Summertime, when extra daylight means extra time to chill out with your favorite frozen treat and a good book. The treat is on you, but we here at Fiction Unbound can help with the good book. Below are lists and links to some great speculative summer reads, and maybe, here and there, a few suggestions for the eats and drinks to go with.
C.S. Peterson is toting around Tales of Falling and Flying by Ben Loory
Elevator pitch: If Douglas Adams and Ray Bradbury had a love child it would be Ben Loory. Or perhaps Aesop and Rod Serling got together. Whatever the inspirational lineage, this slim collection holds fabulous fables whose largely unnamed characters will haunt your waking dreams. A girl eats a dragon. A man rescues a pup and watches game shows instead of news about the end of the world. An ostrich cons aliens out of their spaceship. Citizens of a liberal, empathetic town tolerate the ravings of a madman for just a bit longer than could reasonably be expected. An extraordinarily precocious squid falls in love with the sun.
Where to Read: Pop it in your bag next to your phone. When you have five minutes to kill, leave the electronics alone and read a story. Don’t worry. You won’t be missing out on anything that important. And afterwards you can Instagram yourself #reading in all the really cool places you go in the summer.
Good if: You enjoy being disturbed by the brief brilliant thoughts of a madman who starts making sense.
Not so good if: The surreal is not your thing.
What to Drink: Tiny chilled crystal goblets of absinthe.
What to Eat: Summer tappas.
Thickness Rating: A tin of confectionery pastilles, each treat around three or four pages.
Lisa Mahoney Recommends a summer’s worth of reading: The Way of Kings by Brandon Sanderson
Elevator pitch: Sanderson says The Stormlight Archive is the first series he’s written that is hard for him to summarize. In his words, “The book started ... being about a young man who made a good decision. I wrote the entire book that way before realizing I’d done it wrong. So I started over from scratch and had him take the other fork, the more difficult fork. The fork that cast him into some of the worst imaginable circumstances, ground him against the stones of a world where there is no soil or sand on the ground.”
Where to Read: On the beach, at dinner, in bed, and everywhere else because it’s just that long. And, this is only the first of many planned in the series.
Good if: You want a politically complex fantasy series for adults with powerful female characters and an intensely-developed fantasy world including one of Sanderson’s trademark-intricate systems of magic. Plus, you’re virtually guaranteed to be on board with a writer who will finish the series himself.
Not so good if: You want light humor.
You might also like: The Mistborn series by Sanderson.
What to Drink: Red wine.
What to Eat: Roast beef with a side of sand.
Thickness Rating: SUPER-MASSIVE
Amanda Baldeneaux recommends The Monsters of Templeton by Lauren Groff
Elevator pitch: A dead lake monster dissected in view of her bedroom window is peanuts compared to Willie Upton’s bigger problems: a pregnancy by her married professor, trying to mow his wife down with a biplane in the Alaskan tundra; everyone has their issues. Willie takes the summer to try and figure out the rest of her life (which may include jail), while working to solve the riddle of who her father really is and what his connection to the town’s native son, famous novelist Templeton himself, means for her family’s carefully cultivated image.
Where to Read: On the shores of a lake, so you can hunt for your own monster when breaking for vodka.
Good if: Dark family secrets riddled with Carrie-esque figures, ghosts, and old high school boyfriends who gained beer bellies are your thing.
Not so good if: Too many subplots tie you in knots.
You might also like: Did I mention Carrie? You might like Carrie. Or Last of the Mohicans, if you want to really get into the spirit.
What to Drink: Papa Gin would appreciate if you had a gin and tonic.
What to Eat: Whatever you eat, make sure it’s not laced with poison by your bored spouse.
