LGBTQ people will pilot spaceships, colonize planets, battle aliens, invent warp engines, and discover all sorts of intergalactic weirdness. So of course there should be great science fiction stories about them.
In the list below, some books focus on sexual identities as a major theme, while others just have a gay character or two. I won’t usually spell out which books are which, because that has the chance of spoiling a plot point, and I’d hate for that to happen.
Written in 1970 and published in 1975, The Female Man is a feminist novel that combines utopian fiction and satire.
In the book, the character Joanna calls herself the “female man” because she believes that she must forget her identity as a woman in order to be respected.
The novel follows the lives of four women living in parallel worlds that differ in time and place. When they cross over to each other’s worlds, their different views on gender roles startle each other’s preexisting notions of womanhood. In the end, their encounters influence them to evaluate their lives and shape their ideas of what it means to be a woman.
Lola Hart is an ordinary twelve-year-old girl. She comes from a comfortable family, attends an exclusive private school, loves her friends, and teases her sister. But in her home of New York City, riots, fire, TB outbreaks, roaming gangs, and civil unrest threaten her way of life, as well as the very fabric of the city. In her diary, Lola chronicles the changes she and her family make as they attempt to adjust to a city, and a country, that is spinning out of control.
Hounded by creditors and forced to vacate their apartment and move to Harlem, her family, and her life, begins to dissolve. Increasingly estranged from her privileged school friends, Lola soon makes new ones: Iz, Jude, and Weezie—wise veterans of the street.
“Fascinating and well written…wonderfully inventive…. Mr. Womack’s New York has a constant punk-rocker violence, which unwinds with a deadpan humor.”
— The New York Times
A power-driven young woman has just one chance to secure the status she craves and regain priceless lost artifacts prized by her people: she must free a thief from a prison planet from which no one has ever returned.
She and her charge will return to her home world to find their planet in political turmoil, at the heart of an escalating interstellar conflict. Together, they must make a new plan to salvage her future, her family, and her world, before they are lost to her for good.
Nominated for the Hugo and Locus awards.
“The intricacies and oddities are a delight…. A thrill for fans of heists and capers.”
— Washington Post
Book 2 in the Vatt’s Peace series, Into the Fire focuses on Admiral Kylara Vatta, aka Ky. Ky beats sabotage, betrayal, and the unforgiving elements to lead a ragtag group of crash survivors to safety on a remote arctic island. She also cheats death after uncovering secrets someone is hell-bent on protecting.
With their base of operations breached, the plotters have no choice but to gamble everything on an audacious throw of the dice. Even so, the odds are stacked against Ky. When her official report on the crash and its aftermath goes missing—along with the men and women she rescued—Ky realizes that her mysterious enemies are more powerful and dangerous than she imagined.
Now, targeted by faceless assassins, Ky and her family—along with her fiancé, Rafe—must battle to reclaim the upper hand and unmask the lethal cabal closing in on them with murderous intent.
“[Elizabeth] Moon’s powerful female characters send the unmistakable message that whatever men try to do, these women can do much, much better.”
Ex-government assassin turned bounty-hunter, Nyx, is good at solving other people’s problems. Her favorite problem-solving solution is punching people in the face. Then maybe chopping off some heads. Hey―it’s a living.
Nyx’s disreputable reputation is well earned. After all, she’s trying to navigate an apocalyptic world full of giant bugs, contaminated deserts, scheming magicians, and a centuries-long war that’s consuming her future. Managing her ragtag squad of misfits has required a lot of morally-gray choices. Every new job is another day alive. Every new mission is another step toward changing a hellish future―but only if she can survive.
“The plots are taut, thrilling, gritty, violent, profane, magical―everything Hurley’s readers expect… Hurley has created one of the most engrossing environments in modern sf.”
(Since the titles are so similar, I would be remiss if I didn’t at least mention my own spunky heroine fantasy novel Nyx. )
For two thousand years, the starship Astron has searched the galaxy for alien life, but without success. Now, just as the ship is falling apart, the only direction left to explore is across the Dark, a one-hundred-generation journey through empty space.
The ship’s captain refuses to abandon the quest. He will cross the Dark, or destroy the ship trying.
Only Sparrow, a young crewman uncertain of his own past, can stand against the captain, and against the lure and challenge of the dark beyond the stars…
“A generation-ship masterpiece….Do not miss this novel.”
