Okay, here are the answers you’ve been waiting for:
Won the lottery?
Get your Gateway tickets here!
Beware the black holes
This one is GATEWAY, by Fredrik Pohl, one of the first hard science fiction novels I recall reading, and he got me hooked. The problem with most hard science fiction writing was that the authors focused so much on the science that they took a top-down view and failed to engage us on a “well, how does that effect me and why should I care?” level. Pohl was one of those who created three-dimensional, sympathetic characters who brought the ideas down to practical earth. In the case of Gateway, that character is Robinette Broadhead, a man (yes, a man, and his issues with his own feminine name come out in his therapy, which comprises the whole of the novel with the story told mostly in flashback with ‘Bob’ on the couch) with many, many troubles and definitely a hero that proves winning the lottery isn’t the answer to all of your problems, but only the beginning, and piercing the Schwarzschild Barrier to get close to a black hole ruins everyone’s day. Pohl, despite having been a communist*, wrote some of my favorite stories, and brought humanity to an otherwise sterile world of hard science fiction.
They must have children
Now my body is not mine own
But saints need their sins
I trusted my older siblings (at least the ones who read) to give me good recommendations. By far, my brother David influenced my reading preferences the most, but my sister Chris came through for me with this one, THE HANDMAID’S TALE by Margaret Atwood. This is feminist dystopian literature, and may not appeal to many men (or the idea of the heavy patriarchal society portrayed may be too appealing to some). Atwood takes us to a future where hard right Christians have taken over the country, or at least part of it, renamed it “Gilead” and made all women subservient to men–no more jobs, no more money, no more owning property. If you were the first and only wife of one of the top dogs, you got to stay in your house, but if you were married before, or the second wife of a divorced man, and young enough to reproduce, well, you got ripped from your home, trained to be subservient and passed around to the barren households as a potentially fertile handmaid. (The barrenness and defects she never explained in full, but alluded was the result of radiation/pollution/etc.) You even got renamed, as the narrator of the story is Offred, as in “Of Fred”, so you couldn’t even own an identity. But as Offred discovers when she enters the world of the Commander, even those held to the highest ideals have the same primal desires as those they conquered. Being a Christian woman, and a female who grew up in the 80’s, I didn’t find it as controversial as proclaimed, especially because it reaffirmed what I always knew–all of us are sinners no matter how much we try to behave or pretend otherwise.
Surviving, rebuild the world
Soon even that fades
The first post-apocalypse novel to make me cry was EARTH ABIDES by George Stewart. Yes, cry. I walked with Ish all the way through, from his trip where he got bitten by a snake that ultimately saved him from the deadly measles that only made him sick where it killed most everyone else until… well, I won’t spoil the story. Written in 1949, the book still feels fresh–in that despite all of our technological advances, all of that will mean nothing when society winds down after such a biological disaster.
Hot food and good fights
Okay, maybe my mare too
Watch out for demons!
I would be remiss if I didn’t include one of my own stories as a favorite–I wrote it, after all, and what kind of author would I be if I didn’t like what I wrote? This is for “The Belly of the Beast“, by T. R. Neff. Moi. Ennid is a character that I enjoy sharing gray cells with, despite his being male and geared toward food and fighting. I got a very good piece of advice in writing once that you don’t write a character who is you, you write a character you would want to spend time with, and I could hang out with Ennid for a while. For one, he’s only described himself a little but the man I am picturing when I write him is the kind of guy I think is sexy. I wouldn’t mind watching him fight (being that I love MMA, part of my inspiration) but I wouldn’t want to be around him when the powers sweep into his life and involve him in their cosmic drama. And a very special horse like K’zirra? I’m more than a little jealous.
*Oddly enough, when Pohl’s communism came through in his stories, he ended up approaching it in such a way that either it 1) would convince you that capitalism wasn’t so bad after all or 2)pointed out some of the aspects of capitalism that we can ALL hate, like rampant, constant, ubiquitous and obnoxious product shilling. Also, someone with a little situational awareness, when reading my novel Umbra, may see the nod in this author’s direction.