Favorite SciFi Sub-genres

Part of what I love about science fiction is that it covers so many different topics.  Sometimes when I mention to others that I love science fiction, I feel like I occasionally get a funny look or two.  And then I wonder how many awesome books the person sitting across from me has either read without really realizing it was science fiction, or missed out on because they turned their nose up at something with the label.

So I thought I’d share some of my favorite sub-genres with you today, along with a few suggestions to check out if you’re looking to try some of them.

Apocalyptic / Post-Apocalyptic

I love stories about the end of the world.  Granted- my favorites are those that usually explore the darker side of human nature, books like Wanderers and King’s The Stand, but I also like hopeful stories that explore the survival of humanity as earth is becoming uninhabitable (e.g. The Calculating Stars).

What intrigues me about them is the way the human need (instinct?) to survive effects each character.  Will they do whatever it takes?  Will they commit unspeakable acts in the interest of protecting themselves and their families? Or will they come together and unite for a common cause?

First Contact / Alien Invasion

I love all fiction with aliens for a few different reasons.  The easy answer is the almost limitless opportunity it gives an author to exercise the limits of their imagination.  What kinds of tech do they have?  What kind of rituals do they practice?  What sort of hierarchy does their society follow?

But the more complex answer is that alien civilization can act as a sort of mirror, reflecting back all the ugly and beautiful truths about our own civilization.  It gives the reader a chance to question why things are the way they are, how they came to be that way, and how we could set ourselves on a path to change (hopefully for the better).

Dystopian / Utopian

This is an easy one and probably the most accessible to those who aren’t necessarily fans of SciFi and Fantasy.  I like dystopian because I think it’s interesting to consider how the in-book society evolved into what it became.  Qualityland, for example, is very obviously derived from Amazon’s dominion over the retail space.  On the other hand, utopian books examine what it might mean to try and please everyone, or put them all on an even playing field.

Science Fiction Thrillers

And of course- probably my most favorite genre of all- the science fiction thriller.  Not because they have any higher purpose, but because they are damn entertaining.

There are a couple other genres of SciFi I’m hoping to explore this year.  Topics that interest me or genres in which I’ve only read one or two books, but have enjoyed, despite not having had the time yet to dive deeper.

Biopunk

Biopunk is described as “derived from cyberpunk [that] focuses on the implications of biotechnology rather than information technology” (Wikipedia).  I read, and once very much enjoyed, Borne, but I’d love to see what else exists in the genre and how it is deployed.  The big one I have slated for this is Atwood’s Oryx and Crake, but I’ve talked about that particular book quite a bit recently and wanted to spotlight something different.

Cyberpunk

Cyberpunk is described as a “combination of low-life and high tech” (Wikipedia, Sterling Bruce, Burning Chrome by William Gibson preface).  Infomocracy probably fails on the first count.  I don’t think either of the two main characters are necessarily “low life”, but the book has a very urban, gritty, feel that I think qualifies it.  Last year I listened to SerialBox’s Ninth Step Station that I’d say qualifies as cyberpunk also.  Another book most people are probably familiar with is Ready Player One.  I loved them all and I definitely want to read more.

What are your favorite science fiction sub-genres?

Book Review: Wanderers by Chuck Wendig

Wanderers by Chuck Wendig

Rating:  ★★★★

Blurb from GoodReads (minus the spoilery parts): Shana wakes up one morning to discover her little sister in the grip of a strange malady. She appears to be sleepwalking. She cannot talk and cannot be woken up. And she is heading with inexorable determination to a destination that only she knows. But Shana and are sister are not alone. Soon they are joined by a flock of sleepwalkers from across America, on the same mysterious journey. And like Shana, there are other “shepherds” who follow the flock to protect their friends and family on the long dark road ahead.

Wanderers is far from the first novel of its kind- an epic, sprawling, apocalyptic story, that evokes memories of Stephen King’s The Stand, Justin Cronin’s The Passage, or Robert McCammon’s Swan Song (admittedly, the latter two of these I have not read).  And I don’t think anyone would be wrong to compare this to any of those that came before- Wendig often mentions many of these books by name, almost poking fun at the derivative nature of his own story.  But I would say there is one key difference between Wanderers and the others.

Wanderers spends a lot more time on the actual downfall of man kind.  It isn’t really until 75% of the way through that readers get to see what the world looks like when most of humanity is dead or dying.  For that reason, some might find this to be slower paced than those others, but for me it amped up the stakes.  It forces the reader to think about what it would really be like to know human civilization is coming to end, the enormity and devastation of that statement. It doesn’t skip straight to the part where the survivors are just trying to survive.  You spend most of this book wondering if there will be any survivors at all.

The characters were full of depth, likes and dislikes, talents and flaws, hopes and desires.  They grow and they change.  It has been a long time since I’ve seen a full cast of characters in which I felt each was given sufficient attention.  None of them feel like background characters.  None of them feel unimportant.    There was one that made me groan a little when his parts came along- but I think it was more the nature of his character than it was that anything was wrong with him, but his arc is probably one of the better ones in the book.

The pacing on this story is pretty slow- I’d say it’s driven forward by the mystery/intrigue of what’s happening to the sleepwalkers more so than the action.  But the way the mystery and the plot unfolds is so natural, and even as we gain answers we also gain more mysteries, until most of the mysteries are solved and the action starts to ramp up.

There was a surprising bit of science in this book that I expected to fall more in the realm of horror or fantasy.  I really enjoyed it and it added a level of “realness” to the story that made it all the more terrifying.  I can’t dive into this too much without spoilers, but I read the acknowledgements at the back and Wendig’s research seemed pretty thorough, though he admits he’s not sure how accurate it ended up.  It sounded real enough for me so… *shrugs*.

