The following article was written by Darren Beyer and initially published on Hypable. Darren has recently published his first science fiction novel, Casimir Bridge, which is garnering attention from the book world.
Smart science fiction as an emerging sub-genre by Darren Beyer
Most nights after I get into bed, I pick up whatever is my current novel and read to clear my mind of the stresses of the day. It tends to be a little too effective – usually after just a few pages, my eyes grow heavy and I’m forced to close the cover. A couple years ago, while searching for another science fiction novel to grace those few minutes each night, I came across Andy Weir’s The Martian. It seemed to have an interesting premise, was science fiction, and was getting good reviews. I was happy the day it arrived, as my previous book was now sitting on the shelf, and I needed something new to bring on my slumber. The Martian failed miserably to meet that need. When, on the first night of reading, the clock hit two, I had to force myself to put it down. It grabbed ahold of me from page one and wouldn’t let go. I finished it two nights later — so much for a good night’s sleep.
Science fiction novels tend to rely on action and the genre itself as a means to draw readers.The Martian is science fiction, but it differs from the norm. It is a novel first and science fiction second. It is every bit as engrossing a story as Robinson Crusoe — just in a science fiction setting. As such, it appeals to a wide variety of readers, including those who would have never otherwise even looked at the cover of a pure science fiction novel. People who had never shown interest in anything resembling a space ship were drawn to theaters to watch the movie adaptation. The technology and science Weir depicts is nearly flawless. The challenges that must be overcome, real and relatable. The plot, the details, the ingenuity are what made The Martian so successful — the genre played a role, but the work as a whole appealed to everyone.
Last year I had the luck to fall into another novel from a first-time author. Like The Martian, this book had a science fiction theme to it, but it wasn’t what made it so appealing. It treated me to as detailed and interwoven plot as one could hope for. It brought in historic world events, science, and technology to tell a history of humanity that had never before been explored. The book was The Atlantis Gene by A.G. Riddle. It was followed by two more enthralling installments: The Atlantis Plague and The Atlantis World. Even though the books have decidedly sci-fi components, Riddle bills them as techno thrillers. I like to call them, and The Martian, something else: smart science fiction.
Novels like The Martian and the Atlantis series rely on plot, theme, tempo, and realism to draw the reader in, versus attracting them simply because they belong to a genre the reader finds appealing. They have detailed back stories that draw on real history, science and technology to create believable worlds into which the reader can fall. I’ve read a myriad of science fiction novels. They’ve painted wonderful pictures of far-off worlds, star ships, alien attacks and interstellar wars. As a fan of the genre, I’ve enjoyed the reads, but aside from providing those few minutes of escape each night, most left me with little else. In fact, aside from a select few like Dune, Ender’s Game, I Robot, 2001, and Ring World, I can’t even recite most of the titles I’ve read over the years.
Science fiction authors are now beginning to weave more stories that transcend the genre and attract a wider audience. This metamorphosis is taking place in film as well. Movies like Avatar and Interstellar are less about laser beams and explosions, and more about the story, science and character development. Certainly, no one can say this type of science fiction didn’t exist over the years — it’s been there from such greats as Heinlein, Clarke, Asimov, and others. But it never made the leap to mainstream, primarily because the majority of works in the genre catered to the same old themes and diluted those that could have broader appeal. For the longest time I was happy reading those nameless novels, but now authors like Weir and Riddle have ruined it for me. Now I demand more from my reads. Now I demand smart science fiction.
Main image: Cover of The Atlantis Gene