If you like to read, chances are you love a good book. If you're reading this article, chances are you'd like to find a good science-fiction story. That's where I come in. Here are a few tips aimed at readers who are new to science fiction to help them navigate the sometimes confusing selection of science-fiction books presented to them. With the following tips, you will be better equipped to find the right book for you.
TIP #1: Develop and Understand Your Own Definition of "Good"
First and foremost, "good" is a subjective term that means different things to different people. The proverb "One man's trash is another man's treasure" is applicable here. Therefore, the first step on the road of Good Books is defining for yourself exactly what Good means to you.
Ask yourself: "What are my expectations for from a good book?" Are you looking for pure escapism to forget the pressures of everyday life? Are you looking for a particular kind of adventure, maybe one set in space or perhaps on an alien world? Or maybe you are just now dipping your toes into the pool of science fiction and prefer a gentler introduction, something more accessible to mainstream readers. Or maybe you want to dive in head first and grab a hard science-fiction novel. Or maybe you want to experience a "mindblowing" sci-fi novel.
Do your expectations include a certain level of perceived writing quality? Just like any book, some science-fiction books are written better than others. Do your tastes lean toward "Literary with a capital L"? Or perhaps maybe in the other direction? As an example, some of the science fiction of the golden age—especially pulp magazines—was a bit rough around the edges and is not palatable to some modern readers. Despite this, I happen to enjoy reading an occasional classic sci-fi story, which is why I'm looking forward to Old Venus, a brand new anthology edited by George R.R. Martin and Gardner Dozois that celebrates the pulp sci-fi adventure of yesteryear.
As you answer these kinds of questions, you'll be better able to understand exactly what you are looking for.
TIP #2: Pick Subject Matter That Sparks Your Interest…
One way to ensure that you will enjoy a book is to choose books that deal with subjects that you know and enjoy. For example, if you like technology and science, then maybe a near-future techno-thriller is more your speed. (Check out Nexus by Ramez Naam, a thriller where an experimental nano-drug links humans together, mind to mind.) If you like reading about historical science, then maybe a 19th-century steampunk novel would be more your speed. If you like to imagine what life would be like if historical events played out differently, try an alternate history novel. If you like watching the television show Orphan Black, read a book about cloning. Choose books that dabble in topics to which you can relate.
TIP #3: …But Expand Your Horizons and Try New Things
Don't be afraid to read outside your comfort zone. The reason you like, say, stories about robots is because, at one time, they were introduced to you and you found that you liked them. As human creatures, we tend to seek comfort in the things we know. That's not necessarily a bad thing, but with regards to reading, it can limit your exposure to new ideas and different forms of art. Challenge yourself to actively seek out books that are just outside the reach of what you normally read. You will find, more often than not, new subjects that equally ignite your interest. Do you like mysteries? Why not read a mystery set on another planet, or, like Simon Kurt Unsworth's The Devil's Detective, in the fiery depths of Hell? By expanding your reading horizons, you grow as a reader and increase the number of books matching your interests, making it easier to find books you like the next time around.
TIP #4: Read Short Speculative Fiction
I'm a huge fan of the short fiction form. It allows me to sample a variety of subjects, ideas and writing styles in a relatively short amount of time. That's why I love reading short fiction anthologies, which collects a number of stories from a variety of authors. These quick bites of fiction satisfy my sci-fi craving and expose me to new writers and new worlds. From there, I learn more about my own likes and dislikes. For example, I've read some of Linda Nagata's connected short fiction set in the world of "The Red," about a mysterious entity that seemingly has set its sights on mankind. The author has since expanded that universe into two upcoming novels: The Red and The Trials. These are books that might not be on my radar were it not for the short fiction stories I read that made me aware of them. Recent multiple author anthologies worth checking out include Dark Detectives: An Anthology of Supernatural Mysteries edited by Stephen Jones, Operation Arcana edited by John Joseph Adams, and The Doll Collection edited by Ellen Datlow.
TIP #5: Seek Out Recommendations from Science-Fiction Readers
It's a big reading world out there and nobody says you have to go it alone. Plenty of fellow science-fiction readers are more than happy to give reading recommendations. Try getting some of them not to do so! Talk with the people around you—friends, loved ones, co-workers—and just ask. People love sharing their favorite anything. Ask them about a particular book they liked; ask what it was about and what they liked about it. Armed with the knowledge of what you like and what they like, finding a good book becomes something of a matching game. The same advice holds true for online speculative fiction venues, which you may also want to consult. Look at book-reading forums, science-fiction blogs, and read online book reviews. You'll get an idea of the books people are talking about, and for each of them, a sense of what appealed to them (hopefully without spoilers). If the discussion of a particular book resonates with you, give it a try.
TIP #6: Invite Random Discovery
I can’t tell you how many books I read and enjoyed simply by virtue of the fact that I just picked them up, sight unseen, and started reading them. I'll just pick up a book, start reading, and before I realize, be caught up in the story. It doesn't always happen that way, but happens enough to merit mentioning the joy of random discovery. As the saying goes, you never know until you try. So if you're still looking for something to read, go to the science-fiction section of a bookstore and pick up a book!