Kameron Hurley, who knows something from revolutions, has a new book out about two women who inhabit a broken world and must choose if they can work together to build a better one. After you read The Stars Are Legion (and you really should), she suggests five more books to inspire you to make tomorrow better.
I’m among the many Americans today who peers at the news from between splayed fingers, wondering just how bad it’s going to get and considering how much it would cost to build a bunker.
As a science fiction and fantasy writer, I used to love writing bleak, grimdark futures full of bleak, grimdark people. But I’ve found that as the world around me darkens, all I really want to do is grasp for more light.
While I still love writing brutal, gory stories, there’s a decidedly hopeful note to my most recent space opera, The Stars are Legion. The rag-tag team of misfits and castoffs who forge ahead to save their legion of organic starships from destruction aren’t on a futile quest – not in this future. Instead, they are driven by the very worst and the very best of what makes us human in an effort to transform the world into a better place – just like these five books.
Parable of the Sower, by Octavia Butler
Butler envisioned the collapse of the United States as a slow burn, not a nuclear fire. Old systems and beliefs die hard, and we’re far more likely to experience the descent of our government from one that functions to one that doesn’t over a period of years, not days. That tends to be how change happens; like a lobster heating up in a pot: we don’t know what’s happening until it’s far too late. Butler’s Parable of the Sower and Parable of the Talents follow a young woman after her gated community is overrun and she is forced out onto the highways with other American refugees fleeing the chaos of ungovernable areas. What makes this a hopeful book is that during this time of great upheaval, our heroine founds a new religion, one that is able to help save what’s good and decent in others, and organize people to not learn how to govern themselves again, but come together for even greater things. These are books to read while you go through tough times, because they show you that life does go on – and can get better, with hard work, and perseverance through the bleakest days.
Dark Orbit, by Caroline Ives Gilman
This rather recent science fiction novel coasted under a lot of people’s radar, which is a shame, because it delivers so much that is wonderful about science fiction. It’s got competent, intrepid explorers, science!, space anomalies, incredible new worlds, and the optimism in humanity’s future to insist that we could tackle some of the universe’s strangest phenomena without destroying ourselves. This is an exploratory team that lands on a planet teeming with dark matter. I mean, how much more science fiction can you get? But what really impresses about this novel is its turn inward into an exploration of how our expectations about the unknown may make it more difficult for us to understand it.
The Dispossessed, by Ursula Le Guin
One person’s utopia is another’s dystopia. Le Guin explores this thoroughly in The Dispossessed, her classic novel about societies which developed on two very different planets. One has rich resources, and has become capitalistic, authoritarian, and exploitative. Another, low in resources, has become an anarchist, socialist society that has no formal government. Le Guin takes the time to explore the benefits and drawbacks of both societies, urging us to consider different ways we might organize ourselves and the worlds we live in. While neither of these societies may offer a complete solution, they invite readers to ask questions about how our own world could be really different.
The Female Man, by Joanna Russ
You may not be ready for this book. It’s a tough one to get into, and I found I wasn’t ready to really understand it until I was in my mid-twenties. While one could read so much of this book as a play on madness, I prefer to read it literally. When it’s read literally, it provides us with hope – windows into other worlds, other times, where societies and the people who live in them figure out different ways to organize themselves, different ways to treat others; where different things are expected, and taken for granted. The four women protagonists of this novel live in explosively different ways, and when they meet, the results are startling – and eye-opening – to them and the reader.
Too Like Lightning, by Ada Palmer
The future, like the past, is a foreign country. Or, at least, it should be. And Palmer – herself an accomplished historian – pulls out all the stops here in this incredibly rich far-future utopia designed to be as strange to us here in the 21st century as it would be to someone in the 1500’s (and it is!). Gender distinctions in this society have no real parallel to our own, and most of the world is aligned into polyamorous families and globe-spanning clans. This is a carefully designed utopia, one that could, however, unravel in the hands of a young boy who seems to have the ability to bring inanimate objects to life. Like The Female Man, this is a dense read that may take you some time to get into, but the reward of discovering what it does to your own thoughts and assumptions is well worth it.