I used to read a good mix of science fiction and fantasy, but somewhere along the way, I started gravitating more toward fantasy. Eventually, I started to miss SF, so I picked up anthologies and magazines only to feel in over my head. Others have brought this
up too. (Granted, the links are a little old, so I don’t know to what extent SF has become significantly more accessible in the interim.)
Thus, I’m looking for recent (say, 1995 or later) science fiction that doesn’t require a lifetime of familiarity with the genre to appreciate. I already saw the follow-up on Scalzi’s blog, but I’m hoping you can recommend work that fits some of the following specific criteria.
I much prefer social SF, no interest in hard or military.
Ideally passes the Bechdel test and is inclusive/respectful of others beyond straight white males.
Strong characterizations, not just big ideas.
Prose that is better than serviceable.
Adult preferred, YA welcome.
Not Ready Player One.
I’d very much appreciate more than just a title; I'd love to hear why a recommendation would be good for a "new" SF reader.
Some examples of SF I’ve liked (though I admit they don’t all meet the above criteria): Fahrenheit 451, Life as We Knew It, 1984, The Martian Chronicles, Stories of Your Life and Others, the short fiction of Michael Swanwick, Silently and Very Fast, Never Let Me Go, anything by Ursula K. Le Guin, Boneshaker, I Am Legend, Uglies, Slaughter-house Five, The Road, The Yiddish Policemen’s Union, Harlan Ellison's work, The Sparrow, The Handmaid’s Tale, most H.G. Wells.