In which the feminist science fiction/fantasy/speculative fiction fans have our fun

By way of following up on the Left-Handed Commencement Address thread.

I note that I am far from being the only person here who is both a feminist and a fan of science fiction! Because I love sharing the femSF love, let’s put together a list of our favourite novels, stories and writers. Don’t forget to say why you recommend them. Feminist works of fantasy and speculative fiction are more than welcome.

I’ll limit myself to three people in starting us off:

Octavia E. Butler: There are so many reasons to love Ms Butler. I can only read a bit of her writing at a time because she is just so good, so sharp, I have to stop constantly as I am just that overwhelmed. As such, I haven’t read any of her longer works, but I’m told that Kindred and Parable of the Sower will blow your mind. “Bloodchild” will make you rethink something you think you know about violence or reproductive justice or relating, so that’s my recommendation. I really don’t want to tell you the premise, because if you are reading it, you should head right into it. That said, it’s potentially triggering, so be warned.

James Tiptree, Jr.: Alice B. Sheldon wrote as Tiptree for a decade before she was unmasked. Not only did she challenge the SF establishment’s ideas about what women can write, she was huge in the American SF scene in the 70s and 80s. My rec is “The Women Men Don’t See” (here’s my review) because of not only the feminist content but the beautiful manipulation of the building blocks of story to feminist ends (particularly the confusion between narrator and protagonist). It’s a fabulous story about women who don’t want to be saved from the aliens, and a man who just doesn’t understand why they’re not fitting the narrative.

Ursula K. Le Guin: She has been one of the most popular SF/fantasy writers for decades. And, as Tlönista noted in the previous thread, it’s so, so good to have in the world a white writer who writes non-white characters properly, and not only that, but centres them in her universes. My favourite short story of hers is probably “Another Story” from the A Fishman of the Inland Sea collection, which is on time and culture and life and love. I am also very fond of Four Ways to Forgiveness, which is a suite of interconnected stories concerned with slavery and freedom. She’s really quite brilliant.

So what have you got for us?

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131 comments for “In which the feminist science fiction/fantasy/speculative fiction fans have our fun

  1. December 6, 2009 at 9:22 pm

    I mostly read YA literature, so that’s where my recommendations are coming from:

    1) Suzanne Collins’ “The Hunger Games” and its sequel “Catching Fire” are set in a frightening dystopic future where the government punishes its citizens for attempting to rebel 75 years ago by choosing 24 children to fight to the death in a horrific battlefield – and it’s televised for the whole country to watch. Heavy stuff. The protagonist in both books is Katniss, 16 years old and fighting for her life and the life of her family. She’s smart and competent and refuses to be sidetracked from her goals. She thinks critically about her society and government and resists with all of her might when the powers that be try to pretty her up for the cameras.

    2) Kristin Cashore’s “Graceling” and “Fire” are companion novels set in a fantasy world featuring people with extraordinary powers. In Graceling, Katsa has a “grace” that allows her to fight and kill with extraordinary prowess, often at the bidding of the king. Like Katniss, she is critical of the government and looks for a way to resist. “Fire” is a prequel to “Graceling,” exploring a land that was referred to as a legend in the first book (but it’s absolutely real). The main character, Fire, also possesses great power, but utilizes hers in a distinctly different manner from Katsa. The two characters share a lot of common traits, including bravery, loyalty and fighting ability (men aren’t needed to save the day in this world!), but the beauty is in how the same basic ideas manifest differently under different circumstances.

    3) The Uglies trilogy by Scott Westerfeld has some of the greatest critiques of modern popular culture I’ve ever read. In this science fiction future, at the age of 16 everyone undergoes surgery to become pretty – which essentially renders everyone looking more or less the same as the Pretty Committee claims that beauty has been clearly defined by evolution. BRILLIANT action scenes here, along with critiques on consumer culture, standards of beauty and entertainment.

  2. December 6, 2009 at 9:23 pm

    My usual recommendations when the subject comes up: Black Wine and A Paradigm of Earth by Candas Jane Dorsey. She’s wonderful.

  3. Jha
    December 6, 2009 at 9:23 pm

    Flawed through she may be, Charlotte Perkins Gilman really showed her sociological chops through this delightful yarn When I Was A Witch. It doesn’t actually address any gender issues, but it does show how little changes can make for a better society. After reading Herland, I’m just a huge fan of stories which explore societal mores and alternatives. I consider her to be one of my foremost steampunk inspirations, despite her alarming proclivities towards colonialism, racism and classism.

  4. annalouise
    December 6, 2009 at 9:36 pm

    On the subject of pseudonyms, what are people’s thoughts on KJ Parker? Parker’s gender has never, to my knowledge, been confirmed and there seems to be a conscious effort to not mention it.

    Parker’s books are very dudely and about blacksmithing and military but they are also interesting deconstructions of masculinity.

    I’m a big fan of Connie Willis too.

  5. Jadey
    December 6, 2009 at 9:44 pm

    Wow, I second the recommendation for A Paradigm of Earth. I pulled it off a bargain shelf years ago and loved it. I never looked for any of her other work though–what an oversight.

    It’s been a while since I found it easy to enjoy sci-fi (not sure if that was just me looking in the wrong places or what), but I was just thinking yesterday that I’d like to try to get into my old favourite genre again. Some of the books and authors I used to enjoy have lost their flavour, and I can’t say I ever noticed anything I read being particularly feminist (not that I was paying attention–ouch), but China Miéville and Robert J. Sawyer have fascinated me with their complex world-building (although I found Sawyer’s most recent, Wake, ablist). Haruki Murakami’s Hard-boiled Wonderland and The End of the World is a classic must-read; totally strange and beautiful blend of genres. I also read Minister Faust’s The Coyote Kings of the Space-Age Bachelor Pad and From the Notebooks of Dr. Brain this summer and really enjoyed them both; more comic and fabulous wordplay.

    I’m looking forward to suggestions from others! I’m over my non-fic phase and excited to start taking some Butler out of the library.

  6. Xenu01
    December 6, 2009 at 9:45 pm

    @annalouise: I adore Connie Willis!

    Also, I love Octavia Butler.

    As for my recommendation, if you haven’t read Nalo Hopkinson, do so at once. I started with In the New Moon’s Arms.

  7. Xenu01
    December 6, 2009 at 9:50 pm

    If you want to try Octavia Butler and you’re not into “hard” sci-fi- aliens, space, etc- I’d definitely start with Kindred (Time-travel and slavery in the antebellem south), Fledgling (Betcha you didn’t think it was possible to do a brand new thing with the overtired vampire genre, right?) or Parable of the Sower (speculative, near future, post-apocalyptic without An Event That Killed Everyone).

    Now I’m depressed all over again that she’ll never again publish another book, since she truly had no equal. :(

  8. Xenu01
    December 6, 2009 at 9:54 pm

    *crossing fingers about not being caught in the spam filter for posting three comments so close together*
    Also, I’d like to recommend Kate Elliott’s Jaran series and Madeline L’engle’s An Acceptable Time, both of which I’ve read and loved one million times since childhood, and neither of which feature “girl power” as a substitute for feminism.

  9. wolfa
    December 6, 2009 at 9:59 pm

    I’ll second Nalo Hopkinson (any of her books: I like Brown Girl in the Ring), Suzanne Collins and Kristin Cahore.

    I’d recommend Ekaterina Sedia’s The Alchemy of Stone, about what it means to be human, and what progress requires of us and what it gives and takes.

    I’m sure most people know Audrey Niffenegger has a new book out, Her Fearful Symmetry, which I enjoyed a lot, though only one character felt fully realised, the upstairs neighbour with some kind of obsessive compulsive disorder.

    Although I remain unwilling to recommend her alt-history novels, I do recommend Jo Walton’s Tooth and Claw, a Victorian novel with dragons. Similarly, Naomi Novik’s Temeraire series is also fun, and has even more dragons. I will recommend most things that have dragons in them.

    I really enjoyed Greg Van Eekhout’s Norse Code, which is about Ragnarok happening now.

  10. Laura
    December 6, 2009 at 10:01 pm

    Everything by Sheri S. Tepper, a friend of Ursula Le Guin’s and an amazing eco-feminist sci fi writer. I have read everything she’s written, and I’m never disappointed.

  11. December 6, 2009 at 10:03 pm

    CJ Cherryh: The Morgaine books (fantasy) or Cyteen (science fiction)
    A common (and boring) character set-up in the genres: hard-bitten man (ex-mercenary/space marine) gets paired up with a fresh-faced young idealistic woman. CJ Cherryh usually turns this upside down. She’s a prolific and always interesting writer.

    Joan Slonczewski: A Door Into Ocean
    I normally can’t stand crunchy granola moon goddess herbal tea type feminism. And at first glance this would fit the profile. It’s set on a utopian lesbian moon! I still love it. Slonczewski focuses heavily on moral and ethical dilemmas as well as sexual politics. This is a beautiful, perfectly written book.

    Angela Carter: The Infernal Desire Machines of Dr. Hoffman
    Angela Carter writes really mind-blowing fantasy that explores the aesthetics of female sexuality.

    Samuel Delany: wrote many explicitly feminist books with a lot of gay sex and S&M too. He gets VERY theoretical. Tales of Nevèrÿon uses the sex habits of a barbarian tribe to set up a critique of Freud and Lacan.

  12. December 6, 2009 at 10:09 pm

    And I’ll provide the lone voice of dissent: I wanted to like Octavia Butler. I really wanted to like her. But her books were almost unreadable for me. Her descriptions just never came to life. Others have praised her style of writing as “lean” but to me it just seemed flat and with an aftereffect of clinical detachment.

  13. December 6, 2009 at 10:10 pm

    I just want to say “thank you” for this thread. I’ve never read any science fiction (well, besides a Jules Verne collection my mom got me for my 10th birthday….over thirty years ago! ;-), but I recently read Kindred and was blown straight the fuck away. Threads like these give me lots of ideas for new reading material, and I won’t have to bother wading through a bunch of misogynist, racist b.s. in the genre. Keep the good suggestions coming!!

  14. Xenu01
    December 6, 2009 at 10:12 pm

    @atlasien: what you don’t like, you don’t like.

    There was a rather amazing book by Clare Bell I read over and over again all through middle and high school: The Jaguar Princess. I also read Eleanor Arnaeson’s Woman of the Iron People a lot.

  15. Aliem
    December 6, 2009 at 10:19 pm

    Robert J. Sawyer’s Neanderthal trilogy (Hominids, Humans, Hybrids) has a pretty neat alternate world in which Neanderthals became the dominant brand of human. Feminist, in the sense that it takes as a given the “radical notion that women are people.” Interesting takes on gender and sexuality in that trilogy: the Neanderthal world has, among other things, complete separation of the binary sexes (albeit with no discussion of trans/non-binary folks), universal bisexuality, and multiple marriages. Trigger warning – there’s a rape in the first book, with repercussions throughout the whole trilogy.

    Most of his books are pretty solid, in fact. Few deal with gender/sexuality so much, but he’s rarely disappointed me.

  16. Katie
    December 6, 2009 at 10:28 pm

    I must mention that there’s a whole blog dedicated to the discussion of feminism and SF – It has some great discussions and resources.

