Looking for new SF books hiding in the general fiction section
January 29, 2013 3:03 AM   Subscribe

I like science fiction books that are placed in the general fiction section - but for me they are hard to find on Amazon or in libraries. Examples of these kinds of books are The Sparrow, The Yiddish Policemen's Union, Oryx and Crake, Cloud Atlas and The Dog Stars ... but I need more new stuff - any suggestions?
posted by Dag Maggot to Media & Arts (47 answers total) 159 users marked this as a favorite
Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro and Cormac McCarthy's The Road come to mind.
posted by emd3737 at 3:09 AM on January 29, 2013 [7 favorites]

The Terror by Dan Simmons.
posted by fight or flight at 3:12 AM on January 29, 2013 [3 favorites]

Nabokov, Ada.

Time's Arrow.
posted by BibiRose at 3:33 AM on January 29, 2013

Children of Men.
posted by BibiRose at 3:36 AM on January 29, 2013 [2 favorites]

Most of Kurt Vonnegut.
posted by Etrigan at 3:48 AM on January 29, 2013 [7 favorites]

The Age of Miracles
posted by backwards guitar at 3:58 AM on January 29, 2013 [1 favorite]

Great Apes, by Will Self.
The Third Policeman, by Flann O'Brien.
Beggars in Spain, by Nancy Kress.
posted by Sticherbeast at 4:00 AM on January 29, 2013

Chabon's Yiddish Policemen's Union. It even won a Hugo.

Stephenson's Baroque Cycle and Cryptonomicon.
posted by Slap*Happy at 4:13 AM on January 29, 2013 [2 favorites]

Thanks for the suggestions and inspiration.
posted by Dag Maggot at 4:20 AM on January 29, 2013

Lives of the Monster Dogs.
posted by Ziggy500 at 5:26 AM on January 29, 2013 [1 favorite]

Hello! You are apparently me. Thus I will list books in this genre that I have enjoyed.

Gaiman, Neverwhere and Good Omens.
Vonnegut, Cat's Cradle and Player Piano
Stephenson, Snow Crash

What do you think of Philip K Dick? Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, A Scanner Darkly, and The Man In The High Castle are probably three of his better-known titles, but I can't think of anything he's written that I didn't enjoy.
posted by Mayor West at 5:33 AM on January 29, 2013 [1 favorite]

I think Philip K. Dick for sure. Some of the people being mentioned here, though, are in the SF section at Barnes & Noble. There really isn't a shitload of logic to how people end up in the general fiction or god forbid "literature" section. (B&N doesn't have a "literature" section but Borders used to.) I think in bookstores, a lot of the distinction is based on an analysis of customer habits. The idea is that people who browse the "fiction" section will not go into the genre sections. They put the stuff wherever they think people are most likely to buy it. There are straight-up mystery novels in the "fiction" section. No space operas, but a lot of (other) speculative fiction.

In libraries, on the other hand, I think there may be more of an effort to shelve by actual genre and less for marketing purposes.
posted by BibiRose at 5:54 AM on January 29, 2013 [1 favorite]

Seconding Neil Gaiman, and adding his American Gods and Anansi Boys.
posted by rebekah at 5:56 AM on January 29, 2013 [1 favorite]

How in the world did Oryx and Crake get put into the regular fiction section? That reads as pure spec-fic/sci-fi to me, as does the companion novel The Year of the Flood.
posted by TrishaLynn at 5:58 AM on January 29, 2013

Though I am slightly less than halfway through Mr Penumbra's 24 Hour Bookstore, I will suggest it. It may turn out to be more fantasy than sci-fi, but so far it is a pretty even mix of the two along with a healthy dose of up-to-the-minute tech culture.
posted by soelo at 6:07 AM on January 29, 2013 [1 favorite]

Bruce Sterling once wrote an article about Slipstream as a genre, slipstream being fiction that was somewhere between genre boundaries, and couldn't be well classified as one thing or another.

You can read the original essay, with a copy of Bruce's original list of books, here.

The first (wikipedia) link points to other useful resources.

Specifically? Anything by John Crowley, especially the magisterial Little, Big.
posted by daveje at 6:08 AM on January 29, 2013 [5 favorites]

Philip K Dick is always shelved as sci-fi in my experience.

