How A Classics Nerd Came to A Sci Fi World

For as long as I could remember, I was guilty of dismissing Science Fiction as frivolous, if not tacky reading. I was convinced that it would contain all characters called Beep Boop 123 or Zphldiznmike and have generic plot lines difficult to relate to. I dwelled instead between the pages of Classic Literature and Contemporary Fiction with many vacations to the shores of Crime and Mystery, and I was happy.

That was, until my brother bought me Starship Troopers by Robert A. Heinlein for Christmas. I was less than enthused, but I really try to read recommendations. This was the gateway drug to my beloved niche of Science Fiction, which I call Early to Mid-20th Century Sci Fi. There is probably a better categorical name, but I am still a newcomer!

Robert A. Heinlein, Ray Bradbury, Isaac Asimov, Philip K Dick and Arthur C Clarke have become pillars that I worship at. They generally write from a period just after World War II, and a lot of the fiction extends expectations and predictions as to what life would look like in the era that we now inhabit. The writing and narrative lends itself in the same way as a lot of the classic literature I was used to, a la Hemmingway and Fitzgerald, which let me dip my toe in with comfort.

The writing is rich and beautiful, and I was fascinated and satisfied, in a way, to compare our modern time to what these writers expected from the future all those years ago. The characters are complexly drawn, and still relatable as we currently sit on the brink of new technology at all times. We are still the humanity that could reach deep into the galaxy, could go to war with robots, could be wiped out by alien forces and buy the farm. These works are philosophical, beautiful, haunting and comedic. They encourage forward thinking, demand empathy with their characters, and are no less entertaining for it. They are diverse and wonderful; some will have you yearning for the future they describe, and some will break your goddamn heart.

So now, readers, I implore you. Read Science Fiction. Just try it out, take it for a test drive. It doesn’t have to be the same sub-genre that I prefer, however I do think it a good starting point for literary enthusiasts that mainly read Classics.

If you are interested in some of the readings that drew me in, here a couple favourites:

Fahrenheit 451 – Ray Bradbury
The Martian Chronicles – Ray Bradbury
Starship Troopers – Robert A. Heinlein
Stranger in a Strange Land – Robert A Heinlein
2001: A Space Odyssey – Arthur C. Clark
Slaughterhouse 5 – Kurt Vonnegut
Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep – Philip K. Dick
I, Robot – Isaac Asimov

Advertisements

Favourite 5 Books Read In 2016


5.A Dirty Job
This was my introduction to work of Christopher Moore, and I loved it. He is hilarious and his writing reminds me so much of Kurt Vonnegut. The story follows bumbling Beta-male Charlie Asher as he struggles to raise his infant daughter as a single father after his wife dies. What makes it a little more difficult is his having to reap souls on the side. I definitely laughed out loud during this book, by myself and in public. Definitely recommend for those that like a cheeky bit of literature!

4.The Little Paris Bookshop
A sweet read about a middle aged man named Monsieur Perdu and a younger, newly celebrated writer that set off on a boat trip to find the former’s lost love. This book is rife with literary references and flowery prose about life and the French countryside, but not so far as to make it ridiculous. This book is heartwarming and celebrates a love of literature as being central to a love of life.

3.The Unquiet Dead
I requested this book after a chance reading of a review by Quill and Quire and I was absolutely blown away. I love police procedural murder mysteries, especially with a strong, female-fronted character that is badass and witty. This story is set in and around Toronto and explores issues concerning Muslim/non Muslim relationships within the community and abroad. The author has a PhD in International Human Rights Law and this novel is so immensely Canadian, and hauntingly beautiful. I’m looking forward to her new novel in February!

2.Wuthering Heights
This has been one of my brother’s favourite books for as long as I can remember but for some reason I had yet to read it. I finally did, and it places among my top Classics of all time, which is saying a lot. The writing style is so wonderfully beautiful and there are so many lines that just tug at your heart. The story of Catherine and Heathcliff is so unhealthy and at times grotesque but for some reason you can’t help being drawn into it.

