Gateway SF Part 2
A couple of weeks ago, I banged out a quick post with some suggestions for My First Sony Science Fiction. I hadn’t given it a huge amount of thought, but did want to get something up in reaction to a couple of other thought provoking lists. I had planned it to be a bit of filler in between meatier essays. To my surprise, the list generated more hits and a longer discussion than most of my other recent posts. (Thanks for the signal boost, Leanne!) The resulting conversation has pushed me to embellish the original list a bit.
While a couple of the questions wondered about my lack of classic SF or stealth books that might ease a reader in gently and covertly, I consider these to be valid (and intentional) editorial decisions and stand by them. Less forgivable, and by this I mean hopelessly derelict, was the complete exclusion of female writers from my list. I made a token nod towards non-Anglos, but nary a woman crossed my mind. I owe a thank you to the esteemed Joachim Boaz for calling me to task; somehow I failed utterly to notice. What this says about the state of gender balance in SF is neither positive, nor within the scope of this post, but I am determined to right the wrong somewhat. Thus, some additions to my Gateway SF List.
I will say that there are two immediate reasons for my oversight. First is that I am woefully under-read in female-produced SF. This is something I have started to take concrete steps to remedy, but I am behind the times. It was not an intentional slight (like most, I think), but it was real and I am on a quest to discover books I might have overlooked. (To my benefit, I might add. I’ve read some great stuff lately.) The second reason is that many of the women I have read do not, to my mind, qualify as gateway books. CJ Cherryh, for example, is one of my favorite writers, but I haven’t read anything by her that I would give to a neophyte. I considered Catherine Asaro’s first Skolian Empire book, but then remembered the insane physics taking turns with the romance. Pat Cadigan is amazing, but also a bit like starting one’s recreation drug use with a double hit of LSD.
My brain continues to churn, but for now, here are some suggestions:
Where Late the Sweet Birds Sang – Kate Wilhelm
I just barely finished this (one reason this post is later than I had hoped) and think it might be worthy. It’s a Hugo and Locus winner, so the establishment likes it, it has clones and a post-Apocalypse setting, so it’s real live SF, but the book is mostly about people. There is science, but it is quiet science, and the focus remains always on the characters. Look for more about this in January.
Earthsea – Ursula LeGuin
My LeGuin knowledge is sadly lacking, but I really like the Earthsea books. It’s more fantasy, though they might get readers in the back door. All three of the trilogy deal elegantly with race, growing up, confronting one’s demons and/or impending death, the responsibilities of power, and other such literary stuff.
Vorkosigan Saga – Lois McMaster Bujold
This is one of the most popular series in modern SF, so I assume that they would appeal to more than just the usual dorks. I’ve read a few. I mentioned it in passing on the first list, but wasn’t sure which book to recommend first. I still don’t, but I’m sure somebody out there has an opinion.
Dragonflight – Anne McCaffery
I had my issues with this, but seem to be in the minority. The Pern books also have to rate as one of SFF’s most popular. (They seem fantasy, but the author always maintained that they are pure SF.)
Scattered Along the River of Heaven – Aliette de Bodard
This is a short story, not a novel, but it’s a fantastic introduction to de Bodard. (Her novels are more on the fantasy tip, while much of her short story output is SF.) This too is about people, families, nations in turmoil, and poetry. Can’t say enough about it. This could be set in 1950s China, or in outer space, which is why I give it a nod for El Gateway.
The Handmaid’s Tale – Margaret Atwood
Haven’t actually read this, but two people recommended it in the comments for two different reasons. I’ll trust their opinions (they are smarter than I) and list it here.
Beggars in Spain – Nancy Kress
I really want to get Kress on this list, and not just because she also lives in the Northwest, but nothing I’ve read so far struck me as introductory. Beggars is her most famous work, so on the list it goes, despite me not having read it yet.
Other worthy writers present themselves: Connie Willis, Karen Traviss, Elizabeth Bear, but I haven’t read enough yet. Maybe I will update this a year from now. As it stands, I hope that this mea culpa will suffice. Sorry women of SF! I won’t be a clod again!