  17. Katie
    December 6, 2009 at 10:29 pm

    And also some straight-up resource lists here:

  18. willowmagnolia
    December 6, 2009 at 10:45 pm

    Kelly Link is an amazing, inventive, haunting speculative fiction short story author who taps into fairy tales, myths, horror tropes, pop culture icons, and urban legends. Not all of them are necessarily overtly feminist, but she does have many a gem with a strong female protagonist. In her first collection, Stranger Things Happen, she picks apart the Snow Queen (Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tale villain), reinvents Nancy Drew, and adds a heroine to the myth of Paris and the Golden Apple. She started a small publishing house with her husband– Small Beer Press– which gives voice to speculative and nontraditional writers, many of them women. Awesome! You can read one of her stories online at the site:

  19. Nicole
    December 6, 2009 at 10:51 pm

    I’d rec anything by Lynn Flewelling– her novels are really well written, have awesome characters, and are set in a (high fantasy) universe where gender relations are completely different than they are in our own world. Essentially: a prophecy tells a king he must abdicate the throne and give it to his daughter, and that the line must become matrilineal. He follows the instructions, his daughter becomes a kickass warrior queen; prosperity thusly reigns in the kingdom. 600 years later, when the first series (“Nightrunner” books) is set, men and women are completely equal — women are in all professions and IT IS NOT REMARKED UPON, all the characters see it as completely normal. In another trilogy, issues of gender disphoria and sexual identity are dealt with when a female character is transformed into a male shortly after birth for protection. (Long story, based around the matrilineal-crown thing.) She isn’t told that she is female, and is raised as a little boy; she doesn’t find out the truth until the magic begins to fail. I think Ms. Flewelling handles these issues in an interesting and fairly realistic way; her books are awesome stuff.

    I would also reccommend Clive Barker’s “Imajica,” which also deals heavily with issues of gender and sexuality. I’m not sure how to describe it, partially because the plot rather defies description and partially because I’ve not yet finished it, but it has the distinction of being the only book I’ve read that was written by a man and has female viewpoint that rings true. (There are multiple VP characters, she is one of them.) I’m not sure what I can say to reccomend it, since it is VERY strange– it is “high fantasy” in the sense that there are other, author-created worlds, but there sure aren’t any dragons or dwarves. It’s got some of the most exquisite language I’ve ever encountered, too… Highly highly highly recc’d.

  20. Stacey
    December 6, 2009 at 11:11 pm

    I’m glad to get some recommendations to read! I have to add in Pat Cadigan. She is apparently the Queen of Cyberpunk, but I’ve only read Synners. Its 900 pages but totally worth it all.

  21. December 6, 2009 at 11:23 pm

    Great topic, and some great suggestions! There are so many good feminist SF writers. This is a jumble and not a canon, but here are some things that pop into my head right off the bat:

    Joanna Russ’s The Female Man; Jo Clayton’s Farthing series; anything by Judith Merrel; Gwyneth Jones’ Bold as Love series; Kate Wilhelm’s work (a favorite is Juniper Time, but really anything by her); James Schmitz’s Telzey Amberdon and Witches of Karres; Margaret Atwood’s works; etc. etc.

  22. Tlönista
    December 6, 2009 at 11:23 pm

    OMG THIS THREAD. 100% win.

    Seconds: Another rec for Joan Slonczewski’s A Door Into Ocean. Her portrayal of nonviolent resistance galvanized me, politically. And Candas Jane Dorsey’s Black Wine. Experimental and mindtwisting and gorgeous.

    Connie Willis’s Doomsday Book made me cry (it was not the best book to read while sick in bed, though) and To Say Nothing of the Dog is witty and romantic and did I mention hilarious? You have to read Jerome K. Jerome’s Three Men in a Boat and Dorothy Sayers’s Gaudy Night to get the full effect, but both of those are worth a read too (though not SF).

    No one’s mentioned Mary Gentle yet. She’s better-known in the UK, I guess; she was a member of the Midnight Rose writing collective with Roz Kaveney and Neil Gaiman. Ash is my favourite book of hers, almost too complex to describe—it starts off as a “book within a book”, an academic’s translation of medieval manuscripts documenting the life of a female mercenary leader, heavily footnoted with things like “Actually, the narrator is mistaken; this battle took place in 1471” and “As we know, the Visigoths were not around to invade western Europe, the author must be referring to some other group” and “These ‘golems’ are no doubt a metaphor for…”, etc. And then archaeological evidence starts showing up. And then history begins retroactively changing. And then it all gets very weird.

    I love Gentle’s heroines; they’re nonconformists, usually independent women in patriarchal societies, standing out from the crowd not because they want to but because they must. They can’t be otherwise. Also they are generally good with swords and/or Hermetic magic.

    All right, enough for now—but I’LL BE BACK.

  23. Ellid
    December 6, 2009 at 11:32 pm

    A few great writers I’ve enjoyed over the three-plus decades I’ve been reading SF and fantasy:

    – Lois McMaster Bujold. Her Vorkosigan series takes all the conventions of space opera and turns them inside out by having her swashbuckling hero be the disabled son of a brilliantly drawn feminist. Themes include reproductive rights, the plasticity of sexual orientation, the place of women in a militaristic society, genetic manipulation…they’re fabulous books, and unlike much SF and fantasy, they’re hilarious without resulting to bad puns.

    – Walter Hunt. He’s best known for his space opera, but his female characters are strongly drawn and very much unstereotyped. He also has some of the best drawn aliens (the zor, a race of avians whose language is partially gestural) I’ve ever seen.

    – Elizabeth Moon. The Paksenarrion series and its related books are simply some of the best fantasy I’ve ever read. Heartbreaking, heartfelt, and more realistic about the soldier’s life than 90% of the war fiction out there.

    – Andre Norton. Yes, I know she’s an older writer, and yes, I know that the sexual politics in her best-known series, Witch World, is pretty dated. But Norton was one of the first SF or fantasy writers to write about non-white characters (Hosteen Storm in Beastmaster and Tally Mitford/Ashake in Wraiths of Time are two of many), one of the first to write fully-fleshed out female characters, and a mentor and friend to more female SF and fantasy writers than I can count. Much of her work is out of print, but it’s well worth picking up.

    – Vonda McIntyre. One word: Dreamsnake. Just read it. You’ll be glad you did.

  24. G C
    December 6, 2009 at 11:48 pm

    A few names I haven’t seen yet: Nicola Griffith, Ammonite (1993); Naomi Mitchison, Memoirs of a Space Woman (1962); inexplicably, Marge Piercy, Woman on the Edge of the Time (1976); He, She, and It (1991).

  25. December 6, 2009 at 11:51 pm

    Joanna Russ: The Female Man, On Strike against God, and her feminist essay collection titled Magic Mommas, Trembling Sisters, Puritans and Perverts (she believes these are the feminist movement archetypes, or once were.)

    Echoing Ellid, Vonda McIntyre is wonderful, and recommend the aforementioned Dreamsnake, as well as The Exile Waiting and her short story collection, Fireflood. (I *LOVE* FIREFLOOD)

    Kate Wilhelm, The Funeral in Harlan Ellison’s Again, Dangerous Visions is one of the GREAT feminist sci-fi stories of all time. I have read it over and over and over…

  26. Sarah
    December 6, 2009 at 11:52 pm

    A hard sci-fi writer I’ve recently fallen in love with is Alastair Reynolds. I don’t know if you can call his books feminist exactly but they stand out in my mind because, especially in his first book Revelation Space, he has lost of well written female characters who pursue their own interest and move the story along on their own instead of being set dressing or rewards for a male protagonist. Revelation Space is fairly dense, Reynolds has a phd in astronomy and you can tell, but I think it helps to lend a feeling of reality that other books in the genre sometimes lack. Trust me, Revelation Space is well worth the read though, as well as his second book, Chasm City.

  27. Flex
    December 7, 2009 at 12:44 am

    Not much to add at the moment, except thanks for this thread. As someone who has a strong interest in anarchist science fiction, Le Guinn has been a long time favorite and the good palate cleanser for anyone interested in sci-fi in libertarian/anarchist tradition but accidentally gets stuck with a Heinlein book…

    I look forward to checking out some of these books and authors!

  28. cofax
    December 7, 2009 at 12:48 am

    A writer who deserves more attention than she gets is Rosemary Kirstein, who has a series starting with The Steerswoman. Her world-building is top-notch, the characters are fully-formed and complex, women are everywhere and do everything, and the story itself is a fascinating examination of colonialism, epistemology, and the place of knowledge in a society. I can’t recommend her strongly enough.

  29. Ada
    December 7, 2009 at 12:53 am

    Laurie J. Marks! Her Elemental Logic series (Fire Logic, Earth Logic, etc) has one of the most unique ways I’ve ever seen an author look at the topics of gender, and war. The first book is fairly depressing, but worth it. The second book, nothing short of amazing.

  30. Kat
    December 7, 2009 at 1:27 am

    Lots of good stuff mentioned here.

    Another male SF writer who I’ve loved since I was a teenager, and who is often noted as a feminist (and doesn’t deny it), is Kim Stanley Robinson. Since I was 15 and I read his Mars trilogy (Red Mars, Green Mars, Blue Mars) I wanted to go to Mars. The host of kickass science women were my heroines.

  31. December 7, 2009 at 1:34 am

    Warning: I’m a spec-fic writer, currently a science fiction short story writer, so I am not speaking from an objective place.

    However: I wanted to mention how much great short SF exists these days, including a lot written by women. I’ve seen Strange Horizons and Clarkesworld mentioned at FeministSF (or in their comments) as having good female/male contributor ratios, and those are both free online magazines with great fiction. Realms of Fantasy and Asimov’s Science Fiction* are both edited by women and have a good proportion of female contributors. A lot of spec fic writers get their start writing short fiction, and by supporting the markets that buy women’s work (through linking & donating for free mags, or buying & subscribing for non-free mags), you’re supporting not only those editors and institutions, but female short story writers (many of whom are tomorrow’s female novelists.) Also, I think short fiction is totally splendid, which is a hobby-horse I’ll be able to ride with a greater illusion of non-investment once I’m a novelist myself!

    *Disclosure: Both my published science fiction stories are in Asimov’s, so I am not a neutral party when I recommend them.

  32. maevele
    December 7, 2009 at 2:25 am

    Suzette Haden Elgin, native tongue. favorite book EVER.
    seconding nalo hopkinson, nisi shawl.
    There is a whole feminist sf con, even, you know

  33. erin leigh
    December 7, 2009 at 3:39 am

    @ G C – I was waiting for someone to mention Marge Piercy!

    Her book “Woman on the Edge of Time” was one of the first explicitly feminist books I ever read, and what a dystopian trip it is…I also really love “He, She and It” and the way she intertwines the traditional story of the Jewish golem with the futuristic cyborg story.

    I also second the Octavia Butler recommendations. I’ve only read Kindred so far but it was a really amazing story.

