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Cuban Sci-Fi


I dislike science fiction as a genre. While there are a couple of science fiction films I do like, they are not of the norm of the genre (Solaris, La Jetée) and I simply don’t have time for reading science fiction because I find the entire genre uninteresting.

That said, I am very interested in Cuban culture and so this article on science fiction in Cuba is quite interesting and given the interests of many commenters here, I figured it would be a good subject to share on a Saturday night.

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  • Socrets

    That’s a shame. Sci-Fi is pretty good when it’s done well and I think people really underestimate and unfairly look down on it as a genre. I really enjoyed Margaret Atwood’s Oryx and Crake; even though she denies the book is sci-fi; and I plan on reading the rest of the Madd Adam trilogy because of it. On the television front, Continuum on Sy-Fy is pretty interesting (Cop from a corporate controlled future is sent into the past to make sure it all works it with various twists and turns.) and one of the better shows on that channel. I’ll have to look into some of those books, the one about the guy having to solve a creature’s problems with tech sounds pretty funny.

    • wjts

      Although I loved Oryx and Crake, The Year of the Flood read kind of like the literary equivalent of an album of b-sides and outtakes. I’ve had MaddAddam on my bookshelf since it came out, but haven’t gotten around to it yet.

      • Julia Grey

        Oryx and Crake is a mainstream author’s stab at a classic-even-unto-hackneyed theme of science fiction. Having read many versions of the basic formula, I found it boring and predictable. That so many people who don’t know a thing about the genre thought it was groundbreaking and fabulous is just…annoying.*

        Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale and James’s Children of Men were more interesting, although their themes also had been “done” before and had noticeable literary faults.** Both of these are classifiable as science fiction — which these days is more properly called SPECULATIVE fiction. The best of it (which I’m not saying these two books are — personally I prefer things like Iain M. Banks (Look to Windward, Surface Detail, etc. — but that’s pretty challenging sht for beginners) is definitely worthwhile.

        *I like most of Atwood’s poetry, but she’s a lot more hit-or-miss in long form fiction.

        **The FILM version of Children of Men (with Clive Owen) was one of those unusual adaptations which was actually superior to the book.

        • Lee Rudolph

          *I like most of Atwood’s poetry, but she’s a lot more hit-or-miss in long form fiction.

          I agree entirely.

        • skate

          I’ve not read Oryx & Crake, but the problem of a well-known mainstream author attempting a genre novel and doing no better than a genre writer is certainly not unknown. Just look at Philip Roth’s attempt at alternate history, The Plot Against America.

    • skate

      Atwood has also admitted that it can be a matter of one’s definition of what science fiction is. See her discussion about how she and Ursula Le Guin differ on this as reposted at io9.com.

      • nixnutz

        Atwood is an interesting case because I like her non-sci fi stuff much better, the qualities that I admire are also there in the sci fi but none of it is sublime in the way Surfacing is, IMO obviously. So I don’t know whether she serves as an argument for or against the value of sci fi.

        But I’ve been pretty much strictly Dick and Lem since I was in high school, aside from crossover authors like Atwood and Jonathan Lethem, The Stars My Destination is the only other sci fi novel I’ve read in 25 years.

        I’m not opposed to it on principle, I read plenty of genre fiction, but my time on earth will not allow me to read everything I want to read and we all make choices based on what we’re interested in and what we’ve liked previously. I’m not going to spend a second feeling guilty that I don’t read enough science fiction.

    • ChrisTS

      Well, as Skate notes, it is definitional. For those who like to say “Oh, this isn’t scienc-ey enough to count as scifi,” I often find their notion of ‘scientific’ is pretty attenuated. ‘Science fiction’ need not be about robots (or, whatever). Atwood’s series is about the results of very evil melding with biology.

      At any rate, I recommend the series. If you find one of them less compelling than the others – meh.

      • ChrisTS

        Or, meddling. Auto-correct is so often … nuts.

  • shah8

    There are other choices than Ken Macleod, you know…

    • skate


    • wjts

      Sure are! Who doesn’t enjoy a good John Norman novel?

      • DocAmazing

        oh john ringo no

        • mikeSchilling

          I’m mentioned in the acknowledgments page of a John Ringo collaboration, for letting them use a really sick joke about cannibalism and kashrut. (“Well, if you cut a groove in his foot and shove some cud in his mouth …”.) I expect this will not change Erik’s view of the genre.

      • Julia Grey

        Who doesn’t enjoy a good John Norman novel?

        Gaud. Just horrifying.

  • Loomis might like Iain M Banks.

    • izzy

      I really doubt it, despite Banks’ politics. The Space Opera style isn’t likely to appeal to someone who is inclined to dislike the genre.

      I’d be more inclined to recommend The Left Hand of Darkness or The Dispossessed to someone with Loomis’ sensibilities but who doesn’t love sci-fi.

      • Gregor Sansa

        I was thinking exactly the same thing: that LeGuin is probably better than Banks. But I’d go with something more recent of hers; perhaps, Four Ways to Forgiveness.

        • Gregor Sansa

          (I’m not saying that Leguin is better than Banks for all tastes; just that for someone who doesn’t like most SF it’s a pretty safe bet that she is.)

      • Fair enough!

      • Julia Grey

        Dispossessed, yes! but Banks, much as I love him*, is a hill too high for someone who professes not to like science fiction. Too much weirdness for a newbie.

        *Skip his last, though, poor dear man. The Hydrogen Sonataswas just sad.

        • Any living, breathing, non-Republican human being should be able to find something to love in The Dispossessed.

      • Julia Grey

        despite Banks’ politics. The Space Opera style isn’t likely to appeal to someone who is inclined to dislike the genre.

        What “Space Opera style” are you talking about? If you’d referred to Bujold’s swashbuckling Vorkosigan Saga in those terms, I’d understand you, but what’s space operatic about the Culture series?

        • Halloween Jack

          Space opera has long been used to describe SF that forgoes hard scientific speculation in favor of familiar tropes and wish-fulfillment; no swashes need to be buckled. The Culture features numerous types of technology (including force fields) that can do just about anything and are never really explained; the AIs, despite being streets ahead of humanity, are (usually) benevolent and have human-type conversations among themselves, and in turn humans, although it’s strongly hinted that they’re essentially pets of the AIs, have a surprising amount of influence on galactic affairs.

    • wjts

      I think China Mieville’s probably more his speed.

      • Julia Grey

        Um, sex with insects and Fraggle-Rock style sentient trash piles? I think not.

        • wjts

          I dunno, I think he might get a kick out of the worker’s rebellion in Iron Council and Wati the Ushabti union organizer in Kraken.

    • Sometimes when a person announces that they dislike a genre (not just lack interest in it), it’s a point of pride, in which case there is little point in trying to change that person’s mind.

      • Manny Kant

        This is obviously the case with Loomis, who takes every opportunity to talk about how he dislikes sci-fi.

        • Pat

          Erik would obviously like Hugh Howey, for example, who writes amazing stories about the environment and social change. Wool was his first, I think, and he is very good at getting the reader emotionally invested in the story. His science stuff isn’t stupid, either.

          • Julia Grey

            I liked the woman hero in Wool very much. He really got me rooting for her.

      • rhino

        I dislike ‘country music’ in just this way.

        Despite loving Steve Earle, Neko Case, Willie Nelson and dozens of other indisputably country musicians. It’s even true. I dislike 99% of what you would ever hear on any country music station, just as loomis would likely despise 99% of what appears on the SF shelves at the bookstore.

        I would also like to submit that SF, especially popular SF has seriously declined in overall quality.

        There are still some excellent works being written. But there is far too much Honor Bloody Harrington crap out there.

        • Lee Rudolph

          I would also like to submit that SF, especially popular SF has seriously declined in overall quality.

          I am very unfamiliar with almost all current SF.

