Tag Archives: Reading Habits

Why I Bounce Between Soft Sci-Fi and Hard Sci-Fi

This is a response post to Louise’s Why I Prefer Soft Sci-Fi

photo of galassia star. Let’s start this conversation off with some quick definitions.

Hard sci-fi is a sub-genre of science fiction that focuses on hard sciences like physics, math, chemistry, or astronomy that ask and answer objective questions.

That is to say, there is only one correct answer if someone asks you what the square root of nine is.

Soft sci-fi is a sub-genre of science fiction that focuses on soft sciences like sociology, anthropology, or psychology. They include a mixture of objective and subjective questions.

For example,

Some science fiction fans have a strong preference for one of these sub-genres over the other. I prefer to bounce around between them and nearly every other type of science fiction that doesn’t include romance for the following reasons:

The Lines Between Them Are Blurry

Many sci-fi stories include elements of both hard and soft science fiction. They might start out describing how scientists in that universe discovered a safe, fast, and effective way to travel between solar systems only to switch over to describing how that technology changed every facet of human culture over the next few millennia.

There’s absolutely nothing wrong with having strong preferences on either side of the spectrum, but I’ve discovered so many amazing books and authors that I would have otherwise overlooked if I’d been strict about only wanting to read hard or soft science fiction.

I Need Variety

While sci-fi is the genre where I spend most of my reading time, I also enjoy reading fantasy, horror, mysteries, historical fiction, non-fiction, and many other genres.

I’m happiest when I can bounce around between different types of storytelling no matter which genre I’m currently reading. After finishing a hard science fiction adventure, I might be in the mood for a memoir, a light fantasy adventure, or a book of poetry next.

It’s even better when the same book can smoothly move between different genres and maybe even mash up some themes that aren’t normally woven together.

Each Story Has Unique Needs

Some sci-fi stories really do need to have the science behind them explained in detail in order for anything else that follows to make sense to readers who aren’t already well-versed in the branch or branches of science that are being explored there.

Other sci-fi stories use spaceships, aliens, or new inventions as a backdrop but can share the meat of their plot with the audience even if no one knows the details of how alien physiology is different from human physiology or how that new invention came into being.

I definitely do agree with Louise’s point about hard science fiction being something that often works better in film or TV show form. While I enjoy reading about new technologies or inventions, it’s amazing to see them come to life in a scene.

Do all of you have preferences for hard versus soft science fiction? If so, what are they?

 

5 Reasons to Read Short Stories

A close up photo of an opened book being illuminated by warm, yellow light.One of the most consistent aspects of my reading preferences since childhood is that I’ve always preferred short stories to full-length novels.

Anyone who has paid close attention to what I review here may have already noticed that. For every 200-page novel that makes an appearance in my Thursday review slot, there are probably half a dozen short stories and novellas sprinkled between it and the next full-length work I finish.

Now don’t get me wrong. There are some amazing books out there that convince me to commit my reading time for a few hundred pages, but short stories have plenty of advantages, too.

5 Reasons to Read Short Stories

They Require Minimal Investments of Time

A closeup of pink sand in a glass hourglass I often finish short stories in fifteen minutes. Sometimes I finish the shortest ones in less than five!

There’s something appealing about finishing a story in such a brief period of time.

If you end up with a story that you either don’t particularly like or find simply okay, you can keep reading with the knowledge that it will end soon.

On the flip side, adoring a character or storyline can be a big hint that you might love the rest of that author’s catalogue.

Sometimes writers even revisit the same characters and settings across multiple short stories in the form of serials or simply by revisiting fan favourites over and over again.

They’re Often Free or Inexpensive

Rabbit wearing spectacles and sitting next to an opened bookIf your book buying budget is small or if you prefer to try new authors before buying their work, short stories can be a fantastic way to expand your reading horizons.

Many sites have been specifically created for reading, sharing, and discussing short stories. I’m most familiar with the ones that focus on the science fiction and fantasy genres, but this sort of things exists for every genre.

I’ve also started sharing a list of free science fiction, fantasy, horror, and other speculative fiction books every Thursday on Twitter.

Last week’s list included the following stories, all of which were still free to the best of my knowledge when this post went live:

They Can Help End Reading Slumps

When I’m in a reading slump, the last thing I want to do is commit to several hundred pages of reading.

It feels so much more realistic to say let’s see what happens over the course of five or ten pages while I’m still getting to read the beginning, middle, and end of a tale.

