Gifted Adults in SF Literature

For this blog-hop on gifted adults, I decided I would like to write about some of the great portrayals of gifted adults in SF literature.

Here are my set of micro-reviews of some of my favourite SF books on gifted adults. They range in reading demographic from YA to adult-only and these are the books that I keep going back to, again and again. In many ways, they reflect the struggles of the gifted adult – the problems with loneliness, ‘fitting in’ and dealing with thinking differently.

NB. This post has a number of links to buy books – because if you want to read awesome books, I want to make it easier for you – I am a book-enabler. But you can always hop over to your local library instead – libraries are cool.

Heinlein Intersection

Heinlein is a hit-or-miss author for me. Sometimes he nails a book and it deserves its place in the classics, and sometimes they’re better left unread (gosh I wish I could un-read a few of them).

So, why these two? Because they are pure awesome.

The Moon is a Harsh Mistress

Arguably one of his best, it follows the exploits of a small band of ‘freedom fighters’ as they struggle to gain independence for their moon colony. There are many great characters – the extremely humble autodidact Manny who is the narrator, the sentient computer Mike “Mycroft” Holmes with a wicked and deeply childish sense of humour, the anarchic Professor Bernado De La Pas, and Wyoming Knott, the political agitator who is ‘all women’.

One of the many things I love about Heinlein is his ability to turn conventions upside down and make them seem reasonable and sane – from family organisation through to the advantages of dishonesty. The other thing he excels at is in creating great women characters – not men-in-skirts but intelligent sexually aware and confident women who are the equal of any of the men – from Manny’s wife Mimi “Mum” Davis through to his adopted daughter Hazel who is a master of street-fighting. Some readers may be put off by some character’s casual sexism – but this is in many ways used to highlight the differences between Earth and the Moon, where casual sexism is likely to get a visitor pushed out the nearest airlock.

Favourite quotes:

“Oh, ‘tanstaafl.’ Means ‘There ain’t no such thing as a free lunch.’ And isn’t,” I added, pointing to a FREE LUNCH sign across room, “or these drinks would cost half as much. Was reminding her that anything free costs twice as much in long run or turns out worthless.”


“Manuel! Have you killed someone?”
“No Mum.” (Breaking a man’s jaw will not kill him.)
She sighed. “You’ll be my death dear. You know what I’ve always told you. In our family we do not brawl. Should a killing be necessary – it almost never is – matters must be discussed calmly, en famille, and proper action selected. If a new chum must be eliminated, other people know it. It is worth a little delay to hold good opinion and support -“


“I am free, no matter what rules surround me. If I find them tolerable, I tolerate them; if I find them too obnoxious I break them. I am free because I know that I alone am morally responsible for everything I do.”

Stranger in a Strange Land

Ever wonder where the term ‘Grok’ came from? This is the origin, and well worth a read for those not easily offended. Heinlein deliberately set out to write a book that would offend established mores and make the opposite both reasonable, and desirable.

It follows the journey of Michael Valentine Smith from innocent to carny to martyred religious figure. To give more away would really spoil the whole thing, but it is filled with interesting intelligent characters – from the slightly lecherous but lazy judge Jubal Harshaw, to the empathetic nurse Gillian “Jill” Boardman who is at heart always a lady irrespective of her other professions or moral standards.

“I had thought – I had been told – that a ‘funny’ thing is a thing of a goodness. It isn’t. Not ever is it funny to the person it happens to. Like that sheriff without his pants. The goodness is in the laughing itself. I grok it is a bravery . . . and a sharing . . . against pain and sorrow and defeat.” 


“Even the twin discovery that Smith had taught himself to read with the speed of electronic scanning and appeared to have total recall of all that he read did not tempt Jubal Harshaw to make a “project” of Smith … Harshaw had the arrogant humility of the man who has learned so much that he is aware of his own ignorance and he saw no point in “measurements” when he did not know what he was measuring.”

Gifted Women: Anne McCaffrey Goodness

Anne McCaffrey has been writing great women characters for a YA audience for long time- pick up any of her books and there will be an awesome character in there:

  • Lessa in Dragonflight, who is smart, savy and manipulative enough to survive the death of her whole family and plot (and get!) her revenge, and eventually save all of her planet, Pern.
  • The Rowan – who is precocious and talented but suffers extreme loneliness by being both physically and psychologically separated from her fellow humans.
  • But I personally love Sassinak (co-authored with Elizabeth Moon), the kick-ass Captain of a pirate-hunting spaceship, who starts life as a slave and has to fight, reason and outsmart her adversaries.
  • I also love the other two books in the Planet Pirate’s series – The Death of Sleep (co-authored with Jody Lynn Nye), and Generation Warriors (again with Elizabeth Moon). The Death of Sleep is probably the better of the two sequels, as it follows Lunzie, Sassinak’s ancestor, a doctor who seems to be cursed with ending up ‘out-of-time’ after she’s lost in cryogenic sleep in deep space. Her story arc is fascinating and very human as she tries to overcome her fears and anxieties about space-travel and losing her family – again and again.

