You tell us: Do you read science fiction?

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OCT 1, 2012 — I’ve met many women who don’t read science fiction. They might enjoy supernatural, fantasy or historical romance. But anything with aliens, robots, space ships or lasers, don’t bother to beam them up, Scotty.

Reasons for their dislike include a lack of characters to whom they relate, pervasive misogyny in the genre, absence of emotional depth or romance, too much violence, and too many boring descriptions of aliens, machines and technology.

I’m a woman who likes science fiction, sci-fi, SF, or whatever you want to call it. There are women who write great futuristic stories for Carina Press. And I meet women at science fiction events. Yet, even there, I hear a lot of “I only became interested after watching Firefly with my boyfriend.” Or they don’t read the stuff, they just like steampunk cosplay, anime, RPGs or video games.

Maybe I should keep this to myself, since I’m a science fiction author, but I don’t read a lot of science fiction, either. I’m turning into a fan of steampunk, but steampunk is kind of a weird cross-genre thing that can be science fiction-y … or supernatural, fantasy, romance, historical, horror, mystery, Western and just about anything else.

For the purposes of this question, I’m mainly talking about futuristic lasers-pew pew science fiction.

I grew up with Star Wars, Buck Rogers, Battlestar Gallactica, Alien, Terminator and Star Trek. As a kid, I read my dad’s Heinlein books and Omni magazines, though I preferred Bradbury’s Something Wicked This Way Comes to his Martian Chronicles, and Michael Moorcock to Isaac Asimov, so I guess I had steampunk/supernatural leanings even then. My doctor is the Ninth Doctor and my favorite TV characters are Jayne Cobb, G’kar and Gul Dukat – all from science fiction shows.

Yet, when I settle down with a book, I tend to chose fantasy, romance, classics or non-fiction. With maybe a dash of supernatural. And I spent most of my life writing non-fiction or fantasy. Which is why I’m still a little surprised that my first published novel, Stellarnet Rebel, is science fiction — as is my second, Stellarnet Prince, coming out next month. And I have a third Stellarnet Something WIP. How did that happen? (I’m being sarcastic, but… no, really, how did that happen?)

I’ve had several female readers say, “I don’t usually like science fiction, but I loved Stellarnet Rebel.”

So, here I am wondering what’s up with that — not with my books, specifically, but the genre in general. I’m addressing women, because I have yet to hear a man say, “I don’t like science fiction.” But, if you’re a man, I’d like to hear from you, too.

You tell us: Do you read science fiction – hard, soft, military, cyberpunk, futuristic, apocalyptic, space opera? If not, what turns you off of the genre? And if you do, what are some of your favorite titles and why?

J.L. Hilton is the author of the Stellarnet Series, a regular blogger for Contact-Infinite Futures, and an artist whose work is featured in the books “Steampunk Style Jewelry” and “1000 Steampunk Creations.”

* I know some people use “science fiction” and “sci-fi” interchangeably, while others make a distinction between the two. I’ve also received conflicting information about the abbreviated “SF” — it’s used in place of “science fiction” and also “speculative fiction,” in different circles. I’ve chosen to just use “science fiction” throughout, but you’re welcome to substitute your favorite term, abbreviation or euphemism as you read.

28 thoughts on “You tell us: Do you read science fiction?”

  1. Hillary says:

    I like to read, and therefore I like to read science fiction. :)

    My favorites are probably cyberpunk and…whatever you call Ian M. Banks’ Culture novels. Space opera except when it’s not? I also like Ann Agguire’s Sirantha Jax series. Love the depiction of grimspace, and the voice is addictive.

  2. Val_Roberts says:

    Ah, science fiction. I read it. I write it (my first Carina title, The Valmont Contingency, releases today).

    My favorite science fiction for women would be the Miles Vorkosigan series by Lois McMaster Bujold. I thought about writing a space Regency novel for several years before I realized she had already done an entire series of them, and done a much better job than I ever could.

    Good book noise.

  3. Cherie Braun says:

    My mother was a fan of SF, and my first SF book was Brave New World (and I must say that as a 12-year old, there was a lot about that book I didn’t get!) I’ve read all different types within the genre, but what I like best would be hard, or stories about different cultures, i.e. most of Sheri Tepper. I did some of my graduate work on history of SF, and my final dissertation was on themes of dystopia. I can yammer on about it ad infinitum if allowed, or at least until most people’s eyes glaze over!

