Yesterday on Twitter Alison Flood was asking for suggestions of SF&F books for a “you think you don’t like SF but have you tried X” article (I think for the Sunday Times). This is not as easy as it sounds. The temptation, of course, is to recommend great writers and favorite books, but just because we like something it doesn’t mean that other people will.
My article in the latest issue of Salon Futura is all about different ways in which people can be thrown out of a book, have their suspension of disbelief unsuspended. People can say “I don’t read science fiction” for all sorts of reasons. They may do so because they think that reading SF is “childish”, but in that case it doesn’t matter how good the book is, they still won’t like it. On the other hand, they may be one of those people who will happily read a book that is an intense character study, no matter when or where it is set (and will tell you that it is “not science fiction” having read it, even if the characters are all sentient slugs from another galaxy). But for the purposes of Alison’s article I think the safest thing to do is to assume that our target reader is someone who is imagination-impaired, and is therefore likely to lose suspension of disbelief if the story is too fantastical.
Given that, there’s no point in recommending Gene Wolfe’s The Book of the New Sun, or M. John Harrison’s Light, fabulous books though they might be. If you want to recommend China Miéville, suggest The City and the City, not Kraken.
In addition to that Miéville, other books I thought might work are Air by Geoff Ryman, Pattern Recognition by William Gibson, and The Carhullan Army by Sarah Hall. But it is hard coming up with suitable books, and even harder coming up with such books by women. So I decided to pass the question on here. Any suggestions? With any luck, Alison might read this.