The best books that show, not tell, you how to write scary sci-fi and fantasy

Who am I?

When writing science fiction horror, it's important to know that the genre should not dictate where your story goes, or how your characters behave. The characters, the people whose story is being told, are what matter. They're the hook. They're the meat and potatoes. The science fiction is the background—the shiny dinner plate that holds the meal. The horror? Well, that's the itch in the back of your mind wondering whether the meat was undercooked and exposed to pathogens that will be obliterating your insides over the course of the forthcoming night. That's how I like my stories, at any rate.

I wrote...


By Arthur A. McMahon,

Book cover of Frostarc

What is my book about?

Son murdered. Wife abandoned. Head hunted. When a violent pandemic turns his neighbors homicidal, Kozz is forced to break out of his solitude and venture back to the world where he left his love behind. Frostarc is a journey through one man's struggle to forgive himself.

The people of his frozen planet have gone insane, and many have disappeared. Kozz needs to find a way off his ice-block prison to track down his wife. Hiding from his past is no longer an option. A decade of isolation and self-loathing has destroyed his spirit, but a young boy and mother who Kozz finds on his travels serve as a surrogate family, one he feels compelled to protect. Frostarc will haunt readers with its bloody, western-shootout style and frightening revelations of Kozz's secret history. 

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of The Gunslinger

Arthur A. McMahon Why did I love this book?

This book and the entire Dark Tower series spurred my interest in fiction. Stephen King is a master storyteller, yet this novel is exceptional in its simplicity. The first line is as gripping as any I've ever read, and it also summarizes the core of the plot: "The man in black fled across the desert, and the gunslinger followed." The Gunslinger stands alone, both the character as well as the book. The way the story grows from a simple get from A to B plot line into an exponentially grander web of mind-bending As and Bs and Xs and Os will forever have an impression on me and my work. My book, and its characters, were heavily influenced by The Gunslinger

By Stephen King,

Why should I read it?

12 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…

Book cover of In Conquest Born

Arthur A. McMahon Why did I love this book?

This complex sci-fi epic taught me the importance of forming my characters as people rather than puppets. Amid the setting of an endless war and the intricacies of its opposing factions it is the individuals who stand out in this novel. The war is a backdrop. The people are the story. Whatever chaos and calamity the author concocts—none of it matters unless it is felt by the characters, and the feelings of the characters don't matter unless the characters feel real to the reader.

By C. S. Friedman,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

In Conquest Born is the monumental science fiction epic that received unprecedented acclaim - and launched C.S. Friedman's phenomenal career. A sweeping story of two interstellar civilizations locked in endless war, it was nominated for the John W. Campbell Award.

Book cover of Something Wicked This Way Comes

Arthur A. McMahon Why did I love this book?

Ray Bradbury's stories ooze charm—an approachable and inviting essence that is absent from nearly all other works of science-fiction. This novel, and in a broader sense many of Bradbury's works, taught me to let loose, to have a little fun with my writing. From this I learned that you can have a spooky and suspenseful story that isn't grotesque, that is funny, that doesn't cling to suspense like it's the only thing holding the plot together, that is poetic, that is fun to read, that is a story you can share with anybody, that is engaging, witty, and philosophical. Ray Bradbury taught me to write for me, and not for anyone else.

By Ray Bradbury,

Why should I read it?

9 authors picked Something Wicked This Way Comes as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

One of Ray Bradbury’s best-known and most popular novels, Something Wicked This Way Comes, now featuring a new introduction and material about its longstanding influence on culture and genre.

For those who still dream and remember, for those yet to experience the hypnotic power of its dark poetry, step inside. The show is about to begin. Cooger & Dark’s Pandemonium Shadow Show has come to Green Town, Illinois, to destroy every life touched by its strange and sinister mystery. The carnival rolls in sometime after midnight, ushering in Halloween a week early. A calliope’s shrill siren song beckons to all…

Book cover of Hyperion

Arthur A. McMahon Why did I love this book?

Hyperion taught me how to be afraid. The feeling I get when I read Hyperion is quite similar to how I feel when I watch Alien, my favorite movie. I see the Shrike as the ultimate literary sci-fi horror monster, much the same way as the Xenomorph is the quintessential movie monster. These creatures create the fear that I crave from my media, and the fear I hope to incite within those who read my works.

By Dan Simmons,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

A book of mystery, legend, romance and violence.

Book cover of Storm Front

Arthur A. McMahon Why did I love this book?

I must admit, I never read Storm Front or any of Jim Butcher's Dresden Files. I listened to them on audiobook performed by the masterful James Marsters. However, my biggest takeaway from this book and the rest of the series isn't the depth of its characters, the impressive detail of its urban fantasy world building, nor the nail-biting blockbuster action sequences—that's all spectacular. But no, what Storm Front and all of the Dresden Files taught me was the importance of structure. Jim Butcher sticks to a particular structure that he uses in nearly each and every one of these books, but he also knows exactly when and how to break away from that structure to create a monumental impact on the reader and his imagined world. It's fascinating, and it works.

By Jim Butcher,

Why should I read it?

18 authors picked Storm Front as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In the first novel in the #1 New York Times bestselling Dresden Files series, Harry Dresden’s investigation of a grisly double murder pulls him into the darkest depths of magical Chicago…

As a professional wizard, Harry Dresden knows firsthand that the “everyday” world is actually full of strange and magical things—and most of them don’t play well with humans. And those that do enjoy playing with humans far too much. He also knows he’s the best at what he does. Technically, he’s the only at what he does. But even though Harry is the only game in town, business—to put…

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The River of Eternity

By Bruce Balfour,

Book cover of The River of Eternity

Bruce Balfour

New book alert!

What is my book about?

1184 BCE. Ramesses III, who will become the last of the great pharaohs, is returning home from battle. He will one day assume the throne of the Egyptian empire, and the plots against him and his children have already started. Even a god can die.

Ray was raised with the teenage children of Ramesses as their friend, but his own mysterious past exposes him to threats inside and outside of the Egyptian court. When a prince is killed, Ray is framed for the murder and must run to protect Bull, the oldest son of Ramesses. So begins Ray’s dangerous journey from the snake pit of royal palace intrigue into a violent world of treachery and enemies that will take years to conquer if he can survive.

The River of Eternity

By Bruce Balfour,

What is this book about?

From the national bestselling author of The Forge of Mars and The Digital Dead, an Ancient Egyptian epic adventure thriller series, based on real events, for fans of Wilbur Smith, Steven Saylor, and Paul Doherty.

This is the first book of a series leading up to the event known as The Harem Conspiracy, the assassination of Pharaoh Ramesses III in New Kingdom Egypt (1184 BCE), which was led by members of his own family. Details were drawn from the first recorded judicial trial transcript ever recovered (Judicial Papyrus of Turin plus other fragments of the original papyrus).

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