Episode 3: Transcript

Transcription by Keffy Kehrli

Annalee: [00:00:00] Welcome to Our Opinions Are Correct, a podcast about the meaning of science fiction. I’m Annalee Newitz. I’m a science journalist who writes science fiction.

Charlie Jane: [00:00:09] I’m Charlie Jane Anders. I’m a science fiction writer who thinks a lot about science.

Annalee: [00:00:14] In this episode, we’re gonna talk about books that have stood the test of time. And we’ve arbitrarily designated a time period that we’re gonna be looking at, which is any book that’s been published before the year 2000 that still feels relevant today. And we want to explore what it is that makes a book continue to feel as if it’s urgent and necessary. What makes a book become really cringey and clichéd and awful, and some recommendations from you. Recommendations from us about books that are still going strong sometimes after over a hundred years.

[00:00:49] Intro music plays.

Annalee: [00:01:03] So there’s this myth that science fiction books stay relevant because they successfully predicted the future, which I wish that we could just wipe that idea off of everyone’s chalk board.

Charlie Jane: [00:01:16] Get rid of it.

Annalee: [00:01:18] I mean, because if that were true, it would mean that basically science fiction books that predicted airplanes and trains and cars and all these things that science fiction did predict, that those would be the science fiction books that we’d be still reading now and saying, ah yes, of course, this is deeply relevant because I drive a car.

Charlie Jane: [00:01:38] I think it’s based on a misunderstanding of what science fiction is. I think science fiction is, as many people have pointed out, always about the time in which it was written, and also it’s about stories that feel like they speak to our relationship with science and technology, rather than a particular, like, what if we had wings on our feet?

Annalee: [00:01:57] Exactly. And I think when we talk about stories that have stayed relevant, what is meaningful is do the characters still feel alive to us? Do they still feel like real people and not clichés? Can we relate to the way the book is representing, as you said, technological change, but also social change. There’s a lot of science fiction that’s about radical social change, and there’s certain patterns in how humans respond to these kinds of changes. And do these books continue to feel like they’re reflecting how we’re changing?

Charlie Jane: [00:02:33] Books that kind of help us to get perspective on the upheavals that we’re dealing with at the moment, automatically feel more relevant than books that feel as though they’re speaking to a set of concerns that we don’t currently have.

Annalee: [00:02:44] Like, so much science fiction that was written during the Cold War, which I feel like now, sure, I mean you could claim like, oh, we’re kind of in a new Cold War. I don’t think we’re in a Cold War that was like the Cold War that we experienced in the ‘50s or the ‘80s. I think that the stakes are really different. I think the players are playing it differently. The players may be kind of the same, but in some cases it’s a huge change that’s gone on that makes some kind of Cold War era science fiction feel, to me, like it was written a thousand years ago, almost. Greg Bear’s novel Eon, which I love. It’s a fascinating novel. It’s so steeped in the Cold War that I feel like it’s hard to even relate to some of the issues in it, now.

Charlie Jane: [00:03:28] Yeah. And I think in a lot of ways, weirdly, the Cold War feels almost like a simpler time in some ways. Because it was such a clear-cut there were two economic and social theories that were competing, but they were at odds and everybody kind of understood that they were at odds, and it was a very clear antagonism in which a lot of the movements were very murky.  A lot of the action was murky, but the conflict was very clear.

Annalee: [00:03:55] Yeah, now, I feel like the conflict is super unclear. To move on to thinking a little bit more about what makes a book relevant. One of the things when we were talking about this last week, you said, Charlie, “Does the book make me roll my eyes?”

Charlie Jane: [00:04:12] Yeah.

Annalee: [00:04:12] Like, that’s when you know it’s no-longer relevant, is when you’re like, “Oh, God.”

Charlie Jane: [00:04:17] Yeah, and there are plenty of books which maybe the themes would still be relevant, maybe some of the ideas would still be compelling in 2018, but because they’re a product of their time and because they’re a product of the prejudices or the stylistic quirks and the kind of pre-occupations of the ‘60s, or ‘70s, or ‘80s. They just don’t have the same power that they—because it’s like your immune system kind of rejects these foreign bodies.

