Women are often overlooked as lovers of sci-fi worlds, but it just isn’t true. Sci-fi most certainly does not discriminate (it’s the people that do). Ask around and you will find women who both love and hate sci-fi- similarly, you will find that men both love and hate sci-fi. There are loads of awesome feminists characters in the sci-fi world; Lieutenant Nyota Uhura from Stark Trek, Ripley from the entire Alien series, and Sarah Connor from Terminator are some of the most well known ladies. But those are all from the big (or small) screen.
It’s nice to know that there’s a plethora of feminist sci-fi books, featuring strong women, alternate universes, crazy technology, and the exploration of sexuality. And their all just waiting for your eager mind! Note- These books are not just for women- they’re for any sci-fi lover!
The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood
Anyone who has ever heard of feminist sci-fi probably thinks of Atwood’s dystopian A Handmaid’s Tale. This work of speculative-science-fiction is a frightening warning that religious tyranny which limits and controls the freedom of women is deleterious to all, regardless of sex. This book has everything we fear of government: censorship, kidnapping, religious persecution, and the enslavement of women. While that’s all freaky on its own, what is perhaps most frightening about The Handmaid’s Tale is that it is shockingly relatable.
Sultana’s Dream: A Feminist Utopia by Rokeya Sakhawat Hossain
Not all feminist sci-fi is dystopian (there are more of each to come). Written in 1905 by Hossain, a Muslim woman growing up in a conservative family in India, Sultana’s Dream is arguably one of the first pieces of feminist sci-fi out there. In her Utopian dreams, the protagonist, a female, enters a world where women are in power and men take on traditional roles usually assigned to women. There’s awesome sci-fi elements, like technology that can control the weather (created by women), but what’s truly outstanding about Hossain’s novel is the way she picks apart gender norms with simplicity, showing how counter-intuitive they are by nature.
The Parable of the Sower by Octavia Butler
A list of feminist or sci-fi novels would not be complete with something from Octavia Butler. In true Butler fashion, Parable of Sower tackles preconceived gender roles and ideas of race. The equally frightening and enlightening story follows a fearless, highly intelligent woman, Lauren Olamina, through America after an environmental and economic disaster. Despite the fear of humanity’s fate in a seemingly hapless world, Olamina rises as the bravest person, let alone woman, in post-apocalytic America.
The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula Le Guin
As one of the first of its kind, The Left Hand of Darkness is an extremely important book in feminist science fiction. The book is a brilliant exploration of gender and sexuality by imagining a world of androgynous people who can choose their gendered features whenever they please. The protagonist, a man named Genly Ai, is forced to put aside his views of gender in order to understand, and be accepted in, this foreign society. After reading Le Guin’s novel you will understand why the book won a Nebula and Hugo Award.
Salt Fish Girl by Larissa Lai
The title of this bizarre yet entrancing sci-fi book is quite telling. Salt Fish Girl is about an ageless girl who can change forms- from woman to snake to fish. In each form, she must fight for her survival while experiencing the wonders of her worlds (from love to biotech terrors). Lai tackles issues of gendered violence as well as immigration, with a mix of Chinese mythology, the complexity of fitting in to a white patriarchal society, and fantasy.
Herland by Charlotte Perkins Gilman
Gilman is perhaps best known for her chilling short story The Yellow Wallpaper, but her feminist commentary did not stop there. Herland takes place in an isolated, Utopian all-female world where the women reproduce through parthenogenesis (a form of asexual reproduction). Three male explorers discover this advanced, peaceful society, and must come to terms with their pre-existing beliefs about women’s roles and how wrong they are about a woman’s worth and abilities.
The Female Man by Joanna Russ
Russ wrote a classic feminist sci-fi tale that has continued to influence sci-fi writers across the board. She does a fantastic job of lifting the thin veil of superstition that covers people’s notion of gender, comparing it against what it really means to be a woman (or human for that matter). Four women, alternative versions of their selves, from four distinctly different worlds grapple to understand each other’s notion of womanhood. They are forced, as is the reader, to evaluate their own identity and the identity society bestowed upon them.
Octavia’s Brood: Science Fiction Stories from Social Justice Movements by Walidah Imarisha and Adrienne Maree Brown
Octavia Butler was a visionary author who specialized in feminist sci-fi, consequently influencing hundreds of authors to come (hence the title, paying homage to Butler’s trilogy Lilith’s Brood). Editors Walidah Imarisha and Adrienne Maree Brown partnered to compile an excellent anthology of short science fiction stories from contemporary writers who explore issues of sex, sexuality, race, and class through the lens of speculative fiction, magical realism, and more!
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