Posts Tagged With: sci-fi

Epic Sci-Fi…From 1933

It seems that many authors think that their sci-fi or fantasy books must run 200,000 words to qualify as a world-building epic. As we discussed before, that isn’t always the case. There are many lengthy books that are must reads, but many others that fail to let their stories breath and trust their readers’ imaginations.

Older sci-fi tended to be much shorter, such as Otis Adelbert Kline’s The Swordsman of Mars and The Outlaws of Mars. A contemporary of Edgar Rice Burroughs, Kline wrote in the same vein of swashbuckling adventures.

Does the short nature of these books mean they lack detail? No, you quickly find yourself on the red world, immersed in another culture. for a short while you are there on a world that never was. I have often argued that just enough detail can go along away to implanting images in the reader’s mind. Describing every last button and rock along the trail just slows down the journey.

A writer must learn when to detail and when not to. Where to pause and give more, and where to forge ahead and trust the reader. Surely reader preferences may come into play, but most want to be pulled in and stranded in a fantastic adventure.

The Red Planet is a good of a place as any to start.


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A few posts ago, I wrote on authors having a little fun with their books. Sure, every genre has its expectations as far as realism, details and plausibility. There will always be those “experts” that catch you on every “mistake” – whether you intended it or not. Most authors don’t mind getting corrections, but being an writer also means knowing when to deviate from the rules. For goodness sake, you’re writing about trolls or mutants or unstoppable heroes. Even when grounding it in some sort of plausibility, there’s still a bit of implausibility built in. Sure, if you’re writing The Hunt for Red October, your submarines cannot suddenly turn invisible or fly. Writing with that level of realism isn’t easy, though authors like Tom Clancy did it all the time. Even writers of techno thrillers and “hard sci-fi” don’t always follow the rules. A.E. van Vogt wrote many years ago (1952):

At the moment I regret none of the liberties I took with science in my science fiction. There was always a wealth of fact, enough, so it seemed to me, to carry the fantasy element. Even then, I rationalized what I did. I told myself whenever I had doubts: “The Story’s the thing.” I still believe that.

So, you see, being a writer is to know when to break the rules and, perhaps, make it seem like you aren’t breaking them. Or you write your story no matter what it takes, because ultimately it’s not realism even in the most realistic books that catch readers.

It’s Imagination.

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Lost on Venus

While Mars gets all the attention in sci-fi, Edgar Rice Burroughs (of course) penned a five volume series back in the day (1930s) and has been the epic adventure on the clouded planet ever since.

He uses his classic formula: Earth man lost on another world, meets the girl of his dreams (native of the other world), must face peril after peril, often losing and rescuing his girl in the process. In spite of being a well-used plot in his books — and an archtype for much of pulp fiction that would come later — he creates fresh backdrops of alien cultures and beasts. One can detect allusions to nations or ideologies of our own world in his creations, yet he’s always subtle, never in your face with parallel meanings.

Is there anything wrong with an entertaining story that lets the reader disappear into another world? Must every book be on some sort of crusade? No, but all good books have some depth to them. Others try too hard and come off unintelligent to the thoughtful reader. Yes, there are those who like books that explicitly affirm their worldviews, no matter how poor the presentation.

Burroughs’ books, however, decades after they were written remain fresh, relevant and, above all, entertaining.


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Burroughs’ Dystopian Earth

Edgar Rice Burroughs is best known for his pulp-sci-fi Barsoom series (John Carter of Mars) and Tarzan. His swashbuckling heroes and their over-the-top adventures influenced countless authors and movies ever since. He’s not known for dystopian tales like those so popular today. Yet, before Orwell and Huxley, he wrote one, a lesser known book, The Moon Men.

A sequel to The Moon Maid, it takes a decidedly different tone than that volume. Maid is the typical Burroughs adventure: Hero finds himself in perilous situations, always perseveres and rescues the girl in the end. In Men, Flash forward a few centuries after these events, and we find Earth invaded and conquered.

Earth, after its own wars, had created “peace” by disarming all. The world’s militaries also all abandoned. A world lulled into a false Eden, ripe for someone to take advantage of it. What follows is a subjugated population who worships in secret, books are rare and people are stolen by those aligned with the invaders. Fall out of line and face death and being fed to the alien race. But Julian has had enough.

