Scifi by Asimov and a Transgendered Search for Identify – Wait a Minute – Isaac Asimov? #scifi #sciencefiction #bookreview #genderequality

cover Robots of DawnIsaac Asimov, a giant of early 20th Century science fiction, is often criticized for awkward writing with flat characters. Could his book The Robots of Dawn, and in particular a sex scene in the story (Asimov? sex?) have helped a trans preteen find his way?

This is a great article and you should read it in its entirety. What riveted the author about Asimov’s character was:

Bailey’s desires and fantasies effortlessly become reality: Without his asking for it, sex came to him exactly as he imagined it because he was a smart masculine detective guy. I wanted that pleasure and ease and wordless understanding between the object of my desire and myself…
The phrase I now have for it is gender dysphoria—I shunned any experience that sought to tie me to my female body, and in turn escaped that body by mapping my sexual fantasies onto those of cisgender, heterosexual men, in scifi, in pornography, and beyond.

Asimov’s story focuses on a case of roboticide. There are, of course, robots with positronic brainpaths (Mr. Data, here’s your creator.) But he set his story on a planet where sex is casual and monogamy nonexistent. Well, Asimov is also known for writing for adolescent boys. And his story opened up new possibilities for at least one youngster.

I’ve never read the book and headed to Amazon to find over 200 reviews and a 4.5 star rating. Readers love the robot mystery, and also note some elements that didn’t age well over the decades.

  • Fascinating take on culture clashes and assumptions made–even while it remains blind to some of the assumptions of the time period in which it was written.
  • The sex scenes were written in an odd way, I thought, showing that the character (as well as the author perhaps?) was not comfortable
  • There doesn’t seem to be any ethnic diversity
  • This book dragged on and on. I bought it for my 14 year old and found it was really inappropriate.

Even the writer who found the book transformative as a preteen says, “When I re-read The Robots of Dawn now, passages that I absorbed uncritically at the time are transformed into stumbling blocks… a fantasy world that had no place for me or anyone like me.”

I’ve found some of Asimov’s other work to be dated. I have fond memories of some of his books and have avoided re-reading them exactly because I don’t want to spoil the memories.

I’m intrigued. The book resonated for a particular person at a particular point in his young life. What do you think? Should I read Robots of Dawn? Will you read it?

Best-selling Required Reading for Scifi Fans May Not Be What You Expect #review #bookreview #scifi #sciencefiction #space #classic

Ultimate Classic Scifi

Does this say “scifi” to you? Classics covers often strike me as odd.

You can’t claim to be well-rounded in science fiction if you haven’t read Foundation – a collection of stories written between 1941 and 1949, and assembled into a book in 1951. The second and third volumes followed quickly. This was the Golden Age, and the trilogy’s been called the beginning of modern science fiction, and the greatest scifi series ever. I’m sure this second accolade will be debated until the sun burns out.

In the first book, Foundation, don’t expect a lot of action. Each story is primarily conversations among the characters. The style is almost Socratic in its questions, answers, and explanations. It makes sense that Amazon ranks the book under Political and Literary Fiction as well as Science Fiction Anthologies.

Warning: I read the hardcover edition, and some reviewers claim the Kindle version has been re-edited and “butchered.”

Asimov used elements of science fiction that are still with us today: force fields, hyperspace, and holograms. Nuclear power was the epitome of high-tech and fills the books. Everything is nuclear from refrigerators to spaceships, run with nuclear generators the size of your thumb. But there’s also microfilm and – gasp – paper. The combination makes for an interesting setting.

Stories mean different things to readers in different times and places. Given America’s current billionaire occupation of the government and explosion of fake news’ influence on the public, I found Asimov’s vision depressing and cynical.

All his governments are dictatorships – usually kingdoms and empires – sometimes with worthless bureaucracies. There are trillions of humans (nothing but humans, everywhere in the galaxy) but they appear only in negative terms as mobs and oblivious fools. Even the heroes manipulate populations on a planetary scale without remorse, and religion is a cynical tool of “conquest by missionary.” The Foundation pushes its agenda by making technologies appear magical to the mobs, using priests who (mostly) embrace supernatural explanations. The Foundation gains control because “the chief characteristic of the religion of science is that it works.”

Regarding another modern concern, if you follow the War on Women in America, you’ll notice that Foundation heroes are all men. Few women appear in the stories, not even as decoration. It makes me wonder where the galaxy’s population comes from 😀 because the stories span centuries, jumping from one historic crisis to the next. This narrow social vision isn’t universal in Asimov’s works, by the way. One of my favorite Asimov novels, The Gods Themselves, could reasonably be listed under LGBTQ (though all alien.)

I recommend the book more for its historical context than for fun. But many people love it. With over 2,000 reviews on Amazon (yes – over two thousand!) Foundation rates 4.4 stars.

BREAKING NEWS: Skydance Television production company is bringing the Foundation trilogy to the small screen: “‘The Foundation Trilogy’ is a set of short stories which have been tried both cinematically and as a series for HBO but just hasn’t been able to get off the ground.” I bet I know why – the stories aren’t very photogentic, especially in the beginning.

Lots of Amazon reviewers mention they read the trilogy long ago and enjoyed finding the books again. Not everyone, however, recaptured their earlier enthusiasm.

Reading Foundation now, I was shocked at the novel’s simplicity… In fact, in comparing Foundation with [Dune, Reality Dysfunction, and Dark Forest], you would almost have to term it as a YA title… I would not recommend this series to anyone who has already read many of the other science fiction classics. I would however, strongly urge anyone with a teenager to purchase it as an introduction to science fiction. Steven M. Anthony

One more quibble: why do publishers put such awful covers on classics?