Annalee: [00:04:46] Yeah, you’re sort of thrown out of the story because you’re like—it becomes so obviously a constructed story. The other thing is that I think there’s two ways that a novel can remain relevant. Either it’s—for all the reasons we’ve been discussing—it remains relevant because the themes still feel vital or some of the social changes still feel like they’re affecting us today. But then, there’s also that sense of timelessness that you can get, I think in a lot of what we consider a lot of great literature. Like, Shakespeare and Chaucer and we say, oh, you know, those are—here in the west—we say those are timeless stories. I think it’s harder for that in science fiction. For example, Ted Chiang’s short stories, the ones that were published before 2000, there are many wonderful ones after 2000 as well, those, to me, have a very timeless quality. I think that’s because Ted is great at bringing together a kind of fairy-tale feeling with really, often very cutting edge science, or themes that are very deeply bound up with science. I think that’s why his short story “Stories of Your Life” became the movie Arrival just now. Because I think that the story felt very vital, very relevant, even though it was written in the ‘90s.

Charlie Jane: [00:06:11] Yeah, and the theme of communication is still one that we’re grappling with trying to understand other people and other perspectives. Trying to grapple with how we deal with the future, but also I think anything that feels a little bit disconnected from place and time will automatically get more staying power. I think magical realism often ages really well. I think one point I wanted to make is that I think that sometimes when we talk about the idea of standing the test of time, or a book that’s timeless, it kind of has engrained in it this idea that certain books are universal because they represent universal experiences. I think that can be a problematic idea when it basically centers this one perspective of the young white male hero who’s going through coming of age..

Annalee: [00:06:56] Going through the hero’s journey.

Charlie Jane: [00:06:57] And that’s like super universal because we can all relate to that, but we can’t relate to books that are about people who aren’t that guy. And I think that it’s important to interrogate what we mean by standing the test of time. And whether, you know, it’s actually something that is meaningful beyond just a specific perspective that we have decided is universal.

Annalee: [00:07:16] Yeah, because there’s that idea of the universal story and then what we were just talking about with “Stories of Your Life,” the Ted Chiang story, that’s kind of a universal theme, as you said. The theme of trying to communicate, and that’s something that can be extracted from the hero’s journey or from the white boy’s journey or from the brown girl’s journey, or whoever’s journey, I think it is true that many people can relate to having failures in communication. Particularly when you’re talking with aliens whose consciousness transcends time. We can all relate to that.

Charlie Jane: [00:07:44] We’ve all been there.

Annalee: [00:07:45] For sure.

Charlie Jane: [00:07:46] That’s Tuesday, for me.

Annalee: [00:07:47] Yeah, that’s like. That’s like every day. So, let’s talk about some books that we feel like really did stand the test of time. And I want to start us with the most obvious one. Perhaps the first science fiction novel ever written, Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, which at the time that Shelley wrote it, she wasn’t able to publish it under her own name because women were not considered to be the sort of people that wrote things like that. Eventually it did get her name on it. And then, almost immediately after its publication, it was super popular, it was very controversial, and it started getting made into plays. Throughout her life, Mary Shelley kind of had to either enjoy or endure, depending on your perspective, seeing all of these interpretations. Seeing how much people related to it and wanted to retell the story. One of the very first movies that was made was a Frankenstein movie in the teens. It’s continued to be remade and remade and remade into different movies. Frankenstein shows up in television shows. The book has never gone out of print since it was published in the early 19th century. So, this is…I mean, pretty much like the classic definition of a book that stayed relevant. What do you—I mean what do you think has kept it relevant? What are some of the themes in it or ideas that you think make it stand the test of time?

Charlie Jane: [00:09:14] I mean, it’s relevant in the sense that it has this metaphor that is so versatile that we use for so many things of like, science kind of tampering with elemental forces and creating life and we talk about that constantly. People who oppose genetically modified foods will say Frankenfoods. It comes up a lot as a metaphor for the abuse of science, but it also—the central story of the creator and the created. The person who has created an artificial being and the relation that they have with that being is more relevant now because we actually are starting to do that in a more meaningful way.

Annalee: [00:09:52] I mean, yeah. I think a lot of people have said, this is kind of a story about AI. This is about a synthetic being, a created being, and in this case, the monster is a he, so it’s his relationship with his creator. And so, it raises ethical questions that are still really raw and fresh for us, now. There’s a lot of people working in ethics right this second who are thinking about how are we going to treat artificial creations. There’s a great new illustrated book out now, called Mary’s Monster by Lita Judge. I was lucky enough to meet Lita recently and hear her talk about the book. One of the things that she—she’s an artist and a poet, and she’s put together a set of linked poems about the process that Mary Shelley went through when she was writing the book. Lita’s idea is that first of all, something we don’t think about, Mary was a pregnant runaway when she wrote this book. She was pregnant runaway teenager. She’d run off with her boyfriend and had been completely rejected by her family and her father. And was kind of facing this horrible uncertain future at a time when pregnant, unmarried women were hardly looked upon with glee.

