Summer is a natural setting for, say, a romance novel: summer flings, unexpected love blooming in a little beach town, etc. It can be harder to track down sci-fi, fantasy, and horror books set during the summertime. Fortunately, I’m here to help. Here are five speculative fiction books that you can read during these waning days of summer. Or, save them until it’s cold again and you desperately need a shot of fictional sunshine.
1. Little, Big, by John Crowley
This one bears explanation, especially since it’s at the beginning of the list. “But Jeff,” you say, “doesn’t this novel span not just all four seasons, but multiple generations?” Yes. It does. But read Little, Big and just try to tell me it doesn’t make you think of long, hazy, dreaming days in the summer countryside, throughout pretty much the whole book. The book is about a sensation most of all: a mood-place where reality and magic meet, where fairies don’t seem like such a crazy idea after all.
2. A Shadow in Summer, by Daniel Abraham
This is the first book in Abraham’s medieval Asia-inspired fantasy series The Long Price Quartet, with subsequent books also named for the seasons (though, note that winter comes before autumn!). (Also note that Abraham is one half of “James S.A. Corey,” author of the sci-fi series The Expanse, which I’ve praised earlier). Ideas can be made into real creatures in the summer cities of the south. Jo Walton recommended A Shadow in Summer and its follow-ups highly.
3. Dandelion Wine, by Ray Bradbury
Bradbury drew on his own childhood to create this paean to summer, much of which started off as individually published short stories before being drawn together into this book. The book has only light speculative touches, mostly to add dimensions that represent the touch of magic that summer has when you’re a kid. Interestingly, Bradbury published a sequel, Farewell Summer, almost fifty years later — that takes place during “Indian Summer,” in October. So, you know, one last hurrah for summer.
4. Summerland, by Michael Chabon
A rare YA offering from Chabon, Summerland is the story of fairies and other magical creatures who are obsessed with baseball. A kid who sucks at the sport must journey on a blimp into a land of adventure and American mythology, etc. The author reins in his ordinarily baroque language somewhat for the kids, but still manages to slip in the occasional vocabulary-enhancing description. I have a signed copy of this book and you cannot have it. And here’s a bonus (non-speculative) summer novel by Chabon: The Mysteries of Pittsburgh, the story of one young man’s sexual awakening in about the least mysterious city there is. Featuring motorcycles!
5. Summer of Night, by Dan Simmons
So, think Dandelion Wine — a magical boyhood summer in Illinois — except with the awakening of an ancient evil added in. And really, shouldn’t that be added to every story? Simmons is probably best known for off-the-wall genre-melding (genre-busting?) books like Hyperion, but Summer of Night will scratch your classical horror itch, per the consensus. That’s what summer’s really for.
The Summer Job by Adam Cesare, a horror tale that sounds pretty fucked up (hat tip to this Lit Reactor article by Cameron Pierce, which also reminded me of the existence of Summer of Night); and pretty much anything by Guy Gavriel Kay, whose dreamily described settings will put you in a summer frame of mind, particularly in books like A Song for Arbonne
Tell me what I’m missing from this list! It’s all dudes with no female writers, for one thing. I know I must be missing a bunch of great speculative fiction set in the summertime.
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