering other worlds, and meeting with strange aliens were simple but inspirational. We expected such tales to become a reality in the Twenty-First Century. Alas, things did not turn out so.
This Baen edition contains two of her earlier works: Star Guard (1955) and Star Rangers (1953).
Star Guard follows a platoon of “Archs,” human soldiers who serve as mercenaries in low-tech conflicts. They are hired to serve in a “police action” on a distant planet, which turns out to be much different than they expected, and they uncover secrets about humanity’s relationship with other galactic species and about human expansion to other worlds.
In Star Rangers (AKA The Last Planet), the multi-planet human empire is declining. Earth (Terra) is just a legend, its location forgotten. One of the last remaining Stellar Patrol ships crash lands on an unknown planet, and the survivors discover other castaways and the remnants of a lost civilization.
Although both stories were written over half a century ago, they stand up well. Some of the ‘high tech’ might seem antiquated to us now, but the characters remain believable and their adventures are still captivating (although serendipitous events do stretch one’s ability to suspend disbelief at times). With just a little rewriting, these would equal or surpass most of the popular science fiction adventure stories being published today.
What I tend to like about Norton’s books is that they often focus more on discovery than conflict, and they provide hopeful endings. These two stories do. Yes, things are bad, but there is hope for the future, and people can go on to do great things.
This is how many of us felt about the real world when these were written. The threat of nuclear annihilation hung over us, pollution clouded the skies of major cities, and there were fears of overpopulation and exhausting natural resources, but somehow we expected we’d overcome these challenges and go to the stars. Maybe we still will.
This free Baen edition for Kindle has some pretty sloppy editing, though. Both books have formatting issues and I noticed about half a dozen typos. There are so many well-written and well-edited free and low cost eBooks from indie authors, I find myself appalled when a traditional publisher cannot produce something with equally high quality.
Still, the stories are good, and I would recommend this compilation for all space opera fans. If you want to read more of Andre Norton’s books, several are available free from Project Gutenberg.
This is a story of investment banking, the white-collar rat race, fraud, debt, the subjectivity of value, and the dangers of compound interest… sort of. It’s not about money or stocks, though. It’s about time — using it, managing it, borrowing it, trading it, and paying it back — with interest, compounded hourly.
An alien time trader has come to Earth and is loaning harried bank employees the time they feel they need to conduct research, prepare reports, do presentations, and everything else necessary to climb the corporate ladder while still having some time for themselves and their families. The snag is that the time must be paid back, and under the fine print terms of the contact, some people find themselves owing more than a lifetime. The 11th Doctor, Amy, and Rory must expose the dangers of borrowing on the future because if they don’t, humanity may not have one.
This novel has a serious and timely underlying theme, although the story itself is not to be taken seriously. I seriously love books like this. There are far too few of them. When Doctor Who is done well, though, it can provoke thought about a serious idea and still be fun. This story does that well enough. I won’t say it’s not without some flaws. I thought the characterizations were just a bit off. The Doctor was perhaps a bit too eccentric and Rory a bit too goofy, and the bank employees, well, they were unbelievably oblivious to the strange things going on around them. But, all in all, I enjoyed this book. It’s a quick and easy read and a great way to spend an evening or two between Doctor Who episodes. I recommend it to all Doctor Who fans and other lovers of positive science fiction.
This is a different kind of novel. It could be said that the setting is the story, but what a remarkable setting — a multidimensional string of planets, each one slightly different from our own unique Earth. And, after a missing scientist discloses the trick for stepping from one dimension to another using a potato and some common electronic hardware, we learn how unique. Our home planet is the only one of the countless earths upon which Homo sapiens have evolved. Not that the others are empty. Many contain many familiar and not so familiar species, but ours is the only one with people like us.
The story is related from multiple points of view with no clear protagonist or antagonist. Instead, we are treated to several interesting characters trying to deal with this new multidimensional reality in their own ways.
The primary character is Joshua Valienté, an orphan from Madison Wisconsin who has a rare talent. He can step between Earths without the help of a potato-powered stepper. This attracts the attention of the Black Corporation, a powerful, influential, and extremely wealthy organization, and especially the attention of Lobsang, one of Black Corp’s part owners. Lobsang is the character I found most interesting and entertaining. He is either a delusional artificial intelligence or a dead Tibetan motorcycle mechanic reincarnated as a computer program. Once we get to know him, it hardly matters which. If he has a heart, it’s a good one, although, true to Pratchett form, he has his flaws that only seem to make him more charming.
