20 female masters of science fiction to add to your reading list

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Dreamsnake (Cover image via Jo Fletcher Books)

More than ever, women are important creators in the world of science fiction. Here are 20 of the best and most formidable female authors of sci-fi today.

Does it seem strange that, like LGBTQ people, women have routinely been left out of science fiction? How could a genre that’s dedicated to exploring the realms of the fantastic be so firmly mired in old gender norms? Especially in the early days of the science fiction genre, it seemed as if women were set only to be objects. Whether they were only objects to be saved or ones to be seduced hardly seemed to matter. Rare was the female character who had her own story. She definitely wasn’t allowed to be the hero of a story on a regular basis.

However, a few early exceptions prove that women were more than capable of standing as authors in their own right. They were among some of the earliest speculative fiction authors, including Mary Shelley (Frankenstein, 1818) and Margaret Cavendish (The Blazing World, 1666).

As time went on, it became clear that science fiction was ripe for exploring women’s place in the world. Writers proposed radical futures where women were equals with men. Some, like Sheri S. Tepper, James Tiptree Jr. and Joanna Russ, even wrote of societies where men lived apart from women or were absent entirely.

Complex protagonists and thorny questions

That’s not to say that these were simplistic tales of bad men and saintly women. Rather, the fictional women in many of these works are as complex and flawed as any male protagonist. They are rarely archetypes. Instead, they have as much humanity as real-life women, whether they do good, evil or something in between.

Though this following list only discusses 20 female authors, this is meant to be only a beginning. There are many more emerging and established women within the literary science fiction genre, all producing work that is challenging and exciting. If you’re intrigued, be sure to follow up with even more modern and historic female sci-fi writers.