Last month I talked about my fantasy influencers. I’ll always enjoy reading fantasy because it’s about things we don’t have like magic or fantastic creatures. But speculating on what our society will be like in the future is also great fun. So this month, I’d like to talk about the science fiction authors who inspired me.
Isaac Asimov was the master of both short and long fiction, and was probably the most prolific author of all time (all but one Dewey Decimal category covered!). He also had some insightful ideas of not only future technology but about the way society might evolve and change.
Most of his stories were written in our universe and spanned thousands of years. My idea for the Darklight Universe comes from this concept. With millions of stars and planets, they can easily share the same universe. Sharing like this can lead to cool intersections.
The Caves of Steel begins the whole I, Robot related series of books involving a human police detective who hates robots and is naturally partnered with a humanoid looking robot. You may have seen the movie, but there are several books involving this duo as they solve crimes involving the three laws of robotics. Not only are the logic puzzles they solve interesting, the backdrop of futuristic societies on Earth and other planets is a fascinating addition.
The human detective eventually passes away and R. Daneel Olivaw has to face his ‘feelings’ about his friend dying. Civilization continues, and a man called Hari Seldon develops psychohistory–a means of studying human behavior as a whole and using that to predict the future. That whole Facebook – Cambridge Analytica fiasco reminded me of a precursor to psychohistory. (Ok, maybe a real embryonic form of it). Hari has his own drama in trying to keep his invention from nefarious groups who would abuse it. And guess what–R. Daneel Olivaw appears again to encourage Hari to develop his science so humanity can prosper. He winds up having the most important role. Who would have thought it in those robot detective stories?
I loved how both robots and humanity evolved over the centuries. But Asimov didn’t only write about our civilization. Probably one of the most poignant stories about humanity’s behavior came from a group of people living on a planet with six suns. They never saw nighttime except once every 2000 years. Imagine the chaos! Or simply read Nightfall!
The other thing I took away from reading Asimov was the philosophy of writing short stories that had a strong punch to them at the end. I am still awed by how much feeling I had when reading Eyes Do More Than See. That story is only around 930 words, yet it is complete and satisfying.
Arthur C. Clarke
Another major influence on me was Arthur C. Clarke, mainly for his scientific ideas that seemed achievable. In fact, while Yuri Artsutinov was the inventor of the space tether, it was Clarke who popularized the idea when he published The Fountains of Paradise. And now this is an actual thing we could do. Same with modern satellites and internet.
He was also a master of telling stories. I think everyone has heard of 2001: A Space Odyssey, or at least the Stanley Kubrick movie where HAL says in a calm voice. “What are you doing Dave?” The movie, at the beginning, was very confusing if you didn’t read the book, but it’s an interesting look into aliens perhaps influencing our evolution. And just when you think it’s all about figuring out a homicidal computer… the aliens become a thing again!
I liked how Clarke presented a more positive view of aliens than other books at the time, or even today. Rendezvous With Rama was a nice change of pace where scientists worked together to explore an alien unknown. No murderous intent, just that feeling of wonder and uncertainty.
Childhood’s End is another story that presents aliens in a non-threatening light. What I enjoyed most is that the story doesn’t go like you think it will. I like taking tropes and turning them sideways or upside down.
Clarke also wrote several short stories. I enjoyed these because he always had a good eye to what science might be able to do and incorporated that.
C. J. Cherryh
I learned a lot about writing alien cultures by reading books by C. J. Cherryh. Her cat people (hani) have a comprehensive culture that feels very realistic. Same with the atevi in Foreigner. She’s usually got a human in with the aliens to connect with readers, but I think her depiction of alien societies is so well done she didn’t need the humans.
I loved her work so much that I scrounged used book stores to get many of her titles. At least it looks like all her stuff is available on Kindle now, including the The Complete Morgain (Morgain Cycle), which is a combination of time travel and science fiction with a fantasy vibe.
Speaking of mixing science fiction with fantasy, I have to mention Roger Zelazny. Unfortunately, a lot of his work is paperback only, like Lord of the Light. A group of colonists use technology and Hindu religion to become the gods their ancestors worshiped. One person stands against them and their oppression of the colonists.
Then, there’s the Amber series. The main character, Corwin, has no memory of who he is and is living on Earth until an assassination attempt spurs him to discover who he is and what strange powers he has. Amber is the original world through which all others are mere shadows, including Earth. Corwin and his people can use Tarot cards to talk to one another and journey through the card. They can also use their mental powers to carve a path through the various worlds by making slight modifications as they walk until the scenery matches their destination.
Yes, it’s fantasy with some modern technology thrown in. However, many of his stories, long and short, contain a blend of science fiction and fantasy which I found pretty fun to read. Also, his stuff is imaginative and the descriptions are really vivid.
There are many other great science fiction writers like James P. Hogan, Anne McCaffrey (Ship Who Sang series), Philip K. Dick, Frank Herbert, Douglas Adams, Neal Stephenson, and Ann Leckie (my current favorite). I encourage you to check them out!