Silvia Moreno-Garcia & Lavie Tidhar
THE WASHINGTON POST — Staying on a path and picking a genre is common advice for aspiring writers. But in literature, all the rules can be broken. Many great writers make us wonder which shelf their book should occupy: science fiction, fantasy, thriller or… miscellaneous? Let’s discuss some of the best books that defy categorization.
SILVIA: The black Angel (1982), by Meredith Ann Pierce is a compelling young adult novel that is technically science fiction – it is set in a nebulous, distant future – but reads like a fairy tale. A vampire must obtain 14 wives before he can become immortal, but things get complicated when a young woman breaks into his castle. A charming read.
Patrick Suskind Scent (1985) focuses on a man from the slums of 18th century Paris with such a sublime sense of smell that he jumps into the realm of the fantastic. But it’s also the story of a serial killer in search of the perfect perfume – and the ideal victim. In the same way, Prestige (1995), by Christopher Priest, might at first glance look like a historical novel in epistolary form about two rival stage magicians, but as the book progresses it becomes part mystery, part science-fiction. fiction.
I have seen Mervyn Peake’s Titus Groan (1946) described as a “mores fantasy” and a “gothic” novel, though neither term is entirely relevant. It extensively details life in a labyrinthine castle, unveiling a wide cast of characters and following the machinations of an ascending kitchen boy. Piranesi (2020) by Susanna Clarke, shares a resemblance to Peake’s impossibly large Gormenghast Castle, so if you liked one, you might like the other.
LIFE: Shimon Adaf’s Lost Detective trilogy comes out this summer, translated from Hebrew by Yardenne Greenspan. While the first novel A mile and Two days before sunset, is an almost traditional mystery, set in the wake of Israel’s short-lived ’90s rock revival, by the third (and epically sized) volume, take and read, it veers into science fiction, mixing and crossing realist, detective and bizarre fiction in its own right. But even in the first book, Adaf’s love of science fiction is expressed through its detective hero, Elish Ben Zaken, whose reading tastes of the genre’s benchmark classics. If you like Roberto Bolaño, you’ll like Adaf.
Speaking of Bolaño – another writer who had a real love of science fiction – I have a soft spot for his Nazi Literature in the Americas (2008), translated from Spanish by Chris Andrews. Everyone should read Bolaño, but if you’ve struggled with the epic 2666, consider this an easier entry point – a meandering saga of dreamers, conspirators and, yes, science-fascist writers. fiction that is a joy from start to finish.
SILVIA: For those looking for shorter reads, I recommend Naben Ruthnum’s new Helpmeet. A wife takes care of her sick husband, who suffers from an illness that takes this tale from the realm of historical fiction to weird fiction. At times a deeply disturbing body horror story and at others a tender love story, this is one of the most beautiful books I’ve read this year. Finally, Lesser Known Monsters of the 21st Century by Kim Fu is a beautiful new collection of eclectic tales, with everything from virtual simulations with the dead to a man made of sand.
LIFE: Disturbing and tender recalls Christie Sims and Alara Branwen’s Taken by the T-Rex (2013), which took the literary world by storm and ushered in a new golden age of dinosaur erotica. Yes, it really is a trick – let’s talk about mixing genres!
Paris adrift by EJ Swift (2018) has its young protagonist working late in a bar in Montmartre – where the cellar foresees a growing series of time slips in the history of Paris. Science fiction, historical adventure or contemporary fulfillment? All that, and it’s adorable.
Finally, one of the funniest and most surprising sci-fi novels of recent years has to be Version 43 (2010) by Philip Palmer, in which a RoboCop-like cyborg (the titular “Version 43”) is sent to a distant planet to investigate a crime. He quickly does this, discovers the conspiracy behind it all, and is murdered for his troubles. Enter Version 44. Bodies pile up in this mix of sci-fi, detective and conspiracy thriller, with plenty of humor and hyperkinetic energy on the big screen. And you, dear reader? What hard-to-categorize titles do you like?