Sci-Fi Month

Sci-Fi Month 2016: Blogger Panel #1

SFM16_7

This post is part of Sci-Fi Month 2016, a month long event to celebrate science fiction hosted by myself and Over the Effing Rainbow. You can view the schedule here, follow the event on Twitter via the official @SciFiMonth Twitter account, or with the hashtag #RRSciFiMonth.

As with 2014, this year’s Sci-Fi Month sees the return of the blogger panel, where I pose a science fiction related question to a selection of book bloggers! If you want to answer the question as well, let us know your response in the comment section below. 🙂 The question for this panel was:

Of all the dystopian novels, which do you think has the scariest setting or events?

Greg @ Greg’s Book Haven

greg avatar

Greg is a book blogger and Renaissance faire enthusiast who reviews a bit of everything, but mostly fantasy and YA. He also enjoys music and movies, and never met a used bookstore he didn’t like. He has written reviews for Knights of the Dinner Table and contributed to SFSignal in the past. You can find him at Greg’s Book Haven or on Twitter at @GregsBookHaven.

When it comes to dystopians there are no shortage of bleak futures. My initial answer when I read the question was The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins. After all they pit children against children for entertainment purposes. How whacked is that? Then I thought maybe The Maze Runner (by James Dashner), but I’ve only seen the movie and I should read the book before making that call. The reason I thought of The Maze Runner though was because on a personal level it seemed terrifying – having no memory, being dropped into the Glade with no control of your future, and of course the terrifying and deadly Maze. But my definitive answer is… Divergent by Veronica Roth. Why? Well, I think growing up in a closed off city, finding out later you were under constant surveillance and being forced at sixteen to join a faction that will dominate your entire future. Regardless of the goal, to do this to so many people is just so manipulative – your whole life is just an experiment. I think that may be even worse than The Hunger Games society.

At the risk of giving too many answers, I’m going to add one more: Logan’s Run, by William F. Nolan. An older dystopian, but imagine having to submit to euthanasia at twenty one (thirty in the movie). Your life has just begun, and it’s over! That may be the scariest one.

Logan's Run

Lisa @ Over the Effing Rainbow

lisa

Lisa is a Glasgow-based blogger and reviewer, who has been cheerfully flailing (and occasionally ranting) at Over The Effing Rainbow since 2012. She’s generally fueled by copious amounts and tea and cake, and for the record those are the best ways to bribe her. You can find her via her website, on Twitter (@EffingRainbow), or presiding over her Imzy community. (Or by leaving a trail of cake.)

First of all I should probably confess that dystopian stories are not among my most widely read of sub-genres. I appreciate the really good ones I’ve read, but I am a bit of a delicate flower and I tend to prefer my reading to be less about doom and gloom and more about hope for humanity. Some dystopian-type books get this right, though the hope is usually accompanied by a LOT of nail-biting and lessons about being careful what you wish for.

It’s actually one such book that I immediately thought of when I considered how to answer this question, and despite the fact that I don’t read much dystopian science fiction, this is one of my absolute favourite SF books in general: Mira Grant’s Feed, which is the first in her Newsflesh trilogy. On the surface of things it is a post-apocalypse zombie novel. What it really is, though, is a really stunningly well-constructed examination of what society might become, not if we’re nearly wiped out by an apocalypse, but if we manage to survive one. It takes the question of “what if…?” and answers it in ways I still find marvellously clever, both in the simplicity of the answer and the terrifying complexity of it. Basically, this “apocalypse” is kicked off when cures for cancer and for the common cold are discovered, and the information leaked to the public before thorough testing is complete. Some well-meaning but vitally uneducated activists steal the cures, mix them and release them using (if I recall correctly) a crop-dusting plane. Bad, bad things happen. You can guess at the results. (Science is damn scary, you guys, and Grant clearly revels in it.)

But the novel takes place after humanity has found stable, relatively safe ground again, a few decades later. Security is tighter than ever, blood tests are mandatory in just about every public place possible – and in every home, naturally. These aspects are fairly par for the dystopian course, but it’s the social aspects that really twist the trope and make this book as interesting as it is. Rather than traditional news/media outlets being relied on to inform the public in general, it was every street-level blogger and capable, levelheaded Average Joe with a social media presence banding together and sharing actual useful, life-saving information and advice that helped humanity to pull through. The News let us all down, so we basically kept our heads and saved ourselves, and in this vision of a post-apocalyptic future, it’s the bloggers we trust. And this book was written and published several years ago. Sounds pretty frighteningly relevant today, doesn’t it?

