Sci-fi writers broaden horizons

Ironically, science fiction is not necessarily about science. Believing in aliens, quantum physics, or that mankind’s destiny lies in the stars isn’t required. Hyped into frenzy by classic but repetitive franchises like Star Wars, Battlestar Galactica and Star Trek, the sci-fi section in major bookstores now seems too weird and overblown for many. This first impression easily erodes in light of overriding diversity in the genre. Nowadays, instead of being removed to a secluded corner of the bookstore, sci-fi should take center-aisle in the fiction section.

Science-fiction has a knack for taking a clever twist on various genres of books. It is commonly associated with fantasy – most readers only vaguely perceive the line between the two. Shade’s Children by Garth Nix, for example, weaves hack-and-slash action into a post-apocalyptic setting, bringing The Matrix to mind. Gold Eye and the other escaped children discover that the Overlords have enslaved mankind to power their armies of robots, the Myrmidons. Written for younger readers, the novel didn’t gain as much attention as Nix’s Sabriel, a sword-and-sorcery fantasy that spread his literary fame outside of Australia. Though distanced from fantasy, sci-fi can strike a middle road between the two genres.

The expansion of science-fiction into other generic “styles” of fiction exploded over the past decade. What’s actually popular right now is more down-to-earth than the lofty sagas of Star Wars. Before, tales of grand intergalactic wars ruled the shelves. Right now, thriller, comedy and horror can all claim representation in the latest sci-fi picks. A noteworthy fusion of these mainstream genres includes The Dresden Files by Jim Butcher. The series revolves around the daily life of gutsy Chicago wizard and paranormal investigator Harry Dresden. In his battles against vampires, the undead, demons and faeries, Dresden deals with all manner of occult villains in an underworld of magical crime. Small Favors, the latest release, premiered in December after the last novel, White Night, landed on the New York Times bestseller list a year ago. Like Garth Nix, Jim Butcher has expanded into other genres with his Codex Alera books, partly an historical fantasy set in the Roman era.

Novelists have even come up with sci-fi specializing on great “what-if’s.” When it comes to “alternate history,” Harry Turtledove is king. His latest offerings, Opening Atlantis and The United States of Atlantis take a spin on how another continent could’ve produced a different American history. Turtledove falters with some audiences, on the other hand, for his surreal treatment of characters he doesn’t have enough time to flesh out before he moves on to the next generation. Opening Atlantis boasts wag-about pirates and English explorers more scandalous than the merry outlaws in Robin Hood: Men in Tights. To be fair, Atlantis is only the latest in Turtledove’s lengthy writing career, so let history buffs feel free to explore his work further.

Ironically, sci-fi’s borders are almost too broad to clearly define. Writers continually expand its definitions with titles attempting to surpass the norm. In a genre that has broken free from many stereotypes, readers can benefit from the gathering variety of the science-fiction racks in the book-store. Sci-fi stories are no longer of one stock – writers now mix in humor, wit and all the best parts of other books and genres. By now science fiction has all the bases covered. With the best of both worlds, readers can now enjoy something interesting and fun, one book at a time.