20 Books to Turn Your Friends into SF Nerds

April 24, 2011

Let's say you're a total SF nerd: Sci-Fi, slipstream, fantasy, you love it all. And you want to share the love, right? Your friends like to read, and you want to geek out with someone about <i>Dune</i> and <i>Lord of the Rings</i>.
Getting your friends into speculative fiction, though, is starting to seem like more trouble than it's worth! They balk at the 1, 137 page <i>LOTR</i> trilogy, and Arthur Clarke's analytical tone puts them off. So what's a nerd to do?
Never fear, fellow nerds! I, SitsUnderWaterfalls, have compiled a neatly organized list, to help you help your literary-minded friends wade into the waters of Science Fiction and Fantasy.
I may have gotten a bit carried away, so feel free to just skim for ideas.

<b>Start With short Stories</b>

I myself got into SF because of some great short story collections. Short stories are great because you can read them in one sitting and they can pack a powerful punch! Plus, if one doesn't appeal to you, the next one in the book might be incredibly engaging.

<i> I, Robot. </i> by Isaac Asimov

Each story has a simple premise: There's a world with humans and robots, and the robots must follow three laws to serve and protect humans. So how could it go wrong? With robots who do everything from babysit your children to run for elected officials, quite a lot, it turns out. As the related stories progress, the society shifts and evolves.

Great for a reader who enjoyed <i>The Matrix</i> or the <i>Terminator</i> films, but is maybe unsure of sci-fi literature.

<i>Good Bones and Simple Murders</i> by Margaret Atwood

Atwood's super-short stories tackle everything from alien moths to fairy tales in ways that are poignant, creepy, or hilarious—sometimes all at once!

Great for someone who likes gender issues and fast-paced narrative.

<i>Maps in a Mirror</i> by Orsen Scott Card

I'll say this for Card: he sure knows how to blow a mind. From the slightly creepy to the terrifyingly bizarre, Card is a master of building tension and creating an ominous mood. Some of the stories, like the heartbreaking "Unaccompanied Sonata," about a musician in a society where he's forbidden to play or sing, are more mournful and emotional, while the macabre "A Thousand Deaths" could give you nightmares.

<i> The Martian Chronicles</i> by Ray Bradbury

This poetic collection of stories tells the strange, dream-like saga of mankind's exploration of mars. Bradbury paints a picture exotic enough to enchant us, yet familiar enough to hit us close to home.

Good for readers who like adventure novels or books about American Indians style mythology.

<i> The Collected Short Stories of Philip K. Dick</i> by Philip K. Dick

Philp K. Dick knows the government is about to destroy us and has a knack for getting into other…people's?...heads. From humans to dogs to aliens of all kinds, Dick's short stories are a brilliant mix of mystery, action, and paranoia.

Good for people who liked films based off his work (<i>Blade Runner, Minority Report, Paycheck</i>, ect.) or for people who like the X-files and listen to Coast to Coast radio.

<i>Unlocking the Air</i> by Ursula K. LeGuin

A mix of realism and fantasy, LeGuin brilliantly creates dynamic, relatable characters in even the shortest of stories. The magic elements sometimes go unnoticed until after the story is over, because of how tightly they're woven into the fabric of the narrative.

Good for friends who like Jodi Piccoult or other "family drama" type novels.

<i>Fragile Things</i> by Neil Gaiman

Step into the fantasy worlds of Gaiman's mind and feel the air crackle with magic. From a place where people can turn into sunlight to a Sherlock Holmes who lives in the Cthulu Universe, every word in the story seems poised and ready to pounce.

Good for friends who like narrative poetry, fairy tales, or non-twilight vampire fiction.

<b>Have a Good Laugh!</b>

One of the biggest misconceptions about Speculative Fiction is that it's all serious, all the time. But that's simply not true! Try to get the comedian in your crew into some of these books.

<i>The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy</i> by Douglas Adams

In the first chapter, the world is blown up. Against all probability, the lone human survivor is the nervous, tea-loving chap Arthur Dent, who becomes Earth's first intergalactic hitchhiker. In a plot filled with zany twists and turns, Dent and his newfound friends traverse the galaxy in a chaotic and, in all likelihood, pointless ride. It's still a helluva lot of fun, though, and maybe, just maybe, has flashes of brilliant insight.

Good for friends who like ADD humor and weird things.

<i>The Discworld Novels</i> by Terry Pratchett.

Discworld is a flat, pizza-shaped world, perched on the back of four enormous elephants who stand on the back of an even larger turtle. Other than that, it's suspiciously similar to Earth.

Pratchett satirizes and parodies everything from University life to politics to the conventions of Fantasy literature and fairy tales. Even though there are dragons, wizards, witches, and gods, the real brilliance lies in the subtle observations Pratchett makes about people and the way they think. That, the hilarious clash between magical and scientific progress, endearingly awkward and goofy characters, and clever puns. Oh the puns.

Good for friends who like Cark Hiassen or other satirists. You can start anywhere in the series, but I'd begin with <i>Soul Music</i> or <i>Interesting Times</i>.

