Anthropological Science Fiction

Subject Guides Books Reading Lists Anthropological Science Fiction

These books focus on how individuals and societies interact, and how different beliefs and social structures might be experienced. Most of the great writers in this area have been women, often with backgrounds in anthropology or sociology.

Parable of the Sower by Octavia Butler (Starter)
In a near-future America that's breaking down, a woman with extreme powers of empathy seeks to find a new kind of community. Butler specialized in explorations of how individuals (often outsiders) and society relate; shortly after writing this book, she was given a MacArthur Foundation "genius grant" for her writings.

Golden Witchbreed by Mary Gentle
A human ambassador is sent to the newly discovered world Orthe to see if the inhabitants are ready for diplomatic contact. She finds a society more complex than expected, and with some ominous secrets. This would be a good book to compare with The Left Hand of Darkness (see next entry).

The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. LeGuin
One of the most influential SF books of the last several decades, this inspired numerous works concerned with social science rather than "hard" science, and introduced feminist and gender issues more directly than traditional SF. What would relationships and society be like in a world of hermaphrodites, who change sex regularly depending on complex factors?

The Two of Them by Joanna Russ
The female protagonist finds herself on a planet with a repressive, male-dominated society; she becomes concerned with a young woman of that world and needs to decide to what extent she should intervene.

The Gate to Women's Country by Sheri S. Tepper
Tepper has written many books with themes of societies, species, and systems in conflict. She excels in depictions of different social structures and beliefs. This novel, which could also be put on the Post-Apocalyptic list, takes place long after a nuclear holocaust, when women rule the world from advanced cities while men live a more primitive life outside. Tepper examines the many-layered reactions of both men and women to this structure.

Where Late the Sweet Birds Sang by Kate Wilhelm (Starter)
Again, a society has survived the collapse of civilization, in this case by using cloning techniques to combat increasing sterility. But has the cloned, conformist society given up its creativity & soul in return for survival?

Films to watch:

Fahrenheit 451 (1966)
Set in a Big Brother future where books and reading are banned, this is a paean to reading and individuality.

Children of Men (2006)
Humanity has become sterile, and fragile society is held together by a repressive government. Is there any hope for a future? Based on the book by P.D. James, either the book or the movie are interesting to compare with Where Late the Sweet Birds Sang, above.

Nonfiction:

Patterns of Culture by Ruth Benedict.
This highly readable classic has been assigned to generations of students to help them understand anthropology.

An Introduction to Anthropology by Simon Coleman and Helen Watson.
A more systematic description of anthropological ideas and practices.

Category: Reading Lists, Science Fiction

Page last changed: September 22, 2012, at 08:33 AM EST.