Joshua and Lobsang travel the long earth and discover that… well, that would be telling, wouldn’t it? You’ll have to read it yourself to find out. Let’s just say they learn much more about our sister earths and discover a mystery that could threaten the whole string.
There is one thing I found a bit off. The character of Joshua Valienté is an American but he speaks British. Not intentionally so, I’m sure, but his word choices in a couple places are clearly from that green and pleasant land, and, at one point, he chooses fried slice for breakfast. I’m sorry, but I doubt may Americans even know what is meant by that. (For those of my countrymen who do not, imagine a thick slice of bread fried in hot oil and then, for the brave or foolhardy, topped with butter. If you really want to be traditional, you can fry it in bacon or sausage fat. It’s actually quite delicious but instantly causes the consumer to gain five pounds and increases their likelihood of heart attack by about five percent.)
This is an easily forgivable flaw, if flaw it is. The authors may simply be translating American into English for their readers, much as if they might translate the words of characters from Ankh-Morpork from Morporkian into English and, in the process, make them sound like they’re from Liverpool. That’s fine because we all know they are really speaking Morporkian. Of course, this doesn’t explain the ‘fried slice’ thing.
I enjoyed this book, and I would like to spend some more time in the company of Lobsang and some of the others. I look forward to a sequel, or an infinite string of sequels that further explore this remarkable setting.
This is essentially the same story as told in ‘The Last Colony’ but from a different point of view. So why would I give it five stars? Simply because it is done so well. It caught my interest, made me smile, jerked my emotions, and reintroduced me to people and places that I became well acquainted with in Scalzi’s other ‘An Old Man’s War’ books.
Technically, this should probably be considered a Young Adult novel because of the teenage protagonist. There is nothing wrong with this. Other authors (myself included) have written YA spinoffs set in the same world and with overlapping characters from their adult novels. This, however, is not a spinoff. This is the same story related in ‘The Last Colony’ but from the perspective of John’s and Jane’s adopted daughter, Zoe. She was a great minor character in previous books and an exceptional protagonist in this one, which is told in first person, giving us insights into how she deals with being an orphan, the adopted daughter of the colony leaders of the planet Roanoke, and something like a goddess to the alien species known as the Obin.
The aspect of the book that feels a bit unnatural is some of the dialogue between Zoe and her friends. They are almost too witty, and Zoe and her friend Gretchen have more self-confidence than seems likely for two teenage girls. Of course, they are not normal teenagers. After all, who wants to read about hormonally powered, angst driven, girls whose major concern is how to attract a boyfriend? … Oh, right. Those. Do yourself a favor and read this instead. Zoe has angst, she has hormones, she even has a boyfriend, but she also has intelligence, common sense, and wisdom beyond her years.
Scalzi has become one of my favorite authors, and I would love to see more stories set in this universe he has created. How does Roanoke fare? How does the Colonial Union deal with the Conclave? Do they join them? Do they oppose them? Is the C.U. overthrown? And what about Earth? It’s an interesting world and there are many more story possibilities here. If he does continue with this thread, though, it will leave him with less time for his other writing, which would be a shame. Perhaps he could be cloned…
The Second Volume of Defying Fate
His nation is headed for war, his father thinks he’s imagining things, and his mother still regards him as a child. How can Prince Donald convince the king that the real threat to his kingdom comes from his most trusted adviser? The young prince has only his wits, his courage, and his friends, including two ancient androids, one of which has four legs and barks.
The Warden War continues the quest begun by Prince Donald in The Warden Threat. His father, King Leonard of Westgrove, has been told that the neighboring kingdom of Gotrox has discovered a magical means to animate a mysterious and gigantic ancient stone warrior, the Warden of Mystic Defiance, which it plans to use it to spearhead an invasion of his country. Donald is convinced this is a hoax carefully crafted by his father’s chief adviser to bring about a war to gain control of Gotroxian resources. Donald is determined to thwart him. It will not be easy. Chief Adviser Horace Barter has resources, connections, influence, and the almost unquestioned trust of the king. Donald, sadly, has none of these.