It’s the level of apparent prescience there, as much as if not more than the more horror-centric zombie factor, that’s truly scary to me. We do, generally speaking, have a troubling habit of reacting rather than acting when faced with dangerous and/or violent situations, and thanks to the age of information, we often don’t bother with the context of facts; we tend more often to grab the facts and run with them. This is a potential future in which we literally do just that, and while the fact that we survive lightens the end of that tunnel, what’s really frightening is all the lessons we still haven’t learned, and the ways in which we still wrap ourselves up in fear and call it sensibility.

If you’ve ever found regular people to be scarier than zombies, which it feels like I do just about every day now, then this is one future that’s likely to scare the socks off you – and it’s really not as far-fetched as the zombies make it seem…

Feed

Jess @ Curiouser and Curiouser

jess avatar

Jess is a 25 year old book blogger from the UK currently working in academic publishing. A feminist killjoy, history nerd and unicorn enthusiast, she enjoys nothing more than reading books about well-written women and the men they make cry. You can find her on Twitter (@JGofton) or via her blog, Curiouser and Curiouser.

If a dystopian novel doesn’t creep you out, even the tiniest amount, then it’s not doing its job properly. The Hunger Games doesn’t seem like an all too distant reality in a world obsessed with reality TV and The Handmaid’s Tale continues to be read widely in schools and universities because there’s still so much to say about feminism and equal rights. For me, though, the most terrifying dystopian novel has to be the ‘big brother’ of them all: George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four. It’s bleak, cruel and devoid of all hope, and nothing freaks me out more than the idea of a place like Room 101, where your worst fears are quite literally realised. That the government in Nineteen Eighty-Four are able to make you think how they want you to think and essentially torture you into obedience is horrific – I’d genuinely rather live in Panem!

1984

Crini @ All About Books

crini avatar

Crini is a blogger from Germany who mostly tours foreign worlds of fantasy novels with occasional detours into space and explorations of magical realism. When she is not too busy re-watching Pacific Rim for the 100th time, she is probably re-reading one of her favorite books yet again. She can be found on her blog, All About Books or on Twitter (@xcrini).

Dystopian settings like those in The Hunger Games or The Maze Runner certainly are brutal and not a place I would ever want to be in, but they don’t necessarily scare me. That’s mostly because I don’t really see myself ever being in a similar situation. I don’t expect to end up in a fight for my life like that.

One series/book that definitely did scare me though (as rare as that is) was Neal Shusterman’s Unwind. If there is one thing in books that always make me break out in cold sweat, it’s situations where the main character isn’t allowed to decide for themselves (anymore). That someone else could be in charge, like being committed to a mental institution, against your will, even if it’s with good intentions, always freaked me out. And Neal’s book is a lot worse than that. That parents can decide that you’re not good enough anymore and better off as an organ donor is as scary as it gets for me. Reading about kids on the operating table, knowing exactly what’s to come, made this quite intense too.

Unwind

What do you think about the panelists’ responses? Let me know your answer to the panel question in the comments below!

Sci-Fi Month

Sci-Fi Month 2015: It’s The End of the World As We Know It

sfm15_5

This post is part of Sci-Fi Month 2015, a month long event to celebrate science fiction hosted by myself and Over the Effing Rainbow. You can view the schedule here, follow the event on Twitter via the official @SciFiMonth Twitter account, or the hashtag #RRSciFiMonth.

A common trope of science fiction is to show the Earth greatly transformed, or even completely destroyed, in some way. Our poor planet has been used and abused throughout the history of the genre. Here’s a brief guide to the (post-)apocalypse, or dystopian future, covering books, TV, films and video games.

Aliens

Mass Effect The 5th Wave Defiance The War of the Worlds by H.G. Wells War of the Worlds Independence Day The Day of the Triffids by John Wyndham 826847

In these titles, Earth is either destroyed or invaded by aliens. In the latter, it is altered to a state where it is unrecognisable: either through the collapse of society and government, or destruction of large portions of the planet. Sometimes the extra-terrestrials are aggressive, sometimes they are just inquisitive, and other times we’re not even aware of them until it is too late.

