Why I’m a Human Waver

by Amanda S. Green

Before I get started, let me give you a quick update. We’ve been in negotiations with a certain kilt-wearing raccoon for the release of Kate, but those negotiations aren’t going very far. He keeps wanting more pie and a certain evil penguin keeps hijacking the pie truck. Anyway, we are confident Kate will be back for her regular Thursday slot. But, in the meantime, I’m filling in for her today.

For those of you who might have missed Sarah’s wonderful series of articles on bringing back that sense of wonder we used to find in science fiction and fantasy, I recommend you read Bring Back That Wonder Feeling, What is Human Wave Science Fiction and You Got To Move It Move It. Also check out Patrick Richardson’s The New Human Wave in Science Fiction.

Like Sarah and all those who have commented on her posts, I miss those days of derring-do in science fiction and I’ve been thinking about why I first started reading science fiction and why, after going away from it for awhile, I returned to it.

I grew up in a house where books were valued friends. I was one of the lucky ones where my parents were voracious readers and they began reading to me very early. When I was old enough, we read together. They encouraged me to read fiction and non-fiction, no book in the house was off-limits. In a time before video games, books were my escape.

When I was an early teen, maybe even a tween, I was spending a week or two at my grandmother’s house in small town Oklahoma. It wasn’t the first time. Every summer I spent at least a week there and another week in Tulsa with my other grandmother. But that summer was different. I’d read all the books in Grandma’s house–all two dozen or so of them. My grandmother just wasn’t a reader. The books that were there were either some left by my dad when he moved out years and years before or by my Uncle John.

Uncle John’s books introduced me to Louis L’Amour and Zane Grey. They were good books but short and it didn’t take long for me to read them. So, one day, I did what most any kid who is bored will do–I started prowling the dark corners of the house to see if I could find anything of interest.

Imagine my surprise when I came across a HUGE closet filled almost floor to ceiling with not only books and magazines but also records. I was in heaven. The only problem was that there was nothing to play the records on.

I spent hours going through the books and magazines. There was such a wide assortment of them to choose from. But one thing–well, several actually–that caught my eye. There were a number of If: Worlds of Science Fiction magazines. The covers and story titles intrigued me. I gathered them up and went outside to sit under one of the huge trees to read.

One of the very first stories I read was Jungle in the Sky by Milton Lesser. I’d never heard of either the story or the author before, but there was something about the cover that called to me. I didn’t know then that the magazine had been published in 1952. That part of the cover had been torn away. All I knew was it was something new I hadn’t read at least twice.

The story, like so many science fiction stories, could just as easily have been set in Africa. It was basically a safari set in space, but with a twist. There were aliens, sort of like parasites, that were hunting humans just as humans were hunting other aliens for their expositions on Earth. When our heroes are captured and “infested”, they have to not only find a way to defeat an enemy that is now part of them, but also find a way off the planet and back home to warn the rest of humanity about this threat.

I came across the story again a few months ago. It’s probably been thirty years since I last read it. My initial response on reading it this time was to shake my head when Lesser described the ship’s captain–our heroine–wearing hot pants and a cape while the rest of the crew is in overalls, etc. But then I realized I was looking at the story through today’s so-called sensibilities. This wasn’t a military ship. So the captain could wear whatever she wanted, as long as the ship’s owners didn’t mind. Also, this fit what was being written in the pulps back then. So, I put away the judgmental part of me and just read the story again, wondering if I’d like it as much as I did back then.

I can’t say I did, not completely. But it still made me smile at the right place and cringe when I was supposed to. I still found myself imagining that I was one of those crew members having to fight to survive. Yes, there were structural issues with the story and the science really doesn’t work. But you know what? That really doesn’t matter. It is a good story and I felt good at the end, even though some of the good guys died and some of the bad guys didn’t get the comeuppance I wanted them to.

It didn’t take me long to finish Jungle. So I started looking for more like it. Guess what I found. The first two installments of Heinlein’s The Moon is a Harsh Mistress. I was hooked. Oh boy was I hooked. And I was ticked because the last installment wasn’t there. Worse, stuck as I was in Ardmore without a car–my grandmother didn’t drive–and without a bookstore in walking distance–I had to wait until I got home and could con,er convince, my parents to take me to a store to buy the book.

Those two started my love affair with science fiction. SF allowed my imagination to fly. It took me to worlds where I knew I’d never be able to go but I could hope my children or grandchildren could. Even those books that didn’t have a happily ever after had that sense of hope to them. If only the survivor could hold out. If only the rescue team got there in time. There was a respect for humanity and for the human spirit I could identify with.

It’s that respect I have found lacking in so many of the “modern” science fiction novels and short stories. Well, that and the very unsubtle attempt by the author to beat me over the head with their political or social beliefs. It has seemed like the need to “teach” has become more important than the desire to “entertain”. Sorry, but when I read for pleasure, it isn’t so someone can pound a message into my head.

That has seemed especially true when it comes to most dystopian sf. (Well, to be honest, the utopian sf as well. But I have always tended to avoid those stories because, frankly, they bore me.) Governments are bad. Corporations are bad. Your neighbor is bad. Even your companions will sell you out at the drop of a hat and you can’t hold onto your beliefs if your life depended on it. Not only are these stories depressing but they usually wind up flying across the room before I finish the first quarter of the book. Why? Because the characters are unbelievable. Not everyone is a caricature. Just because you are a white, blond male doesn’t make you a villain. You aren’t automatically a victim because your skin is a certain color or you are a certain sex. Give me a break.

