Science Fiction/Fantasy

Help the N00B Discover Science Fiction

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Syreeta Barlow

Staff Writer

Syreeta Barlow is a word lover from Atlanta who hordes magazines, edits her text messages, and wants to use her reading (and writing) powers for good. Follow her on Twitter @syreetasmiles.

I thought I could pass for a nerd. I grew up watching Bill Nye the Science Guy and reading Beakman’s World comics. I’d even learned some cool words like “quasar” and “supernova” back in the fourth grade. This was all the preparation I thought I needed in order to handle a new (for me) genre. But no, I wasn’t ready. Not even close. It’s time for me to be real with you guys. You see, I thought I’d like science fiction, but now, I’m on the fence. The worst part is, I thought I’d been reading some form of sci-fi all along, but apparently, I was reading urban fantasy – you know – with vampires and demon hunters.

So when I recently read the nearly 900 pages of real science thrown into a little fiction which is Neal Stephenson’s Seveneves, like a passenger on the Titanic, I was coasting along enjoying the voyage when halfway in, I needed to cry out “Mayday!” because sugar, we were going down. Admittedly, Seveneves proved to be more than the mathematics-littered gobbledygook that I had anticipated, and while the premise and the story were great, I found myself constantly putting the book down to look up newfangled terms, words, and theories. Thanks to the magic that is the internet, I now know what a Knickstelle is, and more about the comet Grigg-Skjellerup than I ever thought I’d need.

I decided to give it another go. This time, I read Paolo Bacigalupi’s The Windup Girl, which was far more my speed, as in the science was a minor character that drove the plot but did not comprise the entire story. I did find myself, cellphone in hand, ready to research whatever foreign words were thrown my way. And I wonder if this is how it will always be when I read, what I suppose is “true” science fiction.

While I realize that science fiction doesn’t consist of author-devised mumbo-jumbo, but actual scientific terminology, it makes me wonder. Either people who read science fiction already know the science, or they have the patience of Job in figuring it out. Because otherwise, how can they possibly get the story when a master’s in astrophysics is needed to understand half of it? Maybe I overestimated my intelligence, and that’s why sci-fi readers pwn the rest of us.

With this question in mind, I ask you, what should complete newbies read to kind of ease their way into the genre without finding themselves questioning their reading comprehension skills? I posed this to a couple I met in the bookstore, who recommended books like Patrick Rothfuss’s The Name of the Wind, Robert Heinlein’s A Stranger in a Strange Land, Douglas Adams’s The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, and book series by Mercedes Lackey and Kevin Hearne. What do you guys think of these recommendations? What would you add to the list? Do you think it’s possible that I can get off this fence, and enjoy science fiction fully? Let’s band together, Rioters, and make a science fiction primer that even Grandma will enjoy!


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