Science Fiction for Novices

Discussion in 'Science Fiction' started by Boreas, Apr 27, 2015.

  1. Boreas

    Boreas n log(log n) Staff Member

    What books would you recommend to non-genre readers to get them interested in the genre? Keeping in mind that reading habits, preferences and industry standards have changed a few times since the heyday of 'golden age' science fiction, would you recommend more current works or classics?

    I think for adults, I would probably start off with some more recent suggestions. Either from the 80s onwards or something really current within the last 15 years.

    If I were recommending books for younger readers (between the ages of 10-15), I would most probably introduce them to the classics first - they're less likely to be jaded, and they will appreciate the wonders and ideas of what the books present more than trying to criticise any dated dialogue or problematic prose or insufficient characterisation (if such exist) that adults are more prone to complain about, nowadays.

    So, what are you suggestions?
    Last edited: Apr 28, 2015
  2. Boreas

    Boreas n log(log n) Staff Member

    Some suggestions to introduce science fiction to young readers:

    Slan (1946) by A. E. van Vogt

    One of the earliest science fiction books I read and one which deals with a new type of evolved human, those with telepathic and psychic abilities who are also stronger, more intelligent and faster to heal from injuries than normal humans. And of course, they are feared by 'normals' and regularly persecuted and killed. This is a coming of age story of a young boy who is such a 'Slan' and his fight for survival in a society that wants him and all others like him dead.

    Foundation Trilogy [Foundation (1951) - Foundation and Empire (1952) - Second Foundation (1953)] by Isaac Asimov

    Taking his cue from Gibbon's Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, Asimov constructs a future history where Hari Seldon, a mathematician who creates a new branch of stochastic science called 'Psychohistory', predicts the coming demise of the Galactic Empire and the subsequent 'dark age' that he estimates to last thirty thousand years. His hope is to restrict the dark age to a mere millennium by creating a society, a foundation, where the sum knowledge of man is stored and safeguarded, and from whence he envisages the re-flowering of civilisation spearheaded by this 'foundation'. The novels concern the problems that this society has to regularly deal with in the midst of this 'dark age' when chaos reigns and when the remnant of the empire is beset by the depredations of 'barbarian' elements that regularly prey on its desiccating corpse. The original trilogy was serialised in magazines and later published in book form. Asimov later wrote further novels set in the Foundation universe and connected it to his earlier Robot and Empire stories to construct one vast future history (albeit with inconsistencies).

    2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) by Arthur C. Clarke

    A later Clarke novel rather than an earlier one, it's nevertheless one of my favourites. Written in tandem with the script for the Kubrick movie (and finished first), it deals with man's initial and outward steps into space after the discovery of a mysterious artefact. One of the major themes is man's potential evolution and speculation on how it may have been spurred in the past by a much vaster intelligence. Both the book and the collaborative movie are excellent examples of 'hard sf'. It was pretty mind-blowing for me when I first read it.

    Dune (1965) by Frank Herbert

    A rather more byzantine work than the other suggestions (requiring the use of an extensive glossary at the back), Herbert's novel deals with numerous themes and motifs: environmental and ecological considerations; power politics in a [partly] feudal system; the scarcity of resources; religious dogma; and the dangers of machine intelligences. However, the prevalent motif is again the transcendental evolution of man and what he calls 'the golden path', the direction that the species should be guided towards to help shake itself from the shackles of stagnancy and lethargy that its mired in and reinvigorate itself to something better, both on the individual and societal level. The 'golden path' themes are actually developed in the sequels. The immediate short sequel to the novel is Dune Messiah, which I think is best read immediately after Dune. I feel that Dune Messiah (consider it the fourth act of Dune rather than a separate work) is actually a better denouement given the context of the story and doesn't play up to our emotional needs to have things end on a high note. I read this novel during my late teens rather than my early years. I would not necessarily recommend this novel to an adult who's naturally averse to genre works (it can be a little alienating with its world-building, concepts and gimmicks), but younger readers and experienced readers of sf/f works could easily get into it.

    The Demolished Man (1953) and The Stars My Destination (1956) by Alfred Bester

    The Demolished Man is a murder mystery. In this future, telepathy is much more ubiquitous. There are telepaths of varying abilities, with the elite holding influence in business, government, police departments, etc. There is an entire organisation to train such individuals, instill moral codes and find latent telepaths - very much like the Psycore in the TV show Babylon 5 (one of the main human antagonists in the show is named Alfred Bester in honour of the author). Telepathy has almost eradicated the possibility of pre-meditated murder. Yet, one does occur and a telepath is dispatched to solve the case. He ends up playing a cat-and-mouse game with his main suspect. Excellent novel and one of my favourite sounding titles - very apt for the story, and we can thank Horace Gold for it, who, as the editor of Galaxy Science Fiction magazine, published the work. Bester's original title was simply Demolition, but The Demolished Man is far superior and much more evocative.

