Sci-fi – a new frontier (for me, anyway)

I recently read two sci-fi novels. This is not a sentence I’ve ever used before. In my entire life I’ve probably read about five. In both recent cases I was reading friends’ work, one in order to write an endorsement and the other to make editorial comments.

"Knocking on Heaven's Door" by Sharman Apt Russell
“Knocking on Heaven’s Door” by Sharman Apt Russell










Sci-fi always seemed dreadfully uncool to me. It reminded me of “Star Trek”, complete with tacky make-up, preachy plots, and sets that looked as if they were made of cardboard.

Star Trek. Uncool?
Star Trek. Uncool?







I’ve now repented. Why? Because it dawned on me that sci-fi is basically social commentary dressed in futuristic clothes.

Sharman Apt Russell’s Knocking on Heaven’s Door is a lyrical, superbly written tale that shows the aftermath of an ecological catastrophe and a supervirus. The novel has all the elements of traditional stories – people fall in love, fight, procreate, and try to survive against the odds – plus a host of wild ideas: a gender-hopping bush-dweller, telepathic animals, and ways of revivifying the dead. It’s a great read which also functions as a critique of our society.

The other sci-fi novel I read – as yet unpublished – also includes telepathy, plus a whole load of ritualistic violence, and an alien race hellbent on colonizing other planets. Eastern culture (robes, swords, rituals) blends with Western culture (rapacious empire-building) to show the worst of Man as well as the best; the heroes are gentle and smart. It’s an allegory pretending to be a futuristic potboiler, or the other way round.

Sci-fi? I conclude that Arthur C. Clarke, Philip K. Dick, Ursula le Guin, Ray Bradbury et al were onto something. I shall sneer no more.


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