  34. Kali
    December 7, 2009 at 4:20 am

    sheri tepper, amy thomson

  35. Kali
    December 7, 2009 at 4:24 am

    oh, & starhawk’s fiction works, ellen galford- though that’s more magical realism it’s hilarious, plus if you can overlook some heavyhandedness- diane rivers.

  36. December 7, 2009 at 4:37 am

    Wow, this is great everyone! Keep going!

    A couple of people have mentioned The Female Man so I want to issue a warning to any trans readers, trans women in particular: it turns astoundingly transphobic towards the end. Happily, Russ has since changed her tune about trans women.

    If anyone is interested in the feminist SF con maevele mentioned, it’s called WisCon. I would love to attend one day!

    On a related note, maybe some of you would be interested in checking out the Tiptree Award. It focusses on gender exploration in SF. Here is a PDF of some of the past winners and nominees.

  37. December 7, 2009 at 5:12 am

    I’m another huge fan of Connie Willis, Sheri Tepper….and I guess we don’t really need dozens of identical recommendations

    @atlasien – I share your pain. I really really really wanted to like Octavia Butler. Her books had all the elements of something I would enjoy….and yet I couldn’t get into her work.

    I recommend Doris Egan, Robin McKinley, Patricia C. Wrede, Kage Baker, Nancy Collins, Maria V Snyder, Rebecca Ore, Ulises Silva, Adam Troy-Castro, Emma Bull and (specific works of ) Terry Pratchet.

  38. Glauke
    December 7, 2009 at 6:27 am

    I’m not sure if her work has been translated into English, but I love Thea Beckman’s speculative fiction. I re-read it recently, and though it’s somewhat eigthies here and there, it’s still a pleasant read. With huge feminist overtones.

  39. Ellid
    December 7, 2009 at 6:54 am

    First, I completely agree about James Schmitz and Emma Bull. War for the Oaks is still one of my favorite urban fantasies, and Telzey Amberdon has been around for fifty years. And Alice Sheldon left us far too young.

    Second, here are a few others….

    – Rosel George Brown. She died young, but Sybil Sue Blue is one of the best female characters in science fiction, period.

    – DC Fontana. You may not recognize the name immediately, but as a scriptwriter and producer, she had a tremendous influence on popular culture through her work on Star Trek (especially Mr. Spock’s family dynamics).

    – Lynn Flewelling. The Hidden Warrior series is tremendous, with themes such as the evils of misogyny and the necessity of female rule (but not dominance) in a fantasy kingdom.

    – The whole phenomenon of fanfiction, especially slash (male/male relationships, usually based on subtextual clues), is heavily dominated by women. Many of the best go on to write professionally, including Lois McMaster Bujold, whose first book began as a Star Trek fan novel.

  40. December 7, 2009 at 7:13 am

    Robert O’Brien wrote a few SF/fantasy novels which have, in my view, a strong feminist bent. His best-known is probably Mrs Frisby and the Rats of NIMH, but a post-holocaust novel he wrote in the early seventies, Z for Zachariah, has a stunning deconstruction of patriarchy, told from the point of view of a young woman who survives. Z for Zachariah (spoilers).

    Also recommended: Hellflower, by Eluki bes Shahar, and the sequels, Darktraders and Archangel Blues. The hero of the three novels, Butterflies-are-free Peace Sincere, is a smuggler-pilot (review, mild spoilers) who, in the first novel, rescues a teenage boy in peril… and it only gets better.

    No one’s yet mentioned C. J. Cherryh or Suzy McKee Charnas: I’d recommend anything SFnal by Cherryh (not so keen on her fantasy novels) but Rimrunner has a wonderful middle-aged female hero, Elizabeth Yeager, “Master-sergeant, Marines, Retired”. I like the two secondary female heroes in Heavy Time and Hellburner, too – female partners/friends.

    Suzy McKee Charnas’s tetrology, Walk to the End of the World, Motherlines, The Furies, The Conquerors Child, is absolutely a must-read in feministsf.

  41. SlackerInc
    December 7, 2009 at 7:15 am

    Margaret Atwood deserves mention here, as at least two of her works qualify as SF (more “speculative” than “science”, perhaps). Lots of other names here I’d second, especially Joanna Russ and Ursula LeGuin (my dad used Left Hand of Darkness in one of his anthropology courses; I love The Dispossessed and The Lathe of Heaven, and I’m going through the Norton anthology she edited and having a great time).

    On the other side of things, I really wish someone would have steered me away from Robert Heinlein before I wasted so much time on his novels. And while I never succumbed to her allure, it alarms me to see so many young, intelligent feminists get sucked in by Ayn Rand, who wraps up incredibly right wing propaganda in an insidiously attractive package.

  42. lilika01
    December 7, 2009 at 7:37 am

    Even though she’s not really Sci Fi and more fantasy, Meghan Lindholm (under the pseudonym Robin Hobb) is my favourite author. While her work isn’t overtly feministy, it totally wins at gender equality for the most part. Especially her second series The Liveship Traders Trilogy. It’s one of my favourites!

  43. December 7, 2009 at 8:28 am

    Greer Gilman’s Moonwise— a fantasy where the whole story is driven by women and goddesses. The prose is amazing.

    Nnedi Okorafor’s Zahrah the Wind-Seeker— a young woman’s quest story. The first half is the best comfort reading I’ve seen in a long time. The second half is good scary adventure.

    The setting feels like magical realism, but there are eventually explanations for some of what’s going on.

    The Shadow Speaker is set in the same universe, but is rather grim. It’s about the peace-making, with the costs and risks included.

    I tend to be abstract when I’m doing book recommendations, but they’re both very good reads.

  44. Josh Jasper
    December 7, 2009 at 8:41 am

    For contemporary writers, if any of you get the chance to read Catherynne Valente‘s work, it’s awesome.

    Oh, and Liz Hand. And, uh, Chris Moriarty (female Chris). Gael Baudino. Holly Black. Tanya Huff. R.A. MacAvoy.

    Need coffee. More later.

  45. herong
    December 7, 2009 at 9:52 am

    Yay for Margaret Atwood! I was scanning the comments hoping that SOMEONE would mention her.

    Also, the James Tiptree, Jr. Award is given each year to author’s whose science fiction or fantasy “expands or explores our understanding of gender.” It’s an AWESOME criterion by which to find GREAT sci fi.

  46. Caitlin
    December 7, 2009 at 9:53 am

    I’ve spent all semester doing a special studies on Octavia Butler. I love her so, so much. Even her sci-fi always has a strong fantastical element. Her specialty is basically putting her characters in horrible situations and then stirring the pot. Plus, always strong female POC leads.

    Andrea Hairston wrote “Mindscape”, which I haven’t read yet as I’m currently working with her (the aforementioned special studies) but she’s so amazing and I’ve heard great things about the book.

    Justine Larbalestier’s “How to Ditch Your Fairy” is adorable feminist YA fantasy in which all of the characters are POC, and queer characters are accepted and present.

    I can’t believe no one’s mentioned Tamora Pierce! Sure, it’s YA fantasy, but I read both, so I’m sure many of you do too. Her first series, Song of the Lioness is about a girl who disguises herself as a boy to gain her knighthood. I actually prefer her books in another universe, which start with the Circle of Magic series, about a group of four 10 year olds who all have unique powers even in their world where magic isn’t uncommon. Also since this universe is based on the Mediterranean, it’s much more diverse.

    Seconding Nicola Griffith, I love “Ammonite” and “Slow River”.

  47. Jha
    December 7, 2009 at 10:30 am

    For newer novels, Gail Carriger’s Soulles and Cherie Priest’s Boneshaker. I’ve not read either yet but I hear good things about them!

  48. December 7, 2009 at 10:45 am

    Another writer weighing in. I write steampunk, cyberpunk, horror, fantasy, and 95% GLBT. So I am not a neutral party at all. I am also privileged to know some of the newer voices who are paying their dues in the small press right now.

    Julian May is an amazing writer. She starts with the radical notion that everyone is human and works from there. We have women running whole planets in her Milieu books and every profession from nun to athlete to engineer in her Pilocene books.

    Sharyn McCrumb deals in maghical realism, an Appalachia where myth and reality mix, where ghosts walk the hills and the local wisewoman’s Sight is not always sure. Her characters evince attitudes appropriate for their ages, with younger characters being more feminist, but tending to take it for granted (like a deputy sheriff).

    Elizabeth Donald’s Setting Suns has everything from fantasy to hard SF to realistic fiction. Her new novella, The Cold Ones, SF/horror, comes unreservedly recommended. Even her erotic vampire series involves strong female characters who aren’t all looking for a happy ending.

    Sara Harvey’s Convent of the Pure, with half-angel lesbian demon hunters in a steampunk milieu and A Year and a Day with the Angel of Joy and the Angel of Vengeance sharing an apartment in NYC, are both excellent. The first makes you question life, love and the nature of both. The second is more of a romance and a lark.

  49. Maggie
    December 7, 2009 at 10:46 am

    I’ll give Butler another go – I found her recent vampire novel spectacularly dull (so dull I can’t even recall its’ name, but it was about a black vampire with amnesia, the latter a well-meaning exposition-aid plot device that just happened to suck all the suspense and action from the book – also I felt like it skirted all the sexuality and consent issues it brought up without engaging them at all) and managed to finish it only because the language was so pretty. Maybe a better plot will do her excellent technical skill justice.

    I saw somebody mention but not rec China Mieville – not only is he a brilliant worldbuilder but his books feature very well-fleshed out gay and female protagonists, and Iron Council has a plot thread involving sex workers that is matter of fact and human in a genre full of terrible caricatures of prostitutes.

    I’d also like to second Tamora Pierce and Lois Bujold – neither of them writes the sort of specfic that blurs into “Literature” but both are thoroughly entertaining and feel like they contian real people. I adore Ursula Le Guin as well, The Dispossessed is one of my favourite books in the universe and the best attempt at creating a realistic anarchist utopia I’ve ever seen in literature or elsewhere.

    One that nobody’s mentioned is Kelly Link, who writes beautifully surreal short stories and puts all but the most recent collection online under Creative Commons at her website – they are all amazing and issues relevant to feminism are definitely among the themes. I particularly reccommend Origin Story as an exploration of superheroic love interests and ways people in comic books might really behave.

    Speaking of comics, I can’t believe nobody’s mentioned Neil Gaiman’s Sandman graphic novel series!

  50. oxygengrrl
    December 7, 2009 at 11:15 am

    Le Guin and Butler are gods. Delany, too. Would add to the short story pool Kit Craig, who also writes as Kit Reed, particularly the short story collections Weird Women/Wired Women and Little Sisters of the Apocalypse.
    I find Sherri Tepper weirdly slut-shaming for someone who’s deemed feminist. The only truly sexual female character in The Visitor (which also has a weird religion thing going) is portrayed as evil, and I found the personal relationships in Beauty questionable as well. I gave up after that.

