Saturday, February 25, 2006

Sci-fi and the West

The wise direct marketers at Amazon sent me an email about the new book called Frontiers Past And Future: Science Fiction And the American West. The book is a literary study of science fiction and how science fiction writers have used narratives of the European settling of the American West as a basis for their space exploration stories. As the review notes, this helps make the strange more easy to digest as there are elements we can recognize. Looking at the future requires some investigation of the past if only to see the trend lines. The past can also be a source for the story itself. Issac Asimov's classic Foundation Trilogy is explictly based on the Fall of Rome. Asimov even wrote a brief poem explaining how he converted the story of Rome into Foundation, which I cannot find online. As an example of how nerds can have fun in English classes, take a look at this essay (written by a Swedish student) comparing Foundation to the Fall of the Roman and British empires. There are other examples of course. David Weber's Honor Harrington books are essentially Hornblower or Aubrey and Maturin in space.

Hard sci-fi can be different as it focuses more on the problems that surround coping with the scientific realities of space exploration. A great example is Hal Clement's Mission of Gravity which is about a human dealing with a society on a planet with gravity many times greater than Earth's. Donovan Hall links to a site where you can read excerpts from some new hard sci-fi books.

3 comments:

Brack said...

Another example of the Reese's Effect is the happy marriage of SF and noir elements. See, e.g., Morgan's Altered Carbon (not so much the two sequels, though), Dick's Do Androids Dream Electric Sheep and Flow My Tears the Policeman Said.

While I wouldn't put Man in the High Castle in that noir/sf category (more of an alt. history I guess), it is however another oldie but goodie, as are Bester's Demolished Man and The Stars My Destination.

Shout out to McBoy for turning me on to them.

Tripp said...

Yes, the noir stuff is great. Since sci-fi is so often social commentary, whether left or right, the often political noir fits in rather nicely.

Loki said...

Neuromancer and Burning Chrome by William Gibson has noir elements in. Did you know that the title of one of Asimov's biographies, In Memory Yet Green, the poem that has that exact verse in it is written by Asimov himself, not by any other writer.