Fantasy & SF for Adults: Recommended Reading
On September 24/22, I was honoured to give a one-hour webinar on Fantasy & Speculative Fiction Writing for Adults, hosted by the wonderful people at Diaspora Dialogues, a Canadian not-for-profit that mentors and promotes emerging writers and new voices. At the end of the webinar, I was asked for a list of all the novels and resources I'd mentioned in my talk.
This is not an exhaustive list, of course...fantasy and SF is exploding in popularity and new titles are appearing all the time. It's a personal list of books that have influenced me, that I read in childhood or that I've enjoyed very recently.
Some of the books below were not mentioned in the webinar but I thought belonged on this reading list Many titles are by colleagues and friends I admire and frankly envy.
I know that there are many books I've missed. (Or have forgotten I've read, or haven't yet read.) So many speculative fiction books, so little time!
Note that some of the books listed below were written for children or young adults, but I've included them if they have had an impact on writers of adult fantasy/SF fiction (e.g., The Hobbit and Narnia) or are popular with adult readers (e.g., Cherie Dimaline's "The Marrow Thieves").
The Routledge Introduction to Canadian Fantastic Literature by Allan Weiss (2021) https://www.routledge.com/The-Routledge-Introduction-to-Canadian-Fantastic-Literature/Weiss/p/book/9780367409432
Disfigured: On Disability, Fairy Tales and Making Space by Amanda Leduc (2020)
Steering the Craft: A 21st-Century Guide to Sailing the Sea of Story by Ursula K. Le Guin (1998)
On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King (2000)
Generation Robot: A Century of Science Fiction, Fact, and Speculation (2018, updated in 2020) by Terri Favro. (The story I told in the webinar,about my father's love affair with the first factory robot, UNIMATE, is described in detail in this book. UNIMATE had trouble gaining acceptance in the industrial world of the sixties; it wasn't until the robot snagged a guest spot on the Tonight Show, where it putted golf balls with Johnny Carson and poured him a beer, that it finally found its way into factories, like the one where my Dad worked as an electrician and 'robot whisperer'. UNIMATE is an early example of science fiction driving science fact: its co-inventor was inspired by Isaac Asimov's "I, Robot".)
FAMOUS BOOKS YOU SHOULD READ (IF YOU HAVEN'T ALREADY) BECAUSE OF THEIR INFLUENCE ON OTHER WRITERS OF FANTASY, HORROR AND SPECULATIVE FICTION (some of which I didn't mention in my talk...)
Frankenstein Or The Modern Prometheus by Mary Shelley (1818, although publication date varies by the source you consult)
Grimm's Fairy Tales by the Brothers Grimm. Originally published in 1810, this collection of folk tales includes many of the 'classic' fairy tales like Rapunzel and Sleeping Beauty and some truly "grim" ones like The Girl With No Arms -- ewwwww.
Alice's Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll (1865)
Twenty Thousands Leagues Under The Sea by Jules Verne (1870)
The Princess and the Goblin by George MacDonald (1872)
The War of the Worlds (1875) The Time Machine (1895) by H.G. Welles
The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum (1901)
The Hobbit. or There and Back Again (1937) and The Lord of the Rings (1954 - 1955) by J.R.R. Tolkien
(Fun fact: after the publication of LOTR, Tolkien revised some sections of The Hobbit to provide a cleaner 'through line' to the story in the trilogy)
The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis (1950 - 1956)
Childhood's End (1953) and 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) by Arthur C. Clarke
(Fun fact: Clarke was the inventor of the communications satellite. Possibly his most famous quote (after HAL's 'I'm afraid I can't do that, Dave') is "Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic." Clarke and filmmaker Stanley Kubrick collaborated closely on both the film script and novel of "2002" and consulted AI pioneers like Marvin Minsky, founder of the M.I.T. Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence lab. For more on "2001" and its impact on actual AI and robot research, see my book, "Generation Robot", listed above in resources.)
