Let's get one thing out of the way: I love science fiction. Space nonsense, time travel, aliens with knobbly rubber heads — what's not to love? But sci-fi has this weird (and completely untrue) reputation for being a boys' club. People assume that "sci-fi fan" is code for "nerdy white man with acne living in a basement," but it's actually a genre that people of all genders, races, and skin conditions love to read. Some of the best sci-fi books out there are written by women, and some of the best characters are badass women in science fiction.
After all, science fiction was invented by a woman: Mary Shelley's Frankenstein is widely considered the first modern sci-fi novel. And while Frankenstein and his monster were both dudes, quite a few interesting, well-rounded female characters have appeared on the sci-fi scene since.
Yes, there are the movie greats like Princess Leia and Ellen Ripley, and there are the super-powered TV women like Jessica Jones, but many of the all-time science fiction greats can still be found in a good old-fashioned book. Or occasionally a shiny, new comic book (good sci-fi is good sci-fi, illustrated or not). So here are just a few fierce, flawed, and all-around awesome fictional ladies, in case anyone needs reminding of all the great women in sci-fi:
1. Alana: Saga by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples
Alana is a (former) soldier, a mother, and an all-around badass. She can be a bit impulsive, and you don't want to get on her bad side, but she also has a strong sense of justice. And she's willing to sacrifice a whole lot for her family. It's so rare to see a woman who's a fighter and a loving mother, and Alana is both (plus, she can fly). She and her family are being hounded across the galaxy by mercenaries, armies, and robot princes, but Alana is willing to risk everything for love and the hope of a peaceful life.
2. Molly Millions: Neuromancer by William Gibson
Think female Wolverine, but with mirror eyes and street-samurai training. Molly Millions is a bodyguard (and mercenary, and cyborg, and former prostitute) with a tendency toward ruthlessness. She's not the kind of character you'd want as a friend (and you definitely don't want her as an enemy), but despite her cynical outlook and career as a killing machine, she has a strong sense of loyalty and morality, even though she lives in a decaying world. Also, she has retractable razor blades in her fingertips and she cries out of her mouth. Don't mess with Molly.
3. Meg Murray: A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle
Women don't necessarily have to be toting a gun and razor-blade fingers to be sci-fi badasses. Take Meg Murray, who's only around 13 in A Wrinkle in Time . She's an awkward kid, filled with insecurities, and highly identifiable for anyone who ever suffered through middle school. But she manages to overcome her self-doubt, travel through space-time, and rescue her father and genius little brother. Meg doesn't use superior fighting skills or scientific know-how to save the day, but relies on her love for her family to win out over an evil alien hive-mind, making her a fairly highly unique sci-fi hero.
4. Katniss Everdeen: The Hunger Games Series by Suzanne Collins
I don't think anyone needs convincing that Katniss is a badass. She's got the archery skills, yes, but she's also got an incredible amount of courage and willpower. I mean, she sacrifices her life to save her little sister. She stands up against a corrupt government. She doesn't die. Besides, it's pretty darn refreshing to have a female character from a YA novel who doesn't really care about the outcome of her own love triangle. (Not that there's anything wrong with a good love triangle, but Katniss has other things on her plate.)
5. Buffy Summers: Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Season 8 by Joss Whedon and Brian K. Vaughan
Yeah, yeah, she's originally from a TV show, and yeah, she's a little more paranormal than sci-fi if you want to split hairs — but forget all that, because Buffy is a pretty great comic book/graphic novel character in her own right. She's a super-strong, vampire-slaying lady, for sure, but she's also a deeply troubled character who goes through a great deal of development (you'd be pretty messed up too if you'd died twice). Her comic book series doesn't disappoint: Buffy is still a quippy, fully realized young woman, still growing and still fighting demons (both real and imaginary).
6. Trillion: The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams
Trillion (or Tricia McMillan) is a brilliant human astrophysicist and mathematician, later a Sub-Etha radio reporter, and briefly involved with the president of the galaxy. At one point in the series, she also happens to save Earth. The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy is a masterpiece of sci-fi comedy, and most (if not all) of its male protagonists are incompetent to some degree. Trillion is the last female human in the universe for most of the books, and she's almost always the smartest and most capable of any of the characters.
7. Lauren Olamina: Parable of the Sower by Octavia E. Butler
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Lauren Olamina is a young woman living in a world on the verge of apocalypse. But Lauren is no ordinary girl — she possess hyperempathy, allowing her to feel the pain of those around her. And so, when her home is destroyed and her family murdered, she sets out into the wild with a determination to start a new community and religion, one that will save humanity. Lauren is undoubtedly one of the strongest female characters in sci-fi; she loses everything, but her overwhelming sense of humanity wins out in the end.
8. Thursday Next: The Thursday Next Series by Jasper Fforde
Thursday Next is a literary detective with a pet dodo, and if that doesn't pique your interest, I don't know what will. Jasper Fforde's comedic books straddle the line between sci-fi and fantasy, to be sure, but there's no denying that Thursday Next is one of the all-time greatest heroines in either genre. She's a war vet with a love of classic books. She's tough and guarded, but she also has the ability to jump into literature, which comes in handy when Jane Eyre disappears right out of Jane Eyre, and Thursday must set things right from the inside.