— Los Angeles Times
Cowboys, aliens, and hitmen come together in a science fiction romance.
Riley Cooper is on the run. Misha Tokarev, the love of his life, turned out to be an assassin for the Russian mob, and when it comes to character flaws, Riley draws the line at premeditated murder. Alien armor system McClane is also on the run, for reasons that include accidentally crashing a space ship into Earth and evading U.S. military custody. A failed prototype, McClane was scheduled for destruction. Sabotaging the ship put an end to that, but McClane is dubbed a bone rider for good reason—he can’t live without a host body. That’s why he first stows away in Riley’s truck and then in Riley himself. Their reluctant partnership soon evolves into something much more powerful—and personal—than either of them could have imagined.
The merchant ship Mukudori encompasses the whole of eight-year-old Jos’s world, until a notorious pirate destroys the ship, slaughters the adults, and enslaves the children. Thus begins a desperate odyssey of terror and escape that takes Jos beyond known space to the home of the strits, Earth’s alien enemies.
To survive, the boy must become a living weapon and a master spy. But no training will protect Jos in a war where every hope might be a deadly lie, and every friendship might hide a lethal betrayal. And all the while he will face the most grueling trial of his life… becoming his own man.
“Polished storytelling and convincing worldbuilding.”
On a future Earth very different from our own, a new kind of human has evolved to challenge the dominion of Homo sapiens. This new breed is stronger, smarter, and far more beautiful than their parent race, and are endowed with psychic as well as physical gifts. They are destined to supplant humanity as we know it, but humanity won’t die without a struggle.
“The mood and language are elaborately woven, the style verging occasionally on the Victorian Gothic, with a decadence just short of the frenzied works of Poe. Storm Constantine is a tremendously impressive novelist.”
Adam Yuga is on the verge of a massive promotion…until a routine physical exam reveals something less than perfection. Genetic flaws are taboo, and Adam soon discovers there’s a thin line between rising star and starving outcast.
Stripped of wealth and position, stricken with a mysterious, worsening illness, Adam resorts to stealing credits to survive. Moments from capture by the Protectorate, help arrives in the form of Lochlan, a brash, cocksure Bideshi fighter.
Now the Bideshi, a people long shunned by the Protectorate, are the only ones who will offer him shelter. As Adam learns the truth about the mysterious, nomadic people he was taught to fear, Lochlan offers him not just shelter—but a temptation Adam can only resist for so long.
Struggling to adapt to his new life, Adam discovers his illness hides a terrible secret, one that the Protectorate will stop at nothing to conceal. Time is growing short, and he must find the strength to close a centuries-old rift, accept a new identity, and hold on to a love that could cost him everything.
When Daniel Eakins inherits a time machine, he soon realizes that he has enormous power to shape the course of history. He can foil terrorists, prevent assassinations, or just make some fast money at the racetrack. And if he doesn’t like the results of the change, he can simply go back in time and talk himself out of making it! But Dan soon finds that there are limits to his powers and forces beyond his control.
Under the One Child Policy, everyone plotted to have a son.
Now 40 million of them can’t find wives.
One leftover man searches for love and family under a State that seeks to glorify its past mistakes and impose order through authoritarian measures, reinvigorated Communist ideals, and social engineering.
Wei-guo holds fast to the belief that as long as he continues to improve himself, his small business, and in turn, his country, his chance at love will come. He finally saves up the dowry required to enter matchmaking talks at the lowest rung as a third husband—the maximum allowed by law. Only a single family—one harboring an illegal spouse—shows interest, yet with May-ling and her two husbands, Wei-guo feels seen, heard, and connected to like never before. But everyone and everything—walls, streetlights, garbage cans—are listening, and men, excess or not, are dispensable to the State. Wei-guo must reach a new understanding of patriotism and test the limits of his love and his resolve in order to save himself and this family he has come to hold dear.
“In King’s thoughtful, heartbreaking debut…[she] expertly explores the myriad routes to family, hope, and love in a repressive country.”
— Publishers Weekly
Iain M. Banks is one of my favorite SF authors, and The Player of Games was my first Banks book, so I’m always happy to recommend it.
