Readers Speak: Science Fiction and Fantasy


Why read scifi or read SFF for

We’ve gotten different perspectives on science fiction and fantasy from a writer, a journal publisher, an illustrator and a master of the genres. Find them here. Now it’s time to get the readers’ perspective.

When I first started on this project in early April, I was both surprised and disheartened.

Surprised at the amount of passion science fiction and fantasy readers have, and the diversity of taste and preferences. It was soon apparent that what makes these genres so enduring and appealing is that they literally have something for everyone.

Then came the disheartening discovery that only a few readers are willing to share their thoughts and opinions (at least with me, even though I see signs of reader discontent quite often). I assumed it was because I’m a writer, or perhaps because I’m really such small fry that I have no way of effectively making their voices heard besides this blog.
But even a whisper can be heard and spread like ripple, and who knows what that wave of sound is doing on the quantum level. I like to think it’s building a tsunami…
I was further disheartened and puzzled, along with Raeleigh, that no other women had shared their thoughts and opinions…I can only speculate on the reason why, and hope that I am wrong.

I am therefore extremely grateful to everyone who took the time to respond, and who were brave enough to speak their mind in a climate where prescription instead of discussion seems to be the growing order of the day.

I’m also grateful to have gotten responses from three continents and a variety of age-groups. This small sampling of readers still point to trends I find worrying, underscore where and why I should cringe as a writer/publisher and generally provided me with much illumination as both reader and writer.

Here’s the list of questions I sent out, and the responses I received.

What makes these genres your favourite?

Bruv: It’s hard to beat the sense of wonder that a well-written sci-fi or (less often) fantasy book can create. Enjoyable and challenging at the same time.

Raeleigh: Reading a novel transports you to another world inside your head. Reading a sci-fi or fantasy novel takes that to the next level. In my opinion, these genres require far more imagination and creativity to create convincing stories than their lit fic companions. I don’t always want to read about the girl or guy next door doing things I could do in my everyday life. Bo.Ring. I do, however, always enjoy being transported to a world I will never be able to touch, see, smell, hear, or feel, except in my own mind. It’s just sort of incredible, isn’t it?

CoryW: Sci-fi and fantasy let us explore contemporary issues in a different context. They also let us explore future or alternate timelines. Good sci-fi and fantasy makes you think, consider different viewpoints or interpretations, and reconsider your worldview. How should humans deal with technology, morality, the Other? And hopefully there’s a fun story and interesting characters as well.

from the SA Science Fiction and Fantasy FB Group
MaxxR mostly enjoys the aspects of space exploration and technology in sci-fi.
For DonaldM it’s all about Ideas. He says, “Spec Fic has always been about the tech or the science on the horizon for the human race and their societies.”
GregS loves the old and new science fiction sagas from Star Trek to Star Wars to Alien Nations, plus some old classic science fiction TV and movies.

What is your biggest bugbear about these genres?

Spanner in the works biggest irritations of sff readers

Bruv: Rubbish covers on the books. You have no idea if the book will be good or not, unless you have read the author before. Jacket descriptions, misleading reviews, etc. don’t help at all! And illustrations can also be completely irrelevant.

Raeleigh: Tropes. I’m particularly irritated by this new romantic pseudo fantasy (fantasy-lite) trope that has become prevalent in YA novels in the past five years or so. Examples are A Court of Thorns and Roses, The Glittering Court, Red Queen, and Throne of Glass (the one that started it all). I actually like the Throne of Glass series (minus Celaena’s obsession with pretty dresses, ugh!), but all of the copy-cats and wannabes that came after? No thanks. These books that recycle the same trope are irritating because they show a lack of originality at best and outright thievery at worst.

CoryW: There are so many to choose from… Top of the list is probably poorly written characters and less than imaginative romantic relationships (aka, the infamous love triangle). Or bad tie-in novels, like the abominations that were tacked onto the original Dune series.

from the SA Science Fiction and Fantasy FB Group
DonaldM’s bugbear is the ‘slap-in-the-slot sameness about imitation and the “unending series” currently being churned out’.
GregS had something similar to say: “I guess my biggest peeve with the genre would be when someone else tries to imitate an author or continue a particular set of works after an author’s death (i.e. Eric van Lustbader’s Jason Bourne series).”

If you had a wishlist for your sci-fi/fantasy reading menu, what would it be?

Bruv: Heinlein, Asimov, Clarke, Cherryh, Bujold-McMaster, Pratchett, Gemmel, Fiest, Eddings, Foster, McKinley

Raeleigh: First, my menu would need to be more like a binder…It would include everything ever written by Peter Clines (Ex-Heroes series, The Fold) and Ernest Cline (Ready Player One, Armada), including their grocery lists. This menu also needs Tolkien, obviously, as well as Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time series, Orson Scott Card’s Ender’s Game, several things by Neil Gaiman, Anne McCaffrey’s Catteni series and Dragonriders of Pern series, Mercedes Lackey’s everything, R.A. Salvatore’s The Legend of Drizzt series, Gregory Maguire’s books (they are all fairy tales reimagined), Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy, J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter, C.S. Lewis’ The Chronicles of Narnia, Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time quintet, and then some old-school things like H.G. Wells’ The Time Machine and Jules Verne’s entire oeuvre. There are seriously too many. I want all the things.