They’re Palate Cleansers

Woman reading a book in a dark library. There is a bright light emanating from the book.Sometimes full-length books weigh on my mind long after I finish their final pages, especially if they have excellent world building and character development.

It can feel a little odd to jump from one immersive reading experience to the next. Short stories can help to bridge that gap by introducing new characters and settings that you already know will only be around for a short period of time.

This isn’t to say that short stories can’t have intricate world building and character development, of course, only that they have a smaller number of pages to do so.

They Offer a Low-Pressure Way to Try New Genres and Authors

Man using binoculars while sitting between two stacks of thick, dusty books at a large wooden table
For example, I used to think I wasn’t into the mystery genre because of some bland experiences I’d had reading full-length mysteries.

It was only when I tried a few short stories in this genre that I realized it does appeal to me after all. I never would have given it another shot by picking up a two-hundred page book, but I was willing to sit through a half dozen pages to see if my opinions had shifted.

This a pattern that has repeated multiple times in my reading history. Of course I don’t always enjoy the new authors or genres I try, but I have discovered some stuff I would have otherwise overlooked thanks to the low-pressure environment of short stories.

If you read short stories, what do you like most about them?

5 Ways to Fit More Reading Time In

When I was growing up, I either already knew where the books were or quickly figured it out after visiting a new place for the first time. Sometimes this involved me grabbing a book from my grandparents’ personal library and hiding out underneath the piano to read and nibble on a few crackers while the adults talked.

Since my father was a pastor, this also occasionally meant that I’d sniff out the books in other people’s churches when we visited them. I remember wandering around a particularly large church one day and feeling quite satisfied with myself when one of the doors I opened revealed a small bookshelf in that room.

Immediately, I sat on the floor and read to my heart’s content. All of the books remained in that room, and I put them back neatly where I found them when I decided that enough time had passed for anyone to begin wondering why I’d been away from the service for so long.

That is to say, I have a lot of practice in squeezing reading time out of just about any experience. Here are a few of my favourite ways to get through just a few more pages out while doing ordinary things.

While Waiting

Lego people standing in a tidy queue while waiting to talk to someone who is sitting behind a desk. I read while sitting in waiting rooms, queued up in line, or seeing if a store clerk could find that one last pair of jeans in my size.

There’s something about having a good book to read that makes this time pass much faster.

It’s easier to forget how long you’ve been waiting when you’re in the middle of an exciting scene.

On Transit

Woman standing and waiting for a subway car to stopOne of the nicest things about taking buses, trains, planes, or other forms of mass transit is that you can have a short or long block of time to do all sorts of quiet things in your seat.

I can’t read physical pages while travelling due to how nauseated that would make me, but I can listen to an audio version of a story.

(And, yes, audiobooks totally count as reading).

During Exercise

Woman listening to headphones while resting from a runObviously, this is one of those cases where an audiobook is going to be much easier to “read” than a paperback or e-book.

I have seen people reading novels while using certain fitness machines, though, and I like the idea of killing two birds with one stone that way so long as you do it safely.

One of the things I’m hoping to do this winter is figuring out how to combine reading and exercise in some way. I’m not yet sure how I’ll accomplish that, but it seems like it would be an interesting goal to try to reach.  Audiobooks aren’t the sort of thing I can sit and listen to, but I’m thinking they might be more appealing if I’m doing something else while listening to them.

When You Can’t Sleep

Woman counting sheep in her mind while lying in bed. Outside, a flock of sheep are literally jumping over a fence. Every once in a while, I have trouble falling asleep or staying asleep. When this happens, reading a book is a nice, quiet thing to do until my body decides to cooperate and go back to dreamland.

The stuff I choose to read at these late or early hours isn’t the same sort of material I’d read in the middle of the day.

Calm stories are good.

Poetry is soothing.

Action-packed thrillers are not so helpful for my overactive imagination at those hours. But to each their own on that topic!

Instead of…

Birds sitting on concrete statues on a foggy dayI’m going to leave it up to you to fill in the blank here. My answer to this question would be TV shows that I’ve lost interest in. While I understand if a show has the odd episode that doesn’t meet my expectations, I’m not the sort of person who will keep watching something that lost my enthusiasm one or more seasons ago.

There are too many other interesting things in this world to stick with stories that no longer grab my attention the way they did in their first episode or season.

How do you squeeze more reading time in?

