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ReReadable Books

January 2011

"Not Your Mother’s Science Fiction: Part I"


Jacqueline Lichtenberg



 To send books for review in this column email Jacqueline Lichtenberg,jl@simegen.com  for snailing instructions or send an attached RTF file.  
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Avatar, Feature Film by James Cameron, Dec 2009

Touched By An Alien, by Gini Koch, DAW pb, April 2010

What’s Love Got To Do With It, Tina Turner film

Time Travelers Never Die by Jack McDevitt, Ace HC Nov 2009

The Crown by Deborah Chester, Ace pb, Dec. 2008

Red Hot Honky-Tonk Bar by Pamela Morsi, Mira Books pb 2009

My Double Life by Janette Rallison, Putnam YA HC May 2010

A Wolf In Wolf’s Clothing by Deborah MacGillivray, LoveSpell Romance pb. Aug. 2009

Blindman’s Bluff, Faye Kellerman, WmMorrow HC 2009

Science Fiction and Fantasy will soon no longer be an isolated field. The trend is toward amalgamating and unifying SF/F with other genres.

Today, we are seeing that trend in mixed genre offerings, and we see it in the appeal of non-SF/F to SF readers and vice-versa.

Films like Avatar are leading the way with 9 Oscar nominations, and 3 wins, plus the Science Fiction and Fantasy awards, the "Saturn Awards" where it garnered 10 nominations and 10 wins. In the Oscars, as usual for SF/F films, it dominated the effects and visual categories but not for the substance of storytelling – best script, acting etc. It did, however, get an Oscar nomination for Best Picture. In its own genre, it won for Production, Directing and Writing as well as the visual work.

Now, a veteran SF/F reader wouldn’t consider a film like Avatar either original or ground-breaking. It doesn’t challenge the mind, but it does what Star Trek did, introduces a new audience to SF/F with an old, tried and true, story.

It’s not the film or the novel that makes a genre. It’s the audience, the market. A whole new generation has been inspired by a human relationship with a non-human. A whole new generation has seen and felt the potential effect upon entire civilizations of a personal, meaningful Relationship. A new generation is exploring the ethics of the use of power by the decision makers of large groups.

From that new generation will come an entirely new SF/F field. But already, the printed novel field is feeding that audience more of what they have developed a taste for.

There are several ingredients in the new SF/F to watch for. None are really "new," but they combine to address questions of serious interest to students of the occult, questions about power, how to get it, how to use it, what character traits develop an "edge" for the power user.

In her first novel, Touched By An Alien, Gini Koch brings a strong female character into touch with the irrefutable knowledge that "the world" is not at all what she once thought it was. How she figures out what is right, what is wrong, and what to do about it is the story of an unfolding relationship with an Alien, Jeff Martini, and his colleagues, all clad in Armani suits.

The cover of Touched by an Alien is iconic, and the story is a madcap blend of Science Fiction and Fantasy with strong overtones of the TV series Scarecrow and Mrs. King.

The wild, disorienting genre mix of Touched By An Alien keynotes the new Science Fiction field just peeking over our horizon.

I discussed Touched by an Alien’s cover in depth, connecting it with the Tina Turner film What’s Love Got To Do With It, a 1980’s Grammy winner song about Turner’s "comeback" in her 40’s, and with Avatar and the iconic film Face Off in a blog entry at http://aliendjinnromances.blogspot.com/2010/04/turning-action-into-romance.html 

In grandma’s science fiction, the stabilizing influence, the element that kept both the reader and the characters "grounded" and oriented enough to believe all the impossible things was the science itself.

Today, the science is mixed up with magic, or a science so advanced it seems like magic, or actually is. It’s unpredictable and confusing. But the reader and the characters are anchored solidly in "reality" by the emotional elements driving the Relationships.

Working with Relationships as the familiar element tempts a writer to get lazy and produce Aliens who are just humans in rubber suits. I’m sure you will see much of that laziness for the next decade, but watch as it changes.

Here are a group of novels that herald that change.

Jack McDevitt’s Time Travelers Never Die is a madcap time travel adventure lightly exploring paradox. The characters exhibit a fannish dedication to the study of history and collecting souvenirs which keeps us oriented.