I, Robot (1950), The Caves of Steel (1953) and The Bicentennial Man (1976) by Isaac Asimov -- a better storyteller than a literary writer, Asimov gave us the Laws of Robotics and set in stone our (highly flawed) vision of robots today. See "Generation Robot" for more on Asimov.
The Haunting of Hill House (1959) and We Have Always Lived in the Castle (1962) by Shirley Jackson
(Fun fact: In his memoir "On Writing", Stephen King mentions Jackson as a seminal influence. A major prize for horror writing is awarded in her name.)
Dune (1965) by Frank Herbert -- yeah, I know it's set in 'outer space' but I still think it's high fantasy ,not sci fi. Prove me wrong.
The Dark Tower series (1982 - 2012) by Stephen King -- the author's answer to LOTR
A Game of Thrones (1996) and the rest of the Fire and Ice series by George R.R. Martin
The Black Tower series by Stephen King -- crosses over with horror
The Green Bone Saga (2017 -- ongoing) novel series by Fonda Lee (Canadian)
Thessaly (2017) by Jo Walton (Canadian) -- genre-defying trilogy that might be defined as science fiction, but I'd argue falls into High Fantasy. Either way, it's amazing!
All The Seas of the World (2022) by Guy Gavriel Kay (Canadian) -- this is only the most recent of many GGK fantasy novel.
CONTEMPORARY (OR URBAN, OR 'LOW', FANTASY)
That Hideous Strength: A Modern Fairy-Tale for Grown-Ups (1945) by C.S. Lewis
Harry Potter novel series (1997 - 2007) by J.K. Rowling
Outlander (1991) by Diana Gabaldon -- there are many many sequels and spin-offs in this historical fantasy series
All My Friends Are Superheroes (2003) by Andrew Kaufman (Canadian)
Making The Rounds (2016) by Allan Weiss (Canadian)
Empire of Wild (2019) by Cherie Dimaline (Canadian) -- crosses over with magic realism
The Trickster book trilogy (2017) by Eden Robinson (Canadian) -- crosses over with magic realism
Hench (2020) by Natalie Zina Walschots (Canadian)
The Starlit Wood: New Fairy Tales (2016) edited by Dominik Parisien and Navah Wolfe (Canadian) -- anthology of new versions of old fairy tales, reimagined by contemporary fantasy writers
The Centaur's Wife (2021) by Amanda Leduc (Canadian) -- crosses over with postapoc fiction
The Alchemy Wars (2015) by Ian Tregellis -- a trilogy of steampunk/fantasy crossover novels
Clockwork Canada: SteamPunk Fiction (2016) edited by Dominik Parisien -- anthology of steampunk short stories by Canadian SF writers/inspired by Canadian history, folklore and geography
Earth Abides (1949) by George R. Stewart -- an early example of a postapoc even triggered by a pandemic
A Boy and His Dog (1969) by Harlan Ellison -- I actually hated this misogynistic novel, but I include it because I read it on the recommendation of someone I was dating who said it was favourite book. When I finished it, he happened to be in the room. I threw it at his head. Later I incorporated this incident into a creative non-fiction piece called "Icarus" that was shortlisted for the CBC Prize in Creative Non-Fiction. So, all good!
The Handmaid's Tale (1985) and Oryx & Crake (and sequels) by Margaret Atwood (Canadian)
Children of Men (1992) by P.D. James -- takes place in 2021, by the way!