Looking ahead, I see more action and a female character in Book 2 – Foundation and Empire. I plan to push on to the end, when I have the time and motivation.

Join the first colonists

There’s a new cover! Click here to see the latest version. Better?

All my books, including the On Mars series, are available at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, iTunes, Kobo, and other major online retailers, including Smashwords and paperbacks. All five of my On Mars books are available now. I can’t claim to be a classic! but read one today.

You’re not stuck with Amazon. Also available at other favorite stores. Try the value-priced Box Set to read all five.

Sirens of Titan – a trip to planets and satire #ScienceFiction #Book and Vonnegut #amwriting #scifi #review #bookreview #writingtips

Vonnegut during his military service. I get the impression he didn't like the experience much.

Vonnegut during his military service. I get the impression he didn’t like the experience much.

Kurt Vonnegut is a giant of 20th century authors and Sirens of Titan, his second novel, is now available as an ebook. While Vonnegut is usually called a science fiction author, this book offers his views on religion, politics, business, social classes, the military, and the meaninglessness of life: “the boundaries of space, of infinite outwardness, were three: empty heroics, low comedy, and pointless death.” It reminds me of Albert Camus’ absurdism.

This isn’t simply a space adventure, though time/space phenomena and space travel allow the characters wide and imaginative experiences. Vonnegut’s book is copyrighted 1959 – if the story were written today, it would say “quantum physics” often (much to the annoyance of real-life theoretical phyicsts, no doubt, but the quantum world is a great place for fantasy). There’s a lot of striking metaphors and some fun visions of other planets. Also one fleeting, archaic anti-homosexual remark made in passing – 1959 was a long time ago. (Let’s hope the past stays in the past.)

The book is full of tangents and philosophizing.

I’ve sent humans to Titan for the first time, too, in my new release. I’m no Vonnegut! I’m a midget of 21st century authors. But give a new author a try 🙂

Titan - science fiction book coverFynn learns the Kin’s secret when he’s shoved into a stasis pod.

He’s not going back to college, he’s going with his father’s cult to settle on Saturn’s moon Titan.

Halfway across the solar system, cut off from Earth, the Kin believe they’ll create a paradise. But their leader’s bizarre behavior may be more dangerous than the profoundly cold moon with its dense, unbreathable atmosphere. Read it now, on Amazon and Kindle Unlimited too.

How does a 1959 book compare to today’s writing wisdom?
It doesn’t seem appropriate to compare Sirens to today’s writing tips. Vonnegut isn’t afraid to “tell” the reader something. He includes an “excerpt” from an encyclopedia to explain his premise – without even bothering to frame it as something a character is reading. It’s cast as from A Child’s Cyclopedia, which avoids any need to justify things technically.

Vonnegut conforms perfectly to one piece of writing advice that I’ve absorbed: use “said” as the tag for dialog (though he does slip in the occasional adverb – my favorite is “schoolmarmishly.”)

I also considered this advice from Smashwords: don’t mislead your readers as to what your book is about. While this relates to the description and cover rather than writing the book, I think it’s important. On Amazon, the description calls the book a “romp through space, time, and morality… and a prophetic vision about the purpose of human life.” I’m not sure I’d call it prophetic – I’d emphasize the black comedy and satire. But the characters certainly romp around and the story reveals a humbling purpose for humanity. The cover, alas, tells nothing.

Vonnegut suggested eight rules for writing a short story in 1999. That reflects decades of writing experience, and even though Sirens is a novel, I thought I’d look at them.

  1. Use the time of a total stranger in such a way that he or she will not feel the time was wasted. Judging by the four star average on Amazon, Sirens does this for most readers.
  2. Give the reader at least one character to root for. Not so much. I never connected with any of the characters. But, it was only his second novel.
  3. Every character should want something, even if it is only a glass of water. Most of the characters want something, though two have their memories erased so things change. The character responsible for most of what happens is a puzzle – it’s not clear he wants anything – he’s just trapped by the space/time phenomenon.
  4. Every sentence must do one of two things—reveal character or advance the action. (Of course, there’s more room in a novel than a short story.) Vonnegut abandons this advice – if he wants to go off on a narrator’s tangent, he does. Mostly, these were short enough and interesting enough that I didn’t mind, but in the last chapter I got impatient – I just wanted to know how the story ends.
  5. Start as close to the end as possible. Given the narrator’s explanations of some character’s early lives, I’m not sure he sticks to this.
  6. Be a Sadist. No matter how sweet and innocent your leading characters, make awful things happen to them—in order that the reader may see what they are made of. Vonnegut subjects his characters to lots of trouble. This is advice I need to remember when I write.
  7. Write to please just one person. If you open a window and make love to the world, so to speak, your story will get pneumonia. Compelling advice. I imagine he wrote Sirens for himself. I’ve seen related advice that says: Write for your self and edit for your readers,
  8. Give your readers as much information as possible as soon as possible. To hell with suspense. Readers should have such complete understanding of what is going on, where and why, that they could finish the story themselves, should cockroaches eat the last few pages. I don’t think I would have finished the story the same way, but the character the narrator primarily follows knew exactly what was going to happen to him on page 20. The story arose from how it happened. Vonnegut deviated a little, though – the character’s final situation was not revealed until the end.

Vonnegut added that great writers tend to break rules.

I’ve posted on writing advice before:

Writers’ Resource: Critiques Available

Successful Novel Defies Standard Advice – Never Let Me Go

Sphere: Hit SciFi Novels Follows Some Advice, Flaunts Other

Stephen King’s Writing Advice

Maze Runner and Writing Advice