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!

March 3, 2011

Literary SF – some examples

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: — Sam @ 10:20 am

Further to my previous post, I’m getting curious about what “literary SF” actually is.

There are two basic ways of defining a (sub)genre in literary criticism. One is to argue about themes, styles, motifs, sensibilities, modalities, et al; another is to choose some examples, wave your hands around a bit, and say “things like that”. We’ve been trying the first, so let’s have a collective go at the second.

Disclaimer the first: this is not implying that non-literary SF has less merit or is less interesting.

Disclaimer the second: this is not implying that “literary SF” is a globally useful term. You do not need to pay attention to it.


  • No more than six examples of core literary SF; others may be noted as “penumbra”, if they’re less literary, or less SF, but still worth talking about.
  • Only things you’ve personally read in their entirety.
  • If in doubt, leave it off.
  • Must have been published as SF (ie. science fiction in this context): SF imprint, author’s assertion, spaceships on the cover, whatever.
  • No explanations or justifications of your choice, unless someone asks for them. If you don’t like someone else’s list, suggest your own.

Karel Čapek, War with the Newts
John M Ford, The Dragon Waiting
Molly Gloss, The Dazzle of Day
Maureen F McHugh, China Mountain Zhang
Catherynne M Valente, The Habitation of the Blessed

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