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.