Science Fiction: Where to Start?

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My Sci-Fi Reads + TBR

Warning: This post is not short, but not too long either.

Science fiction has only become especially popular for the YA market recently. Dystopia is only a sub-genre of Science Fiction and I would like to believe that The Hunger Games, Divergent, and The Maze Runner opened more doors for sci-fi in the YA market.

I think the best way to become an avid sci-fi reader is knowing the difference between hard sci-fi and… well, everything else. Not all sci-fi is the same. Hard sci-fi is concerned with scientific accuracy.  For example, The Martian by Andy Weir is considered hard sci-fi. Most of what you see in YA in terms of SF is not hard sci fi. If you love swoon-worthy boys, epic fantasy, and immersive world-building I wouldn’t recommend hard sci-fi. Hard SF is to Literary Fiction as non-hard SF is to Commercial Fiction. There’s a specific craft to writing Hard SF. If you’re not writing hard SF, you can literally do what you want within the realm of scientific possibility (not accuracy). You can have magic in space, you can have parallel universes, time travel and more.

*Soft SF is the opposite of Hard SF but is still realistic and more commonly explores society when technology or science forces them to think or act differently. Because I’m not an expert, I cannot speak on this topic. It doesn’t seem as though YA SF is often categorized as “soft SF”, so don’t think of Cinder or The 5th Wave as “soft SF”.

One of the reasons why I love science fiction so much is because I find the writing straight-forward. I’ve seen enough SF TV shows that most basic terminology doesn’t intimidate me. For example, most actors don’t have a degree in space engineering but they have to say the lines from the script and act like they know what they’re talking about it. If actors do it all the time, I don’t see why I can’t engage in the material myself.  I can understand why SF writing is not straight-forward to others, especially if there’s a lot of info dumping or scientific explanation for everything. Fortunately, that’s not always the case.

Another reason why I like SF so much is because it tends to be just a tad bit more inclusive than fantasy. Let’s be honest— fantasy is pretty white-washed and people rely on Euro-centric themes so they think included people of color is “unrealistic”. A fantasy writer has to be truly creative for me not to think I’m reading a fantasy like every other fantasy. Last year, I was surprised to find that I rated most of the fantasy I read between 1 star to 3.5 stars. I only gave one fantasy series last year a 5 star rating. I’m just having trouble finding fantasy that is truly different.

There are all kinds of SF sub-genres or topics covered in SF: dystopia, fantasy, space opera, aliens, steampunk, futuristic, virtual reality, parallel universe, post-apocalyptic, time travel. The list goes on. I think that’s why I love SF so much. It’s never one size fits all.
I think SF is worth exploring because it’s not a dead genre; it’s a quietly reviving one. You may even think SF is refreshing compared to what you’ve been reading over and over. A lot of times fantasy promises one thing or is pitched as the next George R.R. Martin or the next Tolkien or the next J.K. Rowling and I get so let down every time. With the exception of one book I read, SF books are rarely as over-hyped. This isn’t to say they never get hyped. They do. Just not as much.

When it comes to SF, my expectations are neutral. But when it comes to fantasy, my expectations are always high. All of my expectations are rooted in the fact that I’ve read or watched the Harry Potter series, The Chronicles of Narnia, The Lord of the Rings, and Game of Thrones. Sometimes there is unique material that is inspired by the above series, but for the most part everything else feels like a copycat. THAT being said, I have found several fantasy series that I plan to start this year that I believe will exceed my expectations. I don’t know why the fantasy I read last year didn’t blow me away. Again, this is probably because of the added hype.

The picture shown is not a conclusive list of recommendations! I’m not an expert on the genre because I’m new myself. The hardcore SF buffs can recommend you a lot more. You do have to read a few so-so SFs before you find that one series that hooks you. Some are very slow burn, some too long, some even boring—- but there are good ones. You just might need to switch between adult and YA or between the more serious SF and the more fun ones. Often times a SF book in the YA community will get hyped and then someone will read the book, not like it all, and then they will be completely turned off from SF for good. But usually that book is only one variant of SF out of many other kinds out there.

The nice thing about SF is that there’s a good chance you’ll find a SF book that contains elements you already like. For example, I like fantasy, dystopia, and stories set across the world. I picked up The Bone Season by Samantha Shannon, which is a mash up of futuristic London in a dystopian setting and it’s about a girl with clairvoyant abilities. I’ve never read a dystopia that was also a fantasy set in a modern society. That sort of world-building stood out to me. If you prefer literary fiction but can’t stand tropes and teenage love triangles, I recommend Dark Matter by Blake Crouch. It’s a thriller but also delves into the topic of “multi-verses” as well as charts the main character’s journey in such a believable way that what happens to him still haunts me.

Science-fiction is not “one size fits all”. You don’t have to like sci-fi, but know that you can experience sci-fi literature in a multitude of ways, which is exactly why the genre has grown on me.

