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Give Me Back My Spaceships and Dinosaurs

Make science fiction fun again!

Sarah Hoyt


March 31, 2014 - 7:30 am


Lately I’ve been going through books I’ve been lugging around for 30 years and putting some of them up for sale. Part of this is because we plan to move as soon as possible to a place that’s easier for me to manage and clean while running a fully-time job in writing (and indie publishing.)

Part of it is that I’m allergic to household dust, and paper books are paper magnets.

Notwithstanding which, you couldn’t have pried my books out of my hands save for the Kindle paperwhite, which makes it easy and fun to read books in a format other than paper.

Anyway, I’m digging through a 30 year accumulation of books, some of which I’ve read multiple times, and some I might have read once, twenty three years ago, while on bed-rest with my first pregnancy – a time when I got so desperate for entertainment I sent my husband to the local library/remaindered sales with the largest suitcases we owned and told him ”Just fill it to the top.”

Then there are books I don’t remember having bought at any time and no one in the house admits to having bought. No, not that kind of book. Though one of the sets is a complete series of engineering manuals, and it had a similar effect on my younger son as those other books you were thinking of. He has absconded with them into his bedroom and I expect we’ll see him again when he’s digested the contents and not a minute before.

And then there are other books which, presumably, I bought, but have completely forgotten.

One of these: The Shores of Kansas by Robert Chilson made me stop. The cover shows a man battling two dinosaurs and it says “the mind-boggling epic adventure of a time-traveler torn between two nightmare worlds.”

I have no memory of having read – or bought – this book. And perhaps it is really bad. Don’t care. It’s going to be my bedtime read tonight.


In the context of a time when people complain that what I write is not scientific enough to be “Space-opera,” which they seem to think should be reserved to what in my time was called Hard Science Fiction, it made me realize what we’d lost, and look at it as as much of a long-gone land as those shores of Kansas with the dinosaurs.

It’s become fashionable, and in some circles de rigueur to complain about THAT type of science fiction, before it developed literary and meaningful aspirations. We’re supposed to look down on it, because, well, it was declasse, and totally lacking in meaning or any aspirations to changing the world.

The funny thing is that they were right about some of these stories. Heinlein’s juveniles certainly had aspirations to changing the world, and I suspect even The World of Tiers (Phillip Jose Farmer) very much had a message.

But they also had adventure, heroism, and – for me at least – a touch of wonder in the ideas themselves.

What I mean is, before I started reading science fiction I read all the Chariot of the Gods type of stuff, most of it written by Frenchmen and even in those times of innocence sounding … not quite right to me. And yet, they were fascinating. I knew most of what they said about archeology and signs of great civilizations before us was insane. BUT I wanted to believe.

I wanted to imagine that our ancestors had come from the stars. I wanted to imagine that we belonged there.

A year later I fell headlong into Clifford Simak’s stories of time travel and space engineers.

None of that stuff could be published as science fiction now – except at Baen — and all the other houses frown on it.

I remember when I first tried to get a colleague who had just published his first science fiction novel to give me Hand wavium to justify teleportation in a short story (“Traveling, Traveling,” later published by Analog.) “It doesn’t have to be real” I said. “I know you don’t know how to do it. I just want something that sounds plausible.”

He told me it was impossible, and also that it would always be impossible… He refused to sully his science with imagining a way for me to describe something that was scientifically impossible.

I didn’t say anything. One doesn’t tell a writer that he’s bound by the limits of his time and knowledge and more suited to writing compendiums than science fiction novels. Particularly not when the writer is otherwise very nice.

But his attitude struck me as all wrong. How can meticulously describing what we know now fire up the imagination? How does it inflame the soul and promote discovery.

It doesn’t.

Unfortunately the field is now divided between the people holding out for true-science-as-we-know-it now and the scolds who think writing science fiction and fantasy is a sort of social work avocation, designed to succor the afflicted.

Meanwhile, TV series like Stargate and the ever popular Star Trek continue to bring fans in with stories that written science fiction would sneer at.

I say it’s time to remember our roots.

We’re not writing to scold, inform or shape people’s actions. Oh, we can do all of that, but it’s secondary. Mostly, we’re writing fun novels, that might be barely possible. We’re writing to allow the reader to escape, to experience adventure and to dream of the unexplored.

