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A “Special Needs in Strange Worlds” Reading List

January seems to be the month for lists, but life keeps happening the way it does and it’s pushed my list back to February. I apologize for that. I am learning that it is very hard to make a list like this because, as far as I know, there really isn’t one out there. I’m discovering, as I make this list, that it is both very hard to narrow down which books I should put on it, and also very hard to hunt through the annals of the internet to find all the books I possibly can that can fit on this list. Case and point, I’ve literally been working on this list for nearly a week and I am honestly ashamed by how short it is. There are so many more books out there, but I don’t have all the time in the world to find them and list them properly.

The process of making this list is a lot more philosophical than I first thought it would be. I’m running into a lot of questions. For example, would John Clever and his obvious antisocial behavior patterns be considered disabled? Differently abled, certainly, but would that make I Am Not A Serial Killer fit on this list? I can pretty much ask that question about any of Dan Wells books. The Scar by Maryna and Serhiy Dyachenko was talked about in the Special Needs in Strange Worlds column on my website a few years ago which you can read about here. Does that book fit in this post, or is it too vague? In The Warded Man by Peter V. Brett, the more Arlen gets marked up, the less he can function in society. Does that make those books fit on this list?

You see the problems I run into? Perhaps I just overthink things.

I’m hoping this can be a joint project. I’ll start the list out with what I have here, and then you, my fine readers, can leave comments with all the myriads of books I’ve missed. I will, occasionally, update this list with your books added to it. Let’s work together to make this list long, and incredible.

Starts with Lord Foul’s Bane.

He called himself Thomas Covenant the Unbeliever because he dared not believe in the strange alternate world in which he suddenly found himself.

Yet the Land tempted him. He had been sick; now he seemed better than ever before. Through no fault of his own, he had been outcast, unclean, a pariah. Now he was regarded as a reincarnation of the Land’s greatest hero–Berek Halfhand–armed with the mystic power of White Gold. That power alone could protect the Lords of the Land from the ancient evil of Despiser, Lord Foul. Only…Covenant had no idea of how the power could be used!

Thus begins one of the most remarkable epic fantasies ever written.

The Vorkosigan Saga by Lois McMaster Bujold

Starts with Young Miles.


Being a Vor lord on the war-torn planet Barrayar wasn’t easy. Being an officer in Barrayar’s military wasn’t easy. And being the leader of a force of spaceborne mercenaries while maintaining a secret identity wasn’t easy—in fact it should have been impossible, to say nothing of being a capital offense on Barrayar. Not that impossibility or great danger would slow down young Miles Vorkosigan much.

Washed out of the Barrayaran Military Academy for being overly fragile (he had been biochemically damaged during an assassination attempt while still in his mother’s womb), Miles’s natural (if unorthodox) leadership qualities quickly led to his off-handedly acquiring a fleet of nineteen ships and three thousand troops, all unswervingly loyal to him—or at least to his alter ego, Admiral Naismith. In short order, he foiled a plot against his father, returned to and graduated from the academy, solved a murder among his people, joined a mutiny against a deranged superior officer, thwarted an interstellar invasion, and rescued the Barrayaran Emperor. Then things get interesting….

A Song of Ice and Fire by George R.R. Martin

Starts with A Game of Thrones

Summers span decades. Winter can last a lifetime. And the struggle for the Iron Throne has begun.

As Warden of the north, Lord Eddard Stark counts it a curse when King Robert bestows on him the office of the Hand. His honour weighs him down at court where a true man does what he will, not what he must … and a dead enemy is a thing of beauty.

The old gods have no power in the south, Stark’s family is split and there is treachery at court. Worse, the vengeance-mad heir of the deposed Dragon King has grown to maturity in exile in the Free Cities. He claims the Iron Throne.

The Ship Who Sang by Anne McCaffrey

Helva had been born human, but only her brain had been saved and implanted into the titanium body of an intergalactic scout ship. But first she had to choose a human partner, to soar with her through the daring adventures and exhilarating escapades in space.

Keys to the Kingdom by Garth Nix

Starts with Mister Monday

On the first day , there was mystery.

Arthur Penhaligon is not supposed to be a hero. He is, in fact, supposed to die an early death. But then his life is saved by a key shaped like the minute hand of a clock.

Arthur is safe – but his world is not. Along with the key comes a plague brought by bizarre creatures from another realm. A stranger named Mister Monday, his avenging messengers with bloodstained wings, and an army of dog-faced Fetchers will stop at nothing to get the key back – even if it means destroying Arthur and everything around him.

