Women in genre


Following excellent posts by Nicola Griffith and Cheryl Morgan on Women’s invisibility (if you missed the twitter storm, this started off as a Guardian article asking people to name their favorite SF–which mentioned more than 500 books in the comments, out of which only 18 women…), it’s high time I play my part in redressing the balance…

Part of the problem, as Cheryl and Nicola both point out, is that best-of lists tend to be made by men, and that it’s been proved that while women will read men and women equally, men tend to read and remember men (and women tend not to volunteer for voting or for making such lists in the first place). So it’s a vicious circle in which men continue to predominate on awards lists, and to be enshrined in history while women mostly slip by the wayside.

Accordingly, I’m making my list of favorite novels written by women. Pretty much no criteria (I’m no good at Golden Age SF, since the only authors in that batch I read were Asimov and Zelazny; and I came very late to fantasy): only that I read and enjoyed the book. Here you go, my recs:

Dust, Chill and Grail, Elizabeth Bear
Moxyland, Lauren Beukes
Miles Vorkosigan series, Lois McMaster Bujold
Golden Witchbreed, Mary Gentle
The Dispossessed, Ursula Le Guin
China Mountain Zhang, Maureen McHugh
The Sparrow, Mary Doria Russell
The Snow Queen, Joan Vinge
Empire of Bones, Liz Williams

The Mists of Avalon, Marion Zimmer Bradley (as Kari Sperring points out, the history in this one is rubbish. Nevertheless, as a revisionist version of a well-known myth from a female POV, it’s definitely seminal)
The Dark is Rising, Susan Cooper
Crown of Stars series, Kate Elliott
Tamir trilogy by Lynn Flewelling
Ash, Mary Gentle
The Liveship Traders, Robin Hobb
Fire and Hemlock, Diana Wynne Jones
Swordspoint, Ellen Kushner
Cyrion, Tanith Lee
The Book of Atrix Wolfe, Patricia McKillip

What about you? What are your favorite genre books written by women? Feel free to make your own list! (whether you’re a woman or not, BTW. We need more people celebrating women in the genre)

ETA: additions suggested in comments:

Virtual Death, Shale Aaron
Happy Policeman and Brother Termite, Patricia Anthony
Catherine Asaro
Oryx and Crake, Margaret Atwood
All the Windwracked Stars and sequels, Elizabeth Bear
The Darkover series, Marion Zimmer Bradley
Parable of the Sower, Octavia Butler (and other books)
Cyteen, C. J. Cherryh (and other books)
The Hunger Games trilogy, Suzanne Collins
The Mount, Carol Emshwiller
Sarah Canery, Karen Joy Fowler
C.S. Freidman
Slow River, Nicola Griffith
God’s War, Kameron Hurley
The Lathe of Heaven, Ursula K. Le Guin
The Left Hand of Darkness, Ursula K. Le Guin
Lear’s Daughters duology, Marjorie Bradley Kellogg
Nancy Kress
A Different Light, Elizabeth Lynn
Dragonriders of Pern, The Talent series, Anne McCaffrey
The Speed of Dark, Elizabeth Moon
The Healer’s War, Elizabeth Ann Scarborough
Virtual Girl, Amy Thompson
Star of the Guardians, Margaret Weis
Uncharted Territory, Connie Willis
Looking for the Mahdi, N Lee Wood

Blood and Iron and sequels, Elizabeth Bear
The Curse of Chalion, Lois McMaster Bujold
Santa Olivia, Jacqueline Carey
Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell, Susannah Clarke
Deverry series, Katherine Kerr
The Farseer trilogy, Robin Hobb
The Fox Woman, Kij Johnson
His Majesty’s Dragon, Naomi Novik
The Earthsea Cycle, Ursula Le Guin
Lavinia, Ursula Le Guin
Magic for Beginners, Kelly Link
The Riddle-Master trilogy, Patricia McKillip
The Folding Knife, KJ Parker (assuming KJ Parker is indeed a woman)
The Orphan’s Tales, Catherynne Valente
Lolly Willowes, Sylvia Townsend Warner


  1. Not sure I can narrow things down to a book, but here are a couple of other female genre authors I love:

    Nancy Kress
    Octavia E. Butler

  2. I’ve fallen behind, but it used to be that I voraciously devoured everything C.J. Cherryh wrote. I never managed to get into the Faded Sun trilogy, but I adored the Morgaine books, the Chanur series, Cyteen, and Downbelow Station. Still do.