One guy inherits a time travel device suspecting his father isn’t dead but lost in time. He and his buddy waste their lives away in a listless pursuit of knowledge and girls while searching for the father. What they discover at the end of their quest is thoughtful and sobering.

Stephen Hawking’s recent declaration about feedback loop theory proving you can’t go back in time shows how this novel is yet another wild SF/Fantasy mixture. The story works because of the relationship between two buddies.

Deborah Chester brings us Book Two of the Pearls and the Crown series, titled The Crown, a fantasy-romance adventure in a world where magic, religion and politics explode. The Emperor’s sister is kidnapped by a man with no soul. She falls in love with him. But he hands her over to her father’s enemies in return for a promise of redemption. She has to decide whether he’s worth saving from himself.

This novel presents just the kind of life puzzle that anyone who studies the occult will face. You won’t find answers in a novel, but you do find questions you may never have thought of before.

Now flip the world over and look at the mundane reality of normal existence. In Red’s Hot Honky-Tonk Bar by Pamela Morsi (which I got via the Amazon Vine review copy program), you find everyday humans who may as well be aliens. This is the story of a mature woman who owns a bar in a seedy neighborhood and has enough trouble with her business to make a novel. But she’s suddenly saddled with two young grandchildren she’s been kept away from (for obvious reasons) one a nine year old with standards that don’t include a grandmother’s boyfriend. This is a family values novel set in a gritty reality that might as well be science fiction.

Family stories are another genre you rarely see mixed with science fiction, though they turn up in fantasy as Crown Politics or inherited magical talent.

Janette Rallison sent me a copy of her novel with another kind of broken-family story that could easily be done in SF or Fantasy. My Double Life. A young woman gets a job as a double for a celebrity she mysteriously resembles, digs and digs at why this resemblance exists, and discovers a relationship she was never meant to know about. This is the story of heroics transcending limits, and morals clashing with the contract law.

My Double Life is a story that could be set in McDevitt’s time-travel universe, Chester’s fantasy empire universe, or Koch’s crazy-science/magic Aliens On Earth universe and still work. In fact, it’s a story you could tell with zombies or vampires. It’s a story of identity and heritage, determination and courage.

A Wolf In Wolf’s Clothing by Deborah MacGillivray also came to me directly from the author. I meet fascinating writers on twitter. This novel scintillates with tantalizing hints of Reincarnation. It’s a Romance about soul mates. Again, a theme is surfacing in many genres and accepted by many kinds of readers, that our everyday reality isn’t what science depicts it to be.

The quirky characters in A Wolf In Wolf’s Clothing live in Modern England. The plot brings in old grudges which are settled by high finance and passionate love between two sets of twins. A family of girls marries a family of boys, a situation best suited to Fantasy. The novel leaves us with the question is reality magic – or is magic reality? This ambiguity may be the key to MacGillivray’s success. She’s building audience. I discussed Wolf in Wolf’s Clothing on the Alien Romance blog in an article on Astrology http://aliendjinnromances.blogspot.com/2009/11/astrology-just-for-writers-part-6.html

And here’s a genre Mystery I got from the Amazon Vine program, Blindman’s Bluff by Faye Kellerman, a Decker and Lazarus novel. I’ve been reviewing this series here since its inception, and can’t recommend these novels highly enough. They are Mystery with no SF or Fantasy involved, but the issues, themes, and affairs confronted here should be part of the SF/F field, and may one day be.

In the Decker/Lazarus novels, the Detective’s family matters. At this point in his story, his daughter is climbing the ladder in an adjacent police department and he admires her work. His wife is on a jury, and witnesses a conversation overheard by a blind man that’s material to solving the high profile crime her husband is working on. Only she doesn’t know it until they try to kill her for it.

If the police department used forensic magic, this series would be Fantasy of the best kind. If it were set on a space station, it would be great SF. This is the kind of SF/F you will be finding all around you very soon.

To send books for review in this column email Jacqueline Lichtenberg,  jl@simegen.com for snailing instructions or send an attached RTF file.  



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