          However (as I have mentioned before) I’ve been going through several hundred (not quite 1000) SF paperbacks and magazines from the 1950s through 1968 or so, that have been sitting untouched since 1970 or so, except for when I packed them up when my mother was dying c. 1999. They stood up to 30 years in my old bedroom, and 15 years in my barn, pretty well, physically. Content-wise…not so much. Really, A. E. van Vogt is terrible (I am now working my way through The Mating Cry just to show that I can take it). Nearly all the Ace Doubles I’ve looked into (by people who were famous and aren’t now, by people who are still famous, by people who were never famous) are terrible. Doc Smith’s Skylark books? TERRIBLE. I have not regretted sending any of these to the MIT Science Fiction Society (which will extend me some credit, usable when sometime in the coming year we move back to Boston).

          I had known that during the move from Cleveland to Massachusetts some boxes had gotten lost (because one of them had my father’s death certificate in it). I had not known, until this week, that one of the lost boxes had half my complete set of The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction (1949 through 1966). Luckily I had packed the books and magazines hurriedly and haphazardly, so the approximately half of it that remains contains approximately half the first five years of it. There’s a lot of good short stories there, I admit (also a lot of dreck), partly because Boucher and McComas were intent on stretching the genre (for instance, they republished one of P. G. Woodhouse’s Mr. Mulliner stories—and not either of the Buck-You-Uppo stories, either), partly because they were damned good editors.

          I’m glad to see the good stuff again, before mailing it off. Someone was speaking of The Stars My Destination earlier, which I have in an anthology here in the house and reread every few years; it’s very good. I don’t remember having ever read Bester’s The Demolished Man, but there it was in one box, so I read it, and it’s good too, though the ending is weak.

          But I’m amazed at my youthful capacity for gobbling down the bad stuff along with the good.

          I really don’t think there’s been a decline. The “Golden Age” was mostly pyrites.

          • rhino

            Sturgeons law and such, though I think the genre peaked in the sixties seventies and eighties. The gold age was pretty crap in my opinion.

            Also, Dhalgren? Bloody horrible.

            • The Dark Avenger

              Judith Millers’ yearly anthologies from the 50s to the 60s had some good stories, as well as cartoons or illustrations one time. I can’t remember the year, but one of them had the Bernard Malamud story “The Jewbird”, which isn’t what you would call SF, but American Jewish urban magicism, you might say.

              • That’s Judith Merril rather than Miller and sixties, rather than fifties. But yes, those Year’s Best anthologies she did are some of the best of capturing how broad the sf genre could be because she took care to look beyond the usual core genre magazines and writers.

                • Lee Rudolph

                  That’s Judith Merril rather than Miller and sixties, rather than fifties.

                  Right. Judith Miller’s most influential speculative fiction was published in the first decade of the present century.

                • The Dark Avenger

                  Unfortnately, the Wiki agrees with you about the spelling, but not about the anthologies:

                  Merril began editing science fiction short story anthologies in 1950—especially a popular “Year’s Best” story-anthology series that ran from 1956 to 1967—and published her last in 1985. In her editorial introductions, talks and other writings, she actively argued that science fiction should no longer be isolated but become part of the literary mainstream. Early in her editing career, Anthony Boucher described her as “a practically flawless anthologist”.[12] She also had an important role as Books Editor for The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction (F&SF) from 1965 until 1969.[13]


            • DocAmazing

              Chacun a son gout and degustibus non disputandum est and all that. Love Dhalgren; enjoy the period cheerfulness of Doc Smith (and can even overlook the casual racism and sexism). Then again, I lovelovelove Doc Savage novels (yeah, I know, big surprise) so dated clunky material still rings my chimes. Unless it’s Thomas Hardy or Henry James–then I have to force myself through it. One man’s mate is another man’s Persian, or something like that.

              • One man’s Mede is another man’s Persian.

              • What’s this about your own goat?

                • Lee Rudolph

                  Not an own goat so much as a leg-of-mutton before wicked, eh?

                • leg-of-mutton before wicked

                  Roald Dahl had something to say about that.

            • Dhalgren is awesome, although I have to admit my favorite aspect of it is how upset it made Philip K. Dick. A classic troll.

        • I dislike ‘country music’ in just this way.

          Fair enough. If someone dislikes loud noises, then that person is not going to enjoy heavy metal.
          But I think there’s a difference between disliking a style of music, and disliking a genre of literature (which is defined by its content, but can be written in any number of styles).

          • rhino

            You mean there is country that doesn’t take cheatin’ and hurtin’ as raison de etre?

            • Lee Rudolph

              Do you know Slim Dusty’s oeuvre?

              • rhino

                Is he eminem’s less hygienic younger brother?

            • The Renderers, and the Handsome Family? Or is alt-country / country-gothic a separate style?

              • rhino

                The question was rhetorical.

    • IM

      If he likes Solaris, there is Lem. Or the Strugatsky brothers.

      • The Dark Avenger

        The Cyberiad is a great collection of adventures in the absurd. 2 primary digits up!

  • Gregor Sansa

    You might as well say you find the whole genre of British literature uninteresting. There’s a huge variety in science fiction. I mean, there’s a huge difference between Atwood and Asimov; between Brin and Butler and Brunner and Banks; between Calvino and Clarke; between Leguin and Lem. Sure, you have every right to say you haven’t liked what you’ve read so far, but dismissing the whole genre is just silly.

    • Gregor Sansa

      However, you are right that Cuban SF is interesting. I haven’t read much of it, but it’s certainly better than French SF by over 12 parsecs.

    • jim, some guy in iowa

      why is it silly for someone to just not be interested in a certain genre?

      • IM

        Because you bar yourself from interesting work of arts. I don’t like horror e. g. So I missed out on Lovecraft for a long time.

        • jim, some guy in iowa

          i dunno. once up on a time people whose judgement i trusted told me the “harry potter” books were worth reading and had some fairly intriguing reasons. but i just do. not. give. a. damn. about wizards. you can’t make me, either

          it might be my loss… but considering i only have so much time in my life to read for pleasure, it’s a hell of a lot more “silly” of me to spend that time trying to make myself like things i never have before

          • izzy

            I don’t much like stories about rich people’s problems. I’m glad I didn’t let that stop me from reading Gatsby.

          • Right–the idea that one must be interested in every type of story is totally absurd and I find it is made by people coming out of a geek culture where they were once looked down upon but are not at all today and are rather obnoxious about it.

            I mean, if you aren’t into westerns, I totally understand. There’s nothing wrong with that! I’m not going to be a dick about it. But too many sci-fi people tend to be messianic about it.

            • cpinva

              “Right–the idea that one must be interested in every type of story is totally absurd and I find it is made by people coming out of a geek culture where they were once looked down upon but are not at all today and are rather obnoxious about it.”

              I would tend to agree with this. that said, I think, in order to claim “well rounded person” status, one should at least be exposed to the genre, as well as everything else. for myself, my interest and enjoyment of sci-fi started at a young age, which conveniently coincided with the “space race”, between the USSR & the US; sci-fi come to life!

              oddly enough, my interest in politics & international events started around the very same time; I spent the Cuban Missile Crisis on ground zero, cherry point MCAS, the jump – off point for the 1st Marine Division, had we decided to actually invade cuba. as the man said, “the prospect of nuclear annihilation causes the mind to concentrate wonderfully.”, or something to that effect.

              but it was NASA, and the challenge of achieving JFK’s national aspiration: landing a man on the moon, before the end of the 60’s, that really got me into sci-fi. of course, the 60’s wouldn’t be complete without Star Trek, the first truly sci-fi tv show, that my older brother and I watched with a religious fanatiscism. it pretty much grew from there.

              you are, of course, entitled to your own interests, and are under no obligation whatever to explain yourself to anyone. just as I am not required to explain my loathing of sardines to anyone.

            • UserGoogol

              I wouldn’t really consider science-fiction a “type of story,” per se. You can write any sort of story in science fiction, you just have to add “And also there are robots or something.” Of course, that’s a pedantic point, since you’ve explicitly named science fiction films you like. Obviously there are recurrent elements beyond what is strictly necessary to qualify in the genre, and those aren’t for everyone.

              I haven’t read all that many fictional books in general (scifi or otherwise), myself. They’re a relatively time-consuming kind of art, so it makes sense to be somewhat cautious in what you choose to read.

