Blogger Panels: Defining Sci-Fi

Sci-Fi November - Hosted by Rinn Reads & Oh, the Books!

Sci-Fi November - Hosted by Rinn Reads & Oh, the Books!

For this year’s Sci-Fi November, Rinn, Kelley, Leanne, and I thought it would be fun to introduce Blogger Panels, inspired by the Blogger Panel feature done by Meg @ Adrift on Vulcan! Every Friday we will feature a blogger panel, alternating between Oh, the Books! and Rinn Reads, where bloggers are asked their opinion on a sci-fi related topic. This week’s question is:

‘How would you define science fiction to someone new to the genre? Where would you tell them to begin?’

Do you have any thoughts in relation to this question? See how they compare to the blogger responses we collected below!

Panelist #1: Andrea @ the Little Red Reviewer

Because I love the wonder and the scenery and the adventure and the inventions and the pure scale of what’s possible in science fiction, I like to describe science fiction as a place where anything is possible. Want to visit an alien planet? No problem. What to see what it’s like to be a cyborg, or have your genes messed with, or have diseases cured before you’re born? Want to go through a wormhole, or meet aliens for the first time? In science fiction, you can do all that and more.

And even better, science fiction is going to invite you to think about all of those things. You’re not just visiting an alien, but the characters need to figure out if they can breathe the air and eat the local plants. How will the germs in the air affect them? Being cybernetic or having a special genetics means you can do things regular humans can’t do, but it also means those regular humans might fear or hate you. Do you want other humans to see you as someone just like them, or do you want them to know you are superior in strength and intellect? If your spaceship can travel through a wormhole, or through a parallel universe, how will you send messages home? If it’s a one way trip, are you sure you want to go? If you find yourself in a first contact situation (one of my favorite subgenres!), what’s the first thing humans should say to aliens? How would we be able to communicate with them?

What it boils down to is that science fiction is a safe place to explore all of these things. It’s a safe place to tell true stories about ourselves and how we might react in different situations. But if you’re new to science fiction, there’s no need to jump in at the deep end. So much science fiction touches on other genres (mystery, coming of age, romance, etc), that it’s easy to find titles that are pretty close to your reading comfort zone. Here are some quick ideas to get you started:

Ready Player OneIf you already YA novels, try Orbital Resonance by John Barnes, Apollo’s Outcasts by Allen Steele, or Ready Player One by Ernest Cline.

If you enjoy stories with some romance, try In The Garden of Iden by Kage Baker, Love Minus Eighty by Will McIntosh, The Best of All Possible Worlds by Karen Lord, or Cordelia’s Honor by Lois McMaster Bujold.

If you enjoy novels that really make you think about the world around us and then hit you right in the feels, try Gemsigns by Stephanie Saulter, Zoo City by Lauren Beukes, or Little Brother by Cory Doctorow.

If you enjoy fast paced thrillers, try Hurricane Fever by Tobias Buckell, Faith by John Love, Defenders by Will McIntosh, or Zodiac by Neal Stephenson.

Panelist #2: Meg @ Adrift on Vulcan

Since science fiction is such a broad genre, let me explain it to any sci-fi newbies out there in my own words (which may or may not be accurate, but let’s pretend that they are xD) :

psy·unce fikt·shun: one of the best genres ever created; a type of writing category capable of blowing your mind with its stories about space travel, spaceships, aliens, futuristic technology, droids, mutants, scientifically-explainable occurrences (well, most of the time), earths set in the future; books in this genre may or may not be prophecies for the future of our world and — aren’t you currriooousss??

Doesn’t that definition just make you shiver in excitement?

In all seriousness, though, science fiction is basically a genre where where oftentimes futuristic technology is involved, and where the fictional events in a book can be explained scientifically… and what makes that so scary is how realistic everything starts to get. For example, what caused a zombie apocalypse could be a fungus that secretes parasitical chemicals into your body disguised as harmless natural fluids* (haha, yup, not stepping barefoot anywhere again). Ever wondered the reason why mankind never traveled to the moon again after Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin? That question’s answered, too.** (That book was a freaking nightmare.)

This, my friends, is the power of science fiction. They may not come true, but isn’t that what books in general are for?

