I had been talking about the Two Spirit and queer authors and characters, the Indigenous settings and perspectives, the prefatory material which lay out the history and politics and which argue the need for stories like these, and my friend noticed I wasn’t talking much about the stories themselves. Thus, his question.
I fumbled a bit to answer. Yes, some are good, a few excellent, some just OK. I voiced my belief that there’s benefit to reading stories like these even if they’re not good: I appreciate these works because of what they can teach me, how they challenge my assumptions and show me very different experiences and understandings of the world.
But the truth is also this: I don’t always know whether the stories I read are any good. I’m not always qualified to assess the quality of these works.
I finally got around to reading From a Certain Point of View, a collection of short stories written by a Who’s-Who roster of big name SF authors, all from the perspectives of side- and background characters in the original Star Wars movie. Most of them offer backstory or imagine what happened leading up to various scenes in the movie. Some imagine what was happening elsewhere in the universe.
This collection is a gimmick and it reads like one. The stories are all pretty good (some are excellent, none are bad) but very few of them would stand on their own merits. It’s an entertaining read, certainly, but mostly forgettable.
But it did get me thinking more about the Star Wars Expanded Universe and my ambivalence toward it. I love the movies but I’ve never bothered about the EU. There are a couple reasons why.
I recently got to read an advance reading copy of Conversations from the Edge by Joy Ward, a collection of interviews she conducted for Galaxy’s Edge magazine since 2014. I spend a lot of time thinking about SF—what it is, how it works, why I love it (see here, here, here, here, here, and here). It’s wonderful to hear SF writers talk about the genre and how they see it.
There were two quotes about science fiction in this collection that particularly struck me: one from Nancy Kress and one from Connie Willis. (This is an ARC so apply the standard disclaimer that the accuracy and page numbers of quotes might change.)
From the interview with Nancy Kress in which she talks about how science fiction gives her a big canvas to work with:
What I find most interesting about Solo: A Star Wars Story is that it doesn’t really feel like a Star Wars movie. That’s mostly a good thing.
What I mean is: it doesn’t feel important. It’s the only Star Wars movie so far that isn’t significant. In the original trilogy, Lucas explicitly sought to create a modern myth, a la Joseph Campbell. There’s an inherent sense of weight to it. The new trilogy sought to bring the Star Wars universe back to relevance and so it has a sense of mission, as well as a similar sense of modern myth. Rogue One tells a tale of emotional, moral, and narrative consequence.
Solo doesn’t have any of that. It’s not important to the main trilogies and it doesn’t take itself all that seriously. Which makes it one of the most fun Star Wars movies I’ve seen. It’s pure entertainment. It’s refreshing.
Kill the Farm Boy is a delight. It’s funny, unexpected, clever. It’s a quick read without sacrificing any substance. The characters are wonderful—interesting, infuriating, and sympathetic by turns—the world is well-rendered and the plot well-paced.
Did I mention it’s funny? Like, really funny. I have high hopes for the series this book sets up.
Fair warning: you better love puns.
I read an advance reader copy of the novel and it came with a summary of the planned marketing and promotional strategy. The marketing for this book emphasizes a comparison with the work of Terry Pratchett. This offers a good way to explore what Kill the Farm Boy is really about.
The Academy has been shuttered and Priscilla Hutchins (Hutch) is adjusting to life on Earth. Humanity has become fearful of continued space exploration—there’s a growing paranoia that someday such expeditions will bring back something too dangerous. The President herself is campaigning for reelection on a platform of ending the space program.
When an astronomer discovers a signal from deep space which clearly indicates the presence of an intelligent, technologically sophisticated alien civilization, he recruits a team to seek out these aliens and Hutch is put in command. But people don’t want them to go and the team must race to take off before the government can shut them down.
On November 28, 2017, the author Seanan McGuire posted an excellent tweet thread about classic SF and entry points for readers new to the genre. She addresses crucial issues of diversity and inclusion. This perspective is important. Please take the time to click through and read it.
As a community, SF fandom seems to be terrified that if we don't sit every spaceship or dragon-enthralled child dow… twitter.com/i/web/status/9…
Conclusion: classic SF will always be important but it’s not a good way to bring in new readers.
Introducing new readers to science fiction can be tricky. It’s a challenging genre to learn and get used to. I decided years ago (long before I became a librarian or knew anything about readers advisory) that it doesn’t work to get people started in the genre with classic Asimov, Clarke, et al.
I’m ashamed to admit my reasoning at the time had nothing to do with the narrow Western cultural male whiteness of the work. It was because of the writing and the science.