Doris Lessing was one of the first literary authors to venture into science fiction. She wrote about aliens and space wars at a time when the genre was still shedding its embarrassing pulp tatters. And while most literary authors have just lifted well-worn plot devices from science fiction, Lessing actually innovated within the genre. So it's especially awesome that she's the first science fiction author to win a Nobel Prize.
Lessing's five-novel masterwork, The Children of Violence, starts out as a super-realistic semi-autobiography and ends with the main character gaining psychic powers on the eve of World War III. Many of her other books from the sixties and seventies blend realism and confessional writing with speculative elements. Her venture into actual space opera, the Shikasta series, is the only science fiction story to become a Philip Glass opera.
It's not speculative fiction, but 1985's The Good Terrorist is a must-read for anyone wanting to write believable characters in an extreme situation. It's also required reading for anybody who wants to understand how a "normal" person could become a terrorist. Image by Getty Images.