Saturday, December 7, 2013

Science Fiction Breakthrough!

This blog was originally intended to explore the fiction of C. S. Lewis exclusively, but that has now changed. I'm going to start reviewing science fiction books in general here (including, of course, those by Lewis).  I'll do this in tandem with the reviews of horror and weird fiction I do over at Ride The Nightmare.

I have loved the genre of science fiction for literally as long as I can remember.  (Some of my earliest recollections are of raptly watching reruns of the old black-and-white Flash Gordon and Buck Rogers.)  But though I am an avid reader of fantastical, strange, weird fiction, I have never quite managed to fully sink into a habit of reading 'proper SF' (that is, 'hard SF' or just generally more 'sciencey' SF).  The thing that has kept me away from it for most of my adult life is the painfully plain language and 'imagery' (if there even is much that can be called that) I've tended to encounter in its pages.  It can feel like a puzzle-maker using the bare minimum of speech-act to set up the scenario he (rarely if ever is the author a 'she' in this type of SF) wants you to encounter and then watch him 'solve'.  This kind of thing is exactly why I've never been able to go beyond more 'literary' types of SF like C. S. Lewis or Brian Aldiss (or maybe, say, Aldous Huxley and Arthur C. Clarke, though I've only dabbled in them).  Or more poetic SF like Ray Bradbury.  Or more 'experimental' and 'countercultural' types of SF like Roger Zelazny, Harlan Ellison, Philip K. Dick, Gene Wolfe, and R. A. Lafferty, which, of course, is just a different form of being 'literary'.

It's perhaps also that in a lot of the less literary stuff I feel I too often find a lack of the truly strange or bizarre.  Can we really go to the stars and not inevitably become different people inhabiting a different world, altered in freakish and terrifying ways, both beautiful and horrible?  But I'm sure I'm being unfair to these authors, having never truly persevered with them.  The deep and consistent space-faring (and other sorts of extrapolation) they perform would probably feed my wonder as well as anything else, but my penchant for the weird gets impatient and restless.

I think, however, that I have finally broken through!  I recently read Fred Saberhagen's Beserker (1967). I'm always collecting Catholic (and other theological) writers of science fiction and Saberhagen was one of the latest that I've only just now heard of, quietly abiding in the SF field as so many theological writers do.  His book felt at first much the same as the Asimov and Heinlein (and their heirs) that I'd tried in the past.  But persevering to only the second chapter started to pay dividends - just as I always believed a work like this could if I would just stick with it for the long haul and reap the net effect of its style and creativity (though I almost flinch to assign 'style' to this kind of writing).  Saberhagen's dark space opera eventually builds up interesting language, concepts, pictures, and feelings that at least begin to hint at why anyone ever drew such marvellous illustrations to adorn and accompany the text of SF tales in magazines and paperbacks.

It may seem strange to some that I find it so personally significant to feel like the road to reading science fiction, in all its panoply of approach, is finally opening out before me.  But I know these authors I've neglected have so much to show me that my beloved literary and experimental SF authors never quite can. Different workers in this garden yield different fruits (though there is, of course, much overlap) and I want to end up gorged on the whole spectrum.

I think I'm finding to be true what my heart was always whispering to me:  that more 'straight' SF is really, for me, just a back door into the weird and awful.

Ah!  It's a good place to be.  I feel like I've at last burst through the viscous membrane that opens into a whole cosmos of wonder, joy, terror, and sheer strangeness - at least, a portion of my face has done so, an eyeball that's glimpsing gut-churning fathoms I've been yearning to break through to all my life.  The little boy I was, the one who dreamed of growing up to be an astronaut, he always knew these realms existed.  (That's why he yearned to be among them. He had no head for the science and maths it would take to actually be a spaceman.  He just loved 'outer space' and wanted to be up there in it with a longing that was almost like sadness and dread as much as joyous desire.)  But neither he nor I, his grown counterpart, could muster enough imaginative muscle to really get here and take a full, long look, here where my eye has now emerged from the caul of my aesthetic hangups, cruddy but gazing.  It remains to be seen, I guess, whether my mouth will break through the film also so that I can gulp gasps of breath in this breathless atmosphere of starry awe.

I feel ready to spend some years devouring more Saberhagen and Cordwainer Smith (a brilliant and original theological writer of SF who actually fits in the literary SF category, but who I've only read a bit of) and Michael Flynn (yet another Catholic - 'hard' SF apparently) and Dan Simmons's SF books that I've been meaning to get to (again a somewhat literary writer) and Alistair Reynolds and Iain M. Banks and Poul Anderson and Greg Bear and James Blish and Vernor Vinge and on and on and on.

How I'm going mesh such a reading schedule with all the horror and weird fiction I still need to get under my belt I have no idea.  But it's a slow and steady total commingling that has needed to occur for a long time. As with all else I'm pursuing, I must continue to be patient and take the long view and not despair that I'm already at least half through my uncertain mortal life and only just now a puling, mewling infant fresh-birthed into the berth of a vessel plying whole new starways.

Up next:  a review of Beserker.  And after that, Stolen Faces (1977) by Michael Bishop.  And I even have one more lined up after that:  Jewels of Aptor (1967) by Samuel Delaney (I know, I know:  I'm already going back to my old New Wave ways.  But we'll get there!  Gonna try to do Cordwainer Smith after that.)

Also, I'm open to recommendations!

No comments:

Post a Comment