  4. Mary McKay-Eaton says:

    I’ve read a little bit of everything. Asimov. Heinlein. Clarke. Verne. H. G. Wells. Edgar Rice Burrows. C. J. Cherryh. Paul Hogan. More than I can count or recall, really, even without including sf-fantasy authors like Anne McCaffery and Marion Zimmer Bradley, Piers Anthony, and others. Thanks to Star Wars and Star Trek, I couldn’t get enough as a teen. And as an adult, shows like Babylon5 and Firefly have only stoked those fires hotter.

    Looking strictly at the authors/shows/movies I keep coming *back* to, I tend toward those who build up alien worlds and/or cultures with all the lovely crunchy details, or have a scrappy underdog character (preferably female), or flat-out space opera with battles and gratuitous explosions. I love stories with twisty plot arcs and bread crumb trails, too, so if I can get those in my science fiction, I’m in hog-heaven. C. J. Cherryh and Babylon5 filled that bill for me.

    I think in the end, however, it’s ore important that the characters are done well and I think they are more interesting if the author tackles broader themes like the nature of humanity and being human. Love and loss, sacrifice and reward, defeat and triumph, fighting for something greater than oneself, and the human costs of all the above.

    Science fiction appeals to me because it is the one genre that allows you to tackle all those themes without making it conform to what’s already happened in history. (And alternate history and Steampunk authors have fun with that, too) No one’s tied down or deprived of options–the future is wide open to the imagination. I think science fiction gives you license to tackle subjects like racism or gender where everyone can view it. Star Trek and Alien Nation really made good use of that and I loved both those shows because of it.

  5. Definite SF reader here, yo. Though I _do_ tend to default to SF written by women! Hands down, my favorite SF author is Julie Czerneda, who excels at using her real-life biology expertise to create deeply awesome alien races. I’ve also read Kathleen Ann Goonan and enjoyed her (particularly her novel The Bones of Time), Sharon Shinn (Samaria books, though several of her other standalones as well), and Ann Aguirre.

    I’ve also however appreciated James Knapp’s Revivors series (I’m a sucker for clever takes on zombies), and while it’s an older novel I quite liked Walter John Williams’ Aristoi. I DO love me some space opera!

    I just chugged through Carina’s own 47 Echo and A Line in the Ice this past weekend, though. I read John Scalzi’s Fuzzy Nation earlier this year, as well as the H. Beam Piper novel it was based on, Little Fuzzy. And I’ve got to get caught up with the Stellarnet book too. :D

  6. I love SF of all kinds, from the ‘harder’ Lem/Asimov stuff to the ‘softer’ stuff by Ursula Le Guin and Andre Norton. Having just discovered Neil Stephenson, I’m having fun catching up on his back catalogue. Oh and I second that vote for Aristoi. That’s a favourite of mine.

  7. Marci Byers says:

    I was reading juvenile Heinlein when all the other girls in my class were reading horse story stories. Being the only disabled student in school I was already odd. It wasn’t til I was an adult that I realized I picked up SciFi because there were worlds out there where I might be cured and “normal”. But by then I was hooked.

  8. Stephe says:

    I’ve read, watched, and loved SciFi for as long as I can remember A Wrinkle In Time got me started on that kick back when I was a kid. Some of my favorite names now: Bradbury, Heinlein, Asimov, Le Guin, Wells, Burroughs, Piers Anthony. I’m sure I’m forgetting somebody…

  9. J.L. Hilton says:

    Thanks for all of the thoughtful responses! I completely forgot about Wrinkle in Time, et al. I loved those books!

    Sounds like there’s a lot more science fiction for women (and/or written by women) now than in the past — maybe women who don’t read science fiction just don’t realize that the genre is changing and how many options are out there? I hope some non-readers of science fiction will respond, too. I’d love to hear if there’s anything that would entice them to read it.

  10. Inez Kelley says:

    I cut my teeth on SciFi and horror. What I noticed THEN was the covers were aimed at men a large part of the time. Perhaps less men read romance because as they grew up, the covers screamed GIRL BOOK and women read less Sci-fi because the covers screamed BOY BOOK growing up. Just a thought.

  11. I tend to go for alien worlds or space opera more than Hard SF or idea fiction. I love C.J. Cherryh, especially her Atevi series.

    Oddly, I like military SF better than my husband. I’m willing to put up with all the tech infodumps as long as there are some good battles. *cough* David Weber *cough*

    I love Catherine Asaro who melds Hard SF with sexy storylines.

