This six-part series is intended to guide new science fiction readers toward books that they may find enjoyable. Here's what's on tap:

- Part 1: What You Need to Know
- Part 2: 10 Accessible Science Fiction Books [You are here!]
- 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

Part 2: 10 Accessible Science Fiction Books

The most helpful recommendation anyone can make to a newcomer in any genre include books that are "accessible.” What does that mean? In the case of science fiction, an accessible book is one that does not presuppose knowledge of sf. That is, any reader can pick up the book and enjoy it for what it is, without relying on any foreknowledge of the common tropes of science fiction. If there are any other criteria, it's that the book should be enjoyable, otherwise what's the point?

Here, then, is a list of 10 accessible science fiction books that can start you on your sf journey. If you want to start reading science fiction, simply pick one that sounds interesting and give it a go!


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1. The Stars My Destination by Alfred Bester

The Twitter-sized description of Alfred Bester's classic science fiction novel is that it's a futuristic retelling of The Count of Monte Cristo, but that betrays the wonder of Bester's imaginative ideas, realistic characterizations and his insightful portrayal of the impact of teleportation on society.

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2. Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card

It's hard to not sympathize with Ender Wiggin, a boy who's in training to help defend the Earth from yet another alien attack. 

There's a reason this is still an assigned reading assignment in schools: Ender's Game is riveting from start to finish.

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3. Childhood's End by Arthur C. Clarke

Clarke, a master of the genre for his ideas and his clear, straightforward writing, makes his stories incredibly easy to enjoy. In Childhood's End, the appearance of alien ships over Earth’s cities and the seemingly benevolent aliens within them heralds in significant changes for mankind.

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4. The Children of Men by P.D. James

This wonderfully dark and moody story asks some important questions about survival. Its stark setting-a near-future where humankind has become sterile-is the perfect scenario to ask science fiction's popular "What if...?" question.

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5. Beggars in Spain by Nancy Kress

Here, the fabric of society is disrupted when genetic engineering produces a race of humans that do not require sleep-a premise that makes a fantastic springboard for some thought-provoking legal and economic issues, and serves as a platform to explore sense of community and the value of life.

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6. The Lathe of Heaven by Ursula K. Le Guin

George Orr, a man who can alter reality with his dreams, is manipulated by Dr. Haber, a power-hungry dream specialist, a scenario that contains some weighty issues expertly delivered thanks to Le Guin's eloquent prose.

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7. The Road by Cormac McCarthy

Thank Oprah for bringing this one to the masses-a dark story about a father and his young son who travel a post-apocalyptic landscape.

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8. Nekropolis by Maureen McHugh

McHugh depicts three-dimensional characters in a culture-rich setting where a techno-biologically indentured slave falls for a lowly replica of a human.

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9. River of Gods by Ian McDonald

If you want to see a serious, literary prognostication of what life might be like in the near future, you can't do much better than River of Gods, a story that follows several characters during a time of political and environmental change in 21st-century India.

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10. The Man Who Fell to Earth by Walter Tevis

This is the poignant story of a lone extraterrestrial who lands on Earth with a mission of salvation for two races, but succumbs to the trappings of everyday human life.

John DeNardo is the editor of SF Signal, a group science-fiction and fantasy blog featuring news, reviews and interviews. He also like bagels.

Want more sci-fi? See Kirkus' list of sci fi titles to watch for in 2011.