Friday, December 13, 2013

Author guest post: Why science fiction isn’t just a guy thing by Jennifer Ridyard

Today I’ve got a kick-ass post from debut YA author Jennifer Ridyard.

Now Jennifer, who has co-written the novel Conquest with partner John Connolly - best-selling author of The Book of Lost Things and even more known for his phenomenal crime thrillers - chats about a topic that’s quite close to my heart today – that of science fiction.

When I first received her post, I was decidedly amused because I could relate so well to it. 

Back when I first heard the term science fiction – my immediate thought was, alien thingies, extra appendages and lots and lots of green gunk and slimy goo. My next immediate thought was, “ew”.

Yes, yes. Go ahead and laugh. I’ll wait until you all pick yourselves up from the floor, shall I?

I was about 12 years old then.

As you can tell, my view of the genre used to be incredibly skewed and limited. But then, along came books like The Hunger Games, Never Let Me Go, Divergent and Wither. 

Without going into too much explanation here, because Jennifer does cover a bit of this, I didn’t consider then, that within the genre (like many other genres), there are so many sub-branches that were waiting to be explored.

I’ve always thought this sci-fi was something purely technical. Not only that, but for most of my life, I was taught that sci-fi books are boy books and that girls should just stick to all the fluffy reads that were *especially written for them.*

Thankfully I know better now (regarding genre sub cats)  - and the things I used to consider gross? Well, it pretty much rocks my book world.

But, enough waffling from my side.  Before we get into the post, here’s some info about the book.

Oh and if you’re based in SA, you’ll be happy to know that both Jennifer and John will be here in January. I’ll post more details about dates in the forthcoming weeks. 

About Conquest
The Earth has been invaded by the Illyri, a beautiful, civilized, yet ruthless alien race. Humanity has been conquered, but still it fights the invaders.

The Resistance grows stronger, for it is the young people of Earth who are best equipped to battle the Illyri.

Syl Hellais, conceived among the stars, is the oldest alien child on Earth, the first to reach sixteen years of age.

Her father rules the planet. Her future is assured. And Syl has hidden gifts, powers that even she does yet fully understand.

But all is not as it seems. The Illyri are at war among themselves, and the sinister Nairene Sisterhood has arrived on Earth, hungry for new blood.

When Syl helps a pair of young Resistance fighters to escape execution, she finds herself sentenced to death, pursued by her own kind, and risks breaking the greatest taboo of her race by falling in love with a human.

Now the hunter has become the hunted, the predator becomes prey.

And as Syl is about to learn, the real invasion has not yet even begun...

Click here to add it to your TBR pile on Goodreads.

NB: Stay tuned for a giveaway coming up on my blog this coming Tuesday.

On to Jennifer’s post: 

Why sci-fi isn’t just a guy thing

So you think you don’t like science fiction?

It’s for weirdoes.

It’s for boys.

It’s boring.

It’s got bad hairstyles, worse make-up and too much Lycra.

Frankly, you might be right. Yes, there are wastelands of that stuff out there on both page and screen, with exploding spaceships and imploding planets and stupid ray guns – not to mention the occasional three-boobed female with bad hair, all trussed up in Lycra.

The only attention any of that deserves is a raised eyebrow.

So may I suggest you instead stick to the sort of books that you love: books about gorgeous otherworldly boys, about fantasy creatures, about great acts of bravery, crazy challenges, parallel universes, wild ideas, riveting plots, paranormal abilities, love, death, and, best of all, strong, inspirational women (with the requisite two boobs, obviously)?

Books that sound rather a lot like science fiction actually…

The problem is no one seems able to really define science fiction.

In theory, it is science in story form, or at least the possibilities offered by science written as fiction.

But that doesn’t mean it’s set in the future.

Even the rather wonderful Margaret Attwood, author of The Handmaid’s Tale, made the mistake of declaring her book was most certainly NOT science fiction when it was published, because science fiction “has monsters and spaceships” and her book didn’t.

But she did her research and later went on to proudly own the term, declaring that science fiction explores “the nature and limits of what it means to be human in graphic ways, by pushing the envelope as far as it will go,” in an article for The Guardian.

And what makes science fiction particularly thrilling is, as Margaret says: “Increasingly, if we can imagine it, we’ll be able to do it.”

Yup, we really can boldly go where no one has gone before…

If you want even more girl-power then you’ll be delighted to know that the classic book Frankenstein – published in 1818, and widely acknowledged as the first true work of science fiction – was written by a WOMAN, Mary Shelley, when she was just 18.

But it has no aliens, no ray guns, no spaceships, and no boobs. The thing is, science fiction simply doesn’t have to.

Nor does it need to happen on a different planet. You loved The Hunger Games trilogy, right? That’s most definitely science fiction, set on an alternate, futuristic version of our own world.

I guess sometimes they just call the science fiction that girls love “Fantasy”, because girls tend to shy away from the tacky sci-fi label (all that Lycra makes us sweat).

Charlie Higson, author of the Young Bond books, has also written a gripping science fiction serial, known as The Enemy Series, which is torch-under-the-blankets reading, especially if you want to escape that girl-gets-jock schlock!

So science fiction can be set in a reimagined past, in a different version of today, on an alternate version of earth, in a parallel universe or even (as is the case with the film Men in Black II) in a baggage locker at Grand Central terminal in New York.

There’s historical sci-fi, dystopian sci-fi, superhuman sci-fi, and even fabulous-sounding branches like cyberpunk and, lately, the almost-painfully hip steampunk movement. Basically, science fiction just has to ask: “What if…?”

After that, anything goes – including, unfortunately, the occasional tri-boobed floozy.

And yes, I didn’t know I liked science fiction when I first discovered it. I was still in junior school in 1983 and there was much chatter about the next year because long-dead novelist George Orwell had written a futuristic book way back in the forties, and called it Nineteen Eighty-Four.

Of course I got my mitts on a copy and it was… dark, odd, disturbing, and I wasn’t sure I liked it, but I was glad I read it.

I spent hours mulling over its idea of a government controlled by Big Brother, where everyone is under constant camera surveillance (for their own good, naturally) and where the Ministry of Peace deals with war.

As I read it I felt my mind being prised open, expanding, and suddenly the future seemed ripe with possibilities and alternatives – not all of them happy ones, it must be said, but all of them utterly fascinating.

My next foray into science fiction was when an English teacher handed me The Chrysalids, a book by John Wyndham published in 1955, but still it felt so fresh.

It too was set on earth, but after a nuclear war, where hunted teenagers were forced to hide their supernatural powers. Now I was hooked: clearly there was a world of books to be discovered, and worlds beyond those too.

And then, in 2001, a certain JK Rowlings’ little book Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire won the prestigious Hugo Award, which is presented every year by the World Science Fiction Convention. So is the world’s favourite series actually sci-fi too?

Well, it may be stretching it a little because there’s not a lot of actual science in the fantastical Harry Potter series – even with all of Hermione’s best efforts, even with Severus Snape’s endless potions classes – but still…

Perhaps Harry won because science fiction has a magic all its own. And if you don’t believe me, then go pick that fight with Katniss Everdeen. I dare you.

About Jennifer and John
Jennifer Ridyard was born in England and grew up in Johannesburg, where she worked as a journalist for many years.

Conquest is her first novel.

John Connolly is the bestselling author of eighteen books, including the Charlie Parker series and The Book of Lost Things , and an editor of the prizewinning non-fiction anthology Books to Die For.

Conquest is his twentieth published book.  John and Jennifer live in Dublin.

Follow John and Jennifer on Twitter.

On a final note - I'll be reading this shortly and should have a review up before the end of January.

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