Note: I’m not an expert on the genre. The SF genre is too vast for me to cover in detail in a single post, so for the hard core SF lovers this is only one slice of the topic from my personal experience.

Do you like to read SF? What’s your favorite SF book? Do you want to get into SF but don’t know where to start? If you comment below, I’ll recommend a book based on your likes!

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Am I Outgrowing YA Books? (Not a Diss Post)

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I watched several videos on Booktube on the topic of: Am I outgrowing YA? I asked myself the same question. I graduated from college. I’m no longer struggling with the same things teens do today.  What do I do now? I’m not ready to be an adult? I hate adults. Being a teenager is way more fun than struggling with debt and staying in on a Friday night to catch up on The Bachelor. Okay, that’s still fun but not like as fun as exploring the boundaries of what it means to be a teenager. AHHH. What do I read then?!

On a serious note, my least favorite reason for people not reading YA are 1. They only read YA books that were over-hyped on Booktube, therefore found themselves disappointed and 2. They didn’t find YA couplex or meaningful. Those two reasons make me want to explode, however, the other reasons I found gave me a lot to think about.

Videos that made me think about who I am now as an adult reader linked below:

1. 5 Things I Hate in YA Books  2. Growing Out of YA?! 3. My Reading Identity and Growing out of YA

Recently, it’s been brought to my attention that it’s time to give teens more of a voice within the YA community. I did some self-evaluation and decided I’d try to rate YA books with a bit more neutrality. Of course, if I love the book, I’ll praise it with 4 or 5 stars. But if I less than loved it, who cares? Teen books weren’t written for me. I’m not the target audience. The quality of those books should be determined by young readers, not me.

Last year I gave at least 10 of the fantasy books I read less than 4 star ratings. Those books in particular made up roughly 1/3 of my reads in 2017. After realizing I was having trouble enjoying fantasy, I wondered why.  Even the ones that were more diverse and set in less Euro-centric worlds weren’t blowing me away. This year, the first fantasy I picked up was Everless by Sara Holland and I was greatly disappointed. Is fantasy just not working for me anymore? No, I realized. I just need to be challenged.

After reading fantasy pretty much all my life, it seems very few YA authors bring something new to the table. Or when they do, it’s poorly executed or the writing feels more middle-grade than young adult. I looked to my adult fantasy books and realized that I’ve been gravitating toward longer, more complex fantasy. I believe I’m suffering from YA fantasy fatigue. While there is more that is becoming diverse and less Euro-centric, the premises are always the same: a kingdom under threat by some kind of evil, a love story, lengthy training montages, the Chosen One or a dark, brooding boy whose secretly nice, and a lack luster heroine.In college I read a lot of YA Contemporary because it was a way for me to escape. I could jump right in and didn’t feel like I was reading something academic.  But I’m not the target audience anymore.

I don’t think I’ll be picking up too many debut YA fantasy books this year. I’ve read quite a few debut fantasy books last year and I feel like the authors don’t read actual YA  books to know that certain trends and tropes are boring now. You can write your own twist of said tropes, but sometimes I feel like everyone relies too heavily on old fairytales they read as a kid to write fantasy. Nothing is wrong with this, but I’d love to see more fantasy writers bring something new to the table even if they fall back on what they already know about fantasy.

This month I began reading Outlander by Diana Gabaldon. I started off reading it as an audiobook, but ended up buying a physical copy. I thought this 600+ page book would be hard to read, but it isn’t. Do I like big books and cannot lie?  I guess so. Big books used to intimidate me and they still do (never ever will I ever finish Lord of the Rings), but I didn’t realize how much I was limiting myself by avoiding the big, fancy, grown-up books.

I’m not trying to trash Young Adult books. After reading A Game of Thrones, the Throne of Glass series and A Darker Shade of Magic series I find myself wanting less stereotypical fantasy. While A Game of Thrones  is the epitome of medieval, Euro-centric fantasy, it doesn’t fall into the usual tropes. I now know what fantasy can be, what it can live up to, and I refuse to settle.

I love, love, love YA Contemporary. I was having trouble finding anything decent in the post-Twilight and post-Hunger Games era (love triangles, dystopia, vampires… OH MY), but YA Contemporary is making a huge comeback. That being said I’ll continue reading and supporting YA books, but focus more on diverse YA Contemporary.  I’ll also be trying to branch out and research fantasy for my age range. This is a year of taking risks.

Questions: 

The young adult age range is subjective. Some say YA fiction is written for ages 12 to 18, while others say it’s written for 15 to 20-somethings.

  • How do you feel about YA as a teen?
  • How do you feel about YA as an adult?
  • Do you read a mix of both or only stick to one?
  • Do you think books targeted to teens could do more to be original or better written?