[00:11:09] So, Lita feels like, the monster is really Mary and it’s about what it means to be a woman in an era when women are denied education, denied personhood, denied an ability to form their own destiny. There’s all these scenes in the book where the monster is looking in the window while little kids are being taught how to grow up and be adults, and is having to learn from the outside. And, so, I think, again, this still feels relevant for so many people. Women, or people from other marginalized groups who feel like they are living on the outside of that story that we were talking about. The so-called universal story. The universal story is going on in the house, the monster is outside the house going, “What the fuck am I going to do? Where’s my fucking story?”

[00:11:54] The fact is that, that in a weird way makes it a universal story because we all feel sometimes like that monster on the outside of what’s acceptable. So, I think that we’ve been able to re-evaluate what Frankenstein means over the years. It can be—it can be about women. It can be about AI. It can be about being a racial minority. It can be about a lot of stuff. And, it can be about scientific abuse, as well.

[00:12:31]So, I think that’s a great model. And it is very fairy tale like, as well. It could happen really any time. So, what are some other books that you feel like really stand the test of time?

Charlie Jane: [00:12:40] One book that I was re-reading quite recently is Geek Love by Katherine Dunn, which came out about 180 years after Frankenstein. But, it’s… it’s another book about tampering with life, and it’s about this strange family of circus performers who experiment on their own children with radiation and chemicals to try and turn them into the ideal circus freaks. It’s really about being a mutant in a world that objectifies and fetishizes you. In fact, one of the characters does become a stripper and uses her kind of, slightly unusual body to be fetishized.

Annalee: [00:13:19] She has a tail.

Charlie Jane: [00:13:20] She has a pig’s tail, I think.

Annalee: [00:13:21] Mm-hmm. It’s a little tail.

Charlie Jane: [00:13:22] It’s a little tail. And, there’s also this amazingly fascinating thing where one of the characters, Arty, becomes kind of a cult leader and has this huge following, this fanatical group of people who kind of worship him. And it feels like that cult of personality and that way in which the kind of strange and socially rejected can become really magnetic and powerful. That feels really relevant right now, especially while we’re living through an era with a lot of cults of personality, and kind of strange figures that kind of become compelling and start dominating the popular consciousness in really strange ways. It feels like Geek Love has a lot of relevance in the era of social media because that kind of dynamic of fetishization and kind of control, social control, is something that we all think about a lot.

Annalee: [00:14:15] Yeah, and as you were saying that, I was thinking, wow, it’s a little bit like reality TV, where you’re sort of manufacturing something that’s a little bit horrible in order to get eyeballs. Because, that’s what they’re doing. They’re like, how can we create mutant children who are kind of scary.

Charlie Jane: [00:14:29] Absolutely.

Annalee: [00:14:30] Some of the kids in the book, like, they look scary, and that’s what they have to sell is their scariness.

[00:14:37] I think Dune is still relevant in some ways. I think the characters may not hold up just because they were always kind of sketched in. They’re sort of archetypes, not real humans. But, the issue of basically environmental apocalypse and exploitation of a planet, aka a country for it’s natural resources I think is still really relevant, and also just how do you deal with that? How do you cope with in this case, millennia of exploitation and how does the planet kind of break free from that relationship? I still love that. I still love that book. I also kind of love all the movies that have been made even though some of them were a little bit cheesy.

[00:15:23] I think, in the same vein, Martian Chronicles, the original collection of short stories from Ray Bradbury kind of stands the test of time. Again, some of the characters may feel a little clunky, but that’s—it’s the same notion of how do you think about colonizing a planet? What is the history of human colonization efforts on earth? Bring to space…and it’s just a haunting, fucked up book. Like, when I read it as a kid, I just remember that—I mean there’s images in it that will be with me until I die. Just that are so—images of the Martians as they’re being exploited and as they’re being driven out of their own land and how that happens. So, what are some other ones, Charlie?