He is not without some resources, though. Although he does not realize it, two of his friends, well, one of his friends and the dog that recently seems to have adopted him as its new master, are androids. They were left behind by an ancient commercial enterprise established on the planet centuries before and have now decided to assist humanity, starting with the prince. The best way to help, they believe, is to reactivate the almost omnipotent artificial intelligence that once ran the now defunct alien business project. This could be risky. One of the reasons it was shutdown two-thousand years ago was that it was quite insane, dangerously so.
Technically science fiction, the first two Warden novels are almost anti-fantasies, which poke a fair, or perhaps an unfair amount of good-natured fun at the serious tone and dependence on magic common to many epic fantasy adventure genre novels. Because they are loosely based on the U.S. buildup to the invasion of Iraq in 2003, they include elements of political and cultural satire as well. With their charming and truly likeable characters, witty, intelligent humor, and prose style blending humorous science fiction and epic fantasy elements, they are a fun read. I believe they will appeal to readers of these genres who may be looking for something fresh and different.
Great news! After several months of intensive effort and coordination, The Warden Threat is now available in paperback!
The Kingdom of Westgrove faces a grave threat, but is it the one the king’s advisers are warning him of?
Prince Donald, the idealistic third son of the king of Westgrove, believes he may be the only one able to protect his country from an invasion spearheaded by an ancient and massive magical stone warrior known as the Warden of Mystic Defiance. Donald, unfortunately, is woefully unprepared. His only real understanding of such things comes from his reading of adventure stories. When he finds an ancient scroll he believes may allow him to take control of the mysterious Warden, he eagerly takes on the task. He dreams of saving the kingdom and becoming a hero like those in his epic adventure stories. To his dismay, his quest turns out to be nothing like he imagined. He finds the stories in his library seriously understate the complexities and hardships involved. He also soon realizes that the real world can be much more confusing than fictional ones and that the hero is not necessarily predestined to save the day.
This ‘laugh-out-loud’ parody is a unique book. Technically science fiction, it is almost an anti-fantasy, which pokes a fair, or perhaps an unfair amount of good-natured fun at the serious tone and dependence on magic common to many epic fantasy adventure genre novels. With its charming and truly likeable characters, witty, intelligent humor, and prose style blending humorous science fiction and epic fantasy elements, The Warden Threat is a delight. It is sure to appeal to readers of these genres who may be looking for something fresh and different.
- The Warden Threat: “it’s laugh-out-loud funny”
- “the grammar is refreshingly precise and the vocabulary, well, scrumptious”
- “The characters are believable and well-rounded”
- “the whole book is filled with little gems”
- “shows the influence of Terry Pratchett in style and current events … easy to read, but hardly simplistic.”
- “a lighthearted epic fantasy parody with a science fiction twist that kept me engaged and entertained from page one.”
I almost did not pick up the first book in this series, Old Man’s War, because I am not a big fan of military science fiction. The blurb on the book cover intrigued me, though, and I found both this book and the sequel, Ghost Brigade, enjoyable with much better characters with more admirable traits than you normally find in this particular subgenre of science fiction. The Last Colony, in my opinion, provides a satisfying conclusion to the tale of John Perry, the former genetically altered soldier.
He is in semi-retirement with his wife (a former Special Forces soldier and clone of his dead first wife on Earth) and his adopted daughter (who is revered by an alien species), when he is called on to lead a new colony being established on a distant planet. It soon becomes clear that they have been lied to. The planet they arrive at is not the one they were told they would be colonizing. In fact, they are told they must remain hidden, which means the crew of the ship that brought them there cannot leave, the ship will be destroyed, and they are not to use of anything that can transmit an electronic signal.
To say much more about this would involve spoilers, but it soon becomes clear to Perry that their government is misleading them. What he does not know at first is that the survival of humanity depends on him figuring out what he has not been told, taking a stand against established authority, and countering some of their incredibly poor decisions regarding an alien led federation of species known as the Conclave.
