SciFiMonth: Home Sweet Home

def. Home: Habitat, Range, Niche, Territory

… as Martha Wells put it, which is highly appropriate given the wonderful Murderbot books (starting with All Systems Red) are very much fitting this prompt for me. My reading comfort zone probably tends more towards fantasy, really, because it’s a little easier to do ‘cosy’ in that genre. But, this prompt is about science fiction comfort reads – a little harder to find, perhaps, but they are out there. For me, it’s all about optimism, positivity and good things. Books that are filled with wonder, humour, and a bit of niceness, not just doom and gloom. With Murderbot we also get robots and AIs with a great deal of humanity, with I love: that sarcastic tone, their desire to just be left alone to watch soaps and not dragged into all that work nonsense – I mean, absolutely! šŸ™‚

I love it when sci-fi presents me with a world where they’ve fixed our current woes. Medical improvements, freedom from wage slavery, basic needs met, and a universe full of wonder.

It can also be really comforting to reach for a shorter read, and sci-fi these days seems to provide an absolute wealth of novellas to scratch that itch with. Adrian Tchaikovsky reigns supreme here, with my own recent reads including One Day All This Will Be Yours, Ironclads, Firewalkers, and Walking to Aldebaran. Novellas are a great way to get slivers of imagination, hugely fantastical ideas, without getting too bogged down in longer, more rambling reads.

One trope I’ve been enjoying lately is bringing in history and myth into a futuristic setting. Pierce Brown’s Red Rising books takes a lot of inspiration from Greco-Roman myth, for example, and I’m looking forward to the Alexander the Great in space (and gender swapped!) of Kate Elliott’s Unconquerable Sun. And while it doesn’t provide any kind of ‘cosy’, I can’t not mention my favourite sci-fi books of all time, Dan Simmons’ Hyperion Cantos, which borrows from Greek myths (esp. the titles, and he gave us Ilium and Olympus, too) as well as Canterbury Tales for the framing, tale-telling structure.

My entry for a previous SciFi Month challenge was about another favourite, hugely missed, author, Iain M Banks. Although there is a lot of darkness and peril in his books, it’s the wonderful, post-scarcity society underpinning everything that really draws me in. The Culture is in many ways the kind of future I want humanity to have, more or less, and reading about Things Gone Right is far more appealing than all the dystopias in the genre!

That said, few books don’t have large chunks of peril – it’s just nice when they sometimes have the good endings! I also like books that manage to be a little light-hearted while horrible things are happening. A recent read, The Immortality Thief by Taran Hunt, hit that sweet spot perfectly: it’s just out and out fun. John Scalzi has also been good at that, with the few of his I’ve tried. The Collapsing Empire trilogy is intent on having an absolute blast, even while the stakes are the continued existence of humanity. I adore the character of foul mouthed Lady Kiva, who just doesn’t seem to give a *ahem* about anything, rolling through life in the most hedonistic way imaginable, doing, saying, and screwing absolutely anything she fancies.

Ooh, there’s another ‘comfort’ aspect: books in which the ‘isms’ just don’t crop up. I don’t care if the point of the story is overcoming the sexism, racism, or homophobia, I get so fed up of worlds that can be imagined as anything at all still containing these kinds of nonsense. So yeah, that books like The Collapsing Empire have female characters doing anything and everything a bloke more typically would is a great sense of relief and rightness in the world.

It feels right when books throw gender and sexuality ‘norms’ out of the window – but in a matter of fact kind of a way, not making it a whole (ofttimes belaboured) point. Again, when everything is pure imagination it seems almost lazy writing when it just goes with ‘exactly how everything is now (but with spaceships)’. It seems more odd to me if all the characters in a futuristic sci-fi aren’t more diverse, in all ways.

I love, then, that recent sci-fi includes books like Seven Devils (Laura Lam and Elizabeth May), or The First Sister trilogy (Linden Lewis), which has a non-binary lead, and one supporting character who openly says things like, “Feeling a bit girl just now, so she/her today, please” – and it’s no big deal. Fiction supporting how the world *should* be – and really, that, for me is what sci-fi has always been about. Star Trek’s utopian, post-scarcity future was only the beginning…

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(all SciFiMonth banner artwork by the fabulousĀ Simon Fetscher)

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