Science Fiction and the Joy of Discovering Something New

Ever since I was a kid, I’ve loved reading fantasy novels. I can read and enjoy books outside of the genre, but it’s always been much harder for me to love a book – to become completely engrossed – if it’s not fantasy (that said, I recently read The Help, and it turned out to be one of the exceptions to the rule). Sure, I’ve dabbled in a few other genres, but fantasy is where my heart has always been.

Up until a couple of years ago, however, the spread of other genres I’d sampled had a glaring omission. Science fiction.

Even though I was obsessed with fantasy, I never read any science fiction growing up. This seems especially strange because sci-fi and fantasy books are so often shelved and categorised together, and because I have always adored sci-fi films.

I guess for some odd reason I just didn’t think I’d be into science fiction books. I didn’t think reading sci-fi could be as entertaining as watching it. I deliberately avoided books in the genre. I’m not entirely sure why… perhaps I had a bad experience in my youth with a lack-lustre space opera that I have since forgotten. Perhaps I was given the impression that only men liked sci-fi novels. Perhaps I was just too busy reading fantasy novels.

Regardless, the science fiction novel remained completely uncharted territory for me. Thankfully, after listening to a podcast about science fiction authors a year ago, that changed.

I decided to try and read a few books by some famous science fiction authors. My thinking was that I should give the classics a try, and even if I didn’t like them at least I would emerge more knowledgable about the genre and more equipped to participate in conversations about it. I had already read a few books that I’d describe as more science-fantasy, like The Knife of Never Letting Go, so perhaps that had whet my appetite, but now I was going to get into the serious stuff.

I started with Dune, and I have to admit, it didn’t thrill me. Nevertheless, I continued my foray into the genre and read Ender’s Game… and I absolutely loved that book. I was raving about it and buying copies for friends. Still, I guess I thought that could be a one-off thing, just a fluke that I’d happened to find the one amazing novel in the genre (it was also the first time I tried audiobooks, which turned out to be something else new I loved).

Nevertheless, I kept on with the reading, and while some of the books I read didn’t thrill me as much as they seem to have thrilled other readers (e.g. Dune, Stranger in a Strange Land), others gripped me and had me thinking about them for days after I’d finished them. I was finding books that I loved just as much as I have loved great fantasy novels (e.g. Hyperion, Ender’s Game, The Martian) and also enjoying some science fiction romances (e.g. A Confusion of Princes, These Broken Stars), a sub-genre I hitherto hadn’t realised existed.

And at some point it dawned on me that I was looking forward to reading new science fiction books as much as I was looking forward to reading new fantasy books, at times a little more so because they were something new to me. I was liking them so much that where before I had never even remotely imagined writing something in the science fiction genre, suddenly it was a much less outlandish idea (though the thought of having to explain things with science is still too scary for me to actually attempt it).

Now science fiction has become a regular part of my reading diet.

Of course, I’m still a fantasy nut. I still regularly read and love and write about fantasy. But I guess what the whole experience taught me is that it’s good to occasionally try something a little different – to branch out into something new. Perhaps it won’t be any good, or you’ll realise it’s not your thing (I’ve had that happen several times with other genres). But there’s always a chance you’ll discover something else you love.

After all, if I hadn’t given science fiction a go, there are several mind-blowingly awesome science fiction novels I would have never read… and I know that list is only going to grow.

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2 thoughts on “Science Fiction and the Joy of Discovering Something New

  1. When I was younger, I read anything in my school library — romantic thrillers, SF, fantasy, comics, etc. As time passes on, schedules get busier, and I now read mostly fantasy as a means of keeping up with the field. (It sucks when you come up with what you think is an unique idea and then you learn somebody else already did it recently.)

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    • Yes, nothing worse than finding you’re doing something that’s been done before – I guess that’s also part of the reason I read so much fantasy. I once spoke to someone who not only thought their idea was totally unique, but that they’d come up with a whole new sub-genre, simply because they were trying to write fantasy without having read any!

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