A few things about this book distinguish it from others in this subgenre and make it deserving of a five-star rating. The first is the characters. There is a clear distinction between the main characters in this book. None are cookie-cutter ‘good guys’ or ‘bad guys.’ Each has understandable motivations. Some are admirable, and you care about what they do and what happens to them. Those that aren’t, are at least believable.
The second thing is the story. John and his wife (as the main characters) recognize that what they have been told doesn’t quite make sense. There are gaps, possibly distortions, and they attempt to figure out what those are (i.e. they are not stupid and credulous). Through their actions, they question, they discover, and they act, not with mindless violence, but with thought and well consider planning. This is not a simplistic ‘action’ story.
The third thing about this book that I especially liked is the mood. This is a work of positive science fiction in that it is hopeful. Humanity, despite some shortcomings, can progress and advance. Our biggest challenge is not some alien presence that wants to eat or enslave us but ourselves and how we view our place in the universe. Prejudice and jingoism are greater threats than the other species sharing the stars and John Perry realizes this.
The only negative aspect to the book that I saw was that it introduces a sentient species native to the planet John and the colonists have been sent to but little is said about them or the humans’ interaction with them other than a brief and unpleasant encounter.
If you are looking for comic book heroes and action adventure, this is book is not for you, but if you appreciate a thoughtful story with admirable characters, I recommend this with one caveat – read Old Man’s War and Ghost Brigade first.
The revised editions of the first two Warden books are out now in e-book formats. It’s been an educational experience and an enjoyable one, for the most part. Okay, there were a few times when I wanted to bang my head on the keyboard and more than a few times when I swore at some of the software for having less than intuitive interfaces. In those cases, I got peeved when the programs did what I mistakenly told them to do instead of what wanted them to do. I believe I’ve conquered them all now or we’ve finally come to a mutually satisfactory agreement. Basically, this amounts to me not asking them to do anything terribly complicated and them not annoying me.
I can’t say how often I went through each of these books. It has been a few dozen times, at least. I would love to say that I have caught and mercilessly squashed every typo, misspelling, and grammar and punctuation error. I will tell you I’ve eliminated all of those I saw. However, I have come to suspect that such things are both sentient and malicious and reproduce once I close the document because they have a mysterious tendency to reappear. I did catch one error in one of the dictionaries I was using. The word is crenellated. Yes, it does have two Ls. The dictionary provided with Open Office has it with one, and it is WRONG!
With the revision of these books, I’ve updated a few other things. There are new blurbs and author bios for the books at both Smashwords and Amazon. Based on several articles and posts I’ve read, it I have finally been convinced that $2.99 is the appropriate price for them. Some suggest it should be higher, but I am resisting.
Another new feature with the relaunch is a dedicated page for each book on this website. You can find them under the “Novels” tab. Each of these provide a brief summary, pictures of the covers, some questions and answers, and the first scene from the book. There is also a tab called ‘The Warden’s World.’ Here you can find ‘wiki’ type information on some of the places and things mentioned in the novels, including maps, flags, and descriptions.
As for the books themselves, nothing is new and everything is better. The stories have not changed. All the great characters, insights, and humor that my first readers found so enjoyable remain. There is no change to the plot or the ending. What has changed is how the stories are told. The prose is tighter and more professional, and the manuscripts have been thoroughly edited and repeatedly proofread. The covers are also new, and I’d like to thank my son Alex for posing for the picture. He says he looks goofy, but I think he looks great! 🙂
My plan now is to make both of these available as trade paperbacks. I’ll post more on how that is going when I know.
In the meantime, I invite you to sample the first scenes, new covers, and other information I’ve provided here. If you’d like to see longer previews, they are available on Amazon.
Promotional copies are available for book reviewers. Please let me know if you are interested.
After spending far more time on this than I wished, I think I finally have a cover I can live with for the paperback edition of The Warden Threat. I thought I had this several times before, but I received multiple comments that previous versions looked too much like a Photo-shopped photograph (among other things). I hope this one overcomes that. Anyway, here it is. I welcome comments.
