Celebrating National Science Fiction Day

Sunday, January 2, 2021

Today is National Science Fiction Day in the U.S., so it feels a bit like a communal unbirthday for every author who writes weird fiction speculating about what might happen. I took a stroll around the virtual office to talk with some of my colleagues, who are science fiction authors and game designers themselves, and asked them to talk about their personal connections to sci-fi, their inspirations, and what kind of stories interest them.

Alien Mascot, art by Milos Rocenovic
Alien Mascot plush wearing blue coveralls and a helmet with a light, with winged arms and four eyesh

It will probably come as a surprise to no one that my biggest sci-fi influences are largely comedic. I mean, when faced with yawning infinite void of space, you just have to laugh, right? For me, it probably started with The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy in all its forms: books, radio play, text adventure, BBC series, and eventually, major motion picture. There’s something so relatable about a hapless Earthling being thrust into a galactic adventure of stolen spaceships, time travel, and bureaucracy. From there, I would find Space Quest (featuring the first space janitor?), Red Dwarf (“Everybody’s. Dead. Dave.”), Callahan’s Crosstime Saloon (though that series is more a vehicle for puns than anything else), and Futurama (best math jokes in the biz!). The goofier episodes of The X-Files and Farscape are among my favorite. More recently, Galaxy Quest and Lower Decks have taken their shots at that most venerable of sci-fi institutions, Star Trek. Much of comedic sci-fi lovingly pokes fun at its own genre or points at the foibles of the present through a sci-fi lens. And that’s the kind of influence I try to bring to Starfinder when appropriate. Our iconic biohacker hosts a family-friendly science-oriented vidshow that often leads to more danger than it should. A group of skittermanders rescue their vesk boss from a dangerous massage machine. I love adding those sorts of touches, and I hope you enjoy them too! I can’t wait for you to see what’s next!

Jason Keeley
Starfinder Development Manager


Android, art by Mark Molnar
 an armored android standing with a blaster in each hand

My dad got me into science fiction at an early age, with Heinlein’s Rocket Ship Galileo. Heinlein wrote a YA science fiction novel every year, just in time for Christmas. It was a smart strategy. I don’t know how many of those books I read: Have Spacesuit Will Travel, The Star Beast, The Moon is a Harsh Mistress. In high school, I had my first actual class on science fiction, which introduced me to everything from Asimov and John Carter to Riverworld and Chalker’s Well of Souls; predictably, my final project was a Well of Souls wargame I designed myself. In fact, by this point, my science fiction intake was starting to be determined as much by games as by novels; I spent my rainy days pouring over Traveler’s Imperium, rolling random mutations in Gamma World, and playing Star Fleet Battles. When I got to college, I wandered the campus bookstore looking for stuff I’d never heard of before, and that got me to Phil Dick’s Man in the High Castle and the Mirrorshades anthology, which broke open the cyberpunk genre. It took me a couple of tries to figure out Dune. As a graduate student, I studied science fiction under the great and much-missed Dr. George Slusser, curator of the University of California Riverside’s Eaton Collection, one of the largest collections of SF in the world. One day, on my way out of class, I told Slusser, “You know, I want your job.” He said to me, “Stick around here long enough, you might get it.” When he passed in 2014, I applied for that gig. I didn’t get it, but no regrets. Now, I get to make science fiction instead of curate it, and some of the things I’ve made are on the shelves of the Eaton Collection. I’ll take that deal.

Jason Tondro
Senior Developer


We’re standing next to each other at a convention. It’s loud and crowded here in the dealer hall, but we’ve identified one another as fellow sci-fi nerds; the awkward serendipity when two weirdos recognize each other in the wild. We’ve been existing in a pandemic for two years at this point so we desperately want to chat with someone new, so we’re eager to start a conversation. Our hobby is our common ground, so we start talking about favorite works of sci-fi. You list the various novels, video games, and films that first connected you to a network of other minds imagining extraordinary realities. I tell you I’m inspired by the works of Yoko Taro, Octavia Butler, Toni Morrison, Tade Thompson, and the Strugatsky brothers. Then you ask one of those classic icebreaker questions: Which Star Trek is your favorite?

