Science-fiction is a genre of exploration, discovery and diversity – from new worlds to new alien races, all can be imagined and read. However, when it comes to the celebration of science-fiction writers, we are often found lacking in the very diversity which makes sci-fi so compelling to a whole host of readers. So, to combat this, here is a short list of my favourite women science-fiction writers to inspire you to create diversity within your own bookshelves in 2020. To kick-start this list, this writer needs no introduction, but I will try and do her justice…
Octavia E. Butler – A legend within the science-fiction community, Butler is an African-American woman born in Pasadena, California who has received both the Hugo and Nebula awards for her powerful storytelling within her lifetime. Her writing often revolves around the complex themes of power, race and ancestral history, allowing for her novels to be studied by academics for decades. Her best-selling novel, Kindred (1979), follows the story of African-American woman Dana, who finds herself being able to shift through time against her will and is continually transported from her home in California to a pre-Civil War plantation where she meets her ancestors – Alice Greenwood, a proud black woman who is later enslaved and Tom Weylin, a brutal slave owner. This novel is extremely powerful, touching on the influence shared ancestral trauma has in shaping modern-day life for marginalised communities. Fair warning, many of her novels do carry hefty trigger warnings. However, Butler’s ability to twist and bend the popular conventions of science-fiction (particularly when it comes to the treatment of black women) should be a must-read for everyone!
- Fledgling (2005), my personal favourite
- Parable of the Sower (1993), Parable of the Talents (1998)
N.K. Jemisin – An accomplished contemporary sci-fi and fantasy novelist, Jemisin often explores themes of oppression and socio-political conflict within the complex societies she creates. Her novel The Fifth Season (published in 2015 and the first of The Broken Earth series) was awarded the Hugo award for Best Novel in 2016, as well as the World Fantasy Award of Best Novel, and paints the picture of a planet undergoing ruinous climate change the inhabitants are calling ‘the fifth season’. The planet is home to numerous different races, each with conflicting cultures and powers. As a result, the society Jemisin creates is one home to oppression and discrimination as well as environmental disaster (sounding familiar…). The novel follows the narratives of three women spanning different time periods, allowing for the reader to gain a deeper understanding of the planet’s gripping history. In 2017, Bustle magazine proclaimed that Jemisin is ‘the sci-fi writer every woman needs to be reading’. So, you heard ‘em folks, any bids for my ratty copy?
- How Long ‘Til Black Future Month? (2019)
- The Inheritance Trilogy
Ann Leckie – Leckie is an author that takes hard science-fiction and truly aims to do the absolute most with it, to pack it with dazzling style, gripping action and thought-provoking themes. Her most celebrated work and debut novel Ancillary Justice (2013), the first novel of the Imperial Radch series, is a ravishing space opera set thousands of years into the future where AIs control human bodies (known as ‘ancillaries’), making them the perfect soldiers for the Radch empire which occupies the planets which the majority of the action takes place. This new hybrid of human do not recognise gender, using female pronouns throughout the whole novel. As a result, Leckie opens up the discussion surrounding gender performance and heteronormativity, critiquing the notion that typical gender tropes are innate. Leckie’s work is typical of the hard sci-fi genre, which many new planets and races introduced. However, readers are rewarded with a rich style and complex universe which is easy to get lost in.
Carmen Maria Machado – Machado is a queer American writer whose short fiction and essays have appeared in publications such as The New York Times and Grata. She has also been featured in anthologies such as Best American Science Fiction & Fantasy, Best Horror of the Year, and Best Women’s Erotica, which I’m sure can give you a good idea about the type of writer we’re dealing with here. Her short story collection Her Body and Other Parts was published in 2017, won the Shirley Jackson Award and was my personal favourite book of that year which I’m sure counts for a lot. The collection deals with issues such a female sexuality and the depiction of the female body through the male gaze using a mixture of surrealism, horror and science-fiction. Her writing style has been described by The Los Angeles Review of Books as ‘strange and seductive’ and if that doesn’t rope you in then, well…that’s ultimately impossible.
- In The Dream House (2019)
Joanna Russ – Russ was a queer woman writing in 1970s America whose radical feminist views has meant her work as both a novelist and an academic has critically examined the role of women within patriarchal societies. Her most acclaimed novel The Female Man (1975) tells the story of four women who all live in parallel universes. When they find themselves crossed over to each other’s timeline, their notions of femininity and womanhood are challenged. The main protagonist of the novel, Joanna, refers to herself as ‘the female man’ as she believes that she must shed her female identity in order to rise up within her society. As a result, The Female Man challenged the sexist notions prevalent in the 70s concerning gender identity and womanhood, with much of what Russ explores still being relevant today! Many regard this novel as the beginning of feminist science-fiction writing, opening up the genre to the female perspective and we are all the more better for it. Russ writes with a passion that is delicious to read and her work cannot be missed by anyone interested in the role of women within the genre of science-fiction.
- We Who Are About To…(1977)
- How To Suppress Women’s Writing (1983)