Lists

The Best Sci-Fi and Fantasy for Book Clubs

 

Photo by Eugenio Mazzone on Unsplash

Lots of avid readers take part in book clubs, myself included – in fact, I moderate two different book clubs every month. I spend a lot of time carefully choosing sci-fi, fantasy, and graphic novels that club members will have a great time discussing, but not every book club chooses that way. In fact, if you’re not part of a sci-fi specific book club, you might not have a chance to chat about science fiction or fantasy titles at all.

Book club leaders who tend towards historical or literary fiction can be really wary of speculative titles, but if you’re able to suggest titles for your local book club, there are a lot of great speculative titles you can ease in that make great book club discussions while not necessarily making your not-so-SF/F-savvy book club friends balk at them.

  • The cover of the book Hild

    Hild

    One of the easiest titles to suggest for book club discussion is Nicola Griffith’s Hild, a 2013 historical novel with a touch of the fantastic. Hild is a fictionalization of the life of St. Hilda of Whitby, who lived in seventh-century Britain. The novel positions her as a girl with the gift of foresight, which she uses to guide kings and change Britain.

     
  • The cover of the book Kindred

    Kindred

    While I could go on forever about Octavia Butler’s contributions to science fiction as a whole, Kindred is a book that’s important not only for readers of science fiction, but to any American reader. Originally published in 1979, the novel follows a modern Black woman named Dana who’s transported to Antebellum-era Maryland to save the life of a slaveowner’s son.

     
  • The cover of the book The Underground Railroad (Pulitzer Prize Winner) (National Book Award Winner) (Oprah's Book Club)

    The Underground Railroad (Pulitzer Prize Winner) (National Book Award Winner) (Oprah's Book Club)

    A Novel

    This novel follows Cora and Caesar, two slaves in the southeast United States seeking to escape slavery via the Underground Railroad, which in Whitehead’s alternate history is a literal rail system. The Underground Railroad won several awards, including the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, the National Book Award, and the Andrew Carnegie Medal for Excellence.

     
  • The cover of the book Passing Strange

    Passing Strange

    Another excellent example of historical fantasy is Ellen Klages’ 2017 novella set in historic San Francisco. Set against a backdrop of the 1940 World’s Fair, Passing Strange tells the tale of six women whose lives intersect at a nightclub for queer women and the magical love that unfolds between one pair.

     
  • The cover of the book The Golem and the Jinni

    The Golem and the Jinni

    Chava, a golem created in Poland, arrives in late nineteenth-century New York City and meets Ahmad, a jinni recently released from his prison in a flask in New York’s Little Syria. This beautifully-crafted historical fantasy title explores how these two non-human beings experience and view humanity, and Wecker navigates themes of immigration and assimilation—as well as loneliness—with empathy and care.

     
  • The cover of the book The Left Hand of Darkness

    The Left Hand of Darkness

    While Le Guin’s classic novel is much more speculative than other titles on the list, it’s also one of the most well-known. Set on a planet populated with ambisexual humans, The Left Hand of Darkness explores themes of gender and balance. The current editions of the novel include an introduction in which Le Guin describes the novel as a “thought experiment,” which can lead to some fascinating book club discussions.

     
  • The cover of the book Circe

    Circe

    The sophomore novel of the Song of Achilles author is a retelling of Greek myth that explores the story of the first witch in Western literature. Departing from other retellings of The Odyssey, Miller explores the personal story of Circe as she comes into her power. Due to its roots in Greek mythology, this is a perfect SF/F title to slide into any book clubs more reluctant to try speculative titles.

     
  • The cover of the book Frankenstein: The 1818 Text

    Frankenstein: The 1818 Text

    Another excellent suggestion for more reluctant book clubs is the novel that founded the science fiction genre as we know it. Frankenstein; or, the Modern Prometheus explores themes of isolation, prejudice, and a hubristic desire to play god, which are pretty evergreen as themes go. A landmark of Romantic and Gothic fiction, Frankenstein is a solid sci-fi classic, even two hundred years later.

     
  • The cover of the book The Just City

    The Just City

    While many of Walton’s novels would make great book club selections—like My Real Children, an excellent standalone option—The Just City is a great book to suggest to a more reluctant book club for similar reasons that Circe makes a good pick. In this novel, the first installment of the Thessaly trilogy, the Greek gods Athena and Apollo choose ten thousand human children and a number of adult supervisors and teachers from throughout history in an attempt to create an ideal society like that described in Plato’s Republic.

     
  • The cover of the book Station Eleven

    Station Eleven

    This postapocalyptic journey explores the survival of human culture in the aftermath of a devastating disease by following a traveling troupe of actors in the Great Lakes region. Emily St. John Mandel received the Nebula Award in science fiction for the novel, which was also a finalist for the National Book Award and the PEN/Faulkner Award.