The best science fiction books that don’t actually care about genre

Who am I?

Science Fiction, which used to be used to market all kinds of fantastic fiction (including The Lord of the Rings) was first subdivided into marketing genres like SF, Horror, and Fantasy. In recent years, those genres have been sliced into even smaller portions—into sub-genres like Urban Fantasy, Steampunk, Fantasy of Manners, Cyberpunk, and so on. The reasons that happened? We’ll save that for some much longer conversation. I’ve been a fantasy and science fiction writer for more than thirty years, and a reader and fan of the genre for longer than that—since childhood. My books have been New York Times and Sunday Times bestsellers, and they’re published in more than two dozen languages.


I wrote...

Into the Narrowdark

By Tad Williams,

Book cover of Into the Narrowdark

What is my book about?

The High Throne of Erkynland is tottering, its royal family divided and diminished. Queen Miriamele has been caught up in a brutal rebellion in the south and thought to have died in a fiery attack. Her grandson Morgan, heir to the throne, has been captured by one of Utuk’ku’s soldiers in the ruins of an abandoned city. Miriamele’s husband, King Simon, is overwhelmed by grief and hopelessness, unaware that many of these terrible things have been caused by Pasevalles, a murderous traitor inside Simon’s own court at the Hayholt.

Meanwhile, a deadly army of Norns led by the ageless, vengeful Queen Utuk’ku, has swept into Erkynland and thrown down the fortress of Naglimund, slaughtering the inhabitants and digging up the ancient grave of Ruyan the Navigator. 

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of The Martian Chronicles

Tad Williams Why did I love this book?

Nominally science fiction, this collection of stories does revolve around the human colonization of the planet Mars, but science is not very important in these stories. There are rockets, but we don’t learn much about them: they’re not what the stories are about. There are Martians, but they’re more like the Fair Folk of old European legends, beautiful and dangerous, than they are like traditional ETs. These Martians are very real, but they’re also metaphors, presented in each story according to what Bradbury wants the story to do. In fact, I would say this wonderful collection influenced my fantasy writing more than my SF writing. I still go back to it and find new things to admire.

By Ray Bradbury,

Why should I read it?

14 authors picked The Martian Chronicles as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The Martian Chronicles, a seminal work in Ray Bradbury's career, whose extraordinary power and imagination remain undimmed by time's passage, is available from Simon & Schuster for the first time.

In The Martian Chronicles, Ray Bradbury, America’s preeminent storyteller, imagines a place of hope, dreams, and metaphor— of crystal pillars and fossil seas—where a fine dust settles on the great empty cities of a vanished, devastated civilization. Earthmen conquer Mars and then are conquered by it, lulled by dangerous lies of comfort and familiarity, and enchanted by the lingering glamour of an ancient, mysterious native race. In this classic work…


Book cover of Lord of Light

Tad Williams Why did I love this book?

Again, a work labeled science fiction (it won the top science fiction prizes of its day)—that takes place in the far future, on a presumably distant planet. This one features a war between “deities” that are basically superheroes, but this thrilling and poetic work draws far more on Hindu (and Buddhist) mythology than on traditional SF tropes. Written with Zelazny’s usual nimble touch, Lord of Light instructs while it entertains: the main characters, once astronauts, have become gods ruling over their new planet, and the only people who can fight tyrannical gods are... other gods. 

By Roger Zelazny,

Why should I read it?

6 authors picked Lord of Light as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Imagine a distant world where gods walk as men, but wield vast and hidden powers. Here they have made the stage on which they build a subtle pattern of alliance, love, and deadly enmity. Are they truly immortal? Who are these gods who rule the destiny of a teeming world?

Their names include Brahma, Kali, Krishna and also he who was called Buddha, the Lord of Light, but who now prefers to be known simply as Sam. The gradual unfolding of the story - how the colonization of another planet became a re-enactment of Eastern mythology - is one of…


Book cover of Dune

Tad Williams Why did I love this book?

Again, this book is in most ways clearly SF—space travel, zappy ray guns, force fields—but the sandworms are straight out of Kaiju movies or dragon stories. The force field technology means that the most important fights are hand-to-hand with bladed weapons, and Herbert’s protagonists are the prophesy-believing tribesmen who live close to the land and hold fast to their ancient traditions. And it’s also full of mystical, high-flown metaphysical philosophy, most of which I could happily crib for use in a fantasy novel. In short, it’s not really SF, it’s Lawrence of Arabia with lasers and witches.

By Frank Herbert,

Why should I read it?

51 authors picked Dune as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Before The Matrix, before Star Wars, before Ender's Game and Neuromancer, there was Dune: winner of the prestigious Hugo and Nebula awards, and widely considered one of the greatest science fiction novels ever written.

