The best science fiction stories with thought-provoking twists

Who am I?

Since discovering Ursula K. Le Guin in high school, I have loved the kind of science fiction that is more about thought experiments than rocket ships and space exploration. When I went on to get a Ph.D. in Comparative Literature, I often encountered skepticism regarding this predilection, but I continued studying and teaching speculative fiction anyway. Now I am no longer in academia, and I write science fiction and fantasy myself. Looking Through Lace is my attempt at the kind of thought experiment I've been such a fan of for so long.


I wrote...

Looking Through Lace

By Ruth Nestvold,

Book cover of Looking Through Lace

What is my book about?

As the only woman on the first contact team, xenolinguist Toni Donato expected her assignment on Christmas would be to analyze the secret women's language—but then the chief linguist begins to sabotage her work. What is behind it? Why do men and women have separate languages in the first place? What Toni learns turns everything she thought they knew on its head.

Originally published in Asimov's in 2003, "Looking Through Lace" was a finalist for the Tiptree and Sturgeon awards. The Italian translation won the Premio Italia for best work of speculative fiction in translation in 2007.

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The books I picked & why

The Left Hand of Darkness

By Ursula K. Le Guin,

Book cover of The Left Hand of Darkness

Why did I love this book?

I first read The Left Hand of Darkness in high school, and it blew me away. It was my first encounter with the kind of world building that focuses on challenging readers to think about received notions. In the novel, Le Guin develops a single-sex society, playing with ideas of how such a world could work—and playing with reader expectations as well. It does a masterful job of forcing the reader to reexamine her own assumptions regarding sex, gender, and society.

By Ursula K. Le Guin,

Why should I read it?

14 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…


Book cover of Stories of Your Life and Others

Why did I love this book?

After reading “Story of Your Life” in The Year’s Best Science Fiction in 1999, I sat in my chair for a while, in wonder and tears, trying to take it all in. Many people know the basic plot, since it was filmed as The Arrival, but as good as the movie is, it can't come close to the novella. Chiang deftly tells the story in a way that reflects how the protagonist learns the language of the aliens—and how it changes her and the way she thinks, quite literally. It is probably the single best story I know for the way the narrative strategy reflects and supports the subject matter. 

By Ted Chiang,

Why should I read it?

10 authors picked Stories of Your Life and Others as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

'A science fiction genius . . . Ted Chiang is a superstar.' - Guardian

With Stories of Your Life and Others, his masterful first collection, multiple-award-winning author Ted Chiang deftly blends human emotion and scientific rationalism in eight remarkably diverse stories, all told in his trademark precise and evocative prose.

From a soaring Babylonian tower that connects a flat Earth with the firmament above, to a world where angelic visitations are a wondrous and terrifying part of everyday life; from a neural modification that eliminates the appeal of physical beauty, to an alien language that challenges our very perception of…


Book cover of We Can Remember It for You Wholesale and Other Classic Stories

Why did I love this book?

I was back and forth for a while on which Philip K. Dick story I wanted to recommend, and I finally decided on "We Can Remember It for You Wholesale" (which inspired the movie Total Recall). What I love about Dick's fiction is the way it plays with questions of identity, while managing to repeatedly surprise the reader, and "We Can Remember it For You Wholesale" is one of his best stories for messing with the protagonist's—and the reader's—brain.  

By Philip K. Dick,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked We Can Remember It for You Wholesale and Other Classic Stories as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Includes the stories that inspired the major motion pictures Total Recall
and The Adjustment Bureau

“The collected stories of Philip K. Dick are awe-inspiring.” —Washington Post

Countless readers worldwide consider Philip K. Dick to have been the greatest science fiction writer on any planet. Since his untimely death in 1982, interest in Dick’s work has continued to mount and his reputation has been enhanced by a growing body of critical attention as well as many films based on his stories and novels.

Featuring the story We Can Remember It for You Wholesale, which inspired the major motion picture Total Recall,…


The Gate to Women's Country

By Sheri S. Tepper,

Book cover of The Gate to Women's Country

Why did I love this book?

The Gate to Women's Country is set in a post-apocalyptic world in which women and (most) men live largely separated from each other in town and garrison. (Can you tell yet that I like thought experiments that deal with sexual roles and mores?) The men are responsible for war and defending the city, while the women raise the children and try to protect what is left of civilization. The final revelation is both disturbing and thought-provoking.

By Sheri S. Tepper,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked The Gate to Women's Country as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

THE GATE TO WOMEN'S COUNTRY tells of a society that exists three hundred years after our own has nearly destroyed itself. Now, male warriors are separated from women at an early age and live in garrisons plotting futilely for the battles which must never be fought again. Inside the women's towns, education, arts and science flourish. But for some like Stavia, there is more to see. Her sojourn with the man she is forbidden to love brings into sharp focus the contradictions that define their lives.

And when tragedy strikes, Stavia is faced with a decision she never thought she…


The Dispossessed

By Ursula K. Le Guin,

Book cover of The Dispossessed

Why did I love this book?

Yes, another social thought experiment by Ursula K. Le Guin! This one examines what a "utopian" society that attempts to live according to the philosophy of anarchism might look like. But trying to organize an anarchistic society is, of course, a contradiction in itself. The plot follows the physicist Shevek as he tries to reunite the moon, Anarres, home of the anarchist rebels, with its mother planet, Urras. The novel challenges many different common assumptions, ranging from the political to the personal, in its portrayal of two deeply flawed societies, neither of which can be seen as "the good guys."

By Ursula K. Le Guin,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

One of the very best must-read novels of all time - with a new introduction by Roddy Doyle

'A well told tale signifying a good deal; one to be read again and again' THE TIMES

'The book I wish I had written ... It's so far away from my own imagination, I'd love to sit at my desk one day and discover that I could think and write like Ursula Le Guin' Roddy Doyle

'Le Guin is a writer of phenomenal power' OBSERVER

The Principle of Simultaneity is a scientific breakthrough which will revolutionize interstellar civilization by making possible instantaneous…


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