New Classics for New (Spec Fic) Readers

starAt Baycon 2016, I moderated a panel looking to identify speculative fiction titles that were good ones to introduce readers to the science fiction and fantasy genres whether they were new to reading, or just to speculative fiction. My fellow panelists were Sarah Stegall and Beth Barany though the format was such that a good number of the audience members offered up suggestions as well.

I have done my best to record the suggestions faithfully, but I am by no means a stenographer and so did not always have enough information in my notes to identify the particular title. If you should see any errors in the table below, whether you were at the panel or not, please point them out to me so I can update the table. The same goes for titles you believe are a good fit, especially for SF titles as we have a heavier fantasy weight. If you have a similar list on your website, please leave the link for crosslinking. I’d love for this to become a broad spectrum of reading opportunities enjoyable for existing readers within the genre but with titles that might start a love of speculative fiction in the hearts of readers new to the genre whether 12 or 70.

There was some question as to the period defining something as “new” so I’ve included the publication dates and broken the suggestions into post-2000 and 1980-2000. The motivation to identify new classics came because of a change in the expected writing style around 1990, but some authors were writing in a more descriptive, detailed style much earlier than the market change. It is what new readers expect and therefore has a better chance of capturing their attention.

The criteria I provided initially, and which the participants helped refine, is below, though I found in getting the stats that some of the titles aren’t clearly within the criteria. I’m putting those at the bottom with a request for clarification (even assuming I found the intended title). If you have a suggestion for the characteristics, please feel free to offer that as well.

1) Does not require prior knowledge of the genre and its accepted rules to understand/enjoy.
2) Easy, light reading to draw people in regardless of whether science fiction or fantasy. (There’s no problem with books that make you work for it in general, but if that’s the first introduction to the genre, people might give up before they see the wonder.)
3) Relatively standalone. (If you tell someone they have to read 8 long books to experience the story, it’s a turnoff. If they can read one and be satisfied while wanting a next, they are more likely to be sucked in.)
4) Highly interesting plots written in accessible language.
5) Bonus if from an outsider looking in as the reader may identify better.
6) Bonus if third person close/first person point of view (POV) as these have become the new standards.

Note: I’ve marked the books I have read, many of which you can find reviewed on my site. The others, while I can’t recommend them personally, came from personal recommendations made during the panel.

Works appearing after (or having the majority published after for series) 2000

Title Author Type Age Date I’ve Read Notes
The October Daye series Seanan McGuire Book Adult 2009+ x
The Hunger Games series Suzanne Collins Book YA 2008-2010 x
Harry Potter series J.K. Rowling Book YA 1997-2007 x
Ink (Paper Gods) Amanda Sun Book YA 2013 x
Midnight Riot Ben Aaronovitch Book Adult 2011 x Urban Fantasy
Urban Shaman C.E. Murphy Book Adult 2009 x
KillJoys TV Adult Current bounty hunter team
The Expanse TV Adult Current
Henrietta the Dragon Slayer series Beth Barany Book YA 2014+ (panelist) (YA 12 and up 8th grade level- 17 year old protag)
Solar Clipper series Nathan Lowell Book/Audio Adult 2011-2014 science fiction (NEW)
Leviathan trilogy Scott Westerfeld Book YA 2009-2011 Steampunk plus genetic engineering (NEW)
Cecelia and Kate series Patricia C. Wrede and Caroline Stevermer Book YA 2004-2009 historical fantasy
Bartimaeus Sequence Jonathan Stroud Book YA 2003-2010
Artemis Fowl series Eoin Colfer Book YA 2001-2012 YA
Dresden Files Jim Butcher Book Adult 2000+
Castle Hangnail Ursula Vernon Book YA 2016 funny fantasy (NEW)
Hunter Mercedes Lackey Book YA 2015 (Updated)
Dealing with Dragons (The Enchanted Forest Chronicles) Patricia C. Wrede Book YA 2015
The Martian Andy Weir Book Adult 2014
Fairy Debt Gail Carriger Short Story YA 2013
Once a Hero Elizabeth Moon Book Adult 2012
The Night Circus Erin Morgenstern Book YA 2011
Across the Universe Beth Revis Book YA 2011 (Updated)
Leviathan Wakes James S.A. Corey Book Adult 2011 The Expanse is based on this science fiction novel. (NEW)
The Lightning Thief (Percy Jackson and the Olympians) Rick Riordan Book YA 2009
Airborn Kenneth Oppel Book YA 2009 Steampunk
The Automatic Detective A. Lee Martinez Book Adult 2008 Detective crossover
Old Man’s War John Scalzi Book Adult 2007 science fiction (NEW)
Mystic and Rider Sharon Shinn Book YA 2006
Inkheart Cornelia Funke Book/Audio YA 2005 Fantasy, (Updated)
Trading in Danger Elizabeth Moon Book YA 2003
So You Want to Be a Wizard Diane Duane Book YA 2003

