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If you want your jet packs, read on...

Greetings! Your friendly Castle storyteller, here. I’ve been allowed a blog post to ask a question.

A bunch of us writers have noticed a problem. The sense of wonder that used to run through all the great science fiction books is gone--at least in the books you find in the bookstore. The books that are getting through the mainstream publishers feature depressing, grey, soul-sucking wastelands of futility and political correctness. They seem to expect the reader to be ashamed of being human--and the characters should never try to fight and win.

Why is this a problem? Because the way you get good engineers and scientists is by tempting them with ray guns and rocket ships.
They try to hide it in public and in interviews, but they all secretly want to ride a thundering pillar of flame to the Moon, or Mars, or Alpha Centauri. Underwater Basketweaving majors would be worried about missing their yoga class. If you want your jet pack, we need more Buck Rogers and less Avatar.

Author Sarah Hoyt recently blogged about this, and it was like looking for a gas leak with a lit match. It set off what we are calling the Human Wave SF movement, and we are taking back science fiction for the benefit of humanity! More optimism, less moping!

The Human Wave manifesto, condensed:
In a story,
1) Someone wins, something happens.
2) The author remembers they are competing for the reader’s beer money, and is therefore entertaining.
3) A character’s skin color, gender, species, socio-economic status, national origin, dietary preferences, or possession of a grievance, real or imagined, does not instantly convey innocence or guilt.
4) All “messages” shall be sent by Western Union, not the story.
5) Science and technology improve life, and this is not inherently evil.
6) Figuring things out is fun.
7) If at any point the reader thinks “That is SO COOL!!!”, the author gets a treat. (Gold star, banana pellet, chocolate, whatever.)
8) The more the author tries to tie current events to the story, the quicker it goes stale.

For the adorable Leathernecks, that means

Plucky human
Saves the day
Let your brain
Come out and play
HUMAN WAVE

I’ve got my own version of the manifesto at my writing blog. This is going big. It’s already been picked up by PJ Media and Instapundit. We want to keep it big, and growing. To that end I would like to hear your opinions--I know what writers think, but what about you readers? Are we imagining things? And if you agree, what books would you hold up as examples of How SF Ought To Be?

-Sabrina Chase aka Bad Cat Robot

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Bring back engineer pr0n! from Silicon Valley Redneck on March 26, 2012 7:47 PM

Over at the Castle, Bad Cat Robot expounds (in short form) on the need to bring back the sense of wonder in science fiction. Ah, yes: the good old days! When the hero would invent a star-drive, build a space-ship, and go gallivanting off around the gal... Read More

31 Comments

Heinlein!  Piper!  Asimov!  Burroughs! Rosenberg!  Weber!  Gimme summoradat!
 
I was always taught, probably by Asimov and Heinlein, that SF was written to identify future bad choices and expose them to ridicule.

Those of us that are associated with Free Flight understand why the flying car problem is so difficult.

By the way, someone's birthday is coming up, and its not John or myself. Just sayin'.
 
Well first of all this is COOL. In Castle tradition you get choclit.

It is a problem and not just in books. The mopey dopey ho hum life sux movement is everywhere. It's almost like a new front because I see both left and right battling against it. I'm tempted to think it's the dearth of viability in our species stuck in the stationary phase.

“Why is this a problem? Because the way you get good engineers and scientists is by tempting them with ray guns and rocket ships.”

Sort of. Science is fun. Is it? Yes but not in school huh

“They try to hide it in public and in interviews, but they all secretly want to ride a thundering pillar of flame to the Moon, or Mars, or Alpha Centauri.”

You know I have absolutely no fantasy about riding a rocketship so I think this is more your fantasy :)

The Human Wave manifesto;
1) Someone wins, something happens.

It's sad this has the be stated you know.
2) The author remembers they are competing for the reader’s beer money, and is therefore entertaining.

Correct.
3) A character’s skin color, gender, species, socio-economic status, national origin, dietary preferences, or possession of a grievance, real or imagined, does not instantly convey innocence or guilt.

This will be harder than you think. A lot of successful books are loaded with these mechanisms. Tribble eaters unite.
4) All “messages” shall be sent by Western Union, not the story.

I don't have a problem with messages. That's the author's prerogative. But please keep it down and don't make it stupid. ie you better be a darn good author to get away with it. See point 2)
5) Science and technology improve life, and this is not inherently evil.
Hooray.
6) Figuring things out is fun.

Just don't ask us to solve a fifth order PDE. Not every reader wants that challenge.
7) If at any point the reader thinks “That is SO COOL!!!”, the author gets a treat. (Gold star, banana pellet, chocolate, whatever.)
I would ask what a banana pellet is but over here pellets are dropped by critters so I better not.

PS never put whatever and chocolate right next to each other like that.
8) The more the author tries to tie current events to the story, the quicker it goes stale.
Current events are often stale on the same day.

Please add thou shalt not PC the reader.
 
Argent - Not in school?

You obviously didn't have a science teacher who tried to "burn down the school" by placing a 1 inch cube of sodium in a 3 liter beaker of water.