  51. Frowner
    December 7, 2009 at 11:19 am

    [Chally @ 36 : It’s funny, I can practically recite from The Female Man, and I’d always found the anti-trans part icky while reading it, but I’d never really brought it into consciousness as “this book has an anti-trans part”; I just basically disliked and ignored those passages but did not think it through to see that they needed to be addressed. Privilege in action, yeah. Russ also wrote The Two of Them, which has some terrific parts and a really nuanced villain/narrator relationship but which also is a recasting of For the sake of Grace and is, like the original, Islamophobic. Here too, she apologized later. This makes Russ sound like a terrible person, sort of, but I think she’s one of the few people who both did the things that the 2nd wave gets criticized for and came back and said “yes, I did those things, they were fucked up and I’m sorry”. ]

    Feminist SF – my very favorite writer right now is L Timmel DuChamp, friend of Delany, author of the amazing Marq’ssan books and person who runs Aqueduct Press. These books are rough in places, especially the first one–you can really see DuChamp grow as a writer–but they’re so amazing and powerful that I wish the series went on forever. Aliens–radical aliens who have had their own revolution long before–land, and decide to disable all electronic stuff so that all complex weapons are unusable. They will negotiate only with women. The far right, hierarchical US corporate state sends ambigious academic and former CIA-type Kay Seldin as a spy in the negotiations. Then other things happen. The thing is, the SF plot isn’t important (and I love SF). These books are really good because they are an amazing, nuanced, realistic depiction of radical organizing, anti-authoritarian communities, and some (probably really triggering; very hard for me to read in the wake of some police beat-down stuff that happened to my friends) really thoughtful stuff about state repression and how it works. Also, DuChamp was really involved in the struggle against US-backed violence in South and Central America during the 80s, and a lot of her experiences come through in her writing. Several major narrators are women of color (over the whole series; starting with book three of five very large ones) and there are many, many queer people. Oh, these folks are all basically anarchists.

    Any Aqueduct Press book is worthwhile, IME.

    Also, for anarchist SF: Celia Holland’s Floating Worlds. It’s a whole Earth of bad-tempered left-libertarian anarchists living in a sort of perpetual mid-seventies oil shock, and then there are the not-unlike-African-nationalist-aliens. This book (which requires patience) is remarkable because it depicts two imperfect radical societies interacting realistically rather than as a parable,morality play, ideological take-down, etc. Also, the heroine is amazingly self-willed, a bit juvenile and very bad-tempered. A really remarkable “people have casual sex and it’s just a thing they do” book, too, in a way that seems very seventies to me.

    Also, my favorite Ursula Le Guin book is the less-well-known and somewhat under-rated Always Coming Home, a book of fragments about a future society in a long-post-apocalypse California; it draws heavily on CA indigenous traditions in a way that really interesting–not totally perfect because what white writer can really be perfect, but someone trying their very best to be radical and respectful.

  52. emjaybee
    December 7, 2009 at 11:23 am

    Wow, there’s a lot of authors I’ve never read here. Excellent.

    I would second Robin McKinley for fantasy, esp. The Blue Sword, a lovely take on the traditional hero-with-sword-saves-the-world theme, along with her many other novels; all her books but one center around a female protagonist, and are wry and intelligent.

    Someone mentioned Angela Carter upthread; she is sadly no longer with us, but there are many excellent collections of her work, and The Bloody Chamber, a collection of very dark fairy tale rewrites, is where I first found her (her redo of the Bluebeard tale is especially amazing and chilling). But she was also a great essayist and observer of pop culture, so her nonfiction is well worth reading.

  53. Icewyche
    December 7, 2009 at 11:23 am

    @ Jha: I just finished Soulless. It’s awesome.

    Nobody’s mentioned Anne Bishop yet! Her books are definitely fantasy rather than lasers-and-starships SF, but they’re still fantastic. Her House of Gaian trilogy is an incredible matriarchy-vs.-patriarchy allegory, and her Black Jewels series is full of sorcery, Machiavellian plotting, and high fantasy at its best. Not to mention Bishop’s lush prose, which somehow always manages to hit a note of humor just when you need one. READ THEM. :-)

  54. CBrachyrhynchos
    December 7, 2009 at 11:33 am

    Sheri Tepper is an interesting read, although I find that you really have to do multiple books and get past the view that she necessarily advocates the ideas of gender and relationships that appear in her novels. Matriarchal eugenicists are the protagonists of Gate to Women’s Country, gender separatism is utopian in A Plague of Angels, but lampooned in Sideshow.

  55. Tlönista
    December 7, 2009 at 11:37 am

    @Caitlin: Oh yes, for any girl of a certain age, Alanna was our HERO.

    And Chally, thanks for posting the link to “Bloodchild”. I finished reading it and it tore my brain and heart open (but not in a wormy way). I love science fiction that just plops you into a totally different world and slowly, subtly reveals The Big Picture, and “Bloodchild” is that at its best.

    I’ve heard amazing things about Nisi Shawl’s Filter House but when I stopped by the local science fiction bookstore and asked, they hadn’t even heard of it. AUGH.

  56. AndiF
    December 7, 2009 at 11:48 am

    Apparently Laura Mixon is too modest to mention her own awesome books so let me do it for her and especially recommend Proxies and Burning the Ice.

    There are a lot of writers already mentioned here that are some of my favorites so I’ll mention some different names — though I do want to cast a big supporting rec for Candas Jane Dorsey, Eleanor Arnason, Connie Willis, and Rosemary Kirstein.

    If you love gorgeous writing and imaginatively intricate tales, check out Catherynne Valente.

    Nancy Kress has been writing science fiction for decades and I don’t think she’s ever written a bad book.

    Carol Emshwiller writes books great intelligence and imagination and wit.

    Also very worth reading: Kit Reed, Amy Thomson, and Carol Gilman.

    And for a rollicking good time, there’s the very funny Chicks in Chainmail series edited by Esther Friesner.

  57. December 7, 2009 at 11:58 am

    No Katharine V. Forrest yet?

    Read the series with Daughters of an Amber Moon (that’s not the first, forget the other two titles). A bunch of women going off to form a planet of their own who have a way to reproduce without men? Sure it’s cliched, but man, I love it.

  58. Natalie L.
    December 7, 2009 at 12:16 pm

    I don’t have anything to add–all my favorites have been mentioned–but I would like to add a warning to Icewyche’s rec of Anne Bishop’s Dark Jewels series. Bishop’s books are good and often compulsively readable, but there are rapes and threatened rapes in these books to the point where I would not feel okay giving them to someone who had a history of sexual violence or abuse without first checking with them that it wouldn’t be triggering.

    Actually! N.K. Jemison’s The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms is really awesome and will be out in February–the main character is a warrior from a matriarchal society and for a first novel, it’s quite remarkable (I’m a freelance book reviewer for Romantic Times, so I’ve already read it). And I’m a big fan of Elizabeth Bear’s work, especially her series from Tor, The Edda of Burdens (the first and second are out, #3 will be out next year).

    Also, a male writer I’m fond of who does a pretty good job at keeping women in the forefront of his books is Brandon Sanderson–all his novels feature strong female protagonists, which is somewhat unusual in epic fantasy.

  59. Jadey
    December 7, 2009 at 1:02 pm

    Oops, to clarify, every author I mentioned was a recommendation too!

  60. annalouise
    December 7, 2009 at 2:45 pm

    I wouldn’t recomend Sheri Tepper. Her political viewpoint is pretty loathesome and her books, especially “Gibbons Decline and Fall” and “Singer From the Sea” are incredibly, horrifyingly racist. One of the characters in “Gibbon” is a young women of color who is presented as sub-human and incapable of normal moral reasoning.

    I think that’s an important point when we are talking about female sci-fi writers. After all, isn’t Ayn Rand one of the most famous women sci-fi writers ever?

    Women achieving equality in the genre is going to leave room for some Orson Scott Cards too.

  61. December 7, 2009 at 3:09 pm

    Thanks AndiF. :-) Yeah, I get embarrassed.

    I can’t believe I forgot to name Emma Bull, Chris Moriarty, and Elizabeth Moon. Katharine Kerr and Kate Elliott are a couple more, highly recommended. And Linda Nagata… she hasn’t published much in recent years, but I loved her books, The Bohr Maker, Vast, and The Deception Well.

  62. ann
    December 7, 2009 at 3:13 pm

    I really, really disliked Sheri Tepper when I read her in my “feminist literature” class. Funny, I thought the goal of feminism was to blur the lines that define someone (and their privileges / character / motivations) by their essential humanity first, and gender a far second. Tepper does the opposite.

    Suzette Haden Elgin is a major feminist sci-fi influence. I especially recommend Native Tongue and The Judas Rose.

  63. December 7, 2009 at 3:27 pm

    Frowner @51: Yes, that was the really sad-making thing about Elgin’s “For the Sake of Grace,” which was otherwise so brilliant, you know? I was reading it thinking, Is she trying to create a new alien culture and not realising she’s jumping off from a mishmash of stereotypes about Islamic, Arab and Persian societies?

    ETA: This is my 100th comment at Feministe. :D

  64. Yvonne
    December 7, 2009 at 3:34 pm

    I want to second Josh Jasper mention of Tanya Huff. She does this really cool thing where she’ll introduce a character over several pages and only at the end, when the reader has already started forming a gendered picture, will she reveal the character is the other general. She did it with a general who turned out to be a woman, and a housekeeper who turned out to be a man. In both cases, the characters were neutral or positive – the gender-switching was completely incidental to the story. Huff was just getting her readers to start questioning our automatic gender assignments.

    And Lois McMaster Bujold is wonderful. She deals with so many gender issues in her Miles Vorkosian novels. I’m reading Palladin of Souls right now and am delighting in a novel about a not completely young woman (40s or 50s? – about my age anyway!) who is not primarily dealing with issues of romance or even “men,” just life and the world and her place in it as a person of her own intent.

  65. Wednesday
    December 7, 2009 at 4:06 pm

    Not sure if my comment was lost during a recent power outage or caught up in moderation, so…

    Sherwood Smith. She’s not a very well-known fantasy author, but she’s absolutely fantastic. Her recent fantasy quartet, Inda is set in a world where pregnancy is opt-in and same-sex relationships are perfectly acceptable. As you might imagine, this does change how the cultures of the world see gender, and gender roles.

    K.J. Richardsson. She’s a new author, but I liked her Heart Sense trilogy. It’s nice to see YA lit with LGBT main characters (in this case, G and B) where the character’s LGBTness is not the central conflict.

    Garth Nix’s Old Kingdom trilogy is quite good, focusing on female characters who kick serious zombie ass.

    I’m going to cautiously add Patricia Wrede to the list. Dealing with Dragons was one of the first books I ever read that challenged the gender roles painted out in fairy tales, and I’ve enjoyed most of her other work quite a lot. (Her most recent book has some fairly racially problematic worldbuilding, hence my caution.)

  66. Adrian
    December 7, 2009 at 4:07 pm

    Maggie: Thank you for mentioning that novel! Now I know that I have indeed read a little of Octavia Butler, although my mother stole it from me before I got very far (hey, it was her library book).

    Most of the writers I like have already been mentioned (I was worried for a few comments about not finding Margaret Atwood when she wasn’t mentioned for a while). In young adult SF/F, I recommend Cassandra Clare’s City of Bones trilogy, which hasn’t been mentioned. I enjoyed it, although I have some complaints that would involve spoilers to explain; they about plot points, character development, etc. rather than prejudice, though. It’s not feminist in particular, but there are strong female characters (and some characters of color, and the main character’s best friend is Jewish, and gay people, etc. etc.).