Works appearing after 1980.

Title Author Type Age Date I’ve Read Notes
The Song of the Lioness series Tamora Pierce Book YA 1983-1988 x
Jurassic Park Michael Crighton Book Adult 1990 x Dinosaurs/Thriller crossover
Circle of Magic series Tamora Pierce Book YA 1997-1999
Jumper Stephen J. Gould Book Adult 1993
Against Infinity Gregory Benford Book Adult 1993 (Updated)
War for the Oaks Emma Bull Book Adult 1987

Works also mentioned that are older, non-speculative fiction, or didn’t seem to meet the criteria

Title Author Type Age Date I’ve Read Notes
Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy Douglas Adams Book Adult 1979 x
We’ll Always Have Parrots Donna Andrews Book Adult 2006
Podkayne of Mars Robert Heinlein Book YA 1963
Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy Radio Play Audio Adult
Terry Pratchett Audio Adult

Works I could not identify

Title Author Type Age Date I’ve Read Notes
Mathemagics Book ? humorous SF – Beth Barany’s Suggestion (Updated)

Note: The table is updated as of 6/16/2016. Please keep the suggestions coming.
Other lists to check out:
(from Erin M. Hartshorn)

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6 Responses to New Classics for New (Spec Fic) Readers

  1. jjmcgaffey says:

    The Lackey – the first in the series is Hunter, from last year; Elite is the sequel. I think the Across the Universe she mentioned is by Beth Revis, 2011. The other one I think is named Mathemagics (with an e in the middle) – but I’m not sure which one she meant, I searched and found several books by that name (mostly not SF, math tricks books). If she meant the Chicks in Chainmail one by Margaret Ball, it’s good but there are a _lot_ of in-jokes in it – not ideal for someone new to the genre. And Inkspell (marked as audio in the chart) is also a book, and the second of a series that began with Inkheart. Lots of good books!

    • Margaret McGaffey Fisk says:

      Thanks. Yes, a great collection of ones I’ve read, planned to, or hadn’t heard of. Even though I’m not the intended audience, I figure those already reading the genre should appreciate the same elements. I’ll get it updated later today most likely.

  2. Erin says:

    No one mentioned Old Man’s War by John Scalzi as an entry into SF?

    And I’m guessing the Against Infinity mentioned is by Gregory Benford — older, but a good read: (Original copyright 1993, rereleased 2013)

    No one suggested Leviathan Wakes by James S.A. Corey, the book that the TV series The Expanse is based on?

    How about the Leviathan trilogy by Scott Westerfeld, which mixes steampunk and genetic engineering at a MG/YA level?

    I’d also recommend checking out Nathan Lowell’s Solar Clipper series (book one: ).

    • Margaret McGaffey Fisk says:

      Those are good suggestions. Thanks. That’s the Against Infinity I came up with, but a quick browse of the reviews made it sound like it didn’t match the criteria.

      As to the others, I have both Old Man’s War and Leviathan on my TBR shelves, so glad for the additional prompting. I’ll look at the Solar Clipper series, too.

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