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“…But I know it when I see it”: Science fiction in today’s strange world

isaac asimovYesterday, January 2, was National Science Fiction Day. It’s not an official day, but who cares! It’s Isaac Asimov‘s birthday, and therefore an excellent day to acknowledge the marvel that is science fiction.

What is science fiction?

People say a lot of things about science fiction — the general consensus is that its lack of true definition is what defines it. In my own mental organization, I put it into two completely made-up and semi-useless categories: earth-based sci-fi and space-based sci-fi. Think The Matrix vs. Star Wars. Within these categories, you can find numerous sub-categories, rubbing the line with post-apocalyptic and dystopian fiction, as well as other forms of speculative fiction like gaslamp, alternate history, steampunk, cyberpunk, and so many others that I’m just going to send you to the science fiction Wikipedia page.

What’s going on with it now?

While The Hunger Games and its like have brought the YA community well into the world of speculative fiction, the past couple years have been great for pure sci-fi. Alex Award winners in 2012 included Ready Player One, set on a futuristic Earth with a virtual utopia that’s anything but, and Robopocalypse, a Matrix-like experience involving technology taking over the world and humans coming together to fight them.

These two are both excellent examples of Earth-based, futuristic science fiction. But the YA lit community has been crazy-blessed with some great space-based science fiction in the past couple of years. Here are a couple highlights:

across the universeThe Across the Universe Series

In early 2011, Beth Revis gave us Across the Universe, a novel about a girl from Earth who was awakened early from her cryogenic sleep on Godspeed, the city-sized ship that is destined for the first potential planetary colony. Alone in a community of people very different from her, Amy must work with Elder, the heir to the captainship of Godspeed, to adapt to her new home and potentially solve a mystery onboard. A year later, A Million Suns brought us back to the Godspeed, where the mystery has deepened. And on January 15th, Shades of Earth, the final book in the trilogy, will be available for our consumption.

glowThe Sky Chasers Series

Glow starts out already in deep space. Like Across the Universe, there are a civilization’s worth of people headed to a new planet to colonize. Unlike it, though, Earth has already collapsed, and instead of an expedition, the people of two ships, the Empyrean and the New Horizon, are headed there to ensure their own survival. But things, both expected and unexpected, happen to deter both goals and needs. Glow is followed by Spark, which was released last year, and Flame, which comes out later this year — but to tell you what they’re about would definitely spoil the first story.

black hole sun david macinnis gill coverThe Black Hole Sun Series

Set in a completely established off-Earth universe, Black Hole Sun, Invisible Sun, and the soon-to-be-released Shadow on the Sun tell the story of Durango, a young mercenary with a symbiotic computer in his head, and his kick-ass second in command Vienne, who find themselves caught in the middle of … well, too many things. David Macinnis Gill knows how to spin a space opera, and the characters are fun for all readers.

If you’re more interested in a futuristic or oddly strange Earth, check out these books:

Beta by Rachel CohnBeta

In October 2012, Rachel Cohn gave us her first science fiction novel, Beta. In this novel, we meet Elysia, a Beta clone who lives to serve on an island made for pleasure. But Elysia is not the soulless clone that she must pretend to be in order to survive. She has feelings, desires, and a clear understanding of what is going on around her. Goodreads lists it as being the first in a series, so I look forward to seeing where we’re going with this.

Tempest by Julie CrossTempest

Readers who enjoy contemporary fiction with a twist will enjoy this vaguely-scientific novel about a boy in 2009 who can time-jump and gets stuck in 2007. Being chased by Enemies of Time, Jackson does an emergency jump farther than he had been able to before. Two years away from his own time, with no knowledge of whether his girlfriend is alive or dead, he must figure out how to make his own way in a time he has already lived — but which is very different from what he knew then. The revelations that are made about time-travel and his own family in Tempest lead us to Vortex, which will come out the same day as Shades of Earth.

I haven’t even touched the surface of all of the varying types of science fiction, let alone the extensive list of books that fall into that category that have come out in the past year. But hopefully this brief list shows you that you don’t have to be a Star Trek fanatic to be a sci-fi lover (though I will admit to falling somewhere into the sci-fi geek spectrum). Sci-fi is everywhere. It’s like Mark C. Glassy says in The Biology of Science Fiction Cinema: you don’t know what it is, but you know it when you see it.

— Jessica Pryde, currently reading Don’t Expect Magic by Kathy McCullough