He was able to use the tongs to place it back into the jar of oil after it spun out of the beaker and set fire to the lab table.

You do know that the black stuff used to cover lab tables smells horrible when it burns. Good opportunity to use a fire extinguisher as part of the lab demonstration.
 
I'm with the Armorer on this- especially Weber. I've wanted to be Honor Harrington since I was 13. :D

Overall, I agree. I get to read about how sad and messed up the world is all day at work. There's no way I'm wasting my money on depressing postmodernist nonsense in my off time.
 
The Thomas, I think knowing what bakelite or electrical insulation smell like when combusting is a very useful life skill.  It's certainly helped me ;-)

Argent-
This will be harder than you think. A lot of successful books are loaded with these mechanisms. Tribble eaters unite.
Which is why Human Wave SF is doing an end-run around the publishing establishment.  Publishers only want dreary PC dreck or sparkly emo vampires.  Indie publishing lets the writer write whatever the hell they want.  Then the *readers* let the writers know, via the marketplace, if cyborg penguin cosy mysteries fill a gap in their reading universe, or whatever.
 
Doc. Travis Taylor has a lot of fun breaking the speed of light, legally! Honor Harrington blows up bad guys, except for the ones she shoots or slices. 
 
Iain M. Banks, from The Algebraist:
Picking a fight with a species as widespread, long-lived, irascible and - when it suited them - single-minded as the Dwellers too often meant that just when - or even geological ages after when - you thought that the dust had long since settled, bygones were bygones and any unfortunate disputes were all ancient history, a small planet appeared without warning in your home system, accompanied by a fleet of moons, themselves surrounded with multitudes of asteroid-sized chunks, each of those riding cocooned in a fuzzy shell made up of untold numbers of decently hefty rocks, every one of them travelling surrounded by a large landslide's worth of still smaller rocks and pebbles, the whole ghastly collection travelling at so close to the speed of light that the amount of warning even an especially wary and observant species would have generally amounted to just about sufficient time to gasp the local equivalent of 'What the fu—?' before they disappeared in an impressive if wasteful blaze of radiation.

The Culture novels, too, have winners and losers. 

John Scalzi (Old Man's War, ... and others; Fuzzy Nation, a reboot of Piper's Little Fuzzy, comes out in paper tomorrow.)

Peter Hamilton (Fallen Dragon is great.)
 
 
 
David Weber is Outstanding.  Love Elizabeth Moon.  Enjoyed Ian Douglas.  I have been working my way through all of Orson Scott Card's Enderverse books and they have made my favorites list.  The science fiction stories of Dean Koontz  (especially Lightning) ar excellent.  In my early days I read Heinlein, Asimov, and Clark and idolized Eric Frank Russell.  I like the premise of the 1632 series, but it has uneven quality.  For science fantasy I like Janny Wurts'  Wars of Light and Shadows.  As a child I also loved the adventure stories of Joseph Altscheler wriitten in the 20s for teenage boys, but I wasn't a normal girl (Mom and Dad always told me I could do and be whatever I wanted, even if it was normally part of the "man's world").  That could be why I became a meteorologist, then followed in Dad's footsteps by joining the AGF Reserve and flying into hurricanes.  (And I did apply for tthe astronaut program since I wanted to ride a thundering pillar of flame to the moon....)
 
Sorry about all the typos.  This subject excited me so I forgot to spellcheck.   (Sheepish grin)

 
I love the smell of Bakelite in the morning!! My Mother, not so much. She could always tell when I fried a rectifier in the basement.

Now I can tell when a device has "let its smoke out" a lot earlier than the young'uns around here.

I'm 20 years out of phase with my contemporaries. I grew up on un-bolderized (1930s version) Hardy Boys, Mark Twain, R L Stevenson, 1920s Colliers magazine, Richard F Burton's travels and the Bluejacket's Manual. I didn't pick up SF until I was in college.
 
You know, it's funny you went with this one, BCR, because I went back and started reading a compliation OS Card put together about SciFi of the 80s with lots of his commentary woven throughout---Future on Fire--- where he outlines the many pitfalls of SciFi and literature in general---drop me a line if you want it, I'll mail it or whatever. 
--
Basically, tell me a good story.  First, foremost, and always tell me a good and entertaining story.  If you do that all the other stuff falls by the wayside. 
 
 Peter F. Hamilton, Michael Flynn, Connie Willis, Steve Perry, William C. Dietz, Deborah Christian, C.S. Friedman, Ian Douglas, Robert Buettner and Sarah  A. Hoyt  all have good stuff.
There are many more that I did not list. 
 
I have to agree with ry, if the story flows well and pulls me along I can ignore the little things. Techno-jargon is fine in small doses but becomes as tedious as all get out when overdone.
 
Ry's got it right.  This is a recurring theme in SF criticism: the dearth of Good Old-Fashioned SF with winners, losers, and oodles of ultranifty technology.   It comes back to life every few years, but I'm not sure that it's ever done much good.  Which doesn't mean I don't wholeheartedly approve of it, 'cause I do.  Wholeheartedly approve, that is.  David Weber.  Larry Correia.  Steven White.  Eric Flint.  John Ringo.  Elizabeth Moon.  OSC.  Long may they live, and long may they write.

