The best cross-genre books with highly personal narratives

Who am I?

I’ve always been interested in personal, character-driven stories set in huge speculative worlds. Not every story should be about saving the world/galaxy/multiverse. Sometimes, the best story is just about surviving growing up or navigating a rocky relationship. If that happens on a spaceship or in the Wild West, great. And if that spaceship happens to be in the Wild West, all the better! Making the fantastic ordinary through a personal POV lets us see the otherworldly as plainly as we see the mailman or grumpy alien cowboy. Fortunately, my dueling careers as a UX designer, historian, and writer give me a lot of material and appetite for cross-genre storytelling. 


I wrote...

Calamity: Being an Account of Calamity Jane and Her Gunslinging Green Man

By JD Jordan,

Book cover of Calamity: Being an Account of Calamity Jane and Her Gunslinging Green Man

What is my book about?

Calamity is a violent reimagining of a frontier legend and her alien gunslinger as they face off against extraordinary enemies in the Wilder West. A temperamental, teenage outcast and a hardened, alien gunslinger burn their way across the West—living as outsiders, killing like outlaws, and surviving calamities of their own making. An unexpected pair of underdogs, they confront savage spacemen, avenging posses, and native tribes on the warpath—reframing the frontier legend of Calamity Jane with a gritty and witty sci-fi twist.

The books I picked & why

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The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August

By Claire North,

Book cover of The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August

Why this book?

I found North’s mind-bending novel as I was crossing the threshold from cancer patient to cancer survivor (my own cross-genre personal narrative!). A blend of historical fiction, science fiction, and Groundhog Day, Harry August shows us fifteen iterations of the twentieth century through Harry's uncanny repetitive immortality and a conveniently perfect memory. The book uses its Groundhog Day plot device to raise interesting questions about love and memory and inheritance (even to himself!). And its historical and science-fiction angles reveal something of a Stoic/Zen parable about what you can control and what you can’t.

The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August

By Claire North,

Why should I read it?

5 authors picked The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

'ONE OF THE FICTION HIGHLIGHTS OF THE DECADE' Judy Finnigan, Richard and Judy Book Club

Featured in the Richard and Judy Book Club, the BBC Radio 2 Book Club and the Waterstones Book Club
Winner of the John W. Campbell Award
Shortlisted for the Arthur C. Clarke Award

SOME STORIES CANNOT BE TOLD IN JUST ONE LIFETIME

No matter what he does or the decisions he makes, when death comes, Harry always returns to where he began, a child with all the knowledge of a life he has already lived a dozen times before.

Nothing ever changes - until now.…


The Gunslinger: The Dark Tower I

By Stephen King,

Book cover of The Gunslinger: The Dark Tower I

Why this book?

A series I read over more than a decade, King’s self-described fantasy series is so much more. It combines Western, Lovecraftian horror, Medieval fantasy, apocalyptic science fiction, portal fiction, alternate history, Groundhog Day, and even King’s own autobiography! A small clutch of diverse POV characters keeps the impossible scope of the series grounded—sometimes from beyond the grave!—and the genres collide in an organic way that drives the action and feels really unique. I’d recommend disregarding the movie and starting with The Gunslinger, a short entry we’d probably describe as a weird western, these days. But don’t let the volume of the volumes intimidate: The Dark Tower is worth the read and its ending is both transformative for the characters and the cosmos.

The Gunslinger: The Dark Tower I

By Stephen King,

Why should I read it?

9 authors picked The Gunslinger as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The Dark Tower is now a major motion picture starring Matthew McConaughey and Idris Elba.

'The man in black fled across the desert, and the gunslinger followed.' The iconic opening line of Stephen King's groundbreaking series, The Dark Tower, introduces one of his most enigmatic and powerful heroes: Roland of Gilead, the Last Gunslinger.

Roland is a haunting figure, a loner, on a spellbinding journey toward the mysterious Dark Tower, in a desolate world which frighteningly echoes our own.

