Science Fiction as Literature

Science Fiction is often maligned as a genre of fiction. In truth, there are science fiction works that are lacking and there is exceptionally well written science fiction. I once read a poll by Writer’s Digest where they asked people what types of written material that they liked to read. I was very disheartened that poetry ranked lower than non-fiction books about fishing. The other thing that I found very disheartening was that science fiction was low down on the list as well. People who were asked why they placed science fiction so low on the list responded that it was because they did not know what to read and picking a random novel had proved to be disappointing.

Now, I have to say that walking through the science fiction/fantasy section of a chain bookstore like Borders can be somewhat of a turn off. Science fiction and fantasy book covers leave a great deal to be desired. There often are scantily clad women or spaceships floating in a field of darkened space. Further, as stated above the quality of the fiction can vary dramatically.

I would also say that if one entered the “literary” section of the store there would also be great variance in the quality of the fiction to be found on the shelves. Dickens, Austen, Irving, Chabon, Atwood, Picoult, du Maurier, etc. — all are found in the “literary” section alongside schlock.

So last blog post I said that I would put forth some science fiction titles that I think are literature. They are as follows and I do not believe this is an exhaustive list:

The Physiognomy by Jeffrey Ford
To Say Nothing of the Dog and The Doomsday Book by Connie Willis
Perdido Street Station by China Mieville
The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood
Neuromancer by William Gibson
Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card
1984 by George Orwell
Dandelion Wine, The Martian Chronicles, and Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury
A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess
Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes
A Canticle for Leibowitz by Walter M. Miller
Woman on the Edge of Time by Marge Piercy
The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell
The Forever War by Joe Haldeman
The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula le Guin
Stranger in a Strange Land and The Moon is a Harsh Mistress by Robert Heinlein
The Demolished Man by Alfred Bester
Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep by Philip K. Dick
The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger
The Time Machine, War of the Worlds, and The Invisible Man by H.G. Wells
I, Robot by Isaac Asimov
Contact by Carl Sagan
Childhood’s End by Arthur C. Clarke
The Drought J.G. Ballard
The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams

This is, as I said, not an exhaustive list and it covers decades. Please add to this list and pass it along because I think that science fiction suffers from a bad reputation– a type of ghettoization. Perhaps if more people knew what to reach for on library shelves and at the bookstore, then attitudes towards science fiction might change. And minds might open. In more than one way.

More on this in another post.