Gateway Science Fiction

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.

Extra Credit, Feb. 7, 2012

Extra Credit, Feb. 7, 2012

In lieu of a book review, it feels like time for a link post. I’ve read plenty of interesting stuff here and there lately, but haven’t really had a forum to share most of it. Since I’m replacing a ~1200 word post with a bunch of links, I will try to engage in each of them a bit and offer commentary beyond, “hey check this thing out.”

The Monsters of MM9 Haikasoru has been on a roll lately, publishing some of the craziest, deepest, funnest stuff from Japan. Their newest release is by recent Seiun winner Yamamoto Hiroshi, the author of The Stories of Ibis. MM9 is a monster story, or rather a story about the Meterological division that measures and classifies the giant monsters that periodically attack Japan. I have yet to get my grubby paws on it, but Haikasoru has posted an essay by the author giving some background to the story. Hopefully I can get a copy soon and post a review.

Military SF on The weekly offerings are always a mixed bag, but when they come through, they really come through. The end of January was Mil SF week for Tor, with reviews and commentary about a whole host of topics. Some of the books are good, some are crap, some articles made me tear out my hair, some were brilliant. I’ll leave it to out readers to decide which is which. Recommended, however, are any articles by or about David Drake. Frequent readers will already know my opinions about Drake, but they bear repeating. Drake is a rare author who is as interesting as the books he writes. The more I hear him talk about his life, the more crazy his books seem. Definitely check those ones out. Also good is the summary of anime SF and the look at Star Blazers (Space Battleship Yamato to the Japan-aware).

The World SF Blog Without highlighting a particular article, this page is a treasure trove of the obscure and off the wall. Where else can you find a report on the Hungarian Science Fiction Convention or an article about Israeli pulp novels on display at Arizona State?

My Favourite Reads of 2011 at Walker of Worlds. This is a page I came across recently, forgot how, but I was happy to see this list. I wasn’t really paying attention to new releases last year, so someone else’s summary is welcome. I’ve already put one selection on hold at the library, even if I disagree with some of his choices. (Honor Harrington? Egad.)

Fantasy Armor and Lady Bits Just in case people weren’t clear on the idiocy of chain mail bikinis and molded breast plates, a real live armorer explains it all.

Good Show Sir I’m always hesitant to pass along funny things, because I fear that I’m the last to know about them and everyone else will just say, “That’s dumb, I knew about that in 2009.” (Case in point: until about four days ago, I thought that NyanCat was a Japanese smart phone game.) With that risk acknowledged, I can’t pass up this collection of terrible SFF book covers. I suspect there are a few hidden in my own library somewhere; maybe I should send submissions.

The Difference Between Science Fiction and Fantasy at Contrary Brin. I’ve read David Brin’s ideas on this before, but it never ceases to interest me. A lot of people seem to take issue with this definition, which probably says more about our contradictory beliefs and self-images than about Brin’s penchant for stirring the pot. Still, I wonder if this isn’t the root of my preference for SF.

The Nearest Exoplanets at Karl Schroeder’s blog. This is a late addition. He looks at some recent data and makes startling predictions for the number of planets actually out there. Heartening for those of us that think life is out there somewhere, even if it isn’t whizzing around Nevada in flying saucers.

Two Dudes Twitter Finally, we are at long last Twittering. Join in the fun!

NPR Top 100 Flowchart

Alert readers may remember that NPR released the results of their Top 100 all-time best ever SFF books a couple months ago. Opinions vary on how awesome or moronic the list is (ours is here), but people can probably all agree that the unannotated list is difficult to glean recommendations from. SFSignal to the rescue! Somebody with more time and graphic editing skills than anyone here at Two Dudes collated the entire list into one gigantic flowchart that will decide Your Next Book.

They have even included a printable version, for those needing an excessively nerdy wall hanging or checklist. While the chart doesn’t change my feelings about the list, it certainly makes it easier to figure out. Highly recommended.

Late Edit: “Prodigious Breeders” killed me.

Extra Credit, Aug. 31

Weekly Links
August 31, 2011

Some wild stuff this week. First, John Scalzi’s response to the NPR Top 100.

Speaking of lists, Nonstop Press is releasing Science Fiction: The 101 Best Novels 1985-2010. I wonder how this compares to NPR.

A podcast interview with David Drake that I listened to in preparation for this Friday’s post. Drake just gets more interesting the more I hear about him and this is full of great stuff.

While in my review, I claimed laziness and didn’t look into Nancy Kress and the origins of Probability, I did later. This interview discusses it a bit and introduces The Flowers of Aulit Prison as a source. I was right – she cooked up World first and everything else second.

Anyone curious what a Gundam looks like, this guy has an impressive page dedicated to modeling them.

Finally, while I was searching for that Jo Walton link in the Ghost in the Shellpost, I came across this. I don’t know what world these people are from, but the hackers have rippling chests and no shirts. Jose still hasn’t recovered from seeing this.

Extra Credit, Aug. 18

Weekly Links
August 18, 2011

A funnier review of Flare.

Jefferson Road thinks the new Star Wars novel is worth checking out.

This article on SF Signal has a lot of big words, but is a worthy entry into what seems to be a wider blogosphere debate on “suspension of disbelief.” It obliquely touches on what I think may be the bigger question: Why do some people love SFF and others can’t stand it?

Another couple from Jo Walton, with whom I only agree with about 50% of the time but writes interesting and informative posts, reviews all the Hugo winners. Ever.

A very cool short story by a Korean author I was unfamiliar with, offering alternative narratives of stellar expansion.

More about Tsutsui Yasutaka. This review goes into more depth about the stories, but I suspect he doesn’t know much about Japan. Also, he didn’t like my favorite story of the bunch. (A couple of places slam Tsutsui for misogynism, and I agree that his female characters are shrewish, stupid, or both, but pretty much all of the men suck too. I think he just doesn’t like people.)

Extra Credit, July 21

Weekly Links

July 21, 2011

An interview with Malaysian writer K.S. Augustin on World SF.

SF Signal introduces their favorite future histories for Kirkus. (Part 1 is linked to inside of Part 2, the target of this link.) I would have included Brin’s Uplift as well. Possibly Cordwainer Smith and H. Beam Piper, though I haven’t read all of theirs.

A sale at Haikasoru for their second anniversary. If only I had a Kindle!

Suvudus offering a free Star Wars ebook.

Here’s another review of All You Need is Kill. Sci-fi Cool says almost exactly the same thing I do.

Finally, two links from, which includes good articles and a lot of fluff in its weekly (or so) newsletter. First, Stefan Raets talks about being a Hugo voter.

Next, Game of Thrones Legos! I have thus far avoided George R.R. Martin’s doorstops, but who can say no to Legos?

Extra Credit, July 14

Weekly Links

July 14, 2011


David Drake talks about why translating Latin helps him write better.

A discussion of Big Dumb Objects on SF Signal. Best of all, it’s the first I’ve heard about Greg Benford and Larry Niven collaborating!

An interview with Nick Matamas, the editor for Haikasoru, on SFFWorld.

A fascinating read here about SF in the Developing World, by a Ghanian writer.

He cites this article in the Independent, about changing trends in contemporary SF.

This is hardly news, but Redline should be hitting stores in October.

My initial impressions of io9 aren’t positive, but 10 Unintentionally Hilarious Lines was amusing.

Since I posted a Ken MacLeod review awhile ago, here‘s an interview with him. It’s from 2007 and a bit dated, but still interesting (particularly in light of the ongoing Tea Party mania).