  12. Alfvaen says:

    I used to read a lot more than I do now, though I’ve always split between fantasy and SF. Hands-down favourite would have to be Lois McMaster Bujold, whose excellent Vorkosigan series I’m doing a “reread” blog for (at vorkosiread.wordpress.com). I used to read a lot of hard SF like Larry Niven and Isaac Asimov, but these days it’s more likely to be some sort of space opera stuff. The hard SF and near-future SF tends to be a bit bleak these days, with the possible exception of Robert J. Sawyer, whose WWW trilogy was pretty good.

  13. Stacy Gail says:

    There are two books that have stuck with me my whole reading life — A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle, and The Rowan by Anne McCaffrey. Both stories have strong female leads, and in a world where Han Solo and Luke Skywalker were all the rage, this meant a lot to the little-girl me. :)

    Nowadays, I lean toward earthbound futuristic/cyberpunk, since I’m fascinated with the idea of where we humans are going, while still struggling to hold onto that all-important scrap of humanity. That dichotomy is just so irresistibly yummy to me. If I’m in an offworld mood, I love the Sirantha Jax series with an unholy glee. :)

  14. Becky Black says:

    I’ve loved science fiction since I was taken to see 2001: A Space Odyssey at the cinema while very young. Probably far too young for that particular movie in fact. I’m sure I didn’t understand it (I’m not sure I understand it fully now!) but something about it spoke to me. The milieu maybe you could call it. So after that I read lots of science fiction (my favourite book is still The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy) and of course TV shows and movies.

    I saw Star Wars when I was 10 – possibly the ideal age to see it. I grew up watching and loving Star Trek, Battlestar Galactica, Dr. Who and Blakes 7 (Which none of you US folks have probably ever heard of, but it had a strong influence on me!) The whole idea of humans going out into space, and still being very much humans and taking all their troubles out there with them really appealed to me and still does.

    Sci-fi in TV and cinema also often had women characters in far more interesting roles than in contemporary stories. The writers didn’t always know what to do with them, but there they were, full of potential.

  15. I’ve always read Sci-Fi — cut my teeth on Arthur C. Clarke, Brian Aldiss, HG Wells, Clifford D. Simak, Mary Shelley then Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula Le Guin, Octavia Butler, Cherryh, Connie Willis. Like several others here, I gradually gravitated more towards the women SF writers like Bujold, Moon, Huff, Liz Williams, Kage Baker and Steampunk, though I do read authors such as Mieville and others.

  16. Erastes says:

    Adore it. Love to watch it, particularly and get very excited when a new sci-fi film or tv series comes out. I lost my sci-fi virginity at a very early age to HG Wells and proceeded throughout my young adulthood to wade through all the “masters” of the genre, Asimov (who I find a bit dull), Heinlein (who I adore) Dick, EE Smith and all that kind of thing.

    I haven’t really found a contemporary author who can touch me the way the greats of the golden era did, I have to say. Tried Banks and got a bit bogged down. I am a bit of a pleb I suppose and don’t want a total mathematical explanation of how the FTL drive works, I just want it to work. what I liked about Heinlein is that he knew how it worked, but he only gave you the lightest touch about it.

    As for female roles, it’s never bothered me – but then that’s never bothered me in any genre. Just give me good characters with meaty roles, I don’t care what sex they are.

  17. I read science fiction in all its many wonderful shades–always have. Lately, I’ve been inhaling mostly urban fantasy, but I always try to sneak in a few straight SF throughout the year, a couple dystopians, maybe a soft science fiction here and there. And if I’ve got time, I hit the classics – Asimov, Heinlein, etc.

  18. J.L. Hilton says:

    Inez, I think you’re onto something there. When I attended a recent convention to promote my Stellarnet Series, I had men who saw the bare-chested male on the cover of Stellarnet Prince, and balked. “That looks like a chick book.”

    In decades past, science fiction (and science, too) was seen as a man thing, romance as a woman thing. And that still persists, to some extent, though in my experience woman are doing better at getting into science fiction than men are at getting into romance. Digital books may change that, as no man with an ereader has to walk around carrying a clutch cover for all the world to see. And honestly, don’t we wish more men would read romances? lol

  19. MaryK says:

    When I was a kid I read some Andre Norton and Lester Del Rey type adventure YAs but I never moved on to adult SciFi. Mostly that was because I got a hold of what I call a “message book” which made me forever wary. I also have the impression that SciFi tends to be about politics and wars, and I want to read about personal relationships rather than global ones.

  20. J.L. Hilton says:

    I think that’s a very valid impression, MaryK. I’ve heard it said that it’s not “really” sci-fi unless there’s a message — as in the original Star Trek, when Kirk kissed Uhura and it was the first interracial kiss on US television. I’ve had discussions with readers at conventions, about their perception that there’s a lack of character development in sci-fi stories, or their frustration that a sci-fi story with a focus on character relationships (rather than on the bigger global issues, weapons, technology, aliens, etc) is labeled “soft” sci-fi and not taken as seriously (“by whom?” I might ask).