1.The Eyre Affair
I can’t believe I had never heard of this book before a friend recommended it. This story is set in an alternate reality England in 1988, where the Second World War resulted in a long lasting Crimea conflict that is still ongoing. England prioritizes literature as both culture and commodity (ie: there is a specific department of the police that investigate forgeries and fraudulent first editions) and a scientist has developed a way to actually enter stories and change them. When someone kidnaps Jane Eyre and threatens to change the story of the novel, literary detective Thursday must rely on her book smarts and street smarts to take down a psycho. I have continued reading on into the series and have loved each book more than the last.

Nightmares Part 2

You wake in the middle of the night and the feeling (it’s called horripilation) of your hair standing on end; the sickening tremor in your chest lets you know that you are not alone. Your eyes are opened wide but you cannot see anything in the dark. You wonder if whatever is there can see you, or if you both are cloaked in the black night. Eventually you reason with yourself, since all you can hear is your own shallow, tense breathing and the creaking of the house, that this is your imagination. As you begin to fall back into slumber, you barely but unmistakably feel something brushing the stray hairs off of your forehead. The slightest movement of air in front of your face and a chill that settles within your bones. Fear and sleep fight for control and as you lose consciousness, you wonder how many times this has happened with you forgetting as soon as the dreams claim you. How often have the ghouls let you know that they are there, and that they are not going anywhere? You remember that as a child you would wake and see figures standing against the wall, and you can still feel the terror that would follow. Your last thought before you wake in the morning, is realizing some of your longest relationships have been with the shadows that cling to your covers and taste your trembling breath.

BB

This time, 5 years ago.

DSCN3005
I was walking alone along a path on the waterfront of Catania. I stopped at the kiosks and sifted through rows of fresh fruit and pails of snails for escargot until I was distracted by a lone man on a bench by the sea. I wandered over to him with a forgotten peach in the palm of my hand, drawn by the way he looked sketching the scenic panorama before him.

I sat next to him and watched him execute perfect strokes of lead across the page, envious of the way he could perfectly transcribe what he saw. We performed the traveller’s handshake of telling each other who we were and where we were from, and he showed me his book of sketches. Some of the drawings I recognized from the sights that lay before me but deeper into the book was a visual guide to his home in England. I gazed at expertly composed pages of streams and cottages and felt truly transported to the countryside.

He asked me what Canada was like and I, lacking his artistic skills, instead described the way that pine trees look dusted with snow, and the mountains that cradle crystal lakes between them. I detailed how my city looks split down the middle with a twisting river and deep valleys of green juxtaposed against the cold concrete of the city sky line.

He closed his eyes and said, “Ah yes, I can see it.”

There were two things that I realized in that moment:

The first being how well you can truly appreciate the beauty of home when you are miles and miles away from it. The seemingly mundane things that you would not notice in the day-to-day become features you feel compelled to describe perfectly to do the scene justice to a stranger.

The second was that everyone creates in different ways and being jealous of another’s ability to construct reality is like (as a dear friend would say) counting others’ blessings when you should be counting your own.

BB

Songs of Experience.

There is a song I hear from time to time, blasting from some low riding sports car being driven by a guy with too much gel and too few brain cells and I’m seventeen again in Spain, dancing in that club and sneaking highballs- letting the pulse of the music drive our bodies together.

Another song reminds me of being barefoot in the beach house and the smell of rain and earth and the ocean was perfume on my skin. I couldn’t find socks and the hardwood was cool and refreshing as I danced.

The songs that I play late at night echo of the nights I spent next to you in the dark, when I would wonder how I could feel so lonely with a heart beating so close to mine.

BB

Autoimmune Disease Pt. 2

Autoimmune
After viewing the damning evidence that I would someday be responsible for global devastation, I knew I would have to make some changes in my life. I vowed that I would not be defeated in the present for the actions of my future self. In the rules of war and time travel, technically they had drawn first blood by attacking me before I had done anything wrong. However, their attack was sufficient.

