The field of Speculative Fiction is like a long-running conversation between writers and readers all around the world. It’s easy for some of the best pieces of this vast conversation to be missed, including contemporary stories that may not have achieved the recognition they deserve or older stories that may have fallen out of the public consciousness.
Thus, the Keener Book Club, where each month I’ll highlight one contemporary novel, one classic novel (generally more than twenty years old) and one piece of short fiction from any time period (and I do mean any).
Book: The Martian — by Andrew Weir
To Purchase: Amazon
The first manned mission to Mars is forced to abort their mission due when a bad dust storm damages their landing base and takes the life of crew member Mark Watney. There’s only one problem.
Mark’s not dead.
He’s stranded on Mars with limited supplies, a damaged habitat and no way to even tell anybody off-planet that he’s alive. He’s going to have to be ingenious in order to figure out a way to survive.
The Martian is a hard SF novel that’s been described as a cross between Apollo 13 and Castaway. Perhaps the most accurate, and most concise, review of the book is the one posted by the online comic XKCD.
It’s also significant in that it is a highly successful self-published novel. Andrew Weir first published it in parts on his web site starting in 2009. At the request of his readers, he self-published it on Amazon.com in 2011, where it sold more than 35K copies in three months. Eventually, he was approached by Crown Publishing, who re-published the novel in 2014 and helped shepherd its way to the New York Times bestseller list.
It has also been made into a high budget movie by famed director Ridley Scott, with Matt Damon in the starring role. The film was fast-tracked for a late 2015 release and will be released in October 2015.
Note: (2015-10-23) The movie was indeed released in October and turned out to be an excellent movie, a faithful adaptation and a bonafide hit.
Classic: Rite of Passage — by Alexei Panshin
To Purchase: Amazon
In 2198, Mia Havero is a young girl growing up in a high-tech but insular society aboard a large spaceship, one of only seven starships still in existence. The ships were originally the transports that established colonies on some one hundred planets after Earth and its in-system colonies were destroyed in a series of catastrophic wars more than one hundred and fifty years before.
Mia’s ship subjects its children to a Rite of Passage, partly to ensure their worthiness to be citizens and partly as a population control measure. Sometime after their fourteenth birthday, Mia and the other children in her age group will be set down in the hostile wilderness of a planet for a month to live or die.
But this isn’t going to be just any Rite of Passage. Mia will find herself facing challenges that neither she nor anybody else ever expected.
This novel was first published in 1968 as an Ace Science Fiction Special (a very influential line of books in its day). It won the 1968 Nebula Award for Best Novel and was nominated for the 1969 Hugo Award for Best Novel (which it lost to John Brunner’s Stand on Zanzibar, an SF novel that has not aged well). I first read Panshin’s novel in 1975, and I’ve never forgotten the impact it had on me.
Short Fiction: “The Most Dangerous Game” — by Richard Connell
Free PDF: PDF Books for Free
Richard Connell (1893 – 1949) was a famous short story writer, journalist and screenwriter. He’s now best remembered for his classic story, “The Most Dangerous Game,” which was published in Collier’s magazine in 1924. The story has spawned more than a dozen movies, innumerable TV episodes and countless similarly-themed stories.
In the 1920’s, an aristocratic big game hunter has grown jaded with hunting conventional prey. Even hunting the big predators no longer holds a thrill for him. When a fellow hunter falls into his grasp, he decides that he’s found the perfect prey. Let the hunt begin…
The story is in the public domain in most countries, and is readily available online in PDF form. It’s not actually SF or Fantasy, but it’s influenced so many SF and Fantasy stories (including one of my own) that I think it might reasonably be of interest to SF/Fantasy readers. And, hey, it’s a 91-year-old story that’s still a fun read, and how many stories can you think of that have lasted the test of time like that?