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 Underground Railroad
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 Left Hand of Darkness
Ursula K. Le Guin
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.
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.
Emily St. John Mandel
This post-apocalyptic 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.
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.
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