Science Fiction Books, New Readers, and Exclusion

This post is inspired by this great article from Locus Mag: Kameron Hurley: Making Excuses for Science Fiction, which says:

In SF/F circles, we delight in complexity and sense-of-wonder. We spend millions upon millions of words debating about the slim difference between ‘‘science fiction’’ and ‘‘fantasy.’’ But folks outside of it really couldn’t care less. People outside of the SF/F bubble just want to know, quickly and simply, what it’s about.

No elitism. No BS.

and also:

I often wonder if, in speaking about the books we love the way we do, we’ve created the very ghetto we purport to hate. ‘‘Take us seriously!’’ we say, and then retreat into the familiar world of our sub cultures, insist­ing that only ‘‘real geeks’’ need apply. The broader the appeal of science fiction and fantasy, the more it’s turned inward. After all, if everyone can understand and enjoy the latest hot SF book without reading Heinlein’s entire body of work, well, how good can it really be?

I fear that the language of exclusion, whether we perpetrate it through self-consciousness or a sniff of geeky elitism, is doing the genre more harm than good. Strangling our own potential audience.

This rings very true for me. I’ve been a fan of science fiction for a long time, but most of my consumption of the genre has come through TV, computer games, and movies. Not from books, at least until recently. The few books I did read when I was younger, the Foundation series and a few Star Wars and Star Trek ones, were hardly the hardest of sci-fi settings either.

What I found, when I started to read a lot more space operas, starting a few years ago, was that some books I just bounced straight off. They threw new/made up words at me from page one, often making me very confused as to what they meant and what was going on.

There seemed to be a big assumption with a lot of these books that as a sci-fi fan, I must have read loads of books and be familiar with the literary tropes and styles of the genre. I hate to think how someone who’s only consumed TV sci-fi must react to books like that.

The space operas I’ve been reading that I’ve really enjoyed, The Player of Games being the best example, are the ones that focus on character and story. Sure, there is a rich and interesting universe that the book is set in, but that compliments the story and adds depth to it, instead of being the story itself.

Now I know there will be a lot of people who disagree with me, many of the books that failed the 100 page test for me, Revelation Space and Embassy Town for example, that are very highly regarded and award winning, and they have a lot of fans.

But I still can’t shake the feeling that written sci-fi, of the best quality, could gain a much bigger audience if it put itself in more everyday terms, and focused on the characters and story. That is what I’m hoping to do with my own, and I hope people will enjoy the stories I want to tell.