CoryW: Interesting setting and backstory, believable characters, imaginative storylines with just the right number of twists, and no deus ex machina resolutions. Gibson, Atwood, Pratchett. Original Dune series. Disch’s The Genocides. Niven/Pournell’s Lucifer’s Hammer.

 

How do you discover new writers?

Bruv: Generally I don’t anymore. Browsing book covers at the library or book stores is hit and miss these days, as the cover blurbs are generally misleading. Word of mouth can be good, as you at least have an idea of the preferences of the person who refers something to you.

Raeleigh: I’m fortunate in that they tend to find me. I get soooo many requests for reviews of fantasy novels on my blog. I wish I would get more sci-fi requests since I’m a huge fan of the genre, but mostly I get fantasy requests, so that’s cool! I guess when you say in your preferences that “the world obviously needs more dragons”, people tend to send you their dragon novels. 🙂 I also get a lot of great recommendations from friends on Goodreads and IRL from one of my best guy friends. He’s always reading, and he tends to stick to science fiction, so he rounds out my TBR list on the sci-fi side.

CoryW: Usually, I find new authors through some connection with an author I already like. Or I am referred to them by a friend or media source, especially NPR. For example, I have a friend who really likes Gaiman, so I checked him out. And through Gaiman, I got into Terry Pratchett.

from the SA Science Fiction and Fantasy FB Group
MaxxR said he discovers new writers online, but didn’t elaborate further.
DonaldM sounded like every writers’ dream (or nightmare) when he revealed, “I don’t discover new writers, I stalk them if they are working and producing in a field I find interesting.”
GregS prefers self-discovery. “I’m not particularly picky about what I read so I’ll read anything that looks like science fiction and have found my all time favourite author that way; Anne McCaffrey.”

 

Do you prefer short story anthologies to full length novels? Why?

Bruv: It’s not a case of preferring one over the other. They can both be brilliant, but they deliver different stuff, and you’d read them at different times. Short stories have high impact, and the good ones tend to be mind blowing. Novels allow an idea, or a series of related ideas, to be explored and elaborated on.

Raeleigh: NO. I would much rather read a novel. It’s not that I don’t like short stories, but I prefer to become immersed in a world for hours, days, weeks. That just doesn’t happen with short fiction.

CoryW: I enjoy both, but I tend towards novels. Mainly because anthologies can be hit or miss. There are few experiences better than reading a really good short story. And few experiences more frustrating than following up an excellent short story with an awful one. That said, anthologies are a good way to ‘try out’ or discover new authors.

from the SA Science Fiction and Fantasy FB Group
MaxxR had this to say: “I prefer full length novels and series, as I enjoy following the development of the characters and also the detailed descriptions of the story’s world and technology.”
DonaldM had no preference, saying that both had a place in his library.
GregS liked both anthologies and novels, but prefers novels over short stories.

Do you enjoy serials and series, or stand-alone books the most? Why?

Bruv: I generally prefer stand-alone books to serials or series. It’s often impossible to get hold of a series or serial in the correct order. Stand-alone books also have to be written to a higher standard – the ideas must be fully developed and elaborated in the book, and so the story must be well edited. Serials often have little substance, with the stories padded out to novel format.

Raeleigh: I love series for the same reason I prefer a novel to a short story – immersion in that series’ universe.

CoryW: Series, for the simple fact that there’s more to read. A good novel presents a multitude of possibilities, few of which can be fully explored in a single book. However, I expect each novel in a series to be a complete and independent work on its own, rather than simply setting up a cliffhanger. Ironically, this means I usually prefer series that did not start out as a series (Gibson’s Neuromancer trilogy or Atwood’s Maddaddam trilogy). Either that or a set of stories that share a setting and characters but isn’t necessarily written as a series in the traditional sense (Pratchett’s Discworld books).

from the SA Science Fiction and Fantasy FB Group
DonaldM was all for stand-alones, taking completion even further when he stated, “Never serials or series…the story must start, continue and finish, if it takes more than two novels… it probably needs a good edit.”
GregS prefers series, but only if they’re coherent.

What do you, as a long time reader of these genres, need from us writers?

Bruv: Well-written stories, and maybe something of a return to the hard-science, astronomy/physics driven stories. More space opera!

Raeleigh: I know it’s difficult because nothing is really new anymore, but I need more originality. But, if you insist on reusing a trope or a plot type, I need a novel or series that is error-free, with compelling prose and dialogue, and action that moves the story forward – quick pacing is always better in my opinion. Please, for the love of everything, stop with the love triangles. In fact, if you’re writing a fantasy adventure novel (which is mostly what I read), just drop the romance subplot altogether. It’s not necessary.

CoryW: Something that makes me think, laugh, and get involved emotionally or intellectually with the stories, settings, and characters. Present new ways of looking at things. And don’t make your characters too ‘smooth’; let them be fallible. Heinlein’s overconfident, one sided characters make me groan. As does most of his dialogue. Make the dialogue believable.

