Female voices in science fiction and fantasy: a reading list
We don’t need much of an excuse to read and celebrate the incredible female voices in sci-fi and fantasy, but International Women’s Day is the perfect moment to stop and reflect on some of the newest and most enduring of them.
A quick caveat: this is a snapshot, not an exhaustive list. Such a thing would be impossible. Please celebrate any of your favourite authors with us on the Tor UK Twitter!
Ursula K. Le Guin
We lost Ursula Le Guin this year. Hopefully the upside of such tragic news is even more readers, new and old, diving into her tender and thought-provoking fiction – from the magic-rich archipelago of The Earthsea Quartet to the 'Utopian' moral conundrums of The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas.
Le Guin also left her mark on non-fiction, including Steering The Craft, her workbook and meditation on writing itself, and her poetic interpretation of the Tao Te Ching. Few have done as much for the craft, and for the people engaging in it, as she.
A prolific and inarguably genre-defining fantasist. Robin Hobb's Realm of the Elderlings is an enduring triumph of world-building, with no fewer than five relatively self-contained trilogies set within it, three of which explore the stories of the truly iconic Fitz and The Fool.
Hobb is a modern master of emotional characterisation, political intrigue, and plots of the densest weave. She shows no signs of stopping anytime soon.
Octavia Butler was the first sci-fi author to be awarded the Arthur Fellowship 'Genius Grant' Award in 1995. This was no doubt due to her eerily prescient themes of hybrid human societies and environmental concerns, but her gripping characters and pacing certainly can't have hurt either. An inspiring author to this day, and one who overcame huge societal hurdles (she was a woman, in LA, in the 50s) to help knit the fabric of the genre.
The recent TV adaptation of The Handmaid’s Tale has catapulted Atwood into the consciousness of many, without them realising it, which is fitting given the extent of her influence in general. In fact, Atwood is a genre-blurring pioneer, calling her own MaddAddam trilogy ‘speculative fiction’. Just like the dystopia of The Handmaid’s Tale, this is the massively decorated author’s finest skill: showing us gripping, grim alternative futures held together by nothing that doesn’t actually exist in today’s world.
New Voices in Science Fiction and Fantasy
There is an embarrassment of riches when it comes to contemporary, female-identifying SFF – maybe even a burgeoning golden age.
Just take, for example:
Ann Leckie’s tales of a galaxy-spanning empire run by a malfunctioning hive mind in her Imperial Radch books; Nnedi Okorafor’s pithy, earthy and whip-smart protagonist Binti; the genre-bending and parallel universe travelling exploits of Genevieve Cogman’s Invisible Library series; the fantastic world of Molly Flatt's debut novel The Charmed Life of Alex Moore; the inventive magic systems and rollicking action of Lucy Hounsom’s The Worldmaker trilogy and Susan Dennard's The Witchlands series; the intense cyberpunk of Shattered Minds and False Hearts by Laura Lam; and the alternative-modern day dystopia of Vic James' Dark Gifts trilogy.
And that's to say (nearly) nothing of Kameron Hurley, N.K Jemisin, Becky Chambers, Naomi Novik and many more – whose incredible characters, themes and authorial voices will no doubt continue to stand out more clearly than ever.