Gateway drugs to genre fiction

Quite a big part of the enjoyment I get from genre fiction, books, movies and often even music, is when I discover the connections and inspiration. It’ a very rewarding experience, and the motivation behind my ongoing project to familiarise myself with the great classics of fantasy and s/f. It’s great, but it is also quite hermetic. It’s hard to discuss such things with the uninitiated. I find it easier to devise long term plans to hook my nieces on genre than to recommend something to a mature reader/viewer who might be open to some light genre.

Lets make make it purely technical, not about the importance of keeping an open mind and appreciating people with other hobbies, different cultural needs etc. πŸ˜‰ It’s going to be strictly about the titles and techniques helpful to hook people on our stuff!

We’re also talking strictly adults here (and I mean mature readers, not necessarily readers over 18). Getting kids to enjoy genre is a different topic, something easier in my experience, and quite wonderful, but not what I want to explore today.

Personal experience doesn’t help me, as I started too early to even clearly remember my beginnings. Historical fiction, Aiken, mythology, Thorgal, Tolkien, Herbert, Asimov, several cartoon series… it worked for a much younger version of me and I still love them, but I wouldn’t recommend most of them to someone my age who never had much use for fantasy.

Time and time again I find urban fantasy to be a great gateway drug. In its various versions it speaks to two distinct groups of traditional readers – noir and romance fans. I’ve sold Butcher and Briggs to several people, and I think early Anita Blake would also be a winner. These books are full of tropes familiar to them, and it makes it easier to accept the addition of vampires or werewolves. With this bridgehead secured, we can advance further πŸ™‚

Margaret Atwood was always a winner, especially with smart women, and it’s not far to Le Guin from there. That was even before the TV Series! It’s a great way to show the relevance of good genre to the big issues of our society. Political s/f in general can be helpful, and you can find something for each and every political stance imaginable.

Iain M. Banks, CultureBanks here would be a follow-up to Harari’s Homo Deus, fashionable essay on what lays ahead of our rapidly advancing species πŸ™‚

Another part of the audience – history fiction lovers. There are many ways to seduce them. Border between history and fantasy can be blurred, with fiction exploring ancient myths and beliefs. In the past, there was no clear distinction between genres, it’s a recent invention!

From Re-E’s favourites, I imagine Czajkowski and McClellan would be great for history buffs. McClellan masterly applies the mechanics of industrial and political revolutions of XVIII century to his world, and Czajkowski managed, up to a point πŸ˜›, to catch the mutually reinforcing dynamics of technology and modern warfare.

There is Martin. Everybody heard about him, everybody is familiar with the series. They just need to broaden their horizons a bit and realise it’s just a tip of the iceberg of great genre shows and books. Martin wrote, basically, historical novels in a fictional, slightly magical setting. I’ve read Marc Bloch, and Norbert Elias, and I find Song of Ice and Fire to be just as good an illustration of their analysis as Maurice Druon.

“Hey, you liked the Hopkins/Thompson movie? And did you know, that the writer has a Nobel and wrote a version of King Arthur story?”

TV Series… I’ve already mentioned Game of Thrones, Handmaid’s Tale, but they are countless examples of shows that add a bit of supernatural to old and tried formulas of police procedural or sitcom. I believe Luke Cage to be a bit of a superhero version of The Wire, and I just had a thought that perhaps Penny Dreadful could be a nice follow-up to Alienist.


An area where I definitely need some advice – Marvel movies.Β  Which ones are the most accessible for outsiders? Could you get Logan wit no prior knowledge of Wolverine’s complicated history? Could Black Panther be the first movie one sees in the MCU and still make sense? Guardians of the Galaxy could be a safe introduction. Smart, funny, not requiring familiarity with big storylines of the MCU to be enjoyable.

What am I missing?

