Get To Know The SF Reader

We’re two thirds of the way through SciFiMonth and I haven’t indulged in a tag yet. That won’t do! Luckily, Maryam the Curious SFF Reader flew to my rescue with BooksWithEmilyFox‘s SF re-imagining of the Get To Know The Fantasy Reader tag. Step inside my shuttle…

What is the first science fiction you read?

Easy to ask, tough to answer. I have vague memories of reading a series in the school library that involved a small flight of space cadets protecting the planet. I don’t recall aliens – so think space planes on orbital missions and space disasters. Sadly, that’s all I recall. I couldn’t tell you the name of a book or character (I think the word Sun appeared in one of the book titles. Helpful, huh), or even how many books there were (I think I read at least 3 – out of order, inevitably; I don’t think I read them all).

SF that has stayed with me: I still have my copies of The Warriors of Taan and Moondust by Louise Lawrence; and the Tripods featured pretty early on (The White Mountains by John Christopher), although I know I saw the tv show first. Pretty sure these all pre-dated my first encounter with The Day of the Triffids in my early teens.

If you could be the hero/ine of a sci-fi novel, who would be the author and what’s one trope you’d insist be in the story?

Aliette de Bodard, because whatever story she chose to tell I could be sure there would be good tea and tasty food to smooth out the sharp edges of being gently pushed beyond my comfort zone. I’d absolutely insist on the story featuring a sentient spaceship (…and if that means being the sentient spaceship, that’s fine by me).

What SF book have you read this year that you want more people to read?

Sisters of the Vast Black by Lina Rather. Rather’s debut novella has stayed with me in spite of being one of very first books I read this year. It packs a helluva punch for being a bite-size read in a fresh new universe, and I loved the themes and characters.

What is your favourite sci-fi subgenre? What subgenre have you not read much from?

Space opera, although it’s such a general term (ahem, and I apply it so generously and at times inaccurately) that this feels like a cheat. I have a particular – but not exclusive – fondness for stories that centre politics and/or diplomacy, but really I just love spaceships (especially sentient spaceships).

I very rarely read military SF or hard SF. My interest is primarily in characters and society, rather than physics or guns (although both are very welcome to show up in my reading, I don’t generally find them compelling as the main dish). Throw lots of technical terminology at me or focus on action over world-building and character and I’m likely to nod off.

Who is one of your auto-buy sci-fi authors?

While I’m tempted to say I don’t have any – I judge each book on its merits, and even a favourite author will write the odd book that doesn’t appeal – I’d be lying. After all, I bought The Tea Master and the Detective even though I know I don’t enjoy Sherlock Holmes, so Aliette de Bodard clearly qualifies. Becky Chambers is yet to manage to write a book that doesn’t appeal, so I guess she counts too. Yoon Ha Lee is also a strong contender – although I do draw the line based on target age, so I didn’t buy his middle-grade novel.

How do you typically find SF recommendations?

Typically? One of my bookworm, publisher or author friends making enthusiastic noises on Twitter or in a blog post. Since I started a monthly feature focusing on the coming month’s releases, I’ve tripped over a few things I hadn’t previously heard about – but mostly the bookish grapevine is very reliable for flagging up the most exciting reads well in advance.

What is an upcoming sci-fi release you’re excited for?

The two I’m most excited about are The Edge by James Smythe (continuing The Anomaly at last) and a return to Teixcalaan in A Desolation Called Peace by Arkady Martine, out February and March respectively.

What is one misconception about sci-fi you would like to lay to rest?

That it is an inferior form of fiction. Earlier this month, the Folio Society chose to retweet some research suggesting that reading literary fiction makes you better at understanding other people than reading popular fiction. While this wasn’t explicitly a dig at genre fiction, it’s hard not to see headlines like this and roll my eyes.

As ever, there’s a lot more detail behind the headline (never react to the clickbait), but this idea that SF is somehow immature or inferior is pervasive. It doesn’t help when some literary author engages in an SFnal outing and then gets quoted dragging the genre (Ian “it’s just antigrav boots not human dilemmas” McEwan and Emily St John “I don’t write SF, because I don’t write about technology” Mandel leap to mind).

What’s wrong with writing scifi? Nothing. And if you think it’s exclusively about technology and has nothing to say about the human condition, I’d suggest all that literary fiction you’ve read hasn’t made you any better at understanding other people – or books – after all.

If someone had never read sci-fi before and asked you to recommend the first 3 books that come to mind as places to start, what would those recommendations be?

I always start by reminding myself that just because I love a book doesn’t make it a good point of entry into the genre. Likewise, asking someone to start with a doorstop or a 10-book series isn’t generally inviting. So I try to make my recs tactical…

Enjoy crime/conspiracy thrillers? Try Lock In by John Scalzi (although you could do worse than just read the covers of his books until you find one that appeals) or The Shining Girls by Lauren Beukes. If you’re ready to include aliens, grab Polar City Blues by Katharine Kerr.

You like spy novels with political bite? Try Europe in Autumn by Dave Hutchinson – or Tigerman by Nick Harkaway.

More of a fantasy reader? Try space opera focused on diplomacy and world-building such as Golden Witchbreed by Mary Gentle or A Memory Called Empire by Arkady Martine. If you have a taste for the Gothic, go for Gideon the Ninth by Tamsyn Muir.

Enjoyed Hidden Figures and want more stories of women in space science? Try The Calculating Stars by Mary Robinette Kowal.

Have a healthy interest in engineering and like a disaster potboiler? The Martian by Andy Weir.

What’s that, you only wanted 3 places to start? Sorry, not sorry. Hey, did I mention Murderbot yet?

Who is a sci-fi reading content creator you came across recently that you’d like to shout out?

I’m totally going to cheat – come meet the amazing SciFiMonth crew, who are creating awesome SF content each November and most other months!

Tag yourself in to join the fun!