              • Pat

                Science fiction as a genre has several things going for it. One, ideas that the reader might not think about, but should, can be presented in a new context to make them obvious. Two, the author can imagine how technologies would affect the way people interact with each other and their world. Three, the author can put constraints on the environment to show how that might affect humans and their interactions.

                Octavia Butler is a great example of a science fiction author who redefined racial issues through science fiction.

                All the same, I get the concept of having very little free time to read, and that was my Faulkner/Chekov period.

            • ChrisTS

              Well, Erick, as someone far too old to have come out of geek culture, I have to note that people have been enjoying ‘science fiction’ since the days of H. G. Wells – and probably before.

              I don’t think less of anyone who says “I don’t like books that belong to some category.” I just think the categories are often crudely conceived and that said people might find they very much appreciate a book/author that someone thinks belongs to that category.

              Naturally, I completely exempt the category of Romance novels – aka bodice rippers. Not because there is something amiss with sexy historical novels, but because those works are usually horridly written.

              • probably before

                Shelley? Poe? Bellamy?

                I know…the first two are horror and the third’s social commentary. But that’s the point: SF is big enough to contain all of that.

                • ChrisTS

                  Good point. We could toss in Morris’s News from Nowhere, too.

              • Manny Kant

                The vast majority of all books are horridly written. I’d imagine you can find good historical romance novels just as you’d find good examples of any other genre.

                I’d add that I think at least slightly less of anyone who makes categorical statements about their tastes and refuses not just to try anything different, but to even contemplate the possibility of trying anything different. I’m probably never going to read a historical romance novel, but I’m perfectly willing to hold out the possibility that there might be examples of the genre that I would enjoy.

                • Lee Rudolph

                  I’d imagine you can find good historical romance novels

                  Indeed, the estimable Georgette Heyer is famous for hers, which Aimai often mentions. (I only know Heyer’s mystery novels.)

                • But…I mean, what’s the problem with declaring a dislike or uninterest in a genre? Erik didn’t say that scifi was worthless just that by and large, with down exceptions that seem like outliers of the genre, he doesn’t care for it.

                  I hereby declare my general lack of interest in all sorts of genres. I walk right by all sorts of things without qualm. And I’m sure most people do.

                  For me, one thing about being a fan of a genre is that one tends to enjoy stuff quite far down the quality scale. If I want to relax when I’m keyed up. I’ll read even a crap science fiction or fantasy novel because it’s comfortable and I’ll enjoy complaining about it.

                  (I find all this esp weird when Erik is posting about a bit of scifi which he is interested in partly because he knows other proper have stronger direct interest.)

                • Manny Kant

                  Obviously people have genres they prefer (and are willing to watch/read crap in) and genres they don’t much like. That’s obviously fine. But I do think it’s close-minded to make categorical declarations of this sort (even about one’s own taste!).

                  I imagine I also generally tend to read Loomis’s tone uncharitably.

                • Lee Rudolph

                  Personally, I like the Loomis-rant genre!

                  Particularly when there are dead horses.

                • Ronan

                  Yeah, I dont see a huge problem with what Loomis said here. Admittedly he can be quite dogmatic at times, mainly over nonsense(primarily for effect, Id assume .. and perhaps there’s some anti sci-fi rant history Im missing here) but the position he’s holding in the OP seems supportable.

                  Having said that, I did hold the position myself that there ‘ was no sci fi I could possibly like’ up until quite recently, but decided to give it a go on account of all the online effusion about the genre, and have come to like it quite a bit (Admittedly Ive only tried some of the ‘classics’ and wouldnt ever consider getting into the weeds of bog standard space opera or harry potter)
                  Live musicals are another thing that I assumed would be largely shit, but are actually extremely enjoyable.

                • DocAmazing

                  Personally, I like the Loomis-rant genre!

                  Particularly when there are dead horses.

                  Can’t beat that!

                • Obviously people have genres they prefer (and are willing to watch/read crap in) and genres they don’t much like. That’s obviously fine. But I do think it’s close-minded to make categorical declarations of this sort (even about one’s own taste!).

                  This is confused. Or confusing.

                  How is it close minded to make accurate (let us suppose) claims about one’s preferences. Is it close minded to have such preferences?

                  It’s esp weird to make such an assertion on a post where Erik goes against his basic preference to raise a topic. That’s like the opposite of close minded, right?

            • Thom

              Yes, and it’s like the idea in the current beer world that one must love IPAs above all else and the IPA must be hoppier than thou.

              • Manny Kant

                Erik’s own general attitude towards cultural consumption is not so different from that, is it? His attitude towards science fiction seems not at all different from the beer snob’s attitude towards non-hoppy beers.

                I’d also add that I used to not particularly care for IPAs, and I was and remain super irritated by people who engage in contests to see how large a quantity of hops they can fit into their beer. But I’m very happy that I made a conscious decision to expand my horizons and develop a taste for IPAs.

                If people enjoy something, I think it’s a lot more valuable to try to figure out what they enjoy about it than it is to sniff about how you dislike it.

                • djw

                  the beer snob’s attitude towards non-hoppy beers.

                  Hmm. Of serious beer consumers, I don’t think I’ve ever met someone who categorically dislikes non-hoppy beers. The tendency tends to be the opposite–people who like lots of good stuff, Belgian and German styles and so on but turn up their noses at IPAs for being unbalanced, lacking the proper subtlety for refined things. (Too American.) But every hop-head I’ve encountered at least likes some not-hoppy styles.

                • gmack

                  Hmm. Of serious beer consumers, I don’t think I’ve ever met someone who categorically dislikes non-hoppy beers. The tendency tends to be the opposite–people who like lots of good stuff, Belgian and German styles and so on but turn up their noses at IPAs for being unbalanced, lacking the proper subtlety for refined things. (Too American.) But every hop-head I’ve encountered at least likes some not-hoppy styles.

                  This pretty much describes me perfectly. There are IPAs that I like quite a bit, but I approach them with considerable skepticism, and I almost always choose something else (exception: I will often go with a pale ale if it’s a cask ale; I think the hoppiness works really well in casks).

              • Ronan

                One of my closest friends is from a family of what can only be called extreme (Irish)/German nationalists, who spent my late teens/early twenties pushing geman wheat beer on me (which I did my best to ignore for yrs on account of their general terrible taste)
                Nearly too late, ive discovered how deeply wrong I was all along, and have over the last few years developed a very welcome second wind to my drinking, and feel like a million bucks !
                Point being .. I dont know.

                • DocAmazing

                  extreme (Irish)/German nationalists

                  Today Europe, tomorrow the pub!

              • True hipsters insist on the superiority of Lithuanian Farmhouse ales.

                • djw

                  Oh please. The key to drinking well in Lithuania is to stick with the Porters. (Yes, I’m a parody of an insufferable beer snob, but I’m also completely serious.)

            • AstroBio

              I love sci-fi and since we know Mr. Loomis does not, maybe we should take this post as a friendly gesture. Thanks, much, for the link. I can’t wait for some translations. It is another good drop in the impetus bucket of “I’m gonna learn Spanish”.

              Also, next time I’m looking for a good list of sci-fi I should of read but maybe have missed, I might compile this thread. Yes, thanks again.

            • Halloween Jack

              Methinks thou doth protest too much, given that, you know, you felt compelled to make a post about it.

          • ChrisTS

            Sure, but ‘books about wizards’ for children (or, ick, ‘young readers’)is a narrow category. Science fiction is a broad category.

          • The reason to not read Potter isn’t wizards, it’s Rowling’s mediocre writing and bad plotting.

            • Pat

              She got better by the third book. But it took me years to be willing to give her a second chance after the Philosopher’s Stone.

              • I read 1, 4, and 7. None of them impressed me.

                • Pat

                  A lack of continuity might be your problem. The books detail the growth of a small group of children under extreme circumstances. There’s more emotional connection if you are watching them grow up instead of seeing them on the holidays every other year.

                • I thought they were fun, fast reads. Don’t go in expecting LitRATChur. It may also have been a factor that Young Zombie was reading them in real time as a YA, so we were keeping up….

                • Of course, he was probably just looking for Polar Bears eating Building Inspectors.

                • I will admit that the first one was the most evident of a writer struggling to learn a craft. You know, many artist’s early works show evidence of that.

