China Mountain Zhang by Maureen F. McHugh
It’s not quite a novel—more a collection of loosely-connected stories. McHugh's near-future is gritty, plausible and richly imagined, and she reveals it through some of the most complex and sympathetic narrators I’ve ever read. I’ve heard the book described as placid, and that’s true, but it’s also beautiful.
The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. LeGuin
I admit: it took me a little while to get into this one, but once I did, I was sold. So many of the concepts (a world in perpetual winter, a race of people who swap gender) are fascinating, but it’s the relationships that make the book stick with me.
Mona Lisa Overdrive by William Gibson
Neuromancer may be his most famous, but this one is my favorite. It’s a charming rags-to-riches story at its core, but it’s still set in Gibson’s terrifying and unstable cyberpunk future.
The Rowan by Anne McCaffrey
She’s famous for her dragons, but if I had to pick one of her books, it would be The Rowan. Part space opera and part coming of age story, with a telekinetic heroine. What more could I want?
The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell
It’s a first-contact story, but it’s also an exploration of the meaning of human suffering, and none of the answers it finds are pretty. The book, though, is gorgeous.
I tried to come up with a unifying theme from this list in hopes it would reveal something profound about my psychological make-up, but all I've noticed is that I should add some newer titles to my library. In my to-be-read stack are Beth Revis’s Across the Universe, and Paolo Bacigalupi's The Windup Girl. Got any other suggestions for me? What was your first literary love?