Books on the Nightstand discussion

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Sci-fi for people who don't like sci-fi?

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message 1: by Ann (last edited Dec 17, 2008 08:48AM) (new)

Ann (akingman) | 2097 comments Mod
On today's podcast (episode #20), we talk about two books that transcend the sci-fi "genre" and will appeal to readers who typically don't read the category.

I know you guys will have many great suggestions of other books to add to this list. I hope you will share them here.


message 2: by Dottie (last edited Dec 17, 2008 06:35PM) (new)

Dottie (oxymoronid) | 130 comments Can't wait to hear this one! Sounds like a good topic to me -- one of those who are not typically found reading a book that would be categorized as sci-fi. Off to listen.

ETA: Well, I must confess The Sparrow has been on my shelf for the past couple of years -- so far unread. The podcast definitely moved it up several priority levels. My younger daughter has been talking to me about reading Stranger in a Strange Land for around a decade I'd guess -- oh my.


message 3: by Summer (last edited Dec 17, 2008 07:09PM) (new)

Summer | 49 comments I should start out by saying that I enjoy science fiction and fantasy books, but I know the genre(s) are not for everyone. AND I third the recommendation for The Sparrow. Great pick!

I’d like to mention The Time Traveler's Wife. I feel that is accessible for non-science fiction readers. It’s so hard for me to discuss this book without fawning or mentioning spoilers. Yes, there is a time traveler, but it is the least tech-y science fiction possible and is most of all a love story of two people who are devoted to one another despite incredibly unusual circumstances.

I tend to favor really long, preferably multi-volume, epic stories like Dune, Hyperion, and the Otherland series by Tad Williams (City of Golden Shadow Vol. 1) which I think are less accessible for non-science fiction readers. I also love reading retellings of fairy tales (Enchantmentby Orson Scott Card was very well done) and young adult fantasy (The Time Quartet Box Set by Madeline L’Engle is a classic favorite and Abarat, Book 1: Abarat by Clive Barker is a new discovery).

I added some links and you are welcome to click my "ft-sf-f" shelf if you want more recommendations.


message 4: by Ann (new)

Ann (akingman) | 2097 comments Mod
Summer, thanks. It's funny, but I don't think of Time Traveler's Wife as sci-fi at all. Though I admit I only read about 50 pages. Might need to revisit it based on your recommendation.

Good point about the multi-volume epic series. That would be a good reason to put someone off the genre, if that's all they saw or knew.


message 5: by Dottie (new)

Dottie (oxymoronid) | 130 comments Oh, Summer -- now you see, The Time Traveler's Wife is exactly perfect as an out of the norm sci-fi read and one of the few I've read and absolutely cannot say enough good things about!

Let's see. Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451 I read years and years ago and reread later. Discovered some things that second time around that I'd forgotten but decided they did not take me away from my firm opinion that the book is one of the best books ever written. Haven't changed my mind yet either; just reread this one this year and it is stronger than ever in my opinion.

Many years later I finally got around to Bradbury's
Dandelion Wine and soon thereafter Something Wicked This Way Comes and while each has elements of "unreality/fantasy and are billed as sci-fi -- they also are not the normal definition of that for me and again -- loved these.

A.S. Byatt's short tales fall into varying levels of fairytale/fantasy -- just plain odd -- and I fell in love with those when I read them at a friend's suggestion/ravings. I keep nibbling at the edges of fringe writings which could be said to fall into the genre. The biggies though -- I look at, read the blurbs, rave reviews, etc. and pick them up even but always put them down and leave them for another time -- unless they come gift-wrapped -- like Gaiman's Coraline which I also love and I'm the one who does the raving about it!

Hmmm -- it's beginning to look like I read more of this (at least some degree of it) than I believed I did. A great many of these have become favorites within the last decade though Fahrenheit 451 was first read in high school.


message 6: by Summer (new)

Summer | 49 comments But what else can we call a novel in which one of the main characters travels through time?

Dottie, I've only read AS Byatt's Possession. I loved "LaMotte's" fairy stories in it. Are any more of Byatt's works along those lines?


message 7: by Ann (new)

Ann (akingman) | 2097 comments Mod
Dottie, I just bought Gaiman's Coraline for my daughter. It might be too scary for her now, I'm not sure, but if it is, she'll have it when she's ready for it.