  67. Doctress Julia
    December 7, 2009 at 4:12 pm

    Not to look dumb or anything… but, what’s wrong with Robert Heinlein?

  68. Kiki
    December 7, 2009 at 4:22 pm

    Not sure if its been mentioned, but I really like Joanna Russ. “When it Changed” is heartbreaking to me.

  69. Kany
    December 7, 2009 at 4:27 pm

    There’s a new book out by AKPress that I really enjoyed: Mythmakers and Lawbreakers, interviews with anarchist fiction writers. Some of the interviews include cool anarcha-feminist sci-fi and fantasy, including some zinesters who don’t get much press elsewhere: Christy C. Road, Carissa van den Berk Clark, Starhawk, and of course, Ursula Le Guinn.

  70. shah8
    December 7, 2009 at 4:31 pm

    Working off of thing I’ve read recently that people may enjoy…

    Hal Duncan-Vellum: Absolutely not for anyone who isn’t fairly literary since it’s very…uh…much like Ulysses and also, you gotta be very familiar with myths in order to keep track of what’s happening.

    Nobody has mentioned Justina Robson yet. Pretty good. Current series is also pretty reliant on cultural knowlege. Earlier stuff is pretty difficult to digest, though they are very, very, high end works. Even the title, Living Next Door to the God of Love, is awesome.

    I will read at some point Catherine M Wilson The Warrior’s Path. It looks pretty good.

    Both of Kit Whitfield’s book, including her newest In Great Waters are recommended reads. Highly socially conscious and intricate.

    Jane Lindskold, for all her fixation on animals, is one of the best light(er) fantasy writers around. I have thoroughly enjoyed her offerings in Chinese mythology. These two books, Thirteen Orphans and Nine Gates, require real use of your mind’s eye to grasp her vision, and that makes for immersive experience. Geeky people friendly.

    I’m a fan of Caitlin Kiernan, who’s mostly a horror writer, but the material that impinges on dark fantasy like Threshold, Low Red Moon, and Daughter of Hounds have impressed me very much. I hope to see more urban fantasy work from her so…

    Kat Richardson is another favorite for geek friendly urban fantasy, but I’m sure most of you knew that.

    Daniel Fox has written an excellent start to his fantasy opus with Dragon in Chains. Think George RR Martin for Chinese world.

    Joel Shepherd is *very* underrated. Excellent gateway book for people who might like an “action” sci-fi book without quite going all the way and doing Dan Abnett. The Cassandra Kresnov novels are quite interesting and he is working on a fantasy series right now.

    We all know Richard Morgan. Best work is probably Thirteen, followed by Market Forces and his noir series.

    Some of you will enjoy Adrian Tchaikovsky’s Apt series. Admit it…You like bugs.

    In the realm of Hard Sci-Fi
    Glasshouse and Halting State are Charles Stross’s two best works
    Blindsight is…an impressive work from Peter Watts. Depressing and hollow in characterization, but there’s a point to this…

    Don’t get turned off by Greg Egan! Try Permutation City, it’s the least demanding of his work, and there’s a lot to like about him. His short stories are considerably less demanding than his books.

    That’s enough for now…

  71. AndiF
    December 7, 2009 at 4:37 pm

    Tlönista, you can get Filter House directly from the publisher, Aqueduct Press, a publisher of feminist science fiction. As you can see, their list of authors includes many already named here and others who are well worth reading.

    BTW, Frowner, Aqueduct Press was founded by Duchamp.

  72. Cassie
    December 7, 2009 at 4:57 pm

    I will totally second the Tamora Pierce. Her newest series, about a girl named Beka Cooper who’s training to be an alt-verse medieval policewoman but is helped by her ability to hear the voices of the dead through pigeons is awesome.

    Sherwood Smith hasn’t been mentioned as far as I can see, and though she’s also a YA fantasy author, her book ‘Crown Duel’ (formerly two books, ‘Crown Duel’ & ‘Court Duel’) is very readable for all ages, with a heroine who is amazingly stubborn (this is a good thing, obviously) and saves the kingdom from an evil tyrant.

    Lois McMaster Bujold also writes high fantasy crazily well, and the second book in her Chalion series, ‘Paladin of Souls,’ won the Hugo, Nebula AND Locus awards. The heroine is an older woman who isn’t painted as particularly maternal, and whom everyone else thinks is mad. The book is all about her journey to find her place in the world, with a whole bunch of magic thrown in. I absolutely can’t recommend this book highly enough. You don’t have to have read the first in the series to get this one, but it helps.

    I’m also a little surprised to see Paula Volsky isn’t on here. Her book ‘The Grand Ellipse’ is the most recent and best of her works, combining a fantasy steampunk-esque world with an epic race across countries the heroine has to win. It’s a bit more romancey than I’d like, but the decisions are down to the heroine (who doesn’t need rescuing, thankyouverymuch!) and she kicks butt.

  73. Traduit
    December 7, 2009 at 5:07 pm

    Tamora Pierce is amazing; I love young adult fiction and her Circle of Magic and The Circle Opens quartets are some of my favourite books ever.

    I also really love Sabriel, Lirael, and Abhorsen by Garth Nix. Not sure whether they’re feminist, but his female characters are definitely awesome.

  74. December 7, 2009 at 5:15 pm

    Seconds for:

    Lois McMaster Bujold – I’ve only read Cordelia’s Honor but it was very good. (I particularly liked the detail that on her home planet, Beta Colony, sex workers are considered to be a type of therapist and respected accordingly.)

    Tamora Pierce – staple of my childhood. Rereading the Song of the Lioness quartet a bunch of little things bother me, but still: this is a strong and talented woman who works for what she wants, and – this really struck me looking back – has relationships with three different men before settling down (relatively late in life) with one of them, and this is presented as a perfectly reasonable way to go about things.

    Julian May – the entire Milieu sequence (Intervention, Jack the Bodiless, Diamond Mask, Magnificat and the Pliocene Saga) are amazing. Her female characters are as varied as real women, without a Mary Sue in the bunch; gay characters and gender-variant characters are peppered through the books and she even presents a pair of siblings in a sexual relationship without attaching a value judgement (though it is noted that their children are ‘atypically homozygous’ and that at least one of them is mentally ill.)

    Alastair Reynolds – doesn’t explicitly engage with feminist themes, but has the sort of unradically radical starting point someone mentioned earlier: all his various societies are pretty much gender-equal and nobody ever comments on this – it’s treated as entirely normal and natural. There are female starship captains, mercenaries, assassins, and god only knows what else.

    Neil Gaiman – I love Neil Gaiman. Sandman</em, as somebody mentioned upthread, is brilliant; in feminist terms, I'd recommend particularly volume 5, A Game of You, the cast of which are nearly all female, and which deals with all sorts of things including transsexuality. (I can’t speak with authority on how well Gaiman handles things, being cis, but it came across to me as incredibly respectful and, well, human, and was actually something of a trans 101 to me.)

    And of course Terry Pratchett. Perhaps too obvious to mention, but as well as being a wonderful liberal humanist his writing is also awesomely feminist, at least to me. Monstrous Regiment has more kickass women than you can shake a stick at, including a lesbian couple, and one girl with an unplanned pregnancy; also includes an addict (effectively) and what seemed to me an incredibly sensible and non-shaming attitude to sex work.

  75. December 7, 2009 at 6:18 pm

    I haven’t had many specific recommendations on this thread because while I read a fair amount of spec fic by female writers, I don’t tend to classify things as ‘feminist SF’ in my brain. Also, I was trying to resist the urge to plug writers I know. And I do know Molly Gloss. But I’m going to go ahead and plug her _Wild Life_. Now I find out it won a Tiptree, so, hey, it’s not just my notion, this is definitely relevant to your interests.

    _Wild Life_ is a mostly first person (there are inserted news articles and so forth too) story from the perspective of a woman who single-handedly supports her family of five boys by writing adventure stories. She lives in Washington State around the turn of the century, while the Pacific Northwest is being settled and heavily logged. She’s a strident feminist and very concerned with how she can and should balance her needs and her family’s, the writing that supports her brood with her occasional ambitions to write something more meaningful. Not to reveal too much, but she goes looking for a lost child in the forest and Things Happen.

    The fantastic element in the story doesn’t arise ’til a fair way in, which I think may have confused some people who thought it was straight historical fiction. It’s not mostly about feminism, but it affords a glimpse into early feminist standpoints, and I was interested in the way that the main character’s feminism is bound up with her desire for Modernity and Progress, and how that desire becomes complicated by her journey and discoveries.

    Anyhow, it’s a gorgeous book, beautifully written, sometimes funny, sometimes intensely lyrical.

  76. December 7, 2009 at 6:27 pm

    I am loving this! I got hooked on science fiction by my dad, but he always hated female authors as a group. Said he didn’t like any of their books, that the style was all wrong for him. Has some Tiptree though, if I recall his collection correctly.

    But that means I got my start with lots of Heinlein, Asimov, Clarke and the like. Nothing wrong with them as writers, and I think while Heinlein tried to be feminist, with brilliant, tough female characters, he often blew it too. Especially with Podkayne. For a character he described as being so utterly brilliant she was certainly a fluff brained idiot most of the time.

    I think that’s where he goes wrong a lot of the time with his female characters. Too often they’re quick to give in and let the men take the lead, or they stick to classic, caregiving roles, even when they are intellectually demanding. Some exceptions, but I would have like more.

  77. Ginsu Shark
    December 7, 2009 at 6:48 pm

    Ratha’s Creature and its sequels. They’re about sapient big cats in the mid-Cenozoic, and start with the titular character (who’s female) harnessing fire and eventually becoming the leader of her tribe. The rest of the books are about the challenges the group faces and how she deals with them.

  78. Maggie
    December 7, 2009 at 8:24 pm

    I’ll second Gaiman, and especially Pratchett. I truly wish I had the Tiffany Aching books when I was younger. He writes a wonderful array of women in all shapes, sizes, ages, and professions. Nearly entirely cis and het, though, but I do adore him anyway.

  79. Xenu01
    December 7, 2009 at 8:49 pm

    @Ginsu Shark: I heart Clare Bell. Did you read Jaguar’s Princess?

  80. December 7, 2009 at 8:55 pm

    ZOMG I *heart* this thread!!!!!1!!!!!eleventy!!!

    So many authors have already been brought up, but can I have a shout out for

    Tanith Lee British novelist. I highly recommend Tales From the Flat Earth (Night’s Master, Delirium’s Mistress, etc,) the Books of Venus, Books of Paradys, Don’t Bite The Sun, The Silver Metal Lover, Red As Blood Or Tales From The Sisters Grimmer, etc, etc.

    Jessica Amanda Salmonson (trilogy)Tomoe Gozen, Silver Naginata, Thousand Shrine Warrior, amongst others

    Megan Lindholm/Robin Hobb
    Elizabeth A. Lynn
    Maureen McHugh

    Ye gods did you all know about this Feminist SF Wiki???