Cleo Striker, art by Raphael Madureira
Cleo Striker, A dark skinned woman standing in full armor

I shrug. I’m not really into Star Trek, but I watched some with my parents growing up. (Star Wars’ western vibe was always more my jam, but my dad’s a certified trekkie.) So I tell you that my favorite is Voyager. Why? You ask. You’re correctly assuming Captain Janeway has something to do with it. We rewind to my childhood. When my parents began watching Voyager, I was an awkward girl with scabbed knees and an unflattering bowl cut. During the show’s run, I transformed from invisible tomboy to sullen preteen. I hated my body and wasn’t comfortable with the changes puberty was enforcing on it. I didn’t agree with everything I saw in the world around me. I was powerless to change anything and waiting for my real life to begin. Enter Seven of Nine, a badass with a crisp Federation uniform and stylish pixie cut. She was everything I dreamed of becoming. In her, I saw the future.

But she was more than a childhood role model for me. Even though I never watched the entire series, Seven’s narrative first sparked my interest in telling stories that explore the definition of humanity and the nature of the soul. She was concrete evidence of a feminine person driving her own narrative. And there were others like her. Ripley, Sarah Connor, General Leia, and (much later) Furiosa became favorite characters and visions of powerful femininity, canonized as goddesses in a new pantheon. I expect that of all my space heroines, Seven of Nine had the deepest influence on me.

Now, imagine yourself back in the convention hall. You listen politely to my explanation and we gush about our favorite sci-fi characters for few more minutes. I ask you another question, maybe about video games, and the ice is broken. We chat for a while. We say goodbye and head off to our next destinations, happy to have met and befriended a fellow nerd.

But, I digress. This is a blog about sci-fi in general, not “POV: you meet me at a convention.” Sci-fi works have had such an influence on my life, and it’s pretty amazing to be able to call myself a sci-fi creator now. When experiencing sci-fi, we can dream of other worlds near and far. We can hope for a bright solarpunk future and try to write it into being, or examine the great conflicts of our own lives, our fears, our struggles, through a lens that allows others to understand us better. Thanks to all of you for your interest in other worlds, and expect the aliens, philosophical machines, mechs, and space shenanigans to continue.

Jenny Jarzabski
Starfinder Developer

You heard from some of us. What’s your favorite work of science fiction? What inspires your own Starfinder games? We’d love to hear from you!

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12 people marked this as a favorite.

I am once again encouraging everybody who likes sci-fi to check out The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet and the three sequels by Becky Chambers. It's a little bit of Star Trek, a little bit of Firefly, and a whole lot of speculative fiction.

(It's also very LGBTQ+ friendly and the author is a TTRPG player, I believe!)

Other sci-fi I've enjoyed recently:
Axiom's End by Lindsay Ellis
A Memory Called Empire by Arkady Martine
This is How You Lose the Time War by Amal El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone

Every year I check out The Best American Science Fiction and Fantasy from my local library as well, highly recommend picking up some collections to find new works! This year I really liked "Schrodinger’s Catastrophe," "The Plague Doctors," "The Pill" and "How to Pay Reparations: a Documentary."

Starfinder Development Manager

1 person marked this as a favorite.
Alex Speidel wrote:

I am once again encouraging everybody who likes sci-fi to check out The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet and the three sequels by Becky Chambers. It's a little bit of Star Trek, a little bit of Firefly, and a whole lot of speculative fiction.

(It's also very LGBTQ+ friendly and the author is a TTRPG player, I believe!)

Other sci-fi I've enjoyed recently:
Axiom's End by Lindsay Ellis
A Memory Called Empire by Arkady Martine
This is How You Lose the Time War by Amal El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone

Every year I check out The Best American Science Fiction and Fantasy from my local library as well, highly recommend picking up some collections to find new works! This year I really liked "Schrodinger’s Catastrophe," "The Plague Doctors," "The Pill" and "How to Pay Reparations: a Documentary."

Alex, that's totally on my library list, but I have to get through all these horror novels first!