Charlie Jane: [00:16:04] I mean, one book that I think about a lot is Nalo Hopkinson’s Brown Girl in the Ring, which, it came out in the mid-90’s. A lot of her work is post-2000, but that book, in particular, when I first read it, it was like a bolt of lightning. Because, it’s this, sort of near future dystopian Toronto, with a lot of oppressive corporate domination and weird technology, but with Caribbean spirituality at the center of it, and that kind of meeting of a non-European culture with this kind of near future dystopian setting just felt so exciting and fresh, and it still feels like something that we really need and that really illuminates the tensions of globalization and trying to deal with the rise of this kind of homogenized state that’s corporatized in the world.

[00:16:57] Also, another one that people mentioned on our Twitter feed is Slow River by Nicola Griffith, which I’d also been thinking about already, which has this really interesting focus on water management and future—it’s almost solarpunk before we had solarpunk. Meanwhile, this whole exploration of identity and this one lesbian relationship at the center of the book, which is really messed up, and really compelling and beautiful. That book feels like it anticipates so much of what’s going on in science fiction right now, with kind of exploring queer identities and exploring alternative viewpoints of future energy and environmental management. And, what else have you got?

Annalee: [00:17:37] So, a book that I’m always trying to get people to read is Kathleen Ann Goonan’s Queen City Jazz, which is the first of her nanotech quartet. They were all, I think, written in the ‘90s. Maybe some of the later books are written in the early 2000s. But, it’s basically about a smart city, and the smart city is built with biotech. It is constructed around these enormous flowers that are being pollinated by super-bees that are kind of part of the city infrastructure. Like, the entire city, and when I say super-bees, I mean they’re very large. And, the city is run using technologies that look like things in our natural world but are in fact completely engineered, and basically the city goes bad. There’s a bug, and the bug is that the city gets stuck in recreating the Jazz Age, and so people in the city are turned into figures from the Jazz Age, the city keeps remolding itself all the time and bringing jazz clubs back to life. So it’s kind of like, what if your city were programmed with all this pop culture in its memory banks and started making that pop culture become real? Some of the novel is just off the charts weird, which is great. It’s just—Goonan’s obsessions. She’s really obsessed with music and jazz. But, also, the idea of a biotech city, a smart city going wrong. I mean, that feels relevant today, still. I think this is a perfect example of something where it was kind of written too soon. It was written before smart cities were a real thing. It was considered very prescient at the time, and then it kind of fell off of people’s radar, and I think it’s really time for us to rediscover it.

Charlie Jane: [00:19:25] Yeah, and actually, that makes me think of one that I wanted to mention, which is Civil War Land in Deep Decline by George Saunders, which… you know, George Saunders is a huge big deal right now, because of Lincoln and the Bardo, and stuff like that, but to me his stuff from the ‘90s where he was really just pioneering these whole stories about like much as how people are trapped in a Jazz Age recreation gone out of control in Kathleen Ann Goonan’s book, in George Saunders’s stories, people are always trapped in these old reconstructions of old things. Like the Civil War Land, or in one of his stories, people are forced to reenact cave man life, or prehistoric life as imagined by some park designer.

Annalee: [00:20:05] We say paleolithic in the world sciene, thank you.

Charlie Jane: [00:20:09] Okay. Paleolithic life.

Annalee: [00:20:10] Cave person.

Charlie Jane: [00:20:10] And people are trapped in these weird kind of giant dioramas. Or these weird reconstructions in the middle of these oppressive corporate entities and you sort of get the sense that life has become nightmarish and surreal and absurd, and Kafkaesque, I think is a word that’s often applied. And there’s this kind of sense that you’re under the microscope as well as being trapped in these weird simulations. And that reality itself is kind of a trap that people are caught in.

Annalee: [00:20:39] Hmm. That’s so interesting because we’re talking about books that stand the test of time, but then these are both books that are sort of critiquing the way that history keeps creeping back up on us and capturing us and forcing us to reenact things.

Charlie Jane: [00:20:58] Right.

Annalee: [00:20:58] Because what you would hope is that if you were living in a perfect timeline where like every generation solves all the problems of the previous generation, you would never be falling back into the horror of a previous problem, right? But the reason why these books stay relevant is because we keep making the same frickin mistakes because humans.

Charlie Jane: [00:21:17] Yep.

