Neal Stephenson

Dear Neal,

I’m sure all readers have had that feeling when you read a book and think, “It’s like the author wrote this book just for me!” For me, that book was Snow Crash. Though the book covers a variety of topics, the main focus is technology and language. As an aerospace engineer with a minor in linguistics, you can see why I might have thought this book was personalized. Snow Crash was epic in scope, fast paced, and even featured a pun-named main character.

The word epic is thrown around a lot these days, but your books really live up to the word. What other author would create a religious order that reveals itself ever 1000 years? Or chronicle the cataclysmic end of human society on Earth? And even still, we feel personally invested in your characters and care about what happens to them within the larger scope of your story.

Last week, I thanked Ursula LeGuin for showing science fiction and fantasy can be used to challenge our own prejudices and social conventions. Today, I thank you for showing something that speculative fiction better than any other genre: stories, societies, and even civilizations that space vast reaches of time and space. Even as it inspires us, it reminds how small and fragile we are in the larger context of the universe.

Finally, I end this note with an apology: I haven’t yet been able to make it more than 100 pages into Cryptonomicon, and I’m sorry. I promise I’ll try again, maybe as New Year’s Resolution. In the meantime, thank you again for the vast amount of story I’ve read, enjoyed, and been inspired by.

-Christopher

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Science Fiction and Space

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Akhi Pillalamarri
Head Web Content Contributor
Twitter | Website

 

Those of us who have read or watched science fiction know that one of the most common characteristics of sci-fi is travel through space. Star Wars, Star Trek, Dune, The Foundation Series, and the many of the most famous works of Arthur C. Clarke, Robert Heinlein, and other classic authors occur in space. Among modern sci-fi, award-winning books like Redshirts and Ancillary Justice also take place in this environment.

Space is, of course, beautiful, and has its charms, but I believe that the genre’s focus on space does not make much sense. Realistically speaking, it is unlikely we are ever going to be able to jump across stars in a single lifetime, and science fiction is about the future, or the possibilities of the future. Therefore, I believe that stories that take place in space, but lack realism — often, but not always, grouped together as “Space Opera” — are merely works of fantasy that take place in space. Even then, these works too ought to be subject to believable in-world explanations of why things are the way they are.

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