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A Countdown of the Most “Feared” Genres: Science Fiction

Post by Joyce Saricks
Posted December 09, 2015 in Readers' Advisory News

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In our recent webcast, Appealing to Genre Readers, we asked all attendees about their "most feared" genres -- those genres always give them pause when working with readers. Joyce Saricks shares her tips for appealing to fans of each of these genres. Don't miss #4: Horror, #3: Westerns, and #2: Christian Fiction.

This is it folks, the #1 most feared genre: Science Fiction.

Here’s the secret to reading Science Fiction: you don’t have to know science or understand the science that underpins a story to appreciate the book. (In fact, you can skim the scientific details, although that wouldn’t be the first thing I’d tell a fan.) Even the biggest science nerd in the world appreciates a good story, and the SF novels that tell good stories are the ones we need to know to share, especially with readers who might not consider themselves fans of the genre. SF fans know what they like and what authors they plan to read and when new titles that we’d better purchase are coming out. They pretty much help themselves, as long as we keep buying books. But right now, especially, there are so many SF books that will attract a wide range of readers if we’re prepared to share them. 

SF is a huge genre -- that’s another reason why it’s so intimidating. So here are three suggested authors to know and three suggested titles.

John Scalzi’s books have an old-fashioned SF storytelling style -- a bit slap-dash and very readable. He writes Military SF, with a touch of the ecological too, and these are filled with colorful, quirky characters, smart dialog, and lots of action. The clever language might appeal to more literary readers, despite the slapdash prose. The multiple titles in the Old Man’s War series are extraordinarily readable.

Neal Stephenson is praised for his command of language, his pleasure in wordplay, and his sense of pure adventure. He’s the current darling of the literary/SF crowd. He writes cyberpunk, alternate history, and steampunk -- all popular subgenres -- and he’s another wonderful storyteller.

Connie Willis is just one of the many women who write SF and have from the early days of the genre. She emphasizes ideas more than scientific details and writes character- and idea-centered tales that involve time travel and alternate history. Her characters are fully drawn and memorable, as are their plights. She tells intriguing stories, often rich in humor, that are provocative as well as entertaining.

By now everyone knows Andy Weir’s The Martian, but even if you’ve seen the movie, the book is well worth reading. It’s a simply splendid story filled with lots of science, but the narrator is so amiable that people like me just nod our heads in understanding. Our hero has been stranded on Mars, but there’s enough Macgyver in him that he works out a way to survive. He narrates this disaster in a wry tone, and we also get the point of view of NASA and the astronauts who left him for dead. In addition to being an addictive SF read, it’s also a very smart readalike for your Clive Cussler and adventure fans.

Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel is a literary/SF blend. This beautifully written, image-rich post-apocalyptic story takes place in the near future, after a flu epidemic has destroyed much of the world’s population. It tells a heartbreaking, haunting, but ultimately hopeful story of a group of actors who travel from outpost to outpost spreading culture through music and Shakespeare’s plays. It’s an upbeat version of Cormac McCarthy’s The Road with involving characters and a non-linear story line that goes back and forth before and after the plague. A stunning novel.

Ernest Cline’s Ready Player One is set in a dystopian near-future with a young man who spends most of his time in a virtual gaming world, but this is more than a book for geeks and gamers. Mystery fans will be intrigued by a puzzle involving this virtual world with clues to follow and uncover, and adventure fans will appreciate the action and the quest of a sort. It might also appeal to more literary readers with its unique style and polished language. It’s a SF novel to share with many of our readers.

And that's it! The top 4 most feared genres. What are yours? Let us know in the comments!

Joyce G. Saricks is a library consultant who worked from 1977 until her retirement in 2004 at the Downers Grove Public Library (IL) where she developed and directed the Literature and Audio Services Department, the heart of which involved working with fiction readers and books. She is the author of three books: Readers’ Advisory Service in the Public Library, Readers’ Advisory Guide to Genre Fiction, and Read On: Audiobooks. She is a columnist and Audio Editor for Booklist, and she also writes for NoveList. She reads voraciously and is addicted to audiobooks. Contact Joyce at and follow her on Twitter at @Booklist_Joyce.