Rachel Neumeier

Fantasy and Young Adult Fantasy Author

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Top Ten Sociological SF

Okay, following up from various recent posts: It’s almost too easy to pick out a top ten list of books. I could fill out half of it with CJC novels before I had to look elsewhere … in fact, let me do that:

  1. Foreigner
  2. Chanur
  3. Cyteen
  4. 40,000 in Gehenna
  5. Cuckoo’s Egg

Then I would have to think about books by other authors. Rather than filling out half the list with works by one author, maybe it makes more sense to go for authors in the first place and do a Top Ten List of Authors of Sociological SF. CJ Cherryh can then get just one spot, making the rest of the list more interesting, as well as more of a challenge.

Here, then, is that Top Ten list.

  1. CJ Cherryh — a huge proportion of her SF, as opposed to her fantasy, has a powerful sociological component to it. I’d put the Foreigner series in the top spot of all sociological SF ever and go on from there.
  2. Octavia Butler — all her work, except maybe Fledgling, is sociological SF. Maybe that one too; I’ve only read it once and don’t remember much about it.
  3. Ursula K LeGuin — obviously most of her work explored sociological themes and situations.
  4. Isaac Asimov — it’s been an awfully long time, and I never much cared for Asimov’s work myself, but surely Foundation and I, Robot both count as seminal works of sociological SF.
  5. Kim Stanley Robinson — the Mars trilogy could be read as hard SF, but I think it’s (far) more accurately characterized as sociological SF. Not just that one, either; a lot or all of Robinson’s work explores the development of future societies in response to technological changes.
  6. Connie Willis — Bellwether and Crosstalk are the ones I’m thinking of, but surely others of hers could also fit the sociological SF subgenre.
  7. Eleanor Amason — I’ve only read a couple of hers, but she’s written quite a few books. Very few SF novels are as thoroughly and explicitly sociological in emphasis as Woman of the Iron People.
  8. Ian Banks — the Culture novels are all primarily about envisioning a post-scarcity future and look at least as much like sociological SF as space opera.
  9. Elizabeth Moon — her space opera offers a strong emphasis on how longevity advances impact society; but more than that, The Speed of Dark is such an incredible book that I have to include her on this list.
  10. Your suggestion here — who have I missed?

I realize there are any number of classic sociological SF works, one per author, that would make most Top Ten lists for this subgenre. I mean: Fahrenheit 451; 1984; Brave New World. Probably others. But for the author to wind up on a list of top authors, I sort of think they ought to have a body of work with a sociological emphasis.

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9 Comments Top Ten Sociological SF

  1. Elaine T

    Bujold. The changes to Barraryar brought by Cordelia and uterine replicators. The changes Dag and Fawn are bringing to their world.

  2. Craig N.

    Poul Anderson. His enormous oeuvre includes a lot of stuff about aliens with alien societies, and patterns of social change over time.

  3. Pete Mack

    In no particular order, 40000 in Gehenna, Woman of the Iron People, A Darkling Sea, and (pick your favorite LeGuin SF book except the one about dreams.) After that, it becomes harder, tho “A Courtship Rite” is probably #5, yikes!

  4. SarahZ

    Kate Elliott’s Jaran series (never completed) was very sociology heavy – interactions between really different cultures and resulting confusion/conflicts drove most of the plot. I really wanted to know where that story was headed, too bad she decided there was no money in finishing it.

  5. Pete Mack

    I really like reading the books where the author has an honest view of an otherwise favored political philosophy. Darkling Sea and Courtship Rite are both libertarian worlds. The former in particular shows the biological limitations of it–just what it means to ‘assume a spherical cow’ in this case. The lobsters have an extreme r-strategy reproductive model, so no-one really cares what happens to individual young. (Eric Flint did something similar in “Mother of Demons”, but with less investigation of how profoundly this would affect society.)
    The latter… well, yikes!

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