Why You’re Not Reading Science Fiction and Why You Should

Author photo Kris

Kristene Perron, a science fiction author and contributor to Warpworld SF adventure series, breaks down a few myths about the genre and explains why it's both accessible and important. She also provides a list of five authors to try out for readers new to the genre.

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“I don’t usually read science fiction but I loved this book!” I am not the only genre author who has heard a version of this statement about their work. I stumble across it often while scanning reader reviews on Amazon and Goodreads. It is a sentiment that delights and puzzles me. Delights me for what, as an author of science fiction, should be obvious reasons. Puzzles me because why, if you are a reader, a reader of fiction, would you not read science fiction?  

In my hunt for an answer, a handful of themes appear consistently. Foremost, perhaps, is the “science fiction is not literature” argument. To which I say, twaddle. If you have read George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four, Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451, or more recently, Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale, you have read great literature that also happens to be science fiction. If that surprises you, the fault lies in the shelving of such works in General, Literary, or Classic Fiction and not in the genre from which they were spawned.  

Another recurring argument is that science fiction is too weird, too far out there, too lacking in context. I say that the wild success of a fantasy series—beloved by children and adults alike—about a world of wizards, magic, and a sport played on flying brooms shows that “too weird” is not a problem for most readers. Too far out there? Look around your home, many of the gadgets you use every day once only existed in science fiction. The genre is not so much far out as far seeing, both envisioning and inspiring our future. And as for context, put aside those worn 1950s’ stereotypes of alien planets and killer robots. Science fiction is a diverse genre and many novels are set on our current or near-future earth, featuring science and technology already in existence or close to it.

“Science fiction is just escapist entertainment” is one more reason given for refusing to read a genre that explores every big idea under the sun…any sun. Of course there are purely escapist stories in science fiction but the same can be said of all genres. Can you imagine boycotting all works of general fiction because a few are frivolous bits of brain candy?

Besides, what’s so wrong with escaping now and then?

That covers some of the most prevalent why not’s. What about the why’s? Why should we all read science fiction?

Here, I confess, it is difficult to restrain my inner fangirl, who wants to gush out a stream of geekisms. (Proof that science fiction keeps us young and full of enthusiasm?) Instead, let me put on my Serious Reader Cap and focus on some of the most important reasons this genre is worth your precious word-devouring time.

All fiction helps to develop our empathy but science fiction takes this one step further and lets us see ourselves objectively. It shows us a future, an alternate past or reality, or another world wherein we are not players. By doing so, science fiction creates enough distance for us to consider important questions that our prejudices and personal histories might otherwise prevent us from seeing clearly. Science fiction gives us the gift to, in the words of the poet Robert Burns, “see ourselves as others see us!”

On a less lofty note, science fiction offers those who want it a challenge. Among its many tales are those that drop readers into the deep end of completely foreign worlds, daring them to decipher linguistic, cultural, and geographic clues on the fly, with varying degrees of guidance. These are among my favourite types of novels—stimulating for both the brain and the ego.

Closely related, science fiction is an injection of imagination, something too many of us shed as we age. Remember how much fun make-believe was in your childhood? How easily you accepted the idea of "What if?" and "I wish?" Don’t worry, this is not lost. It is waiting for you between the pages.
Science fiction not only entertains, challenges, poses philosophical questions, and offers insight to human nature, it also gives us hope. As long as there are those willing to take a hard look at our possible futures and share their stories with the world, perhaps we are not doomed to repeat the mistakes of our past. This alone makes the genre important, even if it’s not your cup of tea.

For those ready to make the leap to science fiction, I could write a list as long as a Martian year of “must read” titles. Instead, I offer up five notable and award-winning Canadian authors to help start your journey:

handmaid's tale

Margaret AtwoodThe Handmaid’s Tale, Oryx & Crake, The Year of the Flood, MaddAddam. Atwood may or may not class these works as science fiction but that hasn’t stopped her fans from doing so. If you love literary and/or dystopian fiction, these are the perfect gateway books to science fiction.

 

Robert J. SawyerIllegal Alien, Rollback, Flash Forward. One of Canada’s most well-known science fiction voices, Sawyer writes stories that are often easily accessible by mainstream audiences and contain very recognizable aspects of daily life.

 

Cory DoctorowLittle Brother, Makers, Pirate Cinema. Blurring the lines between current and future technologies, Doctorow’s stories deal heavily in civil liberties and social activism. His YA novels lean more to the A than the Y.

 

 

Élisabeth VonarburgThe Silent City, In the Mother’s Land. Not just an excellent choice for French readers, Vonarburg’s work has also been translated to English. Here’s your opportunity to discover one of Canada’s science fiction greats.

 

Robert C. WilsonThe Chronoliths, Blind Lake, Spin. My favourite science fiction stories blend high concept ideas with relatable, believable characters—something Wilson has mastered. His work focuses on big change and, more importantly, how his characters deal with that change.  

But don’t let your journey end here! You can find many more authors and titles at SFCanada.org.

 

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Kristene Perron is the co-author of the science fiction adventure series Warpworld. As a former professional stunt performer for film and television and a pathological nomad, she's never at a loss for inspiration. In 2010, Kristene won the Surrey International Writer’s Conference Storyteller Award, judged by Diana Gabaldon and Jack Whyte. She calls Nelson, BC, home, but is currently living and working on the road somewhere in Baja, Mexico. You can find her on Twitter @KristenePerron.

February 4, 2014
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