Think that science fiction is for teenage boys and adults who like to wear costumes? That it requires a degree in astrophysics to understand? That the characters are thinner than cardboard cutouts? Think again. Here are some science fiction choices that should go down well with literary book groups. These are choices with compelling, complex characters and science that an English major won’t find daunting. They are full of interesting ideas and will generate complex emotions that should create a strong discussion.
For readers of drama, coming-of-age stories, character-driven fiction and the English novel:
Never Let Me Go, by Kazuo Ishiguro
Two things are clear as this story of a triangle of English school students opens: something isn’t right at Hailsham school and although the differences are minute, this is not the England that we know. As the story of Kathy, Ruth, and Tommy unwinds the reader discovers an alternate future where some young people are bred to be organ donors. In Ishiguro’s capable hands, this story isn’t just a cautionary tale (although it certainly is that), it’s also suspenseful, deeply personal, and heart-rending. The author will make you sympathize with every aspect of these three characters. Ultimately their tragedy will make you appreciate the nobility of the human spirit.
For baby boomers, readers of historical fiction, stories of family and friends, or music lovers:
In War Times, by Kathleen Ann Goonan
Have patience with the first few pages of this novel, which might lead one to think the science is going to be complex. This story of an organic computer that allows limited interaction with alternate strands of history is solid science fiction, but ultimately readers will like it for other reasons: Sam Dance, the novel’s sympathetic narrator, is eyewitness to many of the major events of the last half of the 20th century, from America at the opening of WWII, then D-Day, the concentration camps, the Cold War, and the Kennedy assassination, to name just a few. For music fans, there are scenes that create the most compelling appreciation of jazz I’ve seen in any novel. Best of all, Goonan re-uses her own father’s journal entries lovingly and gracefully as part of Dance’s journal in the novel. These elements are all blended expertly in a suspenseful tale about the impact of great events on the lives of one circle of family and friends.
For readers of thrillers, political fiction, and newshounds:
World War Z, by Max Brooks
Mel’s son has created something deeply original in his first novel: an oral history where each short chapter is the account of one survivor of the zombie wars. Beginning somewhere in China, an infection spreads rapidly around the globe, turning the majority of people into ravenous zombies and changing the geopolitical climate absolutely in a few short months. This tale is scary, exciting, more than a little funny, and utterly original. It rockets readers around the world and never gets dull. You’ll keep reading to find out how the survivors turn the tide in favor of the living. The plague only spreads because of a variety of political gaffes, self-serving lies, and bonehead policies that readers will find all too believable and highly discussable. Of course a zombie novel has violence and horror, so squeamish groups should pick another book.
Some other great choices for groups that don’t usually read science fiction include Elizabeth Moon, Speed of the Dark; Margaret Atwood, Oryx & Crake; Octavia Butler, Kindred; Audrey Niffenegger, The Time Traveler’s Wife; and Mary Doria Russell, The Sparrow.