The best science fiction books focusing on character and anthropology vs hard science

Raluca Balasa Author Of Blood State
By Raluca Balasa

Who am I?

It took me a while to get into science fiction; I thought I needed to have a science degree to even understand the stuff. It turned out that all I needed was curiosity, a love of learning, and to come across books that explored intriguing scientific possibilities without losing the heart of a good story. For me, this is character development. I went on to get an M.F.A in Creative Writing (about the least-scientific terminal degree one can get!) from the University of Nevada-Reno. I love hypotheticals, and I continue to read/write these books to push myself and ask: what would I do in a never-before-encountered scenario? 


I wrote...

Blood State

By Raluca Balasa,

Book cover of Blood State

What is my book about?

When humans move to an ice planet, biological antifreeze becomes necessary—but only the First settlers have evolved it. Second-wave colonist General Devereaux goes head-to-head with a First revolutionary as each tries to save their people from the cold front—and from each other.

The books I picked & why

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The Three-Body Problem

By Cixin Liu, Ken Liu (translator),

Book cover of The Three-Body Problem

Why this book?

This book surprised me in many ways. The female point of view is compellingly written, and Liu does a great job of not villainizing her even when she makes morally questionable decisions. This is a character whose qualities, both positive and negative, are a direct result of her environment: China during the Cultural Revolution. As an immigrant myself, I loved reading a non-American-centered tale that not only uses a different setting, but integrates it into the heart of the story to explain how cultural trauma shapes character.

The Three-Body Problem

By Cixin Liu, Ken Liu (translator),

Why should I read it?

4 authors picked The Three-Body Problem as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Read the award-winning, critically acclaimed, multi-million-copy-selling science-fiction phenomenon - soon to be a Netflix Original Series from the creators of Game of Thrones.

1967: Ye Wenjie witnesses Red Guards beat her father to death during China's Cultural Revolution. This singular event will shape not only the rest of her life but also the future of mankind.

Four decades later, Beijing police ask nanotech engineer Wang Miao to infiltrate a secretive cabal of scientists after a spate of inexplicable suicides. Wang's investigation will lead him to a mysterious online game and immerse him in a virtual world ruled by the intractable…


Ender's Game

By Orson Scott Card,

Book cover of Ender's Game

Why this book?

This book stands the test of time. I loved reading from the point of view of a youth who is remarkably mature and intelligent for his age—but who is still just a child at heart. Ender feels the loneliness and longing for acceptance that I can expect from someone of his age, yet his character is one that adults will also relate to. I saw a lot of myself in Ender: someone who has a difficult time trusting and connecting to people, but who connects deeply once their trust is gained. This is another book where the science and war are but a backdrop to a fascinating character vs the stars of the show, and that’s how I prefer my science fiction.

Ender's Game

By Orson Scott Card,

Why should I read it?

9 authors picked Ender's Game as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Orson Scott Card's science fiction classic Ender's Game is the winner of the 1985 Nebula Award for Best Novel and the 1986 Hugo Award for Best Novel.

In order to develop a secure defense against a hostile alien race's next attack, government agencies breed child geniuses and train them as soldiers. A brilliant young boy, Andrew "Ender" Wiggin lives with his kind but distant parents, his sadistic brother Peter, and the person he loves more than anyone else, his sister Valentine. Peter and Valentine were candidates for the soldier-training program but didn't make the cut―young Ender is the Wiggin drafted…


The Martian

By Andy Weir,

Book cover of The Martian

Why this book?

This book intrigued me as both a reader and a writer. As a reader, I devoured it in a few daysit’s fast-paced and extremely entertaining, with a humorous tone that does not let downbut as a writer, I lingered on Weir’s level of skill. How does Weir maintain tension and character development when Watney is all alone? How does Weir write compellingly about a piece of aluminum foil? He does it all with remarkable poignancy!

The Martian

By Andy Weir,

Why should I read it?

12 authors picked The Martian as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Six days ago, astronaut Mark Watney became one of the first people to walk on Mars. Now, he's sure he'll be the first person to die there. After a dust storm nearly kills him and forces his crew to evacuate while thinking him dead, Mark finds himself stranded and completely alone with no way to even signal Earth that he's alive--and even if he could get word out, his supplies would be gone long before a rescue could arrive. Chances are, though, he won't have time to starve to death. The damaged machinery, unforgiving environment, or plain-old human error are…


The Handmaid's Tale

By Margaret Atwood,

Book cover of The Handmaid's Tale

Why this book?

I love this novel even as it becomes increasingly and alarmingly more representative of the real world. Atwood’s heroine is one trapped by her society; Offred cannot blatantly refuse the orders made by powerful men and must find cleverer and more covert means of rebellion. I connect to this kind of heroine more than to many of the YA tropes of the “strong” female lead. Offred uses her own tools rather than those of the patriarchy to fight back, and she proves that there is strength in attention to detail, memory, and patience. 

The Handmaid's Tale

By Margaret Atwood,

Why should I read it?

22 authors picked The Handmaid's Tale as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

** THE SUNDAY TIMES NO. 1 BESTSELLER **
**A BBC BETWEEN COVERS BIG JUBILEE READ**

Go back to where it all began with the dystopian novel behind the award-winning TV series.

'As relevant today as it was when Atwood wrote it' Guardian

I believe in the resistance as I believe there can be no light without shadow; or rather, no shadow unless there is also light.

Offred is a Handmaid in The Republic of Gilead, a religious totalitarian state in what was formerly known as the United States. She is placed in the household of The Commander, Fred Waterford -…


The Left Hand of Darkness

By Ursula K. Le Guin,

Book cover of The Left Hand of Darkness

Why this book?

Le Guin focuses on an alien, non-gender-binary world by writing from the perspective of a foreigner who comes not without his own prejudices. The point of view work in this novel forces readers to confront their own possible biases, though uncomfortable, in a vivid and visceral way. I found myself questioning many of the meaningless divisions humans make and emerging a more thoughtful person after reading this book.

The Left Hand of Darkness

By Ursula K. Le Guin,

Why should I read it?

12 authors picked The Left Hand of Darkness as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

50TH ANNIVERSARY EDITION-WITH A NEW INTRODUCTION BY DAVID MITCHELL AND A NEW AFTERWORD BY CHARLIE JANE ANDERS

Ursula K. Le Guin's groundbreaking work of science fiction-winner of the Hugo and Nebula Awards.

A lone human ambassador is sent to the icebound planet of Winter, a world without sexual prejudice, where the inhabitants' gender is fluid. His goal is to facilitate Winter's inclusion in a growing intergalactic civilization. But to do so he must bridge the gulf between his own views and those of the strange, intriguing culture he encounters...

Embracing the aspects of psychology, society, and human emotion on an…


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