We’re writing to set our minds and hearts free, to explore and roam places yet undiscovered. They might be strange places like… ancient astronauts, or as pulpy as I suspect the Shores of Kansas will turn out to be.  In their ability to pit man against the dinosaurs of the ancient past or the aliens of the distant future, they tell stories only science fiction can tell. All it needs is the barest thread of verisimilitude, absent from fantasy.  We know that sorcerers are imagined, but time travel, who knows?  It might be real and we just having figured it out yet.

Let literature tell the inchoate tales of deep human dilemmas. There’s a place for those too. But leave science fiction as the place to dream.

Sarah Hoyt lives in Colorado with her husband, two sons and too many cats. She has published Darkship Thieves and 16 other novels, and over 100 short stories. Writing non-fiction is a new, daunting endeavor. For more on Sarah and samples of her writing, look around at Sarah A. or check out her writing and life blog at According to

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All Comments   (16)
All Comments   (16)
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For a fun time, try reading 'The Chinatown Death Cloud Peril' and 'The Astounding, the Amazing and the Unknown' by Paul Malmont. Not sci-fi, but an homage to the error involving some of the great pulp authors.
47 weeks ago
47 weeks ago Link To Comment
The 1st sci-fi book I remember reading was 'The Happy Planet'. Bought it at one those grade school book fairs. Wish I could find it for the nostalgia.
Heinlein, Norton, Bradbury. I could read them and others from the era over and over.
I haven't read too much sci-fi lately myself (still working my way through Song of Ice and Fire and trying to keep that Wheel of Time from spinning me off.) Seems like a lot of it lately is a bunch of women writing vampire porn under a sci-fi label. Books are getting too expensive to just try an author on a whim.
I find that I look at something in the bookstore, then try to get it from my library. If I really like it, I will buy it. If it is David Webber (although even he went into the vampire thing), definitely will buy.
I don't mind some preachiness - just depends on the sermon. I DO mind too much foul-mouthedness. Enjoyed the 1st Peter Hamilton I read, but the f-bombs, etc., kind of turned me off. The occasional expletive in extremis is fine, but I don't watch most modern comedians for the same reason.
Sci-fi should be interesting, though-provoking, maybe a bit goading, with some gee-whiz why can't we have the jet packs NOW, FUN.

47 weeks ago
47 weeks ago Link To Comment
I _knew_ there must be a reason for me to re-read my entire but by no means complete Heinlein collection annually! Then I follow up with E.E. 'Doc' Smith's "Lensmen." A. E vanVogt's "Empire of The Atom" gets another read. too, from time to time. And does anyone recall Murray Leinster?
48 weeks ago
48 weeks ago Link To Comment
Ace Double: The Mutant Weapon/The Pirates of Zan. Yep.
47 weeks ago
47 weeks ago Link To Comment
I dunno.

Do the dinosaurs default to a binary gender?
48 weeks ago
48 weeks ago Link To Comment
I absolutely devoured "World of Tiers" when I was younger. I remember that in sixth grade we had to present one book report a month for the entirety of the school year, so I went through the "Tiers" series with my classmates over five months, drawing world diagrams on the whiteboard. It's probably a good thing we didn't own "More Than Fire," or I would've gotten in trouble for explaining some of the book's events ...

I haven't picked up any new science fiction in years. Too preachy, too staid, too unimaginative. Urban fantasy has filled a lot of the gap but, frankly, that's getting boring too. I want adventure, not Important Messages About Society.
48 weeks ago
48 weeks ago Link To Comment
Two words, Rosa: Human Wave.
48 weeks ago
48 weeks ago Link To Comment
I've never forgotten our roots: fun, artistry and an alternative to the mainstream was how I saw it. That all meant a certain kind of fun - the type of fun by people in the know - a very specific type of artistry. I really enjoyed Star Trek and Alien, but I far preferred the original: The Voyage of the Space Beagle by A.E. Van Vogt.

Probably the closest (and maybe only, Harryhausen aside) mainstream film that hit on that special note of fun was the original King Kong. But with Burroughs and his Land That Time Forgot from 15 years earlier, I had access to over 50 paperbacks by a guy who could repeat that effortlessly and because there was a small audience of people like me who wanted more.

