Friday, November 16, 2012

Some Sci-Fi Recommendations

I spent last week at the minister's study group, Ohio River Group, that I attend each year (I've missed only once since joining in 2005).  This year's theme was "Space," and during our meeting a growing list of science fiction suggestions was posted by its members on the white board.  What follows here is that list, with my own personal notations when I have any.  For confidentiality's sake, I am not posting either who posted these works, nor some of their own comments about why that went up on our white board.

Robert Sawyer: Starplex, Calculating God, Factoring Humanity, and Flashforward
Of the things on this list that I haven't read, these will be first on my list.

Margaret Atwood: Oryx and Crake: A Novel, and The Year of the Flood
I've read some of Atwood's works (including The Handmaid's Tale, of course), and would consider myself a fan of hers.  I will be adding these two to my reading list, as I also heard a really interesting review of them on NPR some time back.

Ursula K. LeGuin: The Left Hand of Darkness and The Word for World is Forest
The Left Hand of Darkness is a classic, and deservedly so.  It's considered the first feminist sci-fi work.  It's notable for its construction of gender, in particular.

John Carey: Faber Book of Utopias

Arthur C. Clarke: The City & the StarsAgainst the Fall of Night,and The Collected Stories of Arthur C. Clarke (especially “The Star”)
I've read some Arthur C. Clarke, notably Childhood's End, and he's well worth reading, although not a particular favorite of mine.

Michael Moorcock: Behold the Man

John Scalzi: Old Man's War, Zoe's Tale - and his blog, “Whatever

Elizabeth Moon: The Deed of Paksenarrion: A Novel and others

Orson Scott Card: Ender's Game (Ender, Book 1), Speaker for the Dead (Ender, Book 2) (Ender Wiggin Saga), and the short story “Mortal Gods” found in Unaccompanied Sonata & Other Stories
I was once a big Orson Scott Card fan.  I've read more of his books than any other author in the genre.  However, I stopped reading him when I started getting fed up with the fact that they were always a boy or man with extraordinary power at the center of things, often saving the universe--a Christ figure, in other words.  I would still encourage people to read Ender's Game and Speaker for the Dead, because I think they are phenomenal books.  I just re-read Ender's Game, and I still love it.  But borrow them, buy them used, or get them from the library, as Orson Scott Card is also involved with NOM, and vocal and active against same-sex marriage. 

Octavia Butler: Parable of the Sower, and Parable of the Talents
If you only read one book on this list, make it be Parable of the Sower, in my opinion.  It's a wonderful sci-fi exploration of process theology.  It's dystopian, but hopeful at the same time.  It's really, really good.  So good I've quoted it in sermons which have nothing else to do with science fiction.

Roger Zelazny: The Amber Series, i.e. The Great Book of Amber: The Complete Amber Chronicles, 1-10 (Chronicles of Amber) and Lord of Light

Harlan Ellison: Deathbird Stories
I once did a whole paper in college on Deathbird Stories, which is a collection that has a lot to say about God, or gods.  It wasn't a very good paper, though.  I could write a better one now.

Sarah Zettel: No specific work suggested
Zettel grew up Unitarian Universalist, says the UU World when reviewing A Sorcerer's Treason.

Mary Doria Russell: The Sparrow
I have never read a more  disturbing set of books than The Sparrow and Children of God.  That said, go read them.  They are phenomenal and profound.  They have much to say about manifest destiny and about theology.  Just be prepared for the nightmares. 

“Alien Planet” (YouTube)

Gary Shteyngart: Super Sad True Love Story: A Novel

7 comments:

Jill said...

This is a really interesting-looking list!

re Orson Scott Card: You might have heard about a controversy a while back in which Card won a lifetime achievement award given by the Young Adult Library Services Association, resulting in a movement to take back the award in view of Card's anti-GLBT activities. This promoted some very interesting conversations in my YA lit class about the extent to which an author's personal views do or don't influence the value we assign to their work. Here's one take on the situation: http://freerangelibrarian.com/2008/01/20/orson-scott-card-is-a-big-fat-homophobe/

p.s. I think the preferred abbreviation for "science fiction" is SF these days, on the argument that "sci fi" conjures up images of bad 1960s-era paperbacks that contemporary SF authors would prefer to distance themselves from. One quick source is here: http://www.jvoegele.com/literarysf/scifi.html

Sounds like a neat study group!

Cynthia Landrum said...

I prefer not to distance myself from bad 1960s-era paperbacks. ;) I'm sure you're right about preferred terms, but think some of the non-SF-reading audience might not know "SF" as a term.

Cynthia Landrum said...

As to Orson Scott Card, if it was just a matter of expressing his opinion, I would say let it be and just enjoy his works. But the problem is his involvement with NOM, which suggests that money spent that goes to OSC will in part be used to finance social/political objectives.

Jill said...

The award in question "recognizes an author’s work in helping adolescents become aware of themselves and addressing questions about their role and importance in relationships, society, and in the world." If a reader knows OSC's stances, would his work still qualify for the above - or does the work stand alone?

But I agree re: not giving him money that he can then use to support NOM.

Kenneth said...

I recommend Joan Slonczewski's Door Into Ocean, which explores not only gender but also nonviolence. (I like her other novels set in that universe as well.)

Tim Bartik said...

Other science fiction books/stories that would have considerable UU relevance might include:

Any of the short stories of Ted Chiang, but particularly : "Story of Your Life", "The Merchant and the Alchemist's Gate", "Exhalation", "Division by Zero", and "Hell is the Absence of God". Many of these stories deal with issues of free will and determinism. Only has written a few stories, but about half of his stories have won either Hugo or Nebula awards.

Damon Knight: Some of his novellas, such as "Rule Golden", "The Dying Man", and "Country of the Kind". For example, "Rule Golden", originally written in the 1950s, engages in the thought experiment of what would happen if the Golden Rule actually could be enforced by some manipulation of biology.

James Tiptree, Jr. Pen name of Alice Sheldon. Deals with issue of gender identity, desire, ecology, and war. I particularly like "Beam Us Home", the best non-Star Trek Star Trek story, which was written in 1969, clearly in reaction to Vietnam, but is surprisingly contemporary. This can be found in a legitimately free online version.

Olaf Stapledon. British philosopher who wrote "scientific romances" in 1930s. Big influence on Arthur C. Clarke. Sometimes described as coming from Universalist background, but I think more likely it was Quaker. His "novel" "Starmaker" deals with what it sounds like: an encounter with God. This also is now free online. Would be very relevant to anyone with an interest in pantheism.

Of the authors you mentioned, I would recommend Sarah Zettel's novel "Fool's War". Also, in addition to work of Ursula K. LeGuin you mentioned, work that might be particularly of interest to UUs include the novel "The Dispossessed", and shorter works: "Another Story, or a Fisherman of the Inland Sea", and "The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas".

villemezbrown said...

Really cool list! I am a big Octavia Butler fan and I feel much the same way you do about Orson Scott Card. I was wondering if any books by Sylvia Engdahl were mentioned. She touches on ideas of theology and concepts of "God" in Far Side of Evil, but her Children of the Star trilogy is really focused on religion as a human creation and what it means for something to be "true". Besides that her stories are interesting and exciting and tend to include strong female characters.

Adele