Desperate, Arthur ventures into a mysterious house – a house that only he can see. It is in this house that Arthur must unravel the secrets of the key – and discover his true fate.

The Dark Tower by Stephen King

Starts with The Gunslinger

Beginning with a short story appearing in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction in 1978, the publication of Stephen King’s epic work of fantasy — what he considers to be a single long novel and his magnum opus — has spanned a quarter of a century.

Set in a world of extraordinary circumstances, filled with stunning visual imagery and unforgettable characters, The Dark Tower series is King’s most visionary feat of storytelling, a magical mix of science fiction, fantasy, and horror that may well be his crowning achievement.

Book I
In The Gunslinger (originally published in 1982), King introduces his most enigmatic hero, Roland Deschain of Gilead, the Last Gunslinger. He is a haunting, solitary figure at first, on a mysterious quest through a desolate world that eerily mirrors our own. Pursuing the man in black, an evil being who can bring the dead back to life, Roland is a good man who seems to leave nothing but death in his wake.

Earth Girl by Janet Edwards

Starts with Earth Girl

A sensational YA science fiction debut from an exciting new British author. Jarra is stuck on Earth while the rest of humanity portals around the universe. But can she prove to the norms that she’s more than just an Earth Girl?

2788. Only the handicapped live on Earth. While everyone else portals between worlds, 18-year-old Jarra is among the one in a thousand people born with an immune system that cannot survive on other planets. Sent to Earth at birth to save her life, she has been abandoned by her parents. She can’t travel to other worlds, but she can watch their vids, and she knows all the jokes they make. She’s an ‘ape’, a ‘throwback’, but this is one ape girl who won’t give in.

Jarra invents a fake background for herself – as a normal child of Military parents – and joins a class of norms that is on Earth to excavate the ruins of the old cities. When an ancient skyscraper collapses, burying another research team, Jarra’s role in their rescue puts her in the spotlight. No hiding at back of class now. To make life more complicated, she finds herself falling in love with one of her classmates – a norm from another planet. Somehow, she has to keep the deception going.

A freak solar storm strikes the atmosphere, and the class is ordered to portal off-world for safety – no problem for a real child of military parents, but fatal for Jarra. The storm is so bad that the crews of the orbiting solar arrays have to escape to planet below: the first landing from space in 600 years. And one is on collision course with their shelter.

Apollo’s Outcasts by Allen Steele

In the tradition of Robert A. Heinlein’s juvenile classics, crafted with a modern sensibility. Jamey Barlowe has been crippled since childhood, the result of being born on the Moon. He lives his life in a wheelchair, only truly free when he is in the water. But then Jameys father sends him, along with five other kids, back to the Moon to escape a political coup detat that has occurred overnight in the United States. Moreover, one of the other five refugees is more than she appears. Soon Jamey is front and center in a political and military struggle stretching from the Earth to the Moon.

Starts with Angelfall

It’s been six weeks since angels of the apocalypse descended to demolish the modern world. Street gangs rule the day while fear and superstition rule the night. When warrior angels fly away with a helpless little girl, her seventeen-year-old sister Penryn will do anything to get her back.

Anything, including making a deal with an enemy angel.

Raffe is a warrior who lies broken and wingless on the street. After eons of fighting his own battles, he finds himself being rescued from a desperate situation by a half-starved teenage girl.

Traveling through a dark and twisted Northern California, they have only each other to rely on for survival. Together, they journey toward the angels’ stronghold in San Francisco where she’ll risk everything to rescue her sister and he’ll put himself at the mercy of his greatest enemies for the chance to be made whole again.

The Disillusionists by Carolyn Crane

Starts with Mind Games


Justine Jones has a secret. A hardcore hypochondriac, she’s convinced a blood vessel is about to burst in her brain. Then, out of the blue, a startlingly handsome man named Packard peers into Justine’s soul and invites her to join his private crime-fighting team. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime deal. With a little of Packard’s hands-on training, Justine can weaponize her neurosis, turning it outward on Midcity’s worst criminals, and finally get the freedom from fear she’s always craved. End of problem.

Or is it? In Midcity, a dashing police chief is fighting a unique breed of outlaw with more than human powers. And while Justine’s first missions, including one against a nymphomaniac husband-killer, are thrilling successes, there is more to Packard than meets the eye. Soon, while battling her attraction to two very different men, Justine is plunging deeper into a world of wizardry, eroticism, and cosmic secrets. With Packard’s help, Justine has freed herself from her madness—only to discover a reality more frightening than anyone’s worst fears.

