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!