If you had the ear of a sci-fi/fantasy publisher for one minute, what you say to them?

Bruv: Stop the madness with the never-ending series of badly-written rubbish. Publish some decent stand-alone books, or at least series where each novel can is complete by itself, and can be read in any order. This can be done – the Vorkosigan saga is a good example, as is the Alliance-Union universe stories.

Raeleigh: Please stop backing writers who portray women as objects. We are not things, and female characters should serve more of a purpose than to look “hot” in a skin-tight or barely-there outfit. By continuing to publish this type of material you are alienating half of your potential readership. Thanks very much.

CoryW: Just because an author writes one good book does not mean everything they write will be good. Armada was a big step down after Ready Player One. Not all of PKD’s stuff is worth reading, even for die hard fans like me. And for the Great Mother’s sake, I need more good translations of the Strugatsky Brothers’ output. The only English version of Noon, 22nd Century is from the ’80s, probably via East Germany; a questionable translation of a questionable translation. That is unacceptable.

from the SA Science Fiction and Fantasy FB Group
DonaldM
had quite a frustrated, vehement reply: “How about ‘Pull your head out of your **s?’ Publishers seem to be chasing a magic recipe and intent on ramming dross down readers throats these days, rather than doing their jobs; which would be: to find and then publish the best quality work around. This takes skill, not a job title.”
GregS was in agreement. “I don’t know much about publishers but as Donald pointed out they seem to enjoy throwing trash onto the shelves more often than not recently (here a certain recent novel comes to mind…)”.
He also added, “If I was able to talk to a publisher, wow, I’d probably tell them to do a thorough read on the manuscripts they receive, as heartless as that sounds.”

On FB, I had an additional question for Greg with his great love for movies and TV series. I was curious to know if he preferred the novelisation of a story to the movie.
Greg replied with: “I don’t mind novelisations, but in general I prefer the movies; although there are many Star Wars novels which are well worth reading.”

I was also curious about Donald’s opinion on Indie publishers and how he discovers stalkable writers. I found his response enlightening.
“Leenna, I do make a distinction between ‘self-published’ and ‘Independently-published’ that people seem to be missing out here or concatenating the terms. ‘Self’ publishing seems to be an antiquated practice that is all but died out, and ‘Indie’ publishing has largely superseded it. I stalk Indie boards in the Genre I am interested in. Indie publishers seem less interested in keeping a word-count on the shelves for the sake of it, and more interested in producing high-quality non-mainstream works out there. Pre-view options and flexible pricing options make them more attractive than many big-name house publishers, but you won’t see them in the awards lists because of the way those lists are structured. Some Indie houses seem to put out superior quality work in some instances because of the ’boutique’ focus of their target market, and there is a closer dialogue between the publisher and the author.”

Agree with Donald? Let us know in the comments, please.

Give us More what scifi fantasy readers want

About the Readers:

Bruv is the guy who introduced me to sci-fi. He’s usually known as my little brother, and is the person who’s lived and breathed hard-core sci-fi since he first brought Stig Of The Dump home and followed it with Douglas Hill books. He’s therefore my goto for anything sci-fi related, and one of the few people I can have a decent discussion about all the things that were wrong with the Total Recall remake.

Raeleigh is an articulate book blogger and librarian who braves many an Indie eBook alongside the classics. She loves fantasy including dragons and saviour maidens. Find her blog here.

CoryW is a good friend of Raeleigh, and lover of good science fiction.

DonaldM, GregS and MaxxR all belong to the South African Science Fiction and Fantasy FB group.

So there you have it. And now it’s over to you.

What are your thoughts on these questions? What do you want writers and publishers to know? What’s been bugging you the most about your favourite genre?

If we don’t speak up, it’s going to be a steady stream of the same-o-same-o… (no links, please. We all know how to use search engines.)

Oh, and one last poll, if I may…?

 

 

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5 thoughts on “Readers Speak: Science Fiction and Fantasy

  1. This is fantastic! What I think we need more of: FUN science fiction. Raeleigh and CoryW both mentioned Ready Player One–this was a joy to read, and is a good example of what SF needs more of. Another page-turner is Red Rising (though a bit over-the-top violent). What I _really_ want to see is a white-knuckled page-turner that _also_ presents original scientific ideas or explores them in a way that makes us think deeply about ethics. I want Brave New World to have a book baby with The Hunger Games. The Windup Girl _almost_ did this, but lacked page-burning excitement. If anyone has a recommendation, I’m desperate!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. So glad you’ve enjoyed this, Christoph 🙂
      I’ve been wracking my brain trying to think of a recommendation for you, and I can’t. The closest I can think of is: The Running Man by Richard Bachman/Stephen King. I’m sure you already know it 🙂
      As for fun, I almost always end up with an old favourite like: ‘The Stainless Steel Rat Steals the World’ or one of Stasheff’s Warlock books. I’m just as eager to get a hold of some new fun reads, or something like the TV series ‘Helix’.

      Liked by 1 person

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