About Josh Young

Joshua M. Young is a theology student and science fiction author.

Alien Game by Rod Walker

Last summer I reviewed a little book with the unassuming title of Mutiny in Space. Left to my own devices, I usually pick up books with big, grandiose titles like The Vindication of Man or The Big Event of Cosmic Importance with a Thing That Sounds All Powerful. Mutinies are all fine and good, but they don’t tend to be the main draw for me. It’d be like offering me a big, heaping bowl of corn. It’s great, sure. But where’s my fraggin’ steak?

And then Mutiny in Space turned out to be really, really good. If mutinies are corn, Mutiny in Space is that awesome Mexican corn where they spread mayo all over it and spicy chili powder and cheese and lime juice and I’m just going to stop now….

Anyways, Mutiny in Space turned out to be so much fun, and so spot-on with the Heinlein juvenile feel that I couldn’t even complain about the title, because that’s the sort of title things had when Heinlein was writing his juveniles. (The Star Beast? Star beasts are fine, but they’re a side dish.) So I was really pretty excited to visit Walker’s work again when I was sent a copy of Alien Game for review. So how’d it stack up?

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Josh! What is best in Sci-Fi?

There’s been a lot of lively debate the last few weeks about the relative merits of things like pulp vs no pulp, and why the devil would you ever want to drink orange juice without pulp? Or worse, strain wonderful apple cider of all its suspended pulpy particles and turn it into apple juice…. Or, rather, I guess, pulp sci-fi vs men with screwdrivers sci-fi. The contention seems to broadly be that straining the pulp out of science fiction has left us with the science fiction equivalent to the abomination that is apple juice and pulpless orange juice, and that it all the fault of John W. Campbell and his cohorts. Broadly speaking.

I’m not a science fiction historian. I mean, compared to the average guy, I’ve read a pretty wide swath of science fiction and fantasy, including relative unknowns like J. H. Rosny. I tend to range pretty far, rather than sticking to one particular style or period that I like. But I can’t argue about what certain editors wanted or promoted, things like that; I’ve never really had the reason to look into it, and frankly, I’d rather just read the stories. But last week and the week before, as I was up to my neck in midterms (8000+ words of theology written, plus all the accompanying research), I kept drifting back to one thought: I really like men with screwdrivers in my scifi.

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Once More into the Breach: Genre!

We’re spilling a lot of inkwell, spraying a lot of pixels— arguing about Science Fiction lately. Is it sick? If it is, what does its salvation look like? Is science fiction is the style of the pulps the only way forward for healthy science fiction? Is one form of scifi inferior to another form? Somewhere along the way, the assertion seems to have been made that splitting “Science Fiction & Fantasy” into “‘Science Fiction’ and ‘Fantasy'”– two separate genres.

Claims (With a Pratchett-captial ‘C’) have been made! Battle Lines have been drawn! Absurdity has been uttered! Wisdom has made itself known! Attempts to summarize a coherent message have been made, and the result is—

Well, the result is about 75 open browser tabs, and y’all are pushing my research on the Battle of Passchendaele off into the edge of the screen somewhere.

The Argument as I Understand It:

Once, in the Golden Age, Science Fiction and Fantasy was a genre, and all were happy. Then along came a man, praised by some and loathed by others, who changed the face of the Genre-sphere. One side claims he stripped the the genre of all excitement and thus helped pave the way for modern virtue-signal fiction; the other side claims that the Golden Age wasn’t really all that Golden, and most of it was crap, anyways, the same way most of it is crap now.The first side decided that the way forward was to, in fact, move backwards, and return to the Edenic existence of the Genre Monad. The second side thinks this is bunk, and the way forward is to focus on the superversive: the things that are true, good, and beautiful in fiction.


Like most arguments, I feel like there’s a lot of hyperbole being thrown around– and let’s face it, at least one party discussing this is known, in his own words, for “lobbing bombs.” That’s all well and good, I guess. It gets page views by enraging people. Maybe it furthers the discussion by making people feel the need to reply. There’s a downside to hyperbolic bombs, though: your message gets lost in the sensationalism.

The Genre and Genre.

A week or two ago, Daddy Warpig argued that there is no Hard SF— a claim that is ridiculous. There is, demonstrably, a sub-genre of science fiction that chooses to limit itself to science as we know it. Now, DW makes some decent points in his argument, but the article is flawed. What he’s describing– a narrative perspective that eschews anything unrealistic– isn’t hard SF; what he’s describing is mundane SF. Mundane SF might be a detestable rejection of everything the genre is, but it still exists.  And even if we were talking about legitimate hard science fiction, it’s wrong to see the perspectives of scientific accuracy as buzzkills; it’s perfectly possible to write a joyous, pulpy adventure in a hard science fiction world. John C. Wright is very good at it. (Careful. TVTropes link.)

It would be terrible if the only thing in the world was Hard Scifi in much the same way it would be terrible if the only thing in the world for dinner was pepperoni pizza. Pepperoni pizza is pretty awesome, but it’s not going to hit the spot if you want tacos. But there’s more to the genre than Hard SciFi, isn’t there?

