Tales of the Rampant Coyote

Adventures in Indie Gaming!

Why I love science fiction

Posted by Rampant Coyote on April 10, 2015

I have never known the moon upon which man has never set foot.

I realize that most of my audience here is in the same boat. In my case, technically I predate the Apollo 11 moon landing by just a few weeks. It changed in my lifetime, although I was far too young to recognize it.

The moon was once so unattainable that it was almost the definition of impossible, a cliche – like the expression, “to promise the moon.” But someone imagined it and wrote stories about it. Actually, lots of someones, and lots of stories. And then, one day, while I was still learning to crawl, we had the one giant leap for mankind. And suddenly, a trip to the moon was old hat, commonplace. The impossible was now no big deal.



My early childhood included plenty of fantasy, from stories I was told to my books and children’s shows. But like many people my age, it was a particular movie that came out when I was still very young that left a lasting impression on my life. There was something very special about it… then and now.

And while you can call it “science fantasy,” for an impressionable young boy it was a revelation. Back then, movies were in the theater only, and there was nothing else like it to be found. Instead, I found books. Lots of books. I wanted more stories like Star Wars.

I found some. Many (at first) were kid’s books, like Sylvia Engdahl’s Enchantress from the Stars (the whole series), Slobodkin’s The Space Ship Under the Apple Tree series, or Abrashkin and Williams’ Danny Dunn series. But I didn’t limit myself to age range, and I was soon reading a combination of the younger stuff as well as more mature fare from authors like Ben Bova, Andre Norton, Larry Niven, Robert Heinlein, Arthur C. Clarke, Harry Harrison, Fred Saberhagen, and Keith Laumer.

I discovered that science fiction could be serious or funny. It could be optimistic or paint a brutal picture of humanity. It could give us visions of the future, or provide us a lens to view ourselves in the present. It could have a message about who we are and should be, or simply tell stories of particular individuals caught in impossible situations – impossible from the perspective of the writer in that time frame. It can be a parable with a real-world theme, a soapbox for an author to preach from (not my favorite), an exploration of character or humanity, or a rollicking escapist adventure – or all or none of the above.

I read about alternate worlds. I read about cool, “impossible” technology in the modern era. I read about time travel. I read about the future. I read about cyborg tanks and friendly robots, life on Venus, and life on Earth after a nuclear war. I read about great big ideas and little tiny trivia. I wondered how much of it I’d end up seeing in my lifetime.

There was also the TV. Star Trek was (mostly) older than I was.  Battlestar Galactica – that was a fun year, cheesy as that show was. I caught turned onto Doctor Who and old Twilight Zone episodes. Buck Rogers (more cheese!). But it was all great fodder for my young imagination.

And I discovered video games, which could (imperfectly) give me another venue to live out these science fiction fantasies. But it always seemed like the inherent limitations of the written word were also advantages, allowing things to be expressed that just didn’t translate well to video or to games.

My GPA suffered when I discovered The Stainless Steel Rat. More great Harry Harrison humor.

I read Dune without realizing it was supposed to be way above my fourth-grade level.

I wanted to make movies.

I wanted to be Luke Skywalker, or Han Solo.

I wanted to build a computer in my bedroom before I really understood what computers did, and I tried to build a space ship in my backyard starting with the seats (which was about as far as I got).

In fact, I learned a lot about the world – and science itself – from science fiction. Sometimes directly, as there is a lot of real science, meticulously researched, to be found in some of those ‘hard’ science fiction novels. Sometimes  indirectly, as a story inspired me to look things up and find out how things really worked.

I still wonder whatever happened to the copies of Analog and Asimov science fiction magazines I collected in middle school and high school. It wasn’t extensive or anything, but I had several copies and I’m not certain if I ever read every single story.

When Cyberpunk became a thing, I was right there, devouring books by William Gibson, Walter Jon Williams, George Alec Effinger, Pat Cadigan, Bruce Sterling, and several others. I read Gibson’s short story Johnny Mnemonic and thought it would make an absolutely incredible movie. Then the movie happened, and it sucked. I was angry an Keanu, although it wasn’t his acting that destroyed it. But he redeemed himself in The Matrix, which seemed to borrow a bit from Gibson’s vision. For a few years there, in the late 80s / early 90s, I was all about using technology to take the revolution to The Man, whoever The Man might be.

Naturally, I was also excited about fantasy as well – pretty much all speculative fiction. Even a bit of horror. Actually, with my love of Dungeons & Dragons, I loved the mash-up between fantasy role-playing and science fiction found in Larry Niven and Steven Barnes’ Dream Park series. (Actually, I just looked that up and discovered there was a brand new book in that series published just a few years ago that I was unaware of! Gotta read it!!!!) I was amused at how the technology actually seemed to downgrade over the course of the novels and become more and more realistic. If you followed the announcement of Microsoft’s HoloLens, then we might have much of that technology now – or very soon.

Lately, some of my favorites have included Lois McMaster Bujold’s absolutely incredible Vorkosigan saga, and Jack Campbell’s The Lost Fleet series. I’ve got a ton more books on my Kindle reader I’m trying to get to. Recently, I really enjoyed Brad Torgersen’s debut novel, “The Chaplain’s War,” good ol’ fashioned military SF / Space Opera and a powerful theme of how completely alien cultures with nothing in common except a mutual desire to exterminate each other on the grand scale can come together on the personal scale through common experiences and hopes. All of these somewhat more recent books (recent to me, at least, although The Chaplain’s War was just published last year) prove to me that any concern I might have about how “they don’t make ’em like they used to” can be put to rest. There’s still plenty of awesome science fiction coming out right now that could proudly stand on the same podium with the classics.

In the end, I’m not a super-fan. Not like the rabid kind I used to read about.  Not like the kind that hit the con circuit year after year, who devour genre books as fast as they are printed. And not like a few friends of mine, who read more genre books in a month than I’m likely to read all year. I’m a slow-burn fan with huge gaps in my knowledge and experience. But that’s okay. I grew up with this love of stories  of the implausible, coming back with visions and warnings of the future. I grew up loving the genre, with feelings very much like what Wil Wheaton spoke of about what’s awesome about being a nerd.

And while we nerds who love these kinds of things can be prone to fits of nerd-rage, and can get into incredible fights over who is stronger, Tarzan or Flash Gordon. I still want to believe that we’ll eventually find that common ground, like in Torgersen’s novel, and come together over the important things. Things like the need to keep telling ourselves stories of what may yet be, so we can inspire each other and future generations to make that next giant leap for mankind, to make things that were once impossible into the commonplace.

Filed Under: Books, Geek Life - Comments: 5 Comments to Read

  • Mrs. Rampant Coyote said,

    Hello, Tarzan is stronger. How can you even ask? 🙂

  • McTeddy said,

    I agree completely. Sci-fi was amazing because I could see worlds that didn’t evolve as our own. Nothing was impossible and everything was fair game… it made me think.

    Whether it was Aismov’s Laws of Robotics or Heinlein’s military pride… I saw society through a different set of eyes. Some were utopias and hells, but all of them raised questions.

    I’m not nearly the reader I once was and my new genres tend to be actual science or history but Sci-Fi is still close to my heart.

  • Rampant Coyote said,

    Yeah, I read a *LOT* more non-fiction these days… which really screws with my fiction writing sometimes. The passive voice wrecks me!

    I also have way too many hobbies. But reading… just like playing games… is not optional if I want to write and make games.

  • Modran said,

    If you get killed by the stainless steel rat, can we talk about “death by DigGriz”?

    I shall see myself out :p

  • Rampant Coyote said,

    Ow! Ow! Well, I guess Slippery Jim was known for his bombs…