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20 Top Female Science Fiction Authors: Space & Cyperpunk

mel_candea_itcherWe won’t go into whether or not women can write great science fiction. We know they can. Which is why we’ve come up with a list including Joan Slonczewski and Pat Cadigan, along with extras to feast your reading eyes on like Linda Nagata and Cherie Priest. Check out our top female science fiction authors and see what you think. ~ Mel Candea

“Science fiction is not prescriptive; it is descriptive.” – Ursula K. le Guin

Once upon a time, in a not-so-distant past, top female science fiction authors were few and far between. Some claimed it was because of their gender, that women were only capable of writing ‘soft’ sci-fi or fantasy, with heavy doses of bodice ripping.

In fact, Lightspeed Magazine created a Kickstarter campaign last year called Women Destroy Science Fiction,’ dedicating an issue to some of the best female science fiction authors to debunk the debate.
We agree with the debunking, wholeheartedly. Which is why we’ve come up with this mixed list of women who write sci-fi from multiple styles: hard science fiction, steampunk romance, speculative fiction and post-apocalyptic sci-fi, to name a few.
For a list of the 5 most well-known top female science fiction authors, scroll to the bottom of this post.
How did we decide on our list of great female science fiction authors?
The only perimeters we used were based on the definition of ‘science fiction.’ Futuristic tech or science, travel through time or space and aliens are what these authors excel at.
Read on, and see how many of these you know.
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5. Joan Slonczewski

“I love to imagine a dialog with readers, to share the amazement of discovering a new world. And then return to our world to realize, “So that’s how this awesome planet works.””

Joan Lyn Slonczewski is a New Yorker with a PhD in Molecular Biiophysics and Biochemistry from Yale. Her science fiction focuses on genetics, eco-science and near-future possibilities in nanotech. Her background makes her one of the best female science fiction writers because the stories ‘ring true.’ In a creepy, good way.

Complexly rich writing coupled with a scientific background makes for a great read.
Book Recommendation: ‘Brain Plague’ (2000)

Genre: Hard Science Fiction

"“Beware of the brain plague.” The Protector’s voice blared from receivers in her teeth. “The plague endangers not Valedona alone, but all the worlds of the Fold.”"

Imagine a world where intelligent microbes live in human brains, and they have their own identities. Good, evil or indifferent, they can make a body- or a building- from intention. Chrisobel is an artist who agrees to getting microbes to help with inspiration, but the microbes have a different plan.

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4. Connie Willis

“When you’re a writer, the question people always ask you is, “Where do you get your ideas?” Writers hate this question. It’s like asking Humphrey Bogart in The African Queen, “Where do you get your leeches?” You don’t get ideas. Ideas get you.”

Connie Willis is a Science Fiction Hall of Fame recipient from Colorado. She’s also won 11 Hugos, 11 Locus Polls and 8 Nebulas. The awards aside, she’s a clear choice for a top female science fiction author.

Her superbly humorous sci-fi tales are also balanced with some gravitas, like asking what impact technology will really have on society? Expect multi-layered characters and a slow humor build.

Book Recommendation: ‘To Say Nothing of the Dog’ (1998)

Genre: Laugh-Out-Loud Science Fiction

“One has not lived until one has carried a sixty-pound dog down a sweeping flight of stairs at half-past V in the morning.” –Ned Henry

In the year 2057, Ned Henry is a time traveler whose specialty is the 20th century. When one of the time protocols is broken (which could mean the end of the world) he finds himself in the 19th century on a quest with 2 men and a bulldog named Cyril. In a boat. With looming doom and romance ahead.
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3. Pat Cadigan

“Be very careful how you talk to yourself. Because you are listening.”

Image Source: Sfrevie WS

Pat Cadigan (Patricia Oren Kearney Cadigan) is a cyberpunk/speculative science fiction author with a focus on possibilities between the mind combined with tech. She’s won many awards including the Arthur C. Clarke twice and a Hugo for best novelette.

She’s definitely on of the great female science fiction writers. Reading her is near-future familiar ground with unfamiliar twists for readers, with fantastic characters you’ll wish you could meet.

