In terms of reader pooh-poohing, speculative fiction (the umbrella term for sci-fi, fantasy, horror, and magical realism) ranks almost on par with sports writing and poetry, according to a recent Bookmarks survey (article not available online). But looking closely at science fiction, Bookmarks argues that it's a genre full of worthy reads, just caveat lector: with prolific production comes varying levels of quality.
Science fiction writer Robert J. Sawyer, quoted in the Bookmarks piece, describes the perils of choosing a sci-fi book at random:
First, a person who has become interested in SF through the media, or because of vague childhood memories, will pick up a book from the vast SF rack and be turned off. He or she will be turned off because the work will almost certainly be crap. . . . Yup, you could read a good SF novel a week each week of the year, no doubt. But if you read an SF novel a week picked at random from the rack, you'd never come back for a second year of such torture.
To prevent such a turn-off, Bookmarks provides seven pages of sci-fi picks and subgenre definitions in its July-August issue to guide wary readers through the saturated market. The subgenre recommendations include time travel, cyberpunk (“Cyberpunk’s characters are alienated loners living on the fringes of chaotic societies. The settings are dark, the outcomes gloomy, and the boundaries between reality and illusion often indistinguishable”), and space opera (“Big ideas, big egos, big ships, big problems. Space opera means interplanetary travel and sexy technology, unsolvable philosophical conundrums, war on a galactic scale”).
For an intelligent argument about why science fiction is timelier than ever, read this.
(Thanks, Arts & Letters Daily.)