Summer - re: time travel. I don't know what else you can call it, but in a future podcast I am going to talk about Diana Gabaldon's OUTLANDER series, which is all about time travel, but tends to be more categorized in romance. I know there's a subgenre of romance called "paranormal" -- I'll have to get a clear definition from an expert on what exactly that entails.


message 8: by Summer (new)

Summer | 49 comments Fair warning: Possible spoilers ahead!

I think that The Time Traveler's Wife and The Sparrow are akin in that the fantastical setting of the stories (time & space travel, respectively) is less important than the enormous issues faced by the characters. The Sparrow also has a strong spiritual thread, but it isn't defined by that.

I found The Time Traveler's Wife very interesting to me at the time (I hope this isn't too much of a spoiler) because Claire has this line where she accuses Henry of turning her weird. You see, he knows future Claire, so he knows who she'll become, what her likes and dislikes are. Should he really be telling her, before she tastes coffee, how she will eventually like it fixed? I found myself at the time thinking of my grandmother, who is forgetting who she was, what her likes and dislikes are. Ought we remind her, or just let her be?


message 9: by Dottie (last edited Dec 17, 2008 08:38PM) (new)

Dottie (oxymoronid) | 130 comments Summer -- While I absolutely loved Possession: A Romance, I'm not sure how I'd compare those tales within that work wtih Byatt's own stories -- ETA: well, that should say Byatt's stand alone stories -- of course the tales in Possession were also Byatt's work -- that book does that to me a lot! Instead, I will suggest you begin with the short stories collection Elementals: Stories of Fire and Ice as it contains the story which hooked me into her at the urging of that friend.




message 10: by Dottie (new)

Dottie (dottiem) | 71 comments As another not a science fiction reader (although I have read all the ones mentioned), I would like to recommend some lighter fair that usually gets filed under fantasy and science fiction. I love the Terry Pratchett series - he does such a good job of commenting on our world even though it might not be held up by elephants on the backs of turtles. And my absolute favorite by Connie Willis - To Say Nothing of the Dog, written as a tribute to a favorite of hers by Jerome K. Jerome - Three Men in a Boat. It is also time travel with some romance thrown in and is one of the funniest books I have read.
Dottie M.


message 11: by Michael (new)

Michael (mkindness) | 537 comments Mod
I have not read most of the books mentioned thus far (except for The Sparrow and Fahrenheit 451, but my wife is reading The Time Traveler's Wife right now and is loving it. She's not a sci-fi reader, though is an occasional sci-fi watcher (Galactica, Doctor Who).


message 12: by Jennifer (new)

Jennifer (jentwist) | 109 comments While I don't think of myself as a big sci-fi reader, The Time Traveler's Wife and To Say Nothing of the Dog are two of my top ten favorite books ever. So I think I'm just partial to time travel.

Ann - I don't know how you put Time Traveler's Wife down after 50 pages. You must pick it up again. (of course, now I've over-hyped it so you will be disappointed...)

Any other titles are out there with great time travel based stories?


message 13: by Dottie (last edited Dec 19, 2008 04:18PM) (new)

Dottie (oxymoronid) | 130 comments I reminded myself of Philip Pullman's Dark Materials Trilogy by picking up a DVD of 'The Golden Compass' in Costco yesterday. Another case of my daughter (the younger one this time) influencing me to read in this genre. She tried for years, bought me a set of paperbacks -- no, two different editions of the set -- and then a special boxed set and it was still another year before I picked them up. Why? I don't know. But they had a huge impact on me and are on the list of all-time favorites. It seems the "right" sci-fi/fantasy --- whatever label --- usually rocks me enough that it becomes a favorite. Still I avoid seeking these out myself for some reason -- odd.


message 14: by Ann (new)

Ann (akingman) | 2097 comments Mod
Dottie M. - I always appreciate your recommendations. I've had a few Connie Willis books on my shelves for awhile - will definitely pick up To Say Nothing of the Dog.

Jennifer, I'm sure it was a mood thing that made me down Time Traveler's Wife. I will try again -- and it's not just you that's overhyped, so no worries! If you haven't read Diana Gabaldon's OUTLANDER series, I highly recommend at least the first book (I've read the 1st 3 in the series).