                • Polar Bears eating Building Inspectors.

                  With cover art by B. Spenser.

                • Ooo, nicely played, hdb….

                • Now I’m imagining the vore-porn version of “Golden Compass”.

                • I greatly admire the His Dark Materials polar bears. They’re good looking and they know their way around a blacksmith’s shop.

          • rhino

            Yeah, but those people were wrong. Potter is badly written derivative trash. Potter fandom is, by mere existence, a stinging indictment of declining standards.

            • wjts

              Yes, grandpa, I’m sorry those awful children have ruined your once-pristine lawn.

            • everything is derivative, my friend. Standing on the Shoulders of giants, we all do it. even if REM says ieaves them cold, they were derivative of the Byrds, Big star, VU, David Bowie, and the Mekons….

            • Gregor Sansa

              Rowling’s Potter series did some things quite well. If it had existed when I was of an age, I would have loved it. But it didn’t, and I don’t.

              However, Yudkowsky’s Harry Potter… that is still right up my alley, and I’m not ashamed to say it.

              • wjts

                Well, you should be ashamed to say it.

        • McAllen

          This is kind of silly. I’m pretty sure there are enough interesting works of art that you can ignore a genre that doesn’t hold your interest and still find enough to satisfy for a lifetime.

          • IM

            genres are guidelines. I ignore vampires but not Bram Stokers Dracula, devils but not Dr. Faustus or the Master and Margarita, tall, dark and handsome man but not Mr. Darcy.

            • cpinva

              Can’t We All Just Get Along!!?

            • Genres are defined by content, whereas it’s the style that determines (for me) whether a book is worth reading or not… the vocabulary and syntax and narrative mechanisms. These being uncorrelated with genre.

              I ignore gothic romances but not Northanger Abbey, revenge tragedies* but not Hamlet.

              * Not actually true… I can recite more of The Duchess of Malfi and The Revenger’s Tragedy than is fit for any sane man.

              • IM

                gothic romances but not Northanger Abbey

                That is a parody though. Or is a parody still part of the genre?

                • Pat


                  Although Pride and Prejudice and Vampires bridges categories.

                • Pat

                  Or was it Pride and Prejudice and Zombies?

                • Zombies.

                  It is a truth universally acknowledged that a zombie in possession of brains will soon be in need of more brains.

                • It is a truth universally acknowledged that an engineer in possession of brains will soon be in need of more brains.has not been observed in the wild….

              • Spoken as a pedant who is incredibly invested in fudging sci-fi book covers….

            • One ignores the Master at one’s own risk.

            • Master and Margarita has to be my all time favorite book.

              There was a 10-part miniseries made in Russia a few years back. We were able to find a version with English subtitles. Well worth it if you can get it.

              • Lee Rudolph

                Okay, now I want someone to write “Master and Margarita and Pride and Prejudice and Vampires and Vodka, oh, and Ketchup Too”.

              • djw

                Damn. I need to find that. (Also one of my favorite books, along with My Life as a Dog).

      • Because it’s such a wide field that it would be pretty much impossible not to find at least some small subsection of it that’s to your taste.

        I mean, I’m not a huge fan of mysteries, but I read them occasionally when one seems interesting (right now I’m reading the Peter Wimsey novels, which are pretty great even if you’re not interested in the nuances of English inheritance law that seem to drive most of the cases). Same with romance, horror, and YA. And science fiction isn’t nearly as constrained by its tropes as mystery is. There’s a much wider range of things that can be called SF than in most other genres (to the point that we often like to say that SF is a mode, not a genre), so to make a sweeping statement like “I don’t like SF” does indeed seem silly.

        • Gregor Sansa

          Right. Saying “I have no interest in any SF” is not remotely comparable to saying “I have no interest in Harry Potter books.” I mean, you may decide that the Sturgeon Percentage (how much of something is crap) is higher in SF so that it’s not worth your time looking for the stuff you’d like, and that’s entirely your right. But to say that you wouldn’t like any of it…. there’s just no way that’s true.

          • Manny Kant

            Loomis is a high brow snob, so of course he’s going to be a dick about science fiction. I don’t see much point in trying to persuade him otherwise. It’s not so much that he doesn’t like science fiction as that he takes every opportunity to tell everyone how he doesn’t care for science fiction because it’s a lowbrow genre that doesn’t meet his exacting standards.

          • jim, some guy in iowa

            didn’t say i wouldn’t *like* any of it, or that it has no merit

            am saying i’d rather read something else. further explanation and/or any sort of apology will not be forthcoming

        • right now I’m reading the Peter Wimsey novels

          No response from Aimai? She must be occupied over at Alicublog.

          • Julia Grey

            Love Peter Wimsey. I especially liked the one when he went into advertising. Too bad I’ve read them all now.

  • izzy

    …looks like I’m going to have to add to my already impossibly-long reading list.

  • wengler

    Ketchup, vodka, and a good sci fi novel to complete the weekend.

    • DocAmazing

      Bloody Mary Shelley?

      • ChrisTS

        I’m torn between ‘oh’ for the cleverness and ‘eww’ for the idea that a Bloody Mary would be made with ketchup. On the other hand: when in need, improvise.

      • Brainy Mary Shelly.

      • The version made with clamato is a Shelly Mary.

  • Monty

    I didn’t much like Solaris: an example of a film that tries too hard to make a point while treating the audience like morons. While at some level it raises some interesting existential questions, the science is a joke and again the entire narrative holds the audiences’ hand. Plus, did you not notice it starred George Clooney??

    A good film should evoke feeling, but Solaris just left me cold and somewhat frustrated.

    For me, a great scifi movie should star a great theme, decent plot, good acting, some kind of entertainment quotient and awesome FX. No weights except my opinions.

    1) Star Wars (Episode 4) Everyone has seen it 2x too many times yet it still retains every color of awesome.
    2) Alien, because.
    3) Sunshine. A high-budget indie film (?!?) that has everything except tits.
    4) Blade Runner (sans Harrison Ford voiceover)
    5) 4 way tie: Terminator 2, District 9, Metropolis and a very distant but still Pandorum.

    • Donatas Banionis =/= George Clooney.
      If there is ever a big-budget Michael Bay re-make of “Stalker”, I shall NOT BE HAPPY.

    • wengler

      I’m guessing he’s talking about the Soviet Solaris.

    • Dark City.

      • That one gets my vote.

        • Pat

          Of his choices, District Nine hands down.

          • Have you seen the restored Metropolis, with the missing scenes added back in? Suddenly the plot makes sense.

            • cpinva

              if you’re into older sci-fi movies, check out Things to Come, starring (among others) Raymond Massey and Ralph Richardson, B&W, 1936. a film amalgam of a couple of H.G. Wells novels. it’s low budget, but some of the themes are strikingly prescient. plus, it has a young Raymond Massey and a young Ralph Richardson.

              • Seen it. It gets respect from me, but falls short of love. Metropolis, OTOH…

    • Barry Freed

      Sorry, I love Solaris and I can’t stand Star Wars. Also Star Wars is not science fiction. It’s a western set in space. A bad western in space (and I love westerns). And what are you talking about George Clooney for? Solaris starred Donatas Banionis.

      Edit: And I see the good Herr Doktor made the same point, ah well.

      • Ronan

        Yeah, I liked Solaris a lot and cant stand Star Wars

        • Ronan

          actually i was thinking of sunshine

    • Solaris the actual WRITTEN STORY was so much better than either of the movies.

      I am however, an unabashed Stanislaw Lem fanboi since I was like fifteen and stumble across the Cyberiad.

      One Human Minute is unbelievable genius…

      • Ronan

        re solaris, yeah, are you sure ?it’s on amazon for £1, should i splurge ?

        • DocAmazing

          That’s a splurge? I’d love to see your restaurant tabs…

          • Ronan

            it was too much in the end doc, i couldnt do it

    • Julia Grey

      I liked Solaris, too, but while I understand the appeal of narrative ambiguity, I personally prefer a more resolved/ intelligible storyline.

      Sunshine is MUCH the superior weird-sht-happens-on-critical-mission movie.

