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Old 03-22-2011, 06:19 PM   #1
Frida Fantastic
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Recommended women sf writers

Recommended sf (science fiction/speculative fiction) books by women, list them!

Ursula K. Le Guin
I'm a big fan of hers. The Dispossessed, The Birthday of the World, and The Left Hand of Darkness are my favourites. Her works are intelligent with a rich sociological understanding of the worlds that she creates, and I just haven't seen that comparable level of depth elsewhere. She has misses sometimes (prose and characters and get dry), but I still like them because she never runs out of interesting big-world ideas.

Catherynne M. Valente
Her works are unique, she either does really strange speculative fiction (Palimpsest) or retellings of fairy tales (the Grass-Cutting Sword). She has beautiful prose and pushes the boundaries with regards to a ton of subjects especially on bodies and sexuality, but a bit weak on characterization and plotting. So judging from the two books I read, she does well when the framework of characters/plot has already is already there (e.g. fairytales).

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Old 03-22-2011, 07:09 PM   #2
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My personal favourites would have to be:

Joan D. Vinge
Truly excellent and one of my personal favourites. Best is the Tiamat Cycle, though the Cat books are also good.

Maureen F. McHugh
Also wonderful, often with a low-key, poetic subtlety. Best bets are China Mountain Zhang (a minor classic) and her short story collection Mothers and Other Monsters, free as a Creative Commons download from the publisher (I own a paper copy)

Lois McMaster Bujold
Marvelously characterized characters who have to both think and fight their way out of sticky situations using everything they've got rather than simply go out guns-ablazing.

Diane Duane
Puts even a scientific basis into the explanations for her fantasy works. Also one of the rare few writers who can write an actually good and believable Star Trek novel.

Nancy Kress
I'm a sucker for societal consequences of genetic engineering stories, and Nancy Kress obligingly provides about 45% of my fix*. Excellent stuff, but she reads much better at short story and novella length than in her novels, I find.

Best bets: Beaker's Dozen and Trinity and Other Stories short story collections though she should have some good stuff in the other collections I haven't read. Also, Beggars in Spain novel (sequels are okay, but tend to overthink things in a weird direction) and if you like sf thrillers, Oaths and Miracles and Stinger.

Connie Willis
A little more hit-and-miss than Nancy Kress, I find, but when she's good, she's very good and when she's not so good, she's still moderately entertaining. Seems to work best at the two extremes of either fairly long single novel, or fairly short story. Best bets: The Doomsday Book and To Say Nothing of the Dog at novel length (two-part sequel Blackout + All Clear was kind of a letdown), and her short stories are often very funny and/or poignant and available in 4 collections, 2 of which are still in print and come with author's notes on each story (Fire Watch and Impossible Things, available as e-books).

Jo Walton
Has written comparatively little, but what I've read has been of a very high calibre. Only really sfnal long work of hers is the Small Change trilogy, set in an AU where Britain became fascist after avoiding WWII. It is, of course, excellent and recommended.

I've also enjoyed works by:

Suzette Haden Elgin
Mostly writes language self-defense books these days, but back in the day, her Native Tongue trilogy was a creepily-Handmaid's Tale-like exploration of the potentials of alien communication and the status that would give linguists in a world where women were oppressed chattel and had to work to devise an especially secret means of communication to freely express themselves.

Octavia Butler
I've only read short stories of hers when they showed up in those Year's Best Science Fiction volumes, but what I read, I liked.

Judith Tarr
Mostly writes very good historical fiction/fantasy, but did some wickedly funny alternate history short stories. Go read her two stories set with Elvis as President of the US and the Kennedy brothers as a rock band and the cult that arises around them both, over at the BookViewCafé for proof.

Tanya Huff
One of my favourite authors for fantasy. Her sf short stories never really grabbed me much, though, but I'm enjoying her Valor MilSF series.