Annalee: [00:21:19] So, one book I wanted to mention as a shout-out, a book that’s for me, personally, stuck with me for, since I was a kid, is Laurence Yep’s book, Child of the Owl, which is actually part of a much bigger cycle that he wrote called The Golden Mountain Chronicles. Laurence Yep, by the way is like the most prolific writer ever. He’s written like 50 books. They’re all YA, middle grade and picture books. Child of the Owl is kind of YA. I read it when I was probably 10 or 12, and it’s about a girl living in San Francisco’s Chinatown which is where Laurence Yep grew up, and she’s struggling with her identity. She’s Chinese-American but she feels too American to fit in in Chinatown. She feels too Chinese to fit in outside Chinatown, and she’s living temporarily with her grandmother and her grandmother tells her this story about how their family is descended from an owl spirit. And the owl spirit is also kind of a shapeshifting spirit, and so having that kind of connection to a fantasy story, it makes the novel feel kind of magic realist even though it’s very realistic. She never develops magic powers, for example. Spoiler alert. This book was published in the ‘70s, so get with it, people. But it’s very much about how fantasy stories can help us deal with problems like feeling trapped between two cultures.

[00:22:56] When I was a kid, my father, who came from an immigrant family, he really also loved this book. So, we kind of read it together and he kind of shared with me some of his experiences growing up Jewish surrounded by a bunch of clueless white people who weren’t always super nice. And, we eventually met Laurence Yep in the late ‘70s, we saw him do a reading in San Francisco when I was kid, so he signed my copy of Child of the Owl and it was really great, and it was one of my first experiences meeting an author, and being able to say, “I love this book.” But I think, beyond my own personal investment, I think this book, and also a lot of Laurence Yep’s work, because he went on to do a ton of science fiction and fantasy work, deals with questions that people are still struggling with now. Kids who are biracial or bicultural and are trying to figure out how they fit in and what their heritage means to them. And I think there’s that sense when, especially when you’re young, that you do feel kind of like a shapeshifter, and maybe like a forced shapeshifting. You’re constantly being forced to be different things in different places, and none of it feels right. So that just really stuck with me, and I really… Laurence Yep has won pretty much every award you can win for children’s fiction, and I really—he deserves to be in the pantheon of pioneers writing about this stuff, because he was writing about it in the ‘70s when it was a very—It was early days for being engaged with those issues.

Charlie Jane: [00:24:27] Yeah, and you still have that signed book now, don’t you?

Annalee: [00:24:28] It’s sitting right here in front of me on the table, and I treasure it a lot.

Charlie Jane: [00:24:33] So, let’s talk about reasons why a book might not age well. We talked a little bit about things that seem clichéd or that seem of their time. But I feel like oftentimes if a book is too much commenting on the time when it was written, it tends to fall off. Like, for example, I was just looking at your shelf, and you have Logan’s Run, which is a book that was written in the ‘60s, it was actually a really important book that people now only remember as a movie and a short-lived but beautiful TV show. But, you know, Logan’s Run is a book that is about hippies and how those hippies are going to ruin everything.

Annalee: [00:25:09] Yeah, it was an anti-hippie book, for sure. It was a hippie fear book.

Charlie Jane: [00:25:16] Yeah, the counterculture is kind of dangerous, and their youth obsession is going to destroy everything. And while we can still kind of relate to the idea of like a youth-obsessed culture that doesn’t value older people because, spoiler alert, that continued to be a thing after the ‘60s.

Annalee: [00:25:29] Still relevant.

Charlie Jane: [00:25:29] Still relevant. Yeah. At the same time, a lot of the stuff in that book, when you actually read the book, rather than watching the movie, really doesn’t hold up. Because we’re no longer living in that era. We don’t have that same preoccupation with hippies.

Annalee: [00:25:44] Yeah, well, it’s like the Cold War when we were talking about that before.

Charlie Jane: [00:25:47] Yeah.

Annalee: [00:25:46] I think it’s a similar kind of thing. Also, one of the things that doesn’t hold up well is edginess. Like, whenever a book comes out and it’s supposedly edgy, I pretty much guarantee that in 10 or 15 years, that people are going—that’s going to be the book that makes you roll your eyes.

Charlie Jane: [00:26:03] With some exceptions, although, like for example, we were going to talk about Dhalgren, which people had been bringing up a lot on our Twitter feeds. And Dhalgren, was edgy in a way, but it’s also just—it’s got a lot of other things to offer, and it’s like a beautifully written, complex story that is also edgy.

