Introduction to “Notes from a Sci-Fi Newbie”

My introductory post for a Sci-Fi (and Fantasy) series is now up at The Leather Library. Whenever a post goes up there, I’ll post here as well to let you know.

I originally thought it would be like this:


But it’s not. Not yet, at least.

So far Dune and Solaris are on the queue. Right now I’m reading Anathem, which seems to have a lot of negative reviews, but it’s looking like you won’t see that from me. I’m really eager to get to this one. I’d like to work out some of the language in it and I hope to gain some insights from those of you who have read it or are planning on reading it. But I won’t say too much here.

I started with a classic, and so far they seem to be getting better and better. Thank you all for your recommendations…I’m enjoying the reading immensely.

12 thoughts on “Introduction to “Notes from a Sci-Fi Newbie”

  1. I just finished re-reading the classic, Ringworld, and have gotten started on the sequel, The Ringworld Engineers. (My blog post from Jan 3 it about it.)

    The thing about made-up words, as with most writing techniques, is that it depends on the skill of the author. In A Clockwork Orange (1962) author Anthony Burgess created a fascinating lingo for his characters. It adds greatly to the book’s tone and character. (Tip: ignore the glossary at the back and just stay in the flow of the narrative.)

    Some authors have a background in linguistics that they bring into their books. Tolkien is a good example of that, and his invented languages are well-grounded and make a wonderful addition to his books.

    Other authors just make up terms for things (as suggested in the (xkcd?) cartoon you have), and to me that’s more a distraction than a plus.


  2. Well that’s my graph too and I’m sticking to it. I suffer a pathological aversion to all things mythical, in the nature of fantasy, and so forth, and have enough trouble sorting this reality out.


  3. Wyrd Smythe is so right about Anthony Burgess. One of the best books ever, but he was an exceptional talent. Writing sf and fantasy demands a knowledge of linguistics so that the names and new words seem convincing. When it is done right, it affords a pleasure akin to poetry, from the sheer fun of the sounds and how they fit the things they name. Tolkien was of course the master at that! “Dune” is an all time favorite of mine, a wonderful mix of religion, ecology, economics and politics. “Solaris” is good, as is the film, though you have to be patient and not expect much of a plot 🙂


    • I totally agree with you—there’s a kind of poetry to the new languages, sometimes a play on the sounds of words or on their other meanings.

      Oddly, I like Solaris more than Dune. I know I’m not supposed to say that, but something about it grabbed me. I watched the older Solaris film and found it infuriating…they messed with the arrangement of scenes and ruined the beautiful tension SL had created. I still haven’t seen the newer one, but I except it to be better, if only for the fact that newer movies tend to be better at keeping the action going. (Or maybe I’m just easily distracted.) 🙂

      The best part of Solaris for me was the voice of the protagonist. It was easy to follow him into long scholarly digressions because there was always something at stake for him, and he somewhat distanced himself from the whole affair so that the digressions were colored with a kind of concealed hopelessness. I still can’t figure out how he did this, but it’s brilliant.

      And the descriptions of the ocean were insane. I was filled with admiration at this accomplishment. I felt fully drawn into this bizarre world in near perfect clarity, as if I could see it. And I noticed the movie seemed to replicate these details very well, as if they were reading my mind. I give full credit to the author for his precision with detail. It was quite remarkable.

      But yes, Dune was excellent too. I just felt Stanislaw Lem was a better writer.

      You’re right about the plot in Solaris. It hadn’t quite occurred to me that there’s not much. It’s so psychological, and the plot is more internal than external. Thanks for pointing that out. I may have to use that in my write up!


      • I would say Lem is a more literary writer, where Herbert is more a genre writer. One is more about artistry and the other is more about storytelling. Our culture gives more weight to “serious” themes and verbal artistry than it does to storytelling, so that the former qualities add up to a “better” writer. Maybe that is justified, but I like it best when the two coincide. As in “A Clockwork Orange”!


        • You know, I haven’t read Clockwork Orange. It’s necessary, though, at some point in my life. God there are so many books I need to read!

          I agree about combining storytelling and serious themes. I think it’s possible to have both. I tend to go for more traditional storytelling rather than verbal artistry, but those themes are pretty important to me. (Confession: I actually enjoyed Jonathan Franzen’s “Corrections” for his verbal artistry. I felt the story lacked meaning and purpose, but boy did he take me for a ride. If only it had more focus…he’s very talented.)

          Lem did have some long digressions, but I didn’t mind them because I was so caught up in the voice. I really enjoy getting deeply in a character’s mind, but I felt like this was missing a bit from Dune. I also liked the tightness of Lem’s metaphors and imagery. The more I thought about them, the more I got out of them. It felt more complex and detailed, but Herbert had some interesting themes in Dune as well. I started working on my write ups of both last night and I decided to combine the two in one post. I liked the desert/ocean contrast; hopefully these will play out in an interesting way.


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