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Topic: 2012 Fantasy Challenge -- Science Fantasy Discussion

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Subject: 2012 Fantasy Challenge -- Science Fantasy Discussion
Date Posted: 12/1/2011 4:30 AM ET
Member Since: 4/18/2009
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Please post all your discussion of books filling this category in this thread.

 

Some Useful Definitions

Science Fantasy: Science Fantasy is a mixed genre within speculative fiction drawing elements from both Science Fiction and Fantasy.

Dying Earth: The Dying Earth subgenre takes place in the far future at either the end of life on Earth or the End of Time, when the laws of the universe themselves fail. Themes of world-weariness, innocence (wounded or otherwise), idealism, entropy, (permanent) exhaustion/depletion of many or all resources (such as soil nutrients), and the hope of renewal tend to pre-dominate.
Planetary Romance: Planetary romance is a type of story in which the bulk of the action consists of adventures on one or more exotic alien planets, characterized by distinctive physical and cultural backgrounds.
Sword and Planet novel: Sword and Planet features rousing adventure stories set on other planets, and usually featuring Earthmen as protagonists. The name derives from the heroes of the genre engaging their adversaries in hand to hand combat primarily with simple melee weapons such as swords, even in a setting that often has advanced technology.
Lost Colony: Lost Colony novels are set on a planet settled by humans but which has lost contact with the rest of the human race. Often the colony then forgets that humanity ever existed anywhere else. Novels may or may not feature recontact with other factions of humanity.

 

LISTS ONLY thread can be found here.



Last Edited on: 12/1/11 4:46 AM ET - Total times edited: 1
Date Posted: 1/3/2012 1:23 AM ET
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Again, saw someone list their section challenge in the thread for list's sake and I thought I'd do the same!

Going light!

Science Fantasy
1. Read a novel where a traditional science fiction element is explained fantastically.
2. Read a novel where a traditional fantasy element is explained scientifically.
3. Read a novel where both science fictional elements and fantasy elements are treated as equally factual.....     The Lost Colony (Artemis Fowl)
4. Read a Dying Earth novel.
5. Read a Planetary Romance.
6. Read a Sword and Planet novel.
7. Read a novel set in a future with magic.
8. Read a novel with a computer/computers who are treated like gods.
9. Read a novel that involves psi powers.
10. Read a Lost Colony novel where the colony has reverted to a feudal system of some sort.

 



Last Edited on: 1/4/12 10:41 PM ET - Total times edited: 1
Date Posted: 1/10/2012 5:56 PM ET
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Started Black Sun Rising, by C.S. Friedman. Planning on putting it in "novel involving Psi Powers." I think it also fits "Traditional fantasy element (the Fae) explained scientifically (aliens)" or "Planetary Romance" or "Lost Colony novel where the colony has reverted to a feudal system."

 



Last Edited on: 1/10/12 6:00 PM ET - Total times edited: 1
Date Posted: 1/10/2012 6:58 PM ET
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Would ARK by Stephen Baxter count??

Date Posted: 1/10/2012 8:10 PM ET
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xengab: I haven't read it (or any Baxter, for that matter) but I don't see any fantasy elements in the description Amazon. . . have you read the first book in the series? Were there some in that?

Date Posted: 1/11/2012 5:19 PM ET
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First one didn't but I read some review that said in this one it had some elements in it, I am 1/4 through it so far and nothing but thought maybe later on it might (when they get to the planet or whatever happens).

Date Posted: 1/17/2012 2:35 AM ET
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Finished Black Sun Rising. Found it exciting and infuriating by turns, and far too long. Friedman did some interesting world-building surrounding the nature of faith, but the female characters pissed me off, and the main character had a major change of heart at the end that I did not think was supported by the text (but which was clearly necessary for there to be a sequal). Don't think I'll be continuing the series, unfortunately; too many books I have reason to expect will be better.

Date Posted: 3/17/2012 2:12 AM ET
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Finished Saints Astray, by Jacqueline Carey. I'm putting it in "Read a novel where a traditional fantasy element is explained scientifically" -- the main character is named Loup Garron (drawn from loup-garou, or werewolf) but she's really the child of a genetically modified soldier (we never find out what he's modified with though). It's the sequel to Santa Olivia, which was amazing; unfortunately it's probably Carey's weakest book yet. Her work always surprises me with how high concept it is, and the first book in this series was doing some really brilliantly subtle things about the nature of fear (Loup is engineered to not feel it); unfortunately, she really completed that whole exploration in that first book, and all the second book is doing is advancing the plot. And it's kind of a crap plot, and the characters are really flat, and the dialogue -- oh dear gods, the dialogue! -- is absolutely inane at all times. Plus I found the lesbian relationship at the book's core rather uncomfortably performative -- there's a lot of (badly written) flirting and sexual innuendo and heavy petting and of course actual sex scenes, but a majority of the time there's a male audience for those scenes, so it feels more like lesbian porn for men than a beautiful caring lesbian relationship.
 
