Saturday, 4 June 2011

The Russ Pledge: favourite science fiction by women

(Blog response to Nicola Griffiths: Taking the Russ Pledge.)

I've occasionally felt the need to answer the question, "Who are your favourite authors?" or "What are your favourite science/speculative fiction novels/stories?" I don't have a record of having answered this recently, but my impression is that a large proportion of my responses are women authors or books/stories authored by women. Here is my answer today, focusing (as per the Russ Pledge) on women who write scifi and speculative fiction (focusing a little more on science fiction than fantasy, but not shying away from the gray area between).

In no particular order (and with no claim to completeness):

  • Octavia Butler's Fledgling (a vampire novel, but definitely shows a scifi mentality); 'Speech Sounds' is one of the best short stories about what it means to be human that I have ever read
  • Nancy Kress, Beggars in Spain is a thrillingly creative social-sf novel, and stories like 'Inertia' are an unflinching look at biological engineering and how humans adapt
  • Ekaterina Sedia's wonderful The Alchemy of Stone is probably considered fantasy, but it's really steampunk science fiction with an emphasis on human (and created) expertise and craftsmanship
  • Tananarive Due: 'Like Daughter' (in the Dark Matter anthology) is a particularly heartbreaking story about cloning and the confusion between genetic and personal identity
  • Marion Zimmer Bradley's Darkover novels (one of my earliest introductions to overtly strong women and alternative sexualities in future-of-humanity science fiction)
  • Nisi Shawl: the stories in Filter House reinvented my idea of what speculative fiction should be (and do)
  • Ursula Le Guin's Rocannon's World, Planet of Exile, City of Illusion etc.: powerful exploration of human settlements in an alien future and the real implications of science fictional technologies
  • Roz Kaveney's short fiction, especially 'A Wolf to Man'
  • Nalo Hopkinson: can anyone remind me the title of a short story I now can't find about a man and a woman who wear suits that allow them to feel each other's experiences and have sex?
  • Joanna Russ, The Female Man, How to Suppress Women's Writing
  • Julie Czerneda, Survival (haven't read the rest of the trilogy yet)
  • Jennifer Maria Brissett, 'Nasmina's Black Box' (again, might look like fantasy, but a story about human creation--and destruction--and full of gadgets and dreams)
  • Suzette Elgin, Native Tongue (real hard social-science fiction, with linguistics as the science)
  • Vandana Singh: speculative fiction that avoids most of the Anglo-american clichés and boundaries of the genre
  • Elizabeth Vonarburg, Chroniques du Pays des Mères, and the short story 'L'oiseau de cendres'; powerfully imagined, unromantic stuff
  • Mary Rosenblum, 'Search Engine' (low-life cyberpunk political thriller)
  • Therese Arkenberg, 'Drown or Die' (when we terraform another world, do we change it or ourselves?)

3 comments:

  1. I'd like to add Nicola Griffith's Ammonite which I just read this week, and is one of the most beautiful pieces of writing I've come across for a while. It's also astonishingly inventive science fiction and a powerful story of humans (and other animals) and corporate social SF.

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  2. I believe the Nalo Hopkinson story is "Ganjer (Ball Lightning)", which I read in a volume of "Best American Erotica".
    I don't read much SF nowadays, but from when I did I recall liking quite a number of female writers.
    Russ' "The Female Man" has to be one of the best novels in the genre, along with LeGuin's "The Left Hand of Darkness" and "The Dispossessed", plus the stories "The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas" and "The Day Before the Revolution".
    Pat Murphy's "The City, Not Long After" and "The Falling Woman"
    Maureen McHugh's "China Mountain Zhang"
    "Dreamsnake" and "The Exile Waiting" by Vonda McIntyre
    Nearly all of Connie Willis' work, but especially "Lincoln's Dreams"
    "The Snow Queen" and others by Joan Vinge
    "Where Late the Sweet Bird Sang" by Kate Wilhelm
    "Grass" and others by Sheri Tepper
    The Patternmaster books by Octavia Butler
    Marge Piercy's "Woman on the Edge of Time"
    "The Vampire Tapestry" by Suzie McKee Charnas, which is every bit as much SF as it is horror
    And, of course, the wonderful short stories of James Tiptree Jr (Alice Sheldon), of whom Silverberg famously said words to the effect that a woman couldn't write such stories (egg, meet face)

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  3. I'd also like to add to this list Sophia McDougall's alternate history Romanitas trilogy: I read (and reviewed) the first book five years ago, and I remember largely liking it, but didn't track down the sequels until I came across #2 (Rome Burning) in a thrift store more recently.

    I only have time read on public transport these days; at least twice during the course of reading Rome Burning I was literally to engrossed in the drama of the story that I missed my stop. (And that never happens.) Tense stuff. (She can be mighty mean to her protagonists...)

    Fascinating alt-hist fare, anyway, and a nicely thought-out Point of Departure.

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