I’ve been a science fiction fan since childhood. I started off with science fiction TV— Star Trek, The Outer Limits, Lost in Space— and the kind of science fiction movie that made it on to ‘Creature Features’, the Saturday night scary movie show.
But science fiction books are better. It was a struggle, as a child, getting in to science fiction books. Neither of my parents read it. In third grade, a boy in my class brought one of the Star Trek novelizations by James Blish. I somehow got my own copy of that book— it was Star Trek 3— before the month was out.
Going beyond novelizations was difficult because one of the first science fiction stories I read— from a collection in a school textbook— was about a spaceship crew that found the star of Bethlehem— a sun went nova, killing a world full of sapient life forms, to mark the birth of Jesus Christ, yay God. That felt too much like propaganda to me.
Another school-approved science fiction story was The Cold Equations, in which a girl I thought was the viewpoint character got spaced out the airlock for being a stowaway on a small ship that didn’t have fuel for two. Depressing.
I have since learned that short stories are the enemy. Short stories are filled with characters that authors feel all right about killing because, after all, the authors haven’t known those characters long. Short stories can be utterly depressing because they are short and the reader hasn’t invested much time or money in them. Avoid short stories at all costs, unless they are stories related to a novel series.
Science fiction novels are better, because the author, like the reader, is more invested in them. Series novels are particularly nice for those of us who grew up on Star Trek or Babylon 5 or the like.
But science fiction novels can do more. TV and movie science fiction is more about the explosions and the special effects. Science fiction television can take the time to be a little thoughtful— the characters can encounter a new world with a new species of sapient life, and take the time to learn about them— perhaps to find out that their initial impressions were wrong, all wrong. But to really experience science fiction as a fiction of ideas, you need to go over to the books.
For those of us thoughtful enough to consider ideas beyond the conventional within the science fiction community, books can have their down side. Many contemporary SF authors are playing to the hateful-atheist crowd these days and in their books, if you find a person of faith, they will prove to be the enemy. If you find a dogmatic, preachy atheist, you’ve found a good guy. So, if you buy your SF books new, keep your receipts. It’s perfectly legitimate to return a book when an author expresses bigotry against your religion, political views or life philosophy. Just don’t read the book while eating Cheetoes.
So, what are some good ways to get a taste of science fiction in book form? I, being a major, obsessive Star Trek geek, started with reading Star Trek novels. They were a cut above most movie/TV tie in fiction, though often restricted by the fact that Paramount owned Star Trek and limited what an author could do with the characters.
Going to an actual bookstore with a decent-sized SF/fantasy section can help because you can browse through the section reading the back cover until you find things that appeal. Or you can find a source for recommendations online. For example, if you read a blog that has given you good recommendations for television and movies, perhaps they also recommend some books.
Here are a few series that I liked that may appeal to you:
- Ender’s Game series by Orson Scott Card. Starts out with a space war against the Buggers, an insect-like race, and goes on, in other volumes, into a period of space colonization. Card is a good author for Christian readers since he is a member of the LDS church and has held prolife and pro-marriage values. And has experienced discrimination within the SF community for it.
- Worldwar/Colonization series by Harry Turtledove. What if we humans gave a World War and the aliens came? This series, with multiple character groups set around the world, gives a panoramic view of a World War Two disrupted by an alien invasion. This series is great for the older history buff, though younger persons won’t get enough World War Two history knowledge to understand the history in these books. The books are not clean as far as sex events are concerned. Also, the author portrays Pope Pius XII as a quisling who helped the aliens conquer Earth, while in real life that pope was a heroic figure who stood up to the Nazis and saved thousands of Jews from the Holocaust. But the series is very readable in spite of this.
- Vatta’s War by Elizabeth Moon. Series of five books featuring the adventures of Ky Vatta, a young woman who got kicked out of her planet’s space academy and was sent off by her family to captain an old trade ship on its last voyage. Decently envisioned worlds, and lots of action including fights with space pirates, mutiny, and the rescue of a cute puppy.
- Amish Vampires in Space by Kerry Nietz. Yes, that’s a real book title. I haven’t read more than the free preview on Kindle, but found it very readable. And, hey, it’s worth the purchase price just to have the book to display in some prominent place in your home.
I hope these recommendations will help some science fiction fans start to explore the world of the novels in our genre, and break free of dependence on big budget Hollywood hyped SF movies in which the explosions are more important than serious SF content.
If you have any great science fiction reads to recommend, please do drop us a comment. We are always searching for Something New to Read.