This book was just such a waste of time -- mine and Carey's, it seems! -- that it kind of makes me want to cry.
Date Posted: 3/22/2012 2:05 AM ET
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Phew! I've done a bit of reading and not a whole lot of posting. Here's the science fantasy I've read over the past couple of months:

Grass, Sheri S. Tepper - Started out decently enough, but the pacing and storyline just fell apart towards the end. It should have been a Dying Earth novel, with a universe-wide plague threatening to wipe out all of humanity, only none (save one) of the characters ever experienced the plague directly. Every character's motive for discovering causes, curing, or covering up the existence of the plague were all based on abstract religious duty. So it was more of a story about rich people riding Earth ponies with other rich people and their wicked alien ponies, until one of the rich people tells a famous doctor about the wicked ponies and the doctor figures everything out in the background while the rich people run around and panic. With ocassional awkward allegory. 

Bone Dance, Emma Bull (future w/ magic)- This one also had a problem with character motive. The "bad" guys were easy; they were either motivated by power/money or revenge or survival instinct. Bull dropped the ball with the good guys, though. An akward, asocial character who purposefully keeps people at a distance is not going to suddenly have three or four friends to call on - or, more appropriately, have three or four friends force-feed their help - when the spirits decide it's time to correct "an imbalance". And that's all the explination anyone gets from the spirit world on the matter. No hint as to why the spirit world would actually care about such a thing. If you can overlook a few holes and weak points in charactarization, this one really isn't that bad. It's a fairly good story set in a well illustrated world, and even the charactarization pretty good aside from the fact that half of them need to be manhandled through the plot.

The Half Made World, Felix Gilman (sci/fi fantasy equally treated) - I was pretty pleased with this one after reading the last two. Charactarization is very good; main characters even have their own voices. There's really nothing science fiction about this one, although fantasy and technology do get equal treatment. The technology just tends to be more of the coal and steam driven sort. Westward expansion driven by mad gods. The ending was left extremely wide open, so I'm guessing there will be a sequel some day. 

Date Posted: 3/22/2012 2:09 AM ET
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Alas that this category doesn't seem to be treating you well! (Also, alas for me, because all three of those books are on Mt. TBR.) :)

Date Posted: 3/22/2012 11:26 AM ET
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Jasmine,

The Half-Made World does have a short story set in the same universe.  "Lightbringers and Rainmakers".  I don't remember if I got it on Gilman's website or Tor.com, but it is free somewhere.  I haven't read it yet though.

Also, the sequel was recently announced:  The Rise of Ransom CityIt's due out late this year.

Date Posted: 3/22/2012 2:55 PM ET
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Phoenix - Bone Dance is still worth a read. It has its moments. You can use Grass to fix that wobbly kitchen table.

Mel - Yay! A sequel! (Although I hope it ends with the second novel...I'm getting awfully tired of neverending stories...)

Date Posted: 3/22/2012 4:42 PM ET
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It seems like everything is a series these days. 

November is going to be a busy (and expensive) month.  Half of the next installments of series that I've been waiting for are going to come out then.

There's this one, the latest Vorkosigan novel, the last in Valente's Prestor John trilogy, the 3rd book in the Gentleman Bastards series (not holding my breath on that one though), the next Andrews' Edge novel.

There's even a chance the next Dresden Files book will be out in November.  (Actual release date hasn't been announced, but estimates are Oct/Nov.)

Date Posted: 4/13/2012 1:52 PM ET
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I recently read Debris by Jo Anderton.  It's on the Locus Recommended List for new authors.

I've seen this marketed as Sci-Fi and Steampunk, but it's not either one - not even close.  Instead of using electricity and mechanics, humans discovered pions which are something like molecules, or atoms, or maybe the nuclear forces binding molecules and atoms together.  By mentally manipulating pions, humans can sculpt, paint, erect buildings, create lights, and do everything they used to be able to do with electricity and gears.

Tanyana is an architect who had an "accident" while building a statue and is severely injured to the extent that she can no longer see pions.  As a result, she is forced to become one of the outcast debris (byproduct of pion usage) collectors.  The characters are solid and complex, but the world in general, particularly its history, could use a bit more definition - even if (maybe especially if) what we're told about it is false. As it stands, we're just really learning about the world by the time the book ends. 

I enjoyed this one, and am looking forward to the sequel.

Categories:  Novel that involves psi powers, Author from Oceana, Female author, published in last 12 months, published by a small press, female protagonist

Date Posted: 4/13/2012 6:15 PM ET
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Oooo, that sounds interesting. . . will have to add it to my wishlist!

