Thinking of a science fiction reader may conjure up images of a nerdy white man clutching his worn copy of The Hobbit in one hand and a PlayStation controller in the other. But hold up: That's definitely, definitely not the case. Women aren't only welcome in sci-fi, they freakin' thrive here. You see, not only do women read science fiction, but there are also tons of women writing science fiction, and they do it damn well, too!
And since science fiction is a genre of literature with a long history of highlighting social issues, including gender and feminism, that’s a really really good thing. Because that's the case, there's so much that this genre has to offer every woman, even if she doesn't think she's a "sci-fi kind of gal."
There’s lots of great science fiction by and about women out there. Whether you’re looking for a fresh otherworldly take on gender, a sci-fi adventure with kickass women protagonists, or just a good woman-authored story of mind-exploding creativity, these are some of the sci-fi books that every woman (and really just every sci-fi fan) should definitely get her hands on.
Who Fears Death by Nnedi Okorafor
Nnedi Okorafor is one of the most talented science fiction writers writing today. Who Fears Death is one of her most fearless books. Taking place in a post-apocalyptic Sudan and tackling rape, genocide, female circumcision, and the myriad violences commited against women, Okorafor doesn’t shy away from the tough issues. But she also writes a beautiful novel about spirituality, tradition, and destiny. It’s the kind of book that messes you up good.
The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. LeGuin
What if you were suddenly thrown into a world where all your ideas about gender were kind of exploded? Well, that’s what LeGuin does here. There are individuals who are unisex and there are some whose sex changes on a cycle, and then there’s a guy from our world thrown right into the thick of it, trying to figure it all out.
The Salt Fish Girl by Larissa Lai
You’ve got a girl who smells kind of like dorian fruit (i.e. not so good) and another who transforms into a fish, a woman, and a snake alternately. Oh there are also cybernetically engineered factory workers and video games where you swallow birds and get beat up by police as “work.” It’s about love, labor condition, the Asian diasporic experience, and funny smells. It’s pretty much unlike anything you’ve read before.
Parable of the Sower by Octavia Butler
Lauren Olamina is possibly the coolest sci-fi heroine in the universe. She suffers from hyperempathy in a post-apocalyptic world where pain is pretty much the order of the day, but she still manages to found her own colony, preserve love and family in a desolate landscape, and just generally save the day. You just have to read it.
Filter House by Nisi Shawl
Nisi Shawl is often underrated, especially outside of the sci-fi community. Don’t be the person who underestimates Nisi Shawl. Read Nisi Shawl. Nisi Shawl is brilliant. African gods, watermelon vines that protect a village, a girl who marries a goddess, a girl has lice that carries a deadly plague-virus... Filter House’s stories are weird and awesome and it won awards for a reason. You know you want to read it.
Ink by Sabrina Vourvoulias
Temporary workers and permanent residents with immigration history are given with tattoos that mark them as other in a fictional U.S. Vourvoulias builds a world where society is transformed by this act in the most interesting ways, including inkatoriums or internment camps where these “inks” are kept for “public health” reasons, a scientists who develops a chemical that helps inks pass, and a whole bunch of other details that reflect a hard truth of the way Latino immigrants are othered and oppressed in the U.S.
Female Man by Joanna Russ
This one is a classic of feminist science fiction. If you haven’t read it yet, put down whatever you’re reading now and just do it. It takes on what it means to be a woman by forcing four different women from different worlds to cross over and try to make sense of their wildly different ideas of gender and womanness. Just read it already!
Ancient, Ancient by Kiini Ibura Salaam
You might call Kiini Ibura Salaam something more like a “sci-fi erotica writer.” All of her stories in Ancient, Ancient are tied up in sexuality. From the story about time travel as punishment to the one about aliens who feed on human sexual energies, each story is doused in sexuality and identity, not unlike our own real lives (maybe minus the aliens though… at least for now).
Ancillary Justice by Anne Lecke
When the lead character of a novel is simultaneously a sentient spaceship as well as the bunch of ungendered “clones” that man the ship, you know you’ve got an interesting novel on your hands. Gender, religion, culture, and tyranny get a mind-blowing treatment here.
Octavia’s Brood by Walidah Imarisha and Adrienne Maree Brown
Octavia Butler is a giant of science fiction, but her work didn’t end with her. This anthology collects stories by twenty of the contemporary writers who continue her legacy of brilliant science fiction that takes on race, gender, sexuality, class, and inequality.
The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin
If you love the giant world-building novels of the likes of The Lord of the Rings, but you could really do with something a little fresher than elves and swords and medieval-esque settings, then you’re looking for The Fifth Season. N.K. Jemisin builds a totally different world where a whole planet is oppressing its people with violent environmental catastrophes and the people in turn are oppressing a race of people called the orogene, who have the power to stop the violent disasters. The story follows three orogene women. It’s kind of amazing, and it just came out, but there’s already talk of the next book in the series. Oh… and there’s an excerpt to whet your appetite.