Science fiction book meme

Thursday, February 8th, 2007

One of my favorite blogs (Tenser, said the Tensor - a blog which deftly combines linguistics and science fiction and has a totally great name) recently featured a science fiction book meme. And since I’ve been a “genre” fan for a long time now, I thought it might be fun to jump on the meme bandwagon myself.

Once I got started, I actually found it quite difficult to answer the questions. Though I’ve been on something of a science fiction kick lately with all the Iain M. Banks I’ve been reading, it’s been quite a long time since I was really immersed in the SF/fantasy world. As a result, this blog post will probably please neither non-SF fans (who will think I’m a total nerd) nor hardcore SF fans (who will think I’m a total poseur). So, for the benefit of…hmm, myself, I suppose, here we go!

1. Science fiction, fantasy, or horror?

As a teenager, it was definitely fantasy, followed at some distance by science fiction and horror, which would have been on roughly level pegging (if only because I read quite a lot of Stephen King at the time). Nowadays, it’s science fiction, followed at some distance by fantasy, with almost no horror at all. This is partly a matter of changing tastes, I suppose, but it’s also down to the difficulty of finding non-cringeworthy fantasy books. Or maybe I’ve just lost my sense of whimsy.

2. Hardback, trade paperback, or mass market paperback?

Ideally trade paperback for aesthetic and tactile reasons. Hardback if I want to read a book as soon as it’s published, mass market paperback if that’s all that’s available.

3. Heinlein or Asimov?

Neither, really. But I respect Asimov more.

4. Amazon or brick-and-mortar?

Both; I’m happy to spend money online and off. But I probably tend to buy “genre” books more frequently after browsing in a bricks-and-mortar store than I do online.

5. Barnes & Noble or Borders?

Whichever happens to be in the neighborhood. In Brighton, it’s Borders.

6. Hitchhiker or Discworld?

Hitchhiker, though I’ve never read any of the Discworld novels. But it would be very hard to top The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.

7. Bookmark or dogear?

Dog-earing is the work of the devil. Bookmark.

8. Magazine: Asimov’s “Science Fiction” or “Fantasy & Science Fiction?”

I had a subscription to The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction for years as a teenager. It’s not really my thing now, but I reckon I still have old issues floating around somewhere.

9. Alphabetize by author, by title, or random?

I’ve tried to “group” first by genre (cyberpunk, space opera, etc.) and then by author, though nothing’s really alphabetized - and even the grouping system is starting to break down already. I’m not a very tidy or organized person.

10. Keep, throw away, or sell?

If I like a book, I’ll keep it forever. If I don’t like it, I’ll probably donate it to a charity shop/library/second-hand bookstore. I would never ever just throw a book away.

11. Year’s Best Science Fiction series (edited by Gardner Dozois) or Year’s Best SF Series (edited by David G. Hartwell)?

Err, neither.

12. Keep dustjacket or toss it?

“Toss it”? Like, throw it away? Who would do that?

13. Read with dustjacket or remove it?

Remove it for reading so it doesn’t get all bent and torn.

14. Short story or novel?

Definitely novel - the longer, the better. I do generally enjoy short stories when I read them (which isn’t very often), but I love the long-term immersiveness of a novel much more.

15. Harry Potter or Lemony Snicket?

I haven’t read either series, but Lemony Snicket sounds more pleasingly malicious.

16. Stop reading when tired or chapter breaks?

Ideally at chapter breaks, but if I find myself falling asleep in mid-sentence, then it’s time to stop no matter where I am in a chapter.

17. “It was a dark and stormy night” or “Once upon a time”?

“It was a bright, cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen.”

18. Buy or borrow?

Buy. I’m matieralistic like that.

19. Buying choice: book reviews, recommendation, or browse?

All three, really, though mostly personal recommendations and book reviews.

20. Lewis or Tolkien?

Tolkien all the way.

21. Hard SF or space opera?

Space opera. Who needs the laws of physics?

22. Collection (single author) or anthology (multiple authors)?

Probably collection.

23. Hugo or Nebula?

Both. Neither. No opinion.

24. Golden Age SF or New Wave SF?

My instinctive first answer was New Wave, but having explored the Wikipedia pages for the two genres, I’d have to answer “both”. I like a lot of so-called feminist science fiction, which would fall under New Wave, but some of the best science fiction books I’ve ever read (see below) are from the Golden Age.

25. Tidy ending or cliffhanger?

Ooh, tough one. I have been known to throw books across the room in frustration because of unexpected cliffhangers or unresolved endings. On the other hand, I do like a bit of ambiguity sometimes. It depends on the book, I guess.

26. Morning reading, afternoon reading, or nighttime reading?

Definitely nighttime reading; I read in bed as a sort of buffer between daytime activities and sleep. If I allowed myself to read during the day, I would be pretty much lost to the world and never get anything done.

27. Standalone or series?

Well, if a book is really good, then the idea of a series is very appealing because you have more of the same to look forward to. But if a series drags on too long and runs out of steam, it can put me off the whole story (see: Dune). I like a good trilogy; three books is long enough to engage in complex character and plot development, but generally compact enough to prevent things from really going off the rails. The other option, of course, is to have a series of standalone novels set in the same universe. This can be quite nice.

28. Urban fantasy or high fantasy?

I like them both, but high fantasy has to be done really well for it to not be completely twee.

29. New or used?

Preferably new, because I like the “treading on pristine snow” feeling you get with a new book. But I have been buying more and more used books over the past few years.

30. Favorite book of which nobody else has heard?

The Darkangel by Meredith Ann Pierce. It’s a kid’s book, but a really weird one that made a huge impression on me as an 11-year-old - so much so that I inadvertently “stole” it from the school library (I borrowed it towards the end of the year, forgot to bring it back, and then moved to another country during the summer. Oops. I still have it, too.). The Darkangel is the first in a trilogy, and the other two books are very good as well.

31. Top X favorite genre books read last year (where X is 5 or less)?

32. Top X favorite genre books of all time (where X is 5 or less)?

Okay, I’m not sure how accurate this list really is, but:

33. Top X favorite genre series (where X is 5 or less)?

Again, to be taken with a pinch of salt:

34. Top 5 favorite genre short stories?

I’m embarrassed to say I can’t really think of any, which is kind of a lame way to end this little meme, but there you go…



Re question 6: do yourself a favour: go forth and read a Discworld novel… any Discworld novel… they’re brilliant.


I wouldn’t make it any Discworld novel - Pratchett has developed more than any other author I can easily think of in the course of the series. Where the early ones were sublime works of parody, that quickly grew tired, after which he had a period where the strength of Discworld was in a combination of running jokes, puns and originality, but lately (starting roughly at The Truth) he has, as he says it himself, "discovered the joys of plot", and so now Discworld novels are all around good books, which just happen to also often be very funny and be set in one of the stranger universes one could imagine. It’s one of these latter I’d start with, and then specifically with Monstrous Regiment, which, although not as good as say, Night Watch, has the benefit of being 90% readable standalone. (You’ll miss some references to the other 30-odd books, but shouldn’t be overly bothered by it.)


@Sander: you know what? You’re absolutely right. I stand corrected. ;-)

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