Nothing is quite so peculiar as knowing that your own blood pumping in your veins is betraying you. The very hemoglobin, platelets and cells that your body spent quality time creating, only to have it turn and attack your organs; homegrown little kamikazes with zero regard for their own survival. Fuck this, I thought. If they want me to be the villain, I’ll be the villain. The scene is scripted, the set ready, I will act the part.

If I hadn’t been diagnosed with an autoimmune disease inflicted on me by a kick-boxing nun, I probably would have just rode out my Arts degree and held multiple jobs while travelling the world. Instead I started to build my cyber-genetics corporation and looking into the future of peak physical conditioning. In the cyclical nature that is so specific to time travel and the butterfly effect, I was convinced that by travelling back in time and trying to destroy me, the future dystopian citizens were actually encouraging me to bring about their demise.

I traveled the great and perilous distance to the foreign land of Beaumont where I found the auto immune guru Seany. I found him in his meditation chamber, silent and still like I supposed a guru should be. Seany was also diagnosed with an autoimmune disease, although his was of an arthritic condition, and we opened a line of shared communication concerning our illness and ways to deal with and prevent relapses.

‘Turmeric,’ Seany said without opening his eyes, that first day in his temple. He sat with his infected joints crinkling underneath him like wrapping after after a child’s birthday. ‘Turmeric and the cutting of red meats will reduce inflammation.’

These were words of truth for many with our illness.

‘There will also be a great evil that you must defeat; it will come in 6-8 months and hold the key to your recovery. In defeating it will you be able to defeat your illness.’

I’m pretty sure these were words of truth just for me.

In addition to looking into turmeric and red meat, I depleted the sugar content in my diet and restricted soy content. These are the tricks superheroes don’t tell you about. However, go online and there are more than enough people that will gladly tell you what you should be doing with your body, whether you asked their opinion or not.

Once my diet was under control, I began to concentrate on the Great Evil that Seany had mentioned. I had survived the other assassin attacks, but I was pretty sure that was mainly luck, and that was before the nun had stuck me with that fateful syringe. I constructed a state of the art gym, to train myself in every area of warfare I could possibly anticipate. Any time that I wasn’t “day sleeping” from autoimmune exhaustion, I was training in Krav Maga and Muay Thai for close hand-to-hand combat. I imported the best trainers from around the world and would not let them leave the gym unless they had beaten and bloodied me in demonstrating the art form that was self-defense and attack beforehand. I became obsessed with the beauty and ability of weapons. I started in low-level buying and trading of butterfly knives, brass knuckles and Desert Eagle pistols until I had solidified my position enough to turn to higher-level trading. I was precise and efficient, making a name for myself in the seedy underworld of international black markets. I could find and acquire any sort of modern or ancient weaponry and deliver it to whomever I pleased, if the price and interests were suited to me.

Finally after months of waiting, the Great Evil attacked. I happened to be taking a day off from international buying and selling of weapons, and was instead enjoying a lovely outing of bowling. I had used my ill-gotten money to rent out a bowling alley for some friends from my pre-crime work life.

We were having fun eating nachos and tossing blocks down at Gateway Lanes when I noticed the black light and neon splashed room had taken on a hazy aura. No one else seemed to notice the music take on a slightly fuzzy quality and the motions of people and things slow down considerably. I knew it was time. I took a deep breath and wished that I hadn’t decided to wear a dress that day, and really regretted that my footwear happened to be of the bowling shoe variety.

I had always wondered what happened behind the end of the lanes, where the bowling balls disappeared into when they were struck. I found out when the wood buckled and sank and opened up into a steaming gorge. It turned out the mouth of Hell was located just under Gateway Lanes and in being there that day, I had summoned the Great Evil to do battle. The ground shook as an enormous monster ascended into the recreational center. The talons on his enormous feet clawed up the flooring, sending splinters through the air at the bowlers who were oblivious to the jeopardy I was in. They continued bowling strikes and spares as this devastating creature moved towards me. His rigid form was at least ten feet tall, his black shiny muscled body looked carved from onyx. His hands were roughly the size of kegs and looked capable of crushing kegs as well. His giant dark head housed a gaping mouth of razor blade teeth. Each tooth serrated and gleaming with spit, gnashing together in anticipation of combat. He had gnarled horns protruding from his temples like a ram. For the first time in my life, I was staring at terror in living form. If I could have, I would have soiled myself. As it was, I was too scared to even do that.

