Women have been writing science fiction and fantasy for centuries, demolishing barriers in historically male-dominated genres. And in honor of International Women’s Day, we’re celebrating contemporary authors who are continuing to blaze trails in SFF literature.
Paste asked four Harper Voyager authors to write about the women who inspire them and to offer SFF book recommendations. Whether you’ve been reading fantasy for years or have never picked up a sci-fi novel in your life, we encourage you to seek out these diverse books for your shelves.
Today is the perfect time to begin.
R.F. Kuang, author of The Poppy War (on sale 5/1)
I think that we’re riding a wave of more and more female authors in SFF pushing the boundaries of what kind of stories are included within the genre, particularly from an intersectional lens—see N.K. Jemisin and Nnedi Okorafor’s groundbreaking work, for instance. Despite that, I think that women are still pigeonholed into writing certain “kinds” of stories; I’ve lost track of how many people assumed by default that I write romance or YA because I’m a young woman. Audiences still seem puzzled that women can write good, hard sci-fi or hard military fantasy (which is what I do, but you wouldn’t know it from all the men who have offered to help me with “all that military stuff.”)
Even so, we’re watching an unprecedented number of incredible female writers defying those stereotypes. For instance, I’m not the first Asian woman in the genre by a long shot. I have Hao Jingfang, Aliette de Bodard, Zen Cho, Alyssa Wong, Jeannette Ng, and Sarah Kuhn to look up to. It’s very, very cool to not be the first.
Kuang’s Book Recommendations:
“Folding Beijing” (short story) by Hao Jingfang, Jade City by Fonda Lee, and The House of Shattered Wings by Aliette de Bodard.
Sarah Beth Durst, author of The Queen of Sorrow (on sale 5/15)
When I was 10 years old, I read the book Alanna by Tamora Pierce about a girl who wants to become a knight in a medieval-like world where only men were knights. I have this clear memory of closing that book and thinking to myself, “If Alanna can become a knight, I can become a writer.” It never occurred to me, not once, that anyone would ever think that a woman couldn’t or shouldn’t write SFF. My shelves were filled with stories of girls with magic swords, girls with talking wolves, and girls with telepathic dragons, written by women like Tamora Pierce, Patricia C. Wrede, Anne McCaffery, Diane Duane, Diana Wynne Jones, Mercedes Lackey, Patricia McKillip, and Elizabeth Moon. I am where I am and who I am because of the women writers who came before me and said, “Yes, you can.”
Durst’s Book Recommendations:
Tempests and Slaughter
by Tamora Pierce and The Brightest Fell by Seanan McGuire.
Photo Credit: Adam Durst
Rati Mehrotra, author of Markswoman (on sale now)
It’s an exciting time to be a woman in SFF, especially a woman of color. Because you know what? I am no longer an aberration. Starting with the ground-breaking Octavia Butler, we now have Nnedi Okorafor, N.K. Jemisin, Nalo Hopkinson, Sofia Samatar, Fonda Lee, and so many more amazing, determined, and talented women who have forged a path for all of us in the traditionally thorny and white-male-dominated jungles of SFF publishing. I am so utterly grateful to be writing at a time like this.
Mehrotra’s Book Recommendations:
Who Fears Death
by Nnedi Okorafor and A Stranger in Olondria by Sofia Samatar.
Photo Credit: Veronika Roux
Laura Bickle, author of Witch Creek (on sale now)
A story changes entirely when the narrator changes, and so does a genre. When I was growing up, there really weren’t many fantasy books with female protagonists, and I was honestly lukewarm to the genre. But when I was 13, I found Robin McKinley’s The Hero and the Crown and fell in love with fantasy ever after. It was the first book I’d read that featured a female protagonist who slew her own dragons. I was hooked.
Bickle’s Book Recommendations:
Forest of a Thousand Lanterns
by Julie C. Dao and Pretty Deadly by Kelly Sue DeConnick and Emma Rios.
Photo Credit: Laura Bickle
Special thanks to Caroline Perny for coordinating this article.