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Pamela Sargent

Aliens Among Us: Pauline Gedge’s The Twelfth Transforming

People who know very little about ancient Egypt are most likely, if they know anything at all, to have at least a vague idea about the Pharaoh Akhenaten and be able to recognize the face of his beautiful wife, Nefertiti. Akhenaten’s allegedly monotheistic worship of Aten and the more naturalistic art produced during his reign, a revolutionary break from the more formal art of earlier periods, have made him a sympathetic figure to many. One extremely dubious but once-popular theory, advanced by Freud and others, ascribed the development of Judaism and later monotheistic religions to him. (It might be more accurate to describe that religion as Akhenaten’s worship of Aten, with the rest of Egypt still worshipping the Pharaoh.)

But to his own people, Akhenaten was a heretic who had overturned “Ma’at,” the underlying order and balance of the universe, and opened the world to chaos.

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A Superb Space Opera: Cecelia Holland’s Floating Worlds

Floating Worlds, published in 1975 and the lone science fiction novel by acclaimed historical novelist Cecelia Holland, was unique in being completely devoid of the usual pulp influences present in much space opera up to that time. The elements of true space opera are all there—battles, an advanced, almost magical technology, larger-than-life heroes and villains, a story told on the grand scale—yet the novel as a whole seems to owe almost nothing to earlier science-fictional traditions.
What Floating Worlds does draw on is Holland’s artistry in bringing the past to life in her historical fiction and depicting the people who inhabited that past. Her characters are almost entirely shown through their actions and their reactions to the world around them, not through interior thoughts or monologues. The reader is forced to see the world as they did, directly and without much time for reflection and exposition; their distant, often violent worlds come alive in Holland’s hands.

This stripped-down narrative is a method that, used for science fiction, can have its drawbacks.

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An Alien, Distant World: Mary Renault’s The King Must Die and The Bull from the Sea

Some people become passionate readers and fans of science fiction during childhood or adolescence. I picked up on sf somewhat later than that; my escape reading of choice during my youth was historical novels, and one of my favorite writers was Mary Renault.

Historical fiction is actually good preparation for reading sf. Both the historical novelist and the science fiction writer are writing about worlds unlike our own. (Here I’m thinking of writers who create plausible fictional worlds that are bound by certain facts, not those whose writing veers toward fantasy.) The historical novelist has to consider what has actually happened, while the sf writer is dealing in possibilities, but they are both in the business of imagining a world unlike our own and yet connected to it. A feeling for history is almost an essential for writing and appreciating good science fiction, for sensing the connections between the past and future that run through our present.

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On July 20th, 1969…by Pamela Sargent

A couple of days ago, I walked into a local bookstore near my home and saw a display of books, including astronaut Buzz Aldrin’s new memoir, about the U.S. space program and the first manned landing on the moon. Above it was a large sign in caps: “FOR HISTORY BUFFS.”

I watched the first moon landing at a bar in Paducah, Kentucky, a fact worth mentioning only because I still remember how suddenly silence descended on this raucous place when Neil Armstrong started coming down that ladder. No one spoke, no one moved, people hardly breathed, and nobody ordered a drink or a beer for a long time. In the midst of the horror that was the Vietnam War, here was an event that could inspire some pride in my country again.

I was already writing science fiction, had sold a couple of stories by then, encouraged and pushed into sending them out by my companion and fellow writer George Zebrowski, but they had not yet been published. We had hoped to watch the moon landing together, but George was working in New York City and I was in Kentucky sitting in a bar because my grandparents were celebrating their fiftieth wedding anniversary, and a number of relatives had traveled there to help them celebrate. They had lived long enough to see the history of human-powered flight from the Wright brothers on, and fortunately had another two decades of life ahead of them. My grandfather allowed as how I might even live long enough to see a Mars landing.

I haven’t, of course, except in fiction, including my own, and strongly doubt that I ever will.

Over the years, I have increasingly felt that the world I live in has somehow diverged from the continuum that I lived in then, the one that was to become the spacefaring energy-rich future so many of us foresaw. I’m obviously not alone in this feeling, as something like that mixture of regret and disappointment seems to have fueled the writing of alternative histories, including a few of my own. Humankind’s hopes these days are more limited and more desperate, confined to hoping that we can save our own planet from an ecological catastrophe. Science fiction writers had been imagining that possibility, too, for a number of years before 1969, but such disasters seemed distant back then, a lot further away and more improbable than moon bases, space stations, and a mission to Mars.

Back then, I was unable to predict that I would live long enough to see the dream of traveling to other planets become, not a dreamed-of future realized, but only another part of our past.

Pamela Sargent is a science fiction author, most notably for the popular Venus series. She has also edited numerous collections celebrating science fiction written by women. Her novellette “Danny Goes to Mars” was the winner of the 1992 Nebula Award for Best Novellette.

Series: Moon Landing Day

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