Science Fiction, Which Includes Zombies

A former colleague of mine gave me a copy of a science fiction book the other day. He’s slowly clearing out his shelves–I think he’s afraid that he’s getting old and doesn’t want to leave behind so many things. It’s got me thinking about science fiction and the way we often think of it in…what? Dorky terms? I mean, the ray guns and laser beams and aliens. But there is some beautiful science fiction out there, too, stuff that fascinates and even scares me. When you think about it, even zombie stories are science fiction (the virus/rage had to come from somewhere), though we lump them in post-apocalyptic.

Frankenstein, by Mary Shelley. I’m sure you all know it as the tale of a monster, one whom we mistakenly call Frankenstein. How many of you had to read this book in high school or college? Did your teacher focus on the “science” of this science fiction classic?

Judith Merril’s short story “That Only a Mother” is one of those terrifying tales about nuclear war that hits closer to home that one woman even realizes.

A story that I love to teach my students for its varied messages is “Cavemen in the Hedges” by Stacey Richter. Meet a woman who has been dating her boyfriend for a long time. They’ve developed from punks to grown ups, but that all changes when cavemen enter the landscape through a portal and take over the city.

Yesterday, I discussed the science fiction pioneer Octavia Butler.

Half Life by Shelley Jackson is a really tough read, but it is a novel of amazing effort. I did finish, but the story can get confusing, so here is a clear description: “The novel presupposes an alternate history in which the atomic bomb resulted in a genetic preponderance of conjoined twins, who eventually become a minority subculture” (Wikipedia). I do remember that the book follows conjoined twins. One of them has fallen asleep into a coma-like state, and the other plans to kill her sleeping sibling.

What about you, reader? What are your favorite science fiction stories and novels? How many are by women? Do you ever feel “shame” when you read science fiction instead of “proper literature”?

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6 comments

  1. My favourite sci-fi is The Dragonriders of Pern by Anne McCaffrey. You don’t realize that it’s science fiction at first, but as the story unfolds it becomes more and more apparent. And I never feel shame in reading sci-fi or fantasy, it’s so much fun! 🙂

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  2. I feel like I have a long way to go when it comes to science fiction. I am only just now delving into the classics. And I have rarely read science fiction by a woman (though I DNF’d The Girl with All The Gifts because it gave me nightmares, it’s a beautiful and terrifying read!). My favorites? At this point The Martian for the accessible nature of the hard sciencey stuff and Ender’s Game for the astounding ending. I was hooked.

    As far as female authors are concerned, I really love the Imperial Radch trilogy by Ann Leckie. I’m only 1.5 books into them, but I’m hooked. And I adore epistolary novels so Amie Kaufman (and Jay Kristoff, yes)’s Illuminae is high on my list of all-time favorites. I could re-read those books forever.

    I don’t ever feel shame for reading sci-fi. But I am often confused. I know I enjoy the speculative nature of these texts, but I haven’t figured out the niche of sub-genres I love. So, I find that I’m reading less than favorite texts more often than I’d like.Frankenstein and Beloved are on my TBR. Other recommendations?

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    • If you want some fun, old-fashioned sci-fi, you should read A Princess of Mars by Edgar Rice Burroughs. He is more famously known as the author of the Tarzan books. I’d also recommend getting an anthology if you can to test the waters with sci-fi. Sometimes a book is just too much. I have The Prentice Hall Anthology of Science Fiction and Fantasy, which is (obviously) both sci-fi and fantasy. It gives a bit of info about each author and also splits the stories into time periods, so you get some context for where these stories are coming from. You can get a used copy on Amazon for about $12 and be set for ages!

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      • Oooh, is that the book that the film John Carter is based off? I’ve had other people recommend it to me before. I’ve been told it’s a bit campy, but that’s part of the fun, right? I’ve also never read anything by Edgar Rice Burroughs. I feel like I probably should.

        This anthology looks AWESOME. It’s a bit of a doorstop, but I don’t think that matters. I love the idea of digging more deeply into the history and context of these stories. That’s so important when understanding what makes something a “classic”. Have you read all 1180 pages?!

        Thank you for the recommendations!!!

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