Specualtive fiction covers a broad spectrum: classic sci-fi, fantasy, alternative history, time travel, magical realism and many more sub-genres. But the novels I especially love are those which aren’t “classic” science fiction/fantasy, but instead are often set in our ‘real world’ but with a slight shift to the left (or right). These are some of my favourites; apologies for the brevity of detail on each book, but I don’t want to include spoilers if you haven’t read one! And the list is really just to show you the sort of things whch have influenced me over the years.
E Nesbit’s, The Town in the Library: This might have been the first ever ‘speculative fiction’ book I read as a child, although I doubt the term was barely used then. The book is about Rosamund and Fabian (classic E Nesbit character names!) who build a town out of books in their library which they then simply walk into; only to find themselves trapped there when they go inside.
CS Lewis’s Narnia Chronicles. My brother and I devoured these when we were kids, either reading them or having them read to us by our parents. The concept of the wardrobe as the door to another world may not have been invented by Lewis, but it was new to us! And I see it now in so many contemporary books. It was also the illustrations which were so evocative.
Iain Banks, The Bridge: This was one of Banks’ first novels I read, and as he said himself, it’s the closest to a crossover into his science fiction writing as Iain M Banks. It’s a hard book to precis in a few words, save to say that it revolves around three separate stories which come together and I was drawn into it deeper and deeper the more I read it. Goodreads supplies a better, quick summary.
Claire North’s, well, take your pick! The First 15 Lives of Harry August, Touch, The Sudden Disappearance of Hope. Et al! Claire is one of my favourite authors and I’m constantly in awe of how she writes so many wonderful novels so quickly with such facsinating and different plots and concepts. But if I had to choose one, it would be Harry August.
Scarlett Thomas’s The End of Mr Y. I think this is Thomas’s best book. It does what all good spec fiction books do: starts you in our world, provides a mystery, opens up all sorts of possibilities and then dives into the alternative concepts of where the story is heading. It kept me up very late at night reading this.
David Mitchell’s The Bone Clocks. Again, I could have chosen most of Mitchell’s books to be in my favourites (and I am especially fond of Number 9 Dream) but The Bone Clocks is immense. One of his multiple narrator novels, this turns and twists and creates amazing characters which he takes on into further books as well. I loved it.
David Bowker’s The Death Prayer. Some people may not have heard of Bowker. He’s written various genres but when I read this over 25 years ago, it really captured my imagination. A policeman in northern England with a special ability which helps him capture criminals.
Matt Haig’s How To Stop Time. And yet again, an author who I would eulogise over forever. I nearly added The Midnight Library as my favourite, but I think How to Stop Time just pips it for the time it covers (literally) and the wonderful story Haig weaves.
Audrey Niffenegger’s The Time Traveller’s Wife. It’s impossible not to include this book in a list of the greatest speculative fiction novels. More than any other book of its genre, it showed that time travel can be literary fiction as well, and I’m sure it was read by many, many people who don’t consider themselves science fiction fans.
And all that is without mentioning Philip Pullman, The Girl with all the Gifts, The Night Circus, To Say Nothing of the Dog, Nick Harkaway (I love his writing!), Jeff Noon’s Nymphomation or Automated Alice, the original Alice (!), Station Eleven… Hmm, I might need a Part II for this post in the future!