Science Fiction changed my life!

Posted on March 6, 2008. Filed under: Culture, Games, Philosophy, Science |

bgfun032.gifMuch has been written about the effect the television show Star Trek has had on popular culture, and of the gadgets invented for the show 40 years ago which are now commonplace, or soon will be. The show continues to influence my view of culture, science, and philosophy on a daily basis. I own the books The Physics of Star Trek; The Metaphysics of Star Trek; Boldly Live as You’ve Never Lived Before; and I Am Not Spock. [major geek alert here!] This post however, is about science fiction novels and how and why they’ve influenced my world view.

I started reading Sci-Fi at an early age. My very first adventure was a book called You Will Go to The Moon (Freeman). When I was a child my school library did not have the most up-to-date selection. This book was published in 1959, a full ten years before NASA astronauts did go to the moon. It was created at a time when scholars analyzed language and chose words comprehensible to a 6-year-old for the “I can read it all by myself” series of books. I think I was about that age when I first read it. It describes very vividly in pictures and words what a trip to the moon would be like for an average person. I identified with the little boy in the book, and I really wanted to go! The book’s unusual second person directive style made a huge impact as well. There was no question in the authors’ minds: “You WILL go to the moon!” I hadn’t heard of NASA or cosmonauts or astronauts yet, and the book made it seem like this sort of space travel was just around the corner. <Sigh>. As I got older, some of my family wished I would go to the moon, and, preferably, stay there. πŸ˜‰

I still want to go! In looking up the book for this post, I discovered that a user named ApeLad has posted the entire book on Flickr! This is exciting because it’s long been out of print. You can view the 38 pages as a slide show, and since it’s mostly pictures it’s a fast read.

After this, and convinced I’d be going to the moon “any day now”, I became an avid space fan, and read all the children’s books possible. Now that I’m much older, I still hold out a small hope of going to the moon, but humankind hasn’t been there for a long, long time. Instead, I’ve turned my attention to adult science fiction. I find I still love the gadgets and technical developments, but what I most enjoy are the sociological imaginings many Sci-Fi authors propose for their alternate civilizations.

In this category I would include almost all the works of Ursula K. Le Guin, particularly The Left Hand of Darkness, The Lathe of Heaven, The Word for World is Forest and The Hainish Trilogy among others. They’ve all had a profound effect on my world view, but it proved impossible to pick a favorite among them, so I’m deferring to three other authors. Here is a list of my all-time favorite Science Fiction novels. They generally have a large helping of science and gadgetry, and even more of social commentary, and, for good measure, a pinch of metaphysics thrown in. I’d thought of including such classics as Stranger in a Strange Land (that darling of the hippie generation) and Childhood’s End (the devil in new clothes), both of which I found thought provoking commentary on society, but they didn’t change me. These did:


#5: — Memoirs of an Invisible Man by H.F. Saint~~~This is the only book this author ever wrote. It’s more of a fantasy / adventure / thriller, really, than a Sci-Fi story, but I still feel it belongs on this list as it draws a richly detailed alternate reality. The science comes in the form of the event that turns the hero, Nick, invisible, and I found the descriptions plausible and fascinating. There is more science involved in discussion about how to “treat” the invisible man. Outside of this one element, though—the fact that Nick has become completely invisible and must use his own resources to exist in a world that wants to capture and control him—the setting and situations are contemporary, as they were 20 years ago. The author obviously knew New York City very well, and the book is partially a running love affair with the city. The descriptions of the “invisible life” are so richly detailed that reader believes them, and I was drawn into Nick’s world utterly. It’s the mark of a good novel, for me, when I both admire, and sometimes get a little annoyed with a character’s choices, and I imagine how I would handle a situation differently. It caused me to expand my view of how to define reality as I read the intriguing ways Nick copes with a totally alien yet very familiar life.

#4: — The Age of the Pussyfoot by Frederick Pohl~~~A novel about how life would be different if death were reversible. The social exploration is of interest here, and the author explores relationships from a unique perspective. What got to me in this book—and I can tell I’m intrigued by a novel if I read it several times—is the technology. Written nearly forty years ago, Pussyfoot examines a reality where everyone carries around a device called a joymaker (read iPhone?) by which s/he is continually connected to the city’s “central computing facility” (the Internet?). Through this device one can apply for a job, pay ones rent, order dinner, make new friends, and receive personalized drugs to alter ones mood. I borrowed this book from the library at a young age, and of course wanted my own joymaker. I don’t have an iPhone yet, but…

#3: — The Lantern of God by John Dalmas~~~Another thought provoking social commentary. After a spaceship crashes on an uninhabited planet, the crew unloads their cargo, as it’s too heavy to be transported on the now damaged ship. The “humans” go on to colonize another continent, while the cargo turns out to be sentient “pleasure droids” (don’t get me started on the meaning of those) πŸ˜‰ . The settlements on both colonies thrive, and thousands of years later, the evolved “human” society decides to pay a visit to the evolved “droids”. It does not go as planned. The great themes in this novel are more social than sci-fi. We get to explore religion from a very different perspective than is usual in these kinds of books. The two societies have come to value different priorities and abilities. Though a minor sub-plot, I found one of the more compelling storylines was one character’s relationship with a sentient being who happened to live in the sea. The reason there had been no conversation between the two species before? No one had bothered to learn the sea creature’s language. The novel expanded my view of what is spiritually and mentally possible.

