Despite the fact that Mary Shelley invented the genre, there are many misguided notions that men are superior writers of sci-fi and fantasy novels. Don’t get me wrong, I respect and enjoy many of the amazingly detailed and insightful worlds that men have written, especially those of Gaiman, Sanderson, and Delany.
However, to state that this field of literature is a man’s genre is not only sexist but wholly inaccurate. While not an exhaustive list by any means, below are some of the most influential and groundbreaking female writers of science fiction and fantasy literature.
Ursula K. Le Guin
You can’t crush ideas by suppressing them. You can only crush them by ignoring them. By refusing to think, refusing to change.Le Guin, Dispossessed
Le Guin took to the pen to write speculative worlds with reality in mind. She wrote about cultural and social issues within the pages of her many sci-fi and fantasy novels, opening the door for many of her fellow female writers on this list. Her awards and honors are too great to list here, but you can click here to view them in their entirety.
Some of the achievements that do need addressing: she is the 6th recipient, 1st woman, of the Gandalf Grand Master Award for lifetime achievement in the field of fantasy writing by the World Science Fiction Society; and, she was named a Grand Master in 2002 by the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America. The Dispossessed is a science fiction novel that alludes to the political and economic ideals of Russia and the US, communism, and capitalism through the fictional politically separated worlds of Urras and Anarres.
Octavia E. Butler
She means it doesn’t come off, Dana… The black. She means the devil with people who say you’re anything but what you are.Octavia Butler, Kindred
The first black female sci-fi writer, Octavia Butler broke down barriers with the 1976 publication of Patternmaster. However, it was her 1979 publication, Kindred, that solidified Butler as a master of the genre and someone to keep an eye out for. Butler included civil rights, slavery, feminist, and racial narratives in her novels in a way that was unheard of prior. She was the first woman to receive the MacArthur Fellowship in 1995 and in 2010 she was posthumously inducted into the Science Fiction Hall of Fame.
It’s strange. When I couldn’t find the drop and the plague came, you seemed so far away I would not ever be able to find you again. But I know now that you were here all along, and that nothing, not the Black Death nor seven hundred years, nor death nor things to come nor any other creature could ever separate me from your caring and concern. It was with me every minute.Connie Willis, Doomsday Book
Checking the awards and achievement boxes in sci-fi and fantasy, Connie Willis has won Nebula’s, Hugo’s, and Arthur C. Clarke awards; she is a Science Fiction Hall of Fame inductee and an SFWA Grand Master. Leading the pack in time travel, Willis’ Oxford Time Travel Duology is a masterwork of innovation, research, and historical record. Book two, Doomsday Book, is an emotionally charged novel that encompasses the dichotomy of good and evil against hope and despair.
Living was struggling to do something impossible—to succeed, or die, knowing you had tried!Anne McCaffrey, Dragonflight
Anne McCaffrey stands first in many achievements for women in the sci-fi and fantasy world. She was the first woman to win a Hugo for Weyr Search in 1968. McCaffrey was the first woman to win a Nebula award in 1969 for Dragonrider, and her novel the White Dragon was the first science fiction novel to make the New York Times Best Seller list.
Her stories blur the lines of sci-fi and fantasy, the adventures illustrious with well-researched science, and a tinge of romance for her strong heroines. This SFWA Grand Master and Sci-Fi Fantasy Hall of Famer’s Dragon Writers of Pern series is 25 books long, representing less than 25% of her catalog of works.
What are gods for, then, if they let things like this to happen to their people?Nalo Hopkinson, The Salt Roads
Her debut novel Brown Girl in the Ring is sheer brilliance written down. Jamaican culture/religion, dystopian society, female strength… what more could you want?
Hopkinson’s The Salt Roads interweaves the lives of diverse women from various countries which includes themes of LGBTQ relationships, religion, and magical realism. Her innovative narratives earned her many accolades and awards, including the Damon Knight Grand Master award for lifetime achievement in Science Fiction and Fantasy; an award for which she is the first woman of color and the youngest recipient.
My father said that my curiosity was the last obstacle I had to overcome to be a true master harmonizer. If there was one thing my father and I disagreed on, it was that; I believed I could only be great if I were curious enough to seek greatness.Nnedi Okorafor, Binti
Credited as originating the literary term “Afrofuturism,” Nnedi Okorafor has done incredible work in bringing Nigerian culture into the science fiction and fantasy genre. Works such as Binti, Akata Witch, and Who Fears Death have won numerous Hugo, Nebula, and Locus Awards among many others. In 2011, her novel, Who Fears Death, won the World Fantasy Award. Her works often include heavy social and political issues, namely racial and gender inequality, political violence, the destruction of the environment, genocide, and corruption.
We are under no illusions that statistically, the science fiction and fantasy genres are mostly written by men. It’s the false narrative that due to the statistics of male publications, it, therefore, must not be a genre that women can write well, that leaves a sour taste in our mouths.
Innovative and imaginative, women write sci-fi and fantasy often to explore social and political issues, to have a heroine represented in a more realistic way by someone intimately familiar with her nuances, and to create worlds the like of which have yet to be explored.
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