Cinder by Marissa MeyerSo if you’re a newbie to sci-fi, let me give you a few of books to kickstart your eternal love for this amazing genre, listed in no particular order: Cinder by Marissa Meyer, The Host by Stephenie Meyer, Crewel by Gennifer Albin, Parallel by Lauren Miller, All Our Yesterdays by Cristin Terrill, Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card (<– even if the author’s a dick, this book was really good), and Unraveling by Elizabeth Norris.

And, you know, if you want anymore recs, you can always come to me. ;) I didn’t list down THG because that’s pretty much a given!

 * from The Girl With All the Gifts by M.R. Carey
** from 172 Hours on the Moon by Johan Harstad

Panelist #3: Kritika @ Spider Silk Snowflakes

When I was about six years old, my parents were watching The Matrix and I peeked into the room and asked them if it was a fantasy movie. “No, no,” my dad told me, “It’s science fiction.” To me, the dodging bullets and the weird people in sunglasses all looked like something out of this world: fantasy. But my dad explained to me that science fiction means that the “fantasy” parts of the movie were scientifically plausible; even if we didn’t have such technology now, we could.

George Orwell, 1984That definition still seems like a good one to me. It’s hard to define science fiction because it’s just so broad. The first thing anyone thinks of when you say science fiction is space operas (Star Wars, anyone?), but ironically that’s my least favorite kind of science fiction. My favorite kinds of stories are the character-driven kinds, the ones where the moral and ethical dilemmas are just as important as using cool new gadgets to save the world. I love dystopian novels (the classics: 1984, Brave New World, Handmaid’s Tale), books about genetic engineering and biotechnology (The Windup Girl, Oryx and Crake), books about time travel (A Wrinkle in Time, Time Traveler’s Wife), books that make me laugh (The Martian, Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy), and books that make me think about the world for weeks after I’ve finished reading them (all of the above).

I know a lot of people look down on science fiction sometimes because it’s genre fiction or because they think it’s for nerds. I promise you that science fiction has something for everyone. As I said earlier, there are just so many different types of science fiction that even if you don’t like one subgenre, you’re bound to find another one exciting. So open your eyes and try it out. Be prepared to bend your brain and break your heart. Science fiction is not something you want to miss.

Panelist #4: Dana @ The Nerdy Journalist

According to my tenth grade English teacher, science fiction is a genre that criticizes the society of today (or the society in which the author lived). But — sorry Mrs. R — I think that definition is correct but as unimaginative as it gets.

legendSci-fi is an exploration, an adventure that starts with the question “What if?” What if time travel were possible? What if some people were born with genetic mutations that gave them unusual abilities? What if aliens were real? What if a new disease had the ability to ruin society? Pick up a sci-fi book. You’re bound to find an answer in one of the hundreds.

Curiosity is a part of human nature, and exploration (both figurative and literal) is the instinctual response. Every sci-fi novel starts with a “What if?” For example: what if the sea level rose, leaving the continents barely recognizable, and a corrupt government took over America? That’s the question Marie Lu pondered over when she came up with Legend.

Here’s the short version of my response: sci-fi is an answer to a “What if?” The list of “What if?” questions are endless, and so are the novels.

There’s no right book to begin your sci-fi journey. Just like with any other genre, browse Goodreads, check out blogs, ask for recommendations via social media, and find a book that interests you.

Panelist #5: Rachel @ Confessions of a Book Geek

First of all, thank you to Rinn and the girls at Oh, The Books! for having me on the panel.

Hmm… I’ve pondered this question for a while now, and there’s nothing else for it but to dive right in. Hi, my name is Rachel, and I’m pretty sure I’m considered a Sci-Fi Newbie.


Now that’s out of the way, I can begin to tell you why exactly a newbie signed up for Sci-Fi November, and where I started with this huge genre.

One of the main reasons I signed up for this month was to interact with all of the other bloggers who know this genre, and to immerse myself in all things Sci-Fi. What better way to find out if a genre works for you than getting tons of genre-specific recommendations and reading reviews? Another reason was because without events like this, I usually shy-away from genres that intimidate me, but by participating in this month, I’ve voluntarily thrown myself in at the deep end. What can I say? I like a challenge.

According to trusty Wikipedia, Sci-Fi is:

“a genre of fiction dealing with imaginary, but more or less plausible (or at least non-supernatural) content such as; future settings, futuristic science and technology, space travel, aliens, and paranormal abilities. It is similar to, but differs from fantasy in that, within the context of the story, its imaginary elements are largely possible within scientifically established or scientifically postulated laws of nature.”