      • weird-sht-happens-on-critical-mission movie.

        Hmm. Is The Andromeda Strain the origin of that sub-genre? I still remember the way I freaked out (1975 or so) when the scientist had a petit mal seizure…

        • Julia Grey

          No, Andromeda Strain happens on earth in specialized underground lab. Another classic theme: Runaway [alien] contagion.

          • Yeah, but it was a critical, isolated mission in that underground lab…

            I always felt that lab was as close as Crichton could get to a spaceship without leaving current-day locales.

            • Julia Grey

              Hey, you want weird sht happening in an isolated-lab-investigating-a-contagion situation, catch up with SyFy’s series Helix, currently on hiatus, but coming back. Went places I didn’t expect.

              The happy-dappy 50s elevator-music sound track that accompanies some of the action is INSPIRED. Adds a sweet, crunchy layer of creeps.

  • Aimai

    Isnt this argument, such as it is, just a kind of fallacy of the excluded middle? Sci fi is an enormously broad category–lots of crap, some great things. ” i dont like it” is to say nothing more than that the instances that one has encountered so far have not been to one’s taste but we dont know if that is because the reader in question is timid, slow, or too busy or unlucky to have read the good stuff or widely read and able to say “i gave the genre a fair shake and its not for me.”

    • The Dark Avenger

      I don’t get the sense that he’s explored SF by reading anything in that area.

      To dismiss an entire genre without at least dipping one’s toe into some Asimov, Pohl, Lieber, etc., or, as suggested above, Octavia Butler, is to remain ignorant and confirmed in ones’ own prejudices.

  • IM

    On topic: isn’t the whole article just a press release of a publisher for his own books?

    • Kind of, yes.

      But still interesting.

    • The article did seem self-serving. “There are no Latin American science fiction authors apart from these two I am publishing.”

  • I used to read a lot of SF but I haven’t read any in a while. I’m sure I’ll go back to it at some point.

    • If you’ve never read Charlie Stross, give him a try.

      • Which of his books would be a good one to start with?

        • The Laundry novels are espionage/lovecraft semi-parodies and his most popular. The Merchant Princes series is alternate worlds done in a very realistic way (praise from Krugman on the economics of interplanetary trade and technology transfer!). Glasshouse is a good one-off traditionalist hard-core SF. Halting State is a police procedural, near future.

          Any of those would be good. His other stuff is more of an acquired taste.

          • I read the first few in the Merchant Princes series but he seemed to be milking it.* The Whackyweedia informs me that there are 9 volumes so far, with another three on the way.

            * As authors are entitled to do.

            • If you find your career paralleling L. Ron Hubbard, you might want to re-think it; unless you are a sociopathic greed head with no concern for the damage your work might visit upon the planet, that is…

            • skate

              I gave up on the Merchant series with book four. Guess what, he’s writing three more.

              I’ve read a fair amount of Stross at this point. Not my favorite sf author, but he falls into the dependable category, and he certainly knows more the use of technology than most of the genre authors. I think Iron Sunrise was my favorite, but also quite enjoyed some others such as Glasshouse and Neptune’s Brood.

        • Hogan

          I would say either Holding State or The Atrocity Archives.

        • rhino

          The laundry novels are very funny parody with a nice little edge to them. The characters do suffer a bit from excessive nobility and unrealistic self reflection ( I think Stross suffers from the temptation to make protagonists likeable at all times), but they are my favourite recent works of SF.

          Not really science fiction, mind you, but then strictly speaking there is very very little real science fiction being written at all these days.

          He also has an excellent set of SF detective novels, I don’t own them, but one of the books in the series is called ‘rule 34’, and they’re really good as well.

          I’ve yet to to read any Stross that wasn’t well worth the time.

          • JonH

            “( I think Stross suffers from the temptation to make protagonists likeable at all times), but they are my favourite recent works of SF.”

            Note that the narrators aren’t necessarily reliable, so you’re getting Bob’s idealized report of what happened.

            I think the next book is going to be from Mo’s point of view, so we’ll see a different side of it.

      • I hate to agree with a polar bear, but he’s got a point.

    • Read Anne Leckie, Ancillary Justice. She just won the Hugo.

      Read Kameron Hurley, God’s War. A world powered by bugs, locked in endless war.

      Read Eleanor Arnason, Women of the Iron People. Post-downfall Earth, Marxist space scholars head out to investigate another inhabited planet. I love this one to pieces.

      Read Kage Baker, who sadly died too soon, with her time-traveling cyborgs. The series starts with The Garden of Iden, but you can begin anywhere — my first was Sky Coyote.

      And yeah, Erik, you know I love your work, but saying you don’t like SF just tells me you don’t know much about SF. True, a lot of it is Right-Wing bullshit / THINGS BLOW UP, but 90% of everything is crap, like the fella said.

      • Thanks for the reccs. Checkin ’em out, as Joe Bob would say.

      • I found Ancilliary Justice pretty meh.

        I still don’t get the problem some have with Erik’s preferences. In this post, he doesn’t state them as a judgement but as a preference. He doesn’t say anything at all about quality.

        So what’s the problem? Is it actually the case he’ll find some scifi that he likes? Well yes, *as he pointed out*. Does he need to read more to find some more that he likes? Uh, no.

        I’m probably not ever going to listen to any death speed metal. It just doesn’t interest me. If I had to listen to a lot would I find stuff I liked, even profoundly so? Probably. But it would take a lot of effort (including learning the genre). Am I doing anything wrong by noting that it’s not my cup of tea and I’m not going to seek it out?

        Not that I can see.

        • The Dark Avenger

          To compare SF, a genre with a variety of styles, subjects, etc, to a limited genre of Rock n’ Roll bespeaks a basic ignorance of SF.

          But since you’ll apparently never attempt to remedy this ignorance, it’s all for the best.

          • Since in the very comment I point out that I’ve read the latest Hugo winner and elsewhere in the thread discuss my preference for the genre and in other threads have discussed it at length, let’s just say that you “apparently” is mistaken.

          • Hmm my other post was eated.

            The point wasn’t that speed death metal was just like scifi but that there almost certainly rewards to be had by listening to a fair bit of it on the one hand and nothing wrong with not pursuing those rewards.

            Again, in Erik’s case he’s neither making a value judgement nor is he closing himself off entirely. What’s the problem with having such a preference?

            Some people don’t care much for fiction in general and prefer reading history. I find that a bit odd but it’s just a quirk of them.

            • The Dark Avenger

              No, the point is that SF as a genre has way more variety than the catagory of speed metal death, so that you could make that comparison between it and SF while having some knowledge of the latter is even more inexplicable

              • I understand that it has more variety.

                The point was that even something that has less variety is not dismissable because of that and yet doesn’t compel us to participate. Every genre with any significant audience develops significant (certainly to the participants) diversity (often when that diversity is indiscernable to outsiders).

                You seem to be arguing that there’s a diversity threshold that makes a genre have a certain kind of merit that compels engagement on the pain of…some negative judgment. I don’t agree with that line in general. There are people who don’t like fiction. I find that odd and phenomenologically difficult to imagine, but I don’t see what there’s a fundamentally critically problem with having that preference. Similarly, people who are obsessed with what are (to me) tiny subgenres can fine depth and richness in those nuances. (These subgenres can be highbrow or lowbrow.)

                • Lee Rudolph

                  The one quibble I have with this statement —which, I find, is a pretty fair description of what I would have thought if I had thought about it—is your use of the (to me, intrinsically dismissive) word “obsessed”; your own “(to me)” takes some, but not all, of the sting off it.

                • I certainly didn’t mean it as dismissive (I use it to describe my own interests in some things). Perhaps “fascinated” would be better?

                • The Dark Avenger

                  No, what I’m saying is that your analogy is wrong. You’re comparing apples and oranges here.

                  What I am saying, is that a little exploration makes for a better understanding of the subject, and that a genre that goes from nuts-n-bolts type of SF like Asimov and Heinlein to the works of people like Vonnegut and LeGuin, can’t be dismissed off-handedly, especially since he made an exception for Cuban SF.

                  To further your second analogy, it would be like saying one doesn’t like fiction, unless it’s German or French or whatever.

