Envisioning the future: The importance of science fiction

The first question my coworkers asked when I started my job was this: “What is your favorite genre?” I confess I was startled and mildly offended by the question. I mean, I just met these people. Why should they get to know something so personal about me? Books genres are incredibly personal, just as a person’s opinion of a particular book is a very personal thing. This is the reason reader’s advisory can be so difficult for me. I would hate to recommend a book that I loved that the reader didn’t enjoy, both because I’m afraid if would make me second-guess my love of a book and because it might keep a reader from coming back for more help. But that is the challenge of reader’s advisory. And being a science fiction lover, I find that I have an especially hard time forcing myself to remember that not everyone wants to read about space or dystopian futures.

By Frank R. Paul [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Getting back to my first day. It turns out that the book purchasing responsibilities at my library are spread among the reference staff, which includes the part-time staff, as well as the full-timers. So they were merely asking me if there was a genre they could pawn off to me, or one for which I could offer some expertise. One of my favorite genres is near and dear to the heart of the person who purchases it, so I got assigned a nonfiction section. I’m honestly glad. Even though my reading taste falls toward literary science fiction and fantasy, I find I am more objective in my purchasing when the subject is something that I am not necessarily passionate about. Plus I know that my tastes run counter to those of other self-professed fantasy or science-fiction lovers. I dislike Ender’s Game and World War Z, even though both of them are quite popular science fiction books. Literary books are even more difficult to recommend, since they can encompass all genres and merely need to have a certain style to be considered literary. David Mitchell, my favorite literary novelist, is not for every one, even if I passionately believe that we would all be better people if we have read Cloud Atlas and The Bone Clocks.

I feel like science fiction doesn’t get the respect or popularity I think it deserves. The highest circulating genre in our library is a mix of mystery and thrillers. Can you guess the lowest circulating? Indeed, science fiction novels rarely win big awards (except those created to honor science fiction) and almost every other coworker of mine scoffs at my preferred genre (although, I don’t really like the genrefication of fiction because of the subjectivism of applying genre, but that’s a whole other series of posts).

Why do I love science fiction? Well, I find that envisioning the future helps us better understand our present. We see our fears distilled and given form, but we also see how we can survive. I think it also helps us better understand ourselves and how we will survive the trials and tribulations that we will face in our own lives. Tiago Forte of the Impact Lab blog outlined what 100 science fiction novels told him about the future. But being able to imagine and believe in these ideas don’t just make for a great read. They can affect how scientists and inventors are able to imagine new possibilities and whether we are able adapt to and welcome new technologies. As he says:

“The ability to create purely imagined future scenarios, and to work out the subtle implications of radically new capabilities, is not of use only to novelists anymore — it is becoming a key skill for creating those capabilities in the first place.”

So, I will always leap for the new science fiction book over the next big James Patterson novel. And when I’m done reading it, I will feel exhausted (in a good way) from having to mentally stretch my understanding and am therefore more satisfied that the effort was well worth it than if I were to read another ho-hum adventure of Alex Cross. That’s because I was forced to believe in a whole new world, and the payoff was the chance to better understand humanity. That’s why I picked up Mort(e) by Robert Repino, which I promise to review in a future post (spoiler alert: It was excellent!).

My recommendations

If you are willing to take a journey into my strange taste in reading, then try out some of my favorite science fiction books:

  • If you’re interested in sprawling space operas: Leviathan Wakes  by James S.A. Corey (as well as the others in the Expanse series)
  • If the only science fiction you like is Star Wars: Then pick up a Star Wars book already! I love the Thrawn Trilogy by Timothy Zahn and I, Jedi by Michael A. Stackpole
  • If you liked Hunger Games, but want more violence: Red Rising by Pierce Brown
  • If you are tired of space already: The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood
  • If you are a video game geek: Ready Player One by Ernest Cline
  • If you think the world is going to hell and animals should rule us all: Mort(e) by Robert Repino
  • If you’re old school: H.G. Wells’ The Time Machine
  • If you have a short attention span: Try a short story collection, such as The Illustrated Man by Ray Bradbury or Trigger Warning by Neil Gaiman (Gaiman’s work also includes some fantasy stories)
  • If your novels need more illustrations than words: Graphic novels are full of science fiction fare, but you don’t have settle for another superhero story. My very first foray into the form was a cyperpunk dystopian series called Transmetropolitan by Warren Ellis (writer) and Darick Robertson (artist). It features a foul-mouthed, jaded journalist forced to come back from self-imposed exile to save the City he loathes from corruption and idiocy. (Be forewarned that this is adult fare, complete with bad language, nudity and sex).

4 thoughts on “Envisioning the future: The importance of science fiction

  1. Pingback: Book Review: Mort(e) | Beta Librarian

  2. Pingback: The end of genre: Readers’ Advisory in the age of genre blending | Beta Librarian

  3. Pingback: Mini-reviews: The Other | Beta Librarian

  4. Pingback: What I’ve been reading, part 2 | Beta Librarian

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