You may notice –how could you help not– that the title is in large font and bright colors. This is mainly so that it will show up well as a thumbnail, but it is also meant to convey that this book contains humor. The scene depicted, although not accurately, is one from about the middle of the book in which the protagonist, Prince Donald of Westgrove, is trying to animate the ancient and mysterious statue known as the Warden of Mystic Defiance. It sits high in the mountains of the neighboring Kingdom of Gotrox in a crater-like canyon with silvered walls. He is naked because the “spell” he has found, which he believes is the means to bring this huge enigmatic artifact to life and obey the commands of the caster, specifies that a prince, “naked to the Warden’s love,” must recite it. After his first failed attempt, Prince Donald reluctantly concludes that this line must be taken literally.
In other news, my edits and revisions of this book are now done. I would like to do one more proofreading before it goes to print, however. Look for the revised ebook in the next couple of months and the paperback shortly thereafter. The cover for the ebook will be pretty much the same as the front cover of the paperback.
I’m in the middle of editing and revising the sequel, The Warden War. I don’t have a cover for this one yet but I’ve been corresponding with the cover artist, and I am optimistic about it. I sent some files to her yesterday for her consideration.
The first draft of my third book is complete and awaiting additional work until I’ve put the first two to bed. It is more Young Adult oriented with a younger protagonist. She is briefly mentioned in the previous books but this is her first appearance. Some of the characters from the first books appear in it as well though. The third book is more clearly science fiction and reveals more about the now defunct commercial enterprise established on this planet several thousand years ago by the Galactic Organic Development Corporation. I have not decided, but I am considering attempting to go the traditional publishing route with this one. Self-publishing may be more advantageous to authors, but it is a lot more work, and these extra duties take time away from what I really want to do, which is write more stories.
In the first post in this series, I defined a work of positive fiction as one that conveys a hopeful, optimistic, or other positive mood. In the second post, I argued that the positive image of humanity that supports this mood in science fiction is a realistic one. In this, the final post of the series (or the last one I’ve planned anyway), I will discuss why I think positive science fiction is especially appealing and why I think there should be more of it.
I struggled with how to present this case because there are several points that need to be made. Let me start out with this one, which may be a bit controversial. Speculative fiction is fundamentally a more intellectual genre than others. That may be something of a value call though so let me rephrase it. Speculative fiction, especially science fiction, causes us to step outside our current world and look back at it. In this way it is the most philosophical and scientific of fiction genres because it can question pretty much anything. Every belief, every assumption, every aspect of culture is open to scrutiny. Like other genres, speculative fiction begins with our real world but it isn’t set there. It wouldn’t be speculative if it was. Something must be different and I don’t mean just ray guns or flying cars. The addition of some high tech hardware or alien life does not make a work of fiction speculative by itself. I try to avoid the pejorative use of the term ‘sci-fi’ (sometimes pronounced skiffy) because I don’t necessarily agree that the distinction between sci-fi and SF is as clear as some seem to believe. But a novel with flying cars isn’t true science fiction if all other aspects of the setting are essentially the same as those where the reader lives. It may be ‘sci-fi’ but not SF or speculative fiction.
Science fiction posits a truly different world that would feel strange to us if we were dropped into it. It can have flying cars or ray guns or even ghosts, gremlins, or two-headed crocodile gods but these must have some plausible explanation, at least plausible enough for an intelligent reader to suspend disbelief for the sake of the story. I hope this doesn’t sound elitist but some means of differentiation is needed.
Speculative fiction often begins by asking, “What if?” What if history unfolded differently? What if something happens tomorrow that challenges our current assumptions? What would we do? How would our world be changed? Many works of soft science fiction especially look at current human cultures and contrast them to what could be. They remind us that human society as it exists today is just one of an almost infinite number of conceivable possibilities, some of which may appear better and some worse.
This questioning of everything is the defining characteristic of speculative fiction and it is what sets it apart from other fiction genres. It is also what makes some people truly dislike it. This brings me to my next point.
People who read speculative fiction are especially bright. The intellectual challenge of being exposed to a different world where very little can be assumed excites them. They want to figure out what makes this fictional world different from their own and how it works. They are open minded and willing to entertain questions about their own beliefs and assumptions. They understand that they occupy a single point in space-time and that it is not a privileged position. Not everyone is comfortable with this. Some may not be capable of it. But speculative fiction readers thrive on such mind stretching questions.