Oh, and Bad Cat Robot: I would never have believed you're old enough to have encountered Burma-Shave jingles.
 
+1 on John Scalzi, If you haven't read agent to the stars I sringly suggest you check it out,ot os one of the funniest books I have ever read.
 
Tom Kratman. Very politically incorrect military political science fiction.

Michael Z. Williamson. Libertarian science fiction. Someone always turns to violence and then our heros have to save the day.
 
That is the sort of SF I have always preferred, though I'll read most anything.  Indie/electronic publishing has really helped in making those stories more readily available.  I've read some very enjoyable $1.99 books recently that I would never see at a Barnes & Noble. OTOH, Amazon has hundreds of them.
 
I'm not old enough to have *invented* Burma Shave jingles, but as the Thomas can attest I'm getting older every day ;-)  The signs were quite prevalent where my mother grew up in Texas, and I saw the pictures--and approved mightily.  Thanks, everyone, for your input!
 
John Ringo. I just discovered his stuff and love it. +1 on Weber, Piper, and Heinlein. Also Flint if someone didn't mention him.
 
Oh noes, someone brought up Burma Shave signs. I used to be the lookout when we went on drives. My favorite:

Granpa knows
it's not too late,
He's gone to get
some widow bait
Burma Shave

Another one I remember:

He lit a match
to check the tank
Now they call him
Skinless Frank!
Burma Shave

Actually I think they were my introduction to fine literature!  :^)
 
 I learned to read by jumping feet-first into Verne. My parents did n't allow TV until the youngest of 3 kids was in middle school and I was in high school by the. Ditto comics...we were discouraged from spending our money on them, so I didn't grow up following the early superheroes, and at almost 70, I still don't get the national fascination with the genre.

After Vern, I read through Clark, then Asimov, van Vogt et al, but recognized the pee-cee wave coming and jumped ship. I haven't been back.

Some screen presentations do hold my interest. Kubrick, the Star Wars series, Battlestar and even Troopers, but keep the mages in their cellar labs, please, I prefer the action up on the ramparts.

As
 
Happy Birthday BCR.

We shall remember this one with our Good Bye to Lex.
 
 Yes, Lex. Sigh.

I liked Heinlein's  "Starship Troopers" as the novel, but the movie was a turkey. That was teh first movie my son and I went to with him firmly ensconced in the USAR. We both the left the theater disgusted.

Weber's Honorverse is pretty good, but he nods to PC making the main character a woman. I can do without such things, but the thing is still, as Pournelle puts such things, a rolicking good yarn

If you like MilSF, then Jerry Pournelle's "The Prince" is not to be missed. A number of Army ossifers were caught live with all three issues of the Mercenary trilogy, and jerru has compiled the entire Mercenary series, begiining with "West of Honor," along with some new material, into "The Prince." It certainly ain't PC, and Pournelle's experiences in Korea show in the series. You should love him John, as Jerry was a Red Leg too.
 
Cool! Concur! Amen! What she said!   I write as one whose Mom bought him subscriptions to both Analog and Galaxy when he was a little kid. (I think this is one of the many reasons I find chicks, these days, so disappointing.)

I was a co-op at MSFC when we still had some Original Space Nazis there, and the only SECRET document I every looked at had to do with Orion and nuclear-pulse propulsion.

I always wanted to be a Lensman, if I couldn't be Dondragmer.
 
Dammit, I just moaned again. Our Captain Lex was very like a Lensman.
 
Oh, wait! The question!  Well, the answer is obviouly anything by Doc Smith, anything by Hal Clement,  anything by Forward,  anything by that tubercular Naval  Person, anything by Niven and/or Pournelle,  etc, usw, and so forth.

I'm fond of Laumer, too, but I like him more for his model airplanes, to the extent of having downloaded some of the drawings.  I always wanted to ask him why he lapped the capstrips over the trailing edge like that. Sure, it's stronger that way, but way harder to cover.  I suspect he cheated and used Silkspan, instead of good honest Jap tissue.
 
Someplace in this basement of mine I have a collected Best Of John Campbell. Editor in chief of Analog or Galaxy and the man responsible for Robert and Isaac publishing anything.

I got it so long ago it is probably out of print.  He had some interesting stories about the potential conflicts between geniuses and regular people.

Now I will have to clean the basement. The horror if it got stashed in my wife's collection of romance novels. That's 3 cubic yards of boxes.

Oh oh another old one: L Sprague DeCamp.
 
It appears as though some of John Wood Campbell's books are available under Project Gutenberg. John also published under the name of Don A Stuart.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_W._Campbell


 
Poul Anderson, too. "The Man Who Came Early" is just wonderful.
 
Can I add a little early David Drake to the list? Hammer's Slammers was the first mil-sci-fi that I ever read, followed closely by Pournell. And yes, bring back the "rollicking good story," even if the wizards do pop up onto the ramparts from time to time. Of all times, now is when we need optimistic, encouraging and wonder-full stories and yarns.