My evolution over recent decades from ‘bleeding heart’ liberal (a term my Ima once called me out for using) to borderline radical has been a long one. But critical to that journey has been my reading. As often as not, my fiction reading. Here compiled is a list of fiction books that shaped my thinking in various ways.
This list is, of necessity, incomplete. I’m sure there are a great many books I forgot. And there are some I intentionally left off. Thirty years ago Lackey’s Last Herald Mage trilogy was radical for featuring a gay hero in fantasy. Having those books be my introduction to the idea of mm relationships saved me from my family’s bigotry with long-term consequences for my life-journey. But to someone reading them today, they are not radical or revolutionary.
Broadly, these books fall into three categories:
(A) books that introduced a new perspective that challenged my understanding of the world
(B) books that introduced new ideas
(C) books offered examples of/highlighted what is wrong in our society that we don’t notice and/or celebrate
For whatever my opinion is worth, I’d say category A books are most important for folks just starting to expand their horizon. Because, well, these books are horizon stretching. They show you ways the world could be different.
For category B, understand that not all the ideas introduced are good ones. For instance, Troy Rising presents a celebration of unbridled capitalism as the key to saving the world. Seeing these ideas laid out, becoming briefly caught in them, and seeing for myself they cannot work, no matter how enticing they can be, was a critical part of my journey. (And that’s not the only thing wrong with that trilogy.)
For category C, be wary. Category C is a mix — some of these books present and explore the problems of Western society as problems. Some of them (Troy Rising, for instance) celebrate them as the very things that make society great. Consider category C as a practice round for analysis and critique. Some of these books, I didn’t realize were glorifying toxic culture until a decade or more after reading them.
Books with an * are ones I think my kid could understand and might enjoy.
As I can, I’ll add notes about why various books made the list.
I have a shorter list of nonfiction I’ll be sharing later.
Links may contain spoilers.
- A — Daughter of the Empire trilogy by Janny Wurts, Raymond E. Feist — honor cultures, how our cultural upbringing blinds us
- A — Giving Consent series by Kate Hawthorne
- A — Heart and Soul Maeve Binchy
- A* — Imaro by Charles de Lint, Charles R. Saunders
- A — In the Time of Toba: Lilith: Book One by Ripley Santo, Michón Neal
- A — Liquid Cool: The Cyberpunk Detective Series by Austin Dragon
- A — Meji: Book One by Milton J. Davis
- A — Ritual of Proof by Dara Joy
- A — Sorcerer to the Crown by Zen Cho
- A* — The Lady by Anne McCaffery
- A* — Throne of the Crescent Moon by Saladin Ahmed
- B — Brothers Sinister by Courtney Milan
- B* — Flowers for Algeron
- B* — Freehold by Michael Z. Williamson — libertarianism, space age colonialism
- B* — Nine of Swords, Reversed Xan West
- B* — Princess of Steel(?) by W.E.B. duBois
- C — Catherine Feehan’s Carpathian series
- C — J.D. Robb’s In Death series
- C — Steven White’s Demon’s Gate
- A,B* — Ancilliary Trilogy (Second and third book especially)
- A,B — Eight Kinky Nights: An f/f Chanukah romance by Xan West
- A,B* — Green Eyed Wolf: Return Services Case Files (Book A) by Kahaula — Indigenous Hawaiian ideas/world view, indigenous sovereignty
- A,B* — Jupiter Series by Jerry Pournelle, Charles Sheffield
- A,B — Old Man’s War by John Scalzi
- A,B — Parable of the Talents by Octavia Butler
- A,B* — Storms of Victory by P.M. Griffin, Andre Norton
- A,B — The Disposessed by Ursula LeGuin
- A,B — Their Troublesome Crush by Xan West
- A,B,C — Falkenberg’s Legion
- A,B,C* — Flight of Vengeance by Mary Schaub, P.M. Griffin, Andre Norton
- A,B,C — Pump Six and Other Stories by Paolo Bacigalupi
- A,B,C — Troy Trilogy by John Ringo
- A,C* — Take a Thief by Mercedes Lackey
- A,C* — The Blue Sword by Robin McKinley
- B,C* — Homecoming Saga #1 by Orson Scott Card
- B,C* — The Postman by David Brin
- B,C — American Gods by Neil Gaiman
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