In all speculative fiction something is different than it is in our world and science fiction stories show us how people are affected by those differences. In order to do this believingly, or entertainingly in the case of fiction that is humorous, satirical, or intentionally unbelievable (e.g. The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy), the author needs an understanding of humanity and how it might react to such differences, which brings us back to that underlying question about the fundamental nature of mankind. The one thing fictional stories must retain is a realistic image of humanity otherwise readers will not be able to identify or empathize with the characters.
The types of people who are drawn to speculative fiction are capable of asking big questions and they are capable of seeing the big picture. I believe that are also likely to understand that a species such as our own cannot go from flint knives to spaceships without having something going for it. Humanity has demonstrated that it can accomplish great things and readers of speculative fiction especially are likely to appreciate this either consciously or subconsciously. If a fictional story is based upon the mistaken premise that humanity as a whole is stupid, warlike, aggressive, cruel, and selfish then the story will seem contrived to them. They may have a hard time understanding exactly why but it will feel wrong.
For intelligent and insightful readers such as these, positive science fiction can provide a tonic to cure the misconceptions about humanity and its future that the news and mainstream fiction can convey. It can remind us that humanity has progressed and is likely to continue to progress, it can help us put current events into a more historical perspective so they can be seen more accurately, and it can reaffirm a sense of hope and optimism for our future.
Consider what is sometimes referred to as the Golden Age of science fiction in the middle of the last century. The stories that mark this period were often a celebration of human achievement and they inspired not only a sense of wonder about the universe but a hopeful image of continued human exploration and discovery. Stories such as these are the true roots of science fiction. They were a different type of story for a different type of reader and I think part of their appeal was because they were based on a truer understanding of what humanity was and what it is capable of.
It may be something of a cliché but fiction really does shape our future. This is especially true for science fiction. I attended the 100 Year Starship Symposium sponsored by DARPA, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, which was held the first weekend of October 2011 here in Orlando. This was a gathering of scientists, engineers, and even science fiction writers and philosophers to discuss the future of human space exploration. A point that was made in several talks was how much science fiction had inspired people. One speaker said that an impromptu survey he took of his engineering students revealed that over 80% of them listed Scotty from Star Trek as their primary motivation for going into that discipline. The works of Asimov, Heinlein, and others from the golden age of science fiction were also credited as being major inspirations for scientists and engineers.
Think about that and consider what current mainstream science fiction might be inspiring young people to become if anything. As writers it is our job to entertain, not shape the future but intentionally or not this is something that fiction can do. And I think we should ask ourselves if we are helping to create a bright future or a dismal one.
I would like to see science fiction return to its golden age roots. Other fiction genres can take the dark side but true science fiction should not. I suppose a subgenre distinction could be make between “mainstream” science fiction, which follows the tone and mood of other genres to appeal to wider audiences and “true” or “positive” science fiction, which carries a more hopeful (and truer) tone and mood but I can find no indication that this distinction is being widely made. Perhaps it should be.
Positive Science Fiction Part 1 – Emerging From The Dark
Positive Science Fiction Part 2 – Understanding Humanity
The 100 Year Starship Symposium (100YSS) – Resurgence of a Dream
On Digital Books And The Evolution Of Genre Fiction
Why Are Good Books So Hard To Find?
Beyond Genre – Tone And Mood
Beyond Genre – Novels And Emotional Needs
In my last post, I concluded with the suggestion that a realistic understanding of humanity would cast us in a positive light and that this may be one of the reasons that fiction that conveys a hopeful mood is appealing to many people. Consciously or subconsciously they may understand that this vision of humanity is closer to the truth than that implied in darker fiction in which negative human traits appear to be the norm.
In our age of instant communication and information overload, it is easy to see why people can get a negative impression of humanity. The news headlines are full of accounts of horrendous acts perpetrated by people upon other people but the important thing we must remember is that these news stories do not represent normal human behavior. That is why they are news. We hear a lot about crime, but here in the United States crime has actually been falling for at least 20 years. You would never know this based on what you see in the news. Conflicts that are resolved nonviolently outnumber those that result in war or bloodshed but they get far less attention. The events that fill the media are the exceptions and when much of our understanding about the world comes from this source, we can understandably conclude they are the norm when they are not.
