02-01-2007 09:14 PM - edited 02-01-2007 09:14 PM
We discussed the "sense of wonder" as a key element in science fiction, and defined it as "that moment of amazement and recognition when the story brings you a concept or description so startling and so right that your mouth falls open."
Think back to an SF story you have read which gave you a sense of wonder. List the name of the story and author, then in a paragraph or less, describe the moment or event that brought the sense of wonder. What are the specific elements from the story that came together to create the sense of wonder? Why do you think the sense of wonder is important in an SF story?
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Message Edited by BookClubEditor on 02-01-2007 09:19 PM
02-04-2007 11:40 AM
I found myself amazed at the thought of how it really would be to time travel- not as romantic as less well written books would have it, but the real problems it could bring. Later reading "Time Traveller's Wife" this was emphasized even more.
to me that is what good science fiction does- takes a fantasy/magical kind of idea, and adds reality (or possible reality) to it.
I still like my science fiction with a lot of fantasy/romance/suspense type elements to it.
02-04-2007 10:21 PM
The most striking wonder, to me, was the scientific “witchcraft.” Truthsayers pay attention to the subconscious movements and voice patterns of a subject to determine if they are speaking the truth. The “wirding way” is based on Chinese martial arts, yoga and observing the movements of your opponent. The “Voice” is a version of modern Nero Linguistic Programming, taken to the extreme.
Another amazing aspect is his treatment of religion. In the galactic Empire of Man the Bene Gesserit have built, into planetary religions, safety features that their agents may avail themselves of. What this means, is that individuals trained by the Bene Gesserit, if they find themselves in a tricky situation, can perform certain acts and the locals will think they are saviors or messiahs or other religious figures. Furthermore Paul is able to cohesively rally the entirety of the Fremen people, by manipulating religion.
Finally the third wonder I will discuss is the superhumanity of the inhabitants of Dune. Many stories present the reader superbeings that are different from humanity, either cyborgs or mutants or something else. The people of Dune are humans who have been trained and tempered to superhuman levels. Fremen warriors use knives to defeat Imperial marines. Paul uses his superhuman senses and speed to thwart numerous assassinations. Mentat’s perform the calculations of supercomputers. And all are completely human.
When I first read Dune I literally gasped out loud at some of these ideas. In fact, years later I later studied yoga because it was mentioned in Dune. I studied religion and what came to be called Neuro Linguistic Programming because of this book. Dune, a book I first read 16 years ago at age 14 is something I think about at least several times a week and features prominently on why I want to write Science Fiction myself.
That power to inspire is something that I do not think exists in any other form of literature.
02-05-2007 04:01 PM
One of my favorite SF series is James A. White's Sector General stories. I think the first one I read was "The Galactic Gourmet", which I picked up because the title sounded amusing and the dust jacket description stimulated my interest. What really caught my imagination, though, was the concept of an interstellar, interspecies hospital.
The Sector General staff is made up of a variety of alien life forms, with humans as only a small handful. Whole floors are devoted to treating races with distinctly non-human physiologies and ailments, requiring a wide range of techniques and skills. In addition, just getting from Point A to Point B in the hospital is an adventure in itself, as staff members frequently have to pass through sections where the atmosphere or environment could actually be harmful to them; the hospital has a whole set of protocols for dealing with this.
The author has also developed a classification system, consisting of a four-letter designation of each race. The first letter denotes the race's environmental requirements (what it breathes, for example), the other three signify the number of limbs, metabolism, etc. White even gave the system flaws and exceptions; in a couple of stories, doctors explain why certain races are "misclassified". (Humans, by the way, are classified as DGDB, since we breathe oxygen, are bipedal, warm-blooded, etc.)
One of my favorite features of SF is exploring non-human intelligences, and Sector General became a place that I loved to visit through several novels and three anthologies reprinting White's earlier short stories. This was a world that could only be explored in a science fiction setting.
02-05-2007 05:35 PM
I read American Gods by Neil Gaiman in one sitting. As the novel progressed, all the elements began to build, and to click into place. Near the end of the story, you can feel the plot building and building, to the point where every detail is finally slotted in, the world is coming to an end in one of the silliest places imaginable, and I swear I could hear the crashing finale to "Ode to Joy" as it all played out in the grandest possible way.
Oddly enough, I felt the same sense of wonder when I read the book for the second time six months later.
I read the book again for a third time, trying to keep a writer's point of view to see why the book had made such an impression on me. I think Neil Gaiman spun his story out cleverly by revealing enough, but not too much. He also has a superb sense of timing. The setting for the climax of the book contributed as well, as the grand finale wouldn't have had half the impact in a more mundane setting.
02-06-2007 10:22 AM
It began with “Gee whiz, could kids really build a space ship?” in Heinlein’s “Rocket Ship Galileo”. Later, the “Gee whiz” moments happened when something I was reading began challenging philosophical and intellectual notions I held. Two stories stand out in this regard: “A Case of Conscience” by James Blish and “The Last Question” by Isaac Asimov. In “A Case of Conscience”, the Jesuit priest Ruiz-Sanchez ponders the question of “A Christian people, lacking nothing but the specific proper names and the symbolic appurtenances of Christianity.” and doing so perfectly without any belief in gods or the supernatural. A startling concept and one that caused me to examine my own belief systems, a process that continues to this day.
This “sense of wonder” is, in my opinion, at least as critical to SF as the science content. Or maybe it would be more correct to say that the sense of wonder is critical to the very best of science fiction. Without the sense of wonder, the techno-thrillers of Tom Clancy or Michael Creighton, for instance, would qualify within the broader definitions of SF, as would any story in any time or locale that has some scientific content.