Anyway, I came to say Children of Men. And 1984, I guess. Depends how you feel about dystopias as sci-fi, as there are likely more in this vein.
posted by hoyland at 6:21 AM on January 29, 2013

Try Jonathan Lethem. Gun With Occasional Music is pretty awesome.
posted by mean cheez at 6:37 AM on January 29, 2013 [2 favorites]

Mikhail Bulgakov's novellas Heart of a Dog and The Fatal Eggs.
posted by Bektashi at 6:38 AM on January 29, 2013

How in the world did Oryx and Crake get put into the regular fiction section? That reads as pure spec-fic/sci-fi to me, as does the companion novel The Year of the Flood.

Because it's really not about the actual contents of the book, but basically whether it's seen as "literature" enough by whoever's in charge to escape the sci-fi ghetto.

Getting back to the question, I'd take a look at any of the authors writing "magical realism," which is either a form of Serious Literature with a dose of supernatural elements, or non-Tolkienesque fantasy written by Spanish-speakers, depending on who you ask. Borges, Marquez, etc.
posted by Tomorrowful at 6:39 AM on January 29, 2013 [1 favorite]

You mention "Cloud Atlas," so make sure you check out "Ghostwritten" by the same author.
posted by jbickers at 6:42 AM on January 29, 2013

How in the world did Oryx and Crake get put into the regular fiction section?

Because it had Margaret Atwood's name on the spine. In that vein, you might enjoy The Handmaid's Tale and The Blind Assassin (the latter has a story within the story with fantasy elements).

Also, The Time Traveler's Wife and The Plot Against America, if you're in for some nostalgia-laden alternate history.

And if I can recommend a sci-fi and fantasy author who never grace the Literature section but absolutely should, Ursula K. Le Guin.
posted by Terminal Verbosity at 6:46 AM on January 29, 2013 [3 favorites]

Jonathan Lethem, As she climbed across the table
posted by miyabo at 6:51 AM on January 29, 2013

Haruki Murakami. Everything by Haruki Murakami.
posted by snorkmaiden at 6:53 AM on January 29, 2013 [9 favorites]

Cosmicomics by Italo Calvino is plausibly SF, given that the narrator is an abstract space being. Likewise t zero. Generally I'd expect Calvino to appeal to anyone who enjoyed the other books in this thread.
posted by five toed sloth at 7:14 AM on January 29, 2013

I would call China MiƩville's The City & the City science fiction-y, and very much in the vein of the Yiddish Policeman's Union.
posted by EmilyFlew at 7:21 AM on January 29, 2013 [2 favorites]

Yeah, the question is about finding speculative fiction that is typically shelved with non-genre fiction, not to make lists of boundary-pushing sci-fi.

Nobel winner Doris Lessing has written some outright science fiction (the Canopus in Argos series) that's rather difficult going. But a number of her stand-alone books also have fantastical elements and are easier to read: The Fifth Child, Briefing for a Descent Into Hell.
posted by Nomyte at 7:22 AM on January 29, 2013 [2 favorites]

Infinite Jest! It takes place in the near-future as seen by 1996.
posted by Greg Nog at 7:29 AM on January 29, 2013 [2 favorites]

Along the same lines as Children of Men, I think of Jose Saramago's Blindness as dystopian/s-f ish . . .
posted by gorbichov at 7:38 AM on January 29, 2013 [1 favorite]

I've seen Octavia Butler shelved in African-American Fiction rather than science fiction. Lilith's Brood (Dawn, Adulthood Rites and Imago) and the Parable books (Parable of the Sower and Parable of the Talents) are absolutely fantastic sci-fi.