                  I believe that a little discomfort is a good thing, and that it can lead to intellectual growth.

                  I think the lack of investigation leads to arrogance, as in this case, where Erik is apparently angered that the dismissal of a diverse and marvelous genre wasn’t accepted whole-heartedly by the commentators here.

                • Oh, the speech that I partly quote below from Stars in My Pocket presents the fractal nature of human interest:

                  Oh, no: don’t think I find all bitten nails attractive and all unbitten ones without interest. I have half a dozen categories within each of these groupings, now for the shape of the thumb’s first joint, now for the fullness or stubbiness of the little finger, now by width or narrowness of knuckle, now by the thickness of cuticle, among which, in my journeys from one to the other, desire — or repulsion — may surprise me at any turn.

                • I think my analogy was fine for the job I asked of it. I didn’t denigrate science fiction, just observed that even putatively narrower genres are going to have richness and diversity enough to fill people’s lives.

                  I see your point about the “I don’t like X except for Y”. I didn’t read Erik as doing that to be dismissive, but evidently loads of other people did. I think if he dismissed science fiction as trite or boring or crap etc. then he would have been obviously and easily shown to be wrong. Contrariwise, to have a preference against science fiction seems fine to me.

                  I agree that a little discomfort can be good and it’s worth pushing against one’s own settled inclinations. On the other hand, I don’t think people who treat e.g., film as a place where they don’t push themselves (thus only go see popcorn flicks) necessarily have cramped souls or contemptuous lives. That’s compatible with being voracious and catholic readers, for example.

                  Someone can eschew television (even at the cost of missing some truly fine art) without being a snotty TV inverse snob.

                • The Dark Avenger

                  FWFW, my mother couldn’t get into science-fiction, although I got he laughing by imitating her mother-in-law as a character in a Ray Bradbury story I was reading to her as she was refinishing a chair in the garage one summer night.

                • Ok, that’s a great story!

  • Barry Freed

    I don’t see the reason to get all upset that Erik doesn’t like Science Fiction. Personally I love it but I also know that try as I might I just do not like mysteries of the Dorothy Sayers/Agatha Christie kind at all. I wish I did because I recognize abstractly that there is some great quality stuff there but I just can’t stand them.

    • Manny Kant

      But, again, “Science fiction” is a much broader category than “mysteries of the Dorothy Sayers/Agatha Christie kind”. And Erik is a snob who takes every opportunity to sniff at how he doesn’t like that kind of vulgar stuff, unless it’s by Tarkovsky or Chris Marker, which I think rubs people the wrong way.

    • Katya

      “I don’t like mystery novels” is not the same as “I don’t like ‘Golden Age’ mysteries.” It’s the difference between “I don’t like science fiction” and “I don’t like cyberpunk.” There are many sub-genres in science fiction. Of course, no one has to read any science fiction of any kind if they don’t want to, and it’s possible for someone to dislike all science fiction. I think people are just objecting to the sweeping dismissal of a genre with a huge amount of internal variety in such general terms.

      • The Dark Avenger


  • dporpentine

    Sci-fi is only a broad category to people who can’t see how incredibly aesthetically narrow it really is.

    I know a lot of people who read sci-fi more or less exclusively and they’re constantly recommending things to me and so every once in a while I try again. But the uniformly terrible writing (Dick being a particularly good example of just how bad it is as writing) and the genre’s exposition-is-everything approach is really painful.

    • DocAmazing

      the genre’s exposition-is-everything approach

      Some call that “storytelling”.

      • I think Bradbury is a master of the Storytelling art form, regardless of his forays into speculative fiction…

    • Gregor Sansa

      I can see how that applies to the majority of SF. To take the authors that have been mentioned above: Asimov, Baker, Brin, Brunner, Banks, Butler, Clarke, and Leckie all could all be painted with that brush (much as I love all of them, except Clarke. I’m not agreeing that they all write poorly, but I understand if it’s not your cup of tea). And several of the other names mentioned above (Atwood, Calvino, Foster Wallace) are non-genre authors who have dipped their toes into SF. But there is still Bradbury, Leguin, Lem, Arnason, Stross: solidly SF authors who can seriously write AND have a lot more to offer than exposition.

      • Julia Grey

        FFS!! Banks can write the pants off Asimov, Butler and Clarke!

        And the Stross book I started must have been a parody of Starship Troopers, because it was like Mickey Spillane crossed with military porn. Couldn’t get past all the equipment blasting away to see a character anywhere.

        • Gregor Sansa

          I may be confusing Stross with somebody else. But OK, to make up for that, I’ll add into the solidly SF and good writing: James Tiptree Jr. (aka Alice Sheldon).

          Banks… I never understood why people are so crazy about him. I’ve read 3 of his, which is not a lot, but they really didn’t seem very special to me. (And I forget the titles, so I couldn’t tell you which ones they were without SPOILERS).

          • Julia Grey

            Banks… I never understood why people are so crazy about him. I’ve read 3 of his, which is not a lot, but they really didn’t seem very special to me.

            It’s the depth of visual imagination, the world-building, the bad guys, the “good guys” of The Culture, the intricacy of the plots, the ironic, jaw-dropping twists at the ends…. I dunno. Maybe I just like my books complicated.

            • wjts

              I like Banks well enough, but I definitely prefer his non-SF stuff (Espedair Street, The Wasp Factory, Whit)* to his Culture novels (Excession, The Player of Games, I think I read another one but I don’t remember what it was).

              *The Business excepted.

            • Gregor Sansa

              I can understand everything you’re saying, and I certainly love a good complex novel, but Banks still leaves me cold. I always get the impression he’s trying too hard to be a grown-up, taking himself too seriously. Where’s the fun in that?

    • Julia Grey

      (Dick being a particularly good example of just how bad it is as writing)

      His Man in the High Castle certainly was a stinker. I thought it would be a lot more interesting, given the premise (the Axis won World War II and the Japanese are occupying the West Coast), but his characters were incomprehensible puppets who simply spouted his POINT! THIS IS MY POINT! about a half dozen times in the last few pages. The murderous woman “pilgrim” in particular was insanely offensive on multiple levels, and her supposed motivations were WTF all the way down.

      The little office building battle was mildly entertaining, though.

  • The lesson of these comments is the following: The next time I see an article I think you all might like in a subject with which I have no particular interest, I will be sure not to share it with you.

    I mean really, I actually put this out because I thought you all would enjoy a story that you probably wouldn’t catch otherwise. And all I get is criticized for not enjoying some people’s favorite genre of writing.

    • Gregor Sansa

      Admit it: you were trolling.

      If you’d said “I usually can be arsed to find the diamonds in the rough but…” I doubt you’d have gotten such pushback. But you can’t say you find the “entire genre uninteresting” unless you can make a reasonable claim to know what the “entire genre” is. Obviously that doesn’t mean you have to have read every book ever, but you have to have some breadth.

      • Nope, not trolling at all. Legitimately sharing a story I thought you would be interested in. People couldn’t resist chance to be jerks.

        • And to be clear, I am very rarely actually angry at commenters. The Jeter post, I just don’t care if people like it or not. This made me angry.

          • Gregor Sansa

            I honestly appreciated the link about Cuban SF.

            And if I pissed you off by quibbling about the quality of the genre, I apologize. From this side, it felt as if you were doing some good-natured trolling, and as if the pushback in comments was mostly similarly good-natured. I understand now that it didn’t feel that way to you and I’m sorry.

            (It does go to show how easily trolling, real or perceived, can overwhelm on-point discussion. While the make-fun-of-Jenny threads were sometimes fun, I have to admit that LGM is probably better without them.)

            • Gregor Sansa

              To slightly expand:

              My grandfather was a proud troll. Nothing pleased him more than a good dinner-table argument in which he, with his beady eyes twinkling and his troll-draught in hand, was defending the indefensible. And in my turn, I’m proud to be, at the very least, 25% troll. So when somebody dismisses an “entire” field which I love, of course I’m going to jump into the fray with gusto. There’s no offense intended.

          • Barry Freed

            Sorry to see this.