Now we’ve got that bit down, where does a newbie like myself start?

The Time Traveler's WifeScience Fiction always seems like it’s going to be over-complicated, scientific gobble-de-gook, but it doesn’t have to be. Personally, I started with stories that have plenty of realistic and relatable content so that it isn’t overwhelming. The Time Traveller’s Wife made a great starting point, I thoroughly enjoyed the book and will reread it in the future (see what I did there?).

I also dipped my toe in the waters of alien invasion with Malinda Lo’s Adaptation, which I really enjoyed, and I plan to read The 5th Wave soon. It’s such a firm favourite, how could I resist? Other books I’ve heard good things about that seem right up my alley (and a great place for a newbie to start), include The Host, A Wrinkle In Time and Dissonance (though there is a Fantasy element in that one too).

I will admit that I tried The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy, a cult Sci-Fi classic, and it really didn’t work for me. I think that’s an important thing to consider when trying out the Sci-Fi genre – parts of it won’t work for everyone, and that’s no reason to get discouraged. I’ve even heard fellow bloggers say they dislike Sci-Fi but then go on to gush about books that are Sci-Fi themed. They’ve really connected with Sci-Fi books, without even knowing it! I recently read the entire Delirium series without realising it’s categorised as Science Fiction (assuming Goodreads is correct, of course!).

So my advice to newbies is this – seek out reviews and recommendations from people you trust, and then dive in! ;)

What do you think? How do you define science fiction? Which books would you recommend to readers who are new to the world of sci-fi? Let us know in the comments below!

Read 13 comments

  1. I made an entire post on the difference between Sci-Fi and Fantasy (which will be up next week) so I’m not going to talk about it that long here in hopes you’ll read my post when it goes up. :P But the main thing is that Sci-Fi is based on science and what could possible happen in the future. Sci-Fi is based on facts and there is no supernatural or fantasy involved. Of course you have Sci-Fi and Fantasy crossovers like Star Wars and a bunch of anime shows I know and love, but it’s pretty easy to see what’s Sci-Fi and Fantasy once you know what to look for.

    Also, I’m reading Ready Player One.

  2. Great article – I enjoyed the different perspectives! (Meg, you may be basing your comments on moon travel on the world of the book, so if so, please ignore me, but there have been multiple manned missions to the moon after Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin.)

  3. I think Meg summed up my entire relationship with Orson Scott Card in that one line. THANK YOU!

    I really liked Kritika’s definition – that’s the easiest and most understandable way I’ve heard sci-fi explained. I’ll have to remember that the next time someone asks me about the difference between fantasy and sci-fi!

  4. These are great and compelling definitions, and I really like all the recommendations. I’ve always liked stories on other worlds — for that “What if” and “anything is possible” element, as well as the chance for a deep immersion in other plausible human connections. That’s why Ursula Le Guin’s The Dispossessed is one of my favorites, which pits a struggling socialist utopia against a highly stratified capitalist system with a sympathetic and brilliant physicist as the central character. I also often recommend two other books: Heinlein’s Starship Troopers, which is more of a military sci-fi adventure with some societal critique, as well as Joe Halderman’s The Forever War, which is a brilliant exploration of war, violence and time written by a Vietnam War vet.

  5. I love reading all the different interpretations. Prior to blogging and to being exposed to some great sic-fi books by other bloggers, when I thought about Sci Fi, I only thought about Star Wars and Star Trek which I’m not a fan of. However I have learnt that it’s so much broader than I ever realised and there are lots of elements that I do love. Some of my favourite reads over the last 12 months have been SciFi and the best thing about finding a new genre that you love is that there is plenty more where that came from!

  6. I’m just reading all the recs and definitions by everybody and I’m loving it so much because I’ve read some of the books and I also really love all the definitions! All the fangirling feels right now. :3

  7. I love that these definitions focus on the speculative nature of sci-fi – the possibilities in humanity and in the universe and the ability to explore any scenario. It’s one of my favorite things about sci-fi :)

    And like Dana and Andrea said, to more than just ask the question but to explore the implications of those questions. To think about what it means to us and what we could become. To offer a reflection back on what we are through a different prism. It’s all so much fun!

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