Melange, or 'spice', is the most valuable - and rarest - element in the universe; a drug that does everything from increasing a person's lifespan to making interstellar travel possible. And it can only be found on a single planet: the inhospitable desert world of Arrakis.

Whoever controls Arrakis controls the spice. And whoever controls the spice controls the universe.

When the Emperor transfers stewardship of…


Book cover of The Stand

Tad Williams Why did I love this book?

King’s sprawling SF epic is really just a werewolf in science-fiction sheep’s clothing. A weaponized disease escapes the lab and kills most of the world’s population—the makings of a classic SF post-apocalyptic tale. But the appearance of archdemon-cognate Randall Flagg—much more of a fantasy villain than an SF villain—completely changes the tone (and the stakes). He’s not human, he’s a Dark Lord—Sauron in jeans and Western boots. Because of Flagg, as far as Good vs. Evil goes, it’s about as subtle as Piers Plowman, though King’s character-building is some of his best. In fact, the book is in most ways a classic King horror novel rather than SF—the set-pieces are designed to build suspense and fear, building toward catharsis, rather than to ask questions and reveal answers as is common in SF.

By Stephen King,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Stephen King's apocalyptic vision of a world blasted by virus and tangled in an elemental struggle between good and evil remains as riveting and eerily plausible as when it was first published.

Soon to be a television series.

'THE STAND is a masterpiece' (Guardian). Set in a virus-decimated US, King's thrilling American fantasy epic, is a Classic.

First come the days of the virus. Then come the dreams.

Dark dreams that warn of the coming of the dark man. The apostate of death, his worn-down boot heels tramping the night roads. The warlord of the charnel house and Prince of…


Book cover of The Dancers at the End of Time

Tad Williams Why did I love this book?

This series of linked novels and stories—start reading at An Alien Heat—would also be called SF.  They deal with time travel, the end of human civilization, and all kinds of other science-fictiony ideas. But the science is blurred almost into invisibility: the people living at the End of Time have little to no idea of the eons that have passed before them—nor do they much care about the past, except as a source of themes for their decadent parties. (Their ignorance of historical fact is also where a lot of the humor comes from.) The End of Timers have power rings that draw energy from the “ancient cities”, and with them can basically do magic—rearrange geography, create and destroy apparently living beings, and change themselves into any shape they want. So science is way back on the back burner; what we have instead is essentially a society of idiot wizards whiling away the centuries before the Earth’s last gasp. And it’s glorious.

By Michael Moorcock,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked The Dancers at the End of Time as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Enter a decaying far, far future society, a time when anything and everything is possible, where words like 'conscience' and 'morality' are meaningless, and where heartfelt love blossoms mysteriously between Mrs Amelia Underwood, an unwilling time traveller, and Jherek Carnelian, a bemused denizen of the End of Time.

The Dancers at the End of Time, containing the novels An Alien Heat, The Hollow Lands and The End of All Songs, is a brilliant homage to the 1890s of Wilde, Beardsley and the fin de siecle decadents, satire at its sharpest and most colourful.


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A Long Way from Iowa: From the Heartland to the Heart of France

By Janet Hulstrand,

Book cover of A Long Way from Iowa: From the Heartland to the Heart of France

Janet Hulstrand Author Of A Long Way from Iowa: From the Heartland to the Heart of France

New book alert!

Who am I?

Author Reader Editor Francophile Minnesotan Once and forever Brooklynite

Janet's 3 favorite reads in 2023

What is my book about?

This memoir chronicles the lives of three generations of women with a passion for reading, writing, and travel. The story begins in 1992 in an unfinished attic in Brooklyn as the author reads a notebook written by her grandmother nearly 100 years earlier. This sets her on a 30-year search to find her grandmother’s journals and uncover the hidden interior lives of her mother and grandmother.

Her adventures take her to a variety of locations, from a small town in Iowa to New York, Washington, London, and Paris—and finally to a little village in France, where she is finally able to write the book that will tell her own story, intertwined with the stories of her mother and grandmother.

A Long Way from Iowa: From the Heartland to the Heart of France

By Janet Hulstrand,

What is this book about?

This story, about three generations of women with a passion for reading, writing, and travel, begins in 1992, in an unfinished attic in Brooklyn, as a young writer reads journals written by her grandmother as a schoolgirl nearly 100 years earlier. This sets her on a 30-year quest to uncover the hidden lives and unfulfilled dreams of her mother and grandmother. In this coming-of-middle-age memoir, the author comes to realize that the passion for travel and for literature that has fueled her life's journey is a gift that was passed down to her by the very role models she was…


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