#2: — Gateway by Frederick Pohl~~~Gateway has it all: some “hard” sci-fi, such as advanced technology, travel to other planets and systems, reverse engineering, etc. The heart of the book, though, is a relationship between two prospectors, and between one of the prospectors and his computer-generated psychiatrist. It made me wonder how I and our society would feel and act if we came upon leftover machinery from a culture who’d abandoned their base. Our comfortable earth community would be forever changed. This is the first book in a trilogy, and I’d recommend the other two, but not the more recent “conclusion”.

#1: — The Reality Matrix by John Dalmas~~~Well, here’s the one this post is really about. Part physics, part Taoism, computer modeling, and game theory, the book is an alternate view of reality downloaded directly into author John Dalmas’ mind. He’s known for his series such as The Regiment and Farside. This book is a stand-alone cosmology of mind shattering proportions. It’s now back in print after a lag of some ten years. Get it! Get it! The novel speaks of a time when society is troubled; the economy is unpredictable, and people suddenly start to act crazy and shoot other people for no reason. Sound familiar? The problem seems to be a glitch in the “reality generator”. The quest to hunt down the problem and fix it before reality as we know it goes “critical” is the heart of the book. The concept of a reality generator, which can be reset if need be so reality can start over again, just blew my mind. The characters who get involved in the adventure—and yes, the clock is ticking—are a memorable lot, each bringing her/his life skills and strengths to the game. Visits to the “other side of reality” made me question everything I thought I knew about physical experience. Yes, this is “just” a novel, but if you read it you may find it’s one which becomes something so much more.3sun5a1.gif


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17 Responses to “Science Fiction changed my life!”

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The first real film (movie) I ever took interest in, Muse, was ‘The Forbidden Planet’ I think that was made in the 50’s. It made me a SF junkie leading me to write the stuff.

I still cannot put down Asimov’s work, even to this day his foresight blows me away.

the only science fiction that i enjoy are battlestar galactica (awesome tv show) and daniel keyes’s flowers for algernon. i like to read or see science fiction stories that explore the emotional side or effects of science.

the link you provided for the book was an interesting read!

My mother is a big Star Trek fan, so I grew up with tapes of the original series around the house; that’s what got me hooked on sci-fi. πŸ˜‰ I have The Physics of Star Trek too and it still amazes me how many of Roddenberry’s predictions have come true. And Star Trek made them fun, which is what good science fiction should do.

Love your list, Muse. They all sound like great reads, though I’ve not read The Reality Matrix… I’ll have to check it out! Gateway is an amazing book; still holds up well and it really set the standard for space opera and hard sci-fi. And I agree about Le Guin as well; she’s a great writer but her message builds up with each book and picking one would be very difficult.

I read most kinds of sci-fi but the ones that stick with me are the social ones as well. The technology and science should reveal something about life and the world; otherwise, what’s the point of writing? George R. Stewart’s Earth Abides would be one of my favorites… it’s such a beautiful, haunting novel and even though it mourns the loss of civilization, it’s about life and hope and has a wonderful social message. The other would probably be Dick’s The Man in the High Castle. I loved his passages with the I Ching and the way his worlds converge just blew my mind. They’re the reason I write.

The thing I love about science fiction is how it takes you away from the world. We might never go to the moon but whenever I pick up a book or watch a film, I’m there… whether it’s the future, the moon, Mars, Tatooine or Vulcan, those worlds become real and I wouldn’t change that for anything. So thanks for the trip, Muse; I loved revisiting some of these worlds. πŸ™‚

I’ve been a sci-fi junkie since forever and I admit that I have seen every one of the Star Trek series and Battlestar Galatica many times over.

My second confession is every book you list above is among my favorites. I have read The Left Hand of Darkness so many times and given it away so many times to so many different people that I can’t even count them.

I also treasure the books by Robert J.Sawyer. Among them are: Hominids, Humans, Hybrids and Calculating God. I’m sidestepping giving any of what’s contained between the covers away but, if you haven’t discovered them yet then I recommend a trip to the library.

The interesting thing I have found about reading sci-fi is that initially it takes me away from the world we live in but that doesn’t last for long as my mind begins to draw connection lines to what is going on in the here and the now.

Sci- fi forever!

Will, it’s amazing how much sci-fi has inspired so many of us, isn’t it? Asimov is awesome! I would have to include books of his on a longer list.

Thanks sulz—did you mean the link for the Moon, or for the joymaker? Oh, yeah, Galactica rocks. The relationships, situations, and all those Cylons. The last season is coming up soon. Yay, because we get to see it, but bittersweet, because it will be over 😦 I’ve read Flowers for Algernon about 5 times, and it broke my heart each time. I so wanted to get in there and help Charlie…well, I won’t give it away. πŸ˜‰

the rocket to the moon book link i mean. i’m watching the second season currently, though i read the wikipedia page of it and sort of know what’s going on. πŸ˜›

i know, it’s so sad isn’t it? i think there’s a movie for it, called charlie; would love to watch it some day.