Give me Heinlein any day of the week. Do I like every one of his books? No. But most of them never fail to send my imagination soaring. Sarah’s Darkship Thieves does the same thing. Athena comes from a horrible world, but it is still a world where there is hope held by some of its inhabitants for a better world. It’s also a fun romp. Terry Pratchett is the same in fantasy as is Dave.  l have yet to find anything by Dave I haven’t liked. The reason why is simple. Dave and Sarah, like PTerry, RAH and so many others, are storytellers. They focus on story and character, putting the “message” in subtly instead of beating us over the head with it.

So, sign me up for the Human Waver movement. I’m thrilled with the opening of the publishing market to small presses and self-published authors for a number of reasons, including the fact that we will be getting more books that fit the Human Wave model. Even better, this “movement” can be applied to every genre. So who else is with me?

Mirrored at The Naked Truth and here.


  1. I hate to mention this, but I think I saw the raccoon talking to a pair of giant armadillos . . . Does someone have Giant Armadillo insurance?

    McCaffrey’s Dragonriders brought me into sci-fi, followed by Clark and Azimov. (Although . . . reading “Childhood’s End” as a third-grader partly explains why I turned out a bit odd.) I gravitated towards well-written stories where the characters worked together and stuck to a code of some kind, be the pieces short stories or novels, Young Adult or otherwise. Apparently I have a low tolerance for “grey goo” unless it is very, very well written.

    1. TXRed, I red the first three Pern novels in high school. Love them then but have a hard time reading them now. I’m not quite sure why. However, I still love the story, if that makes sense.

      And you’re right, at least in my opinion. I want the characters in any book I read to have a code that they stick to–or at least worry suffer a bit of conscience–when they move away from it. I also want the world to make sense. There should be rules there, too, and if those rules are broken, there’d better be a darned good reason for it to happen–other than the fact the author needed it to make the plot work.

  2. The first SF I recall reading was by Andre Norton, tripped across in the junior high library. A lot of her stories star downtrodden angsty teenagers, but they always win. And there are so many cool things within. Telepathic cats, Alien Archeologists poking around Forerunner ruins. Spaceships and time travel.

    More! I want more!

    Will the Human Wave please start a “Good Reads” reviews list, with lots of search tags? Open to both readers and reviewers? If you don’t like a book, toss it. If you do like it, submit a review?

    Yes, I know all the “golden age” authors, don’t need another list. We need a “Good SF” guide to all the new, previously unpublished authors now self e-publishing.

    1. Pam, that’s a great idea. My problem is time. I keep petitioning for another six or seven hours to be put in the day but no one does it. Sigh. Grin.

      1. I have figured out the perfect solution to cramming extra hours into the day and — wonder of wonder! — it also provides ample storage for all my books.

        Now, if I can just figure which of these objects in my house is the T.A.R.D.I.S. …

        1. When you figure it out, let me know. I need my own T.A.R.D.I.S and I’m sure there has to be one hiding in all the stuff in my house. There just has to be.

    2. I think the Good Reads list is a great idea. Would it be possible to ‘wiki’ it? If everyone was submitting their own reviews, that would take the onus off of any one person to spend all their time maintaining the site and posting new content.

  3. Amanda, love the post. Count me in on the New Human Wave.
    I’m a bit of a late-comer to science fiction. I didn’t read any until after I moved to Japan. At that time there just weren’t any decent bookstores that sold English books. Then I stumbled across a place run by an expat American who was selling second-hand books to the expat community. I was eager to read just about anything. I bought Niven’s Ringworld and was hooked. I started to buy everything I could get my hands on (admittedly a rather small selection at that time). Heinlein, Tepper, Pohl, Cherryh, Spider Robinson, Pornelle, Asimov, Bova, Brin, McCaffrey. Then things dried up. The American went out of business. The price of books skyrocketed. Powell’s stopped providing free international postage. And I wasn’t prepared to pay $50 for a paperback by an author I’d never read before and might not like and then wait three months for the book to arrive.
    e-books are a miracle.
    Now if only there was a group of people out there somewhere who could be trusted to provide reviews of all the new books showing up on the market…

    1. Derek, thanks. And thanks to Sarah for putting into words what I’ve been feeling for so long.

      Your comment about reviews is something a lot of us have wanted for a long time. Shiny Book Reviews is a good review site. The problem is, SBR is like so many other good sites. They just don’t have the manpower to review everything that comes out.

      What I’d like to see is someone who has the time to get the Good Reads thing started. I’ll be honest, I simply haven’t had the time to look into it enough to know much about the site.

  4. I’d like to flatter myself into believing that there might be a story or two like that in me, somewhere … if I can just find them. I certainly intend to try.

  5. Good Reads.
    Any unemployed Barflies that might want to tackle the project? Make it an Amazon associate and link to the books reviewed, ought to at least pay for itself. Maybe a donate button to help cover startup costs?

    1. Maybe it could be wrapped into the Human Wave website? http://humanwavesf.com/

      But, again, it comes down to manpower. I would be willing to put up reviews of the books I read, but first the software needs to be put in to make it easily searchable and usable.

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