Burroughs, writing in the 1920s, had seen the destructive Great War and writes of the follies of war in the first book, but also of the futility of pretending evil is conquered and peace can be forced. He then shows how tyranny can begin to falter because of one man. The master of pulp fiction showed that this genre could give us as much to think about as any “literary” work.

And any worthwhile book should entertain and make us think.


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Traveling the River of Time

We are often implored to remember the lessons of history, and on a more frequent basis, ignore that suggestion. Yet fiction has long been fascinated with time travel. Particularly science-fiction, but it seems we have this unconscious desire to return to better times, sight-see or change what came before.

The time travel story isn’t always an easy one in a world where science is so dominant. There are those armchair physicists who pride themselves in red flagging every potential or actual flaw in a story that moves against the river of time. For those of us who rather enjoy or be immersed in a good story, we look for the tale to be largely plausible. Though if writers cannot be creative time to time, who needs fiction?

Movies have some of the best examples of jumping through history. Frequency had a father and son, years apart, talking to each other via solar phenomenon. Deja Vu had the FBI remote view into the recent past and sending an agent into time to solve a crime. In hard sci-fi, some of the most successful adventures in the Star Trek world involved warping through time. Witness the films The Voyage Home, First Contact and Star Trek. Or whole series such as the Back to the Future or Terminator predicated on opening rifts in time and avoiding (or creating) paradoxes. In a few weeks, X-Men Days of Future Past will add to the long list, and become the most expensive and, perhaps, most successful jump through the veil.

I never thought to write any time travel stories, as much as I have enjoyed those of others. Especially not weaving it into a fantasy epic, but then it just happened. More on this to come.

In the meantime, with time being part of the universe’s structure as it is, what if someone could transcend that dimension? Will this remain fiction?

Or has it already happened?

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A Paymaster, Marine and Another Guy Steal a Starship…

Sounds like the start of a bad joke, but it’s essentially the beginning (more or less) of Ren Garcia‘s latest League of Elder saga, Sands of the Solar Empire.

This is book six of League of Elder series, but first of a new trilogy. Long-time fans will notice that Garcia is launching a new batch of characters in his universe that seems both far, far away and yet nearby (and all over the place in time). It’s a galaxy where ships battle, people live in castle-like estates, and magic of sorts is not uncommon. Throw in a bit of horror in from demons and other creatures, while you’re at it.

At the onset of Sands of the Solar Empire, Paymaster Stenstrom achieves his dream of becoming the captain of a warbird. His mission, not to glamorous to begin with, is doomed to fail from the powers that be. Nor does he have a crew and his ship is a wreck. But there is much more to Stenstrom than meets the eye.

That’s were the story jumps back a bit and starts from the real beginning: How Stenstrom got here to begin with and his past adventures and encounters with sinister beings. Unusual for a book to be mostly a flashback of sorts, but well-executed. Once it comes full circle to the start, and Stenstrom and his rag-tag crew he has assembled (of three, counting himself), they find themselves part of something far more dangerous than they ever imagined.

There at the end, you realize you just read a really long (and very good) prologue of what is most likely going to be another totally original, and completely immersive, series from Garcia.

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Have you Joined the League Yet?

I reviewed awhile back the first three books of the League of Elder series. It’s an impressive sci-fi epic from the mind of Ren Garcia. Keep in mind, once upon a time, sci-fi was my main genre of choice. Then I got bored. It was hard finding anything to keep my interest. The League of Elder changed that.

An original mythos set somewhere else in the universe where space battles are not unusual, castles are not uncommon homes, people like to bowl, and of course, evil beings are trying to throw everything into disarray. In all the details in between, Garcia has managed to create a universe with a little bit of everything. By themselves they — the strange creatures, mix of advanced and esoteric technology, and that seal — would all seem a bit odd. But here it all works and becomes expected. This all set against a measured dose of action and romance.

