Book Club Nominees

6 Sci-fi Horror Novels From the Outer Fringe

by @Mob, curator of HOWLS Book Club nominees for September’s “The Outer Fringe” category

Stories occupying the unclear margins between science fiction and horror.

Blindsight by Peter Watts

It’s been two months since a myriad of alien objects clenched about the Earth, screaming as they burned. The heavens have been silent since – until a derelict space probe hears whispers from a distant comet. Something talks out there: but not to us. Who to send to meet the alien, when the alien doesn’t want to meet? Send a linguist with multiple-personality disorder, and a biologist so spliced to machinery he can’t feel his own flesh. Send a pacifist warrior, and a vampire recalled from the grave by the voodoo of paleogenetics. Send a man with half his mind gone since childhood. Send them to the edge of the solar system, praying you can trust such freaks and monsters with the fate of a world. You fear they may be more alien than the thing they’ve been sent to find – but you’d give anything for that to be true, if you knew what was waiting for them.

—GoodReads/Amazon


A hard sci-fi take on weird horror first contact, a rarified genre mashup inside an already rarified genre mashup.There are a lot of big ideas in this book; from neuroscience to the future of transhumanism to the value of consciousness. There are bizarre characters, unique takes on long-standing tropes, and they remain fascinating no matter how much I disagree with a lot of them.

Bookshop* | Goodreads | Amazon

Annihilation by Jeff Vandermeer

Area X has been cut off from the rest of the continent for decades. Nature has reclaimed the last vestiges of human civilization. The first expedition returned with reports of a pristine, Edenic landscape; the second expedition ended in mass suicide; the third expedition in a hail of gunfire as its members turned on one another. The members of the eleventh expedition returned as shadows of their former selves, and within weeks, all had died of cancer. In Annihilation, the first volume of Jeff VanderMeer’s Southern Reach trilogy, we join the twelfth expedition.

—Goodreads/Amazon


Turned into a popular if god-awful movie, the book presents a surreal view of obsession, trust, and our interaction with our surroundings. More desolate mood piece than action-packed—a psychological character exploration, atmospheric environmental pastiche, and near-cli-fic all at once—painted through Vandermeer’s idiosyncratic lens on “the new weird”.

Bookshop* | Goodreads | Amazon

Cover of Agents of Dreamland by Caitlín R. Kiernan. Cover shows a wooden cabin. Behind the cabin is a sky filled with stars, most likely the Milky Way.

Agents of Dreamland by Caitlín R. Kiernan

A government special agent known only as the Signalman gets off a train on a stunningly hot morning in Winslow, Arizona. In a ranch house near the shore of the Salton Sea a cult leader gathers up the weak and susceptible—the Children of the Next Level—and offers them something to believe in and a chance for transcendence. Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory abruptly loses contact with NASA’s interplanetary probe New Horizons. And a woman floating outside of time looks to the future and the past for answers to save humanity.

Goodreads (rephrased to remove spoilers)


Lovecraftian horror meets the X-Files. In Novella form. I really shouldn’t have to elaborate.

Bookshop* | Goodreads | Amazon

Cover of The City & The City by China Miéville. Cover shows two cities: one at the bottom of the cover, with an older almost Eastern European architecture, and one at the top of the cover and upside down, with a modern skyscraper architecture.

The City & The City by China Miéville

When a murdered woman is found in the city of Beszel, somewhere at the edge of Europe, it looks to be a routine case for Inspector Tyador Borlú of the Extreme Crime Squad. But as he investigates, the evidence points to conspiracies far stranger and more deadly than anything he could have imagined.

—GoodReads/Amazon


Called Kafkaesque by people who don’t understand Kafka, The City & The City starts with a simple (if surreal) premise, and spins it out in startling depth and colour. Written for Miéville’s terminally ill mother—a fan of police procedurals—the story effortlessly blends genre and thematic conceits, raising important anthropological questions and weaving a compelling mystery at the same time.

Bookshop* | Goodreads | Amazon

Cover of The House on the Borderland by William Hope Hodgson. Cover shows an image that looks like a postcard filled with red, pink, yellow and orange colors. The image rests against a stark white background.

The House on the Borderland by William Hope Hodgson

Cited by H.P. Lovecraft as ‘perhaps the greatest of all Mr. Hodgson’s works’, this tale of a deserted house in Ireland hints at a terrifying evil. When two men on an innocent fishing trip encounter the enigmatic ruins of a house, they slowly uncover its secrets through the diary of its previous tenant. At each turn of the page, horrors begin to unfold, monsters are revealed and new dimensions exposed. A gripping story right to the very end, Hodgson’s masterful writing leads the reader into a nightmarish world from which there may be no escape.

—Waterstones


A major inspiration for writers as far apart as Clark Ashton Smith and Terry Pratchett, The House on the Borderland marked a radical departure at the time from Gothic horror into a newer, more scientific cosmic horror. Without forerunners such as this, the original wave of weird fiction may never have come to exist.

Bookshop* | Goodreads | Amazon

Cover of Urik by Phillip K Dick. Cover shows a series of aerosol cans, photographed close up.

Ubik by Philip K Dick

Glen Runciter is dead. Or is he? Someone died in the explosion orchestrated by his business rivals, but even as his funeral is scheduled, his mourning employees are receiving bewildering messages from their boss. And the world around them is warping and regressing in ways which suggest that their own time is running out.

—Waterstones


Ubik—safe when used as directed! Pynchon or DeLilo if they weren’t insufferable. William Gibson if you could understand the prose. A reality-bending psychological horror and satire of consumerist capitalism set in a superpowered 60s retro view of the future.

Bookshop* | Goodreads | Amazon

And The Winner Is…

Out of these six books, HOWLers voted to read Agents of Dreamland by Caitlín R. Kiernan. Join HOWL Society on Monday, September 6, 2021 to begin discussion!

Mob writes, when they aren’t bouldering, cooking, or coding. They aren’t sure what they did to deserve moderating a weekly series of articles on Reddit’s /r/WritingHub, but it must have been heinous.

*The HOWLS Bookshop.org affiliate storefront pays a 10% commission to HOWL Society and gives a matching 10% to independent bookstores

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