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Ten speculative fiction books you should’ve already read

Speculative fiction books are all the rage now. 

Reading has undoubtedly become a less popular activity than at any time in recent memory. The numbers tell a similar story. According to a recent literary reading study, fiction book purchases fell by 18% between 2013 and 2017. 

Speculative fiction is one genre that has come through. Much of our modern popular culture derives meaning from content rooted in speculative fiction. From Marvel movies to the Game of Thrones and Harry Potter, the most popular content we interact with now is speculative fiction. 

This article presents ten popular speculative fiction books you should’ve already read. 

The ten speculative fiction books you should’ve read

#1 – The Devourers by Indra Das

Let’s start with a title closer to home. The Devourers is Indra Das’s debut novel and currently ranks high amongst the all-time best Indian fantasy novels. It is thus no surprise to see this title amongst the top speculative fiction books as well. 

The Devourers is not for readers who like the rose-tinted side of speculative fiction. It is a gruesome fantasy epic telling the story of trouble in the Mughal Empire and the arrival of a new race of people. 

The best part? The story begins as a conversation between a professor and a strange man. That’s my kind of starting point!

The use of ancient Indian myths is on point and an element I personally admire. India is home to too many dormant myths never talked about. The Devourers helps get some carbon off the valves and encourages writers such as myself to look no further than the history and myths of India. 

Also read: How Can Indian Writers Tell The Story Of India?

You can buy the book here. 

#2 – The Pet Sematary by Stephen King

The Pet Sematary is my favorite Stephen King novel. I’m not a horror buff by any stretch of the imagination, so hear me when I say this – I’ve never loved reading a book more. 

The story begins with a familiar beginning as far as horror stories are concerned. A perfect family moves into a new home and discovers…guess what?

Yes, a pet cemetery. 

I don’t enjoy the cheap scares of horror movies, not just because they scare me shitless, but they really are cheap. Pet Semetary doesn’t really have any such scares. It is very honest about the different elements within its little world.

King peels the story layer by layer, introducing new factors and stakes at every turn. The ending is a thing of beauty as well. 

The Pet Sematary is not a long read. You don’t need an entire week to get through it. Make the most of your lazy Sunday with this Stephen King classic. Buy it here. 

#3 –  Foucault’s Pendulum by Umberto Eco

Yes, Focault’s Pendulum is needlessly dense. In many different chapters and parts, it becomes a long winding history chapter. You could in fact say that the book is only 40% plot and 60% history. 

And yet, there is no better historical fiction book I’ve ever read. 

If you find books like the Da Vinci Code interesting, the Focault’s Pendulum takes the madness level up a notch. It won’t be wrong to call the Dan Brown bestseller a diet version of Focault’s Pendulum. 

The story essentially revolves around three men working at a publishing house who uncover the existence of a mysterious underground society in search of a secret object. 

Sounds familiar? Foucault’s Pendulum will banish all your presumptions. 

Eco is known to take pride in the complexity of his stories and the Focault’s Pendulum is nothing if not complex. 

Unlike the speculative fiction novels mentioned earlier, the Foucault’s Pendulum is not a leisurely Sunday read. It was a week-long surreal experience for me. You can seep yourself in its rich storylines if you’re looking for a distraction. You can buy the book here. 

#4 – Altered Carbon by Richard Morgan 

As a fan of Blade Runner and sci-fi noir in general, Altered Carbon came as a happy surprise. 

Most readers probably recall the name from the recent Netflix series of the same name. I admit I watched the Netflix series before reading the books. 

My suggestion? Read the book before watching the Netflix series. 

Altered Carbon begins sometime in the future. Humans have managed to achieve immortality bu transporting their consciousness to new bodies after death

This premise of the story makes for a very interesting plot. You wouldn’t be wrong to find many similarities between Altered Carbon and many other LA-based noir films like Chinatown and LA Confidential.

The book won Morgan the Philip K Dick award back in 2003. If you’re yet to watch the show, I’d recommend getting the book first. It just makes for a more rounded experience. You can buy the book here.   

Also read: What is Speculative Noir Fiction? Examples and History

#5 – Harry Potter by JK Rowling

How can we make a list of the best speculative fiction novels and not speak of Harry Potter?

There is no need to explain the plot for this one. Literally, everyone knows something about the boy wizard. 

Harry Potter’s impact on literature and culture is beyond many other significant cultural milestones. The millennial generation that grew up on the Harry Potter books borrows much of its cultural milestones from the seven-book series. 

Rowling’s universe is still alive and kicking. Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them brought the Harry Potter universe back. For now, Rowling and here fantastical worlds are here to stay, 

The movies actually do great justice to the books. Unlike Game of Thrones where the showrunners shat the bed, David Yates and co. do justice to Rowling’s vision and don’t bungle the story. 

Despite the movies staying true to the books, there are still some interesting points of divergence. There are interesting insights on certain characters and side stories that the movie leaves out. 