    The Stars My Destination is a classic revenge story. I had an early British copy with the alternate title: Tiger! Tiger!, which is a arguably the more apposite title. The novel concerns a protagonist whose rage at being passed up for rescue by his company cements his resolve to wreak vengeance on a society that would allow a such a thing to pass. The motifs that one associates with cyberpunk (mega corporations controlling the world, a dark future) are all in Bester's novel 30+ years before Neuromancer was published. There is also a unique and rare form of transportation possible in this future (that must be accepted at face value) that has upset the political and economic balance of the times this story takes place in. Gully Foyle is the wild and unleashed Tyger of Blake's poem (a stanza is used as the epigraph), blazing brightly amidst the darkness and so beyond the normal experience that no man can "frame [his] fearful symmetry." He has gone from the innocence of the Lamb to the jaded and cunning experience of a predator.

    Bester doesn't write the most polished prose, but his novels brim with energy and dynamism and are brilliant. Recommended for all.

    [A Robert Heinlein novel]

    I can't recommend a single particular Heinlein novel for a younger reader since I've only read one, but I suppose one of his numerous juvenile works would make for a perfect introduction (the majority of his early works released through Scribner's - Starship Troopers was the first non-juvenile work, I believe). Heinlein is considered to be an institution onto himself.

    Heinlein really is a gaping hole in my SF reading. I only ever read Stranger in a Strange Land (1961) when I was 18 and found it to be quite a tremendous work despite it feeling like the most dated of all the novels I read from authors of that era in terms of dialogue. Maybe that was a contributing factor to not having picked up any more of his works, but that explanation doesn't gel well with me because Stranger in a Strange Land was much more than just the 'free love' that I've heard some cite as the main thrust of the novel and I remember being quite impressed by it.

    I read the Putnam release in the 1990s which was fully unedited (the original release had app. 70,000 words cut as it was considered too shocking). It was a replay on the Christ-like, messianic motif, where Michael Valentine offers salvation through his understanding of the human condition (through all things sacred and profane) and how to release oneself from suffering, but the thing couldn't be certain whether he was what he claimed to be due to certain allusions that made him out as a sophisticated conman. Was he the genuine article or a fake messiah? The novel dealt with all the normal human preoccupations of which sex and religion featured quite prominently. So maybe this one is not ideal for very young readers if you grok me.


    Personally, I feel some of the older novels are great introductions to science fiction for younger readers and would help expand their minds and bring into focus a variety of themes & motifs for them to grapple with. I'll think up another introductory list for older readers.

    Chime in with your opinions. What would your criteria and/or choices be?
    Last edited: May 8, 2015
  3. kenubrion

    kenubrion Well-Known Member

    I would introduce non-scifi readers to David Weber and John Ringo first, as they are quite accessible to everyone and don't require any hard sci-fi knowledge.

    Edit to agree with Red Rising as well. Certainly accessible and touches on social themes which will appeal to non-scifi readers.
    Last edited: May 11, 2015
  4. ofer

    ofer Regular Member

    If I'm looking at myself when I was younger, the books I liked most were Foundation, Dune and Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. Some of Clarke books - but for me it was Childhood's End rather than 2001. I also remember really liking The Man in the Maze by Robert Silverberg.
    I think more recent books can be more accessible to new readers - Ender's Game, Ready Player One, Red Rising. I recently read Old Man's War by John Scalzi which I thought did a great job with wrapping old-school sci-fi ideas with a more recent and accommodating writing. Can also be a good recommendation. Some of Michael Crichton books are also very easy and fun to read.

    Wouldn't recommend Heinlein to sci-fi beginners. Can be too surreal. The first book that I read from him was The Cat Who Walks Through Walls which I picked up because I liked the name but I remember it was a difficult read. It took me a while to get used to his books.
  5. Boreas

    Boreas n log(log n) Staff Member

    Yeah, his mid-period work was generally more serious and his later work is supposed to have gotten positively weird and surreal. But from what I've heard/scoped out, a substantial number of his early novels (when Scribner's was releasing his work) were fairly standard 'hard SF' adventurous reads and normally featuring young protagonists, so those should be OK.

    Ender's Game and Ready Player One are great starter novels for both adults and children, but I personally wouldn't recommend Ready Player One to those older readers who are actively closed-minded to science fiction/genre works to begin with. Ender's Game is particularly good for everyone because it doesn't feel so far fetched, meaning that there are no serious leaps of faith that the reader needs to undertake (OK, the Buggers, but they're only in the background as a historic detail), and there are no out there concepts for someone not used to SF to grapple with. It's very introductory friendly.