          • ChrisTS

            I could be mistaken (or, roiling the waters), but I think most of the comments were not intended to hurt or even seriously criticize.

            • The Dark Avenger

              I think it’s more like saying, minimalist music sucks, unless it’s Estonian, and because I study things Estonian, Estonian minimalist music is therefore interesting.

              • What’s odd is that I didn’t have that read of the post at first, but after reading the petty follow-up comments it became much more clear to me.

            • Julia Grey

              I agree. I don’t see a lot of “jerks” upthread, myself. I see people making suggestions and talking among themselves about what they like and don’t like.

              • Was my reaction, too. I saw the post as a mild cage-rattling, and the comments as equally mild in response. I’m baffled at the idea that the thread was some kind of angry jihad against Loomis. By my count, there’s literally a single commenter that said anything personally negative against him.

                Apparently just advocating for the quality of SF literature makes people jerks now.

            • The remedy is to describe the SF readership as “coming out of a geek culture” and “rather obnoxious about it” until they stop being jerks.

    • The first half of the post is about how you don’t like SF. The second half is a link with no analysis. Is it really surprising to you that people mostly commented on the topic you dedicated more of the post to?

    • Here’s an idea: just make the post “this is something you all might find interesting”.

    • Julia Grey

      I actually put this out because I thought you all would enjoy a story that you probably wouldn’t catch otherwise. And all I get is criticized for not enjoying some people’s favorite genre of writing.

      Oh, fer.

    • Halloween Jack

      It’s almost as if you don’t have a history of making posts and comments about stuff that you don’t like, then having a good pout when you get pushback.

      • The Dark Avenger

        Man who writes pissy post is surprised by pissy commentators pushing back.

  • grouchomarxist

    I know I’m not the first to say it in this thread, but declaring you find a genre uninteresting isn’t the same as saying the entire genre sucks. As someone whose first literary love was SF, I have to admit there’s a lot of crap out there; it takes perseverance and a certain amount of luck to stumble onto the really good ones, the stories that grab you, make you care about the characters, get you to think about the universe and its possibilities from a totally different perspective. So I can understand how someone who doesn’t have a lot of free time on their hands might not want to do a bunch of shit-shoveling in the hope of coming up with a gem or two.

    And cinematic SF has if anything an even higher crap-to-decent ratio. There’s a lot of stuff I enjoy purely for its visual inventiveness, but like the old saw about the difference between an optimist and a pessimist, I’m rarely pleasantly surprised.

    Still doesn’t mean I don’t think Erik’s missing out on some wonderful, thought-provoking stories, but that’s his choice, and I respect it.

    Thanks for the link.

    • Gregor Sansa

      I think it was the word “entire”. But as I said above, I’m sorry that we pissed Erik off.

      • rhino

        If you aren’t getting pissed off once in a while, you need more interesting friends.

        Discourse is supposed to challenge us, and an echo chamber is no better for Loomis than for anyone else.

      • I’m not.

    • McAllen

      Also I suspect this post wouldn’t have gotten all the outrage it did if he had said he didn’t like, say, romance.

      • Eleanorlinn

        By jove, I think you’re on to something!

        Unless Aimai dropped by. Or any of the fans of the Smart Bitches.

        Not that there was much in the locally produced ‘Romance’ category either in the bookshops in Venezuela, while I was living there. Most of what was there was translations of US/British/Australian authors as well. Lots and lots of Nora Roberts/JD Robb.

    • I am sorry that I pissed Erik off. I didn’t mean to.

      SF is my field, it’s what I write, and it’s the love of my life. I fear I am messianic about it. Sorry, Erik.

  • Cheap Wino

    La Jeteé was remade by Terry Gilliam as 12 Monkeys and not only was awesome but is notable for being the only movie starring Madeline Stowe where it didn’t matter that she’s a terrible actor.

    Sci-fi has become a massively encompassing genre, very difficult to pin down. There are so many writers out there producing something that might be considered sci-fi that it inevitably means there is more terrible stuff out than ever before. But it also means there is a whole lot more high quality writers out there that are producing better works than we ever got when Heinlein ruled the sci-fi landscape.

    I just got back into sci-fi about 10 years ago after reading everything I could get my hands on in the 70’s and 80’s and the amount of high quality stuff — higher that it ever was back then — is truly astounding. Now is the best time ever for sci-fi, unquestionably.

  • HOW DARE YOU discount The Silent Planet trilogy!!!

    • Gregor Sansa

      And Madeline l’Engel’s later stuff with dolphins versus the biblical flood! Sci-fi/biblical-fanfic crossovers are objectively awesome, and any who deny it, fools they be. Not to mention that such fools are missing some pretty hawt scenes.

      • There is an alternative universe in which Franz Kafka recovered from his TB and migrated to the US, where he progressed from his early novels in the fantasy genre to writing action-packed hard scifi.

        • Gregor Sansa

          There’s also, of course, the universe where he went to Peru and became a Machiguenga oral storyteller.

          (Vargas Llosa’s newspaper editorials are bog standard right wing tripe. But as an author, you still have to respect him. It’s hard for me to understand how that combination is possible, but it’s true.)

          • IM

            Dostojewski, Hamsun…

        • skate

          Are you thinking of Lethem & Scholz’s “Receding Horizon”, where Kafka ended up in Hollywood working on screenplays for Frank Capra?

    • Julia Grey

      HOW DARE YOU discount The Silent Planet trilogy!!!


  • Am I the only person who’s been hearing Chrissy Hynde singing “Cuban Slide” while reading this thread?

    • rea

      Why, yes.

  • Erik,
    There are two sets of SF books you should read for academic reasons and because they relate to your work. The first is Felix Gilman’s The Half-Made World and The Rise of Ransom City. These are sort of set in a sort of alternative West and play a lot with Western tropes and myths. There was an excellent book event at Crooked Timber a while back on this that you can read up on before you decide.

    The other is Kim Stanley Robinson’s Mars trilogy which is a long (3 volume) meditation on the connections between environmentalism, politics, social action, and science. Right up your alley. It’s a bit more traditional SF than Gilman but still worth reading.

    • Julia Grey

      Robinson’s trilogy is not great in terms of character development, but he IS great when it comes to detailed and fascinating speculation on the socio-political structures and conflicts which arise from the exploration and colonization of another planet, and the interaction of that social and political maelstrom with the ecological development (disaster?) of terraforming.

      • DocAmazing

        Robinson’s Forty Signs of Rain/Fifty Degrees Below/Sixty Days and Counting trilogy is lots of fun, and covers similar ground.

    • KSR’s Orange County trilogy might be better for a non-SF reader than the Mars trilogy. Environmentalism and history.

      • skate

        I have to agree with this. I dearly loved the Mars series and was reading them back in the days when as I was doing Mars climate research. But they’re not for everyone.

        (Yes, I’m the kind of nerd who would e-mail Greg Benford to complain about a scientific error in his Mars book.)

  • Julia Grey

    Now, then, Erik, to engage with the linked article…what did you find most interesting about this Cuban science fiction writer?

    I thought it was the quintessentially Cuban way that he was far behind the times in “outside” fashion, but appeared to his peers to be on the cutting edge. This was especially interesting in terms of the English language influences he mentioned. Asimov’s Foundation Trilogy and I, Robot are ANCIENT classics in the genre, and while they are definitely worth an up-and-coming writer’s study, they are far back in the “flow” of the kind of thing that’s current in the non-Cuban West.

    The flavor of the piece makes it seem as though his writing might be very much like those 1950s Buicks that have been so carefully and beautifully preserved on Havana’s boulevards. That odd “Super Fat” sci-fi/fantasy story even sounds like a kind of updated Jorge Luis Borges, who is of a similar 50s/60s vintage (IIRC).

    • Julia Grey

      LOVED (not joking) the pic of him lying on his bed in his 1980s duds, with the colonial-style paintings hanging on the red wall above him. Dude!

    • Eleanorlinn

      I liked the authors comment’s about how and why he thought Latin America has a ‘complex’ relationship to science fiction – speculative fiction. And a certain ‘trapped in the past’ feeling to some things.