Marion Zimmer Bradley
A lot of her sf work is kind of dated, and she's better known for her fantasy franchises, and there was that thing where she was accused of covering up for her pedophile second husband, but she did write some very good sf books in the middle of her Darkover cycle which are still well worth the read.

Best bets: The Heritage of Hastur and Sharra's Exile, which really form the core of the series. Stormqueen!, The Shattered Chain and Thendara House, and The Forbidden Circle are also quite good. And I have a special fondness for Hawkmistress!, although some people have called it a Mary Sue wish-fulfillment kind of book as far as the main character goes.

The Marion Zimmer Bradley's Darkover short story collection probably gives the best overview of the series and is available at a low cost DRM-free (even lower in conjunction with discount coupon, like the 50% off one Fictionwise had over the weekend which was still working when I checked it this morning).

Anne McCaffrey
Although her writing has seriously deteriorated over time and was mostly only middling-good to begin with, I have a certain liking for the Pern and Ship Who Sang series, which did have some very good stories to start with. Best bets: Moreta, Dragonlady of Pern, The Ship Who Sang, the first few "adult" Pern books (Dragonflight/-quest/White Dragon, also think Dragonsdawn is pretty good) + the YA Harper Hall trilogy (Dragonsinger, Dragonsong, Dragondrums if you feel like it).

Cherie Priest
I liked the two steampunk novels of hers that I read. Have yet to try anything else.

Well, this is everyone I can think of off the top of my head. I'm sure more will spring to mind later.

* Brian Stableford provides the other 45%, plus a few other authors for the final 10%.
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Old 03-22-2011, 10:30 PM   #3
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Awesome, saved your recommended list to my To Read list again! You certainly know your SF!

I read Octavia Butler's Wild Seed a while back. I just recall being really freaked out about dolphin sex . A lot of the concepts in that book was novel, but I wasn't feeling it 75% of the time, but I'll give her short stories a shot.
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Old 03-23-2011, 01:49 AM   #4
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Elizabeth Moon

The Serrano Legacy and Vatta's War are both excellent. of those I prefer the latter. Recommended.
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Old 03-23-2011, 05:09 PM   #5
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I'd add C.J. Cherryh and Andre Norton to this excellent list.
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Old 03-23-2011, 06:47 PM   #6
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Vonda McIntyre
Her novel "Dreamsnake" won both Hugo and Nebula awards. She wrote a bunch of Star Trek books (arguably some of the best) but her original works are better.

Suzanne Collins
The Hunger Games - Yes these are 3 books targeted for the young adult market, but dont let that stop you from enjoying them.

Sherri S Tepper
Has several books but "The Gate To Womens Country" is a great mix of sci-fi and social commentary.

Elizabeth Haydon
Her Rhapsody series is quite good.

Julie E. Czerneda
She has several series to her credit but my favorite are the Web Shifters series starting with "Beholders Eye".

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Old 03-23-2011, 07:11 PM   #7
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I'd add C.J. Cherryh and Andre Norton to this excellent list.
That's ironic because both Alice Mary Norton and Carolyn Cherry had to use masculine (Andre) or neuter (C.J.) pen names. Book buyers (or at least publishers) back then made buying decisions, apparently, based on what sex the author was. Have we gone back to those days?

A good book is a good book. Shouldn't we be beyond caring whether a man or a woman wrote it?
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Old 03-23-2011, 07:30 PM   #8
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We should, but neither the publishing industry, nor real life seem to work that way, and I don't see merit-based egalitarianism becoming the go-to decision-making process any time soon. Cf. "J.K." Rowling having to make up a fake middle initial because her publishers didn't think that a book about a boy wizard written by an admitted woman would be appealing to the presumed target audience.

Anyway, sometimes people just want to seek out a subset of authors that interests them for whatever reason and they're perfectly entitled to do that, if they like. I pay slightly more attention to works from my fellow Canadians (thanks to the little maple leaf spine stickers on the library bookshelf) although this does not give writers a free pass on their prose/poetry not sucking just because we happen to share nationality.