Potterverse fans will naturally appreciate these points better than anyone else. If you’ve never read the books, here is a link to the same. 

#6 – The Way of the Kings by Brandon Sanderson

I have already bet my money on the Stormlight archives to become the next fantasy epic to gain widespread popularity like A Song of Ice and Fire. The Way of the Kings is the first book of the series and a stunning read from beginning to end. 

I’ve watched many of Sanderson’s videos on writing fantasy fiction on YouTube and also his podcast. He really is a master at his craft and it shows with the Way of the Kings. 

The story has plenty of intrigue like most good fantasy novels. Shardplates, high princes, the Blackthorn, and all similar elements combine to provide a truly entertaining spectacle.  The characters appear very real and mapped out, each with a story to tell and a cross to bear. 

If you liked fantasy epics like A Song of Ice and Fire or the Witcher, this series is made for you. It has all the fantasy elements along with the medieval political intrigue to make for an interesting read. 

Again, the Way of the Kings is not a one time adventure. You will have to remain invested throughout the series. You can start with the first book by buying one here. 

#7 – The Time Machine by HG Wells

I always value authors who were pioneers of their time and conjured up entire genres from the recess of their minds. HG Wells brought science fiction on the map with several of his works. 

The Time Machine is my favorite of the lot. It was the first science fiction novel I read many years back when the concept of time travel in fiction was new to me. 

The plot tells the story of the Time Traveller who travels to the future and comes across a different kind of species called the Eloi. He loses his time machine there and has to deal with the Morlocks to get back to his time. 

The story is simple but it provides many valuable lessons to fantasy writers. All the pure fundamentals of fantasy storytelling and writing in general are strong here. That is naturally not surprising considering HG Wells is the writer. 

The Eloi and Morlocks served as inspiration for many other movies and TV shows. Star Trek and Star Wars borrowed many world-building elements from The Time Machine. The contribution of HG Wells and other sci-fi writers of his generation like Jules Verne and Mary Shelley is crucial to the success of many modern speculative fiction books.

#8 – Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell

The entire reason speculative fiction gained popularity as a genre was to tell the truth through exaggerated stories. Nineteen Eighty-Four is a classic example of a speculative fiction novel that uses an unlikely doomsday scenario to condemn the authoritarian tendencies of our  world.

The plot is like the story of every dissident who dares to think differently. Winston, our protagonist, finds a greater cause to be loyal to than his ruthless and authoritarian bosses – Julia. 

Orwell sheds light on various interesting insights writers can learn from. Winston is never blindly loyal to the Party, but he hides his dissidence very well. It is only after meeting Julia that Winston really comes under the radar of the party. 

In writing, it is a common trope to have a protagonist that is a counterpoint to his environment. However, writers often don’t have a plot that presents consequences to their protagonists for acting as a counter. 

Orwell punishes Winston. He makes sure readers realize the cost people must pay for going against their environment. This makes Nineteen Eighty-Four truly real in a storm of unreality. 

Also read: The Power Of Eventual Doom: Why We Love Dystopian Fiction

#9 – A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess

A Clockwork Orange is classified as a dystopian novel. It’s ethos though lies in the origin of violence and society’s struggles in dealing with it. 

Alex, our protagonist, is part of a gang that commits “ultra violence” without any cause during the night. His violent escapades eventually land him in prison where his tendencies refuse to go away. 

In prison, he’s offered a chance to become part of a medical experiment. In return, the authorities offer to commute his sentence. 

This kicks off a series of events that lead Alex to the many people he had wronged in his life. Besides Alex’s struggle with his violent tendencies, the story also deals with the society’s fight against violence. The book shows how far the establishment is willing to go in order to stamp out violence. 

The themes of A Clockwork Orange are more in line with our modern world than perhaps the likes of Nineteen Eighty-Four. The problem of violence and the reaction of law enforcement to it is a very common problem in cities around the world. 

Like many dystopian novels, A Clockwork Orange doesn’t seek to provide a lot of comfort. It is ruthless in dealing with its subject matter and not the kind of book those who enjoy comforting passages should take up. 

#10 – The Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follet

Ken Follet is undeniably the paragon of historical fiction. His Kingsbridge series is still the gold-standard for most historical fiction works. 

The Pillars of the Earth tells the story of the construction of a catedral in a fictional English town called Kingsbridge. 

The story starts with an epic monologue that involves a pregnant wife cursing the men responsible for her husband’s death. We then find ourselves with Tom, a builder who abandons his infant son at his wife’s grave because he has no money to feed him. 

The Pillars of the Earth was followed by World Without End, another popular novel. It solidified the legacy of Follet as one of the greatest speculative fiction authors of our generation. 

In conclusion 

This piece presents ten speculative fiction books that you should probably have read already. This is not my version of the top 10 speculative fiction novels of all time. It’s only books I’ve read and hope readers find the time to read as well. 

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