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Friday, March 20, 2015

What Kind Of Sci-fi Reader Are You?




Many bookstores still shelve sci-fi and fantasy together, a practice that causes most Sci-Fi readers to fume and mutter while they scan the shelves for something new to read. Who can seriously believe that the works of Tolkien and Asimov have anything in common? At Dog-Eared Pages, one of the first things I did was to separate them. However, after three years of helping readers find new authors, I believe the science fiction section could be divided even further.

I could be wrong, although I rarely am. (Just don't ask my hubby.) There have been no studies or experiments to back up my theory, but I believe there are different reasons why people read the genre. While all sci-fi lovers share the common expectation that the advancements and achievements in technology are paramount and the science behind them needs to be accurate and believable, I think there are two distinct types of readers. I call them trekkies and warriors. I have successfully used this method, for the past seven years, to help guide my customers in their search to find new books to enjoy.

Trekkies, of course, enjoy reading the series Star Trek. They read to learn the philosophy of the future. I have found they also savor Asimov's Foundation series, Herbert's Dune series, Orwell's 1984 and Heinlein's Stranger in a Strange Land. It's not so much about the advanced technology, but the more subtle and profound thoughts these books force their readers to tackle. Trekkies love to read about the possible futures of mankind, both good and bad. They relish the politics, belief systems and schools  of thought about the future. Trekkies often ponder and anguish over which direction we are headed for now.

Warriors, are a completely different breed. They devour the Star Wars series. They're usually drawn to authors such as Cherryh, Bova, Card, and Clarke. Warriors read for adventure. Warriors want their battles complete with lasers swords swashing and titanium helms buckling. They root for the good guys and see themselves in the midst of the action. Above all, they crave a great adventure story.

Before I released my newest novel, Pangaea, I had to figure out its genre so people would know what type of book it was, and so bookstores would know where to shelve it. Pangaea's blend of magic and science mad this tougher than I thought it would be. With no wizards or dragons, it wasn't high fantasy and fans of Tolkien and Butcher would be disappointed. Although I was leaning toward a Trekkie type of sci-fi, I knew if I claimed it as such, Ringworld fans would have my head.

After watching me pace and grumble for an hour or so, my hubby asked, “Why not call it Utopian Fantasy?”

“Because that's not a real genre.” I answered, still pounding my head against my desk in despair.

“But that's what Pangaea is: your fantasy of a utopian society. Make a new genre.”

“Hmmm. That's true.” I typed the words on the cover and liked what I saw. 'Utopian Fantasy'. My readers would at least have an inkling of what Pangaea was about. And thus a new genre was born.

Are you a Trekkie or a Warrior? Or do you think there should be a third category? A fourth? Do you believe my theory lacks substance and should be shoved into the theory disposal unit? I'd be interested to hear your thoughts. I'm still considering whether to break my sci-fi section down into these two categories, and would love to hear from some hard-core sci-fi readers.

After this, I realized Fantasy needed subcategories, too. How many? Which ones? I'll be busy shelving and reshelving books forever. It's all good.

Portions of this article were previously published in Connotations Sci-fi Magazine.


Anna Questerly is the author of The Minstrel's Tale and manager of Dog-Eared Pages bookstore in North Phoenix. Anna can be reached at www.annaquesterly.com or www.dogearedpagesusedbooks.com  or through Facebook as either Anna Questerly or Dog-Eared Pages. Of course, if you're in Phoenix, please be sure to stop in. I'd love to meet you. 

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