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I’m going to make a pretty controversial statement for any writer or editor of science fiction to make: I’m not really interested in the science part. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not allergic to technobabble, and the latest takes on quantum mechanics or marvels of aerospace engineering certainly enhance stories, especially when wielded by an author who knows his or her stuff to new and interesting effect, but the fiction part has always meant more to me. I don’t care that hyperspace or psychokinesis might be scientifically impossible, nor do I care that Mars is—in reality—a barren (if possibly not completely lifeless) desert.
I just want to go on an adventure, even if it’s to some pretty difficult places.
You and I might fractionate science fiction into all manner of subgenres and categories, but one such division lies between the camp that believes SF stories must be science-first (and even educational) and those who see science fiction as only another kind of fantasy. This first group comprises the descendants of Gernsback, of Campbell, and even of Verne. These are the people who seek legitimacy for our field in the hallowed halls of universities, citing science fiction’s power to explore not just the hard sciences of physics and engineering, but biology, medicine, even the softer sciences of anthropology, psychology, and sociology. (That the champions of these softer sciences deride the harder, technical science fiction while being essentially cut from the same cloth is an irony lost on them, but that is a topic for another time.)
The second group, those believers in science fiction as fantasy, count for their ancestors such writers as Edgar Rice Burroughs, Leigh Brackett, and Jack Vance, and while those in the first camp might dismiss such stories as “mere entertainments” or scoff about the lack of literary merit or scientific theory on their pages, nevertheless, I’m sure such fantastic stories have inspired untold thousands to pursue careers in the sciences, just as sure as any of the more technical stories have. Because stories don’t have to be scientifically rigorous to be inspiring. They only have to be good.
Here then are stories from that second camp, stories that put the fantasy back in science fantasy, stories that honor (or lampoon) the legacy of John Carter and Dejah Thoris, of Eric John Stark, Paul Atreides, and Cugel the Clever. Some of these stories verge on space opera, for which reason I include Paul Atreides in my list, but all share in common the basic building blocks of that most venerable and overlooked subgenre of our tradition: sword & planet.
I hope you will enjoy them.
—Christopher Ruocchio, AD 2021
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