Dottie M. - I loved the Golden Compass. I'm laughing at the lengths your daughter went to get you to read it! I'm waiting for my daughter to pick it up on her own, which should be soon!


message 15: by Dottie (last edited Dec 19, 2008 06:37PM) (new)

Dottie (oxymoronid) | 130 comments Ann -- since you admit to a sci-fi avoidance -- I forget how you worded it -- I would say a word of warning on the other two books of the trilogy. The ending of the second book made me so upset that I waited another several months before reading the third book. This may be too late for you if you've read the entire trilogy but just so you know ahead for your daughter's reading and can be prepared.


message 16: by Barbara (new)

Barbara My son's girlfriend gave me The Time Traveler's Wife last year for Christmas. I would never have read it on my own. I'm not usually a fan of time travel and it sounded too much like a romance for me. However, I loved it. The writing and general character development are excellent.




message 17: by Josh (last edited Dec 22, 2008 05:55AM) (new)

Josh (jchristie) | 8 comments I'm surprised no one has mentioned Cormac McCarthy's "The Road" as a favorite sci-fi yet, or as one that transcends the genre. Other than that, I tend to think of classics in the genre as open to folks that don't read sci-fi generally - 1984, Brave New World, etc.

On a related note, I would like to sing the praises of Junot Diaz and Michael Chabon, authors who both (in the linked articles) applaud science fiction, graphic novels and fantasy as genres worthy of serious literary discussion and acclaim.


message 18: by Ann (new)

Ann (akingman) | 2097 comments Mod
Wow, Josh, I never in a million years connected The Road with sci fi. Interesting idea. For whatever reason, I think of 'postapocalyptic' as its own sub-genre of fiction.


message 19: by Josh (new)

Josh (jchristie) | 8 comments I tend to lump "speculative" fiction (like postapocalyptica) in along with science fiction, especially since writers like Heinlein used that name for their genre. But I can totally see where you're coming from!


message 20: by Julie (new)

Julie M (woolyjooly) | 283 comments Josh wrote: "I tend to lump "speculative" fiction (like postapocalyptica) in along with science fiction, especially since writers like Heinlein used that name for their genre. But I can totally see where you'r..."

I started reading The Road a week or so ago. Gawd how depressing . . what is at the end of this road?? It will try my patience and my waning holiday spirit to read to the end of this one. Not seeing the genius in this . . tell me I will be rewarded! No. Just tell me it will END . .



message 21: by Ann (new)

Ann (akingman) | 2097 comments Mod
Julie wrote: "Josh wrote: "I tend to lump "speculative" fiction (like postapocalyptica) in along with science fiction, especially since writers like Heinlein used that name for their genre. But I can totally se..."

Julie, hang in there! Or maybe you'd be better off putting it down and picking it up again later, maybe in the spring.

I've come to realize that what you take away from The Road may depend on whether you're a 'glass half full' or 'glass half empty' person. Don't get me wrong ... it's *not* a cheerful book. But I found it to be hopeful in the end. Your mileage may vary.




message 22: by Stephen (new)

Stephen (sawinkler) | 45 comments YES! SCI FI! One of my favorite genres, but admittedly one that is tough for some people to understand (aliens, lasers, etc). Along with the ones mentioned above, I would add Margaret Atwood's "The Handmaid's Tale" (possibly) and "Oryx & Crake" (definitely).

I tend to define SciFi as a story set in a world that doesn't exist, but could, given the invention/presence of the right technology (this includes stories that take place in the past). Fantasy has the same definition, but substitute "magic" for "technology."

Are there actual industry definitions for these genres? I've complained about the way books get shelved before (I envision some alchemical formula involving the title, the cover art, and the author's previous works).


message 23: by Barbara (new)

Barbara As, again, a nonscience fiction fan, I loved Oryx and Crake.


message 24: by Stephen (new)

Stephen (sawinkler) | 45 comments Josh wrote: "I tend to lump "speculative" fiction (like postapocalyptica) in along with science fiction, especially since writers like Heinlein used that name for their genre. But I can totally see where you'r..."

Neal Stephenson uses the term "SpecFic" in Anathem to describe what would be called SciFi in our world. Anathem is a must read for any hard core SciFi/SpecFic reader, IMHO.



message 25: by Josh (last edited Jan 05, 2009 11:42AM) (new)

Josh (jchristie) | 8 comments Stephen wrote: "Are there actual industry definitions for these genres? I've complained about the way books get shelved before (I envision some alchemical formula involving the title, the cover art, and the author's previous works)."

