Falling In Love Again With Science Fiction Novels

Ken MacLeod's writing taught me to love science fiction again. I had pushed the genre out of my reading life for many years, but I could not ignore his novel Newton's Wake.

Though I was a fierce reader of scifi novels as a teenager, wolfing down John Varley, Ursula LeGuin, Robert Silverberg, Clifford D. Simak and many others, I gave it up when I went to college. I think I had some misguided idea that scifi was for kids, and as a grownup English Ph.D. student I should be devoting myself to Dylan Thomas and post-structuralist theory. I strayed from literature occasionally, reading some Octavia Butler and a Star Trek novel, telling myself I was doing it merely to understand pop culture. It's not that I loved it – I just studied the stuff.

I became a professor, but drifted away from academia to become an alternative journalist. As the editor of the book review section of the San Francisco Bay Guardian, hundreds of books crossed my desk, their gray covers stamped "advance copy" and "uncorrected proof." That was how I found Newton's Wake, which was prominently billed as a space opera.

It had been a long time since I'd read scifi in a way you might call serious, rather than studying it as some kind of social symptom. I picked up the book, read the first page, and was intrigued enough to keep it through two apartments and two jobs – and finally read it after I'd returned from a year-long fellowship at MIT where I'd immersed myself in science self-education.

I don't think it's an exaggeration to say MacLeod gave me pleasure in reading scifi again. Partly that's because his ideas were so meaty – debates over separatist nationalism were deeply embedded in a crazed adventure story about "rapture fuckers" with nano brains and combat archaeologists teleporting through a series of heists across the galaxy. I was in love. In short order, I read every single MacLeod book I could get my hands on, then replunged into scifi lit with what could only be described as a burning need.

I had missed it for so long! Now the shelves in my office bulge with science fiction novels. They're ongoing testimony to my love, reawakened by a novel about Scottish pirates on another planet.