The Greatest "Contemporary, Speculative Fiction" Books Since 1980

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This list represents a comprehensive and trusted collection of the greatest books. Developed through a specialized algorithm, it brings together 313 'best of' book lists to form a definitive guide to the world's most acclaimed books. For those interested in how these books are chosen, additional details can be found on the rankings page.

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Contemporary books are a genre that focuses on stories set in the present day, often exploring current social, cultural, and political issues. These books are typically written in a modern style and often feature relatable characters dealing with real-life situations. Contemporary books can cover a wide range of topics, from romance and family drama to coming-of-age stories and thrillers. The genre is constantly evolving to reflect the changing world we live in, making it a popular choice for readers who want to stay up-to-date with the latest trends and issues.

Speculative Fiction

Speculative fiction is an umbrella genre encompassing narrative fiction with supernatural or futuristic elements. This includes genres such as science fiction, fantasy, horror, supernatural fiction, superhero fiction, utopian and dystopian fiction, apocalyptic and post-apocalyptic fiction, and alternate history. The unifying factor of speculative fiction is its departure from the narrative constraints of reality, exploring imaginative and often profound questions that challenge our understanding of the world and our place within it. These stories often delve into themes like the human condition, social commentary, and the exploration of philosophical and ethical dilemmas through the lens of the fantastical or the yet-to-be-possible. By pushing the boundaries of the known, speculative fiction invites readers to consider the myriad possibilities of existence and the potential consequences of our actions in worlds that are, at once, vastly different from and eerily similar to our own.

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  1. 1. A River Sutra by Gita Mehta

    The book weaves together a series of interconnected stories set along the Narmada River in India, exploring themes of love, loss, and spirituality. Through the eyes of a retired bureaucrat who becomes the manager of a guesthouse by the river, the narrative delves into the lives of various pilgrims, ascetics, and seekers who visit the sacred site. Each character's tale reflects the diverse cultural and spiritual tapestry of India, revealing the profound impact of the river on their personal journeys and inner transformations.

    The 2695th Greatest Book of All Time
  2. 2. The Stone Raft by José Saramago

    In this surreal exploration, the Iberian Peninsula breaks off from the rest of Europe and begins to drift across the Atlantic Ocean. As the governments and international community scramble to understand and respond to the phenomenon, five disparate individuals find themselves drawn together on a journey across the newly isolated landscape. Through their experiences and interactions, the narrative explores themes of identity, nationality, and the arbitrary nature of borders.

    The 2924th Greatest Book of All Time
  3. 3. Exit West by Mohsin Hamid

    "Exit West" is a novel that follows the journey of two young lovers, Nadia and Saeed, who are forced to leave their war-torn city through mysterious doors that transport them to different locations around the globe. The couple navigate their relationship while grappling with displacement, loss, and the challenges of adjusting to new cultures. The novel explores themes of migration, identity, love, and the concept of home.

    The 3097th Greatest Book of All Time
  4. 4. The Witches Of Eastwick by John Updike

    In a quaint Rhode Island town, three divorced women discover their shared supernatural abilities and form a coven of witches. Their lives are upended with the arrival of a mysterious and charismatic stranger who seduces each of them, stoking their powers and ambitions. As the women navigate their complex relationships with this man and each other, they confront the conservative mores of their community, leading to a series of conflicts and transformations that challenge their notions of female independence and power. The novel explores themes of sexuality, feminism, and the dynamics of social conformity through the lens of magical realism.

    The 3387th Greatest Book of All Time
  5. 5. The Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo

    "The Poet X" is a coming-of-age novel that follows the journey of a young girl named Xiomara, who uses poetry as an outlet to navigate her complex life. Set in Harlem, Xiomara grapples with her strict Dominican parents, her evolving understanding of her own identity, and her burgeoning relationship with a boy named Aman. Through her powerful and honest poetry, Xiomara finds her voice, confronts societal expectations, and discovers the strength to define herself on her own terms.

    The 5043rd Greatest Book of All Time
  6. 6. Practical Magic by Alice Hoffman

    The book follows the lives of the Owens sisters, Sally and Gillian, who come from a long line of witches. Raised by their eccentric aunts after their parents' death, the sisters grow up learning about love and magic. However, they face an age-old curse that any man who falls in love with an Owens woman will meet a tragic end, leading them on a journey of self-discovery, acceptance, and a struggle to overcome their family's dark past.

