Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Speculative fiction, science fiction, and fantasy

In a recent review, Margaret Atwood reiterated her idea that she doesn't write "science fiction," but speculative fiction. The reviewer states that "she prefers 'speculative fiction.' If we have to have a label, that’s a better one, since part of Atwood’s mastery as a writer is to use herself as a creative computer, modeling possible futures projected from the available data — in human terms, where we are now."

Far be it from me to dispute such a long-standing SF luminary as Margaret Atwood, but in this case, she and the Times reviewer seem to be operating on an odd definition of "science fiction."

"Science Fiction" is one category under the umbrella of speculative fiction. The other major strain is fantasy. A third, less common, is alternate history. Broadly speaking, alternate history is fiction in which a fact of known history has been changed, and the speculation is about how that would change the present, and what the implications are. Fantasy supposes a change in natural law--a magical environment. Science fiction supposes a change in science and technology, and speculates on what that would mean. In other words, if a wizard creates a race of elves, it's fantasy. If a scientist creates a genetically modified species of human, it's science fiction. Ms. Atwood's latest book is the latter.

Now, the categories within speculative fiction overlap frequently. It's a very fluid genre. One or another usually emerges as the dominant form, but there's a lot of freedom inside the genre. An alternate history might be based on a technological change or a magical one (Kenneth Oppel's Airborn is a good example of an alternate history with different technology). A fantasy world with an advanced technology might be done. And there's no special reason an elf can't pilot a starship, though (unless you call him a Vulcan and suppose a different planet of origin) it would be hard to market to the science fiction fan base, which draws a hard line on fantasy elements entering science fiction.

There is not, however, a hard line about the time in which science fiction might be set, or what sorts of science might be the "guinea pigs" for the alteration or development. Any decent science fiction will involve "using [one]self as a creative computer, modeling possible futures projected from the available data — in human terms, where we are now." That, in fact, is a fairly succinct definition of the genre.

Is there a gosh-wow segment of science fiction? Sure, and it's as valid as the Sword and Sorcery segment of fantasy (for those not used to speculative fiction, there are quite a lot of sub-categories inside of each of the major ones--sword and sorcery, dystopian, utopian, etc). But it's certainly not the definition of science fiction. Isaac Asimov's Foundation--a, well, foundational book in the genre--is largely based on, of all things, political science. Orson Scott Card's Ender books use psychometrics and genetics, as well as sociology. Brian Aldiss's Helliconia trilogy deals with the impact of climate on societies in a binary star system. The list goes on. There's almost no scientific concept that can't be tweaked for science fiction. Ms. Atwood chose genetic manipulation. Excellent. And the branch of speculative fiction into which that falls is... science fiction.

Instead of saying "This isn't science fiction, it's good literature!", why not say, "Look! Science fiction is good literature!"?

Hispanic Heritage Month: September 15-October 15, 2009

Hispanic Heritage Month begins on September 15, the anniversary of independence for five Latin American countries—Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and Nicaragua. In addition, Mexico declared its independence on September 16, and Chile on September 18.

Why not celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month with a new book or by learning some fun facts? Take a Virtual Heritage Tour with the Smithsonian! Find out about local cultural events!

National Treasures @ Your Library!

In honor of the new PBS series "The National Parks: America's Best Idea",check out this new book by Timothy Egan about Teddy Roosevelt! You may also be interested in looking up John Muir, a Scottish-born American naturalist and the founder of the Sierra Club, who has long been considered one of America's earliest environmentalists. He was instrumental in preserving Yosemite and some wonderful photographs by Ansel Adams showcase the beauty of this wonderful national treasure.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Book on the Side--Suggest a Title!

As part of this blog, we want to have a monthly online reading group. For the first month, starting October 5th, we've put up a few titles for you to vote on to the right of this post. For future months' reading, we're open to your suggestions! Here are a few more of ours:

Oryx & Crake by Margaret Atwood
The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie by Alan Bradley
The Uncommon Reader by Alan Bennett
Like Water for Chocolate by Laura Esquivel
The Accidental by Ali Smith

We do try to suggest items that have at least 8 copies (in all formats--large print & audiobook count!), so if we don't use your suggestion, that may be the reason. We also try to wait until the book doesn't have a giant hold list.

We'll probably be keeping the format of the online book group similar to Magical Summer, with weekly reminders & discussion questions.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Banned Books Week: Celebrating the Freedom to Read

"The books featured during Banned Books Week have been targets of attempted bannings. Imagine how many more books might be challenged—and possibly banned or restricted—if librarians, teachers, and booksellers across the country did not use Banned Books Week each year to teach the importance of our First Amendment rights and the power of literature, and to draw attention to the danger that exists when restraints are imposed on the availability of information in a free society."
--from the ALA website

The American Library Association (ALA)has a lot of great information about Banned Books Week, which is celebrated from September 26-October 3 this year. This includes lists of Frequently Challenged Books by year by author, and by decade. They also feature some easily understood bannedbooksweek.org is another good resource, featuring tips on what you can do and a map of book censorship.

Here's some banned or challenged classics you might consider adding to your reading list:

In Cold Blood by Truman Capote
The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway
Their Eyes are Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston
One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest by Ken Kesey
Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell
The Color Purple by Alice Walker

Saturday, September 26, 2009

'70s Sitcom Stars Tell All!

Today is the 40th Anniversary of the TV premiere of The Brady Bunch! Have you kept up with the Brady Bunch kids? Maureen McCormick has a new book out called Here's the Story. Library Journal says "Here's the whole story--replete with eating disorders, drug addiction, depression, and family secrets--from the actress who was Marcia Brady." You'll find it at the library in the Biography section!

From Mary Tyler Moore, Cloris Leachman has written her autobiography, called simply Cloris. Kirkus Reviews describes it as a "frank stroll down a particularly verdant memory lane, recounting her life and times in no particular chronological or thematic order, veering into endless digressions and asides." Biography.

Also, Quinn Cummings, the child star of Neil Simon's The Goodbye Girl (she also appeared on TV in Family), has a new book out called Notes from the Underwire: Adventures from My Awkward and Lovely Life. BookPage says it's "part memoir, part mom-ish ruminations...salted by an ample dose of wry." Biography.

Still want more? Try Finding It: And Satisfying My Hunger for Life Without Opening the Fridge by Valerie Bertinelli (on order--place a hold!); Prairie Tale: A Memoir by Melissa Gilbert (Biography); and My Journey with Farrah: A Story of Life, Love, and Friendship by Alana Stewart (Biography), the tear-jerking memoir a longtime friendship that includes Farrah's last days.

You can also do a keyword search with 'television actors' to find memoirs, fiction, & more.

Welcome to abcreads!

abcreads is the blog of the Cherry Hills Library, part of the Albuquerque/Bernalillo County Library System. Beginning in October, we hope to have a monthly online book group (Book on the Side), so let us know which books you're interested in discussing! Additionally, we will be blogging about a variety of books & media--new releases, award winners, books related to current topics of interest. We encourage your comments & suggestions!