Paizo Employee Starfinder Developer

I have Axiom's End but haven't read it yet (I love Lindsay's video essays and am eager to fall into her 2000s alien invasion novel, I just haven't gotten around to it yet). Those are some good choices, Alex!

Scarab Sages

Alex Speidel wrote:
I am once again encouraging everybody who likes sci-fi to check out The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet and the three sequels by Becky Chambers.

Yes yes yes yes yes


1 person marked this as a favorite.

The second Wayfarers book means the world to me.

Spoiler:
”Sad robot” tropes are almost always a delight for me, because it’s easy to read both transgender identity and autism into them - and Sidra delivers on both in spades. I adore her.

EDIT: I guess I should also say: the sci-fi elements are my favorite bits of Pathfinder! Thank you to everyone who adds a bit of interplanetary flair to their fantasy.

Dark Archive

3 people marked this as a favorite.

Apart from Anne McCaffrey - who is more "soft" SF - I don't read SF, but I grew up with Doctor Who.

The Doctor always thought his way around the problem, did his absolute best to avoid violence, and was not happy when others used violence to solve problems. He never used guns and was a master of improvisation when needed. He also ignored appearances in favour of intentions by other beings.

The revival series has more or less continued in this vein, also adding acceptance of personal preferences (hello, Captain Jack Harkness and Bill Potts!).

Yes, Doctor Who may not have promoted STEM, but it promotes thinking around problems, not using weapons, and acceptance.

Horizon Hunters

1 person marked this as a favorite.

Some of the best military sci-fi in a long bloody time:

Galaxy's Edge series

by

Nick Cole & Jason Anspach

Start with Legionnaire, and you'll be hooked.


Science fiction is something I love, even if Science Fantasy is the main reason I got into writing (and what spawned my Eve of Destruction series). It's had a huge impact on my life.

A few of the Science Fiction authors which I remember most fondly:
David Weber, but most specifically The Armageddon Inheritance and In Fury Born.
Lois McMaster Bujold
Anne McCaffrey, specifically Crystal Singer and The Ship Who Sang. Many others, but those stand out in my memory.

The two Science Fantasy series that I remember fondly, even if some aspects of the first feel a bit dated:
Witches of Karres by James H. Schmitz
Grand Central Arena by Ryk Spoor


1 person marked this as a favorite.
keftiu wrote:

The second Wayfarers book means the world to me.

** spoiler omitted **

EDIT: I guess I should also say: the sci-fi elements are my favorite bits of Pathfinder! Thank you to everyone who adds a bit of interplanetary flair to their fantasy.

If you haven't read The Murderbot Diaries by Martha Wells yet you absolutely should.


Imagine if Berakfast Club's antagonists had the ability to turn into monsters. The only person who could stop them is a ridiculously friendly street punk who harnesses the power of space to turn into a superhero to beat them up in the process befriending them. If that sounds fun you should Kamen Rider Fourze.


My absolute favorite science fiction that I read this year, even more than Murderbot (I still have to read Fugitive Telemetry, though), or the Teixcalaan books by Martine, has been the Terra Ignota series, but Ada Palmer. The final book in the series came out in November, and it was *awesome*.

Wayfinders

Nobody yet mentioned Ender's Game?
I really like this book and some of the following books in the series. The book is much less predictable than the movie, and while I know the author is heavily debated, I very much like all the questions that are raised about alien species, different life cycles, communication problems, and so on.


Jagen Zeli Vef Ti Zaen wrote:

Nobody yet mentioned Ender's Game?

I really like this book and some of the following books in the series. The book is much less predictable than the movie, and while I know the author is heavily debated, I very much like all the questions that are raised about alien species, different life cycles, communication problems, and so on.

I read that and Speaker for the Dead in the late 1980s. They were good, but I always find it funny because Ender's brother and sister influence earth politics by posting political opinions on what is essentially Usenet.

A really fun space opera from the 80s is Startide Rising. There are genetically uplifted chimps and dolphins, dozens of different ways to travel faster than light, and gobs of weird aliens. I didn't like the sequels as much, as Startide Rising, though, because one of the cool things about that book was that humanity was not particularly special, we are kind of a primitive, wild, backwards world. The follow ups make us something like 'the chosen ones' in an old school epic fantasy.


