Science Fiction For Non-Readers?


This is one of those questions that has me really stumped. I know there have been posts on the net about this subject, but I can’t say whether it has ever been answered. Often times when this question is asked science fiction fans blurt out a load of typical names and novels; rarely are these suggestions actually good ones (primarily because they’re good suggestions for folks interested in expanding their horizons in the genre rather than for folks who have never liked the genre in the first place).

In thinking about this, I think it’s fair to say that non-readers fall into two categories:

  1. Literary Readers
    Folks who primarily read literary fiction or have particularly sophisticated tastes as far as literature is concerned.  This group tends to hold general disdain for literature that focuses on plot rather than characters or style (and specifically all genre fiction and popular literary forms).
  2. Popular Fiction Readers
    Think anyone who reads the stuff on the best seller’s list, but who have avoided science fiction or fantasy for whatever reason.  Sometimes these sorts of readers have little book clubs and what not where they discuss Dan Brown and other such authors.

I don’t think it’s much of a stretch to get the second group to read SF.  They’ve probably already read a handful of SF books and don’t realize it.  Popular fiction readers often read folks like Stephen King or Dean Koontz or Michael Crichton (the latter two have written a bunch of SF novels).  If they only read romance novels, it’s not that much of a stretch to lead them to paranormal/SF romance or particularly romance-based SF tales.

The first group, however, is the hard one.  How do we get people who literally believe that science fiction is trash to read it?  Do we point them to Isaac Asimov or Arthur C. Clarke?  This is the problem.  When we start making suggestions for non-readers, we often point to classic SF or even popular SF as if the popularity of the title will actually matter.  But most of the titles we automatically suggest are not going to get these folks to read SF.  Period.  It will only serve to reinforce the idea that SF is trash.  This isn’t because SF is actually trash; it’s because this particular group of readers considers considers SF to be so.

So what do we do?  How do we get these folks to even consider SF?  Do we point to 1984 and Margaret Atwood?  What other books are there other than those in the canon (which isn’t that many books anyway)?  I don’t know.  I don’t think there is an easy way through to this group; there are only a handful of books that they’d willingly read (and probably already have), and SF is not exactly rich with stylistically aware prose (in the sense that popular-styles are replaced with more complicated ones).

Do any of you have suggestions?  How would you get through to this group?  Can we get through to this group, or is it hopeless?

About the Author:

Shaun Duke is an aspiring writer, a reviewer, and an academic. He is currently an Assistant Professor of Digital Rhetoric and Writing at Bemidji State University. He received his PhD in English from the University of Florida and studies science fiction, postcolonialism, digital fan cultures, and digital rhetoric.

5 thoughts on “Science Fiction For Non-Readers?

  1. Assuming you’re dealing with reasonably open-minded people, which most are, I don’t know if you could do much better than Robert Charles Wilson’s ‘Spin’, which balances very well the human and science-fictional elements of its narrative. There’s some extremely well-done characterisation and some beautifully mind-expanding sf concepts, so a winner all round, really, I’d say.

  2. Uh, I said: Or, you could NOT waste your time trying to convert snooty idiots with swill for brains. 🙂

    Which pretty much says ‘I doubt it’d work, they’re pretty set’.


    Seriously, learn to read, Shaun.

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