As we’re a Manchester writing group, people sometimes ask us what the best speculative-fiction novels set in Manchester are. Here’s our top ten.
Vurt by Jeff Noon
In a Manchester where a hallucinogenic drug creates alternate realities, a young addict searches multiple worlds for his missing sister.
Probably the most famous speculative-fiction novel set in Manchester, Vurt won the 1994 Arthur C. Clarke Award. It’s a breakneck, roller coaster, dream-logic-explosion of a cyberpunk novel, disturbing and enthralling in equal measure.
Vurt also has three ‘companion novels’, all set in the same universe: Pollen, Automated Alice and Nymphomation.
The Night Brother by Rosie Garland
In Victorian Manchester, a strait-laced girl and her more daring, and perhaps imaginary, brother fight to discover the reality of their relationship, for control over their lives and even for their existence.
So high concept that it’s hard to write anything about it without spoiling it The Night Brother is a clever novel. It has a unique perspective on identity and it makes great use of its late-nineteenth-century Manchester setting.
Habit by Stephen McGeagh
When a troubled young man starts work as a doorman at a Manchester ‘massage parlour’ he discovers the sex work is a cover for worse horrors, and has to decide how to respond to his urge to join in.
Habit is a great bit of literary horror. It counterpoises classic, violent, maybe-supernatural horror and the downbeat, quiet horror of human nature. To say Habit is bleak would be putting it very mildly indeed.
Simeon Halligan directed a movie adaptation of Habit, starring Elliot Langridge and Jessica Barden, in 2017.
Graft by Matt Hill
In a future Manchester, a car thief finds a voiceless, three-armed woman with amnesia hidden in a car he’s stolen and tries to save her, and himself, from her traffickers.
Set in a broken future Manchester that’s not far removed from reality, and a much stranger parallel world that’s trading with it, Graft is a cyberpunk novel with a deep noir edge and gritty style.
A Calculated Life by Anne Charnock
In late-twenty-first-century Manchester, a brilliant mathematical modeller finds reality contradicting her carefully calculated forecasts and sets out to discover how the world, with all its human complexity, really works.
A Calculated Life is set in a near future where the bio-engineered rich lead ordered and productive lives separate from the population of ‘organics’. It’s a kind of coming of age story as the main character explores this society and tries to understand what it is to be truly ‘human’. It feels like a believable, even inevitable, future.
Judges shortlisted A Calculated Life for the 2013 Philip K. Dick and Kitschies Golden Tentacle Awards.
Elidor by Alan Garner
After children from Manchester rescue four treasures from a magical land on the brink of annihilation, the forces destroying that land cross over into our world to retrieve them. The children must seal the bridge between worlds to protect our world from destruction.
Although he’s most famous for The Weirdstone of Brisingamen, Alan Garner has written a string of books based on British legends and deeply entwined in the power of place and landscape. In Elidor, he places the story in a bombed-out, post-WW2 Manchester that smoothly mixes fantasy and reality.
Elidor is a classic children’s fantasy novel, and the BBC also adapted it as a television series in the 1990s.
Claudia by Anthony Trevelyan
A wealthy businessman asks a Manchester office worker to rescue an old friend’s son from an apocalyptic cult. Meanwhile, in a dystopian future, an unlikely assassin clashes with a disgruntled former employer.
Claudia has a complex plot with a lot of twists and uses its Manchester setting entertainingly as it builds forwards and backwards in time to its apocalyptic finale.
The Testament of Jessie Lamb by Jane Rogers
In a near future Manchester where a mysterious plague means all pregnancies end in the death of both mother and child, a teenage girl volunteers for an experimental cure that may kill her.
Long-listed for the Booker Prize, The Testament of Jessie Lamb is a story that will appeal primarily to young adult readers who will identify with the rebellious teenager at the heart of the story. It’s a bleak story that doesn’t offer any easy answers.
Speculative Fiction Novels set near Manchester
As well as Manchester itself, authors have written speculative fiction novels set in towns near Manchester or in imaginary locations inspired by Manchester.
- The Weirdstone of Brisingamen by Alan Garner. A great children’s fantasy novel but, like most of Alan Garner’s novels, it’s set in Cheshire, specifically Alderley Edge.
- The Loney, by Andrew Michael Hurley. A superb, literary, supernatural-horror novel, set on the Lancashire coast.
- Mist Over Pendle, by Robert Neill. A fictionalised account of the Pendle witch trials. Set in Pendle, which is north of Manchester. Arguably not speculative, as the story presents the ‘witches’ as merely believing that they have supernatural powers.
- A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess. Many people feel it’s set in an alternate/future Manchester—or that it captures the spirit of Manchester—but the setting is not specific. Burgess himself said he imagined the setting to be a cross between Manchester, Leningrad and New York.
Revolutions and Revolutions 2
If you like speculative fiction with a Manchester setting, then you’ll love Manchester Speculative Fiction’s anthologies: Revolutions and Revolutions 2.
You can read the first story in Revolutions, Sarah Jasmon’s The Uncertainty Principle, for free here:
If we’ve missed one of your favourite speculative fiction novels set in Manchester, then please contact us and we’ll consider adding them.