Annalee: [00:26:18] And Samuel Delany is edgy not necessarily because of the topics that he tackles, although there are some really edgy topics in Dhalgren, but also just the style. His writing style, and I think that has stood the test of time because experimental writing has become more and more popular in science fiction and fantasy, playing around with time. Playing around with perspective. I mean, geez, like the show Westworld, which is such a huge hit. That’s an example of playing around with both time and perspective which is very mainstream, and which, things like Dhalgren paved the way for that.

Charlie Jane: [00:26:53] Right, so, for example one thing that is edgy that I feel like is increasingly not aging well. And this is going to be a controversial thing, but—

Annalee: [00:26:59] Controversy…

Charlie Jane: [00:27:00] Controversy. Watchmen. The Alan Moore, Dave Gibbons graphic novel. I had to reread that recently because I was taking part in actually a competition where you write fanfic, or erotic fanfic about a particular book. And it’s the Shipwrecked event that happens here in San Francisco. So I had to reread Watchmen, and I was really struck by how much large chunks of that book feel of their era. Like, it was an era where the idea of superheroes being kind of more gritty, and having rape in a story with superheroes felt really edgy in the ‘80s. Having superheroes who are kind of murderers and not just like killing is a last resort, but just killing. Things like that felt super edgy in like 1986, or whenever Watchmen came out, and now, I feel like we’ve had decades of that and a lot of the stuff that was originally shocking in that book now just feels kind of exhausting.

Annalee: [00:27:54] Feels like it’s become cliché. I mean it’s… and that’s one of the curses of a book becoming super popular, too, is that things that felt incredibly mind-blowing are now just like, oh, of course the heroes are gritty assholes, you know?

Charlie Jane: [00:28:13] But, particularly the rape subplot in Watchmen doesn’t age well. Similarly, to the way that many people are now not really wanting to read The Killing Joke, also by Alan Moore, because it’s got that rapey thing happening in it that doesn’t age well. I feel like, oddly, the part of Watchmen that’s about the fear of nuclear holocaust is feeling more relevant, but the way in which it’s framed feels very much of its time. So, it feels like a book that increasingly, and this is something that also, I think was a challenge in making the movie of Watchmen, it’s something that just is of the concerns. It’s about the concerns of another era.

Annalee: [00:28:48] An edgy novel that I wanted to mention is Interview with the Vampire by Anne Rice, which came out in kind of late ‘70s. And, was kind of considered the first big vampire novel to make the vampires sort of sympathetic, romantic heroes. She certainly wasn’t the first writer to do this, but it was a huge bestseller, and it became kind of the popular—it became the story that popularized this view of vampires. And the thing about that novel is that it was so cutting edge at the time, partly because of this new view of vampires, but partly because it’s basically the story of two gay guys living together and having a daughter. And because of the fact that they’re vampires, Anne Rice is able to say in the book and of course has also said outside the book, that they’re not really gay, they’re just vampires. They just have this very erotic relationship that involves like, sucking and fluid exchange. And I think that one of the reasons why this novel hasn’t held up is because that kind of feeling of being cutting edge has really been diluted by the fact that the intervening years have brought us so much representation of actual gay guys. We’ve had, you know, gay marriage has become legal. We have so much more visibility for gay men, and gay women, too. And so, now, reading the book, it does kind of make you roll your eyes, because you’re like, wait, aren’t these just two gay guys? Like, what’s all this dancing around about just it being blood and all this other stuff. Why do we need to have all this window dressing, why don’t we just have a story about two gay guys who settle down in Paris and have a daughter? And so I think a lot of the angst that drove that story and the angst within that story now just feels kind of extraneous. Which isn’t to say that there aren’t people in the world who aren’t still struggling with being gay and accepting it. I just think that now, kind of the mainstream audience in the United States, it doesn’t feel cutting edge anymore. It just feels kind of like, oh, okay. Like, back then, you had to tell stories about vampires to have this happen. Now we could just have them be straight-up gay vampires. Which, would be great.

Charlie Jane: [00:31:05] Gay people adopt children, and it’s normal. It’s like…

Annalee: [00:31:07] I know, they don’t have to actually go bite a girl, they could just like, go adopt a girl from a nice agency that works with vampire couples. So.

