Diversity in Science Fiction Discussion Dec. 7, 2016

Book cover imageThe Southeastern Mass. Reader’s Advisory Roundtable (SE-RART) group met at the Carver Public Library on Wednesday, Dec. 7, to talk about Science Fiction with a focus on diversity, i.e. science fiction written by authors with perspectives that are often underrepresented both in library collections and in the publishing world in general.

We talked about the Science Fiction chapter in The Readers’ Advisory Guide to Genre Fiction, 2nd ed. by Joyce Saricks and two online readings:

Library Journal: Imagined Multiverses | Genre Spotlight: SF/Fantasy

Publishers Weekly: Science Fiction & Fantasy 2014: How Multicultural Is Your Multiverse?

“Knowing something about Science Fiction, even if we have only read one or two books, makes us more comfortable talking to fans and makes them more comfortable relating to us. They see that we understand what it is that they love in this genre.” – The Readers’ Advisory Guide to Genre Fiction, 2nd ed.

We talked about why it is important to read authors from diverse backgrounds and how “core” science fiction authors – while often including diverse characters in their work and having a couple of well-known examples of “diversity” to point to (i.e. Octavia E. Butler and Samuel R. Delany) have been a group of white men. We talked about how science fiction appeals to the intellect and can analyze relevant societal issues at a remove. We discussed the importance of world-building, creating a believable universe for the story.

“Setting is crucial and invokes otherness of time, place, and/or reality. Both the physical setting of the story and the inherent technical and scientific detail create this essential frame.” – The Readers’ Advisory Guide to Genre Fiction, 2nd ed.

Our discussion questions for the readings are posted here.

Parable of the Sower, a near-future dystopian novel published in 1993, was our benchmark title for Science Fiction. We talked about it terms of appeal factors (dystopian story and philosophical tone) and its themes of race relations, political climate, and environment. (“Octavia Butler is like Nostradamus!”)

Possible Readalikes for Parable of the Sower 

  1. Gold Fame Citrus by Claire Vaye Watkins
  2. A Canticle for Liebowitz by Walter M. Miller Jr.
  3. The Water Knife by Paulo Bacigalupi
  4. The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood
  5. The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho
  6. The Road by Cormac McCarthy

We had several science fiction fans in the group, so we all came away with an appreciation for the genre, as well as some must-read titles, such as The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula Le Guin and Parable of the Talents by Octavia E. Butler – the conclusion of the story begun in Parable of the Sower.

We certainly didn’t cover anywhere near all aspects of diversity in our meeting, so we will continue our collection of recommended authors and can post additional suggestions as we get them.

Second titles will be posted soon, so please submit any that you would like to share with the group, even if you weren’t at the meeting!

Our next meeting will be in the afternoon at the Brockton Public Library, 304 Main St., on Monday, Feb. 13, 1-3 p.m. (Snow date Thursday, Feb. 16, 10-12) Come talk about diversity in Romance with us, and don’t forget to register on the MLS Web site!


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