Gateway Science Fiction
Last week, The Little Red Reviewer posted her list of Top 10 Gateway SF titles. I wanted to respond, thought about what to say, thought some more about it, then finally gave up and started writing my own list. The final punishment of pedantry is an increased workload.
This is less an iron-clad list of stuff I would always recommend, and more of a list of books that I think might be accepted by a suspicious friend or relative. Of course, not everyone likes the same things, so I have tried to put some variety into the list, with the target demographic occasionally called out in my comments. It’s also possible that my idea of My First Sony Science Fiction strikes someone else as hopelessly incomprehensible. These are the bold risks we take here at Two Dudes. Finally, astute readers may notice that I am leaving off most of the classics from yesteryear. Dune, Foundation, Starship Troopers, etc. are fine books and may indeed be a good introduction, but I am assuming that people will feel more comfortable with contemporary voices and world views.
Ender’s Game – Orson Scott Card
Let’s just get this one out of the way now, shall we? I haven’t read it since junior high school, but people still say it’s good. It is also, shall we say, in the public consciousness at the moment.
Old Man’s War – John Scalzi
Scalzi is my go to author for Gateway SF. His books are easy to read, funny, well-written, and generally have enough meat on the bones to satisfy newbie and veteran alike. Bonus points for having some of the best non-fiction out as well, as he wages a campaign to rid fandom of its more pernicious elements.
The Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy – Douglas Adams
I’m pretty sure this won’t actually turn many people into SF fans, but it’s definitely a book everyone should read. If I could lay out an inevitable path from Arthur Dent to Greg Egan, my publishing fortune would be assured.
Neuromancer – William Gibson
I’m not sure this is a gateway book, but Gibson’s worlds are not far from our own. The Blue Ant books are actually the recent past now, and I imagine that Neuromancer packs a certain amount of Max Headroom-style 80s nostalgia. These might be enough to usher folks past the lobby. Oddly enough, this book in particular is one of the most important to come out in the last thirty or so years, in terms of genre impact.
Heir to the Empire – Timothy Zahn
I don’t normally recommend tie-ins, but this book starts a trilogy that is widely acknowledged to be the best addition to the Star Wars universe ever put to paper. Much of what later became Canon started from the series.
Hyperion – Dan Simmons
I recommend Hyperion to my more literate friends. Who can say no to The Canterbury Tales in space? And with each story attaching itself to a different subgenre? What about the Keats references? I wouldn’t give this to just anyone as an introduction, but there is definitely a type of reader that would warm to Simmons over most of the other authors on my list.
1632 – Eric Flint
Nor would I recommend this alternate history tale of a West Virginia coal mining town transported to the Hundred Years War to just anyone. Flint is the socialist outlier at reliably militaristic Baen Books and he has a distinctive writing style that probably isn’t for everyone. The rah-rah nature of the book might also put off a number of people, but the community that has grown up around the series is very serious about their extrapolation. With the right audience, this could light a spark.
Japan Sinks – Komatsu Sakyo
This is more for the Japan crowd, but it is available in English. (An English version of the movie also exists, though it was much bigger in Japan.) Not science fiction in the traditional sense, this tale of Japan sinking into the ocean as tectonic plate movements swallow it up is an accessible introduction to one of Japan’s grand masters.
Leviathan’s Wake – James S.A. Corey
I suggest this more out of curiosity than confidence. The book is fairly serious SF, but in the kind of universe easily recognized by those already exposed to Star Wars or Firefly. It also contains vomit zombies, sure to entertain.
There are several others that didn’t make the cut. Among them are series like David Brin’s Uplift and Lois Bujold’s Vorkosigan Saga, listed as much because I’m not sure where to recommend starting as for any other reason. Snowcrash might stand in for Neuromancer, but is longer. (Funnier, though.) Authors like Jack McDevitt, L.E. Modesitt, Jr., and possibly even Iain M. Banks might also qualify. Beyond this, there is a whole host of Military SF that I am ignorant of, but a lot of that seems to be written for a rather isolated community anyway.
Thoughts, anyone? I’ll probably keep turning this over my in head for some time.