The Evolution of My Reading Habits

My reading habits have evolved a lot over the years. In today’s post, I’m going to start with my earliest memories and share some stories about how my interests and habits have changed over time.

Most of these genres are still things I like to read at least occasionally. With that being said, I do not read the older ones as often as I once did.

Nursery Rhymes and Fairy Tales

“A Fairy Tale” by J. H. F. Bacon

The first genres I ever fell in love with were nursery rhymes and fairy tales.

My uncle had a book of fairy tales that he left behind when he went off to college. I read that collection every time I visited my grandmother’s house, and it made me yearn for more stories about dragons, royalty, and people who were rewarded for the good things they did when they thought no one was paying attention.

The tales in my uncle’s collection were the sorts of things you’d see in a Disney movie. They were missing the dark endings that they’d often originally had.

A few years later, I began stumbling across fairy tales that didn’t always end happily ever after. For example, the original version of “The Little Mermaid” ended with the main character’s death instead of her wedding.

I did go back to preferring the more cheerful spins on these stories after a while, but I appreciated having those glimpses into what had happened to them before they were cleaned up for modern audiences.

30 Books in a Month

As I’ve mentioned here before, I was homeschooled for the first several years of my education. One of the best parts of that experience was being able to read after my lessons were finished. There were times when Wyoming was far too snowy and cold of a place for a child to be wandering around outside in, so I read the entire afternoon and evening away on some of those wintry days.

All of this reading time had an interesting effect on me once I started public school and people who weren’t my parents or siblings began noticing my habits.

My fourth grade teacher once gave us an assignment to read three books a month. We were supposed to turn in little slips of paper with the title and author of what we read to her so she could keep track of them for us.

Reader, I didn’t finish three books that month. I read thirty of them.

Those three slips of paper we’d been given were almost immediately replaced by notes from my mother listing everything else I’d read after I fulfilled the original requirements.

When our teacher announced the number of books each student had read that month a few weeks later, most of my classmates were in the single digits. It was pretty funny to see how they gasped when they realized I’d quietly blown everyone out of the water.

A Passion for Poetry

I no longer remember which genres I read during that thirty-book month, but I do remember the genre I became obsessed with shortly after that: poetry.

My fifth grade teacher did a unit on the many different types of poems out there, and I took to this topic  immediately. A lot of the stuff she had us read reminded me of the nursery rhymes I’d loved a few years earlier.

Shel Silverstein was the first poet I loved, but I quickly moved on to poets who wrote for adult audiences like Emily Dickinson and Langston Hughes.

The thought of compressing what could be an entire story into a few short lines impressed me. I was always excited to find poets who could create strong imagery of what they were describing to the audience while using as few words as possible.

There was about a decade there when poetry was regularly part of what I read for fun. For a long period of time after that, I still returned to it regularly when I needed a break from other genres.

I’m slowly losing interest in this genre, and that makes me a little sad. I wish I could find the same thrill in it I did twenty years ago.

Science Fiction and Fantasy

“Martians vs. Thunder Child” by Henrique Alvim Corrêa.

My interest in the science fiction and fantasy genres has always been intertwined with the other things I’ve read. Long before I entered high school they became genres I returned to over and over again.

While I do take breaks from science fiction and fantasy to recharge sometimes, those feelings have remained constant to this day. No other genre has managed to keep me coming back for more for as long or as consistently as these two have.

There is something so interesting about taking a modern trend and extrapolating it to some distant future where robots really do run the world or when climate change has altered our planet so much that future generations can no longer imagine what life was like in a cooler, more stable climate.

I’ve come to prefer hopeful speculative fiction over the darker, apocalyptic stuff, but I think I’ll continue reading some sort of sci-fi or fantasy for many years to come.

Leaning Towards Nonfiction

Over the last decade or so, I’ve found myself gradually becoming more interested in nonfiction than I ever was before. My favourite high school English teacher used to talk about how much she enjoyed reading about things that really happened.

I didn’t understand why she’d say that at the time, but now I relish the opportunity to read books about history, astronomy, archeology, ecology, medicine, the biographies or autobiographies of people who have accomplished all sorts of things, and many other topics.

We live in a world that is filled with more information than any one person can digest in a lifetime. I accept the fact that I can’t learn everything, but I also want to be exposed to as much knowledge as possible in this lifetime.

How have your reading habits evolved over time? If anyone decides to borrow this topic and blog about it, I’ll edit this post to include a link to your response if you’re interested in that.

Edited on May 5 to add Bjørn Larssen’s response.