I’ve heard people who don’t read science fiction & fantasy say that The Reason they don’t is because they don’t want to get into a long series. It’s all trilogies and quintets and omg-neverending-looking-at-you-Wheel-of-Time processions of books. They say that a good standalone science fiction or fantasy story, one book only, doesn’t exist. I’ve even heard fans of both genres say this. And I’m here to tell you that it’s just plain not true. It exists, in plentitude. So if you’ve been wanting to dip your toe into the science fiction and fantasy genres without having to reserve a whole bookshelf for one series, here are my recommendations to get you started:
Cowboy Feng’s Space Bar & Grille by Steven Brust
If you’re looking for something with the humorous flavor of Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy but more understandable/cohesive, this is a good one. A fun read. Brust is also one of my favorite fantasy writers, but those all tend to be series.
Ancient Shores by Jack McDevitt
One of my top two sci-fi authors, his standalones are as good as his series. This one explores what happens when a farmer in North Dakota digs up something beyond the capability of human technology. McDevitt’s writing often asks more questions than it answers, and is always good for a rumination on humanity.
Windhaven by George R.R. Martin and Lisa Tuttle
One of the masters of fantasy (author of Game of Thrones/Song of Ice & Fire series) turns his hand to sci-fi, with a little help from a friend. An engrossing story about the power of flight, and the power of a dream (not as cheesy as I just made that sound, I promise).
The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. LeGuin
I originally got hooked on Le Guin with her Earthsea (fantasy) series – which I still love. But her sci-fi is even better. She’s the other one of my top two sci-fi authors. This one in particular I always recommend. It examines what happens when an emissary is dropped into an alien culture where one of the cornerstones of how we understand people/the world (gender) is no longer a given.
Stranger in a Strange Land by Robert Heinlein
Heinlein is one of the Big Three of science fiction, and this book is considered his masterpiece. It tells the story of a human who has returned to Earth as an adult after being raised by Martians on the planet Mars. The observations on human culture by an alien outsider who also happens to be human is a particularly interesting story lens. And hey, Kurt Vonnegut called it “A brilliant mind-bender.” So there’s that. 🙂
Honorable mentions: The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger, and Changing Planes (book of short stories) by Ursula K. Le Guin.
Stardust by Neil Gaiman
Who doesn’t love a story about a boy on a magical quest? Gaiman is one of the master voices of the genre, and this is his version of a fairy story for adults. Magic, adventure, mayhem, love, etc. – it’s all packed in here. It also got made into a movie, if you’d rather go that route.
Dragonhaven by Robin McKinley
You didn’t think I could make a list like this without one book all about dragons, did you? 😀 This one probably falls in the Young Adult category. Jake (several years after the book’s events) is telling the story of his first solo expedition on the dragon preserve, the dire situation he stumbled upon, and all that fell out after that. It’s a light but good read.
Tigana by Guy Gavriel Kay
This is the book to go to if you want a hearty epic fantasy without the 5- or 12-book commitment. Granted, it is still pretty long, but it’s just the one book. It’s got astonishing world-building, loads of intrigue, and some great characters. You can read my longer review here.
Song of the Beast by Carol Berg
Carol Berg is one of my favorite fantasy authors, because she writes complex characters with a hundred relatable facets that just hook you in. This is no exception, boasting a wonderfully tortured hero. Literally and figuratively. And there are dragons!
Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke
Ok, admittedly, I haven’t actually finished this one yet. But what I’ve read so far is good. And it’s been called ‘a tale of magic such as might have been written by the young Jane Austen.’ Which is a pretty solid endorsement from my point of view. And it won Time Magazine’s Best Novel of the Year, so there’s that. If you like English literature (and I mean that in the sense of the country, not just the language), this would be a good choice.
Honorable mentions: To Reign in Hell by Steven Brust, and The Golden Key by Melanie Rawn.
What about you, fellow bookworms? What would you add to the list?
(admittedly, I could’ve made this list much longer, but I had to cut myself off somewhere)
I got to tell ya, when this post came up in my Bloglovin’ feed I didn’t even need to see the picture to know I was going to click on it. The fact that it said Sci-fi/Fantasy in the title caught my attention!!
I love sci-fi and fantasy. The novel I’m writing now is part sci-fi. I honestly hadn’t heard people say that about why they don’t read sci-fi or fantasy. But I’m not surprised. Personally I encourage jumping into any genre that you haven’t tried. So I love that you’ve given a list of good books not a part of a series.