02-06-2007 03:01 PM
I got a similar jolt from a couple of likewise religiously themed short stories by Arthur C. Clarke. In "The Nine Billion Names of God," Tibetan monks buy an IBM mainframe to help them calculate these names, which they had been laboriously producing on their prayer wheels. The computer completes the task very quickly, and when it's done, the STARS START WINKING OUT!!! In the Hugo-winning "The Star," a space-faring astrophysicist who is also a Jesuit priest figures out that a flourishing, wonderful planetful of people was wiped out in a supernova that was seen on earth as the Star of Bethlehem.
I am not a religious person, nor much of a Clarke fan, but I still feel my mind expanding when I think about the implications of those ideas.
02-06-2007 04:41 PM
The more "loaded" a subject is, the more the reader has invested in it, and therefore the more likely it is to provide an emphatic moment in the story. Josh, Seeking, and Muse have touched on religion, which is definitely one of those "big issues" no matter what one believes. But the sense can also spring from details -- Seldes talks about the way James White thought out the details of his Sector General stories. Details are extremely important because, among other things, when they are well done they sneak up on readers and amaze them. Cluecorner talks about the element of timing, a very writerly concern and an important one (a detail in the right place can have a great impact, and in the wrong place may make no impression at all). (Gaiman is also a master of detail -- he can say a huge amount in very few words.)
Of course, this is hardly an exhaustive list -- and to a great extent how the sense of wonder is created has a lot to do with who creates it and who reads it. This last one we have no control over, but I think that most writers handle the sense of wonder by trying to experience it themselves in their own writing. We're going to work on this a lot in this workshop.
I want to say something about the impact of the sense of wonder, too. I think that the ones we are most fond of are the ones that tickle us, that we associate with emotions we enjoy. But as a writer, it's useful to remember that you can strive for the same effect with negative impact, too. I am not a fan of horror, but a good horror story embodies a shock that is also a sense of wonder, in that it is something that we did not expect and something that can change the way we look at the world. On another forum we have been talking about Dan Simmons' novel SONG OF KALI, originally published in 1985. I read it in manuscript, and the final scene still gives me the willies. Simmons used details, big issues, timing, emotion, and a lot more to lead the reader to the emphatic shock at the climax.
My point in that last paragraph is this: don't limit yourselves to the obvious. You are writers creating universes, which means that you are free to deal with all the aspects of your worlds.
02-07-2007 12:26 PM
02-08-2007 02:10 AM
It is about a woman called Offred who lives in a world sometime in the future where society has changed quite a bit. Religion of a sort we are not familiar with has fractured society in a way that is not a turn most of us would like to see. Women and men have very rigid rules of conduct defined and having children requires that some people must make extraordinary sacrifices in their lives. They don't chose to make the sacrifices, rather it is imposed upon them by roles expected by society and enforced by physical means.
The sense of wonder comes as the minute details of every day life build up to give the reader a sense of this world. This is done in journal form through a remembering of the events leading up to the presence and the sadness of missing her own family. It took my breath away in the awful sadness of that kind of life.
02-10-2007 06:30 PM
02-10-2007 07:48 PM
One of my favorite SF series is the Honor Harrington Series by David Weber. The first time I picked up that series eight years ago, I was floored. I believe I read The Honor of the Queen first, and the space battles definitely gave me that sense of wonder. The details and science Weber puts into his military (and civilian) machines in this series is awesome, as well as the tension he's so good at building (both in a military-we're-about-get-blown-up-sense and in a wow-I-really-care-about-these-characters-sense). Plus, I was only in middle school when I started reading, so I was kind of almost still reading through a child's eyes (middle school is one of those awkward transition phases), which doubled the wonder for me. And Honor herself, as a butt-kicking chick that I could look up to as a strong female role model, doubled it again.
02-10-2007 10:48 PM
An early SF book that blew me away was Isaac Asimov's _Second Foundation_. I was impressed with Asimov's galactic civilization and with the buildup of the first Foundation, but when I read about Hari Seldon's structuring of history according to mathematical laws, the very idea that the future of civilization could be predicted with great success simply staggered me. (The image of the glowing equations and corrections written on the glass walls of the university lab has stayed with me, too.) What a neat idea it was to me then, though I don't credit it with much possiblity now--human beings are simply too unpredictable.
Today I still get that sense of wonder from two sources--good writing really tickles me, and I love visions of the future that are well-crafted and novel. They make me feel like I'm a god looking down on earth and seeing the scenarios that I put in motion played out.
02-12-2007 06:11 PM
That sentence explained the title and also the trials that the protagonist had endured. It also gave me a different viewpoint on faith and its interpretation.
02-18-2007 06:12 PM
02-26-2007 06:46 PM
Piper crafted a magnificent story. The "sense of wonder" was definitely there - I WANTED a fuzzy companion (not a pet, mind you) and to tell the truth, I still do. I also loved his descriptions of Zarathustra itself, from land prawns to air cars. One of the other amazing concepts was that of the sun stones, jewels which glowed with the wearer's body heat. Well, Piper hooked me, line and sinker too.
Of course, I think one of the important elements of any SF story is that it has more than just a good idea. There are plenty of terrible stories filled with great concepts. What was important about Piper's work was that he had fleshed out his world, with mature, dynamic, realistic characters. These characters had to resolve "real" problems, and the way they did so was fascinating. Furthermore, Piper had definitely created a plot line inseparable from SF - how do we define sentience in another race? More than that, how do we, as a "more advanced" civilization, interact with a species that's still in the stone age? Piper even dealt with issues of conservation and preservation, since human activity was assisting a natural process that was forcing the fuzzies to migrate from their traditional grounds. All in all, a phenomenal tale that appeals to me as much now as it did fifteen years ago.
02-27-2007 02:07 PM