I'd recommend:

"Chasm City", "Century Rain", "House of Suns", "Aurora Rising" (formerly titled "The Prefect"), and "Revenger" by Alastair Reynolds.

"Hunter's Run" by G.R.R. Martin, Gardner Dozios, and Daniel Abraham.

"The Forever War" by Joe Haldeman.

"The Quiet War" & "Gardens of the Sun" by Paul McAuley.

"The Risen Empire" & "The Killing of Worlds" by Scott Westerfeld.

"Variable Star" by Spider Robinson based off surviving notes of Robert Heinlein.

"Alexander Outland: Space Pirate" by G.J. Koch.

Grand Lodge

2 people marked this as a favorite.

My favorite sci-fi has always been Robert A. Heinlein. He really poked hard at humanity's habits and beliefs with some of his books like Stranger in a Strange Land. One of my all time favorites of his was The Moon is a Harsh Mistress which made you question what you thought you knew about the American Revolution and the way things are at any given time. That particular novel was written during the Cold War when conformity was starting to be challenged by people who objected to being told that questioning authority was bad.

Another favorite book is Dune by Frank Herbert. This book is still relevant today. I hope the new film is worthwhile, but I am often sorely disappointed when films try to adapt sci-fi or fantasy masterpieces.


7 people marked this as a favorite.
Jagen Zeli Vef Ti Zaen wrote:

Nobody yet mentioned Ender's Game?

I really like this book and some of the following books in the series. The book is much less predictable than the movie, and while I know the author is heavily debated, I very much like all the questions that are raised about alien species, different life cycles, communication problems, and so on.

The author’s virulent, outspoken homophobia is a pretty big mark against it. I enjoyed reading Ender’s Game well enough when I was younger, but I have no interest in revisiting it.


1 person marked this as a favorite.

I very much enjoyed the final installment of The Expanse series. The idea of a scrappy crew of misfits making their way on a heavily-modded, stolen Martian gunship (legitimate salvage!) is part of what appeals to me about Starfinder. It got just weird enough by the end. I would love to play in/ learn more of the post-novel setting.


1 person marked this as a favorite.
Pathfinder Starfinder Roleplaying Game Subscriber

I think the most interesting part of The Forever War was the inversion of military acceptance at the time the book was written of gay/lesbian members of the military over time it dramatically streamlined logistics in a desperation situation and after the introduction of certain biotech the idea of sexuality as a whole was kind of regarded as 'quaint' and or 'barbaric'.

Though they are incredibly dated and a product of the writer's time, such a discussion would not be complete without the works of E.E. 'Doc' Smith, both the Lensman series and the Skylark series.

Heinlein's exploration of 'divine Justice' Job and alternate dimensions The Number of the Beast were formative in my growing up.


1 person marked this as a favorite.
Pathfinder Pathfinder Accessories, Starfinder Adventure Path, Starfinder Roleplaying Game, Starfinder Society Subscriber; Pathfinder Roleplaying Game Superscriber

The Mote in God's Eye is a fantastic science fiction book.


1 person marked this as a favorite.

Yes! The Number of the Beast is Definitely my favorite Heinlein book and I e read many.

My favorite writer in any genre is Gene Wolfe. I bought The Claw of the Conciliator (which is the second in the Book of the New Sun series)as a preteen at a gift shop at Universal Studios because the cover art was so cool and fell in love with the weirdness and wisdom of this American treasure that is Gene Wolfe. Seriously read any of his works short or long and you will not be sorry!

Grand Lodge

RexAliquid wrote:
I very much enjoyed the final installment of The Expanse series. The idea of a scrappy crew of misfits making their way on a heavily-modded, stolen Martian gunship (legitimate salvage!) is part of what appeals to me about Starfinder. It got just weird enough by the end. I would love to play in/ learn more of the post-novel setting.

I looked this series up as a result of your post and was intrigued by it. Leviathan Wakes just arrived in the mail this afternoon. Thanks for the tip!

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