Sunday Salon: A Month of Science Fiction and Fantasy

Jenny and I had so much fun with our International Crime Month back in January that we’ve been looking for an opportunity to do another theme month, and it looks like August will be it. This time, we’ll be moving even further out of our world and devoting our reading time in August to science fiction and fantasy. We’re both fans of these genres, but we don’t read in them nearly as much as we used to, so we’re looking forward to spending a month exploring as many new worlds as we can (and maybe returning to a few old favorites).

I’ve looked through my TBR bookcase and wandered the SFF section of my library to pull a few books together. As usual, my hopes for what I’ll read are bigger than what I’m likely to manage, but I’m treating this stack, which you can see to the right as a pool from which to choose, not a commitment–and I’m not committing to pulling entirely from this pool either.

The books I’m most eager to read are the two Alan Garner books, which are an especially timely choice because the final book in this series, Boneland, is due to be published in August. I’m also definitely going to read at least one of the John Wyndham books. And I’m going to take The Sparrow to work with me because I’ve read it before and I enjoy rereading past favorites at lunchtime. The others I’ll read as I have the time and inclinations.

I’d really like to add some international books, as well as books by authors of color, to my pool. I’ve already put the Russian classic We by Yevgeny Zamyatin on hold at the library, and I’ll probably grab a copy of the first book in Octavia Butler’s Parable series next time I’m there. (I’ve probably checked that book out at least three times; it’s about time I read it.)

Other possibilities include something by one of the great classic authors, like H.G. Wells or Jules Verne. I’ve read Wells’s The Time Machine and War of the Worlds but nothing by Verne. It would also be great to squeeze in a good SFF anthology, but I’m not sure what my library has. And if that’s not enough (ha!), this seems like an excellent time to read Margaret Atwood’s book on science fiction, although I feel it might annoy me more than it will enlighten me. And maybe I’ll find another comic series to replace Fables, which I’m feeling lukewarm about these days. The library may well limit me there. They only have a couple of trade paperbacks of Sandman, for example, although it looks like they might be doing better with Y: The Last Man.

What are some of your favorite science fiction and fantasy novels? Do you have any recommendations for classics or international books? Books by authors of color? Great anthology or works of criticism? Graphic novel and comic series? As is typical for me, my ambitions are probably exceeding my abilities, but it is nice to have a large pool of options.

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28 Responses to Sunday Salon: A Month of Science Fiction and Fantasy

  1. Susan says:

    Hurray for science fiction month! I’ve been trying to read more this year and particularly after corralling shelves of the stuff yesterday during a long overdue shelving rearrangement, I know I should be reading even more.

    I read The Wesleyan Anthology of Science Fiction over the course of several months and I highly recommend it for “teachable” stories ranging from the mid-19th century to today. If you need a current, hard sf offering, I read David Brin’s Existence this month and found it most enjoyable.

    • Teresa says:

      That anthology sounds like just the kind of think I’d like to find, especially since it covers a range of years. I’ll see if my library has it.

      And thanks for the Brin suggestion. I have yet to find a hard scifi novel that I really like, but that’s mostly because I haven’t tried much.

  2. I’m not well read in either of these genres so I’ll be following all your reviews and posts with great interest. Unfortunately I don’t have any recommendations, I’m hoping to get some myself over the next month!

    • Teresa says:

      Between us, I think Jenny and I have a nice range of different kinds of books from these genres coming, so there’s a good chance there will be something to interest you. I hope so!

  3. Lisa says:

    Have you read Lois McMaster Bujold? I’m a big fan of her Vorkosigan series (and waiting for a new book later this year), but I also enjoy the Chalion books (more fantasy than sci-fi).

    • Teresa says:

      I haven’t read any Bujold. She’s one of those authors who’s so prolific that I don’t know where to start. Maybe the Chalion series would be the way to go, since it’s shorter than the Vorkosigan series.

      • Lisa says:

        Would Califia’s Daughters qualify for this? And there’s also Megan Whalen Turner’s Thief series.
        The Chalion books have an interesting (and to me appealing) theology. I’m hoping that she’ll write more in the series.
        I’ll be very interested to see what you read!

      • Teresa says:

        I hadn’t thought of Califia’s Daughters as an option, but it would certainly qualify. I need to read that and the Thief series at some point!

  4. I’m so glad you’re doing this! I keep wanting to read more science fiction, but it’s a pretty overwhelming genre. I’m really looking forward to hearing your thoughts. I highly recommend Riddley Walker by Russell Hoban (also the author of many great children’s books). It’s a dystopian novel written in pidgen English, which makes it a bit of a challenge at first, but once you get it, it’s easy. I read it a few years ago and still think about it. I’m not sure it’s well-known enough to be considered a classic, but I think it might be.

    • Teresa says:

      It is overwhelming! And as with any genre, I sometimes find it hard to work out which books are likely only to be enjoyable for people who are already fans of the genre, and which ones anyone is likely to enjoy.

      I’ll look into Riddley Walker. I enjoy books that play around with language.

