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Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Science Fiction is the Literature of Change

In preparation for an RA staff meeting tomorrow during which each member of our staff will be book talking a SF title, I came across this post about the current state of the genre.

Click through, but then go and listen to the longer and more detailed Guardian Books podcast, Science Fiction Now and Tomorrow to which the post refers.

For our meeting, the staff was specifically asked to choose a first book in an established SF series that we had never read before.  I am embarrassed to admit it but I had never read my choice, Foundation by Isaac Asimov.

Now, there is a whole different discussion to be had about whether Foundation is actually still considered the first one in this series or not, and I will get into that later  when I post my review/notes for our meeting, but reading Foundation and listening to the above podcast in tandem has been quite enlightening.

One of the arguments the podcast makes is that the pace of technological change has been so fast for the last 60 years or so, that SF is one of the best ways for the average person to cope with this real life blur of change. Reading Foundation with a 21st century lens, this point was very clear to me.

I am also currently listening a wonderful new voice in Science Fiction, Ernest Cline, and his critically acclaimed debut novel, Ready Player One which is set in a science fiction future, but also looks back fondly on the technology, science fiction, and fantasy of the 1980s, the years of my youth.  I cannot stress how wonderful listening to this book has been, and I am only about halfway through.

You would think the two novels would be very distinct being written decades apart.  In fact, while their tone and subjects are very different, it is surprising how much the two books share.  I have enjoyed the paring and it has really made me think about SF past, present and future.  In fact, it made me think that another good RA training exercise would be to read a 20th century SF classic alongside a 21st century offering to compare and contrast.

I have SF on the brain these days.  Look for more detail on all of this in the coming weeks.  I will have reviews of both Foundation and Ready Player One, as well as some notes from what my co-workers share in our staff meeting tomorrow.  And count on the fact that I will be throwing in some general observations about the past, present, and future of SF.

But whether or not you have SF on the brain, at the very least go check out the podcast and get a sense of the current state of the genre. Also, take a look at this post from last week when I talked about the Locus Magazine Recommended Reading List for 2011 (Ready Player One is listed there).

One final note: the department meeting tomorrow is also a part of our larger attempt to explore some of the genres with which we as a staff are less confident.  I will let you know how it goes and what area we decided to take on next.

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