      Because – at least it my experience, it rings true, at least in regard to science fiction. I lived in Venezuela for a while, and was always looking for something to read to keep improving my contemporary Spanish. (Do not speak to me of Paul Cuelho – talk about a prince in the ‘vaginas I have known’ kingdom. belch.) I’m a huge scifi/fantasy fan, read it all my life. And I could find almost NOTHING at any of the book shops in that genre, and what there was was generally translations of well known American/British/Canadian authors.

      There was one big novel, with illustrations but mostly prose, by a Spanish author that I didn’t buy when I first saw it because it was quite spendy and have regretted ever since. It was snapped up by the time I got back. Of course I didn’t write down the author’s name. (Books are NOT cheap in Venezuela, and this was before the Bolivar began it’s latest slide to oblivion and my Fulbright budget only went so far each month). But the author was definitely Spanish – or, at least, published in Madrid – so, not a ‘Latin American’ sourced novel.

      • Gregor Sansa

        I’m sure you’d like “En Busqueda de Klingsor”. It’s not science fiction — it’s about physicists in WWII — but it definitely has that sensibility, and it’s written in bona fide Latin American Spanish.

        Also, I’ve found that, if Spanish is your only romance language, it’s worth reading Italian and Portuguese authors in Spanish. The translation often ends feeling much better than the corresponding English translation. I’m thinking in particular of authors like Eco and Calvino for Italian. (For Portuguese, my experience is more with Saramago, who’s not very SF-like.)

        • Eleanorlinn

          Thanks for the recommendation – I’ll look for it.

          (And for this book thread – I finally registered to comment in the ‘new’ system. So doubly worth it!)

          • Gregor Sansa

            I definitely agree with you about Coelho, too.

            • Julia Grey

              Me, too, although I’ve only read him in translation. Yawn.

  • Unemployed_Northeastern

    Does “Juan of the Dead” count as Cuban sci-fi? ‘Cuz that movie was fantastic.

    • Barry Freed

      I enjoyed it too.

  • I saw Dhalgren mentioned above, which makes me want to point out that Samuel Delany is one of the greatest writers of the 20th Century. Even his second tier novels (e.g., Nova, which has very cools stuff about labor and the relation to physicality and technological solutions to alienation) are wonderful, and the first tier stuff (e.g., Triton, Stars in my Pocket Like Grains of Sand, Tales of Nevèrÿon esp. the first story) are sheer delight. He is a very writerly writer, which can be a barrier. I think Triton and several of the Tales are quite accessible (though for the Tales you have to be a least *willing* to read things in a postmodern critical idiom; but it’s so cool! “The Tale of Old Venn” is probably accessible even and does amazing things about money, social structure, gender, technological innovation,e tc.).

    Stars starts off with a very straightforward (at least on the surface) techno-decadence/quirky culture infused by tech story ending with the end of a world, then launches in to a complex story with complex prose and social structure (if you read that and compare with Ancilliary Justice, you’ll probably see why I was a bit disappointed with AJ; I appreciated AJ’s clash of a gender ignoring vs. heavily gender marked culture, but nothing really happened as a result; it was just a bit of window dressing; fun and worthwhile, but it doesn’t really affect or infect the story). In both Stars and Triton the apparently successful societies are riddled with anxiety of destruction (partly from anticipation, partly from past example). Very neat stuff.

    Of course, the nature and structure of desire, esp. deviant desire and desire that is either melded with one’s identity or so alienated that the fact of the alienation is a key facet of ones identity. There is a wonderful speech toward the end (arguably the climax) where Marq Dyeth talks about what was lost when the person who fit Dyeth’s sexual desire out to 9 decimal points is taken away. Dyeth has an obsession with hands and esp. fingernails (esp. those bitten down) which makes the world magical:

    It’s a beautiful universe, Japril, wondrous and the more exciting because no one has written plays and poems and built sculptures to indicate the structure of desire I negotiate every day as I move about in it. It’s a universe where hands and faces are all luminous, all attractive, all open for infinite contemplation, not only the ones that are sexual and obsessive but the ones that are ordinary and even ugly, because they still belong to the categories where the sexual lies….

    Fingertips organize my movement through any crowd, become points of frustration when, say, a thumb is hidden in a fist by a passing human or a claw is submerged in a foottrough the moment I happen to glance over an evelm, where a chin was turned out of the light, or shadows lay too thickly over some great woman lumbering by on all sixes. Hands and claws told for me endless stories of the origins and labours of the women who bear them; but more important, they made tales unnecessary because each could inscribe its own present lyric by any one of a myriad of gestures made before me.

    His nonfiction is pretty great too. Times Square Red and Blue are highly recommended both as history and as social analysis.

    • Also, Erik, you might find the Dispossessed interesting. The depiction of an anarcist society without ownership and how forms of ownership and authority worm their way back in is really neat.

    • John not McCain

      Thanks for recommending Times Square Red and Blue. I’ve had them on my kindle wish list forever but something always distracts me.

      Delany’s the only writer I’m aware of who can write about sex without embarrassing himself, although there were a few pages of Through the Valley of the Nest of Spiders that I had to skip just because eww ick.

    • Barry Freed

      IIRC, there’s a regular commenter here who has read Dhalgren over 20 times.

      • Dhalgren is awesome but really challenging. If you can’t make it through/enjoy Stars, then I’d be surprised if you’d like Dhalgren.

        My acclimation sequence recommendation is (maybe) Nova, then (or first) Triton, then the first two Tales, then Stars. Then Dhalgren.

        I’ll have to read Dhalgren again, but I think Stars is overall better.

        • John not McCain

          Stars is definitely easier to read, and would make one helluva good movie, but I don’t know about better. I am incapable of being objective on this subject, however.

          And did Delany anticipate the WWW in Stars, or were people already talking about the “web” in the late 80s?

          • Well, “better”, y’know. A lot of taste in there :)

            I think Dhalgren suffers a bit from the experimentality. I’m not sure the benefits out weight the costs overall. I’m prepared to be argued out of that view ;)

            Both of them move slowly in places. I tend to be mixed about how I feel about it. Sometimes I like it, sometimes I get a bit impatient.

            • John not McCain

              It’s that experimentality that puts Dhalgren over Stars for me. The Delany books he wrote that I’ve read before Dhalgren (Aptor, Einstein, Nova) are good, each better than the one that came before it. But Dhalgren is like Delany fulfilling the promise of the earlier books. Stars is like he’s holding something back in order to focus more on the story, which isn’t a bad thing, and I definitely don’t want it to sound like I don’t like it because it’s my 2nd favorite. It’s just not as ambitious as Dhalgren.

              Just came across this blog while googling around that you may be interested in:

              where did my link go?

              Oh, there it is.

              • Yeah, I think which you find better depends on how you rate the experimentality. I think Stars has a better balance of stylisitc (for want of a better word) and conceptual experimentation. Stars has more intellectual interplay, whereas Dhalgren foregrounds the intertextuality and the immersiveness. If you can get through the difficulty, I can imagine that Dhalgren will have a deeper affective effect.

                Hmm. Now that I’ve said that, I really should reread them both. I’m not nearly as familiar with Dhalgren.

                I agree that Dhalgren is more ambitious and, in many ways, the culmination of a grand project. Maybe I just can’t as fully get to it.

                But I think it’s a bit like the first two Tales compared to the rest of the Neveryon series. They get progressively more challenging without (for me) a clear reward. Whereas the first two tales are so elegant.


      • John not McCain

        Don’t know if you’re thinking of me, but I must have read it at least that many times, starting on my 13th birthday in the 70s. There were a couple of years in the 80s where I’d read through it and start all over again pretty much immediately. And it’s come out for kindle recently so after Friday I’m going to be occupied for a while. If I ever got to pick a fictional universe to live in, it would be that one.

        And I just realized that Delany’s the only writer I read while growing up that I can still read. I tried re-reading Heinlein about 10 years ago and was aghast at how awful a writer he was. PKD has fared a little bit better, but the only stuff of his I like anymore is the stuff everybody hates (VALIS, Timothy Archer, and that one with Jesus’ second coming as an alien I can never remember the name of).

        • Barry Freed

          Yes it was you. And I’m impressed.

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