Date Posted: 4/23/2012 7:13 PM ET
Member Since: 5/31/2009
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Science Fantasy
1. Read a novel where a traditional science fiction element is explained fantastically.
2. Read a novel where a traditional fantasy element is explained scientifically - The Fledgling by Octavia Butler  Social issues and miscegenation where two separate (but linked) acts of racial mixing - some human genetic material  is used to create the heroine (vampire with human blood) 4 stars
3. Read a novel where both science fictional elements and fantasy elements are treated as equally factual.
4. Read a Dying Earth novel.
5. Read a Planetary Romance.
6. Read a Sword and Planet novel.
7. Read a novel set in a future with magic - A Girl's Guide to Guns and Monsters edited by Martin H. Greenberg and Kerrie Hughes (most stories set the 21st century)  I like anthologies for three reasons.  First, you can finish a story in a short time.  Second, you discover new authors.  Third, you discover short stories by some favorite authors.  One of my favorite authors is Jane Lindskold who wrote "The Drifter" with Prudence Bledsloe, her brother, Jake, and an old west theme.  This interesting tale has a unique ending.  "Broch de Shlang" by Mickey Zucker Reichert features a couple who has a strange child and a snake.  This one has a twisting and unusual plot.  "Elizabeth and Anna's Big Adventure" by Jeanne C. Stein is short, concise, and great reading.  There are others but I'll stop here as readers of anthologies should discover the stories for themselves.  Suffice it to say that I liked several of the stories.  4 stars.

8. Read a novel with a computer/computers who are treated like gods.

9. Read a novel that involves psi powers - Scent of Magic by Andre Norton.  This is a most enjoyable read.  Meet Halwice, herbwoman extraordinare; Wiladene, her assistant who has a nose for determining good, evil and different people as well as all other odors; Mahart, sheltered princess who has so much to learn about the world; The Bat, spy for the king; and so many other intriguing characters.  This is a classic tale of good versus evil with kingdoms at risk and a bit of romance thrown in between Wiladene and The Bat and the princess and a warrior prince who has no time for simpering women.  4 stars
10. Read a Lost Colony novel where the colony has reverted to a feudal system of some sort.



Last Edited on: 12/28/12 3:30 PM ET - Total times edited: 6
Date Posted: 5/4/2012 11:00 AM ET
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Has anyone here read the original Dying Earth stories by Jack Vance?  If so, what are they like?

The reason why I'm asking is I'd heard that William Hope Hodgson's House on the Borderlands was similar.  I'm reading that book now, and it's very Lovecraft-ish in tone.  That doesn't exactly fit my preconceived notions of what The Dying Earth is like.  From looking at the covers, I'd always imagined that it'd be more pulp or sword & sorcery. 

 

Never mind -- just didn't read far enough into House on the Borderlands before allowing myself to get confused.  It's the content that's sort of like The Dying Earth series, not the style.

The first 2/3 of the book is the threat of a giant looming pit and eldritch lurking pig-like monsters.  The last 1/3 of the book covers a dream-like journey through time where the Earth falls into the sun, the sun burns out and falls into the center of the universe, and the universe consists of a giant looming star and eldritch lurking god-like nebulas.  Very weird, creepy and disquieting - especially in the last 1/3.  And VERY Lovecraftian, where the best solution is to hold your breath and hope you're never noticed because you're just that insignificant.

Looking at the blurb (which I'm just now reading) this book was actually a huge influence on Lovecraft which makes perfect sense now that I've read it.  And, yes, he did use the word "eldritch."

Of course, I don't think there's any good category it fits in.  It's not really in the Cthulhu mythos, nor is it a true dying earth book though it's similar to both in many ways.  The only category I can think of is "Author from Europe" and that's pretty trivial.

(I still would welcome thoughts on Vance's Dying Earth. )



Last Edited on: 5/4/12 6:59 PM ET - Total times edited: 1
Date Posted: 5/11/2012 2:46 PM ET
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Catherynne Valente's Silently and Very Fast -- Like most of Valente's work - I adore this!  It's one of very few that, upon finishing, I immediately started over.

This is the birth of an AI, Elefsis, and the exploration of what it means to feel and live. Since Elefsis is owned by a child when it (he? she? both? neither?) first came into awareness, its (his? her?) history is couched in fairy tale metaphors. 

So, for instance, the birth of Elefsis becomes the birth of Sleeping Beauty.  The rulers, humanity, greatly wanted progeny, a child.  Eventually, they created one.  Their child was visited by the good fairies of Self-Programming, Do-No-Harm, Tractability, Creative Logic, Elegant Code, and Self-Awareness.  The Fairy of Otherness was offended that she had not been invited and uttered her fateful curse that taught the parents to fear: "It is not like us."

Of course, my paraphrasing does the passage no justice whatsoever. 