Book Recommendation: ‘Synners’ (1991)

Genre: Cyberpunk Sci-Fi

“Can I interest you in a well-dressed cup of coffee?” Gina wiped her hands over her face. “Right now you couldn’t interest me stark naked in a bath of lime Jell-O. Who are you working for?” –Mark and Gina, Synners

A ‘Synner’ is someone involved in hardcore online living. The illegal hackers, the artificial reality junkies and the Sim pirates as characters combine with corporate hijinks, loads of action, fast-paced dialogues and near future what-ifs: is your humanity worth living in an alternate reality?

Note: There is strong/graphic language throughout.

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2. C.J. Cherryh

“Science fiction is a dialogue, a tennis match, in which the Idea is volleyed from one side of the net to the other. Ridiculous to say that someone ‘stole’ an idea: no, no, a thousand times no.”

Image Source: Staffers Book Review

C.J. Cherryh (Carolyn Janice Cherry) is one of the best female science fiction authors of speculative fiction. A trained linguist and archaelogost, Reading Cherryh challenges the reader to be smart and infer rather than be clearly told. Plus her aliens are some of the most alien you’ll ever come across.

Book Recommendation: ‘Foreigner’, #1 (1994)

Genre: Speculative fiction

“Baji-naji, nand' paidhi. Fortune has a human face and bastard Chance whores drunken down your streets." –Ilisidi, Foreigner

The book begins by outlining the history between the ‘foreigners’ (humans on the starship Pheonix that become stranded on a habitable planet) and the inhabitants, the atevi.

It then follows the one interpreter (a ‘paidhi’) allowed onto atevi soil, Bren, and his confusions and perspective living among the locals in a steam-to-tech age as the isolated human.

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1. James Tiptree, Jr.

“It has been suggested that Tiptree is female, a theory that I find absurd, for there is to me something ineluctably masculine about Tiptree’s writing.” –Robert Silverberg, intro to ‘Warm Worlds and Otherwise’

James Tiptree, Jr. (Alice Bradley Shelton) wrote as a male science fiction writer for roughly 10 years before she was uncovered. Her short stories are quite dark, with an accent on free will versus biology. She’s a complex sci-fi writer with a morbid edge.

Book Recommendation: ‘Warm World and Otherwise’ (1975)

Genre: Dark/Ironic Science Fiction

‘The disimprovement in her looks comes from the electrode jacks peeping out of her sparse hair, and there are other meldings of flesh and metal. On the other hand, that collar and spinal plate are really an asset; you won’t miss seeing that neck.’ –The Girl Who Was Plugged In

This collection of Tiptree’s short stories is a complete collection of her various styles. From the less serious ‘All the Kinds of Yes’ to the ironic, Hugo-winning ‘The Girl Who Was Plugged In,’ it’s ideal for nearly any fan of science fiction. Not to mention a top female science fiction writer.

Note: The James Tiptree, Jr. Award is now given to authors that challenge or branch out gender roles in sci-fi.

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Top Female Science Fiction Writers – Honourable Mentions

If you’re still on the search for more suggestions of women who write great science fiction, these are extras we’ve added to our list, with genres and recommendations:

Andrea Hairston, ‘Mindscape’ (2006) Speculative fiction.

Catherine Asaro, ‘Primary Inversion’ (1995) Hard Sci-Fi.

G.S. Jennsen, ‘Starshine’ (2014) A romantic space opera novel.

Lois McMaster Bujold, ‘Shards of Honor’ (1986) A romantic space opera novel.

Karin Lowachee, ‘War Child’ (2002) A space opera novel.

Linda Nagata, ‘The Red #1: First Light’ (2013) Military science fiction.

Stephanie Saulter, ‘Gemsigns’ (2013) Post-apocalyptic fiction.

Cherie Priest, ‘Boneshaker’ (2009) A steampunk novel.

Kathleen Ann Goonan, ‘Queen City Jazz’ (1994 ) Cyberpunk Sci-Fi.

Sheryl Nantus, ‘A Blaze of Glory’ (2011) Urban fantasy/Sci-Fi.

Ursula K. le Guin, ‘The Left Hand of Darkness’ (1969)

Octavia E. Butler, ‘Parable of the Sower’ (1993)

Anne McCaffrey, ‘The Ship Who Sang’ (1969)

Andre Norton, ‘Star Man’s Son’ (1952)

Joanna Russ, ‘We Who Are About To…’ (1977)

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What Do You Think?

We hope this extensive list has helped you (re)discover some of the top female science fiction authors. Of course, we may have missed a few.

Have a favorite we should add to our list?
Let us know in the comments below!
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