    Eeee! Y’know, a great place to find authors is in old anthologies such as Amazons!, Heroic Visions, Chicks in Chain Mail, the reworked Fairy Tales series (Snow White, Blood Red and Ruby Slippers, Golden Tears are two such) edited by Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling…ye gods, my library is packed in boxed upstaird and I’m too tired to shove furniture out of the way to get to the books, but you get the idea!

  81. December 7, 2009 at 9:04 pm

    Wow, um, HTML tag fail there…sorry.

    I meant to add this link <a href=""Feminist SF Wiki

  82. December 7, 2009 at 9:05 pm

    omg the shame…someone fix my shite html…please?

    [Done :) – Chally]

  83. December 7, 2009 at 9:21 pm

    Re: Sherwood Smith and Tanith Lee: It’s been a while, and perhaps I’m just misremembering, but I hated their books. (I know I read Crown Duel and the Claidi Journals, possibly more?) I found them hopelessly hackneyed and focused on romance.

    It’s been a while in general since my FSF-reading days, but I have read Philip Reeve’s Mortal Engines books relatively recently, and while I wouldn’t call them feminist in goal, they are full of excellent female characters. (Wren is boring, but Hester, Katherine, Anna, Oenone…) Unfortunately quite heteronormative, and Reeve seems to be determined to pair off all these excellent female characters, but a good series all the same.

    I think my other favorites have already been mentioned.

    …ohwait Gail Carson Levine! If you’ve never read Ella Enchanted but were put off by the film, give the book a chance – they’re nothing alike.

  84. December 7, 2009 at 9:51 pm

    Oh, I have just started on the last Mortal Engines book, A Darkling Plain! Yes, the heteronormativity has been bothering me too, except for that brief shining sentence in Infernal Devices in which it’s mentioned that girls might fall in love with girls and boys with boys, even if the operas don’t show it. But yeah, definitely a great read with great young women characters.

  85. December 7, 2009 at 9:53 pm

    I squeed so much at that line, Chally. :D

  86. December 7, 2009 at 10:34 pm

    Karin Lowachee, who wrote Warchild, Burndive, and Cagebird. Her books feature all males, each with a different perspective in a long-lasting Space War. There are characters of color, and characters who are homosexual, but almost no women.

  87. Literate Shrew
    December 8, 2009 at 12:05 am

    Let me add my voice to the “LOVE THIS THREAD” crowd.

    I’ve been reading scifi/fantasy since I was probably too young to be, stealing books from my dad’s shelves like someone upthread. My dad (way into 70s & 80s scifi) turned me on to Tiptree and Delany. We even read Tiptree’s biography at the same time. (Recommend that one too).

    Don’t really have much to add, but I’m seconding Suzette Haden Elgin and Tanith Lee, in particular. Tanith Lee makes me so happy in my soul. I must have read the “Flat Earth” series a million times.

    Also, as far as modern writers, I’ll second Caitlin R Kiernan (The Red Tree is her newest and it’s fantastic!) and Cathrynne Valente (Palimpsest is amazing!!)

  88. this one
    December 8, 2009 at 12:11 am

    I think someone else mentioned her way upthread, but Elizabeth Hand’s “Waking the Moon” (1995) is a fascinating novel about gendered religions and modern gender politics that I find myself trying to unpack each time I read it. I’m still not sure how I feel about it, and I recommend it for that reason.

  89. December 8, 2009 at 3:33 am

    Neil Gaiman – I read everything of his I can lay my hands on. Right now I’m reading The Sandman, his graphic novel series.

    Terry Pratchett – I cannot heart this man enough. He is one of a kind.

    Kat Richardson – The Greywalker series is great and Harper is a tough, clever, resourceful woman.

    Kim Harrison – The Hollows series features several strong female characters: Rachel Morgan (witch, runner and martial arts butt-kicker); Rachel’s mother (who plays a bigger role later in the series), Ivy Tamwood (living vampire) and Matalina (a pixy – mother of 54 kids and wife to Jenks, who is the third partner in Tamwood, Jenks and Morgan). There are other strong female characters too, who appear as the series progresses.

    Isaac Asimov – He holds a special place in my heart, especially for creating Dr. Susan Calvin, a character he confessed to being a little in love with. Susan Calvin is plain, highly intelligent and no-nonsense. She prefers robots to humans and is the only robo-psychologist in history.

    Mary Doria Russell – The Sparrow and Children of God are two simply amazing books.

    Simon R Green – The Nightside series. John Taylor is the protagonist but a recurring character is Suzie Shooter, who is tough as nails, yet in many ways endearingly fragile when you get close to her (which very few people ever do). Suzie Shooter is a bounty hunter and she always gets her quarry. She is awesome.

  90. December 8, 2009 at 3:53 am

    Thank you for this thread, I’m always on the look out for GOOD sci fi to read!!!!

  91. December 8, 2009 at 4:58 am


    You forgot Simon Greene’s other series, Deathstalker, The Drood Family series, and Hawk and Fisher books. I’m so HAPPY to see another one of his fans out there!

  92. Ellid
    December 8, 2009 at 7:06 am

    More SF and fantasy, this time maybe not explicitly feminist but really, really popular….

    David Weber – yes, Honor Harrington is the ultimate Mary Sue, and yes, Weber is a terrible prose stylist. But these books are incredibly popular so they probably should be mentioned. Even more important for a genre that has more than its share of unconscious misogyny, women and men are depicted as absolutely equal in every way in the dominant society, Manticore, and the dominant antagonistic society, Haven. Even better, a major subplot is Admiral Dame Honor Harrington gradually leading a male-dominated society toward gender equality. The earlier books in the series are much, much better than the later ones.

    JD Robb – again, I know these are pure pulp, and that JD Robb is really Nora Roberts. But there are plenty of strong, well-drawn female characters, and a surprisingly strong feminist undertone. Eve Dallas is a major, major badass, and her struggle to deal with past abuse while still doing her job as the top murder cop in New York is one of the continuing themes in the book. The supporting characters, mainly female, are just as good.

    Suzette Haden Elgin – I tried to read her. I really did. But the basic premise of the Native Tongue series (that women would be completely stripped of their citizenship and legal rights by Constitutional amendment in 1996 – this is books written in the 1980s!) was so unrealistic that I couldn’t get past it. Ditto the first Ozark book, which I disliked intensely for inconsistent world building. I know a lot of people love her books, but they’re not for me, alas :(

    Robert Heinlein – there are some good female characters in the books, like Friday and Hazel Stone, but then you have Podkayne, and the boob joke that starts Number of the Beast, and virtually every single woman associated with Lazarus Long (including his mother, and do not get me started about how Time Enough for Love is this huge long rambling plotless tome that ends with the immortal hero going back in time to sleep with his mother). I read the juveniles and like them, but there are real problems with him IMHO, and his influence on the genre (and much of the time, the politics of the average Joe Trufan), and you have problems.

    Ru Emerson – I haven’t read much of her work, but her first book, Princess of Flames, is fabulous.

    Kit Reed – again, I haven’t read much of her work, but what I’ve read I really enjoyed. “Cynosure” still cracks me up.

    Zenna Henderson – if you haven’t read about the People, you should. Lovely, gentle books with strong female characters and a true sense of religion as love, not punishment. Most were written prior to the Second Wave, but they’re still worth a read.

  93. Sophia
    December 8, 2009 at 7:27 am

    Would second Tanith Lee, Megan Lindholm and Mary Gentle, the latter particularly for the white crow books. I’d also recommend Stephanie Smith, Zena Henderson and Hope Mirrlees, whose Lud-in-the-mist grows ever more influential.
    Speaking as someone who runs one of the largest sf places in europe, I would whole-heartedly recommend anything by Josephine Saxton. A cross between Angela Carter and Borges in terms of playful metaphysics with a style all her own.

  94. December 8, 2009 at 9:46 am

    Whoa, long thread.

    I’m not going to disagree with all the recs I could disagree with cos I’d get bitchy :grin:, but I will just say that I was completely unimpressed with Octavia E. Butler (I only read one of her series though; maybe I’ll read more someday). I tend to find Ursula K. Le Guin’s work to be incredibly one-dimensional and predictable, with the exceptions of The Lathe of Heaven and one of my favorite books ever, the anarchist lit The Dispossessed.

    Someone said that Richard K. Morgan’s “best work is probably Thirteen, followed by Market Forces and his noir series” — I have the exact opposite view, actually … I think Market Forces is his worst book, Thirteen is okay, and Altered Carbon is brilliant. Interested in hearing from anyone who’s read his fantasy book. Also disagree with the commenter who said Paula Volsky’s best is The Grand Ellipse. I was unimpressed, but I do love Illusion.

    Oookay. Now for people I agree about … man, I could go on forever, but I won’t. Supporting votes for Connie Willis (especially Doomsday Book and To Say Nothing of the Dog), Samuel R. Delaney (though I have never met anyone who made it through Dhalgren) and C.J. Cherryh (Cyteen’s her best series, in my opinion — deals with cloning and involves ethics and sexual sadism, what’s not to love?First books is called The Betrayal, I think.)

    Here’s a great post explaining some of what’s sexist about Heinlein.

    I didn’t see anyone warning that China Miéville seems to really like using rapists as central characters in his books … well, he does. Decent writer though.

    Tanith Lee: My favorite author of all time. Be aware, however, that her work is wildly variable — she changes genres and styles with incredible facility. It’s really easy to think you won’t like her based on one book, but then you should try a different one! She has a collection called Dreams of Dark and Light that does a decent job of pulling together some of her stories in different styles. I think her best work is the Flat Earth series, starting with Night’s Master (for the gamers among you, Flat Earth was a major influence on the brilliant White Wolf game Exalted). My personal favorite book of hers is Biting The Sun. I’d be interested in reading a feminist deconstruction of A Heroine of the World (a real, nuanced feminist deconstruction, not a “what? this sucked!”) — I’ve got my own ideas, but I’ll never have time to write them up.

    Okay, I HAVE TO stop now.

  95. BlueRidge
    December 8, 2009 at 10:00 am

    Thanks for this thread! Anyone have any suggestions on great feminist scifi from around the world (beyond US and Canada)? Preferably things originally written in languages other than English?

  96. December 8, 2009 at 10:29 am

    Oh wow, what a list! Several of my favorites have already been mentioned.

    Lynn Flewelling is amazing, with Hidden Warrior being especially interesting from a gender perspective. Tamora Pierce was a childhood favorite and hasn’t really lost her touch when I started re-reading (in the English original, this time) a couple of yaers ago. And Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale is one of my all-time favorites.

    Just recently I started re-reading Marion Zimmer Bradley’s Darkover novels, which always feature strong women and a critique of gender-based discrimination (as well as non-binary gender and quite a number of same-sex relationships). The books are sometimes very obviously rooted in the 70s, especially when it comes to the ‘Amazons’ (who seem to me to mirror some of the women-only radical feminist groups of that era) and MZB’s vision of Earth’s culture as it clashes with Darkovan culture. But the ‘Amazons’ are fully realized in their way of life, no cardboard cut-outs, and the somewhat outdated depiction of a future Earth society isn’t always a drawback, as it makes us consider Western patronizing of cultures we consider “less advanced”.