The opposite to that is this:

"He patted the thing he wore on his belt, a metal object like a deformed penis, and looked patronizingly at the unarmed woman. She gave the phallic object, which she knew was a weapon, a cold glance."

That's the opening to the Nebula and Hugo Award-winning "The Dispossessed" by Ursula K. Leguin. Radical feminists had arrived, pretending to want only equality but plainly not liking men.

Today the children of those radical feminists dominate and bully SF. Thanks to the idiocy of John Scalzi, their idiotic witch hunts and ideology have subsumed the Science Fiction Writers of America and the Nebulas.

In the space of less than 8 hours, led by QUILTBAG feminists Farah Mendlesohn and Seanan Mcguire, they whined loud enough to chase TV comedian Jonathan Ross from hosting the Hugos and got his wife to leave Twitter. Had gay actor/comedian Stephen Fry hosted, the so-called oppressor evil white straight males wouldn't have cared at all, though Scalzi and his legions claim the exact opposite atmosphere is in play.

You can always tell how crazy people are by how they'll drag their weird obsessions into the most unlikely places. SF is just a conversation piece to the weirdos who want SF to be the U.N., GLADD, NOW, and the NAACP.

I don't care about politics but hate is where I draw the line, and that's all this is. I've boycotted the lot of them; easy to do since their work bites anyway.

I read for fun, not to be attacked and preached at. But I need a certain kind of fun - not Dr. Who fun, not Buffy fun, not zombie and steampunk fun, not conformist fun. I need authors who have the ability to give over that special fun. Today's authors with their bi-sexual zombies make Burroughs and his Kalkars look like Shakespeare at times.

I need C. Ashton Smith, R.E. Howard, Heinlein, Van Vogt, Merritt, Hamilton (Peter and Ed), McDevitt fun.

I was first sold on the genre by a pen and ink drawing of a pterodactyl hovering over a submarine. That childish twosome can be done with sublime artistry mixed with eccentricity by writers like Bradbury and Vance.

Where are they? And no, with all due respect they're not at Baen. I don't think they're anywhere. Even Hamilton and McDevitt are self-plagiarising nowadays. Fembots at Book Smugglers just got done ripping Heinlein a new one, but where's their Big Front Yard and Fondly Fahrenheit? Who's their Vance? Where's their Mote In God's Eye?

Gender pronoun space opera, bullied chimpanzees, and Monty Python and the Bi-Sexual 7th Century Feminists? LOL.

48 weeks ago
48 weeks ago Link To Comment
Word, Fail. And this why they invented Project Gutenberg. Lots of complete old SF magazines available for free for Kindle, EPUB, and HTML platforms. Randall Garrett, here we come!
48 weeks ago
48 weeks ago Link To Comment
A few years ago I came to a blog listing that year's sf award winners (I forget which award it was). After perusing the titles and synopses, which appeared to have nothing to do with science, in the comments I asked: "so where's the science fiction?". I got one dismissive, condescending reply, to the effect that science fiction wasn't about spaceships (I never mentioned spaceships). Apparently sf had become too serious and literary for me.
48 weeks ago
48 weeks ago Link To Comment
"Part of it is that I’m allergic to household dust"

90% or so of household dust is us. Skin cells.

Getting rid of the books won't change the amount of dust in your home, it will just deprive it of a convenient place to nap.

48 weeks ago
48 weeks ago Link To Comment
Not in Colorado.
48 weeks ago
48 weeks ago Link To Comment
"I wanted to imagine that our ancestors had come from the stars. I wanted to imagine that we belonged there."
I still cannot part with a torn hardback copy of Edmond Hamilton's "The Haunted Stars". It's use of linguistics was an eye opener to my nine year old self.

You also brought back memories of Ben Bova's "The Star Conquerors", unfortunately that was read (and returned) as a library book.

Thank you.
48 weeks ago
48 weeks ago Link To Comment
You forgot the "Original" Goddes of time-travel, Andre' Norton. I reallt dug her "Crosstime" series as a kid.
48 weeks ago
48 weeks ago Link To Comment
And while we're on the subject:

Time Patrol (Poul Anderson)

The Time Machine stories from the old Scouting magazine, Boy's Life.

47 weeks ago
47 weeks ago Link To Comment
Don't forget Ross Murdock and Gordon Ashe, the "Time Traders".
48 weeks ago
48 weeks ago Link To Comment
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