I have just finished book four, The Machine — which is actually two in a trilogy — in about two days. Like any good series, it keeps getting better and draws the reader in further. Last time, Kabyl, son of the famous Captain Davage, falls in love with the tormented Sammidoran. These Monama people aren’t usually the type that the upper-crust mingle with in the League. Evil must be conquered if they are truly to be together. And now Kay and his friends set out across the galaxy to find what Sam needs, to save her and the League. It’s not the old Black Hats that are much of a threat anymore, but the far worse evil of the Horned God and his demon and zombie-like minions.

It’s quite a ride, trust me. Like always, I recommend starting at the beginning of the series. Only then will the full scope of Garcia’s world be grasped, and the characters from the first two books have returned to a primary place in this part two of the trilogy. Now, on to part three.

Get ready for one amazing ride.

P.S. I like how Garcia has had artists sprinkle illustrations throughout his books. It’s like a throwback to the old days of Burroughs and Tolkien.

P.P.S. Finished part three, The Temple of the Exploding Head. Don’t be disturbed by the, well, stuff, on the cover. This is a spectacular conclusion to this trilogy. One hopes Garcia will revisit these characters someday, but it’s also good that he isn’t dragging them on endlessly like some book series do. Closure is needed at some point. It’s also a mark of a great series when you can look back to the beginning and think of the adventure you have been on and say, “I’m sorry to see it all end.”

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John Carter of Mars

If you’ve seen the movie previews of John Carter and the name is not familiar, you’ve missed out on an epic sci-fi series. The classic eleven-book series from Edgar Rice Burroughs, written decades ago, was ahead of its time. During the era when Mars was still the subject of many a fantasy and full of life, Burroughs created this swashbuckling adventure. John Carter, earthling and Civil War vet, finds himself somehow on Mars (Barsoom) in the midst of a war. Fantasy, sci-fi and high adventure form these best of Burroughs’ works, even though he is often better remembered for Tarzan and The Land that Time Forgot. Hopefully, the film-makers do the first book justice and we can look forward to more.

All eleven books in four volumes: Books 1-3, 4-6, 7-9, 10-11.

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To the End of the Universe

So I was strolling around in one of those overstock/surplus stores and this particular one has a large books section. New books, cheap. Every once in a while one finds a treasure digging through the stacks. A hardback sci-fi trilogy by Chris Walley caught my attention.

Never heard of it. Nice hardcover editions, though. Someone invested in these. All the comparisons to Tolkien and Lewis a bit much, as are the hokey nameless internet reviews on the back. Well, I’ll buy the first one and see how it goes. Haven’t had much luck with sci-fi lately.

Needless to say, I went back and bought the other two. Walley’s series is a genuine, sci-fi epic. Original and engrossing. Mankind thousands of years into the future has settled among the stars. Conflict and evil are virtually unheard of.

Of course, that all changes.

How Walley shows evil’s subtle re-entry into the universe and its effect on people is a unique perspective. Epic action abounds. There is a religious worldview in the background, but to label this “Christian Fiction” does it a disservice (no one labels The Lord of the Rings that way and rarely the Narnia books even though the parallels are more obvious), because the way publishing works that means it probably won’t be on the sci-fi shelf.

Thus many will miss this bright spot in the sci-fi world. For those of you afraid of such things, the religion is neither preachy or contrived nor overwhelming. Walley does it the right way and his beliefs inform his work, not overpower it.

So if you are in need for an escape to another part of the universe, check these out soon:

The Shadow and Night
The Dark Foundations
The Infinite Day

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Welcome to the League

After years of being a sci-fi fan, I became bored with it and mostly abandoned it for fantasy. The cross-genre of science fantasy never appealed to me. Nevertheless, I keep an eye out for new fiction that appeals to my interests. When the first in the League of Elder series Sygillis of Metatron came to my attention, I didn’t know what to make of it from the cover (giant seal?). I quickly became absorbed in this science fantasy tale.

A fascinating story of a hero that tries to save one of his dire enemies whom is trying to kill him. Set in Garcia’s world in which anything can crop up. Space battles. Castles. Bowling. Whatever materializes into his mind. This creativity makes the story breathe. Throw in some action and romance and you have the beginning of an epic. It continues in Hazards of the Old Ones. I haven’t read the next books in the series, so I don’t know where this all is going. The first two volumes, however, deserve a look by anyone needing to escape Earth for a little while.

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