The best science fiction novels about underdogs and rebel groups

Sandra Jeppesen Author Of Transformative Media: Intersectional Technopolitics from Indymedia to #Blacklivesmatter
By Sandra Jeppesen

The Books I Picked & Why

The Dispossessed

By Ursula K. Le Guin

Book cover of The Dispossessed

Why this book?

I love The Dispossessed because it imagines a world in which a non-hierarchical society is developed intentionally as a whole, organizing work, families, living spaces, education, food production, and so on around how best to fulfill the society’s needs while also supporting the development of individual talents. It juxtaposes this intentionality and equality against a capitalist society which is very toxic and individualistic, where people are selfish, society is hierarchical, some elites are extremely wealthy, with mass poverty and despair in the populace. This alternative to capitalist society does not romanticize, but shows how hard it would be to achieve, along with the importance of people working together.

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Perdido Street Station

By China Miéville

Book cover of Perdido Street Station

Why this book?

China Miéville is a brilliant writer, and Perdido Street Station is one of his earlier novels, but I would recommend anything he has written. What I like specifically about this novel, though, is that the main character runs a renegade printing press which is key to spreading information about their growing underdog movement, and in addition, his partner is from another species which is vilified and misunderstood. The evil beings in this world that they are fighting are massive moths that are so beautiful if you stare at them they suck your brains out. Ew, right? The group is a small rag-tag combination of individuals with a variety of different motivations to be involved, but somehow they pull it together in unexpected ways, and, well things get interesting. 

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Woman on the Edge of Time

By Marge Piercy

Book cover of Woman on the Edge of Time

Why this book?

I have to admit, I almost didn’t read this book. The first fifty pages are so dreary and difficult, with domestic abuse, racism, and excruciating poverty, with no science fiction to be seen. But then, suddenly, the main character is teleporting to another world or also has guests from that world visit her in ours, and things get very interesting. The alternative world has non-binary gender, it is not capitalist but communal, and they have eradicated most of society’s ills, from killer automobiles to cigarettes, domestic abuse, poverty, racism, and so on, and have replaced these with loving relationships, complex child-rearing arrangements and a more loving-relationship-oriented approach to life. It is a fascinating juxtaposition and definitely worth the opening slog.

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By William Gibson

Book cover of Neuromancer

Why this book?

“The sky above the port was the color of television, tuned to a dead channel.” The best opening line. Gibson’s style is so minimalist, it cuts to the bone. The implant technologies he envisions are as fascinating as his world-weary characters, but it is the post-apocalyptic Sprawl that gives life to both. Gibson doesn’t condescend to describe this world, he sets his characters in motion within it. Case, the underdog, is up against a powerful cartel—you don’t want to be him, but you do want him to get what he’s after. What that is, or whether he does, I won’t say, because you should read this book. It broke cyberpunk in 1984, the same year as Terminator, and two years after Bladerunner. Neither techno-optimist nor techno-pessimist, Gibson shows us exactly how media technologies can tune people in to a live or a dead channel and we need to make the right choices or pay the price.

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By Cory Doctorow

Book cover of Walkaway

Why this book?

Doctorow and I had a mutual friend in common—the incredible Possum who organized Toronto’s Anarchist Free University for many years until his early demise, Rest in Power—full disclosure, and that’s how I started reading his fiction. Walkaway is one of my favorites. This is a world where 3D printers have changed everything. People who are poor, exploited, unhappy, or maybe just feeling adventurous can—and do—walk away from the capitalist world within the city walls and live quite literally on the fringes, using 3D printers and their imaginations of a world without exploitation to construct whole new societies. Can they successfully build a utopia despite the many conflicts that arise? Who knows? But I do know I’m hoping for a sequel.

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