My youthful relation to science fiction was I now see rather the equivalent of the current generation’s obsessive use of the Internet. As a teenager I used science fiction to escape the mundane. With a torch under my duvet I would devour books in the middle of the night. All those spaceships, aliens, fighting and so on.
Largely I moved on to highbrow contemporary fiction, poetry and non-fiction. I’d explain the sci-fi books to the quizzical by pointing out that one can enjoy beer as well as fine wine.
A few years ago, eventually slightly embarrassed by the glittery gold writing on the spines of so many books in our overflowing bookcases I put most of them into storage. More than 20 crates of first edition hardbacks, of well worn and now collapsing paperbacks, even the odd copy of Astounding Science Fiction 1960s magazines given to me by mother.
There was a shelf of books I did not – could not – store. Books I knew I would read again. A more mature sort of book exploring the complexity of human reactions to alien ontologies. I’m looking at them now and realising almost all of them are by female authors. I imagine about 90% of science fiction books are by men, like almost all those that now rest quietly in Ready Steady Store.
First among these, both chronologically and literarily, must be Ursula le Guin. Her books have an almost contemplative nature – small windows on lives in a vast universe. It was in her books I first encountered themes of androgeny, of polyamory, and the emotional regret of distance in time and space leavened only by her invention of the Ansible – allowing instantaneous communication across the universe, copied by so many other subsequent writiers.
Notable other occupants are Nicola Griffith, whose books have quite a strong Sapphic context; and Karen Lord (I particularly admire her “The Best of All Possible Worlds”). Dan Simmons’ The Hyperion Cantos put images in my mind 20 years ago that I still can’t escape – if you have read it you will probably know what I mean. The Shrike.
Finally, this ramble has been prompted by putting into the bookcase the third of a trilogy just finished – Ancillary Justice, Sword and Mercy by Ann Leckie. In one sense a classic space opera with fighting, aliens, AI etc. But in another an extraordinary internally focused trilogy, involving a lot of sitting round drinking tea, love, misunderstood feelings. The aliens she imagines are really other, largely only hinted at, truly incomprehensible. I would love to read more about them and perhaps she will write that in the future.