Saturday, September 13, 2008


Science Fiction is perhaps the least understood, most abused and most underrated genre of literature out there. The beauty of Science Fiction is that it thoroughly explores the nature of man and his relationship with the cosmos. Science Fiction is not about star travel, alien contact or a bunch of weird planets out there. Star Wars for example, is not at all SF, it is fantasy. For this reason, a lot of anthologies have both fantasy and SF stories together. Not that I don't like fantasy, Moorcock can easily give Asimov a run for his money in my book, but it is very unfair to the genre to classify good SF books with vampires, dragons, dwarfs, wizards and the lot. It is also unfair to the genre to classify futuristic fiction, or fantasy books such as Artemis Fowl as SF. Star Wars is again the biggest example of this very misconception. It is a universe where guys with crystal-produced laser swords fight around on a desert planet wearing cloaks woven out of alien animal hair. It is not scientific. Good SF is based on hard facts, on science, on being technically accurate. Lightsabres have no place in a proper SF story. Some people tend to call this genre of SF as hard SF. The 'hard' in Hard SF is not the same as 'hardcore', it is not about how outrageous or how intense the depiction of the science and technology in the in-story universe is, it is about how technically accurate the science is the story is. All of Arthur C Clark's books for example, are so technically accurate, that many a times science has caught up to his ideas. This is because most of his stories were based on the latest developments in the field at that point of time. He is one of the few SF authors who has dabbled in faster than light travel, knowing that it was impossible - his most favorite work, 2001 being an example of it. Some of the best SF books I have read is already heavily out of date - which is a good thing, as it shows clearly the technical accuracy of the writing. For example, when Jules Verne wrote 20,000 leagues under the sea, undersea travel was impossible. He came up with the word 'submarine' for Captain Nemo's Nautilus. Around the world in 80 days was a great effort of immense love towards the planet. It was the time when the world was a big, great place, with infinite possibilities hiding around every meridian. Man's relentless conquest of the planet was the thing that led to later generations of SF writers to look towards the stars. And the stars are a long way from being conquered.

Moorcock's 'A fall of moondust' is by far the best example of authentic SF that I have read. He has written better books, 'Sunstorm', The Rama series, and the odyssey series, but 'A fall of moondust' is realistic, scientifically accurate, and has a degree of psychological depth alien to the SF genre. Anderson's 'Kyrie' and Robinson's Mars trilogy are other good examples of - there is no other word for it - proper SF works. The best and most intense of the lot is probably the works of Michael Flynn - the Nanotech Chronicles. Read some of it recently, and it is a a beautiful piece of science fiction, exploring the cultural and social impact of new technology as much as exploring the details of the technology itself. There are equations and allusions to ancient mythology in the same work. There was a guy called Kalpit in the book and I was mid-way through it before realising it was an Indian name. Unfortunately, there are not many such books out there - maybe because publishers won't go for them, maybe because they are not really popular. There are however, exemplary short stories in the genre, and the only way to find them is to hunt through the hundreds of anthologies where one gem is hidden somewhere.

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