This is where I begin to diverge from the few videos I did. If I was following the same sequence here is where I would be talking about recent space opera books I’ve read and what I thought of them.
However looking at what I’ve done so far in this series, I felt like I need to talk more about what I love about science fiction, so that when I talk about those books and what I liked/disliked about them there is a reference point for what I enjoy. This is going to be done by discussing mostly TV series as that is what most of the sci-fi I have consumed has been.
The shows that are best examples of why I love the genre are Battlestar Galactica, Firefly, Stargate SG-1, Farscape, Star Trek: Deep Space 9 and the lone book series, the Foundation trilogy. To go through each one and say what I love about each would take a while so I’m going to talk about common themes.
What was really memorable about these shows was the characters, from Salvor Hardin in Foundation to Captain Sisko in DS9 and of course Malcolm Reynolds in Firefly. But it isn’t just the protagonists in all of these that were good characters, each one has a good range of characters, Foundation being the weakest in that respect. They also feature great female characters, something I’ve noticed that the science fiction books I’ve been reading recently have generally been lacking which surprises and disappoints me.
The characters are all believable, you understand why they do what they do, and aren’t all do gooders with paper thin personalities. You cared about them and you could relate to them.
The characters are a big part in this, but it is also how each setting is depicted. None of them feel too clean or perfect, there are flaws and many facets to them that add depth. This is why DS9 was my favourite instead of Next Generation, that always felt too perfect whereas DS9 had nice grey areas to it.
They built believability by having things not always work perfectly, by having societies that messed up and characters that made mistakes. So the setting themselves may have been fanciful but it felt real, you could imagine yourselves living there.
This is part of the real joy of science fiction, stories that can cover big ideas about what it means to be human. Sure, sometimes it was done via the usual ‘oh look at these aliens who have this one big issues that totally is just there for us to do social commentary’ episodes, but they looked at them which many shows and books do not.
Few other mediums look to understand or challenge so many ideas as sci-fi does.
…and small ones too!
But I also enjoyed episodes and stories that focused on very human elements, small parts about relationships, trust, small little stories about the characters. A great science fiction story should have both, a story that is just about the big idea can feel hollow as there aren’t the small human stories there to add depth. And one that focus on the small parts can often feel like it has no message or isn’t going anywhere.
I mean who doesn’t love watching awesome space craft battle it out in epic, if unrealistic, fights.
No drowning you in technical terms
Sure they often threw a good bit of technobabble out, but it rarely formed a key part of the stories and when it did they were there as good old MacGuffins (warning TV tropes link, only click if you have a few hours to spare).
For many written sci-fi stories the technology often seems to be the focus, including many elaborate descriptions of said tech and countless new terms dropped on the reader without context.
I don’t like that, I like a story that is grounded in realistic science but that doesn’t require a huge amount of scientific understanding from the reader. The technology and science should be part of the setting, not the whole story to me.
I know there will be fans of the genre who will disagree with me about that, and a lot of time is spent discussing how hard/realistic the science in many stories is, but this is just my personal preference for what sci-fi stories should be like.
May not be an obvious part of why I’d love the sci-fi stories I do but it feels like an integral part to me. Because science fiction often covers very tough or important subjects, having the characters in a story piss around or have a laugh from time to time can help pace things and also keep them down to earth. We humans are very good at finding humour in harsh and difficult situations, and having characters who can’t crack a joke or smile when times are down never feels very realistic.
So there you go, the big reasons why I love the science fiction stories I do. I’m sure you’ve noticed that the above very much focus on story and character over the science in the setting and that is true of the books i’m writing as well. I hope this has been informative.