 

What I did do, however, was pick up a ten pound bowling ball and chuck it at the monster’s head. The ball collided with the monster’s giant flared nostrils and sent forth a burst of putrid green blood. The monster wiped it away with one of it’s planet-sized fists and started towards me. I tried to run but my bowling shoes slipped on the intensely waxed floors. I fell to the floor and was unable to brace myself for the first blow. The hit reminded me of the first and only time I was in a car accident. I felt my neck snap back as my body was shot across the lanes, my head colliding with every gutter as I slid. I had barely stood up when I saw the monster hurdling toward me. I reached down to my thigh holster and unclipped my 9mm Baby Eagle. Leveling it at the monster’s chest, I squeezed the trigger as many times as I could. The ricochet tried to push my arm back, but my training paid off and I held firm. The monster took a handful of bullets to his torso. More green blood oozed out of the creature and on to the floors and walls, mixing with the neon paint that already adorned the establishment.

Without losing momentum, the demon grabbed me by the throat and threw me through the air and into a children’s birthday party. My left arm bent behind my back and when I collided with the aluminum table of cheese pizza and juice boxes, I felt it break. It hung useless from my shoulder as I grappled with the presents and tried to get up. Taking a page from my book, the fiend started to pelt me with bowling balls. I managed to dodge a couple before a six pounder collided with my ribs, cracking them instantly. Breathing was excruciating and I was unable to escape before the monster got there. He stood over me in his hellish ebony glory, his laughing sneer showed off his teeth like steak knives. We both knew I was going to lose. I was never going to defeat this harbinger of doom while I had an autoimmune disease. I contemplated oblivion as he advanced toward me. That was, until I saw the gleam of a reflective patch on what looked like a fabric lunch box. Luckily for me, that was not a lunch box.

I used my one functioning arm to drag myself across the dirty hardwood floor and toward the pile of coats from the children of the birthday party. I leaned against my broken ribs and powered through the pain as I opened the strange package. It was exactly what I thought it was. This was going to be a gamble. But seeing as how I was about to die, I thought I should at least give it a shot.

It was some kid at the party’s diabetic kit.

I plunged the syringe into my arm and drew up my infected, toxic blood. As the creature finally found me in the children’s jackets and leaned in to shred my face with his teeth, I plunged the syringe into his neck, just as the nun had done to me. His eyes went large as the tiny tip pierced his skin and sent forth a deadly emission of my blood into his veins. The results, however prolonged in myself, were instantaneous in this awful being. He began to choke and writhe, falling to the ground and twisting in ways I had only seen in horror movies. He combusted into a brilliant spray of neon green blood and shrapnel of organs and tissue, and I exhaled in awe.

As the flesh fireworks subsided, I realized that the rest of the world had returned to real time. There were ten children staring at me, curled up and broken, bleeding on their jackets while Timmy, the birthday boy, cried into his mother’s legs. I gathered myself and ran from the bowling lanes, ignoring the pain of my broken bones in my haste.

I went north from the lanes, and did not stop until I found myself on the cusp of the ravine in my city, staring forth at the illuminated skyline of downtown. I sat down on a park bench and I could feel myself healing. It was as if I had absorbed the supernatural power from the Great Evil I had defeated. I could feel my blood being cleansed and my bones mending together.

I felt the autoimmune disease leaving my body, and I stared at that skyline, at all of the people living and breathing in the city, and I wondered if I would use my new found power for good or for evil. I guess only time would tell.

Autoimmune Disease Pt. 1

12363089_10206979486278884_293251295966741444_o
I had been noticing it more frequently over the last couple months, but I never really thought anything of it. I was sure that most people were fending off assassin attacks both in the dead of night and the blazing light of day, and I didn’t want to seem like I was complaining for no good reason.