StarTrek4evR, as we used to write in our yearbooks, cj πŸ˜‰ Gateway is a good reality shifter, I agree. I like books that stretch my mind. It needs the exercise! Le Guin has a new one coming out, apparently about ancient times. Oh boy! I haven’t read Earth Abides yet, I’ll have to look that one up. It sounds very moving. It’s been a while since I read P.K. Dick—he’s in his own category. I saw on Amazon that there’s a new collection of five of his best novels about to be released. Seems like something to scoop up.
You’re welcome, and thank you for contributing to the journey. “All these worlds” (as is said in 2010) are real, to me too. Perhaps we’ll meet on the moon someday. πŸ™‚

brightfeather, I didn’t know this about you! What a treat that we share so many favorites. Left Hand made me re-think many social constructs I had assumed were static. Oh, I have read three of Sawyer’s books. I really need to lengthen this list. Thanks for the reminder. The first, containing both physics and brilliant social commentary was like nothing else I’d read. I still look at all our highways and wonder…well, I won’t give it away either. πŸ˜‰ I have not read Calculating God yet, but, thanks to you, I’m about to. πŸ™‚
I appreciate what you said about sci-fi taking you away from everyday reality, but then allowing you to make connections. See, this is what non-sci-fi people don’t understand! Sci-fi is relevant! Amen.

Oh, you liked the Moon book, sulz! Yay! I know you like to review children’s & youth’s books sometimes (for your future career? πŸ™‚ ), so you might like The Colors of Space, an early work by Marion Zimmer Bradley. It can be downloaded for free.

I enjoy science fiction too, but I’m probably not as hardcore a fan as you, nor most of the people who commented. I’m more into fantasy, but I get tired of science fiction that doesn’t explain itself. I’m not sure whether that makes me a fan of “hard” or “soft” SF.

I haven’t read any of these books, but thanks to you I’ll definitely be keeping an eye open for them. My favourite science fiction books include the original “Foundation” trilogy by Isaac Asimov and “Oryx and Crake” by Margaret Atwood, and I also like short stories, especially if they’re thought-provoking.

Rumor has it that you’re a Red Dwarf fan BObby. πŸ˜‰ I like Asimov, too, but can you believe I haven’t read any Atwood yet? Thanks for reminding me I want to!

Rumour’s a sly one. Guilty as charged. Actually, I come from a household of Red Dwarf addicts. If you count TV shows, (the revived) Doctor Who is another science fiction I enjoy.

I did hear a rumour that you enjoy those as well…

…and Blake’s Seven, and Star Trek, and Andromeda, and Earth Final Conflict, and Star Gate(s), and…Yes, this was supposed to be about books, not TV, but I just had to make sure humankind knew you’re a SciFi geek, too, in spite of your disclaimer! πŸ˜€

[…] from cover to cover before buying it. Also, I think Flickr is a good place to search, as my friend Museditions found a slide show for a favourite childhood book, You Will Go To The Moon. This entry was […]

[…] Science Fiction changed my life (Museditions) […]

Wow, The Literary Pursuit and Teeny Manolo both liked that my favorite childhood book about going into space could be found on Flickr! w00t! Thanks, Guys. πŸ™‚

[…] anniversary of the moon landing. Space exploration is of profound interest to me. As a child, as I’ve written elsewhere, one of my favorite books was You Will Go to the Moon! When I read it; people HAD gone. I just knew […]

That was so cool to read that kiddie book again. I SO remember that book from my childhood. Thank you for pointing me back to this post …

Aaaahhhh, science fiction. How much it changed my life too. Or my mind anyway. It instilled in me a deep and abiding appreciation for the abstract, and how everything about human endeavor germinates in the mind. Your list of novels is provocative in that I’ve not read most of it. Shall I yield to the compulsion to share my short list? Well why the hell not?

Arthur C. Clarke: Childhood’s End, 2001: A Space Odyssey
Walter Miller: A Canticle for Leibowitz
Heinlein: The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, Stranger in a Strange Land

“Non fiction”
Werner Heisenberg: Physics and Philosophy: The Revolution in Modern Science

Unfortunately, most of Asimov has been as unreadable as Ayn Rand and the Bible are to me. I’m basically illiterate and easily bored by long run-on sentences and the listing of statistics. Yawn. Give me profundity or give me death. Yea verily.

Give me profundity or give me death. Yea verily.Dave, you delight me endlessly with your own profundity. Isn’t that kid’s book the coolest? I still want to go, and it’s amazing the US hasn’t sent anyone for so long. I’ve read all of yours except the Miller; in such company it seems I’d best check it out; thank you! πŸ™‚ Re: Ayn Rand (snicker) and a great deal of the Bible, Indeed πŸ˜›

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