Books

Top 5 inventive, speculative fiction books – chosen by poet and playwright Joelle Taylor

Speculative fiction at its most inventive, surreal and thrilling

Speculative fiction imagines different realities and worlds. Image: Pete Linforth from Pixabay

Poet, playwright and author Joelle Taylor picks five of the most inventive examples of speculative fiction.

The Seven Moons of Maali Almeida by Shehan Karunatilaka

The winner of the 2022 Booker Prize is a breathtaking leap of imagination and politics, unravelling deep corruption within the Sri Lankan government via the central character of a ghost. The ghost has been murdered for the images he keeps on his camera, and we meet many of the disappeared and hidden on this extraordinary journey toward truth.

Kindred by Octavia E Butler 

One of a few black science fiction writers to be lauded, Butler won several awards during her lifetime for her ability to blend the imagined with the real. Kindred is a time travel story in which the black female main character is catapulted between 1979 and a 19th century plantation. It’s about race, gender, and how power dynamics continue to flex across the centuries. 

Mrs Death Misses Death by Salena Godden

In this genre defying book the character of Death is played by a series of black women, and as she relates her life to a young writer, she unpacks some of the stories she has encountered along the way. Bold, poetic, and propulsive.

Our Wives Under the Sea by Julia Armfield

The winner of the 2023 Polari Prize is an astonishing book of surreal and speculative fiction moments. The story of a deep sea diver and her lover, its very strangeness opens the doors to what is possible from an LGBTQ+ themed novel, countering the usual coming out narrative and replacing it with something wholly unfamiliar and imaginative.

A River Called Time by Courttia Newland 

As should be expected from an author of Newland’s calibre (nine novels, Small Axe screenplay) this speculative novel is an extraordinary and thrilling evocation of two parallel Londons, each a possibility if real historical events had panned out differently. Rare and stunning. 

The Night Alphabet by Joelle Taylor is out now (riverrun, £18.99). You can buy it from The Big Issue shop on Bookshop.org, which helps to support The Big Issue and independent bookshops. 

This article is taken from The Big Issue magazine, which exists to give homeless, long-term unemployed and marginalised people the opportunity to earn an income. To support our work buy a copy!

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