I love social science fiction. It’s absolutely addicting. Social SciFi are those books that play with aspects of life as we know it – social classes, sexuality, the relationship between humans and evolving technology. Social SciFi makes you think. They are the books that, when you’re done reading them, you look at the world around you a bit differently. You might re-think your relationship with Facebook, or maybe analyze the human condition in a different way.
Social SciFi, in reality, is so quickly evolving, and it encompasses so much, I really have a hard time defining it. I think this is one of those things that everyone will define a bit differently depending on how it hits them at any given time.
Or maybe I’m wrong.
I often get asked for social science fiction recommendations. Since it really is one of my favorite genres, I figured it was time for a recommended reading on this topic.
What books would you recommend?
Love Minus Eighty – Will McIntosh
Honestly, this is probably one of my absolute favorite books. I read this sucker at least a year ago, and I still think about it quite often. It’s an emotional love story told with a backdrop of invasive technology (the roots of which are easy to see in Facebook and Youtube). The thing about Love Minus Eighty is how shockingly packed full of material it is. Not only are we following a few key characters navigating their way through life and various situations, but Will McIntosh presents the evolution of technology and social classes in one of the most powerful, memorable, home-hitting ways I’ve run across yet.
Gemsigns – Stephanie Saulter
I’ve sang the praises of this book so often I’m turning into a broken record. Like Love Minus Eighty, Gemsigns is packed full of material. Sautler is dealing with human evolution, but she’s really asking readers to analyze what makes us human. She shines a light on how we treat those who are different than us, and paints a grim picture of how divisions could end up. Set in a realistic, emotionally jarring, fantastic near-future world, Gemsigns is a book that rocked me to my core. Rarely does a book ask us the questions that Saulter asks in such a graceful, soul deep way.
When We Wake – Karen Healey
This is a young adult book, so far there are two in this series, that deals with a teenager in Australia who gets shot and killed at a protest. She wakes up in the future after being cryogenically frozen and, instead of being pleased with how the future turned out, she is disappointed. Our protagonist, Tegan, is living in the world that ours could easily turn into. There are worries about mass immigration, climate change, political upheavals, pollution, gender and sexuality, and of course, social class and status issues. Despite the fact that this is a young adult series, many of the themes are pretty adult, and Healey handles them really well.
Afterparty – Daryl Gregory
I honestly think this book impressed me as much as Love Minus Eighty, which is saying something. Afterparty was released earlier this year, and like the first book in this list, I haven’t really ever stopped thinking about it. Set in the (very) near future, Afterparty deals with drugs and technology. What happens when just about anyone can create the drugs they want by printing them? Mixed with all of this are the effects of designer drugs that companies and independent dealers create, and thier rather tragic side effects. Afterparty is a really interesting look at healthcare, the pharmaceutical industry, and quite a nice big dash of some social and personal psychology in there as well. The situations are jarring, and the mental effects are presented so candidly that you can’t help but feel like you’re there. This is one of those books that will stick with you.
Alif the Unseen – Willow G. Wilson
Set in an unnamed Middle Eastern police state, where technology and basically all of life is strictly regulated and watched by a Big Brother system that most of us can’t really fathom, Alif the Unseen follows a young technology hacker who ends up on the run with his unsusupecting neighbor. There are some fantasy elements, but the real story lies with the protagonist and his cause. Wilson really brings to life the struggle that many people in the world face to just exist, and she shows just how costly passion and obsession can be in the face of, well so much. Add a dash of romance to this compelling personal and technological stew, and you have a book that has won awards, and rightfully so. Alif the Unseen sort of defies explanation, but it really does a great job at exploring the merging of technology and regulatory powers in a very compelling way.
Blindsight – Peter Watts
This is the first contact story retold in one of the most jarring ways I could possibly imagine. After an alien race pops through the atmosphere to take pictures of everyone, a ship with a few select people are sent off to see just what these aliens are all about. It’s quite a fascinating look at two species with brains that function two very different ways. I’m not even really sure what to say about it besides the fact that Blindsight is a wonderful take on the human condition, but more importantly than that, it illustrates just how different perspectives, and thinking about things different ways, can have such an enormous impact on situations. Really, that’s a pretty godawful description of why this is a social SciFi book, but it’s one of those that is so…. wow… you just have to read it and find out for yourself.
I was so delighted to meet Stephanie at Worldcon this year, and bought a UK copy of BINARY because of it.
You should try Watts short fiction, too.
I’m saddened by the fact that I’ve only read one of these so far. Social sci-fi is one of my favourite kinds! But I do have a copy of “Love Minus Eighty,” and apparently a copy of “Blindsight” is coming in the mail, so I’ll be able to rectify this terrible issue soon. 🙂
I also nominate John Scalzi’s recent “Lock In” for this list, since it fits the bill and was a terrific book!
Great list. I agree about Love Minus Eighty. I didn’t think of Blindsight as social sci-fi but of course it is, as you point out. The others are on my TBR pile, especially Alif the Unseen.
We made two podcasts about Blindsight. They are on http://www.sciencefictionfirst.com. Reading Echopraxia right now.