And frankly, since female and ethnic minority writers tend to be underrepresented in the sf/fantasy genre*, I see no reason not to specifically seek out their works if one wants to support them financially/via future word-of-mouth.

Anyway, to help place my recs in context, my favourite Ursula K. Le Guin work is Always Coming Home, which I feel sums up the rich world-building that she often engages in. I also tend to prefer her short/long stories, as found in Orsinian Tales and the Wind's Twelve Quarters and A Fisherman of the Inland Sea ("The Kerastion" is especially lyrical/poignant/imaginative), to her novels. Oh, and Catwings.

As for Moon, Cherryh, Norton, McIntyre, and Tepper: they've each produced fairly good works, some of which I've liked to a certain extent, but they tend to be insufficiently in tune with my personal tastes for me to truly recommend anything by them in general, unless there's a request for a particular theme element they've done that I think would suit.

I think I liked best C.J. Cherryh's shared world anthology series Merovingen Nights which the library used to have and I now own courtesy of the used bookstore, and Andre Norton's time-travel ancient Egyptian bodyswap The Wraiths of Time, available DRM-free from Baen, and Sheri S. Tepper's Beauty, which is a fairy-tale retelling with a conservationist twist.

Vonda N. McIntyre has a free e-book to try, by the way: the eponymous first in her Starfarers Quartet.

I tried Catherynne M. Valente's Palimpsest when it showed up in last year's Hugo Voter Packet. Did nothing for me at all and I ended up voting "None of These" for Best Novel because while I did enjoy RJSawyer's Wake and CPriest's Boneshaker, I also didn't think they or the other included novels were Hugo winner-level quality fit to stand with those which had gone before.

If slightly fantasy-leaning alternate history with an ultimately science-y sort of explanation is okay, then Mary Gentle has done excellent work for the books of hers that I've read, especially in her Ash: A Secret History.

And if you want to go old school, you can always try James Tiptree Jr. (aka Alice Sheldon), or C.L (Catherine) Moore, or Joanna Russ, or Eleanor Arnason (whose said-to-be-semi-classic-I-haven't-read-this A Woman of the Iron People is available DRM-free), all of whom seem to be reasonably well-reputed.

* A recent major-ish reprint anthology of "best of breed" works spanning several decades managed to completely omit any representatives from both and if anyone wishes to suggest that it was because works of sufficient quality by either female and/or non-white writers written over this time period were entirely lacking, I will point and laugh mercilessly.

Last edited by ATDrake; 03-23-2011 at 08:00 PM. Reason: Oops, got a title wrong. And inadvertent name-smushing.
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Old 03-23-2011, 07:55 PM   #9
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One more to add: Elizabeth Bear. New Amsterdam is available (DRM-free, of course) at Baen.

In fact, there are works from several female authors available at the Baen Free Library and also in their Webscription ebook catalogue.
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Old 03-23-2011, 08:01 PM   #10
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Lots of good authors mentioned here! I'd add Robin Hobb/Megan Lindholm...she publishes primarily fantasy under her Robin Hobb pen name, but some good sci-fi as Lindholm.
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Old 03-23-2011, 08:14 PM   #11
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One more to add: Elizabeth Bear. New Amsterdam is available (DRM-free, of course) at Baen.

In fact, there are works from several female authors available at the Baen Free Library and also in their Webscription ebook catalogue.
Indeed... Baen has a *long* list of female authors. And no DRM and in multiple formats.
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Old 03-23-2011, 08:59 PM   #12
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We should, but neither the publishing industry, nor real life seem to work that way, and I don't see merit-based egalitarianism becoming the go-to decision-making process any time soon.
Should we not be the change we want to see?

How can we say "it's wrong to judge an author because she's female" (including your J.K. Rowling example) when we're doing exactly that, and judging authors because they're female? If we want decisions to be made based on the merits of the work, independent of the gender of the author, shouldn't we be judging on the merits of the work, independent of the gender of the author?