    The 5130th Greatest Book of All Time
  7. 7. The Bone Clocks by David Mitchell

    This novel weaves together the lives of diverse characters through a narrative that spans decades, centering on a teenage runaway with psychic abilities. As she becomes embroiled in a covert war between immortal factions, the story explores themes of mortality, power, and the interconnectedness of human lives. The intricate plot moves through different times and places, revealing a hidden world of mysticism and a looming apocalyptic crisis, all while examining the impact of our actions on the future of the planet.

    The 6070th Greatest Book of All Time
  8. 8. Pet by Akwaeke Emezi

    The book unfolds in a society that believes it has eradicated all monsters, but when a creature named Pet emerges from a painting, a young girl named Jam learns that monsters still exist. Pet has come to hunt a monster hiding in plain sight, and Jam must confront the reality that not all dangers are as visible as they seem. As Jam navigates this revelation with Pet's guidance, she embarks on a quest to protect her best friend and uncover the truth in a world that prefers to deny the existence of such horrors. The story challenges the concepts of good and evil and the complacency that can arise in a community that believes it has overcome its darkest elements.

    The 6146th Greatest Book of All Time
  9. 9. Voroshilovgrad by Serhiy Zhadan

    "Voroshilovgrad" is a powerful novel set in post-Soviet Ukraine, following the lives of several characters who are grappling with the consequences of war, corruption, and economic decline. The story explores themes of identity, love, and the struggle to find meaning in a society that is rapidly changing. Through vivid and poetic prose, the author paints a haunting picture of a city and its inhabitants, capturing the complexities and contradictions of life in a country in transition.

    The 6746th Greatest Book of All Time
  10. 10. Quiet Flows The Una by Faruk Šehić

    "Quiet Flows The Una" is a poignant and powerful novel that delves into the complexities of war and its lasting impact on individuals and communities. Set during the Bosnian War, the story follows a young soldier named Faruk, who finds solace in the beauty and tranquility of the Una River. As the war unfolds, Faruk's experiences and relationships are tested, and he is forced to confront the harrowing realities of violence and loss. Through vivid prose and introspective narration, the book explores themes of love, resilience, and the enduring human spirit in the face of adversity.

    The 6900th Greatest Book of All Time
  11. 11. Personality by Andrew O'Hagan

    "Personality" by Andrew O'Hagan is a thought-provoking exploration of identity and fame in the digital age. The book follows the story of a famous actress who decides to create a digital replica of herself to preserve her legacy. As the replica interacts with fans and becomes more popular, it raises questions about authenticity, privacy, and the blurred lines between reality and virtuality. With O'Hagan's sharp writing and insightful observations, "Personality" delves into the complexities of modern fame while challenging readers to reflect on the nature of self in an increasingly interconnected world.

    The 7045th Greatest Book of All Time
  12. 12. Night Circus And Other Stories by Ursula Kovalyk

    "Night Circus and Other Stories" is a collection of interconnected tales that explore the lives of various characters in a small town. From a young girl's fascination with a mysterious circus to a woman's encounter with a peculiar stranger, each story delves into themes of love, loss, and the extraordinary moments that shape our lives. With lyrical prose and a touch of magical realism, the book invites readers to step into a world where the ordinary and the extraordinary collide, leaving a lasting impression on both the characters and the readers themselves.

    The 7355th Greatest Book of All Time
  13. 13. The Old Drift by Namwali Serpell

    "The Old Drift" by Namwali Serpell is a sweeping and ambitious novel that spans generations and continents, exploring the intertwined lives of three families in Zambia. Set against the backdrop of colonialism, technological advancements, and political upheaval, the story delves into themes of love, power, and identity. From the early days of the British settlers to the rise of an experimental town and the emergence of a new generation, Serpell weaves a rich tapestry of characters and narratives, offering a thought-provoking exploration of history, race, and the impact of human actions on the world.

