Guardian Books recently featured the article, 'Five Science Fiction Novels for People who Hate SF'. This title is in-keeping with a slightly annoying tendency of some literature feature writers:- to offer a pre-emptive apology, assuming that readers will be automatically put off by the SF label.
But is this really reflective of what people think? So often has the well-worn, albeit legitimate, argument about SF's resonance with societal issues been stated that it seems contrived to make it the opening gambit of the article. Nevertheless, we are told, 'science fiction is all around us, from clandestine electronic surveillance to robots taking our jobs', echoing J.G. Ballard's 1971 observation that, 'everything is becoming science
fiction. From the margins of an almost invisible literature has sprung the
intact reality of the 20th century'.
In this case the writer, Damien Walter, is obviously an SF fan, so the early disclaimer is soon forgotten because of his evident enthusiasm for the genre. His picks are:
5. China Mountain Zhang by Maureen F. McHugh
4. The Player of Games by Iain M. Banks
3. The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. Le Guin
2. Pattern Recognition by William Gibson
1. The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell
Le Guin's exploration of gender and race issues, Gibson's prophetic vision of the disturbing progress of technology and Banks' end-of-history based adventure story offer plenty for readers to get their teeth into. All things considered, this list is less 'Five SF Novels for people that hate SF', and more five novels for those that enjoy reading (less catchy, I know!) That being said, I recently joined a book group where the first novel we read will be my suggestion of The Female Man by Joanna Russ. It'll be a good opportunity to find out if the old sterotypes about SF come out in a group of voracious, library-based readers. Watch this (outer)space...
UPDATE: November 2015
Apparently others have also found critics' separation of literary and genre fiction frustrating. See the following articles in The Guardian and The Norwich Radical: