Expand Your Mind with These Literary Science Fiction Books

There are those who remain stubborn about a hard line between literary fiction and its “opposite”—genre fiction. Commonly used rhetoric says that literary fiction has more literary merit, more focus on characters rather than plot, and doesn’t rely on tropes and conventions. That might be true… but all of those elements can easily also apply to genre books. I’ve read plenty of literary horror, romance, and even—though this might ruffle the feathers of some gate-keeping elites—some mind-blowing literary science fiction.


Breathtaking Prose and Style


Serious Subject Matter

Another element people say marks literary fiction apart from others is its ability to implement serious, deep tones. Plenty of science fiction observes themes that shouldn’t be taken lightly. For example, the newly released Lakewood by Megan Giddings contains a heavy exploration of the relationship between the medical industry and African Americans. It follows Lena, a grieving college student drowning in debt who needs to make a quick buck. Enter Lakewood, a mysterious town where its residents undergo brutal experimentation in order to pursue a better life.

Another book that examines race is Octavia Butler’s Kindred. Butler reworks the tired trope of time travel to tell the story of Dana, a contemporary Black woman who keeps falling back in time to save the son of a plantation owner from drowning. Butler is the queen of mixing serious social commentary with nuanced, engrossing speculative fiction.


It’s no surprise that dystopia is a ripe sub-genre for literary speculative fiction, which leads me to the next item of this list: Ling Ma’s Severance. This novel follows Candace Chen, a routine-obsessed office worker mourning the loss of her parents. If that wasn’t enough to deal with, an apocalyptic disease emerges to threaten the pillars of society as we know it. Prescient and sometimes even comical, Severance is a true exercise in satire’s place in the sci-fi genre.


Raising Big Questions

Lastly, lit fic is often associated with big questions. Literary books are supposed to address things like life, death, the role of humanity in the universe, etc. The following books do exactly that, using the mechanisms of speculative fiction to contemplate questions that rival those of the most serious philosophers.

The books on this list are a good start to making one question if literary fiction and sci-fi are really so opposed. And hey, if you aren’t convinced, at least you’ll have read a ton of fantastic novels in the process.


Mya is a reader, poet, and writer in New York City.  You can find them and their work on Twitter @literallymya.