I learned to really read by sifting through my older brother’s bookshelf. I skipped straight passed the science fiction novels because the covers were awful. I dug into Stephen King, Michael Crichton and I read Ender’s Game without putting the book down to eat, brush my teeth or sleep. I finished it under the covers as the sun came up and it was the most glorious thing I’d ever read. I was 8 and I hated sci-fi.
I held onto this opinion – despite reading quite a few science fiction novels over the years because I always felt as if science-fiction were for boys my age who read only science-fiction and scoffed at other books. I met Chris when I moved to England after University. He was one of those boys when he was a boy. We had many discussions about the merits of science fiction and every time he recommended I read Peter F. Hamilton, David Weber or Vernor Vinge, I’d say, I don’t like science fiction. Yet I carried in by backpack a copy of The Handmaid’s Tale, Flatland, Neuromancer and Snowcrash.
It wasn’t until he finally convinced me to read The Reality Dysfunction (at least it didn’t have a suggestive half-clad woman on the front cover) that I discovered how much I actually did love reading science fiction. The idea of what science fiction is (even when you’ve read a few) and what science fiction actually is are worlds removed. Science fiction is awesome. It really is. Not because of the spaceships or the aliens – but because the best books in the genre makes you think about the world. Science fiction, really is literary fiction – but don’t tell anyone that either because that’s another genre with a fringe reputation.
Don’t knock sci-fi until you’ve tried it. And if you decide you don’t like military sci-fi, try cyberbunk. Or a murder mystery. Alternative history or a good zombie apocalypse. First contact novels are often excellent as well and I’m a huge fan of character driven novels. Start with a good one and you won’t be able to put it down.
The best books tell us about ourselves. It makes us feel like we’re the heroes and heroines. They illuminate our character. Who we are. Who we were. Who we might be. Reading every day is a pretty big challenge, but when I can pull out a great new science fiction novel, it’s the not reading stuff that suffers. I’d read all day every day. Wouldn’t you?