Personally, I feel like adults should read YA but with an open mind and without condescension of the material. It should be understood who the target audience is. If you’re 30 years old, you are distancing from what it was like to be an adolescent, therefore teen characters will feel less mature. Teens aren’t supposed to have it all together. Stop expecting that. To be fair, there are some books that even teenagers consider to be cheesy and cliche because the characters are written as caricatures so they don’t feel at all authentic. However, there are important topics that get discussed in YA that wouldn’t be covered otherwise, such as police brutality in The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas. Or what it means to be shy, queer and in-the closet teen like in Simon vs. The Homosapien Agenda by Becky Albertalli.

Representation matters. YA books are where it happens best.

To answer the question: Surprise! I’m not outgrowing YA! I’m outgrowing tropes, cliches, inauthentic characterizations, poor research, and dumbed down writing because the author doesn’t trust their teen readers to be intelligent. Again, if a teen likes those books, I don’t care and I won’t patronize them for what they read. Teenagers deserve a space and voice.

Review: Everless

 

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Summary from Goodreads:

“In the kingdom of Sempera, time is currency—extracted from blood, bound to iron, and consumed to add time to one’s own lifespan. The rich aristocracy, like the Gerlings, tax the poor to the hilt, extending their own lives by centuries.”

Is Everless the new Caraval?

Thoughts:

Last year Caraval by Stephanie Garber— who actually has a blurb on the cover of Sara Hollan’s book Everless — was the most hyped book of 2017 and met with disappointment by many. While I actually gave Caraval a five star rating, many did not understand the appeal. Caraval was released about the same time last year (1/31/17) as Everless (1/2/17) was. At least with Caraval one of the plot points that saved it for others is that there was actual sisterhood represented in the story. I suppose there’s something about the new year that gives people rose-tinted glasses about brand new debuts. There’s less reader burn-out because you just started a new year of reading, which makes me wonder if Everless would have been as successful six months into the year if people had more to compare it to.

I read the first 150 pages of this book. The very first few chapters were interesting, but what eventually followed was not enough to keep me reading. Jules, our main character, is swept away to the kingdom of Sempera to work as a servant in order to earn time to save her father. There is foreshadowing early on that hints that there is more to Jules than meets the eye. Of course she’s going to be the hero. I’m not dumb.

For me to even remotely like a book, it needs to be above average in at least 3 of 4 categories: world-building, dialogue, characters, and overall story.

World-building: It was intriguing and mostly decent, but relied on every other fantasy trope. You know how Cinderella is the most vanilla of fairytales? Well, Everless is pretty vanilla but with sprinkles on top… just enough of something extra to make it interesting.

Dialogue: NO ONE TALKS IN THIS BOOK. Every scene with a new character lasts half a chapter and we’re back into the same stream of consciousness of our 2D main character. At one point, she encounters a childhood friend and I got excited because she might actually have a full conversation with a character Instead? His tongue has been cut out. How convenient. 

Characters: I could tell there’s more that meets the eye with every character but the author didn’t give me enough time to care about why. After reading reviews and accidentally coming across spoilers, I learned that nearly every guess I had about the “twists” were correct. There is ONE twist out of three I didn’t see coming, but that’s because I didn’t read the whole book. Though based on the reviews, I would’ve figured it out anyway.

The Story – NOTHING WAS HAPPENING. I mean, we were getting introduced to the world and learning about Jules and her past. I tried to be patient. Of course, we need an exposition. Of course we need some background. That’s okay. But when we’re finally in the castle and introduced to five different important characters, they just sort of float around as if they aren’t important to the story.

The theme of the rich and the poor, and the excessively wealthy who take from the less fortunate is strong. It’s quite saddening. And while the author uses metaphor to bring up such an important issue, it didn’t feel that far from current events. The pacing isn’t that bad— I just got bored being stick inside the Jules’ head. It’s well-written overall. Just super trope-y for my taste. After reading A Darker Shade of Magic, Shadow and Bone, Throne of Glass and The Bone Season I needed something fresh and clever. Not to mention, the character is supposed to be seventeen years old and she feels like she’s thirteen. For those who don’t have fantasy fatigue and could read just about any fantasy they can their hands on, this book is NOT bad.  I just wish the author didn’t quite literally save the best parts for last (not based on my own knowledge, but what other reviews say).

Rating: N/A – I didn’t finish the book but I’m leaning toward a 2  star first impressions rating.

Note: My thoughts are based on my first impressions of Everless. My reading goal is to never continue something I’m not personally enjoying. I read almost half the story and I felt I quickly gathered what direction the story was going and didn’t feel compelled enough to stick around.

Unless you really don’t like tropes or for the plot to take a backseat for a long time, please don’t be discouraged. Maybe this book wasn’t for me.

Has anyone read this book that felt so-so about it, too? What do you think? Does it get better? Let me know!

–  Vanessa