At my store (Sherman's Books in Freeport, Maine), and I'm assuming many others, the defining factor is the genre printed by the publisher on the back. Beyond that, it really is alchemy based on the factors you listed. Title and cover art merit some consideration, but the author's previous work and acclaim among literary critics can really push something to being shelved in General Fic rather than stuck into sci-fi - for example, Cormac McCarthy and Vonnegut will always go into the fiction section at our store, and Orwell and Huxley will go in classics. Series that are written by multiple authors in the same universe (Star Wars, the old and new Dune books, etc) tend to go into sci-fi and fantasy. Not an ideal system, but it does tend to mesh with where customers go to look for a book.


message 26: by Sandi (new)

Sandi (sandikal) | 89 comments I just listened to the podcast today. I have been a science fiction fan since I read "A Wrinkle in Time" when I was in 2nd or 3rd grade, so this topic excited me. I completely agreed with The Sparrow as being a great choice for every reader. I also think it should be read along with the sequel, Children of God.

However, I do not agree with Michael's assessment of Stranger in a Strange Land as a good science fiction choice for general readers. I have to say that this is a book that absolutely did not age well. We had quite a discussion about this book over on the Science Fiction and Fantasy group and an awful lot of us thought it was very dated. For those wanting to read classic science fiction, a better choice might be Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K. Dick. The issues this book raises are still very relevant.

I also really like recommending Connie Willis for general readers. Her books are always fun and thought-provoking.


message 27: by Michael (new)

Michael (mkindness) | 537 comments Mod
Hi Sandi-

Thanks so much for your comments! I'm a little embarrassed to say that I've never read Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?... maybe I should add it to my TBR pile for 2009?


message 28: by Dottie (last edited Jan 05, 2009 01:41PM) (new)

Dottie (oxymoronid) | 130 comments Maybe I should follow along and add it as well -- both of my daughters have long recommended it and true to form I have until now resisted it -- perhaps this is the time to stop resisting a book simply because the dreaded "sci-fi" or "fantasy" label comes up.


message 29: by Michael (new)

Michael Scott (michaelscott) | 3 comments Josh wrote: "I'm surprised no one has mentioned Cormac McCarthy's "The Road" as a favorite sci-fi yet, or as one that transcends the genre. Other than that, I tend to think of classics in the genre as open to ..."

I loved Cormac McCarthy's The Road: the father's efforts made me cry and yet want to read further. It must be noted, however, that The Road is very similar in topic, style, and depth with both Frank Herbert's The White Plague and Brian W. Aldiss's Greybeard.

All the best,

Michael



message 30: by Michael (new)

Michael Scott (michaelscott) | 3 comments Ann wrote: "On today's podcast (episode #20), we talk about two books that transcend the sci-fi "genre" and will appeal to readers who typically don't read the category.

I know you guys will have many great ..."


I thought cross-posting might be allowed, so here is what I wrote in a post just a few minutes ago: you may also want to try the following three books that focus on what it means to be human on a sci background: Strugatsky's Roadside Picnic(humanity and hardship), Arthur C. Clarke's The City and the Stars Paperback (humanity and exploration), and Stanisław Lem's Solaris (humanity and the oneiric).

All the best,

Michael




message 31: by Sandi (new)

Sandi (sandikal) | 89 comments Michael wrote: "Hi Sandi-

Thanks so much for your comments! I'm a little embarrassed to say that I've never read [b:Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?|7082|Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?|Philip K. Dick|..."


I think it's one of those books that you really have to read twice. It's a terrific story, but PKD had a tendency to pack his stories with a lot of detail and meaning that's easy to miss the first time through. I've thoroughly enjoyed everything I've read of his, but I end up scratching my head a lot.



message 32: by Ann (new)

Ann (akingman) | 2097 comments Mod
Michael S. - thanks! You have some great ideas about further sci-fi reading. Thanks for sharing!


message 33: by Michelle (last edited Feb 22, 2009 09:38AM) (new)

Michelle | 1 comments My SF book club members all loved Chabon's The Yiddish Policemen's Union. It won the Hugo award this past year. The SF community considers it alternate history, so it has crossover appeal like The Road, which is classified as apocalyptic. Other books that we've sold from our bookstore's staff picks table (to non-SF readers) are: Alfred Bester's The Demolished Man, Ted Chiang's Stories of Your Life and Others and Ursula K. LeGuin's The Dispossessed.



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