Favourite quotes:

“She could and did keep from competing so accurately against him, pretending that she hadn’t taken metal fatigue into consideration on that day’s problem. She didn’t miss Gerolaman’s surprise and decided she’d better ‘pretend’ a little less obviously.” –The Rowan


I don’t know – I want to stomp her into the ground, and at the same time I’m sorry for her. She’s not good for anything, but she could have been.” He gave Sassinak another, far more human, glance. “I hate to admit it, but the very things I believe in probably turned her into that wet mess.” —Sassinak

Because She Can’t Be Missed: Susan Calvin

Susan Calvin is the main continuing character throughout much of Isaac Asimov’s robot short stories (and hopelessly misrepresented in the abysmal I, Robot movie. Susan is no man’s arm-candy.) She is a robot-psychologist who understands robots better than people, and probably represents Asimov’s alter-ego. Think of her as a fictional Temple Grandin, and you would be very close to the mark.
Here is Wikipedia’s list of stories featuring Susan Calvin, and all ten are wonderful.
But my favourite short stories include:

  • ‘Little Lost Robot’, where she outwits a homicidal robot,
  • ‘Liar!’, which is a study on impossible wishes,
  • ‘Evidence’, which focuses on how we define what is human,
  • and ‘Feminine Intuition’ – aka intelligence vs societal expectations.

Robot Visions is a collection that includes all my favourite stories, plus a few more classics of the Asimov Robots stories.

Favourite quotes:

Begin at the beginning and don’t worry about revealing yourself to be a fool. That was revealed to me years ago.”


Feminine intuition? Is that what you wanted the robot for? You men. Faced with a woman reaching a correct conclusion and unable to accept the fact that she is your equal or superior in intelligence, you invent something called feminine intuition.

Gifted Adults and Religion: Speaker for the Dead

SF generally does a poor job when it comes to realistic portrayals of gifted religious people, but this book is the exception. It is one of the few sequels to win a Nebula and a Hugo, and it thoroughly deserves every single award. It seamlessly integrates religiousness, the problems of family life and science in a fantastic story about aliens and the ability to see ideas through different world-views, as Andrew tries to heal the pain in a family that has faced tragedy, betrayal and abuse while also coming to terms with his own terrible past. If you haven’t read any of the Ender series, or the Shadow series – don’t worry. This book is quite independent from Ender’s Game. I will add a trigger warning for Speaker – for people who have had to deal with domestic violence and its consequences, it might be too much. Even so, after reading this, you too may, like me, wish that you could have a Speaker for the Dead at your funeral.

Favourite Quote:

“It’s all part of their system of totems. We’ve always tried to play along with it, and act as if we believed it”
“How condescending of you,” said Ender.
“It’s standard anthropological practice,” said Miro.
“You’re so busy pretending to believe in them, there isn’t a chance in the world you could learn anything from them.”


This is by no means a compete list – there are many fabulous authors who have awesome characters that deserve a place on this list, but well, this is my list and it can only be so long.

I’ve also done a few more extensive book reviews on Gifted Homeschoolers in SF:

Please feel free to add your own mini-reviews of your favourites in the comments. I would love to be introduced to more amazing stories.

This post is part of the Gifted Grown Ups blog hop from the Gifted Homeschooler’s Forum. Go and check out the other posts of awesome!

13 Replies to “Gifted Adults in SF Literature”

  1. Thanks Amy. I've heard good things about the book too, but have never read it. I believe I shall be making the time to do so now. I love new books – and new book recommendations – thankyou!

  2. Speaker for the Dead is a great book. As is Ender's Shadow and Shadow of the Hedgemon are also excellent. The other sequels in both the the Ender-series and the Shadow-series are good and worth a read too, but not quite up to the same standard IMO – good reads but not award-worthy awesomeness.

  3. I LOVED science fiction in grade school and middle school, but haven't read any since. I am very intrigued by the books you mentioned, and I see I will have to return to this genre for sure! Thanks for that nudge and the great recommendations!

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