In recognition of International Women’s Day, we’d like to encourage our readers to explore the works of female authors of speculative fiction. Don’t know where to begin? Here are just a few suggestion, some better known than others. Let us know who your favorites are in the comments section below!
Chilean American author Isabel Allende escaped imprisonment or worst by an oppressive political regime by only the hair of her teeth. She might not be the first person who comes to mind when you’re thinking of fantasy fiction, but her novel The House of the Spirits is a solid work of magic realism. Seances and supernatural phenomena pepper this distinctly feminist tale of family and community.
Charlie Jane Anders
IO9 founder and co-editor Charlie Jane Anders has been a mover and shaker in both the LGBT and science-fiction communities for many years, and can often be found wherever the two commingle. Her novel All the Birds in the Sky is the story of two childhood friends, a scientist and a magician, and the unlikely turn of events that bring them together once more.
Much of Canadian writer Margaret Atwood’s fiction serves as a warning of what tomorrow might be if we can’t change our present day. She prefers the term “speculative fiction” to “science-fiction”, as she feels that the things she writes could very well happen. Her novel The Handmaid’s Tale is the story of a misogynistic future society where women are only valued for their reproductive abilities.
African American author Octavia E. Butler experienced the pain of racial injustice at a very young age, and was even told by a well-meaning relative that black people couldn’t be authors. She didn’t let that stop her, and eventually went on to become the first science-fiction writer to receive the MacArthur Genius Grant. Her book Kindred is a time-travel classic about the horrors of slavery and the power the past holds on us all.
The daughter of prominent civil rights activists, African American author Tananarive Due has written thrillers, and historical novels, but she is best known for her supernatural fiction. Her short story collection Ghost Summer won the British Fantasy Award last year.
Mexican Canadian author, editor, and publisher Silvia Moreno-Garcia is the driving force behind Innsmouth Free Press, an independent publishing house that has released nearly a dozen compelling works of modern day Lovecraftiana. She’s also the author of a handful of novels, including the Mexican narco-vampire horror Certain Dark Things, which NPR chose as one of its best books of 2016.
Charlotte Perkins Gilman
Early 20th century feminist writer Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s Herland is the story of a futuristic, women-only utopian society that is free of war and strife. The women use a method of technologically-aided asexual reproduction to maintain their population, if you’re wondering.
Japanese-born author Hiromi Goto immigrated to Canada as a child, where she grew up in a small mountain town. Her 1994 novel Chorus of Mushrooms earned her critical international acclaim. She has gone since then to write many more books, among them a few works of young adult fiction and a graphic novel.
Jamaican-born author Nalo Hopkinson benefited from an incredibly diverse childhood, having lived at different times in Guyana and Canada. Her rich cultural heritage is reflected in her work, much of which is influenced by her Caribbean heritage. Her recent short story collection Falling in Love with Hominids showcases Hopkinson’s talents at their best.
African American fiction writer N. K. Jemisen is a former counseling psychologist turned full-time writer. She’s written several amazing fantasy series, among them the Inheritance Trilogy, the first book of which, The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, won numerous awards and nominations. A story of gods, floating cities, and political intrigue, The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms has found a place on many readers’ lists of all-time favorite novels.
South Korean poet, musician and novelist Han Kang’s The Vegetarian is a surreal novel about a woman who begins an unexpected transformation after deciding she will no longer eat meat.
The incredibly prolific writer Seanan McGuire has written literally dozens of books, under her own name and the pen name Mira Grant. Urban fantasy, horror, and more, McGuire seems to have written something for everyone, with more coming every day. Horror fans know and love her for her Newsflesh books: a series set a zombie apocalypse in which citizen journalists are relied upon to keep people abreast of the latest news.
The writings of Nigerian-American author Nnedi Okorafor have earned the admiration of her peers and the loyalty of legions of readers for their seamless mix of African culture and western science-fiction concepts. Her novel Who Fears Death is the story of a woman who journeys across an apocalyptic Sudan to confront and defeat her sorcerer father.
A prolific author of poetry, short stories, and novels, Somali American Sofia Samatar claims Ursula K. Le Guin, William Faulkner, and the cultures of Northeast Africa as among her many influences. Her well-received first novel, A Stranger in Olondria, is a good place to start reading her work.
Sheri S. Tepper
Ecofeminist author Sheri S. Tepper wrote under a number of pen names, but none of her works became as famous as one that she published under her own: The Gate to Women’s Country is set in a far future matriarchal society where women and children live inside gated communities, while most men live outside in warrior camps.
Austin-based author Jeanne Thornton edits zines, creates comics, and writes prose. Her novel The Dream of Doctor Bantam is the story of a tough 17 year-old girl who falls in love with Patrice: a young woman who happens to be a devotee of a cult. The Dream of Doctor Bantam has been compared to works by both Stieg Larson and Angela Carter — quite an unusual combination.
James Tiptree, Jr. (Alice Sheldon)
For decades, Alice Bradley Sheldon produced hundreds of short stories and novels under the pen name James Tiptree, Jr., a ruse intended to gain her work entrance to the male-dominated world of science-fiction publishing. It worked very well: Her writing peers didn’t discover the truth about Tiptree until after Sheldon’s death. Readers looking for a place to start would do well to begin with Her Smoke Rose Up Forever, a collection of eighteen short stories.
Catherynne M. Valente
Catherynne M. Valente has racked up dozens of awards for her novels, stories, poems, and works for children. Drawing inspiration from mythology, and fairy tales, her spellbinding work sometimes borders on the surreal. Her novel Palimpsest is a great example of her literary power and imagination.
Sabrina Vourvoulias is an award-winning journalist whose work has appeared in Philadelphia Magazine, AL Día News, and The Guardian US. Her novel, Ink, was inspired by her own memories of the Guatemalan civil war, and the experiences of Latin American immigrants to the United States.