What if the Unicorns were ON a Spaceship? THEN what do you call it?

Hi lovely readers,

I am a sad girl today.  Not only is it a horrible hour of the morning (i.e., before noon) and raining outside, but I just left my poor little dog at the vet for her second TPLO surgery.  Which means she has to stay overnight, and then she’s going to be woeful and recovering for weeks afterwards.  And she was SO petrified!  :-(  Poor muffin.  She started shaking as soon as I picked her up inside the house, and she shivered all the way there in the car, and the worst part is she was totally right.  We were taking her to exactly her worst nightmare: abandonment and suffering!  :-(  I guess it probably didn’t help that I was crying.  She’s going to be scared of the car for the rest of the year.  Aw, sigh.  I am full of sad.

I wouldn’t normally post while I’m this woebegone, but last week’s blog was already short and un-fascinating, so I’ll try to say something wiser than "eeeeeee TV!" this week.  😉

(Although, on the subject of TV, I’m so glad So You Think You Can Dance is on tonight!  That should distract us for a little while, hopefully.)

This week I went to talk to a high school class that’s studying Science Fiction and Fantasy.  How cool is that?  I WISH I could have taken a class like that in high school!  That’s about when I read all the major sci-fi classics, I think, and I loved them.  Now I feel like I should go back and read them again and see if they’re still as great as I remember.

It was interesting because they’re particularly studying the difference between science fiction and fantasy, which for most people comes down to spaceships and robots on one side, wizards and unicorns on the other.  But then, where would you put something like The Hunger Games, or Midnighters, or Lost, or Avatars?  What if there are elements that can be "scientifically explained" (like the experiments of the Dharma Initiative, which might explain the button in the hatch, the polar bears, and the time travel) alongside something more purely magical/fantastical (Christian Shepherd/John Locke coming back to life (or someone using his body?), the mystical power of "the numbers", etc.)?  Then where does it fit?

In publishing, I feel like I remember calling these "supernatural fiction" or "speculative fiction", although you could also say "contemporary fantasy", which means there are quasi-magical inexplicable things happening, but it’s set in the real world (at least to start with).  It does seem like the terms "science fiction" and "fantasy" aren’t particularly useful anymore, especially for people who associate them just with spaceships and unicorns.

That said, there’s still a whole world of books that do qualify as one or the other, and of course I can’t help thinking about what I would want to teach if I were running a class like that (so much fun!).  Of course everyone will have a different list, but these are the ones I remember loving the most, off the top of my head.  I’m leaving out my favorite post-apocalyptic stories, since I’ve listed them elsewhere, but those are all important to read, too!  🙂

Science Fiction

Ender’s Game, by Orson Scott Card
Not only one of the best science fiction books ever; also one of the greatest books of all time.  It’s about this super-genius kid Ender who’s being trained to fight off an approaching army of dangerous aliens, but that doesn’t really encompass how awesome it is.  He’s, like, eight years old and he’s learning to be the commander of a whole army!  It’s intense and impossible to put down.


IRobot cover I, Robot, by Isaac Asimov
You have to read Asimov if you’re studying science fiction, and it’s tough to choose between this and his Foundation series.  I just remember loving these robot stories because they were fun, complicated mysteries.  As I remember it, the solutions were always surprising, because they involved robots who were constrained by the Three Laws of Robotics, yet found strange logical ways to commit crimes (or not, depending on the story).  This is one I want to read again, since it was a long time ago that I read it, but if the mysteries are half as good as I remember, I hope I’ll still like it!

imageChildhood’s End, by Arthur C. Clarke 
This is another V. Important Author in science fiction, but I just remember LOVING this story when I read it, which I think was in seventh grade, when I was eleven (this might even be the cover from the version I read).  I should reread it to see if I still love it, but I do remember aliens and spaceships and kids with psychic powers (AWESOME)!

SoundOfThunder cover A Sound of Thunder and Other Stories, by Ray Bradbury
I’m one of those people who thinks it’s worth it to read everything Ray Bradbury has ever written, but I might love his short stories most of all.  "A Sound of Thunder" is one of the few things I’ve read that I never forgot.  It involves time travel and is just amazing.

SnowCrash coverSnow Crash, by Neal Stephenson
A much more recent science fiction adventure, this one involves a very complicated future Internet and hackers and viruses and flying skateboards and the first hero named Hiro (actually "Hiro Protagonist", which is hilarious).  It’s quite complicated and thoroughly awesome (plus check out this snazzy cover! holy bats, I want it!).     

HouseScorpion coverThe House of the Scorpion, by Nancy Farmer
Look at all the awards it’s won!  (The Newbery AND the Printz!)  And yet it’s still a really fun read!  What are the chances?  ;-)  Matt grows up in the mansion of El Patron, a powerful drug lord in the country of Opium (between the US and Mexico).  He gradually comes to realize that he is a clone of the big boss, created to keep the man alive with transplants from his own body.  SUPER CREEPY!  And a fantastic book!