    The 8187th Greatest Book of All Time
  14. 14. Ghostwritten by David Mitchell

    Ghostwritten is a complex, interconnected narrative that spans the globe, featuring nine different characters in nine different locations, including a cult member in Okinawa, a jazz buff in Tokyo, a British investment banker in Hong Kong, an old woman running a tea shack in China, a transmigrating spirit in Mongolia, a ghostwriter in London, a physicist in Ireland, a late-night radio DJ in New York, and a noncorporeal entity in a global network. Each story is seemingly separate, but as the novel progresses, the connections between them become more apparent, creating a web of incidents and interactions that span space and time.

    The 8354th Greatest Book of All Time
  15. 15. F Letter: New Russian Feminist Poetry by Galina Rymbu, Eugene Ostashevsky, Ainsley Morse

    "F Letter: New Russian Feminist Poetry" is a captivating collection of contemporary Russian feminist poetry that challenges societal norms and explores themes of gender, identity, and power. Through the powerful and thought-provoking verses of Galina Rymbu, Eugene Ostashevsky, and Ainsley Morse, this anthology sheds light on the experiences and perspectives of women in Russia, offering a unique and refreshing voice in the world of literature.

    The 9103rd Greatest Book of All Time
  16. 16. Be Here To Love Me At The End Of The World by Sasha Fletcher

    In this novel, readers are plunged into an apocalyptic yet strangely tender world where the boundaries between reality and surrealism blur. The story follows a couple navigating their love and existence amidst the chaos of an impending apocalypse. Their journey is a testament to the power of love and human connection in the face of overwhelming despair and the bizarre. With a narrative that oscillates between moments of profound intimacy and absurdity, the book captures the essence of finding beauty and meaning in the midst of an unraveling world, making it a poignant exploration of love, loss, and the human condition.

    The 9530th Greatest Book of All Time
  17. 17. A Children’s Bible by Xe Sands, Lydia Millet

    "A Children's Bible" follows a group of children and their parents who are spending the summer in a rented house in the countryside. As the parents indulge in drinking and infidelity, the children are left to their own devices and begin to explore the surrounding wilderness. When a severe storm hits and the world as they know it begins to crumble, the children turn to their own imaginations and a battered old Bible for guidance. The novel is a poignant commentary on climate change, societal decay, and the resilience of youth.

    The 9574th Greatest Book of All Time
  18. 18. Wolf in White Van by John Darnielle

    The novel centers around a disfigured man who creates an intricate mail-in role playing game set in a post-apocalyptic world, as a way to escape his own reality. His life takes a tragic turn when two teenage players take the game too seriously, resulting in real-life consequences. The narrative unfolds in reverse, gradually revealing the protagonist's backstory and the circumstances that led to his disfigurement.

    The 9649th Greatest Book of All Time
  19. 19. Transmission by Hari Kunzru

    The novel centers on a young Indian computer programmer whose dreams of a new life in the United States are derailed by a series of unfortunate events. Desperate to avoid deportation after losing his job, he unleashes a mischievous computer virus in a bid to regain his employer's attention, but the plan spirals out of control. The virus rapidly spreads across the globe, causing widespread chaos and inadvertently linking the fates of an eclectic mix of characters, from Bollywood actresses to ambitious Silicon Valley entrepreneurs. The story is a satirical exploration of the complexities of globalization, the illusions of the American dream, and the unpredictable ways in which technology can disrupt the world.

    The 9773rd Greatest Book of All Time
  20. 20. Raavan & Eddie by Kiran Nagarkar

    "Raavan & Eddie" is a captivating coming-of-age story set in the bustling streets of Mumbai. The book follows the lives of two young boys, Raavan and Eddie, who grow up in the same chawl and share a unique bond. As they navigate the challenges of poverty, family dynamics, and societal expectations, their friendship is tested, and their dreams take them on unexpected paths. With humor, heart, and a vivid depiction of Mumbai's vibrant culture, this novel explores themes of identity, love, and the pursuit of dreams in a rapidly changing world.

    The 10520th Greatest Book of All Time

Reading Statistics

Click the button below to see how many of these books you've read!


If you're interested in downloading this list as a CSV file for use in a spreadsheet application, you can easily do so by clicking the button below. Please note that to ensure a manageable file size and faster download, the CSV will include details for only the first 500 books.