Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Foundation Course

Writer and Guardian columnist, Damien Walter, asked today, "What are the 5 SF books you give to non-SF readers to win them over?"

Although my own Evil UnLtd won over plenty of non-SF converts on authonomy, I don't know that it's a good introduction to the genre. Humour is a good gateway and some of the series' humour plays on knowledge of popular SF from the realms of TV and film - which many people who 'don't do SF' will be familiar with, even though they might not have actually picked up any sci-fi in book form.

The obvious answer then might seem to be TV and movie tie-ins, but there might be too great a risk that someone who found they enjoyed Doctor Who books, say, would simply end up devouring more of the same and that wouldn't really open their eyes to the wider universe of SF in general.

Initially I wasn't sure I could think of 5 books that would fit the bill and I was reminded that another project of mine was developed to slot into this kind of gap. You know how it goes: if there's a book you feel like reading and you can't find it anywhere, it may be that you have to write it. But it's as yet unpublished and I'm working up the courage to start submitting it around, enduring the ensuing rejections and so on.

Still, the question continued to niggle away and, despite the best intentions of working on something else this afternoon, I gave the matter further thought and decided to take up Damien's challenge i.e. to blog my selection of 5 books that would serve as a starter course for non-scifitarians.

For added fun, rather than choose 5 books that would each serve as a bridge, I thought I'd pick 5 that might work in progression. Building a bridge section by section, so to speak.

So here they are:

The Hitch-Hikers Guide To The Galaxy
Douglas Adams

A fairly obvious choice, but it's a particularly good one as it's not science fiction. But it wears elements of SF the way Arthur wears his dressing gown throughout. My wife was stunned only the other day to discover one of her work colleagues who hadn't read the books, so there are still people out there who haven't tasted this strong source of Brownian Motion. And after reading and chuckling their way through that, they should at least be ready to embrace

The Stainless Steel Rat
Harry Harrison

An oldie but a goodie. The old ones are not always the best, but this is James Bond In Space and about as taxing to read as that sounds. It's a brisk, pacey adventure with lots of tech and 'gadge' and, crucially, no aliens. It's a spoof, but it represents an easing up on the laughing gas after Hitch-Hikers and a step towards - gasp! - more serious SF.

Larry Niven

Not only is this a bona fide SF classic - which some 'not-we' may even have heard of and needn't feel the loss of too much street-cred if caught reading - but it has scope and scale and big ideas while being written entirely accessibly. It's also not without a sprinkling of humour and has aliens. While aliens may prove too difficult an adjustment for some non-SF readers to handle, it presents them as colourful characters and the treatment of them isn't that far removed from what people might have encountered through playing popular video games like Mass Effect and/or in episodes of popular SF they might have chanced upon while surfing the channels.

Neal Stephenson

Alas, I no longer have a copy of this for confirmation, but I recall it as a fast, whiz-bang ride - all the appeal of a Hollywood blockbuster but full to the brim with thought-provoking ideas, great characters and a few hard edges. No aliens - we've come back down to earth for this penultimate module in our course. But in a world where Google glasses are a reality, there's very little in this - if I recall correctly! - that should trouble the committed non-SF reader too much. And it's a cracking story.

Galactic North
Alastair Reynolds

Gloves off, no holds barred, hard SF. But it's an anthology, so it's all served up in bite-size portions. Often dark, grim and edgy, these are not to be tackled until you've made it through the previous four modules. But they also serve as a great introduction to the wider universe of Alastair Reynolds' own brand of SF and if, after reading these tales, you feel ready to immerse yourself into one of his novels, well...

Congratulations, you have graduated.

Or maybe not.

Either way, I hope you will have enjoyed the course.


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