Author: Alice Walker
Why it’s important: Focuses on feminist issues, specifically black female life and rights in the 1930s in the southern U.S., and addresses numerous issues including the characters’ exceedingly low position in American social culture. The novel was also praised for its eloquent use of the black English vernacular.
Summary: The Color Purple is the story of two sisters—one a missionary to Africa and the other a child wife living in the South—who remain loyal to one another across time, distance, and silence.
Awards/Notes: 1983 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction; the National Book Award for Fiction.
Author: Philip K. Dick
Why it’s important: Explores topics such as war, technology’s effect on society, and what it means to be ‘human.’
Summary: By 2021, the World War had killed millions, driving entire species into extinction and sending mankind off-planet. Those who remained coveted any living creature, and for people who couldn’t afford one, companies built incredibly realistic simulacrae: horses, birds, cats, sheep…they even built humans. Emigrées to Mars received androids so sophisticated it was impossible to tell them from true men or women. Fearful of the havoc these artificial humans could wreak, the government banned them from Earth. But when androids didn’t want to be identified, they just blended in. Rick Deckard was an officially sanctioned bounty hunter whose job was to find rogue androids, and to retire them. But cornered, androids tended to fight back, with deadly results.
Awards/Notes: 1968 Nebula Award nominee; 1998 Locus Poll Award for All-Time Best SF Novel before 1990. Inspired the film Blade Runner.
Author: Orson Scott Card
Why it’s important: Explores topics such as war, societal pressures and expectations, self-discovery and responsibility, connection to family, and personal psychological hurdles.
Summary: In order to develop a secure defense against a hostile alien race’s next attack, government agencies breed child geniuses and train them as soldiers. A brilliant young boy, Andrew “Ender” Wiggin lives with his kind but distant parents, his sadistic brother Peter, and the person he loves more than anyone else, his sister Valentine. Peter and Valentine were candidates for the soldier-training program but didn’t make the cut–young Ender is the Wiggin drafted to the orbiting Battle School for rigorous military training. Ender’s skills make him a leader in school and respected in the Battle Room, where children play at mock battles in zero gravity. Yet growing up in an artificial community of young soldiers, Ender suffers greatly from isolation, rivalry from his peers, pressure from the adult teachers, and an unsettling fear of the alien invaders. His psychological battles include loneliness, fear that he is becoming like the cruel brother he remembers, and fanning the flames of devotion to his beloved sister. Between the three of them lie the abilities to remake a world. If the world survives, that is.
Awards/Notes: Winner of the 1986 Hugo Award and the 1985 Nebula Award.