During these times of uncertainty, many of us are looking to our favorite writers for comfort and guidance. For decades, speculative-fiction writers have shown themselves to be especially well-versed in the subject of uncertainty, using their magical worlds to explore social problems and existential questions that complicate our daily lives. Here are three science fiction and fantasy novels that offer empowering perspectives on change and adjusting to a new normal.
The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. Le Guin
This novel is perhaps best known for its commentary on the social effects of gender roles, thanks to Le Guin’s detailed, almost anthropological portrayal of an alien society where gender does not exist. These are the Gethenians, who live out their days on the planet Winter, named so because it is covered eternally in snow, wind, and ice. As narrator Genly Ai learns about the Gethenians’ culture and lifestyle on their frozen planet, the patient reader slowly learns along with him and ultimately is rewarded with profound meditations on change, ephemerality, and living under harsh conditions in a world full of great unknowns.
Uprooted by Naomi Novik
More romantic fantasy than science fiction, this book is a fast-paced, joy-filled coming-of-age story about a young woman adapting to some incredibly turbulent life changes. When Agnieszka is unexpectedly “uprooted” and forced to live in a tower with a grumpy, sarcastic wizard (forebodingly named “The Dragon”), she must learn to survive in a brand-new environment without the comfort of her support network at home. But this upheaval leads Agnieszka to discover transformative strengths and abilities within herself. Throughout the novel, Novik draws from Eastern European folk and fairy tales and imbues her story with humor and romance, rendering it a feel-good escape for this time of isolation.
Dawn by Octavia Butler
Given that we have to stay at home for a while longer, this would be a great book to start now – because it is the first of a trilogy! A classic from 1987 by science-fiction luminary Octavia Butler, this story is told from the perspective of Lilith, a human woman who wakes up in captivity on an alien ship. Lilith quickly learns that the human species has been destroyed by nuclear war, and that her fate as an individual and human being rests in the hands of the Oankali, the alien species who have rescued her and now intend to strictly regulate everything about her life – including her ability to have children. Lilith must demonstrate terrific bravery, resilience, and creativity to survive and adapt her humanity to fit within the limitations set by the Oankali.
All three of these titles are available as eBooks from OverDrive. Uprooted and The Left Hand of Darkness are also available as downloadable audiobooks. And of course, the Library also carries many more titles from each of these writers. Happy reading!
~posted by Hannah P.