The best literary speculative fiction: science fiction, folklore, and fantasy

The Books I Picked & Why

Starve Acre

By Andrew Michael Hurley

Book cover of Starve Acre

Why this book?

A haunting tale based on local folklore, set in a remote village.

Robert and Juliet return to the family home bequeathed by Robert’s father. Their son Ewan enjoys playing in the field opposite the house, where Richard tries to locate the roots of the Stythwaite Oak, ignoring villagers’ warnings.

When he uncovers the remains of a hare, the story becomes surreal and magical. Ewan dies suddenly, and Juliet sinks into grief and withdraws from everyone, except a group known as The Beacons, which includes a medium. Following a seance, Juliet claims to have had a revelation of the truth of Ewan’s death (withheld from the reader).

The tension rises to a shocking, unexpected climax that suggests this is not the end of the story.

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The Sunken Land Begins to Rise Again

By M. John Harrison

Book cover of The Sunken Land Begins to Rise Again

Why this book?

This is weird fiction, remastered, at its best. The book oozes with brooding atmosphere, full of water: rain, rivers, floods, ponds, a mysterious drowning.

The characters regard unexplained events as normal and do not question them. Peculiar creatures are encountered but not reported. The obsession of several of the characters with Charles Kingsley’s The Water Babies adds to the mystery. It will appeal to admirers of J. G. Ballard and David Lynch. 

Shaw and Victoria meet on a wet afternoon and begin an on-off distance relationship. Both are trying to escape from humdrum jobs and the unambitious lifestyles of their acquaintances.

Continuous rain threatens floods; the rising waters reawaken a race of aquatic creatures that appear to be about to emerge from beneath the ground.

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Cloud Atlas

By David Mitchell

Book cover of Cloud Atlas

Why this book?

A twenty-first-century classic and a triumph of storytelling, form and first-class writing. Six interlinked stories, connected by narrators bearing a similar tattoo, are set in sequence between 1849 and 2346. Each is written in a different style and genre and presented in two halves, except for the central, linking chapter. The chapter sequence moves from the past to the future and back to the past.

The story themes included colonial past and misdeeds in the Pacific, musical biography, a mystery thriller, a comic kidnapping, an uprising of clones and a vision of the future written in an imagined dialect.

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By Mervyn Peake

Book cover of Gormenghast

Why this book?

Regarded by many as one of the best fantasy series of the twentieth century, Gormenghast is a gothic masterpiece. The setting is a vast, isolated and largely empty castle in a remote earldom, ruled by the Groan family since time immemorial. The eccentric inhabitants rarely venture beyond the castle walls and engage in Machiavellian intrigue. They live out their lives performing numerous rituals whose purpose is long forgotten.

The story spans the first seventeen years of the life of Titus Groan, heir to Gormenghast, who begins to question his pseudo-medieval surroundings and what lies outside.

The book draws the reader into a strange, self-contained, and conspiratorial world.

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Things We Say in the Dark

By Kirsty Logan

Book cover of Things We Say in the Dark

Why this book?

One of the most daring and original voices I have read in recent years. 

I admire Kirsty Logan’s boldness in imagining and describing personal viewpoints and her unique interpretation of possible alternate realities. She shows the courage to commit to ideas and storylines that are original, innovative, and beyond the imagination of most people.

The two darkest stories are "Watch the wall, my darling, while the Gentlemen go by", a menacing tale of abuse, kidnapping, and violence, and "Half Sick of Shadows". The latter is profoundly moving and disturbing and almost unbelievable in its callousness.

A writer whose progress I will follow with interest.

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