We’ve got space opera, cyberpunk, teampunk, military SF; dozens of subgenres and subsubgenres. Some have grown more popular. Some have faded with time. It’s what happens; tastes change. Now here’s what’s awesome about subgenres: I prefer stories that hit space opera notes, and I find steampunk somewhat overplayed. If I want a story that hits those space opera notes, I can safely avoid– usually– the steampunk authors. We shouldn’t be afraid to dream outside genre boundaries, but it’s handy to have that rough reference guide: “This is a story that I’m probably going to enjoy when I’m in this mood.”

The Way Forward

In several places, Daddy Warpig– and probably others– seem to suggest that the way to make written SF relevant again is to work to bring everything back under the aegis of “Science Fiction and Fantasy.” In general, I’m a fan of just writing your damn story and letting it go where you want it to– genres are a guide for readers, not the authors– but by insisting that everything SF fall under that category, you’re being just as prescriptivist as the folks who “chased out” all the fantasy from the SciFi world. Force anything into a mold, and you’ll break it. The way forward isn’t a return to an idyllic world of SF&F; it’s to tell your damn story in the way it needs to be told. Sometimes that will be a hard-to-classify genre mishmash; sometimes it’ll be a diamond-hard Hard SF story.

What’s critical isn’t the genre, subgenre, or subsubgenre. It’s the craft and the perspective.


A good science fiction story will look upward, towards the stars and away from the self.

A bad science fiction story will fixate downward, towards the ground and focus on the self.

“Angel Voice” Duet: Right in the feels.

I know I never shut up about Macross, but do yourself a favor and take the time to watch this AMV, “Angel Voice.” Featuring a duet between Basara of Macross 7— which I still need to sit down and watch– and Lynn Minmay, Macross‘ original idol, it uses video from the just about the whole franchise, and does an amazing job of encapsulating everything that’s awesome about the Macross universe.

Anime and the Sci-Fi/Fantasy Fan

I come by my love of speculative fiction honestly: my parents. They both like and appreciate Science Fiction– and fantasy, to a lesser extent– and are actually fairly big consumers of Sci-Fi television and movies. Neither are what I’d call a nerd, exactly, but neither are they really mundanes. And maybe that’s why I find their unwillingness to attempt to watch anything animated– particularly anime– so mind-boggling.

Maybe it’s a generational thing. I’ve known a couple other folks of their age who appreciate the fruit of the nerd world and won’t touch animated works. Mom can’t get images of Speed Racer out of her head, apparently. But then, I know a few people out there of my age or younger who also won’t touch the stuff. And I suppose, at first blush, it’s reasonable. Until recently, the stereotype has been big eyes and poorly-dubbed, poorly animated cartoons; as of late, the stereotype is big eyes and probably a little sleazy, or else cute monsters and children.

So why do I keep dragging up anime shows in this column? Why should the uninitiated care?

Here, the genuine “weeb” would probably lecture you about the superiority of Japan and Japanese animation. I’m not; I think a lot of it has been utter crap lately. (Though I think it’s likely that Sturgeon’s Law is just more visible with the internet making importing foreign entertainment easier. Once upon a time, we had to wait for a company to decide it was worth importing and localizing an anime, or a fansub group deciding it was worth their time; now it takes about 12 hours for even amateur fansub groups to translate and release an episode.) What I do think anime has going for it is, A), a limited-run format that typically encourages shows to have complete story arcs, B), a willingness to gamble and creatively stretch due to that limited-run format, C), a foreign culture that gives fresh perspectives on things, and D), what is, as far as I can tell, an almost complete lack of SJW taint.

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English Covers of Anime Songs

I’m not usually terribly fond of dubbing a foreign language work. I tend to think movies/TV/games/whatever should be changed as little as possible to make them intelligible and get the appropriate point across. That having been said, I do love when people take something awesome and play around with it a bit, like the woman with the lovely voice has done with a classic Macross song here:

And Neon Genesis Evangelion’s nonsensical, but awesome, opening theme, “Cruel Angel’s Thesis”:

I’m not sure it works as well as her cover of “Ai Oboete Imasu Ka,” but the weird lyrics suit the song well.

The Best Science Fiction and Fantasy Romances

I’m not ashamed to admit that I’m a sucker for a good romantic arc in a story. I mean, come on. I’m a Macross fan, and Macross is about three things: fighter planes in space, pop music idols, and love triangles. Don’t get me wrong; I’m here for the explosions, more often than not. But ages ago, when I was a fledgling teenaged writer I noticed something interesting: as much I was watching Babylon 5 to see Sheridan lead his war against the Shadows and Earth, I was thoroughly invested in his relationship with Delenn. In reading the Robotech novels, I discovered, to my teenaged discomfort, that I had very definite opinions about how  the Rick-Lisa-Minmei triangle should play out– and so did all of my friends.

I think there’s a tendency to blow character stuff off in favor of “gosh wow” sense of wonder and action and plot. And that’s probably fair enough. If characters spend too much time staring into each other’s eyes and daydreaming/moping/whatever, you’re firmly in Lifetime and Hallmark Made for TV movie territory. But on the other hand, love launches a lot of ships and draws a lot of swords. It’s part of that visceral, human experience that lends truth to our fiction. What’s worth fighting for without love? What’s worth dying for if not love?

So with that said, here are a few of my favorites:

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