Sci Fi: Need new Skiffy

I’m in a writin’ mood.  Yet I don’t seem to be in a frame of mind to sit myself down and write.  Gonna have to do something about that.

I’ve read a bunch of sci fi books recently (not including the two Dr. Who ones, which were entertaining):

  • “The Accidental  Time Machine”, Haldeman
  • “Gateway”, Pohl
  • “The Mote in God’s Eye”, Niven

And today I finished:

  • “The Cat Who Walks Through Walls”,  Heinlein

First, I should say that I keep getting these guys confused so I’ll probably get some names mixed up while I’m writing this.  All of them made me think that I freaking miss Octavia Butler.


“The Cat  Who  Walks Through Walls” was absolutely horrible, by the way.  Apparently it’s more digestible if you’ve read other Heinlein books.  It was a painful read, though.  Kind of a mess.  It started off as a self-described but interesting cliche of a mystery-thriller with a garrulous tongue-in-cheek tone and then about a third of the way in switched gears to devolve into … what.  A free love, time traveling/bending, reality unraveling meandering with an inexplicable amount of genealogy.  It was almost like reading the first few chapters of the Book of Matthew.  Why?

My theory is that when writers get to the point of fame, seniority and the license that popularity affords them, there enters an uncomfortable level of self-awareness.  And cynicism?  Almost too much of their personality makes it to the page.  You realize that it’s not their characters talking and interacting. It’s the author and the author’s blatant views and philosophy.

I’m going to swallow my race thing for now.   Heinlein, I read, pushed the envelope on that.  Seems like too many of these guys don’t/didn’t have any black friends, though.

“The Accidental Time Machine” started with an interesting concept.  A time machine that only jumps forward in time and exponentially forward.  The protagonist travels to the future at first a few years ahead, then hundreds, then thousands, hundreds of thousands, then millions of years in the future.  I was very disappointed that Haldeman skimmed most of those worlds.  It was such a smart book in a lot of ways but I guess it was never meant to be totally fleshed out.   Anyway, the exception (sigh) was the theological technocracy era where the MIT grad student protagonist picks up a beyond beautiful, innocent virgin but a virgin with no sense of sexual inhibition.  Blonde, of course.  “What is ‘pee-nis’?”  Well, okay, she didn’t actually say that but she might as well have.  The zero gravity hand job scene?  Really??  But the rest of the future worlds were just blips.  Sentient bear society, future LA and artificial intelligence collective, only humanity behind a walled off Australia, giant robo-monster on the moon but where is everyone?

They were just stepping stones on the way to a future advanced enough to have the technology to travel backward in time instead of just forward.

I dunno.  Not that these guys aren’t great writers or even visionary to some degree.  But now I see why these are the B-sides, so to speak.


I am aching for some good, smart science fiction!  I think I’m bored.  That’s the problem.  There are lots of different kinds of sci fi lit out there and apparently I  need to find some new good stuff.  I’m tired of the sermonizing.  Tired of the juvenile sexist wish fulfillment.  Tired of epic treatises on interplanetary politics/economics.  Tired of futuristic medieval societies.  Tired of thinly veiled allegories of the issues and countries/ethnicities of the day.  Tired of books that are love stories or otherwise mediocre dramas resting on a feeble plinth of sci fi . Tired of books where all of the alien mystery and intrigue is just there for mood and setting.  You know, the ones where the author avoids explaining or sometimes even exploring.

Like in “Contact”.  Did you see that movie?  Jodie Foster’s character travels in an alien-prescribed vehicle to some other part of the universe and when she meets an alien it turns out to be her father.  Ugh!  Well, it was an alien appearing to her in the form of her father.  After enduring all of that boring, rehashed faith vs. science dialogue.  What a cop out.  I’m talking to you, Carl Sagan (may you rest in peace).

Even when there are actual aliens they’re all humanoid.  What’s up with that?   How many stories have you read where the alien life is actually alien?  That’s why I really liked “Babylon 5” and Astre’s “The Artifact”.    The former had all kinds of alien species interacting.  Lots of humanoids but also interacting with other … things.  And unfathomably ancient, advanced and otherly.  Gets the mind to racing.

There are a lot of post-apocalyptic books out now.  They all look the same.  Rational protagonist juxtaposed with religious cult.

I am acutely fatigued with obsessions with and critiques of organized religion.  Faith vs. reason.  Science vs. religion.  Technology vs. spirituality.  I think it’s a false dichotomy to begin with.   Too many authors, imo, have a none-too-subtle axe to grind.  And it’s a reactionary, nyah-nyah kind of axe.   But seriously, all of these utopian/dystopian or post-apocalyptic books are too concerned with making worn out points about the faults and weaknesses of organized religion.  And there will be more, no doubt, especially since pissing off religious people is an effective polemic, a great way to get media attention and therefore a great way to make money.  Well, that and the fact that the abusers and abuses of religion deserve to be lambasted.  But I’ll be avoiding them if I can help it.

Anyway, there’s the fight-the-system ilk.  “Daemon” was good, if not suffering from some form of literary ADD, and there’s going to be a sequel.  It’s fast and clever and hip.  The Traveler series, on the other hand, was repetitive and preachy but at least it had a story line to it.  Maya was the worst Harlequin ever, by the way.  In the first book she broke every one of her own tenets and had FAIL written all over her.  Her performance went downhill from there.

So I’m looking for the next thing.  I’d like to read more Kate Wilhelm sci fi.  She’s good.  Maybe I need to just get away from the dudes for a while.


It does help that I’ve started watching the Battlestar Galactica series.  Mid-way through season one.  It’s good.  Solid.  Smart.  Intriguing.  Gripping.  Moody.   I am seeing or foreseeing a little slippage, though.  I guess character studies are expected.   And some other cliches, especially with series, but I’ll sit on my pre-judging so I can just sit back and enjoy.  I really am enjoying the atmosphere so far.  They’ve switched gears from the Cylon battles and attack to the more psychological enemy-amongst-us.

Any suggestions?

1 comment

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  1. Janna

    I miss Octavia Butler too. BSG was definitely worth the time spent, and episode here and there had a weak bit of writing, but overall it was fantastic.

    I think you’ve read Snow Crash and Diamond Age, right? Those are couple good ones.

    I’ll have to check out some of the other authors you mentioned.

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