The first time it happened, I was walking home from a late shift at work. Passing the convenience stores that closed hours ago, with their clerks home and tucked in warm beds, I began to notice the unmistakable sound of footsteps echoing my own. Every step I took, a step was repeated. If I stopped, the footsteps also stopped. I tried to walk as normally as possible, attempting to use my peripherals for better scope, and clutching my keys in between my fingers. Finally prepared, I turned. Streetlamps shot snaking shadows across the streets and refracting off trees, but nowhere in the partially lit area could I see my stalker. Easing my tense fingers off of my keys, I relaxed and turned around to walk the last block left between myself and home. This is when the assassin struck.

Facing forward again, I jumped with shock at the figure of a large man in a cloak that stood before me. He reached into the dark folds of cloth and brandished a katana that looked sharp enough to cut through steel. I put down my bag and really wished I hadn’t done legs day at the gym the day before. I wasn’t going to waste my breath calling for help, so instead I drew a deep inhale and made the first move. I attacked to the left with a series of side kicks that felt like they were landing against metal. The contact sent reverberations through my body and I fell to the ground. The cloaked assassin raised his sword and swung with such force that I could hear the blade whistling through the air toward me. I rolled back on to my shoulders and flipped on to my feet just in time to feel the katana slice through the ends of my hair, leaving a tidy little dusting of blonde on the pavement. At that moment, feet apart, fists up, and ready to get my ass kicked, a tomcat knocked over some garbage cans in a nearby alley. My attacker was momentarily distracted and I lunged forward, neatly sidestepping the blade and pulling the handle from his gloved hands. I spun in a clean 360 degrees, rotating the sword in my hands until it protruded forward and when I faced my attacker again, I plunged the blade deep into his chest.

I had never killed anyone up until this point, but even then I was pretty sure that people were supposed to bleed when you stabbed them. Instead the cloaked man pulled the sword from his own chest, and both he and the katana flickered with electronic energy before disappearing completely. I was left alone in the night, a block from home with a sore foot and a shorter haircut.

A first assassin attack is something that never leaves you. It remains with a quiet nostalgia that the rest of the attempts on your life never quite replicate. The ninja twin sisters that left me a cozy throwing-star scar on my abdomen were lovely, but not quite the same. The giant half man half wolf was scarier than the cloaked man, but our fight lacked the quiet intimacy of my first encounter, and I felt no satisfaction as I sent the snarling, snapping beast to his flickering grave.

And so my life passed, going to work, hanging out with friends, and occasionally fending off attempts to kill me. I travelled the world and even though foreign assassins were nouveau and exciting, I never questioned as to why I was being targeted to such a degree. I figured that this was just what your mid-twenties were; having fun and trying not to die.

It was not until the kickboxing super nun that I really started considering where these assassins were coming from. But when you have the Mother Superior landing roundhouse kicks to your jaw, her black habit flapping in the wind, you really have to wonder how you got to this point. After enduring a difficult beating, I was kneeling on the cold pavement of a back alley downtown, blood dripping from my mouth and cuts above my eyes. The nun was staring at me with a look of such hatred as her fingers counted her rosary and I counted the seconds until my impending death. It was then that I really considered what I could have possibly done to receive this amount of negative attention.

Just when I thought she was going to bicycle kick my face into oblivion, the nun pulled out a syringe and a small glass vial full of neon orange liquid. She drew the radioactive substance up into the needle and plunged it into my neck, forcing its contents into my bloodstream. I screamed with agony as fire rushed through my veins. The pain was incomparable to any of the beatings I had taken from assassins. I fell writhing to the cement and rolled onto my back to look up at the nun.

“It is a mortal sin to take the life of another human being,” she said. “But I cannot let you become the person you were meant to be. This is the only way we could save the world.”

