Biology what? Untapped potential in Science Fiction

“Science fiction is not prescriptive; it is descriptive.” – Ursula K. LeGuin, The Left Hand of Darkness

This quote from one of the best authors ever has always inspired me to push the boundaries of my science fiction reading. Yet, sometimes I have found myself wondering -haven’t I read some version of this before? Why isn’t X scientific concept ever explored?

Hello, I am Paromita and this is my inaugural blog post where I discuss one of the oft-neglected subgenres of science fiction – that using biology-oriented worldbuilding with examples.

Science fiction is limitless in its ability to explore novel ideas, be it in physics, biology, anthropology or sociology. However, heavily technical worldbuilding comes with its own challenge – what if it ends up reading like a dry textbook instead of the imaginative speculation readers are seeking in fiction? Good science fiction addresses this by having well-rounded characters and lucid yet lexically precise prose so that the reader gets immersed in the concepts and themes explored.

Here are some books where the biology-oriented worldbuilding/theming and the fiction aspect are skillfully interwoven to create a compelling narrative. I was going to do chronological order but thought it might be more fun to rank them – so I list them from least (but still very good) to most favourite.

5. Blindsight by Peter Watts

4. Dawn by Octavia E. Butler

3. Blood Music by Greg Bear

2. Children of Time by Adrian Tchaikovsky

The best: Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood

Some of the above works are part of series but they all work as standalones. That’s it – you ask? 5 titles? Unfortunately yes, science fiction works with plausible biological theming/worldbuilding, skilful writing, powerful character work and an engaging plot are still somewhat of a rarity.

Which brings me to the debut work I want to introduce – the Our Vitreous Womb novella series by Haldane B. Doyle. https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/175483265-our-vitreous-womb?ref=nav_sb_ss_1_17

Our Vitreous Womb imagines a far-future society that has progressed through bioengineering and chronicles the life of its main protagonist Oji Anabasi as told through the perspectives of four individuals close to him – mother, governess, partner and unlikely friend – in four novellas.

The worldbuilding is one of a kind. I have never read anything quite like it – in fact as I read the series, I was wondering why someone hadn’t thought of this before. But what made the story truly resonate with me was the beautiful, evocative writing and the memorable characters. I was deeply moved by the themes of love, loyalty, friendship and loss as chronicled by the different viewpoint characters.

The best one-line description I can give for this novel is “Biology-themed speculative fiction in the literary tradition of Oryx and Crake”. One of my favourite things about Margaret Atwood’s writing is that her stories are both mysterious and emphatic. Our Vitreous Womb made me feel similarly empowered and curious as a reader. I would highly recommend this series to any reader of science fiction for the writing alone but the incredible worldbuilding and thoughtful character work catapults it to must-read status for me.

Some links:

Haldane B Doyle’s website: https://haldanebdoyle.com/

Get the books:

  1. Her Unbound Hallux: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B0BTH21DC9
  2. Her Lethal Secretions: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B0BTH6LFRR
  3. Her Pellucid Pupil: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B0BTH5W5SJ
  4. His Indelible Fingerprint: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B0BTH878TW

or get all 4 novellas together as a paperback or an ebook

Our Vitreous Womb:

Paperback: https://www.amazon.com/Our-Vitreous-Womb-Book-1-4/dp/0645724343

Ebook: https://www.amazon.com/Our-Vitreous-Womb-Book-1-4-ebook/dp/B0C7H9N1K3

The search for biology-themed science fiction continues…

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Author: Paromita M

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