Taken out of their historical context, headline stories about individual psychopaths, violent extremist groups, corrupt officials, greedy businessmen, economic disparity, hunger, disease, war, and natural disasters can shock and disturb people. And they should. That shock proves our humanity and supports the idea that people, in general, are decent. If they weren’t, such stories would be entertaining rather than disturbing.
Now the philosophers out there (pretentious buggers that they are) will object that I am taking a culturally biased position. I freely admit that. In our culture, well, mine anyway, things like peace, mutual respect, individual freedom, fairness, honesty, and the like are considered “positive” and laudable goals. Violence, intolerance, and subjugation are thought of as “negative.” But this post is about speculative fiction and how it is seen as either positive or negative by people who share my culture, which is that of people prone to reading speculative fiction.
As another bow to the pesky philosophers, let me just clarify that I am using the term “culture” in this instance to mean core fundamental beliefs and perceptions that are held by a group of people. Different groups of people have different cultures (or perhaps we should call them subcultures). In the modern world, culture is less geographically homogenous than it was in the past and any one person’s culture may be closer to someone who lives 10,000 miles (16,000km) away than it is with their physical next door neighbor. But when all humanity is grouped and all the separate cultural elements are combined, we can talk generally at least about a human culture.
But back to the point, if one’s subculture regardless of where they physically live leads them to truly believe that the world would be a better place if people who do not share their religion, nationality, gender, politics or taste in music should be suppressed or even killed, I feel compelled to say that I think human nature and the flow of history are against them but I won’t try to argue the point. Chances are we won’t like the same books anyway.
The indisputable fact is that mankind has progressed over time and continues to progress both technologically and culturally. Whether your view takes in the last 40,000 years or only the last 400 years the result is the same. It is not steady progress or universal by any means and there have been temporary declines but the trend has been toward peace, prosperity, mutual respect, and discovery. I think this is because people are fundamentally builders rather than destroyers and they are capable of rational thought and decision making if they are free to do so. The reason why this has happened is secondary though. It has happened.
Statistics suggest that this may be the most peaceable time in our species’ existence. People alive today have a much lower chance of being the victims of violence than at any time in history, or probably even prehistory. Individuals regardless of their social class, beliefs, gender, or ethnicity are almost universally regarded as having the same basic rights. Think of things not only common but considered normal not all that long ago such as slavery, genocide, the burning of heretics, gruesome executions, blood sports, debtors’ prisons, foot-binding, torture, mutilation, animal cruelty, wars of conquest, colonialism, and subjugation. Now think about how such things are considered today.
The rejection of acts such as these, which I think most of us would see as barbaric, did not happen all at once. From a historical perspective it has been fairly rapid though and each of these cultural advancements has been built on those that came before it. We didn’t go from genocide to racial and ethnic equality or from the Inquisition to religious freedom in one step but we did get there. Humanity seen on the large scale has progressed and continues to progress.
We have also made significant advances in our understanding of the universe and have used this knowledge to our benefit. I don’t think it is necessary to elaborate much on this point as it seems obvious. No one can seriously dispute that our achievements in science and technology have helped us to live longer, healthier, and more comfortable lives. Don’t undervalue things like indoor plumbing, electric lights, and microwave ovens. These may not sound significant but try living without them for a week.
People today are also more likely to survive childbirth and infancy, and recover from disease. Statistically, we are less likely to suffer from hunger, exposure, and even from natural disasters such as floods, earthquakes and hurricanes than our ancestors. These things still happen but we have learned to deal with them better.
What may not be as obvious is that there has been a significant cultural shift in the last few centuries that I think is likely to accelerate our rate of progress. We have learned how to learn, or maybe it is better to say that we have learned that we can learn. We no longer view the universe as a mystical and unknowable vastness that imposes its will on us. It is something we can study, understand and affect to better ourselves. This insight has led to us placing an increased value on widespread literacy, education, research, exploration and discovery. These types of things are valued now not just by an educated elite but by most people because their benefits are recognizable in our everyday lives. This paradigm shift is not yet complete but I think it is irreversible. We have learned that we don’t have to suffer whatever fate the universe has decreed for us. We can change it. We can make things better.
This doesn’t mean that progress is inevitable, just that it has happened and is still happening. This suggests to me that we as a species have an innate need to improve ourselves and that we are capable of doing so.