The last thing I saw as unconsciousness encroached was the nun flipping a USB drive at me before turning to leave. When I awoke, I felt different. As I got to my feet, I felt dizzy, and a little lightheaded. I chalked this up to the amount of blood I had deposited onto the concrete and made for home, just glad I was alive at all. However over the next couple days, I was noticing a high amount of fatigue, dizziness and emotional difficulties.

When I almost fainted at work, I finally decided to go the doctor. He took my blood and asked if he could feel my throat, after which he nodded with a grave look on his face. The tests came back and confirmed what he had suspected. I had an autoimmune disease. He couldn’t tell me how I had come to have this particular disease, but he didn’t have to. I knew it was the nun and I excused myself to rush home and finally see what was on the mysterious USB drive.

At home and making sure that my roommates would be gone for the night, I plugged the USB in to my laptop. It was sleek and black and hummed with an energy I had never encountered before. Once plugged into the port, my screen went black. The laptop became hot to the touch and a movie began playing on the screen. I recognized Edmonton, Vancouver and Victoria through a montage of futuristic carnage. News reels flew by with my name mentioned again and again, in connection with the despair and devastation. I saw myself in photos and short clips of video, I had become more machine than person, cyborg and post-human, just like I wrote a paper on in University. I had become unstoppable, wreaking havoc on all of mankind.

Finally, when the video finished and I had absorbed the levity of the power I held in the future, a little messaged typed itself out across the screen:

“We sent our best assassins back in time to defeat you, but you were already too strong. Instead we have infected you with an autoimmune disease, so that the one who will eventually defeat you, is you. Your body will attack itself until you are no longer fit to become the totalitarian ruler you were fated to be.

And that is how I came to have an autoimmune disease. Touché future post-apocalyptic society, touché.

Airplane Vignette

There was a couple sitting across the aisle from me, a beautiful girl asleep leaning back in the centre seat and a handsome boy reading against the window. Outside the plane the sun had risen above the clouds and shone its orange glow on the girl’s face. She stirred and her closed eyelids twitched against the light. The boy noticed and gently pulled down the shade so that the light spilled over her nose and mouth instead like sweet, warm honey. She relaxed deeper into sleep and he smiled softly at her and turned back to his book. He glanced again at her, briefly, a few minutes later and his body relaxed well, and his breaths became deep and synchronized with hers. Once our plane reached the airport and our row was finally departing, the girl turned to the boy and told him it was really nice to meet him and maybe they’d see each other again. He and I watched her walk down the aisle and off the plane. I wanted to yell at him.
“Go get her! She’s your soulmate!”
But the look on his face told me that he wasn’t the person he wanted to be at this moment and letting her walk away was the kindest act of love he could give her. She wanted to give him her love, but he wanted to give her the world, even if it meant he wasn’t in it.
Some people are too focused on the happily ever after, but I have seen true love exist in the space of a few stolen moments.

Nightmares

You and I are facing each other on a deserted street. It must be a little after two in the morning and the sky is a starless monochrome. The streetlights cast halos of soft light that drape gently down our faces and extend shadows on the asphalt backwards from our feet. We are close enough to run and reach out and touch each other but far enough that there is no doubt we are separate. Behind you I can see a thick fog rolling in, blanketing the buildings and the road in an opaque sheet, enveloping the world. As the fog nears your turned back I call to you to come closer to me, away from the fog. I can hear voices all around and I turn to see people I know, or people you have mentioned, standing beside me and behind me. We are shouting out to you, in a cacophony that hurts my ears and makes my throat raw, but I can tell by your face that you cannot hear us. The fog is swirling so close to you, I can no longer see your shoes or the definite lines of your body; I can see your face as you try to hear what it is we are yelling. We are screaming now, a mob of outstretched hands, begging for you to link just a finger with one of ours, to let us anchor you and keep you safe from the dense unknown threatening to overtake you. The last thing I see as you sink into the fog, is a sad little smile, as if you do not believe that we could support the weight that is on your shoulders, that we would be brought down too.

“We are here,” we call in unison, the air has grown thick enough to touch. “We are not leaving.”

But you cannot hear us through the distance, and you cannot see us through the fog.

BB