<i>The Bloodsucking Fiends Trilogy</i> by Christopher Moore

Or, really, anything by Christopher Moore. Unlike the <i>Discworld</i> series, which makes me feel a little smarter after I read it, Moore's novels are almost a guilty pleasure. I feel like Moore has a "crazy-awesome-weird-ideas" hat that he pulls things out of, and when he picks he stuff he feels compelled to use it just so when people ask about the book he's writing, he say say:
"It's about this dumb angel that accidentally causes a zombie apocalypse and there's an insane Amazon woman who might be the only one who can stop it. Oh, and none of that would've happened if a young divorcee hadn't beaten Santa Claus to death with a shovel."

That would be <i>The Stupidest Angel</i>, by the way.

They sometimes get crass or vulgar because of the first-person narrative, (which can also get a bit annoying if the narrator of a chapter has a limited teenage vocabulary) but I have never read a single one of his books without at least a chuckle.

Good for friends who hate Twilight and/or "feel good" books. I mentioned the <i>Bloodsucking Fiends</i> trilogy because it's probably his most well-known, and it was quite funny.

<b> Dystopia it Up!</b>

For some reason, a good number of people don't think dystopian novels should count as SF. The only reason I can seem to find is that they don't want to include books they've read in school. Yet, these books are not only great reads, they also are a good bridge between SF and realism.
<i>Fahenheit 451</i> by Ray Bradbury

Bradbury's poetic imagery evokes a world where people suffer alone and silent, pain brought on by their self-imposed isolation. Art and life have become nothing but fleeting emotion without meaning, and the protagonist burn books.

A haunting picture of what may become our future, but sown with a seed of hope for a culture's awakening.

<i>The Ender Quartet*</i> by Orsen Scott Card

In the most intense and compelling of Card's works, young Ender Wiggin is a third child conceived with a destiny—he must save the world from an alien race. Yet, after the aliens are destroyed, he's confronted with the burden of xenocide on his conscience and seeks to make amends.

Part a mind-games tech-fest, part cultural allegory, part passionate love-story, the Ender Quartet is a science-fiction epic.

*technically now it's "<i>The Ender Saga</i>, as Card can't seem to leave that particular universe alone. But the Ender Quartet is a complete story-arc.

<i> The Handmaid's Tale</i> by Margaret Atwood

In the aftermath of a nuclear war, an oppressive, misogynistic society rises up, controlling people through an intense theocracy. Offred tells the tale of how the oppressors came to power and how she plans to escape.

A terrifying parable, this book might be one for your feminist friend.

<i>Oryx and Crake</i> by Margaret Atwood

Her best-known and most exciting work, <i>Oryx and Crake</i> and its sequel, <i>The Year of the Flood</i>, are about a society that has descended perilously close to anarchy, and chronicles the twisted tale of those who bring on the apocalypse and how people survive the aftermath.

A lot of neat technology and a chaotic atmosphere make this book an exhilarating read. Good for friends who are into genetics or are interested in Science vs. Religion debates. Or perhaps just like fast-paced adventure.

<i>V for Vendetta</i> by Alan Moore

In an oppressive dystopian England, only one person is determined to stand up for truth and freedom: a masked terrorist known only as V. After getting mixed up with him, heroine Evee is down a rabbit hole of mysteries and secrets that may never come to an end.

Darkly chilling and thought-provoking, this is one of Moore's best graphic novels. Good for friends who liked the movie, like postmodern gothic, and like feeling creeped out.

<b> Other Forays into the Realm of SF…</b>

The rest of this is just novels that I think are good to bridge the gap with that didn't seem to fit in any other category. Enjoy!

<i>The Host</i> by Stephenie Meyer

When an alien race takes over the bodies of humans, (a la "Invasion of the Body Snatchers"), some humans just refuse shut up and die. This is Mel in a nutshell, and when silvery alien "Wanda" is implanted in her body, Mel does her best to drive her insane. Soon, however, Wanda falls for Mel's fiancé Jared (or at least the picture of him in Mel's mind) and the two are on the run to find the last of the humans in hiding.  

Good for friends who liked the Twilight series, or pretty much any romance novel disguised as another genre.  (For the record, though, the alien stuff is still pretty cool).

<i>American Gods</i> by Neil Gaiman

The story of Shadow, a melancholy, level-headed young man with a mysterious past, who ends up the companion of the Norse god Odin. Soon his life course is altered in ways he could never have imagined as he traverses an American landscape as seen through the eyes of every deity from Anansi to Easter and ends up caught in a war between the gods.

With brilliantly compelling characters, imagery both surreal and heartrendingly emotional, and an edge-of-your-seat climax, <i>Gods</i> is a great introduction into Gaiman's work, as well as the landscape of contemporary fantasy.

<i>Watchmen</i> by Alan Moore

Pretty much all of Moore's graphic novels are brilliant examples of SF. <i>Whatchmen</i>, however, is the shining capstone of his work. In an alt-history version of the '80s, the world's eccentrics have taken to vigilantism, be it with technological weapons, brilliant intellegince actual superpowers, or sheer force of will. Will these morally ambiguous "superheroes" save the world, or will they beget its destruction?

Good for friends who like Batman or other darker superheroes.

Well, that's about it guys. If you can't find a book on here to get your friends into SF, there may be no hope for them. But, hey, more for the rest of us!

The author's comments:
I lot of people ask me for recommendations of books. I thought this'd be a good start ;)

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