Can humanity digress? Can it return to increased violence and intolerance? Of course. This is not impossible. But the fact is that such things have decreased over the history of human civilization. If we are to extrapolate from this based on the logical assumption that the future will be like the past, we would have to conclude that we will continue to make slow and steady progress and will eventually be able to find ways to overcome most obstacles that are presented to us.
Much of current science fiction, if not fiction in general, seems to take the opposite stand, that continued progress is either unlikely or will lead to irresolvable problems. Despite the fact that history shows otherwise, these dark tales are often touted by critics as being more realistic. Clearly, they are not. Based on what mankind has accomplished and continues to accomplish, fiction that carries a positive mood and image of humanity is more realistic.
In my next post in this series, I will discuss why I think positive fiction is especially appealing to science fiction readers and why I think there should be more of it.
Positive Science Fiction Part 1 – Emerging From The Dark
Positive Science Fiction Part 3 – A Better World
Why Are Good Books So Hard To Find?
Beyond Genre – Tone And Mood
Beyond Genre – Novels And Emotional Needs
I was cruising the internet a few days ago for book recommendations and I stumbled across a discussion on Amazon between people looking for science fiction novels that have a positive outlook on the future. These can be a bit difficult to find, which was why I was looking myself.
There is no widely recognized “positive” subgenre for science fiction or fantasy. I checked, which means I ran the phrase through an internet search engine, which might not pass muster for a thesis but I figured it was sufficient research for a blog post. I found some mentions of “positive science fiction” but the term is not well defined although several people seem to think we need more of it. I would be one of them.
I had a pretty good idea of what I meant by the term. I know what I like to read and so after a bit of I thought I concluded that the essential distinction between a work of positive fiction and one of negative or dark fiction is the mood it conveys.
It certainly seems as if most of the new releases by both traditional and indie authors tend toward the dark side (no pun intended). They often take place in apocalyptic or post-apocalyptic settings in which war, environmental collapse, starvation, disease, overpopulation, or alien invasion play a key role. Sometimes they are dystopian in which economic exploitation, intolerance, oppressive ideologies, and other curses of our past are resurrected to plague humanity.
The one thing most of these have in common, I think, is a negative perception of mankind. They imply that our species is not intelligent or enlightened enough to successfully address problems before they lead to some kind of catastrophe and we are forced to deal with disastrous consequences as best we can afterwards. They start with an unspoken and, I think, mistaken premise that most people (including nonhuman aliens) are, by nature, stupid, warlike, aggressive, cruel, and selfish, and that it is only the rare individual who can rise above these tendencies. The protagonists in such stories are often such exceptional people and the plots show how they struggle and possibly even triumph over whatever it was they are confronted with. But even when the protagonist wins, even when the theme of the book is obviously to serve as a warning, the mood (the prevailing emotion the reader is left with after reading such a story) is negative because the protagonist is the rare exception. When the reader turns the last page and arrives back in the real world, they are left with a residual impression of humanity that is depressing, hopeless or discouraging.
The mood conveyed by a piece of positive fiction is almost exactly the opposite. A word I found often when researching “positive science fiction” was “hopeful” and that is certainly one of the moods a work of positive fiction can provide. Others might include, fanciful, happy, idealistic, intellectual, joyful, optimistic, or even thoughtful. Positive fiction seems to start with a different assumption about humanity, that people in general are fairly decent. It is the antagonist in these stories who is often the exception. The protagonists in such stories may have some exceptional abilities or resources at their disposal but in most ways they are representative of mankind in general. They are “good” people.
This positive premise is, I think, more accurate, which may be part of the reason it is appealing, at least to me. Why it does not dominate the speculative fiction market is a different question and one I can only speculate about.
I can hear the cynics already. People are decent? Come on! Don’t you read the news? Don’t you know what the real world is like?
Yes, of course. That is precisely my point but it will have to wait in order to keep this post at a reasonable length. Why I think this positive view of humanity is more accurate will be the subject of my next and significantly longer post.
Positive Science Fiction Part 2 – Understanding Humanity
Positive Science Fiction Part 3 – A Better World
Beyond Genre – Tone And Mood
Beyond Genre – Novels And Emotional Needs
Why Are Good Books So Hard To Find?