So you want to read a good science fiction book. But how do you find a good one?
Follow these handy tips and you will soon be lost in new worlds.
TIP #1: Pick Subject Matter That Sparks Your Interest
It's not enough to say you'd simply like to read a science fiction book. Like all classifications of literature, sci-fi covers a very broad spectrum of topics and any individual science fiction story might revolve around specific ideas. The trick is to pick a story that plays with ideas that spark your own interest. For example, science fiction sometimes includes aliens, whose character perspectives often shine the light of introspection back on humanity. If seeing humanity from an outsider's viewpoint sounds appealing, consider reading Aliens: Recent Encounters, edited by Alex Dally Macfarlane, an anthology that includes stories by Ursula K. Le Guin, Robert Reed, Elizabeth Bear, Alastair Reynolds, Karin Tidbeck and Nancy Kress, among others. Or, if you wonder about the implications of a worldwide pathogen running loose, consider Terminus by Adam Baker, the backdrop for which includes a New York City reduced to radioactive rubble to halt the spread of the disease. If you have a fondness for mythology, consider Richelle Mead's Gameboard of the Gods, which features mythological intrigue in a near-future where the government controls organized religion. Search for other themes you like by reading sci-fi book descriptions at your favorite bookstore.
TIP #2: Seek Out Recommendations From Friends and Online Venues That Know Science Fiction
One of the best ways to separate out the good genre books from the bad ones is through recommendations by others who already know the genre. If someone else can attest to a book's quality, it bodes well that someone else will enjoy it too. But remember: Quality is subjective. What others may find interesting, you might find boring. So, consider the source of the recommendation. A good one will either know your tastes or have tastes that match your own.
Where do you find science fiction recommendations specifically? For starters, ask family and friends who already read science fiction. Tell them about some of the books you like and what you liked about them. Was it great characters? Action? The writing style? You can find that in the pages of science fiction as well. Reading recommendation sites are also a good source; book-related sites like Shelfari, LibraryThing and GoodReads are good for genre-specific recommendations. Specifically for science fiction recommendations, visit your favorite science fiction blog or website that reviews books. (I would be remiss if I did not mention the science fiction and fantasy category of the Kirkus Reviews Blog!) Also consider crowd-sourced reviews from bookseller sites, but do be wary that they can be stuffed with false-positive reviews. This goes back to considering the source: The best ones are ones tailored to your own tastes.
TIP #3: Read Books That Suit Your Mood
Another way to find science fiction you'll like is to consider your mood. Speaking from experience, I have different reading moods, where some types of books just seem more palatable come book-picking time. Sometimes I'm in the mood for grand space adventure, like that of the space opera Abaddon’s Gate by James S.A. Corey. Sometimes I'm up for some mind-bending, futuristic ideas, like those in Yasutaka Tsutsui's Paprika, where dreams become like reality. Other times, I just want to have fun and reach for the literary sci-fi popcorn of, say, The Human Division by John Scalzi. You can do the same. Figure out what you are in the mood for, and then find books that match it. Don't pick up a novel that buries itself in bleak undertones if you're just looking to have a little fun. Similarly, don't spend your reading time with light yarns when you want to experience the richness of literature.
TIP #4: Try it on for Size!
Here's a question: How do you know if you like a food that you've never tasted before? Simple: You taste it! The same holds true for books. When you've narrowed your selection down to a specific title, sub-genre or author, read a little of it. If you're in a physical bookstore, pick up the book and start reading. You should know soon enough whether you like the book. Online bookstores also offer you a way to sample books. Oftentimes, publishers will offer excerpts of books on their website. When in doubt, try it out!
TIP #5: Leave Book Snobbery at the Home
Let's be honest. Science fiction does not have a great public image. In the world of literature, it's often considered to be...let's say, "less than serious." It's completely unfounded of course; I would dare any novelist to match the literary prowess of genre masters Ursula K. Le Guin or Gene Wolfe, for example. The point is that, sure, sci-fi could use a good PR agent, but don't let that stop you from choosing to read science fiction. Don't be a literary snob. You'll only cheat yourself. Leave that snobbery to the folks who haven't yet realized that sci-fi can be as rewarding as any other kind of literature.