Getting Started in Science Fiction

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There’s a lot more to science fiction than robots and space travel although there is certainly plenty of that if it’s your thing. However, if you’re interested in science fiction and you’re coming over to the genre from movies, TV or games, it can be difficult to know where to start. This is doubly true if most of your reading is in a completely unrelated genre, such as literary fiction. The tips below will help you get started in this area that is much less impenetrable than it seems at first glance, and we’ve got some recommendations for you from the classic to the contemporary.

Space Travel

Space travel is often the first thing people think of when they hear the phrase “science fiction,” but when it comes to stories that deal with space travel, there is a broad spectrum of approaches. What is often called “hard science fiction” is rooted more in scientific accuracy while at the other end of the spectrum is “space opera,” which tends to be more focused on adventure. Joe Haldeman’s The Forever War is a classic of the space opera genre; if you’re looking for something contemporary, try Ken MacLeod’s Newton’s Wake, which tells the tale of the humans who survived the ascent of artificial intelligence to a godlike status, or The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet by Becky Chambers, which is often described as “cozy” space opera. As for hard science fiction, while books by Arthur C. Clarke and Issac Asimov are among the classics, one great place for a modern reader to start is with Kim Stanley Robinson’s Mars trilogy. Beginning with Red Mars, these books explore the terraforming, settlement and development of Mars but give plenty of time to character development as well.

Dystopias

While some science fiction posits a better world, there’s always been a thriving section of the genre that looks at all the ways the world could go wrong as well. If you loved The Hunger Games or The Walking Dead and are looking to dive into more dystopias, you could start with a classic, Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451. If this anti-censorship tale of a world where the job of firemen is to burn books feels a little dated or you’d like something more up to date, try Naomi Alderman’s The Power, which is about a world in which women develop the ability to deliver electrical shocks through their bodies. From 1993, Octavia Butler’s book set in a collapsing America, Parable of the Sower, still feels relevant while Cormac McCarthy’s The Road is for people who think all of the previous suggestions are too cheerful. Finally, gaming fans and fans of 1980s pop culture in particular may love Ready Player One, which is set in a future where everyone prefers to escape into the world of a game.

Mind Benders

In the last 1960s, a so-called “New Wave” of innovative writers looking to shake up the genre emerged on the scene. The work of such writers as J.G. Ballard, Philip K. Dick and Ursula K. Le Guin is still radical by contemporary standards and is still worth reading. Ursula K. Le Guin’s The Lathe of Heaven, about a man whose dreams begin to affect the world; J.G. Ballard’s bizarre Crash, about a man’s obsession with traffic accidents; and Philip K. Dick’s The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch, about miners on Mars escaping into a fantasy world via drugs, are all interesting entry points into this subgenre.

The above recommendations only scratch the surface of this rich genre. If you feel like you still don’t know where to begin, try some year’s best volumes. The series The Year’s Best Science Fiction, edited by Gardner Dozois, ran from 1984 to 2018, and Neil Clarke’s The Best Science Fiction of the Year has been running since 2015. This can be a great way to get an overview of the genre as well as samples of work by many of the authors mentioned above and more, most of whom have written novels as well. In the spirit of science fiction itself, keep exploring until you find something you love, and happy reading.


Written by PenAndInk

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