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Voice Of The Fans: Diversifying Your Reading

Earlier this week Aidan Moher gave us his thoughts about genre diversity in response to Mark Charan Newton’s column on the same topic. In the comments, Andrew Liptak opined that he felt the point of the Mark’s column was a wide reading range is a good thing. In other words, not to read just one genre or just the big name’s.

I’m going to list some books, and genres, here that cover not only reading the non A-listers, but also outside the genre. First up, a couple of books in the SF/F section.

  • Swords And Dark Magic – You may wonder why an anthology edited by Lou Anders and Jonathan Strahan is here. Easy. I’m a SF guy who’s not big on fantasy. But this book, with a couple of exceptions, is filled with tremendously entertaining stories. I think even the non-Fantasy fans will enjoy it.
  • Singularity – By Bill De Smedt. A highly entertaining SF read masquerading as a technothriller. This would make a fabulous mini-series on TV. We’ve pushed this before but it deserves to be read by more people.

And now for the non-genre section. I almost always read SF, but when I don’t, I like to read about:

Science and Technology

  • Godel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid – By Douglas Hofstadter. If you have any interest in math, music, art or computer science, this is a book you must read. A highly entertaining and though provoking read, even 30 years later, it’s no wonder it won the Pulitzer Prize.
  • The Age Of Wonder – By Richard Holmes. Holmes looks at the Romantic period of time where art infused science with a sense of wonder that hadn’t existed before. A book jam packed with information about the people of this time, such as William Herschel, Humphrey Davy and Joseph Banks.
  • Programming The Universe – By Seth Lloyd. This book introduced me to the informational theory of cosmology and let me tell you, it’s a mind expanding idea. Basically Lloyd is arguing that the universe is a giant quantum computer, computing itself, and everything in it is, at its core, nothing but information.


  • The Discoverers
  • – By Daniel J. Boorstin. This book is a simply amazing read. It’s not only the history of science, but it’s also about man the discoverer and how mankind has progressed from early history to modern times. It doesn’t focus on any on person or geographic area. Instead he turns history into a narrative of discover. More books like this would make history a better regarded subject. (Looks at John)

  • Last Stand Of The Tin Can Sailors – By James D. Hornfischer. A gripping account of a small engagement in the larger battle of Leyte Gulf which began the American liberation of the Philippines. It centers on the men of the destroyer Taffy 3 who, along with their small naval force, battled a much larger Japanese fleet to a standstill and helped ensure an American victory. Powerful, gut-wrench and moving, this is on gripping read.
  • The Pacific War – By John Costello. This is a one volume, very large, account of the Pacific War during WW II from 1941 – 1945. Packed with facts, figures and plenty of pictures, this book goes a long way towards illuminating the cause and effects of the Pacific War.
  • A Forest Of Kings: The Untold Story Of The Ancient Maya – By David Freidel and Linda Schele. My wife and I honeymooned in Belize and one of our day trips was to the Mayan ruins of Tikal (famously known as the Rebel base on Yavin’s moon). That visit inspired me to find out more about the ancient Maya and this book does a great job of detailing their lives and culture, even if it is a bit on the academic side.

What do you read when you aren’t reading SF?

About JP Frantz (2322 Articles)
Has nothing interesting to say so in the interest of time, will get on with not saying it.

7 Comments on Voice Of The Fans: Diversifying Your Reading

  1. Dino Mascolo // September 24, 2010 at 1:39 am //

    One of my favorite things to read when not reading SF is The Best American Short Stories series. Whenever I see one at a used book store that I don’t have I purchase it. I think I have almost every one from the past 20 years, though I’m not even close to having read them all. The diversity of the stories is fun; stimulating; thought provoking; and the writing is wonderful.


  2. I completely agree, and believes that this sort of idea should be applied to things outside of reading, but to things like education as well. When I was in college, I majored in history, but went to the sciences for a minor in geology. (I’d intended to double major, but that didn’t happen) Doing so provided an incredible outlook on how the sciences and humanities interact with their source material. 


    Reading widely brings about the same sort of things, especially with science fiction and fantasy. Read up on the sciences, or the history of science to get a background in the subject material, or read to better understand the genres that you love. Or, read something completely different to help put the field of science fiction in context. For me, it is all about learning and creating a far better understanding of what I love to read and watch. 

    A couple of recommended titles: Jared Diamond’s Guns, Germs and Steel, Christian Archer’s World History of Warfare, Simon Winchester’s The Map that Changed the World, amongst many, many others. 

  3. Oh sure, just add to my reading list why don’t you. 

    I will admit, I like to alternate my sci-fi and fantasy with non-genre books.  Some good ones I’ve read recently include Cryptonomicon by Neal Stephenson (a good computer/WWII thriller), anything by Michael Pollan (like Omnivore’s Dilemna), and the best random read recently came from a friend called My Year of Meats, by Ruth Ozeki, which follows an American producer making a TV show for a Japanese audience that glorifies the typical American housewife and her use of American meat.

