Sci Fi with Sympathetic Protagonist
August 15, 2020 6:20 PM   Subscribe

Looking for some science fiction recommendations, where the protagonist is sympathetic and the story is more character-driven. I love Becky Chambers's books and Axiom's End, looking for more in this vein. Pluses for women as lead characters.
posted by ellerhodes to Media & Arts (18 answers total) 35 users marked this as a favorite
Have you read Lois McMaster Bujold? Connie Willis?
posted by Kriesa at 6:59 PM on August 15, 2020 [6 favorites]

posted by jordemort at 6:59 PM on August 15, 2020 [1 favorite]


One that I still recommend to this day is Maureen F McHugh's amazing CHINA MOUNTAIN ZHANG.
posted by ivan ivanych samovar at 8:17 PM on August 15, 2020 [4 favorites]

Contact, by Carl Sagan.
posted by bryon at 9:33 PM on August 15, 2020

Yes Bujold. Yes Willis. Yes Murderbot. Have you read Ann Leckie? Some of John Scalzi’s stuff might work too (specifically thinking the Interdependency series and Agent to the Stars, but I’ve enjoyed a lot of his books).
posted by bananacabana at 9:33 PM on August 15, 2020 [1 favorite]

The most recent Hugo Awards were announced, and if you can overlook the furor going on about some of the lifetime awards and a slip of the tongue by the host, the Best Novel was "A Memory Called Empire," by Arkady Martine, I've been so out of SF that I hadn't heard of any of them, but I looked it up, and started reading, and I think it's an excellent fit, and I think the Hugo is still a very good endorsement of one's work.

It's about a young ambassador (a woman) rushed into service as a diplomat from her home, where life is eked out in space stations, to the wealthy empire which could not be more transparent in its designs to one day conquer her home system. I haven't finished it, but I'm engrossed, and it's a character-driven story where the personal and the political are intertwined because it essentially takes place in the court of the Emperor. The author uses a pen name, but she is a historian with a PhD who draws on her knowledge of 11th century Turkish Empire machinations (and probably manners), if I correctly recall the article I read about her.

Seconding the crap out of Murderbot. Don't let the name put you off; Murderbot is a newly freed person who must learn to navigate human relationships despite having been around humans all its life. Read in publication order.
posted by Sunburnt at 9:51 PM on August 15, 2020 [2 favorites]

The "Lady Astronaut" series by Mary Robinette Kowal
posted by alchemist at 9:52 PM on August 15, 2020 [5 favorites]

Seconding A Memory Called Empire (and the rest of the above.) This post is basically A++ Pandemic Readz.
While I wouldn’t recommend most of his novels as fitting in this mold, Anathem by Neal Stephenson might scratch the same itch.
posted by q*ben at 10:03 PM on August 15, 2020

The Expanse series By James S. A. Corey. Lots of strong Ladies in charge throughout the series and the protagonist is...I liked him.
posted by james33 at 6:28 AM on August 16, 2020 [1 favorite]

You'd have to preorder (or get lucky and scrounge an ARC, the way I did!) but Charlie Jane Anders has a space opera called Victories Greater Than Death coming out in the spring of 2021 that felt to me like the best parts of Small, Angry Planet. It's about a group of plucky Earth teens figuring out how to fight evil without giving up the best parts of themselves, and features a protagonist who used to dress up in a pink sequined dinosaur suit for protests, before she started trying to save the entire galaxy.
posted by yarntheory at 6:58 AM on August 16, 2020 [1 favorite]

Not a woman, but the lead character of Suzanne Palmer's Finder is quite sympathetic.
posted by neushoorn at 9:26 AM on August 16, 2020

The Xandri Corelel series by Kaia Sønderby.
posted by Lexica at 4:53 PM on August 16, 2020

Hearty nthing of Bujold, the Murderbot books written by Martha Wells, Scalzi’s Interdependency trilogy (multiple sympathetic female protagonists, and while I like everything Scalzi writes, this one was just really fantastic).

You might also like the Paradox books by Rachel Bach. Female mercenary making her way in the galaxy - lots of intrigue, butt-kicking, a little unlikely romance.
posted by jeoc at 8:21 PM on August 16, 2020

Nothing here was a new recommendation to me except the Xandri Corelel series, and it totally hit the spot (read all of them back-to-back and loved it).

It did remind me of Hellspark by Janet Kagan, which should also fit the requirements to a T.
posted by Anonymous Function at 10:43 AM on August 18, 2020 [1 favorite]

You might want to check out the Foreigner series by C.J. Cherryh. I'm only at book seven and it is ongoing, but it scratches a very particular itch. It's about a diplomat to an alien kingdom and is all about communication, language, and good intentions that sometimes go awry. Very few generally evil characters, and long sequences where the climax is an interspecies dinner party.
posted by Stilling Still Dreaming at 7:34 PM on August 18, 2020

The Steerswoman! I don't know if I would describe the story as character-driven, quite, but the main character(s) are awesome and sympathetic women.
posted by taltalim at 12:30 PM on August 19, 2020 [2 favorites]

Seconding China Mountain Zhang.

Slow River by Nicola Griffith. Like China Mountain Zhang, about rebuilding one's life, engineering, learning to have healthy relationships, and making a place for oneself in a massively screwed-up world.

Seconding the recommendation of Rosemary Kirstein's "Steerswoman" book series: Friendship, adventure, science, kind people finding stuff out, wonder, humor, dramatic irony, close observation that feeds into the protagonist's mystery-solving, skill-sharing, road trips, conversations about problem-solving and "what the heck is going on here" that feel like rooms I've been in. I do think this may feel more plotty and less character-driven than you might want (the same goes for Rachel Bach's "Paradox" series and the Murderbot books, as much as I love the Murderbot books).

Trade Me by Courtney Milan is a romance with scifi elements, and starts her Cyclone series where all the books are romance and some have scifi elements. Very, very character-driven.

This Place Has No Atmosphere by Paula Danziger is a short 1986 scifi novel aimed at young adults, told in the first person by a girl unhappy that her family is moving to a moon colony.

Up Against It by MJ Locke. You can read the first 5 chapters free online. You can enjoy it as a mystery/procedural, as solid hard scifi, and as a character study of the protagonist. The first time we see Jane Navio, head of the Resource Commission, she makes a tough call. She is the kind of creative, tough leader who can abandon a few likely-to-die people in order to save resources the space colony's going to need in three weeks' time. Later we see that she's a cunning, passionate, thoughtful, and empathetic leader as well. And you get space surveillance, posthuman subsocieties, and some teen drama as well, but basically I am all about super leader Jane. But this may also be too action-y and less character-driven than you are looking for.

Jo Walton's My Real Children. Walton pays attention to the concrete domestic details of real people's lives, she demonstrates the different ways we show our love through work (love made visible), and she foregrounds women's experiences.

If you're open to short fiction, there's a bunch of great character-driven short sf in print and online magazines. The online stuff you can often read for free. For instance, "Tomorrow Is Waiting" by Holli Mintzer and "The Second Conquest of Earth" by L. J. Daly at Strange Horizons are worth your while. I also recommend the short fiction of Joanne Merriam, Naomi Kritzer, Zen Cho, and Iona Datt Sharma (I think all of them write both scifi and fantasy).
posted by brainwane at 4:10 AM on August 21, 2020

Octavia Butler: I've just read Dawn, the first of the Lilith's Brood series and the core character lilith has some very hard asks put her way; as does the lead character in The Parable of the Sower.
posted by k3ninho at 1:01 PM on August 22, 2020

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