Wednesday, April 2, 2014

The New Golden Age of Science Fiction

Every year I try to branch out a little more and read outside my comfort zone. Being open to new types of books can be surprisingly hard but I've tried to keep an open mind. I've discovered romance novels I love after years of looking down my stupid nose at the genre. I've found amazing works of non-fiction that keep me on the very edge of my seat like the best suspenseful mystery. I dove into the early years of fantasy novels and came away with an appreciation of what became the foundation of all the current series I love. So many of my favorite books owe so much to the likes of Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser, Elric of Melnibone and the Books of Amber.

There was one genre that always seemed to elude me, though. Try as I might, the building blocks of science fiction were beyond me. I have no idea why dragons and sorcerers make more sense to me than space ships and aliens but I've never been able to keep myself afloat in science fiction. I've read the greats like Asimov and Banks, but I never stuck with a book for long. Even John Scalzi's brilliant Old Man's War took me longer than I'd like to admit to finish just because I couldn't truly get into the world. Add "miltary" or "space opera" into the sci-fi mix and I was well and truly lost. It's embarrassing to admit as a rabid fan of sci-fi and fantasy works. Maybe I wasn't reading the right science fiction? Maybe I had to wait for the right moment.

I'm a big believer in books finding you when you're ready for them. I've often bought a book and let it gather dust on my shelf until years later when I'm somehow ready for it and it becomes a new favorite. Reading Scalzi when I was eighteen, for example, would have been an effort in futility. With a growing passion in sci-fi cultivated by years of Doctor Who, Star Wars and Firefly, I recently felt ready to dive into the genre again. Lucky me, because we're heading into what I believe will be a brave new golden age of space stories.

Let me first admit how thankful I am to Rachel Aaron. She's the author of one of my favorite fantasy series, the Eli Monpress books. I was heartbroken when she finished the series and put her in in my mental list of "authors to buy no matter what". I didn't care if she wrote a book about the joys of watching paint dry, I just love the way she writes and would follow her to the ends of the earth. When she announced that her next series would be a sci-fi trilogy under the name Rachel Bach I was both conflicted and intrigued. I knew sci-fi was a tricky genre for me but for a new Rachel Aaron/Bach series? I'd be insane to not at least try.

I am so glad I did. Bach's Paradox trilogy was just the massive kick in the ass I needed to launch me fully into science fiction. I sped through all three books in an obscenely short amount of time. Everything made sense, suddenly. Aliens? Heck yeah, the more the merrier! How awesome are aliens? And space ships? Space ships are cool! Laser guns and mech suits and thermite blades, oh my! Give me all of it! All of the sci-fi! Reading the Paradox series was a complete eureka moment. The action was fast paced and the characters were amazing. I reviewed the first book in the series, Fortune's Pawn, on SF Signal (the other two reviews are forthcoming) and I couldn't hide how much the series just blew me away. The Paradox series wasn't just another story told in a space ship. There was romance and humor. There were huge life and death implications to every action. 

"Science fiction!" I thought to myself, "Who knew!"

Riding the high from Bach's excellent series, I turned back to my bookshelves to see what other space stories I could dive into. I buy books like crazy so I soon had a pile of overlooked sci-fi to explore. I begged my Twitter feed for suggestions and soon I was reading nothing but the very best science fiction had to offer. Pausing to gasp for breath as I read Leviathan Wakes by James S.A. Corey I realized that these new science fiction novels were nothing like their forefathers. They were even BETTER. Nothing can persuade me from thinking this is the new golden age of science fiction storytelling. Or, at least, the new golden age to me.

These science fiction novels feel so alive compared to the likes of Asimov, Clarke and Heinlein. Even Bradbury's science fiction stories feel staid and cold. Bach, Corey and authors like Ann Leckie, Andy Weir and Alastair Reynolds feel fresh and exciting and their stories feel so human despite taking place in the most far-flung corners of the universe. They write riveting novels that make even the most convoluted of long science digressions absolutely thrilling. I probably don't need to know how to grow crops on Mars or how water recycling works in a space suit, but it's fascinating to read when done right. Despite all the aliens, weird planets and improbable technology these new science fiction books are just purely amazing. I'm left breathless after each one, a feeling I haven't had with a fantasy novel for quite a while. 

Now I'm letting Leckie's excellent Ancillary Justice tear my brain to pieces and I've never been happier. Science fiction! Who knew!
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