In simpler terms (I'm trying to make my posts shorter, really!) if we say "these books are different because they were written by women" we're saying the people who wouldn't buy books by a woman named Alice, who wouldn't publish books by a woman named Carolyn, and who insisted that a woman named Joanne hide her gender, were right. And I refuse to believe that.

Apropos to the topic of this thread, BookView Cafe has Vonda McIntyre's Dreamsnake for sale and I can't recommend that book highly enough.
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Old 03-23-2011, 09:14 PM   #13
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If we want decisions to be made based on the merits of the work, independent of the gender of the author, shouldn't we be judging on the merits of the work, independent of the gender of the author?
Yes, that's very true. At the same time, some readers (especially in certain genres, like sf) will inevitably notice and become curious when a large number of works published are being written by a certain subset of the population (be it sex, race, etc.). For example, I'm sure some readers of romance wonder about male authors, since they seem to be in the minority (in fact, I think there was a recent thread about this). Therefore, for people interested in knowing more about female sf (or male romance) authors, threads like these are a good place to start. Which, as you point out, doesn't mean we shouldn't judge works on the basis of their merit.
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Old 03-23-2011, 09:15 PM   #14
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In simpler terms (I'm trying to make my posts shorter, really!) if we say "these books are different because they were written by women" we're saying the people who wouldn't buy books by a woman named Alice, who wouldn't publish books by a woman named Carolyn, and who insisted that a woman named Joanne hide her gender, were right. And I refuse to believe that.
I think you're making a false equivalency here.

The OP has asked for recommended sf works by writers who happen to be women, for his or her own personal reasons.

They could have just as easily asked for recommended sf works that appeared to be written by twitchy hunchback dwarfs with connections to royalty*.

And that would still be a perfectly okay request because they're not saying that they would completely toss out and exclude works not created by twitchy hunchback dwarfs as being unacceptably marketable reading and therefore they would block it from publication unless certain changes were made to disguise the twitchiness.

Only that they would like help finding the good twitchy hunchback dwarf stuff to read.

This is like me, as an individual reader, giving extra cool points to authors who are Canadian and write good works. If they're non-Canadian and write good works, great, I enjoy them anyway. If they also happen to be Canadian, then bonus!; now where can I find more?

You are then equating this request — for something which helps expand someone's individual reading list according to the criteria they have set to keep from being overwhelmed by works of lesser personal interest — to the widespread institutionalized discrimination that was then (and still is now, though to a lesser extent) societally practiced against all women to limit their public roles as a group, on what is apparently a 1-to-1 basis where their act of merely asking for recommendations for sf female writers to read is fully equal to the publishing industry's prior blocking of openly female-appearing names on those books of theirs they deigned to publish.

Not the same thing at all, either in scale or scope.

* Though I don't think they'd have much luck, unless Lois McMaster Bujold-as-Miles Vorkosigan "decided" to write out his memoirs first-person.

Although if the OP were looking for fantasy twitchy hunchback dwarf-written stuff, they could always go straight to R.A. MacAvoy's Lens of the World trilogy.

Last edited by ATDrake; 03-23-2011 at 09:32 PM. Reason: Add quote for context, because another post popped up while I was typing this one. Also, break up text.
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Old 03-23-2011, 09:44 PM   #15
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For example, I'm sure some readers of romance wonder about male authors, since they seem to be in the minority (in fact, I think there was a recent thread about this).
Aren't the male romance authors mostly writing under female-sounding pseudonyms?

I've heard that men actually make up a larger proportion of romance authors than you might think, only they're just not writing under their "real" names* because it's thought that the books wouldn't sell as much, in much the same way that female authors had to for centuries† mostly had to disguise their gender when writing non-romances.

* Except Fabio, who's apparently ghost-written anyway.

† Why hello there, Georges Eliot and Sand!
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