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So You Don't Read Science Fiction

I am headed to JordanCon today and am lucky that I live near Atlanta and can drive to the host hotel. As you may (or may not) know I am the Science Fiction Track Director at the convention and have been for six years now. I love working at the convention and passion of the attendees but SF is a hard sell for what is primarily a fantasy fan base. But I believe in SF as a way to critically look at ourselves in a way that fantasy often does not. Fantasy is comfortable (except when its not) and SF is often the exact opposite. As I edit Epilogue, I realize that the story is uncomfortable and has more themes within it than I at first intended.

As a rule, and in particular for JordanCon, I use DUNE as a great example of what SF can be. There is a lot of DUNE in Robert Jordan's The Wheel of Time. I am not sure if it were on purpose or Jordan absorbed it by osmosis, but the similarities are quite stark. I think this is a good thing. I had a panel in 2019 that covered DUNE as a means for TWoT readers to get into SF. But the way many readers bounce off DUNE is bewildering and at times a source of amusement. Space Opera is a kissing cousin to Science Fantasy, which is that nebulous place where space and time become chaotic and indistinct.

Next year I am going to have a follow up panel to the 2019 panel about DUNE and TWoT. In many ways this post is preparation for that. I am not going to just give you five books that I think fantasy readers might like, but just throw out some reading experiences that might help a reader find their own space in SF, which a great wide spectrum of experiences. Some of these will make you uncomfortable, but in the best possible way.

I am of the opinion that Octavia Butler is easily one of the top five* SF masters ever. She writes SF in a easy yet brilliant style that drags you down into the story. Some of the stories in this anthology are uncomfortable, but in the most beautiful way. I cried over one in particular.

Ursula K. Le Guin is another top five SF master and The Left Hand of Darkness is a wonderful and transgressive novel, ahead of its time. It talks about gender, politics, love, and culture. It is not perfect by any means, having been written in the late 60s. However, it asks questions that are relevant to us today.

I was knocked on my ass by this book. To be clear it is dense and Bacigalupi throws a lot of complex ideas at you. It takes a look at cultural relationships and how science and commerce affect the lives of people at the bottom of the social ladder. Bacigalupi's other work is equally good.

If there were a writer whose ideas and execution I would want to achieve, it would be Mieville. These are two different novels but I think they show off the author's skills and ability to tell a story. The City & The City in particular is a brilliant piece of speculative noir. A direct inspiration for my own wip, Epilogue.

Nnedi Okorafor creates a beautiful universe and the journey of the main character is extraordinary. The writing is crisp and modern and it sings, at least it sang to me. I think this is SF at its best, being a personal journey and asking hard questions.

I have read some of the Culture books, but had just started on Consider Phlebas. Banks takes social and political SF and weaves advanced science into narrative. Lots of gadgets, but also lots of drama and great characters. Getting sucked into the Culture series will keep you occupied for some time. The books are not (always) directly related or sequels to one another, but there are common themes.

There are more of course, but this is more than enough to get you started. Happy reading.


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