Change: It’s a scary concept no matter what age you are.
We all have our habits and comfort zones. Anything outside of our personal circle of serenity leads to an unremitting circle of darkness—the unknown. And nowhere is this issue so thoroughly examined—with amazing simplicity—than in Dr. Seuss’ Green Eggs and Ham.
What does this have to do with science fiction? Plenty.
People crave the familiar. Linus needs his blanket, and Homer Simpson can barely make it thirty seconds without his next doughnut. Predictability is good because we benefit from a certain amount of order in our world. But science fiction introduces the unprecedented—and that makes some people uncomfortable. They would prefer their usual steak and mashed potatoes to palak paneer and samosas. (Even though “exotic” foods contain many of the same ingredients as our favorite dishes, they’re wrapped in an unfamiliar package.)
Science fiction is like that. It’s the green eggs and ham of literature.
Compared to other literary genres, science fiction shares many of the same fundamental ingredients: ideas, words, sentences, conflict, characters, grammar, and punctuation. The differences, of course, lay in the execution of said ingredients. Science fiction and its myriad sub-genres taste far different to most people than does the usual thriller or mystery.
In fact, it can be downright bizarre, and that’s what we love about it. The genre dares to ask “what if” to the extent that our minds reach a critical mass of Deep Thoughts. But even when the speculative aspects are wrapped in beautifully crafted prose and explore concepts other than aliens and starships, many readers wouldn’t touch it with a ten foot pole.
But, are they employing the right pole for the job?
As an SF fan since childhood, I’ve always strongly identified with Sam-I-Am (for those of you who need a refresher, he’s the intrepid character who embarks on a mission to convince his neighbor about the joys of the titular dish). For years, I strove to turn family, friends, and the occasional neighbor onto the joys of science fiction.
The results were mixed, and it probably didn’t help matters when I developed an insatiable appetite for one of the least likely and oft-maligned sub-genres. But that was hardly a deterrent. This time, my reach had to spread wider, farther, deeper. Thanks to some new fangled invention called the Internet, I embarked on a mission to promote the glorious adventures found in science fiction romance.
“But wait,” you say. “What’s the difference between Han and Leia arguing, only to kiss and make up later, and a non-genre romance from the likes of Debbie Macomber or Julia Quinn?” The answer: Mynocks. Many people just can’t get past the mynocks. Or the replicants. Or the Cylons.
Then there are the readers for whom the romance part of the equation equals a reaction of disdain, apprehension, or annoyance—and sometimes all three! Why muck up a good gig with sexual/emotional tension, introspection, and meaningful relationship dynamics? I mean, c’mon! Who needs to read about a pair of hot, luscious breasts?! (Can you just imagine the refrain? “I will not touch them with a fox. I will not touch them in a box. I do not like them, Sam-I-Am!”)
Science fiction romance isn’t for everybody; no genre is. But there are a number of devoted fans who are watching it grow and gain new readers. Isn’t that what we crave for science fiction as a whole? Often it’s a matter of timing and/or cultural shifts that encourage a person to read outside of her comfort zone. Other factors such as the type of book (or film) can tip the proverbial scales. Then there’s the power of influence. Some of us have a little, others a moderate amount, and a few wield it like Thor controlling the heavens with his mighty Mjöllnir.
Whatever slice of science fiction we recommend people sink their fork into, like Sam-I-Am, there are a number of strategies that can be employed to demonstrate why it’s a must-read genre:
Courage of conviction
Effective marketing techniques
Sam-I-Am’s motto is to never give up. When his neighbor initially refuses, Sam offers him the option of consuming green eggs and ham in different locations (e.g., in a car, on a train, in a house, underwater). Or maybe his neighbor would prefer the dish in the company of a fox or a mouse, because trying new things is easier when you have a support system in place.
Sam-I-Am is assertive and pleasant, but never aggressive or elitist. He understands the value of repetition, and of spinning his pitch a number of different ways. Most importantly, he knows that once his neighbor agrees to at least sample the green eggs and ham, he needs to back off. After all, he knows he can start all over again with someone else regardless of the result.
I’m betting many of you science fiction fans have a little bit of Sam-I-Am in your soul. Have you ever tried a Green Eggs and Ham experiment to convert someone to science fiction or one of its sub-genres? Which strategy did you use? How successful was it? And, would you do it again?