Women Science Fiction Writers

One of the most influential women science fiction writers in the early 19th century was Mary Shelley (1797-1851), who wrote her classic book Frankenstein (1818), which was later declared to be one of the first science fiction works. Women like Shelley were regarded as pioneers in this genre of literature.

In the late 19th and early 20th century, women writers combined feminism with Utopian fiction. A perfect example of this combination is Roquia Sakhawat Hussain (1880-1932), a Bengali feminist, who published her short story The Sultana's Dream in 1905. The story is set in a futuristic world, where women rule society, making use of flying cars and solar power. An entirely female world was also depicted in Herland (1915), written by Charlotte Perkins Gilman (1860-1935). In the 1920s, science fiction authors included Clare Winger Harris (1891-1968) and Gertrude Barrow Bennett (1883-1948).

In the 1960s and 1970s, the second wave of feminists incorporated political views, sexism and technology in their science fiction. One of the most influential writer of the times was Ursula K. Le Guin (b.1929). Most of Le Guin's works is regarded as soft science fiction, as opposed to hard science fiction, which predominantly concentrates on physics and astrophysics. Social studies such as anthropology and sociology are central to Le Guin's fiction. In Le Guin's masterpiece The Left Hand of Darkness (1969), she created an androgynous race living in an equal society. The novel won the Nebula Award for Best Novel in 1969 and the Hugo Award in 1970.

Joanna Russ (1937-2011) is another prominent example of a feminist science fiction writer. She received wide acclaim for her novel The Female Man (1975), which is a combination between Utopian fiction and satire. Russ presents life in several different world - one which is similar to the 1970s; another in which the Great Depression has not ended; and a third in which men are extinct. The last world is one where men and women trade babies for supplies.

Margaret Atwood (b.1939) is a Canadian poet, essayist and novelist best-known for her science fiction works. Her novel The Handsmaid's Tale (1985) received several awards. It it a dystopian novel, in which the world is governed by racist male chauvinists, who have taken away the rights of women and other "undesired elements." Women's sole purpose in this novel is to breed and they are not allowed to speak their mind, to read or to write.

Octavia E. Butler (1947-2006) was the most notable African-American science fiction writer. She wrote many novels, divided in several series, one-volume novels and short stories. She was awarded various prizes, including the Hugo, Nebula and McArthur Foundation Genius Grant. Some of her most successful works include the Patternmaster series (1995), Lilith's Brood, also known as the Xenogenesis Trilogy (2000), the historical fantasy Kindred (1979), and 1993's highly praised dystopian saga The Parable of the Sower.

Anne McCaffrey (b.1926) has been classified as more of a fantasy writer than a science fiction author. She is best known for her Dragonriders of Pern series of 22 novels, which was written between 1968 and 2011. Since 2003, her son, Todd, has been taking part in writing the novels. The books are all set in the fictional world of Pern, which is generally a pre-industrial society, with lords and servants but there is also new technology in the form of a speaking computer.

Other women science fiction writers include English writer Gwyneth Jones (b.1952), who won the Arthur C Clarke for her novel Bold as Love (2001), which retold the Arthurian myth; James Tiptree Jr, real name Alice Sheldon (1915-1987, author of Love is the Plan, the Plan is Death (1973); C.J.Cherryh (b.1942), one of the "space opera" authors, best known for Cyteen (1988); Sheri Tepper (b.1929), author of Grass (1989), which is set in a world of pampas; Pat Cadigan (b.1953), described as the "queen of cyberpunk" and author of Synners (2001).

Karen J. Fowler (b.1950), wrote Sarah Canary (1991), which is about a woman noted for her "strange" singing who goes on a mystical journey and encounters alien intelligence. Light Music (2002), by Kathleen A. Goonan (b.1952) examines the influence of a cosmic plague, while Natural History (2006), which is about an exploration into deep space, by Justina Robson (b.1968) was described as "one of the big UK SF books of 2003."

Selected full-text books and articles on this topic

Lost in Space: Probing Feminist Science Fiction and Beyond
Marleen S. Barr.
University of North Carolina Press, 1993
Worlds within Women: Myth and Mythmaking in Fantastic Literature by Women
Thelma J. Shinn.
Greenwood Press, 1986
Feminist Alternatives: Irony and Fantasy in the Contemporary Novel by Women
Nancy A. Walker.
University Press of Mississippi, 1990
Demand My Writing: Joanna Russ, Feminism, Science Fiction
Jeanne Cortiel.
Liverpool University Press, 1999
Alien Plots: Female Subjectivity and the Divine in the Light of James Tiptree's 'A Momentary Taste of Being'
Inez Van Der Spek.
Liverpool University Press, 2000
Mindscapes: The Geographies of Imagined Worlds
George E. Slusser; Eric S. Rabkin.
Southern Illinois University Press, 1989
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 9 "Recent Feminist Utopias: World Building and Strategies for Social Change"
Communicating Gender
Suzanne Romaine.
Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 1999
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 11 "Writing Feminist Futures"
The Cambridge Companion to Science Fiction
Edward James; Farah Mendlesohn.
Cambridge University Press, 2003
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 8 "Feminist Theory and Science Fiction"
Speaking Science Fiction: Dialogues and Interpretations
Andy Sawyer; David Seed.
Liverpool University Press, 2000
Librarian’s tip: "'Fantastic Dialogues': Critical Stories about Feminism and Science Fiction" begins on p. 52
Coordinates: Placing Science Fiction and Fantasy
George E. Slusser; Eric S. Rabkin; Robert Scholes.
Southern Illinois University Press, 1983
Librarian’s tip: "She in Herland: Feminism as Fantasy" begins on p. 139
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