  5. cbjames says:

    Can we join in? Is there a button for this? ;-) I don’t think I could dedicate a whole month to it, but I do read SF/Fantasy at least once a month. I like We quite a bit. I read this wonderful book from the steppes of the Soviet Union called The Day Lasts More than a Hundred Years. It counts as science fiction but just barely. I know of two very good anthologies Dream’s Edge and Dark Imaginings that you may want to look into. I enjoyed Wastelands, too. I also suggest looking into podcasts. There is a good deal of very good stuff in the podcast world right now. Escape Pod for science fiction and Pod Castle for fantasy. Both feature weekly short stories that are always good, often wonderful. Starship Sofa is also good especially when an episode features Amy S. Sturges on genre history. Her essays are entertaining and edifying.

    • Teresa says:

      Anyone is welcome to join in, but I’m too lazy to make a button and turn it into an event. Owning my laziness is how I avoid blogger burnout ;) I’ll look into those anthologies for sure; I often read short stories at work, when I’m not rereading something else, so I want to have something lined up for when I finish The Sparrow. And I love the idea of listening to some podcasts. I’ve replaced my audiobook listening on my commute and during workouts with podcasts, so I’ll give those a listen.

  6. aartichapati says:

    Oh, fantastic! Obviously, I look forward to your thoughts on The Doomsday Book, if you get to it!

    I actually have a whole spreadsheet of books in the science fiction/fantasy genre written by or about POC, if you’d like me to email it to you. (Just let me know your email address – not sure if I have it.) A group of us created it for an event we are hoping to roll out in the fall that focuses on diversity in the genre – let me know if you’d like to join the planning group for that, too!

    • Teresa says:

      I would love to take a look at that spreadsheet. (My email is teresakayep at yahoo dot com.) I’m staying project-free these days, but I’ll look forward to seeing the news about your event. It’s a great idea!

  7. The Hoban and Aitmatov (C.B.’s rec) are indeed excellent. I am reading another top-notch Russian scifi novel right now, Roadside Picnic by the Strugatsky brothers. Unusually well-written, cleverly structured, imaginative premise – an “aliens visit Earth” story taken in a new direction.

    • Teresa says:

      I had an e-galley of Roadside Picnic, but the format wasn’t playing nicely with my e-reader, so I only got a page or two into it. Now I’m sorry that it didn’t work out, but I’ll see if my library has it because it looked great.

  8. Alex in Leeds says:

    I’m a fan of Connie Willis so I’ll be interested in your review of Doomsday Book – I rarely meet anyone else who’s read it!

    • Teresa says:

      Jenny loved Doomsday Book, and I know several other bloggers who’ve said good things about it. The only other Willis novel that I’ve read so far is To Say Nothing of the Dog, and I’m looking forward to trying more.

  9. If you haven’t read Sandman i can’t recommend it more highly for fantasy. Y: The Last Man is good, and complete as well. The Unwritten has gotten better over time and Locke and Key is interesting, though not a favorite. If you consider superheroes sci-fi, you might want to try Watchmen. Happy reading!

    • Teresa says:

      I would love to read Sandman, but alas my library only has a couple of the trades. And I enjoyed Watchmen a lot. I’m already planning to read Y: The Last Man someday, but look into the others you mention as well!

  10. Eva says:

    Other than Octavia Butler, my fave fantasy POC author is N.K. Jemisin, who recently published her first trilogy (begins with The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms). It’s my favourite kind of fantasy-lots of gods and creative world building, not really any conventional battle scenes. You could also go for Rushdie’s Haroun & the Sea of Stories, which I very much enjoyed (I recently read Luka, etc., his second YA novel for his other son, and didn’t really like it, especially for its gender problems). Oh, and I almost forgot Nalo Hopkinson! Definitely one to track down, a Caribbean/Canadian author.

    For classics/international, you might want to try E.T.A Hoffman. I’ve read The King’s Bride and would definitely recommend it. The Tolkien Professor has a podcast of his Faerie and Fantasy class that looks at fantasy from the middle ages to present day. Here’s the reading list: http://tolkienprofessor.com/wp/lectures/courses/faerie-and-fantasy/

    On another note, We is v good! I read it on the sleeper train between Moscow and St. Petersburg, after choosing it because it was the cheapest English option on the bookstore. lol Fortunately, it surpassed my expectations!

    • Eva says:

      Oh! I don’t know if Helen Oyeyemi would ‘count’ for this, but she’s awesome. And the Canongate Myth series would be a good source too, esp for international fantasy! Baba Yaga Lays an Egg springs to mind.

    • Teresa says:

      Thanks for those recommendations. Aarti sent me a list the other day that reminded me of Nalo Hopkinson. It’s funny; I had her on my list to try next time I’m looking for a Caribbean author, but it didn’t even occur to me to think of her for this month!

  11. Stefanie says:

    What a fun month ahead! Octavia Butler’s Parable books are wonderful. The new York Review of Books just published a collection of Robert Scheckley short stories. I ordered a copy yesterday because I’ve read good things about it. Sheri S. Tepper is a favorite or mine and I will always have a place in my heart for Robert Heinlein.

    • Teresa says:

      I’ve been meaning to read the Parable books for so long. I loved Fledgling and Kindred. I’ve not read any Tepper or Sheckley, but I’ve read a little Heinlein. I’ll keep all of those in mind!

  12. florinda3rs says:

    I’m just glad to see that The Sparrow is on your list for this theme month. I’d have had to chastise you if it wasn’t 😁.

    • Teresa says:

      This is my second time reading it! I’m about 1/4 of the way through now, and it’s just as good–maybe better–the second time through.

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