  97. Katie
    December 8, 2009 at 10:53 am

    Just a warning on Tanith Lee – she’s got quite an Orientalism issue in some of her books.

    My feeling on Heinlein is that his female characters were almost always cyphers. In my reading experience they were either personality-less adjuncts to the male character or they were Female with a capital F and always droning ON and ON about sexual liberation while fucking everyone in sight.

  98. SlackerInc
    December 8, 2009 at 11:07 am

    I guess what grosses me out most in retrospect about having been such a Heinlein fan is his almost Glenn Beck-esque attitude about individualistic “self reliance” had me somewhat convinced for a while as a juvenile reader. He’s not as blatant about it as Rand (who could be?) but it’s there.

    I suppose one could argue that libertarian politics is not inherently anti-feminist, but I don’t know too many women who embrace that kind of viewpoint, which is a good thing in my book as I really detest that Horatio Alger, “pull yourself up by your bootstraps” attitude.

  99. December 8, 2009 at 12:20 pm

    Just a warning on Tanith Lee – she’s got quite an Orientalism issue in some of her books.

    This was one of the other things that bothered me about the books of hers that I read – the exoticism of characters like Argul, etc.

  100. Leizard
    December 8, 2009 at 6:11 pm

    There are a lot of great recommendations here!

    I have one major recommendation to add: Star Wars novels. I just started getting into them, and a lot of the older ones have surprised me with the quality and quantity of female characters. Some of them are awful (anything by Kevin J. Anderson is badly written) but any of the ones by Timothy Zahn or Aaron Allston are really great. I’d especially recommend Timothy Zahn’s “Hand of Thrawn” trilogy, and the X-wing series, by a variety of authors.

  101. December 8, 2009 at 7:14 pm

    Tiptree has been mentioned quite a bit, but I don’t think anyone has recommended “Houston, Houston, Do You Read?” specifically. I remember reading it for the first time; it blew my mind. It terrified me. It was… seeing masculinity exposed as useless, funny if it wasn’t so pathetic, and just plain obsolete. Maybe I only saw it that way because I was reading it as a recently-post-adolescent boy. Regardless, it changed me. So, so worth reading.

    I’ve read some of the other recommended works on this page (“The Left Hand of Darkness”, “The Handmaid’s Tale”, “A Game of You”), but that short story was what hit me the hardest.

  102. tomorrowshorizon
    December 8, 2009 at 8:59 pm

    I second octavia e butler, lyn flewelling, anne bishop, tamora pierce, garth nix, patricia wrede, neild gaiman, and terry pratchett.

    I also think the Kushiel’s Legacy series by Jaqueline Carey is feminist. Set in a cleverly constructed alternate universe based on actual world history, it’s the story of a young woman born into indentured servitude who rises to become one of the nation’s heroes (having tons of badass adventures and growing from an ignorant and self-absorbed young girl into a knowledgeable, powerful advocate for justice). The main religion followed by the characters has one basic rule: “Thou shalt love as thou wilt.” Positions of nobility are not linked to sex, and women’s sexual desire is praised as honoring the goddess Naamah. Prostitution has been reconfigured as a holy service performed by both sexes, and people are free to act on their desires regardless of whether the object of their desire is the same sex or the opposite sex (instead of heteronormativity, this world operates on a modified bi-normativity – everyone is assumed to desire both sexes unless their sexual history indicates a preference for a particular sex, and even then people sometimes fall for a person of the sex they’re not typically attracted to). However, this world is not inhabited be perfect people. There’s plenty of treachery, scheming, manipulation, warfare, and quests to keep the pages turning. It’s a fantastic series. Warning: It’s definitely an adult series, and has a heavy S&M theme. Trigger warning from the third book on – several characters have to cope with horrific sexual abuse.

  103. Jessica
    December 8, 2009 at 9:17 pm

    Yes Yes Yes! to Joan Slonczewski. Not only is she an awesome writer, she was my teacher in college, and was super cool.

  104. Jessica
    December 8, 2009 at 9:18 pm

    Margaret Atwoods Oryx and Crake and Year of the Flood certainly qualify as science fiction. And are fantastic.

  105. TARDIS_stowaway
    December 8, 2009 at 10:47 pm

    This thread is amazing! I’ll be bookmarking and coming back often. I’m an occasional lurker here, but this thread has brought me out of the woodwork to recommend:

    -Tanya Huff’s Blood series. This series proves that light fantasy reading involving vampires doesn’t have to make you want to throw the book across the room in feminist rage. It’s got a strongwilled, fully-developed female protagonist, a bisexual vampire who earns his living writing romance novels, humor as well as horror, and page-turning plots. Though written years before the current vampire romance craze, this series critically examines some of the conventions of the genre without losing its sense of fun.

    Kissing the Witch by Emma Donoghue. This is a collection of retold fairytales focusing on women and the various relationships between them. The writing is gorgeous and the way she illuminates old tales is fascinating. The presence of this book in this thread is debatable, since Donoghue removes or downplays the magical elements of the tales, but I think fans of fantasy will still enjoy it.

    -Gwyneth Jone’s Bold as Love series got a brief mention upthread, but I want to put in an extra word for these provocative and original books. They’re set in a near-future England where society is in the midst of collapse politically, socially, and environmentally, and a group of rock musicians ends up sort of running the country. Sounds goofy, but this is heavy stuff. Fiorinda, one of the triumvirate of main characters, makes a lot of sarcastic and/or thoughtful statements about objectification (as a rock star and a woman) and maintaining a safe and equal role for women in a society that is drifting toward a pre-industrial state. Hard to find in the US, but totally worth seeking out.

  106. December 9, 2009 at 12:39 am

    grendelkhan: I found “Houston” disturbing, and someday I’ll have to go back and pinpoint everything that made it so for me.

    I wanted to thank you all again for building this amazing thread. :)

  107. Casey
    December 9, 2009 at 1:05 am

    Wow, reading through this has been a huge relief – some of my favorite sci fi books are written by men, but this has made me realize that when I really think about it, the ones that really changed me were written by women.

    Yesyesyes to Nancy Kress – I found her short story Beggars in Spain tucked away in a Dozois anthology and then discovered it was a BOOK and a SERIES – swoon. So amazing.

    Madeline l’Engle’s books were very important to middle-school me, and I continue to re-read and recommend them to this day.

    Robert Heinlein, I’m sorry. He’s my man. His works (minus Poddy and Friday and WTF I Will Fear No Evil) totally set the groundwork for me becoming the fearless, sexual young lady that I am. Yeah, there’s some sexism. Yeah, his ladies like babies. But if you read past the surface, those same ladies are running the entire show and do whatever they like. And whoever.

    If you love yourself some Heinlein but can’t stand the sexism, Spider Robinson is basically Feminist Heinlein and he’s fantastic. I can’t recommend him more, I loved Stardancer, Time Pressure, allll of his bar tales, everything.

    No love for Jacqueline Carey & Kushiel’s Dart series? Sad. So sexy and delightful and full of PLOT and omg excellent writing (and OMG sex! like, the wonderful kind). Just watch out for the 3rd book, it’s not happy. It’s horrifying and triggery. You can skip it, it’s ok, story-continuity-wise.

  108. Ellid
    December 9, 2009 at 7:06 am

    I used to like Marion Zimmer Bradley a lot. But I don’t think she was nearly as feminist as people seem to think she is; she wrote a letter to SF Review, an popular fanzine, where she claimed that “her next book [Darkover Landfall, which features forced pregnancy and rape] will really stick it to the Women’s Libbers!” which is scarcely what a feminist would write. I also was less than pleased by the Free Amazons being uncomfortably close to a parody of the Furies, an early lesbian separatist collective, especially in their consciousness-raising/re-education sessions and their rejection of male children.

    What really ruined the books for me, though, was when I found out that Bradley’s husband, Walter Breen, was an early advocate of what they used to call “boy love.” That’s right: he believed in adult men having sex with young boys. He was banned from several science fiction conventions because of allegations that he molested children at the cons, and died in jail after being convicted of pedophilia. Bradley not only had known throughout his molestation career, but had supported him financially even after they separated, up until he went to jail. There are also allegations that Bradley herself joined in the molestation, including some very ugly incidents with her own children. She was never convicted, but it was an open secret in SF fandom, at least among older fans.

    I haven’t been able to bring myself to replace my old copies or reread the books since. I hate this, since I loved a lot of her books (Two to Conquer has a very strong, sincere feminist theme, which shows that she did learn from her early writing), but finding out what Walter Breen did, and that at very least she knew about it and did nothing, was more than I could take.

  109. Nell
    December 9, 2009 at 8:53 am

    I don’t see Elizabeth Bear mentioned – I really enjoy her SF (not so much her fantasy, couldn’t say why exactly. Well, of course, there is Racefail ’09, but I didn’t like them before that, so….).

    Nonetheless, Bear has a really cool, strong middle aged female hero in her three-book Jenny Casey series (Hammered, Scardown, Worldwired), and interesting exploration of gender and relationships two stand alone SFs.

  110. December 9, 2009 at 9:41 am

    @ Karak

    I didn’t forget the other series – I just haven’t read them yet. :-)

    And yay for being a Simon R Green fan too!

  111. P.T. Smith
    December 9, 2009 at 9:47 am

    Okay, I ended up getting to this thread wayyy too late to actually read through, but I just wanted to say that I’m really really happy knowing it is here.

    I love SF, but haven’t read a ton. In fact, a good portion of what I’ve read is actually on this list (I did skim) because of a sweet prof in college. With this thread, when I finally get down to binging on SF (all my reading comes in binges), I can include solid feminist writers from the start instead of trying to correct that lapse later. Awesome. Thanks.

  112. December 9, 2009 at 10:36 am

    I feel the need to mention some Melissa Scott. Though the worlds she writes in are not especially feminist, she writes strong female, often queer leads in compelling settings that have been a great love of mine for a long time.

    I’m particularly fond of Trouble and Her Friends (classic Cyberpunk), The Roads of Heaven Trilogy (first book is ‘silence in solitude’) and Shadow Man, which isn’t the most perfect writing about gender, but is up there with The Left Hand of Darkness.

    I must also add a ‘Me Too!’ to the recommendation for the Kushiel books, the Nancy Kreiss and the Sheri S Tepper :).

  113. Tlönista
    December 9, 2009 at 12:36 pm

    @Clarisse Thorn: I made it through Dhalgren! And, if you know how it ends—it ties the book together. I had difficulty with Stars In My Pocket Like Grains of Sand, though.

    @Ishtar: The Sparrow makes me want to write a thesis—there is so much complicated and problematic and amazing stuff in it. I do give Russell credit for making the Obligatory Space Jew™ Sephardic!

    (Don’t get me started on Space Jews. That’s another thesis.)

  114. December 9, 2009 at 2:56 pm

    @Atheling, re: Neil Gaiman’s A Game of You – i’ve actually heard a lot of frustration at the fact that the trans character in that storyline wasn’t able to be a ‘true’ woman until after death.

    i’d totally echo the recommendations of octavia butler, nalo hopkinson, some ursula k leguin, tamora pierce. especially butler’s lillith’s brood series, which i recently reread. and hopkinson’s brown girl in the ring.

    also, i didn’t see anyone mention larissa lai, but i would definitely recommend her: salt fish girl is more in the realm of sci-fi/specfic, but when fox is a thousand is totally beautiful & engrossing.

    i’m definitely bookmarking this thread for future reference/library building.

