Celebrate Women in Science Fiction & Fantasy

Chloe Riley is one of the student co-representatives of the Readers’ Advisory Interest Group. She’s currently a student in the MLIS program at SLAIS, and works at the Vancouver Public Library.

This post was inspired by a tradition on one of the book blogs I follow, Fantasy Café. For the past few years, during the entire month of April, the blog is dedicated to Women in SF&F Month. The purpose is to celebrate women who are writing and reviewing in science fiction and fantasy, in order to bring attention to the fact that women in the genre are often still unacknowledged. The current controversy about the lack of diversity in this year’s Hugo Award nominations is a reminder of the need to continue to encourage and acknowledge female contributors to genre writing — as well as to encourage readers to pick up excellent women genre authors!

I’m a huge fan of science fiction and fantasy, and I’m also a big fan of supporting women in the genre, so in that spirit, I decided to offer two short reviews of recent science fiction and fantasy books written by women, both of which are deservedly racking up awards. Since both these titles are popular and may have extended hold queues at the library, I’ve got a few suggestions of other women in SF&F books you can suggest!

The Goblin Emperor by Katherine Addison (2014, Tor Books)

This wonderful gem of a book centres on Maia, the exiled, illegitimate, half-goblin son of the emperor, who unexpectedly and reluctantly takes the throne when his father and all the legitimate heirs are murdered. The subtle and rich world-building of this novel is complemented with a main character who steals your heart as he attempts to navigate the politics, social complexities, and ethical decisions of his new court, as well as solve his estranged family’s murder.

Addison also writes under the name Sarah Monette; readers might also enjoy her darker fantasy series that begins with Mélusine, in which Felix Harrowgate, a dashing wizard, is forced to go on the run when his dark past catches up with him.

If the court intrigue of The Goblin Emperor is what, well, intrigues readers, perhaps they’d enjoy Meliara’s attempts to maneuver through the politics of her court in Crown Duel by Sherwood Smith. Or if the mannered court style appeals, you might suggest Jo Walton’s Tooth and Claw, a Jane Austen-esque story centered on a family of dragons dealing with the death of their father, or Swordspoint by Ellen Kushner, a gentlemanly tale of swashbuckling adventure.

If readers liked the airships in The Goblin Emperor, perhaps they’d enjoy Karen Memory, the newest by Elizabeth Bear, a steampunk-y Jack-the-Ripper tale set in a brothel in alternate history Seattle, or Soulless by Gail Carriger, a fun and fluffy romp through supernatural steampunk Victorian England. Or if the high fantasy themes appeal, perhaps try the evocative and rich world of gods and humans in N.K. Jemison’s The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms.

The fish-out-of-water theme in Addison’s book is also present in Naomi Novik’s His Majesty’s Dragon, the first book of the Temeraire series, in which a British 19th century naval officer unexpectedly becomes the aviator companion to a just-hatched dragon.

For those who enjoy Maia’s lovingly crafted coming-of-age narrative, suggest the story of young Jevick in the rich and lyrical fantasy world of A Stranger in Olondria by Sofia Samatar or the compelling growing-up tale of science-fiction-novel-obsessed Mori in Jo Walton’s Among Others. Readers might also be interested in the graphic novel Ms Marvel Vol 1: No Normal by G. Willow Wilson (art by Adrian Alphona), in which an ordinary girl named Kamala Khan discovers her newfound superpowers.

Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie (2013, Orbit)
(first in the Imperial Radch trilogy; the sequel is Ancillary Sword, published in 2014, while the third is forthcoming in 2015)

This unique and layered novel has won multiple awards, including the Hugo, Nebula, Arthur C. Clarke, and Locus. Breq is the former artificial intelligence of a starship known as Justice of Toren. When the ship was betrayed and almost completely destroyed, Breq was the sole survivor, and now exists in a fragile human body and is on a desperate quest for revenge. The novel deftly presents several overlapping narratives, and deals complexly with themes such as gender, companionship, colonization, revolution, culture, and what it means to be human.

Readers interested in the themes of artificial intelligence in Ancillary Justice might enjoy Hammered by Elizabeth Bear, in which Jenny, a former solider whose out-of-date cybernetic prosthetics (and age) are starting to slow her down, gets caught up in a political plot. Or else vN by Madeline Ashby, which centres on a self-replicating humanoid robot called Amy. The larger question of what makes us human is also explored in Nnedi Okorafor’s Lagoon, in which an alien ship crashes on a Nigerian beach, and in Octavia Butler’s Fledgling, in which a young amnesiac girl realizes she is a vampire.

The excitement of space adventures are also appealing in Lois McMaster Bujold’s Shards of Honour, the first in her multi-volume space opera series known as the Vorkosigan saga, as well as in Ascension by Jacquline Koyanagi, wherein a sky surgeon stows away on a spaceship and falls in love with her female captain. The complex futuristic world-building is also evident in Genevieve Valentine’s brand new Persona, a character-driven, futuristic eco-thriller.

The underpinnings of revolution and rebellion in the novel can also be found in the magic and history of Deathless, Catherynne M. Valente’s fairy tale retelling set in Stalinist Russia. Kate Elliott’s Cold Magic also touches on the theme of revolution in her alternate history Afro-Roman regency-era England, where elemental magic rules, and Cat gets unexpectedly thrown into the midst of a complex plot.

Those interested in the ways that Ann Leckie explores gender and turns expectations upside down, might also be interested in Ursula K. LeGuin’s The Left Hand of Darkness, a thoughtful exploration of gender, sexuality, and human relationships, or the complex epic fantasy of Kameron Hurley’s The Mirror Empire, which imagines a full gender reversal in terms of power and social norms.

Leckie’s novel also touches on themes of art, music, culture, and tradition. Readers interested in the enduring power of creativity and artistic expression might also enjoy Emily St. John Mandel’s post-apocalyptic tale of a theatre troupe in Station Eleven. Nalo Hopkinson’s Midnight Robber also explores the power of music, dance, and storytelling during Carnival on a Caribbean-colonized planet.

Some additional links:

What are some of your favourite science fiction and fantasy novels written by women, or what resources do you use to find them?

Throughout the month of April students from UBC’s School of Library, Archival and Information Studies will be posting their best Readers’ Advisory tips to the RAIG blog!

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