Literary Science Fiction

by Chris Duesing

Science fiction is a sprawling and diverse genre of fiction. While sci-fi books would characteristically be categorized as genre fiction, there are those novels that stand out due to their sheer literary merit. When it comes down to literary science fiction, there are many fantastic books that you should consider adding to your reading pile!

Literary science fiction narratives are as diverse as the genre itself and are filled with mesmerizing prose. These narratives can transport you anywhere, from an alternate historical timeline where a meteor obliterates the Eastern Seaboard to a never-ending winter and the devastating consequences thereof.

In this article, we look at some of the most acclaimed literary science fiction novels that have been published in recent years. These narratives will take you on surprising and emotional journeys through unexpected places across time and space.

Literary Science Fiction Books You Should Be Reading

Here are some of the best literary sci-fi books published in recent years!

The Calculating Stars by Mary Robinette Kowal (2018)

This award-winning novel by Mary Robinette Kowal imagines an alternative timeline for our earth, one where the earth was hit by a devastating meteor in 1952. This alternate timeline sees history repeat itself. The meteor will certainly lead to the planet becoming an inhospitable environment for humans.

Former WASP pilot, Elma York, calculates that the meteor – which obliterated much of the Eastern Seaboard – will result in climate change so devastating that earth could become uninhabitable in as little as fifty years. In this alternate history, this impending threat of extinction drives humanity to accelerate its efforts in finding a solution.

Elma’s mathematical skills and her prior experience make her a prime candidate to join the International Aerospace Coalition, an organization that aims to reach both the Moon and then Mars. Elma’s drive to become the first female Astronaut motivates her to help save humanity, but she alone is not enough.

The only viable idea to save humanity appears to be the exploration and subsequent colonization of space. In their attempts to accomplish just this, civilians will need to help in any way they can to drive humanity’s efforts to colonize space before time runs out. Amidst the rush to save humanity, Elma discovers there may be something sinister going on…

This novel won the 2019 Hugo Award for Best Novel, which is awarded to the best science fiction novel published in the prior year and is one of the most acclaimed science fiction awards. In addition to this, The Calculating Stars won the Nebula and Locus Awards for Best Novel and Best Science Fiction Novel, respectively.

Song for the Unraveling of the World by Brian Evenson (2019)

Song for the Unraveling of the World is a collection of short stories written by the acclaimed American academic and writer Brian Evenson. This stunning collection has been described as walking “the tightrope between literary fiction, sci-fi, and horror”. This prestigious collection of short stories was awarded the 2020 World Fantasy Award for Best Collection.

This masterfully crafted, haunting collection of twenty-two stories explore themes of doubt, delusions, and paranoia. In this acclaimed and breathtaking collection, Brian Evenson considers the many ways we use self-deception as a means for justifying some of our darkest, most inhuman urges.

From the face of a newborn baby that appears on the back of a stranger’s head to a filmmaker willing to go to extreme lengths in order to perfectly capture his vision for the final scene of his film, this surreal collection will grip you from start to finish.

In addition to the World Fantasy Award, this collection also won Evenson the 2019 Shirley Jackson Award in the single-authored collection category. Shirley Jackson, of course, is the author of acclaimed novels such as The Lottery and The Haunting of Hill House.

Whether you tear through the entire collection of stories in one sitting or devour it slowly, story by story, piece by piece, this outstanding collection of literary science fiction and horror is sure to scintillate your literary senses!

The Old Drift by Namwali Serpell (2019)

The debut novel of Zambian-born author Namwali Serpell follows three generations of three families as they assimilate into Zambia. The Old Drift is a sprawling novel that takes place in many countries at different periods in time. This debut blends science fiction themes with historical fiction. In this novel, Serpell is able to reimagine Zambia’s history in surprising and creative ways.

At the start of the novel, readers are introduced to Percy Clark, a vagabond photographer who has found himself living near Victoria Falls at the start of the twentieth century. This is merely the starting point of this expansive novel, which stretches to the 1960s – a time when Zambia attempted to send a woman to the moon – and beyond!

This novel has everything, from love affairs to political affairs, from viral vaccines to advanced drones. The magical realism in this novel allows Serpell to consider many current issues we are facing, including the impact of colonization and third-world poverty. This is the perfect story to immerse yourself in as Serpell takes you on a beautifully worded journey that spans more than a century.

In 2020, The Old Drift won the Arthur C. Clark Award, which is awarded by the British Science Fiction Association to the best science fiction novel published in Britain during the previous calendar year. Fellow science fiction author and Arthur C. Clark Award winner, Tade Thompson, described Serpell’s novel as “the great African novel of the twenty-first century”.

Road Out of Winter by Alison Stine (2020)

When Wylodine is abandoned by her mother and left alone at her family’s farm, she is forced to tend to her family’s illegal marijuana plants. However, when winter doesn’t end for more than two years, Wylodine takes her grow lights and her pouch of seeds and sets out on her journey to find a new beginning for herself.

When Wylodine finds herself all alone in the world, the world proves to be more treacherous than she could have ever imagined. Wylodine, armed with her unique ability to make things grow, is forced to navigate this new landscape, from the icy roads to the sinister strangers she meets along her journey in order to carve out a new life for herself in this apocalyptic thriller.

Despite the science fiction elements that are present in Stine’s novel, she presents her readers with a dystopian narrative about a society on the brink of collapse due to climate change. This is a society facing a future that could, in many ways, become our own if we’re not careful. That is where the true power of Alison Stine’s novel lies: forcing her readers to consider the devastation that could result from climate change.

Stine’s Road Out of Winter was awarded the prestigious Phillip K. Dick Award. This annual award is named after the famed science fiction writer himself, the author of many acclaimed novels, including Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep and Ubik. The Phillip K. Dick Award is annually awarded to the best paperback science fiction novel published during the previous calendar year.


The science fiction genre is a diverse one. If you’re looking for your next read and you’re in the mood for fresh literary fiction, we’ve outlined some of the most recently acclaimed novels that fit that description. From novels that span more than a century to thrilling collections of short stories, your to-be-read pile is sure to be a long one!

Chris Duesing
Chris Duesing

I am a photographer, writer, entrepreneur, and programmer living in the great city of Chicago. I love to solve problems with technology and share what I have learned along the way.