Also Michael Cunningham. Specimen Days has a heavily SFnal section (similar to Cloud Atlas) and Flesh and Blood ends in the far future.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 7:55 AM on January 29, 2013 [1 favorite]

Inter Ice Age 4 by Kobo Abe, Hall of Singing Caryatids by Viktor Pelevin, The Invention of Morel by Adolfo Bioy Casares, most of Mark Leyner's fiction.
posted by cog_nate at 8:08 AM on January 29, 2013 [1 favorite]

Super Sad True Love Story.
posted by Ziggy500 at 8:29 AM on January 29, 2013 [3 favorites]

OK, also: Against the Day by Thomas Pynchon, Cold Skin by Albert Sanchez, and Things in the Night by Mati Unt.
posted by cog_nate at 8:58 AM on January 29, 2013

Does White Noise by Don De Lillo count? I got it from our uni library where it was shelved under 'fiction, post-1950, American', but it definitely sits in the Fiction section of your average public library.

I'm sure there's a Douglas Coupland that has a heavy sci-fi leaning rather than simply being post-modern, but I can't think which one I mean off the top of my head.

(BiBiRose - London libraries often also split their stock off into 'Black authors', 'Asian authors' (which here is S.Asian, in English rather than Urdu etc.) and 'Gay/Lesbian', which can make it hard to find things as well and leads to missing out on good stuff. I can see the reason they do this, though.)
posted by mippy at 9:10 AM on January 29, 2013

Two more: Vladimir Sorokin's Ice Trilogy (Bro -- Ice -- 23,000) and Day of the Oprichnik.
posted by cog_nate at 9:14 AM on January 29, 2013

I don't know if this book is ever actually shelved outside the SF stacks, but it's definitely among of the more literary examples of SF: A Canticle for Leibowitz by Walter Miller Jr. I found it started really slow, but stick with it, it pays off in spades.

I also second Jonathan Lethem.
posted by Sunburnt at 9:24 AM on January 29, 2013

Have you read Haruki Murakami? I'd suggest starting with Hardboiled Wonderland and the End of the World. I'd also recommend Paolo Bacigalupi's The Windup Girl.
posted by donovan at 9:58 AM on January 29, 2013

A lot of Victor Pelevin's stuff qualifies -- Omon Ra, for instance.
posted by novalis_dt at 11:55 AM on January 29, 2013

Kalki by Gore Vidal.
posted by dhruva at 12:13 PM on January 29, 2013

Marge Piercy's Woman on the Edge of Time is another one (and much better than the rest of her stuff). Also, as Nomyte mentioned, several of the books by Doris Lessing.
posted by still_wears_a_hat at 1:41 PM on January 29, 2013

Passage by Connie Willis occurred to me, and I would second Age of Miracles.
posted by rainbowbrite at 2:07 PM on January 29, 2013

Thanks all for the suggestions - this should keep me going for a few months. When I first read cloud Atlas several years ago - I was on holiday without reading material and desperate for something to read. I found a dog-eared copy by the pool and resigned myself to reading a weighty tome of general fiction. And then suddenly, about a quarter of the way through the book it was - surprise! Science Fiction.

That experience made me realize that I like science fiction books written as literature by just awesome writers - not necessarily science experts or technical people.
posted by Dag Maggot at 2:39 PM on January 29, 2013

> Connie Willis

What, no Bellwether?
posted by Monochrome at 9:36 PM on January 29, 2013

Seconding Borges, and seconding The Invention of Morel (which Borges called a perfect novel).
posted by taltalim at 9:46 AM on January 30, 2013

Much of Salman Rushdie's oeuvre could be categorized like this as well. I'm also going to second (or third) Murakami, especially Hard Boiled... and A Wild Sheep Chase.
posted by sauril at 3:09 PM on January 30, 2013

I just finished Dog Stars last night. I can't say I loved it, but it was a HELL of a lot better than The Road, I tell ya.

I also love these sorts of books too (Borges, Rushdie, et al), and can't believe no one has mentioned the most hyped recent example 1Q84 (though I guess Murakami has been mentioned thrice). I'll fourth, and also claim Hard-Boiled and Sheep Chase as my favorite two.

And as for Lethem (most awesome) along with Gun and Table, Amnesia Moon, Fortress of Solitude, and Chronic City all apply here.

Ishiguro's Never Let Me Go is another great call. The Unconsoled might even apply.

Another recent fave was Four Fingers of Death by Rick Moody, but a lot of people don't like him for some reason. I loved it. Meta as hell.
posted by mrgrimm at 10:29 AM on January 31, 2013 [2 favorites]

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