Hobbit cover The Hobbit, by J. R. R. Tolkien
You pretty much have to read Tolkien if you’re going to study fantasy (I mean, seriously!), and The Hobbit is a much faster read than the Lord of the Rings books, plus it has all the essential fantasy elements — dwarves, dragons, wizards, a quest, etc.

imageA Wizard of Earthsea, by Ursula K. LeGuin
I actually like book two in the series (The Tombs of Atuan) even better, but Wizard is classic high fantasy (hey, it even says so on the cover!).  It introduces a School for Wizards long before Harry Potter…along with a hero who has to struggle against the temptation to become, essentially, Voldemort.  Cooooooool!

image The Blue Sword, by Robin McKinley
Another Newbery Honor winner, this is one of the best warrior-women books out there, plus a great love story (if I remember it correctly!).  It’s also got that fantasy element of world-building, where this new world has a whole complex political system and history and mythology, which is one of the things I really admire about good fantasy (complicatedness!).  :-)  Everything Robin McKinley writes is pretty sensational, actually, including the prequel to this, Newbery-Medal-winning The Hero and the Crown.  🙂

imageHowl’s Moving Castle, by Diana Wynne Jones
Sophie Hatter finds herself under a peculiar spell…one that only the strange, reclusive wizard Howl (whose castle wanders around the country) may be able to lift.  This is newer fantasy, so it takes some of the conventions of ordinary fantasy and mixes them up, while still being a brilliant, funny story of weird magic and surprising twists and spells.  Diana Wynne Jones is a genius, essentially — another one where it’s worth it to read everything she’s ever written — but this is probably my favorite of hers.

image Stardust, by Neil Gaiman
Tristran Thorn promises the girl he loves that he’ll bring her back a fallen star…a promise that sends him into the land of faerie and on a surprising adventure.  This is another one that kind of tweaks the genre while playing along with it — in some ways, it’s a straight-up fairy tale, but it’s also very funny, and I think it’d be interesting to compare it to earlier fantasy and the conventions of regular fairy tales.  (Also, the movie is pretty great!)

imageA Wrinkle in Time, by Madeleine L’Engle
So, is this really fantasy, or science fiction?  On the one hand, there are kind-of witches ("angelic beings") and telepathic powers and winged centaurs, but on the other hand, there are tesseracts and astrophysics and aliens and five-dimensional travel between planets.  HMMMM.  So what do you call it?  Science fantasy?  Regardless, it’s awesome, and it’d certainly be fun to discuss.  🙂

OK, it’s weird that my science fiction list is mostly guy authors and my fantasy list is mostly female authors, since there’s plenty of crossover out there, but these are the books I just couldn’t resist.  I’m sure we could get through all of them in a semester, right?  :-)  Wouldn’t that be a fun class?  Man, there are so many more I’d want to add, too!  Especially The Hunger Games, by Suzanne Collins (which I need to add to my post-apocalyptic list) and probably The Handmaid’s Tale, by Margaret Atwood (we could do a whole subsection on post-apocalyptic sci-fi!).  And if we had time for The Golden Compass, by Philip Pullman, that’s a pretty ridiculously amazing fantasy, too.  And that’s not even getting into the movies I’d want to show!  OMG!

Boy, I do not understand people who refuse to read these kinds of books — look at all the amazingness you’re missing!  Plus there’s plenty of "literary fiction" that technically crosses the line into supernatural/speculative fiction, like The Time Traveler’s Wife, by Audrey Niffenegger or The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold.  If you ask me, supernatural elements only make a book more interesting.  🙂

So what would you include if you could teach a class on science fiction and fantasy?  If you like, you can use the Pet Trouble contact form to let me know…I’m sure I’ve missed several major things!

OK, well, I’ve managed to distract myself for a while, and now I have to go clean the house and prepare for a writing group meeting tonight.  Here’s hoping for a very distracting episode of So You Think You Can Dance, too!  Aw, I miss my dog.  :-(  I hope she’s doing OK.  I wonder how the vet would feel about me calling every half hour to check on her.  La la, I’m sure that’s totally normal. 

Hope you all had an awesome Memorial Day weekend!  Here comes summer! 

Quote of the Day:
Lily:  Marshall, please don’t jump!
Marshall:  Lily, I have to do this!
Lily:  You need a reason not to jump?  I’ll give you a reason.  I’m pregnant.
Marshall:  Oh, Lily — oh, wow — I mean, I noticed you’d gained some weight recently but–
Lily: (gasp) I was LYING, you jerk!  Oh, go ahead and jump!  I hope you die!
How I Met Your Mother