  115. Alara Rogers
    December 9, 2009 at 4:58 pm

    i’ve actually heard a lot of frustration at the fact that the trans character in that storyline wasn’t able to be a ‘true’ woman until after death.

    I didn’t see that. What I saw was that Wanda’s soul was always female; once freed from the constraint of a physical body that had been born male, she was who she had always been. it wasn’t like she magically turned into a real girl because she was dead; it was that she had *always* been a real girl, but you couldn’t see it while she was tied to a physical body that was masculinized.

    Wanda was treated by the author and by the main characters of the story as a woman all throughout the story; the ending where her biological family treats her as a man at her funeral was intended to be awful, and the main character interpreted it as such, which was why she crossed out Wanda’s birthname on her tombstone and wrote “Wanda” in lipstick. I’m really not sure what more Gaiman could have done; if Wanda had been physiologically female while she had a physical body, she wouldn’t have been a transwoman, she’d have been a ciswoman. I didn’t get a “pinocchio turns into a real boy” vibe from the vision of her with Death at all, but the sense that the main character (whose name I forget) was finally able to see her as she truly was, without her body getting in the way.

    As for recommendations:

    I thought I had posted this already but now I can’t find it, so maybe I never hit submit. Esther Friesner, mostly known for her humorous fiction, did a pair of serious and very dark novels called “The Psalms of Herod” and “The Sword of Mary”. They basically describe a dystopian future where some change has taken place to make humanity more like gorillas (specifically, that we have become estrual rather than menstrual), and the intersection set of that change with the existing patriarchy was horrific. The story contains sexual violence, violence against gays and lesbians, and the murder of babies (that last used to trigger me when I was pregnant and when my children were very little, so I add that warning for those who like me might need it). But overall it is hopeful.

    Also, I am fond of the Marla Mason series by T. A. Pratt (whose gender I do not know.) The “hidden world” of magic users is completely sexually egalitarian; the main character, Marla, is the chief magician of Felport (which is sort of like Baltimore, or maybe Detroit), and in the first book, “Blood Engines”, she’s on a quest to find a magic item that can save her from a female rival who is trying to kill her to take over the city. At no point does she ever compete with another woman for a man, and while the second book includes a romance as a plot point, it isn’t *the* point of the book — the romantic relationship moves the plot rather than the other way around. Marla’s sidekick Rondeau is bisexual, and there’s a significant number of gay people in the books. Marla herself isn’t a particularly likeable person, but is a very enjoyable character (she’s a badass with somewhat questionable morals, but absolute loyalty to and dedication to her city, and a lot of loyalty to the people who work for her.) The second book has a character who was raped, so sexual violence becomes a plot point of that book, but Marla herself is never threatened with sexual violence (just lots of the non-sexual kind, but she dishes out that kind pretty freely herself.)

    “Black and White” by Caitlin Kittredge and Jaclyn Smith (I think, blanking on the last name of the second author) is a superhero novel about two superpowered women who were best friends at a superhero academy, but one grew up to become a villain. (She has powers over light. Her old best friend and now nemesis, the city’s hero, has powers over dark. It’s nifty.) It doesn’t exactly paint itself blue and declare itself feminist, but the fact that there are two women as main characters, who used to be best friends, who are now enemies because of differing ideologies, neither of whom are dressed in ridiculously skimpy clothes despite the fact that this is a superhero story, is feminist enough for me.

    I agree with most of the recommendations above, except for Nancy Kress, whose “Beggars In Spain” is essentially Ayn Rand better written. The “Sleepless” are an entire race of Mary Sues (they’re genetically engineered not to need sleep, from which Kress gets, somehow, that they are hard-nosed, practical, logical people, devoid of superstitition, who are nonetheless just as creative, imaginative, and risk-taking as normal people, oh, and THEY’RE IMMORTAL.) The business with the “donkeys” supporting a world population on welfare is not even trying to disguise an anti-social justice agenda, and the notion that the vastly superior and very intelligent and rich-because-they’re-just-so-great Sleepless, who are of course persecuted by humanity because they’re so superior, could have successfully built themselves a space station to hover above the Earth, detached from its problems, may be beautifully symbolic but makes no goddamn sense because a space station would need to resupply from Earth *constantly*. I’d have an easier time believing they colonized Mars.

  116. Adrian
    December 9, 2009 at 6:45 pm

    Now I’m remembering other books. I highly recommend Poison Study (and it’s sequels in the trilogy, Magic Study and Fire Study, although I haven’t read Fire Study yet). Strong female characters, and something I can’t mention without revealing something. Also, everyone should read The Color of Distance. It’s not specifically feminist (nothing I’ve recommended is, actually) but women and men are not considered at all unequal by either the society or the narrator. And its’ really good. Yeah, I forget who wrote any of these books.

    My mother read Dealing with Dragons to me as a bedtime story, so I always think of it as a children’s book, even though it would generally be (correctly) classified as young adult or just plain adult.

  117. December 9, 2009 at 11:12 pm

    I feel the need to mention some Melissa Scott. Though the worlds she writes in are not especially feminist, she writes strong female, often queer leads in compelling settings that have been a great love of mine for a long time.

    OMG how could I forget her? Her Pointsman books with Lisa Barnett (lead characters are male, but one is gay and one is bi, and there are cool queer and female supporting characters, fat positivity, and lest we forget, excellent plotting and brilliant worldbuilding) are some of my favorites.

    I thought I had posted this already but now I can’t find it, so maybe I never hit submit. Esther Friesner, mostly known for her humorous fiction, did a pair of serious and very dark novels called “The Psalms of Herod” and “The Sword of Mary”.

    I’ve only read some of her short stories (“The Beau and the Beast” and “Helen Remembers the Stork Club,” if I remember the titles correctly) and they were amazing – thanks for the rec!

  118. Glauke
    December 10, 2009 at 6:04 am

    @BlueRidge: the feminist sf wiki also lists a number of non-anglo writers. Link:


    Also, loving this thread.

  119. Maggie
    December 10, 2009 at 8:28 am

    Oh, I forgot to mention, Alan Moore’s League of Extraodrinary Gentleman is great. It’s set in a modified Victorian era and doesn’t gloss over historically accurate attitudes to women from characters but neither does it imply that the characters are right, and although there is sadly only one major female character she’s pretty badass (for anybody that’s read it, the scene with the invisible man and the bucket of milk is my favourite!) Alan Moore hasn’t been a perfect feminist writer, but he’s never been stupidly or maliciously sexist and even his mistakes are interesting.

    PS hello to the other Maggie in this thread! I’m the first Maggie :P

  120. Adrian
    December 10, 2009 at 3:28 pm

    Ooh, I hope League of Extraordinary Gentleman was a better book than movie.

  121. December 10, 2009 at 8:47 pm

    @Adrian: The book is significantly different – the film took out major characters, added new ones, and used a different plot.

  122. December 11, 2009 at 1:46 am

    @ Adrian and Rebecca

    I recently read the first volume of the graphic novel of The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. I rather enjoyed it.

  123. Glauke
    December 11, 2009 at 3:19 am

    Great, I’ve always been a bit reluctant over The League. I’ll go read it now!

    Oh, and Ishtar, I checked your blog at Open Salon. I think replying to that email was both courageous and right. Happy human rights day :))

  124. Deborah Judge
    December 11, 2009 at 9:43 am

    Kim Stanley Robinson’s ‘Years of Rice and Salt’ has protagonists who all reincarnate and are sometimes male and sometimes female but always recognizably the same people – and they’re just as powerful when female as when male. Also, all the characters change national origin in each incarnation but are always nonwhite (since the premise of the book is that all the Europeans were wiped out in the Black Death – and the world gets on fine without them). Robinson also has good strong female characters in his Mars series. One of the things I very much like about Robinson’s female characters is he writes them as politicians and scientists at appropriate ages to be accomplished in these fields, so he has many good female characters who are older than forty.

  125. Sacha
    December 11, 2009 at 12:37 pm

    Terry Pratchett’s earlier writing is definitely better quality that anything in the last five years. I really didn’t enjoy Monstrous Regiment, but I loved reading about the Lancre witches when I was a teenager.

    I’ve always enjoyed Neal Stephenson’s writing. I find his female characters to be believable and vibrant. I love that he isn’t afraid to touch on female sexuality, for which I forgive his massive technical exposition in pretty much all his books. Continuing the cyberpunk vein, I do love William Gibson and in particular the Sprawl trilogy. I really enjoyed the character of Molly Millions.

    Can’t believe no one has mentioned The Ballad of Halo Jones by Alan Moore.

  126. shah8
    December 11, 2009 at 9:55 pm

    Peter Watts, one of the better hard sci-fi guys around, was beaten and arrested on the 9nth by US Border Patrol. He need legal aid if possible…

  127. December 11, 2009 at 10:53 pm

    @Sacha: Ahhhhh yes Neal Stephenson! I’ve only read the Baroque Cycle so I wasn’t going to mention him in this thread, but I love his books.

  128. Annie O.
    December 12, 2009 at 4:13 am

    I realize opinions can differ, but I wouldn’t recommend Neal Stephenson to anyone looking for feminist sci fi. I know I’m not the only woman who’s found his female characters really off-putting. Engaging female child character who loses all personality when the narrative jumps to her adulthood, spy being used for blowjobs, women we’re told are smart & strong but whose actions seem irrational and plot-convenient, woman shrugging off rape by meditating while it’s happening? Proceed with caution.

  129. Sacha
    December 12, 2009 at 11:50 am

    @AnnieO. I take it you’re referring to The Diamond Age? It’s not my favourite of his, mostly because I didn’t like the setting of it. I can’t remember enough of the plot to address specifics, but generally I didn’t feel that the protagonist’s reactions were plot convenient. From what I remember of the rape scene, the protagonist was bound, unable to fight back and I thought her reaction was at least consistent with the type of person she was presented as being.

  130. Annie O.
    December 12, 2009 at 2:40 pm

    Sacha — the examples are from various books. Yes, the rape is from _Diamond Age_. The plot-convenience is more _Snow Crash_, although there’s an additional example I can’t recall at present. I don’t want to sidetrack this thread by arguing back and forth about him. The point of my comment was just registering dissent about Stephenson being recommended on a feminist SF thread. He has many good points, but his gender depictions have been roundly criticized, even recently, after he’s had a chance to assimilate the criticism and act accordingly. I just think new readers shouldn’t come to his work expecting feminism.

  131. Sacha
    December 12, 2009 at 2:57 pm

    I really disagree with the plot convenience YT of Snow Crash. I think that was a well-rounded teenage character, and I was really pleased that he addressed the fact that she has a sex life. His writing isn’t perfect by a long way (more massive chunks of exposition anyone?), but I do like that there are believable female characters in his book.

    Obviously you’ve the right to disagree, and it’s the debate that makes things interesting.

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