It has come to my attention that not everyone in the world reads science fiction. Gasp! I thought anyone who had a desire to read would instantly reach for science fiction, a genre with a vast spectrum of stories suitable for any reader's tastes. How can this possibly be?
Read more SF books that literary types can enjoy.
Reasons You May Not Be Reading Science Fiction
Here are some of the reasons I've heard for people avoiding science fiction:
MYTH: Science Fiction is for prepubescent teenage boys.
TRUTH: The idea that a whole genre as varied and diverse as science fiction would be targeted toward a group of specific age and gender is ridiculous. I suspect this is a holdover from the days when pulp science fiction paperbacks were vying for rack-space alongside other dime store books. Nothing catches the eye like a scantily clad damsel in distress being attacked by an alien. But those images are a thing of the past.
Today's science fiction offers stories suitable for anyone's tastes and background. Yes, there's a huge market for young adult readers, with books than can be enjoyed by young and old alike, but there are also plenty of books not marketed specifically for that age group. (Which is not to say that young adults won't enjoy those books, too.) And, science fiction is not for women? There was a whole movement to disprove that assumption.
MYTH: It's too technical.
TRUTH: While it's true that science fiction stories contain some scientific element to them—otherwise, they wouldn't be sf—there are varying degrees to which they do so. Did you know, for example, that there are "hard" sciences and "soft" sciences? Hard sciences get all the credit for sf and are the things most of us think of when we think science fiction: astronomy, chemistry, physics, biology and so on. Soft sciences focus on human activities and are less rigorous. Think psychology, sociology, anthropology, economics, theology and such. You say you're averse to science? I say, steer toward soft sf stories.
MYTH: Real writers don't write science fiction.
TRUTH: Let's pretend that "real writers" is not an insult and assume this notion encompasses subjective qualities like "good" and "worthwhile." Science fiction is the place some of the best writers call home. People simply may not realize it because of the bad reputation sf can have. Let's put the most "real" writer you can think of up against the beautiful prose of Ursula K. Le Guin, or the craftsmanship of Gene Wolfe, or the insightfulness of Octavia Butler, or the influence of Joanna Russ, or the lyricism of Ray Bradbury, or the style of Theodore Sturgeon, or the subtlety of Dan Simmons, or the depth of Samuel R. Delany, or...well, you get the picture, which is worth way more than a thousand words.
Guess What? You May Already Be Reading SF
What tickles me most is when folks dismiss the value of science fiction while reaching for their copy of Cormac McCarthy's The Road. Guess what, naysayer? That's science fiction. "’Tis not!" you proclaim. "This is Literature!" Well, that's my point: so is science fiction. In fact, many books that you don't normally think of as science fiction contain speculative fictional elements to them. Books like The Time Traveler's Wife by Audrey Niffenegger; The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood; The Yiddish Policemen's Union by Michael Chabon; 1984 by George Orwell; Brave New World by Aldous Huxley; Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut; and more.
A Tip for the Wise Reader
Don't fall into the trap of genre classification. The science fiction label is meant to steer people toward stories that play with certain conventions, but that is not grounds for a generalization about the value of those stories. Don't be a literary snob. Pick up a science fiction book and give it a spin.
John DeNardo is the editor of SF Signal, a group science-fiction and fantasy blog featuring news, reviews and interviews. He also like bagels.