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Let's say you wanted to introduce someone to science fiction. But not just anyone: someone coming from a decidedly lit-fic background, someone who's going for a MFA or references Nabokov when discussing their own work. Assume a reasonably open mind, but no background beyond what you can't help absorbing from popular culture. (I'm modeling this hypothetical person on the library writers group I've started attending, which is open to genre but whose producing members so far write anything but.) Let's say this hypothetical person asked, "I don't know much about science fiction. Where should I start?"

Five books seems like a good number. Trying to represent something as big and variegated as a genre with a mere five books is an exercise in absurdity, of course. But trying to bring in a bit of everything that counts as science fiction would produce a list so unwieldy you might as well not have a list at all. Remember, you want your hypothetical person to actually read them, not be overwhelmed into giving up before they've started.

I found it surprisingly easy to come up with a list. Not necessarily my favorite books, but books that a lot of other books are in conversation with. Books that can carry the flag for significant portions of the genre; not that all books like that are just like this, but if you like this, you might like those /*broad sweep of arm*/ as well.

Robert A. Heinlein, The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress
Isaac Asimov, The Caves of Steel
Orson Scott Card, Ender's Game
Douglas Adams, The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy
Lois McMaster Bujold, either Shards of Honor or The Warrior's Apprentice

Moon Is A Harsh Mistress stands for the whole "consensus future" that used to be such a staple of SF and still turns up occasionally, the small-l-libertarian idea that we will colonize space, and it will look more or less like this. It also gives us the sentient computer, and a host of smaller but useful ideas like funny-once versus funny-always. Caves of Steel gives us the Three Laws of Robotics, which arguably every robot book since has been in conversation with one way or another. Ender's Game gives us aliens, and the concept that we have fought the monster and the monster is us. Hitchhikers is there to show that SF can be both fun and funny, and because sending anyone into a foray into modern SF without understanding the significance of the number 42 seems like an act of cruelty. ;-) And Bujold because any recommendation list that comes from me is going to have Bujold on it if I can possibly help it, but also to show the depth of characterization and plot and worldbuilding that modern SF is capable of at its best -- and how SF can be in conversation with other genres, as well as itself. The choice of titles depends on whether that particular reader would respond better to a strong female character or a coming-of-age story (the library writers group has one of each).

Yes, I know that I'm leaving out vast swaths of the genre. There's no cyberpunk, for example. And no a lot of other things. But remember, five books. Only five. And the goal here is to suggest things that will be accessible to someone with no SF background; some of the more outre explorations of the genre might have a bit too much learning curve for a first taste.

And of course any recommendation list is going to reflect the recommender's tastes and priorities.

So, what do you think? Agree, disagree, yes-but? What would your own list look like?

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Date: 2015-Apr-02, Thursday 02:52 pm (UTC)
legionseagle: (Default)
From: [personal profile] legionseagle
What about John Wyndham? The Day of the Triffids or The Chrysalids or perhaps some of the short stories? Or Trouble with Lichen which is social comedy around an anti-ageing discovery.

(no subject)

Date: 2015-Apr-06, Monday 05:52 am (UTC)
legionseagle: (Default)
From: [personal profile] legionseagle
He's also an example of what you might call "science fiction of manners"; very well written, very witty and with an acute eye for human absurdity - for example, in The Day of the Triffids, the heroine, when very young, several years before the disaster, wrote a risque book. And even though the world they all knew has ended and they're scrabbling around in the ruins trying to rebuild, everyone she ever meets for the first time goes, "Oh! You're that Josella!"




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