Rachel Neumeier

Fantasy and Young Adult Fantasy Author

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Okay, so what ARE some really good SF novels for non-SF readers?

Drawing on yesterday’s post, obviously! And, like the Book Bub post, I’m going to try to stick to SF, not fantasy. So I will try to list ten choices I think would have a good chance of working. I’ll start off:

1. Murderbot: All Systems Red. That’s honestly a great choice.

How about something with a literary tone, but not Station Eleven. For example, how about:

2. Kindred or maybe Parable of the Sower by Octavia Butler.

A bit dark, but not too dark, do you think? And Butler was such an outstanding writer. Any book club member who feels dismissive about SF as a genre needs exposure to something that is powerfully written at the sentence level all the way up to the level of themes. Personally, I admire the Lilith’s Brood series the most, but those might have a harder time appealing to readers who aren’t already fans of SF, it seems to me.

I’m not a huge fan of LeGuin, whose books just do not tend to appeal to me, for reasons that are hard to pin down. Well, I don’t tend to really like her protagonists or other characters; I imagine that’s a big part of it. She’s such a fantastic writer, though. How about:

3. The Left Hand of Darkness.

Perhaps the book club members like literary-esque detective novels? China Mieville is a bit hit-and-miss for me, but I loved:

4. The City and the City

Does that count as science fiction? Maybe that counts as fantasy. Well, leave it in for now and see if by the time I get to ten, something else has occurred to me.

Oh, here’s one:

5. The Martian by Andy Weir

It’s exciting, and near-future SF is accessible in a way that a lot of SF isn’t — I mean, accessible to people who may feel some resistance to liking a science fiction novel. This one is hard to resist. Plus there would be a lot to discuss! there’s no character development to speak of — does that matter? Why or why not? Having just one character on stage for a whole lot of the book, how does Weir make that work? Surely people would have fun with that.

Speaking of having fun with a book:

6. Seveneves by Neil Stevenson

I have seldom had more fun arguing about what did and didn’t work and why than with Seveneves. It’s a long book, granted. Still, I think it’s a reasonable contender.

How about a space opera? I hate to suggest to book club members, Oh, you can like SF, but not if it’s got too many yucky SF elements in it! Time travel sure, but not aliens and space ships! To avoid that message, how about picking something that’s a bit reminiscent of the Star Trek universe, but different and perhaps more appealing to modern readers? In other words:

7. The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet by Becky Chambers.

Wouldn’t there be plenty to discus after reading that one? All the AI/Person stuff, and handling secrets, and aliens, an accommodating (or not) the expressed needs of people who are not like you. Lots of good stuff.

If you didn’t pick Kindred by Octavia Butler, then you have room for a different time travel novel. How about:

8. To Say Nothing of the Dog by Connie Willis

It’s funny, it would to readers who like literature set in the late 1800s it would especially appeal to any reader familiar with Three Men in a Boat, and of course it’s very well written.

What are some older titles that are clearly classic SF, but would have a good chance of appealing to modern readers? I’m thinking first of Varley’s Gaia trilogy, but you couldn’t suggest a whole trilogy for a book club, could you?

I’m not crazy about the typical books that appear on lists of SF classics, like Rendezvous with Rama and the Foundation series and Stranger in a Strange Land and all those. I didn’t care for them when I started reading SF and I don’t think most of them aged especially well. Maybe . . . maybe something by a classic older author, but a work that, while not as famous, is perhaps more approachable (and more appealing to me personally). Maybe:

9. Cuckoo’s Egg by C J Cherryh

It’s short, it’s beautifully put together, it is sociological SF rather than space opera, it tells an intimate story rather than trying to go all over the place and do everything. Plus it’s one of my all-time favorites by one of my all-time favorite authors. And available on Kindle these days!

What’s a good choice for the tenth place? Suggest something in the comments that might appeal to non-SF fans who are in your new SF book club:

10. ___________________________

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3 Comments Okay, so what ARE some really good SF novels for non-SF readers?

  1. Rachel

    Oh, yes, good idea! Yes, something by Bujold. If not Shards of Honor, then perhaps Warrior’s Apprentice.

  2. Pet Mack

    Connie Willis has any number of good choices. Just about any of her novellas, her short story collection “Impossible Things”, and Domesday book. She’s such a good writer.
    John Brunner ‘Total Eclipse’ is brilliant, probably the best cautionary tale style SF books I have ever read.
    And of course
    Arthur C Clark 2001: Space Odyssey (yes it is a movie.)

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