Charlie Jane: [00:31:16] Yeah, a nice vampire adoption agency. So, before we finish up, I just wanted to mention a few titles that people mentioned on the Twitter feed.

Annalee: [00:31:24] Yeah, so—

Charlie Jane: [00:31:24] By the way, our Twitter handle is @OOACpod and um—

Annalee: [00:31:29] And we asked people what they thought were some novels that held up, and we got great answers.

Charlie Jane: [00:31:33] Yeah, one book that came up a lot was The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, which is one of my favorite books. It’s still as funny as ever. It’s still just like… although Zaphod Beeblebrox feels a little too real now, one person mentioned. A lot of people mentioned Iain M. Banks’ Culture novels, which basically just are like a huge touchstone for me and always will be.

Annalee: [00:31:53] So, some of the other ones that got mentioned, Woman on the Edge of Time by Marge Piercy, which is a classic 1970s feminist novel. Another book that came up was another ‘70s novel by Joanna Russ called We Who Are About To, which is a very acclaimed book by Russ, who is a fantastic writer who often gets forgotten. I was going to mention, also, her book, Picnic on Paradise, which as similar themes to We Who Are About To. Both of them deal with very unprepared groups that end up crash landing on planets where they have pretty much no hope of ever being rescued. We’ve been talking about all these books being relevant partly because of their themes, but we haven’t really talked about characters that still feel relevant.

Charlie Jane: [00:32:40] That’s really true, and I think that a huge part of what makes a book stay on your shelf and in your mind is characters that you can continue to come back to and kind of identify with and bond with on a really deep level. And that’s really about characters who feel unique, and you know, vivid.

Annalee: [00:32:59] Believable.

Charlie Jane: [00:32:59] Believable. Yeah. And, like, not particularly representing an archetype, because archetypes get old. But, individual, quirky, interesting…

Annalee: [00:33:09] Yeah, that’s interesting, because I spent a lot of time talking earlier about the monster in Frankenstein, who I do feel is a character that stands the test of time, and that’s partly because the monster kind of fits some monster archetypes, but also doesn’t. I mean, Mary Shelley really overturned a lot of ideas about monsters, because this is a sympathetic monster who, as I said, spends a lot of time just wanting to learn stuff. And wanting to fit in. And I feel like that’s still relevant in the same way that the main character in Laurence Yep’s novel, Child of the Owl, whose name is Casey, which is still one of my favorite names ever. And Casey’s dealing with the same stuff. Kind of looking in from the outside at mainstream American culture and trying to figure out how do I fit in here? Where do I go? And she has a lot of just weird quirky stuff about her. She’s not central casting at all.

Charlie Jane: [00:34:00] Yeah, and I wanted to finish up by coming back to one of the books that I talked about earlier, Geek Love. And the character of Olly who is a mom and she’s living with her daughter who doesn’t actually know that Olly is her mother. And her daughter is the one who has like a little tail that she’s showing off at this strip club, and Olly is trying to protect her daughter and look after her daughter, but she’s hiding from her daughter in plain sight. And it’s a really moving, twisted, kind of fascinating relationship that still feels incredibly vibrant and emotional today. I feel like that’s really what it comes down to. Like, whether you can still have that emotional relationship, or whether it gets lost in all the little clichés and bits of cruft that come into a book over time.

Annalee: [00:34:44] There’s probably a million books that we didn’t mention, and if you want to tell us about them, you can tweet at us, we’re at @OOACpod, on Twitter. Or, even better, tweet at each other about them. Recommend them to each other. The best thing about books is that you can pass them around and bring them to new generations of people who haven’t been exposed to them. So, until next time. We’ll be back in two weeks. You can find us on all the good places like iTunes, and Stitcher and Libsyn, and you can find us on the web at OurOpinionsAreCorrect.com. You can try to reach us telepathically, we’ll see if that works.

Charlie Jane: [00:35:23] That works.

Annalee: [00:35:25] I’m not sure.

Charlie Jane: [00:35:25] We’ll probably smell your message.

Annalee: [00:35:28] We’ll smell your message. So, you’ve been listening to Our Opinions Are Correct and we’ll see you on the other side of the time tunnel.

Charlie Jane: [00:35:36] Thanks to Veronica Simonetti with Women’s Audio Mission for editing and also thanks to Chris Palmer for the music.

[00:35:41] Outro music plays. Synth organ over a snare followed by a guitar riff.

Annalee Newitz