It’s the first Monday of June, and for many of us in the Northern Hemisphere, things are starting to feel like summer. Hopefully, that also means vacation is on the horizon. And what’s a vacation without a good book (or twelve)?
Since I happen to be a fan of speculative fiction (Science Fiction, Fantasy, and everything in between), that’s where I tend to default when making reading recommendations. But, say you don’t care for “spec fic,” or you haven’t found the right place to dip your toe into the pool with the rest of us quirky folks. If that’s you, you’ve come to the right place, friend!
I’d like to present to you A Tourist’s Guide to Speculative Fiction.
There are about a thousand different genres and subgenres under the speculative umbrella, but four of the most popular (and in my opinion, accessible to general audiences) are fantasy, fairy tales, science fiction, and dystopian. I’ll highlight some recommendations for each.
Fantasy: This is a very broad term, but since this is a primer for tourists to the genres, I won’t bog you down with all of the specifics. Interested in wizards, quests, or regular people who notice the fantastical things in the normal world around them? Here are three good places to start in fantasy:
*The Harry Potter Series by J.K. Rowling — A modern classic, Harry Potter is a great way to visit a fantasy realm without leaving our world. The storytelling, wonderful characters, and tale-as-old-as-time battle of light vs. dark will likely extend your visit to last the whole series.
*The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien — Not ready for a face-first dive into the epic fantasy of The Lord of the Rings? Try its prequel instead. The story of Bilbo’s grand adventure will give you an idea of whether or not elves, dwarves, and the whole of Middle Earth at stake are really your style. Plus, despite what the movie trilogy may have suggested to you, The Hobbit is a much shorter read, so it’s perfect for a vacation.
*A Snicker of Magic by Natalie Lloyd — this delightful book falls between the traditional “fantasy” and “contemporary” categories into a subgenre known as Magical Realism. What MR encompasses is another post on its own, but I’ll condense it to this: a contemporary, modern world setting where elements of the fantastical are incorporated into the everyday as normal things, like blackberry ice cream having the power to summon memories. Snicker is a fun, quick read for a summer’s day.
Fairy Tales: This one is fairly self-explanatory, so here are some suggestions.
*Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine — A retelling of Cinderella with a twist: what if you were cursed with the “gift” of obedience?
*The Goose Girl by Shannon Hale — Shannon’s storytelling skills shine in this retelling of the Grimm Brother’s tale about a princess who can communicate with animals and must live undercover in another kingdom.
Almost ready for some Science Fiction, but you’re not sure yet?
Science Fiction: Again, there are many different branches, so you have a lot of options. If you like movies and TV shows like Star Trek, Star Wars, Doctor Who, Back to the Future, and Firefly, you’ll probably enjoy sci-fi novels, too.
The Lunar Chronicles by Marissa Meyer is a great place to start—especially if you like fairy tales.
*Cinder (Book 1) is — you guessed it — another retelling of Cinderella, except this time, Cinder is a cyborg, living in a future version of Earth. The series branches off to tell scifi versions of Little Red Riding Hood (Scarlet), Rapunzel (Cress), and Snow White (Winter).
*A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle — This one is sometimes considered a mix of science fiction and fantasy, but it’s a good place to start with time travel and visiting other planets in a non-threatening way. That’s not to say it isn’t kind of weird, but it’s also really special.
*Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card — While I haven’t personally read this one, it comes highly recommended as a good introduction to futuristic, earth-based science fiction.
*Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury — This book straddles subgenres in science fiction, as it is both futuristic and dystopian in nature. A world where all books are burned…sounds more like a horror to me, but it’s a great story.
Speaking of Dystopian, I’ll wrap up with this subgenre of scifi, which has been extremely popular in the film adaptation world lately. A dystopia (as defined by wikipedia) is “a community or society that is undesirable or frightening.” Dystopians generally explore social and political structures (and their downfalls).
*The Giver by Lois Lowry — This beautiful novel has been discussed as the book that essentially launched the genre as we know it currently, though it’s not nearly as violent as other more recent works. I read it in my sixth grade English class, and I’ve never been the same. (Thanks, Mr. Lane!)
*The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins — This trilogy isn’t for the faint of heart or pacifists (and it may make you one), but if you want to understand the depths of a dystopian society, Panem will certainly educate you.
*The Selection by Kiera Cass — I would describe this series as “Dystopian Lite.” It’s like a combination of “The Bachelor” and The Hunger Games, but without the fight to the death. The emphasis is definitely more on the relationships between characters and less on the destruction of mankind/society, and it’s a lot of fun.
So there you have it: a tourist’s guide to speculative fiction. I hope you can find something you like if you’re looking to test out the waters. Happy June, and may the odds be ever in your favor!
This is Dana, signing off from the Pacific Northwest.