I fell in love with science fiction back in middle school thanks to Frank Herbert, Ray Bradbury, and Margaret Atwood. I’ve always had a thing for alternate reality and post-apocalyptic novels, but I didn’t realize there was a name for it: speculative fiction. The term is attributed to author Robert Heinlein and is defined as “any fiction with supernatural, fantastical, or futuristic elements.”
It’s a broad definition, but I like that it doesn’t limit authors’ imaginations. I’ve compiled a short list of must-read speculative fiction novels. Don’t think of these just as science fiction novels because some like Station Eleven or The Leftovers are genre bending–they’re probably shelved in literary fiction. What stood out for me about these books are the character development and world building. How do we change as a person and how does society adapt when we’re faced with seemingly insurmountable challenges?
I hope you’ll discover some new to you books. Don’t forget to share your recommendations in the comments!
10 Must Read Speculative Fiction Novels
Spin by Robert Charles Wilson: I picked this book at random off my library’s shelves and immediately fell in love. One day 10-year-old Tyler and his friends wake up to find the sun has disappeared and replaced by an empty black barrier. While its heat still reaches the planet, it’s no longer the focal point in our sky. Years later, they discover that alien barrier was erected to save Earth, but something is wrong. Time is moving faster outside the barrier and our sun will only last 40 more Earth years. Tyler and each of his friends deal with the impending apocalypse differently, but can they save themselves before it’s too late?
The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell: Upon discovery of a new planet, how do we choose who to send as emissaries to an unknown species? How about four Jesuit priests, a young astronomer, a physician, her engineer husband, and a child prostitute-turned-computer-expert? This book just begs to be read and reread. Incredibly nuanced, the novel isn’t just science fiction, but a search for God and love as well.
Robopocalypse by Daniel H. Wilson: Looking for a fun, thrilling read? Told in several different voices, this page turner imagines what life would be like if our robots and machines take over the world. This theme isn’t knew, but Wilson’s take on it is exciting and action packed. Don’t miss his follow up Robogenesis.
The Leftovers by Tom Perrotta: If you’re watching the HBO series, you must read the novel. I confessed I gave up on the television series because it was too confusing–the show takes place a few years after the novel. Perrotta imagines what happened to the people left behind after the Rapture. Very compelling.
The Passage by Justin Cronin: I’m not into books about vampire like creatures, but The Passage is one of my all time favorites. In a post-apocalyptic future, the United States is overrun by vampire-like people, created from an experiment gone wrong. To save the human race, small self-sustaining colonies are created, but what happens when the younger generation decides to leave? After you read it, you’ll want to read the second of the trilogy, The Twelve.
Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel: I loved this novel–it was part of my 2014 top ten books.This genre bending book is a compelling story about Shakespearean troupe touring the midwest after a flu epidemic takes out 95% of the world. Trust me, you’ll love this one. My full review.
The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood: This classic is now required reading in some high school English classes. I wish it were in mine (many, many years ago). In the the Republic of Gilead, formerly the United States, many elite, upper class women are barren. In order to have children, these men and women hire reproductive Handmaids, who turn over their babies to the elite, “morally fit” wives. I read this as a teen and it blew my mind. I wonder what I’ll see reading it as an adult.
Wool by Hugh Howey: I ran into Hugh Howey at Book Expo America a few years ago and totally went a little fan girl over him. Not my best moment. However, his Wool series is action packed and the silo world he builds makes you feel almost claustrophobic. Our future world is ruined and toxic, and people are forced to live in self-sustaining underground silos. All they know is that Outside is bad and dangerous, but what happens when one of their own chooses to leave?
On Such a Full Sea by Chang-rae Lee: This is my first book by the author and it won’t be my last. Beautifully written, this novel revolves around the declining future America and its labor class, who were shipped in from environmentally ruined China years ago. Each member of society has his or her roles and should never deviate or want for more. Fan leaves the labor settlement B-Mor (formerly Baltimore) to search for her lover. She discovers entirely different societies outside of her own.
What would you add to this list?