15 thoughts on “Gateway drugs to genre fiction

  1. I agree that Urban fantasy seems to be the easiest suggestion to get people to read fantasy/sci-fi. We’re living in a boom time for genre TV and film. I find a great way to get people to read our stuff is to find out what they already enjoy. If they like historic fiction, Austen and fairies – suggest Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell. If they like Handmaid’s Tale TV show, suggest the rest of Atwood’s work. If they like Superheros or crime but haven’t read comics – suggest Watchmen and the rest of Moore’s work is there waiting. There is always an β€˜in’ – it’ll just be up to them to follow up on the suggestions. Also, I have shelf envy πŸ™‚

    Liked by 2 people

    1. piotrek

      Agreed! Finding a connection between genre and sth they already like seems to be the way to go πŸ™‚
      Watchmen – great suggestion, it’s part of the canon and a proof that comics should be treated seriously as a medium.
      Thx, I take great pride in my shelves πŸ˜‰

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I found myself entering a impossibly huge universe of fiction with literature when I started blogging and reviewing around 3 years ago. Being in my early 20s, it was a lot easier to search and discover all the great books that gave birth to others, and to have that desire to want to discover all of those classics. I too have that goal of reading all those classic SFF novels, and I know I’m waaaayyy behind in it all, but at least I know where to start now. πŸ˜€ Love your collection and the different angles of introduction for non-readers/readers. A lot, if not all, of those are on my list too hahah

    As for the Marvel Cinematic Universe, the best way to enter it is to start from the beginning. They’ve made their movies self-explanatory in that way and built it up in a way that each “first” movie serves as an introduction to the heroes before connecting the pieces. There is of course a difference to be made between Fox’s Marvel movies and Disney’s Marvel movies. Like all those X-Men and Fantastic Four movies aren’t part of Disney’s movie universe. You’d then have to take into consideration the chronology of events for Fox’s own X-Men universe. To truly absorb the sentimental power of Logan, a person would have to have tagged along his whole journey (Hugh Jackman does appear in….. a lot of X-Men movies and spin-off Wolverine movies). For a person to dive into Logan without seeing any other movie would probably find himself confused by several side-plots and loose ends that they try and connect, but will still find that its a brilliant movie for the underlying themes it had!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. piotrek

      You are right, but, on the other hand, it takes a lot of time and dedication to see all them superhero movies in chronological order. More than I believe we have the right to expect πŸ˜‰ I want to find some pearls that would be accessible, but better than the earliest X-Men (or, definitely, Fantastic Four πŸ˜‰ ). As to the MCU proper, we’d be on better grounds, but I still think GotG is better than the Iron Man, as a starting point.
      Anyway, yes, I’m convinced that some preparation is needed before Logan πŸ˜‰

      Liked by 1 person

  3. You came up with a tough one… Not sure I’d recommend Czajkowski to beginners, at least not Shadows of the Apt – I tried it once and my pitch was met with a blank stare and a furtive search for the emergency number… But Guns of the Dawn are a pretty cool mix of Austen and flintlock fantasy πŸ˜‰
    I’d say there are many entry-level books we’d look down at now, being where we are in our literary quests – Kate Daniels, for example, is a pretty decent basic UF, and the fact that I haven’t read the last book or two, and I’m not planning to, doesn’t change it – it’s me, not them πŸ˜‰
    I’d also venture it’s sometimes easier to start with short stories – Le Guin, for example, has a nice collection of stories which may or may not belong to the fantasy genre – the lines are blurred and what remains is great literature πŸ™‚
    Also McKinley is a good place to start – well written and the stylistic choices are not far from fairy tales – especially if one likes retellings of existing stories, such as Beauty and the Beast.

    And lastly, I agree with Lashaan that the best way around MCU would be chronological. However, if you want someone hooked, I’d really not start with Hulk πŸ˜‰ Iron Man, for the cool factor, and if one likes SW or ST, or Indiana Jones for that matter, Guardians may be a good choice as well. Start lightly, and only later get to the grim stuff πŸ˜‰

    Liked by 2 people

    1. piotrek

      Yes, I always forget about Kate Daniels πŸ˜‰ And I still have to read Guns of the Dawn myself, thanks for reminding me πŸ™‚

      Iron Man – I might want a re-watch myself, so perhaps this one…

      Liked by 1 person

  4. This is genius!! πŸ™‚
    I chatted with a lovely middle-aged lady customer of ours last week about Stephen Baxter’s Xeelee series which she’s just started reading despite being a strict history/ historical fiction reader before now … just goes to show huh?

    Liked by 1 person

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