    When I started writing my Stellarnet Series, I wanted the relationships between the characters to be as important as the war going on (or even more so). I have what I call my “action plot” and I have my “emotional plot” and I weave the two together. Many Carina Press SF/SFR authors do the same — I hope you’ll consider giving them a try. :)

  21. MaryK says:

    The message book I read, at an impressionable age, was a dystopian and the whole plot turned out to be a message so the ending was very much a letdown.

    I do gingerly read SFR because I figure with R there has to be a personal level. :) I’ve really enjoyed the Bujold that I’ve read because she writes great characters, and I have a few other recommended authors on my TBR pile. I’m not averse to SciFi; I enjoy otherworldly stories. I just wish they were more cozy and less epic.

  22. Susan Taylor says:

    I’m a reader with ecclectic tastes yet it’s been the science fiction stories which play upon my imagination through the years. Phillip K. Dick is my favorite, need I say more. Hope Carina Press is willing to publish more sci-fi romance…what could be better??

  23. Amy Blume says:

    I really love science fiction, but I prefer Space Operas to really hard core science fiction. Science fiction can be hard to approach and be “work” to read, often because they aren’t as character driven as other types of stories. I’m thinking of writers like Arthur C. Clark who are of course mad geniuses, but at the same time don’t really have characters that you love. The 2001 series is epic, but David Bowen himself is not someone I would love to meet and spend time with. These sort of books are more about the ideas than the characters and I think that women are driven more by characters that they can love. I think that’s why many women have gotten into the genre through shows like Firefly and Star Trek, because though the science future part is fun, it’s ultimately about the characters that we have an emotional sympathy with and being along the journey besides those people that really inspire women readers. For anyone who loves these sorts of shows I think writers who write more Space Opera like Tanya Huff are great examples of the kind of work that is both speculative and full of heroes and heroins that you can really get behind. I’d love if if someone here would like to suggest some Carina authors that have a similar style. I’ll keep my wallet close. :)

  24. J.L. Hilton says:

    Great point, Amy, I think you’re right. Now you’ve made me notice how I mentioned my favorite characters in this blog post, rather than which show had the best spaceships or the best storyline or the best fight scenes. lol Yes, I have to love the characters or I can’t love the rest!

    And that could definitely be why I get the feedback, “I don’t usually like science fiction, but I like your books…” It’s like Robert Appleton (fellow Carina Press science fiction author) said to me once, in an online discussion on the Contact-Infinite Futures blog: “The relationship between Genny and Duin is the heart of Stellarnet Rebel for me… If you took the love story out, you’d still have strong worldbuilding, but the refugee/rebellion plot wouldn’t have that heart.”

    I’m not familiar with Tanya Huff, but I invite you to visit the Contact-Infinite Futures blog to acquaint yourself with several Carine Press SF/SFR authors who write great characters and great stories http://contactinfinitefutures.wordpress.com — I love this blog because I’m in the company of so many passionate, intelligent and imaginative writers like Robert, and also Ella Drake, Lilly Cain, Kim Knox, Diane Dooley and more. :)

  25. Barbara says:

    I love, love, love good sci-fi. Bujold’s Vorkosigan series is one of my favorites. I love that even her minor characters have a multidimensional quality that gives her books a depth that keeps them on my yearly re-reading list.

    There’s also Old Man’s War, by John Saclzi, Nathan Lowell’s Clipper series, and the Uplift Saga, by David Brin. Speaking of Brin, his essay on the morality of Star Wars vs. that of Star Trek forever changed the way I read (and watch tv/movies).

  26. J.L. Hilton says:

    Barbara, thank you so much for sharing that David Brin essay. I’d never read it before. It’s given me a lot to think about. Thank you!

  27. Lorie says:

    I know I’m late to respond, but my doctor is the tenth, and I LOVE Jayne Cobb. Yes, I am a sci fi geek and freely admit it. My first sci fi book was by Spider Robinson, but there have been sooo many great books, I would never be able to name them all.

    As to a turn off. While I am a tech junky, I dislike it when the author drones on for page about a machine, just like when historical authors spend 3 pages on a dress. I like the characters and action, not the endless description.

  28. J.L. Hilton says:

    I agree, Lorie. Some people like the excessive details but it’s not for me. I admire writers who can speak volumes with a few words.

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