The First Law by Joe Abercrombie

Starts with The Blade Itself

Logen Ninefingers, infamous barbarian, has finally run out of luck. Caught in one feud too many, he’s on the verge of becoming a dead barbarian – leaving nothing behind him but bad songs, dead friends, and a lot of happy enemies.

Nobleman Captain Jezal dan Luthar, dashing officer, and paragon of selfishness, has nothing more dangerous in mind than fleecing his friends at cards and dreaming of glory in the fencing circle. But war is brewing, and on the battlefields of the frozen North they fight by altogether bloodier rules.

Inquisitor Glokta, cripple turned torturer, would like nothing better than to see Jezal come home in a box. But then Glokta hates everyone: cutting treason out of the Union one confession at a time leaves little room for friendship. His latest trail of corpses may lead him right to the rotten heart of government, if he can stay alive long enough to follow it.

Enter the wizard, Bayaz. A bald old man with a terrible temper and a pathetic assistant, he could be the First of the Magi, he could be a spectacular fraud, but whatever he is, he’s about to make the lives of Logen, Jezal, and Glotka a whole lot more difficult.

Murderous conspiracies rise to the surface, old scores are ready to be settled, and the line between hero and villain is sharp enough to draw blood.

Spellwright by Blake Charlton

Starts with Spellwright

Nicodemus is a young, gifted wizard with a problem. Magic in his world requires the caster to create spells by writing out the text… but he has always been dyslexic, and thus has trouble casting even the simplest of spells. And his misspells could prove dangerous, even deadly, should he make a mistake in an important incantation.

Yet he has always felt that he is destined to be something more than a failed wizard. When a powerful, ancient evil begins a campaign of murder and disruption, Nicodemus starts to have disturbing dreams that lead him to believe that his misspelling could be the result of a curse. But before he can discover the truth about himself, he is attacked by an evil which has already claimed the lives of fellow wizards and has cast suspicion on his mentor. He must flee for his own life if he’s to find the true villain.

But more is at stake than his abilities. For the evil that has awakened is a power so dread and vast that if unleashed it will destroy Nicodemus… and the world.

Starts with The Lightening Thief

Percy Jackson is about to be kicked out of boarding school… again. And that’s the least of his troubles. Lately, mythological monsters and the gods of Mount Olympus seem to be walking straight out of the pages of Percy’s Greek mythology textbook and into his life. And worse, he’s angered a few of them. Zeus’ master lightning bolt has been stolen, and Percy is the prime suspect.

Now Percy and his friends have just ten days to find and return Zeus’ stolen property and bring peace to a warring Mount Olympus. But to succeed on his quest, Percy will have to do more than catch the true thief: he must come to terms with the father who abandoned him; solve the riddle of the Oracle, which warns him of betrayal by a friend; and unravel a treachery more powerful than the gods themselves.

The Wild Hunt by Elspeth Cooper

Starts with Songs of the Earth

The Book of Eador, Abjurations 12:14, is very clear: Suffer ye not the life of a witch. For a thousand years, the Church Knights have obeyed that commandment, sending to the stake anyone who can hear the songs of the earth. There are no exceptions, not even for one of their own.

Novice Knight Gair can hear music no one else can, beautiful, terrible music: music with power. In the Holy City, that can mean only one thing: death by fire—until an unlikely intervention gives him a chance to flee the city and escape the flames.

With the Church Knights and their witchfinder hot on his heels, Gair hasn’t time to learn how to use the power growing inside him, but if he doesn’t master it, that power will tear him apart. His only hope is the secretive Guardians of the Veil, though centuries of persecution have almost destroyed their Order, and the few Guardians left have troubles of their own.

For the Veil between worlds is weakening, and behind it, the Hidden Kingdom, ever-hungry for dominion over the daylight realm, is stirring. Though he is far from ready, Gair will find himself fighting for his own life, for everyone within the Order of the Veil, and for the woman he has come to love.

Miserere: An Autumn Tale by Teresa Frohock

Exiled exorcist Lucian Negru deserted his lover in Hell in exchange for saving his sister Catarina’s soul, but Catarina doesn’t want salvation. She wants Lucian to help her fulfill her dark covenant with the Fallen Angels by using his power to open the Hell Gates. Catarina intends to lead the Fallen’s hordes out of Hell and into the parallel dimension of Woerld, Heaven’s frontline of defense between Earth and Hell. When Lucian refuses to help his sister, she imprisons and cripples him, but Lucian learns that Rachael, the lover he betrayed and abandoned in Hell, is dying from a demonic possession. Determined to rescue Rachael from the demon he unleashed on her soul, Lucian flees his sister, but Catarina’s wrath isn’t so easy to escape!

