Cold Iron & Rowan-Wood

March 12, 2011

Literary SF examples, redux

Filed under: essay — Tags: — Sam @ 4:41 pm

I had a lot of good comments to my post “Literary SF—some examples”, so here’s an updated list. Asterisks mark something I’ve read; all the rest are going on my if-I-see-it list.

To recap the eligibility rules briefly – a work must be arguably SF, ie. published as SF or claimed as such by the author, and not literary-approaching-SF, ie. no Atwood or Okri.


Stephen Baxter, Time
Chris Beckett, The Turing Test (collection)
Keith Brooke, Genetopia
David R. Bunch, Moderan
*Karel ?apek, War with the Newts
Raphael Carter, The Fortunate Fall
*CJ Cherryh, Cyteen
John Clute, Appleseed
John Crowley, Engine Summer
Samuel Delany – Dhalgren, Nova
Philip K Dick, A Scanner Darkly
Thomas M. Disch, On Wings of Song
*John M Ford, The Dragon Waiting
*Mary Gentle, Ash
*William Gibson, Neuromancer
*Molly Gloss, The Dazzle of Day
Lisa Goldstein — The Dream Years
Andrea Hairston – Mindscape
M John Harrison, Light
Gwyneth Jones: Bold as love
*Daniel Keyes, Flowers for Algernon
*Ursula LeGuin: The Left Hand of Darkness, The Dispossessed
Stanislaw Lem: Solaris
*Ian MacDonald, River of Gods
*Maureen F McHugh, China Mountain Zhang
*China Miéville, The City and the City
*Walter M. Miller Jr, A Canticle for Leibowitz
Christopher Priest, The Separation
Adam Roberts – New Model Army, Yellow Blue Tibia
Mary Doria Russell, The Sparrow
*Geoff Ryman – Air
Josephine Saxton – Queen Of The States
Lewis Shiner – Glimpses
Gary Shteyngart – Super Sad True Love Story
*Catherynne M Valente, The Habitation of the Blessed
Kit Whitfield, In Great Waters
*Connie Willis – passim, particularly Passage
Gene Wolfe, The Fifth Head of Cerberus
*Charles Yu, How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe
*Roger Zelazny: Lord of light


Karen Joy Fowler, Sarah Canary
Colin Greenland, Take Back Plenty
M John Harrison – Signs of Life
Liz Jensen, The Rapture
Gwyneth Jones – Life
Marcel Theroux, Far North

Total: 44. 15 women, which is above-average for the field as a whole. Two in translation—War With the Newts from Czech and Solaris from Polish, translated through French apparently. Two Three I know to be non-white (Hairston, Yu and Delany); if anyone else has light to shed on others here, I’ll edit. Three (The Habitation of the Blessed, Ash, The Dragon Waiting) are set in the/a past. Six (Gloss, Valente, Russell, Miller, Zelazny, and MacDonald) deal with religion as a central theme.

If any of you have more data-mining to contribute, want to argue over any of these books, or have more suggestions, the comments are open!


  1. Andrea Hairston is non-white. Mindscape is set in indeterminate future no less than 115 years from now, but probably not much more. Spirituality is a theme but not absolutely central.

    Comment by kev mcveigh — March 12, 2011 @ 4:50 pm

  2. Cheers – edited.

    Comment by Sam — March 12, 2011 @ 4:52 pm

  3. Your post has thrown up an interesting list. I was a bit too late to the original – I’d have just ended up repeating some of those already on here. A few with which I was unfamiliar… shall maybe check them out.

    Thinking about it again, though. Ted Sturgeon’s More Than Human could be a candidate, I think?

    Comment by Richard Palmer — March 12, 2011 @ 9:55 pm

  4. As far as I know, Super Sad True Love Story was *marketed* as literary fiction, though it’s certainly also an SF book.

    Comment by Aishwarya — March 13, 2011 @ 6:41 pm

  5. Both On Wings of Song and Bold as Love have the trasformative power of music as the central theme, expressed in very different ways.

    Comment by marco — March 13, 2011 @ 10:40 pm

  6. Richard – Hm, interesting. I think I’d been mentally discounting things from that era, but you might be right about More Than Human… I wonder if I have a copy around anywhere. I know I used to.

    Comment by Sam — March 15, 2011 @ 12:34 pm

  7. If by “literary” you mean well-written in terms of plot, characters, style and language, the list is much, much longer. All of Tiptree would fit, early McDevitt also.

    I have written a series of Why SF Needs X (X=Science, Literacy, Empathy, Others, Fiction). Here’s the latest, which overlaps with the topic of literary SF:

    To the Hard Members of the Truthy SF Club

    Comment by Athena Andreadis — March 21, 2011 @ 10:36 am

  8. Tiptree definitely counts! I’ve read very little McDevitt, and wasn’t impressed, but perhaps only his late work.

    Comment by Sam — March 21, 2011 @ 11:57 am

  9. Try A Talent for War, one of his earliest. Among other things, it’s a retelling of the Greek/Persian conflict and one of the few stories that manages a haunting missing protagonist.

    Comment by Athena Andreadis — March 21, 2011 @ 1:33 pm

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