Mass Effect, The 5th Wave, Defiance, The War of the Worlds (plus the 2005 film version), Independence Day, The Day of the Triffids, The Midwich Cuckoos.

Illness/Disease

The Passage by Justin Cronin Blindness Oryx and Crake Partials by Dan Wells Parasite I Am Legend by Richard Matheson The Stand Children of Men The Strain

These titles show an Earth ravaged by illness, disease or plague, including technological viruses and biological warfare. In many of them, the illness transforms humankind into something else, often zombie or vampire-like creatures.

Humankind

The Hunger Games Divergent The 100 The Years of Rice and Salt Unwind The Man in the High Castle How I Live Now A Canticle for Leibowitz

Science fiction frequently shows how humankind causes its own downfall, often through war or revolt. This is a particularly popular theme in current Young Adult dystopian fiction, although it’s not exactly a new trend in the genre. This is one of the more frightening sides of sci-fi: how we become our very own worst enemies. Occasionally, it shows a glimpse into an alternate future or past.

Natural Disaster

2012 The Day After Tomorrow The Maze Runner by James Dashner Deep Impact Armageddon The Drowned World

This could also technically come under ‘Humankind’, because most of the time the natural disasters are caused by people, namely through global warming and climate change. This category includes these as well as other things such as asteroids/meteors, tsunamis, earthquakes etc.

2012, The Day After Tomorrow, The Maze Runner, Deep Impact, Armageddon, The Drowned World.

Brainwashing/Government

1984 Brave New World by Aldous Huxley Fahrenheit 451 Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand V for Vendetta

Another terrifying thing about science fiction is how government is often portrayed. Often it is shown as being a totalitarian or ‘Big Brother’ society, a term coined from George Orwell’s 1984. Citizens often have very little freedom, or even free will, having been brainwashed into behaving in certain ways.

Machines/Artificial Intelligence

I Robot Robopocalypse Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep? by Philip K. Dick Love In the Age of Mechanical Reproduction Prey Neuromancer

Okay, maybe there’s a lot of scary things about science fiction – another one being the very thought of the Earth being overrun or overtaken by machines or artificial intelligence. Many a sci-fi tale tells of the invention of some fantastic new technology, only for it to become sentient and rise up against mankind.

Can you think of any other titles that would fit in these categories, or any categories that I have missed?

Prose & Pixels

Prose & Pixels #2: Bookish Influences on Bioshock

prosenpixels16

Prose & Pixels is a feature that combines two of my loves: books and video games. Here I’ll discuss all sorts of things to do with the two, whether it’s recommendations, influences or just a good old chat.

Today I want to discuss the bookish influences on the Bioshock series of video games.

If you follow my Twitter feed, you may have recently seen me talking about a game called Bioshock, and how I was terrifying myself by playing it with headphones and in the dark. Although it had me screaming, swearing and shrieking, it also got me thinking. There is an obvious bookish influence on the game – the imagery within, as well as some of the character names, instantly made me think of Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged. So of course I had to do a little research into it, and yes – it’s a big influence, along with many other books.

Bioshock Logo

If you’re not familiar with the games, here is a brief synopsis of the first one:

Set in 1960, Bioshock follows a man named Jack, who ends up in the ocean after his plane crashes. After heading towards a nearby lighthouse, he finds a bathysphere, which takes him to the underwater city of Rapture. Intended to be a utopia by its founder Andrew Ryan, Rapture unfortunately took a turn in the opposite direction with the discovery of ADAM – a plasmid that gives the user superhuman powers. The city is now filled with addicts and horribly transformed people, including the terrifying Big Daddies. Jack has no choice but to fight his way through the city, with the help of a man named Atlas, using plasmids, weapons and the very environment of Rapture itself.

One of the most obvious bookish influences here is the idea of utopia and dystopia. So many times in fiction, we’ve seen a seemingly perfect society peel back its shiny exterior to reveal something cold and very, very horrifying at the centre. And Bioshock is exactly like that. The environments are beautiful, Rapture’s art deco and 1950’s style is pretty breathtaking. Combine that with an underwater setting, where you can play around with water, light and reflections and it really does look like a utopia. I mean, just look at some of the concept art!

