The Ninth Circle #39: Lorelorn’s Reading Room: Part 3/4: Speculative Fiction


What is Speculative Fiction? Well, it?s more than just those ?What If?? collections, although that forms part of the genre. In many ways, speculative fiction as a genre sits over both science fiction (part 2) and fantasy (part 1), and includes everything from both those genres, plus more besides. Personally, I use the term to apply to any book that doesn?t fit neatly into either the science fiction or fantasy camp.

Speculative Fiction can be set in other worlds, like Perdido Street Station, or on this one, like American Gods. It can be an all-too familiar future, like Snow Crash, or a re-imagined past, like Alvin Maker. What I have selected here are my favourite titles from what I think of as Speculative Fiction. As with the previous two, any recommendation you have, or comments on this articles are always welcome.

Perdido Street Station

You may not have heard of this book, but it?s one I?ve had recommended to me from a number of places, including readers of this column in the past. I?ve never regretted buying it, as it has to be one of my favourite books of all time. The story itself has as many twists as the alleys of New Crobuzon, the city in which it is set. It?s a sprawling setting with a story to match. China Mieville followed Perdido Street Station with The Scar, another highly recommended read.

American Gods

Neil Gaiman should be a familiar name to readers of speculative fiction, from his Sandman work if nothing else. He?s also the only author to be mentioned twice here. American Gods is the story of that other group of immigrants to America; the Gods who came with their followers, and have hung around long after they were needed. Mister Shadow finds himself working for an old man who calls himself Wednesday, and has a lot of strange friends. Wednesday is trying to warn his friends of approaching danger. A big storm is coming. There are new gods in America now, gods of television and fashion and neon lights. This town ain?t big enough for the both of ?em?.

Snow Crash

By Neal Stephenson. I should give a nod here to William Gibson?s Neuromancer, and a deeper nod to John Shirley?s City Come A Walkin?, but Snow Crash is the cyberpunk novel for me. This book had me hooked from the first sentence. Any author who calls his hero and main protagonist Hiro Protagonist will do that. It makes me smile even now. Set in an America where franchises have all but replaced the nation state, Hiro must uncover the meaning behind a 5,000 year old virus that is sending hackers comatose. Yeah, that doesn?t do it justice, read it, you won?t be sorry that you did.

Alvin Maker Series

I much prefer this to Orson Scott Card?s Ender series (apart from the excellent Ender?s Game). Alvin Maker is set in a slightly different historical America. An America full of folk magic, where a man?s knack is what sets him apart from other men. Alvin has the knack of the Maker, the most powerful knack of all, and this puts him in danger from birth. The tales follow Alvin as he journeys across America meeting various historical characters as he goes, plus righting wrongs, protecting the innocent, and other similarly heroic deeds. There are five books, plus a couple of short stories in the series at present. Here?s hoping for plenty more.

What list of Speculative Fiction books would be good without at least one End-of-the-World tale? Good Omens, written by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman is the tale of ?Tibetans, Aliens, Americans, Atlanteans and other rare and strange creatures of the last days.? Aziraphale and Crowley are an angel and a demon left on Earth since the creation. They have developed an understanding, as they have more in common with each other than with their respective masters, who simply don?t understand the situation on the ground. Due to an administrative stuff-up (Crowley?s fault) the Antichrist has gone missing. As the date for the final confrontation between heaven and hell approaches, they must find the missing Antichrist, a child of ultimate power. A child who has grown up without any kind of supernatural influences at all. A child who has grown up English.

The next column will be the fourth and final Reading Room from me, followed by a special edition with all of your recommendations that I have received. Part 4 leaves the world of fiction behind and enters the world of non-fiction. Specifically historical non-fiction. Some stuff is so strange that you just can?t make it up, and you can join me next time for my favourite reads in that area.


The Ninth Circle was written from 2002-2006, by David Kay, and with 58 installments it was the longest running column in Diabloii.net’s history. The Ninth Circle covered computer gaming, RPGs, fantasy novels, the gamer’s life, and other related issues. Opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of Diii.net.

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