Brown Girl in the Ring (1998) by Nalo Hopkinson (Canadian)
The Road (2003) by Cormac McCarthy
The Core of the Sun (2013) by Johanna Sinisalo
The Southern Reach Trilogy (2014) by Jeff Vandermeer
Station Eleven (2014) by Emily St. John Mandel (Canadian)
American War (2017) by Omar El Akkad (Canadian)
The Marrow Thieves (2017) by Cherie Dimaline (Canadian)
Moon of the Crusted Snow (2018) by Waubgeshig Rice (Canadian)
The Annual Migration of Clouds (2021) by Premee Mohamed (Canadian) -- Novella length. Great example of "cli fi" (dystopic world caused by climate change and 'hopepunk')
Gutter Child (2021) by Jael Richardson (Canadian)
The Petting Zoos (2022) by K.S. Covert (Canadian)
HARD (SCIENTIFICALLY PLAUSIBLE, MAYBE, KIND OF...) FICTION
Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? (1968) by Philip K Dick
The Left Hand of Darkness (1969) by Ursula K. Le Guin -- the introduction Le Guin added in 1975 provides some insights on the process of treating a novel as a thought experiment -- something that Stephen King also discusses in his memoir, noted above
The Martian (2011) by Andy Weir
Lady Astronaut trilogy (2021) by Mary Robinette Kowal
Klara and the Sun (2021) by Kazuo Ishiguru -- an AI story told from the point of view of the AI, I'd argue this book (which some might even label fantasy) as firmly within Hard Sci Fi. From what I learned about Machine Learning while researching "Generation Robot", the visual experience described by Klara is very much what an AI might "see".
SPECULATIVE FICTION (SCI FI THAT PROBABLY ISN'T SCIENTIFICALLY PLAUSIBLE...TIME TRAVEL WOULD FALL INTO THIS CATEGORY...)
Stranger in a Strange Land (1961) by Robert A. Heinlein
11/22/63 (2011) by Stephen King
The Midnight Library (2020) by Matt Haig -- might also be categorized as Contemporary Fantasy or Magic Realism
The Hard Side of the Moon (2021) by Hugh A. D. Spencer (Canadian)
Sputnik's Children (2017) and The Sisters Sputnik (2022) by Terri Favro (Canadian)
A Suitable Companion for the End of Your Life (2022) by Robert MGill (Canadian)
Autonomy (2022) by Victoria Hetherington (Canadian)
The Limitless Sky (2022) by Christina Kilbourne (Canadian)
Agency (2020) by William Gibson
HORROR, GOTHIC AND THE SUPERNATURAL
The aforementioned masterpieces by Shirley Jackson, plus...
Harvest Home (1973) by Tom Tryon
Ghost Story (1979) by Peter Straub
Lives of the Mayfair Witches (1990 to 1993) by Anne Rice
The Demonologist (2013) by Andrew Pyper (Canadian)
The Acolyte (2015) by Nick Cutter (aka Craig Davidson) (Canadian)
Those Who Make Us: Canadian Creature, Myth, and Monster Stories (2016) edited by Kelsi Morris and Kaitlin Tremblay -- anthology of stories by notable Canadian speculative fiction, fantasy and horror writers
The Creature X Mystery Series (2020 to present) by J.J. Dupuis (Canadian)
Mexican Gothic (2020) and Certain Dark Things (2016) by Silvia Moreno-Garcia (Canadian)
The Bone Mother (2017) by David Demchuk (Canadian) -- first horror novel to be longlisted for the Giller Prize
Carrie (1974), The Shining (1977), It (1986) Doctor Sleep (2013) and Fairy Tale (2022) by Stephen King
BANGSIAN FANTASY (FICTION SET IN THE AFTERLIFE)]
Riverworld book series (1971 - 1982) by José Philip Farmer
No Fury Like That (2017) by Lisa de Nikolits (Canadian)
AfterLIfe trilogy (2017) by Randal Graham (Canadian)
Dona Flor and Her Two Husbands (1966) by Jorge Amado
The House of the Spirits (1982) by Isabel Allende
The Proxy Bride (2012) and Once Upon A Time in West Toronto (2017) by Terri Favro (Canadian)
All the Animals on Earth (2020) by Mark Sampson (Canadian)
The Night Watchman (2020) by Louise Erdrich
River, Diverted (2022) by Jamie Tennant (Canadian)