Bioshock Concept Art
(image source)

At first glance, Rapture looks beautiful. Neon signs, specially crafted underwater gardens, the city neatly divided into sections, entertainment districts – but soon you start to notice the graffiti. You see the blood on the walls, the smashed and ruined windows and belongings. Then the bodies begin to appear, and soon you hear the noises. A high pitched, maniacal laugh. Something running along the ceiling. A long, low groan. Stomping of heavy boots. A young girl whispering to herself (or someone?), whispering things that a young girl shouldn’t even know about. And that’s when you realise – this is DEFINITELY no utopia.

The influence of Ayn Rand on Bioshock

One of the first things that really demonstrated the influence of Rand’s work on the game, was a statue of Atlas, bearing the weight of the world on his shoulders. I can’t find a screenshot of it from Bioshock, but I am currently playing Bioshock 2 and managed to spot it there:

Bioshock 2

It immediately made think of this:

Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand

As well as this statue, there is also the mysterious character of Atlas, an Irishman who guides Jack through the halls of Rapture, and the character Frank Fontaine – the name perhaps inspired by Rand’s The Fountainhead? Perhaps a simpler comparison is that Andrew Ryan is an anagram (albeit with a few extra letters) of Ayn Rand, and that many events throughout the story of Bioshock echo that of Atlas Shrugged.

Like Atlas Shrugged, the city of Rapture is founded on the philosophy of objectivism: the idea that one person should follow their self-interest, and not let the opinions or morals of others get in the way of ambition and ability. A slogan to this effect is often spotted around Rapture:

No Gods or Kings, Only Man

Biblical influences on Bioshock

It’s not just Ayn Rand’s work that influenced Bioshock. The Garden of Eden was the original utopia, ruined by the actions of Adam and Eve. Similarly, the actions of man (and woman) have ruined the utopia of Rapture. Although ADAM can grant the superhuman powers, a drug called EVE is needed to keep the plasmids active. Not only this, but the very word ‘Rapture’ conjures up Christian imagery: of the ‘good people’ of the world being taken away to a better place. Rapture may have been that place but for, rather ironically, the use of ADAM and EVE.

The influence of other literature

One other book that was immediately brought to mind by the events of Bioshock was Frankenstein by Mary Shelley. Some of the toughest enemies in the game are called ‘Big Daddies’, which may not sound menacing but they are TERRIFYING. You’ll first know of them when you hear a low groan, and heavy stomping. You might also hear the accompanying Little Sister. The stomps will grow louder as they get closer, and the ground will shake. And it may look slow – but once it spots you or you try to hurt the Little Sister, it really isn’t.

franksteinbigdaddy

Big Daddies were originally human beings, genetically enhanced and with their skin and organs grafted onto an antique diving suit. I mean, that’s enough to make anybody mad, right? After the process, they are unable to make any noise but a low groan, similar to a whale call. Their original purpose was actually for construction work. However, when the Little Sisters (genetically altered young girls) were sent to collect ADAM from the corpses of Rapture, the Big Daddies were sent to protect them.

The whole idea of creating new life and playing around with genetics really reminds me of Frankenstein, and the Big Daddies are definitely monsters. And like Frankenstein’s Monster, the Big Daddy also has something he wants to protect.

The creators of Bioshock have also claimed that both 1984 by George Orwell and Logan’s Run by William F. Nolan were influences, in that way that the interesting societies in both books were ruined by their creators, humankind.

Have you played any of the Bioshock games? Are there any other books that you think influenced the series?

Challenges, Sci-Fi Month

Sci-Fi Month: Definitive Science Fiction Reads

scifipostheader2

Today I want to share a challenge with you all: my definitive list of science fiction reads! They are books I feel every sci-fi fan should read at least once in their lifetime, and as well as creating a challenge for myself I hope that it can be challenge for some of you too. Although I already have a Top Sci-Fi and Fantasy Books Challenge, I wanted to create one that reflected all different types of science fiction, including Young Adult. So it will actually be a mix of books I’ve loved, books I really feel I should read because they’re considered classics, and some titles that might often be overlooked, as well as some books that I’ve heard a lot of good things about.
 
If you’d like to join in, feel free! I’ll be keeping track of my progress too, on a separate post. Don’t forget to check out the schedule for the rest of today’s posts. You can also Tweet about the event using the hashtag #RRSciFiMonth.

‘Classic’ science fiction

Newer science fiction

Young Adult science fiction

What do you think of the challenge? Are you going to join in?