    I liked all the same books as you when I was younger, though I didn't read that particular Silverberg book. What would you recommend to older readers who are set in their ways and have a low opinion of science fiction?
  6. ofer

    ofer Regular Member

    That's a bit more problematic because it has to be custom-made to the tastes of each particular reader, isn't it? I'm slightly hampered in my answer here because I didn't read a lot of sci-fi which was published post-1990 - no more then 20 or 30 books. Even so:

    Hyperion, Solaris for readers who prefer a more serious and deep read. Possibly also some of Neal Stephenson later books like Anathem. None of those are particularly easy reads, especially for sci-fi newbies, but they should change the mind of people who think that sci-fi books are all about green aliens and giant spaceships shooting at each other.

    The Martian by Andy Weir, Moving Mars by Greg Bear for people who prefer a near future sci-fi book they feel can actually happen within the next 100 years or so. The Martian will suit people who prefer light reads and Moving Mars for people who want characters to identify with.

    I think a lot of people could start with a virtual reality books because they see a future that they can visualize but I'll be damned if I can think of a good starter. Neuromancer and Snow Crash can be off-putting for beginners. Otherland has good writing and characters, but is too much fantasy-like for people who don't read both genres. Would still recommend the latter to fantasy readers who don't read sci-fi.
  7. btkong

    btkong Administrator Staff Member

    Definitely non of the 'hard' science fiction stuff. If you start with some of the classics like Foundation, 2001 Space Odyssey, and the like, you might run away from the genre for good.

    So, for novice science fiction, you want something lighter with a lot of action and some good characters to root for.

    For this, my top picks for books that will introduce you to the genre but not scare you, I'd say something like Red Rising, or as Boreas suggested, Ready Player One and Ender's game.

    If you want some well written, clever grand space opera, something like Hyperion.

    If you want deeply driven underdog hero character science fiction that's easy to read, I'd suggest Miles Vorkosigan books.

    For huge, star warsy space opera with high tech stuff thrown in, the Common Wealth books by Hamilton are good (though if you want a nice intro to his work that doesn't require a huge time sink, start with his stand alone Fallen Dragon).

    For all out action and a good intro to a noir cyberpunk style, give Altered Carbon a read.

    If you want pure cyberpunk with a lot of action (easy to read, but you might be scratching your head trying to understand what the fuck is going on part of the time with all the weird terminology), Snow Crash.
  8. Dom Brown

    Dom Brown New Member

    I think Childhoods End is a great introduction to Sci-Fi.

    I beleive there is also a TV series with Charles Dance based on the book coming out soon on the Sci Fi Channel
    Boreas likes this.
  9. Boreas

    Boreas n log(log n) Staff Member

    Yeah, I knew Syfy were doing a mini series of "Childhood's End" but had no idea Charles Dance was going to be in it. Really looking forward to it. I've also heard about a screen adapatation of "3001" and I'm a little more sceptical about that.
  10. Haven

    Haven Full Member

    The first three Dune books are pretty good, but then the series branches out into an incomprehensible scrawl of books by a lot of different authors, which I just couldn't get into.

    The initial trilogy is pretty damn good tho.
  11. Boreas

    Boreas n log(log n) Staff Member

    This is a pretty fun guide. I'm actually quite glad they included Timothy Zahn's first Star Wars trilogy. On the fantasy side, though, I question what they think of as 'high' and 'low' fantasy. ASoIaF is listed as 'low' but it's a secondary reality and so most definitely 'high'.
    ofer and Khartun like this.
  12. TomTB

    TomTB Administrator Staff Member

    I ended up with Something Wicked This Way Comes by Ray Bradbury. Never heard of it!
  13. Boreas

    Boreas n log(log n) Staff Member

    Very famous horror novel. All his early novels are very famous. It's strange that i haven't read any Bradbury (always keep meaning to) yet I know what all his novels are about and the themes he deals with. I've read more about Ray Bradbury (including interviews) than I have his works (which would be zilch).
  14. Sir Arthur

    Sir Arthur Full Member

    Fun, but not accurate. If you like Harry Potter read Name of the Wind? Also, how can they mention Arthurian Fantasy, and leave out Lyonesse! Criminal!
  15. Boreas

    Boreas n log(log n) Staff Member

    I think they meant it as a step up from Harry Potter because protagonists from both stories are/were "precocious lads at schools of magic". On the whole it's a pretty decent introductory guide. Tons of reading material. Sure, I'd rather substitute some other books for their choices, too, but eh...
    Last edited: May 25, 2015

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