Thickness Rating: Full bodied
Mark Springer heads out to Area X with the Southern Reach Trilogy, by Jeff VanderMeer
Elevator pitch: After seeing Alex Garland’s sublime big-screen adaptation of Annihilation, the first book in VanderMeer’s equally sublime Southern Reach Trilogy, I went straight home and started re-reading the entire trilogy (Annihilation, Authority, and Acceptance). The books tell the story of Area X, a remote stretch of the southern coast that has been cut off from the rest of the world for decades by an inexplicable border. Numerous failed expeditions have crossed the border with the futile hope of understanding a phenomenon that seems to actively defy every attempt to understand it. But when the all-female twelfth expedition arrives in the pristine wilderness, the team’s biologist makes a discovery that draws her and a cast of other characters deeper and deeper into the mystery of Area X.
Where to Read: In an expedition tent in a remote corner of the wildest wilderness you can find, or anywhere on the forgotten coast.
Good if: You enjoy testing the limits of what you know about the world and your place in it.
Not so good if: Testing the limits of what you know about the world and your place in it is beyond your limit.
What to Drink: Food and drink won’t be much of a concern, once Area X begins to transform you.
What to Eat: See above.
Thickness Rating: Modest, by sci-fi trilogy standards—a mere 873 pages for all three books.
Danyelle C. Overbo is packing Circe by Madeline Miller in her beach bag
Elevator pitch: Do you love this new(ish) trend where authors pluck side characters out of myth and classical fiction and give them their own story and their own voice? Then this re-imagining of the witch-goddess, Circe (the one who turned Odysseus’s men to pigs in the Odyssey), is for you. Miller gives Circe a strong, clear voice, and Circe finally gets to tell her story. Full of the characters from classic Greek myth, sea monsters, and strong women with their own agendas, this novel was a quick, delightful read.
Where to Read: Perfect beach reading material.
Good if: You love Greek myth or historical fantasy.
Not so good if: You aren’t a fan of the fantastical or Greek gods.
You might also like: Ahab’s Wife by Sena Jeter Naslund
What to Drink: Wine or meade.
What to Eat: Anything Greek.
Thickness Rating: Not intimidating at all, just right
Theodore McCombs recommends Aye, and Gomorrah: And Other Stories by Samuel R. Delany
Elevator pitch: Collected short stories from an outsider genius: Delany pushed the boundaries of science fiction in the 70s and 80s by writing queer, black, and working-class characters with an explosive style. The stories are rowdy, all elbows, deeply intelligent, and beautifully rendered, including all-time classics like the title story “Aye, and Gomorrah” and“The Star Pit.”
Where to Read: Around people whose good taste needs to be offended.
Good if: You like your speculative philosophy mixed with prose lyricism, working-stiff melancholy, and a double-shot of sex. You eat up titles like “Time Considered as a Helix of Semi-Precious Stones.” You thrill at spotting a Finnegans Wake reference in it.
Not so good if: You’re looking for more standard space opera or sword-and-sorcery heroics. Delany always tells it slant, though his fairy tale “Prismatica” is as good as any you’ll find.
You might also like: Nalo Hopkinson’s stories have a similar anarchic spike to them, charged with confident characters typically left on the margins of science fiction and fantasy.
What to Drink: A lot.
What to Eat: The best ice cream on Triton.
Thickness Rating: Thin - most stories take up no more than an hour.
Gemma Webster is chilling with All the Fabulous Beasts by Priya Sharma
Elevator pitch: A collection of 16 short stories recommended by Ellen Datlow. What more would you need to know? One common thread between Sharma’s stories is the way grief and loneliness provoke us humans to declare that we’d do anything to end that pain. Especially if there’s a way to avoid that pain. The forces summoned to answer that cry are tricksters at best and are definitely not benevolent. Why would they be? Sharma reminds us that a quick fix is rarely either and always costs more than promised.
Where to Read: Rainy conservatory surrounded by carnivorous plants and poison berries. It’s not a bad idea to invite your most appealing friend. Maybe chain them to a chaise for good measure.
Good if: You like your fairy tales dark and steamy. Also good for exhausted mothers which is to say, mothers.
Not so good if: You’re puritanical, hate open endings, and/or are squeamish.
What to Drink: Bees Knees Martini or Champagne (it goes with everything)
What to Eat: Honey-soaked crickets and mealworms, or lots and lots of sunflower seeds.
Thickness Rating: Medium, could be carried between two crows.