Okay. Time to talk science fiction. I know, I know, it’s old hat. Desperately unpopular territory now, felled by flashier paranormal titles. Which I also like. But braving a nerdy classification of my own, I say science fiction can be fantastic reading.
Let’s not pretend I’m turning to my battered Shakespeare collection with fifteen minutes to spare while the baby naps. My getaway reading materials are never romance novels and rarely chick-lit happy ending fluff. For comfort, I’ll reread a beloved Hardy Boys or Sweet Valley High title. But, most often, I turn to science fiction to carry me away. And, when it’s good, it always does.
Since reading Brave New World at thirteen, I’ve been an avid fan of the sci fi. Quality science fiction, that is. But what gives science fiction writing a sense of quality anyway? Apparently, the answer varies, since many titles are crap reading. For me, quality work means the writer creates an entirely new world. Whether it’s a parallel, post-apocalyptic earth, an entirely new planet, or the vast array of in-betweens that pepper the genre, the world created has different values/ideals, a rich history and, if the writer is excellent and thorough, a unique and distinct vocabulary. And that’s all alongside a strong central character. At least that’s what I like.
My prime example and all-time favorite being Brave New World by Aldous Huxley, which I read again each year, sighing and laughing and groaning throughout. Eerily relatable despite its strangeness, Huxley’s world promotes equality to the point of complete homogenization of the population — a theme that’s been replicated or outright copied in books and film far beyond the complimentary gesture.
Another author with a thorough imagination for detail and characterization is Margaret Atwood. While her writing spans several genres, my favorite tales can be categorized as science fiction: The Handmaid’s Tale, Oryx and Crake and 2009’s follow-up The Year of the Flood.
Recently, I’ve loved two newer series: Scott Westerfeld’s Uglies series and Jim Butcher’s Codex Alera series, which starts with The Furies of Calderon (maybe I should dig into the Dresden Files series?). While both offer singular, visionary worlds, Westerfeld creates brand spanking new dialogue with its own cadence and slang — reminding me of (my idol) Joss Whedon’s writing style. His other books, though wildly entertaining, aren’t as thoughtfully crafted.
Lately, I’ve been catching up on all the great Science Fiction titles I’ve missed over the years. Yes, I read one of those votable book lists on GoodReads, then cross-referenced it with several other online lists of lesser popularity and finally added a few friends’ dog-eared faves. Recent recommendations included Lois Lowry’s The Giver, Stephanie Meyer’s The Host, Isaac Asimov’s Foundation, Octavia Butler’s The Parable of the Sower —Is the book’s poor editing supposed to confer authenticity on the diary status of its main character? Even if so, it’s distracting.—, M.T. Anderson’s Feed and Ayn Rand’s Anthem. And these are the ones I’m recommending of the larger bunch.
Feeling your way around the science fiction genre? Junior classics like A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle and The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams are crowd favorites for a reason, and easy entry to the genre, while War of the Worlds by H.G. Wells, often raved as the pinnacle work, is imaginative but such a dry telling. Wells loses my interest in even the best audio version.
As for me, I’m still actively hunting for new worlds.
Next up, The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins (though it’s still working its way down my library hold list — #44 of 119 requests, so it might be a while), Frank Herbert’s Dune, and Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card. I’m thrilled that all three of them are series, desperate to love at least one and have several more books to look forward to.
If you’ve got a fabulous title I’ve missed, by all means, send me an (unscientific but handy) email. To wild future reading!