Earlier in the week Karen/Booker Talk posted “What I’m Reading : Episode 45, May 2022“, and one of the books she was planning to read was Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 (1953). I commented: “Good to see you reading some hardcore SF – Fahrenheit 451. OK some SF is just boys toys, rocket ships and guns, but lots of it tackles serious issues that people actually care about.”
Karen’s reply was: “OK, so let me throw down a challenge for you Bill. Give me a few recommendations of SF that does exactly what you say – tackles serious issues that people care about.”
So, given that I’m just an ordinary (lifelong) SF reader, and not a specialist SF lit.blogger – though I have from time to time highlighted women’s SF here, because it tends to have more character development, and often a quirkyness, that ‘straight’ (guy) SF lacks, not to mention a lot less action-for-action’s sake – let’s see what I can do.
We all know Fahrenheit 451, it’s about burning books, something we all care about. So that’s one. Bradbury (1920-2012) was an amazing writer. Sue and Melanie have been chipping me about not reading SF short stories, but I have a number of Bradbury anthologies – I just went off and read a few stories from I Sing the Body Electric. He has a dreamy prose style that is totally unique. There was an android ‘grandmother’; a man alone on Mars 60 years after Armageddon on Earth, with only tapes of his own voice to keep him company; but I didn’t see anything which fit today’s thesis.
My old favourites, Kurt Vonnegut, Philip K Dick, Robert Sheckley, John Sladek slid from straight/pulp SF into postmodernism. They were concerned with how a capitalist world might look in the future. I might recommend Sheckley’s Mindswap (1966) because a) it’s LOL funny and b) in one place the hero swaps into a world, into the body of the president, where change of government occurs by a citizen shooting the president. These writers deal with ‘issues’ all the time, so in Galapagos (1985) Vonnegut explores how evolution might work if a pandemic wiped out nearly all the world’s human population.
We could go on to JM Ballard, Doris Lessing and Ursula Le Guin who are all great writers as well as SF writers. Ballard who as a child was imprisoned by the Japanese in China during WWII, was fascinated by the atom bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki which set him free. His fiction for a long time dealt only with the world ending. Lessing, as I discussed recently, in Shikasta looks at systems of government and social organisation. Her Mara and Dann (1999) is an exploration of global warming and the resulting mass emigrations or whole countries. Le Guin is an advocate for anarchist governance – The Dispossessed (1974) – for the environment – The Word for World is Forest (1972) – for feminism and for anti-militarism.
A lot of writers, in Australia and elsewhere, are facing up to the imminent end of life on Earth-as-we-know it by writing fiction which is ‘dystopian’ but for which they refuse the label ‘SF’. Over the past few years there has been a rush of such fiction by young Australian women.
The first (to come to my attention) was Jane Rawson’s A Wrong Turn at the Office of Unmade Lists (2013) which posits a Melbourne of widespread poverty, with UN peacekeepers; but the book takes ‘a wrong turn’ into something very much like Magic Realism. I find, as I page through my reviews, that I have a decided preference for quirky in my SF.
Another such novel is Elizabeth Tan’s brilliant Rubik (2017) set in Perth. “This is a novel for our neo-liberal times where corporations run by faceless old white men both know and control everything about us. Tan fights back subtly, with satire, with ‘acceptably brown’ characters, with off-hand analyses of the way we submit to being manipulated.” (my review).
I have reviews for Melissa Ferguson’s The Shining Wall (2019) – an underclass forced to live outside city walls; Krissy Kneen’s An Uncertain Grace (2017) – innovative uses of a total body suit for recording experiences; Geogia Blain’s Special (2016) – a world controlled by corporations rather than national governments; and a time-travelly climate change one set near Wollongong (sorry, I can’t offer a prize for the first correct answer).
Two important ones though are Charlotte Woods’ The Natural Way of Things (2015) which describes the indefinite internment of a group of young women who have been the playthings/victims of men and had the temerity to complain; and Claire G Coleman’s Terra Nullius (2017). Coleman is an Indigenous Western Australian, a Wirlomin-Noongar woman, and she writes of Settlers arriving and enslaving the local people. As in her second novel, The Old Lie (2019), it only slowly becomes obvious how this is SF. Her third, Enclave, is out in four weeks. My order has been placed.
This last week I have been listening to Becky Chambers’ Record of a Spaceborn Few (2018), the third in her Wayfarer series. It’s actually more of a lecture than a story, on how to create a society which runs without money – real socialism in action! The earlier two were much better as stories, with interesting characters and dealing with the problem of are AIs ‘alive’.
Karen, I don’t seem to have actually recommended any particular book but I hope you enjoyed the discussion as much as I enjoyed writing it.
Dina Nayeri (F, Iran/USA), A Teaspoon of Earth and Sea (2013)
Emma Viskic (F, Aus/Vic), Those Who Perish (2022) – Crime
Dervla McTiernan (F, Ire), The Good Turn (2020) – Crime
Polly Crosby (F, Eng), The Women of Pearl Island (2021) – SF (actually a soppy inter-generational female friendship thing, but the premise is that the Brits tested an atom bomb in 1955, on an island in the Channel)
Elin Hilderbrand (F, USA), Nantucket Nights (2002) – Mystery
Laurie Halse Anderson (F, USA), The Impossible Knife of Memory (2013) – YA (starts out as grunge, but descends into soppy teenage romance. I skipped the girl’s father’s trendy Vietnam War flashbacks).
James Baldwin (M, USA), Just Above My Head (1979) – Literature!
Tanya Talaga (F, Can), Seven Fallen Feathers (2017) – Non Fiction
Becky Chambers (F, USA), Record of a Spaceborn Few (2018) – SF
AWWC May 2022
|Wed 04||Elizabeth Lhuede||“Reputed authoress”: Isabel Grant|
|Fri 06||Stories FTA||Isabel Grant: The Archangel Michael (short story)|
|Wed 11||Bill Holloway||Nathan Hobby, The Red Witch (review)|
|Fri 13||Stories FTA||“Old-Women’s Stories”: Mrs Langloh Parker|
|Wed 18||Bronwyn||Mary Gaunt|
|Fri 20||Stories FTA||Mary Gaunt, Quits (short story)|
|Wed 25||Whispering Gums||Ethel Turner’s juvenilia|
|Fri 27||Stories FTA||Louise Mack, Teens (novel extracts)|
All the Friday posts are stories, or extracts from stories, written by the authors mentioned.