So, you want to get started reading science fiction, but you don't know where to begin? As a new or novice science-fiction reader, you may feel daunted by the many choices found on your local or virtual bookstore shelves. Look at all those books! So much to choose from! The good news is that you have help. I'll steer you toward something you may find interesting.
Read the last SF Signal at Kirkus on defining the indefinable in Sci Fi.
Over the coming weeks, I'll walk you through a series of reading suggestions for the SciFi curious. Here's what's on tap:
Part 1: What You Need to Know
Part 2: 10 Accessible Science Fiction Books
Part 3: Award Winners
Part 4: Short Stories
Part 5: A Sampling of Genres
Part 6: A Reading Trip Through the History of Science Fiction
Let's get started, shall we?
Part 1: What You Need to Know
Before we dive into specific recommendations, it's important to know a few things first. Don't worry, this isn't going to be a school lesson. It's just a few things to consider when approaching science fiction for the first time.
Shed Any and All Preconceptions
Science fiction has a long and sordid history and is often a victim of popular misconceptions, lots of which has persisted for decades. Science fiction is not about glowing saucer-like spaceships and cheesy rubber-suited robots and green-skinned alien women. (Well, not usually.)Part of the perpetuation of this image stems from the popularity of non-literary science fiction. SciFi films and television of past decades—which you may still catch if you pay attention to late-night channel surfing—have done nothing to improve science fiction's public image.
None of this is accurate to the state of science fiction literature, of course, let alone modern day sf. Written science fiction has long outgrown its adolescence and matured into something every bit as worthwhile (and rewarding) as any kind of fiction. The worst thing that anyone can reasonably say about the field of literary science fiction is that it lacks a good publicity agent.
Science Fiction is Not About Science
Most non-sf readers are put off by the word “science” in the “science fiction” label. That's too bad because here's a secret: science fiction is not about science. As the author Brian W. Aldiss so wonderfully said in Billion Year Spree, “Science fiction is no more written for scientists than ghost stories are written for ghosts.”
If you had to pin down in a single word for what science fiction is about, that word would be: people. Not science, not technology, nor aliens, nor any of the other tropes that folks usually think about. Science fiction, like all good fiction, is about people, their relationships and their reactions. In the case of science fiction, the reactions are usually caused by technology and technological change. When considered as the people stories that they are, it should be apparent that science fiction is thus not difficult to understand.
Science Fiction is Not Always Set in the Future
Some folks shy away from science fiction because they believe it's not about the present day. Nothing could be further from the truth. Science fiction is precisely about people in present day, even science fiction that's set in the future. Of all genres, science fiction alone holds the unique ability to pull the reader away from his present worldview and look at it through the eyes of someone from the outside. Setting a story in the future is simply one of the ways in which sf helps us see ourselves
That is not to say that all science fiction takes place in the future. Some stories take place in the present day and a whole sub-genre of science fiction called alternate history takes place in the past. And of course, for readers who do prefer stories set in the future, such stories can range from near future (where the world is much like our own) to the far future (where the world appears very much not like our own).
So there you have it. What do you need to know? Nothing. Shed any preconceived notions about science fiction and know that it offers something for everyone. The bottom line is that reading science fiction can be anything you want it to be: a fun way to pass the time, a vehicle for thinking about important social issues, a look at where we may be headed, or whatever stokes your own personal literary flame.
Next week, I'll offer up some suggested titles to whet your science fiction appetite. Get ready for a fun ride.
John DeNardo is the editor of SF Signal, a group science-fiction and fantasy blog featuring news, reviews and interviews. He also like bagels.