What if the Axis won WWII? Or Cinderella was a cyborg? Jenn Northington of Brooklyn’sWORD bookstore shares her favorite speculative fiction titles, by the likes of Philip K. Dick, Ursula K. Le Guin, and Octavia E. Butler.
This book captures all of the intensity of reading fantasy as a teenager, a feeling that as a jaded, over-read adult I never thought I could re-experience. An absolute must-read if you were ever (or are still) convinced that magic is real.
The Gone-Away World
One of the smartest, funniest dystopias I’ve ever read. Out of the whole cloth of philosophical conundrums and dreams, Harkaway creates the Go-Away War and its surprising fallout. I love Harkaway’s books so much, I have a tattoo inspired by them!
Octavia E. Butler
If you read only one vampire book in your entire life, make it this one. Bulter utilizes one of the most clichéd demons in pop culture to tell an astounding, politically charged, utterly original story.
The Man in the High Castle
Phillip K. Dick
This will always be my favorite of Dick’s oeuvre. It’s one of the tightest books he wrote, creating a timeline in which the Axis won WWII and the United States has been conquered by Japan. It’s a weird, provoking, and surreal read that will have you pinching yourself to make sure you’re not dreaming.
Brian Francis Slattery
Brian Francis Slattery specializes in apocalypse scenarios, and this one is a doozy. The U.S. economy (but only the U.S. economy) has collapsed, slavery has made a resurgence, and the rest of the world is sitting back to wait and see what happens. The novel follows a reunited team of con artists, which is just as entertaining and action-packed as it sounds like it would be.
The Left Hand of Darkness
Ursula K. LeGuin
It is an absolute truth that every sf/f fan should read some Le Guin. She’s prolific, smart, and has an incredible range. The Left Hand of Darkness is the book that got me hooked on her work. It chronicles the adventures of an ambassador on a planet in which gender is not only intermittent but variable for each individual.
How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional…
Yu’s debut novel manages to be funny, referential, and a heartbreaker. The protagonist, also named Charles Yu, is a time-machine repair technician searching for his father, who disappeared years earlier. In this universe, time travel runs on linguistics, fictional characters have their own communities on various planets, and computers have feelings.
All of Miéville’s books are fantastic, but when I have to pick just one to recommend it’s this one. It’s got a feverish feel to it that’s sometimes hard to follow, but patience and perseverance are richly rewarded. Embassytown is an alien-human conflict drama like no other, completely engrossing and completely original.
There are many fairytale rewrites out there, of varying quality, but this is one of the few I’ve read with sci-fi elements and a killer plotline. Here Cinderella is reborn as Cinder, a cyborg teenager in New Beijing with a mysterious past, a knack for mechanics, and a prince to rescue. It’s the first of a series, too, with sequel Scarlet (introducing a kick-ass Red Riding Hood) coming in February.
The Killing Moon
N. K. Jemesin
Lest the success of The Lord of the Rings and A Song of Ice and Fire convince you that all good high fantasy is based on medieval Europe, I give you the first installment of a two-book series. Ninja priests stalk the night, magic comes (literally) from dreams, and the setting is inspired by ancient Egypt. The cultures are complex and richly drawn, the action is fierce and frequent, and the characters will stick with you long after you finish reading.
This article originally appeared on Zola Books.