My first intro to epic fantasy was “Wizard’s First Rule” by Terry Goodkind. It’s fantastic and really you don’t have to read the rest of the series (which I haven’t) to enjoy it because it concludes so well. Other readers told me the series goes downhill after that and I’m watching a youtube show of fantasy authors who talk about different aspects of writing and Patrick Rothfuss said the same thing about the series. So I decided to just read the first one and it’s now one of my favorite books!
It reminds me of the excuse people use to not try out graphic novels and comics, that it’s all just superheroes and superheroes “aren’t their thing.” My husband introduced me to comics and graphic novels and so I eventually created a blog (which I no longer have) called Capeless Comics where I showed people that there is SOOOO much in the comic/graphic novel world that isn’t just superheroes, like my favorites, V for Vendetta and Maus.
Really great post Amanda! I’ll be putting some of these on my to-read list!
Haha, yay! Glad you liked it, and obviously I love sci-fi and fantasy, too. 🙂
I really liked Wizard’s First Rule, too, and read the rest of the series as well. My boyfriend actually bought me the entire series for my birthday the first year we were together (yeah, he’s a keeper 🙂 ). It definitely has ups and downs, but there were some good books later in the series. The last book or two in particular I really liked, and I thought the series wrapped up well. But I remember books 6 and 7 or thereabouts being really slow.
I haven’t gotten too into graphic novels/comics/manga. I’ve tried some out and more or less enjoyed them, but I think I just like the plain written word better. Weird, I know, for a visual person/designer. 🙂
Thanks so much for your comment!
Now, after reading Wizard’s First Rule, if ever we see people being stupid my husband and I look at one another and say, “Wizards’s First Rule” since we know they likely haven’t read the book. 🙂
I tried manga but didn’t get into it. I love the written word in graphic novels and comics, in fact I think it’s the best part. V for Vendetta is like poetry and the words so meticuliously chosen. Moore is one of my favorite writers for that book. He proved with it that graphic novels are all bout the writing and the art just adds to it. I think that’s another thing that people forget about graphic novels/comic books. Granted, there are some with shitty writing and story lines, as their are books. 🙂
It’s not a genre I read, though I did quite enjoy The Time Travelers Wife. Are you sure that one counts? 🙂
A genetic mutation that results in being able to time travel? Totally counts as sci-fi. 😀 Though I know what you mean, it’s first and foremost a love story, I think.
As much as I love sci fi and fantasy tv shows and movies, I don’t read it at all. Mainly the only thing I read is chick-lit and super easy reads. Some YA stuff too. Wow. I really need to broaden my horizons.
I’m an unrepentant escapist reader, so sci-fi and fantasy are my mainstays. There’s some occasional historical fiction, romance and contemporary fiction thrown in there, but I mostly stick to swords and spaceships. 😀
This isn’t a standalone book, however I gotta ask: have you ever read The Golden Acorn? I’m only a few chapters in, but it’s good and wanted to know what you thought/if you’ve read it. I think nearly every book minus Dracula that I have read has been in a series, as I like the story to keep going. 😉
I have not heard of it, but I’ll see if the library has it. 🙂 I’m a sucker for series, too, for the same reason – I get attached to the characters and don’t want the story to end! 😀
I needed this post so badly! I’ve been looking for a new book to read. Something that isn’t a long series or even a trilogy. Just a single novel. And what’s awesome? These books sound pretty interesting. Hopefully I can pick one up at the library!
Usually I don’t read scifi and stick to mainly fantasy. And then it’s usually some sort of fantasy series. But I did really enjoy Enders Game as a standalone. I know it’s part of a series but I don’t plan on reading it any time soon and it was very enjoyable still!
Yay! Glad I could help you out. I’d imagine the library should have at least ONE of them, if not more. 🙂
I really like Ender’s Game as well, and even the next 2 books in the series. Though I agree it’s good to take as a standalone, too. Supposedly they’re making it into a movie that will be out next year, which I’m intrigued by.
They are making a movie on it and I’m really interested in seeing how it turns out. I remember it being a bit of a dark and violent book at times so I’m worried they’ll try to change it and make it more kid/family friendly. Even Hunger Games I felt was a bit watered down from what I imagined. That and Asa Butterfield is going to be Ender and he just gives off too much of an innocent vibe for my liking, but who knows he might totally bring out the perfect bad ass in Ender! I’ve just only ever seen him play cute little kid roles so I cant wait to see how he handles this one.
I think if he plays it straight-faced (like, no big kid grins and such) he’d be quite good as Ender. Almost chilling, even, which would be appropriate.