The best speculative fiction books that every science fiction author needs to read

Sally Ember, Ed.D. Author Of This Changes Everything: The Spanners Series, Volume I
By Sally Ember, Ed.D.

Who am I?

I started reading sci-fi in 1962 with 1957's Miss Pickerell Goes to Mars and have loved it ever since. I became a sci-fi writer with my first three books in utopian speculative fiction, The Spanner Series. Unfortunately, I stalled out due to a TBI, a cross-country move, and other distractions, but I do plan to continue with the other 7 volumes in my utopian speculative fiction series some day. The writers in my “best of” list are some of my lifelong inspirations, so I hope newer readers can enjoy and learn from their works as much as I have.


I wrote...

This Changes Everything: The Spanners Series, Volume I

By Sally Ember, Ed.D.,

Book cover of This Changes Everything: The Spanners Series, Volume I

What is my book about?

Dr. Clara Ackerman Branon, 58, has secret visits from holographic representations from the Many Worlds Collective (MWC), a consortium of planets in the multiverse. When the MWC invites Earth to join, Clara and her media partner, Espy, make the visits public and the MWC selects Clara as the Chief Communicator (CC).

Clara and the Psi-Warriors try to quell the rebelling Psi-Defiers during the Psi Wars. The CC has to manage family's and friends' reactions as well as multiple timelines. Clara and her long-time love, Epifanio Dang, get to be together and she is alone and with other partners. This Changes Everything touches on many parts of the 30 years of Clara's term as Earth's Chief Communicator in The Spanners Series. Are YOU ready for the changes?

The books I picked & why

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The People: No Different Flesh

By Zenna Henderson,

Book cover of The People: No Different Flesh

Why this book?

Zenna Henderson's entire The People series is worth reading, including the original short stories. These were all published at a time when very few female sci-fi authors were published. There is also a film that is fairly faithful to the books. Her creativity, her understanding the experience of immigrants and those who are “different,” and her depictions of the ways humans and immigrants are likely to re/act are timeless, offering stellar insights into our modern-day experiences. Sci-fi authors would do well to read all her books to learn how to do world-building, draw parallels between non-human species and humans, and analogize modern dilemmas as speculative fiction plots.

The People: No Different Flesh

By Zenna Henderson,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Avon No. S328


The Left Hand of Darkness

By Ursula K. Le Guin,

Book cover of The Left Hand of Darkness

Why this book?

Ursula K. Le Guin is a master storyteller, world-builder, and political and social commentator who has written dozens of stories and novels that are all worth reading. Her stories provide valuable lessons to all sci-fi authors. She also writes great poetry and essays. This novel's characters predate almost all other nonbinary gender characters. And, as a species, they can change their biological sex during their mating time with something called “kemmer”. With kemmer, anyone can become pregnant and give birth during their lifetimes. “No mother wants their child to go to war” is an excellent premise for a pacifist culture. Many other great aspects to the plot, world built, and characters abound.

The Left Hand of Darkness

By Ursula K. Le Guin,

Why should I read it?

12 authors picked The Left Hand of Darkness as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

50TH ANNIVERSARY EDITION-WITH A NEW INTRODUCTION BY DAVID MITCHELL AND A NEW AFTERWORD BY CHARLIE JANE ANDERS

Ursula K. Le Guin's groundbreaking work of science fiction-winner of the Hugo and Nebula Awards.

A lone human ambassador is sent to the icebound planet of Winter, a world without sexual prejudice, where the inhabitants' gender is fluid. His goal is to facilitate Winter's inclusion in a growing intergalactic civilization. But to do so he must bridge the gulf between his own views and those of the strange, intriguing culture he encounters...

Embracing the aspects of psychology, society, and human emotion on an…


The Sirian Experiments

By Doris Lessing,

Book cover of The Sirian Experiments

Why this book?

Doris Lessing is another amazing speculative fiction author with many books and stories to read! This is the third book in a series of five that I highly recommend reading in its entirety and in order. But if you can only read one book, read this one. In this series, Lessing posits an Earth that has been the subject of a millennia-long experiment by beings from the planet Shikasta that includes tipping Earth on its axis to create seasons, which she speculates are the main reason humans have ever-changing moods and are quick to be emotional. A fascinating look into what makes humans the way we are from a unique perspective, along with excellent world-building and an interesting vehicle for storytelling make this a great read.

The Sirian Experiments

By Doris Lessing,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

The third in Doris Lessing's visionary novel cycle "Canopus in Argos: Archives". It is a mix of fable, futuristic fantasy and pseudo-documentary accounts of 20th-century history.


The Downstairs Room and Other Speculative Fiction

By Kate Wilhelm,

Book cover of The Downstairs Room and Other Speculative Fiction

Why this book?

Wilhelm is credited with having the best writing that inhabits “speculative fiction” (Robert Heinlein's coined term in 1947). I agree with that wholeheartedly, even though many others have contributed. She has dozens of novels, including mystery, suspense, and speculative sci-fi, but start with this book. Each story is unique and they don't actually connect in any way except that she put them all into this book, so I can't summarize them. Please read them all: every single one is a gem and an amazing example of great sci-fi writing.

The Downstairs Room and Other Speculative Fiction

By Kate Wilhelm,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Downstairs Room and Other Speculative Fiction as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Contents: Unbirthday Party (1968) Baby, You Were Great (1967) When the Moon Was Red (1960) Sirloin and White Wine (1968) Perchance to Dream (1968) How Many Miles to Babylon? (1968) The Downstairs Room (1968) Countdown (1968) The Plausible Improbable (1968) The Feel of Desperation (1964) A Time to Keep (1962) The Most Beautiful Woman in the World (1968) The Planners (1968) Windsong (1968) The stories range from speculative fiction, to science fiction, to fantasy. “The Planners” (1968) was a Nebula winner, for example.


The Very Best of Fantasy & Science Fiction: Anthology

By Gordon Van Gelder,

Book cover of The Very Best of Fantasy & Science Fiction: Anthology

Why this book?

Ray Bradbury and I share birthdays, so I wanted to include him, and he is one of the greats included in this anthology. It also features Philip K. Dick, Stephen King, Roger Zelazny, Ursula K. Le Guin, Neil Gaiman, and more amazing authors. The story, “All Summer in a Day,” is so powerful that it stayed with me my entire life (I read it in 1964, age 9!). I think it stuck with me because it depicts a group of kids my age at that time bullying another classmate into missing out on a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity out of sheer meanness and children's callousness and carelessness. Bradbury masterfully uses an almost typical classroom setting in an alternate world to show us how WE behave badly regardless of our world setting. Fabulous and sad. Read ANYTHING of his and learn a lot as well as be entertained, but please start here.

The Very Best of Fantasy & Science Fiction: Anthology

By Gordon Van Gelder,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Very Best of Fantasy & Science Fiction as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Collecting more than two dozen stories that appeared for the first time in The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction—the premiere speculative fiction magazine—this extraordinary anthology celebrates sixty years of top-notch genre fiction. Many of these highly acclaimed, award-winning authors’ careers were jump-started by their appearances in Fantasy & Science Fiction.


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