Finally, without spoilers, I will say the ending disappointed me a bit.  It was way too ambiguous and the reader doesn’t get any closure to some of the character’s story lines.  It kind of crushed me to get that sort of ending in a book I invested 780 pages worth of my time into.  It felt like a cop out.  So I deducted a star.

Otherwise, I think this is absolutely worth reading, especially if you enjoyed these sort of books or are a fan of Wendig’s work.  I’ve been craving an epic I could sink my teeth into and get lost in, and this hit all the right notes.

Wanderers can be found on GoodReads or ordered on Amazon.

 

Future Home of the Living God by Louise Erdrich

FHotLG_LE

Rating: ★

Apologies, as I’ve been absent.  It’s been a ho-ho-hectic holiday. This is the first predominantly negative book review I’m leaving on this blog, and I want to make note that this was the only book I only gave a single star to this year. It’s also one of the most detailed reviews I’ve written (because you know- it’s easier to critique than praise for some strange reason).

I’m giving this one star out of spite. Here I sit, 1:30 AM trying to force myself to finish while watching Friends re-runs just so I could put myself back in the habit of reading. Warning: this is a spoiler heavy review. I can’t really tell you why I hated it without spoiling it so read at your own risk.

Content warnings: childbirth, stillbirth, torture, forced impregnation (not rape), drug use, depression, talk of suicide, and a weird, casual reference to pedophilia…

The quick and dirty gist of it: the world is “devolving”.  Plants and animals have mutated out of control.  Human beings aren’t born quite human.  The world is ending.  Cedar Hawke is pregnant during this time.  She is writing a journal to her unborn child.

I didn’t mind most of the novel. Yeah it was slow. No I didn’t appreciate the weekly updates on brain neurons and baby size and muscle tissue and fingernail growth. No I didn’t even like the endless prattling prose about nature.

I ain’t cultured enough for that shit.

But they aren’t my problem. It was the ending that was absolutely unforgivable. I’m grumpy right now so here goes the really, horrible, terrible, no good, very bad thing, that I am going to say: I would have preferred that Cedar died.

Not knowing what happened to her, or worse, imagining her stuck in that birthing prison for life, is absolutely the worst fucking ending that has ever been fucking written. It wasn’t shocking. It didn’t make you feel anything (except rage). I didn’t want to sit and ponder the fucking book for hours later.

I really wanted to just finish a single book. That’s all I wanted. Why? Why in the hell did I pick this one? I don’t know. Here’s what I can tell you: if you don’t like part one, do not bother with the rest. It does not get better.

Enough about that, here’s a few other things I’d like to comment on:

The format. It’s divided into three parts. No chapters.

Do you know how to make a slow book s l o w e r?

By not putting any chapter breaks in it.

The premise.
The world is ending because “reverse evolution” is happening. Except it’s not. Sure that’s how it’s sold to you. We’re never given any proof of it. Babies are supposed to be born with deformities, oddly shaped, too big, I don’t know. The one baby we see born it’s shape and size are never commented on. So as far as I can see mostly the human race is just dying. Nature is growing out of control. All the foods we eat don’t produce actual food anymore. Somehow I have a hard time believing nothing else edible came out of reverse evolution, but you know, whatevs.

The characters:
Flat. Boring. No growth and not much personality. I cared about Cedar only because you spend so much time in the woman’s head… but she wasn’t particularly likable in any way. Any time she started fighting with dear old Mom I just wanted to smack her. Sera calls her spoiled and obnoxious at one point. That seems pretty accurate to me. Her motivations really don’t make any sense. She’s pregnant because she just wanted a baby. Just like that! She’s Catholic mostly because she felt like being contrary one day.

The world building:
I actually don’t have anything negative to say about this. I loved the idea of the underground networks and resistance movements. I loved the idea of nature going out of control and reclaiming the Earth. Wished I’d seen more of it.

The memoir:
Eddy’s memoir.. the one where he writes a daily entry about why he didn’t kill himself that day? Every time it came up, I literally groaned. It was all very poetic. And I hated every last word of it. A novel this depressing doesn’t need anything to make it more depressing.

The Title:
Is completely nonsensical and has nothing to do with the book. Are you expecting this baby to somehow save the human race? Ha! Don’t hold your breath. That’s what I get for having expectations. The title makes me feel like I just got trolled. HARD.

The ending:
Sure I already talked about this- but aside from that is just very poorly done. It’s like the author didn’t know how to get out of it so she smashed a bunch of scenes together just to put herself out of her misery. Mother shows up, almost catches Cedar. Phil shows up, brings Cedar to the gas station, parks the car in the woods, then Cedar goes in the gas station, calls Eddy, and Phil drives off. WHAT WAS THE POINT? I half expected someone to tell her she imagined the whole thing. I felt like I imagined the whole thing because it was so confusing and felt so rushed where the rest of the novel seemed content to take it’s sweet, sweet time. I guess we just HAD to get back to talking about babies and dragonflies and suicide.

I want to add that because I can be very dense- my reading buddies took a lot more from this novel than I did (you can find the discussion here).  I am woman enough to admit when I missed the point.  I missed the point.  Even re-reading that discussion and all the points my fabulous buddy readers made, I don’t think I get it.  The trouble is- the book was so slow (less than 300 pages felt a lot closer to 400) that I wasn’t paying enough attention to the ambiguous and incoherent message the author was trying to get across.

Just to clarify, a lot of this book was a solid 3 star read for me, but never any more. The ending is the predominant reason that in retrospect I’m giving the whole book a single star.