The Culture—a utopian human/machine symbiotic society—has thrown up many great Game Players, and one of the greatest is Gurgeh. Jernau Morat Gurgeh. The Player of Games. Master of every board, computer, and strategy. Bored with success, Gurgeh travels to the cruel and incredibly wealthy Empire of Azad, to try their fabulous game…a game so complex, so like life itself, that the winner becomes emperor. Mocked, blackmailed, almost murdered, Gurgeh accepts the game, and with it the challenge of his life—and very possibly his death.
“An exquisitely riotous tour de force of the imagination which writes its own rules simply for the pleasure of breaking them.”
— Time Out
If you’re a child of the 80s, reading Ready Player One is like mainlining heroin-strength nostalgia. It’s so ridiculously fun that I frequently imagined author Ernest Cline giggling and saying to himself, “I can’t believe I’m getting away with this!”
In the dystopian future, teenage Wade Watts searches for a mysterious Easter egg in a worldwide video game called the OASIS. Finding the Easter egg will cause him to inherit the ownership of the OASIS and billions upon billions of dollars. Of course, he’s not the only one looking for it.
I listened to the audiobook version of Ready Player One, and loved it. Narrator Wil Wheaton nailed it.
“This adrenaline shot of uncut geekdom, a quest through a virtual world, is loaded with enough 1980s nostalgia to please even the most devoted John Hughes fans… sweet, self-deprecating Wade, whose universe is an odd mix of the real past and the virtual present, is the perfect lovable/unlikely hero.”
— Publishers Weekly
A mysterious disaster has stricken the mid-western American city of Bellona: a city block burns down and is intact a week later; clouds cover the sky for weeks, then part to reveal two moons; a week passes for one person when only a day passes for another. The catastrophe is confined to Bellona, and most of the inhabitants have fled. But others are drawn to the devastated city, among them the Kid, a man who can’t remember his own name. The Kid is emblematic of those who live in the new Bellona, who are the young, the poor, the mad, the violent, and the outcast.
If you start reading Dhalgren, don’t be discouraged by the opening pages. Just keep pushing on—it gets easier.
“Stand[s] with the best American fiction of the 1970s.”
— Jonathan Lethem (author of the excellent Gun, with Occasional Music).
In the dream-like Annihilation, a section of the Californian coast has turned so weird that it’s now called Area X. This happened thirty years ago, and no one on the outside knows why everyone inside Area X died, why there are weird structures inside, or why there’s a border you can’t get through except through one invisible entrance. Is it a slow alien invasion, a mass hallucination, or something else?
Annihilation covers the twelfth expedition into Area X, where the members have given up their names and refer to each other only by profession: the biologist, the linguist, and so on. All the previous expeditions into Area X have ended in death, madness, or cancer.
This book is a gentle ride into subtle weirdness. You don’t get too many straight answers about what Area X is or is even like on the inside. Some things are normal, some fantastical, and most of it messes with your head. It all feels truly alien and you get the sense that this is going to be impossible to understand, no matter how many facts you have at your disposal.
When talking about this book you have to list the awards it’s won—the Hugo, the Tiptree, the Lambda, the Locus, a Nebula nomination. This is a book about a future many don’t agree with. It’s set in a 22nd century dominated by Communist China and the protagonist is a gay man. These aren’t the usual tropes of science fiction, and they aren’t written in the usual way.
“A first novel this good gives every reader a chance to share in the pleasure of discovery; to my mind, Ms. McHugh’s achievement recalls the best work of Delany and Robinson without being in the least derivative.”
― The New York Times
Le Guin is a wonderful anomaly, a writer with grand philosophical attitudes who can communicate these attitudes while still writing a gripping tale. The Left Hand of Darkness examines sexless androgyny in a fascinating way (and this is from a guy that loves exploding spaceships). This androgyny feels entirely alien, since our language has “he” and “she” but no human-specific pronoun for “it” or “unknown.”
“A jewel of a story.”
— Frank Herbert
Emotionally damaged people are sent to work next to a giant rift in the ocean floor, harvesting energy for surface dwellers. The workers are a bio-engineered crew—people who have been altered to withstand the pressure and breathe the seawater to work in this weird, fertile undersea darkness.
This book taught me that you can make a protagonist as crazy as you want, as long as what she’s battling against is even crazier.
Brilliant, twisted fun by an ex-marine biologist. Go read it.
“Fizzing with ideas, and glued together with dark psychological tension.”
― Kirkus Reviews