Best Novel For Beginner Readers – Interested in science fiction, but don’t know where to start? Doubt spaceships, but never really gave them a chance? We asked Nicholas White, director of the World Science Fiction Association’s annual awards, to name five of the best science fiction books that should interest new readers in the genre.
You are the director of the Hugo Awards, a series of literary awards presented annually by the World Science Fiction Association. Needless to say, you yourself are a big science fiction reader. Do you often try to get people interested and excited with science fiction?
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Most of the time it is the opposite. In conversation, you would conclude that it was my interest, and the reaction would be, “Oh, tell me more,” or even, “I’ve read a few science books, what should I read next?” So I don’t need to preach much. Popular culture has largely done that for me. I realize that perhaps the popularity of film and television means that the literary side of science fiction is following it rather than leading it, as it did 45 years ago.
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Of course, the Hugo Awards have been around since 1953, making it the oldest science fiction award in the world. If you check Wikipedia, you’ll find a picture of Guinness World Records giving me a certificate two years ago officially commemorating it. The global science fiction convention goes back even further. It’s been running since 1939, so exactly 80 years – with some breaks during World War II.
The Hugos began some 14 years later as a way to celebrate not only the best science fiction published, but also fan activism. There is always a strong component in celebrating fan writing, fan publishing, fan art. It is very natural. When people feel like they are part of a community, you come together and remember the achievements of that community. And science fiction, perhaps more than any other literary genre, has always had a social feel to it.
Excellent. So, today we will discuss a book that will appeal to the general reader who is interested in getting into science fiction.
Yeah. The story is that a few months ago, one of my friends, who claims not to read science fiction at all, recommended a science fiction book for me to read. So I put out a public call on social media to all my friends for suggestions. In that online poll five books were clearly ahead of everything else – very informal and unscientific. And I definitely agree that these are five very important books that will appeal to people who are already interested in reading, but who may not read much science fiction. I think they help them explore the genre more deeply.
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Full. We recently published an interview about a shortlist for the 2019 Arthur C. Clarke Prize, the British Science Fiction Literary Award, and it was one of our most popular interviews. It shows that there are a lot of people out there—readers looking for the best science fiction.
I myself was a judge for the Arthur C. Clarke Awards four years ago. It’s a small world!
By Frank Herbert Maybe you can give us an idea of the plot and why it’s a good science book to start with.
It’s especially interesting because it marks the transition between the romance of the fictional pulp planet and the engagement with real-world politics. It is the story of a noble young man whose family is murdered and exiled to a desert planet. He makes the same excuse as the desert warrior trying to return and reclaim his inheritance.
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But aside from the main “Hero’s Journey” element, a lot of the book is very much about the environment, the very distinct ecology of the dune planet, which is, as I said, mostly desert, but amazing creatures like giant sandworms. The nature of the relationship between the humans who inhabit this planet and the native creatures is fundamental to how they try to solve the political problems they face.
The book was written at the height of the Swinging Sixties, but it addresses environmental and environmental problems that are more prominent today. As such, the book is quite futuristic – as you’d expect from a sci-fi book – and I think it’s very popular because it carries it so well. A Walk is partly an adventure story, but partly written as a retrospect. It is told in a convincing mythological way. You get the feeling that this is a very important issue.
This is the first book in a series of several books. I have to say, I don’t think any of the others quite live up to the first impression, even though I argued with a die-hard fan who told me I was completely wrong about that.
Planet Dune, and how visually complex it is, makes it an immersive reading experience. Do you think that’s part of the fun of reading science fiction? Stepping out of everyday life into a different, fully realized world?
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Exactly. I work in European politics in my day job. I am a lobbyist in Brussels. It is intense and exposes me to very important high-level situations every day. I like a bit of escapism at the end of the day, but I also like something that speaks to my interests – the political and, increasingly, environmental issues that are becoming so important in the world. So yes, for me, it’s a temptation to escape. But I also like to feel an intellectual edge behind it. Some emotional attractions that take you to a new world of creation. I think that’s true for all five books we’re talking about.
Yes, I think a lot of people can relate. Actually some of the things that you said
About broader political issues and intellectual upliftment – prompts my next sci-fi book as well,
, which has to be one of my favorite books of all time. So let’s get to this, the first Ursula Le Guin book you want to talk about.
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It’s sex, something I think we’re all deeply interested in on the most personal level.
It is a world where the inhabitants are humans, or very close to humans, except that they are often genderless. They can change to a boy or a girl for a few days a month and that’s the point where the baby is made, if I may say so. Also, there is no social gender hierarchy that we are used to.
The story is about an explorer who comes to visit this planet and becomes involved and mixed with its politics. Another thing that can be said, which is another interesting part of the filming, is that the planet is described as very cold. There is a very memorable passage of a desperate attempt to escape through an ice field.
Both the new climate and society are beautifully portrayed by Ursula Le Guin, who was one of the greatest science fiction writers of the 20th century. One returns again and again to the issue of gender. This is not just a political adventure set among the primitive inhabitants of a cold planet. It’s a space that forces us to challenge and question some of the things most of us consider so fundamental to our human identity, and perhaps show us that there are other ways to think about these things. .
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Yeah. It makes me reexamine almost every personal interaction I’ve ever had. I think this novel made me think about gender more deeply than a feminist pamphlet.
As I said, I work in Europe. There are languages like Hungarian and Finnish that I’ve come into contact with that don’t actually have grammatical gender. And it is noteworthy that Finland was the first country in Europe where women voted. I wonder if these two things are related? It’s a closed world for those of us who don’t speak Hungarian or Finnish, which is most of us. Ursula Le Guin can open up this question for an English-speaking audience, or indeed for an audience that speaks any language with gendered pronouns.
Again, it’s a political book, but it’s a bit dated compared to the first two because it somewhat reflects the Cold War. Heroes of
Raised on a planet that is one of two twin planets in the solar system that is further away from here, although the solar system where they are in contact with Earth. Einstein’s name is revealed at the end of the novel. The planet where the heroes grew up is basically a communist-socialist utopia, and the twins
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