Top 5 Sci Fi Books With Creepy Crawlies

It’s very easy to combine science fiction with horror. Whether you’re working with sentient artificial intelligence that’s hell-bent on control, or if you’ve got some weird, terrifying landscape that messes with the character’s minds, there’s always some kind of sci-fi fright to be had. 

But, perhaps one of the most terrifying things that authors can do with science fiction is include bugs. Spiders, wasps, slugs–you name it! Creepy crawlies scare the bejeezus out of millions of people, so it’s always been a perfect topic for sci-fi horror stories. 

We’ve collected some of the zanier sci fi books with insects in them, so it’s up to you if you want to pick them up to read before bed, or put them on the DON’T EVER READ list. 

The Bees by Laline Paull

the bees book

This is one of the more interesting, conceptual books on this list. Laline Paull crafts a sci-fi microcosm of a bee hive, where the main character is a worker bee. That’s right, Flora 717 is a sanitation worker, a drone responsible for cleaning up the walkways of the hive. 

But, as her role starts to change, Flora 717 finds herself getting closer and closer to the Queen, and closer to uncovering dangerous hive secrets. 

Paull’s book reads kind of like a story from Aliya Whiteley, but the unique take on the phrase “hive mind” makes this a fresh, interesting book. Not the conventional creepy crawlies you might have been expecting, but still worthy of a spot on this list. 

Petal Storm by Paul Kidd

petal storm book

It’s quite possible that Laline Paull’s The Bees was a tip of the hat to Paul Kidd’s Petal Storm. While the hive metaphor isn’t as fleshed out, there’s still a distinct similarity in Petal Storm

In this novel, the ancient civilization of The Hive is stumbling. They’re a warrior-class of bee-like humanoids, but their aging Queen will soon pass. Most of the novel revolves around this conflict, with court intrigue, skyborne battles, and assassinations. It’s a very inventive story, but it might not be everyone’s cup of tea. 

The Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka

the metamorphosis

We can’t have a list of books with creepy crawlies without including this classic. This book was one of the first jaunts into the insect-humanoid genre (is that a genre?). It’s been a staple of English literature classes across the world for years, and it’s profoundly an early work of science fiction. 

If you haven’t read The Metamorphosis, you should! It’s a fast read, with an engaging plot. The main character, Gregor Samsa, awakens one morning to find himself transformed into a giant insect, unable to communicate with his family. All sorts of madness ensues, and it’s a lesson in compassion if I’ve ever seen one. 

Texas Chainsaw Mantis by Kevin Strange

mantis

This one had to be on the list simply because it’s so weird. Kevin Strange is known for writing, well, strange fiction. 

Texas Chainsaw Mantis is a parody of the popular horror film, Texas Chainsaw Massacre. But, instead of people, the characters are all praying mantises. And if you know anything about the praying mantis, it’s that the females rip off the males’ heads after they are done mating with them. 

The main character of this story is a mantis named Matthew, whose wife almost bites his head off and leaves him for dead. But Matthew brings himself out of the garden shed with his trusty chainsaw, intent on destruction. 

It’s a bizarre premise, but a fun, quick read. 

Slugs by Shaun Hutson

slugs

If you’ve ever seen the 1990 movie  Arachnaphobia, then Slugs will be familiar. Published in 1982, Slugs follows a classic horror plot, with dozens of characters in a small town having different harrowing experiences with carnivorous slugs. 

It takes the main character, Mike Brady, a good long time to figure out that these dangerous slugs are not only eating people, but poisoning them too. Slugs is a classic 80s horror novel, and definitely a throwback.

Medieval to Modern Bestiaries, Studies in Cryptid Classification

For thousands of years, people have been aiming to identify and classify pretty much everything from insects and plants to the mysterious and supernatural. 

As a kid, I was fascinated by bestiaries and compendiums of the weird and paranormal. I’d spend a lot of time admiring the crisp artwork and smart descriptions of nymphs, faeries, trolls, and pookahs. 

But bestiaries aren’t exclusive to the supernatural or cryptid. While modern fantasy stories have turned the bestiary into a kind of compendium of arcane knowledge, they were originally used to provide valuable information about plants, animals, minerals, and many other parts of the natural world.

Having grown up hasn’t changed my love for bestiaries, and I figured I would share some of the most interesting things I’ve learned about the bestiary, and recommend some of my favorites.

 

The Earliest Bestiaries

I was curious about when the first bestiary came about, and I was surprised to learn that it dates back all the way to ancient Greece. The first recorded book is called the Physiologus, and it had descriptions of all kinds of animals. It was more of a naturalist’s handbook than a black book of arcanum. 

The Physiologus included writings from various Greek scholars, including Aristotle, Herodotus, and Pliny the Elder. 

As time went on and religion started to take over Europe, bestiaries started to deviate from the fable-like teachings to include Christain themes. Medieval bestiaries reworked the naturalist content of books like the Physiologus to create animal hierarchies and messages from God. 

Despite being vessels for Christain teachings, many of these bestiaries included creatures that we consider to be part of the fantastical. Unicorns, dragons, and griffins made appearances in the pages of these illuminated manuscripts, which set the precedent for future bestiaries that set their sights on the purely mythological. 

(If you’re interested in learning more about medieval bestiaries and want to see some of the illuminated texts, The Medieval Bestiary database is a great place to start.)

Becoming Even More Fantastic

So there was a pretty large jump from the early Greek days where bestiaries were used to record natural history to the medieval age where they became a means of spreading religious teachings. 

There is still yet another jump to the modern bestiary, where it’s used almost purely to classify magical beasts. These are the bestiaries that I grew up reading, and in my opinion, they are the coolest. 

Some of the bestiaries that I recommend taking a look at include:

spiderwick field guide

Arthur Spiderwick’s Field Guide to the Fantastical World Around You – This book was my bread and butter as a kid. It’s filled with great artwork from Tony DiTerlizzi and history from Holly Black. It’s based on their popular Spiderwick Chronicles, and the Field Guide is a big part of the original story. You’ll find all kinds of great info in here, and my personal favorite entry is the Wandering Clump, a fun little grass fairy. 

labyrinth bestiary

Jim Henson’s Labyrinth: Bestiary: A Definitive Guide to the Creatures of the Goblin King’s Realm – This one is just like it sounds! The Labyrinth is such an awesome movie, visually and creatively speaking. This book features all the different goblins, fire monkeys, hobgoblins, and dog knights that fill the world of the Labyrinth. It’s illustrated by Iris Compiet, and has accompanying text from S.T. Bende. (Iris Compiet worked on another bestiary along the same vein, focusing on The Dark Crystal.)

And while this next one isn’t necessarily a bestiary, it certainly fits into this category:

natural history of dragons

The Memoirs of Lady Trent series by Marie Brennan – This series combines Victorian steampunk era drama and exploration with dragons. Yup, the first book is called A Natural History of Dragons, and features Isabella Trent, a dragon naturalist, and a damn fine one at that. Her adventures take her all over the world as she learns more about dragons and their evolution. 

I’ll admit I haven’t finished the Lady Trent series yet (there are 6 books and 1 short story), but I really enjoyed the first two so far!

And as a runner-up that I discovered while writing this blog post (that definitely makes it onto the TBR list) was originally written in Spanish by Jorge Luis Borges called Manual de zoología fantástica. It translates to The Book of Imaginary Beings, and is sort of a cultural compendium of literary and mythological entities. It borders on seriousness and hilarity at the same time, with stoic creatures like the centaur situated in pages next to things like a Goofus Bird.

Are there any prominent bestiaries we failed to mention? Old or new alike, feel free to drop their names in the comments!

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