Reading Science Fiction in the South

My local library’s science fiction collection is abysmal. It makes it hard to catch up on old classics, or new classics … or anything else.

I recently saw a listing of the 10 best science fiction novels of all time. My library had four of them.

Here’s what I’m dealing with. On my way through the W’s, I come across a whole shelf of Lori Wick (Christian romance novels). But books on my list by Connie Willis, Peter Watts, Gene Wolfe — none of them. We’ve got Frank Peretti (Christian paranormal fiction), but nothing written for adults by China Mieville.

When they do have novels by famous SF writers, there are huge gaps in the collection. I tracked down Philip K. Dick and found “A Scanner Darkly” and a collection of his short stories — nothing else. Of Neil Gaiman, we have “Neverwhere” and “The Graveyard Book” — but his “American Gods” has never been ordered. Of Arthur C. Clarke we have only “2001: A Space Odyssey” and a couple sequels. I wanted to read Kim Stanley Robinson’s “Red Mars,” and found other, not-award-winning novels by him. One book by Alan Dean Foster (not the one I wanted). Nothing by Samuel Delaney. For Bradbury, we have “The Illustrated Man” and “Fahrenheit 451” but not “Something Wicked This Way Comes.”

I might be paranoid, but it looks like books with titles or themes that “might be offensive to some readers” have been carefully culled from the stacks. That, or someone with no interest in the genre is at the helm. Or maybe the library uses some kind of sophisticated algorithm that suggests library users in my neck of the woods aren’t checking out SF book. This seems very unlikely, but the older science fiction collection seems a bit more robust (there were probably a dozen Frederick Pohl novels).

Maybe to test this theory out I should start striking up conversations with random strangers about science fiction tropes. Or maybe I could just ask the ever-so-friendly library staff why they don’t have more science fiction on the shelves. (Yes, that was sarcasm.) Who knows? I might learn something about the environment in which I find myself.

How are the pickings where you live? Anybody else suffering from a drought of good science fiction?

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7 thoughts on “Reading Science Fiction in the South

  1. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if you’re right. Fundamentally, librarians have limited budgets and, while there may be an overriding principle to provide access to thought-provoking and controversial material, a need to serve their local community’s taste is probably the dominant factor.

    If the local community prefers romances to science fiction (romance market is more than twice as big as the science fiction market) or tends to complain about certain types of stories, you just won’t find quite as many books of that type on the shelves.

    While citizens do not vote directly for book acquisition, they do vote in the politicians who control library budgets.

    I’ve never been overwhelmed by the science fiction selection at any library. Typically, there seems to be a smattering of old, some 3rd-rate, and a few newer titles, nothing comprehensive. A good used bookstore might be a better bet.

    I think some of it may be that, just like your average English high school teacher probably isn’t a fan, neither is your average librarian. There are certainly science fiction fans out there but how many of them pursue those career choices?

    If you do want to try your query, I’d suggest not asking a general question (they will certainly claim they have “lots” of science fiction on the shelf) but ask about some specific books you expect to be controversial and see where that goes. Even then, a good library will try to get a few of your requests on the shelf (or on loan). It would placate you and not really change the overall collection materially.

    • Good points. I hadn’t thought about how SF fans probably don’t go into library science. I should look into this …

      Meanwhile, you describe our collection very accurately. Thanks for the tips & feedback.

  2. Very, very sad pickings at my own small town library, I’m afraid – and that’s for all genres, not just fantasy (which is what I read the most). We usually have to make a 30-minute trip to head to the “big” library to find what we need!

  3. I am fortunate in that I still live near Charlotte, and before we moved out of the county we both purchased lifetime out-of-county memberships (a service they no longer offer). Charlotte’s SF selection is quite excellent – my county’s system much less so.

    (I am doubly fortunate, actually – as an alumnus of UNCC, I have free access to that library as well…:)

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