Monday, November 18, 2013

10 Sci-Fi Novels To Give People Who Hate Sci-Fi

This article originally appeared in Geek Twins, May 2011.

If you're a voracious sci-fi reader, and your friend, family member, or significant other is not, you know the pain. You wish you could share the latest great novel you read, but they just roll their eyes and say, "I don't read science fiction." You've tried introducing them to the greats like Dune or Neuromancer, but they don't get past the first page. This list is for them. Most of these novels are so popular and universal, they put them in the mainstream section of most bookstores. Think of them as appetizers. Once they read these, they may be ready for a deeper novel as the main course.

1. 1984 by George Orwell - Set in a near-future where a fascist government observes and controls every aspect of life, one man struggles to find love and freedom. This novel is the gold standard for dystopian fiction, and made the term "Big Brother" synonymous with oppressive surveillance. In today's world, 1984's themes of privacy and freedom are more relevant than ever.

2. Fatherland by Robert Harris - The idea of an alternate reality where the Nazis won World War II has become a cliche, but I don't think it's ever been done better than Harris did. The novel tells the story of a cop who uncovers the most horrifying (and previously unknown) acts of the Nazi regime. It's so realistic and carefully researched that it won't feel like science fiction.

3. The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood - For women, this novel is more horrifying than any Stephen King novel. Set in a dystopian future where sterility and religious fundamentalism has enslaved American women, the novel chronicles the life of one woman forced to be a breeder for a wealthy couple. Any feminist you know will find it captivating, and the novel will lead to long discussions about the parallels in our daily life.

4. Pattern Recognition by William Gibson - Gibson is known more for his seminal cyberpunk novel Neuromancer, but this was the novel that put him in the mainstream. A young woman with a quirky ability to detect "coolness" finds herself embroiled in a global search to find the source of mysterious footage released on the Internet. Almost nothing is this story is unrealistic (if you accept the idea of an allergy to "coolness"), and is another great novel that your target can read without thinking that it's science fiction.

5. Watchers by Dean Koontz - Is your target a dog lover? Tell your target that this novel is about a cute dog with human-level intelligence that befriends a lonely ex-soldier, and helps him find love. Is your target a horror fan? Tell him or her this novel is about a horrific monster that stalks the dog and the soldier for revenge. Is your target a conspiracy nut? Tell them it's about a government conspiracy to create a super-intelligent dog and a monstrous creature for the battlefield that subsequently escape and run amok. Just don't tell them it's about genetic engineering. They'll like it just fine.

6. Time and Again by Jack Finney - The story of an artist drafted by a secret government project to travel back in time is about time travel, but is also a time machine. Finney's portrayal of New York in 1882 is so rich that you'll feel like you're being taken there, walking the streets of the city yourself. The romance when the artist who falls in love with someone from the past will also capture the heart.

7. Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand - Set in an alternate 1950's, Rand's novel is technically about a powerful industrialist trying to build a train system with a new form of steel. At its heart, the novel is about a government run amok and capitalists who fight against it. It's controversial, bold, and openly preachy. So why is it good for non-geeks? Because most people focus on the politics and not on the sci-fi premise of an alternate reality and the discovery of a super-strong metal. Rand's Objectivist outlook will outrage some, but any student of philosophy will find a lot to think about.

8. Kindred by Octavia Butler - When a contemporary black woman is forced back in time, she finds herself a slave in the deep South to one of her white ancestors. This novel works for non-geeks, because it isn't about time travel. It's about prejudice and the horrors of slavery, and a haunting reminder of how we've come in terms of racial equality, and how far we still have to go.

9. Jurassic Park by Michael Crichton - The original novel about a theme park where genetically engineered dinosaurs run amok spawned a string of blockbuster movies. If your target liked the movie, tell them the original book is better. Because it really is. There are more dinosaur attacks in the first third of the novel than the entire movie trilogy combined. The book also grapples more with the themes of genetic engineering and bioethics than the movie did.

10. The Lathe of Heaven by Ursula LeGuin - A lot of people who say they don't like sci-fi will admit to enjoying the occasional episode of The Twilight Zone. That's why Lathe could work on them; it's like an extended episode of Twilight Zone. It's about a power-hungry psychiatrist who discovers one of his patients can alter reality with his dreams, and uses him to re-shape the world and make it "better." Much like The Monkey's Paw, the psychiatrist discovers that every change he makes has unexpected and terrible side effects.

Do you know someone who doesn't like sci-fi who you gave one of these books? Do you have any recommendations we might have missed? Let me know in the comments.

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