The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

Starts with The Hunger Games

Winning will make you famous. Losing means certain death.

In a dark vision of the near future, a terrifying reality TV show is taking place. Twelve boys and twelve girls are forced to appear in a live event called the Hunger Games. There is only one rule: kill or be killed.

When sixteen-year-old Katniss Everdeen steps forward to take her sister’s place in the games, she sees it as a death sentence. But Katniss has been close to death before. For her, survival is second nature.

The Great Book of Amber by Roger Zelazny

Roger Zelazny’s Chronicles of Amber have earned their place as all-time classics of imaginative literature. Now here are all ten novels, together in one magnificent omnibus volume. Witness the titanic battle for supremacy waged on Earth, in the Courts of Chaos, and on a magical world of mystery, adventure, and romance.

15 Comments on A “Special Needs in Strange Worlds” Reading List

  1. What a great list. I was all prepared to put Apollo’s Outcasts on here (as I sometimes feel I’m the only one who has read this book), but I see you are ahead of the game.

    • You know, I feel like I am the only one who read that book, too. I loved it. I’m glad you read and enjoyed it, too.

      • I had my wife read it as soon as I finished (right after it came out), bought a copy for a friend who also loved it and had a few friends who are fans of Heinlein juveniles I convinced to read it who also connected with it. But it seemed to come out and disappear with little fanfare, which I found very disappointing. It is such a good book.

        I am curious, coming from your perspective of stories featuring people with disabilities, if you would think this is a good representative story given that Jamey soon finds himself in a place where his disability does not handicap him in the way it did on Earth. Is it a wish fulfillment story for someone with a disability vs. one in which the person learns to live with said disability?

        I’m not asking in any way as a criticism, because again I love this story, but those thoughts crossed my mind prior to seeing your list when Apollo’s Outcast sprang to mind.

  2. This is an excellent start, Sarah.

    Didn’t expect you to put Amber on here but it fits–Corwin has memory problems to begin with, and works through it. Benedict, greatest General of all time, has one arm, and is still awesome. Jurt is one-eyed in the second series.

  3. Let’s see, I can help with some YA stuff: Mind Games by Kiersten White has a blind MC and an MC with PTSD in a dystopian world with psychic powers. Handbook for Dragon Slayers by Haskell has an MC with a club foot and dragons 😀

  4. Not sure if these will count, because there is a lot of grey areas!

    Of Blood and Honey and And Blue Skies From Pain by Stina Leicht, the main character is dyslexic, which makes it very difficult for him to read the letters his girlfriend (maybe wife? I don’t remember) sends him.

    WWW:Wake by Robert Sawyer, the main character is a blind teenager

    Sideshow by Sheri S Tepper, there are two characters who are conjoined twins

    Dying Inside by Robert Silverberg – main character can read minds, but this has destroyed his life

    Blindsight by Peter Watts – Narrator has severe epilepsy, has had chunks of his brain removed to help with the seizures, but it alters his personality.

  5. Silent Dances, A.C. Crispin and Kathleen O’Malley: The main character is Deaf. (Convenient to the plot, since the resident aliens have a cry that can shatter human ears.) It includes issues about communication between cultures and about Deaf culture.

  6. I would also add the Middle Grade fantasy THE REAL BOY, by Anne Ursu. The main character is on the autism spectrum – and how it deals with difference and empathy and loneliness is deftly done.

  7. I just finished an awesome book Digital Divide (Rachel Peng) by K B Spangler. The book features a blind detective Rachel Ping (with the help of a microchip she can access the visual world) and currently the author is doing a Kickstarter to make audio files of this book and it’s sequel. If enough money is gathered braille copies will be unlocked. Spangler is a self published author.

  8. Abercrombie’s The First Law trilogy is worth the price of admission for the way he plays with and twists the fantasy genre into a pretzel. Of all the characters he created for this work, Sand dan Glokta stands out. An absolutely phenomenal character.

  9. Oh, how about short stories… Movement: A Short Story by Nancy Fulda… It was nominated for a Nebula and Hugo Award… Read it here:

  10. Hi, I just turned your list into a list on Goodreads, I really hope you don’t mind and I have of course given all credit to you. But I thought it was a list that was worth sharing and since there are a lot of readers on GoodReads I thought it would be a sneaky place to share it + I wanted to add some of the books to my own reading list. Anyone can add to the list, so perhaps we will get even more ideas.

    Awesome blog series!

    The list:

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