Why I Love Sci-Fi/Fantasy

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Lately whenever anyone has asked me “what have you read lately?” my usual reply is some sci-fi or fantasy novel they’ve never heard of. I often wonder if they think I’m strange (maybe for other reasons), or that it’s juvenile. Sometimes I get reactions about the size of the books I’m reading (less obvious since I’ve embraced e-books), but that’s not the reason why I love them—although there is something great about being only part way through a promising story, knowing you have that much more left to savour.

The main reason I love these genres is the capacity to change my perspective and open my mind up to new ideas and worlds. Other genres (and other media) can of course have this effect, but for me the standard of whether a sci-fi/fantasy book is great or not depends on this quality. World-building is something we discuss in pretty much every acquisitions meeting, and I have few greater pleasures than delving into new environments, learning their rules, customs and history, and emerging with an altered view of my own world.

Here are some of my favourites, but I’m always looking for more worlds to devour. What are some of yours?

The Hobbit/Lord of the Rings, Tolkienthe series that started it all for me, and made me realize there was more out there than The Hardy Boys. It took me about 8 months to get through LOTR the first time I tried (c. 13 years old), but it was so worth it.

Dune, Frank Herbert—particularly the first book of the series. It’s a great example of how sci-fi and fantasy can blend into one masterpiece.

The Pebble in the Sky, Isaac Asimov—about a man in the present who is transported 14,000 years into a future where Earth is a radioactive wasteland and a forgotten backwater of the galactic empire.

Midnight’s Children, Salman Rushdie—decidedly controversial and usually thought of as “magic realist,” this book opened my eyes to the use of magic and fantasy as a comment on history.

The Malazan Book of the Fallen, Steven Erikson—this gritty world was created for a role-playing game by two historian/archaeologists, and is hands down the richest environment I’ve yet encountered.

Neuromancer, William Gibson—the quintessential cyberpunk novel that popularized the term “cyberspace.”

11 thoughts on “Why I Love Sci-Fi/Fantasy”

  1. Vanessa says:

    Oh, I love so many of the ones you’ve mentioned!

    Last fall, I took an eighteen hour train trip (Atlanta to NYC) and devoured Kay Kenyon’s Bright of the Sky, the first book in her Entire and the Rose series, along the way. Some wonderful world building and really unique characters. I can’t wait to read the rest of the series! If you haven’t read that one yet, you might like to give it a try. :)

  2. Marian Crane says:

    I just finished reading Neuromancer, a critical oversight in my 35-year sf&f education. It really was a ‘wow’ moment, especially looking back on advancing technologies in real life since the book was published.

    I enjoyed being dropped headlong into the action, and having to parse out worldbuilding and context as I read. That’s common to sf&f, but it throws off many new readers coming to the genre from different styles of writing/plotting.

    I want to beg such readers – and more writers just venturing into sf&f – ‘be fearless!’ Don’t over-explain, don’t settle for just another common trope as a shortcut, and please don’t sell your audience’s attention span short. Tease us and make us work for the story, and we’ll love you for it!

  3. Ilona says:

    I’ve read those books and totally agre that one of the best things about them is the length of story you get.

    Have you any interest in Science Fiction Space Opera? If so there are some great, long length reads out by Lois Bujold McMaster and David Weber. A new author on the block who also writes a great story is Michael R Hicks :D

  4. Brendan_Flattery says:

    @Vanessa: I’ll definitely give that a try, thanks!

    @Marian: I agree completely. This is what I loved the most about Dune.

    @Ilona: I do have interest in Space Opera. It’s one area where I need to explore. Thanks for the recommendations!

  5. Kathy Martin says:

    I second the recommendation for Lois McMaster Bujold. Her Vorkosigan series is wonderful. I also recommend Sharon Lee and Steve Miller’s Liaden Universe books.

  6. Sarah says:

    I love the entire Shannara series by Terry Brooks, especially the earlier groupings. I even went so far as to write a high school essay about how the books are actually set on Earth in the far future, and aren’t just a world the author made up. I wish I still had that essay.

  7. Marian Crane says:

    Another really fun, really sneaky series is Scott Lynch’s ‘Gentleman BAstard’ sequence (Lies of Locke Lamora, Red Seas Under Red Skies)

    Scott writes great characters and intricate plots, in a setting that appears all-fantasy until it slowly dawns on the reader ‘Waitaminute! This is science fiction!’

  8. I third the recommendation for the Vorkosigan saga, and also for Bujold’s fantasy.

    I also love all of Jacqueline Carey’s Kushiel books.

  9. Brendan, Your blog about sci-fi is positively lyrical. I enjoyed it very much. But it did raise a question in my mind. Have you ever thought of cozy mysteries as presenting an “alternate” universe? A different world view from the one you’re inhabiting? Aha, gottcha! The charm of cozies is their world-building and the people you meet there. They create a small environment you can settle into with your cup of tea or your brandy and enjoy “the ride.” No interstellaar space ships needed.

    Anyway, while I love sci-fi, I simply had to make a case for Starship Cozy. Cheers, Jean

  10. Brendan_Flattery says:

    Thanks Jean! You’re absolutely right; all fiction does this, but maybe the difference is one of degree. Perhaps Sci-Fi/Fantasy requires this more than other genres, and lives or dies on how successful the world-building is?

  11. Brendan, You’re absolutely right. All joking aside, in science fiction setting is so vital it might be cosnidered another form of characterization.

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