On his quest, Roland begins a friendship with a kid from New York named Jake, encounters an alluring woman and faces…


Saga

By Brian K. Vaughan,

Book cover of Saga

Why this book?

While published as an Image comic series, Saga is best approached in its collected graphic novels. I particularly love taking in the ebook version’s artwork on my iPad. This space opera vs. fantasy epic is beautifully scaled down by both its illustrated panels and its close focus on a family of characters through which we encounter a surreal and hostile universe. Hazel, the unlikely daughter of the series’ leading couple, steps in to provide memoir-esque insights from time to time and serves as something of an (adorable) cipher for her parents’ cross-genre Romeo and Juliet arc. Conceived “to do absolutely everything [the author] couldn't do in a movie or a TV show,” Saga pushes both genre envelopes.

Saga

By Brian K. Vaughan,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Saga as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Winner of the 2013 Hugo award for Best Graphic Story! When two soldiers from opposite sides of a never-ending galactic war fall in love, they risk everything to bring a fragile new life into a dangerous old universe. From New York Times bestselling writer Brian K. Vaughan (Y: The Last Man, Ex Machina) and critically acclaimed artist Fiona Staples (Mystery Society, North 40), Saga is the sweeping tale of one young family fighting to find their place in the worlds. Fantasy and science fiction are wed like never before in this sexy, subversive drama for adults. This specially priced volume…


Drunk on All Your Strange New Words

By Eddie Robson,

Book cover of Drunk on All Your Strange New Words

Why this book?

If Bridget Jones and Black Mirror had a baby with Arrival/“Story of Your Life” and a crime thriller, you might get something close to DrunkIn it, we encounter a familiar-but-changed post-First Contact world where Lydia (an alien in her own right, being a small-town Brit in Manhattan) works as a translator for a telepathic alien cultural attaché. The narrator’s lack of technical expertise and her fluency with the alien Logi keep the science-fiction elements of the book familiar and largely devoid of exposition. I actually listened to this book and Amy Scanlon does a great job putting you in Lydia's (and Fitz’s!) head.

Drunk on All Your Strange New Words

By Eddie Robson,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Drunk on All Your Strange New Words as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Lydia works as translator for the Logi cultural attache to Earth. They work well together, even if the act of translating his thoughts into English makes her somewhat wobbly on her feet.
She's not the agency's best translator, but what else is she going to do? She has no qualifications and no discernible talent in any other field.
So when tragedy strikes and Lydia finds herself at the center of an intergalactic incident, her future employment prospects look dire-that is, if she can keep herself out of jail!
But Lydia soon discovers that help can appear from the most unexpected…


The Yiddish Policemen's Union

By Michael Chabon,

Book cover of The Yiddish Policemen's Union

Why this book?

I’ll read anything Chabon writes but this novel has the distinction of being the first book I ever read to my oldest (he was a baby! It was for the words). The Nebula award judges described it as a cross between science-fiction and alternate history but I feel it’s more of a Sam Spade-style crime noir story crossed with alternate history more similar to Robert Harris’ Fatherland. Through the lens of a hard-boiled detective, we encounter a world that might’ve been had the US followed through with the real-historical possibility of settling World War II’s Jewish refugees in Sitka Alaska. Decades later, Sitka is both the new Jewish homeland and the setting for a bizarre murder that lets us explore the highs and lows of a changed world.

The Yiddish Policemen's Union

By Michael Chabon,

Why should I read it?

5 authors picked The Yiddish Policemen's Union as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The brilliantly original new novel from Michael Chabon, author of THE ADVENTURES OF KAVALIER & CLAY and WONDER BOYS.

What if, as Franklin Roosevelt once proposed, Alaska - and not Israel - had become the homeland for the Jews after the Second World War? In Michael Chabon's Yiddish-speaking 'Alyeska', Orthodox gangs in side-curls and knee breeches roam the streets of Sitka, where Detective Meyer Landsman discovers the corpse of a heroin-addled chess prodigy in the flophouse Meyer calls home. Marionette strings stretch back to the hands of charismatic Rebbe Gold, leader of a sect that seems to have drawn its…


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