The best speculative fiction books for dismantling the patriarchy

Corin Reyburn Author Of The Rise of Saint Fox and The Independence
By Corin Reyburn

The Books I Picked & Why

The Fifth Season: The Broken Earth, Book 1

By N.K. Jemisin

Book cover of The Fifth Season: The Broken Earth, Book 1

Why this book?

If you haven’t read the first book in N.K. Jemisen’s highly acclaimed Broken Earth trilogy yet, you’re in for one hell of a treat. The first book I’ve picked up in a long time that engaged me to this degree, Jemisen’s world-building is stellar, unique, and most importantly, she crafts a fantasy landscape largely devoid of your typical Western kingdom-and-its-merry-knights tropes. Unapologetically full of direct metaphors on issues of race and gender, this book is destabilizing in the best way—queer, feminist, and magical, literally—featuring an original, complex magic system rooted in nature and matriarchal power. Plus, the way the narrative is written trusts the intelligence of its reader and keeps you guessing.

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Her Body and Other Parties: Stories

By Carmen Maria Machado

Book cover of Her Body and Other Parties: Stories

Why this book?

Machado’s provocative short story collection gives us a dark, kaleidoscopic whirlwind of tales, from women literally disappearing into dresses to fat removed from a liposuction procedure haunting a woman’s house. Machado mixes horror, erotica, and science fiction deftly on these pages, with sharp, delicious prose detailing narratives of women who are queer, fat, mentally ill, and will be seen. The patriarchy should quake in the wake of Machado’s bold and singular voice.

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Geek Love

By Katherine Dunn

Book cover of Geek Love

Why this book?

Geek Love subverts the American dream in the best and most disturbing way, outlining the “horror of normalcy” in a story about parents who run a carnival and literally breed their children to be circus freaks, from conjoined twins to a girl with a pig tail to Arturo the Aqua boy—complete with flippers. These children of the carnival take pride in their freakishness, in their unusual bodies, though the story takes increasingly dark twists and turns that will make you unable to put it down…I became so engrossed in it during my initial read that I stayed up till 3 a.m. to finish it…thoroughly captivated, horrified, and wanting more.

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Too Much Flesh and Jabez

By Coleman Dowell

Book cover of Too Much Flesh and Jabez

Why this book?

The only male author on this list, Coleman Dowell’s Southern Gothic tale is included because it contains some of the most nuanced writing of female characters I’ve ever encountered. Too Much Flesh tells the narrative of a well-endowed farmer named Jim, his petite wife Effie, and a young man, Jabez, whose mutual obsession with Jim leads to, well, something of a frenetic climax. A story within a story, the tale is told to us by a “spinster schoolteacher” (the book was published in 1977), Miss Ethel, who channels her sexual repression into this story of the farmer.

Neither Miss Ethel nor Jim’s wife, Effie, come across as one-dimensional—they feel and act like real people on the page. Dowell himself was gay and deftly handles this queer narrative in a way that is somehow both quiet and stunning, and makes an interesting case study for the time period and genre. And although it’s not strictly speculative fiction, there is enough question of the realism of the story that I think allows for its inclusion here.

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The Black Tides of Heaven

By Neon Yang

Book cover of The Black Tides of Heaven

Why this book?

As a fellow genderqueer/non-binary Asian writer, I’m happy to champion the first in Neon Yang’s Tensorate series. A YA novella set in a non-Western fantasy landscape, this book tackles issues of gender identity and choice head-on, introducing us to a society where children are referred to individually using they/them pronouns, and can select one of the binary genders when they come of age or chose to remain non-binary. We see the world through the eyes of twins Mokoya and Akeha as they come into their gender expressions and their powers in a feudal, monastic society largely reminiscent of those found in Asian history.

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