Proponents of literary science fiction are often so fixated on proving the literary merits of sf, that it's easy to overlook a simple fact: reading science fiction can be fun.
Read the last SF Signal on the great Let's Talk Zombies columns.
Sure, there is a certain kind of pleasure that can be derived from literature utilizing symbolism and dabbling in The Deeper Meaning of Life (DML)—sf can easily be a vehicle for substantial food for thought—but there's another kind of pleasure that comes from books that forgo the DML in favor of unabashed action and adventure.
I call these kinds of novels "popcorn books" because they’re the kind of entertainment that's easy to consume and tastes great. It may not fill you up intellectually, but wow, what a thrill ride. Bonus: they happen to be great gateways into science fiction as well.
Here are a few science fiction titles that are great popcorn books because they're wonderful page-turners.
Sten by Chris Bunch and Allan Cole
The first book of Bunch and Cole's exciting Sten series draws the reader in when young Sten loses his parents in an industrial cover-up initiated by the evil Baron of the factory world called Vulcan. Sten rebels against the authority, living among a band of outlaw youths for years until he kindly assists Ian Mahoney, the head of Imperial Intelligence. Mahoney ultimately enlists Sten into the elite covert ops group known as Mantis. From there, the Sten series establishes itself as one of science fiction's most fun series as it sees Sten and his cohorts (including the feisty and surly Alex Kilgour, who perpetually smack-talks a rival clan) fight the bad guys under the authority of the Eternal Emperor.
Old Man's War by John Scalzi
If you're going to model your action-packed novel after a classic, why not make it Robert A. Heinlein's Starship Troopers? That's exactly what Scalzi does in Old Man's War, a novel about a rejuvenated 75-year-old man named John Perry who enlists in the Colonial Defense Force. Perry undergoes rigorous training and eventually comes to battle a host of alien baddies, all for the good cause of human colonization. Scalzi's easily consumed prose whisks the story along as Perry, with the help of the mini-computer BrainPal implanted in his skull (how cool is that?), meets one exciting challenge after another.
Repossession Mambo by Eric Garcia
You may have heard of Garcia's Repossession Mambo from the movie it spawned (Repo Men starring Jude Law and Forrest Whitaker). Skip the mediocre film and head straight for the superb novel which tells the story of a near-future Repo Man tasked with taking back artificial organs from those who can no longer make the monthly payments for them. With its great premise that's wonderfully executed with whip-smart prose whose delivery is as exciting as the story itself, Repossession Mambo is one a book that dares you to put it down.
The Travis Chase Series by Patrick Lee
What do you get when you put a science fiction spin on the TV show 24? It just might be Lee's Travis Chase series, comprised of The Breach, Ghost Country and the upcoming Deep Sky. The premise centers on an idea that's a veritable endless story generator: a secret government organization called Tangent is tasked with studying artifacts that emerge from a doorway to another universe. In The Breach, Tangent is under attack and Travis Chase must stop a madmen bent on world domination. In Ghost Country, Chase must rescue Paige Campbell, who was kidnapped when she learned that the world will be a vast wasteland within the next 70 years. The Travis Chase series is filled with some genuinely nail-biting moments and is everything a thriller should be.
Timecaster by Joe Kimball
In the eco-conscious near future of Timecaster, serious crime is at an all-time low thanks to a technology called timecasting: the ability to see into the past. It turns out that criminals are less likely to commit crimes when they know they'll be caught. However, Chicago cop Talon Avalon is not as surprised to witness a murder as he is shocked to learn that he himself committed the crime. What follows is a whirlwind of sequential edge-of-your-seat action scenes that have Talon tracking down the true culprit while trying to avoid the authorities.
These are but a few of the popcorn books that science fiction has to offer. Any one of these is a great place to go for pure reading pleasure, so dig in!
John DeNardo is the editor of SF Signal, a group science-fiction and fantasy blog featuring news, reviews and interviews.