In my review, yesterday, of Interzone #251, I touched briefly upon the potential for the magazine to (properly displayed) bring new readers into the genre fold. As happens frequently, an entirely unexpected thought has snowballed in mind since I wrote it, and a result I’ve been musing heavily on how, exactly, the genre world should be looking to reach out its tentacles.
Of recent years it has become almost fashionable to be a bit “geeky”. From the emergence of Firefly from the cult to the mainstream, to Marvel’s franchise-titan rolling comics out of the nerdy corner, there seems to be a somewhat ascendent atmosphere at the moment.
Yet there are still trends of an insular nature — something which the recent Jonathan Ross fiasco (“Hugogate“) exemplifies.
It’s not, really, anything to do with the subject matter — the stories — but with a clique-y community which seems to have grown up around them. This isn’t unique by any means to the genre subculture, but it is a little misleading. The “genre community” such as it exists is actually a fantastic group of people. It is also not a set and homogenus lump — there is no “in” or “out”, no matter how much some people may want to serve as gatekeepers.
The important part, the unifying part, isn’t the people. It’s the stories.
Format is irrelevant; film, TV, novel, short stories, it’s all really a matter of taste, and most fans enjoy all. When the “community” such as it exists breaks into the mainstream awareness for the sort of nonsense like Hugogate or the British Fantasy Awards mess a few years back, the stories are not the things sitting centre stage. Which is a shame, because as I said yesterday this stuff is universal, it is absolutely not exclusive to or of any group. Instead of squabbling like children in the playground, we should be spreading the word like latter-day missionaries.
So where would I start? What would I recommend to genre-newcomers and the sci-fi-curious?
(N.B. this is not a complete list; it is, rather, a selection of thoughts which occurred to me in the last 24 hours)
- “The Mote in God’s Eye” by Larry Niven and Jerry Pournell (novel) — This is one my my favourite novels, a piece of SF grand in scope and with some breathtaking ideas. I don’t know why this hasn’t yet been adapted for the screen, but it has the social aspects (human and alien) to rival the best of literary fiction, and a seriously gripping story. It is hard SF, but not impenetrable; it simply doesn’t patronise.
- “The Scent of their Arrival” by Mercurio D. Rivera (short story) — This SF short story was what got me into SF short stories. Told almost entirely from an alien (truly alien) POV, it is imaginative and sinister, with one foot firmly in the horror camp. I don’t want to give too much away but you can (and should) listen to it for free at Transmissions from Beyond.
- “Andromeda” (TV series) — Hercules in space. I mean that only partly in jest. Staring Kevin Sorbo (yes) as the captain boy scout (yes) in a series adapted from Gene Roddenbery’s notes (YES), the first two seasons are solid gold. Through the episodic, easily accessible format, it actually explores serious SF topics before the head writer was sacked and it all went a bit Clash of the Titans (yes, I know the joke barely works, but cut me some slack).
- Silent Hill 2 (PS2 game) — I wanted to include some horror on here, and it has to be this, really. Let me make this abundantly clear: this is the best horror experience in any format, to date. Fighting words, I know, but once you’ve played it you’ll see what I mean. It is terrifying, but also hugely tragic. The characters, the story, the design and especially the soundtrack all work together to form an inescapably oppressive experience.
- “The Dragonriders of Pern” by Anne McCaffrey (novel series) — The novels I grew up on. The Pern books provide a gateway between fantasy and SF, gradually morphing between the two over the course of the series. It’s also supremely addictive, and McCaffrey was a magical writer. If you aren’t sure if you like SF or fantasy, then this is where you should dip your toes.
- “District 9” (Film) — It took some debate with myself to decide what film to feature. District 9 isn’t my favourite SF film, that plaudit goes to Sunshine. But what District 9 has is relatability, a sense of grounding, and of purpose. This was released very close in time to Avatar, and watching them both will show clearly which is superior.
So there we go; my primer for genre newcomers. But what have I missed? What would you include on this list? Feel free to let me know in the comments.