science fiction and social justice beginner reading list

i recently gave a talk on octavia butler and emergent strategies in johannesburg, south africa. which was A DREAM COME TRUE so i won’t try to play it cool at all. the audience was brilliant, engaged, and hungry for more readings. i started listing names of science/speculative/visionary fiction books that i would recommend for folks wanting to build their capacity to read sci-fi and speculative fiction for social justice, or with a social justice lens. the idea behind this is that a lot of science/speculative/visionary fiction can be read as case studies and imagination expanders that can help us navigate towards different ways of strategizing on social, economic and environmental justice in real time.

a few folks said, can you send us that list? and that sparked this post, which i have been wanting to write for a while. this is my starter list, in order from what i felt were the easiest worlds to enter to the harder ones. all of these are worthwhile reads. i reserve the right to add on as my memory is non-linear…and please feel free to add on in the comments section!

The Parable of the Sower and The Parable of the Talents, Octavia Butler

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Ender’s Game, Orson Scott Card (continue on to Speaker for the Dead. i disagree with Card’s sexuality politics, but i don’t believe in only engaging the work and vision of people i agree with)

My Soul to Keep ( and the rest of the African Immortals series), Tananarive Due

The Dispossessed, Ursula Le Guin

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Bloodchild, Octavia Butler (short story collection – especially crucial stories are ‘The Morning, The Evening and The Night’ and ‘Speech Sounds’)

Midnight Robber, Nalo Hopkinson

The Inheritance Trilogy, NK Jemisin


Who Fears Death?
, Nnedi Okorafor

Wild Seed, Mind of My Mind, Clay’s Ark and Pattermaster (often grouped together as the Patternist series, or the Seed to Harvest collection), Octavia Butler…(if you can get a copy of Survivor, a book she stopped publishing, it adds pieces to this collection)

The Left Hand of Darkness, Ursula Le Guin (i recommend her works as a whole as well – the rest of the hainish series which this book is a part of, the earthsea series, even her translation of the tao te ching)

Dune, Frank Herbert (read as much of this series as you can – it tracks and traces power, culture shift and evolution in ways that are challenging, gorgeous, shocking)

Dawn, Adulthood Rites and Imago (sold together as the Xenogenesis trilogy, or Lilith’s Brood), Octavia Butler

2312, Kim Stanley Robinson

The Famished Road, Ben Okri

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Perdido Street Station, The Scar and Iron Train, China Meiville (Also everything else that he has written, especially Embassytown)

Neuromancer and Idoru, William Gibson

Dhalgren, Samuel Delaney (also everything else he’s written, including his autobiography)

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Canopus in Argos: Archives series, by Doris Lessing

9 Responses to “science fiction and social justice beginner reading list”


  1. 1 Cement Swan

    Oh please oh please do add Vandana Singh!

  2. 2 Meghan

    I like Larissa Lai’s work, particularly Salt Fish Girl.

  3. 3 Libero Della Piana

    Great list for folks starting out in progressive genre fiction! I would only add a bunch (like Terry Bisson’s Fire on the Mountain, Marge Piercy’s Woman on the Edge of Time, Norman Spinrad’s The Iron Dream, Toni Morrison’s Beloved, The Gate t Women’s Country by Sheri Tepper, etc. etc.) and note that Dhalgren is not a beginner text for most. It’s an advanced project though well worth the effort.

  4. 4 lynn

    thanks for the list!
    i’d definitely add
    the fifth sacred thing
    by starhawk

  5. 5 pam

    Every book by Shari Tepper.

  6. 6 Pam

    Also: =Alif the Unseen= by G Willow Wilson

  7. 7 Cary

    A short story called The Persistence Of Vision by John Varley really pried my brain open to new possibilities.

  8. 8 Reynaldo Anderson

    I like Stephen Barnes “The Kundalini Equation” and just finished Ayize Jama-Everett’s “The Liminal People” which was quite good if you are looking at new authors.

  9. 9 Jessica

    Wonderful list! I have really enjoyed some of these novels. Another one in a similar vein is Carole McDonnell’s Constant Tower and Windfollower. Windfollower offered a very distinctive perspective on a number of common cultural situations inherent to classic fantasy, and Constant Tower provides a very indepth fantasy world that not only goes against most fantasy tropes but also immerses the reader in social justice issues without the reader even realizing that it’s happening.

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