    Speaking of Nicola Griffith, I love her Slow River. Octavia Butler is one of my favorites too and I especially love Parable of the Sower. Susanna Clarke’s Jonathan Strange. On the fantasy side, Kelly Link’s Magic for Beginners. I love Mary Gentle’s Ash as well.

    There must be more…

  3. I’d only add that nearly anything by C.J. Cherryh (who writes both fantasy and SF) to the list.

  4. C. J. Cherryh, Cyteen (I read that book in french something like fifteen years ago – at least -, loved it, forgot it, remembered the feeling of it a few years later and had been to this day UNABLE to remember its title and who wrote it, which was particulary frustrating because I wanted to reread it. I can’t thank you enough to have made this post which forced me to search on the internet for female SF authors… :))
    The Farseer trilogy, Robin Hobb
    The Darkover series, Marion Zimmer Bradley (on your to-read list I hope ! Some books of the series are among my top10 of most reread)
    Anne McCaffrey (Dragonriders of Pern, The Talent series)
    Stephanie Meyer (nah, joking)

    And it’s true that when I think about it, most of the authors in my library are men…on the other hand most of SF authors are men, no ? 🙂 It would be interesting to compare the percentage of female authors with 20 / 500 ~ 4%.

    Btw, still waiting for the Imaginales report…you live a dangerous life…

  5. May I add C.S. Freidman and Catherine Asaro to the scifi list?

    There are more female options in fantasy, I think, especially in urban fantasy, which I like.

  6. Wow, thanks everyone for chiming in!
    Ami: ooh, I forgot Nancy Kress! I loved Beggars in Spain.
    Genevieve: Cherryh is one of those writers I get tons of recs for, but have trouble getting into. I’ve tried Cyteen several times, but to no avail. I’ll see if moving to her short fiction helps… (and if you have more, do mention them, I’ll add them to the post)
    Nefarious: added 🙂
    Ylrahc: the Imaginales report was derailed because the camera is 5km away from us–I’ll explain when I see you:) Darkover I should definitely try. I think the issue is that most visible authors of SF are men–women do write, but they get forgotten (and the genre tends to be defined by what men write, therefore publishers will look for similar stuff and buy men, and so on…)
    Christine: yup, added! I don’t read urban fantasy (purely for reasons of taste); if you have any recs, I would love to add them to the list to make it more balanced.

  7. A few of my favorites that haven’t already been mentioned:

    Santa Olivia, Jacqueline Carey
    Lavinia, Ursula Le Guin
    God’s War, Kameron Hurley
    His Majesty’s Dragon, Naomi Novik
    The Folding Knife, KJ Parker (assuming KJ Parker is indeed a woman)
    The Orphan’s Tales, Catherynne Valente

  8. Benjamin: thanks a lot! I haven’t read Lavinia yet, but I always love Le Guin so should be happy. Also loved, loved The Orphan’s Tales by Catherryne Valente.

  9. Elizabeth Bear should I believe also be in the Fantasy list for ‘Blood and Iron’ (and the rest of the Promethean Age books), and if not then certainly for ‘All the Windwracked Stars’.

  10. Oh, definitely–the Windwracked Stars is awesome (though it’s more SF than fantasy), and Blood and Iron is nice, though I didn’t love it as much as her other stuff.

  11. By the way I just pre-ordered ‘Master of the House of Darts’ and am looking forward to it. Actually you and Ms Bear are my two favourite ‘found’ authors -via Interzone – regardless of gender.

  12. Nick: aw, thank you so much! Definitely flattered by the comparison to Elizabeth Bear (she’s one of my fave authors).

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