Even though there's no true fantasy, all the history phrased as fairy tales puts it into the fantasy category in my mind - so, I'm going to put it under "novel where both science fictional elements and fantasy elements are treated as equally factual."

It could also be considered as a "novel with a computer/computers who are treated like gods" - but that would be gods with a little g, not a big G.  Elefsis describes herself (itself? himself?) as a lares - one of the minor household gods of Greek mythology.  The god of the hearth, the god of the stove, the god of the air conditioning, all rolled up into one.

Other categories:
Revisionist fairy tale, in a way.
Novel by a woman.
Novel published in the last 12 months.
Novel published by a small press.
Novel with less than 150 pages. 

For the Science Fiction quarterly challenge:
The first artificial intelligence.

Date Posted: 5/31/2012 12:00 PM ET
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I have an odd book to fit into the "traditional science fiction element explained fantastically" category:  Jo Walton's Lifelode.

It's not traditional science fantasy - it's a rather cozy, domestic, homey fantasy novel without a screw, nut, bolt or any bit of technology to be seen.  The "science fantasy" comes in when the afterward reveals that the magic system is based off Vernor Vinge's concept of "technological singularities" and "zones of thought" (which is in turn related to the theory of relativity).  She also explains that the world is a lost colony (with a feudal system).

It's a very good book, though not quite on par with Among Others and Farthing.  I really liked the magic system and world and the way everyone just takes their polygamous society for granted is wonderfully comfortable. 

I'm now officially impressed with Jo Walton's range.  She's written a Trollop-ish historical fantasy, an alternate history/cozy mystery, modern magical realism, and Arthurian fantasy.  Plus, she's a rather prolific book critic/blogger. 

Date Posted: 5/31/2012 11:20 PM ET
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Yay for the plug of Lifelode! I loved it. . . I'd put it behind only Farthing in her list of works myself, but then I haven't been as much on the Among Others bandwagon as most people. Though I was sad when I saw her mention somewhere that she regretted revealing that Lifelode was science fantasy because it changed the conversation people had around it, making it all about whether or not it counted as SF or not instead of, you know, talking about the book. ;)

Should note, though that (1) it's pretty hard to find, because it was published by NESFA Press; and (2) it's a tougher read than any of Walton's other novels (or blog posts!) because it's not told at all chronologically. Granted, those were some of the reasons I loved it. . . ;D

Date Posted: 6/1/2012 11:32 AM ET
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Walton's regret makes me sad too, since I love little tidbits of info from the author.  It gives me something new to think about and look for when I re-read it.  Of course, in this case I'd have to read Vernor Vinge first for it to do much good. 

Very true on the "hard to find" comment.  I don't understand why popular authors would agree to publish with such limited availability.  (And I'm referring to both very small presses and exclusive ebook deals.)  Don't they know they have rabid fans who want to read everything?

Date Posted: 6/1/2012 2:00 PM ET
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If I had to guess, in this case at least, I'd think a major publisher wasn't interested. It kind of screams "limited audience" to me. . . somehow I just can't picture it being published by Tor.

And then I'd guess that a lot of the Elizabeth Bear stuff we like is from Subterranean Press because larger publishers generally aren't interested in publishing novella-length stuff. . .

I've always just assumed that most authors would naturally prefer to publish with somebody big, but they're not the ones with the final say, after all.

And I kind of like having to work to find those lesser-known works! Makes 'em feel more special. . . ;D

Date Posted: 6/1/2012 3:38 PM ET
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True.  Lifelode won't appeal to everyone.  I don't see it being published by Tor either unless it's under some imprint.  But there are other small presses out there who do manage to get into some bookstores and have a bit wider audience.  NESFA just seems like such an odd choice to me -- mostly because I've never heard of them before this book.  I suppose having it hard to find ensures that anyone who goes to the trouble of hunting it down probably knows what they're getting. 

Novellas and poetry collections, I completely understand being limited in distribution.  I balk at paying full hardback prices for those myself.  Subterranean press sometimes releasees the novellas as ebooks too - they just haven't with Bear's latest, for whatever reason. 

I guess this just boils down to me being spoiled.  I would feel more special if I'd tracked them down in a store somewhere instead of just buying them online.  I was thrilled when I found Tanya Huff's anthologies.  I'd been looking for them for years, then suddenly all 4 of them were right there on the shelf at the used book store.  It made me happy for the rest of the week.

Date Posted: 6/12/2012 12:28 AM ET
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This has nothing to do with science fantasy or even the challenge but... speaking of hard to find books, I finally got my hands on a copy of McKinley's Something Rich and Strange.  Yay!  I didn't know there were this many illustrations in the book.  It's gorgeous, and I can't wait to read it.

Date Posted: 6/12/2012 12:44 AM ET
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Ooooo, so jealous!!!