  4. As a science fiction guy, my tastes outside of SFF tend toward toward philosophy (speculative fiction and speculative speculation go hand in hand) history (anyone interested in the strange changes the future will bring is likely to be interested in the strangeness of the past)  and toward nonfiction or non-SFF written by SFF authors I like.

    Finally, there are famous classics which akin enough to our field to be worth seeking out: Milton’s PARADISE LOST or Dante’s INFERNO have that same sense of wonder we seek in SFF, or ORLANDO FURIOSO by Ariosto, Spencer’s FAERIE QUEENE, the plays of Shakespeare, the satire GULLIVER’S TRAVELS by Swift.

    An example of the non-fiction books by favorite science fiction writers would include THE ABOLITION OF MAN by C.S. Lewis, recommended for any SF fan who liked his SCREWTAPE LETTERS or THAT HIDEOUS STRENGTH. This is basically a nonfictional exploration of the same theme of a scientifically denatured life as appears in HIDEOUS STRENGTH.I am also a fan of his INTRODUCTION TO MILTON and his THE DISCARDED IMAGE, which are nonfiction works on poetry and literature.

    Likewise, one of the best non-SFF books I’ve read in a year is Professor Tolkein’s translation of SIR ORFEO, PEARL, SIR GEWAIN AND THE GREEN KNIGHT.

    Isaac Asimov has a light, easy-to-read style, so some of his nonfiction books might interest an SF reader. He has written on every topic under the sun and some inside the sun, so no matter what your interest, Asimov is a popular popularizer. He knows how to make an infodump entertaining, especially on scientific topics.

    Likewise again, when some favorite author writes a detective yarn or a psychological thrillers, it is worth finding. My personal suggestions are the mystery stories of Jack Vance, written under the name John Holbrook Vance, a hard-boiled private eye yarn by Keith Laumer of Reteif fame called DEADFALL. I have also sought out A.E. van Vogt’s one venture into mainstream THE VIOLENT MAN, which is a story about a serviceman in a Chinese concentration camp. And let me also point fans of Neal Stephenson toward his CRYPTONOMICON.

    For history, the best place to start is with Thucydides, Livy, Plutarch and Edward Gibbon. DECLINE AND FALL OF THE ROMAN EMPIRE will tell you the plot of practically every science fiction story from FOUNDATION to STAR WARS to DUNE. For military history, let me recommend WAR THROUGH THE AGES by Lynn Montross. For modern history, let me recommend MODERN TIMES by Paul Johnson.

    If you are interested in philosophy, I recommend Plato’s dialogs for their readability, Aristotle for his universality and common sense, the ENCHIRIDION of Epictetus and the MEDITATIONS of Marcus Aurelius for their nobility and practical application, and any essays by Seneca or Cicero. I would not read anything after Kant: modern philosophy is rubbish and horsefeathers. For an easier or more popular exploration of some philosophical topics, let me recommend nearly anything by Peter Kreeft.

    For political economics, I recommend Hobbes’ LEVIATHAN as an astringent to wash away any weakminded milksop ideas that may have been caught like lint in a lint trap from the endless wash of nonsense modern periodicals, journals, and newspapers churn out, and then quickly read the FEDERALIST PAPERS and DEMOCRACY IN AMERICA to wash the bitter taste of Hobbes out of your mouth. DISCOURSES ON LIVY by Machiavelli will give you a sound foundation in realistic politics, whereas WEALTH OF NATIONS by Adam Smith and HUMAN ACTION by Ludwig van Mises will give you a sound theoretical foundation about what is really behind what is really going on. 


  5. “I would not read anything after Kant: modern philosophy is rubbish and horsefeathers.”

    A significant contribution to the development of computer languages, an instrumental role in the creation of the animal rights movement, the emergence of transhumanist philosophy—just to name a very few things. No, clearly nothing interesting or important has happened in philosophy since Kant.

  6. For that matter, contemporary Christian philosophers have hardly been standing still since Kant.  Much as I disagree with him, Alvin Plantinga, for example, has written some interesting and original works dealing with philosophy of religion.

  7. Right now I am finishing Hope Mirrlees’ Lud-in-the-Mist and reading from The Roald Dahl Omnibus and Chip Delany’s Driftglass.  I am also reading a book on parenting toddlers entitled Bright Start and flipping through Farah Mendlesohn’s Rhetorics of Fantasy. 

    At the top of my current reading queue:

    Cervantes: Exemplary Stories

    Salvatore, Nick: Eugene Debs: Citizen and Socialist

    Bolland, Eavan: Against Love Poetry

    Hobb, Robin: Dragon Keeper

    Malmont, Paul: The Chinatown Death Cloud Peril

    Chomsky, Noam: Hopes and Prospects

    Shepherd, Reginald: A Martian Muse

    Atwood, Margaret: Year of the Flood

    Ekin, Des: The Stolen Village: Baltimore and the Barbary Pirates

    Rieder, John: Colonialism and the Emergence of Science Fiction

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